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The Head’s Perspective: Living Up to Our Highest Ideals

A long-time Wildwood parent and I were at a school event recently. It was an admissions event, and we’d just heard a panel of current upper schoolers answer questions about the long-view of their Wildwood School experience. Two of them were his, and he was understandably proud. His third child is already off at college, after 13 years at Wildwood.


As we parted, he made an observation that stuck with me. Empathizing with the hundred or so prospective parents gathered, recognizing the weight of the decision about to be made—which school was going to be right for their family and would that school see it, too?—he wished aloud that he could encourage them to live up to the best version of themselves and their highest ideals as they think about schools and what they want for their children. quoteblock_3Then he noted that it’s becoming clearer every day that Wildwood is ahead of the curve in what can feel like uncharted territory, which can make it challenging for parents to remember to focus on their highest ideals along the way.


I think I was particularly primed to have his “remember our highest ideals” message resonate so, having just had multiple Wildwood parents share with me Frank Bruni’s recent article. Bruni received an advance copy of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s new report, Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions, and continues to shine a spotlight on a system that is increasingly seen as broken. Using only slightly more dramatic language than I’m prone to use, Bruni notes that “…many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions.”


The report, the creation of which was led by Harvard GSE’s Making Caring Common project, was developed and is endorsed by representatives of a huge range of colleges and universities to which Wildwood students have, will, or wish to matriculate. Several of those universities, the report notes, “…have already made changes in their admissions materials or practices…”


From the report: “Admissions processes inevitably send messages about what colleges value, messages that young people may interpret as signals of what society values as well…These messages can exacerbate young people’s sometimes singular focus on achievement or, alternatively, motivate behaviors that are likely to develop in them a greater commitment to others and the common good. Some colleges have sought diligently to communicate the importance of this commitment in the admissions process, but too often these messages are overwhelmed by messages from the larger culture and from parents that narrowly emphasize academic performance and personal success.”


With schools like Amherst, Bowdoin, Brown, CAL, Cornell, Harvard, Michigan, Smith, Swarthmore, University of Chicago, Penn, USC, UVA, Wesleyan, Yale, and others large and small, public and private coming together to address this topic, I am more hopeful than ever that the hyper-competitive environment that’s surrounded high school students during their college process—and so negatively impacted the high school experience everywhere—will change for the better. And change for good, I hope.


The report offers three specific recommendations for reshaping the college process:


  1. Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
  2. Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture, and class.
  3. Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.


Reading the full report (the Executive Summary provides a quick overview if you don’t have much time) I was, as I so often am, energized to see how consistent the recommendations are with the principles we espouse—and actively teach—at Wildwood. Our founding philosophy, the vision that guided our expansion to a K-12, and the research and reflection that continues to guide us today was and is decidedly ahead of the curve. Everything from the encouragement that students’ community service should focus more on “doing with” than on “doing for” (I think of our ICI students working side-by-side with locals to build houses in Guatemala) to the recommendation that colleges begin to convey that, “…taking large numbers of AP or IB courses per year is often not as valuable as sustained achievement in a limited number of areas” (In the years before many very well-regarded independent high schools decided to disband their Advanced Placement programs, a move becoming more and more common in independent schools, Wildwood introduced its upper school program and eschewed the standardization of those types of programs). Calling on themselves and others to prompt change, the writers of the report noted that all too often, “Academic performance becomes not one important theme, but the theme in the large composition of a life.”


As much as anything, the recommendations repeatedly require that students reflect on the degree to which they’ve contributed in positive ways to their families, their schools, and their communities. College applicants will be called on to think about the range of actions that fall under Wildwood’s Habits of Heart as they seek admission. As the writers explain, “Reshaping college admissions needs to be coupled with more purposeful, intensive and wiser efforts across our culture, at home, and at every level of education, including colleges themselves to develop in young people deeper commitments to others.”


quoteblock_2None of this important work is as simple as it may sound. It takes a strong culture, agreement among the adults involved, and time (this week, this year, and over the span of many years) to guide young people to be the best version of themselves, both with regard to academics and citizenship. It has to begin early, and it can’t stop.



Our middle school students earned first place again in the annual Future City competition, held in San Diego this year. They’ll go to nationals in Washington, DC and will have the opportunity to present their project to President Obama if they win there. Our students placed in many sub-categories, as well. As great as all of that is, multiple people—colleagues and parents—came back reporting to me not of the win or the successes in multiple categories. They separately spoke of the power of seeing kids celebrate the successes of others, share and give credit where credit was due, and reflect on the strength of the teams and the benefits of the collaboration.


They aren’t ready for college yet. But they will be.


~Landis Green

Head of School

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Special(ist) Assignment
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3rd grader, Jack C.'s, interpretation of a branch in the rain

3rd grader, Jack C.’s, sketch of a branch in the rain

By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach.

On one of this week’s rainy days I spend some time visiting a selection of the specialist classes at our elementary campus. Through the visual arts, technology, and PE, I get a peak into how our specialist teachers enhance our students’ daily experiences that are part of The Wildwood Way—even if it means getting a little wet.


Visual Arts: Natural Beauty


3rd graders, Tuesday H. and Natalie H., stay dry during visual arts class as they sketch outside the Commons

3rd graders, Tuesday H. and Natalie H., stay dry during visual arts class as they sketch outside the Commons

Teachers Kusum Nairi and Kendra Elstad didn’t let the rain deter the day’s plan this morning with a group of 3rd graders—heading out to the garden to sketch. The light drizzle provides students ample opportunity to see nature in a different way: “How do you draw the rain?” Kendra asks, as students interpret the ways that clouds and drizzle affect this natural environment.

3rd graders, Grayson S., Charlotte W., and Juliette H., pose together as they sketch self-portraits

3rd graders, Grayson S., Charlotte W., and Juliette H., pose together as they sketch self-portraits


Later in the day I stop in to see Kusum and Kendra working with 2nd graders as they draw their self-portraits. Students have been studying the mathematical dimensions of the human face and use this new knowledge to draw themselves—using mirrors to frame their visages. I empathize with Breeze W. when she laments how she can never seem to get the eyes “just right.” Not deterred, I watch as she tells me how she’s going to do her best to draw them better this time.


Technology: Playful Problem-solving


3rd grader, Quinn K., demonstrates his Ozbot

3rd grader, Quinn K., demonstrates his Ozbot

Mid-morning I stop in to Wildwood’s Tec D.E.C. (Discover, Explore, Create) where teacher Doug Meyer assists a group of 3rd graders as they program robots. These students are learning coding skills using Ozobots—adorable little, round robots that operate using visual sensors. The Ozobots and the software students use to program them are the result of recent, generous gifts by Wildwood families. Olivia D., Bryce C., and Quinn K. eagerly show me how they’ve programmed their Ozobots—the robots can read both color-coded lines on paper or take in a visual code on a laptop screen in order to perform a sequence of linear movements, spins, and color changes.

2nd graders, Milan B. and Lila B., work together to create green screen images

2nd graders, Milan B. and Lila B., work together to create green screen images


Afternoon finds me back in the Tec D.E.C. watching a new group of students—2nd graders—working with Doug and librarian Jennifer DuBois. Their learning is how to use the Tec D.E.C.’s green screen, creating their own imaginative photos by superimposing pictures of themselves into a variety of backgrounds. Next week, the students will work more closely with Jennifer as she helps them to embed videos of themselves into backdrops they’ll choose from various non-fiction books. Imagine a 2nd grader sharing her learning about the animals in the rain forest—while she virtually ‘walks’ through a vibrant picture from a book on the subject. Pretty cool, fun stuff!


PE: Keep on Moving


My final visit of the day takes me to PE in the Commons—warm and dry on this cold and rainy day. The sound system blasts workout music as teachers Darren Pasco, Hasan Muhammad, and Tyler Williams keep a group of 2nd graders active and jumping (literally) to the beat. It’s a welcome respite and release of energy on a day that these kids will mostly spend indoors.



All of our specialist teachers (which also includes experts in the performing arts, science, and Spanish) are uniquely skilled in enriching students’ experiences and helping them build the skills that are essential to The Wildwood Way—rain or shine.




The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
The Wildwood Way To Public School Partnership
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“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

– John Dewey


Progressive educator John Dewey’s century-old sentiments are as timely as ever—and alive and well in the Wildwood Way.


Dewey’s vision echoes through Wildwood’s Systems Thinking partnership with LAUSD’s Palms Elementary School. Well into its 2nd year, our shared work is deepening students’ and teachers’ learning at both schools, along with providing opportunities for both public and private school teachers to collaborate and build their teaching practice together.


quoteblock_1Under the auspices of the Wildwood Outreach Center and made possible through generous grants by an anonymous foundation, teachers and students are learning from Dr. Barbara Moreno, an independent educational consultant. Barbara developed and honed her systems thinking practice as a classroom teacher at Open Magnet Charter School in Westchester. Barbara is working with all classes at Palms, as well as grades K-5 at Wildwood (she’ll roll-out the work with our specialist teachers next year).

A Systems Map from a Palms Elementary 2nd Grade class

A Systems Map from a Palms Elementary 2nd Grade class


Systems thinking tracks well with the Wildwood Way by explicitly acknowledging the intricate webs of natural and human systems that connect us all. The approach has made an impact on the way that our youngest students view their learning, and their world.


Wildwood and Palms students experience systems thinking in a variety of ways. In the earliest grades the systems they discover yield clues to their own school habits and behaviors, like raising hands before speaking and learning to make friends. Students use the approach as a way of understanding how and why their classrooms serve everyone’s needs, safely and effectively. They also use systems thinking to connect their learning about science, literature, and even their neighborhoods.


As students mature, so does their thinking. Fifth graders at Wildwood look at the interplay between human quoteblock_2systems in American history—for example the systems of slavery and resistance in the Colonies. Palms 5th graders discover and navigate the leadership systems within the Los Angeles Unified School District, as their analysis of food waste in LAUSD’s Breakfast in the Classroom program has led them to petition the appropriate district leaders to review the program.


Wildwood and Palms Teachers Collaborate at a November Meeting

Wildwood and Palms Teachers Collaborate at a November Meeting

As part of our partnership, every Palms Elementary teacher has visited Wildwood this autumn, observed classrooms, and met with their Wildwood grade-level counterparts—sharing systems thinking ideas, best practices, and plans for future collaborative work. Wildwood’s K-5 teachers will return the visits this coming winter, to observe and learn from their public school colleagues.


To document and validate the systems thinking work at Wildwood and Palms, researchers from Chapman University continue to study its implementation at both schools—looking specifically at how the approach affects student and teacher learning, conversations, and perceptions.


Our Systems Thinking partnership with Palms reflects Wildwood’s commitment to grow our own program, incorporating the newest and best research and methods—as well our responsibility, through the Wildwood Outreach Center, to work toward educational equity in Los Angeles.


Anything else is unlovely.


By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Serving Up The Wildwood Way
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Version 3

Participants from the 2015 Multicultural Leadership Institute

By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

The Wildwood Way plays to many audiences—the most important one: our students. They are the primary beneficiaries of Wildwood’s program and practices designed to foster scholarship, innovation, and compassion.


The Wildwood Way has an outward focus as well: through the Wildwood Outreach Center, quoteblock_2which I have the privilege of directing. Since opening our middle and upper campus in 2000, Wildwood has intentionally been an independent school with a public purpose: the Wildwood Outreach Center helps educators adapt elements of The Wildwood Way at hundreds of public, private, and independent schools across Los Angeles, the country, and world.


Throughout the year, the Outreach Center runs 1-5 day workshops and institutes here at Wildwood, and travels near and far to provide on-site workshops and consulting services on a wide variety of Wildwood programs.


This week’s blog provides a snapshot of just some of the ways in which the world learns from Wildwood through the Outreach Center.


Multicultural Leadership Institute

This 5-day event brings public and private school educators from across the nation eager to learn about Wildwood’s K-12 multicultural program, and learn from Wildwood’s nationally recognized Multicultural Leadership Team, lead by Wildwood’s Director of Multicultural Affairs Rasheda Carroll.


Now in its 4th year, the Multicultural Leadership Institute has drawn public school educators from across Los Angeles, as well as independent school participants from across California and all corners of the U.S.



Advisory Is Essential 101 & 201

Our most popular workshops highlight Wildwood’s role as a world leader in Advisory programs. Participants from public and independent schools across the country visit Wildwood advisories in grades 6-12, learn from our teachers and students, and forge plans to begin (101) or strengthen (201) Advisory programs at their own schools based on the Wildwood model.



The Advisory Toolkit

The Advisory Toolkit is a unique two-part kit published by the Wildwood Outreach Center that includes a detailed workbook, Advisory curriculum, and a DVD. The Toolkit is designed to provide guidance and ideas from designing an Advisory program that fits each school’s mission to establishing a purposeful curriculum that advances student achievement.


Since 2006, the Outreach Center has sold nearly 1,000 copies of The Advisory Toolkit to schools in dozens of states, four Canadian provinces, as well as in Asia, Europe, and South America.


On-site Advisory and program development

The Outreach Center travels locally, nationally, and abroad to assist public and independent schools in starting and strengthening their Advisory programs based on the Wildwood model, as well as in other areas—like the elementary Life Skills and the middle/upper Habits of Mind and Heart.


In just the past 5 years, Outreach Center programs have brought The Wildwood Way to schools in 7 states, Mexico, the UK, Singapore, and Switzerland.



Making Across the Curriculum: Tech-Based Learning Everywhere

Wildwood’s Applied STEM Coordinator Joe Wise leads this half-day workshop. Visiting teachers discuss how educators can harness the tech-oriented ‘maker’ movement in order to integrate key skills—creativity, problem solving, collaboration, and design—into students’ everyday learning, across academic disciplines.



Life Skills: A Foundation for Lifelong Learning

Wildwood 3rd grade teacher Roxanne Bergmans leads this two-day exploration of our elementary campus’s Life Skills. Visiting teachers meet for one day in November to learn how the Life Skills provide the basis for student learning and classroom conversations, and then reconvene in late January to share with each other how they’ve used Life Skills in their classes.


Critical Friends Group New Coaches Training

Critical Friends Groups (CFGs) is a teacher-driven professional learning practice used by Wildwood teachers for nearly 15 years. Small groups of 8-10 teachers meet regularly under the guidance of a trained CFG coach. These groups use a variety of discussion protocols to share their work and professional dilemmas with a distinct purpose: to improve student learning.


Over the past several summers my upper school colleague Deb Christenson and I have led these 5-day trainings that regularly attract both a national and international audience of educators.


Never Too Young: Engaging Elementary Age Activism

Wildwood 5th grade teacher Monique Marshall shares teaching strategies and projects to help a school’s youngest students engage in conversations around multiculturalism and making a difference in their world. Now in its 4th year, word of mouth about Monique’s workshop continues to grow, as past participants recommend “Never Too Young” to their peers, and new schools send cohorts to learn from Monique’s work within The Wildwood Way.




Each educator who visits Wildwood quoteblock_1and learns with us leaves with strong impressions of The Wildwood Way. They also serve as an ideal mirror for our community’s professional growth, providing us feedback on what they see, and what they have questions about—encouraging our healthy growth and development as a school.


Click HERE to learn more about this year’s offerings through the Wildwood Outreach Center. While workshops are geared to an educator audience, we encourage visitors within the Wildwood community. Please feel free to contact me at to learn more.







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(Self) Task Masters
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Whale Pod members find their 'center' during morning meeting

Whale Pod members find their ‘center’ during morning meeting

By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

Navigating elementary school isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be. There’s content to be mastered, skills to be learned, and social connections to be made along the way to middle school and beyond.


Beyond proficiency in reading, writing, and computation (remember the Three R’s?) research now shows us that students can more adeptly and successfully navigate the elementary school waters by learning and employing the skills of self-regulation—essential in controlling focus, attention, and in building perseverance.


quoteblock_1Self-regulation provides students an internal GPS—allowing them to know their destinations, stay attentive along the way, and avoid unnecessary detours.


Kids aren’t born with these skills—they have to be learned—and Wildwood’s caring adults are both the teachers and the models.


Today’s A Better Day


Whale Pod Student, Grace P. reads the morning message on the whiteboard to her classmates, with a little help from Head Teacher Alli Newell: “Hello, Whales! Today is Tuesday, 11-3-15. Let’s have a cozy and calm and loving day.”


There’s some intention behind the message.


“Yesterday was a ‘wonky’ day,” Alli reminds the class after thanking Grace. “We had some systems that weren’t working.” Translation: There was a little too much talking and off-task behavior among the Whales. The good news—it affords an opportunity for these Kindergartners and 1st graders to reflect on how they can self-regulate—in the moment—throughout the day.


“What are some strategies we can use to make today a cozy and calm day?” Alli says, reinforcing the morning message.


“We can practice the listening system better,” says Graham M.


Hudson H. adds, “You can go to a cozy corner and take five deep breaths.”


“If your body needs a break,” Lida K. suggests, “You can set a timer for 5 minutes and focus on that.”


It’s clear that Alli and Associate Teacher Danielle Glass have helped their students fill their toolbox with self-regulatory strategies, ready to employ individually as needed.


I check back later in the day with Alli: All was cozy, calm, and loving in the Whale Pod.


Practice Makes Perfect


I sit in on Carolyn Peralta’s 3rd grade class as they’re at the tail end of a class discussion, and before they head into a focused hour of Writer’s Workshop. Carolyn sees what I do—a downturn in participation and some tired-looking faces.


“We need some energy before we start writing,” Carolyn says.


She suggests an activity called conductor—her students nod with approval. The students suggest a verbal tone they all can make—a low hum. Bryce C. volunteers to be the ‘conductor’. He holds his hand out in front of him, and his peers begin their hum. As he raises his hand higher, the hum increases in pitch accordingly—then lowers along with Bryce’s hand.


“It’s an effective mindfulness exercise for the whole group,” Carolyn tells me. “It gets students’ minds back to the present moment and ready to focus for the work ahead.”


Whether done as a group or individually, the best self-regulation strategies are the ones that students actually use.


“My goal,” Carolyn tells me, “is to provide the encouragement and opportunities for students themselves to use the strategies when they need them.”


A Learning Community


Counselor Chris Kiefer is the elementary campus’ resident specialist on self-regulation and its benefits for students. As a psychologist, she also knows the benefits to helping teachers build their own self-regulatory toolkits. That’s why Chris, along with Wildwood parent and mindfulness expert Kelly Barron, have led workshops on the topic over the past two years to bring this work to Wildwood faculty and administration.


“It’s provided them with language and tools to use in the classroom,” Chris explains, “as well as in their personal and professional lives, which is a great source of modeling to use with students.”


quoteblock_2Teaching and encouraging students to self-regulate isn’t just a convenient add-on to a Wildwood education. It’s essential—for children’s learning and development and for charting a successful course for their lives as teens and adults.


And that’s a task well worth the perseverance.



The Head's Perspective View All Blogs
The Both/And of Content and Skills in Project-Based Learning


A few weeks ago there were two articles in the New York Times that provided an interesting juxtaposition, although I’m not sure that was intentional. Claire Cain Miller’s article, “How the Modern Workplace Has Become Like Preschool,” underscores the pragmatic value of teaching children how to be in relationship with one another, to self-regulate, collaborate, and develop empathy for others. The other, “Schools for Wisdom,” questions whether or not we’ve thrown the content-baby out with the proverbial bath water in our effort to teach children in ways that will reinforce what the author, David Brooks, refers to as, “life skills.”


IMG_9943I’d note that Brooks defines life skills differently from how we define Life Skills at Wildwood’s elementary campus, which I think of as how we ARE, rather than what we LEARN. Brooks’ “life skills” are seen as some sort of a replacement for content. That’s not how we view them, of course. Wildwood’s Life Skills complement curricular content, which is how it should be.


There’s good stuff in both articles and they’re worth a read. That said, I finished the “Schools for Wisdom” article, especially, thinking that I was grateful to have our multicultural language handy. Brooks approaches the whole topic from an either/or perspective, rather than the both/and perspective with which my colleagues and I approach the topic.


But as much as I wish Brooks hadn’t been so concrete in his thinking about projects and skill development versus content, as though it has to be a choice, it’s Nancy who most concerns me. I was intrigued to see what others thought of the article, so I read some of the comments. Nancy, a teacher in my home state of Pennsylvania, wrote:


My gifted high school students HATE project-based group learning. They complain about it constantly. There is a teacher here at our school who does nothing but these gimmicky cooperative group projects that involve the students  “discovering” the information themselves (using technology, of course), and my kids are so frustrated by it because they don’t have enough background knowledge to even know how to begin or what to search for online. I’m with Brooks on this – you need a basic framework of information before you can be left to your own devices to direct your own learning. It’s also incredibly inefficient. My students loathe the fact that they’ll spend weeks on something that the teacher could have told them in a single period. Just sayin’.


Has Nancy read any research in the last 20 years? Been to a professional conference?

Wildwood students presenting their group research.

Wildwood students presenting their group research.

Of course Nancy’s kids complain about group learning. Collaborating with others to find information, listen to and incorporate their perspectives, and build something together is much more difficult than controllable variables like how much time you dedicate to preparing for a test or rewriting an essay or a lab. It’s hard work to be in relationship with other people. Isn’t that what most of our work and personal lives entail? It’s easier to work solo and study for a test, “competing” against the person in the desk next to you somewhat anonymously. But that’s not real.


As inefficient as projects can feel, there’s plenty of science—and it’s disappointing that Brooks doesn’t at least acknowledge this—that points to the fact that students retain information far better from working with it in the way that projects promote—not just group, but individual projects, as well—than in the more “efficient” model of drill and kill that Nancy relies on.


I serve on the board of an amazing school for students who, like Nancy’s, have been identified as gifted. Post for 11_6_2015Like Wildwood School, however, Nueva School proudly wears the mantle of Progressive and recognizes that content is best mastered not just through receiving summative tests (Demonstrations of Knowledge, or “Demos” at Wildwood), essays, lab reports, and the other traditional forms of assessment, but that the research is correct: as learners, we retain knowledge best for the long-term when we work with it, when we do something with it.


The kind of myopic and dismissive view that Nancy brings to this discussion frustrates and saddens me, and it makes me wish I could talk to some of Nancy’s kids ten years on. She may be a very nice person and a perfectly fine teacher, but I’d place my best hopes on the students who had the gimmicky guy down the hall. His kids are going to remember what they learned in that classroom ten and twenty years from now.


That is, of course, assuming that gimmicky guy hasn’t replaced content-related curricula with skills. That’d be a mistake. I agree.


Brooks, meanwhile, has also somehow drawn the conclusion that our colleagues at San Diego County’s celebrated High Tech High have replaced curricular content with the kinds of process-oriented skills that Claire Cain Miller celebrates. I wonder if Brooks read HTH’s website, which describes their strategic commitment to interdisciplinary content as:


All HTH students pursue a rigorous curriculum that provides the foundation for entry and success at the University of California and elsewhere, as well as success in the world of work. Schools articulate common expectations for learning that value 21st century skills, the integration of hands and minds, and the merging of academic disciplines.


As we know at Wildwood School, the University of California’s required courses are stringent. Meet them, and you’re in good shape.


Outlining his concern that “intellectual virtues” might be at risk in environments that incorporate projects, Brooks describes the very best of Project-Based Learning by describing what he sees as the stages of producing wise people: essentially, understand content; make connections; think differently; do something with it. Project-Based Learning is based, in part, on the premise that students must understand content to work with it and create, either individually or collaboratively, which—as oft-criticized and even dismissed as it sometimes is—is an incredibly important facility to help students develop.


It’s like so much else: we have to find the right balance, to incorporate the both/and and not limit ourselves—or our students—to either/or.  I agree with the first part of this Brooks’ quote, “But somehow relational skills have to be taught alongside factual literacy. The stairway from information to knowledge to wisdom has not changed.” Relational skills do have to be taught alongside factual literacy. That’s one of the key points in Ms. Miller’s article.


I disagree with the second part of that last Brooks’ passage, though. Although his “stairway” might still be there, it has definitely changed. And I’m not just talking about technology and how we access content and information. I’m talking about the volume of information and the fact that what we think of as “content” is dynamic. That’s the intersection we all need to be going for, and it’s the focus for us at Wildwood. Of course students need to master content, but where are the lines and what do we consider fixed? Do all students need to temporarily commit to memory the battles, dates, and generals of a particular war, as many of us did?


Sticking with that example, our content needs to focus not just on when a particular conflict happened, but why it happened. Some of those basic date-place-player facts need to be internalized, but memorizing much of the breadth of that next layer down is important mostly to those who will become historians—and they’ll memorize it as they work with it.


The content and skills that students master doing research, taking Demos, preparing for presentations, etc. at Wildwood are reinforced through individual, paired, and group projects.  It’s not too far of a leap to see how beautifully an engaging, student-centered project could help a learner put it all together and remember it.


That’s where I think that Brooks misses the mark and misleads in having been too general and far too concrete.  It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. Projects—which engage, push, empower, and frustrate students—reinforce the content they’ve learned in sometimes more traditional methods. But they also develop those “softer” skills that Miller outlines as being important in the workplace—and, I’d argue, in friend circles, in marriages, and in families.


~Landis Green

Head of School

 Landis Green, Head of School



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Cardboard Challenge
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Wildwood prides itself on this simple, yet profound educational philosophy: Brave thinkers, learners, and doers.  This week, students in the Seal Pod were able to apply these important skills during explorations time.  Explorations is a time for students to investigate their classroom. They may build, paint, play games, partake in dramatic play, or sew.


Students brought cardboard boxes for the Cardboard Challenge, inspired by Caine’s Arcade–a movie that became a movement to foster creativity worldwide.


Students excitedly planned, cut, colored, taped, and created their very own game arcades. Some students collaborated, and others worked alone. While there were some students who had a hard time figuring out what to make, with the gentle prodding of adults and friends, all children eventually transformed a regular cardboard box into an imaginative game.


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Through this creative play, students had the opportunity to be innovative, curious problem solvers (sometimes the tape didn’t keep parts together) and responsible in how they handled the materials used.  For those who felt challenged, a short discussion on being “brave” and trying one’s best was an essential life skill put in action. Students created many different types of games: a foosball table, a pirate ship, a car, a soccer field, a puppet show, and a hockey rink–scoreboard included! It was amazing to see how involved and invested they were during the Cardboard Challenge. As we walked around and asked students to tell us about their games, they explained how they constructed it and what inspired them. Some even said they were going to create more games out of cardboard at home.


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Moreover, children can also create, construct, and use their imagination at home using a myriad of materials. I hope this inspires other educators and parents to partake in the Cardboard Challenge and beyond.  It was tons of fun, and certainly a memorable experience for the students.


“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”

-O. Fred Donaldson (Pulitzer nominated author, and renowned play researcher)


By Gladys Barbieri,

Associate Teacher, Seal Pod

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The Head’s Perspective: Inspiring Kids
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How many of us have been involved in conversations about teachers who stuck with us? They may have asked the right question, pushed us a bit further than we’d have thought we could go, said something that made us see the world differently, or simply given us the perfect praise just when we needed it. Mrs. Best, Ms. Teinstra, Mr. Ingmundson, Mrs. Grega. The list goes on. I’ve long forgotten those with whom I put in my time as a student, but I still carry with me the new perspectives I encountered, and the confidence that came from having Mrs. Grega say, “You’re a really good writer, Landis.”


Watching kids talk with colleagues of mine, seeing them question and be questioned, I’m often wondering which of those moments I’m seeing as an observer will end up being part of the background of a student’s understanding of himself or herself and how he or she sees the world a quarter century from now. It’s exciting to think about, and it’s often on my mind in these first months of a new school year.


What my teaching colleagues and I know is that the reverse is true, as well. A pointed observation about a text; a kindness extended to another student—or to us as teachers; a curiosity about what is right and a commitment to following the course. There are moments for us as teachers when our students change the way we see the world, and we are comforted and energized to know that the student who just said or did what needed to be said or done is in the world, making it better.


A group of Wildwood School middle school girls joined my colleagues Megen O’Keefe and Madeleine Polinsky to volunteer for the west coast premier of He Named Me Malala, hosted by Girls Build LA and Girls Leadership International. Upper school colleague Deb Christenson also attended with 25 of our upper school young women and men. They’ll be writing a guest blog in “Wildwood Community” about their experience. In the meantime, Craig Polin sent a photo around for the rest of us to see our powerful, engaged, and clearly happy middle school girls in action, dressed in pink T-shirts and in their element, contributing their time and energy to something they believe in.


Looking at the faces of the girls, I couldn’t help but think of how mutually inspiring a day that must have been. Both they, our students, and Megen and Madeleine, their teachers, saw each other investing in making the world better for girls everywhere.


That photo—and thinking about how inspiring those girls are—started me down a path of thinking about young people whom I’ve had the honor of teaching and working with over the years. No surprise, considering the impetus, the student who came to mind is Adam Ellick. Adam, who graduated from Wilmington Friends School in 1995, went on to become a New York Times correspondent. He is one of the people who first recognized the importance of the work that Ziauddin Yousafzai and his daughter Malala were involved in, writing about and filming her story.


Adam and I had a brief email exchange a year or two ago. I thought to thank him for and compliment him on his work, but I realized—looking at Megen’s face in that photo last week—that I hadn’t thought to tell him that he’d had an impact on me all those years ago. I remember Adam as a particularly intense, earnest, wise, kind, and determined-to-find-the-truth upper schooler. Having known him at 17 and having been impressed by his drive and empathy, I wasn’t surprised to learn what he was up to at 27 or 37. He inspired me then, and he continues to.


Twenty years from now, I won’t be at all surprised to learn of the important work that girls in that photo will be doing. It’s exhilarating to think of who and what will inspire them this school year, and how those people and experiences will inform their professional and personal lives. It’s one of the great gifts of teaching, really, to witness those moments that—whether they or we know it when it’s happening—will propel our students to become exactly who they should be.


~Landis Green

Head of School

 Landis Green, Head of School
The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
You In? Middle School Electives: The Casual Encounter or Finding Your Passion
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Are You In?

Who’s in?

“One must be serious about something, if one wants to have any amusement in life.” 

– Oscar Wilde


“If you are losing your leisure, look out! — It may be you are losing your soul.” 

– Virginia Woolf


I like these two nuggets of wisdom on matters of occupation and preoccupation.


Yes, it’s a gift to seriously love what you do enough to find it entertaining, endlessly interesting and even amusing.


quoteblock_1And there’s also a lot to be said for interests, skills, and enjoyments that could be described as Incidental. Accidental. Occasional. That’s okay too. An interest need not become a passion. Great if it does, but isn’t it still good if it doesn’t? I can play the mandolin, but it’s hardly a passion—just an interest.


When Wildwood middle schoolers survey our elective offerings, we are hoping they’ll take a taste of something new, enjoy it, and tuck the experience away as a positive encounter to be revisited, remembered or rekindled down the road. If it becomes a passion, that’s a plus—but not a purpose.


Each Friday afternoon, Wildwood middle schoolers end their week with a semester-long elective course; where students can follow a particular enthusiasm or try out something new. From fashion design, to the study of outer space—the emphasis is clear: everyone is having fun while they learn.


This past week I went on a whirlwind tour of a few of the dozen elective courses open to our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Here are a few highlights.


The ASMA Dynasty

with Cam Yuen-Shore

For our math lovers! Students spend their time working together on myriad math challenges, deepening their skills and enjoying each other’s company—with support from Division Two math teacher Cam. An additional incentive: Students are eligible to compete for Wildwood in the American Scholastic Math Association’s (ASMA) annual math contest, a series of monthly 35-minute math quizzes.

Why choose the AMSA Dynasty elective? 8th grader Lily R. says it best: “I love math!”

Middle schoolers playing the pattern-making game Bounce-Off

Middle schoolers playing the pattern-making game Bounce-Off


Board Game Design

with Grace Hwang

Play is truly the operative word in this elective, and middle school art teacher Grace an ideal leader. Here, students have an opportunity to play an array of group board and card games, while learning and reflecting on the fundamentals of game strategy, challenge, and enjoyment. The ultimate goal: design your own game that employs all three elements that can be played by your peers.


Journalism – The Howl

With Alex Cussen

I walked in to see this group of student writers and designers working on deadline for Wildwood’s only online news journal—The Howl. Their mentor, Division Two humanities teacher Alex Cussen, is our journalism specialist. In this elective, students pitch story ideas, decide upon regular features for the journal. When I popped in, 8th grader, Lauren R., was talking the group through the latest installment of her regular feature on DIY (do-it-yourself) projects.

Click HERE to see the latest draft-in-progress of The Howl.


Jacob G.'s crafty creation

Jacob G.’s crafty creation

Arts & Crafts

with Katie Boye

Definitely for hands-on learners. Division One science teacher Katie suggests various projects, vets some online video tutorials, and provides the materials, space, and time for kids to create. The students show me last week’s work—cut paper Celtic designs—and 7th grader Jacob G. shows me his project this week: multi-strand friendship bracelets.


Sweet Reading Time

Tea and cookies make reading time sweet

Tea and cookies make reading time sweet

with Becca Hedgepath

Division One humanities teacher Mrs. H., as students know her, provides a space for students to quietly read for pleasure. That’s all. Just a book and some time to dive deep. Students can curl up in a corner with their favorite title or sit at a table to take in a new novel. An added draw: lots of caffeine-free sweet and spicy teas. What a perfect way to bring the week to a close.



with Lauren Sekula

For kids wanting to tap into their inner baker. Division Two humanities teacher Lauren—a cookie maven herself—quoteblock_2provides the recipe and ingredients for a students to make a different kind of cookie from scratch each week. The best part comes at the very end of class: The 40-minute elective period is just enough time for the day’s creation to bake and come out of the oven, sending students off on their weekends with a sweet, homemade treat.


8th grader Harry E. is ready for elective-made snickerdoodles as two classmates patiently wait

8th grader Harry E. is ready for elective-made snickerdoodles as two classmates patiently wait for the next batch

At Wildwood we understand that for a 12 year-old, many things can be interesting, and we want students to check as many things out as they can. The middle school years are a time of significant growth in students—physically, intellectually, and emotionally. As our pre-teens change, their interests change, and the best way to support that growing sense of what is intriguing or relevant is to open plenty of avenues to explore.

Electives are like that. Exlporing encouraged. It’s not all about the destination.


By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

View All Blogs Wildwood Community
My Heroes/My Legacy
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by Deb Christenson, Humanities Teacher

Tom Sobol

Tom Sobol

I have long been inspired by my heroes; aspiring to write like them—Willa Cather, to teach like them—David Watters at the University of New Hampshire, to show the kind of caring they showed me—“Butch” Furse.  Some of my heroes I knew personally, but not all.  Reading widely, I often find heroic examples that also stir me.  Such is the case of the life of Thomas Sobol, professor emeritus at Columbia’s Teachers College.

Sobol had been among the first to call for standards as the New York State Commissioner of Education in the late 1980s, standards that he believed would create equity in a state wide system which he characterized as “one largely suburban, white, affluent and successful; and the other largely urban, of color, poor, and failing.” (  After a lengthy illness, Sobol died early this month, leaving a legacy of writing, of teaching, of caring.

I never met Sobol; I wish that I had known him in person.  However, I knew him in spirit.  I knew him through his beliefs, a quoteblock_3legacy that he passed to me without knowing it.  Teaching is like that.  We often don’t have a clue about the impact we have on the students in front of us.  Wildwood students show gratitude for their schooling in small and large ways:  saying thank you to a teacher on the way out of class, emailing as they leave for college with a desire to keep in touch from afar.  And yet, I don’t really know what my legacy might be.  I operate on faith:  faith in the future that Wildwood students will create.  Faith that education is still the promise for American democracy that relies on an educated citizenry to vote.  Faith that setting high academic standards is akin to having ideals.  Faith in heroes.