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Learning to Handle Conflicts

 

Conflict is inevitable. We all experience conflict at some point in our lives. Most of us experience conflict each week or maybe each day. The secret is to learn how to handle situations that result in conflict. Our young girls face conflict of course, and the way they work through these conflicts provide life lessons. As educators we are constantly torn between allowing the girls the space to work through conflict on their own and intervening with supportive lessons and solutions that “fix it”. We want the girls to learn to work through their struggles with peers and yet we need to protect them from potential physical and psychological harm. Parents weigh in on both sides. Many say that it is important for their daughter to learn how to resolve issues without adult help. They need to use their voice and listen with empathy. This is great, however when things go awry the story goes home and generates much confusion and emotion. Parents and teachers may sometimes be at odds, but ultimately we want the same thing- children to have a positive school experience from which they emerge well prepared for life. Teaching our children that they have the ability to handle conflict and can learn even from negative experiences is so important. I often quote from author Jessica Lahey, who writes about these topics for the New York Times and the Atlantic. In her book, The Gift of Failure, she states, “The social conflicts of childhood are all part of our education in human relationships and failure to negotiate also provides its own lessons. Squabbles are opportunities to be valued, not emergencies to be managed.” As a school we continue to strive to find the perfect balance. We want to teach our girls to use their voice, talk things through and bring a sense of empathy to the conversation. Each week, Ms. Best teaches the girls a new tool for their “toolbox”- including empathy, listening, and, most recently, the apology and forgiveness tool.  Practice with these tools will enable the girls to gain independence from both teachers and parents as they handle those inevitable conflicts with confidence.  For more on Toolbox by Dovetail learning see the link below.

Toolbox

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What sound does the letters “sh” make? What animal are you researching for your first “research report”? Are you enjoying hearing everyone’s stories during Writer’s Workshop time?
  • If you are in First Grade- Did you like the way your self-portrait came together in art class?
  • If you are in Second Grade- Which guest speaker had the most impact on you so far? What ideas did you gather as you start planning your micro-business?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Did you enjoy the games your classmates created to illustrate the plot of their Roald Dahl book?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What part of the On-Stage performance did you enjoy the most this week when you traveled to Goucher College?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What impact did visiting the Supreme Court and the US Capital have on you?
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A Girls’ School

This is the week. This is the week those carefully considered and constructed acceptance letters go out to families who have applied to independent schools in the area. It is a joyful, and perhaps stressful, time. Whether you have chosen the school of your dreams for your child or are just contemplating a change for your young student who is slightly less than happy in her current school, the acceptance letter designates that a choice needs to be made. A commitment is just two weeks away, and it is more than just a financial decision; you must decide on whether an all-girls education is the best for your daughter.

Why all girls? This question comes up frequently during the admissions season. Teachers who work with girls every day have been able to answer this for decades and now their observations are being backed up by research. In addition, the world we currently inhabit reminds us daily that girls deserve a more promising future, even though much progress has been made. How can we insure that our daughters and granddaughters have a path forward that fulfills their passions and potential? At Roland Park Country School, we firmly believe this starts with enrolling girls in an all-girls’ school. Surround them with leaders who are women! Surround them with girls who defy stereotypes because they like “boy” things – and are really good at “boys” things! It can be as simple as that; however, most girls’ schools realize that it takes more than just exposure to have a lasting impact on their students’ future success. It takes active teaching and modeling. RPCS uses a purposeful curriculum that incorporates leadership opportunities and weaves voicing opinions and presentation into daily class activities. Examples are many, but consider the typical math class where problems don’t just need to be “solved”, they need to be “proved and justified”. Girls speak up with ideas, disagree, debate, all while learning mathematical concepts and theory. During reading classes, book characters are discussed, compared and analyzed through group book clubs, Venn diagrams, and presentations using personal connections and creatively constructed props. STEAM activities often take front and center. Girls learn that they can program robots, artistically create three-dimensional probability games, and engineer structures that support hundreds of books. The research is clear, girls who have these experiences in all-girls’ schools are 80% more likely to go on to positions of leadership, and graduates from all-girls’ schools are three times more likely to consider engineering careers than their female peers at co-ed schools.

Girls’ schools like RPCS are also taking seriously the need for teaching confidence to our young girls. The article below, written by Lisa Damour for the New York Times, addresses the very issue of confidence building for girls. She questions if traditional schools do a better job teaching confidence to boys and encouraging competence in girls. Boys feel they can take short cuts if the results satisfy the requirements and will eventually find expedient ways to get good outcomes. Later in life, boys will be more likely to “lean in” to work problems regardless of prior preparation. Confidence leads to more risk taking and gets attention in the workplace. Girls, by contrast, will often over-plan, over-study, over-everything to make sure their assignment is perfect. This will often result in immediate good feedback but over time leads to a feeling that nothing short of perfection will be good enough. As educators of girls, we need to be very purposeful in making sure risk-taking is part of the daily routine and that good time management and realistic expectations are learned and valued.  At RPCS, we bring in speakers and spend considerable time reading and discussing just how to make sure our young girls and women leave this all-girls’ environment confident as well as prepared.

Decisions about a child’s education are never easy. Making the decision to send a daughter to an all-girls’ school promises a lifetime of benefits and rewards. We state this loudly and proudly-  Roland Park Country School is a community that stands for something important: shaping girls into women who will elevate each other to purposely impact the world.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/opinion/sunday/girls-school-confidence.html

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What was your favorite activity from the 100thday celebration? What did you enjoy most about being a “Secret Agent”?

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  • If you are in First Grade- What math activity did you complete for the 100thday celebration? Have you been enjoying the new playground equipment?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What did you learn from the business woman who came to speak this past week? What are some of the most important lessons about economics that you have learned? How did you finish decorating your rickshaw?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What did you learn from the Chinese visiting students that attended class with you last week? What was challenging about the puzzle riddles you completed in math on Valentine’s day?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What did you learn from the Chinese visiting students that attended your classes on Valentine’s Day? What is your favorite part of Sarah, Plain and Tall? Were you able to make it to the show “Art for Paws” to see your work be sold to benefit the SPCA?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What was the impact on you from the experience visiting your delegates in Annapolis this week? What did you think of Governor Hogan? What did you learn from your extensive tour of the state capital and sitting in on a session of the Senate?
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The Power of Questions

If you Google search “quotes about the importance of asking questions”, you get a multitude of inspirational ideas. Einstein says, “The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Other quotes include: “Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answer”, and “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” I stumbled upon a great book several years ago titled, Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. In the book, Rothstein and Santana make a case for the importance of questions to empower and engage students. Their work began in Lawrence, MA where they encountered parents who wanted to advocate for their children in the public school system but didn’t know what questions to ask. In order to build knowledge and confidence, the two authors joined forces and developed the “Question Formation Technique”. They taught parents how to form questions that got at the heart of their issues. Finding the system very successful, Rothstein and Santana expanded their work to educators and later to health professionals. I had the privilege to attend their summer workshop in 2013. I found the concept simple and yet so powerful. It became a teaching technique for my classroom at the time and inspired a conference presentation on “Teaching Students to Ask Questions” at a John’s Hopkins Center for Talented Youth gathering in San Francisco. I have included below the link to Dan Rothstein’s TED talk and a journal article in case you would like to know more about the process. In addition, these authors have recently released a book for parents. It addresses the need to ask critical questions about your child’s learning experience. I highly recommend the resources these talented individuals have created.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JdczdsYBNA

 

http://rightquestion.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2015-Making-Questions-Flow.pdf

 

Our faculty realizes the value of student questions. And yet, we often find ourselves formulating “Essential Questions” to drive our instruction and meet the needs of curriculum standards. Often, we give the questions and teach students how to find the answers. Students, wanting to please the teacher and see success in the class, focus on teacher questions and feel less secure asking their own. As Dan Rothstein points out in his TED talk, students make progress with reading and writing as they age in school, however the number of questions children ask significantly diminishes. Graduates from our high schools and colleges will be better served if educators place “Question Formation” as an essential part of the curriculum. We need to continually create classrooms that encourage inquiry and make asking questions the norm. These “safe spaces” will encourage more student directed learning as the “need to know” comes from the learner. This week I will lead a professional development for our faculty that deals with this very topic. They will contrast current practices with best practices and learn the Question Formation Technique as developed by Santana and Rothstein in the book mentioned above. I will also encourage a faculty read of the wonderful work, A More Beautiful Question, by Warren Berger. This text, and his subsequent website, further explains the beauty and power of a question. He illustrates the direction companies, individuals, and the country take when theright question is posed. I think everyone would enjoy the insights. Enjoy the link below and encourage your daughters to ASK, ASK, ASK questions each and every day!

 

A More Beautiful Question Website

 

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What have you learned about the letter O this week? Who did you read books with during the MLK assembly?
  • If you are in First Grade- What books did you pick up at the Book Swap last week? Was it hard to choose? Why did Mrs. Teeling give out robot rings and Starbursts on Friday?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What books did you pick up at the Book Swap last week? What is a microbusiness? What are you learning about money- earnings and budgets?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Have you finished your unit on Roald Dahl? Which book would you recommend to a second grade student as a must read? Did you participate in the ribbon-cutting of the new Junior Innovation Lab?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- Did you enjoy hearing about the work of Margaret Hamilton during Friday’s Morning Meeting? What are you looking forward to doing doing STEAM week?

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  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What was your favorite part of our MLK reading assembly? What did the “Letter” song mean to you?
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Reading Joy

Our girls need few reminders about the joys of reading. Many come to school with a book in their hand. Others walk from lunch to recess to class holding a coveted novel. Literature classes, a favorite for many of the girls, provide windows into unknown worlds, and few complain that nightly homework includes fifteen minutes of reading. Even with this said, we have tried to ramp up the enthusiasm for reading this month with several reading “events”. Bev Edwards in the library has started her lunchtime book clubs. One recent school day fourth grade girls gathered to discuss, Love that Dog by Sharon Creech. They talked about the characters and plot while enjoying theme-based treats! Other grades are soon to follow. What a treat to sit in the library on a cold winter afternoon talking about books with classmates.

This week our students in both Preschool and Lower School are invited to share the love of reading together in our first “Snuggle Up and Read Night”. Children and their parents will share stories by the “fireplace” and enjoy some lite fare for dinner. We chose the classic novel, Charlotte’s Web, for our first and second grade to discuss and the new, but soon to become a classic, Wish, for our third through fifth grade students. We will use the theme of “kindness” as a basis for talking points. It will provide a connection to our character education program for families. Being kind to each other is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can instill in our young students. What better way to reinforce this lesson than through the magic of books.

Books with themes of social justice are being collected this month in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. On February 1ststudents in all grades will gather in the gym with students of Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School to read, discuss, and create bookplates so that the 1000+ books can be donated to Baltimore’s Head Start program. Another reminder that books can create connections and provide bridges between members of the community. It promises to become a yearly event.

We take the teaching of reading seriously here in our lower school. Nowhere is this more evident than in our kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Girls are exposed to letter-sound correlations and, once mastered, they learn to blend these sounds into words. It is rewarding work and creates strong readers. I recently discovered an article that does an excellent job describing the process and have linked it below. The English language is complex and often defies logic; our young readers are to be commended for making such steady progress despite the obstacles!  One strategy teachers use is to pair younger and older readers together. This is made so easy since we are all under one roof! Upper school students charmed all of our classrooms by reading the story of Beauty and the Beast to the girls prior to the musical performance this fall. Our kindergarten girls have loved sharing activities that involve reading with our fifth grade girls, and our second grade enjoyed reading picture books to our toddlers one recent afternoon. The article linked below describes the benefits of this buddy reading. Enjoy.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/11/01/you-need-r-ee-d-read

 

Reading with a Buddy

In the Lower School, we strive to always balance our curriculum so that the girls are exposed to appropriate challenges, cover necessary content to build solid foundations, and gain skills that can be applied across disciplines. Reading is at the heart of much of what we do each day. Nurturing a love of literature, teaching language fundamentals in meaningful ways, and celebrating reading progress in all subject areas remain objectives for our students. Thank you for all you do at home to support your budding readers. They will reap the benefits throughout their lives.

 

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What have you learned about the letter R and the sound it represents? What does addition and subtraction mean?
  • If you are in First Grade- What type of background did you give to your self-portrait in art class? What did your letter from the “Roses” say?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What part do you have in your Egyptian play?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What has been your favorite part of the novel The Fantastic Mr. Fox? What did you love at the BMA? What types of paintings were in the Cone Collection?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What did you contribute to the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day morning meeting assembly?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What will the subject of your letter to a State Representative be? What do you hope to accomplish with your letter? What did you contribute to the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day morning meeting assembly?
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Resolutions for the New Year

This week I was able to talk with the girls during Morning Meeting about how schools really have two “new years”. I asked what this meant, and immediately the girls’ hands went up. One young student expressed that entering a new grade was like entering a new year. We are lucky in this way- we get to start a new calendar year in January complete with reflections of the year gone by and predictions for the year to come, and we start a school year in September excited by the hopes and possibilities ahead.

From an early age, children understand that they can set a goal, even as simple as climbing to the highest part of a playground ladder. This feeling of accomplishment leads to more goal setting and risk taking which prepares them for life challenges. During our gathering the girls and I  talked about the similarity between the words resolution and goals. They were familiar with the tradition of making resolutions to start a “new year”, as many had already made academic goals for themselves in their classrooms. I asked them to consider making one more goal to start the year 2019- always be kind. We read a lovely story to illustrate the point, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. If every girl was able to prioritize kindness each and every day, imagine what a wonderful place this would be for all. Even adults often struggle to meet this goal- we’ll see if the younger members of our community can take this to heart and set an example for all.

In the end, the most successful goals originate with the child. According to Jessica Lahey, in her book The Gift of Failure, “Self-imposed goals are about the safest place for a kid to fail. I f kids make up their own goals, on their own timeline, according to their criteria, then failure is not a crushing defeat. Goals can be amended, changed according to circumstances, and even postponed to maybe next week. For kids who are particularly afraid and anxious about failing, goals offer a private proving ground, as safe way to take risks, fail, and try again.” She says that, “for a goal to work, the child has to own it.”

In conclusion, I hope that whatever your hopes, goals, or resolutions for 2019 may be, you are able to find success and much happiness!

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What did you learn about the letter “G” this week? What did Mrs. B do over her winter break that was exciting? What activity did you enjoy with fifth grade buddies over break?
  • If you are in First Grade- How do you feel about your performance coming up? How are the “Roses” to dance with? Is your costume colorful and fun to move around the stage in?

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  • If you are in Second Grade- What are you looking forward to seeing at the Walters Art Museum this week related to Egyptian Art?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What are you looking forward to seeing at the Baltimore Museum of Art the week after next? Who is Matisse? What have you learned about the work of Roald Dahl? Do you have a favorite book? What did you learn from Ms. Greene’s mother about writing her book about Maryland?

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  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What are some reasons that people moved Westward? Who were Lewis and Clark?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What will the subject of your letter to a State Representative be? What do you hope to accomplish with your letter?
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Gratitude Lessons

When Rachel Simmons came to speak to us last month, she finished her discussion with a nod to the importance of gratitude. She placed new emphasis on the way feeling gratitude can have a positive impact on one’s health and wellness. The girls who heard her speak were hanging on every word. Building on this message, every day at lunch I have been encouraging gratitude for the meal and the opportunity to enjoy time together. Teachers remind the girls what it means to be thankful during Morning Meetings, and recently our fifth-grade girls wrote what they are thankful for on paper chains. See the photo below. Some of their sentiments included gratitude for family, friends, and pets, however many rings spoke about thankfulness for a warm home, religion, and education.

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The month of November brings thoughts of gratefulness each year. Students and faculty alike have now settled into the routines of the school year and can catch their breath and enjoy being together. At the same time, we begin to realize that the calendar pages get turned way too quickly, days often fly by, and if we stop to enjoy each moment, we can slow the process down. Our Morning Meetings this year have given us a place of quiet reflection. We come together each day and through story, or music, or shared conversation, we have a chance to think about what is important. Recently, the third-grade girls completed a grateful-for-each-other paper during their Morning Meeting. They were given a classmate and anonymously wrote kind words and thoughts. The papers were shared and treasured. Stopping to take a moment to remember the qualities of each other provided a feel-good experience for all.

Several years ago, I attended an education conference in Vancouver. One of the speakers was Dr. Shimi Kang who had recently published a book about parenting and raising happy, healthy and self-motivated children, titled The Dolphin Parent. I highly recommend this book for your parent library. There are great insights in the book and clinical research to support ideas. One suggestion that impressed me was to encourage your child to keep a “gratitude journal”. She mentions that it can help improve health and happiness while “guiding your child towards valuing community and contribution.” Dr. Kang feels that building a habit of appreciation for what you receive and give to the greater community promotes a strong, positive sense of self. Timemagazine reported on the value of gratitude and concluded, “People who describe themselves as feeling grateful, tend to have higher vitality and more optimism, suffer less stress, and experience few episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole.” I have included an article from this time last year that outlines ideas about encouraging gratitude and the joys of journaling or letter writing as a vehicle for expression. Enjoy.

 

Encouraging Students to Feel Gratitude

 

I will start this next work week feeling grateful for the wonderful school community that affords me the opportunity to continue this dialogue about the changing role of education in our lives.

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekly conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this week.

  • What was the message from this week’s Morning Meeting with Mrs. Teeling? What teacher did she express gratitude for? What did Mrs. McAslan discuss about artwork on display? Is art one of your favorite subjects? What artwork did Abigail and Laney have featured in the Walters Art Gallery show?

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  • If you are in Kindergarten- What did your drawing look like for the Winter Concert Program? Who had their work selected?

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  • If you are in First Grade-How are your many dance rehearsals coming along? What have you learned about the animals of Mexico?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What have you learned about the Ancient Egyptians? How awesome was the homemade sweet potato pie that you made from your garden potatoes?
  • If you are in Third Grade- How are you doing with Typing Club? What are “home keys”? What did you plan for your moonscape base as part of the Lego League Challenge?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- How are the routines coming along for the tap dance you will perform at the Winter Concert?

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  • If you are in Fifth Grade- Did you enjoy creating a miniature version of the Macy’s Day Parade? Whose design did you feel worked the best? How hard or easy was the Ollie to control as a balloon operating machine? What do you mean by “personal space” after the lesson you had with Ms. Best?IMG_6978.JPG
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Assessment, Grades, and Conferences

By now all parents should have received their daughter’s report on effort and learning, otherwise known as the report card. This end-of-quarter assessment gives students and parents a quick glimpse of the year’s progress. The first quarter’s report card details curriculum goals for the year ahead whereas the next three quarters will outline how those goals are being met and whether new objectives are needed.

Educators have a love-hate relationship with the numbers, letters, and percentages that make up “grades”. Often feedback seems outdated by the time the report card is distributed. A student may have progressed beyond that 2 or has had a surge of newfound responsibility that could raise the number report for work habits on the checklists. However, most agree that it is helpful for teachers to communicate marks that clearly indicate either progress or room for growth at designated times during the year. This can inspire motivation or at least conversation.

One downside to grades as part of the feedback process is that it can reward product over process. Often grades are based on a calculate average of tests, quizzes, and projects. The product at the end of a unit was assessed and feedback along the way may have been minimal. A child can see themselves as a poor performer in a subject area and give up rather than see this more positively on a continuum of learning that requires constant effort. No matter how much we discourage this fixed mindset thinking, students often compare grades and rank themselves against their peers. Discuss with your child how important it is to always try your best and failure or setbacks are an important part of the learning process. Learning can look different for each individual and may not always mirror the progress of friends or classmates. At Roland Park Country School, we are looking at ways to reward effort, encourage process over product, and assess girls in new, more comprehensive ways. Hopefully we will be able to encourage growth mindset for our girls in all subject areas. Please enjoy the article below about this topic for parents.

Parent Article – includes a section about Children and Learning

An Interesting Read about New Ways of Assessment on the Horizon

This past week parents were invited to school for parent-teacher conferences. It was wonderful to see so many parents coming and going.  During this first conference, we learned about how your daughters see school, see friendships, and see themselves as students. Our hope as teachers is that when parents come to school in early November, we are able to establish a relationship that lasts throughout the school year. “Knowing” your children requires “knowing” you as well. Hopefully, the stage is set for a successful school year!

 

A parent requested a meeting the other week just to talk about some questions she had about school procedures. It was so nice to be able to hear her perspective on new things we were trying out and hear first-hand how the school experience was working, or not working, for her daughter. It was a dialogue we appreciate and encourage between parents and administration. As I talk with parents, I am reminded that we are all working for the same important goals- knowing our children and helping them have the most meaningful school experience possible.

I hope that my communication with you each week encourages “talking points” to inspire conversation with your daughter or daughters. Here are some “talking points” based on recent school events.

  • If your are in Kindergarten- What sound does the letter “i” make? How did you recreate your igloo picture?
  • If you are in First Grade- What continents and oceans can you identify?
  • If you are in Second Grade-
  • If you are in Third Grade- Did you learn new things about celebrations around the world from your classmates during their presentation?

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  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What  animal did you draw at the SPCA on your field trip recently?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What questions did you think of to ask the visitors to next week’s Morning Meeting?