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?