By POLLY RIZZOTTO — Since the Derby Motto was penned and accepted by the first Board of Trustees in 1791, our school has endorsed the idea that education is more than the acquisition of skills and knowledge and more than the demonstration of scholastic achievement. Our school is equally devoted to building young people of character who exhibit qualities of goodness, kindness and caring. Improving “both mind and heart” is what Derby is all about.
In order to achieve these lofty goals, I deeply believe that first and foremost children must acquire and experience a sense of well-being, and that it is our collective responsibility to nurture this sometimes fluid and elusive quality. Happiness, comfort, security, safety and health are listed in the dictionary as synonyms for well-being, yet not one of these words alone is sufficiently descriptive. Well-being is experienced through a combination of good feelings. These intrinsic qualities grow within individual students when they engage in meaningful, interesting activities and when they feel competent and self-directed. The child who writes a persuasive letter for a longer recess is using an array of writing skills while learning to be a self-advocate and a problem solver. The student artist whose colors turned muddy and smudged self-assesses her work and then selects different paints and tries a different technique. We see a more confident and explorative artist as she tries again to represent her vision on the canvas. When children fill their social and emotional toolbox they are more likely to cope with difficulties and be resilient when faced with changes beyond their control.
Children’s relationships and feelings of connection to others are a vital aspect of well-being. Reciting a poem in front of the class, asking a classmate to explain the math problem, admitting a blunder in actions or words are times of risk taking, vulnerability and even embarrassment. Awkward and uncomfortable moments are inevitable for us humans, but children learn to take them in stride when they feel part of a network of relationships. When a young person can interpret body language and social cues, understands the difference between “friendly interactions” and “friendship” and knows how to have and be a friend, his sense of well-being becomes more durable and deep-seated.
While my ramblings emerge from thirty plus years as a classroom teacher, you have a wonderful opportunity to hear a lecture from noted educator, researcher and author Dr. Robert Brooks. I am sure his topic, “Raising Resilient Children,” will identify factors that enhance well-being and add to your parental toolbox. Please come and bring your friends and neighbors! Dr. Brooks will speak to our community next Wednesday evening April 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Larson Hall.