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By Diane Dunne, Littleton Head of School

20161208-2016-spelling-bee-009Holiday traditions such as lights, music, food, and annual gift-giving notwithstanding, our fast-paced Facebook world demands we travel light, discarding old products and pursuits to embrace the innovation and creative change necessary to thrive in today’s world.

But sometimes, past practices deserve a fresh look. One of those is the old-fashioned spelling bee. To give it another look, you must consider that maybe it’s not really about spelling. It’s not just a quaint ritual that deserves to fade into the past (after all, we’ve got spellcheck at our fingertips these days). Although knowing how to communicate with clear and correct language is important, the real power of the spelling bee experience centers on the habits of mind it promotes. Watching the annual event unfold in our school gym just a few weeks ago, I saw displayed so many of the characteristics touted by today’s educators, innovators, and thinkers as necessary for success.

winnerYoungsters, age 9 to 13, sat listening, fully engaged and ready. When their turn came, they paused. They thought, considered the options, then communicated their answers to the audience. It was visceral – you could feel the courage, the calm, the grit it took to be up there on the stage. Think of the resilience required to hang in there after that first and only allowable mistake. Our school’s winner this year had been a close runner up for the past four years. No amount of talking about the power of perseverance can compare with what he experienced. And then, of course, there is the ultimate life lesson of learning to be a good loser and a good winner, how to give applause and to accept it with grace.

Just as we decide every year, as a family and a community, which traditions or decorations we want to keep and which we need to pitch, our schools have to do this, too. The school day is full. Cutting-edge educational opportunities abound, and new initiatives are rich, exciting and sometimes overwhelming. We must foster higher order thinking skills, multi-sensory instruction, and design thinking. We need our innovation labs and 3D printers. We want to promote service learning, and field trips, and so on…. But it is tremendously valuable, and sometimes surprising, to dust off an old treasure and discover its clarity and relevance as if for the first time.

Mackintosh Academy Littleton