The Dandelion

Written by Chelle Wabrek Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs
The first email I opened this morning was from Jennifer Arnold, LS Chaplain. In it was a poem from Thich Nhat Hanh, entitled “The Good News.”  The highlight for me was:

The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
It was a beautiful reminder of the message of this holiday weekend, “the song of eternity,” important for both the Christian and Jewish traditions that many of us are commemorating.  

That same message rang true in “Meets” this week where I heard the sounds of things that truly matter.
The sound of a Lovett kindergartener sounding out blends in the background “with” her teacher while we met, brought a smile to the face of every person in the grid view. The young voice was exactly the “good news” that Hanh wrote about. 

Those same joyful connections were broadcast through the English Department’s Group Me, as the team brought their literary talents to the task that Rev Allen laid out in chapel -- the works of art that would be different in the world of social distancing.

The laughter we bring to each other, and our students, during this time matters. From the giggling 8th grade boys who cracked up when I popped into their English class, just as Abram and Sampson began their “bite my thumb at thee” exchange (scandalous!) to the K-12 program leaders who began their meeting with a game…..
You too can play…..send an image to each person in the meet/class/advisory before it begins.  Have every person in the meet grab a pencil and paper. In turn, each person attempts to give directions about how to draw the emailed image.

In that same meeting one person noted, “I have a heightened sense of purpose in my work during this time because I want to serve kids well, so the energy I am putting into my work feels even more important.”  I saw that purpose over and over again.

In art class, as students demonstrated vulnerability by reflecting on the art they had created for homework. The feedback they received was substantive and moved learning forward.
That act encapsulated our beliefs about education.  Knowledge is constructed by doing and then reflecting on the work that was done. 

In music class, where attempting to sing or play in unison is a virtual impossibility, the teacher’s pivot was purposeful.  The listening assignment was to choose a song important to the student and begin a thoughtful analysis of the music theory (meter, beat, harmony, melody, bridge, etc.), the perspective and the emotional response.  I hear a student reflecting on a song by the band Social Distortion….
...noting that he was thinking deeply about the emotional and physical responses connected to music.  “What happens to me when I listen?” and then to describe differences between the response elicited when joining in a hymn at church vs. using headphones to blast music on a jog. The opportunities for reflection, for us, for our students,abound. 

Many of you enrolled in the Global Online Academy’s course, Designing for Online Learning, and those who were available took some time away for that kind of reflection at the end of this week. 
Being a fly on the wall to hear discussion between teachers in all three divisions, from a wide array of disciplines, to talk about the essential components of online learning:

  • Student agency
  • Wayfinding
  • Relationships
  • Assessment

I gleaned excellent ideas, tremendous insights and shared moments of vulnerability:
  • “Finding the right ratio of teacher talk to kid talk is hard.  These small moments that I am with them, I want them to hear my voice and feel the reassurance of ‘us’ so it’s hard to STOP talking.”
  • “Technology should enable choice and voice.  That creates my deciding line for what I use.”
  • “I’m giving a lot more assessments per class but none of it goes in the gradebook.  The goal is individualized feedback and this has been a game changer for learning.”
  • “I’ve worked really hard to find ways to allow the kids to organize themselves socially, without my voice intervening.  That’s hard because I am so covetous of my time with them.”
  • “Student choice has been important. For the Seniors, we’ve spent four years choosing the books we want them to read and now they get the last four weeks to select their own and design meaningful assessments.”
  • “Kids are experiencing a lack of control and I’ve been thinking about ways to give some back.  Assessments are one way. Open notes, open book, gives them some agency and has significantly decreased student anxiety.”
  • “It’s been important to do everything ‘short’.  Not 30 practice questions, but 2. I want to be efficient and clear.”
  • “Because AP has lopped off some content, we have significant freedom, giving students opportunities to apply their knowledge and to create. It is a tremendous gift, for us and for them.
  • “Teaching an online course is different from teaching a class online. That is a dichotomy we have to hold for this time and filter our design through that.”
  • “I give a google form exit ticket at the end of every class about the style of the class and what worked and what didn’t.  That helps me reflect and improve my instruction.”
  • “The class I teach and the class they take are different things.”
  • “I feel myself giving more assignments and so finding time for kids to give meaningful feedback to each other has been key.”
  • “Creating smaller meets off the larger meet has led to greater student leadership.”
  • “I found that if I mute my microphone and turn off my video, I can get them in a discussion with EACH OTHER instead of a dialogue with me.”
  • “I’ve had to help students think concretely about how they should use their asynchronous time in support of learning in this class.”

Thank you so much for your hard work and dedication to the task at hand.  This is not easy and yet through technical glitches, power outages, muted mics, and the monumental challenges of redesigning your entire curriculum… still find time to do this:
It is an honor to work with you, as we look for the dandelions in the sidewalk together. 

With gratitude, 

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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