December 15, 2011

The Art of Choosing

Third graders at their Ancient Egyptian Celebration this week
Sheena Iyengar is a professor at Columbia University and the author of The Art of Choosing.  Recently I heard her speak and came away highly impressed by both her delivery and her topic. She spoke at length about her research on choice and about her book in which she aims to help us become better choosers.  I listened to her fluid and eloquent presentation, given with no notes and in complete synchronicity to a slide show that played behind her.  There is nothing remarkable about that for a gifted professional speaker who clearly knows her stuff.  Except for the fact that Sheena Iyengar is blind. 

Diagnosed as a toddler with a rare form of retinal degeneration, this superbly intelligent woman was completely blind at the age of 14. I found it remarkable how she was able to regale her audience with stories, quote exact figures from her research, and show both amusing and informative examples to illustrate her point, all in perfect order with the PowerPoint she had created.

Iyengar’s talk was about the relationship between leadership and choice.  Some leaders are literally born into the role. Others are simply born with bucket loads of charisma and naturally rise to the top, while most of us in leadership positions have arrived there because we have developed the ability to choose well and to enhance the power of good choices for transformative good.

I am proud that Friends’ School teaches children how to make good choices.  This is such an important part of our educational philosophy that we have times of our week when students get to choose what activities they would like to partake in.  Teachers put out different types of materials, quite often art supplies, items to build with or glue together, thingamajigs where scientific discoveries can be made.  And if a child does not choose to spend time doing one of the choices set out by the teacher, he or she may choose to do something else. Quite often the choices presented are connected to the current area of curriculum study, but sometimes not. 

We have discovered that, at choice time, children actively engage in the process of defining themselves.  They are given the opportunity to make decisions and think for themselves, and they shine.

This is what we want from our Friends’ School and college graduates.  We seek collaborators and team players who know themselves, think for themselves, and have great ideas.
It is clear that effective leaders today have to be dedicated practitioners of the art of choice.  They have to understand the people they lead and work with them to give them the right amount of choice to empower them. Sheena Iyengar herself was dealt a rough hand in the game of life, a disease that robbed her of her eyesight.  She chose to rise above it, to become an expert in her chosen field, and she chose to shine.  Our Friends’ School students are on their way to doing the same.

Wherever you choose to be this holiday season, and whomever you choose to be with, I wish you a peaceful, restful, and happy winter break.

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, 2010

December 8, 2011

Something To Sing About

Friends' School has many wonderful traditions.  Some of them date back to the first year of the school’s existence 24 years ago, when our founding families created warm and nurturing rituals to mark important passages in their children’s growth.  One of the joys of my first year as Head of School is to be a part of these traditions.  Some of them I’ve added my own twist to, such as the dramatization of the telling of Stone Soup at Harvest Celebration.  Some of them, I know to leave well enough alone…

This week our Great Room was home to a beautiful evening as preschool families braved freezing temperatures to join each other in song as part of the Preschool Winter Sing-Along.  With sparkling lights adorning the walls, preschool music teacher Kristen McLean led dozens of families in a program of familiar and child-friendly songs.  Kristin, who has a B.A. in music and early childhood education, is a natural performer and has a gorgeous voice.  Turns out many of our parents and kids do too!

Families sat together, with three and four year olds, and a few parents, leaping spontaneously to their feet in dance.  Grandparents, babies, and older siblings joined their voices in this wonderful Friends’ School tradition.  I felt an enormous sense of community.

Every day our preschool teachers sing with the kids.  Every day when I stop by the preschool classrooms, I am always so impressed with the way the teachers talk so respectfully to the children and teach them how to talk respectfully to each other and how to express their needs and wants.  Our students are learning real life skills.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received a few unsolicited letters from some of our preschool families who wanted to share their thoughts about their children’s experience.  I quote a few of them below.  As we begin to fill all our preschool places for next year during this busy admissions season, you are more than welcome to pass these comments to your friends and neighbors who have two and three year olds, or even babies.

“Meg and Christie are thoughtful, kind, listen to the students (and parents), and give amazing instruction.  (My son) and I enjoy their company. The classroom is organized, creative, and structured.”

“We feel like a part of a community.  I love that we can go to the "big kids playground" after school and play.”

“(My husband) was announcing to his friends how Friends' has "the best preschool program around." He was not shy about our feelings and experiences with the preschool. The most wonderful part was hearing other fathers chime in with similar experiences in the preschool at Friends’.”

“(My son) uses at home what he learns at school.  He and his sister use the skills while playing and in problem solving. (My son) is thriving!  What more can we ask for?”

“We continue to be 'wowed' by Jessie. She is consistently an amazing teacher and our children have been the recipients of her gift. With both of our children, we saw incredible strides in their emotional, social and academic lives. Jessie communicates with the children and parents on such a candid level that one cannot help but listen and appreciate her words.”

“I'm thankful, each and every day, for everything that you are GIVING to (my daughter) and her new friends.  She adores each of you uniquely and is very, very engaged in her days at school.  The ways in which details of her day spill into our time together outside of school is so blissful!  It is clear to me that she is thriving.”

And really, what more could a parent ask for?

Well, perhaps an opportunity to sing and dance….

November 30, 2011

Free Money!

Pre-K and first grade students join together this week to watch a
shadow puppet show, written and performed by fourth graders

Welcome back to that wonderfully busy time in the life of a school that we call December.  I hope you all had a refreshing Thanksgiving break.  I enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal around my table with good friends and a couple of people I did not know, one of whom had traveled from Poland and who spoke no English.  It’s amazing how we can all communicate the spirit of the season even with those with whom we cannot converse.

One of the themes of conversation that arose at my table was a common love for this particular holiday because it has not been subjected to the vast consumerism and commercialism of other holidays.  How great it is to be able to sit down and simply enjoy good food, good wine, and good company without all the trappings and trimmings of endless decorations and gifts.

I don’t know about you, but I’m reaching that annual stress-point in my calendar when all the holiday gifts I need to buy start interrupting my sleep.  In my house, we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and both my daughters’ birthdays at this time of year.  I want to get gifts for some friends, my neighbors, my co-workers, and my family in England whose gifts I should have put on a trans-Atlantic freight ship about two months ago.  It can be a little overwhelming. I try to be thoughtful.  I promise never to buy anyone an ugly sweater, but sometimes writing a check would be so much easier.

If your e-mail inbox looks anything like mine, you’re getting several solicitations a day from non-profit organizations to whom you’ve given in the past, asking you to take advantage of Colorado Gives Day next Tuesday.  You’ve likely heard from Friends' School as this is the first year that we, as a school, have participated in this sensational opportunity.  Any donations given to our school on Tuesday will be automatically increased through the generosity of the First Bank Incentive Fund. 100% of your donation, plus the incentive, goes directly to Friends’ School (you don’t even have to pass “GO”) when you donate online through Giving First, with no fees charged.  

Fourth grade shadow puppets, created under
the direction of art teacher Rachel Relin
Free money!

We are in the midst of our Annual Fund campaign, which we rely on each year to help provide this wonderful education to our students.  We have a lofty goal that we have not yet reached.  We respectfully ask that, if you appreciate what this school does for our children, you choose to make Friends' School one of your top philanthropic priorities at this time of year.  And what better time to do it than with the added incentive of free money?

So as you look over the list of gifts you need to buy this holiday season, and after you check it twice, please consider an online gift to Friends’.  It’s got to be better than an ugly sweater!

November 17, 2011

Giving Thanks

As we prepare to take a week’s break from school for the Thanksgiving holiday, it is a good time to reflect on what we have to be thankful for.  As a brand new American citizen (my first U.S. passport arrived in April) it will be especially meaningful for me this year to celebrate this uniquely American tradition, one that all of us of every stripe and creed can share together.

For me, my family and my health top the list. But not too far behind is my absolute joy and gratitude for being welcomed into this Friends' School community.  You have all been so very generous and warm in making my first few months here as wonderful as they have been. 

I am grateful for being at a school where parents and teachers alike are so invested in a shared educational philosophy of integrated learning.  From preschool through fifth grade, students learn best when the subjects they are learning can be blended together in a way that allows students to apply their strengths and build on their challenges. 

This was never more evident than in the celebration I attended this week in Beth Huennekens’ first grade classroom.  For weeks her students have been studying birds and all of their hard work was on display.  The children sang Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and they showed off their immense knowledge on large science fair boards.  They shared their research and their poetry, their paintings and their sewing projects, their masks and their wingspan calculations.  The kids showed me photos from their birdwatching field trip, the discoveries from the owl pellets they dissected, and the books they have been reading and writing.  It was a wonderful avian celebration of integrated learning.  And similar in so many ways to the spectacular units of integrated study going on across the school.

I believe we are all blessed to be at a school where teaching is completely based on the vast knowledge our teachers possess about how children learn.  I am thankful every day to be able to see master teachers in action and the happy buzz of engaged children.

Thank you to everyone who attended our Flip The Switch Solar Celebration this morning.  Wherever your travels take you this Thanksgiving, or if you are staying home, I wish you a peaceful and fun-filled week away from school.  Or, in the words of Bob Marley that I heard in first grade:
            Rise up this mornin', smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', "This is my message to you-ou-ou:"
Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."

November 10, 2011

In The Middle Of It All

Solar panel math in the 1st grade
Earlier this week, Friends’ School hosted its first ever Annual Trustee Day, when members of our Community Board spent time in classrooms and in discussion with our staff and faculty imagining a bright future for our school.  This is the first of two reflections exploring this great opportunity.

The favorite part of my day is always spending time with the children in classrooms – seeing what they’re working on, talking to them about their ideas, listening to them explain their thinking.  I’m a big guy in a nice shirt and a tie and I imagine I must look a little funny sometimes crouching down by a five year old.

So you can imagine my delight at wandering through the classrooms on Trustee Day finding business people in their pressed suits doing the same thing.  Many of our Trustees were in casual clothing, but there were a few in nice shirts and ties, getting down on the floor with the kids learning alongside them.  One of my favorite scenes was entering Jenn Shouse’s 2nd grade class, hearing the squeals of delight as children designed teeter totters, using the principles of levers, adjusting the position of the fulcrum, and seeing one of our Board members, in a suit, right in the middle of the action! 

By the way, did you know that that it’s possible for a slight 2nd grader, weighing in at approximately 50 lbs, to raise all 6’2” of me off the ground with a simple machine? A moment of triumph – and levitation for me!

Another favorite scene was seeing Trustees engage with Erika Norman’s math lesson in 1st grade, where students were using geometric attributes to design their own solar panels.  All our elementary classes are using the excitement of next week’s Flip The Switch ceremony to think about renewable energy and to connect with the concept of solar energy.

As Trustees later reflected on their day, they remarked on how fantastic an experience it was to be in classrooms, on the diversity of our teachers’ teaching styles, on the exceptional classroom management they witnessed, on the deep engagement and passion of the kids, on the quality of the children’s work.

Another time, I will share with you the wonderful dialogue that staff and Board members shared about the essential skills that kids need to be successful in the 21st century.  We are very lucky to have such engaged, engaging, curious, and brave stewards for our school.

November 3, 2011

Have You Heard The News?

We are very fortunate to have had several new families join our Friends' School community in the past few weeks.  Each new student brings new passions, new ways of learning, and new relationships to our classrooms. 

Mari Friedman tells me that it’s unusual that we have had some places available at this time of year.  Mari, who has been at Friends’ for fourteen years, is our first and only Director of Admissions. It is a sign of our tougher economic times that many independent schools across the country have seen falling enrollment numbers or are working extra hard to raise financial aid dollars to keep the families they have. It is wonderful that Friends’ School again has full enrollment, is financially strong, and continues to provide financial aid to approximately one third of our families each year.

At Friends’ we have made some significant changes in recent months in how we are getting the word out about the great learning and wonderful community that we have here.  We no longer want to be the best kept secret in Boulder.

We have re-directed a significant portion of our budget that was allocated to print advertising towards the marketing efforts that you see around the school today.  Our research tells us that almost everyone who inquires about our school has heard about us, from parents, through word of mouth, or by way of online searches. 

Our current families are our best advocates. Our bright new signs, both inside and outside the buildings, designed by the creative talents at Thinking Davis, are attracting lots of attention.  We have beefed up our internet presence – this Among Friends’ website is just one example.  We are posting photos and news from around the school on our Facebook page several times a week.  We’re on Twitter and LinkedIn.  We’re in the process of creating fabulous videos for our website.

We have an excellent marketing committee of the Board, led by Trustee Christine Springer.  Spearheaded by Director of Communications, Meg Hansen, we have completely re-tooled the way we connect with our families, through the new Happenings and the classroom web pages.  Working with Monique Davis and her team, we continue to explore ways to tell our story.

As a result, there is a buzz out there about Friends’ School again.  Our parent education events and preschool information meetings have enjoyed record attendance this fall.  Interest and applications for next year’s enrollment have risen over a year ago - for the Preschool, Kindergarten, and the Teacher Preparation Program.

So thank you for spreading the word among your neighbors and friends.  Please continue to do so. Like us, follow us, re-post, share, comment, upload, download, talk us up, link in, tweet, blog, give away a brochure, subscribe, connect.

To all our families, new and old, we are glad that you are here.  How did you hear about  us?

October 27, 2011

Developing Leaders for Tomorrow Today

Our P.E. teacher and Director of Student Activities Kathy Sherwood is excited for this year’s elementary school Student Council.  Kathy has been the inspiration behind Student Council for years.  In the past it has always been hard to decide which two students from each grade should be on the Council – and which ones have to wait until next year.  This year we made a change so that everyone who wants to participate and make a difference may. 

With the extra numbers – there are 29 kids on Student Council at present – Kathy has split the group into three committees: Recess, Celebrations, and Problem-Solving.  5th grade teacher Liz Richards, Kathy, and I each oversee one committee. Student Council meets once a month on Fridays.

Here at Friends’ it is important that all of our students get a chance to practice leadership. According to Kathy, Student Council gives kids a voice.  Students K-5 give input on events like Field Day and Movin’n’Boppin, they bring issues from the playground and other venues to the teachers’ attention, they create fresh ideas for our school, and they get to know and spend time with students from other grades.

With this experience, a high percentage of our students go on to leadership and representative positions in middle and high school.

To join Student Council, Friends’ students are invited to write a letter making the argument of why they should be selected. Like every year, we had wonderful, passionate letters from children wanting to help out the school.  Here are a few excerpts:

Please pick me for student council because I feel like a strong leader and a good influence. (4th grade)

I want to have a very happy school. (1st grade)

I like working in groups and figuring out solutions to problems.  I think that I am an easy person to get along with and that other kids wouldn’t be scared to come up to me to suggest ideas that they think should be discussed by the Council. (5th grade)

I would love to be in student council.  I was in it last year and we did great!  Remember Field Day? (2nd grade)

I think I would be good at deciding field games and things like that. (1st grade)

I will always make good choices no matter what. (5th grade)

I am fair and I can help people who are new and teach them what is going on. (1st grade)

I have been at Friends’ School for six years now and I think I understand the meaning of head, hand, and heart.  (5th grade)

I cooperate with a lot of people, I don’t have too much trouble listening, and I would be super happy. (4th)

I feel even more responsible than last year. (3rd  grade)

I could make new friends. (1st grade)

I would help Steve in his first year as head of school. (5th grade)

And I am very grateful. 

I enjoy working with the next generation of leaders. Imagine the possibilities for our community and our world when this spirit of stewardship and cooperation is carried beyond our school.

October 19, 2011

Raise your hand if you're an artist!

Robert Fulghum (he of All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame) once wrote a charming essay about artistry.  Who are the artists?  Are you?  He points out that if you walk into a class of 3 year olds and ask them who is an artist, all the hands will shoot up.  “I’m an artist! I love to paint! Where are the crayons?  Ooh, ooh me!”  I tried this in one of our preschool classes.  It works!

Try the same thing in your office or at your 25th high school re-union. You may get one or two hands reluctantly heading skyward and it’s likely to be a couple of people who are paid to be artists – perhaps a photographer or a graphic designer.  What happened to the rest of us? 

What got in the way?

I think I know.  Our formal education.  How many of us were told by our teachers or peers that we couldn’t, that someone else could do it better, that we should try running cross-country instead?  In the past, school was where creativity went to die.

One of our goal at Friends' School is to reverse that trend.  While our primary focus is to teach the basics – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic, we are also keenly aware of our responsibility to prepare our students for the 21st century world in which they live.

When you or I were in school, it was all about individual competition.  Now it is about team success.  Back then, teacher-centered classrooms focused on learning facts and consuming information.  Now our student-centered classrooms encourage our kids to ask open-ended questions and to construct meaning. 

As a society, we are slowly beginning to move away from high-stakes testing to high-value demonstrations.  I would much rather our students figure out a way to build an invention that helped feed the cat than reach a high score on a bubble test.  I would rather read a persuasive essay they wrote or hear a piece of music they composed than have them recite Dickinson or Kipling (and I love Dickinson and Kipling!)

Daniel's WINGStand
Friends’ School grad Daniel Haarburger (class of 2003) is a sophomore at Stanford and is getting amazing reviews nationwide for his design of the WINGStand, a groundbreaking device that transforms your iPad, iPhone, or tablet into a multi-touch computer.  He raised $60,000 to get it off the ground and units are shipping this week.

It is now harder to get into Stanford’s School of Design than their School of Business.  More and more Fortune 500 companies are hiring from art schools over business schools.  They want creativity, outside the box thinkers, team players.  One doesn’t have to look further than the Apple device that you’re likely reading this essay on to know the importance of form as well as function.  Steve Jobs was onto something.

At Friends' School, we are proud to be counted among the artists. Our kids are exceptionally creative.  Our teachers are painters, and musicians, and writers, and flyfishermen, and potters, and dancers. We’ll put our hand up every time.

October 12, 2011

Let's Make A Game Of It!

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending Friends' School’s Annual Fund kick-off with our co-chairs and class captains at the home of Allison and John Shors.  I enjoyed delightful company and delicious food and wine.  As part of the event, our Director of Development, Caroline Landry, encouraged several of us to act out good and bad examples of Annual Fund calls.  She had me playing the role of a pushy caller as well as a reluctant donor.  With my theatre background, it was fun to veer off script and create new scenarios for the audience.  It was a fun evening and got me in a playful mood.

So this week in Among Friends’, we’re going to play a game together.  Your participation is strongly encouraged…

Some of you are likely familiar with the artist Sark. She is an acclaimed teacher and author on the subject of creativity who lives in the Bay Area.  When I lead seminars with our Teacher Candidates on “Surviving Your First Year of Teaching”, I use this poster of Sark’s to help them think about why they are launching into a teaching life.

If it’s a little hard to read, here’s how it goes…

Be there. Say yes as often as possible. Let them bang on pots and pans. 
If they’re crabby, put them in water. If they’re unlovable, love yourself. 
Realize how important it is to be a child. Go to a movie theater in your pajamas. 
Read books out loud with joy. Invent pleasures together. 
Remember how really small they are. Giggle a lot. Surprise them. 
Say no when necessary. Teach feelings. Heal your own inner child. 
Learn about parenting. Hug trees together. 
Make loving safe. Bake a cake and eat it with no hands. 
Go find elephants and kiss them. Plan to build a rocketship. 
Imagine yourself magic. Make lots of forts with blankets. 
Let your angel fly. Reveal your own dreams. Search out the positive. 
Keep the gleam in your eye. Mail letters to God. Encourage silly. 
Plant licorice in your garden. Open up. Stop yelling. Express your love. A lot. 
Speak kindly. Paint their tennis shoes. Handle with caring. 
Children are miraculous.

So now to the game:  What do you do to really love your child?  Add your own ways in the comment section below or simply e-mail me and I will collect responses and together we’ll create a Friends’ School version of Sark’s poster.

Are you game?

October 6, 2011

Pinecones For Sale

“Dad, I’m bored!”  Ever heard that before? “Mom, there’s nothing to do!”  Sound familiar?  Some parents may begin to tremble at such moans.  Not me.  Almost fifteen years into this parenting gig, I believe that at some point soon, something good will occur.


At Friends’ School, our classroom time is a great blend of teacher-directed lessons and student-guided activities.  Learning is the core goal.  Our teachers are always on hand to ask leading questions and to help students regain focus. 

On the playground, there is much more unstructured time and the playground is a breeding ground for invention.  Just this week, as I spent time connecting with our kids on both the preschool and elementary school playgrounds, I discovered groups of children who were busy creating something out of nothing:

              - setting up a storefront of natural objects such as pinecones, rocks, and autumn leaves
              - inventing a new obstacle course by moving familiar playground pieces to new places
              - looking for creatures lurking under pieces of wood
              - pretending the play structure is a ship sailing the ocean blue
              - making up a new song as they swung higher on the swings
              - giving piggy back rides to friends from other classes

The list goes on and on.  No adult had given any instructions to complete any of these tasks.  It was all simple, good old-fashioned play time.  Kids are master inventors.

It turns out that all that time spent inventing, or playing make-believe, actually helps children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

We have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about executive function on October 18th at 6:00 p.m. when Friends’ very own nationally published experts, former and current preschool directors Shelby Pawlina and Christie Stanford, will be continuing our extremely popular parent education series.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published an important study four years ago titled "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds". It argues that free and unstructured play is healthy and - in fact - essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones.  It also helps them manage stress and become resilient.  The article recommends strongly that families choose a school that meets children's social and emotional developmental needs as well as academic preparedness.

The good news is that we know such a place. Anyone want to buy a pinecone?

September 28, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Eat Soup

Earlier this week a friend sent me this poster to the left. It was no coincidence that it arrived immediately following Friends' School's wonderful elementary Harvest Celebration.  We are looking forward to celebrating Harvest with the preschool families on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday next week.

Taking part in my first Friends’ School Harvest, I was amazed at the sensational family involvement.  Every morning for the last week, students and parents have been bringing in bags of homegrown produce from their own backyards.  At school, the children picked delicious vegetables from our own Friends' garden. It was a wonderful community effort.  I was honored to continue the tradition of telling the story of Stone Soup and I enjoyed the enthusiastic participation of the actors – both kids and the gallant parents who played the part of the cooking pot.  Nice bubbling, people!

Following the storytelling, students, parents, grandparents, and teachers shared lunch together, with each classroom making its own steaming pot of Stone Soup.  What impressed me is that every class made a huge effort to create zero waste, with families bringing in their own bowls and utensils.

As a school we have made massive strides in the last couple of years to increase our recycling and composting programs.  Working with Western Disposal’s commercial programs, we are able to compost not just organic matter from plants – such as vegetables and paper – we can also compost chicken bones and egg shells.   We are recycling all plastics #1-7 including the plastic caps on washed out bottles and jars.

Operations Assistant Dacia Horn and Kindergarten teacher Laurie Nakauchi have been instrumental in moving the school towards a goal of zero waste.  Laurie encourages her students to use the appropriate compost and recycle bins and actively encourages them to use re-usable containers or at least recyclable aluminum foil when they bring in their lunch.  Plastic baggies are strongly discouraged.  Dacia not only cooks mouth-watering nutritious meals for us, she takes pride in “taking the effort to just wash the spoons” (and the forks and the plates and the glasses!) and she replaced our plastic and paperware with stainless steel, pottery and glass. As a result of the school’s communal efforts, we have reduced our trash output by an estimated 75% in the last couple of years.

Yet we can all do better.  If you’re coming to school with an Ozo’s coffee cup or a snack in hand, please take the extra second to toss your waste into the appropriate bin – the compost bins have green liners.  You will continue to reduce the amount of garbage we are shipping off to the landfill, and Laurie’s kindergartners will greatly appreciate it.  

September 22, 2011

Here Comes The Sun

That I can change the world
I would be the sunlight in your universe
You will think my love was really something good
Baby if I could change the world

So sings Eric Clapton, in the Grammy award winning song. Pop quiz of the week: do you know which movie soundtrack this song was recorded for and which year it was released? (answers below)

This week, we made an exciting announcement about our solar project and all of us at school are proud that a whopping 93% of our energy use in the elementary building will be generated by the solar array, a feat that will be unmatched among Boulder County schools. When Clapton shuffled his way onto my iPod last night, it was this step into solar that came to mind.

Friends’ School is not simply interested in tapping into this renewable energy source and calling ourselves done.  We very much see this move as one step, albeit a significant one, on a long and meaningful journey towards environmental sustainability.  There are some in our Friends’ community who are encouraging us to move towards what is called net zero, a term that describes a building with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually.  Zero energy buildings can be independent from the energy grid supply.

That may be a lofty goal, but it’s one we should strive towards.  In the process, our little school will begin to change the world.  But we don’t need to wait for the end result for that to happen.  In one response that I received after sending out our solar announcement, one preschool parent wrote:

“Please pass along that I think this project is absolutely fantastic!  I think it's amazing that Friends' is able to set such a wonderful example and make such a great step.  It's inspiring me to take more personal actions, too!”

If the steps we take at school towards environmental sustainability inspire one family, or many of our families, to make small changes, then perhaps we won’t just see the sunlight in our universe, we may just change the world.  Thank you for being on the journey with us.

Pop quiz answers:  Phenomenon, 1996.  How did you do?

September 14, 2011

What Parents Do When Their Kids Are At School

When you were little, did you ever wonder what your mom or dad did when they went off to work?

When I was a young boy, I knew that my dad left the house and came home at the same time every day, his tie a little looser than when he began the day.  I was aware he went to an office but I had no idea what he did there.  Turns out he was an accountant for a firm that drilled holes in the circuit boards you found in the back of your transistor radio. Somebody had to do that, I suppose.

My own kids were lucky (or perhaps unlucky) enough to have had a dad who taught at their own school for many years, so I think that had a pretty good idea of what I did for a living.  It certainly proved useful for them when they forgot their snack or money for a field trip. 

When my younger daughter Leah was in preschool, she did once exclaim that her daddy was a teacher and her mommy (who stayed home at that time) “played shopping”, so you never quite know how our kids view us.

The favorite part of each day for me at Friends’ School is my visits to the classrooms.  I love seeing the children busy at their work and I enjoy connecting with them every day.

I sat in circle with Christie, Sherry and Victoria’s morning preschool class this week and asked the children what their parents did while they were in preschool.  Turns out many Friends’ School parents go to work.  Some go home. Many make phone calls and play on the computer.  One mom drives a jeep and it was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms that it has keys.  One parent works upstairs from the preschool and one downstairs (though we’re not quite sure where that is). 

On one classroom stop this week, I had the privilege of reading a fantasy picture book to one of our younger elementary classes.  The kids and I got talking about make-believe and whether adults have imaginary friends or get to play make-believe games.  One little girl raised her hand and bluntly told me, “Oh, I know my mom does.  When I’m at school, she plays make-believe with my Barbie dolls!”

Thank goodness – I didn’t want to think our Friends’ School parents played on the computer all day.

September 7, 2011

Learning For Grown-Ups Too!

“I’m learning something every second of the day.” 

One of our goals at Friends’ School is that our students are continually learning something new and something about themselves.  Yet this quote did not come from one of our kids.  It was told to me by Yasamin Holland who is a Teacher Candidate (TC) in Beth Huennekens’ 1st grade class.  Grown-ups get to learn here every day too.
We are fortunate that Friends’ is a place that educates the whole child and is also home to an outstanding Teacher Preparation Program.

Yasamin, who previously has taught fashion design at the high school level and worked at the Denver Art Museum, is amazed at the free flow of ideas she sees at our school and the passion that is naturally exhibited everywhere. 

This week, one boy in her class discovered a book on snakes.  He was so excited about it, he soon had a whole group of kids crowding around him to share in his enthusiasm.  The teachers in the room are given complete autonomy to follow the interests of the kids, to meet them at the point of maximum learning.  They were soon reading aloud a book on snakes to the class and encouraging the children to write about snakes. Yasamin calls it “snake-fever”.

When looking to find a graduate program that would lead her to a teaching career that would combine both her love of creativity and her love of kids, Yasamin found the Friends’ School Teacher Training Program (TPP) online.  Our program works in association with the University of Colorado Denver and the Colorado Department of Education to provide teacher candidates with an alternative teaching certificate.  Most of our candidates opt to pursue a Master’s Degree in either Educational Psychology or Early Childhood Education.

The TPP currently trains 30 beginning teachers.  We have 7 here at Friends’ working alongside our students every day Monday-Thursday, and 23 others at our partner schools:  6 in independent schools in Boulder, and 17 in public schools in the Boulder Valley School District.  All the TCs come together on Fridays to learn about the art of teaching.  It is a program that develops caring, diligent and reflective professionals who become part of our community.  It embodies our school’s mission and the Founders’ vision of a model school.

The presence of teacher candidates at our school not only ensures the future of hands-on child-centered education, it also brings to our school wonderful, passionate people who love and teach our kids. When Yasamin graduates from the TPP, she is hoping to teach in an elementary school with a strong focus on the arts.  Just as with our graduating fifth graders, Friends’ School will be proud to have been part of the journey.

August 31, 2011

Music To My Ears

I think I have always been a teacher.  When I was five, I remember being one of the big kids at preschool who got asked to help button up coats for the little guys. At eight, I helped my little sister spell hard words when she first started to write.  In high school, I worked as a babysitter whenever I could.  In college, I tutored local middle school students in French - in between stints as a door-to-door brush salesman!

As soon as I graduated, I joined a Teacher Preparation Program, very similar to the one we have here at Friends’, and began my teaching career.  In grad school, I focused on learning how to mentor young teachers.  As an elementary school teacher, I filled my long summers every year working with young people, teaching them theatre.  I love sitting down with my high school daughter and explaining the intricacies of algebra.

The music of the sound of children has been the backdrop of my life.

So it was very peculiar this summer when I was working in my new office at Friends’ School, upstairs above the preschool.  I re-furbished it so it felt like mine.  I brought in family photos and gifts given to me over the years by former students, yet something was missing.  I had wonderful and productive meetings with all kinds of delightful grown-ups all summer long as we planned for the upcoming school year, but something wasn’t quite right.

And then, this week, I heard it.  The music was back. 

Friends’ welcomed back almost 60 three and four year olds to preschool, and the building where I get to spend a good chunk of my time was humming with laughter and shouts of joy, bustling with squeals of delight and innocent giggles.  Everything felt right again.

On the very first day, on Monday, it was hard to say goodbye for some families.  A few tears were shed and the occasional weeping was heard.  Sometimes it’s harder for the parents than the children.  One mom in particular was nervous about dropping her child off.  I knew it wasn’t easy.  So I was thrilled, after the second day of preschool, to receive this note from her:

"So far, he loves it (he wants to have everyone over to our house) and the transition has been perfectly smooth! I definitely love your school and think it's the best in Boulder...I just wish you went past 5th grade...but one thing at a time. :) We're very glad to be here."
Yes, one thing at a time.  Fifth grade will arrive soon enough.  But more quickly than we all think.  The picture from my high schooler’s first day of preschool hangs on my office wall.  You can see the nervousness and the uncertainty and you can see the brand new lunch box.  Thank goodness you can’t yet see the algebra.

August 24, 2011

Welcome back to school!

We have had a wonderful first few days in the elementary school and we’re looking forward to welcoming all of our preschoolers next week.  My goal is to know all of our elementary students’ names by Friday morning.  Big test coming up!

At our first Gathering on Monday, I shared one of my favorite poems from childhood, A.A. Milne’s Forgiven about a beetle called Alexander who escapes from a matchbox.  I loved spending part of recess that same day with a group of Beth Huennekens’ first graders as we looked for beetles together.  I gave them a matchbox and they couldn't wait to find a new resident for it. Children were looking under rocks, in the sandbox, and in the bark of trees.  They came running to find me when they found a real live beetle on the wall outside the 3rd grade classroom.  Alas, this one also got away.

I had to smile the next day when a parent reported that her child had come home after school and announced that we had been looking for miniature beagles out on the playground. Snoopy watch out, Friends’ School first graders are looking for you!