The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
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.

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

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.”

View All Blogs Wildwood Community
Wildwood Seniors Fundraise for Nepal Foundation
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Dear Wildwood Community,

Let us first introduce ourselves as Julia Broudy, Lily Braunstein, and Grace Knobler.  We are three Wildwood seniors who have been a part of the Wildwood community since elementary school.  During high school, the three of us had the opportunity to travel to Nepal through the International Community Involvement program (ICI). On this trip we taught English in schools and spent time working with the Unatti Foundation center for girls.

quote block_1This amazing organization is home to eighteen girls from the ages 5 to 20. The girls have experienced both poverty and neglect. During our trip, we developed strong relationships with the girls and knew that we wanted to continue strengthening these relationships even after leaving Nepal. We decided to use our our Senior Project as a way to demonstrate our commitment to these amazing women.  A Senior Project provides the opportunity for students to explore a specific academic or personal challenge.  We wanted to dive into the world of fundraising and fuse our passion for community service with our relationships to the girls at the Unatti Foundation.

As we applied to colleges this year we reflected upon the importance of our Wildwood education. A popular saying goes, “educate a girl, change the world.”  With this in mind, we are hoping to raise enough money to send Rita, a 16 year old girl from the Unatti Foundation to a three year nursing program.  This program costs $7,000 U.S., and we believe that with the help of the Wildwood community we can change Rita’s future and in doing so help change the future of many others.

111Our project does not stop there! Along with fundraising, we wanted to create a space for our two communities to continue to  inspire each other.  Students who travel to Nepal often email back and forth with the girls, but we wanted to broaden this opportunity to everyone  by creating a Facebook page that will serve as a means of communication.  On this page we hope to share stories about our days, share artwork and other creative projects.

Please join us in improving the lives of the girls at the Unatti Foundation and in improving the communication between our communities.

We ask that you donate directly to our GoFundMe page so that we can ensure the money goes directly towards a nursing education.

You can also learn more about Rita, and her story at

The three of us appreciate your time and your support for our project!



Julia Broudy, Lily Braunstein, and Grace Knobler

unatti foundation

The Head's Perspective
The Head’s Perspective: The Wildwood Board of Trustees Demystified

“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.



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




View All Blogs Wildwood Community
In Our House the Mommy Does the Wrestling

By Ben Fussiner, Wildwood’s Director of Auxiliary Programming

I am the same height and weight as Bud Dupree, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I won’t compare our fat percentages, as I don’t want to hurt my own feelings. My wife, Sondra, is 8 inches shorter, less than half my weight, and most likely has never heard of Bud Dupree. When we had a baby boy in January of 2012, it was pretty clear which one of us would be tossing the football in the backyard one day.

And yet, it didn’t work out that way.

quoteblock_1There is a picture in our house of me tossing my son, Ziggy, into the air. He was 17 months old at the time. It is the last time I ever made that toss. In July of 2013, when my son was a year and a half old, I started experiencing major neck pain, which was eventually diagnosed as 2 bulging discs. Don’t feel too sorry for me, I made the choice to have children in my mid-forties — a wiser man would have instead contemplated early retirement.

We have fought gender roles in our household from the beginning. Our 2 sons (we had a second in 2014) have my wife’s last name. We both change diapers, bathe our boys, wake up in the night and in the morning. We both cook and clean.

It felt like roughhousing was always going to be my domain. It just seemed like it would be natural that way, based on personality and body type alone, not on societally accepted gender roles.

When it became clear that my neck wasn’t healing quickly, Sondra, reluctantly at first, took on the role of the rowdy rollicker. It started with horsey rides, and tumbling and has developed a life of its own. They now have a repertoire of invented games: “Garbage Truck,” “Avalanche,” and “Catch Me, Catch Me.”

Some games seem to even have a practical application, there is “Earthquake,” where she shakes and rumbles him while he lies on top of her. As residents of Southern California, we benefit from this in-house form of an emergency drill. They even have a game that resembles a 2-person version of the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” move we were taught for fire safety as kids in the 70s.

Outdoors, they toss all forms of balls, play chase games, and engage in tickle torture.


I watch all this from the comfort of a chair, feeling similar to how I did when I had a fever as a child, and had to look longingly through the window as the neighborhood kids played games in the street. I am, quite literally, on the injured reserve list, with no knowledge of when I will be in game shape. Our 8-month-old, Marsden, is usually with me, he of an age not quite ready for such physical tomfoolery.

Of course, some of the gender role standardization that happens in life seems to go beyond societal imprinting and is simply inborn. With zero encouragement from us, Ziggy has been fascinated by construction, firefighters, and trucks for as long as he has been aware of his surroundings.

Last weekend, at a friend’s birthday party, when faced with many choices offered by a professional face painter, Ziggy chose the blue and white fancy icicle like tendrils meant to represent Elsa, the princess-turned-queen from the movie Frozen. His closest girl friend from preschool tried to dissuade him, suggesting Spider-Man or the skeleton as better options for a boy. He would not be deterred, and a few minutes later he proudly wore the face of the ruler of Arendelle.

There is no telling why he made this choice, and what leads him to feel comfortable in his identity. My wife and I have always supported the idea that anyone can be anything that they want to be. I hope these are deeply ingrained beliefs. But if, because of the situation we find ourselves in due to circumstance, 2 little boys grow up believing that moms are not only just as good, but maybe better even, at roughhousing, it might make the world just a teeny tiny speck of a better place.

By the time my boys are of adult age, maybe some of the Steelers linebackers will be named Betty, not Bud.


The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Advisory Is Essential–But It Isn’t Everything
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Joe Wise and upper school students learning by the company they keep

Teacher Joe Wise and upper school students learning in each other’s company

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

~ Deborah Meier, NYU Professor of Education & Small Schools Reform Advocate


One mantra in my work as Wildwood’s Outreach Director is “Advisory is Essential.” Those words emphasize that caring, positive relationships among students and with the caring adults who guide their middle and upper school experience are crucial. Advisory is Essential is also a tagline that clearly resonates with Wildwood Outreach Center’s growing list of domestic and international client schools.


quoteblock_1And while advisory is essential at Wildwood, it isn’t everything. What makes Wildwood’s program work powerfully for our students is our intentional emphasis on relationships to guide all aspects of school culture—from classroom instruction to student assessment and faculty hiring. We know that fostering strong relationships, between and among students and faculty is essential in every classroom, not only as a stand alone advisory curriculum in middle and upper school.


Wildwood emphasizes relationships from a student’s first day in the Pods—where new kindergartners are welcomed and looked after by their teachers and 1st grade classmates—to high school culmination—when one’s advisor gives a personalized, public tribute to each graduating 12th grader.


Through the Wildwood Outreach Center, I work with hundreds of educators each year at public, charter, private, and international schools. While I often find myself working with like-minded teachers and administrators, I just as often face the healthy skepticism and fears of many of teachers I meet. Unlike Wildwood faculty, most have not been hired with an explicit view towards their skills at developing strong relationships—whether in the classroom or an advisory. Rather, they see themselves (especially in the middle and upper grades) as ‘history teachers’ and ‘math teachers,’ selected for their academic expertise, not their ability to shape strong relationships. If they can’t do it well, they don’t want to do it at all.


My encounters with these teachers and sentiments have pushed me to broaden my evidence base, so I can effectively help all educators see and understand the value of a wider perspective of support and possibly see reasons to make a shift in their own practice.


The good news: The research is now catching up with the Wildwood Way. The philosophy that has guided our program since 1971 is now supported by a growing body of academic and brain-based studies. Both anecdotally and in data sets, it’s clear that relationships do matter. Kirke Olson, licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Invisible Classroom: Relationships, Neuroscience, and Mindfulness at Work in School summarizes a key takeaway: Though “the pressures in our school[s]…today may suggest otherwise, beginning with relationships and then moving to curriculum is the most efficient way to ensure students’ success.”


In support of the interpersonal focus of Wildwood’s middle and upper school advisory program, a recent study (McClure et al. 2010) demonstrated a relationship between the connectedness students feel to their advisors and higher academic achievement. Similarly, a 2011 study (Durlak et al.) showed a correlation between student engagement in a social-emotional learning program (like morning meeting at Wildwood’s elementary campus or advisory in the older grades) to both higher academic achievement as well as an improvement in social-emotional learning skills (e.g., self-management, social awareness, and interpersonal skills).


One source that often surprises the reluctant is the Gallup Group, the opinion research organization, which surveys students and adults annually on education issues.


Gallup has found that the need for strong relationships doesn’t end in middle school or even upon graduation from university. In a recent survey of 30,000 college graduates, Gallup found those who strongly agreed that they were emotionally supported in college were twice as likely to report that they were engaged professionally and thriving in their lives compared to those who didn’t strongly agree. In fact, the same survey also found that the college one attends and one’s major hardly matter to professional engagement and fulfillment in life after college. What does matter? How one does college (e.g., meaningful internships and coursework, along with active extra-curricular involvement) and being emotionally supported by professors and other mentors.


Those findings are supported by significant brain research.


In The Invisible Classroom Kirke Olson surveys the current studies that support the power of meaningful relationships. Building on the research of Stephen Porges and others, Olson highlights the role that positive relationships play on our autonomic nervous system (ANS)—which acts unconsciously to regulate breathing, heart rate, and blood flow to organs and muscles. The ANS regulates the fight or flight response to stress. Students cycle through dozens of these responses daily (both in and out of school), due to real or imagined stressors. The words, actions, and mere presence of caring peers and adults, Olson shows, can affect substantive physiological changes to counteract the fight or flight response—causing one to be more open to new learning and experiences.


Olson also highlights the interplay of trust and vulnerability in forging positive relationships and strong classroom and advisory cultures. Utilizing the work of University of Houston researcher Brené Brown and others, Olson argues that when teachers and students show vulnerability—by sharing a personal story or acknowledging an area for growth—they develop trust and safety within their group.


Furthermore, when we share something of ourselves in a safe environment, we release a dose of the hormone oxytocin. It sharpens our attention to others’ eyes and body language, helps us feel more connected and less stressed—also opening us up to new learnings and ideas.


quoteblock_2Feeling connected, safe and able to encounter new ideas isn’t just good practice in advisory. Creating that environment for students is a fundamental good for classrooms and schools everywhere. It’s essentially human, and increasingly supported by current research and evidence.


At Wildwood, we make those values part of everyday practice, and we are pleased to share a philosophy we’ve been growing at home with educators around Los Angeles, the country, and the world.

~ Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach


Works Cited

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Pen Pals With A Purpose
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

5th graders' letters to 8th grade pals

5th graders’ letters to 8th grade pals


Wildwood’s 5th and 8th grade social studies students have become (digital) pen pals—

connecting with each other about what it’s like to be in middle school, as well also sharing their deeper knowledge of a more serious topic they study in common: slavery.


The teachers hatched the idea at Wildwood’s annual holiday party— a chance for faculty to not only mingle but also share ideas across campus.


In social studies with teacher Monique Marshall, 5th graders recently learned about modern slaves; mostly women and children from the world’s poorest countries forced to leave their homes—often kidnapped and sold across international borders—and into difficult, degrading labor for little or no pay.Douglass_Cover


8th graders in humanities class are studying historical slavery in the United States—in the years leading up to the Civil War—through Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.


Both sets of teachers know that students can deepen their learning by explaining it to someone else. quoteblock_1So, each grade level has a built-in audience, ready and eager to expand their knowledge on the subject.


The 5th graders initiated the writing, crafting introductory letters to 8th grade pals, assigned at random by their teachers. There’s a clear topical angle to these letters—as the 5th graders relate their key learnings.


Jamie B. writes to her 8th grade pal, Zoe B.: “In… social studies class we are learning about modern day slavery. It’s super sad because a lot of… people who have money issues get kidnapped to work without pay. It’s illegal to do that in all countries, so… the traffickers and recruiters are wicked!!”


And the letters provide an opportunity to connect with the 8th graders, as Jamie writes: “I love animals and right now I’m raising a mixed yellow lab/golden retriever guide dog puppy…. I’m sorry if you like them but I am really not into cats because they just freak me out…. Do you have pets?”


Alex Cussens' 8th graders write their responses to 5th grade pals

Alex Cussen’s 8th graders write their responses to 5th grade pals

The day that I visit 8th graders in teacher Alex Cussen’s humanities classes, the students are drafting their responses.


Remy W. shares what he’s writing back to his 5th grade pal, Chloe B. and begins with his personal response: “Great to hear from you! I am new to Wildwood (I moved over here from Australia a couple months ago), and I love Wildwood so far! I like soccer too, but I also love rugby and basketball. I don’t have a dog, but your dog Mac sounds really cool!”


Tess F. has me read the part of her letter to 5th grade pal, Leily K., in which she relates what she’s been learning about American slavery, through an anecdote about Frederick Douglass: “The amazing thing about Frederick Douglass is that he taught himself how to read. He did this by challenging other kids to games, and telling them ‘I bet I’m better at writing than you’ and then when the other kids would write, he would look [at what they’d written] and learn how to read and write. He was very smart in this way, because he knew that kids were competitive, and so he used that to learn.”


The 8th graders are excited to hear back soon from their 5th grade pals. The teachers are working out a plan for the younger students to visit the middle AND upper campus—to connect with their pals and to see first-hand what middle school (and middle schoolers) are really like.