This year, our 6th grade students experience a new enrichment, Civility Seminar. The class is designed to teach what civility is, why civility is important to middle school citizenship, and how to put civility into everyday action, especially in the schoolhouse. The class is taught in the seminar format, meaning largely a discussion and thought-sharing teaching style. The teacher, of course, oversees the process and guides the class talks, but the students generate the real insights.
Last week, we discussed P.M. Forni’s Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, from the short, readable text, Choosing Civility. One of the discussion topics and following themes I asked of the students was to rank the top three rules of conduct they deem are absolutely crucial for success in middle school (especially 6th grade) at Severn School.
The findings spattered inconsistently except one rule, #25: don’t shift responsibility and blame, which was overwhelmingly chosen by the students. Once the students started talking, it was clear they thought many 6th graders struggle with taking responsibility for their actions, but they cared deeply about this specific area of growth as students and as people.
As I listened, this was a telling lesson for me. I was intrigued, first and foremost, by the intelligence of my 6th graders (they never disappoint). Secondly, from their view, our 6th graders were cognizant and thoughtful about the rule being essential for middle school success, and that they could do a better job of carrying out such a responsibility.
While this type of info might seem slightly dire to any teacher or administrator, I found it refreshing—refreshing because of their honesty and humility. The data made me happy because of the talking and reflecting that followed during the assignment—our bright 6th graders realized that, while the discussion mounted, this was not ok for our school community. That they, even as young 6th graders, have real work to do, and so does our school leadership and faculty. But most pointedly, this discussion and information conveys our kids have a “growth mindset”—a term teachers pronounce often, write about in heaps, yet something we do not necessarily see in everyday school life.
This is one hope I have of all middle school classes—that we witness upshot learning from classes that are beyond the discipline taught. I am excited about the initial year of the civility course, but I am more enthusiastic about the daily lessons and learning that come out of each class that help our middle—schoolers know how to live richer, fuller, and more ethical lives.