Engaging with Our History and Values

I started my day reflecting on Martin Luther King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech at a staff breakfast gathering, where we watched a new (to most of us) animated video version of the speech from the Freedom’s Ring project from Stanford, which you can watch here if you wish.

BQ3A0194My school day ended at the Lower School assembly, where students sang and shared poetry, artwork and research writing about Dr. King, civil rights and service with their peers, teachers and families. As always, Head of Lower School Meaghan Mallin briefly and poignantly greeted the assembled students, faculty, staff and families, before handing emcee duties to our fourth grade assembly leaders, who led an insightful and moving celebration. Continue reading

Tapping into Curiosity

DSC_0237Children have such live and nimble intellects. It is an innate part of who they are. Our job as educators is to tap into that curiosity and to let it flow. Once it does, the child’s potential, bounded only by their vision and intellectual capacity, becomes limitless. Tapping into innate curiosity sounds so simple and yet in our world of standards and pressure and immediate measurability, it is becoming scarcer and more fleeting. One of the aspects of Country School that makes me most proud is the way our faculty unwaveringly focus their lessons and activities on ways to draw out the innate intellect in our students. I had several opportunities to witness this work in action this week.  Continue reading

Setting Achievable Goals

I hope that this finds you having enjoyed a restful break filled with great opportunities for connecting with your family. As you prepare to return to school (and we cannot wait to see all our students bound off their buses and out of their cars – even those who are a little sluggish after a vacation of sleeping in!), I hope you will take an opportunity to speak with your children about their goals for the coming weeks. Before break, we published progress reports for all students and, along with the punctuation that a two-week break affords, this is a perfect time for reflection and goal-setting. This might feel a bit like a New Years’ Resolution, which in a way it is. I recommend having conversations like this with your children at least three times per year –  now, during Spring Break, and again when each new school year begins. Continue reading

Taking Time to Celebrate Personal Bests

As many of you know, I have been a competitive runner for many years. One of my favorite aspects of the sport is the camaraderie around celebrating “personal bests.” Since we race against the clock as much as we do against other people, it is fairly easy to compare performances from race to race (and, now that I am getting progressively slower each year, age-graded tables help!) While winning is worthy of celebration, it is often the personal best that gets the most enthusiastic congratulations from fellow runners. Continue reading

My “Best of” Reading List

As we march ever so quickly towards the end of the calendar year, the annual ritual of “best of” lists has begun again. In that spirit, I have been thinking of the best education/parenting books I have read this year and will share several of the top few with you in case you are looking for some enlightening and hopefully inspiring reading over the next few weeks to end the year in style — or perhaps an excuse to find some much-needed quiet time in the din of the holidays! At the end, I have added the names of several favorite other books I read this year that are not on the bestseller lists in the hope that it generates a spark of some sort. 

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Kindness Can, and Should, Be Taught

Kindness. At NCCS, we talk a lot about kindness. It is such a general term and very much the epitome of a “soft” skill that it risks being dismissed as not particularly valuable. And yet it is such a simple concept that it is perfect for children, especially fairly young children, to consider. Unlike more nuanced concepts like empathy or compassion, both of which are virtuous themselves, kindness is easily and readily understood. It is immediately clear to children when others are – and are not – being kind to them. That is why we focus on kindness as a virtue. Continue reading

Thankful for Support Networks

I hope that you have had a relaxing, connecting and joyous holiday weekend filled with laughter, love and gratitude. As my family and I reflected on all of the things for which we feel thankful,  the networks of support that exist for our children was one of the highlights. I thought about that also last Tuesday at our annual all-school Thanksgiving assembly. I saw the layers of support our students receive in those gathered – students from kindergarten through 9th grade, all of the school’s teachers, most of the staff who work in Grace House and a smattering of parents (next year, we will be able to invite you all when we hold the assembly in our new Athletics and Wellness Center!)  I also felt it at the assembly – when I saw buddies from different classes hugging one another, older students greeting their former teachers, and older students singing along with younger students’ songs that they remember from when they learned them. At the assembly, we shared thoughts of gratitude, we sang and played music, and we laughed (which might have had something to do with ridiculous, inflatable turkey outfits!) In all, we came together as a community to share thanks and to celebrate childhood as always. It was a fitting way to begin the holiday weekend, and I hope you had moments these last few days to reflect on how fortunate our children are to be surrounded by the support networks that care for them – family, teachers, coaches, mentors, etc.

Taking a Positive Approach to Social Media

Parent event photo 2 BQ3A9826“We know what not to do, but what we haven’t been told is what to do.” This is what guest speaker Josh Lutkus of The Social Institute said he hears repeatedly from middle and high school students across the nation. It underscores The Social Institute’s approach to working with students and parents about how to use technology in social ways. Their pro-social, positive approach to this topic which so often induces fear in many adults is refreshing and totally aligned with our own approach to so many topics with our students. The Social Institute’s Seven Social Standards form the backbone of the work they did this week with our faculty and staff, a well-attended parent meeting organized in partnership with New Canaan CARES, and student presentations to the Upper and Middle Schools. 

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Efforts in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

We have been thrilled to welcome Kojo Clarke to NCCS, as he officially began work as our Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) this past Monday. It was a good week to do so, too, since we had several DEI events this week: a community breakfast that drew 50 parents on Tuesday, a faculty and staff professional development session on Wednesday, a facilitated DEI gathering of heads and diversity directors from all the “Fairchester” schools (Fairfield and Westchester counties), and a regional hiring fair for prospective educators of color in independent schools on Thursday. 

These events, and the concurrent efforts from so many of our peer schools, underscores the relevance of this work. We are a school that believes deeply in the importance of childhood in its foundational capacity for informing the perspectives, habits of mind, areas of interest, understandings, and abilities a person brings to adulthood. The value that diversity brings to teams’ work is well understood in the workplace, and connections across cultures and other areas of difference are an essential part of nearly every career path. We owe it to our students at these formative years to experience diversity, equity and inclusion throughout their experiences here.  

This week’s faculty professional development – and the session with fellow heads from other local schools – highlighted the best way to both start and progress through the work: by focusing inwardly first. In order to understand others’ identities and perspectives, we first need to understand our own and the ways in which they interact with and impact our society and our communities. This is often metaphorically described as being much like the airplane announcement: secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs. The more openly and honestly introspective we can be, the further we will collectively progress towards our aim of being an even more diverse, equitable and inclusive community. 

We all look forward to continuing this work and these conversations.

Festival of Books, In Verse

BQ3A9346Inspired, I
Take Naomi Shihab Nye’s suggestion
And express my gratitude
Through poetry

Laden with books that must be too many to read
The parent disappears into the black night
Delivering them to her car
Only to re-enter to buy more

Knees curled onto the chair
A tuft of hair illuminated by the sinking sun behind him
He reads
Guinness Book of World Records 2020

Babbles of joy escape through the wall
Into my office, my meeting, my computer, my email
I smile
And remember what is really important

In penguin print pajamas
I read
The faces are no longer my own children’s
The feeling of connection is the same

Inspired, I
Take energy from those who gave theirs
To make this Festival of Books
The best ever, again

Thank you to everyone who volunteered to make this Festival of Books so wonderful!