Take A Moment; Model the Pause

The summer before joining Georgetown Day School’s High School, I had a conversation with an administrator about some of the ins and outs of our nearly 550 student division. At the end of our discussion he said, “You will not believe the pace of this place. All day. Every day. I just want you to be prepared.” Then I went on my way and enjoyed the rest of my summer.

No piece of wisdom about the GDS High School has been more accurate. Schools are bustling places–for both students and faculty–with few chances to break between classes, tasks, and events. But sometimes, on rare occasions, an opportunity presents itself that allows you to pause. In those pauses, I undoubtedly find myself marveling at the most important aspect of our school: our student body.

It could be five found minutes between meetings on the 3rd floor hallway to take in the gallery–worthy student art. Or it could be waiting for a meeting to start while hearing a practicing pianist a few rooms down the hall.

I had such a recent pause while relieving an AP proctor last week. As the proctor went to stretch her legs a bit, I sat at the front of the room and looked out at a group of students taking an AP Computer Science test. You could feel the intensity of the room. The intense determination and acumen of these students was palpable. Were some of them nervous or anxious? Undoubtedly so. However, I was taken with their skills as competent students, pursuant of knowledge.

With pencils and erasers in hands, each of them was working at a clip to manage the task at hand, making judgements about where to spend more or less time, all to express their understanding. None of this should be a surprise, as I know students engage in these skills each day here at school. However, as a learning specialist, I do not often witness this work. As these students integrated a year’s worth of learning, and many more years worth of executive skills related to taking a cumulative assessment, I just took it in and silently patted each of them on the back from a distance.

I saw one of these students after the test in the stairwell later in the day moving onto the next task, and asked her how she felt about the exam. She was somewhat reticent to take even a moment to chat, but I nudged her to reflect on her accomplishment. “You should be proud.” Proud right now. Not when the scores come, not when the next test is completed. Just in this moment.

As I write this, schools around the nation are implementing AP exams, approaching the ends of their academic calendars, and rushing to tie up the ends of courses as we send students into a well–deserved break. I think our students need us adults, who also move swiftly from one event to another, making mental grocery lists during workouts, or thinking through emails responses while making dinner, to model the pause. Take a moment and say you’re proud of your student or your child.

They work exceedingly hard, and often are their own worst critic. Ruthie Lindsey, a renowned inspirational speaker who lives with chronic pain after tragic accident in her senior year of high school, said: “If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it.”
I don’t often do this, but in the rather unlikely place of a silent and sterile AP exam administration, I noticed so many beautiful things about the truly astounding students in our building. I plan to speak them.

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