An unassuming bulletin board hangs in the Upper School hallway. Pass by it and you’ll miss poignant, honest reflections from anonymous students and teachers, all beginning with: “I wish.”
The Challenge Success Club has been collecting “I wish” statements from students and faculty since 2017. The exercise makes it possible for students and teachers to open up about stress. The club “piloted an ‘I wish,’ with student-athletes,” explains the Co-President Ellie R. ’20. “We decided, last year, to run an ‘I wish’ at assembly. The teacher responses were so powerful for students to read that we went to a faculty meeting to get even more.”
I wish my friends would stop talking about their grades.
I wish my students knew that I am human too and that I need family life
and am not always thinking about grading their work.
I wish my (often mad/ disappointed) teachers knew sometimes
I have to decide between sleeping, a shower, self-care at all, or schoolwork.
I wish my students knew that sacrificing their health (mental, emotional, or physical)
in the pursuit of a “higher” / “better” grade for an assignment is NEVER worth it.
Shining a light on these often-silent anxieties is a powerful practice. Challenge Success at Head-Royce also surveys students in grades 4–12, measuring their “perceptions of their academic engagement, connection to the school community, physical health and well-being, technology use, family norms, and how they use their time outside of school.” Faculty and student-leaders can then enact change, in direct response to student needs.
“The faculty are really receptive and so is the administrative. That feels good. I feel like I have the power to make change,” says Ellie. She cites busywork as a recent example. “What students perceive as busywork was an issue, so we changed the teacher evaluation survey. Now teachers can explain why they give certain assignments.”
Housed at Stanford, “Challenge Success recognizes that our current fast-paced, high-pressure culture works against much of what we know about healthy child development and effective education. The overemphasis on grades, test scores, and rote answers has stressed out some kids and marginalized many more.”
“That's something we need to work on,” says Ellie R. ’20. “People talk about their grades a lot. There isn’t one direct reason. It can be external. I don’t have this issue, but some parents pressure their kids to get good grades. It can be internal. There’s the element of competition, of being overloaded. ”
Complex issues, like grade-competition, cannot be solved overnight. Molly Barrett, who co-chairs the Balance and Well-Being Committee, writes: “This work needs constant attention. Despite working with Challenge Success for three years now, I spent part of class talking to my sophomores about taking the practice PSAT on an upcoming Saturday, and was then startled when I realized the subsequent Monday I'd given them homework to do (after they sat in a chair for five hours Saturday!). In my regular routine, I'd missed what was, to the students, an obvious way to contribute to their balance and well-being!”
It may seem obvious that Head-Royce teachers care deeply about their students, but to those busy students––who are wrapped up in classes, sports, music, debate, theater, activism, robotics, dance, on top of their own family obligations––the reminder of that care is welcome.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Challenge Success the reminders hang in the hallway:
I wish my students knew that I love them, each and every one.
Outside of my family, they are the most important people in my life.
"We'll keep the 'I wish' posters up for as long as we can," says Ellie.