Sunday, November 17, 2013

The NYSAIS Assistant Heads/Division Heads Conference

This past week I had the privilege of participating in some truly special professional development as I attended the NYSAIS Assistant Head and Division Head conference. I joined the conference as a member of the NYSAIS Emerging Leaders Institute, a two year program for educators who are interested in pursuing leadership opportunities in their school communities. This year's Assistant Head and Division Head conference was focused on issues of time, space and curriculum; themes of great interest to my school as we continue the thoughtful implementation of our new Strategic Plan. As I joined Assistant Heads and Division Heads from independent schools in New York City and beyond, I felt incredibly proud to represent my school and  share the impressive work we are engaging in everyday. The opportunity to reflect on our students, faculty and administration reminded me of what a pleasure my job is, and what excitement our future holds! 

Highlights from my time at the conference included:
  • Hearing from a panel of school leaders who have designed non-traditional schedules. Through the implementation of banded blocks with time built in for teacher PD as well as student-led activities, schools are exploring new ways to learn. I was especially intrigued by the idea of a 90 minute English period, and the notion that these longer blocks don't just mean having more minutes to teach the same curriculum, but rather require faculty to learn new ways of teaching their subject. I think this sort of change to the norm is probably good for both teachers and students!
  • Under the tutelage of Bo Adams and Grant Lichtman, I participated in a break out session on Problem Solving. We followed High Tech High's Dilemma Consultancy Protocol (adapted from National School Reform Faculty's Consultancy Protocol), starting first by brainstorming some real-life problems we faced in our individual schools. We then chose one dilemma to work through the protocol, and I found the process of facilitated question-asking and brainstorming solutions both practical and impactful. The protocol is something I hope to bring back to my school for use with students (peer mediation) and faculty  (generating ideas for changes to curriculum and school infrastructure).
  • From another small breakout group facilitated by Bo and Grant, I learned of Brooklyn Friends' "People We Love" project. Much like LREI's "Visibility" project,  the initiative invites every member of the school community to share a photo of a person in their life who is LGBTQ. The photos are accompanied by short paragraphs about the relationship, and are displayed in a prominent place on the school campus for everyone to see. I love everything about this project. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

We Choose Kindness!

World Kindness Day is coming up on November 13, and as part of an ongoing focus on kindness in 5th Grade, we created a "Caught Being Kind" bulletin board on our floor. We asked the students to keep an eye out for their peers' behavior, and to let a teacher know when they caught a classmate in a random act of kindness. Our goal is to have every student's name on our bulletin board by World Kindness Day next week. So far we've noticed 5th Graders volunteering to organize laptop carts, helping to clean out one another's cubbies or pick up dropped notebooks, showing good sportsmanship during student council elections, and in general treating each other with generosity and patience.

Our 5th Grade initiative caught on in the Middle School, and at today's assembly our students presented to Grades 5-8 on the work they're doing to make our school a nicer place. After sharing their Caught Being Kind bulletin board, a student made paper chain of kindness, and a choice quote from Wonder by R.J. Palacio, the entire Middle School watched a short YouTube playlist on the ways in which other students across the country celebrate World Kindness Day. We then dispersed to our homerooms to fill out Kindness Pledges, small slips of paper on which students listed the ways they can work harder to make our community more generous, supportive and warm. Next step: Cover a bulletin board in one of our main hallways with these pledge slips.

The assembly was a great success, with students across the grades reflecting on their behavior and generating concrete examples of how they might increase their kindness towards others. I was a bit concerned that the older students would find the concept silly or juvenile, but was in fact pleased to hear from teachers in grade 6-8 that their students responded to the activity thoughtfully and with care. It got me thinking that while it's easier to launch something like this with younger students, developmentally it is likely the older ones who need this guidance the most.