Monday, January 11, 2016

It's the Start of a New Year!

January 2016

Dear Lower School families:

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here we are at the start of the second semester . . . a time of both reflection and looking forward.  As we ‘take stock’ on what we’ve accomplished to this point, we look for evidence of student growth.  As learners, our students’ writing reveals their ability to record their thoughts, write with a beginning/middle/end, paraphrase information gathered from non-fiction texts, and create narrative writing pieces.  Similarly, their knowledge of place value, fluency with basic fact operations, and ability to solve more complex math problems demonstrates their increasing skills.  Social competence is another important aspect of school and “listening in” on conversations at lunch, along with helping students resolve conflicts gives me confidence in the way our students are demonstrating their ability to engage in respectful conversation, share good humor with friends, and show empathy for their peers.  I feel good about the progress I’ve seen our students make, both academically and socially.   Looking ahead, the months of January and February are always a time for “focusing in on academic learning” in the classroom.  Students are ready for greater challenges as teachers dive into the content of the curriculum.  Literacy skills will expand with our youngest children putting sounds together to make words, and engaging in reading with more velocity.  Writers will engage in crafting opinion pieces, persuasive letters, and research.  Field trips to the MN History Center, travel down the Mississippi River, and investigations at nearby nature centers are coming up soon.  Mustang Club will offer students opportunities in coding, scrapbooking, STEM-ventures, and of course, chess. 

As many of you know, our fourth graders have been learning more about leadership this year.  Who is a leader?  What characteristics do leaders possess?  How do ‘everyday people’ demonstrate leadership?  Every day, I see more examples of student leadership in our community.  This semester, third graders are learning how to ‘biddy’ during preschool/kindergarten lunch and Eloise took charge of our table as she managed her responsibilities with ease.  Niya introduced her fundraiser to raise $166 for the Animal Humane Society and I learned that Cori is a grant recipient for her interest in helping Agape/Oasis Child Development Center.   Our Student Council and Sustainability Committees shared important messages about “respect” and “reducing our trash” at Community Meeting earlier this month.  Max, Katie, Cooper, Piper, Ophelia, Henry, Catherine, Noah, Emerson, and Cori served as tour ambassadors at our winter admissions open house.  It’s really humbling to see how eager our students are to develop as leaders in the community.

Last week, I spent time with our teaching assistants exploring the topic of motivation and engagement.  Using research from child development expert, Wendy Ostroff, we looked at what she identifies as the “propellers of motivation” in young children.  According to Ostroff, play and community joining are the cornerstones of motivation.  I certainly saw evidence of this when I was called over by four boys in Mrs. Wegner’s classroom to see the city and castle they’d constructed.  While they likely didn’t realize the skills that were being developed as they engaged in their play, their project required them to collaborate and plan, communicate with each other, negotiate the placement of blocks, measure and problem-solve, and work cooperatively.  They were so pleased with their accomplishment, and proudly posed for a picture with their “masterpiece”.  Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.”  What is meant by “community joining”?   The other day, I passed by several groups of students working in the 3/4 Commons and it occurred to me that students of all ages are attracted to what their friends are doing.  They yearn to be “in community” with their peers.  Some of them were working on a project together, while others were working on individual work, but doing so in the company of each other.  As I thought about what I’ve observed, it reminded me of what Ostroff refers to as the ‘propellers of motivation’.  In our session, we also viewed a video about teaching strategies that enhance engagement in the classroom.  As I watched, I couldn’t help but reflect on what’s in place in our classrooms . . . close teacher-student relationships, safe learning environment for risk-taking, high expectations, active learning tasks, feedback via conferring and blog comments, questioning as a form of instruction, project-oriented work, and the presence of student voices in classrooms.  All of these are strategies our teachers employ in such a natural way, and propel high levels of engagement in our students.  How lucky are our children!

Looking ahead, opportunities for parents are in abundance in the next couple of months, including:
* The LS Parents’ Association meeting on February 3, where Carol Grams, Lisa Hunninghake, and Barbara Jacobs-Smith will share highlights of the incredible learning opportunities they’ve had via the self-reflective study, summer grants, and sabbatical programs.
* Parent meetings to learn more about  “Mindfulness” with our counselor, Lisa Heurung . . . January 21 and February 18.
* Celebration of the Chinese New Year (the Year of the Monkey) with dinner and a special performance on February 8.
* The “Breck Blue & Gold Bash” (aka Applause) set for Friday evening, February 19.
* Conferences . . . mark your calendars for March 3-4.

Lots of work . . . and play . . . and community building for us all!   Life is good!

Peg Bailey