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Stop Mowing the Lawn!Posted by Adam Moore on 10/16/2018
Several months ago, I attended an independent school meeting that was hosted by a local university. As part of the program, a university administrator shared the trends/characteristics they are seeing in college freshmen. The list below is a summary of my notes and not an exact transcription from the speaker.
- College freshmen are not able to effectively use resources available to them to solve problems
- Technology is a distractor, specifically social media, to college freshman
- College freshmen aren’t dealing with stress, anxiety, and worry well
- College freshmen over-extend themselves
- Too much parental involvement inhibits college freshmen from growing up and solving their own problems
As an independent school leader, these trends are ones we have noticed at the secondary level as well. Unfortunately, none of these were a surprise to me, and I would venture to say that we see foreshadowing of these trends as young as the early childhood years. This begs the question, what should we do, as educators and parents, to help prepare our children so they are better prepared for school and life?
We must also examine what we are doing as schools and parents that lead our college freshmen to fall into these trends and traps? How are we designing our schedules, programs, curriculum, and lessons to combat these unhealthy trends? Could it be that we doing too much for children rather than too little? Are they learning the skills they need to be independent learners and problem solvers? How do we help students use technology but not become distracted by it? How do we help students develop the tools to combat anxiety and learn to work through the ups and downs of life? The questions this list brings up are truly endless.
What about as parents? How can we help our children learn how to use resources more wisely? How can we help our children use technology positively, so that it is not a distraction? How do we empower our children to advocate for themselves? How can we better prepare our children to handle the stressors of life?
I feel like as the adults, we carry much of the responsibility for these unhealthy and unofficial trends in college freshman. Maybe the answer can be found in a lawnmower. Yes, you read that correctly – a lawnmower.
For many years, teachers were the “sage on the stage” preparing the learning and “information dumping” on the students. Good teachers know better! Although, I still see this in a lot of classrooms, teachers lecturing and making the way too easy for their students and coming to the rescue when the struggle to understand rears its head (not at my school of course). Good teachers don’t come charging to the rescue at the first sign of struggle. Teachers must allow students to own their learning and not rescue them when students are struggling toward a solution. Some teachers seek to make the path to learning smooth and easy, “mowing the lawn.” The teacher’s job is not to unlock all of the world’s knowledge for the student’s but to allow the students to learn, grow, and take ownership of their own learning. Learning is a long and winding road, filled with peaks and valleys, high and lows, high grass, short grass, Bermuda, winter rye, fescue, weeds, and sometimes bugs and pests. The teacher’s job is not to make the path smooth and easy but to create a classroom culture that makes the process of learning and growing up normal and natural. When things are too easy, the grass is well manicured and weed free, very little actual learning takes place.
Appropriate struggle, challenge, and sometimes failure are necessary ingredients to developing healthy and productive college freshmen and adults. Educators, please don’t make the pathway to learning easy and neatly mowed. Create the type of classroom culture that allows students the space to unlock their own learning and use resources to find solutions. It will make for healthier and better prepared students, not just in college, but in their careers and lives.
Sorry parents, you are not off the hook either, stop mowing the lawn! Don’t inhibit your child’s growth by coming to the rescue every time there is a struggle or bump in the road. Love them and support them unconditionally, but realize that growing up is sometimes a struggle. It is this very difficulty however, that teaches problem solving skills, builds confidence, and creates a healthy self-concept. Of course, knowing when adult intervention is necessary is critical, and there are definitely times when adults need to intervene. The struggle of learning new things and growing up is a good thing. As long as the student has a healthy support system of family and school, the student will learn how to wisely and efficiently use resources, and technology, while not over-extending themselves. You want your child to have a healthy self-concept? Then make sure your child sees the world through the lens of reality. Life has weeds and grasses of all types and learning how to handle each of these situations is critical to life-long success and happiness.
There are ups and downs, highs and lows, and I fear that both teachers and parents are often too quick to “mow the lawn” instead of allowing our students and children the space to learn, grow, struggle, fail, and solve their own academic, artistic, athletic, and social challenges. I hope you will join me as we stop mowing the lawn.
Grade Configuration in Schools Impacts Student Learning, a case for K-8 schoolsPosted by Adam Moore on 6/12/2018 7:00:00 AM
Grade configuration of a school can have a huge impact on student success. A recent study out of Syracuse University and published in American Educational Research Journal - Social and Institutional Analysis is great news for K-8 school students and makes the case that K-8 schools are the best grade configurations for middle school students. K-8 teachers and administrators have always felt the “top-dog” theory but little research has quantified it like this recent study. In short, middle school students thrive in all areas when allowed to be the “top dog.”
“Washington, D.C., September 15, 2016—Findings from new research published today suggest that longer grade spans that allow middle grade students to serve as relative “top dogs”—students in the highest grades—improve academic achievement and enhance their learning environment, including fewer instances of bullying and fights.” http://www.aera.net/Newsroom/Recent-AERA-Research/Do-Top-Dogs-Rule-in-Middle-School-Evidence-on-Bullying-Safety-and-Belonging
There have been numerous articles written as a result of this 2016 study, some of the quotes and articles that I found most interesting are linked below:
“The researchers found that when students were not the "bottom dogs," they reported feeling safer, less bullying, less fighting and a greater sense of belonging.” https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/19/494232646/sixth-grade-is-tough-it-helps-to-be-top-dog
“I can say, I'm not surprised at all that 6-8 schools have higher rate of bullying," said David L. Hough, an education professor at Missouri State University, who has studied middle grade academics but was not involved in the new study. "When you have a lot of kids at close to the same age together, it's not as healthy an environment [as a broader age range]." https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/10/05/shorter-school-grade-spans-linked-to-bullying.html
“Their recommendation? Keep students in the same schools longer, so that children get to be “top dogs” over more classmates and don’t become “bottom dogs” until they are better equipped developmentally to handle being the youngest in a building.” https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2016/09/20/worried-about-little-children-attending-school-with-much-older-students-a-study-says-theyll-be-better-off/
“For example, the negative effects of being a bottom dog don't just come from being new to the school: The students who transferred into a K-8 school in sixth grade still had better experiences than students who started at a 6-8 school.”https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/19/494232646/sixth-grade-is-tough-it-helps-to-be-top-dog
“The longer grade spans — the K through eight schools — provide a better learning environment and as a result, students do better emotionally and academically.” https://www.wpr.org/middle-school-helping-or-harming-kids
“traditional elementary and middle school grade arrangements are the worst for student test scores.” https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2016/09/20/worried-about-little-children-attending-school-with-much-older-students-a-study-says-theyll-be-better-off/
As anyone who has worked with middle school students or has had personal children who have survived the middle school years can attest to: middle school years are difficult ones! With all of the changes, raging hormones, social pressures, and increased academic demands a middle schooler faces, when choosing a school, don’t forget to consider the grade configuration that best supports middle school student's growth and development.
Independent Schools, Teaching to the HeartPosted by Adam Moore on 10/30/2017
Independent schools have the opportunity to teach more than reading, writing, and arithmetic! While academics are our primary focus, independent schools are constantly seeking to prepare our students to be productive members of society. As adults, we know that being a responsible citizen requires so much more than excellence in academics. A person’s character, work ethic, and the ability to collaborate with people who differ are often the characteristics that are most valued in society and in the workplace. Good schools recognize the importance of teaching core academic subjects but also the importance of creating opportunities for students to develop real world skills.
Unfortunately, all too often, schools are forced to put the spiritual, creative, social, and emotional growth of their students aside to focus on preparing them for a mandated standardized test. If all schools would be given the freedom to teach the entire child, our education system and society would be much better off and students would be better served.
At the most recent Grandparents’ Day program at Woodland, the performances focused on the opportunities our students have to be servant leaders and experience the rewards of community collaboration. The lyrics of the songs and lines recited by our students caused me to reflect on what an awesome privilege independent schools have to teach not just to the test but to the heart.
Here for your reflection are quotes from our students at their 2017 Grandparents’ Day program at Woodland Presbyterian School.
But there is one more thing that we believe matters.
We need to make a difference.
We need to make a difference in our families and churches.
We need to make a difference in our community and in our world.
Choose something you believe in, and go for it!
Don’t be shy! Speak up when you see injustice!
Be kind to those around you. Help your friends.
Reach out to those less fortunate and help them!
At Woodland, we want to be leaders. We want to do the right thing.
We want to be shining lights in our community.
And we want others to follow our lead!
In the past, we sent water filters to earthquake victims in Ecuador.
We collect canned goods for the food pantry.
We “ring the bell” to collect funds for the Salvation Army to do good works.
We partnered with a school in Sierra Leone to share our books and to learn from their culture.
We have sent Christmas Boxes to our military in active service.
A large number of our students and staff participated in and helped with this year’s Forrest Spence 5K to benefit the Forest Spence Fund.
Students in our Recycling Club help collect recycling and learn how to preserve our ecosystem.
Students in our Praise and Worship Club help lead fellow students to have a more meaningful worship experience.
Middle School students study civil rights and racial healing in our “Facing History and Ourselves” class.
During our “House” meetings, we often write encouraging letters or other types of support to members of our community who are suffering.
And most recently Woodland students collected supplies and packed them to be sent to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
At Woodland, we are learning to make a difference!
We ARE the future generation, and we know that if we want our world to be a better place, it is up to us.
WE HAVE to make a difference.
We know that “Tomorrow Needs US!”
DON’T GET STUCK!Posted by Adam Moore on 2/12/2017
One of the great privileges I have in leading a 2K - 8th grade independent school is the fact that I get to meet and listen to guest speakers from all walks of life, from all areas of Memphis and the world tell our students about their passions, dreams, and goals as they seek to empower the next generation to lead our world.
Over the past couple weeks, I sat in on a class while a naturalist that lives part-time in the Arctic and part-time in Alaska, explained to first and second graders about polar bears, seals, the importance of krill, and the work of a naturalist. This experience could spark a natural curiosity in a child and inspire deeper study and thinking. I have listened to a speaker in our sixth grade class tell about his experiences working in Mission Control at NASA when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon; what a way to motivate students in their study of space. I have heard from a servant-hearted entrepreneur that opened a bicycle shop and training center in under served parts of the Memphis community and also from a construction director with S.O.S., Service Over Self, tell his story of serving and helping Memphis.
These experiences are created and sought after by independent school educators. They give students exposure to not just dynamic in-class experiences but to experts in their fields, people with hearts for serving others, and exposure to people from all aspects of the global community. These unique and potentially transformative experiences can’t be found in textbooks, worksheets, or standardized tests. They can only be found in schools that are willing to “step outside the box” to create experiences for students that will motivate them to achieve, serve, and be more productive students and people.
In independent schools, we have the opportunity to enhance our students’ experiences and ensure a “whole child” education. We are not stuck in a specific textbook, teaching style, or scope and sequence of curriculum. A narrow view of teaching and learning can severely hinder a schools’ ability to teach their students.
Schools should be dynamic, energized laboratories for learning that look to create experiences that will motivate and bring the world to their students. Exposing students to people that are chasing their dreams and making a difference in our world can often be the very thing that motivates a child to dream bigger, try harder, stick to the task a little more, or study harder. Those are the very skills that all schools should be in the business of providing to students.
Independence Allows Schools to Put Children First!Posted by Adam Moore on 9/6/2016
Anniversaries are indeed exciting times to be part of an independent school community! We have the opportunity to celebrate sixty years at Woodland Presbyterian School and to reflect on the influence schools can have on entire communities.
Taking time to reflect on previous generations who helped build the foundation of our school is almost overwhelming. Each group including the founding board, first teachers like Mrs. Cristal, parents, student, volunteers, donors, grandparents, community members, teachers, and previous Heads of School has impacted Woodland and will continue to do so in the future. Our mission statement of embracing academic excellence, spiritual development, social consciousness, community collaboration, and a positive self-concept has been evident throughout our history.
While we are filled with nostalgia and smiles as we reminisce, no long-term and sustainable institution continues to thrive by looking back. While it is fun to celebrate and reflect on the past, it is really about moving ahead. I look forward to the next sixty years more than the past sixty years. Education has never been so exciting and student-centered than it is in the present. The educational advancements and options have exploded in the last decade, but one thing should remain constant in all schools - children should come first! Too often we learn of decisions being made in education that are not the best for children. The simple question of, “What is best for our children?” is something that, at times, appears to be lost in the world of education.
One of the unique facets of independent schools is that boards, administrators, and teachers at the individual school level make decisions. This allows the curriculum, policies, and programs to be structured in a way that fulfills the individual mission of the school for each child.
It is an honor it is to be a part of a Woodland community that has always put children first. Decisions that were made six decades ago still have an impact on our school and culture today. While times have changed immensely over the past sixty years, Woodland’s commitment to putting children first has not!
Testing, Testing, TestingPosted by Adam Moore on 2/9/2016
Testing, Testing, Testing!!! There has been much talk about standardized testing in education circles for the last decade. With the introduction of No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, testing data has often been used in many productive and unproductive ways. Testing and testing results are often at the center of hotly debated regional and federal level discussions. In many schools, countless hours and days of instruction are used to “teach to the test” and to prepare students and teachers for the “test.” That does not include the weeks of lost instruction time that students experience during testing weeks. Imagine for just a moment, if those days and weeks of lost instruction time were used to teach students, think of the impact on the entire educational community, think of the impact on students.
Testing is an important part of life, especially in schools, and can be used for many great purposes, but the question for me has always been, “How does it help the student?” Using test results to help identify curriculum issues or measure teacher effectiveness can be helpful, but the purpose of any test, whether standardized or an end of unit assessment or project, should be to help students, identify deficiencies, and then make a plan to address each student’s needs. Teachers should use data in order to differentiate instruction in the classroom. All tests should be used to guide instruction and skilled teachers have the ability to take test results and other data to craft lessons that address student needs.
At my school standardized tests are given in the fall; and the results are used by teachers to identify student goals, design future lessons, and plan instruction that benefit the students in their class. Tests should be one of many pieces of information used to guide instruction, measure learning, and set individual student goals. The teacher’s job is to gather data from multiple sources, including standardized test results, classroom observation, performance on classroom assessments, and any other classwork, homework or product that a student completes and then use all of that information to move the individual student forward.
I look forward to the day when testing is not at the center of educational discussions and students, teachers, and schools see test data as one of many pieces of information that should be used to design lessons that meet the individual needs of every student in every classroom.
Great Teachers Teach Students Not CurriculumPosted by Adam Moore on 9/22/2015
As every parent and educator knows, every child varies in his or her abilities, interests, readiness to learn, motivation to learn, and ways in which he or she learns. With all of those variables, how is it possible for a teacher to teach a class where every child gets what he or she needs out of each day? The key lies in differentiated instruction.
One of the most foundational understandings of differentiated instruction that must exist in order to create classrooms where differentiated instruction thrives lies in the fact that teachers don’t teach a class or even a curriculum. Great teachers teach individual students. Of course, great teachers need a powerful curriculum, but there is a definitive difference between teachers who focus on the content more than they focus on the student. Differentiated instruction is student-centered not teacher or content centered. Each student in a class has different needs, different experiences and different abilities. Each student brings something unique and different to a learning opportunity. Great teaching not only considers those differences but embraces them and uses those differences to dictate teaching and learning.
Differentiated teaching does not mean that every child has his or her own IEP or that there are sixteen different lessons going on in one classroom, but it does mean that lessons are structured and organized in meaningful ways that allow each child to be challenged at a level that meaningful learning takes place. Based on Lev Vygotsky’s theory on the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD, children learn best when tasks are moderately difficult. Too hard and students shut down, too easy and they lose focus. Good differentiated instruction plans for the variance in student’s ZPD and designs lessons that find the “sweet spot” of learning for each student.
As our school has focused on becoming better at differentiated instruction the following quotes from The Differentiated Classroom, Meeting the Needs of All Learners by Carol Ann Tomlinson have been particularly insightful and helpful.
“In a differentiated classroom: A teacher studies student readiness and student interest and connects learning to things that matter to students, and teachers give students varied opportunities to learn in different ways. “
“They are simply teachers who strive to do whatever it takes to ensure that struggling, advanced, and in-between learners; students with varied cultural heritages; and children with a broad array of background experiences all grow as much as they possibly can each day, each week, and throughout the year.”
The Value of Independence, Even in Wintry WeatherPosted by Adam Moore on 3/7/2015
After spending the last several weeks studying the weather forecast and incoming Memphis weather, I am reminded of the value of leading an independent school. The three weeks preceding Spring Break seemed to bring one “chance” of wintry precipitation after another, and in Memphis that brings lots of questions: are we going to have school tomorrow, are we going to get out of school early, are we canceling after school activities? These questions regularly filled my cell phone and email inbox and I must say that I sure am glad to see Spring!
Each independent school makes its own decision on what warrants a school closing, early dismissal, etc., and there were a couple of days during the most recent wintry weather that some schools were closed and some were open, some closed early and some did not, and some canceled after school activities and others did not. As I watched the school closings, openings, and after school cancellations scroll through the local news stations, I was reminded that in an independent school we are free to make decisions that are best for our students and families, and are not bound by the overarching decisions necessarily made for a general population of students whose travel to and from school might vary widely.
As I thought more deeply about my three-week career as a meteorologist, I realized that although it was time consuming, it was actually a blessing. As a head of school, being able to make a decision that is best for your school is invaluable for the families you serve. I related this independent decision making autonomy to my 2K-8 school. The individualized teaching practices our teachers have used, curricular decisions that have been made to benefit our students, extracurricular programs that have been added or eliminated for our students and these “students first” decisions would have never been possible if it we weren’t for our independence. In a 2K-8 independent school you have freedom from the constraints of outside influences, bureaucratic delays, and older student schedules. The bottom line is that we can be intentional to the students we serve and make decisions based on the specific needs of our students.
As a member of the Tennessee Association of Independent School’s (TAIS) Board of Directors and the President of the Memphis Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) I have seen this freedom applied effectively not only in my school but in other independent schools of Memphis and Tennessee to continually look for more effective ways to serve students. Independent schools are typically at the cutting edge of new and innovative curriculum, educational technologies, and teaching and learning strategies due to the freedom that exists on their campuses. After nearly a decade and a half in an independent school, I am continually amazed by how each school fulfills its unique mission, with policies, curriculum, programs, and teaching practices that best serve their unique student populations.
Education should be individualized, not categorized.Posted by Adam Moore on 2/19/2015
In a recent conversation with a prospective family, I was asked the question: “Why is a co-educational environment right for my child?” As Head of School of a co-ed, 2K-8 school, I have been asked this question many times, but something about the way these parents posed their question seemed a little different than other times I’ve been asked it.
My typical response to this question usually revolves around the fact that “co-ed is real world.” In this particular interaction I asked the parent to consider my own questions: how many occupations exist in the twenty-first century that are single-gendered? How many workplaces lack male/female diversity? How many work projects have you worked on as an adult, where you were only dealing with one gender? The bottom line is that co-educational environments prepare students to work with, solve problems with, and communicate with people that think differently, process information differently, and behave differently than those of their own gender. Male/female is one type of diversity that helps children be prepared for “real-world” situations and problem solving.
After about five minutes, I sensed that these folks had heard this before and they were looking for something more. I got the feeling that they knew all of the research and reasons why co-ed seems to be the right choice, especially for students in the most important developmental years of pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. But they weren’t really asking for research or data as to why other parents’ children have found the co-ed environment right; they were asking about their child.
After the conversation ended and I thought about my reply to their question, I realized that a better response would have been to inquire and explore more about their own child instead of giving them facts and figures. The question was an individual one and unfortunately for this family, I don’t believe my response got to the heart of what they really wanted to know. Like all good parents, they want what is best for their child, and I believe they were really asking, “How is your school going to help my child grow and progress to his God-given potential? Will your school impact my child in a positive way because you know him and can serve his needs?”
Education is deeply personal and should be individualized, not categorized. In my mind, it is about the relationships that are cultivated in a school and are lived out in the day to day culture of that school, not the gender ratios within its classrooms, that really matter. Do the teachers take an individual interest in every child’s growth? How do teachers individualize instruction? Does the school teach a student as an individual? Yes, stereotypically, girls learn differently than boys and boys differently than girls, but children are not stereotypes and there are many variations within these general findings. How do teachers develop lessons that help each child reach their potential? How do schools create cultures that meet the individual needs of their students? These are the real questions that a healthy school addresses every day, resulting in positive outcomes for all children.
Handwriting and Typing, An Intentional PhilosophyPosted by Adam Moore on 1/2/2015
Handwriting, and more specifically cursive writing, are two subjects that have recently found themselves at the forefront of many debates related to the Common Core Standards that have now been adopted in forty-six states. Rather than rehash the well-worn debate regarding Common Core standards and the removal of handwriting from the curriculum of many schools, I would like to share a few quotes from recent articles to answer the rationale of why Woodland teaches cursive and handwriting.
- “studies have also found that adults write better and longer prose when they are faster at writing by hand” Moyer, 2014
- “in children, writing by hand helps improve letter recognition, which is the strongest predictor of reading success” Karin James, Ph.D, Indiana University
- “Dr. Berninger goes so far as to suggest that cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not…” New York Times, What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades, Maria Konniko, June 2, 2014
- “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris.
- “learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.” Asherson, 2013
The “do you teach handwriting” question at Woodland represents a microcosm of Woodland’s approach to education. At Woodland you will see an appropriate mix of innovative and “tried and true” teaching strategies and curriculum being taught. The teaching of cursive handwriting and typing is just one example of the not “throwing the baby out with the bath water” approach to education that Woodland has embraced for decades. Over time, educational trends and bureaucratic decisions come and go but there are certain developmental milestones that all students must reach and certain teaching methods and curriculum that have helped students reach those milestones for generations. Without an intentional effort from independent schools to keep valuable curricular strands like handwriting in the curriculum, schools could be developing students who will not be prepared for the post-school world.
One of the most valuable aspects of an independent school is that they are not forced to adopt particular curriculums or “fads” but each school is empowered to make decisions based on what is truly best for their students. In my opinion, in order for students to fully develop and reach their potential, a school’s curriculum should have a healthy mix of innovative and “tried and true” methods and pedagogies like cursive handwriting and typing.