November 17, 2016

Play Matters (an L.A. Story!)

Our preschool team enjoying Los Angeles:
Caroline, Jessie, Hetta, Katy, Christie
Earlier this month, our entire preschool team had a unique opportunity to travel together to southern California to “grow their brains”, as they so often say to children.

Teachers Jessie Vanden Hogen and Christie Stanford were selected to present at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Los Angeles.  Through generous support from the school’s endowment fund, we were able to send all five team members to the conference – where the team not only supported Christie and Jessie, but also engaged in several days of dynamic learning with thousands of educators from around the country.

This year's conference featured sessions on issues that are of crucial importance to the early childhood field today. The NAEYC president's speech explored practices and strategies that build professional capacity to create a more just world for our programs, the staff who work within these programs, and the children and families they serve. Other sessions explored social-justice education, new strategies to encourage literacy in a digital age, strengthening the early childhood leadership pipeline, and more. 

Jessie and Christie at the NAEYC conference
Jessie and Christie’s session, which was very well attended by more than 200 people, focused on Mindfulness and Executive Function Skills Built through Storytelling. They taught their fellow educators how to help reduce stress, learn about oneself and others, and practice these skills through the art of storytelling and play.  Jessie and Christie are masters of this work.  Through their own deep experiences as long-time preschool teachers, and through sharing the research of other experts in the field, Christie and Jessie wowed their audience and attracted plenty of attention and follow-up.

For teacher Hetta Towler, the conference gave her abundant validation on why our preschool is such a great place to be. “I’m grateful for where we work,” she told me. At Friends’, our teachers believe strongly in the power of play, the importance of allowing kids to engage in physical play, and to practice executive function.

Our teachers believe wholeheartedly in creating play-based, child-centered learning environments.  They understand the beauty of childhood, and the importance of teaching children how to be mindful.  They intentionally teach connection. Our preschool does an amazing job of not only preparing children for Kindergarten and providing the most seamless transition to that next important step, but for all the years that follow. They teach both oral language and social competency.  And they do it through play. These are essential skills that many of us did not receive until later in our education.

Bev Bos with our preschool team in 2004: Jessie, Christie,
and current Director of Middle School Shelby Pawlina
One of the great advocates of play-based learning for preschoolers was Bev Bos. Bos, who passed away earlier this year, served for nearly fifty years as the director of Roseville Community Preschool in Roseville, California. She was a teacher, author and lifelong learner who spoke at more than 6,000 education conferences both in the U.S. and overseas. She believed that, given the proper environment, young children could choose their own learning activities.

Bev Bos taught educators and gave them the ability to trust our children, that they are capable. She is a revered figure for our preschool teachers.   She once said: “There are eleven conditions for human growth, and all of them fit into play. Children need to be outside. They can do so much there. They can feel a sense of belonging there. They can take risks.”

Following Jessie and Christie’s presentation, a young teacher approached them and asked how they got into storytelling.  “Bev Bos would have loved your storytelling”, she told them.

And I say, of course she would have.  Christie and Jessie are today’s experts. And I am glad that our dedicated team got to spend four days learning and playing together.

November 10, 2016

Who We Are

Citizenship day with my daughters Emma and Leah
January 26, 2011
On Wednesday morning of this week, the morning immediately following the presidential election, fifth grade teacher Leigh Houser invited me into her class to speak with her students at morning meeting.  I began with a question: “How many of you experienced big feelings in your family in the last several hours about the election?”  Every hand went up. The election result has affected us all deeply. I gave any student who wanted it an opportunity to express him or herself freely and we all listened. 

Whichever candidate you voted for during this election, there is no doubt that the campaign season was filled with anger, disrespect, insults, and lack of understanding or appreciation for differences.

How do we as parents raise our children to be kind and to be respectful of others when they are seeing and hearing poor behavior on the national stage? 

The fifth graders and I talked for about thirty minutes about the election results and how each of us was feeling.  The conversation was not without rancor.  More than one student expressed strong opinions about the presidential candidates that were in opposition to those of other classmates. Several students expressed being scared for what lies ahead. On more than one occasion, I had to steer the conversation toward respecting our differences and maintaining relationships and friendships even with those who hold viewpoints that diverge from our own.

For this is who we are as a school. 

Our school theme this year is connection. From the very first day that our youngest preschoolers enter our doors, our teachers do an outstanding job of teaching children to express themselves appropriately, to be kind and respectful. Teachers work hard to ensure that we, and others, feel safe.

In Caroline Long’s third grade class on Wednesday, children came in feeling a wide range of emotions: disinterest, excitement, sadness, worry, surprise and nervousness.  Caroline’s goals were to be present, positive and reassuring. She shared President Obama's short video about the sun rising and this poem by Victoria Erickson. Her students reflected and asked questions.
In Liz Richards’ fourth grade morning circle, Liz let her students express questions, thoughts and feelings.  Her responses focused on the following three themes:

• The adults in your life will keep you safe.

Be the change you want to see in the world by continuing to be kind to one another, including family, community, and neighbors, regardless of race, religion, and nationality as that energy permeates out into the world.

  A review of our system of three branches of government and its checks and balances.

Too many times in this election season, issues have been presented to us as wrong vs. right, black against white.  As a nation, we appear to be losing our willingness or ability to think critically, to question, to allow for diversity in all its forms, and to accept nuance.

At Friends’ School, our teachers are very intentional about teaching our social and emotional curriculum. By consciously learning about inclusion, empathy, respect, kindness, and responsibility, our children are learning to see both sides of a situation and to make compassionate choices.  Our teachers give children useful and valuable language and mediation tools so they learn to navigate differences, first with support, and then on their own.  We challenge children to express their emotions using “I….” statements so they learn not to blame or hurt the feelings of their peers.

Friends’ School helps kids learn to accept responsibility if they make a mistake, and to explore ways to make things better. We encourage children to build bridges, not walls, with those around them. We embolden our students to speak up in the face of injustice and disrespect.

Unlike many in our Friends’ and Boulder community, I was not born a citizen of the United States.  After living here for two decades, I made a very conscious choice to become a citizen.  I took that significant step not only because I wanted to play a bigger role in the society in which I lived, but also because I believed wholeheartedly in this country and what it stands for.

As a head of school, I am proud of our teaching staff for how they talk with kids.  As a father of daughters and of a gay teen, I am thrilled to be part of a community that demonstrates respect and kindness each and every day. As an immigrant, I am grateful to be welcomed and to welcome all kinds of families to our school.

These are uncertain times, but I can say with certainty that your children are in a safe place, where kindness and tolerance are modeled. They are in a school where they are getting the tools and skills they need to be successful, and to play their own part one day, in shaping what this country will become.

Caroline and Liz both shared Mahatma Gandhi’s quote "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." with their classes on Wednesday. Several children shared what change they hope to see and how they are planning to put that into action. 

Friends’ School and I will walk tall with them.

November 3, 2016

Coats of Many Colors

In the musical hit, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, the narrator and chorus sing that the lead character “loves his coat of many colors”, and proceed to list twenty-eight different colors that can be found in the renowned garment: “It was red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby….” and more…

At Friends’ School in the past week, it seemed that everywhere I looked I was seeing coats of many colors.  In the fifth grade production of Beauty and the Beast, there was the Beast’s (and the Prince’s) purple coat, the beige coats of the farmers, and the red coats of the castle stewards.  At our ridiculously fun elementary and middle school Halloween parade at the start of the week, I saw red and white on our teachers’ and staff’s Waldo outfits, black coats on witches and dementors, animals of every stripe, and a red coat on a member of the British Royal Guard.  In our middle school on Wednesday, students were presented with their very own white lab coats as they embarked on their first sixth grade science lab, studying comets.

Please enjoy these photos of the coats of many colors.  Many were taken by Director of Marketing and Communications Meg Hansen; a few were taken by parents.  Thank you to everyone who documents the fabulous events that happen at Friends’ School every week. If you would like to see more photos just like this, links to more complete albums can be found at the bottom of this column.