Hot Seat Catapult

Sometimes I take for granted just how amazing everyday life at Hyde can be.  ‘Tis the season of senior evaluations, and Hyde faculty and seniors are meeting regularly to discuss where the soon-to-be graduates currently stand relative to our unique character standards for a Hyde diploma.

During these meetings, there exists the need for the rest of the school (i.e., underclassmen) to do something meaningful.  So, one day last week in Bath, head of school Don MacMillan asked me to observe the school meeting in the Union while the seniors and faculty met in the Mansion.  The topic was our principle of Brother’s Keeper and the meeting was to be led and facilitated by the juniors.

The meeting kicked off with a community-wide discussion regarding the actions of a student who had stolen from the local Dunkin’ Donuts, a regular Hyde hang-out.  Concerned students felt the need to assure the proprietors that such a violation would not happen again and sought a school-wide commitment to holding each other accountable to acting appropriately in the Dunkin’ Donuts.  (Brother’s Keeper in real time!)

Said commitment secured, the meeting transitioned to Jack Howarth ‘14 and Moustapha Niang ’14 who shared their life stories – another Hyde tradition – in extemporaneous fashion, a few minutes each.

Then Wilson MacMillan ‘14 offered some introductory remarks on Brother’s Keeper as a prelude to the students dividing into small groups where they were asked to describe relations at school that were characterized by a strong commitment to the ethic as well as relations that were not.  After ten minutes, the school reconvened and individuals voluntarily shared what they had gained from the discussion.

Then Carolyn Moore ’14 transitioned us to an “Only @ Hyde” tradition: The “Hot Seat.”  The students divided in two — 26 juniors in each group – and assembled in two circles where each junior took a turn in the Hot Seat, one minute each.  The student stands before the group while the rest of the school offers rapid-fire quick words or phrases – 30 seconds positive, 30 seconds on ways to improve.  (We call it “popcorn.”)  The entire exercise took a half hour whereupon the school reassembled and Warsame Mohamed (‘14) led a discussion debriefing the experience.

Innumerable benefits inevitably result from the Hot Seat exercise.  The “sitter” gets a down-and-dirty evaluation and a baseline from which to set future goals.  The commentators get to express their feelings, some of which they may have been keeping under wraps.  Student morale improves as air is cleared.  The ongoing effort to limit student cliques is advanced.  The juniors made an investment in establishing and nurturing the level of trust they must have with both their peers and the rest of the school next year when they step into leadership roles as seniors.  It’s an all-around win-win.

Two things struck me.  One was the simple fact that the entire schedule of events that day was led by students.  The aforementioned leaders along with others – e.g., Olivia Griffing ’14 and Hope Stinson ’14 – ran the whole thing.  Second, was just how seriously the juniors and the others took the Hot Seat experience; the juniors were open, and the freshmen and sophomores were frank, but fair.  I did not hear or observe a single cheap shot taken during the entire half hour.

Had I not been a Hyde long-timer, I likely would have had to pinch myself and ask, “Is this really happening?”  Is it possible that a hundred teenagers can get together, unsupervised by adults, and pull something like this off?  Answer: Yup.  As president of Hyde, I was proud to serve as witness.

After the hot seat exercise, Omar Harris ’14 took the stage and led a general discussion on goals for next year.  Then he asked individuals to target some very specific goals.  In response, students spoke on a range of topics including repeating as New England Prep soccer champions, gaining admission to one’s dream college, winning it all in hoops up at the Augusta Civic Center, earning a major solo in the performing arts, etc.

Not only is public goal-setting a critical element to success at Hyde (and life!), it also feeds directly into the Brother’s Keeper principle, the primary purpose of the meeting.  Students gain a sense of personal power by stating a goal.  In turn, the very act of stating it publicly invites others to help them keep up their resolve.  And therein lies the real value of Brother’s Keeper: It’s less about serving as our guardian against temptation — especially by senior year – and is all about providing a catapult to greatness.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld