January 31, 2013

White Gloves: Long-Term Impact

Friends' School Teacher Candidates learning about
integrating music into their classroom teaching
Last week we welcomed eight visitors to Friends’ School who were here to carry out a special mission and take a recommendation back to the State Board of Education.

As you know, Friends’ has an extremely well respected Teacher Preparation Program (TPP).  Officially, our school is ‘a designated agency of the state of Colorado for alternative teacher preparation’. 

Our visitors were Educator License Specialists from the Colorado Department of Education as well as leaders from two other similar programs in the state.  Their mission was to learn all they could about our TPP and make a recommendation about whether we would be re-authorized as a designated agency and therefore continue our good work.  This is our TPP’s first re-accreditation process since we were first accredited eight years ago.

Re-accreditation is always an interesting process. It’s a little bit like having your fussy great-aunt visit your recently cleaned house, inspecting the quality of your dusting with her white gloves on.

Not really of course.  It’s actually a wonderful and useful tool for any educational institute to get professional and objective feedback on what we’re doing well and how we can improve.

We are lucky to have seven fabulous Teacher Candidates (TCs) at Friends’ School.  Overall, there are 30 TCs in our program, scattered throughout five public schools and five independent schools in Boulder and Lafayette. They spend each Monday-Thursday in elementary and preschool classrooms learning from an experienced mentor teacher. They come together every Friday for seminars that are a blend of presentation, discussion, activity, and dialogue, and aim to present and model best instructional practices.

Our TCs come from across the county and across the country to be trained in the Friends’ philosophy of integrated and experiential learning that focuses on the whole child.  Shelby Pawlina and Ed Walent, the program’s co-directors, are exceptional educators who are passionate about teacher training. 

All of our TCs from Friends' and our partner schools.  The co-directors
are Ed Walent (top left) and Shelby Pawlina (bottom right)
Our seven TCs at Friends’ have rich and varied backgrounds. Among their many skills and experiences, one or more of them sing opera, are certified Doula birthing assistants, have Wilderness First Responder qualifications, play women’s rugby, volunteer with Special Olympics, taught ESL in Italy for many years, have a Master’s Degree in Peace Studies, led expeditions for Alaskan native youth, and taught at Keystone Science School. It is a talented bunch to say the least.  They bring their skills and passions to our children every day. And they are well on their way to becoming first-class teachers.

Following the Department of Education’s visit, Shelby and Ed received a letter from the chair of the visiting team stating, “Across contexts, Friends’ has strong evidence that their preparation work is of high-quality with long-term impact.”  They added “There is deep integration of the Teacher Preparation Program into the structure, culture, and fabric of the school itself” and “a sense of trust, responsiveness, and support permeated all layers of stakeholders in the program.  It is clear from the site-visit that Friends’ is rooted in relationships of trust and transparency…the foundation on which a high quality teacher preparation program has been built.”

Many congratulations to Ed and Shelby, to all our TCs, to our Board of Trustees and staff, and to all of you as parents who wholeheartedly support this important work – not just for Friends’ School, but for the thousands of children in dozens of schools where our  TPP graduates teach.  The visiting team is recommending to the State Board of Education that the TPP be re-authorized and I am proud to be part of it.

If you know of any prospective teachers who may want to join the TPP, please ask them to visit the program’s pages on our website.

January 24, 2013

Road Trip to Mesa Verde – A First For Friends’

Captain’s log.  Stardate Monday, April 8. 2013. 07:30 hours. Friends’ School parking lot, Boulder, Colorado.
Stop by before the start of school that Monday morning. A shining white luxury coach will be parked outside of school.  I’ll be there. Our fifth grade class will be there too, waiting, ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
This year, for the very first time, our fifth grade class will be embarking on a five-day four-night trip to the Four Corners region of Colorado.  They will have a week-long educational experience at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
Crow Canyon is dedicated to understanding, teaching, and helping to preserve the rich history of the ancestral Pueblo people (the Anasazi) of the American Southwest.
Our fifth graders will spend three full days learning the basics of Pueblo Indian history, excavating at a site that represents different time periods, and participating in a variety of "ancient lifestyle" activities at Crow Canyon’s pithouse and pueblo learning centers. Their program will wrap up with a day-long tour of Mesa Verde National Park, where our students will explore the spectacular cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites for which the park is famous.
This week-long expedition will be one of the wonderful culminating experiences for our graduating class.  Like all Friends’ School classes, in 2nd grade they began this journey of overnight experiential trips by spending a night ‘camping’ indoors in our school’s Great Room. In 3rd grade, they spent one night at Cal-Wood Education Center in Jamestown, above Boulder.  In 4th grade, they returned to Cal-Wood for a two-night, three day trip.
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center near Cortez, CO
In 5th grade, their year began with a new tradition for Friends’ 5th grade: their theatrical production of HarryPotter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I directed.  With the October play behind us, we began talking about this upcoming adventure. A few of the students seem as excited by the idea of riding in the big shiny white bus as they are about the archaeological experience.  It has a DVD player AND a bathroom!  Their teachers and I are pretty confident that, when they return, their parents will hear more about Mesa Verde and excavation than about the bus.
Helen Keller famously said, “Life is either an adventure or nothing.” All of us at Friends’ are very excited for our 5th grade students and their forthcoming adventure.  We want to honor their final year at our school by presenting them with an opportunity to bond as a class, to give them lessons they could not learn back at school, and to recognize their impending graduation as brand new middle schoolers. 
We’re looking forward to offering a similar adventure the following year for our current fourth graders.  In the years ahead, every fifth grade class at Friends’ will be ready for all of the new challenges that lay ahead of them.  This Four Corners trip will be not only a culmination of their time at Friends’, it is also a launching pad to new adventures outside of Friends’.
For our 5th grade class, this road trip to Crow Canyon, just like their fabulous Harry Potter play, will be an important part of their development, their education, and their irreplaceable memories of Friends’.
Bon voyage!

January 17, 2013

Nice to meet ewe, Moses

Each week in Friends’ Kindergarten class, students are invited to bring in an object from home to share.  For these five and six year olds, it’s important to make and honor the connections between home and school.  Teachers and fellow students alike enjoy learning about the objects and experiences that make up the rich tapestry that is each child’s life.

Our Kindergartners often bring in favorite books, special stuffed animals, photographs or prized toys to share with their classmates. However recently, two girls brought in somewhat more animated objects to class.

On Wednesday of this week, Georgia, who’s family owns and runs Cure Organic Farm just a couple of miles east of our school, brought in the black sheep of the family. Georgia brought Moses, pictured here, to school. Moses, despite her name, is a female Rambouillet lamb.  She was born on Christmas morning and found among the rushes (straw).

It was a great experience for our Kindergartners to meet the ewe and to learn about approaching and petting a farm animal.  Our students remarked on the uniqueness of Moses’ markings, all black with a white top of her head and a white tip to her tail.

Word spread quickly of the lamb’s visit to Friends’. Christie and Caroline’s morning preschool class also came over to the elementary school for a visit with Moses.  Of course, all of our preschool and younger elementary classes are invited to go on field trips to Cure Farm annually and we are grateful to Paul and Ann for their support of our students.

A couple of weeks earlier another Kindergarten girl brought her new baby brother into class to share. A number of our Kindergartners have younger siblings so several of them are experts on babies.  The big sister was extremely proud of the new baby in her family and was clearly delighted as she introduced him to her friends.

At Friends’, we love meeting all of the people, objects, and yes, even sheep, that are important in the lives of our students. I am told that, a few years ago, one of our students brought in a particularly fascinating object to share – his sister’s tonsils in a jar!  Some things, like Moses and new babies, are less forgettable than others.

What was a memorable 'share' that you brought in as a kid?

January 10, 2013

Tough, Grit, and Dinner in South Denver

Welcome back to school and a very happy New Year to everyone in our Friends’ School community.  I trust you had a restful and restorative break and spent some magical time with your children.

Last night, Thursday, I was lucky enough to experience something extremely rare at my house.  So rare in fact that it was unique. A first.

Many of you know that I commute into Boulder daily from my home near the University of Denver, a 52 mile round trip each day. Because of the distance between my home and Friends’ School, there isn’t a great deal of overlap between my home life and school.  This Thursday, however, it was my great pleasure to welcome nine Friends’ School teachers into my home to eat and drink at my kitchen table.

What were carloads of Boulder-based teachers doing in south Denver on a school night, you may ask? 

The answer: to attend a talk at St Mary’s Academy (where my elder daughter Emma is a high school sophomore) from one of the leading educational thinkers of our time.

Paul Tough was in town to talk about his latest book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity,and the Hidden Power of Character.  Tough is a dynamic speaker who has forward thinking ideas about character education.  

Best-selling author Paul Tough and his latest book
You may have read Tough’s essay, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine (where he is a regular contributor) in September of 2011.  Entitled What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?, it quickly made the rounds among educators and parents on social media.  Its central argument is that “overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving…. is a central paradox of contemporary parenting…..we all know - on some level, at least - that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge….that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”

At our faculty in-service day earlier this week, our teachers discussed the major themes in Tough’s article and the broader issues of character education.  Among the questions we tackled were:

     What is your understanding of good character?

     How do Friends’ School students demonstrate that they are developing good character?

     What parts of your work here at Friends’ support our students to develop good character?

     Is good character something that can be taught in a formal way, in the classroom, or is it something that is inculcated gradually over years of experience?

     Which qualities matter most for a child trying to negotiate his or her way to a successful and autonomous adulthood?

Dr. Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center, in her visit to Friends’ School in October, discussed character education with our teachers.  She specifically highlighted the character trait grit, which is the topic of Tough’s new book. Based on her research, she told us that grit is the best indicator of how well our kids will do in college.  She defined grit as resilience or perseverance

In Paul Tough’s NYTimes article, he quotes leading researcher Angela Duckworth who discusses grit in this way: “People who accomplished great things often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.”

It’s what makes us get up and keep running after we fall and scrape our knee. It’s what makes us keep reading a book until the final chapter even if it’s a challenge for us.  It’s what makes us keep shooting baskets when we’re 20 points down.  It’s what makes us climb the last 1,000 feet of a Colorado 14-er. It’s what our Friends’ School teachers encourage in our students every day as they solve problems academically, socially, creatively, and physically.

And grit is what makes a dedicated group of educators (and a few parents!) drive 52 miles on a school night in the pursuit of education.