February 25, 2016

Expanding Our Influence

Liz and Erika with Mindset author Carol Dweck
Friends’ teachers and staff have been heading to points west this week, seeking knowledge and sharing what they know.

One major goal from our newly minted five year strategic plan is to “reinforce the schools position as a leader with expanding influence in educating students and teachers to thrive in a changing world.”

We believe we do this every day in the education we provide for our students as well as in the ongoing training that our teacher candidates receive in pursuit of a Colorado teaching license and (in many cases) a Masters’ degree.

Many of our teachers and staff were given an opportunity to expand their influence a little further afield in the past few days.

Fifth grade teacher Liz Richards and math specialist Erika Norman were in Santa Fe, NM, over the weekend, attending the MidSchoolMath National Conference, a conference designed for middle school and upper elementary math teachers. Their big take-aways were the critical importance of giving students real-world math problems to tackle and not necessarily providing students with all the data.  In this day and age, when we are educating today’s students for a workplace that barely exists yet, it is important for teachers to ask students “What else do you need to know to solve this?” and “How are you going to get that information?”

A highlight for Erika and Liz was the chance to hear and meet renowned author and psychologist Carol Dweck, who wrote the book Mindset. Dr. Dweck’s book has been a huge influence for our faculty since its release in 2006 and continues to guide the way we think about chldren’s learning and growth.  Needless to say, there was some jealousy back home among their colleagues when Liz and Erika circulated the photograph above.

Our entire preschool team was in Denver on Friday and Saturday at the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference. There, they convened with preschool and early elementary teachers from all over the west, discovering the latest research and best practice in their field.

Our very own Jessie Vanden Hogen and Christie Stanford presented at the conference onBuilding Young Mathematicians Through Play.”  Our back-to-back teachers of the year drew a crowd of over 130 educators, teachers of infants to 3rd grade, who came to learn how to recognize mathematical learning opportunities within a classroom setting. Christie and Jessie demonstrated that children’s play is rich with possibilities for building early number sense, using mathematical language, understanding time, measuring and estimating, noticing patterns, and discovering geometry.

Our Director of Finance, Jen Cope, left on Sunday for a few days in balmy Los Angeles, to attend the annual conference of the National Business Officers Association.  Each year, business officers from over a thousand independent schools all over the country gather to participate in three days of extensive professional development and networking. Among the notable speakers was Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy online learning.  The focus of the conference was how big-picture strategic thinking generates actions and possibilities at every department of the school, stretching beyond short-term issues or narrow focus.

Jen returned to school armed with new information on insights on important topics.  These include HR law, financial aid, budget modeling and forecasting, audits, and strategic communication.

Last but not least, Associate Head Mandy Stepanovsky and I are in San Francisco (where I’m writing this blog) presenting at the National Association of Independent Schools’ annual conference.  This is a big convention of over 5,000 educators and school leaders from 1,700 private schools nationwide.

The theme of the 2016 conference is Stories Matter. School leadership and independent education thrive on building communities and connections driven by the interwoven narratives of people and institutions. It’s part of the reason I make time each week to write this column and to share stories from our school community with you.

Mandy and I are discussing Friends’ School’s year of mindfulness, which was our schoolwide theme last year. We are presenting today (Friday) on how we weaved the topic of mindfulness throughout our school culture.  It was not just part of classroom ritual, but became a big part of our parent education program and culminated in a wonderful Hang Up and Hang Out event.

All of these professional development opportunities, including travel costs, are supported by the Community Board’s release of funds from our school’s endowment fund.  A portion of funds from the endowment is specifically restricted to support professional training, with additional dollars earmarked for encouraging and rewarding our teachers to present and publish.

For this we are very grateful. 

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