Cherishing Childhood

The other day, my husband and I ran into Addie, one of my students, out in public. We had a sweet but brief exchange, and then we were on our way to enjoy the rest of our weekend. As she was walking away, my husband commented on how young my student looked.

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, the way you talk about your students makes them seem so much older. You talk about loving Fifth Grade because the students are independent and responsible. They can even email you. I just pictured older kids.”

His response really made me think. I do love Fifth Graders because they are becoming independent and responsible, but the thing I love most about my students, is the fact that they are still kids. The are playful, energetic, and curious. Recess is still their most prized possession because they still enjoy playing outside. These 10 and 11 year olds eagerly want to please their teachers while seeking the approval of their peers. And they are not too old to love a good hug from me.

Having the second oldest students in the school makes it easy to push responsibility and independence on the students. While those skills and characteristics are very important pieces of the Fifth Grade year at Trinity, cherishing childhood is just as important. And let’s face it, recess makes us all smile!

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Laura McRae serves the Trinity School community as a Fifth Grade Teacher.

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.

TEAM

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
― Helen Keller

I love my teams. I am a part of several at Trinity – my beloved 6th Grade team, the caring and supportive 6th Grade values/outdoor ed team, the inspiring math curriculum team. These teams all perform valuable tasks at Trinity. Without these teams functioning at high levels, the students at our school would not have the grand experiences that they currently have.

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
― Phil Jackson

Depending on the day and the team, I contribute differently. I may offer my organizational abilities or my peacemaking skills or my nurturing disposition. I hope my teams appreciate my contributions even a fraction of what I learn and value from working with them. From Javonne, purpose; from Kailynn, creativity; from Kate, enthusiasm; from Brian, encouragement; from Sarah Morgan, sensitivity; from Becky H, introspection; from Kerry, poise. These single characteristics are just the tip of the iceberg. I am always amazed at the wealth of talents on my teams.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
― Ken Blanchard

I feel fortunate that with all my teams there are common threads. First, we have a definite sense of camaraderie and support. Second, we share common goals and are committed to reaching them. Next, we all bring our best selves to the table. Also, we are professionals who enjoy collaboration. Finally, for the most part, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. (You will often hear the 6th Grade team laughing with each other, sometimes at each other, but always with love.)

“Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
― Mattie Stepanek

This last quote capsulizes the spirit and truth that I experience every day with my teams at Trinity. How lucky am I?

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kristi Story serves the Trinity School community as the 6th Grade math teacher.

Keep in Rhythm

One of the best parts of being a member of the 6th Grade teaching team is a guaranteed spot on the two Outdoor Education trips a year. When I interviewed for the position of 6th Grade science teacher, I tried not to let my glee show too much as I was asked, “How do you feel about tent camping?” As a young person, I loved going to camp. As a young adult, I worked every week I could at camp. Every opportunity to try something new– from knots to fire building, from constellation identification and legends to exploring tide pool communities, and from popsicle-stick crafts to small boat sailing– was another opportunity to learn by engaging in play. I felt like I had a lot of background and skills that could enhance Trinity’s Outdoor Ed program. What I didn’t realize was that even with my vast camp experience, it would be the 6th Graders who would teach me something new on our trips together.

“Keep in rhythm,

Jolly, jolly rhythm.

Ready- o?

Let’s go!

Starting with?

Ze- ro!” begins one of my favorite hand-song games from my days at Girl Scout Camp Mahachee. Two weeks ago, as the Oaks and I bumped along in our “hayride” back from feeding the chickens at Camp Twin Lakes, I taught the group sitting around me this simple game. Rhythm is kept by players hitting their thighs twice, then clapping twice. Each player is assigned a number from zero on up. “Zero” begins the game by saying “zero, zero” as they hit their thighs twice, and then as “zero” claps twice, he or she says another number twice. The player with the number called by “zero” then says that number twice while hitting their thighs and then calls a different number while clapping twice. Play continues like this until someone falls out of rhythm, doesn’t respond to their number, or calls a number that is already out. It’s an easy game to learn, and the Oaks took to it quickly, with several of them choosing to continue to play it over putt-putt, archery, or tennis after we met back up with the rest of the Leadership class.

Before I knew it, the circle of players had gotten quite large; I think at one point there were players numbered 14 and 15! I was tickled to watch some of the original Oak players beginning to instruct those new to the circle… “Here, just watch for a bit, and you’ll get it…”, “Don’t worry, we’ll give you a Mulligan the first time you’d be ‘out’ so that you can learn before it counts…”, and “Okay, now let’s review; which numbers are left?” There was lots of laughter as 6th Graders and adults “kept in rhythm” that afternoon.

After a time, I left my place in the circle. This old brain had a hard time remembering if I was number seven or two, and the tops of my thighs were getting quite red. As I sat on the grass and watched the happy group continuing to play I thought how prepared these 6th Graders were for the next stage in their lives and education– a stage that would find them as members of a new community, a new circle.

Our Trinity students see the value in watching for a bit and giving and getting encouragement during the learning process. They understand that everyone needs to take “Mulligans” when they are in the learning stage because that will encourage risk-taking and experimentation without punitive consequences. Trinitians know that it’s a good idea to assess where they are and what they know as they go along. They do know how to keep in with the figurative rhythm of the group and keep it “jolly.” And even though in August they will be “starting with zero” at their new schools, they are ready and eager to see where this game takes them.

These are good lessons for all of us– it doesn’t matter if we’re 12 and heading off to a new school, or 43 and returning to the science lab again next year.  Everyone needs to find some “jolly, jolly rhythm,” but if you’re struggling to find yours, I can highly recommend 33 excellent “teachers.”

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.

Contracting a Creed

Kind of like that tickle in the back of your throat that signals that you might be coming down with something, I’m not sure when the idea for having a classroom creed infected my brain. It likely started sometime last school year when the faculty was working on our SAIS self-study. With all of the work we were doing to collaboratively describe what it is we do here at Trinity School, I started thinking about what it is I do in my classroom. Now, by looking at the tagline at the bottom of this piece, or by asking someone around the building, you might decide, “She’s a science teacher. I bet she does labs.” And, yes, I “do” labs. I also “do” notes, and questioning, and lecturing, and reflecting, and problem-solving. But, that really doesn’t cover all that I want to do and all that I promise myself I will do for my students.

Much like the annoying cough that you grapple with once you’ve succumbed to the cold you were fighting, I don’t remember the first time I watched Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk on how great leaders inspire action (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action and totally worth the investment of 18 minutes). I’m sure I saw it before our self-study work, we probably also watched it as a faculty during the work, and then since then, it seems I can’t escape running into his talk. Sometimes a professor at Kennesaw State would mention it, sometimes it’s referenced on Twitter, but everywhere I turned, I was being presented with his golden circle. And that forced me to think about how knowing my why influences the how and the what of  what I “do” in my classroom.

So, in the same way we might start dosing ourselves with extra servings of orange juice, I started tinkering with what would become my classroom creed. Of course, I wanted to state clearly that knowledge was important in my classroom, but I also wanted to include that just having knowledge was not as important as being able to work with knowledge and work towards knowledge. I also wanted to include within my creed something that would address how I would model, and expect students to mirror, how we would all behave around learning and the knowledge we were gaining. It was important to include something about what success looks like. And, I wanted to include a directive for me, and some reassurance for those who might struggle, about how knowledge will be gained. Scrawled within a composition notebook that holds notes from a quantitative research class I took summer of 2015 and drafts of a few “welcome to our class” letters, there is a page that lists: knowledge- shared, built, dive deeper; passionate learners; success- more than one kind; and buttressing learning toward success.

Occasionally, the composition notebook would fall open, and I would look at my list and make some tweaks, but nothing ever happened with it. Like admitting I actually have a cold, I knew I was avoiding completing my thoughts on a classroom creed because I wasn’t sure I was going to like putting it in print. What if I had it posted and someone questioned whether I was doing these lofty things?

And then, just recently, I came across a quote from feminist, civil-rights activist, and poet Audre Lorde that spurred me to complete my creed. Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I had a vision of why, and how, and what I wanted my classroom to be; I trusted in my strength to be the kind of classroom leader my students deserved; and I wanted to be powerful rather than afraid, so I went to work and set something down on paper.

If you find yourself downstairs near the science lab, stop in, and check me on it. Honestly, I’m hoping that you will be infected by the “creed bug,” as well. We can start our own creed movement!  Because in taking a stance on what we do, we begin “treatment,” and we move ourselves closer to all we hope to be.  And in 1005 we strive to… Share, recycle, construct and deconstruct knowledge. Have passion about knowledge and learning be unmistakable. Celebrate multiple forms of excellence. And build bridges to move learners closer to knowledge.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.

What’s in a name?

If the first thing that pops into your mind after reading this title is Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, then you are not alone.  In the play, Juliet questions “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell so sweet.”  Juliet is implying that Romeo’s family name, Montague means nothing and they should be together.

I disagree with Juliet.  I think a person’s name means everything.   When you are having a conversation and someone’s name comes up, you immediately think about the characteristics and values that individual possesses.

You may have experienced being in an unfamiliar place and hear your name called.  All of the sudden you might feel more welcome, more known.  The opposite is true when you hear your name and you turn to see who was calling for you and they were referring to a different “Brian”.   Talk about a total let down.

I have witnessed the positive power of a name right here in the hallways of our school.   A student with hunched shoulders, head down, and dragging feet walking down the hallway will quickly stand a little taller and walk with joy from hearing the words, “Good morning, Stephanie!”

I have seen a child sitting alone in the farthest area of the field, head in their lap,  turn into an energetic athlete playing soccer upon hearing the words from a classmate, “Hey Sam, would you like to play soccer with us?”  I’m sure you have experienced the positive “name” effect as well.

I love the quote, “Once a Trinity student, always a Trinity student.”  Each Trinity student has a name and I challenge everyone to learn the names of as many of our students as possible.  I guarantee it will make a positive impact on you and our Trinity community.  Once you know a child’s name, you will be more willing to interact and build a lasting relationship with them.  If we stretch ourselves to learn five additional student’s names, then each student at Trinity School will have one more adult taking an interest in them.  For a child, there is no better feeling than someone caring about them.  Let’s do our part and make sure each student feels special at Trinity.

You may be reading this post and thinking to yourself “I’m out, I am horrible at remembering names.”  So, here are a few helpful hints:

  • Review last year’s year book, try to memorize photos and names
  • Review a substitute binder, they have updated photos and names
  • Read Forbes article, The Five Best Tricks To Remember Names by Kristi Hedges.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Brian Balocki serves the Trinity School community as a lead Physical Education Teacher

The Painfulness of Growth is the Pathway to Flourishing

“Not the twizzlers! NOT. THE. TWIIIIZZZLERRRRS!” my friend’s toddler would scream at the sight of tweezers in the event of a splinter. It seems other than fingers, the bottoms of feet are where small children most frequently experience the assault of splinters, impeding their ability to move about freely and shooting pain into their tender feet. And yet, the fear of the solution, the antidote, the instrument of healing, convinces the small child that the impediment of the splinter is better than the terrifying pain of removing it.

As adults, our response is not all that different when it comes to change, whether that be external changes in our circumstances or the changes that are inherent in learning and personal development. As teachers of children, we recognize their resistance when introduced to new concepts and asked to struggle through the process of learning. Children and grown-ups alike momentarily assume that the uncomfortable process, one that begins with not understanding and then moves into a period of disorientation, is the sum total of the event and therefore to be rejected immediately upon introduction. And yet, this process is much like a vaccination. The pain of the injection is not the doctor’s purpose but rather the prevention of the greater pain of viruses in the future and the ultimate flourishing health of the patient.

Reading through my Facebook feed after significant national events over the past few years, I see very intelligent, “good” people giving impassioned arguments from opposing directions. There unfortunately appears to be this same resistance to listening and learning from one another because the initial reaction to an opposing view is so distressing that we just want it all to go away. I can be so committed to my own interpretations of my personal experiences that I just refuse to see them from another perspective.  This fear of the “twizzlers” is certainly why a large number of people have begun begging for their newsfeed to return to pictures of babies and food. Those cute and happy images do not require that I move through dissonance and disorientation. But those images also do not help me to grow.

Educators are forever promoting the ability to see a situation from another point of view and to embrace a growth mindset. But in order for this to be achieved, one must submit to momentary intellectual and emotional distress just as muscles must be broken down to be strengthened. It is helpful for me as a teacher to recognize that my own default mode is to resist change, to be an object at rest that stays at rest and might throw a tantrum at any implication that I should be asked to become an object in motion. I am not inclined to be moved until I am convinced that life without the splinter in my foot might actually be more enjoyable, might allow me to run without pain, might allow me to go further and experience more.

What if we as adults begin to more tangibly model a willingness to see beyond our own experiences of the world to understand the validity of someone else’s? What if instead of resisting the discomfort, we welcome it, not as martyrs but as those who truly believe it is the golden ticket to enjoying life and loving others even more than a chocolate factory? What if we could then invite our students into the process of change not just for its own sake, but because we had come to believe that a growth mindset requires a moment of distress, but that struggle leads to a lifetime of flourishing?

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Jane Gilbert, serves the Trinity School community as a 4th Grade Assistant Teacher

Just Ask…

“Be Strong Enough To Stand Alone,

Smart Enough To Know When You Need Help.

And Brave Enough To Ask For It.

This quote, sent from the founders of Black Girls Run! to their members, stood out to me. True, it is one of those quotes that people like to pass around at the start of the new year – an attempt to motivate you to reset your life, to take a stand, and to be brave. Yet this quote is more than that, its about advocating for yourself, knowing when you need help, and asking for it – seemingly simple tasks, yet often difficult to do. Many of us do not like asking for help. I can rattle off some reasons why – it makes us seem weak, someone might think we don’t know what we are doing, we might look unprepared. The list can go on.

Yet when we teach we expect students to ask for help. We encourage them to do this on a daily basis. We write it under the “Areas of Growth” section on the progress report. We have individual conversations with students that end with, “Why didn’t you ask for help?” Yet we do not model the act of asking for help very well. Do students observe us asking each other for help? Do they know that we collaborate together to create a healthy and thriving environment for them? Do they know that asking for help only makes us braver, smarter, and more confident?

Maybe I am projecting my reflection on the Trinity community, or maybe there is someone who can identify with this. We are fortunate to be a part of a community that is resource rich and innovative. We have faculty and staff who are trained and experts in a variety of areas. Let’s capitalize on that by being brave, knowing when we need help, and asking for it. At Trinity, you only have to stand alone for a moment. There is always someone who is willing to help – especially if you ask.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Javonne Stewart serves the Trinity School community as a 6th Grade Lead Teacher

 

 

 

Passing Along Our Faith

I have very few memories of showing anyone my report card during my school years.  No one checked that I did my homework or studied for a test.  It wasn’t due to a lack of interest in my academic success.  My family understood the importance of a quality education, and we lived in a neighborhood that provided the best public education available in the city.  Grades in school were simply not their measure of success.

I do remember many talks with my family about making good choices – choices about who I considered a friend (because the answer to their question of “Who are their people?” when I mentioned a new name provided my family with all they needed to know about this person; choices in how I presented myself to others (because respect and decency came before anything else); and choices about what I did with my time (I still hear my grandmother saying “Make sure you do something with yourself.”).  It was always clear to me that people make choices in life, and I was called to reflect on mine regularly.

My family collectively worked to provide me with opportunities, modeled and explicitly taught what they believed were core character traits and habits of mind, and they regularly expressed their faith in me to be my best self.  The message of faith was so prevalent that it transferred to me, and I developed faith in myself.

My family’s faith built my confidence by reminding me of the skills, abilities, and accomplishments I’d worked to attain.  It caused me to set goals for myself and develop a sense of responsibility.  It motivated me to work through difficulties and setbacks so I could live up to the expectations that they set for me and I adopted for myself.

As parents and educators, we work to provide children with the best learning experiences and opportunities we can provide.  We strive to cultivate curious, lifelong learners and often find ourselves wondering what more we can do to prepare our children to be thoughtful, contributing members of society.   This question persists in my mind as a school administrator and parent of two teenagers.

As I was thinking about my grandmother recently I found myself wondering, what would happen if we were more intentional about passing along our faith to children – to our own and other’s?  I don’t mean shallow praise or fleeting compliments but empowering messages of belief and expectation.

What if we shared our faith in them and their abilities, imploring them to believe in their own worth and beauty in spite of what others may say about them?  What would come of regularly reminding children of the skills they have developed and the knowledge they have acquired, encouraging them to stand firmly on their past efforts and accomplishments?  What about deliberately coaching them to look to examples of those who came before them as evidence of what is possible and as motivation to persevere when times are hard?  Would it build them up inside?

Then, what if we made it clear to them that our faith is not hope alone but is coupled with expectation and a history of planning, preparation, and sacrifice?  How would they feel about a warning that we’ll be trusting them to do something with themselves – something greater for all of us.  What if our words and actions taught them that life is full of choices and then we gave them some to practice so they would know for themselves.  Would this promote a sense of responsibility and agency?

Research on locus of control and the Adlerian theory were not on my family’s reading list.  Yet the ideas of choice and autonomy promoting motivation (internal locus of control) and the need for a sense of belonging along with contribution (Positive Discipline) resonate with me as a critical part of my childhood experience.  Since these practices shaped me so strongly, I will use them more intentionally in my own parenting and teaching practices.  However, please note that I will continue to check progress reports.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Rhonda Mitchell serves Trinity School as Early Elementary Division Head.

New Year’s Thoughts

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

This quote imgreswas recently brought up at a meeting I was in.  I thought about it for many days after hearing it and decided to write down some of my thoughts. However, the holiday break happened and my thoughts stopped for two weeks! It’s funny how when you’re out of your routine the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality can kick in!

Of course, I happened to remember the post I had begun (all two sentences of it) right before bed the night before we returned to school.  I lay awake for quiet some time thinking about the above quote. Being a teacher I think of the students immediately and how it’s important at the beginning of the school year to show them how much we care.   It made me think about the little things that we take for granted on a daily basis; a hug as a student gets out of the car, a smile walking down the hall to a familiar face, the simple “hello” or “happy new year” greeting upon returning from winter break.

Then, with this quote still in mind, my thoughts drifted to my colleagues and peers.  In the same way we show our students how much we care it’s so important that we don’t lose sight of the little ways to show one another we care and value each other.   Each one of us has so many things we are juggling in our own everyday life.  Our students, our family, pets, friends, the list goes on and on.

I will admit, I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. However, sitting at brunch with some friends on New Year’s Day one of them mentioned forgetting to make a resolution.  What if we all resolved to do one act each day to show someone different that we care?  I know it may seem insignificant and small.  However, what if we could speak to someone new each day?  Maybe we could be more caring out in public as well.  Actions like holding a door for someone, letting them over a lane in traffic, honestly there are so many ways to show we care.  How will you show it?

What it really comes down to for me is a word that has been brought up over the past year or so a number of times.  Mindfulness.  If we are more mindful of ourselves and one another, what a nice environment we can help to create.  Will you join me in this?   Happy New Year and here’s to being mindful and showing others we care in 2017.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Erin Collini serves Trinity School as a Lead Teacher in PreK.