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.

Planning rich mathematics lessons

There is so much to think about when planning and teaching mathematics lessons. At many schools, there is an adopted text that dictates what teachers teach and when they teach it. At our school, the adopted mathematics textbook provides a resource for lessons, but that text is not the mathematics curriculum. This can feel freeing but also daunting. How can teachers be certain they are planning rich mathematics lessons when they aren’t following a lesson from an adopted text?”

As a math specialist at the school I have wondered, “Could a lesson-planning template be helpful to teachers when they plan their own math lessons? And what would that template look like? In order to plan a mathematically rich task, I wanted that template to include:

  • A reference to national standards
  • A context
  • A connection to recently revised progress reports and “I Can” statements
  • A way to provide mathematical progressions (developmental sequences) for the target skill
  • An outline for teaching the lesson – (launch, explore, summarize)
  • Anticipation student responses
  • Connections with the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions by Margaret S. Smith and Mary Kay Stein–Anticipate, Monitor, Select, Sequence, and Connect.

Gratefully, I collaborated with Jill Gough about that template. Jill is the director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity School in Atlanta and is my colleague. In addition to her mathematics expertise, she is masterful at listening to ideas and illustrating them through her sketches.

With her help, this is our latest iteration of a mathematics lesson-planning template.


This is one of the completed templates for Pre-K.

prek-rotation6And this is an example of a completed template for a First Grade lesson.

I believe the important part of this math-planning template is understanding the mathematics content necessary to effectively plan with it.

Mathematics content knowledge is needed to anticipate student responses for a lesson. Anticipating responses helps us be strategic in providing entry points for the lesson and meeting students where they are during the lessons.

For example, during a lesson asking students to physically act out, and later use objects to model How Many Feet in the Bed?, these were anticipated students responses:

  • Counting the feet by ones to tell how many.
  • Counting the feet by twos to tell how many.
  • Starting the count over to know” how many feet in the bed” after another character gets in.
  • Counting on from the last count when another character gets in the bed to tell ‘how many feet in the bed”.
  • ‘Just knowing’ “how many feet in the bed” without counting.
  • Struggling to count or to tell how many in all as the number of feet in the bed increases.

Content knowledge is also necessary as we monitor what our students do during the lessons.

For example, during that How Many Feet in the Bed? lesson, it is important to notice and note:

Can students model the story with objects?

Are students keeping track of an unorganized pile of objects?

Does a student demonstrate one to one?

Do students know how many after counting?

Can students count on?

Where students are in their mathematical understanding is demonstrated in what they are doing and saying. And what they do and say helps us know what to ask, when to nudge, and what should happen in the next lesson.


Creating this template reminds me of planning for guided reading. When planning for a guided reading group, I wouldn’t simply ask students to read and then tomorrow pick another book and ask them to read again. I would choose a focus for the lesson: decoding, fluency, or comprehension (the target). Then I would choose a proper supporting text to match the focus (context). During the lesson, I would notice what students know how to do as they read. I would also notice what they struggle to do and what strategies they use to help themselves when they struggle. I would realize what tools students don’t yet have that can help them with future texts (notice and note). I would know how to notice all of this and make instructional decisions because I know what tools students need to become readers. There is a path. Deepening our content knowledge helps us understand the path in mathematics.

So, this math lesson-planning template is a beginning to planning rich tasks. The template helps us think about the content and the path of learning for the lessons. And it is helping us notice what students do.

What’s next:

It is crucial for me to create efficient and useful meeting agendas as grade level teams and I continue to build our collaborative math communities. During 30-minute meetings once per rotation, we have shared our notes, noticed trends across classrooms, talked about content, and discussed future lessons.

The lesson planning template should evolve to explicitly include the math practices. Routines for Reasoning by Grace Kelemanik, Amy Lucenta, and Susan Janssen Creighton states that a math practice goal is a thinking goal. Those math practices describe how students will reason mathematically about a problem.

So this journey continues… 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Becky Holden serves the Trinity Community as the Early Elementary Mathematics Specialist.

The Art of Badging

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania I was extremely active in Girl Scouting. One of the joys of scouting was earning badges. Badging required me to fulfill a variety of criteria, skills, goals, and objectives in all areas of life. From drawing and painting to sewing and photography, I learned skills that are the basis for my teaching career to this day! Earning badges and awards (specifically the First Class award, equivalent to the Boy Scouts Eagle Award) and receiving it demonstrated to me the skills I had acquired and the honor of receiving the badge or award validated that fact.


When Nina Chamberlain, my teaching associate at the time, returned from the 2015 National Art Education Association conference held in New Orleans, she brought back the idea of “badging” to our art classroom. I was totally on board with using them within the Choice-Art studios! She hand-drew over 100 badges for the 10 studios we have in the Choice-Art Studios. We had a “soft opening” last year, awarding the badges to students who demonstrated specific skills with materials, techniques, or concepts in the studios. A big THANK YOU to Nina! Thank you for sharing your talent. I couldn’t have done it without you!


Photo by Pat Kerner, Art by Nina Chamberlain

This year I have taken the art of badging to the next level. I have developed learning progressions in each of the 10 studios. After demonstrating their skill earning specific badges and fulfilling the criteria in a studio, the student can earn a “ribbon” signifying their attainment of the skills at that level of the learning progression. The Green ribbon signifies the “Novice” level, then comes the Yellow Ribbon for the “Emerging” level, after that is the Red Ribbon for the “Proficient” level, and finally the Blue ribbon for the “Advanced” level. In some studios, such as the Architecture studio, I have changed the names of the levels to reflect historical terminology: Novice, Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master Architect.


Photo by Pat Kerner, Art by Nina Chamberlain

Students have enthusiastically embraced the earning of badges and ribbons, and I am finding their motivation and engagement has increased. Many students are determined to earn all of the badges and subsequent ribbons in a studio to become a master of their craft!

Little did I know that when I was a Junior, Cadette, and Senior Girl Scout that badging would come full circle and become a focus for my work with students in the arts!

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Pat Kerner serves the Trinity School community as the Lead Upper Elementary Department Art Teacher.

Developing Empathy Through One I Love

This past year in our country has brought a number of hard conversations to the forefront, and we all tend to respond based on our personal experiences of the world, our individual realities.  Empathy, which we advocate to our students, means stretching to see the world through someone else’s experience of it, someone else’s reality.

The first bit of research recommended was the Chris Rock documentary, “Good Hair.” We drank in this foreign information about weaves, straightening products that could potentially cause emergency room worthy scalp burns, and the money spent and made on black women’s hair. “We are not getting a girl!” we agreed after that horrifying reality was introduced.

We were matched with a Ugandan girl.

Her baby’s home had shaved her head, along with all the babies, to make their care easier. As it grew out, we were told to “moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!” Her skin couldn’t leave the house without lotion or it would appear that she was uncared for, disdainfully stigmatized, “ashy.” Hair, skin, stigma.

Our family has enjoyed the privilege of being “low maintenance” in our presentation, because we sport the majority culture’s coloring and hair texture. I rarely apply lotion to my cracked and dry legs because, after all, who is looking? My first manicure was for my wedding. My ears weren’t pierced until I graduated from Trinity because my grandparents had impressed upon my parents that if God had wanted holes in our ears, he would have made them that way.

When we brought our baby girl home from Uganda, our black neighbors wanted to know when her ears would get pierced. When we go to Target, or Kroger, or the library, hair products are recommended from strangers who share her same skin tone. My friend, a thought leader in the Black Lives Matter movement within the mainstream, Christian churches, explained from her own experience that when our daughter walks into a store or community of any kind, we should not give others any additional reason to look down on her than she will already face as a person in dark skin. In other words, even our freedom to have messy hair, understated attire, and dry skin is a privilege that I don’t even have to consider.

We watched Dark Girls on Netflix, and cried.

I didn’t own slaves. I don’t make racist jokes. I have black friends.   And yet…my black daughter is treated differently in public places than my white daughter. I can walk into any gas station on our way to the beach and blend in while they keep an eye on my baby girl. She has already been harassed by middle school girls in our low income neighborhood, who share her skin color, and heard her call my white husband, “Daddy!” They taunted her, repeatedly even though she was only 5 at the time, “Black people aren’t supposed to be with white people! We don’t even go to school together!” She shrunk into her daddy’s leg, clinging tightly in fear and confusion.

On MLK, Jr. Day, three months later, she brought this experience back up at our dinner table. It was what he had fought against, but the battle continues to wage. My older two children would never have known how painful current day racisim is, from all skin tones, if they didn’t have a sister who weeps like an old soul trying to figure it all out.  Empathy grows when we place ourselves in a position to experience the perspective of another.  The emotional complexities of living life in different skin can remain at a distance until we are hurt deeply by the deep hurt of one we love.


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

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

Slow and Steady

I am new to teaching art in the EED. (That’s Early Elementary Division for all you non-Trinity folks.) Being new, I have spent most of my first few months figuring out the inner workings of our youngest learners.

Lesson planning for the little guys has been a tightrope balance: what works for one Pre-K class may not work for the other. Some groups of kids experiment for much longer than others. Some groups do NOT care about what you’re going to be for Halloween while others would rather spend the entire class talking about what they ate for breakfast last Tuesday.

As such, most of my lessons this year have been intimidating experiments with outcomes yet undetermined. This is especially the case for the “turtles” I tried to teach the Early Learners how to make.

Did you notice how the word “turtles” is in quotation marks?

Keep that in mind.

We started the lesson by introducing ourselves to the real live turtle that lives in the EED art room. (His name is Tom.) We talked about his important body parts: one head, one tail, one shell, and four legs. Together, we read a book about where turtles live. We talked about the colors found in a turtle’s shell. We counted his legs. We counted his legs again. And then we counted his legs one more time. (Early Learners LOVE to count.)

So when I gave my students a small piece of Model Magic and showed them how to carefully pinch out four turtle legs I was expecting them to follow my lead.

As Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”

Some kids pinched, some kids pulled, some kids coiled and smashed. Our little turtles were definitely NOT turtle-shaped.

Repeating the art teacher mantra “process over product” I continued on with the lesson as if my students had made the most beautiful turtles ever created. We covered the turtles with green and brown paint and then added some final decorative dots using their color of choice. Once the class was finished and the students departed I stood alone in my room amongst forty colorful lumps.

You know what I did?

I glued googly-eyes on them.

I glued googly-eyes on the lumpy blobs of Model Magic so that my adult eyes could see what my Early Leaners already knew: those little creatures really were the most beautiful turtles ever created.

Sometimes, when we are wading through a puddle of self-doubt, we simply need a few googly-eyes to brighten up our lesson plans.


Learner, Thinker, Writer: Nina Chamberlain serves Trinity School as the EED Art Teacher


What I Learned From My Mother

Submitted by Emily Wood

What I Learned From My Mother
by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love

the living, to have plenty of vases on hand

in case you have to rush to the hospital

with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants

still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars

large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole

grieving household, to cube home-canned pears

and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins

and flick out the seeds with a knife point.

I learned to attend viewing even if I didn’t know

the deceased, to press the moist hands

of the living, to look in their eyes and offer

sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.

I learned that whatever we say means nothing,

what anyone will remember is that we came.

I learned to believe I had the power to ease

awful pains materially like an angel.

Like a doctor, I learned to create

from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once

you know how to do this, you can never refuse.

To every house you enter, you must offer

healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,

the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Thank you, Julia Kasdorf, for writing these words that tell about my Mother too, and what I have learned from her. She recently celebrated her 99th birthday and continues to supply me with comfort and joy.  We visit now by telephone. Her listening ear and reassuring tones still give me courage and strength. She continues to teach me the power of presence.  She is a giver.

To honor her,  I follow the pattern I learned, to offer hospitality, to welcome the stranger, to speak with kindness, to listen with empathy, and to show up with cut flowers or banana bread in hand. She teaches me still, that “love” is an action verb and I strive to  do as she has done. From what I have learned from my Mom I have gleaned my purpose,  to make love visible in my community.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Emily Wood serves the Trinity School community as a receptionist.

Día De Los…What?

Two years ago, I was preparing to celebrate a holiday in my class for the very first time. This was a celebration that I knew nothing about. I was clueless. But more importantly, I was hesitant. Little did I know, I was on the verge of an exciting new adventure. This is the story of how I fell in love with Día De Los Muertos.

img_20161011_091910It was early October and the autumn breeze was finally starting to blow after a very hot summer. During a World Languages team meeting, we were discussing the Despicable Me Minion costumes that we would wear for the school Halloween parade and I asked if there were any classroom celebrations that happened during this time. My colleague, Carrie Peralta, began to enthusiastically share the activities and class décor she enjoyed for Día De Los Muertos.

Wait, pause…. “Is that that holiday where people paint their faces like skulls?”

Yes! That was exactly the holiday that Carrie was talking about. This holiday, while celebrated throughout Latin America and the United States, is particularly associated with Mexico and honors the dead through celebration. One of the central characteristics of the holiday is the beautiful altar that families create in their homes to honor family members that have passed away. These altars include food and other items that their loved ones would have enjoyed while alive. During this most celebratory night, loved ones return, partake of some of the food from the altar, and party with their family.

 Whew….deep breath!

This all seemed very strange to me. The skulls. The altar. The dead. All of it! But I was curious so instead of walking away from the whole idea, I researched, decorated my room, and designed activities geared toward young students. I learned that this was not a scary or strange thing to fear. This was a celebration of life, values, and culture. Before long, I found myself decorating quite the elaborate ofrenda (altar) and singing about esqueletos (skeletons) and tumbas (tombs) with the children. The students were joyous, engaged, and eager to share stories of loved ones they would celebrate on this day.

Aha! There is so much more to Latino culture than I thought!

Although I am of Latin American heritage, I had never been exposed to this holiday. My first Día De Los Muertos was a time of discovery that connected me with the beliefs, values, art, food, language, stories, and history of a people that were not my own. That expanded my worldview and made me see beauty where I had not seen it before. Two years after that first celebration, you might find me meditating with a Día De Los Muertos coloring book, cutting out cardboard sugar skulls for class crafts, or browsing holiday décor at the local craft store. I appreciate something new and that has added to my life.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” ~Voltaire


Learner, Thinker, Writer: Lilliangina Quiñones serves the Trinity School community as a World Languages Teacher & Co-Chair of the Faculty Diversity Committee.