- Woodland Presbyterian School
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The Value of Independence in Unprecedented Times, by Head of School Adam MoorePosted by Amy Smythe on 2/10/2021 12:00:00 PM
The Value of Independence in Unprecedented Times
I have often written and spoken on the value of an independent school education. I have served in both public and private school sectors in my nearly 25 years working in education and I must say, I have never been prouder to serve in an independent school than I have in the last year.
Beginning in the Spring of 2020, I watched independent schools across the country lead the way in education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Independent schools were among the first to move teaching and learning online in March 2020, reopen summer programs in summer of 2020, and return to on-campus learning in August 2020. While there is much work to be done in the coming months and it is by no means time to relax, independent schools are writing the “education during a pandemic playbook.” Independent schools are filled with creative, passionate, compassionate, and committed educators that will stop at nothing to see their students grow and fulfill the missions of their schools.
Over the past twelve months, I have participated in countless Zoom calls and online forums filled with independent school thought leaders from across the country and witnessed the creativity, determination, and comradery devoted to the purpose of serving independent school students and families, no matter the circumstances.
Through immense determination and ingenuity, independent schools have found ways to teach students in-person, remotely, and in many schools simultaneously. I have personally watched seasoned educators double down on their efforts and increase their workloads to design engaging physically distanced lessons, learn new pedagogy, and even teach from home to a classroom full of students during a quarantine. Independent schools around the world have often led the way in implementing effective mitigation strategies that allowed schools to serve students in-person, even including the use of COVID-19 assurance testing, creative classroom designs, and the greater use of more outdoor space.
One of the hallmarks of an independent school is the ability to be nimble and flexible through all situations. Over the last year, this flexibility and school-level decision making has allowed independent school students to not only survive but thrive throughout these unprecedented times.
Risk or Rescue? by Adam Moore, Head of School at Woodland Presbyterian SchoolPosted by Amy Smythe on 8/27/2019 7:20:00 PM
Risk or Rescue? by Adam Moore, Head of School at Woodland Presbyterian School
I have the honor of teaching an 8th grade Christian Leadership class each year using a book called Habitudes by Tim Elmore as the curriculum. I must say that the couple hours with our 8th graders are often the highlight of my week (not that I don’t love everything about being a Head of School).
One area that I have noticed students struggle more with over the last twenty years is in the area of perseverance, grit, and determination. When things get challenging, there is a temptation for young people (or should I say all people) to shut down or say I can’t. I much prefer the mindset of I can’t … yet (1).
One of the most significant challenges of teaching in 2019 is finding the “sweet spot for growth.” The sweet spot is that area where students are challenged appropriately, not too easy, not too difficult. That is where real growth takes place. Educators and parents alike struggle at finding the right mix of support and challenge. I commend the article below from Tim Elmore’s Growing Leaders blog as a great resource to frame our teaching and parenting. The article “When to Risk and When to Rescue” gives advice to parents but is also applicable to teachers.
“When adults rescue kids…., they begin to give up more quickly, believing they need adults around to save them from hardship. Youth are naturally anti-fragile, and it is adults who make them fragile over time.”
Here in lies the challenge for educators knowing when to intervene and help and when to allow the struggle. We all know the line for intervention is going to be different for every child, depending on many factors. Too much support and the child does not learn how to problem solve and develop the mental muscles to overcome challenges, not enough support and the child can shut down or refuse. The article gives some practical advice on when to intervene and when to step back and allow the struggle.
Criteria as a Rule (with Some Exceptions):
Do Not Remove Stressors and Rescue Them within the Following Criteria:
- When their stressor is part of a regular routine they need to manage.
- When their stressor is typical for a person their age.
- When the stressor is something that is short-term (not chronic) and they elected to do it on their own volition.
- When the stressor involves them forgetting a responsibility that they must learn to remember and face.
Do Remove Stressors within the Following Criteria:
- When their stressor is chronic and unhealthy, such as abuse or neglect on the part of a guardian.
- When their stressor has caused unhealthy and destructive habits in their life.
- When the stressor isn’t typical for a person their age and is beyond their capacity.
- When the stressor is overwhelming because it’s accidental; imposed on them by someone else or unknowingly assumed by them.
I believe, most importantly, young people need adult supporters and encouragers in their life, not people that remove all the obstacles and make life easy or adults that constantly ride and point out their mistakes (which we all have made). Saying words like “you can do it”, “stick to it”, “you got this” even when the tears are coming is no doubt a challenge. Let’s continue to partner together to ensure our students develop the mental and emotional “moxey” to reach their God-given potential in all areas of their growth.
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck
Screens, Screens Everywhere are Screens!Posted by Amy Smythe on 3/25/2019 6:00:00 PM
Digitized screens are nothing new to our world. Screens are utilized by billions of people each day to work, play, and sometimes just pass the time. Screens in 2019 come in all sizes and shapes, literally from the size of buildings to as small as a coin. TV screens, hand-held screens, movie screens, watch screens, computer screens, the list is long for what screens look like and how they are used. Screens have undoubtedly made our lives easier, more efficient, and more exciting, yet at the same time more difficult. Screens have made our lives simpler and more complex.
As an independent school administrator and in my opinion, the impact screens are having on our students is unparalleled in human history. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for the use of screens in the classroom, but screens can never replace face to face, real life, real-time human interaction. Many of the interpersonal skills necessary for people to survive and thrive in society are still the same skills that were important in the 1920’s. Schools face the unique challenge of being relevant to students and equipping them with the necessary skills to excel in school and life, which in this over-stimulated, digitized age can be difficult. Sometimes I do fear that students are becoming programmed in screen interaction and not equipped for human interaction.
A recent study from Twenge and Campbell out of The University of Georgia and San Diego State University discovered some screen time trends in teenagers that are worth noting for parents and educators alike:
“After one hour of screen time use, more hours of daily screen time were associated with lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks.”
“Among 14- to 17-year-olds, high users of screens (7+ h/day vs. low users of 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely to ever have been diagnosed with depression, ever diagnosed with anxiety, treated by a mental health professional, or have taken medication for a psychological or behavioral issue in the last 12 months.”
“Moderate use of screens (4 h/day) was also associated with lower psychological well-being. Non-users and low users of screens generally did not differ in well-being. Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being were larger among adolescents than younger children.”
Twenge and Campbell 2018, Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study
If those facts and figures don’t get the attention of adults, I am not sure what will. These statistics are lived out in the school setting every day. Students are coming to school with more social and emotional challenges and have a harder time connecting with peers, exhibiting self-control, and learning basic human interaction. Students need strong resiliency, socialization, self-control, attention skills to give themselves a healthy, happy, and productive life. One way we can all help our students develop these important skills is by turning the screens off and allowing our children to be children and to develop the human skills necessary to thrive.
Screens can never replace a friend, a teacher, a classroom, a playground, a lunch table, the gym, the art room, the playground, etc. A startling trend of students only learning through “screens” will not lead to well-rounded and well-equipped children who are ready for college and a career. My prayer is that educators and parents will work for the benefit of our children’s future and ensure bountiful opportunities for children to have real human, non-digitized interactions.
A few resources that you may find beneficial:
12 Ways your Phone is Changing You by Reinke, forward by Piper (a Christian perspective on phones, it asks the basic question do you control your phone or does your phone control you?)
12 Tips for Parenting in the Digital-Age https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/twelve-tips-for-parenting-in-the-digital-age
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.”