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School is about school at TES

As a high school English teacher, it took a little time before I learned that it was part of my job to identify what colleges and employers wanted and needed from the students in my classroom.

I started in on my students like the snowy bearded professors I had in college, waxing philosophical about this or that theoretical discourse, pontificating about the historical and societal climate that provided the fodder needed for a guy from Oxford, Mississippi, to go from incompetent and disgruntled postmaster to Nobel Prize winner, or some such thing that struck my fancy.

I wore wrinkled suits and blazers with suede patches on the elbow. I started to grow my beard out. It was who I thought I wanted to be as a teacher. However, I taught high school and realized after a few weeks of staring into the corner of the room, stroking a scraggly beard and lecturing for 50 minutes at a time that students will not learn from such lectures unless they have mastered the academic behaviors needed for chewing on high brow theories, concepts or proofs.

Because I was there for student success and not my own, I had to shift gears. Through research and good mentoring I found the behaviors associated with academic rigor and started to tailor my instruction to promote those behaviors.

The International Center for Leadership in Education defines academic rigor as, “ learning in which students demonstrate a thorough, in-depth mastery of challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills through reflective thought, analysis, problem-solving, evaluation and creativity.”

Academic rigor provides the recipe for excellence in college and life. At Trinity we are preparing students to achieve excellence in any subject area and in life by embedding across the curriculum critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, leadership, adaptability, initiative, effective oral and written communication, all while utilizing imagination and curiosity.

When polled, colleges and employers have identified that the traits listed above are what catch their attention. The content and skills are important but not any more important than a student’s aptitude in the areas listed above.

Rigor alone is not enough, however. To become as versatile, well-rounded and prepared as our graduates, it takes a student who is willing to own their own learning. This “owning” is accomplished through our focusing on student accountability. Trinity teaches its students to think and speak for themselves, to actively participate in their learning and to engage the content rather than passively receive it. We teach students to value learning and the demands of each academic subject. They understand that deadlines are rigid, that assessments test for deep knowledge and that knowing why in addition to what is essential for them to achieve at the highest level.

With increased rigor and a focus on student accountability comes an adjustment period. Trinity has faculty who are here to support and encourage successes through this adjustment period. We have implemented student support services to create the time and resources needed to accommodate the rigor with which some students might be struggling. When we identify a struggling student, we create individual plans for that student’s success. The plans delineate the part the school plays, the parent and most importantly the parts for which the student is accountable.

Trinity believes in its students and we want them to excel, to reach their potential; I am seeing signs of it all around. Students are working harder than they ever have and reaping the rewards. When I walk through the hallways, I hear our students discussing the novels they are reading and asking each other how to do this problem or that. It is music to my ears. At Trinity these days, school is about school.

Teachers, parents, students and the Trinity community have many victory stories to tell in regards to some of the new emphases identified above, and they want you to hear about them. This Thursday at 6 p.m. in the gymnasium, the faculty and I will hold a forum for parents, students and the community to discuss Trinity’s focus on academic rigor and accountability and what it means to our future graduates, to Natchez and to the world.

I would also like to extend that same invitation to any interested in Trinity Episcopal School or in the subjects of rigor and accountability as guiding principles for this college preparatory school and the furthering of its mission to prepare students for excellence in college and life.


Les Hegwood is the head of school at Trinity Episcopal Day School.