Seeing the Whole Student

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One of the many reasons I love working in independent schools, especially boarding schools, is that these institutions are built on the premise that students possess multiple talents and grow best through close, positive interactions with adults in a series of different settings. For the last 13 years, the painting above symbolized this notion for me. Until the start of this school year, this piece created by a former student (student M) has been a fixture in whatever boarding school apartment I occupied. Now on the wall in my office, it occupies a place of prominence, directly opposite the door and above a table where I work with students and colleagues. The colors and imagery draw compliments and commentary from many people, and I always share its story.

In my second year of teaching, I purchased this painting at the end-of-year art show. (The students in that school sold their artwork to the community and the money was donated to charity.) Throughout that school year, the piece hung in the hallway near the Science Department Office. I saw it daily and it just seemed to cheer up the space. I had my eye on it all year long and simply felt I had to have it.

It’s interesting to reflect that the artist, student M, struggled mightily in my chemistry course. She worked hard, sought help when needed, but found the demands of the course and discipline were not in her sweet spot as a student. Clearly, painting was a different story.

I love this piece because it cautions and reminds me not to forge a concrete (and thereby limiting) image of what a student (or adult) is capable of doing. While student M was not strong in my class, this piece displays a wonderful talent that was on full display in another area of her education. Chimamanda Adichie explains this beautifully in her TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”. Learners, be them students or adults, are always more complex than the person we see right in front of us.

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