Lunch and Learning: by Penny Evins

Did you hear the chatters and giggles? It is that time of year when I have the pleasure of eating with a small group of students from each grade and it is simply a marvelous part of my day and job! Last week, the Pre-K group was all abuzz about what might happen on Friday. They heard rumors about leprechauns and that because our school colors are green and white, our campus is a choice destination. We practiced hypothesizing what might happen if indeed such a visit were to happen this year.

No doubt, the following luncheon was better than any working lunch in my career. The Kindergartners joined me on Friday and indeed, the small and mischievous little person left traces. Of course, Mr. Tines was prodding and checking in with our end of campus to find out if anything “different” was present or missing. Needless to say, I could hardly get a word in during this loquacious group’s dining experience.

This week, some very mature and energetic first graders joined me to discuss setting, which many are studying in their literacy blocks. We talked about first grade and The Newman Way. These budding authors decided that a story about The Newman Way could easily take place in first grade. So, as we ate, we collectively crafted a story. Each student came up with a sentence, and our story is now published.

From predictions to primary experiences, our youngest Greenies are so immersed with learning, friendships, and the joys of our surroundings that working hard is a pleasure and pleasure is found in working hard. All we have to do as adults is listen to the chatter, ask open ended questions, and drop the “plug ins” to learn from the children. The joys of their conversation are to be treasured, and I thank you for sharing your brilliant and wonderful children with us each day.

Sincerely,

Penny B. Evins

Lower School Head/Lunch Companion

The Gift of Conversation

As you may know, we were fortunate enough to receive a $2 million gift from the Malone Foundation two years ago, and since that time, I have had the opportunity to spend quality time with the Heads of School from the other Malone schools. Recently we met and discussed some of the key issues we face in our schools.  I thought you might be interested in the kinds of conversations Heads from around the country are having with each other.

There was an article written very recently in the New York Times about the trend of club athletes specializing in year round programs and then being unable to compete for their school teams. We struggled with this, for we feel that a part of our mission is to educate the whole child. What implications will this have on our schools, our athletic programs, and on the students it affects?

We discussed the tricky situation of what types of disciplinary incidents should be reported to the universities. For example, many of us feel strongly that if a student makes a mistake and learns from it that we need not report that to the colleges. In an age of increased applications, do colleges have the time to understand each situation? Some schools have simply refused to report incidents to colleges. Many heads shared the notion that colleges are particularly concerned with egregious situations, and yet some of the reasons students are suspended in independent schools would not be considered egregious offenses.

Somehow in every meeting, the topics of Advanced Placement courses comes up. Schools are frustrated that curriculum, daily schedules, and the school calendar are all deeply affected by this College Board program. We want our students to have every advantage, and because our students can demonstrate proficiency in these rigorous courses, most of the schools have continued to teach AP classes. But many educators feel we can do a better job by covering topics with greater depth than the AP can. The basic argument is that scientists do not best learn Biology by cramming in a textbook full of topics in a year but rather learn best through in depth experiences that lead to retained understanding.

We then shared examples of what our schools are doing with the theme, “Private Schools working for the Public good.” Of course, with Newman situated in New Orleans we have a myriad of examples of this. Schools were intrigued with our summer jazz school and of course the Breakthrough program.

The group continues to try and find more ways for our schools to collaborate and share resources through online experiences. Stanford University has been helping us think through the issues. Of course, I haven’t covered any of these issues in depth, and we could easily replace these with several others, but I think this will give you a sense of the discourse.

The Klingenstein Experience continued: Research and Financial Sustainability

One of my assignments at Teachers College was to research a topic of importance to me in my work as Head of School. I chose to study the financial sustainability of schools. I conducted a literature review and wrote about the topic, exploring the research in both independent schools and in higher education. Escalating tuition and challenging financial times has become a central issue for schools across the country, and though I am proud that Newman has been examining this issue critically for several years now, I wanted to explore the concept in more depth. Here is a short excerpt from my paper which explains the need for further study in the field:

Schools everywhere are discussing this predicament. At a recent panel discussion at the NAIS annual conference on the financial sustainability of schools, each speaker shared thoughtful and intelligent ideas on how to deal with the ever-increasing tuitions in our schools. But when they were asked which schools have seen success in the implementation of these strategies, various panel members replied with some version of, “The case studies are not complete” (NAIS/NBOA Town Hall Meeting, 2011). This is an evolving field of study, but this may be the most critical issue we face in independent schools today. 

Leadership in Technology: The Klingenstein Experience continued

A pleasantly surprising twist to the technology course I took with Ellen Meier at Teachers College was that it was more about leadership than it was about technology. Too often in schools, we get caught up with the latest hardware and software and do not spend enough time thinking about the primary purpose which is to enhance learning. I enjoy gadgets as much as the next person, so I am always fascinated with presentations of the latest and greatest, but as school leaders we need to look more directly at the value in terms of learning. As part of this course, we visited The School at Columbia, a K-8 school that focuses on innovation. In fact, Don Buckley who toured us through the school, has the title of Director of Innovation, certainly a sign of the times. This was an interesting school comprised of students both from the neighborhood and from the children of Columbia professors.

At Newman we are thinking deeply about technology and wrestling with many key questions. How do we provide our students with opportunities to use online platforms while still maintaining the high quality and personalized attention that an independent school classroom provides? How do we stay current with hardware and software when the pace of change and innovation is escalating? How do we best support our faculty and staff to take advantage of technological advances in order to further both curriculum and pedagogy? The list goes on, but I am fortunate to work with many visionary and committed educational leaders who will help us answer these over time.

Click here to read the recent stories of how we are integrating technology:

Apps at Newman

Micro mobs

The New iPad Lab

Using video to enhance instruction

The New Weather Station

World Peace and other 4th Grade Achievements

John Hunter

When I first read about John Hunter, I learned a bit about a simulation game that he did with his fourth graders, but it was not until I heard him speak last at the NAIS conference that I truly realized his full impact on the lives of children. He is a veteran teacher and a humble man who set out create a scenario that would bring tremendous challenge to his students. The basic premise of the game is that students are separated into four or five teams called countries. They each get a role to play. Some are Presidents, some are defense ministers, some are even arms dealers. He then thrusts them into a scenario where they have to simultaneously deal with 50 crises. He wants them to have fun, but he wants them to be completely overwhelmed with challenge. I found him to be engaging, humble, intelligent, and absolutely inspiring. At the end of his talk, he received a rousing standing ovation from the thousands of educators in the room.

Here is John Hunter’s TED Talk where he discusses the World Peace Game:

Recently filmmaker, Chris Marina, made a documentary about the game which will air on PBS in May. Here is a short trailer that will give you a sense of the high level of challenge and engagement in his classroom. Take a look. It is worth your time. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Leadership 101

I have been leading some conversations recently for small groups of faculty and staff at Newman interested in leadership. So far, I have been impressed and inspired with the dialogue. I wish we had the time to explore each of the topics with more depth, but for now, I am hoping that we can cover a series of topics intelligently in order to give those interested a taste of what it is like to run a school or division. Take a look at the syllabus. I hope to share with you some of the interesting conversations that happen throughout the semester.