Associate Head of SchoolBCD Admin2016-10-25T15:01:46-04:00
Associate Head of School
looking forward to what’s next
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, mostly due to the vast vibrancy and variety of all that has happened at BCD! My first trimester whooshed by in a whirlwind of getting to know folks, settling into the daily routines of school, and loving the energy and enthusiasm of our engaging and engaged students. There were also, of course, a whole lot of events and extras from Back-to-School Nights to trips week to Grandparents’ Day to our first theater production to soccer season to Heads’ Chats to after-school enrichment to…. well, you get the picture.
Just when I thought things would calm down a bit so I could produce a contemplative blog, a whole new slew of amazing events looms large on the horizon. All of them tap into the unique nature of our incredible school community, but a few are immediate and just too good not to highlight. So I’m going to revel in my excitement and tell you to mark your calendars and get psyched for:
STREAM@bcd, #science: One of the many things that make BCD’s academic program so distinct is our belief in a well-rounded holistic curriculum. In modern educational jargon, that translates to a broad commitment to STREAM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Reading (including cultural and historical literacy), Engineering, Arts, and Math. To showcase aspects of STREAM here at school, the admissions office is coordinating a series of events called STREAM@bcd, each event with its own hashtag. And yes, this whole thing is a play on the Twitter phenomenon… follow BCD @bcdstockbridge!
The first in the series, #science, will be held this Friday, November 13 from 7:00 – 8:30and features Mad Science, a national education organization devoted to promoting science engagement in schools. There will be four stations, each with plenty of hands-on science learning that is also engagingly gooey or electrifyingly fun! The event is FREE and open to current BCD folks and also to the outside world. I hope you and your family will attend…. and bring a friend (or two or three)!
SOUP: Since my first visit to BCD, I’ve heard about the special event that is SOUP. Having never experienced it for myself, I look forward to the assembled gathering of our whole school community (current and alumni) with eager anticipation. This year’s Soup Extravaganza will take place on Tuesday, November 24th.
DIAPER DRIVE: Between now and Soup, Monday, November 16 through Monday, November 23, Student Council is sponsoring a Diaper Drive for the Berkshire Community Diaper Project. Many of us probably took it for granted that, when they were smaller than they are right now, our kids had clean dry diapers as needed. But, sadly, many in our community don’t have adequate resources to provide diapers for their children. For the Diaper Drive Project, Student Council will be collecting packages of diapers in all sizes, preemie and newborn through toddler pull-ups. The total number of diapers gathered will be announced as part of our Soup celebration. I hope that each of you will consider sending in one or more packages of diapers for this worthy cause. To learn more, visit the Berkshire Community Diaper Project’s Facebook page.
BOOK FAIR: I love to read, I love storytelling, I love writing, I love visual and audio communication, I love to match kids to texts, and I love books! Bring all these together in a most exciting way, and you have a Scholastic Book Fair! This year, the Book Fair will run from Tuesday, December 1 through Monday, December 7 with a theme of READ AROUND THE CLOCK.
Scholastic will be sending along cases filled with books that we will arrange in groupings and selections geared to specific levels, PK-adult. A companion “Virtual Book Fair” online will offer even more selections as well as help ensure that everyone who wants to read this year’s hottest book can get a copy. Students will be scheduled to attend the Book Fair during the school day twice that week. Don’t worry, the schedule will be sent home ahead of time (along with a preview sheet) so that parents can come shop with their children during the day. We’re also planning several READ AROUND THE CLOCK special events designed to enhance the fun while kids pick up some familiar books and choose some new faves. Of course holiday gift-givers of all ages may find that just-right volume, too!
So, mark your calendars for Tuesday, December 1 through Monday, December 7 and get ready to READ AROUND THE CLOCK with our Scholastic Book Fair!
WINTER WONDERLAND DAY CAMP:Speaking of science, if you’re wondering how to keep your kids engaged in learning over winter break, you might want to check out our new Winter Wonderland Day Camp for grades PK-5. Ms. Sarah Holmes, one of our Extended Day co-teachers, has created a fun-filled winter camp with a variety of activities sure to appeal to one and all. Kids will participate in nature walks, crafts, team building activities, and quiet reading and game time. Oh, speaking of science, they will also have the chance to do cool science experiments like exploring weather phenomena such as clouds and tornadoes, learning about the properties of water, and discovering signs of animals outside. A Constant Contact with a link to the registration form went out late last week, but you can also access it by clicking HERE.
WOW.See what I mean about so many amazing things coming up? And these are just the highlights! See you all there and then.
Combine an amazingly blue sky and vibrantly colored foliage, the energy of lower-school kids crunching through leaves and munching through sandwiches, the enthusiastic organization of Gill Romano, and the careful shepherding of our extraordinary PK-3 teachers, and what do you have?? MOUNTAIN DAY!
We hiked up (here is PK and K starting their climb behind Church on the Hill), we heard the story of the old Hotel Aspinwall, we picnicked, we played name games (thanks to our third-grade student leaders), we crafted, and then we hiked back down. It was an awesome way to spend an autumn day in the Berkshires!
I’m sure you’ll get more details from your children and teachers, but here’s my perspective. All I can say is, “Wow!”
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
−George Bernard Shaw
Typically, I like to create blog posts that are more reflective. But every one in a while, one will creep in that’s a tad more logistical.
As George Bernard Shaw indicated, communication can be a tricky thing. While it seems straightforward- you talk to or write to or email or phone another individual, relay a message or idea, and the appropriate follow-through occurs- communication seems rarely to be that cut-and-dried. If the communication with my own three children (particularly my youngest who is a college freshman and therefore completely grown and independently-minded) is any indication, something as simple as a text exchange arranging a phone conversation on Friday evening (that has yet to occur) is obviously pretty complex. Not that I speak from real-life experiences or anything.
It is in the spirit of communication, both sent and actually received, that I compose this blog. Hopefully some of these reminders will help us at BCD to prove George Bernard wrong.
In my own communications, I traditionally pride myself on what I call my “24-hour turnaround.” I admit often to being inundated by emails, but I am enough of a techno-geek to be pretty obsessive about checking them. The long and short of it is this. If you send me an email, shoot a quick text message off to my mobile, or leave a voice mail on my office or cell phone, my goal is to get back to you with some response, however abbreviated, within 24 hours. Period. If I miss that time window, you should assume that 1) somehow I didn’t get your message or 2) I got your message but had a moment of brain freeze and either forgot about it or accidentally buried it in my inbox. Either way, I give you full permission (encourage you even) to reach out again. The same goes for if you happen to leave me a message with someone else, Melissa at school or my darling husband at home. Even the most carefully-written message slips can get lost beneath stacks of file folders or blow off kitchen counters to land under refrigerators (not that I speak from real-life experiences or anything), so that 24-hour thing is a pretty important thing to remember about communicating with Dr. G.
On a very practical note, some home-school communications are just quick reminders or relays about changes in plans. Perhaps mom said she’d be picking up but dad is going to do so, instead. Maybe the orthodontist appointment got moved from 4:00 to 2:30 and so Suzie needs to leave early. If a student is out sick, who will pick up the assignments for the day and where and when? Did the lunch get left on the kitchen counter and Auntie will drop it off in the school office? In many ways, these daily maintenance communications are more essential than some of the larger conversations! So…
Keep in mind that teachers spend most of their time teaching or interacting with the kids. There are many days that they do not carve out time to check emails until the end of the day after the kids have left. So if there is ever any change to a student’s dismissal plans or to where/ with whom s/he is to go after school, it is essential that you communicate with the office and not the teacher. Phoning Melissa is the best course of action, because she will be sure that the message is accurately and promptly relayed to the teacher and student who need to know. Showing up unannounced to pick up a student for an early dismissal or to divulge a change of plans is disconcerting for all involved!
If your student misses school for any reason (i.e. illness or an appointment) and you plan to pick up work for him/ her, please contact the office to let them know of your intention. Because the teacher(s) may need some time to gather books or other materials in between teaching sessions, having as much advance notice as possible is greatly appreciated! Please do not simply stop by your child’s classroom during the day to ask for make-up work. That interrupts the teaching and learning experiences of others.
One of the things I have already come to respect about BCD is the openness and honesty of our community. The best problem-solving occurs when we are all clear and direct with one another, both about the good stuff and the frustrations. I encourage us all to move ahead with this school year in this spirit of collaborative transparency. If you have a concern, first address the person most immediately involved. Most of the time, things can be resolved quickly and directly in these interactions, particularly if they are as immediate to the issue as possible. In my experience, if we communicate with folks who are not involved or perseverate about a question or problem without action, issues tend to take on a life of their own and loom larger than they ought. We’re all on the same team, so let’s continue to be proactive about communicating how we can all best work together.
Much has been researched and written about how understandings are context-bound. In other words, we process every instance and event in terms of our individual perspectives, limited by our experiences. This idea does, of course, apply to our communications. As Jim Rohn states, “…communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” When I taught in elementary and middle-school classrooms, there were often dissension among children. Blame was cast from one participant in an argument to another. Events were regaled with wildly divergent details, depending upon who was doing the telling. All involved were convinced of the rightness of one position because their perspectives, their contexts, dictated that it was so. In these instances, I would often sit the students down in a quiet corner and ask them to recount their stories back and forth between them. “There is only one completely true way it happened,” I would say. “Your job is to talk together and share your stories so that you can both emember the one true way it happened.Then we can work it out from there.”
The same is true with many other conversations at and about school. Somewhere between a student’s perspective that no details about an assignment were ever given or no test date was ever presented in class and a teacher’s assurances that both really did happen will be the parent trying to figure the one true way. Kids are usually honest to a fault when it comes to how our hair looks or if we’ve gained weight (not that I speak from real-life experiences or anything), but they sometimes have a skewed perspective when it comes to the hours of reading they have, the grading of difficult math problems on attempt rather than accuracy, the directive to draft the English paper for refinement in class, or the in-class reaction they will receive to a lost or missing homework assignment. At BCD, we are all about your kids. We want nothing more to help them succeed at school and in life beyond. It is true that part of that goal includes our fostering self-reliance and responsibility, aspects of the “tough love” any good teacher distributes to those under his/her tutelage. But we certainly value knowing more about the context that under girds our students’ experiences. So provide us with your child’s perspective, your perspective, and the experiences in and around divergent expectations in a quiet and reflective setting. (Gotta admit that grabbing us on the stairwell or on the recess field or as we’re rushing to check our mail before the kids come back from art are not ideal times to resolve a concern.) Of course we want to hear your perspectives, share ours, and work towards common ground. Because the reality is that– somewhere between here and there, you and me, him and her, there is one true way things really happened.
Communication. How can something so simple be so… not?
Yogi Berra died last week and the news has been full of recollections about him. For me, remembering Yogi was less about baseball and more about aphorisms. In terms of communication, what wisdom did Yogi offer about what, when, how and why we communicate and the truth of it all?
“A lot of guys go, ‘Hey, Yog, say a Yogi-ism.’ I tell ’em, ‘I don’t know any.’ They want me to make one up. I don’t make ’em up. I don’t even know when I say it. They’re the truth, And it is the truth. I don’t know.”
We were near the end of the second week of school, and my fourth-grade class had settled into the easy camaraderie that came with our having gotten to know each other and starting to feel comfortable with the procedures that would guide our academic year together. As I wound my way through desk groupings to guide puzzled mathemagicians towards solutions for the daily challenge problem or gently to redirect students struggling to diagram our SOD (sentence of the day), Carol, one of my two fourth-grade colleagues, burst breathlessly into the room. “Turn on the news,” she barked. “You have to see this!”
That year and the year before, Carol’s class had had a first-period special. So it wasn’t unusual for her to have been watching the news while her kids were out of the room and then to come down the hall to share a tidbit that could be woven into our daily lesson plans. But this time felt different.
In the back of my room was a state-of-the art Gateway Destination computer system that– among its many amazing capabilities– could serve as a big-screen television. So while Carol looked anxiously on, I switched on a local news channel… just in time to see a streak of a jet plane across a crystalline blue sky already interrupted by roiling black clouds. I watched confusedly, trying to process why the plane was flying so close to– no, was actually flying into– the second of the two magnificent pillars rising alongside the Hudson River. I listened without hearing while the television announcer explained the scene in disbelieving, disjointed fragments over the background noise of cries and gasps and wails and screams.
Without knowing quite how or when it happened, I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by Carol and my kids, all of us holding hands and leaning both against one another and towards the Gateway big-screen monitor. There wasn’t a sound in the room except what was coming from the television as we watched what I sensed was a great American tragedy unfold right in front of our eyes.
Although I didn’t know it then, I used the fancy wireless remote control to turn the Destination system off just as another plane was readying itself to fly down into the heart of Washington, DC.
After a few minutes of complete stillness, the kids all began to talk at once. “Who?” they asked, and “Why?” Obviously I had no answers for them. From those nine and ten-year-olds, I was hearing the same myriad of emotions I felt. Shock, horror, anger, sadness, disbelief, fright. But then I heard more. I listened to first responses of retaliation and second thoughts of reconciliation. I heard helplessness begin to turn to what-can-we-do’s. I heard about how things need to change, and promises to be the generation that will change them. I heard talk of the whole wide world, not us against them.
I heard a little boy remind me, “You told us that in fourth grade we are going to study all about the world in social studies. That’s good, because we need to learn how people are different so we can all just get along.”
What is that old adage? “Out of the mouths of babes?”
Flash forward fourteen years to this past Friday, September 11, 2015, the first of our Berkshire Country Day School PK-9 assemblies. At the end of the day, the Bigs were to pick up their Littles and bring them to the Furey Music Room where we would gather, celebrate the end of our first week of school, announce happenings and birthdays, and– as it was planned– use the book, Goodnight iPad, to talk about our shared value of creativity.
Except that, on my drive to school, I heard this story on NPR.
“Hmmmm,” I thought. I might need to rethink things.
Then, at carpool, a parent reminded me that, if 9/11 is a difficult day for folks in general, public servants like police and fire-fighters really struggle with it. This parent (who is also a volunteer fire-fighter, herself) suggested that– if the students wanted to write letters or draw pictures– she would deliver them to local stations and precincts.
Soon after that, I mentioned the NPR podcast above to one of our teachers. Her response was immediate, poignant, and tearful. “I went to school right across the river from the Towers,” she sighed. “I used to look out of my classroom window every day and I saw them. This is a hard day for me.”
That did it. It was onto Plan B for our assembly.
I won’t recap the entire gathering except to say that, as I told the once-upon-a-time version of the Christopher Saucedo story, you could have heard a pin drop, even given the three to sixteen-year-old age mix of the audience. Some of the older kids nodded sadly as the story unfolded, knowing what was coming as I referred to the “Twin Towers” and “N’Awlins” and “beachfront property near New York.” Two-thirds of the way through, a lower-schooler blurted out, “Wait! Wait! Is this a true story?!?” But when I got to the end, the part where Christopher used his gifts and talents to respond to his Job-like life with creativity and hope, there were smiles.
“Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a bad thing happen to you?” I said. Hands shot up every where.
“How many of you have ever been really sad or discouraged?” I asked. “Nod your head yes.” Heads bobbled all across the room.
“How do we respond?” I asked. “Do we get mad or sad and stay that way? Or do we try to work through disappointment or anger and move forward with our lives?”
“Look at this,” I said, sweeping this image from side to side. “You heard about how Christopher usually used metal and heavy objects to make his art. But this sculpture is different. It’s blue like the sky and white and light like clouds and celebrates the beauty of the Towers and the spirit of everyone who helped.” The students nodded and cheered.
“And this,” I followed. “After Katrina there were hundreds of people who traveled south to help clean up and move junk and rebuild. Doesn’t this make you think about how communities can help others move forward in strong and positive ways when something goes wrong?” More somber nods and “uh-huhs.”
“Now, check out this blanket,” I said, sharing the next picture. “Can you see what is embroidered all over it? Bleach bottles and containers of water, the things that the Red Cross handed out right after Superstorm Sandy? Look at how Christopher used his art here to thank people who helped.” A soft chorus of “Wow” and “Whoa!” “That’s a blanket?!?” erupted.
The kids and I talked about bad things and how they make us feel. I mused aloud about how easy it would have been– expected even– for Christopher to have given up into sadness after just one of tragedies in his life, much less after all three. But, instead, with the support of his community, he responded with creativity and resilience. His artwork reminds us all that, if we have each other, we have hope.
Finally I held up a copy of On That Day, the picture book authored by our very own Andrea Patel. “Just like Christopher, Mrs. Patel used her art to help her and us try to deal with bad things like 9/11. She turned her sadness into beautiful tissue-paper pictures and used the power of words to inspire people just like us to help one another, to be kind, to work towards understanding, and to be thankful for the people sharing our world.”
I finished the assembly with a request. Although this weekend is meant to be homework free (in honor of Rosh Hashanah on Monday), I asked the kids to consider doing something anyway. I’d like for them to use Christopher’s story as inspiration and make something, themselves, that honors hope and humanity. I asked that they think about something that like to do– sing, dance, paint, play, build, write– to make art. Then, I wanted them to create something and bring it to school next week. The teachers and the volunteer fire-fighting parent and I will share their pieces with our community helpers who help us in so many ways.
I can’t wait to see what our kids will come up with.
The story with which I started this blog is, of course, my “where-were-you-when” testimonial. But what I haven’t mentioned yet is that– about five minutes after I shut down my Gateway Destination that morning– my LS Head appeared at my classroom door. In a hushed tone, he made sure I knew what was going on in the outside world and then told me that he had decided we would not share anything about the planes or the Towers or the crashes with our lower-school kids. Instead, we would let the parents do so at their own discretion after school. As Carol looked on guiltily and my students sat in a tight circle in the back of the room and continued earnest consultations about people and good versus evil and cross-cultural disconnects, I had to admit to him that his exhortations were a little too late.
Throughout that afternoon, as parents left work and came to pick up their children to take them home and keep them close, I sat with each and told them how the students and I had watched and processed and talked and supported. And then the parents and I did the same.
Our inclinations as teachers and parents are often similar to that of my 9/11 Head of Lower School. We want to protect our kids from harm, shelter them from trouble, shield them from failure, ensure that they are always happy and healthy and successful. But, looking back, if I had the happenings of that bright blue September day fourteen years ago to do all over again, I might choose to respond exactly as I did then, in a classroom community quite literally leaning on one other to work through the real stuff — even the really hard stuff– that happens in this variously wonderful world.
Who among us cannot testify that life is beautiful? But, don’t we understand that it can also be tragic or cruel? Try as we might, any endeavor has equal probability of success or failure. So it’s an imperative that we provide kids with supported opportunities to confront the difficult while we offer them models about how to respond with creativity, resilience, confidence, generosity, and gratitude.
Over the next week, hug your kids. A lot. Then, if you get the chance, I hope that you’ll work with them to find that special way they can create something– a picture, a poem, a woven bracelet, a sculpture, a musical recording, a photo– that captures hope. That inspires. That portrays thanks. Send it to school by next Friday, September 18 and we’ll make sure it gets to a local firefighter, a policeman, or another community helper. Together, we will embody our shared values of creativity and community and the incredible strength of enduring human spirit.
As Andrea Patel so eloquently wrote,
Sometimes bad things happen in the world.
But there will always be good things in the world, too.
Once you all get to know me, you’ll find out that I’m an absolute fiend for education. When it comes to teaching and learning, I love everything about everything and and everything about every grade level, every subject, every assignment, every app, every project, every… oh well, you get the idea.
But, if I am to be completely and totally truthful, I love literacy (in all its formats) with an extra-special oomph. As a former fourth-grader once declared, “Oh for goodness sake, Dr. G.! EVERY book is your favorite book!”
So, imagine my delight to learn that one of my very favorite author who has written some of my very favorite books will be coming to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center to speak about reading and writing and to autograph copies of his latest novel for kids!
Wonder who it is?
Here’s a hint. (By the way, it doesn’t show the gold medal on the front, but the book won one… a Caldecott Medal, in fact.)
For some of you, seeing this cover was probably enough to get you excited. Hopefully, you read the book, but if not, perhaps you saw the movie? (By the way, in my humble opinion, you always ought to read the book, because the book is always better than the movie. Just sayin’.)
Or, how about this book cover? This story featured a different setting and introduced a new set of characters, but it was still indicative of the quirky and wonderful style of this amazing author!
I’ll bet that most of you have figured out by now that I’m referring to none other than Brian Selznick. Brian will be coming to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 20. He’ll be presenting his new book and talking about how he came to write it, offering an interactive Q &A session, and then autographing copies of…
Wow! What an opportunity for bibliophiles like me (and their families and friends)! For more information, you can visit the Mahaiwe’s web site at http://www.mahaiwe.org/BrianSelznick.
But don’t worry if you can’t make it. Because here’s a little secret…. the wonderful worlds created by people like Brian Selznick are always available to us, as close as your nearest library or bookstore. How lucky are we!