When it comes to teaching boys, we know that things like movement, teamwork and hands-on learning all play an important role. Recently, however, schools and educators are paying fresh attention to the link between self-expression and emotional well-being that supports boys’ academic success.
At the conference, StC attendees came together with educators from countries such as South Africa, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to share experiences and learn. Seminars illustrated the ways in which everything from music, literature and dance can provide valuable outlets for self-expression, and attendees discussed the emerging link that schools are making between boys’ creativity and mental health.
From digital music tools to dance, attendees such as Laura Sabo, StC Lower School Learning Commons Librarian, were inspired by the range of possibilities that the arts offer to engage boys. Sabo pointed to one thought-provoking example of a school that has established a relationship between dance and mental health. “We have a lot of PE, we know how important movement is to boys, but they are using choreography at a very young age to coordinate their brains and build upon it.”
To one attendee, the nuanced conference subject was a pleasant surprise.“When I first heard about this conference, I really thought it was primarily focused on the arts,” said Dr. Sarah Mansfield, Assistant Head of School at StC. As Mansfield learned more about the event speakers, however, she noticed a significant emphasis on mental health. “It felt almost like a mental health conference seen through an arts lens.”
Mansfield believes that the foundation of confidence and well-being that the arts can reinforce is critical to a good education. “We have got to make sure that we’ve got mental health right with our boys,” said Mansfield. “You can teach all day long, but if their health and wellness are not secure, they’re not learning.”
One of the event speakers, Sonia Lupien, spoke about stress in academic environments and how to identify and control it in a classroom context. From pupil dilation to signs like the position of a child’s hands, there are cues that educators can use to identify students who are under stress. “What I took away from it was practical ideas about how to recognize, even in young children, those signals,” said Sabo. “As an educator, we don’t always know what’s going on inside.”
StC at the forefront
Conference attendees from StC included music teachers, reading specialists, librarians, researchers and members of the senior leadership team. Jen O’Ferrall, Lower School Reading Specialist and a part of the Lower School Academic Support Services team, presented at the conference and believes that the strong StC showing at Montreal makes an important statement about the School’s priorities. “It’s the commitment we have to be the best we can be. It’s the commitment we have to understand best practices and what is relevant today,” said O’Ferrall. “We are very grateful that the administration wants us to look at our practices and to bring the best back to our colleagues, and more importantly, to the boys.”
In addition to StC’s diverse representation at the event, the School made another significant connection to IBSC. Headmaster Mason Lecky was appointed to the IBSC Board of Trustees for 2019-2020 and will serve a three-year term.
Lecky is eager to begin his work with the IBSC, an organization he hopes will drive productive, forward-thinking conversations about boys education. “What place do boys schools have in the 21st-century educational landscape? Are we still relevant? Are we still necessary?” Lecky believes the answer to both questions is an unambiguous “yes,” and he looks forward to examining these questions more deeply with his international peers.
“The really fascinating stuff that I love are questions like, ‘What is our role and responsibility as a boys school in this particular moment in our society, where there’s been a great reckoning of maleness and male behavior?’ How do we lean into those really difficult topics, not in a defensive posture, but in a thoughtful way?”
Turning research into meaningful action
Since 2005, the IBSC’s work has included the efforts of the Action Research Program. Made up of small committees, educators from around the world, including StC, collect and share education data on certain themes every year. The teams then spend time conducting research at their schools and then present their findings at the next conference.
O’Ferrall, one of the Action Research presenters from StC, highlighted her work with Grade 3 boys and how they used digital storytelling tools to communicate and build confidence. O’Ferrall pointed to new technologies and tools like writing, video editing and website development as examples of ways for boys to build competencies as storytellers. “These boys are so creative,” said O’Ferrall. “These are guys who can cover a sports game like nobody else. It’s amazing.”
An important aspect of StC’s approach to educating boys is the use of data and research. Dr. Kim Hudson, Director of the Center for the Study of Boys at StC, is responsible for this effort and also serves on the IBSC Research Committee.
This year, Hudson presented updates on current research initiatives and explored ways to get more schools involved in the IBSC’s work. “One of the things I was reminded of at the conference was how important it is to allow boys to share their stories of how the arts helped them move through their adolescence and how the arts helped them form their sense of self,” said Hudson. “The strong representation of StC in the IBSC Action Research Program is something we should be so proud of.”