A Rainbow in Somebody's Cloud

Written by Chelle Wabrek, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs
I hope you have some screen-free time ahead! It is well deserved after 31 days spent teaching your students virtually.
 
Just 270 days ago, I stood on the stage of the Hendrix Chenault Theater to introduce our new faculty members and describe the “orienteering” they did during their first days at Lovett.  Part of their work was exploring Eva Lovett’s NDE and creating some questions guided by her words that would direct their goals and energy for the coming school year.  In a fruitless attempt to organize some of my sprawling files this week, I came across the set of questions this group wrote. We gathered in that space, so many days ago, completely unaware that the world could take such a bizarre twist, yet the set of questions are prescient -- they represent a compass that guides this school and regardless of where we teach, these questions are both relevant and powerful. 
 
How might I recognize, cultivate and utilize the individual stength’s (gifts) of each child in order to empower them to work in cooperation with others?
Inspiring our youngest students to continue growing their individual skills in an effort to contribute meaningfully to an ensemble is key to our music instruction and teachers model this with beauty and grace.

How might I build virtues that empower students to respond critically and compassionate to the most pressing challenges of the world?
Our 8th graders participated in mock trial this week, representing both sides of a cyberbullying trial in the state of Florida where the impact of social media resulted in tremendous harm to young people.  Students demonstrated deep understanding of the law and represented their respective “sides” with analytical thinking  that highlighted the complicated landscape social media can present in the worlds of young people. 

How might I provide individualized instruction and meaningful feedback in a system that emphasizes “knowledge acquisition” as a means to determine college admissions?
At Lovett we value self-expression and in a period when our students have an opportunity to leverage unstructured free time to explore their own passions, we continue to help them figure out how to do that. Using found objects to create installations at home moves kids off screens into the multi-modal world that we create in the classroom. Learning what one likes to do in the absence of an “assignment” is an essential part of knowing oneself and I love that we prioritize time for this. 

How might I create more “goalless” problems that are more process focused?
You’re a Senior in math class…...just a few days left.  How might a teacher co-create a culminating experience that requires choice, reflection and agency? This one fit the bill and students responded with insight:

  • I have always struggled with the little errors on all math assessments which is really frustrating. I find that I want to erase all these errors from my math. I think we are doing this project because by using our memories from math, we find the root of problems that we personally wish we may have solved in math class, like my mental math errors. By doing this, we can identify the simplest form of the issue and learn what issues we may want to teach to the class.
  • It was really interesting to redesign a math class after being in, typically, the same class structure throughout my time at Lovett. I have realized that I really enjoy a highly collaborative environment and when more applications/projects are included in the curriculum as a form of assessment rather than tests. It was cool to see what others had to say as well and that we all similar ideas on the topic. I believe we start with the POV's because it is more important to consider what you want a student to take away from a class experience once they leave rather than just getting material across. I am excited to see what this project turns and hope to enjoy it along the way!
  • This experience was somewhat frustrating because we definitely all had different ideas of what an ideal math experience was. However, this was useful in discussing and helping our group learn from one another. We all agreed that we wanted to teach something out of the box, something that we rarely think about but impacts us everyday. I think we start here because it is important to relate to one another and understand ideas from different points of view.

How might we adjust our view of our yardstick?
AP Language students are preparing for the “new” A.P. which requires them to record themselves on their phones.  The test is all speaking. Following a practice attempt, answering in Spanish the question, “What kinds of things in our world stand out in a crisis,” Parthena Draggett, author of the student’s textbook who is also currently designing the new test popped in.  She was there to encourage the Seniors, each of who she addressed by name and asked about their plans, how they are doing and what specific question they had about the exam. She wrapped up with them by reciting some of Dr. Seuss’s¡Oh, cúan lejos llegarás!, noting that each one had a unique path ahead.

 
How might I continue to bring the analog into a digital world?
Leave it to our academic technology rockstars to get kids off their devices and to design in three dimensions.  Asked to build prototypes of things that could solve some real life problems that kids, or families, or pets, are experiencing during quarantine, kids were encouraged to listen to the stories they were hear and design using whatever they could find to bring some light into this strange world we are living in.

How might I foster the seeds of lifelong curiosity?
Middle Schoolers have embarked on their own curious journeys, exploring the Chemistry of Life.  Ever wondered why hairspray works? Or why ice floats?  Or what fear is?  This padlet collection of student expositions is inspiring and certainly poured water and sunshine on curiosity. 
 
How might I create learning experiences for children that allow them to connect?
We know how important it is for kids to hear their names during our distance learning, but taking attendance differently each day, asking kids to reflect on a “category” allows each one to speak and invites classmates into their worlds.  The category on Thursday was, “Weird things on my desk,” and featured this hockey puck, but also lightsabers, legos and bobbleheads.

How might we continue to foster the social and emotional skills needed for a sustainable future while finding a metric to track progress over time so they are prepared for a future where their evaluation will  be different?
Starting class with a brief, hopeful meditation and reflection reminds our students of our shared humanity and the call we have to contribute productively and empathetically to our world. US history students have connected with Dr. Angelou daily (click on the image for her short message), not only for personal inspiration, but as a lens to look at periods of history where people stood up for what was right.  Her admonition “to be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud” is especially powerful and a message our students will carry with them.

In our third episode of Lovett Learns, Glenn Whitman joined me to talk about the waters we find ourselves swimming in, and how we might impact motivation -- our own and our students’. The questions our new faculty wrote were woven seamlessly into the conversation, completely naturally because they spring out of Lovett’s values.  

Glenn noted that we may be teaching online, but this is an “in-person” moment, we show up, in person, for each other and our kids. It might be through a screen, be we are there. While our tactical transition has been successful we have reached an inflection point in the motivation of our students.  Key to keeping kids motivated during the final weeks of school  is built on the relational trust we have created and it will be key to make sure we are providing challenge for kids.  We have prioritized presence and helped provide a buoy during the emotional inconsistency of long virtual days. Are we continuing to push kids into the Zone of Proximal Discomfort, encouraging their intellectual development?
Given our vibrant discussions about assessment in this virtual time, it is still our priority to move students into the “executive state”, but that requires building a firm foundation on the emotional state.  As we ensure a sense of belonging, demonstrating that our students are known (Sawubona) we are called to continue to keep them asking, “What can I learn from this?” and that spirit will carry us forward.
I know you are tired.  And kids are tired.  And parents are tired.  And I love that I work at a school where our teachers don’t give up.  You continue to be, as Dr. Angelou poignantly reminds us, “a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Thank you. 

With gratitude, 
Chelle
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