In my role as Middle School Director, I am able to speak to various people who interact with Canterbury graduates. A common response near the beginning of our conversation is, “Oh! We know Canterbury kids when we see them. We can’t put our finger on it, but there is just something about them.”
Over the last four years, I’ve been trying to pinpoint what that “something” really is. I’ve come up with three distinguishing characteristics of Canterbury kids.
However, I think it is important to acknowledge that we start with incredible kids, who come from great and committed families, and whose backgrounds and experiences are vast in their diversity. This, I think, is a direct result of being an Episcopal school whose core purpose is to create a community where students are exposed to an array of people, perspectives, and ideas.
Now, to the characteristics. Because we are a small school, one in which our kids are known, cared for, and loved, we are able to develop a program that helps children become young men and women who
Starting from PK through 8th grade our students are learning to advocate for themselves and others. Whether it be including friends in a game on the playground, learning to use their words to express themselves in 1st grade, posing an hypothesis in science, or arguing about format in group work, learning to advocate for one’s self in their learning translates into positive action after Canterbury. Our kids aren’t afraid to tell you what they think and why they think what they do. That’s powerful.
Our students learn the power of reflection early on in Kindergarten carpet discussions and it continues from there to assignments like the ABC project in 4th grade and finally culminating in year long projects like the 8th Grade Portfolio and sermons. The sermons in particular are a fantastic manifestation of this characteristic of reflection in our students. Last year, 100% of our 8th grade class gave a sermon, which is an opportunity to discuss one’s spiritual journey in front of 400 of their closest friends! This skill of reflection - of what went well, what didn’t go well, what will I change the next time - not only helps to solidify a lifelong approach to learning, but further enhances in our students a sense of resiliency. Our kids will use their missteps, mistakes, and even failures to make themselves and those around them better.
This last point leads to the last skill our students develop - leadership. Canterbury students lead. Because of our K-8 structure, students who in some other situation at a K12 school wouldn’t be called upon to lead, now have a lot of opportunities to do just that. What further distinguishes our students, I think, is that through programs like our servant leadership classes, spiritual development and theology classes, and our sports teams, our students lead not for the glory, but because of a sense of duty. Add to this sense of duty a skillset comprised of advocacy and reflection and the orientation of Canterbury leaders is one of “How can I help?” What this means is that our students are “natural” leaders. Canterbury leaders seek out the needs of their community, reflect on how they can help, and work with others to serve those needs.
So, when 8th graders leave Canterbury and enter into their high school world and the greater Greensboro and Guilford County world that “something” people mention is their skill set at work. If everybody describes our kids this way, it means we’ve helped to develop the whole child who become incredible young men and women ready to make their world a better place. That’s powerful and shouldn’t that be every school’s endgame?