April 30, 2014 12:45 Age: 4 yrs

Building Resilient Scholars Takes Resilient Leadership … and Hope (Part II)

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Peter Uwalaka is dean of students at AF University Prep High School. This post is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

At AF University Prep High, we obsess over everything that has to do with our students practicing the right habits and skills necessary to graduate from a selective college or university within four years of enrolling. We believe that everything we do must align to this goal. This includes: ensuring that they come on-time every single day, expecting students to show respect and professionalism, and requiring that they be respectful to adults, peers and other members of our community. We expect students to turn in top-quality homework. “Almost done” or “almost right” just isn’t good enough. A clear, united vision coupled with high expectations and consistency of systems, frequent and high-quality feedback on performance and character, and support from teachers and leaders who are emotionally neutral instead of frustrated can help students build the right habits. I have seen this happen this year with students like T’Chad, who came to AF University Prep High from Atlanta.

Her transition in ninth grade was a difficult one. She would be the first to say that the expectations at AF University Prep High are higher than anything she has previously experienced. In September, T’Chad had multiple detentions. Now, she seldom earns one. When I asked her about her experience and her growth since September, she told me: “I feel more focused. I feel like I am learning the material more thoroughly now than I ever have before. I get a lot of support from teachers and staff, and they help me pinpoint my areas of growth and strength. I know exactly what I need to do and how I need to do it.”

T’Chad’s experience speaks to how the structures and systems at AF University Prep High have worked to help students change their habits. T’Chad is a true scholar who, through the use of frequent feedback, has been able to build her own self-efficacy and develop an increased love for her school.

So, how do we take our schools to the next level and ensure that our students have these important self-regulatory skills necessary to graduate from college? What is it going to take? First, school leaders and teachers must have a unified vision that will help students build these skills and habits.

  • What is our homework policy?
  • How do we build character and effectively have character conversations with students?
  • How should students behave and what consequences are in place to address misbehavior?
  • What systems and structures need to be in place to build self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation?
  • How do we give students high-quality feedback?

 Answering these questions is a great start to helping our students build the necessary habits and mindsets. We have to be disciplined, strategic and resilient in our thinking if we are going to help our students become resilient scholars who are prepared to successfully take charge of their lives and make a difference in our communities. We also absolutely need to hope for great things from them.

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