Teaching Our Young Girls Lessons with Rachel Simmons


Anticipating the arrival of Rachel Simmons on Roland Park Country School’s campus this week had me reflecting about the ways lessons from her books translate to our youngest girls and their parents. This summer the lower school faculty read Odd Girl Out, The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons. At the time, I found the book a wonderful introduction to the many issues young girls face in our society. However, I felt that it specifically addressed girls in the middle to upper school age bracket rather than our lower school demographic. As I went back through the many dog-eared pages from the summer, I found myself seeing more parallels to our girls who are sometimes struggling with friendship and confidence issues all be it on a smaller scale. It appears that it is never too early to talk about friends vs frenemies (or relational aggression), bullying, self-image, and the misuse of social media. The final chapter of the book is devoted to the “road ahead for educators and administrators.”  Rachel points out that, “The lessons must begin early and continue year after year.” This is why we had this phenomenal author come to speak to the entire community and specifically to our girls in grades four and five. Her words were inspired and perfectly targeted.

To set the stage for Ms. Simmons, I met with our fourth and fifth grade girls during Morning Meeting to get them thinking about friendships. This was to be the subject of the afternoon talk, and I wanted the girls to feel comfortable analyzing the challenges that come with making and keeping friends. Their responses to my sentence starters, “A good friend is….,” and, “You know someone isn’t a good friend when…..” were heartfelt.  There were many shaking of heads in agreement with everyone’s answers. Changes in friendships, which often happens at this age, were very much on their minds. I read from a book that would make a great holiday gift for your girls this season, The Confidence Code for Girls, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. It is written specifically for girls and will give parents helpful insights into what might be holding your daughter back from finding her own confidence code. See an illustration below of three books that I find so useful in understanding young girls and their complex relationships.

Great Reads for Parents of Young Girls


Rachel made sure the girls were comfortable and engaged from the minute she stepped into the room. She had a wonderful sense of humor that was very relatable for them. With a photo of herself as a child surrounded by friends, she discussed the down and dirty of friendships. Girls can be your BFF one day and the bully going against you the next. She talked about the importance of allowing space to grow and explore other friends or activities, why it is better to talk about feelings- no more silent treatment, and the need to sometimes forgive. Rachel encouraged them to communicate what things are “off limits” to joke about and to listen to the vulnerabilities of others. The girls cheered and hurried over to shake her hand at the conclusion of the talk. It was clear to the adults in the room that these conversations need to continue, and we were grateful to this talented young woman for showing us how to get started!

Below is a link to an article written specifically for parents of young girls. Enjoy and find many more links to her website at the top of the article.

Rachel Simmons Addresses Parents of Young Girls

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.

  • What was the message from this week’s Lunch Reading with Mrs. Teeing? Do you enjoy the poetry or stories more? Which group sang Halloween songs?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- Did you enjoy the many project that went along with learning the letter H- crazy hats in the classroom, and lots of hair discussions??
  • If you are in First Grade- How prepared were you for the visitors that spend the day learning about RPCS this Tuesday?


  • If you are in Second Grade- What animals did you see at Roger’s Farm? What was the corn maize like to run through?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What types of foods did you have at your Three Sisters Garden feast on Friday? Was there a favorite? Have you ever made popcorn that way?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What did you learn from the information gathered by your grade’s rocket launch?


  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What were the highlights of the field trip to Genesee Valley? How much money did you raise for Breast Cancer research during Think Pink Day?

The Edge of Challenge

Schools today are looking at many aspects of education differently. One reason is that the world is changing at a rapid pace and information may be obtained through a variety of mediums. As a teaching institution, Roland Park Country School is looking closely at how children are motivated to learn, how they use metacognitive skills to know what they learn and what they need to learn, and how to measure learning to see if mastery is achieved. To spur motivation, students are encouraged to explore topics that interest them and are given tasks that are just on the edge of their competency. (I will talk about this idea further below.) To encourage use of the metacognitive side of the brain, students are asked to reflect on their learning experience, given methods that allow them to “show what they know,” and taught questioning techniques which give voice to the query, “Where am I going, and what do I need to know to get there?” To measure if mastery of a topic, subject, or skill has been attained, assessments need to look very different today. Creating assessments that align with new ways of teaching is a hot topic in schools. Project based units and group led explorations are not easily assessed with traditional bubble-in-the-answer type tests. Portfolios, formative or ongoing assessments, and performances are taking their place. Hooray! Schools are often piloting new ideas in order to keep up with progress. See the article about “progress culture” below. I read this article, and many others I will share with you over the year, while exploring K-12 learning goals for Gilman School.


Striking that balance between traditional ways of learning that have taken generations to refine and piloting new methods of learning is tricky in independent schools like RPCS and Gilman. Master teachers who have honed their craft must remain open to new ideas presented by a younger audience who do not know a world without technology and global connectedness.

This alone could be the subject of a blog post. However, as the title suggests, the discussion is about challenge. In my work at Gilman, we touched on the idea of the edge of competence. This is that “bar,” as it was once known, where knowledge and mastery meet unknown, new horizons.  This is sometimes defined as “Low Floor- High Ceiling” This edge,  or ceiling,  presents a world of new challenges and is usually pushed outwards after a repeated series of trial and error. I think sometimes of a video game that teases the learner with many levels and lets the player try over and over again until they make it to the next level only to introduce new challenges on the edge that needs to be pushed through. Children respond well to this type of learning. The teacher masterfully creates an edge of challenge just within reach and because there is already an inner circle of competence, the learner can push the limits and move forward continuously.

Pushing the Edge to Learn by Jo Boaler

This idea, as you heard in the message by Jo Boaler, is at the heart of our math program. Teachers of math at RPCS are well aware of Ms. Boaler’s work and consider this edge of challenge as they plan for their students. Every class begins with a math activity that requires thinking and analysis. Students discuss, evaluate, and usually change their original answers as they are challenged to think about the solution from new perspectives. There are many “Ah ha” moments and examples of girls asking for yet another similar problem to tackle. They are being taught that problem solving uses many skillsets and that struggling with solutions is the part of the process where learning happens. Over the year, I will elaborate on the amazing learning that happens in all our classrooms including math. As I wrap-up, enjoy the audio, copied below, of some of our fifth grade students as they work through the process of a challenging problem last week and, if interested, read the Edutopia article about promoting challenging thinking in math with similar “hooks” like our lower school data analysis and number talks. You may even be inspired to push on your “edge” with MathHooks.com! Enjoy.


Productive Struggles in Math

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.

  • What was the message from this week’s Lunch Reading with Mrs. Teeing? Who were the Bronte Sisters? What did Ruth Wakefield invent?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- What song about horses have you learned in music class and will perform at Friday’s Morning Meeting?


  • If you are in First Grade- What do you enjoy about Innovation class time? How do you feel your performance of a Chinese song will be this Friday during Morning Meeting?

IMG_6795 2


  • If you are in Second Grade- What role did you play in your Reader’s Theatre production of Helen Keller? How did you practice and how did you film the presentation?
  • If you are in Third Grade- How did you plan out your idea for the 100 Dresses project? Did you have a favorite other than your own?


  • If you are in Fourth Grade- How will you prepare for the ERB testing this week?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What do you feel are the most important elements of a playground? How did you study for your geography test?



The Work Has Just Begun

The work has begun. I am not talking about lesson plans by our teachers or the homework assignments of our girls, but rather the work of exploring how community, equity and inclusion have a role in the Lower School experience of our girls and youngest students. As defined in our recent re-brand, one of the core values here at Roland Park Country School is to seek and embrace diversity. We know that a diverse student body results in better experiences for everyone and enriches our community in many ways. The responsibility to seek and embrace diversity extends far beyond the admissions team. Our educators and staff members also have a responsibility to ensure that our students feel included and supported throughout their school experience. How will we know that they are supported and included?, What does that really look like for our students of color?…..are questions we grapple with and need to explore.


In the Lower School, we feel so fortunate this year to have the guidance and expertise of Akailah McIntyre, our new Director of Diversity. I had the privilege of spending many hours with Akailah over the summer mapping out a series of professional development sessions for our faculty. Over seven afternoons during the school year, we hope to engage teachers in meaningful conversations around identity, implicit bias, hidden microaggressions, and ways to address difficult topics in the classroom.


The work has begun. Last Thursday, we gathered together as a faculty and reflected on words of historical figures about inclusion, responded to feelings of emotion and anxiety within the community, and committed to remaining open to new insights and a deeper understanding of these complex issues. The session included a reading of what the meaning of “microaggressions” is in reality. We grappled with our own misconceptions and society’s misunderstandings of the term. To conclude, our faculty watched a TED talk about “The Danger of a Single Story”, which I have linked below. It is such a moving piece about how often our default is to judge another’s “story” based on stereotypes or our own implicit bias. Our future conversations will build on these activities. We hope to create for our students, and each other, many safe spaces to explore the diverse experiences within our community and eventually build an understanding that empowers us to change the narrative outside the walls of RPCS.


Big goals. The work has just begun.


The Danger of a Single Story


If you would like to read more about teaching social justice to young children to share with your children at home, below is an article you might find interesting.


Teaching Young Children About Social Justice

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.

  • What was the message from this week’s Morning Meeting with Mrs. Teeling? What do you notice about the changing seasons when you step outside? What does it mean to be a hostess? Why do visitors like to come to RPCS and learn more about what you are doing in your classes?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- What math games did you play with Ms. Goss this week when she visited your classroom?
  • If you are in First or Second Grade- What was your favorite part of the Harvest Feast?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What was it like working with the upper school on your lines for the Reader’s Theater play of “One Hundred Dresses”?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- How did you generate ideas for your “I AM” poem? What pictures did you choose to illustrate your passions? What was it like to present to the grade and Ms. Blatti?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What ideas did your group come up with for a “perfect playground” and why? How will you construct your prototype?



The Power of Hello

Every morning, in my new job as Lower School Head, I have the opportunity to shake hands with many of the girls as I greet them arriving by car or on foot.  It feels like such a privilege to be able to greet students at the start of their school day. I know that this promotes not only good manners, but trust.

Several jobs ago, I attended a workshop led by Boys Town. This organization has roots in a small town in Nebraska. It specializes in helping children learn and grow despite obstacles that they may encounter. My workshop was not only stirring but instructional. One of the main ideas that stayed with me was the power of saying hello.

According to the Boys Town model, children need to feel that they matter through their connection to others, and if they are lacking this connection at home or in their community, school is where they are able to feel a part of something beyond themselves. No problem is insurmountable when connected to a caring community.

I recently came upon an article on Twitter titled, “The Value of Just Saying Hello,” and it reminded me of the Boys Town ideals. The author, Kevin Fittinghoff, states that the greeting is like “sandpaper, breaking through the too-smooth finish and giving us something to hold on to.” I love the idea that each child I greet at the doorway of school is now “roughed up” and better able to absorb new possibilities that the day may present to them.

See the link below to this interesting article.


In the Lower School, our teachers also greet the girls with a special hello and message as part of “Morning Meeting”. This is a part of Responsive Classroom, which we are embracing as a lower school. On the Responsive Classroom website (linked below) the approach is described as “empowering educators to create safe, joyful, and engaging learning communities where all students have a sense of belonging and feel significant.” The power of saying hello and knowing each other is huge and can contribute to a successful year. For that reason, the Morning Meeting greeting is built into every day. Girls share a special handshake, try saying a greeting in a new language, or use song to say hello. Following the greeting is a sharing with each other. This promotes empathy and connects one girl to another. They suddenly find that both share the same favorite dessert, or have multiple pets in common. Building empathy is a subject I will write about frequently. See the article below that expresses the importance of teaching empathy in school settings.

Responsive Classroom


Why Empathy needs to be a part of school curriculum

New this year in our lower school it the use of “Toolbox”, a program designed to give children access to their own “inner tools” in order to better navigate daily personal challenges. In their words, “It is an inside-out approach illuminating children’s ability to manage their own emotional, social, and academic success by giving them access to the inner tools that empower them.” The power of saying hello needs to be followed by the power to use words and empathy to build those greetings into strong relationships. Look for more information about how “Toolbox” is changing the way our girls express themselves and build inner resilience. Below is a link to their website. The introductory video is particularly informative and endearing!


Toolbox by Dovetail learning


As Kevin Fittinghoff relates in his article, the need to feel connected, understood, and acknowledged never leaves us. I look forward to greeting each of you, parents and caregivers in our greater community, with a hello and warm welcome whenever you pass through our campus. Stop by soon!

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.

  • What was the message from this week’s Morning Meeting with Mrs. Teeling? What do we mean by See, Think, Wonder? What was happening in the painting by Winslow Homer? What was the large structure, like a long pool noodle with a skirt, placed into the Pacific Ocean meant to do? What did Mrs. Teeling share with you at lunch about ocean plastic?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- What lessons does the calendar give you about how numbers work? What are two ways that you say “goodbye” to friends during Closing Circle?


  • If you are in First Grade- What book did you read out loud to a favorite stuffed friend this week? How did you create salad on a stick and what did your apple and honey creation wrapped in fresh sorrel from our gardens taste like?


  • If you are in Second Grade- What are the five senses? How did you explore the sense of smell last week? How does smell tie into lessons about biographies and Helen Keller?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What did you explore about multiplication this week? What book did you read with the therapy dog “Hannah” this week?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What do your literacy teachers mean by “Sign Posts” while reading novels? “Understanding Differences” is the theme for your early novel work- what does this mean to you?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What are the order of operations? How is it that so many classmates come up with different answers to these complex problems?
School Musings

Team Building

Dear Readers,

Every two weeks I will post a blog that relates to the amazing teaching and learning at Roland Park Country School. My musings will touch mainly on the Lower School and our Early Childhood Learners or Little Reds. My hope is to share the story of our year and to inspire conversations at home. Many posts will also include links to articles, other blog posts, or TED talks that delve further into the topic.

Why “Puddle Jumping” as a name? It is suggestive of the joy and freedom experienced in childhood- may it stay with our little “Reds” forever!



The start of a new school year can bring feelings of anticipation but also apprehension for our children. So, too, are these mixed feelings a part of the teacher experience. Most teachers have enjoyed time away from the school setting, and even if they are involved in school-related experiences, the routines and expectations are different. August brings so much “new”. Some will argue that it is more representative of a New Year than January. This August, “new” means something very close to home for me. I am starting a new career as Lower School Head at Roland Park Country School- a school that is still unfamiliar and with many individuals whose names I am just starting to learn. Anticipation and anxious feelings abound.

As I put myself in the place of other new RPCS teachers and the many teachers that are embarking on new assignments on my team, I thought that the ideal setting to start the year would be a faculty retreat. For years I helped organize team building trips for groups of middle school students. They used the many activities to bring a sense of unity and community to their class. Tearful exchanges of promised friendships and new memories were voiced as sticks were tossed into the final campfire. While I was not anticipating tears or songs around a campfire, I was hoping for experiences that are self-reflective or build empathy.  Somehow, we were lucky enough to have the most glorious day of the summer for our retreat day in Annapolis. The weather was picture perfect. Just being by the water on such a lovely August day could have been inspiring enough to forge new relationships and build lasting memories! Our activities and the ensuing exchanges proved once again that the RPCS teachers I have the privilege to work with are creative, sensitive, and devoted to their craft.  The day began with teachers writing hopes and dreams for the school year followed by a discussion of how these ideas on post-it notes could become realities with the help of one another. I was reminded of one of our RPCS pillars- Building Each Other Up. That is a clear goal of our teacher as well. Note the photographs below of some “ideal classrooms” captured after a group activity that provoked conversation around classrooms that incorporate the outdoors, student movement, flexible seating, and carefully selected color schemes and lighting. Pipe-dreams? Hopefully not! The day ended with a relaxing sail aboard the Schooner Woodwind. Teachers were able to relax together, start new relationships, or experience an activity that was brand new and out of their comfort zone. (Sounds like something we want for our students as well.)


As I reflected on the day, and the teachers that your children will have guiding them through the school year, I remembered a quote about teachers found on writer Adam Grant’s Twitter feed:

Good teachers introduce new thoughts.

Great teachers introduce new ways of thinking.

Good teachers care about their subjects.

Great teachers care about their students.

Good teachers teach us what they know.

Great teachers teach us how to learn.

Your children’s teachers truly strive for “great”!