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. A year ago I took on a new role at CEE as the Assistant Head of School after directing our Lower Elementary Programs for the previous five years. In my capacity as Assistant Head I also oversee grades 4-6, and my blog entries from 7/2015 on reflect that work. You can still find posts from my time as Lower Elementary Director on this blog 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 will 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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What do you look for when you come into my classroom?

During a recent goals meeting, a teacher in my division asked me this question and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. She asked it in the context of thinking about her own evaluation process, acknowledging that my setting foot into her classroom brings a mix of emotions. Once I addressed that fundamental truth - that my presence can have an effect on the room, whether I want it to or not - the conversation evolved into a professional growth moment that I'm so grateful to have shared with her. No teacher had ever asked me this question before, and I had more answers than I could have anticipated (and perhaps more than this poor teacher bargained for!)

I told her that the first thing I do is to find three or four students to quickly observe. I scan the room without seeking anything in particular, and just notice. Their faces can tell me a great deal, and the same goes for their body language. I may dwell a moment or two longer on a student who's been coming up in team meetings, or whose parent may have just called me with significant family news. But in general my initial barometer is that sweep around the room to get a sense of how the students are experiencing what's going on. 

I am also looking, of course, at the teachers, and what they are doing. Here is where I look for patterns more than specifics: are they usually at the front of the room, circulating among students, or seated in the gathering place? Do they typically do most of the talking, or are they facilitating conversation between students? Do they seem to be sticking to a set lesson plan or are they making modifications as they go? None of these in isolation is a right or wrong behavior when it comes to teaching, of course, but over time the patterns tell a story of a teacher’s instructional philosophy. I am constantly learning from teachers in this way.

I also shared with this teacher what I am not looking for. I am not looking for a particularly neat and tidy classroom and I’m especially not one to criticize a teacher’s desk that is covered with work! I’m not looking for every child to be in a seat or for every hand to be raised. I’m not expecting that the schedule that is on the board will match, to the minute, what may be going on in the classroom. And I know that I’m not going to see 30 smiles on 30 angelic faces. I hope to see struggle, frustration, and failure, and reflection about that failure – on the part of students and teachers. This means authentic interactions that speak to the relationships the teachers work so hard to build with their students - and at CEE, I see this whenever I set foot in a classroom.

What a wonderful question – one that I will keep in mind as I enter every classroom this year, and every year!

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Wednesday October 12, 2016
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What is everyone reading at CEE (part 2)?

This past summer we went for a new approach to the faculty/staff assigned reading and asked everyone to set a reading goal for themselves rather than choosing a shared text. We used a Google Doc to collect names and titles, and broke into the following small groups upon returning to school for book talks. It was one of the hits of our opening week, and I thought it would be interesting to share the types of books our teachers, staff, and administrators read this past summer. Of course you can learn what everyone is currently reading by checking out the signage on our office and classroom doors!
Click here for our summer 2016 reading list.
Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Saturday October 1, 2016
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Seen any good math lately?

As someone who equates (see what I did there?) summer vacation with cramming as much reading as possible into a 3-month period, I always have an answer at the ready when someone asks, "Read any good books lately?" This summer my list would include The Girls by Emma Cline and The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

At CEE we ask elementary students to keep a log of their summer reading, and look forward to the rich discussions and recommendations that will come with their return to school in September. As a faculty and staff, we set personal reading goals in June and will gather in small groups at the end of the summer to share in conversation about what we've read, from biographies (no surprise here, at least a half dozen folks are reading Alexander Hamilton) to parenting books.

And yet, as a parent and as an educator, I admit that when I think about summer math, I don't get that warm glow, those feelings of anticipation and excitement, or that sense of a shared experience with my children and my colleagues. I grasp at straws, touting the virtues of calculating scores in family Yahtzee tournaments, keeping track of stats for our summer baseball league hometeam, or busting out a map of the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Those count (I did it again!), right?

As someone who loves the magic of math and who is championing our adoption of a new math series, I realize I have some serious work to do. Thank goodness the folks at Harvard Graduate School of Education are on top of it, and published this timely, informative, and ultimately hopeful article. It turns out I am not alone in my struggle to provide cozy, vacation-y, math experiences for my children - and it turns out the slump is real.

So, what's a parent to do? The authors of the article love Bedtime Math, a fabulous website full of quick ideas and fun resources. They also suggest games that the whole family can play, and we have been loving this one - Mobi:

It's basically Bananagrams but with number and operation tiles instead of letters. My 8-year-old daughter absolutely loves it! I found it on The Grommet, a site dedicated to launching "undiscovered products."

Last but not least, I must give a shout out to our very own Janet Lee, who has recently started her latest adventure at CEE as our Math Specialist. Janet's Haiku Page is chock full of ideas for kids and parents, and you can just feel the math excitement oozing from every corner. Or should I say angle? (Ok I promise that's it)





Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Monday August 8, 2016 at 02:49PM
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How do you measure a year?

I'm hoping that having the theme song from Rent stuck in your head will distract you from the fact that for me, the answer is clearly not "In well-timed blog entries!"

This has been a year like no other at CEE, and yet it has been my goal all year for it to be business as usual for our students. With countless celebrations of our 75th anniversary, a head search and appointment of our fabulous new leader, Mark Brooks, and the launch of our master plan and campus renovation/expansion, it hasn't been easy. But just as in any other year, we had ups and downs, teaching and learning, laughter and tears, and thousands of special moments to remember. Some were captured here as part of our 75 Acts of Kindness efforts. Others were memorialized in a beautiful 75th anniversary magazine, which reported on the many events and celebrations honoring our school and our leader, Reveta Bowers. And of course countless more live on in the stories our students will tell their cousins, grandparents and camp friends this summer when recapping their Kindergarten, 3rd grade, or 6th grade year. 

Blogging most definitely took a backseat this year as these other opportunities to reflect and rejoice took precedence. But I am excited to return to this space this summer, with so much change and transition to process. There are, and will always be, wonderful stories to share about what's going on at CEE!


Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Monday June 27, 2016 at 03:24PM
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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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