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Friends School of Baltimore Private School Blog

In assessing student growth are teachers uprooting the plant?

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Dec 13, 2018 12:17:50 PM

One of the blessings of teaching at Friends is the two hours we give ourselves on the first Wednesday of the month to collaborate across disciplines, divisions, and grades. Known as PLUSS, for Professional Learning to Uphold Student Success, these ongoing professional development sessions are generated by faculty for faculty and provide the space and time to explore emerging ideas in teaching and learning -- opportunities we would not normally have during the busy school week.

For the past six years one consistent component of these experiences has been a shared reading and consideration of a piece of writing on Quakerism, the philosophy upon which our 234-year old school was founded.  On this particular morning, we were discussing “Meeting for Learning; Education in a Quaker Context,” an essay by Parker Palmer, a prominent Quaker teacher and author.

In his essay, Parker makes the case for the Quaker practice of Meeting as a useful construct to envision what happens in our classrooms when we are at our best.  In a “Meeting for Learning,” as opposed to a traditional class, he writes, “the individual is always in relationship, and knowledge emerges in dialogue. It is not only what the student knows, but what the student says back that counts. Here learning happens between persons and not simply within the learner.”

He goes on to point out that, like Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Learning requires time: “We must also bring … a capacity for patient waiting and expectation … Authentic education is not necessarily quick in achieving results, nor are its results predictable in advance.  And education suffers when we keep uprooting the plant to see how well it’s growing. We must trust that growth is happening and have patience to wait it out.”

As we considered these points, my colleagues and I wrestled with just how often in our own classes we “uproot the plant to see how well it’s growing.” Several minutes passed as each of us reckoned with Palmer’s powerful analogy and our unwitting culpability.

Parker concludes his essay with a reminder that resonated with all of us:  “The most important consequence of any meeting is the nurture of community, of recentered and reconnected selves.  Education (as contrasted with training) comes from a community and creates community.” Walking back across campus, I was warmed by the invigorating experience of learning amidst the community of my colleagues, and I couldn’t help thinking about the importance of discussions like this one – and dozens of others during our PLUSS days – in allowing us to envision the environment we seek to create in our School.    



 

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Topics: Parker Palmer, student assessment, Quaker education, Quaker schools

Preparing Our Children for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”

Recently edsurge.com published a fascinatingarticle by Tony Wan that introduced me to a term with which I had been unfamiliar; “the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”  The gist of the article is that as we enter this next stage of human development (“a time when new technologies blur the physical, digital, and biological boundaries of our lives”), the skills most in demand will not merely be those focusing on the STEM fields and computer programming, but will include philosophy, ethics and morality as well.

To illustrate this point Wan cites the “Moral Machine” dilemma proposed by MIT professor Iyad Rahwan: “(A)n autonomous vehicle is in a situation where it must make one of two choices: kill its two passengers, or five pedestrians.” Wan then poses a critical question: “If we are leaving these choices in the hands of machine intelligence … (who)are the ones that are going to be setting up the frameworks for these machines?”

Wan would argue, and I concur, that this exciting and complex new age of smart machines demands heightened levels of the qualities that are most inherently human, and that the humanities are, therefore, more important and relevant than ever before; this despite what the plummeting rate of college humanities majors would suggest.  (See also Nicholas Kristof’s 2014 New York Timeseditorial on the continuing need for the humanities in the 21st Century, in which he points out that it is only in the marriage of "hard skills" like computer programming with "soft skills" such as philosophical discernment that civilizations flourish.)

Having spent many years hard at work with my colleagues crafting an environment that fosters such vital traits as reflection, resilience, critical thinking, empathy, curiosity, and creativity – key elements of Friends School’s Teaching and Learning Paradigm – it is thrilling to see how these softer skills are informing the way we prepare young people for the complexity and fluidity of this new era.  Bring on the (Fourth) Revolution!

 

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Topics: STEM, Humanities, 4th Industrial Revolution

Do private schools serve the community?

Posted by Heidi Blalock, Director of Communications on Oct 17, 2018 1:29:19 PM

In the opening Query of the newly published 2018 issue of Friends Magazine, editor Sue DePasquale posed the following question to members of the School community:

What, if any, responsibility do Baltimore's independent schools have to be a good neighbor?

Several readers weighed in with thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses, which we have excerpted below. We invite you to read on and then share your thoughts using the "Submit Comment" form below. Do independent schools, like Friends School of Baltimore, located in urban environments beset by myriad challenges bear a responsibility to go above and beyond community service? Lend your voice to the conversation.

David Olawuyi Fakunle ’05, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Morgan State University School of Community Health & Policy; co-founder/CEO, DiscoverME/RecoverME"I would state that most, if not all, independent schools do not have an inherent responsibility to be a “good neighbor” of service to the urban environments in which many are located. That is one of numerous consequences of white supremacy and the inequitable distribution of power and resources that allow independent schools to create and perpetuate their own figurative bubbles of comfortable ignorance. However, such a responsibility becomes prudent as the demographic and philosophical composition of the schools’ student, teacher, and administrative bodies begin to reflect the diversity of the environments that surround them and beyond....More 

Amy Schmaljohn, Ph.D., inaugural Bliss Forbush Jr. ’40 chair of Friends School’s Institute for Public Engagement and Responsible Dialogue: "Well, I suppose I’d begin with a slightly different question. If I see our city as a place beset by challenges, I’m not likely to see the vast resources and creative spirit present in Baltimore. And if I ask myself what responsibility, if any, I have to be a good neighbor, I am overlooking the reality that I am already a neighbor, already in relationship with Baltimore....More 

Liz Lauros ’98, Deputy Commissioner of Strategic Partnerships for the City of New York’s Department of Social Services: "For me, the first step of answering this question is to examine why we want to be a “good neighbor.” Independent schools and other institutions often talk about this concept in the context of doing service work, and/or in reflecting on the experience of having resources when a larger community is lacking. We should pause when we are going down that path of thought and shift the framework toward considering that we all have a stake in a just and fair community, not only those who are oppressed or marginalized....More

Heidi Hutchison, Director of City Curriculum, Friends Select School (Philadelphia): "I believe our country is desperate for a renewed understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor...Although we now have technology that connects us, we seem to be less connected. Being a good neighbor takes courage and effort. We want to live in good neighborhoods, but are we good neighbors ourselves? Our own city of Baltimore literally bleeds on a daily basis. This year we have had 209 (as of 9/18) homicides and nearly 24 percent of Baltimore’s residents live below the poverty line. Erricka Bridgeford, one of the co-founders of Baltimore Ceasefire, asked our community to help Baltimore not just by calling for peace during Ceasefire weekends, but by attending community activism meetings. She doesn’t want us to throw money at a problem, but rather bring our children and families in unity together by getting to know one another … to listen and listen deeply....More

Ariana Sharifi ’18, first-year student at University of Maryland, College Park: "At Friends, I have learned what it means to be a good neighbor. Having gone to Friends for six years, the Quaker testament of community has been ingrained within me: We all have the right to a full, safe, and healthy life. A key part of Quakerism is integrity: Our School’s beliefs of equality and community must be manifested through our actions, and we must act on what we believe in. For these reasons, I believe that Friends’ responsibility to be a good neighbor is heightened....More

Tom Buck, Friends Upper School English teacher since 1987: "For so many of my friends and colleagues, being 'a good neighbor' in Baltimore means reaching out to help in some concrete way, whether it be tutoring or serving meals or rehabbing houses or providing needed supplies or chipping in with one kind of sweat equity or another. God only knows that I honor that, and have tried in some small way to do my part for decades…Perhaps because of the fact that it’s less complex, I choose to take on the challenge of finding ways to take advantage of Baltimore’s myriad cultural institutions…. During the 2017-18 school year, I shepherded groups of 10 to 25 kids and colleagues to plays at Center Stage (“Skeleton Crew”), Everyman (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “Intimate Apparel”), Iron Crow (“The Goodies”), and the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (“Red Velvet”). All of these theaters are in classic old, often-rehabbed, buildings downtown. To my way of thinking, these trips, mostly at night but occasionally for student matinées, are win/win. Members of the Friends community are getting what is often, if not always, a great experience at an urban cultural institution that likely needs all the support it can get...More

What are your thoughts? Be a part of The Thinking Cap's online discussion group. Weigh in on something you've read or add a new insight in the Comment section below. 

 

 

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Teaching our kids about healthy relationships

A lot has happened in the six years since I left Friends School of Baltimore. The Ravens won their second Super Bowl, Taylor Swift blessed us with "1989" and "Reputation," and Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominee of a major U.S. political party. As a society, we’ve also grown in our understanding of sexual violence and the form it takes on high school and college campuses.

 

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Topics: healthy relationships, consent, consent education, sexual violence, In It Together

Sleep, memory and learning: a perfect trifecta

Posted by Greta Rutstein, Director of Academics on Mar 14, 2018 11:25:21 AM

Every one of us can recall making the decision to sacrifice sleep in order to meet a deadline, write a paper, or finish something for work.  We convince ourselves that in order to be productive we must push through when in fact the opposite is true. We should go to bed. 

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Topics: sleep + memory and learning

Teaching empathy in the elementary classroom

Posted by Victoria LeBron, 5th grade teacher on Feb 13, 2018 1:04:29 PM

A few weeks ago, I asked my 5th graders to complete this prompt: Something I think you should know about me right now is____________. It was mid-January and seemed like a good time for a check-in. I was inspired to engage the class in this exercise after sensing an ongoing anxious energy among the students (tense body language, tears, distracted giggling). Maybe this would refocus us all, or at least help my homeroom to feel closer to one another. The students took a few minutes to journal on the prompt and then we met for morning meeting, like most days.

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Topics: Teaching empathy, empathy in elementary education

Students need city's arts, cultural institutions (and vice versa)

Posted by Tom Buck, Upper School English teacher on Jan 16, 2018 4:20:30 PM

I have been teaching high school and college English for more than 40 years and, although I’m way too old to wallow in regret, it wasn’t until practically the third decade of my career that I understood the transcendent importance of exposing my students to what Baltimore and the metropolitan area have to offer – culturally, historically, and educationally. Our kids have priceless opportunities to see and learn from the myriad museums, theaters, and galleries that surround them; What’s more, these cultural institutions need us almost as badly as we need them.

Last spring one of my English elective classes went to a Towson University student matinee of “X,” a play about Malcom X's struggle with Elijah Mohammed and the Nation of Islam. Based on what he subsequently shared and wrote in class, one of my students clearly learned more from that production than anything I taught him. This statement is less a knock on my teaching ability than it is a monument to the power of live theater.

A few years back I had an idea to send pairs of students off to explore area theaters and then report back to the class about their experiences. Last year, two kids visited a small theater in the Station North arts district to see an evening performance of a noir play. I am certain the performance itself was illuminating, but the fact that they witnessed  a community theater surviving in a tiny space in a marginal neighborhood thanks to the will and chutzpah of a struggling management team made even more of an impression than the play.

Over the past five or so years, I’ve taken groups of kids to Everyman Theatre, Center Stage, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Theatre Project, Towson University, and UMBC. Typically these organizations give us great deals because they need to cultivate young audiences in order to survive. Because of the relationship my Friends School colleague Helen Berkeley has cultivated over the years with Towson University, our aforementioned trip to the production of X was comped.

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Topics: schools and cultural institutions

Get outdoors with the kids this winter break

Posted by Caren Shelley, Lower School Art Teacher on Dec 19, 2017 6:39:55 PM

Growing up in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood in the 1980s, our community was a mixture of working parents, single parents, parents trying to build a diverse community. Neighbors relied on each other, gathered together during difficult times, and celebrated in times of joy. When a child from one family outgrew his or her clothing, the items were shared with other families; and when a cup of sugar was needed, we had long blocks of friends from whom to borrow one.

Because my parents were artists and art teachers we were constantly making our own toys and games and enjoying family time. These experiences took on a magical quality in the winter, when the sloping snow drifts beckoned us outside to take in nature’s handiwork and to use the transformed landscape to explore our own creativity.

I continue to find inspiration being outdoors in the winter. Especially at a time when all of us seem glued to our electronic devices, spending an hour or two in the crisp cool air, listening to the sounds of nature and finding inspiration through art and culture are the best ways I know to prevent cabin fever. Below I’ve gathered a few meaningful projects and ideas for family outings that I hope you will enjoy. Happy winter break!

Take a moonlit walk

On a brightly lit evening (the next full moon is set for January 2!), listen to the sounds of near and far – have a destination in mind, a café or shop where you can enjoy hot cocoa or a snack to fortify your walk home. Or have it ready upon your return!

Snow painting 

Combine several drops of food coloring with cold water into empty dishwashing soap or squirt bottles and mix, using one bottle for each color that you wish to make, and then head outside to paint patterns or pictures on the snow! Using a piece of paper try to capture a print of your art by laying the paper on top and gently pressing down! Make decorative snow balls. Watch the colors mix and the snow compact itself like colorful jewels.

Puffy snowflakes

In a bowl mix equal parts salt and self-rising flour. Add enough water to make it the consistency of pancake batter. Pour into empty dishwashing soap or squirt bottles. Using colorful construction paper or wax paper as your surface, squirt snowflake or other shape designs and microwave on high for 30 seconds (microwave times will vary) until snowflakes are dry and super-puffy!

Snow tracks

This is a fun activity for the whole family.  Experiment with walking in different ways to make tracks in the snow!  Drag your feet, walk with your feet out to the side, like a penguin … maybe even walk on your hands!

Critter prints

Using an online guide that you can download and print, identify the many animal tracks you may find in your own back yard and learn what animals lurk nearby!

International folk tales

Spread the joy of world culture and read aloud to your children tales from far off places! Search the Caldecott Medal and Newbery Medal web pages for ideas. Plan together and prepare a meal from the country your story originates.

Plan a museum trip

Baltimore has many wonderful museums and some offer free admission! Plan day trips to one or two over winter break and share your top 3 discoveries with one another. Some fun ones to check out include the B&O Railroad Museum, the Fire Museum of Maryland, and the American Visionary Arts Museum.

Aquarium art outing

In winter I love spending time in the warmth of the National Aquarium. You can bring sketch pads and colored pencils and draw the many colorful creatures that fly, swim or crawl by! Half price Friday Nights run all year long! 

 

 

 

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Exercise and the Brain

Posted by Anne McGinty, Director of Physical Education on Dec 5, 2017 3:22:47 PM

It’s 9 am and 15 third graders straggle into the gym for physical education class, something students in grades 1-5 do, on average, 3 days a week at our school. (Students in grades 6-12 take phys. ed. once or twice a week.) We form a wide circle and begin a gentle warm up. “Stand with your arms and legs stretched wide apart!” I instruct them, taking a quick inventory of each child’s alertness and energy level. One boy looks like he’s had a rough morning, his eyes are red from crying. Another child is wiggling her hips and grinning from ear to ear. She’s wearing a paper crown covered in stickers (it’s her birthday) and is raring to go.

Today we are working on bilateral brain activity and large motor skills, but the children won’t realize it. They think we’re just going to stack cups in a relay race. I divide the class in groups and blow the start whistle. Instantly, three little bodies fly across the gym floor to their designated stations where they attempt to stack a half dozen colorful plastic cups before racing back to tag the next person in line. The task is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re hurrying. The children laugh and shriek as the cups fall over. Even the child who barely made eye contact earlier is fully engaged. They are having fun. But something else is happening, something important: Their brains are growing, creating new cells, and increasing neural connections.

The importance of exercise in brain function is well documented. Research has shown that regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise improves memory, focus, and mood. This is why schools need to offer physical education classes to students from preschool age to high school. 

And let’s not forget recess! Schools that eliminate recess because they want to build more classroom time into the day are shortchanging students of much-needed stress relief. Whether they recharge their batteries through physical activity or by finding quiet time to read, daydream, or chat with friends, students need recess to help reset their brains. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention touts the importance of “safe and well supervised” recess in improving students’ cognitive, social, emotional, and physical well being.

Back at our relay race the children celebrate their accomplishments. They are flushed and sweaty. One of the teams won the race but it doesn’t seem to matter to the children as they collect their coats and we escort them back to their homeroom teachers who, like the kids, have used their "down" time to regroup and reset the course for a productive day.

 

 

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Topics: exercise and the brain

Building empathy and curiosity in middle school

Posted by Jay Golon, Middle School Principal on Nov 14, 2017 2:16:43 PM

I first encountered “The Middle School Paradox” as a graduate student living in Boston. I was visiting a school when I saw it posted prominently on the wall -- six little words that would change my life.

“Know Thyself. Then, Get Over Thyself.”  

The middle school journey is full of inherent contradictions. On the one hand, we do all we can to instill in our children a robust sense of self. Since the tween years are prime time for discovering who you are, we want to expose our kids to a wide range of hands on learning opportunities and diverse perspectives. At its best, this process develops poets who love to play soccer and violinists who love robotics. In other words, kids who are curious about the world and willing to try on many different “hats.” Hence, “Know Thyself.”

On the other hand, our children must also learn that they are not the center of the world.  Instead, they are a part of several caring communities within communitiesfamily, school, city, class, team – and that through their actions, or their inactions, they have the potential for great positive or negative impacts on others. We want them to gain experience; at the same time, we don’t want them to feel overwhelmed.  Hence, “Get Over Thyself.”

I see these two contradictory forces at work every day in our school.  In one moment, a student might be discovering a love for something they had never tried before. In another moment, I see students setting limits on themselves in order to manage their time effectively; or forced to consider the needs of others. This is never more true than in instances of middle school bullying. Students must question: What is my responsibility when I witness bullying?  What if the person being unkind is my friend?  

Helping children remain true to themselves while being a force for good is not a perfect or easy process. In fact, the developmental bumps during the middle school years are often built-in, so adults need to pay close attention and offer guidance as needed. Still, I like to think that from these contradictions comes great learning and growth.

I invite you to consider how the Middle School Paradox plays out in your own homes.  When have you seen your children experience “Know Thyself” moments?  When have you seen them experience “Get Over Thyself” moments? Share your thoughts.

 

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