I recently wrote to you with a few anecdotes of heroic moments we’ve encountered in the studio. As I’ve reflected on those stories, it has occurred to me that it emphasized only one aspect of what it means to be heroic, namely the resolve to forge on in the face of adversity and challenge. Today I want to call attention to another side of heroism, one that requires a certain fortitude and courage of its own: the bravery to uplift, encourage, and support others on their journeys.
A few recent examples come to mind.
On a recent Friday afternoon one young hero was feeling bashful about participating in an improv game (which can be a little intimidating at first). She had distanced herself from the circle and was visibly trying to avoid being noticed. Proactively recognizing this dynamic, another young hero delivered her a clipboard, paper, and crayons for her to draw out her feelings. This small gesture reinforced her inclusion in the group and bolstered her courage to participate. She ended up joining the activity and having a lot of fun.
Another remarkable practice that has arisen in the studio is the art of card making. On multiple occasions, learners have taken it upon themselves to make encouragement cards for someone who is having a hard day. Often delivered via paper airplane, they are vessels bearing encouragement and compassion to their unsuspecting recipient in their time of need.
These are just a few examples. I could go on about the countless times I’ve seen Arrows use their break time to check on another Arrow who seems to have lost their happiness. Or how older Arrows routinely carry backpacks back from the green space for our youngest heroes. Or how nearly every day Arrows pick up and return forgotten lunch boxes after free time. (All of this happens without any adult prompting, by the way.)
Much like a humble paper airplane letter of encouragement, each of these moments is a little epistle, whispering of something profound that is happening in the hearts of our young heroes.
As I observe these moments, I find myself wondering why we see these sorts of things so regularly at Acton. I don’t believe there is a simple answer to that question, but I have a few hypotheses. The first is that in a learner-driven culture, young people don’t expect adults to solve the problems that arise. Nor are they confined to their desks, observing these situations but without the agency or autonomy to do something about it. Instead, they are active participants in everything that happens, and they therefore respond instinctively with problem solving. I believe such instincts are present in every child, but traditional behavior management practices often thwart their expression.
Another aspect that I suspect is involved is something we talked about at parent night. In a growth minded culture like Acton, our young heroes are learning that the failure or success of their peers does not threaten or jeopardize their own opportunity for success. Rather, they understand that what shapes their success lies within themselves, not their circumstances or their peers. And within that paradigm, they become free to express kindness and encouragement in a way that is both unusual and beautiful.
At Parent Night, we learned that bullying and cheating are more common in fixed mindset cultures. While I believe that is true, I also suspect that we at Acton experience the inverse of this principle: In our growth minded culture, we see more camaraderie, more concern for one another’s well being, and more encouragement of a fellow traveler’s journey.
As always, we remain very much a work in progress. Growth can be slow, messy, and inconsistent. But I remain convinced that the character traits that are being imprinted on their hearts through these seemingly small, insignificant acts will stick with them regardless of where their hero’s journey may lead. And that makes each paper airplane a vehicle carrying cargo of invaluable worth.
Did you find this interesting? Here are a few more that you might like: