Unity and understanding, both in families and societies, are created through traditions. Schools are both large families and small societies. School traditions bring together unique students, staff, and families to create a strong and cohesive community. Traditions remind us of the history that defines our past, molds who we are today and shapes who we are likely to become.
Over the last twenty years working with Middle School athletes, I have learned the value of keeping kids active and instilling the importance of lifetime sports at a young age. Often, the lessons learned off the field are greater than the skills and strategies of the game. Many times, these life lessons are so much more impactful than just reaping the benefits of exercise.
Spring days inspire so many of us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. School sports move outside, while playgrounds and parks become alive with families enjoying time together. Many studies also prove that there is a positive educational benefit of connecting young learners with nature. Author and Early Childhood educator from the Yale Child Study Center, Erika Chrstakis states, "Active learning, and especially outdoor play in nature, is essential to healthy human development."
Connecting children to nature cultivates:
As with many families, the decision to send our children to a private school required a lot of thought. We both attended public schools, so had no experience with the world of private schools. And, yes, the financial commitment was a challenge. But we firmly believe that the decision to send our sons to Sanford School played an important role in their success in college, their careers, and their overall happiness.
Among the many benefits of an independent school such as Sanford, the small class sizes, emphasis on individual attention, and excellence of the teachers stand out.
We offer two stories that illustrate why we believe this:
One of the benefits of independent schools is that we are not bound by state or federal legislation dictating the use of standardized testing to measure our students’ academic growth and success. This academic freedom allows each independent school to operate true to its mission. Ultimately, the academic growth and success rate of independent school students are measured by college matriculation.
Independent schools have the freedom to select a standardized test which best serves their students and their college preparatory goals. The tests that most independent schools use, ERB tests, are created, produced, and scored by the same company that creates, produces, and scores the PSAT and SAT. These tests are specifically designed for independent schools and are inherently more challenging than other standardized tests because they have to discriminate among children whose schools have a more challenging curriculum. The specific data that independent schools gain from standardized tests is extremely helpful because:
- Teachers and administrators can identify potential gaps in our curriculum where we need to dedicate more exposure to specific topics or skills.
- Post-testing curriculum evaluations help to ensure that our academic programs deliver the necessary knowledge and application skills.
- We can see where students have demonstrated individual growth and also areas of weakness.
What if you had to choose whether your child would learn to understand algebra or be a kind person, but not both? Fortunately, we don’t have to make those kinds of decisions because good schools teach both academic skills and interpersonal skills. Most parents have an understanding of the academic concepts taught at schools and can find more specifics in a curriculum guide or a set of grade-level standards. But, where do you look to find out what schools are doing to help kids grow up to be kind and responsible adults? How do you get a sense of how kids treat each other at a particular school?
Authentic learning is messy, loud, and somewhat chaotic as students grapple with application of their ideas and classroom learning to solve a problem. Authentic learning is active, creative, and fun.
What does authentic learning look like?
Student teams discuss their thinking, develop and implement a plan of action, and get to work. Some plans fail, and students learn to quickly adapt their thinking and craft new solutions as they work within time constraints.
This ebb and flow of successes and failures is part of authentic learning, and students learn more from failures than successes.
Authentic learning develops critical thinkers who are collaborative problem solvers prepared to meet the demands of our dynamic global community.
“What do you do in a makerspace?
The simple answer is you make things.
- Things that you are curious about.
- Things that spring from your imagination.
- Things that inspire you and things that you admire.
Students who have developed a growth mindset expect and appreciate struggle, learn from their mistakes, and value process over product. They embrace challenge and difficulty because they believe that failure is a vehicle through which true learning, growth, and development occur.
With all the attention to global issues and STEM in education these days, we can't help but be mindful of the roles of awareness, inquiry, collaboration, and appreciation of diverse points of view when solving problems. These approaches require a degree of outer-directedness and empathy, which any healthy school culture seeks to promote in its student body, staff, and greater school community. Service learning encourages these same attributes as students develop awareness of and attend to the needs of others both locally and globally. Students who participate in service learning develop into ethical, responsible, and caring human beings. They learn the importance of working together to support their communities by giving their time to help others.
There have been studies associated with the ill effects of self-centeredness and isolation on the health of people of all ages. It's difficult to serve others while succumbing to the restraints of a self-centered lifestyle. True education requires that you explore your world and be mindful of those around you. In a PreK through 12th-grade setting, there are numerous ways to start small and promote the benefits of sharing resources and giving of your time as you continue through life.
To start, recognize the needs at school and throughout the local community:
- Perform random acts of kindness
- Assist the grounds crew by picking up clutter
- Organize study groups
- Tutor at a community center's after-school program
- Play board games with residents at retirement homes
- Prepare and deliver meals to shut-ins
- Volunteer to help at charity events
- Donate to various service organizations
- Run a food drive
- Participate in an all-school day of service
Over the last few years, it seems every book about leadership, education, or personal development mentions Stanford professor Carol Dweck and her theory of Growth Mindset. Essentially, “in growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
In other words, people are always improving and learning. This is an important value for schools to remember and put into practice. Children, our students, come to us as works in progress. They are growing, developing and learning at their own unique pace. It is up to us as educators to meet them where they are and help them be the best versions of themselves—helping them to rise to the challenges in the classroom, learn from their missteps and celebrate their successes.
I recently learned about a school that separates its homeroom classes based on standardized test scores. This is the ultimate “fixed” mindset —one group is smart and the other not so much or at least labeled in this way at this particular school. I imagine this mindset must creep into the psyche of these children. Which group do you think will work harder? Which students do you think enjoy coming to school each day?
In a growth mindset school, like Sanford, all students should see themselves as skilled and capable. Perhaps their talents are developing in certain areas, but “I can’t…” or “I’m not good at…” is not part of the lexicon. Some may need more time to master skills and content, but with master teachers at the ready to encourage and reinforce, students find their own personal success.
Below are some ways schools can demonstrate a growth mindset when it comes to their students:
- Offering No Cut policies with athletics and an athletic requirement that sends the message that you can and will be on a team.
- Providing multiple levels of core courses – regular, honors, and Advanced Placement, with significant student and parent input as to what is the right level for a student. Class placement is not based on a placement test but on the students' desire to challenge themselves.
- Creating a culture where students celebrate one another’s success. This is a culture where students do not feel threatened by a fellow student’s success.
- Asking for feedback—how is the school doing? How can the school be better? This candid feedback is essential. Just as important—the school should listen. Just like we expect students to take our feedback and learn from it, we as educators should be learning and growing.
- Ensuring that students know that their process is as valuable as their product. They should not be judged on their standardized test scores or raw aptitude, but on their work and on how they persevere through the learning process.
The core of Sanford’s culture is growth—in our students as well as our educators. Hard work, effort, persistence, and a positive attitude are valued and encouraged. These elements of student success are timeless. This is where good teaching and learning stem from and what parents should expect to see in their child’s school.
Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'
Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck