I recently came across a video I had from a few years ago of me, my peers, and Mr. Barnim sitting around the Harkness table during English class. It was seemingly unimportant and insignificant - we did that almost every day. But I felt quite nostalgic watching us laugh as we discovered something unexpected and had an “a-ha” moment. What a privilege it was to do that almost every day; to learn in such a dynamic manner through the Harkness method. I had forgotten how profound it was that we were able to work through the discussion process, untangling strings of confusion to obtain clarity on a subject together. It was messy, it was hard, and sometimes you felt like you were shooting for the stars, all because we made mistakes along the way. And lots of them.
Looking back now after finishing a year of university, I’ve realized that being comfortable with making mistakes, especially in front of others, is one of the most important things Harkness and Southridge have taught me. Harkness taught me how integral mistakes are to discussion, collaboration and ideation, while Southridge taught me the values necessary to foster an environment that encourages this. It was my peers who embodied these values and made this lesson possible for me; it is truly a unique experience to sit at a table and fully trust everyone else there to respect you when you share an idea, ask a question, and especially when you make a mistake.
In this way, our classrooms are one of a multitude of ways our community demonstrates how we work together to let every spirit soar. The mutual understanding of respect and trust means that we let each other make mistakes so that we can explore things in the most authentic way possible. This type of exploration has always been encouraged by the passionate and innovative teachers we are so lucky to have at Southridge. I am personally grateful for the many ideas and paths they introduced me to and encouraged me to explore because these planted the seeds for some of the latest projects I am working on now. For example, my involvement in Mr. DiPietro’s Action Research team and Mr. Sterelyukhin’s research on Harkness in Mathematics classrooms fostered my curiosity and led me to work in research at UBC.
I’ve been able to take advantage of opportunities such as this in the past year that I would have never been confident enough to pursue if it weren’t for my Harkness experience. I’ve sat on roundtable discussions with the Dean of the Sauder School of Business, the Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, and members of the Office of the Legal Counsel of UBC. But as I pursued these exciting opportunities and used the myriad skills I had developed through Harkness, I grew more cautious about my ideas and more concerned about not slipping up, especially in the classroom. This was most likely because the discussions involved groups of people that were unfamiliar and the environment I was in was increasingly competitive. I felt stuck and in a rut. The video of my classmates and Mr. Barnim that I came across made me realize how important it was that I continue to embrace the key learning point of liberating myself to make mistakes and take risks.
My advice for future alumni is to embrace what you have learned through Harkness; have the courage to take risks and make mistakes, inside the lecture hall and out. We’re lucky to be free from any peer and societal pressure within Southridge - but this shouldn’t limit you after you walk out the big wooden crest doors in your uniform for the last time. In the words of founding headmaster Alan Brown, “everybody’s weird, and everybody needs room to grow and room to fly”, so don’t let the fear of being a beginner, looking dumb or feeling uncomfortable limit you and your goals. No matter what activity your pursue, if you make mistakes and constantly seek to improve upon them, you will surely let your spirit soar.
By Saavin Lidder, Class of 2018