Our response to the pandemic and the contributions of our Equity and Inclusion Committee are highlighted in the accreditation report we received last week from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The report was written by the two WASC representatives who visited our campus virtually in March as part of our ongoing accreditation process.

Visiting team members were Karen Mahoney, a retired science teacher from San Jose, and Kristen Saham, director of a private school in Milpitas. Self-Study and Action Plan Every six years, we conduct a comprehensive accreditation “self-study” to aid in our ongoing growth and improvement. Our last self-study was in 2018; this year’s visit was for our mid-point review. The visiting committee’s recommendations will be factored into our schoolwide Action Plan, which details changes we plan to make in all aspects of our program in the months and years to come.

During their remote two-day site visit, the committee met with teachers, administrators, our board of directors, parents, and students. Their work was based on a report we submitted to WASC in March that tracks our progress in areas we identified in our 2018 self-study as “areas for follow-up”: communication, curriculum and assessment, and “meeting the contemporary context.” The latter area assesses our Action Plan in terms of how well it addresses changes in education, at the school, in the wider community, and in society in general. Our Response to the Pandemic “At the time of their last self-study,” the report notes, “the school leadership and teaching staff set challenging goals for themselves. That has not changed. The entire learning community is enthusiastically committed to improving all aspects of their program and taking full advantage of the positive outcomes of some COVID-19 changes.” One of these changes is the integration of technology into the classroom. “Teachers and leadership have worked together to ensure that the technology does not allow any ‘drift’ from their core values and the school’s vision [“Love Nurtures Learning”]. . . . Many staff and teachers indicated that the changes brought by COVID adaptations are positive and will likely continue to be part of the school culture.”

Parent Involvement The report credits our Equity and Inclusion Committee with many of the positive changes it documents. The committee, it says, “has reordered some priorities of the school community and sponsored thoughtful discussions of diversity in the classroom and community, compassion for others, mindful communications, and a number of activities designed to engage all members of the learning community. . . . “These activities, along with the demands of COVID-19 regulations and compliance, have fostered a heightened degree of collaboration between groups, teams, and community constituents.” Schoolwide Strengths The visiting committee’s report identified three “schoolwide strengths” that focus largely on our response to the pandemic:

  • “Resilience. The entire learning community at Meher Schools has demonstrated a thoughtful, resourceful, and creative approach to the challenges of the past 12 months.

  • “Team-based and collaborative integration and implementation of changes.

  • “The school community has fully embraced the requirements to successfully bring students back to campus. Working together to change and rearrange facilities, upgrading technology, and modifying presentation of academic curricula have precipitated unprecedented teamwork and communications.”

Areas for Growth The visiting committee concurred with the areas we identified in our report as “areas for growth” and suggested adding three new areas to our Action Plan. One involved succession planning; the other two were to

  • Continue to consider new ways to engage parents.

  • Continue to encourage diversity and appreciation for diverse cultures, integrating “this appreciation into the fabric of learning.”

“The challenges of the past year have brought this small learning community together in new ways, using the talents of many,” the report states. “The learning community as a whole appears strong and resilient.”

  • Meher School Community

“Remember the day you got that really bad news and you didn’t know how to move on?”

Room 1 teacher Chris Cameron does. “For our family, that day was the day three years ago we found out my wife, Aileen, has breast cancer.

“The good news is that we quickly found the Cancer Support Community for the Bay Area. This amazing organization provides comprehensive care – including counseling, support groups, nutrition, exercise, and education – for cancer patients and their loved ones, all at no cost to those they help.”

Aileen and Chris are taking part in a fundraising event for the Cancer Support Community – the Bay Area Hope Walk – and invite Meher Schools families to support them by joining in. You can walk anywhere, any distance, on any day at any time between this Sunday, May 9, and May 15. To join “Team Aileen’s Allies” and learn more about the event and the Cancer Support Community, click here.

Companies are spending millions to research what incentives motivate employees to give their best. Fitness and dieting gurus use scientific knowledge to keep people working toward their health goals. As a society, we tend to be more accepting and knowledgeable about the use of external motivators for adults than we are for children. The subject of rewarding children can be a confusing one.

Almost three decades ago, a book called Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn questioned the use of everything from gold stars and grades to praise, defining them as forms of bribery that would hypothetically diminish a person’s performance. Now the very idea of rewards for children can be tainted by the fear of bribery.

Bribes are rewards given spontaneously in reaction to a situation. A parent offers a child a cookie to stop throwing a tantrum in a store. The learning is simple: public tantrum equals cookie. This association can lead to behavioral extortion and all kinds of embarrassing situations.

Planned rewards, on the other hand, can effectively dissolve old habits and help children face challenges with courage. Rewards don’t have to be big. The right incentive can motivate a child to get ready quickly in the morning, enter a classroom without a fuss, or finish homework on time.

Motivators aren’t just for individuals. Siblings who are in the habit of fighting can be offered a reward for consistently working things out peacefully. The incentive brings them together toward a common goal. A family can work quickly to clean house in order to leave time in the day for an adventure. Classes sometimes put “gems” in a jar each time students cooperate or reach out to help each other. They have a party when the jar is full.

When children are already inspired, rewarding isn’t necessary and may discourage internal motivation. But when there isn’t motivation and the task feels hard, external incentives can get children going in a successful way until they build a new positive habit.