February 3, 2016

Seeing Through Others’ Eyes

Last week, our elementary school hosted a number of visitors from Denver Public Schools. They had heard that Friends’ School was a leader in social and emotional learning.  In particular they wanted to learn more about how to integrate the intentional teaching of character traits (gratitude, mindfulness, resilience, etc.) into mainstream education.

Our guests were teachers from Sabin World Elementary School in Denver, and staff members from DPS’ head office, and from a professional development unit within Denver Public Schools called Imaginarium.

Sabin is an International Baccalaureate World School, one of just three public elementary schools in Denver to offer the IB Primary Years program for all students, from early childhood through fifth grade. Imaginarium is a unique, multi-faceted group of experienced educators whose mission is to promote innovation in the district.

Our guests spent about two hours visiting our elementary classrooms. Afterwards, I met with them to learn about what they had seen and heard and to answer their questions.  I wish I had thought to audio-record their comments and pass them on to you, because they were so upbeat and positive. It was rewarding to get an outside perspective on our school from professional colleagues from very different settings.

Our visitors immediately noticed the "smiles and the overwhelming joy” at Friends’ and the evidence of a strong community, how different and happy it felt compared to other schools they knew. They noticed the language teachers used to encourage students to pay attention to their own emotions as well as the emotions of others.  They loved the portfolios they saw, particularly the evidence of student self-reflection, which they believed to be totally authentic.  

One of the teachers talked about a time when she began to introduce mindfulness exercises and yoga to her class: she was told to stop by the principal because of the time lost from instruction.  We had a great conversation about the opposite: what students gain by participating in these activities. Another teacher, at recess, only noticed one of our students who was on her own, and loved when, within a minute, another student asked the first to play with her group.  They were amazed at "the lack of arguing” on our playground.

They noticed an emphasis at our school on storytelling. In fifth grade where class where students were doing readers’ theatre for history, they were blown away by Liz and Eric’s focus on what people might have been feeling at that time in history, the connections and the empathy.  When I mentioned this to Liz later, she said she hadn’t planned it specifically that way - it was just the way she approached it naturally.

Overall, this was a group whose eyes were opened to the kind of heart-focused, kind, strong community we have at Friends’.  The teachers at Sabin left excited to take back to their school many of the ideas and qualities that they had seen.  We hope to continue a relationship with their faculty to support the change they want to bring to their school.

Thank you to our teachers for opening their doors – and opening some eyes!

And a brief reminder that we will have more educators visiting our school next week – this time, colleagues from the independent school world who are here Monday-Thursday for our re-accreditation visit.  We are confident they will also enjoy their time at Friends’.

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