Flourishing: A Trinity Journey

Needless to say, I have done more than my share of reflecting this past week as Sarah prepared to graduate. The last nine years of my daughter’s life have been spent at Trinity School. With each passing year, I watched her engage with the faculty carefully chosen to support the learners at each stage of development. I watched her experience the curriculum and activities that we as a school had developed to help students build a strong academic and character foundation, cherish childhood, empower learners, deepen experiences and to cultivate curiosity, creativity, and confidence. All of this was designed to help students flourish. It’s a lovely tagline, evoking a picture of life unfolding. The marketing strategy is more than a clever draw on one’s heartstrings. A Trinity journey results in students who flourish. I know. I watched it happen.

Sarah entered the Butterfly class, full of delight and activity. She was disinterested in coloring in the lines, often failed to follow instructions, and was busy when she was supposed to be sitting still. At the same time, she loved the roly polys she found at recess, cherished dress up time, and devoured the lunches – as her clothes clearly showed each afternoon. Reading came hard and slow for her. Her classmates zoomed ahead. Learning Team members intervened to support her, yet she still lagged behind. Friendships lagged as well. It was hard to be different. I often wondered if perhaps she wasn’t a good fit at Trinity. Sarah could do math with ease, and she loved art and music. But still the reading and writing kept her from feeling like she was a student.

Third Grade came and our lives changed in an instant with the death of her father. It was the Trinity family who made sure my daughter was okay. Miss Paige bought her art supplies, knowing how she loved to draw and perhaps drawing would help her sort out her feelings. Miss Coote showered her with love and encouragement. Miss Suzanne wrote her a note about her own loss at the age of 9. Ms. Hansen honored the math student that she was so proud to be. Reading was still the enemy, and she was even further behind due to the emotional toll and lack of progress.

Fourth Grade. A year that I had dreaded as a parent, knowing that the amount of reading and writing increased. Knowing that friendships become even more difficult for girls. Knowing that reading would impact the math student she was so proud to be. A diagnosis of dyslexia, flair pens introduced by Miss Nims, new methods of taking notes shared by Mrs. Dickey, Mrs. Lynah, a devoted Trinity teacher who tutored her with gusto, and Learning Ally turned her story around. Day-by-day, she gained confidence as a reader. For the fourth year in a row, her teachers had carefully placed her with her dear friend who loved her for who she was, and she had new opportunities to show what she knew in different ways. All of a sudden, she started talking like a student, sharing what she was learning, seeking information, choosing to read. She worked hard. So hard.

Fast forward to her Leadership year. Cobalt blue. Meaningful school field trips and outdoor education trips. Student Council. Carnegie Hall. Tours for prospective parents. Taking tours at prospective secondary schools. Projects where art and creativity were honored. Opportunities to think differently. Opera. Capstone about the advantages of dyslexia! And this week. . . Graduation.

Each year, growth as a learner. Each year, growth as a friend. Each year, growth as a thinker. Each year, opportunities to shine in her own way. As I have reflected upon her journey at Trinity School, and I have shed more than a few tears at this loss of childhood, I have been immensely proud of the school that has shaped Sarah, allowing her to stretch and honoring the gifts she brings so joyfully. Thank you, Trinity School, for helping my girl flourish.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves the Trinity Community as the Upper Elementary Division Head.

Why Outdoor Education?

After two outdoor education trips this fall, I was thinking about why these trips are so important. The answers can be simple: a change of pace, time unplugged, bonding for a class, and learning about the natural world. These certainly are true – for students and for the adults that accompany them. But I think it is learning about each student that tops the list.

I encountimg_5165er students who are confident in the classroom, but away from home need support and encouragement. I learn who these children are and have the opportunity to help theimg_5013m. I learn which students know every last detail about fiddler crabs and those that have a keen eye on the beach for unseen treasures. I gain knowledge about those with fantastic leadership skills who can help a group problem solve at a low ropes element. I have the privilege of seeing students take physical risks, like swimming deeper in the ocean than they want to swim or try out paddling in a canoe. I see students taking emotional risks, like touching a snake or a crab for the first time or allowing others to lift them through a hole in a web. I see students taking social risks, like developing a friendship that was only an acquaintance a few days before.

img_5170Traveling away from the comfortable and the known creates opportunities for growth and learning for adults and students alike. The change of pace is great. The sunshine on my face is fantastic. The exercise without planning is refreshing. But the chance to learn more about our students is a gift.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves Trinity School as the UED Division Head

Mindfulness

 Paradise is not a place; it is a state of consciousness.”

-Sri Chinmoy

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In recent years, in large part in response to the dramatic increase in time that we all spend with our heads down staring at our phones, tablets, and laptops, with our minds anywhere but on the present moment, the term “mindfulness” has become a major buzzword. In our constant attempt to keep up with the latest emerging technologies and apps, and with the expectation that we keep pushing our levels of productivity higher and higher, always thinking about what’s coming up next, we need something to counterbalance this state of sustained output. Mindfulness seems to be the solution to all our problems.
But what exactly is mindfulness, and how does one get to this elusive state? If you Google “mindfulness,” this is the first result that pops up:

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Based on that definition, it is clear to me that without a doubt, I currently spend less than the ideal amount of time in a true state of mindfulness. I am constantly checking my phone to see what I’ve missed in the last 3.5 seconds, always thinking about what’s coming up next, and obsessing about how I can squeeze a little bit more work into today so I can “get ahead” for tomorrow. My mind is very decidedly not always “awake to experience.”

When I think back to a time in my life when I was more able to live in the moment, I immediately envision being a kid. My friends and I would spend hours riding bikes, exploring around town, hiking and making forts in the woods, or playing pick-up baseball or basketball at the park. My brother and I could throw a football back and forth in the backyard for 2-3 hours without getting bored, pretending we were professional quarterbacks and wide receivers scoring touchdown after touchdown. In the summer, my friends and I basically lived at the pool, playing all sorts of games like “shark” and freeze tag, and having splash competitions off the diving boards. We’d all play flashlight tag at night, completely losing track of time, only heading inside when we were completely exhausted or someone got hurt running into some backyard clothesline or tripping over a fire pit in the dark. Our minds weren’t somewhere else. They were fully focused on the present moment and on each other.

Now, as an adult with a career and the added responsibilities that come with being “grown up,” it is often difficult to recreate the state of mindfulness that I could so easily slip into as a kid. There’s always something to be planning for, to be worrying about, my mind constantly multitasking to keep track of it all. Add into the mix my iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and the countless social media networks through which a steady stream of DMs, texts, and emails are constantly rolling in, and it becomes all but impossible to avoid being in a constant state of distraction, mentally pulled away from anything or anyone who is right in front of me.

To get myself out of this cycle, to find that elusive state of true mindfulness, I visualize back to when I was a kid and think about what always made me the happiest; what made me feel the most present. Being outside with friends, playing, taking risks, going on adventures, doing things just because they were fun – not because they served a specific purpose.

As I write this, I’m sitting here barefoot by the pool, listening to the sounds of the fountains nearby, the hum of traffic in the distance, and I’m realizing that I feel more mindful at the current moment than I have in a while. Writing has always calmed my mind. At some point I just stopped taking the time to do it. There are a lot of things as you grow up that you just stop taking the time for. New things begin to take priority.

In adulthood, it is my goal to hang on to those priorities that I had as a kid, always trying to look at the world with a newfound sense of wonder, squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of life. And to me, that means being present, putting myself in new situations that open my mind up to the world around me, and being “awake to experience.”

There are very few days that go by in which I don’t take at least a small amount of time to pull myself out of the constant go-go-go mode I’m in. On the days when devices, email, and adult responsibilities win the battle, I don’t feel like myself. I feel restless and anxious. I can’t focus. My brain feels stifled. I can’t sleep.

So I build time into my days to be mindful. And the quickest way for me to get my mind there has always been through exercise. In the morning, I may head out for a quick run before breakfast. After work, I’ll meet up with a friend or go alone to the nearest trailhead on the Chattahoochee River, and head off down the path. With every step away from the parking lot, I can feel the stress of the day leaving my body; my mind opening up and tuning in to my surroundings; the 754 things I’m supposed to get done this week suddenly don’t seem so difficult to manage. Those things can wait for now.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Jedd Austin serves the Trinity School community as PE Teacher.

Accounting

When people learn I am the controller at Trinity School, they often exclaim, “Oh I could never do that! You do all that math and stuff!” Sometimes this is followed by a deep sigh of relief or an eye roll. Even my spouse jumped up and down like Rumplestiltskin and shouted, “I hate numbers,” when I suggested he balance the checkbook.

Accounting is not really about “higher math.” I only find myself trying to solve an equation when guessing how many jelly beans are in the jar. Fortunately, you turn in receipts; and we do not have to guess what you spent on supplies groucho_marx_69239-1600x1200or out of town travel.

One of my accounting professors gave us a very simple definition: “Accounting is providing useful information to decision makers.” After a 2 hour class discussion on the sentence, I wondered if anything so “simple” could be so variable at the same time.

In simple terms, the business office keeps track of all the money that we expect to come in and go out.  We compare it to a budget which is what we anticipate will happen during the year. You may be thinking, “What do you mean expect? Don’t you know?” Actually, we do not know exactly what the numbers will be until we receive the money or write the check.

We base this year’s budget on actual numbers from the prior year and incorporate changes we expect to occur in the year. One of the most important jobs we perform is to review our actual numbers with our budgeted numbers and explain any significant variations. For example, a large increase in water usage may indicate a leak somewhere.

The business office furnishes reports in various formats to the decision makers. What makes the reports useful is that they are timely, comparable and the applicable information is presented in a way the decision maker can use it. As teachers, you compare a student’s current year test score with a prior year as well as with his peers. You also compare the scores at Trinity with national results. We are both looking for trends. We both do analysis to determine adjustments if needed to reach optimum results.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Wynn Hickam serves the Trinity School community as Controller.

“Stop Commanding Me!”

In honor of Black History Month, our class used our most recent Life and Community Project time to research impactful African-American leaders.  We spent the week introducing our students to 5 leaders (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Misty Copeland, Cam Newton, Tracy Reese and Ben Carson) and had each student decide who they wanted to learn more about.  Our essential question was, what makes someone a leader?  Once had chosen a leader to research, it automatically formed small groups.  Their experience entailed working with a teacher to learn what they could about each leader, creating a life size figure of that leader and writing words to describe how that person is or was a leader.  My co-teacher and I look forward to giving our students regular and intentional opportunities to collaborate and this is something we do well at Trinity!

IMG_5624As my co-teacher and I crossed paths while floating from group to group, she shared with me the details of an interaction between two of our students.  One student was expressing how she thought their leader, Tracy Reese, should look and after listening for quite some time, the other student finally shouted, “Stop commanding me!  You’re commanding me!”  We smiled at each other and were proud of both of our students as they were able to continue to work on their project without teacher or peer intervention and with a better understanding for each other and what needed to happen in order to make their project a success.  As I continued to listen to other groups around the room I couldn’t stop about this very blog post!

I believe that there are two things that have a significant impact on collaborative experiences in school.  Teachers MUST model the vocabulary, tone of voice and body language that is appropriate and effective when working with others.  This can happen everyday and in several different situations!   For example, student-teacher conferences during writing, reading and math or when talking with a student about correcting an unacceptable behavior.  When modeling good collaborative skills, show that you can be a good listener, express your ideas and feelings in a way that shows your serious, but doesn’t make the student feel unwanted, unheard or under appreciated.  These are just some of the things that we want students to embody when working with a partner or in a group.  Secondly, students NEED opportunities to practice collaboration skills very early on in their educational journey.  I have noticed a big push for our children to be strong, independent and to be leaders.  Unfortunately, sometimes these qualities can appear to take the form of bossiness and not recognizing the way others may feel or react to their “leadership.”  Collaborating often and in meaningful ways will give our young students the time and practice to be leaders in a way that is more mindful and inclusive of everyone involved.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Nicole King (@NIcoleNKing) serves the Trinity School community as a Kindergarten Teacher.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

We have had a busy fall in First Grade- building community and making new friends, learning phonics rules, decomposing numbers, and perhaps the students favorite, a study on the state of Georgia. Known as “The Peach State,” “The Goober State,” and “The Empire State South,” the nicknames could go on, as could all the fun we have had learning about each region through song and dance, slide shows, stories, and field trips. Moving this unit to the fall gave us the opportunity to shake things up a bit from how we have done them in the past, and I took this as an invitation to step outside the box, and the classroom.

We started with the Coastal Plains, focusing on the beaches and the Okeefenokee Swamp, and all the critters who call this place home. Next we moved into the Piedmont Region, learning all about the Atlanta landmarks and the community around us. Saving IMG_4737the best for last (in my opinion!) we are currently wrapping up our unit by studying the Mountain region including the landforms, people, and animals that make this region so unique. Because a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail was not in the cards for 80 First Graders this year, we opted for a walk in our very own Discovery Woods, which was a close second. I brought in my favorite backpack, a 65 liter Gregory Diva which has seen mountains ranges from Idaho and Utah all the way to North Carolina and Georgia, and we headed out for an adventure on a beautiful Fall afternoon.

We walked and talked, threw stones in the creek, and followed the imaginary blue blazes as if we were really along the Appalachian Trail. But it was when we got to the outdoor classroom that that real fun began. With each item I pulled from my pack, their eyes grew bigger and bigger. A flashlight made to wear on your head? A stove that can cook ramen noodles in the backcountry? An inflatable sleeping pad with a checkerboard sketched on it? I really got them when I unrolled my sleeping bag from a sack the size of a Ziploc bag. I could sense that the idea of living out of a pack on your back was a bit crazy, but a big adventure! Needless to say, they were captivated, and I was totally in my element telling stories about trips and experiences while sharing my passion for the outdoors. Discovery Woods was the ideal classroom for this type of hands-on learning.

IMG_4738I showed them a little journal I keep in the side pocket and shared with them that you never know when inspiration will strike. As the Scout motto says, always be prepared. It was only fitting to share this little piece of advice with them since Juliette Lowe, founder of the Girl Scouts, hails from our very own Savannah, GA. Giving each student a pencil and piece of paper, we invited them to reflect on what resonated with them as we soaked up the sunshine in our special class in the woods. Right before my eyes, my passion for teaching and connecting with the students merged with my love of hiking, nature, and spending time outside. It was one of those sweet moments where all felt right in the world.

For some kids, it may have been just another walk in the woods, but for others, it was the time they truly learned about the endless opportunities that surround us.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Sarah Bristow (@BPfuninfirst) serves the Trinity School community as a First Grade Lead Teacher.

The Power of Yet

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/01/is-a-tiny-but-powerful-word.html#

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/01/is-a-tiny-but-powerful-word.html#

The past few weeks, I have met with every grade level. For the Second Grade students, my objective was to learn their names, tell them what to do when I forget their names, explain the uniform expectations in UED, and read an entertaining book with funny voices. For the other grades in the Upper Elementary Division, I engaged them in a discussion of the power of ‘yet.’

Little kids think that they can do anything and that they are the best at everything. This wonderland of confidence and possibilities shifts as students get older. Words and phrases from the netherworld enter their vocabulary interrupting and halting confidence. Phrases like I can’t…I never… I don’t like… I am not… flip off their tongues with ease yet impact their capacity to try and to believe in themselves.  It is far too easy to quit and proclaim inability than it is to persevere and believe that even though one cannot obtain the goal now, that the future holds the possibility of attainment. Simply by shifting an ‘I can’t’ stance to an ‘I can’t yet,’ one opens up possibilities. As one sharp Fourth Grader recollected from her teacher last year, “It turns a fixed mindset into a growth mindset!”

The faculty have all committed to changing their unproductive language as well by adding the power of yet to their thinking. How many things could we accomplish if we believed in ourselves? How many stumbling blocks could we overcome by persevering rather than halting progress with our fixed mindset? Our words matter. I aim to add the power of ‘yet’ to my thinking and doing.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Maryellen Berry (@fastwalker10) serves the Trinity School community as Upper Elementary Division Head.

A Circuitous Journey

I am a “To Do List” kinda gal. I like adding items that are sure to be crossed off soon as well as organize bigger to-do items on the list. The act of crossing things off provides me with a feeling of accomplishment and order. This matters to me.

Grief does not work this way. A circuitous journey, it requires patience with emotion, with arduous tasks, and with the loss itself. The initial shock and loss gives way to forms of normalcy, yet even these are surprisingly interrupted from time to time with raw emotion that cannot be easily understood.

I like to cut through the Media Center on the way to the Front Desk because it is a few less steps, saves a bit of time, and feels more direct. As I take this journey of grief, I long to make a straight path through the midst of it, side-stepping some pain, saving myself from some aspects that cause aches. But that is not the path of grief. There are times that feel “normal” and there are times that feel surreal. There are items on my to-do list that relate to normal school stuff and items laden with emotion that must be done. I do not fear the circuitous journey, but it often can cause me to feel raw or exposed. My penchant for transparency keeps me from pretending that all is okay, for it isn’t. Yet, not moving forward isn’t okay either. So I take one step at a time.

So all of this to say, thank you for walking beside me. For your forgiveness when I need it. For your patience. For your thoughtfulness in ways that have overwhelmed me. I am grateful to work in this community. I am grateful for the space to walk this circuitous journey with colleagues and families who give kindness and grace.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves Trinity School as the Upper Elementary Division Head. @fastwalker10

Leap of Faith

I read Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana in June because the idea of making one change seemed compelling and doable to me. The book not only served as summer inspiration, but it also caused me to reflect on the types of questions that I have routinely asked students in my classes. As I read about student investment and participation when students do the question asking instead of the teacher, I silently committed to try it in study skills with the Sixth Graders.

Fast forward to pre-planning and the book group chats about our summer reading. . .

As our small group discussed this book, we talked about the challenges of stepping back and letting students take the lead with learning through focused questioning, I kept thinking about my intention to try it out. If I shared that I wanted to start the very first day of school with this, I would have to follow through with it. Though I have never been a “pull out the file and repeat” type of teacher, I do know what has worked well and tweak it from year to year. This would mean a lot of work when I already had a lot to do. It could possibly fail – and what would the kids think about me? What would I say to my colleagues when they asked how it went? Despite my inner battle, I declared my intent to go for it. And then, I admitted my fear. It didn’t feel very administrative. It didn’t show unwavering confidence in the book I had read. Instead, I was a practitioner who wanted her first impression with her new students to be a home run instead of an experiment. The group encouraged me and helped me form my QFocus, the key component of the lesson. I got to work – rereading sections of the book, thinking about details of the lesson, and gaining the adrenaline that comes with risk taking.

The day of the lesson, two Sixth Grade teachers came in to watch the second session of Study Skills. Though they had seen me teach before and had collaborated on the lesson itself, I got nervous. I didn’t want to mess up. I had no idea what would happen in this group of students. I wondered if they would waste a planning period observing my experiment with this new method. Even though they were not there to judge my teaching, I felt vulnerable.

Teaching and risk taking go hand in hand. Kids need to see us stretch. Our lessons sometimes need stretching. It isn’t comfortable and sometimes requires a massive leap of faith in our students and in ourselves.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Maryellen Berry serves Trinity School as Upper Elementary Division Head. @fastwalker10

Overnight Growth

I know very little about plant life, but I do love to see the plants that were leafless and seemingly lifeless all winter spring forth with growth overnight.The Bradford pear trees dotted all over Atlanta provided me with inspiration when I spent an afternoon in my yard a couple of weekends ago when the weather hinted at spring. The empty branches had suddenly filled with white blossoms, but the branches had no leaves. How odd I thought to have white flowers with bare sticks surrounding it. The picture seemed peculiar to me.

The next day as I drove to church, I saw the same tree, but this time, the bare branches had green leaves as well. By the time Monday rolled around and the weather turned sour, the trees had lost the majority of the flowers and were now covered in green leaves. It made me think of the students in our care. It is possible for them to look like they are not “getting it.” And perhaps they aren’t – right then. But with patience and some warmth, they begin to show signs of growth. The white blossoms appear seemingly overnight and in a short period of time, the tree is full of green and the bare branches are but a distant memory.

Some students learn in full view. You see the wheels turn, they pose questions that demonstrate their thinking, and their progress looks steadier. Others, though, can be less predictable. Their  learning seems invisible till one day when the conditions are right, they show their stuff!

As the weather warms and the end of school nears, I like to remember that at any moment a student might be ready to grow overnight!

Overnight Growth