January 28, 2016

A Passion for Social and Emotional Learning

I snapped this photo yesterday of these 2nd grade and Kindergarten
buddies, playing a pat-a-cake game by Ann's desk
It is not everyday that I receive a note like this from one of our Friends’ School teachers: “This is my passion, and the reason I am teaching. I am glad it is helping so many families understand what we do at Friends' School. I truly believe this is the best place a parent can find to support their child in developing a strong social and emotional foundation.”

For those of you who know Caroline Long, from her three years teaching preschool, or from this year’s 2nd grade class, or our current 4th grade class who knew Caroline when she was their teacher candidate way back in Kindergarten, you know that teaching is indeed her passion (well, teaching, dogs, and skiing!) I recall Caroline saying, when I was interviewing her for the 2nd grade position, how excited she was at the prospect of teaching 2nd grade, because her own 2nd grade teacher had “changed my life”.

Caroline wrote me that note after I had asked her if I could use a piece of her writing for this Among Friends’ blog. She had written a simple email to the parents in her class.  Nothing out of the ordinary, it seemed at first.  All of our teachers update their parents on a regular basis.

But this email seemed a little out of the ordinary.

In response to the email, a long-time Friends’ parent wrote to me: “ I swear, this email that Caroline just sent is the most information I've ever heard about what is happening on a day-to-day basis at Friends’ re the social/emotional inner workings/teachings!! And it is hugely reassuring, and I am incredibly grateful that she took the time to write it. I honestly have never seen everything laid out so explicitly.

Everything she's doing makes a lot of sense, and I agree with it both philosophically and pragmatically.  And I can see how for an outside person wouldn’t make as much sense, given that Caroline is holding the whole context and using events of the day to create learning opportunities.

Perhaps it boils down to that crucial piece of how to communicate what is actually happening in its fullness and entirety -- on top of one's full teaching load!!  And I do feel that Caroline hit it out of the park with her email just now!  I hope it was helpful to others as well!”
2nd grade teacher Caroline Long

As a head of school and a writer, I  share my thoughts about Friends’ social and emotional learning frequently. I clearly don’t do it as well as Caroline Long!

This is a portion of her note to parents, that was sent earlier this month, for our whole community to digest. Thanks, Caroline!

“I have had many questions recently about our social and emotional curriculum, BrainWise. It is a supplement to the work I am already doing with your children. BrainWise focuses on the individual child. The focus of this curriculum is on critical thinking and decision making skills. Here is a link to this curriculum if you would like to read more: http://www.brainwise-plc.org.

The second component of our social/emotional curriculum focuses on knowing yourself, your impact on others, and communicating with friends.  These skills are incorporated into our daily schedule in many different ways. I tell stories and lead meetings based around conflict that the whole class can relate to (ie- feeling left out, talking behind each other’s backs, etc.). Interweaving social emotional curriculum into our daily schedule is the most effective way to capitalize on “teachable moments” that occur naturally in the children’s day.  As research has shown, and I see first hand, the most important thing we can do as adults is support children after conflict arises. The truth is that conflict will happen everyday, in someway, for each child. Providing them with the tools to cope with this conflict and giving them the skills to become more and more independent are the best gifts we can give them. Some broader skills we work on are:

        Cooling off when upset-taking a minute but returning to the conversation
         Speaking directly to each other in a respectful tone
        Speaking honestly and kindly with a goal of solving the problem
        Listening carefully to others and paraphrasing their words
        Proposing solutions
        Agreeing on a solution
        Shake, hug, high five it out 

Two of Caroline's other passions!
The third component of supporting children socially and emotionally is through small group conversations. I meet with small groups to talk about specific conflict and have what we call “Circle of Friends” conversations. I also meet with children one on one to talk about conflict, word choice, friendship challenges and individual needs. Sometimes Mandy is included in these conversations. When we notice behaviors are becoming bad habits we often set up a behavior plan with individual children and their families. Behavior Plans are kept confidential and are not discussed with anyone besides the child, their family and administration.

Here is a link to an article that talks more about supporting children with conflict:

If you have questions about how social and emotional learning is happening in your child’s classroom, ask their teacher; they know a smidgen about it!

January 20, 2016

New Rounds of Safety Upgrades

All of us at Friends’ continue to place the highest importance on the safety of our people and campus.  We continue to pay attention to safety issues and invest broadly and deeply in safety updates. While it’s unfortunate that we have to take these measures, this is the reality of the country we live in and our foremost goal is always the safety of our students.

Over winter break, we began the installation of our new security system and protocols. This latest round of upgrades is happening in three stages.

Stage One: we have installed a special window film that will provide added protection in the unlikely event that a window is breached. This Safety and Security Window Film with attachment system by 3M was placed on the windows at the main elementary entrance and at the entrance to the playground. It was also installed on the kitchen windows as well as all interior classroom and bathroom windows in the elementary school. In the preschool it was installed on both the entrance and the exit doors and all south facing windows of that building, except for the west classroom’s south facing windows. The purpose is not to have this on every window, but on those that would be the most likely entry points for an intruder.

In addition, as part of Stage One, we worked with Trident Security to install new interior door locks throughout the inside of the elementary building. While the new locks allow for free access into the classrooms during normal business hours, in the event of an emergency they will automatically lockdown our classrooms and other rooms in the elementary building so that no one can enter the rooms from the hallway (the doors are always unlocked from the inside for fire code). This lockdown can be triggered at a moment’s notice from many locations within the school. 911 is immediately and automatically called when this lockdown occurs. Trident has worked with SVSD and other schools installing security systems and our entire staff has been trained on the new system.

Stage Two: In the coming weeks, we will install this same lock system in the preschool building.  Before we can accomplish that, the sliding and all glass doors in the preschool must be replaced. This will happen before the summer.

Stage Three: Over the summer, the school will invest in a new notification system, similar to the big school districts, so that, in the event of an emergency, parents will be immediately notified via text, email, voice call or whichever form of communication you select.

In addition to all of these physical improvements to our campus, in the last couple of weeks, Meg Hansen and Mandy Stepanovsky lead our staff through two essential ALiCE refresher training courses, as well as a specific training for those staff who were unable to attend the original training in August.  All staff is trained in the ALiCE safety training protocol.

Mandy and Meg will be conducting a training and information session for parents at a special parent event on February 1 at 8:30 a.m.  Free child care will be provided. If you are interested in learning more about all the steps that Friends’ School takes to keep our students and staff as safe as possible, please plan on coming.  Parents in attendance will receive a shortened version of the ALiCE safety training that our staff have received and also learn more about parent expectations and how parents are notified in the event of a safety situation.

Last week, I, along with my leadership team, met with three Boulder PD police officers.  We set up this meeting to learn more about the police response to the armed robbery that took place in the neighborhood in December, as well as to take the opportunity to meet our newly assigned School Resource Officer (SRO). We met with Sgt. Doyle Thomas, outgoing SRO Ed Quayle, and incoming SRO Jeremy McGee. Officer McGee will be touring our premises and learning the layout of the school in the coming weeks. We plan to have the police come to visit with the kids for a gathering this semester and talk to them about safety.

Additionally, we have requested that Officer McGee visit the school and conduct routine walk-throughs of the campus on a monthly basis. The officers were impressed with both our safety updates and our Emergency Crisis plans, and they informed us that we were advanced with the system we installed and the training we’ve conducted. We believe a new, however part-time, police presence in and familiarity with our community will be an added benefit to the safety of our school.

For more information about the safety measures that the school has in place, please see my blog entry from September 2014 Committed to Safety and from December 2015 The Blog I Shouldn’t Have to Write.

I believe parents will derive huge value from attending our parent meeting on safety on Monday February 1st at 8:30.  Please plan on being there if you can.

Thank you for continuing to entrust our amazing staff with your children. 

January 14, 2016

Quality Control

Friends’ School is proud to be a fully accredited member of the Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS), one of only thirty-two schools in our state, and one of only three in Boulder, to hold such an honor.

To become an accredited independent school, each school undergoes a rigorous process of self-reflection and external examination, and is required to adhere to strict standards of best practice in education.

Every seven years, our school goes through a demanding process of re-accreditation, part of which is a multi-day visit from school leaders from across our state. That visit is next month, from February 8-11. During that time, we welcome our ACIS visiting team of six members who hail from schools in Denver, Aspen, Greenwood Village, and Evergreen.

In preparation for that visit, our teachers, staff and board have been hard at work behind the scenes for almost two years.  We have been examining our own practice and priorities. Parents have participated through parent surveys that will give the visiting team insights into our school. Friends’ has produced an eighty-page self-study that is the culmination of all of this work.

Why all the hassle?

The fresh perspective of outside experts provides valuable support for our continuous school improvement. The team, we hope, will be confirming Friends’ compliance with relevant government regulations on health, safety, school attendance, non-discrimination, and teacher qualifications. Our visitors will evaluate our school for compliance with ACIS standards, which reflect National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) best practices. They will also look for congruency between our school’s mission, vision, philosophy and values and our actual program.

Education experts on the visiting team will determine whether Friends’ provides appropriate, high-quality education for our population. ACIS will provide ongoing accountability to ensure school improvement well into the future.

Recognition for accreditation by Colorado and NAIS helps distinguish ACIS schools in a crowded and fast-changing educational field. ACIS accreditation is quality assurance.

As we worked on our self-study, it was satisfying to look back and see how much growth and learning have occurred at Friends’, and how much has remained constant since the last time that ACIS visited.  This blog is filled with the many success stories of the people of Friends’ School. It also tells the tale of a school dedicated to its founding mission and its vision of making the world better by challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality.”

The self-study process came at an interesting turning point for the school. For years, we have discussed growing and adding a middle school.  In the past few months, this dream has become a reality.  In October 2015, we went under contract to purchase a second campus, at 3800 Kalmia Avenue in Boulder, and we will open a new middle school, beginning with a first sixth grade class, this August.  The new campus will not only house the new middle school, but also our Teacher Preparation Program and several of our administrative offices.  We are currently scheduled to take possession of the new campus before July 1, 2016.

As a dynamic school committed to developing lifelong learners, we are constantly looking to improve, while balancing that with an appreciation of our accomplishments. The re-accreditation process gives us the opportunity to reflect and learn more about our school, its strengths and its challenges. The process mirrors the school’s growth-oriented and celebratory outlook. 

The ACIS visit will help us in our journey to be the best we can be while staying true to our mission and founding values that were established over 28 years ago. We are thankful to the educators who are taking four days away from their own professional lives to devote time and energy to Friends’ School and our future.

For more information on our expansion to middle school, please click here.

January 7, 2016

New Beginnings. Endless Possibility.

Photos from the elementary Winter Celebration on December 17.
Welcome back to school and happy New Year.  I hope you had a restful break with your children. It has been good to see everyone’s refreshed faces around campus this week.

New Year.  Capitalized. I find this an interesting concept here in the depths of winter.

While I am a great believer in goal setting, I am not particularly one for making New Year’s resolutions. January first is an odd choice, I believe, for us to celebrate our New Year, but here it is. The calendar tells me so. The ball in Times Square definitely dropped last Thursday night. We’re in the middle of short days and dark, cold evenings. Snow remains firmly in the forecast for the end of this week. Nothing is growing.  January first seems to me like a political division of time that has no reference to any event, astronomical, astrological, seasonal, or geological.

Wouldn’t New Year be better off at a different time?

Say, springtime? The earth is re-born. I shake off the winter blues and turn my head to the sun. My markers are the first daffodils blooming, new buds on the maple outside my window, the first bike rides of the season. The Cubbies, heck, even the Rockies, have a chance at winning the pennant. It’s the most exciting time of the year.  

New beginnings, new hope, endless possibility.

Or how about the first day back to school in the fall? I’ve celebrated more than twenty-five of them as an educator. A freshly painted classroom, empty walls, blank writing notebooks, fresh faces, new clothes, green grass on the playground. A year of discovery ahead. Eager teachers feel the privilege of embarking on a new journey alongside their equally eager students.

New beginnings, new hope, endless possibility.

Yet, there is still something intriguing when the calendar flips over to a new number.  Here we are. 2016. The summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  An election year at home. A leap year around the world.

And, in the life of our little school, big things are about to happen.  This I know from experience.  Every January, children and teachers return to school refreshed and ready.  Amazing learning happens in these next few weeks.  Kids hit the ground running and grow in leaps and bounds.  Some of them might even learn to fly.

New beginnings, new hope, endless possibility. Just you watch. 

Happy New Year!