PSCS eNewsletter January 2018

Unpacking Achievement

with Andy Smallman

In November’s eNewsletter, I referenced a get-together I had with a group of PSCS parents in which I gave them a detailed explanation of the school’s mission statement, “To turn passion into achievement.” In that article, I explained the first half of the mission what we at PSCS mean by passion (Interest + Talent = Passion). In this article, I’m going to explain what we mean by achievement.

To begin, I will say that when the board approved our mission statement we spent a lot of time talking about the word achievement. In so many schools, achievement is really about external measurements—getting a high grade point average, for instance. If you know anything about PSCS, you know that’s not what we mean. Instead, achievement at PSCS is about an internal process that leads students to knowing themselves well enough to commit to things that are important to them. This can best be illustrated by the work of developmental psychologist Dr. James Marcia.

Dr. Marcia works in private practice and is also a college professor. He made a name for himself by expanding on the adolescent stage of development initially promoted by another developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson. Erikson’s theory suggests that humans go through a series of stages as we age, each with its own conflict. In adolescence, that conflict has to do with identity.

Simply put, teenagers are regularly asking themselves the question, “Who am I?”

Marcia expanded on this idea by suggesting that adolescents are either allowed to answer the identity question or they are given answers to the question. For example, a child in a family of doctors may assume they have no career choice, that they have to pursue being a doctor. Marcia called such a situation a Foreclosure of pertinence, this approach is how most middle and high schools work, telling students what classes they have to take.

Young people who are actively engaged in pursuing things that interest them, whatever those things may be, have a better chance of developing a heightened sense of identity during adolescence. Marcia called this state of exploration as being in a “Moratorium.” Savvy PSCS folks will recognize this as being what we predominantly do at PSCS. We offer students a lot of options to experience, to try out. We’ve used various expressions over the years to illustrate this, toe-dipping being one. Reflection is also a big part of making best use of this state.

Achievement is what Marcia said happens when people are ready to commit to something they’ve been allowed to try out. Put another way, achievement is possible when you’ve had enough experience with something to know it’s part of who you are and then you dedicate yourself to doing it. You do the “lonely work,” effort invested in this pursuit that others might not see. As time goes by, you can’t imagine yourself NOT doing this thing.

Exploration + Commitment = Achievement. 

It’s important to point out that for some students a deep sense of achievement may not happen while they are actually attending PSCS. Many students complete their senior years while still in the exploration state of moratorium.And that’s okay, for true achievement is a lifelong pursuit.