Director's Corner: The Magnolia Path

Our Parents Education Night took place August 25. Before splitting into the different classrooms, the whole group gathered into the back room for an introduction to some aspects of the Magnolia educational philosophy, following a purposefully silly icebreaker. The purpose of that activity, as of many similarly silly activities we use every day with our students, is to share enjoyment, share eye contact and share a gentle touch so as to decrease tension, increase comfort and everyone’s sense of safety, and start the day or the next activity on a positive note. We then introduced The Magnolia School colors, which were voted on during The Vote theme in 2012. The winning color was Rainbow, for which the students came up with the following description:

"Rainbows allow each color to shine and be an individual while still beautifully working together.”

We greatly appreciated how well that illustrates our commitment to honor individuality while promoting team effort.

The Magnolia Path

We proceeded to use the statements from the Magnolia Path to illustrate key aspects of our educational philosophy. These statements are presently: Show Respect, Do Your Best, Work Together, and Keep trying.

Students vote on these statements every three or four years. In the past, they have been variously called the Magnolia Way or the Magnolia Agreements. Our next will take place next year, as we will have a new theme on voting on the occasion of the presidential election.

“Show Respect” is a direct link to our efforts to build The Magnolia School family and promote self-control. Once students feel connected and safe within the group, respect follows.

“Work Together” reflects our emphasis on cooperation versus competition. People worry that “the world out there” is competitive and that students better be competitive throughout their education. We argue, along with a number of other educators, that most jobs in “the world out there” involve team work and that knowing how to work with others, even people we are not drawn to, is a much more valued skill than acting competitive.

“Do Your Best” is a difficult commitment to keep day after day, but it definitely reflects our expectations and is especially important in a multi-grade environment. Asking students to do their best allows us to praise the effort of a younger or struggling student, showing appreciation and helping the student with pride and confidence. It also allows us to ask an older or otherwise abler student for a second, more researched or better thought-through piece of work. “Do Your Best” also supports our policy not to give grades. Grades only make struggling students feel worse and encourage stronger students to content themselves with good enough. Not giving grades also eliminates the option of “Can I just take an F?” “Do Your Best” is definitely a higher expectation on the students, because it makes it their responsibility to show effort.

"Keep Trying" is an especially important commitment involving resilience. Keep trying implies not being discouraged by a mistake or a setback. It is linked with the building of the school family, because it takes a strong sense of safety to admit a mistake and be willing to make up or give it another try. It is also linked with our efforts to teach emotional regulation and self-control in the context of Conscious Discipline. We strive to always assume competence, and to privilege process over product. This allows many opportunities to celebrate small steps toward a larger goal, building confidence and resilience along the way.

Finally we reminded everyone that we encourage reading and thus encourage checking books out of our elementary or middle school libraries. All it takes is filling the card that has your child’s name with the name and author of the book, as well as the date the book is borrowed. When the book is returned, just cross out the whole entry. Cards are located in card boxes located on top of the picture books shelf (east wall) in the elementary school and next to the non-fiction bookshelves (east wall) in the middle school.