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The Head’s Perspective: The Sound of Music, WWII, and Depth Over Breadth
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Meeting a Holocaust survivor is humbling. I’m sure it’s different for each of us, depending on our own perspective and history, but hearing the stories of survivors—like Paula Lebovics, who spoke at middle and upper last week—inevitably leaves us feeling horrified, sad, and grateful to be in the presence of someone who’s experienced the unthinkable and is willing to share her story.

Holocaust survivor Paula Lebovics, from the USC Shoah Foundation, speaks to an assembly of middle and upper school students.

Although I have been in the presence of other survivors talking with students, the reason for Ms. Lebovics’ visit to Wildwood was a departure. More often than not, other survivors have shared their stories in the context of a unit of study, usually in history or literature. This time my performing arts colleagues—specifically Stephanie Darby, with the support and help of elementary parent Jodi Schwartz and the USC Shoah Foundation—arranged for Ms. Lebovics to speak to all middle and upper school students the week before our spring production of The Sound of Music.

 

Our Town. Grease. The Sound of Music. The list goes on, but there are certain plays and musicals that get lots of traction in middle and upper schools. There are valid reasons, ranging from they’re just good fun (Grease) to they connect with young people on a level that speaks to the stuff of life with which they’re wrestling (Our Town). The Sound of Music, our spring production, is a bit of both.

 

Still, my middle and upper school performing arts colleagues doubled down to interrupt what could potentially be a relatively thin focus on an irrepressibly unconventional and happy nun, and Alpen flowers, to make certain that our students go deeper. Depth over breadth, one of the 10 common principles on which our middle and upper school program was designed, dictates that we go beyond simply covering a broad range of content to insist that students understand it more deeply. Our goal is that students should work with the content, to understand it and be able to place it in the context of everything else they’re learning.

 

It’s not unusual for depth over breadth to be the norm in a core content area, where a group of students might read, discuss, and gain a deeper understanding of 10 books instead of cursorily “covering”—and just being tested on—15 over the course of a year. Inviting Dr. Kori Street, the Senior Director of Programs and Administration at USC Shoah Foundation, to give a talk in the week before our students see a matinee of The Sound of Music is unusual.

 

Think about it. 400 plus students will witness and celebrate their classmates’ work and talent having gained a greater understanding of the broader context—and the horror—that paralleled the Von Trapp family’s story in pre-WWII Austria. Sixteen Going on Seventeen takes on a new dimension when teenagers hear the story that Paula Lebovics and her family lived at the same point in history.

Taking questions from our students, Ms. Lebovics was gracious, earnest, clear, and forgiving. She shared with students her incredulity when faced with the common question of whether or not she hates. How could she hate, she said, when she doesn’t know a person? What good does hate do? Look where it led us, she observed.

 

I’m happy that my students, colleagues, parents, and I will get to enjoy a wonderful show that promises to be beautifully sung, acted, directed, and produced. I’m particularly grateful to my performing arts colleagues, Jodi Schwartz, Dr. Street, and Ms. Lebovics for making sure that we experience the production in the context of history.

 

That’s depth versus breadth in all its glory.

 

~Landis Green

Head of School

 
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Global Competence and World Languages: Our Mission in Action
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Well over a year ago, my colleagues and I began a process to reconsider how we approach language instruction at Wildwood. Having reviewed scholarly research, best practices in other school environments, and having structured conversations with teachers, administrative leaders, parents, and students, I’m enthusiastic about the introduction of our K-12 Global Competence and World Languages program.

 

Interestingly, as I reviewed notes in order to provide context for the new program, I kept getting led back to 2014. Over the course of that calendar year:

 

1) Our board approved the current strategic plan.

2) We received our every-seven-year accreditation from the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).

3) We executed a comprehensive Parent Survey, which enjoyed 76% parent participation and will—as planned—be administered again in spring 2017.

 

quoteblock_1Many programmatic boats, small and large, launched that year—or at least prepared to launch. They include our shift toward a Global Competence and World Languages model through which we will place even more of a premium on international awareness, proficiency in foreign language, appreciation of cultural diversity, and skill development like creativity and innovation—components that clearly connect to our mission and complement our culture, tying to existing Wildwood programs like our multicultural work, project-based learning, and our orientation toward transdisciplinary study.

 

In fact, four out of the five major platforms of our current Strategic Plan included tactics that led directly to our current programmatic thinking. Things like:

 

  • The best of transdisciplinary curriculum and project-based learning will help students understand how their work connects to the real world.
  • The curriculum will expose students K-12 to the issues of social justice, human nature, and the search for truth.
  • Through the curriculum, students will develop versatility and resiliency as they cultivate relationships in school, their communities, and the world.

 

Threaded throughout all the processes and documents were questions about the efficacy of our Spanish-only language program, especially at elementary where K-5 students have traditionally had two 30-minute blocks of instruction a week. The desire for student choice was a recurring theme for older students. We also noted a shared desire for all students to deeply and fully understand their position as powerful agents of change as global citizens.

 

At my request and over the course of last summer and fall, Lori Strauss, Melissa Linehan (our recently retired assistant director of elementary), and Collette Bowers Zinn researched best practices in world language instruction. My colleagues’ research and review led naturally to a proposal for an integrated, transdisciplinary K-12 Global Competence and World Languages program.

 

After presenting our findings with K-12 academic leaders late last fall, we shared the draft of a proposal with our K-12 Spanish colleagues in January 2016. Receiving a supportive response from that group, we began to host a series of focus groups for other K-12 faculty leaders, middle and upper school students, and K-12 parents. The process continued through the winter and spring, culminating in a decision to proceed.

 

The plan, discussed and formally approved by Head’s Leadership Team (HLT) last month, includes the following:

 

  • Spanish, although not the only language to which students will be introduced, will continue to be an area of particular focus in elementary, middle, and upper.
  • Elementary students will be exposed to a range of cultures and languages, in age-appropriate ways specific to the curricula and integrated at each grade level.
  • Division One (6th grade) students will rotate through a trimester each of Spanish, Mandarin, and one of the fastest growing languages, coding.
  • Division Two (7th and 8th grades) students will be asked to rank the three according to their interest, and will focus their study on just one for the remainder of their time in middle school.
  • Upper school students will be required to take three years of either Spanish or Mandarin, or two years of each.
  • Should the University of California system decide in the future to accept coding as a language credit for applicants, we will reconsider our exclusion of coding as an upper school requirement option. In the meantime, technology-related coursework in the upper school will continue to fall under the banner of elective coursework.

 

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There is much work to be done, of course, and we’ve begun to put the basic elements of a transition plan in place. For this next stage, Melinda Tsapatsaris and Collette Bowers Zinn will take the lead in working with faculty leaders and others to coordinate the K-12 curricular integration work. They’ve arranged for a representative from the Council of International Schools, an international leader in intercultural education, to work with K-12 faculty in early February.

 

quoteblock_2Few individual programmatic initiatives connect to as many or as broad a range of the Board’s approved Strategic Plan goals as the shift toward Global Competence and World Languages. Thank you to my colleagues involved in the research and recommendations, to those who are already stepping up to take the lead on execution, and to the colleagues, students, and parents who so enthusiastically participated in our focus groups.

 

Wildwood School’s mission and ethos calls for innovation, change, and growth. This current programmatic shift is yet another example of our mission in action.

 

~Landis Green

Head of School

 

 

 

The Head's Perspective
The Head’s Perspective: The Wildwood Board of Trustees Demystified
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“The Board” conjures different things for different people. Vision. Work. Power. Responsibility. Philanthropy. These collections of people who care about and for an organization work tirelessly to further its goals—for profit, for social good, for children. Wildwood School’s Board of Trustees is focused on the latter, of course. One could argue—and I would—that our Board is focused on the last two, in fact, considering Wildwood School’s mission:

 

Wildwood School cultivates reflective scholars, bold innovators and compassionate leaders equipped with the skills, ethics and inspiration to transform their world.

 

quoteblock_1Our school’s Board serves the future—or, perhaps better put, holds the school in trust for the future—in deliberate, celebratory, earnest, and generous ways. Most Trustees in independent schools love the schools they serve. Our Trustees take it to a whole new level, which is why I was so pleased when our WWPO leadership invited Assistant Head of School Melinda Tsapatsaris and me to put together a panel of current Trustees to “demystify” our Board. I was so grateful to our representative group for investing yet another morning at Wildwood, and I want to capture it for those who couldn’t be present.

 

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Landis and Board members Marc Frankel, Board Chair Lisa Flashner, Ashley Kramer, Lyle Poncher, and Andrew Solmssen at the WWPO Spring Summit.

The WWPO Spring Summit on March 9 included a group of five Board members and myself answering questions posed by one of our own, Dr. Marc Frankel, a consultant to independent schools and universities around the world. Our students—current and future—are lucky to have Marc’s expertise serving their school, as evidenced by his nimble facilitation of the panel and the depth and breadth of perspective he shared with those present.

 

Marc began the discussion by reflecting on the difference between public and independent school boards, noting that independent school boards focus on the fiduciary, strategic, and generative nature of governance. They don’t involve themselves in the day-to-day, like approving book lists and such. Like ours, the best independent school boards structure their work and align their focus to ensure that the school is healthy and thriving in the future.quoteblock_2

 

Together with 25 year Trustee Lyle Poncher (parent of Amy, ’97, and Zach, ’11), Marc outlined the Board’s responsibility to identify strategic priorities, appoint the head of school, lead fundraising efforts, and structure the school’s annual budget and multi-year financial planning so that everything is in place for a healthy, stable, and—in Wildwood’s case, especially—dynamic school that is continually focused on innovation, best practice, and above all excellence. As Lyle noted, “We are not involved in curriculum. Although the head and his colleagues might consult with us, our job isn’t to decide if we should be teaching Portuguese.”

 

Andrew Solmssen (Jack and Ridley, ’24) took the question about how Trustees are selected and what is expected of them. Prospective and new Trustees go through a thorough vetting process, and a multi-stage orientation that begins in the spring before their service begins and carries through their first year and beyond. Without going into too much detail, Andrew noted that most Trustees are identified from the ranks of current and past parents who display a particularly pronounced commitment to the school, a clear desire to see it flourish, and a recognition that their service is future-focused. Board members are expected to make Wildwood School a top philanthropic priority. Although there is no requirement for giving, Andrew explained that roughly two-thirds of our Trustees make annual gifts at the highest leadership levels.

 

Although not a representative body, our Board include members who have children in elementary, middle, and upper school. A critical mass of Trustees are parents of alumni. Some have children who graduated a decade ago, yet remain committed—in their service and in their philanthropy—to ensuring that Wildwood School stays true to its mission and values with regard to educating children and serving families. The Board’s Committee on Trustees works collaboratively to identify potential future Trustees who bring specific skills, professional expertise, and a willingness to work on behalf of the school.

 

Continuing to explore the nature of the Board’s makeup, Ashley Kramer (Katie, ’19, and Ella, ’22) spoke about the importance of gender, race, age, and—very important to the functioning of a Board—skills and professional affiliations. On our Board are hedge fund managers, physicians, entertainment industry professionals, consultants, COOs, educators, technology leaders, lawyers, and others.

 

Much of the work of the Board is done in committee. Standing committees of the Board include: Finance, Advancement, Investment, Audit, Committee on Trustees, and the Executive Committee of the Board. In any given year, a task force or two is operating to explore topics over a more limited time frame. Task forces range from diversity to marketing, and HR related topics to flexible tuition policies.  Task forces and some Board committees include non-Trustees, and all have administrative representation.

 

As Lyle Poncher described it, Wildwood School’s Board has evolved over the course of the two-plus decades he’s been involved. Operating more like a parent co-op early on, he described the early Board as “well meaning, but inefficient,” and noted that there wasn’t a clear separation between the work of the Board and the work of the head and the professional staff.

Board.Head Partnership, NAIS Trustee Handbook

In describing a typical Board meeting, I explained that each Board meeting—five “regular” meetings and one full-day retreat, annually—generally includes one meaty strategic or generative discussion. It could involve anything from the Board helping my colleagues and me consider the ramifications of a significant program shift we’re considering (our Board guided my colleagues’ and my thinking with regard to the specifics of the Institute Model introduced in upper school last year), or a strategic discussion related to the logistics of funding programmatic enhancements (our Board invested considerable time discussing the competing priorities of funding financial aid, faculty salaries, and building endowment a few years ago). Board Chair Lisa Flashner (Jake, ’17, and Zac, ’20) and other Board leaders work diligently to ensure that Board meetings are focused on the 5, 10, and 15 year future, making the best use of the energies and vision of the creative, smart, committed group of people who serve the school.

 

WWPO, of course, is another key way that parents serve the school and its students, and many current and past Trustees have been involved in the work of WWPO before, and even during, their Board service. WWPO’s Board Liaison—Diana Stephenson (Molly, ’20 and Jenny, ‘23) is in her first year of service—attends all regular sessions of the Board, but has no vote. Although several of my most senior administrative colleagues are usually present for Board meetings, Diana and I are the two people present for all Board meetings who are specifically charged with keeping in mind how Board decisions might affect the here-and-now with students, parents, and faculty and staff.

 

Talking about some areas of current Board focus, Andrew Solmssen noted that the Board’s strategic plan, approved almost two years ago, serves as the primary road map for all Board and administrative work at any given time. Our current plan includes a focus on developing the long-term three-campus facilities plan, approved by the Board in January 2015; fostering a diverse community; and ensuring that the school benefits from the healthy funding that ensures positive progress with regard to important initiatives around topics like faculty salaries, flexible tuition, and program development.

 

Lisa Flashner closed the morning elaborating on Andrew’s reference to the Board’s fifteen year three-campus plan. As Lisa announced at the spring 2015 State of School, the Board had, earlier that year, put a stake in the ground by committing to the school’s property acquisition at 11800 Olympic Boulevard as one of two Wildwood campuses to be developed in the neighborhood. Our current middle and upper school site, 11811 Olympic Boulevard, will continue to function as our middle and upper school campus for the interim, but it—or a different site—will provide a companion property for 11800, while the current elementary campus continues to serve the program needs there.

 

With good questions, good will, and not just a few laughs, the morning’s program came to a close after about an hour and a half. Strolling out with some of those who were present, I was happy to see that the work of the Board had, indeed, been “demystified” and that I’d been joined by others in my appreciation for all that our Board does. The five Trustees who were present represented the greater body of 20 exceptionally well.

 

~Landis Green

Head of School

 

 

 

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The Wildwood Way To University Partnership
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

 

This week four veteran Wildwood teachers embarked on an important adventure as the inaugural mentors to four graduate teaching candidates from the USC Rossier School of Education.

 

A year of conversations about this exceptional collaboration led to this initiative that brings together carefully selected teachers-in-training with classroom experts skilled in what matters about the Wildwood approach.

 

Here’s what’s truly unique: This is a three-way partnership between Wildwood, USC, and Palms Elementary, our partner public school in Systems Thinking learning.  Now each of the teaching candidates will be able to spend their time both at Wildwood and Palms for the rest of the school year to gain insights and experiences they may find in many ways both different and similar.

USC Teaching Candidate Stephanie Kwon and Grade 5 Teacher Monique Marshall

Child-centered learning is the core of the Wildwood Way, and worth sharing in every way we can with a range of partners. Our connection with Palms is in its third year, with many meaningful teacher-to-teacher learning relationships across the two campuses.

 

Grade 3 Teacher Roxanne Bergmans and Caroline Craig

USC Rossier School of Education leadership was persistent in making this new teacher training program a reality because of our Wildwood approach; plus, our genuine connection to public schools in Los Angeles made it an obvious match.

Carra Rooke and Sea Otter Pod Teacher Grace Lazzarini

 

The Wildwood Outreach Center facilitates this kind of work because we believe—and the data shows—that Wildwood school culture is unique. Our philosophy is not just words on a page. Our teachers actively model in dynamic classrooms what it means to encourage respectful, thoughtful, reflective learning that engenders personal growth, and academic outcomes.

 

Lauren Pfeffer and Grade 2 Teacher Alli Newell

Please join us in welcoming Caroline Craig, Stephanie Kwong, Lauren Pfeffer, and Carra Rooke—our cohort of USC grad students to the Wildwood community.

 

 

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The Head’s Perspective: Focus on Diversity at Wildwood
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Assistant head of school Melinda Tsapatsaris and I participated in a book discussion this fall, a conversation about J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Both Melinda and I were raised in working class communities, she outside of Columbus, Ohio and me outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. We’ve often acknowledged this shared cultural identity over the course of the decade we’ve worked with one another. At base, our multicultural programming at Wildwood School seeks to affirm the myriad cultural identities, like socioeconomic status, that we each bring to the communities of which we are a part. Understanding our own identities, both in isolation and in relation to the identities of those around us, is an important tool for students—or any of us.

 

I believe that bringing varied perspectives to bear is especially important in independent school communities, colleges, and universities, where the traditional standard had been to affirm the cultural identities of the majority while providing newcomers with the opportunity to assimilate. Much has been written about the importance of individuals developing a more broadly constructed civic identity in order to be, in the words of Dr. L. Lee Knefelkamp, a professor at Columbia University, “…fully engaged, fully human citizens of their communities.” According to Dr. Knefelkamp, the integration, critical thinking, and capacity for empathy required of the development of a civic identity “…challenges us to identify with others who may be significantly different from ourselves while acting consistently in the face of unexpected circumstances. By developing an active, integrated civic identity, individuals begin to find wholeness and psychological balance within themselves and with others in the world.” Doesn’t that describe the individuals we hope to send out into the world beyond school?

 

Wildwood’s particular take on this work, developed over time and with the involvement of a dynamic group of K-12 faculty; Rasheda Carroll, our Director of Multicultural Affairs; and other administrative leaders, is admired in independent and public schools around the country. Through our Outreach Center and my colleagues’ and my articles and presentations at national and regional conferences, thousands of independent and public school educators have been engaged in the work and inspired by our practice.

 

Our Board’s annual retreat, held in October, included a half-day workshop with noted diversity practitioner Alison Park, who’s worked with both our K-12 faculty, Multicultural Leadership Team, and is a guest faculty member at our annual Multicultural Leadership Institute. The Board’s current strategic plan reaffirms our commitment to multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity and has led to several efforts playing out this school year, one of which will include all members of the community.

 

In a process that parallels the work of the Board’s Diversity Task Force, Wildwood School has established an AIM Steering Committee to lead us through the considerable work of participating in the National Association of Independent School’s Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism, a rigorous tool that includes both qualitative and quantitative data. I’d like to thank my colleagues, Board, and parent and alumni volunteers who are serving on the task force and on the steering committee. Taken from the NAIS website, the goals of AIM include:

• Determining progress in meeting diversity and multiculturalism goals;
• Assessing current diversity and multicultural initiatives;
• Encouraging participation of all school affiliation and affinity groups in assessing the school’s current level of inclusivity;
• Providing affirmation of a school’s progress in diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusiveness;
• Providing for meaningful dialogue on building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive school community;
• Providing benchmarking opportunities; and
• Allowing for a community-building process/experience.

 

Orchestrated by Rasheda Carroll, the AIM process is underway. A series of fifteen “discovery groups” have begun and will continue through the winter months, providing content for our self-assessment. Concurrently, members of the school community—employees, parents, and students in middle and upper school—will be asked to take the AIM Climate Survey from January 13 through February 5 .

AIM Steering Committee members will, over the course of the spring, disseminate the information and data collected and, reconciling it with benchmarked data from peer schools that are similarly committed to diversity and inclusion, will begin to craft observations and recommendations that will be provided to the Board’s Diversity Task Force. That group will, in turn, lead the work of the Board in identifying strategic priorities and goals for the future.

 

Thank you to both parents and students, in advance, for participating in this important process by completing the survey. In the same way that we regularly ask students to be brave as they reflect on their academic and personal growth, I’d ask that Wildwood parents taking the survey see, as I do, that honest reflection and constructive feedback is an expression of faith and commitment to our school, our community, and our shared future.

 

Although we’ve enjoyed much success at Wildwood School, we are anything but complacent. The goals that my colleagues, our Board, parents, and I have had for the work have been clear over the course of the last decade, yet the “why” has evolved and grown stronger: a preparation for college is lessened—is compromised—by the absence of honest reflection about who we are, how we learn, and what we have to contribute. Now more than ever, the skills and perspectives that students gain from the richness of our program is necessary and valued on college campuses and beyond.

 

I’d like to thank those involved in this critically important work by serving on the Board’s Diversity Task Force and on the AIM Steering Committee.

 

Diversity Task Force: Melanie Benefiel, Joel Brand (Task Force Chair) Rasheda Carroll (Administrative Liaison), Lisa Eisenpresser, Lisa Flashner (Board Chair), Peter Frankfurt, Nina Jacobson, Emma Katznelson, Phil McFarland, Cynthia Patton, Katie Rios, Don Smith, Art Streiber, Paige Tolmach, Melinda Tsapatsaris, Collette Bowers Zinn, and me.

 

AIM Steering Committee: Kyndall Brown, Rasheda Carroll (Coordinator), Sandi Crozier, Lisa Eisenpresser, Desiree Gaitan, Ben Salk ’09, Don Smith, Paige Tolmach, Kira Arne Verica, and Collette Bowers Zinn.

 

For yet another opportunity to engage in Wildwood School’s Multicultural programming, please join us for an evening session with this year’s Multicultural Symposium keynote speaker, Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. An advocate for peace and justice for all, Reverend Bacon retired after 30 years as the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena.

 

~Landis Green

Head of School

 
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Advisory Is Essential­—Every Day
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7th-8th Grade AdvisoryBy Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

 

Every student in Wildwood’s middle school begins each day with advisory.

 

Advisory is a time and place intentionally positioned to provide a bridge between the school day and students’ lives outside of school. That sounds simple, even obvious, and Wildwood’s middle and upper schools were founded with this practice in place.  Now, an increasing number of schools organize their students’ day around advisory, because it is meaningful for academic and social reasons.

 

What Happens Here

 

Students gather in groups of about 15, led by a teacher who serves as the students’ mentor and advocate. These adults provide an essential link between home and school. In this informal setting, students have the space to develop supportive relationships with adults they trust, and with a small group of peers. Advisory becomes a comfortable space where kids can try out new ideas and explore their identities. In the process, they cultivate a sense of self—academically, emotionally, and socially.

 

“I think it’s great to have a community of people that you can fall back on,” reflects 6th grader Jamie B. on her experience so far this year. “Your advisory is a group of people that you can trust.”

 

With this healthy combination of connection and learning students experience a curriculum that’s an essential part of the Wildwood Way. Our advisory program is guided by the most current academic and brain research, which correlates social/emotional support with academic outcomes. With years of data now solidly in place, our once pioneering Wildwood approach is now in high demand by schools worldwide seeking knowledge and training through the Wildwood Outreach Center.

 

A Week in Middle School Advisory

 

Monday: Begin with Community

Each Monday morning, the entire Wildwood student body and faculty, grades 6-12, comes together for All School Meeting. Twice a month, middle schoolers stay for a middle school-only meeting bringing together all 180 6th-8th graders.

 

Hosting responsibilities rotate among each advisory. Here announcements are made, and the host advisory engages their peers in fun challenges and contests, like sculpting a Pokémon character in 2 minutes with clay and straws.

 

Then, middle schoolers who have been “caught in the act” of positive, community-minded behavior and nominated for recognition by teachers will hear their names called out by Middle School Associate Director, Collette Bowers-Zinn.

 

Next, Division Two students (grades 7-8) head off to their advisories to engage in a Roses and Thorns conversation. Their rooms are set up with chairs in a circle, and each student—along with their advisor—share one “rose” from their weekend (something that went well, and that they want to share) and one “thorn” (something that didn’t go well or is weighing on their mind). It’s an effective way of helping students leave behind the weekend, and look ahead to the week.

 

On a visit to Megen O’Keefe’s Advisory, students share a range of roses; from sweet— “We went to my grandma’s house for her birthday,” shares Justin D. to silly—“I had a kazoo solo in my band,” shares Nolan G. Meanwhile, his advisory mate, Grace M., combines her rose and thorn: “I baked a cake—but it was a fail. So I made another one—it was way better!”

 

D1 Big Room

6th grade students listen to announcements during Big Room

Meanwhile, Division One students (grade 6) have their own activity. All gather in Mrs. H and Louise’s Humanities classroom for their weekly Big Room gathering. Here the Division One teachers help students frame the school week ahead—noting any key work deadlines or upcoming events.

 

Big Room ends with the naming of the student of the week. This recognition goes to someone whose demonstration of the Habits of Heart stand out, and it’s also a way to have some fun. A key responsibility of student of the week is picking and popping a balloon from a bunch reveals a ‘fun Friday’ activity for the whole Division. This week: Friday is “dress up as a twin” day.

 

Tuesday: Focus on Personal Growth

Mindfulness characterizes Tuesdays in Division One—including focused breathing intended to promote relaxation and academic preparedness. In Division Two, Tuesdays are often devoted to Council discussions—offering a space and place for students to talk about academic anxieties, social fears, or even gratitude. The Council protocol, developed by the Ojai-based educational non-profit, Council in Schools uses a talking piece (it can be a shell, a stuffed animal, or any other object) that students hand to each other as they follow the four intentions of Council: 1) Speak and 2) Listen from the heart, 3) Speak spontaneously, and 4) Be brief.

 

Wednesday: Work and Wildcard

Mid-week brings collaboration time to Division One Advisory: All 6th grade students and teachers are free to work together—students on individual work and group projects, while teachers are available to help and also meet one-on-one with students.

 

In Division Two, Wednesday is Wildcard Day. This time can be to engage in Community Involvement work, Wildwood’s multicultural curriculum (see below), or spend the advisory session preparing for upcoming student-led conferences. Community Involvement activities include a division-wide drive to help homeless veterans in LA, through an organization called New Directions for Veterans, along with environmental stewardship activities in the spring, including beach cleanups.

 

Thursday: Multiculturalism

Each middle school Division focuses on a multicultural theme. Division One this year is exploring the concept of School Dimensions—the range of ways students identify as part of different groups at school (e.g. by athletic interest, friend group, etc.). Throughout the year, 6th graders engage in lessons that look at the ways in which these identities affect themselves and others.

 

Division Two students are examining the origins and impact of conflict— which can emerge when engaging in dialogue across difference. This year’s curriculum is designed to help students understand different styles of conflict and leadership, as well as allowing them time to investigate their own inclinations.

Division Two advisor Alex Cussen facilitates a lesson

Division Two advisor Alex Cussen facilitates a lesson

 

One Thursday per month, all middle school students can opt into activities beyond their assigned advisory. One option: Students can join an affinity group (active groups include students of color and allies to members of the LGBTQ community). Students take their affinity groups seriously. As part of the allies affinity group, 7th grader Angela R. suggests an anonymous advice column for students who identify as LGBTQ as well as their fellow students who seek to support them. “We can make it part of The Howl [Wildwood’s online middle school student journal],” she says.

 

Students’ other option is to sign up for and attend a discussion around a specific contemporary multicultural issue. One recent Thursday students chose between six topics: Veteran homelessness in LA, the plight of Syrian refugees, an examination of white privilege, the voting rights of prisoners, the interplay between sports and politics, and a discussion on female gender roles.

 

These opportunities allow students to choose an area of study as well as to join a group that fits their identities and interest.

 

Friday: A Time to Bond

The end of the week brings opportunities for students and their advisors to simply enjoy one another’s company. The curriculum intentionally encourages fun. Division Two advisories might play a favorite game, celebrate a birthday, or compete in an inter-advisory Olympics. Division One students enjoy the fun Friday activity chosen at the beginning of the week. The goal is to spend fun time together with a purpose—to cement social bonds and build new ones.

 

Division One students enjoy a game together

Division One students enjoy a game together

On a recent visit, Division One students enjoy playing their favorite board and card games within their Advisory groups. Uno, The Game of Life, and charades offer students the opportunity to interact in ways that help build community. “It’s fun to see how other kids play the game,” 6th grader Skyler S. says during a hand of Apples to Apples. “It helps you understand their sense of humor and how they think.”

 

The Wildwood approach happens very intentionally in advisory, every day.

 

We are clear that relationships—between students, and between advisor and advisee are at the heart of all of these middle school advisory activities.

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This is Your Brain on Math
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photo from Stanford Medicine News

Photo Credit: Stanford Medicine News

By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

 

Wildwood Division One math teacher, Drew Brody, is helping 6th graders change their minds—literally—about their mathematical abilities.

 

Strong or weak, confident or reluctant—students have various descriptions of themselves as math learners.

 

quoteblock_1Mr. B., as he’s known to students, understands how those self-perceptions work on many levels, and wants kids to leave class each day with this takeaway: Everyone can develop the skills and abilities to be successful math students.

 

On a recent visit to class, I hear students discuss the value of making mistakes. Reviewing the previous night’s homework, 6th grader Bronte B. reflects to her class, “Getting stuck on a problem is the best thing you can do for your brain; when you think about what you’re doing wrong and learn from it, your brain actually grows.”

 

quoteblock_2Bronte is right; she’s adeptly employing the Habit of Evidence, as Drew has helped all students verse themselves in the latest research on learning and the brain—with a view toward using it to help them develop a positive math mindset.

 

In this case, Bronte cites the work of Stanford University Professor, Jo Boaler. Struggling and thinking hard when doing math, Boaler has found, causes synapses in our brain to fire, helping to build and support new neural pathways.

 

This applied brain research is unlocking the way that we’re understanding how we learn and develop what Stanford Professor Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset—which, when deployed, can actually change the brain’s structure to increase academic achievement.

 

In Wildwood’s 6th grade math classes, Drew translates this and other research into practice.

(l to r) Leily K., Ruby B., Chloe B., and Bronte B. collaborate on a math demo

(l to r) Leily K., Ruby B., Chloe B., and Bronte B. collaborate on a math demo

 

He emphasizes depth of learning over quantity of problems and speed of mathematical calculation.  (Hint: Some of the world’s greatest mathematical thinkers were very slow processors.) In fact, the first unit of study this year in Division One math is titled, “How the Brain Learns Mathematics.” It’s based partly on Boaler’s free online Stanford MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), How to Learn Math, and is a required source for Wildwood 6th graders. <Click HERE to check out Boaler’s online Stanford course for yourself.>

 

Even a visit to class on a day that students take a demo (i.e., quiz) reveals the connection between research and classroom practice.

 

When students enter the room on a recent Monday, Drew revealed a pop demo in four parts.  Prior to completing the first part, Drew challenged students to “remember what Dr. Treisman said about the secret to success at UC Berkeley.” While Drew’s students clearly understand the context—I need them to fill me in. The translation: students can complete Part I of the demo collaborating with their table mates. And Dr. Uri Treisman, I find out, is a mathematics professor and Executive Director at the prestigious Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas who has conducted seminal research on practices that lead to student success with math.

 

The research relevant to these 6th graders is work Dr. Treisman began while at UC Berkeley, revealing the benefit of student collaboration in an environment of high expectations to individual students’ success in mathematics. These conditions contribute to students developing a trait that Dr. Treisman called “productive persistence,” encouraging the re-wiring of new neural pathways reflective of a growth mindset.

 

I listen in to the power of this practice as a table group of students confer before completing Part I. Samantha B. cautions her tablemates, “First, let’s make sure that we re-check our answers together before we turn this in.” Eliana B. concurs: “Let’s make sure that we have everything in order.”

 

Drew Brody helps students clarify their understanding by asking questions

As they turn in Part I, Drew provides his students a small reward: a mini-sized square of chocolate. It’s intended, only partly tongue and cheek, to help them on Parts II & III, which they’ll complete independently. “Remember,” Drew announces, “research shows the anti-oxidants in chocolate can help your brain with those calculations.”

 

Drew’s students are exposed to an approach to learning that many progressive math educators have practiced intuitively for years, now supported by a growing body of university research.

 

Wildwood welcomes this approach because it’s aligned with the way students’ brains work—and it’s effectively challenging traditional views on mathematics educational practice, now evolving in the face of evidence.

 

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
From Bangkok to the Inland Empire: The Wildwood Way Influences Teaching and Learning
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3rd grader Emmy C. and teacher Jody Poulos on the first day of school (photo: Courtney O’Connor)

“Good schooling is built on the oldest idea around: you learn by the company you keep.”

~ Deborah Meier, Founder Central Park East School & Professor, NYU Steinhardt School of Education

 

When students and teachers keep good company together the benefits are clear for all—higher academic achievement for kids and higher job satisfaction for adults. It’s an idea that may be old and, like many good ones, it’s coming back again, and now there is ample research to support this philosophy.

 

EL Cover

Ed Leadership’s September 2016 Issue

This month, Educational Leadership, the leading journal on teaching and learning, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), dedicates an entire issue to exploring the role of student-teacher relationships in school. The takeaway is this: whether educators seek to help students invest themselves more deeply in their own learning or unlock the potential of all students, relationships are the essential foundation for learning.

 

This axiomatic truth—relationships first—guides the work of Wildwood School and the Wildwood Outreach Center on every level. The Outreach Center trains teachers in the practices that define the of best of smaller schools, where it’s understood that academic rigor evolves out of solid relationships. These schools are everywhere in the world, and are both public and private. This year, for example, we’ve been engaged in schools that literally span the spectrum—from the International School of Bangkok, to the public charter School of Arts and Enterprise in Pomona, in the heart of the Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles.

 

quoteblock_1At these places and dozens between, Wildwood customizes professional development sessions that highlight learner-centered and relationship-based pedagogies. Each personalized professional learning experience is delivered in an intentionally small environment because the Wildwood Outreach Center truly believes in first building relationships—through both the content it delivers to educators and learning processes we employ to teach it.

 

Wildwood Outreach Center Summer Highlights

 

Hosting Engaged Educators in Los Angeles

2016 Multicultural Leadership Institute Participants and Facilitators

2016 Multicultural Leadership Institute Participants and Facilitators

In late June, two, week-long intensive professional learning experiences brought educators from all over the world both to our 6th annual Critical Friends Group New Coaches Training and our 4th annual Multicultural Leadership Institute. Wildwood faculty and administrators guided the learning of nearly 60 participants from public and private schools across California, as well as New York, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, Washington, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Singapore.

 

Critical Friends Group (CFG) New Coaches Training is designed to help educators develop the relational and facilitation skills necessary to lead CFGs at their home schools. CFGs are small peer-to-peer work groups that allow professionals to get support and feedback on strategies for improvement or classroom dilemmas. What makes a CFG successful is strong relationships. The Wildwood Outreach Center offers this training under the auspices of the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), developers of the CFG format. The five-day training models, fosters, and teaches the establishment of close, respectful, professional relationships in the interest of student learning. Both myself and Deb Christenson, Wildwood Senior Institute History Teacher, are certified National Facilitators for CFG work.

 

Together, Deb and I facilitated a week-long training for our local, national, and international clients in late June at Wildwood and, earlier in the month, I facilitated a week long session at Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy—a public charter school in Las Vegas.

 

The Multicultural Leadership Institute (MLI) has firmly established itself as the premier West Coast training for educators seeking to create and sustain truly multicultural school communities. We know from feedback that part of the appeal of this offering is the small group size, which translates into a more meaningful experience.  The Outreach Center limits enrollment to between 35 and 40 participants per year. We are intentionally smaller than other national trainings to ensure that more authentic relationships are established among participants and facilitators. The MLI is led by Rasheda Carroll Wildwood’s Director of Multicultural Affairs who is supported in her work by Wildwood Elementary teachers Monique Marshall and Sandi Crozier, Middle School teacher Katie Boye, and former Upper School teacher Jason David.

 

Our Systems Thinking Initiative Reaches East Africa

Wildwood 2nd Grade Teacher Alli Newell leads teachers' learning in Systems Thinking at....

Wildwood 2nd Grade Teacher Alli Newell leads teachers’ learning in Systems Thinking at Hope Academy in Kaihura, Uganda.

On the international front Wildwood 2nd grade teacher, Alli Newell, returned to Uganda this summer for her second service trip to the small town of Kaihura. This year, she shared some of her own Wildwood classroom practice with her hosts, leading a full-day professional development session on Systems Thinking. Alli’s session was well received by her hosts at Hope Academy and they left inspired to implement the practice with their own elementary age students. Click HERE to see one teacher’s reflection on Alli’s session.

 

Back to School, with Relationships First

The School of Arts and Enterprise, a public charter school in downtown Pomona, hosted me for a two-day workshop in August.  There I met with a dedicated group of department and grade-level teacher-leaders who care deeply about their students, looking for ways to fine tune their collaborations.

 

The School of Arts and Enterprise Middle School Campus in Pomona

The School of Arts and Enterprise Middle School Campus in Pomona

Now in its 18th year, the SAE—as it’s known—resembles Wildwood School in its commitment to project-based learning and critical thinking coupled with an intentional emphasis on each student’s social-emotional development. After visits to both Wildwood campuses in May, the school decided our approach was a good match in terms of school culture.

 

quoteblock_2Our goals: Foster deeper relationships among leadership team members, establish group work agreements, and develop a plan for the team to take on greater responsibilities in the school. We focused on learning new strategies and protocols to use in the classroom, and within the leadership team.

 

In August, Outreach Center activities also included assisting a handful of other schools to build and strengthen their advisory programs. In Pasadena, I worked with the middle school leaders at Polytechnic School, and at Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, I offered guidance to faculty working to build out their existing programs.

 

Aloha & Mahalo

'Iolani School's Sullivan Center for Innovation and Leadership (photo: 'Iolani School)

‘Iolani School’s Sullivan Center for Innovation and Leadership (photo: ‘Iolani School)

Finally, a trip to O’ahu and some intensive work at ‘Iolani School in Honolulu brought ‘Iolani new ideas for an inaugural Advisory program in the middle grades. Wildwood’s relationship with ‘Iolani is evolving, as this past fall a contingent of their teachers and administrators attended an Advisory 101 workshop at the Outreach Center. They left impressed with the program that Wildwood shares with the world and eager to use our relationship-based approach as the model for their own program. ‘Iolani’s leadership group invited me to assist them in planning the program roll-out to their 6th and 7th grade advisors. It was a meaningful visit on many levels as I made my first visit to our 50th state to export the Wildwood approach to faculty and students on this beautiful, culturally diverse island.

 

Everywhere we go, and with every group of teachers, the Wildwood Outreach Center invests in relationships first, because we know that sincerely modeling what works in learning is most critical to nurturing student success.

 

~ Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

 

The Head's Perspective
The Head’s Perspective: Ben, Becca, and the Extra Space After a Period.
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As another academic year comes to an end and we prepare to part ways for a well-earned summer break,

Ben Salk, Wildwood Alumni '09

Ben Salk, Wildwood Alumnus ’09

I’m reflecting happily and with great pride on the year about to close. One of my proudest moments involved looking out over the 300 or so people gathered in the elementary Commons for this spring’s State of School as Ben Salk ’09, one of our alumni panelists, called out to Becca Hedgepath, or “Mrs. H.” I was particularly happy for Becca, a seasoned teacher, when Ben noted that she was the first person who helped him to understand that “rules are rules and rules don’t change.” It was poignant, funny, and sweet.

 

And it got me thinking.

 

Ben’s affectionate comment got me thinking because I’ve come to understand that rules—even the hard-and-fast ones—are, in fact, reconsidered from time to time. That may even be the case with some of the rules that Ben learned about grammar and organization from Becca when he was in Division One. Case in point: Until very recently (embarrassingly recently), I always inserted two spaces after a period. Teachers of mine repeatedly underscored the importance of those two spaces, but somewhere along the way the rule changed. As a particularly irreverent Slate article noted, “Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” I’ve been mostly successful in editing out that extra space when I close a sentence, but I must say it’s still a work in progress. I’m still a work in progress.

 

Of the many lessons I hope we instill in Wildwood School students, one relates to the Life Skill of Flexibility. I want our students to revel in the idea that we learn as we go, that hard-and-fast-rules can change. quoteblock_1_2Our work related to inclusion with regard to language reflective of the gender spectrum is yet another example of how rules change. Although we at Wildwood were ahead of the curve, thanks to a core group of driven students several years ago, we and many peer schools around the country continue to reflect on changing practice, and the laws that are redefining how young people in public schools are to be affirmed for who they are. The dialogue about he/she morphing into they/them, or other gender neutral pronouns, is active on college campuses, and it’s increasingly becoming a topic of conversation in K-12 environments as well.

 

I join Becca and Ben in a playful and affirming nod to the importance of learning the rules, knowing what they are and why they are so. That said, I’m equally—and perhaps even more—engaged in the changing nature of our world and the ways that we are preparing students to come to learn the rules, even as they get comfortable with the fact that some rules will—and should—change to reflect the times.

 

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
ASM Meets ZPD: What’s That?
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Jenny S. stands ready to lead ASM

5th grader Jenny S. leads ASM

By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

 

There’s a Wildwood tradition that’s a familiar rite of passage on our elementary campus, and fairly unique almost everywhere else. Every Friday, it looks something like this:

 

An 11 year-old stands on a lighted stage, the sole focus of a crowd of over 400 people. She’s there to make a presentation—about herself—which needs to be clear, coherent, and engaging enough to hold everyone’s attention.

 

She’s nervous. And, she delivers.

 

By the time the crowd roars its approval, a smile spreads over her face. Relief, and accomplishment. For her, the hardest part is over.

 

The ASM went well! ZPD is real. But wait, we’ll get to that….

 

The whole process of leading an All School Meeting (ASM) at the elementary campus was instructive for Eliana B, who presented on robotics.

Eliana B. brings one of her robots onstage during ASM

Eliana B. brings one of her robots onstage during ASM

 

“I had big plans for my ASM presentation, and I had to learn to manage my time to get ready.”

 

She needed to build half a dozen robots that she bought with her birthday money. “Each of the kits took a day to build, so I realized that I had to start building early if they were going to be ready for my presentation.”

 

Eliana also remembers the patience and flexibility that she had to tap. “Many of the kits’ instructions were confusing, and my cats kept walking all over the robot parts that I was trying to organize. Then, when the date got closer and I started practicing, I started getting really nervous.”

 

Will W. and Bronte B. prepare for ASM with teacher Seth Gordon

Will W. and Bronte B. prepare for ASM with teacher Seth Gordon

Each week a pair of Wildwood 5th graders leads the weekly All School Meeting. As a team, they open the session, solicit school-wide announcements, and introduce guest performers. Then, each student takes on the individual component: Meet the Leaders. For several minutes, the crowd gives it’s undivided attention to each of the students as a way of honoring the leadership and longevity of our elementary campus’s oldest students.

 

Public speaking can be anxiety provoking for everyone, especially novices. With the ASM leadership exercise, Wildwood 5th graders often find they are up to the challenge. They tap bravery, practice, and lots of modeling to master their fears, lead their community, and prepare for similar situations in their futures.

 

Many of Eliana’s classmates echo her sentiments: Leading ASM is a mix of excitement and fear.

Graham W. shares photos during ASM

Graham W. shares photos during ASM

 

“I’ve been on stage in plays before but this was a huge leap,” says 5th grader Will W. “I’m not up there with 20 others; it’s just me and one other person. A very new experience… and very unnerving.”

 

Graham W. noted something that surprised him looking down from the stage. “The Commons looks a lot bigger when you’re up there by yourself. I wasn’t expecting that.”

 

Liad L.’s ponderings indicate another common feeling among his fellow 5th graders. “When it comes right down to it,” Liad suggests “you are the subject matter; you can be who want to be when you lead ASM.”

 

Confidence doesn’t imply perfection, and Liad was ok with that, too. During his presentation, Liad demonstrated his acumen with juggling sticks, called flowersticks. “I’ve only been practicing for about a year so I didn’t get upset when I dropped my sticks a few times in front of everyone.”

 

quoteblock_1Conventional school wisdom says that when you set the bar high for kids and provide them with modeling and appropriate support, they will rise to the occasion and be able to learn and do things that may have seemed out of reach last year, last month, or even last week.

 

There’s solid theory behind that wisdom. In educational psychology terms, leading All School Meeting is an example of learning within one’s zone of proximal development (ZPD). It’s an idea that began with the writings of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky back in the 1930s.

 

In the space between what a child can do on his or her own—without any assistance—and something that he or she is incapable of—even with help—is the ZPD.

 

It’s the sweet spot of learning and doing into which capable educators coax students.

 

Ultimately individual learners need to bravely venture into the zone.

Liad B. presents at ASM

Liad L. presents at ASM

 

Wildwood provides its 5th graders the appropriate scaffolding to be able to lead ASM. Students practice in multiple meetings with Seth Gordon, the performing arts teacher in charge of ASM, including a full run-through the morning of the meeting.

 

And, all Wildwood fifth graders see their peers go through the process—and come out happier and more confident on the other side.

 

Students like Jenny S., who began her Wildwood career in the pods, have seen this leadership modeled since kindergarten. “When I was in the Pods,” Jenny says, “I couldn’t imagine myself being up on stage as a leader.” She also benefitted from watching her older sister, Molly, lead ASM when Jenny was in 2nd grade. “So as I got older,” she says, “I started thinking that this is something that I could do.”

 

With the scaffolding in place, when the stage lights go on, Wildwood students rise to the occasion.

 

And what’s on the other side? Relief, satisfaction, and new learnings.

 

Will W. presents to his audience

Will W. presents to his audience

“Was I nervous? Of course!” says Will. “But as soon as I finished my presentation, all of the ice was melted and the butterflies were gone.”

 

“When I’d finished, I was so excited that I wanted to do it again,” remembers Graham. “And I wanted to show everyone that they don’t need to be scared. In fact—it’s really fun!”

 

Jenny is looking ahead to 8th grade when she knows that she’ll need to transfer what she’s learned from her ASM experience to a much higher-stakes challenge: Her Gateway Presentation. “My sister is preparing hers right now, and I can totally see how this experience will get me ready for needing to present about myself for 45 minutes.

 

Another benefit of leading All School Meeting is the connections that the experience allows others to make with you, as Will aptly describes: “Leading ASM is all about coming out of your shell in front of the school. It’s like opening a secret compartment in yourself that no one else knows about, and shining a light on it.”

 

 

The Head's Perspective
The Head’s Perspective: Black Mountain College
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All roads seem to have led to Black Mountain College recently, or at least to the wonderful exhibition of work at the Hammer. We were in Berlin over spring break, and I went to the Hamburger Banhoff, Berlin’s contemporary art museum, to see an amazing show, Manifesto, by Julian Rosefeldt. I hadn’t realized that Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, a show at Hammer Museum and already on our calendar for when we returned to LA, had exhibited in Berlin last year.

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2015. Photo: Liza Voll Photography.

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2015. Photo: Liza Voll Photography.

 

If you haven’t seen the Black Mountain show, please do. It’s terrific, and it’s closing in just a few weeks. There’s much that will remind you of all that we treasure about Wildwood School and our work with students and families here, even sixty years later.

 

quoteblock_1It’s impossible to not think about the progressive parallels between Wildwood and the visionary artists, educators, and thinkers responsible for Black Mountain College and a broad list of colleges and universities based on the same ideals.  I found myself compelled, really, reading the beautifully and simply crafted opening statement:

 

…Black Mountain College was influenced by the utopian ideals of the progressive education movement…They experimented with new ways of teaching and learning; they encouraged discussion and free inquiry; they practiced living and working together as a community; they shared the ideas and values of different cultures; they were committed to learning through doing; they trusted in the new while remaining committed to ideas from the past; and they valued the idiosyncratic nature of the individual.

 

Anyone who works in schools—and I’d imagine many other organizations, as well—knows of the regular pull to come up with an “elevator speech” to describe what we do and how we do it. An esteemed colleague of mine, a now-retired head of school back east, once said to me, “I’m sick of that elevator speech stuff. What we do is too complicated to describe in three floors.” Her tongue-in-cheek lamentation resonated for me, but the language the folks at Hammer Museum used to describe Black Mountain College does it pretty well, I think.

 

I’ll be thinking about that show for a good long time, I suspect, and their particular brand of progressive pedagogy will help me frame and inform my own thoughts about how we learn, how we teach, and where we’re headed. Although Black Mountain College wasn’t a sustainable venture, it’s impossible for us to know how broadly its influence has been felt.

 

What I do know is that the students and teachers, artists and musicians, mathematicians and philosophers who inspired and learned from one another at Black Mountain went on to learn from and inspire others. Just one element of the introduction I’ve shared above captures it perfectly: “they trusted in the new while remaining committed to the ideas from the past.”