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We certainly do find a way to generate more than the typical energy as we approach Spring Break! The 100th Day celebration, Omni-kin Tournament, Dr. Seuss Pajama Day, the play, the Park School tournament (both boys and girls won trophies!), the hilarious Driftless Shifter performances, History Day, not to mention the Poetry Alive! Marshall Fund residency in Upper School which culminates in an evening performance March 6 for sixth and seventh graders and their families (guests welcome) and eighth graders the next morning at Common Time – my fingers are sore just typing all that has been accomplished. There is a Wonders & Smiles program for three and four year olds again March 6 at 2:15 – public welcome. And, of course, that morning there is our Admission first Thursday Take a Look opportunity for prospective families to drop by and see the school in action. I encourage you to pass along an invitation to any families whose children would benefit from considering Applewild.
On our return from break we will celebrate student achievement at an all school Honors Assembly that Monday morning. On Wednesday evening, March 26, Wendy Grolnick presents the second of our Applewild Speakers Series. Parents of children of all ages will enjoy exploring with her how best to encourage children to develop their own intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and sense of competence. A professor at Clark University, Grolnick is nationally recognized for her work on student motivation – how parents and teachers can foster it and how we can, unwittingly, undermine it. She is the author of Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing with Competition while Raising a Successful Child and The Psychology of Parent Control: How Well-meant Parenting Backfires. Wendy, who has her own children, has a very practical approach grounded in thorough research. She will work with the faculty in the afternoon. On March 27 we host another Wonders & Smiles afternoon, then we’re almost to April – and perhaps no more snow!
The Department Chairs decided this fall that our professional development emphasis this year will be visiting colleagues’ classrooms and learning directly from each other. We began by having each of us get into a colleague’s class here at Applewild, then we will use the April in-service to visit at other schools. As important as attendance at conferences can be, it is particularly powerful for teachers to see each other in action and to share their observations. Names were randomly drawn to pair us up with an Applewild colleague, and the visits took place between December and the February 18 in-service. Each pair shared in some detail their observations with each other, then at the in-service we each reported to the whole faculty some of the highlights we had observed of our colleague’s teaching. Even though it was a snowy day, we were uplifted by what we heard.
What teachers noticed was colleagues dedicated to their craft, skillfully planning and adapting, emphasizing higher order thinking skills within an affirming classroom climate in which trust permeates the environment. We noticed how well our colleagues know each of their students and how to elicit the best from them. We marveled at the patience and energy we observed. I have heard similar reactions from parents who have joined us for “Bring a Parent to Lower School” days over the past month.
It is particularly interesting to hear what the teachers identify as noteworthy. We saw our colleagues teaching students how to practice and to learn on their own, not to be dependent on the teacher. There was a conscious sense of laying the groundwork and then providing scope and latitude for valuable exploration (Come to hear Wendy Grolnick’s talk to learn why this is so important!). We saw energy, excitement and creativity. Several used the word “balance” to describe the art of teaching subject matter, skills, socialization, and habits of mind. There was tremendous respect for the clear planning that undergirds the instruction and enables a calm, nurturing pace and flow and provides time for depth and nuance. Teachers valued all the preparation that is underneath the surface that makes the instruction and juggling of each classroom moment work as if it were magic.
A number mentioned how humor was employed positively and helped create a positive, non-threatening rapport and comfortable learning climate. Several noted how different techniques and a multi-styled approach were employed by their colleagues, with a number appreciating the opportunity to see Activ Boards, Google Docs, video clips, and spread sheets seamlessly employed in the lessons.
It was fun to hear the Upper School faculty marvel at the ways that their Lower School colleagues juggle runny noses, teeth coming out, wiggling, and bathroom breaks while all the while providing expert instruction and knowing what each student needs. Similarly, the Lower School colleagues were impressed by how the Upper School teachers could engage their students for long periods of time and expect and receive high levels of concentration. Both Lower and Upper School teachers were impressed by the stimulating conversations, and it was clear how our curriculum intentionally spirals through the grades in effective ways. Several appreciated seeing how disciplines were integrated and interwoven to assure that the concepts would become internalized most effectively. The Lower School teachers also said that seeing their former children performing as older students was a real treat!
Several teachers noted that their colleagues created an atmosphere of trust in which students could risk both asking and answering questions. We saw the atmosphere in our classrooms as non-judgmental, with students encouraged to probe and go beyond the surface. There were several comments about how calm the classroom environment was, even during collaborative and project based work, because the students know the expectations and are able to simply get to work. We heard about how warm ups are employed not only in choral music and PE but also in the self-contained classroom and the English class, how these warm ups and rubrics frame the lesson, provide clarity about what the goals are, and even create suspense about what is going to happen.
What was particularly meaningful to me was the number of teachers who completed their sharing by saying to their colleague, “thank you very much for having me” or “It was such a pleasure.” It was, indeed.
Web Site Enhancement
Another pleasure will be a new web site! We have been working on making our web site “responsive” – able to adapt easily to multiple screen sizes and devices and easier to navigate. We are excited to share the new format and expect to begin to migrate to the new system over the March break and test it for bugs. It should be operational with our E-velope on March 28. Part of the evolution of the site is to a password protected area for our parents. The password to start with will be given at a later date. We will remind you of this again (!). If during this transition you find some things not where you expect them or something not opening (or forget the password!), please let Jen Raterman or Deb Schultz in the Admission Office know.
Planning for Summer While Hoping for Spring
We will be providing a science exploration program the first week of March break. There may still be room for a couple of students. Contact Milissa Cafarella if you are interested. It is a taster of what is to come with the summer program. Be sure to take a look at the new offerings, together with the popular ones from last year, as you consider options for the summer. Milissa Cafarella and Bailey Shea look forward to working with our children again this summer. We will get there, and we will get to Spring Break, and we will get to April. Maybe we will even get through snow season! Enjoy the break.
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