Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom (Aristotle)
I was recently reminded of how much parents desire a window into their child’s school day. This is a familiar refrain, so much so that I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a parent say something along the lines of, “I wish I could have seen them, when they connected these concepts, when they solved that problem, when they passionately voiced their perspectives on those important topics.”
In an effort to offer you such a glimpse into your child’s educational life, I would like to share what happens during mentorship sessions, held at every branch of TFS. In all cases, no matter the content of our conversations, our aim is to help students become more sophisticated in their thinking and use of language, to respect others’ viewpoints and to want to engage in the betterment of society. All staff mentors take part in the collective responsibility of instilling strong values in our students, preparing them to make good choices, and guiding them on the path to becoming thoughtful citizens.
At the same time, the purpose of establishing a mentorship program throughout TFS, from La p’tite école to our graduating students, was to also create safe spaces for our students to discuss ideas, so that all students at TFS feel that they belong, have a voice, and have another trusted adult with whom they can speak, or ask for assistance. These mentorship sessions help us to know your child better, and help them to learn more about themselves.
In my case, every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., with the assistance of a Level V student, I mentor a group of Level IV students. At about 10:25 a.m., from my office window, I can see my group members hurrying, and even sometimes running, to get from the Senior School to my office located next door. I don’t flatter myself that they are necessarily excited to discuss the topic of the day. Most of the time, they are rushing to get a good seat or want first dibs on the snacks I might be providing. Regardless of the reason, though, I am very glad that they arrive quickly and are ready to engage in a thoughtful discussion.
Throughout this school year so far, we have discussed a range of topics including why certain paintings become masterpieces, the Judge Kavanagh/US Senate confirmation process, the value of a good education, French language rights in Canada and how to avoid a student culture that would tolerate bullying in any form. Our session on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation was particularly lively, as we discussed whose story should be believed, the importance of following due process, whether an adult should be held accountable for an action alleged to have taken place in high school, decades earlier, and the purpose and power behind the Me Too movement.
With the younger students in the primary school branches, we have held mentoring sessions on the importance of respecting one another. We have questioned each other, exploring why listening to another person's point of view is important, why we should seek to understand another's perspective before rushing to share our own, how we grow when learning from others, and why it is important in a diverse and inclusive society to be tolerant.
In both mentorship situations, we don't push for a “right” answer. The goal is to allow students to expand their thought processes, reflect on their own views, learn to better articulate those views, and become equipped with the skills to reason for themselves, as they stretch into their roles as citizens of their school, community, country and the wider world.
Too often in today’s society, individuals and leaders offer all sorts of unsubstantiated opinions. Students pick up on this. If I hear a student tell me that they “hate” this or that, I remind them of the importance of precision of language and thought, and the need to avoid giving a personal opinion without explanation. I challenge them to use more precise words to describe what they might be feeling or thinking; instead of “hate,” it might be frustration or indignation. I further encourage them to provide support or a rationale for their viewpoint. It is important to probe for reasons and evidence for those opinions. Over time, they come to understand how to articulate thoughts through sophistication of language, and why doing so is important.
During our last November break, my wife and I took a trip to Rome to visit my university mentor. I had not seen him in a long time. Early last year, he had asked me if I could come visit, as he is getting on in years. I did not hesitate. Even though it’s been a number of decades since he actively mentored me, I still owe him a great debt for how much he helped me. When I was a student, my mentor never hesitated to share his time, insight and wisdom. He was a key person in my life; my mentor helped me become a good citizen. We owe it to the next generation to pass the gift of mentorship along. At TFS, we are making this happen.
Michael Burke Deputy Head, Citizenship and Community Engagement