A MISSING LINK TO STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
by Sharon Pettey-Taylor
“Intelligence plus character – this is the goal of true education.”—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
While attending a Professional Development Session at the Entertainment, Visual Arts and Design Technology Academy of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, New York, I heard a delightful and informative “point of view” presented by Ms. Michelle McRae – a special education paraprofessional of the highest caliber.
I immediately wanted to ask Ms. McRae if she would like to share her thoughts with a wider audience and she graciously agreed to do so, as follows:
SPT: Ms. McRae, in your welcoming presentation at our professional development conference, you revealed to us the correlation between “good manners” in the learning environment and student academic achievement. Most educators usually associate improvement of a student’s social skills with some form of behavior modification that proved to be effective. Have you actually noticed first-hand that students who are focused and diligent in their studies are also respectful to adults, exhibit good manners, and reflect sound, home-training in etiquette?
MM: Yes. For example, in an English class today, the students were fully engaged in a dialogue that brought up life experiences that lead to a “moment of truth.” Within this brainstorming session, one very articulate student recognized the need for appreciating the student-inspired policies of the school, which do integrate basic manners of etiquette (including the uniform policy). She spontaneously commented, “We need to stay on the right track by focusing on the things we need to do to succeed.” She also spearheaded a discussion on the principal’s core values for BGHS students: “Knowledge, Respect, Fairness, Integrity and Peace.” These words of self-actualization are highly-transparent throughout the school community, as well. As a follow-up activity, the students decided to write letters of appreciation to the Administration. This whole experience became even more revealing in terms of proper etiquette in our school community when the entire administrative staff welcomed all of us with warmth and kindness, as the students made a hand delivery of their letters to the main office. I felt overwhelmed emotionally seeing all of these character-building principles of etiquette coming full circle.
SPT: You also noted that when the teaching and administrative staff take the time to greet each other and their students (particularly, when passing in the hallways) it seems to set a pleasant tone to the school day. Can you elaborate on this?
MM: Certainly. Just a simple greeting in the morning can jump start any day with positive feelings. Many of our colleagues have asked me what keeps me upbeat and looking happy, as we exchange pleasantries throughout the day. I can honestly say that the “etiquette” that motivates my actions are strongly influenced by secular and spiritually-based knowledge, which does not stem from any purely, emotional feelings but rather are deeply-rooted in acknowledging the highest standards set for human behavior.
SPT: I completely agree. In fact, after doing a little research on this topic, I discovered that many educational experts agree with your findings. In fact, many of them are serving as etiquette consultants and presenting workshops to school districts. I further concur with you in addressing the need for students to be socially prepared to learn, even as early as kindergarten. The students of Boys and Girls High School are very fortunate to have you guiding them charmingly toward success on a daily basis, always knowing they will be received with your winning smile and impeccable manners.
MM: Thank you. I love my work with students and truly believe by simply not overlooking the fundamental rules of etiquette, we can easily improve the quality of our daily interactions within the learning environment. As previously discussed in our professional development meetings, this approach provides an opportunity for us to “analyze [our] teaching to understand what contributes to student learning . . . and promote collaboration between [staff], school and community” (PTS, p. 9), adding one more decisive link to student achievement.
SPT: Absolutely. And I want to thank you again, for your insight into revisiting “manners” that were once commonplace throughout our society and in our schools. The resurgence of these social graces with the help of caring professionals in the educational community, such as yourself, will promote: “social development and responsibility . . redirecting student behavior in the most productive and time effective way,” according to the Standard for Creating and Maintaining Effective Environments for Student Learning (PTS, p. 5). As you have advised, it will certainly help to demonstrate and model a little “class” in the classroom, on our way to student-teacher success.
Engaging and Supporting Students in Learning. Creating and Maintaining Effective Environments for Student Learning. Developing as a Professional. The Professional Teaching Standards. New Teacher Center at The University of California, Santa Cruz, 2004.
Davies, Leah, M.Ed. “24 Ideas for Instilling Manners in Children,” www.Kellybear.com/TeacherArticles/TeacherTip62.html
Bortolot, Lana. “She’s a digital Miss Manners,” amNewYork, April 26, 2010, p. 8. Rogaski, Faye. socialsklz:-)
Starr, Linda. “Do Good Manners Contribute to Academic Success?” Education World, National Education Association, http://nea.org/tools/31212.htm
Zauber, Karen. “Social Skills Kids Need to Succeed,” National Education Association, http://nea.org/home/ns/16763.htm
Many thanks to the students, staff and administration of Boys and Girls High School; Brooklyn, NY
Bernard Gassaway, Principal
Christopher Smith, AP Organization
Entertainment, Visual Arts and Design Technology Academy
Ms. Catrina Williams, Assistant Principal Supervision
Ms. Victoria Bozeman, Academy Director
Ms. Jennifer Prensky, Coordinator of Instructional Support Services
Do you have a comment, question, or suggestion about this article? E-mail Sharon.