November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving Works!

Thank you to these 2nd & 4th grade students who helped
each other to plant bulbs this fall in our gardens.
It’s about to be Thanksgiving. It’s not a holiday I grew up with. Yet hands-down it’s my favorite holiday of the year. It makes me very happy that, in this country, we have a whole built-in day devoted to saying thank you. In these recent troubling times, Thanksgiving could not come soon enough.

At Thanksgiving we don’t focus on material goods nor do we extend the holiday unnaturally by months.  It’s about family and being together and expressing thanks. Simple. Lovely. Connected.

At Friends’, in our elementary school this morning, we’re celebrating Grandparents' and Special Friends’ Day, a time for our students to invite into school their grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, anyone who’s a special person in their lives.  We’ve got singing performances and classroom activities, fresh-brewed coffee and Dacia’s famous snacks.  We’re in for a grand time.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am reminded that leading researchers in social sciences have shown us that practicing gratitude makes a huge difference in children’s development. At Friends’, we know a thing or two about this. 
Thank you to everyone who donated to
Movin' & Boppin' to support our library.
These are some of the books deana purchased.

As a school with such a strong emphasis on social and emotional learning, we intentionally teach important characteristics such as kindness and gratitude. We have devoted this entire school year to studying the Impact of Giving Back.

Our teachers have learned that the practice of gratitude increases students’ positive emotions and optimism. It decreases their negative emotions and physical symptoms, and it makes them feel more connected and satisfied with school and with life in general.

A while back, our school was featured in an article by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The author interviewed our lead teachers, in both the elementary and the preschool, to learn from them many of the activities they had designed to support our Friends’ students in their practice of gratitude.

We hope the ideas in this article will be read widely and used by teachers across the country who are beginning to embrace what we’ve known at Friends’ since our founding: the importance of social emotional learning, the value of being grateful, and the deep
Thank you to Jessie and Christie representing
Friends' School at the NAEYC conference
in Orlando today!
significance of character education. It’s something we work hard at every day and have done for over 28 years.

Congratulations to our teachers for continuing to be at the forefront of research-based education and for being open to sharing their fantastic ideas with the world.

As we spend this Thanksgiving holiday with family and loved ones, I hope we all take a moment to appreciate and be grateful.  There is no doubt in my mind that the world, and our children, will be better for it. 

Whether you are staying close to home or traveling afar, I wish a very happy Thanksgiving to you all. 

November 12, 2015

Integrated Curriculum Comes to Life for our Middle School Director

The gym at our new campus
This week, guest blogger and Friends' Middle School Director Shelby Pawlina reflects on the various projects that she's working on to ensure the successful opening of our new Middle School in August 2016.  It turns out that the way she is integrating new skills and thought processes is not dissimilar to what our middle schoolers will be doing....

I’m not sure when I realized it. It might have been after a night of lucid dreaming about what kinds of tools and supplies would go into the inspired maker space. Maybe it was on page 22 of the first round of dense real estate documents when my pink highlighter finally gave out. It could have been when my colleagues and I were gesticulating around a whiteboard about the best way to articulate our vision for the Case for Support document. In any case, it was instantly crystal clear: the various activities I was engaged in, my process of helping to bring this second campus to life, is exactly the kind of Integrated Curriculum experience we want for our middle schoolers.

I was working round the clock (literally, in some cases) and was completely and perfectly happy. Thinking. Reading. Writing. Researching. Discussing. Drawing. Ok. So I agree that we don’t want middle schoolers working around the clock. I do think we would love for them to be so excited about what they are doing that learning doesn’t feel like work. It feels like opportunity. It feels like what they GET to do, rather than what they HAVE to do.

Outside space at the new middle school
I had been struggling to articulate what Integrated Curriculum is and then I realized I was living it, in spades. I was deep in new territory on lots of fronts: development and fundraising, marketing strategy, legal processes with Boulder County, and so many more examples, digging more deeply into things that I knew a little about before, and know a lot more about now. Yet I know there is still more to learn. All of this work is purposeful. It is personally meaningful and might make the world a better place. All of it takes me (and Friends’ School) one step closer to making something truly outstanding available for the children and families of the Boulder area: Friends’ second campus.

I’ve been learning new things in what might be considered several different subjects (civics, engineering, communications, education, history, geometry, language arts, etc.) I have been exercising other “soft” skills (being out of my comfort zone, patience, perspective taking, collaboration, resilience after “failure”, trying new things, receiving feedback, etc.). All of these experiences have been so intertwined and “of a piece” that I didn’t recognize them for what they were- authentic, integrated learning.

Shelby Pawlina
While I have been learning material from different subjects, I hardly recognized how much I had gained, because it wasn’t happening in a typical “school-like” fashion. We often think of learning, especially in schools, as taking place in 45-minute blocks where we focus on one subject at a time. What we are envisioning is a different process altogether.

The central organizing piece is the project (the second campus and middle school program) not the content. All roads lead to the second campus. The process continually evolves and what happens next depends on what happened before. We have timelines and to-do lists and people who rely on us to do our part. We modify our plans and priorities based on input from others, new discoveries, and keeping our eyes on short- and long-term goals. The process has structure, yet it is flexible.

This kind of learning is alive. This kind of learning is deep and rigorous. This kind of learning is exciting and motivating and real. This kind of learning is what grows lifelong learners who are inquisitive and passionate and well-rounded.

While it may also be the kind of learning that might lead one to lucid dreams, in the end I believe it is an approach that allows all students to engage, with purpose, in the world around them and develop a greater sense of what they are capable of and who they are. 

November 5, 2015

Friends’ Teachers on the National Stage

Jessie Vanden Hogen and Christie Stanford
Each year, The National Association for the Education of Young Children
holds its annual conference, the largest gathering of early childhood educators in the world.

More specifically it is the largest gathering of “thought leaders, classroom teachers and faculty, administrators, researchers, and other critically important practitioners and contributors in early childhood education” (NAEYC website).

Among the group this year will be Friends’ preschool teachers Christie Stanford and Jessie Vanden Hogen. Jessie and Christie will not only be attending, but they will be presenting to the conference for two hours in the grand ballroom of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

NAEYC “works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research. They advance a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children. The association comprises nearly 70,000 individual members of the early childhood community and more than 300 regional Affiliate chapters. Together, they work to achieve a collective vision: that all young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential.”

Jessie and Christie know the organization well – they have both recently received the Educator of the Year award from the Boulder chapter of the state affiliate (the only teachers from the same school to win the award in back to back years: 2014 & 2015).

They will be presenting on “Storytelling, Mindfulness & Executive Function” on November 19th in Orlando.

Many of our parents may have heard our teachers speak on one or more of these topics before, but this presentation will be entirely new.  NAEYC has required its presenters to illustrate their talks with only a 4 ft X 8 ft poster.

For Christie and Jessie, who have featured PowerPoint slides and video in their previous talks on the subject, this was an opportunity to think outside the box, a puzzle that they had to come to terms with.

Christie & Jessie, complete with NAEYC presenter
badges and Friends' School schwag!
They are excited to be teaching to and collaborating with colleagues from all over the country. The idea behind the poster format is that it will increase engagement from the audience and give attendees greater opportunity to share ideas and work together to create new collaborative projects.  As Christie told me, “it’s not what I’m used to, but it exemplifies 21st century learning.”

Preschool parents and children know how much our teachers talk about “growing their brains”.  For Jessie and Christie this has been a great opportunity to do just that.

Christie and Jessie were hired on the same day at Friends' and are in their 17th year at our school. They are thrilled and proud to be at a school where innovative practice gets national attention and they are making an impact on their profession.

Congratulations, Jessie and Christie – we know you will do Friends’ School proud!