Thinking About Process Change (Part Two): Holding Off the Rite of Passage

I have always been fascinated with rites of passage as they make ritual from the incomprehensible space between one stage of life and the next.  Rites of passage represent moments where we are between and therefore we are nowhere—not where we were and not quite where we will be. In response to such moments, we create ceremonies, we say a prayer or two, we have parties, and perhaps we wear silly hats.  We used to give each other watches.

The end of high school is just such a moment, but unfortunately, too many students start to leave us before they have actually “left the building.”  They enter into the “passage” before we have set up the tent for the “rite.”  Perhaps this happens because what we offer them feels irrelevant to the life they are leading or to the life they believe they might live. They are already leaving us, even though they are still in our classrooms (sometimes with with years to go). Human beings want meaning, relevance, and immediacy, and if we aren’t careful our students will seek and find these things everywhere but school. We have a compelling story to tell to these kids, and we have leadership and guidance to offer them, but we have to re-gear aspects of our practice and components of our curriculum in order to execute on this potential.

At the school where I work, we have an amazingly talented student body, a group rich with creative and demanding voices.  Our newly minted “Learning for Life: A Vision for Westminster” points out poignantly that we want more for and from them.  When I think about what it would be like to feel as if I was forever stuck in the midst of a Rite of Passage, not where I was and not where I will be going, I feel tremendous empathy for these students.  It leads me to remember what high school was like for me, and I am thus able to remember my experience un-garnished by nostalgia. I am often amazed that they handle it as well as they do. Though I want the experience to be highly demanding, I don’t want a school where students about to graduate encapsulate their experience with words like: “survive” or “endure.” What words to we do want to supplant these? Please help me with creating a list in the comments section…I’ll offer a couple to start: “relevant” and “fascinating.”

(As I mentioned in my last post, much of my thinking here was refined and inspired at the AASA Leadership Symposium, led by Alan November last week in Boston.)

3 thoughts on “Thinking About Process Change (Part Two): Holding Off the Rite of Passage

  1. Janice Fahy November 14, 2011 / 10:18 pm

    I love rites of passage, too. And I love reading your blog.

  2. Agnes November 17, 2011 / 9:24 pm

    Senior year is especially painful for those students who have come back from ‘the best year of their lives’ while studying abroad their junior year. The ‘incomprehensible’ space lasts a whole year, when they come back to their home school.

  3. dobbsep December 5, 2011 / 4:19 pm

    I love this idea….
    I remember being a proud graduate because I had survived, endured, gotten through. You held your head high if you had persevered through the worst— and I think there is something good about persevering, but school must be more than persevering.
    Lots of students used the quote “I’m glad I did it, but I’m mainly glad I’ll never have to do it again” to describe their parting from school. I hate that! They never want learn again? Or did they see what they were doing as learning at all?

    I would want our students to describe school as invigorating, refreshing, stimulating, fun, challenging (but not only challenging), faith-building, and….I think the word you used is most important: relevant.

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