Perhaps you are one of those that maintains a shoebox of your child’s artwork, report cards, participation certificates, and various other childhood relics. Among that unruly pile of paper likely resides their kindergarten report card, wherein can be found one of my favorite student descriptors: “plays well with others.” I am convinced that for middle and high school students, and indeed for us adults, there are very few qualities that correlate more directly with long-term success and happiness than this simple phrase.
In recent weeks, there have been many occasions during which I’ve witnessed our students practicing the lifelong skill of collaboration. For example, a few weeks ago I had the chance to observe the Girls’ Chorus perform a rendition of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash classic, “Helplessly Hoping.” Though I am not a musicologist, to my untrained ear, the richness of the sound stemmed from the precision with which each student was singing her part in harmony with the other. The same could be said about last week’s full orchestra rehearsal; how many school ensembles have the privilege to be led by a world-renowned conductor like the Cape Symphony’s Jung Ho Pak.
The same kind of collaboration, ironically, was on full display during last week’s rollicking Spirit Week. In the annual tug of war competition, some classmates were on the rope, but perhaps just as important were those along side of them, chanting, “One, two, three, pull! One, two. three, pull!” More often than not the victory was earned by the team that pulled together, not the stronger team or the team that pulled harder. A few days later, we were treated to “Artistic Expression Day,” during which each grade performed a song or skit that is evaluated as much on the broad participation of the group as it is by the quality of the final product. These entirely student-generated performances, as well as the week’s many other collaborative competitions prompted Mr. Earley to state at a recent school meeting: “I used to think Spirit Week was a celebration of school spirit, but based on the way you all worked together this week, it is really more a celebration of grade-level spirit.”
In an infographic entitled, “21st Century Skills Employers Want Across Industries,” collaboration appears prominently alongside critical thinking, creativity, communication, leadership, and technology/media literacy. As advances in communication technologies have brought people from around world together in real time, the ability to leverage collective insight is more important than ever. Or as your favorite kindergarten teacher knew all along, there will always be a place for a person who, “plays well with others.”
To some extent, life is a sandbox, isn’t it?