Upper Division Project Week

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.

 

Curiosity. Grit. Gratitude. Zest. Personal Responsibility. Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship at Park.

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.

Grade IX Lead Us Out

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