Marybeth's Upper Elementary Blog


Thank you for visiting our website! I hope that you find it to be a helpful resource and I'm so glad you made your way to this blog. I recently took on a new role at CEE and am thrilled to be serving as the Assistant Head of School after directing our Lower Elementary Programs for the past five years. In my capacity as Assistant Head I will also oversee grades 4-6, and my blog entries from 7/2015 on will reflect that work. You can still find posts from my time as Lower Elementary Director as well.  I look forward to my continued work with our outstanding faculty and staff,  dedicated board and administrative team, and, within the Upper Elementary division, 180 of the most amazing children you will ever meet! I hope to use this space to highlight their good work, to reflect on teaching and learning, and to pose questions aimed at helping me to improve the experience of all of our students.

Marybeth Heyd
Assistant Head of School


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Why practice gratitude?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Our family celebration fills me with indescribable happiness, and after reading this article, I understand why.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Monday November 23, 2015 at 11:09AM
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What is the difference between reading words and reading language?

This past week, CEE devoted time over the course of three days to giving our elementary teachers an intensive professional development experience here on campus. With a team of substitute teachers lined up for multiple days, we brought in an outside literacy consultant who spent a full day with our K/1, 2/3, and 4/5/6 teaching teams.

Teachers, learning specialists, and administrators engaged in rich professional dialogue about readers and writers and how they interact with the literacy curriculum through interactive writing and responding to text, and with one another in literature circles and guided reading groups. We discussed fluency, comprehension, and reading for meaning, and marveled at the power of reading rich texts aloud to students no matter how old they are or how well they can read on their own. The time allowed for cross-grade level conversations and important glimpses into the teaching and learning going on school-wide.

So what is the answer? How is reading words different than reading language? The ultimate answer that we came to as a group is that reading is the construction of meaning. All of pieces that go into reading puzzle are ultimately to help children construct meeting from the printed world around them.

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Thursday November 12, 2015 at 11:45AM
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How innovative are you? (which is not the same question as) How are you innovative?

We are in the beginning stages of our admissions season here at CEE, with open house presentations, tours by our wonderful parent docents, and Kindergarten coffees filling up our calendar. One of my favorite parts of being involved in the admissions process is hearing the kinds of questions parents have about our school, our teachers, and our philosophy and approach. I am always fascinated by the questions people have during interviews; they reveal so much about what is important to them and I know that my answers may sway them in one direction or another, so I try to be extra-thoughtful when I respond.

"How innovative are you?" is a question we may be asked by a prospective parent - it is after all a buzz word in education at the moment. Insert just about any adjective in lieu of innovative, and you'd have an interesting list of questions. How academic are we? How play-based are we? How progressive are we? For me, these questions conjure up competition, ranking, and a fixed mindset. If a prospective family asks this kind of question during the admissions process, it is easy for us to give an answer like "very," or "not at all," more or less ending the conversation. 

"How are you innovative?" is another kind of question, one that implies a growth mindset, flexibility, and possibility. When asked how we are innovative (or academic, or play-based, or progressive), anyone in our community should be able to give examples, and talk, to take it even further, about why we are innovative. By shifting words around, we move from a simple answer to a complex conversation - which is what the admissions process should be about.

Making the right decision about where to send your child to school is not a simple choice, it is a complex process, and we honor that by engaging in thoughtful dialogue with our prospective families. It is a role that I cherish and I look forward to an admissions season full of interesting conversations and insightful questions. I'm grateful to have had the chance to hear Tiffany Hendryx speak at the ERB conference a few weeks ago - her work around helping schools tell their innovation (and other!) stories was a huge source of inspiration.

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Tuesday November 3, 2015
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What do these images tell you?

The correct answer: I love using the panorama feature on my phone.

Another acceptable answer: There is a lot going on at CEE these days!

The shot of our sixth graders in front of the Washington monument should speak for itself. We had an action-packed and exciting 4 days taking our 58 oldest students to our nation's capital during the first week of October. The kids were curious, thoughtful, energetic and engaged as we took it all in: Smithsonians, monuments, the Capitol Building, the Holocaust Museum, the Newseum and more. Much gratitude to our three 6th grade teachers, along with Deedie, Gabby, and Matt, for their tireless efforts to guide and supervise this unforgettable trip.

The middle photo is from our most recent shared professional development experience here at school. We spent the morning with improv expert and trainer, Laura Derry, who opened up our minds to the improv tenet of "Yes, and" as opposed to "Yes, but." With exercises that forced us to listen actively and to embrace vulnerability, Laura invited us to think about our workplace culture and the culture of our classrooms. Through laughter and flexibility, we all challenged ourselves to the openness and unconditionally support needed to make improv (and arguably, a healthy work environment) successful.

And finally, the last picture is of our 4th graders engaged in "silent dialogue." After reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Cant Stop Talking, one of our faculty summer books, teachers are looking at ways to engage all kinds of learners without relying solely on students raising their hands to answer questions verbally. These students, who were coming up with an entire class constitution and agreed-upon norms for class government without saying a word, were deeply absorbed in the task and engaged not only with the learning but with each other. 

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Friday October 23, 2015 at 04:36PM
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What does it say about us as parents when our kids don't emerge to the world's applause?

Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, posed this question to a group of parents, educators, and mental health professionals last week at Beit T'Shuvah in Los Angeles. Having read the book over the summer, I was eager to spend time in Julie's presence, hearing her stories directly and reflecting further on the issues of overparenting and its effects on our children. I cringed at this question and at so much of what she had to say, acknowledging my own struggle to model the kind of parenting I intellectually understand and value, but that I find so difficult to undertake given where (and when) my husband and I are raising our children. 

Julie is a dynamic and passionate speaker whose work as a freshman dean at Stanford University gives her a unique perspective on what we in primary and secondary education might think of as the "end result" - bright and successful young people who have gained admission to a prestigious university and should be poised and ready to take on its challenges. But she has found so many of these bright and successful young people to be increasingly anxious, unsure of themselves, helpless even; they lack the self-efficacy, agency, and contingency that are so critical to human development and particularly to this phase of growth and change. That made her worry, and the result is quite literally the book - which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Addressing a diverse crowd in a sacred space (Beit T'Shuvah is both an addiction treatment center and a Jewish congregation), Julie did not hold back with her direct challenges and responses to some tough questions. She spoke of admissions candidates at Stanford being more interesting on paper than they were in person: kids who were able to say what they had done in their quest for a coveted spot, but not why. She warned well-meaning parents that in engineering the failure out of our children's lives, we are taking away their greatest teacher. And she asked the question that I started this post with - a pointed reminder that has stuck with me for the past week.

How to Raise an Adult has been getting wonderful press, along with The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey (which I'm currently reading). The two authors were recently featured in a fabulous NPR story about what they are calling an "overparenting crisis." My challenge therefore is not a lack of information but finding ways to gently guide parents towards it. Recommending these two books is certainly one of them, but I know that as an elementary school administrator, the work that lies ahead of me will be creating and supporting systems and an educational program that foster the self-efficacy, agency, and contingency Julie emphasizes. And this will require me to pivot, to step back, to move away from the "checklisted childhood." I will need to accept the vulnerability that comes with this choice, which I make among my fellow parents in a community that cares so passionately about our kids. 

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Sunday September 6, 2015 at 10:15AM
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How do we want to spend our time together this year?

This is the question I asked the upper elementary division faculty to consider as we gathered for the first time. Teachers returned on Monday for a week of preparation and planning before students arrive next Tuesday. With the idea that good schools are defined by the relationships between the teachers who work there in mind, I wanted us to be thinking of those relationships as we set collaborative professional learning goals. After reflecting on all of the changes and transitions that lie ahead for us this year, teachers met in a variety of groups - teaching teams, grade level teams, curricular teams - to answer that question: how do they want to spend their time together this year? Do they want to celebrate? Reflect? Evaluate student work? Explore? Ask more questions? Their responses will help me plan our meeting and professional development times so that they are efficient, productive, and meaningful - and I know that I will be held to a greater level of accountability for having approached the planning this way. The hope of course is that every meeting, every chance to learn as a group, will elevate the teaching of everyone involved. In our quest for a professional culture of inquiry, this opening gathering felt like a good first step! I'm grateful to be surrounded by such passionate educators who also happen to really care for each other.

I would invite classrooms, families, and other teams to consider this question as we begin what is sure to be a very exciting year at CEE. 

Welcome back!

Posted by Marybeth Heyd on Friday August 28, 2015 at 12:01AM
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What are you working on as a writer?

I had the opportunity to experience a week of fantastic professional development in New York City with one of our second grade teachers this summer. Betsy and I attended the Institute on the Teaching of Writing at Teachers College along with 1200 other educators from around the world. Even though we spent our days in separate sessions, she and I would walk the 40 blocks back to our hotel in the afternoon talking a mile a minute about writing, teaching, learning, and our students. I am enormously grateful to have had the chance to spend this week with Betsy and am eager to regroup with her and our other teachers who had attended the institute once the school year starts. 

I had time to reflect during the week about my own experience learning to write, my "writing life," and how I see myself as a writer today. We all agree on the importance of our kids writing well and seeing themselves as writers. However, it is a subject in which teachers don't always feel confident and well-equipped, and in which administrators (myself included) need help in order to adequately support said teachers. One way to do so is certainly to learn alongside them, as I had the privilege of doing at TC. There is no substitute for experiencing the same training from the same experts when it comes to sharing that sense of inspiration and wonder along with a promise of accountability. That said, I was struck by another kind of network of teacher support that existed not only in the moment but long after the institute ended, and that for me included teachers who were all the way back in Los Angeles.

I'm talking of course about the virtual network of social media, and in particular Twitter. #TCRWP (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, who ran the Institute) dominated my Twitter feed for the week, and I found myself connecting in a very different way with people who were sitting in the same room as me, hearing the same powerful words from the same eloquent speakers. 1200 participants and a non-stop week of learning means that there is very little time for processing information with the stranger next to you who might be from thousands of miles away. But to read about how a keynote might have impacted a fellow participant, or to see an piece of research posted that directly supports something someone learned in a small group session was certainly the next best thing. It was the first time that I really used Twitter in this way, and I was surprised at how much it shaped my experience. I also felt a funny sort of sense of responsibility to the teachers back at school who I knew were following my tweets, and I wrote them in a way that I hoped would give them tiny glimpses of what it was like to be there in person. During a week that invited me to look at my own writing for insight into the teaching of writing, it was a metacognitive experience that I tremendously valued. 

Below are a few of the top tweets of the week, along with a brief explanation/interpretation. If I've done a good job, maybe you too will feel like you were there in the Big Apple with Betsy and me!

"Kids need teachers who teach them writing, not who act as their editors." This was a reminder from Carl Anderson, an expert practitioner in the teaching of writing whose specialty is conferring with students. (The question above - "What are you working on as a writer?" - comes from his suggestions for how to start a conversation with a student about his or her writing) He had us all think back to our "writing teachers," who most likely took our pieces and marked them up with red pen. Truly teaching writing is not editing our kids' work for them - it is much harder, much more authentic, and requires us to know them much better.

"Revision is living in the company of your topic." This was a quote from Lucy Calkins, who is the writing guru behind the whole Project at Teachers College. She talked about revision as really allowing yourself to be immersed in your topic, whether it's everything you know about soccer or your baby brother's bathtime, and reading your writing again, having decided, "This time when I read my work I'm going to look for this."

"When you read your piece, read it like it's gold." I loved this reminder, again from Lucy Calkins. Chances are, if children read their writing aloud as if they really like it, treasure it almost, then they will deepen their connection to that writing and be more invested in it.  

This wasn't a tweet per se but I really hooked into this idea as a parent: that I can help my kid become a better writer by orally rehearsing storytelling with her. So much of what makes up good writing is good storytelling, and kids don't need to know how to write a single word in order to tell stories well. Eventually, that ability really lifts the level of writing - and it feels good that there is something fun and seemingly organic-feeling that parents can do to support their kids in this area.

"Off you go!" Lucy Calkins encourages us to send kids off to write using those words, and they are powerful, conveying encouragement with high expectations, and excitement about the task at hand. Exactly how we hope our kids feel as they set out to become writers!



Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Wednesday July 22, 2015
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Why do some things never get any easier?


That's my high school locker combination.

Whether it's because I still have dreams that I can't open my locker or because of some strange neural pathways that have been formed in my brain, more than 20 years after graduating from high school, I still know it by heart. However, that does not, as I learned last week, make me in any way able to teach the seemingly simple skill of using a combination lock. Allow me to explain...

The second to last day of school at CEE includes a special ritual called Step-Up Day. Students in grades K-5 spend the final hour of the day visiting the classrooms they'll join in the fall. It's a way to end the year with a little hint of what's to come next, and teachers enjoy the opportunity to meet their new students. I spent some time visiting 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms during Step-Up Day and witnessed everything from cozy gatherings to dance parties:

You may notice that the bottom right picture contains students who seem a little older than 8 or 9, and you're right. My final visit on Step-Up Day was to the 4th floor of Building C, where our rising 6th graders were meeting their new teachers and asking a ton of questions about next year. I spent some time listening to the discussion, because I will be learning alongside them in the fall as I transition to my new role overseeing the Upper Elementary Division. As much as I was learning about the curriculum and expecations from the students and the teachers, it became clear that the biggest step of all was about to take place outside the classroom, in the long 6th grade hallway.

Students watched a riveting YouTube video about opening a locker, reviewed the steps several times with the teachers, and were released to the hall where each locker had a Post-It revealing its combination. And what followed was an excellent reminder about teaching and learning, and how some things never get any easier.

The notions of clockwise and counterclockwise became more relevant than ever in this situation. Precision is key when you're opening a locker; there is no autocorrect that will fill in the number you intended to land on. I saw kids using their right hand to turn the dial to the right, and switch hands to use their left hand to turn it to the left, an interesting (if ineffective) technique. I saw kids for whom things tend to come easily grow unbelievably frustrated, and I saw others whose faces could only be described as ecstatic at the sight of an open locker door. And for me, teaching skills that I drew on to try and help were not always, well, helpful - especially when it became clear after several tries that one student had the wrong combination written on the locker he was trying to open.

The whole scene just reminded me that even though these are our oldest elementary students, about to embark on an academically rigorous and incredibly busy year, they are still kids. I'm not saying that my (hopefully appropriate) anxiety about working with older students was suddenly erased, but it was certainly a good reality check - for me and for them. I have joked with parents that first graders will tell you the hardest thing about leaving Kindergarten is having to climb a big flight of stairs to get to their classrooms. For now, I'd love to think that the kids in the class of 2016 think that the hardest thing about 6th grade will be opening their lockers. 


The other thing that never gets any easier is saying goodbye. It has been a year of celebrating the seven members of our faculty and staff who are retiring, and on the last day of school the celebrations drew to an emotional end. It has become customary for administrators to honor retirees at our end-of-the-year luncheon with parting words and a gift, and retirees in turn share their thoughts as they prepare to start the next phase of their lives. I was so touched by the goodbyes from our "Magnificent Seven," and am grateful to each and every one of them.

Here's to you, Helen, Lisa, Marcella, Keven, Marcia, Faige, and Lois.



Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Sunday June 14, 2015 at 03:48PM
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Did your kids come home talking about pirates invading campus?

Well they were right!
The Story Pirates came to CEE earlier this month, and we couldn't have been happier about their takeover of our Community Center.

The Story Pirates are a traveling band of actors who read countless stories submitted by kids from across the country and turn these tales into musical skits which they perform as a troupe. Our 3rd and 4th graders wrote stories for them to consider and they selected four to produce and perform at an assembly of K-4th grade students. 

Here are our proud resident authors with the actors who brought their pieces to life:

Harry (4AB), Ellie (3AB), Daylin (3CD) and Lucas (4CD) wrote stories that ranged from an epic tale of a century-long war to a vignette about friendship, math, and gymnastics. Characters included a cheese-obsessed mummy, a New York City cab driver, and many others - and every story was accompanied by costumes, music, and plenty of jokes. These students had no idea their stories would be performed until the actors announced each act, and the combination of pride, shock, and curiosity were evident on each of their faces as their names were called out. It was so special for their classmates and our younger students to share in their delight, along with their families, who had been invited to join in the fun!

The Story Pirates ended the show by inviting every child who had submitted a story to stand and take a bow - acknowledging their hard work and hopefully inspiring them and their younger peers to truly see themselves as writers. We start talking as early as Kindergarten in Writing Workshop about writing for an audience, and I can't imagine a more amazing example of that than what these our student-authors experienced.

The Story Pirates returned each original story with a handwritten note giving the author authentic praise and constructive criticism - 

In reading these thoughtful notes, any trace of disappointment about their story not being performed disappeared from our kids' faces. They truly appreciated the time and the feedback, which they know are part of the writing process.

We can't wait to welcome the Story Pirates back soon! 

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Friday March 20, 2015 at 06:57AM
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What is one of the most powerful learning tools in our Kindergarten program?

Read here to find out!

(I woke up to this story on NPR the other morning and thought - surely I must be dreaming! But a quick search confirmed that I wasn't. It's a great reminder for us - parents of young kids - as we head into parent conferences with questions, hopes, worries, and wishes, that our sophisticated thinkers with seemingly endless devices and apps at their fingertips are at the same time small children who need only the simplest things to make amazing discoveries.)

Block on!

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Friday March 6, 2015
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