Lessons from Penn State

Early this month, 18 fraternity brothers were charged in the death of a young man. He died during a drunken “pledge night.” From every angle, this story is pure heartbreak. For the senseless loss of a life just beginning. For his devastated family. For the 18 “brothers” who did not set out to cause harm—but whose actions and inactions will forever haunt them.

In the wake of this sadly familiar tale, I received the email below. It was written by St. Luke’s alumnus Drew Lord ‘14 to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) at Cornell. In addition to serving as president of the IFC, Drew is president of Cornell’s Cayuga Watchers group which aims “to become an established national model for combating high-risk drinking.”  USA Today wrote about Drew and the group in 2016.

As our class of 2017 prepares to leave the Hilltop and make their way in the world, I’m eager to share Drew’s wise words. I am deeply grateful for his leadership. He is living every element of the St. Luke’s mission and has indeed gone forth to serve:

 

From: IFC President <president@cornellifc.org>

Subject: Lessons from Penn State

Date: May 7, 2017 at 3:30:37 PM EDT

To: IFCALL-L@list.cornell.edu

Hi everyone,

At this point, I’m sure you have all heard the news of the horrifying death of Timothy Piazza, a member of Beta Theta Pi at Penn State, who died after falling down the stairs at his chapter house following a fraternity “initiation ritual.” While the details of this incident are beyond disturbing, they are important for us to reflect upon.

First, we must all recognize that under no circumstance is it acceptable for any of us — or for our peers — to reach a dangerous point of intoxication. Indeed, it seems like there might have been forced drinking involved in Piazza’s situation. It goes without saying that forcing anyone to drink copious amounts of alcohol is unacceptable. However, in more general terms not related to Piazza’s situation, be safe with your alcohol consumption — pace your drinks, do not drink with the goal of blacking out, and be aware of your limits. It’s also important for us to realize that we all have a place when it comes to mitigating the harms of high-risk drinking. Sometimes your brothers, or your peers, need an active bystander to help keep them in check. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being that person.

Second, and most important, if someone is to ever be in a situation like Piazza’s — call for help. Many times we hear our friends advocate for letting a drunk or injured person “sleep it off.” This is problematic — oftentimes, we don’t know whether the BAC of this person has reached its peak and is declining, or if it has rather not yet peaked and still rising in their sleep. Keep in mind Cornell and New York State’s Good Samaritan Protocol, and remember that immediately taking action to do the right thing will always have a favorable outcome for all parties involved.

Third, do not — in any capacity — try to “cover up” any type of incident. The results of the grand jury investigation demonstrate the consequences of acting in the way of the brothers at Beta Theta Pi the night of Piazza’s death. Following a review of GroupMe messages, texts and surveillance video from the night of his death, the fraternity and its brothers faced over a total of 850 charges. Eight of the brothers were charged for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing. Four brothers were charged for reckless endangerment and hazing. Six were charged for evidence tampering, while the chapter itself is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and hazing. In a situation like this, there is no other option than to seek help from a medical professional as early as possible.

Cornell is not immune to the harms of high-risk drinking or hazing. The situation at Penn State serves as a somber — but incredibly important — reminder of the incident that occurred at Cornell’s SAE chapter in February 2011. Ever since, we have taken great strides to make our fraternity community more safe, responsible, and aware. With a few high-risk days coming up, let’s hold the lessons we’ve learned close.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Thanks for reading through, and I hope you have an awesome week.

Best,

Drew Lord
President, Interfraternity Council
Cornell University

 

Drew Lord @ Cornell

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

 

Opening Eyes

This week I turn my space over to Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, St. Luke’s Director of Diversity & Student Life…

“Does my office always look like this?”

This was my first thought as I walked into my office on Monday morning. The brightly colored handouts strewn about the floor, post-it notes plastered to every surface, and hastily scribbled ideas on the dry-erase board, made it look like creative genius had exploded.  As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and sipped my coffee—I smiled.  It has been a busy month at St. Luke’s.

The St. Luke’s community works hard to ensure all members are able to be themselves— regardless of race, gender, financial aid status, family structure, or learning difference.  This is how we envision our school.  This busy January, it was clear our students have the courage and character to do the hard work of building an inclusive community.

A few weeks ago, the Student Diversity Leadership Council led a meeting to train faculty on how to facilitate difficult conversations.  Faculty used these skills in an upper school conversation about the “N-Word”  The objective of the conversation was not to police language or tell people what to think, but rather to open an honest dialogue about the intent and impact of language.

In the last week of January, our 9th graders participated in J-Term, a five day long project-based learning experience themed, “Our Shrinking World.”  The 9th graders’ task was to design a community service project that tackled a local manifestation of a global social injustice.  Our whole community was invited to attend an exhibition where the 9th grade project groups pitched their service idea and the whole community voted on which service project we would do.

During the exhibition of project ideas, students enthusiastically called me over to explain the social injustice they had studied and tell me about their plan for restoring justice.  The two winning projects were from the Poverty and Gender Equity groups. The Gender Equity group’s service idea was to engage the whole upper school in a conversation about gender equity.  Our children are eager to talk about social justice issues and we are committed to finding the time and space for them to have these conversations.  

Social Justice Leadership Summit 2016

Social Justice Leadership Summit 2016

On January 31st, the third annual SLS Social Justice Leadership Summit and Ally Workshop boasted a record number of participants.  Forty-four students and nine faculty facilitators gathered for a day of learning about  race, class, gender, ability, religion, and other social and core identities.  In an epic fourteen-hour day, we shared perspectives, learned from one another, and brainstormed ideas for making SLS an even more inclusive community.

Sophomore, Kate Stamoulis comments, “I had never been a part of something so meaningful, and I can definitely say that it was indeed life changing.  I feel as though I have really found a passion for social justice, and it has opened my eyes to so many things about our world.”

We are teaching students how to articulate their perspectives and how listen to someone else’s perspective.  We are asking them to become scholars of their own epistemology and to think about why they think what they think.  In conversations about our differences, we are teaching students how to find common ground and shared understandings.  

In Mark Davis’s Unafraid blog, he said “There is nothing more valuable than teaching our children to think, debate, and learn from one another.”  Seeing our students’ eagerness to dive into tough issues and make a difference in their world…put that smile on my face.

 

 

 

Balancing Act: Tech Benefits & Boundaries

Bavone_Matthew

It’s my pleasure to feature a post by Matt Bavone who wears two hats at St. Luke’s: Upper School Classics teacher and Academic Technologist. Matt shares much-needed guidance for those trying to remove the phone surgically attached to their teen (spouse? self?).

One of the most common observations we hear from parents is that their children seem overly attached to—even obsessed with—their phones. In December, the Hilltop unplugged for the day and we all experienced life without our mobile devices, including cell phones. This was a big adjustment for the adults in the building, too, as we are also accustomed to being connected. But being “unplugged” is not a realistic solution on most days. So how can we—the adults—restore balance as we care for and raise Generation Z? We know parents are looking for good ideas.

This recent article by Janell Burley Hofmann underscores the need to responsibly introduce teens and tweens to technology. Hofmann pioneered the Slow Tech Parenting Movement, and she has created a sample contract for giving her 13 year old son his first iPhone. Her overarching message is that with great power comes great responsibility—and there is no greater power than having all of the world’s information outlets at your fingertips.

We cannot hope to shelter our young ones from technology, it is all around us. We are steeped in it daily, whether we think about it or not. Yet it is this thoughtfulness, this deliberate use of technology that is most important to pass down and teach. We parents and teachers—Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers—are tasked with being role models for its appropriate use. We will falter at times, give in to habit or distraction, but so will our young wards. The most important thing that we can do is to keep an open and honest conversation going and Hofmann’s article contains excellent talking points to that end. And though the task may at times seem daunting, as she puts it: “we are in this together.”

—Matt Bavone

Jim Foley: Music & Meaning

Jim Foley recently delivered one of best Meditations I’ve ever heard at St. Luke’s. For those not familiar, Meditations are an Upper School tradition wherein a student or faculty member shares a personal reflection—anything meaningful—with the community. Last week, Jim shared his love of hip hop music and masterfully wove in lessons about anger, oppression, expression, and the mind-blowing power of words and imagery.

Jim’s presentation expands our lenses. He asks us to think about the messages we put out there. He tells us there is no place in this world for certain words that “belong buried at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.” While listening, I could not help but think about recent headlines re: Yale University and University of Missouri. So much pain—how much could be avoided if we learned, early on, to be respectful of one another?

Please enjoy this lesson from one of St. Luke’s exceptional educators: Meditation by Jim Foley, Assistant Head of School for Leadership & Innovation.

Thinking About Emotion

People with purpose, autonomy, relatedness, and competence live happier lives, both immediately and deeply. Success is not a matter exclusively of the heart or the mind, of thought or emotion. It is both. Which makes it hard. Which explains why self-esteem or engagement or grit, or other undeniable virtues, never amount to much in and of themselves.”     – John Chubb

The above is from NAIS President John Chubb’s current blog Thinking About Emotion. I have the privilege of serving with John on the NAIS Board of Trustees. His focus on the subject of student mental health and well-being is well placed and his observations—spot on. I encourage you to read his post and welcome your thoughts.

 

SJLS: A Student Perspective

My thanks to Colette Juran ’17 who answered our call for a student perspective on the Social Justice Leadership Summit. Well done Colette…

On April 16th 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama, confined by law enforcement for protesting peacefully. From that very jail cell, Dr. King wrote a monumental letter discussing the urgent state of racial injustice that engulfed Alabama’s largest city. Within this letter exists a quote that skillfully distills any social justice movement into a single sentence, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 52 years later at the St. Luke’s Social Justice Leadership Summit (SJLS), I, Colette Juran, received that very quote on a small, pink slip of paper. Although initially I did not fully appreciate it, as the day unfolded the quote’s truth became apparent to me. Fact of the matter is, although some people like to believe humanity has progressed past it, inequality is still prevalent in our society today and it will likely be that way for a very long time.  This inequality, however, should not be viewed as a daunting certainty of life, but a challenge for humanity to consider the balance of privilege in society and collectively better itself. From that day, I learned that it doesn’t matter whether a person who has privilege wants to participate in social justice movements, what really matters is what one does with that privilege, as current events have warned sometimes apathy can have terrible consequences. Upon understanding this challenge, my experience at SJLS inspired me to impact the world around me more than I could have ever hoped.

As it was my second year attending the Social Justice Leadership Summit, I had some insight into how the day was going to develop. I didn’t know exactly what events would occur or what topics we would discuss, but it was evident that everyone was undoubtedly going to face a healthy measure of discomfort. The idea of being entirely honest about one’s life, opinions, and experiences may seem immensely terrifying, but it was entirely necessary. Differences can never be changed if they are not acknowledged and progress can never be achieved if everyone refuses to make the first move. As Dr. King teaches us, this uncertainty and slight awkwardness is immeasurably better than ignorance and inaction.

sjls2015groupphoto_w

Colette (far left bottom) with fellow SJLS attendees.

 

These principles greatly influenced the activities that we were involved with, such as a debate on everyday scenarios of discrimination and the construction of a paper chains corresponding to our own individual privileges. Originally, those activities seemed quite intimidating to me as they involve on a lot of ideas that I don’t typically think about in my day-to-day life. For example, one of the questions for the paper chain activity required us to add a link to our chains if our race or ethnicity was positively depicted in the media. As a white female, my race’s portrayal in the media was never something I’ve had to think about as the majority of shows on television feature a primarily white cast. This may seem like a trivial concern, but our discussion later on showed for a young person of color being exposed to role models in the media, that aren’t just a caricature of racial stereotypes, is a vital role in development. Additionally, a large part of SJLS was thinking about our own impact on the community in which we live, learn, and grow. Therefore, a long period of time in the afternoon was dedicated to devising plans to progress the St. Luke’s Community. Ideas from a middle school buddy program to a social justice leadership day were organized; however, the bulk of the efforts were focused around modifying school curriculum to be more inclusive. In the upcoming months, interested attendees of SJLS will meet with department heads and administration across the school to achieve that very purpose.

Beyond completing various social justice oriented activities and creating several actions plans to educate the St. Luke’s community, SJLS provided me with a real example of the people affected by various adversities: my peers.  At around nine o’ clock on Saturday night, some of the most emotional and impactful moments I’ve witnessed in my six years as a St. Luke’s student occurred at the closing event, the social justice sharing session. This event was an opportunity for people to share material relating to social justice through any method or media. Some presented poetry, videos, or music, but for most this was an occasion to speak directly about the hardships and morals provided by their own lives, with of course much crying. As each person talked, they unmasked a part of themselves that is usually concealed such as mental illness or sexuality with the utmost honesty. I cannot share the nature of what was spoken about, as they were all extremely personal, but I can conclude that I am proud of everyone that even did so much as to flash the ASL hand symbol for “I love you” to reassure someone during a difficult moment.

The sad fact of life is that in the modern era very few people stop and take time to consider the lives of others. Most people are too consumed in their own issues to realize that the people they pass in the hallways are not just extras in their biopic, but they have lives as full as their own. Although it is impossible to remember every passing face, it is not only possible, but also imperative to recognize that we all experience life differently, with different stories, different thoughts, and different opportunities. These differences, however, should not segregate us, as only bigotry and hate can motive that, but should be honestly spoken about, as that is the first step to making social change. These life philosophies of speaking openly from the heart, considering the experiences of others, and actively working towards a better future for humanity, should not be reserved to one summit. Ideally, they should be applied to the St. Luke’s community as a whole, because if I’ve learned anything from SJLS it is that life is infinitely better when it is not attempted alone and in the dark.

Why Unplug?

It’s my pleasure to feature Academic Technology Director Grant Russell as my guest blogger…

Why are we unplugging on Friday, December 12?

I posed this question to several faculty members. Others offered their opinion without prompting. Here is a sampling of responses.

For more face time with students. To practice talking in person. To have time to reflect. To raise awareness about our technology use. To realize those moments when we reach for our devices and what that means. To challenge our students differently. To train intentional and academic use of technology. To refocus our attention on what this device is and does for us. To remember that technology is important at school.

This multitude of reasons speaks volumes of our faculty’s ability to think deeply about the pedagogical approach we are taking with the integration of technology into academics.

Despite the benefits that technology affords, we often focus on our perceived overdependence on it, the anxiety to be constantly connected, and other negative effects that it has on us. Email is a terrible monster. The Huffington Post sucks too much of my time. Snapchat, Instagram, and Yik Yak are overwhelming. I haven’t checked my text messages in 5 minutes – I just know that someone texted me! We tend to focus on technology’s intrusive elements and take for granted the wonder of these devices that enable us to know more, to do more, and to be more.

Yes, I am optimistic about the screen in front of me. No, I am not unaware of the challenges it presents to me. Part of me knowing more is knowing when to step away and look at and interact with the world around me. This is a skill that I practice. It is a skill that we all should practice. It is a skill that we are practicing when we unplug on Friday, December 12.

I would argue that mostly everyone knows that being intentional about technology use requires practice and reflection, and that perhaps the best way to use technology is in moderation. The difficult part is actually motivating ourselves to practice being intentional, to reflect, and to use technology in moderation. And so we can think of Friday, December
12, as a gentle catalyst for motivation.

I would also argue that being mindful of our interactions with our mobile devices is now an important aspect of education. Having open, honest, and sustained dialogue with students now about technological balance, fears, hopes, benefits, and challenges will be highly valuable once they leave for college and confront the next wave of technology without our guidance.

But let’s remember. Wonderful things can happen in the absence of mobile devices. Wonderful things can happen with mobile devices. Our challenge is to create a balance and to revel in the fact that we can have the best of both worlds and mitigate the perceived challenges that technology presents.

This is why we are unplugging on Friday, December 12.

The Only Way To Do It Is To Do It

Mike at Bootcamp

Mike (3rd from left) at Bootcamp

It’s my pleasure to share this post from Upper School Science Chair, Michael Mitchell.

For many teachers, the summer is a time of rest and relaxation. I was looking for something more exciting. Something disruptive. I found what I was looking for at The Design Thinking Bootcamp. Offered through the Stanford Graduate School of Business, bootcamp was the best kind of disruption—opening my mind, expanding my thinking, and redefining how I approach problem solving.

Bootcamp started with a greeting from David Kelley, founder of both the Stanford d.school and IDEO, who gave a quick history of both organizations to the 70 bootcamp participants. We were then introduced to our coaches, who were either d.school faculty or recent graduates of a similar workshop who had gone on to live design thinking in both their personal and professional lives.

Split into small groups, we were immediately introduced to the basic structure of design thinking—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test—through a 90-minute exercise during which we interviewed partners about their experiences in a new city and then prototyped a product that would enhance those experiences. Now somewhat familiar with the lexicon and process, we began our actual bootcamp experience: to redefine the city experience outside of the hotel walls, for Hyatt Hotels. The rest was almost a blur.

Over the next two and a half days we bussed into San Francisco to interview random strangers about their love of the city. Back at the d.school, we had to ideate and prototype our ideas, and showcase these ideas to more random strangers and then to executives from Hyatt. Just as we were wrapping up, our coaches again surprised us. There were a few hundred people outside who had signed up for a 90 minute design thinking workshop, and we were going to be their coaches. Whoa.

After returning from d.school, I have three main goals. The first is daily practice of the behaviors I learned. The second is to offer similar bootcamp experiences to both students and faculty throughout the year. And the third is to work with the Center for Leadership to launch our own designLab at St. Luke’s this winter. Mark described our vision perfectly in his summer letter to families: the designLab will be an interdisciplinary hub for experiential learning. Here, teachers and students will engage in design thinking, problem solving and teamwork. Through cutting edge technologies and project-based learning the designLab will set the example of education driven by real-world problem solving and practical application of skills.

I have already run my first bootcamps with several members of St. Luke’s administrative team, and a faculty group as well. On the student side, my engineering courses are revolving around a semester-long design challenge rooted in design thinking. Students will design a toy for a Middle School teacher that helps teach a concept. I also plan to work with Student Government and other student organizations as they tackle challenges over the year that could benefit from design thinking.

My whole d.school experience was transformative. The most exciting takeaways are new problem-solving tools we can share with students. There is a sign hanging in the d.school that reads, “the only way to do it is to do it.” And that’s what we’re doing.

See more Bootcamp photos

The Beauty of Difference – A Student Perspective

Senior Kai Burton

Senior Kai Burton

As a  follow up to last week’s guest post by Stephanie Bramlett, please read this personal quote from SLS Senior Kai Burton. Kai attended the December 2013 NAIS People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference.

 

 

 

 

 

Attending the SDLC last year was one of the most pivotal moments in my

life. It was the very first time I realized how large and beautifully different the

private school world is. I didn’t feel like I was a part of a minority, but rather, part of

something bigger than race, ethnicity, socio-economics, gender, sexual orientation,

religion, etc. When I was there, those things didn’t matter. Knowing that no one

there was the same was comforting to me.”

 

Kai hit upon a key belief those of us committed to diversity and inclusion share: It’s a large and beautifully different world. Schools that pursue and celebrate those differences better prepare students for the future and deliver a richness of experience not otherwise possible. My deepest thanks to Kai and Dr. Bramlett for eloquently widening my lens.

Connecting to the King Legacy

It is my pleasure to turn this space over to Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, St. Luke’s Director of Diversity & Student Life. – Mark

Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.

                               – Martin Luther King, Jr. March for Integrated Schools, April 18, 1959.

As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, I am compelled to consider how his legacy connects to our mission of creating life-long learners and a sense of social responsibility.  We urge our students to always be curious about the experiences of others and to make our community a better and more just place for all.

Recently, ten of us from St. Luke’s– four seniors and six faculty– had the opportunity to learn more about the paths to diversity at the 26th National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference (PoCC) and 20th Student Diversity Leadership Conference. More than 3,000 adults and 1,500 students from independent schools all over the country came together in National Harbor, Maryland, for several days of eye-opening speakers, workshops, discussions and anti-bias training.

As a first time attendee of PoCC, I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer number of people at the conference. I’m certainly no stranger to being the only person of color in the room, but being in a room full of educators of color is an experience that I have only had a few times in my life and each of them has been memorable.

There is something incredibly powerful about being in a space where you see others who look like you.  The experience of seeing yourself reflected in your community is a subtle, but powerful reminder that you, too, are a part of the community, have a voice in the community, and belong in the community.  If this type of affirmation is necessary for adults (and it is), it is absolutely critical for our children.

Although PoCC focuses specifically on the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities, it encourages attendees to consider the diversity of all social identities within their community.  Our community includes people with many different personal identities and experiences.  The SLS mosaic of race, class, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and perspective makes our community unique…something that should be both acknowledged and celebrated.

We’ve already begun some of this work.  Earlier this month, we hosted Christine Savini, Principal Consultant for Diversity Directions, a national organization for supporting independent schools through their “multicultural evolution.”  Christine spoke to our administrative team, department chairs, and trustees about the relationship between an inclusive environment and educational excellence.  On February 1, St. Luke’s will host our first Social Justice Leadership Summit

The diversity in our community is vibrant and we are committed to preserving its brilliance and energy.  In order to do so, we must be intentional about creating and maintaining an inclusive community.  Our multicultural community should be reflected everywhere– from our faculty and students through our curriculum. Our entire community becomes stronger and the education improves for everyone when all individuals feel that they belong to it and have a stake in it.

Dr. Stephanie Bramlett

Dr. Stephanie Bramlett

To borrow from Dr. King, our own little Hilltop community can help create a finer world to live in.

*This year, student attendees included: AJ Bandoo ’14, Kai Burton ’14, Nijah Wilson ’14, and Amber Calhoune ’14.  Faculty attendees were: Mark Davis, Stephanie Bramlett, Troy Haynie, Blake Bueckman, Amber Berry, and Mirna Goldberger.

 

What Is Learning?

By Head of Upper School Liz Perry

 

It’s my pleasure to turn this week’s “floor” over to Liz Perry. If you’ve not met Liz, this post will illuminate why we are thrilled to welcome her into the St. Luke’s community.  – Mark

 

St. Luke’s Mission: To prepare students for a lifelong commitment to learning and social responsibility.

Lifelong learning is central to St. Luke’s mission. The “lifelong” part is easy to describe: we believe learning should continue long after students have completed their formal education.

But what is “learning”? We use the word every day, but what does it mean? Simply put, learning is making new memories. Some memories are short term, like holding someone’s phone number in your mind until you can write it down or dial it. In school, we want much more than shallow retention of information. We want students to develop mental frameworks that help them learn for the long term.

Researchers tell us that moving information from short term to long term memory is best accomplished when we do something with the information. So in a literature class, we don’t simply ask students to read; we ask them to annotate their reading. Just reading something is a weak way to learn new information. If we write margin notes about the information, or summarize it, or make a list of questions, or–when we get to class–are asked to agree or disagree with it, the information and ideas can move from short term to long term memory. This is why St. Luke’s classes focus on using information and engaging with big ideas rather than on passively receiving information.

Once an idea is in our long term memory, we can begin to use it over and over because we can easily retrieve it. If I learn the concept of irony, I can retrieve that idea and apply it to Macbeth. If I learn to isolate a variable in Algebra, I can retrieve that process and apply it in my Chemistry class. And if I learn about civil disobedience in a history class, I can even use that concept to argue with the Head of Upper School about dress code! Deeper learning means learning that lasts. Long after a student has written the paper or taken the exam, they retain the concept or the skill and can retrieve it to apply it to a new situation.

Arts and athletics are the places where this is readily visible in many schools. Students study the color wheel and immediately use that knowledge to make colorful images to express what they see in the world. A soccer player learns to create space in a drill, and then applies that technique right away in a game.

In the last few weeks, I have been observing Upper School classes for about three periods a day. What a pleasure to see our students and teachers in action. I sat with students in an American History class as they imagined that they were being asked to make a recommendation to the King of England regarding those troublesome American colonies. Students had their textbooks open and their notes in front of them, dates and names scribbled everywhere, but they were being asked to use that information to make an argument. How should the King govern his empire when a portion of it is near revolt? Students were moving that information from short to long term memory and developing a mental framework about empire that they can return to again and again.

I saw students in a Spanish class who begin every period with a “cocktail party” where they all stand up, cluster in the middle of the room, and chat with assigned partners on a topic designed to get students using new vocabulary. One recent day, the cocktail party partners chatted about the question, “What do you recycle in your house?” As the Spanish words for paper, plastic, and glass flew around the room, I heard students laughing and chatting in Spanish about many related topics, including their parents’ recycling habits! Research tells us that personal connections are key to moving vocabulary from short term to long term memory, as well as to creating a mental framework for retrieving and using it.

Long after they have written the paper, passed the test, graduated from St. Luke’s, and launched themselves into adult life, our students will forget many of the details of their coursework here. But they will be able to retrieve and apply the concepts and skills they learned here on the Hilltop, whether it’s how to tackle a difficult text, how to isolate a variable, how empires crumble, or how to speak conversational Spanish.

So “lifelong learning,” then, is not merely seeking out new experiences as we get older. Our graduates are lifelong learners because they can retrieve and apply what they learned at St. Luke’s for the rest of their lives.

Listen to Liz Perry’s September Meditation

Teaching & Learning: An Update by Guy Bailey

It is my pleasure to share this space with St. Luke’s Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning, Guy Bailey…

The 2012-2013 school year has been logged in the books at St. Luke’s, one marked by significant progress in a number of areas related to the School’s Strategic Vision whose theme of Continuous Improvement is the organizing principle behind all of its endeavors. Another core value is Collaboration and Innovation, the goal of which is to maximize faculty talent and student performance. Together, these concepts guide all teaching and learning at St. Luke’s, which, as my title indicates, falls under my umbrella, although the responsibility for their success is shared by many. In this guest blog, I’ll explain the various ways that we ensure this success and the resulting benefits to all students.

We must start first with the Community Goals for Learning, the result of a concerted effort by the faculty in 2006 to clearly define the outcomes we expect to achieve for our students (much like the Common Core Standards hope to do for public schools). For each of the goals, rubrics were developed and teachers reference them in their planning of daily and unit lessons.

St. Luke’s School graduates will have developed the ability to:

  • Think critically and creatively

  • Communicate effectively

  • Demonstrate character and social responsibility

  • Grow and mature on a personal level

 

Later, in 2007, the faculty undertook a process of “curriculum mapping” to create a database of all of the units of study in each course in all departments. Each unit of study referenced goals, essential questions, strategies, assessments that link to goals, skills to be taught, and resources to be used. The resulting database of courses can be used to ensure continuity, avoid redundancies, uncover gaps, and provide an opportunity for teachers to collaborate and create inter-disciplinary units of study.

More recently, teachers have focused on the many benefits that technology can offer their students. For the last three years, teachers have participated in “Tech Time,” regularly scheduled small group and individual sessions with Middle and Upper School technology coordinators, to learn and stay up to speed with the latest developments on this ever-changing landscape. Many have developed “flipped” lessons that allow students to access online lectures, webinars, and podcasts at their own pace and location. Class time is spent doing—working with the teacher and classmates on collaborative activities that reinforce concept mastery. St. Luke’s continues to grow blended and online course options.

To ensure high quality teaching and learning, three years ago we instituted the Faculty Growth and Renewal Program, a process that involves both evaluation and professional development. Each teacher is paired with a member of the Growth and Renewal Team       (the two division heads, two assistant division heads, and me) in an on-going relationship involving goal-setting, classroom observations, regular and periodic discussions, and reflection. A critical component of the program is a list of Characteristics of Professional Excellence, those traits against which our teachers are measured and which research has shown contribute to the goal of improving student outcomes. Also embedded in this process is a protocol to monitor and improve the many characteristics of a healthy faculty culture, which similarly contribute to this goal.

Given these efforts to codify the curriculum, to improve the effectiveness of teachers, and to be “technology forward,” we also recognize the need to assess student progress and to benchmark against appropriate independent school standards. To that end, the School continues to administer the ERBs to students (grades 5-9), as well as the PSAT (grades 10 and 11), and PLAN (grade 10). We also keep records of students’ performance on the SAT and ACT, usually taken independently in grades 11 and 12. In addition, since 2009, all 9th graders have taken the College Work and Readiness Assessment (CWRA), which measures the skills that we most value….critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving, and effective writing. This year was the first year that seniors also took the CWRA, enabling us to see the “value added” of an SLS Upper School education regarding these important skills.

No less important than achievement and these important skills is student engagement in his/her life at school. Engagement can be the product of myriad factors, from teacher effectiveness in the classroom to participation in extra-curricular activities both in and away from school. This year, St. Luke’s participated in the High School Survey of Student Engagement, a research and professional development project directed by the Center for Evaluation and Education policy at the Indiana University School of Education, and endorsed by the National Association of Independent Schools. The HSSSE investigates the levels and dimensions of student engagement, providing us with valuable data on students’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors about their experience, involvement, and connectedness with school.

When all of the above is combined with small classes, an array of honors, AP, and high-interest elective courses, and a state-of-the-art facility, the stage is set for our students to learn, to grow and mature, and to prepare themselves for a rewarding college experience. As noted in a recent evaluation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, “St. Luke’s is a vibrant and dynamic learning community where students are challenged to reach beyond themselves in myriad ways by teachers and experts who support them along that journey.”

NAIS: Think Big, Think Great

Ever since returning from last week’s National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) conference, I’ve tried (and failed) to find an hour to to sit down and share some of my key take-aways with you. Aptly themed, Think Big, Think Great, this year’s conference featured remarkable speakers, including Jim Collins, author of many leadership books such as my personal favorites Good to Great and Great By Choice.  Just as I prepared to try and distill the big, great thinking I heard over my three days at NAIS, I came across Beth Yavenditti’s post on the Center for Leadership blog and found that she’d beat me to the punch (hallelujah!).

Enjoy Beth’s Reflections on NAIS. Her excellent summary made me think of one of Collins’ well-known sayings: “Make sure you have the right people on the bus.” In other words, surround yourself with smart and dedicated people, in the right jobs, and you will be poised for greatness.

Guest Blogger: Drew Lord ’14

Several times each year, I like to use this space to share a message that resonates. This week, I give the floor to St. Luke’s junior, Drew Lord, and a sharp piece he wrote for The Sentinel. I just love the way he thinks, and his courage, clarity and balance in expressing it. Thank you Drew for allowing me to share this with my readers…

The Fallout of Intellectual Curiosity – by Drew Lord

As a student I often find myself faced with two questions by my friends. The first is something along the lines of “Are you smart?” and the second- “Do you get good grades?” With a little introspection, I have come to understand that there is only a vague correlation between the two answers. It is only right to think that there should, in fact, be some relation between the two, but many students can attest that in reality, this is false. In my mind, students nowadays have learned to educate themselves not on intellectual ideas, but rather on “how to get a good grade”- an educational epidemic that is sweeping the nation. Many have become so focused on grades, SAT scores and college acceptance
that they have left behind the pursuit of knowledge as an intellectual goal in and of itself.

I believe the problem lies embedded in new technological applications emerging in schools around the country. One application, called PowerSchool (used in New Canaan High School), enables students to see their recent performance on tests, quizzes, homework and essays while giving them and up-to-date GPA with the click of a finger on a computer or smartphone. Students have become compulsively obsessed with checking their grades
on this application. It is rare to find someone who does not check their performance periodically; in fact, most claim to check their grades in 40-50 minute intervals (on school
days).

Why, you may ask, is this a problem? First of all, when students check their grades, all they see is a number. They do not see actual information from a test, quiz, or essay with corrections on it. Eventually, the assignment may be returned in physical form, but students will not be as inclined to check it over or review it with the teacher since
they are already aware of their numerical grade. Another application that is even more widely used and accepted is Naviance. Naviance is a website used by Juniors, Seniors and college counselors to network students with specific universities and, furthermore, to
help organize the college process. It allows you to compare your own grades and SAT scores to other students in the area who have applied or been accepted to a particular
college of similar interest.

Sounds great, right? As a student, parent or college counselor who wants to weigh chances of acceptance, sure. But as someone attempting to renourish American
students with a sense of intellectual curiosity – it is just another obstruction. Although Naviance may be essential from an organizational standpoint, it surely depletes the
true purpose of a student as an intellectual thinker.

It angers me that students in America are being victimized by big-named companies (PowerSchool, Naviance, College Board) who claim to be “bettering the student’s academic performance.” As students, we are gradually losing a sense of educational identity. Numbers are continually replacing faces in the world of education, an idea that is catalyzed by such “academic programs” making big money on the stressed student.

Teachers have also become increasingly frustrated with this issue. There is nothing a teacher hates more than walking into class hearing anxious students nagging about
“when they will get their tests back.” But most educators are beginning to understand this sad reality. They have come to understand that students are only the victims of the new world of education – one that praises the numerical grade over learnedness.

Unfortunately there seems to be no way to protect students from joining the increasing list of others who have ditched the principal morals of education and knowledge.

Like many other students, I have admittedly fallen victim to the list myself, and personally would love to experience a day of education free of pressure and criticism. Perhaps there will eventually dawn a day where the correlation between the questions “Are you smart?” and “Do you get good grades?” does not even matter – a day where students are able to finally reverse the fallout of intellectual curiosity. Until then, we should avoid fueling the fire by employing such technological Trojan horses as PowerSchool.