Dear Elementary Families,
Elementary-aged children are still working on (the perhaps lifelong) process of building identity. They are refining the answer to, “Who am I?” and, “How do I belong to this community?” Along with personal identity, which often manifests in labels around concrete terms, they are also building social identity, how they perceive their roles in relation to others and society.
Social identity plays a significant role in shaping self-image. As students tell themselves and others the story of their lives, or even as they internally narrate their day-to-day experiences, they begin to explain events in the context of who they see themselves to be. Not only that, but often this narrative of identity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if a child is quieter, other children will likely pick up on that child’s social cues and leave them alone, thus confirming the child’s social identity as “shy” or “quiet.” A child who identifies as a “star soccer player” may experience a loss of identity if they are suddenly unable to play soccer. As adults, we can probably see this manifest in our own lives. Who among us identifies with our careers? Who among us identifies in a specific way in our family of origin dynamic?
Children develop positive self-identity through open conversations, being valued by peers, experiencing supportive relationships and settings, and seeing other people with similar identities be appreciated and valued. At The Cooper School, we also help children try different identities with our classroom words.
We know words matter, and we use them to help students understand that they can consider and construct different identities for themselves throughout the school day and beyond. As they imagine themselves in different identities, they must take up positions concerning what they are studying, respect others in their learning community, and respect more significant societal norms. For example, in Math, students are Mathematicians. In Writing, they are Authors. In Science, they might be Researchers or Geologists. At recess, they are Brave Explorers. At the Peace Table, they are Thoughtful Negotiators.
These identities provide students with a sense of responsibility, a reasonable way to act and behave, and orients them to the learning community. It also breaks the division between school and the “real world,” which is paramount to a progressive school. Lastly, these gentle nudges help young students move towards productive and positive identities.
As intentional teachers, we often pause to reflect on the noticing and naming that is taking place in our classrooms. What identities are developed through our classroom conversations? Try some identity play at home! Could your child be an Adventurous Eater? A Brave Learner? An Independent Sleeper (fingers crossed)?
Head of School