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.
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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.
on Sunday September 6 at 10:15AM
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.
on Friday August 28 at 12:01AM
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!
on Wednesday July 22
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.
on Sunday June 14 at 03:48PM
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!
on Friday March 20 at 06:57AM
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.)
on Friday March 6
The Center's mission statement calls on us to "strive to graduate students who are joyful, resilient, life-long learners." By modeling life-long learning as adults who are constantly seeking ways to self-improve, we send students the message that what we are teaching them (and how they are learning it) will be relevant and meaningful long after they leave the CEE community.
Yesterday we had two great examples of adults engaged in collaborative learning here on campus. At lunchtime, we offered three sessions of a new onsite PD model that Lois and I learned about at this year's ERB conference. Our peers at The Willows presented about different approaches to gathering faculty and staff for trainings, book clubs, and other professional development opportunities that don't involve travel or outside speakers. Instead, they provide lunch to participants and start small, centering perhaps around an article found on social media, a new iPad app, or a TED Talk. We loved the idea of providing a forum for a rich discussion that included a wide cross-section of employees, and so yesterday we borrowed the TED Talk concept.
Around 60 faculty, staff, and administrative team members signed up for one of three time slots and over lunch, we watched this video about art, creativity, and limitations. We are fortunate enough to be experiencing another full day of learning together at an inservice at The Getty Center in a few weeks, and so the video got us thinking and talking about the creative process. Our hope is that the seeds of thought that were planted during the sessions yesterday will yield far more meaningful discoveries as we explore one of our city's most treasured cultural resources.
Later yesterday evening, I had the privilege of hosting a grade level meeting for Kindergarten parents. These nights are a hallmark of the parent education program that that is such a vital part of a family's experience at CEE. My hope is that the home-school partnership is strengthened at these meetings, during which I share the strengths and challenges of a particular class in the context of child development, and of the philosophy of our pedagogical approach at that grade level. Last night was my first time meeting with this particular group of parents, and I was so struck by their commitment not only to an excellent education for their children, but to a deep and trusting relationship with one another. After learning about typical kindergarten behaviors, parents spoke openly and honestly about struggles and triumphs, sharing strategies and commiserating (in a loving way!) about the highs and lows of parenting a 5 or 6 year old. The palpable connection between these adults bodes so well for their children, who can surely lean on one another the same way their parents have allowed themselves to do. My hope is that the gathering instilled confidence in parents while simultaneously alleviating anxiety - a tall order, no doubt! But between our outstanding classroom teachers, our school psychologist, and one another, these parents have incredible resources right at their fingertips.
I feel so fortunate to be part of a community of adults who are committed to continuing to grow and learn alongside our children.
on Wednesday February 4 at 04:23PM
One of my new year's resolutions at the beginning of 2014 was to expand my professional learning network using different social media like Twitter. As I look back on the year, I am struck by the way spending just a bit of time poking around the Twitterverse has expanded my horizons and introduced me to individuals and ideas I would have otherwise perhaps not encountered.
One such example is #NoOfficeDay. I recently spent an entire day, as the hashtag suggests, away from my office. In preparation for a developmental meeting with parents, I had the opportunity to spend December 1st with second graders - in class, at recess, at specialists, and at lunch. It was a fantastic day and it gave me such an important peek into the day-to-day lives of our 7-and 8-year olds. It is my goal to have one such day for each developmental meeting this year, and I found some great articles and resources on Twitter about principals, superintendants, and other administrators who had taken a #NoOfficeDay for themselves.
During the week of December 8th, students at CEE participated in the #HourOfCode. This international movement began as a way to get students interested in computer programming, and after several classrooms participated last year, we hoped to have even more students writing even more code this year. Across ages, grades, devices, and programs, our kids busily wrote hundreds and hundreds of lines of code that week, and many were inspired to continue doing so on their own time. My Twitter feed that week was full of photos, blog posts, and videos like this - all celebrating the power of young people learning (and teaching!) code.
I hope that as 2014 draws to a close, you have some time to reflect on the year and all that it has brought you. I am particularly grateful to have started off the new year with the arrival of my son Archie, whose development over this year has served as a daily reminder of how quickly time goes, and of how much children grow in the blink of an eye.
I wish you all a peaceful holiday season and all the very best for a happy and healthy new year in 2015.
on Monday December 22, 2014 at 04:46PM
Betterment is a perpetual labor. The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing and medicine is nowhere spared that reality. To complicate matters, we in medicine are also only humans ourselves. We are distractible, weak, and given to our own concerns. Yet still, to live as a doctor is to live so that one's life is bound up in others' and in science and in the messy, complicated connection between the two. It is to live a life of responsibility. The question, then, is not whether one accepts the responsibility. Just by doing this work, one has. The question is, having accepted the responsibility, how one does such work well.
This quote is hanging in my office, with a few minor changes to it. I have replaced "medicine" with "education," "doctor" with "teacher," and "science," with "learning." It comes from the book Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. In it, Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a Harvard professor, talks about the need to advance, refine, and improve in the field of medicine. There are so many parallels to be found in education, and at CEE we are constantly looking for ways to get better, through both diligence and ingenuity, as Gawande describes throughout the book.
A few weeks ago, my fellow program administrators Tashon McKeithan and Lois Levy and I had the privilege of embarking on, fittingly enough, instructional rounds. Modeled after medical rounds in hospitals, instructional rounds are a combination of classroom observation with professional development for educators in schools. We spent an entire day observing math classes, looking through the lens of the instructional core, which consists of the teacher, the students, and the content. From the Early Childhood program through 6th grade, the continuum of learning was clear, with evidence of strong mathematical thinking at every stage. In addition to the framework of the rounds, we relied on the philosophy of math instruction as articulated in our Curriculum Digest, which also describes the four pillars that support CEE's math teaching: number sense, operations, visual thinking, and problem-solving. It was a fascinating day and it felt good to be able to give teachers clear, specific, non-evaluative feedback about what we saw; they in turn appreciated our effort to be innovative as administrators in order to model our expectations for them to do the same.
on Wednesday November 26, 2014
I love getting calls from the teachers in the Lower Elementary Division that go something along the lines of:
"You've got to come see what the kids are doing!"
Needless to say, when I get those calls, I rush straight out of my office and make my way to the classroom at hand.
Today when I got that call I found myself in second grade where two friends were playing with an Osmo (pictured to the left). To see a great quick video about what an Osmo is and what it does, click here. These fellas were playing a sort of hangman game that combined a virtual piece on the iPad with letter tiles that they had in front of them - the game was challenging and fast-paced but appropriate, and kept them engaged and excited.
The best part about watching these two guys play is that it was truly an interactive, collaborative experience for them. The technology was astounding but it was more than bells and whistles - it was a thoughtful tool that that combined the best of old school word games and digital learning. What that meant is that these boys communicated effectively and problem-solved as a team, tapping into those twenty-first century skills that we work so hard to instill in our students.
As the boys played, their quick actions and lively conversations drew curious classmates in for a closer look. Within minutes, kids were asking that question that you hope to hear as a teacher who has introduced something new: When do we get to try it?
on Thursday November 6, 2014 at 04:28PM
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