Portrait of the Learner: Helping Students Find Balance in Their Busy Lives

Middle School students tracked how they spent their week to help them understand the importance of balance and time management.

Sometimes it feels like there are too few hours in a day to do everything we want (and need) to do.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a SMUS Middle School student. They are at an age where they’re starting to develop independence and they have access to an abundance of great opportunities and commitments to keep them busy before, during and after school.

“The Middle School is when the scaffolding starts to come off,” says Mrs. Tanya Lee, Middle School teacher and a member of SMUS’s Personalization Team, referring to the level of support that parents provide younger students. “This is when our students start to take on more responsibility for their own organization and time management, and develop an awareness of their well-being.”

Key to this stage of development is ‘balance’.

Balance is one of the seven qualities SMUS has identified as a priority for students to develop under our Portrait of the Learner banner. Portrait of the Learner is seven student-friendly qualities – Curiousity, Resilience, Initiative, Balance, Integrity, Collaboration and Empathy – that we want every student to graduate with.

“We talk to students about how reading, writing and arithmetic are and always will be important, but in this day and age these Portrait of the Learner qualities are just as important in order to be successful in higher education and in life. So we teach these qualities and spend time focusing on these qualities with intention,” Tanya says.

It’s important for students to develop a good understanding of what balance means and how to implement it in their own lives, as it’s directly tied to self-care and their personal wellness.

“How does a student get involved in all of these amazing things, but at the same time be mindful of their well-being so that they don’t get overwhelmed or lose track of where it’s important for them to spend their time,” Tanya says.

Recently, every Middle School student received a data sheet and spent a week filling out how they spend all 24 hours every day. They were asked to track how much time they spent in school, doing homework, in front of a screen, sleeping, eating, participating in extra-curricular activities and more. All Grade 6-8 students then learned how to use that data to create pie charts of their lives.

“Graphing is a skill that’s taught at the Middle School. We are supporting that skill development by tying it to the idea that ‘you’re learning it by creating this great visual about you that will inform you to make great choices,'” Tanya says. “It’s not just graphing using data from a textbook, it’s data that’s relevant and unique to each student.”

Every student has uploaded their pie chart to their online digital portfolio. The charts will be used to inform students, parents and teachers this school year (and in later years) as they monitor how students balance their time.

All seven of the Portrait of the Learner qualities are woven into the K-12 curriculum at SMUS, through class lessons, projects and discussions, specifically designed activities and Chapel.

“As a TAG (Teacher Advisor Group) teacher, I work every day with the same group of students and I’m aware of the goals they’re setting and monitor those, and that pie chart informs me, as well,” Tanya says. “It’s really about having the students look at that pie chart and be able to self-reflect and for them to see things like, ‘OK, I heard that 10 hours is recommended amount of sleep and I’m not getting that.’ As educators, we see how important balance is in students’ lives, so we really want to set the students up for success in these early days.”

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Kyle Slavin
Kyle Slavin is the school's storyteller. Through words and photos, he shares with the community all the amazing things that happen on campus.

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