By Jake Walters, AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast | NBCUniversal team at Burke High School

Oliver* is a terrific student when he puts his mind to it, but distractions carry him away from academic comprehension. Tutoring Oliver day-after-day, the most eye-opening reality was how much of the work wasn’t strictly about  coursework. Sure, Burke High School provides him plenty of interaction with math and English, but the education system’s mission is much broader: help Oliver develop as a holistic thinker. To this extent, here are five skills I hope to coach Oliver on to help ensure his development both inside and outside the academic world.

As a City Year Americorps member with the privilege of interacting with Oliver on a more personal, smaller-scale level, I can try to understand not only what Oliver knows but how he knows it.  And more importantly, how he knows himself. The opportunity to help Oliver learn self-reflection, to helps him understand how he sees himself, is key to his development as a holistic person, and it reflects the point where thinking intertwines with feeling into something greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Walk in the Mocassins of Others
Exploring how Oliver thinks, however, is not purely an individualist process. To this extent, I can stand to introduce Oliver to a few City Year values and founding stories that highlight our beliefs. We’re encouraged to  “strive to constantly walk in the mocassins of others,” attempting to understand the background and worldview of others while also realizing that we can never completely understand another’s background experiences, for we have not lived them. With this phrase, I can teach Oliver not to judge others, for they are fighting their own hard battles, too.

Understand the Why
These two broader principles tie into many other projects for Oliver and I. We can work on understanding the “why” rather than simply the “what” in learning. This way, he can understand how his learning affects him internally and externally, what it means for him in larger society, and how it relates to larger ethical and moral principles driving good citizenship.

Student-Teacher Interaction
Oliver and I can also  explore getting to know his teachers to support a more humanistic school atmosphere. This also serves to introduce a more pleasurable, more communitarian mood to school life and ensure Oliver sees his teachers’ perspective on his learning. It can also increase Oliver’s comfort level with asking teachers for help, whether it’s for an assignment or for guidance on challenges he’s facing.

Personalization and Personality
We can also focus on injecting a bit of Oliver’s personality into his schoolwork to keep him engaged. This way, Oliver can learn to think for himself and define himself through his work as he defines it through his own personality.

Naturally, Oliver--like everyone--has much to learn. Multivariable equations will always beckon, and the call of Homer and his wayfaring warrior is mighty indeed. But what’s that old saying that “50 percent of what you learn comes from outside of the classroom?”When I finish my service year, I want Oliver to have developed as someone who finds knowledge in the little experiences. By working on social-emotional learning, Oliver can take the first steps toward achieving this.


Related articles:

Helping a Student Get Beyond Good Grades  

Addressing Education Equity in Boston

“Brains and Magic:” The Power of a Good Book


*Name changed to protect student privacy


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