1/24/20 Onward!

Written by Chelle Wabrek, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs
Happy Weekend!  

What a busy, busy week!  A successful MLK march with our Breakthrough colleagues, Middle School conferences, College Admissions Reverse Fly In, and a Donor “Thanksgiving” for the Lower School Library. It is so much fun to have visitors on this amazing campus!

In Kindergarten, connections were being made in abundance. Simply learning to correctly form the letter “k” allowed teachers to demonstrate the importance of activating prior knowledge. 
Because our brains seek patterns, connections and relationships in information, it’s important to point out that “K”s are “giraffe letters” (with long necks). After you have drawn that long descending line, all you need to do is draw a “karate kick” in and a “karate kick” out. To successfully encode neurons, we have to link new information to existing schema and it was exciting to see this happening with our youngest learners as they explore the building blocks of communication. 

As our students gain greater mastery over such communication, we are so blessed to have guidance counselors that work with them to use their words for good.  “Stop and think” is an important rule of thumb throughout our lives and I am so happy that we work in a place that dedicates time to helping students speak in ways that lift one another up.
While Middle School had conferences during an already short week, they made the most of their unique schedule. Given cardboard, duct tape, creativity and knowledge of Newton’s second and third laws, teams of eighth graders were required to make a chair that had to support the weight of an adult.   
Special features of the chairs included cup holders, lumbar pillows (yes, made out of cardboard), phone holders, laptop chargers and neck rests. A couple even came with snacks. Their work was creative and collaborative, all designed for the comfort of the end user!

The MS Science Department spent today at Jackson Spalding for concentrated curricular planning both horizontally and vertically. From designing medical journals about disease to building out CSI labs to an identity exploration that connects DNA, eating habits and socialization, the team was focused, productive and creative juices were flowing.  Have our ARC director there to help us think about all the unique learners in our classrooms made it even better, as did inspiration from Glen Jackson himself!
Upper School connections abounded as well!  What do AP Spanish Language and AP US History tests have in common?  A lot actually, as these two teachers demonstrated when they teamed up to help students understand the structural similarities!  The comparison between history’s DBQs (with seven sources) and language’s argumentative essay (with three sources, one of which is audio) helped students think about the connections between the disciplines and to streamline their preparation.

The Education and Student Life Committee of Lovett’s Board met this week with a highlight on Upper School.  Following our last session in MS that had a focus on Eva Lovett's vision and student wellness, a panel of US teachers took center stage to talk through the academic stressors facing students as a result of some course choices they face.  AP, Honors, on-level, study halls, arts must each be weighed and are certainly on the minds of our students who just revisited their four year schedule plans with advisors. 
Upper School teachers served as the storytellers of learning. Regardless of course level or discipline, each spoke of the aspirations and hopes they have for their students: full lives spurred on by curious minds and appreciative hearts. The sage David Abraham, quoted the work of William Deresiewicz, to note that we are in the business of “soulcraft, the search for the authentic self, the discerning of true passions, and the discovery of a worthy, meaningful life.” Our disciplines allow us a vehicle to demonstrate our own passions and to push our students to think deeply.

Wisdom from the eight College Deans who took part in our Reverse Fly-In (from Tulane, University of Chicago, Alleghany, Case Western Reserve, Georgia, Whittier, WPI, University of Texas ) allowed us to deepen the dialogue on this topic. In response to questions about grade weighting, APs, the number of honors classes student “need” to take, College Deans encouraged us to instead help students discover unique interests, develop creative reasoning and to tolerate productive struggle.   
And just by happenstance, I had spent an hour in AP World History that same day.  In response to Sir Ken Robinson’s video about the changing landscape of education.  Students were asked to physically move to sit by one of three key insights from Sir Ken about the factory model of education:
  • schools create systems of “conformity and compliance” that leave no space for self-exploration
  • testing and grades-based focus in school “generates a dreary culture of incessant competition.” 
  • schools undervalue a huge portion of students who don’t happen to be good at “academic” skills. 
Students were asked to speak about the sign they had gravitated toward and I am so happy I pushed record on my phone to capture some exact quotes from them.
Their key insights, while about specific topics, demonstrated how students might articulate educating the whole child:
  • “There are other ways to be creative besides X, Y, and Z. How could we incorporate more creativity and stuff with the academics because that's makes a more natural real world situation.  Instead of compartmentalizing creativity and academics and all this stuff, let’s use it all together. For myself you don’t have to sacrifice the commitment to academics for creativity.” 
  • “Finding my way through school would be a lot of easier if things were more fused together. There are fine arts and creativity and logic. You don’t want these sides of your brain separated. Instead they should work together.” 
  • “When we get a test grade people always ask each other what they got and it makes you feel bad if you are not on that upper scale. It shouldn’t be that way because everyone has their own paths.”
  • “I’m very stressed about college.  I always have been. Everything I do at school is about getting into a good college.  If I’m having a bad day or if I’m not a good test taker that doesn't mean I’m not smart but I may not get a good grade on the test and that goes into my college thinking and my future.  But a test number shouldn’t be the thing that shows how smart you are because there are so many other ways to show smartness besides answering a bunch of multiple choice questions.”
  • “There are a lot of things that play into smartness.  You can have a really bad grade in the class and that could be purely because you are not organized, not because you aren’t smart.  It is such a hard thing to grade smartness on a scale because there are so many different factors that go into it. Just because you turned in all your homework on time you got a 95 and people say that’s smart, but other people have other things that they are good at or things they need to work on. 
  • “Your will and drive to succeed should come from within yourself and what you want to do and not from comparing yourself to others. 
  • “We need grades obviously.  But they stress people out. My entire future is resting on my grades right now and that shouldn’t be the feeling that I have.  If I feel really tired at the end of the day, if I get a bad grade on X, then this, this, this, and this will happen. Yes, grades are important but not like the REST OF YOUR LIFE. But it feels like that.”

Eva Lovett would have LOVED listening to them talk!

I hope your weekend holds some time for reading this weekend!  Our librarians remind us of all the places reading takes us.
I’m reading book two of Phillip Pullman’s second trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth.  Ever wonder what happen to Lyra Silvertongue after the His Dark Materials series?  Well here it is! May you be curled up with a book for part of the next two days and finding some time to rejuvenate after all you have poured into kids this week!

Joyfully, 
Chelle
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