Last week, while students were beginning their extra long weekend, their teachers came to school, ready to work and learn. The focus of the day was applied learning, which in its simplest terms has to do with how students apply what they have learned in order to demonstrate their understanding. In other words, what students do with what they know.
In the morning, we watched a movie together and had discussion groups. In the afternoon, nine faculty members presented things that they had been working on in their classrooms so that we could be inspired by and learn from our colleagues.
At the heart of our work was exciting thinking, conversation, and questions about the purpose of school and the most important skills needed in our changing world. I wanted to explain some of these ideas to the Upper Division Students, and so I showed them this short video in Morning Meeting.
In our moment of silence, I asked the students to reflect on how their work and our Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship connect to the qualities and skills described in the video. I hope that in that quiet moment, they began to think about the many connections that I see in classrooms each and every day.
In mid-January, we held our first all-school Winter Spirit Day. Park students and adults came to school wearing school colors. At the end of the day, Grades I – VIII gathered in the west gym for an energetic (and fun!) pep rally for the Varsity basketball teams. Later that evening, the teams ate diner at school and then traveled to Meadowbrook School – with 200 green frosted cupcakes – to play back-to-back games. The teams were evenly matched, and the games were well-played and very exciting to watch, and, in the end, Park won both games. We hope that this is the beginning of a wonderful new tradition!
Upper Division students and their teachers begin the school day with Morning Meeting (8:15- 8:30) every day except for Tuesday. Morning Meeting provides a time for the logistics of attendance taking and announcement making, it gives us all the chance to start the day together, and it allows for the opportunity to have four short presentations a week – presentations by teachers, parents, outside speakers, individual students, or whole classes or grade levels, Morning Meeting provides an important window into the life of the Upper Division. It is always a highlight of my day.
Parents are welcome to come to Morning Meeting, provided that they sit in the top rows on the side sections of seats – and that they turn off their cell phones.
To whet your appetite, I am providing below a partial list of topics of recent and upcoming Upper Division Morning Meetings. Please check Friday Notes each week for a complete listing of Morning Meeting presentations.
- VII Modern and Classical Languages Trip to the MFA
- How to Spot Fake News?
- VIII English “This I Believe” essays
- #powerofwords – the importance of saying thank you and telling people they are important to you before the end of the year
- Mock Caldecott Award
- Grade VI Book Character Day
- Don’t Be An Armadillo – tips for public speaking
We look forward to seeing you in Morning Meeting sometime!
I recently heard that right before vacation, students were wondering about my favorite word and debating whether it was “grit” or “yet”. I laughed when I heard this because I think that these things are both important and that, in fact, they are intertwined.
I think that yet is the foundation for not just grit for but for the other character strength words too – and for so many of the other things we learn and practice in school. I think that believing in yet (in other words, growth mindset) may be one of the most important foundations for learning and for teaching.
The thing I love about yet is that it is all about possibility. Instead of, “I can’t do that.” think “I can’t do that, yet.” Yet means that each one of us can get better, yet means that each one of us can learn the hard “stuff” of school – from English to math to art to science to demonstrating the Habits of Scholarship and Citizenship. Yet means that a belief in the ability to learn and grow and get better.
So, how do we get to the yet? Well, it is not always easy – the truth is that we get there with lots of hard work and practice, and that is where the grit comes in.
At Park, we think that practice and making mistakes and hard work and more practice really does get students to the yet. I have included two short videos which help explain some of the science and some of the thinking that’s out there that makes us teachers believe in the power of yet.
Brain as a muscle video
Carol Dweck video
It is really interesting to think about the brain as a muscle, and it is exciting to think about the fact that your brain does indeed grows stronger with practice and hard work, that intelligence is not fixed, that your brain gets strongest (which means you learn the most) when you make a mistake or when you are working through something that feels hard. How incredibly powerful that the science of brain research shows us that this is true. Thinking about the brain as a muscle that can get stronger with hard work and practice is key to believing in the power of word yet.
One more short video in this one, listen for the word yet.
You can do anything
In 2017, as we learn, as we work our way through the hard things, we need to remember the optimism that is embedded in the word yet and the gritty hard work that helps us to get there.
The first line of Park’s mission statement reads, “The Park School is dedicated to excellence in education.” We, parents, teachers, and students, would all agree, I think, that academic excellence is important, vital even. But what does that really mean? And, more importantly, what does academic excellence look like?
A few years again, the Upper Division faculty took on this question. What follows is a list generated by Park teachers. It is by no means exhaustive, and yet it gives a sense of what we look for when we look for examples of academic excellence in the classroom.
ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE can be seen in the following student behaviors …
- problem solving, asking questions, critical, creative thinking, taking intellectual risks are the cornerstones
- meeting challenge and difficulty with strategies
- looking for deeper sense of understanding, rather than simply the “right” answer
- tenacity, responsibility for learning, asking questions or asking for help
- willingness to dig in and work hard
- ability to self assess/ self awareness as a learner
- ability to make connections, synthesize information, look at something from a new or different perspective
- intellectual energy/engagement in the subject and the process of learning
How can we as parents help our children to develop these skills? I have a few suggestions
- focus on process rather than the end product
- ask “What do you think about X?” when children are talking about schoolwork
- see mistake-making and asking for help as an important part of learning
- adopt a growth mindset – help children to see that effort is more important than simply being smart
I see academic excellence in action in classrooms at Park every day. I invite you to take a look at your child’s work or the way he or she that approaches work or what is on the bulletin boards at Park or presented in Morning Meeting and think that you, too, will see what academic excellence looks like in the Upper Division.
On the first day of school, pencils were sharpened and brand new assignment books and Google calendars were blank, and no one had experienced any hard work – other than, perhaps, getting out of bed. Now here we are almost two months later. Pencils have been dulled and re-sharpened many times, assignment books and Google Classroom calendars are filled with homework, tests, quizzes, and projects, and I assume – I hope – that everyone has had moments of hard work. These things are all good.
But now that we are all more than just a few steps into the journey of the school year, how do we think about the lofty goals of what we are trying to accomplish – especially when we are all so busy. Big ideas and accomplishments may be important, but before we can get to them we have homework to do and practice or rehearsal to go to and a million other things to do first.
That’s why, at the halfway point in the term, teachers at Park take the time to stop and calculate interim grades and write interim comments to give students important feedback. And that’s why students need to take the time when these comments arrive home to read them carefully.
What can you and your children do when you read through the narrative comments? Three things.
- Find the good. It’s there in every single comment – I promise.
- Find the things to work on. That’s in every single comment, too – I promise.
- Have your child make a plan. How exactly will he or she keep doing the good and how exactly will he or she do the thing or things teachers are asking him or her you to work on?
This last step is the most important and, of course, the hardest, and it may require a conversation with a teacher or advisor. Your child may even have to ask for help and that can be difficult to do – but is so important to learn.
Interim comments are filled with suggestions and ideas, and these suggestions and ideas are the ways that you students can go from possibility to accomplishment. Teachers are giving their students a roadmap to follow to make the most of the term.
Take a look at the photos below to see what Upper Division Students were up to during Project Week. All Upper Division students and their advisors took a break from the routine of school to work and learn together in new ways at the Cape, in New Hampshire, at Hale Reservation and even on campus. During Project Week, students try new things, form new friendships, and make discoveries about their classmates, teachers and themselves.
Teamwork – Grade VI at Larz Anderson Park
Finding their balance – Grade VI at Hale Reservation
Up, up, and away – Grade VI at Hale Reservation
High above the ground – Grade VI at Hale Reservation
Picturesque Accomodations – Grade VII Project Reason
Grade VII Project Reason
Grade VII Project Reason
Taking “aim” on their targets – Grade VII Project Reason
Reflection and Sketching – Grade VII Project Reason
Grade VIII Project Week
Scaling new obstacles – Grade VIII Project Week
Grade VIII Project Week
Eye See You – Grade VIII Project Week
Building buildings and relationships – Grade VIII Project Week
You’ve heard these words at Park – what do they really mean?
For the past several years, the Upper Division faculty has been focusing on exciting new thinking about how certain character strengths are important predictors of success.
What we have learned is that these performance-based character strengths are more like habits than innate traits and that when they are clearly defined, emphasized and modeled intentionally, as well as understood in terms of what they actually look like in a school setting, they can be practiced and honed. Our study of character strengths led to the creation of a checklist for the Upper Division comment forms, one that helped us to focus on these important habits. We have been using this checklist since the fall of 2013.
Our checklist focuses on five areas that we call Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship at Park. Each of the five words on the checklist stems from the list of predictors of success compiled by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and in addition has a deliberate connection to the words found in Park’s mission statement. While the words themselves are important, it is the definitions that we have developed for each which are most critical to understanding these words within the context of being a student at Park School.
The words and definitions are listed below.
- Curiosity is the desire to personally connect with learning. This begins with a sense of wonder, requires an open mind and a comfort with not yet knowing, and leads to learning for its own sake.
- Grit is having the discipline to persevere in the face of hard work or setbacks with the belief that success is possible.
- Gratitude is looking outside of oneself, recognizing the value of relationships within our community, and showing appreciation through ones actions.
- Zest is an excitement for learning, which may be expressed overtly or quietly, that motivates oneself and inspires others.
- Personal Responsibility is a student’s commitment to developing effective work habits and taking charge of her/his actions and behaviors in order to meet the daily expectations of school life.
Students at each grade level have defined what it looks like to demonstrate these habits in a school setting. Teachers use these student generated lists as they fill out the checklists on the comment forms, and students will use them as they self reflect and set goals for themselves. Here is an example of the list generated by the new sixth grade class.
The checklist on the comment form allows teachers to provide their students with feedback about the ways they demonstrate these character strengths in the classroom. The word demonstrate is key, here. For example, a student may be very curious but may not be demonstrating that in his or her classes as frequently as he or she could. This checklist will give students and parents that crucial feedback. Students will also self-reflect at each interim with their advisors and will set goals for themselves as necessary. As we think about this checklist, we want to stress the concept of growth mindset as defined by Carol Dweck. A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort (and that) everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
In the end, we hope that our intentional focus on these character strengths will lead to important conversations between students, parents and teachers that, in turn, will lead to meaningful growth.
On Thursday, September 29, past and current Park faculty and parents and alums gathered for a program called Grade IX Lead Us Out. Everyone at the event had a connection to Grade IX. Some were ninth graders themselves, others taught or worked with the ninth grade, still others had a child in Grade IX – and some were a combination of the three. (Including this writer.) Everyone knew first hand about the many ways that ninth grade was unique, and the evening gave us the opportunity to remember why we treasured this program so very much. But we’ve also understood that the ninth grade as we knew and loved it was just not viable; and so we understood the decision for Park to become a Pre-K – Grade VIII school.
Grade IX Lead Us Out was an honoring, a good bye and a way to mark that Park is moving forward – leading onward, to quote Cynthia Harmon. We began the 2016-2017 year as a Pre-K – Grade VIII school. And while eighth grade will never become a carbon copy of the ninth grade, the underlying elements of the things we valued most about the ninth grade are being woven into Grade VIII.
I use the word weaving intentionally. I have always been intrigued by the phrase, the fabric of the school. What does that mean? What does that look like? Why fabric? Fabric refers to woven cloth. It also refers to the basic structure of something. Time and time again, the things that are most important to Park are referred to as part of the fabric of the school because these things have been woven into the basic structure of what we do and who we are and because the threads combine to tell a story – the story of the school.
To really understand this metaphor, one must understand the threads themselves, the warp and the weft, and how they work. Warp threads are fixed vertical threads that form the backbone of the weaving. The weft threads are woven across the warp, and these are the threads that tell the story by painting a picture, if you will, into the fabric. The weft threads can be changed in a process called discontinued threads when one weft is knotted or tucked into place and another is introduced.
To me, the warp represents the permanent parts of the school – the core values, the pieces of the Park mission that have not changed and will not change even as mission statements have been re-written over time. The warp is the backbone of the weaving, invisible actually in a tapestry but of the utmost importance because the warp threads give support and structure to the weft threads.
I believe that many of warp threads of the Park School stand for the things we love most about Grade IX. These threads include the importance of relationships and a sense of belonging, the belief in and respect for each student as an individual, the care and attention which allow students to blossom, find a passion and trust their voice, the commitment to excellence, the joy of learning fueled by curiosity, creativity and confidence, the commitment to group leadership, and the multiple opportunities for each student to learn and grow both in and out of the classroom.
While parts of the warp are fixed, Park’s fabric is not static. Rather than one unchanging square, the fabric of the school continues to be woven, discontinued weft threads are knotted and changed, which allows the fabric to tell an ongoing story, evolving as necessary.
How exciting to think that we are, right now, weaving new threads into that fabric. How important to realize that the things we love most about the ninth grade are, in fact, so central to the school that they form the backbone, the structure, the warp to our woven fabric and are, as a result, permanent threads in the story of the school. The weft of Grade IX – the discontinued threads I described earlier – have been gently knotted and tucked into the back of the tapestry. New weft threads are being woven as we speak, beginning to tell the story of a Pre-K – VIII school.
Each of us, connected to Grade IX by personal experience and devotion, has been woven into the fabric of the school by being a part of this special program. And while the weft threads may have changed, our story is still there, still strong, still important. And our collective legacy, the legacy of the ninth grade will continue to provide structure and permanence to the fabric of the school as we move forward. Ninth graders led us out of Morning Meeting for close to 50 years. Many of the things we love most about Grade IX will continue to lead us onward.
To view the video “Grade IX Lead Us Out” click here
The Upper Division annual Community Reading event will take place on Thursday, September 15. This is an afternoon of cross-grade-level book group meetings, when we gather together over cookies and lemonade to talk about books. Every student and faculty member in Grades VI-VIII read one of the five books which were selected for this summer reading assignment. For those of you who have ever been in a book group, our afternoon meetings will resemble book group discussions rather than a formal class. The dIscussion groups are led by eighth graders and faculty members, who will be equipped with a series of questions to begin conversation.
Community Reading is celebrating its tenth year. We think this afternoon of spirited conversation sure beats a book report!
See the list of books here or below: Summer Community Reading