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.