A Letter from Tim

  • Inspired to keep our sights raised high

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 1/16/2020

    Tomorrow, and Monday, we take time as a community to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We choose to honor Dr. King in intentional ways, in recognition that his vision for our greater community is one that Stanley BPS shares. With the division and rancor of today’s politics and lack of civility, it’s easy to fall prey to cynicism. Dr. King’s message inspires us to keep our sights raised high.


    Marade collage During our assembly, we’ll hear the thoughts and perspectives of some of our youngest and oldest students, reflections of how Dr. King continues to inspire. We’ll enjoy songs from our youngest, and oldest, community members, and we’ll close with our traditional all-school singing of “We Shall Overcome.” You’re welcome to join us in the ballroom tomorrow at 8:40 a.m.


    On Monday, I hope you’ll consider joining the Stanley contingent at the MLK Marade. We gather at around 10 a.m., just to the south of the MLK statue in City Park. I'm proud that our school makes the event one of our annual traditions, joining many civic organizations and people of every background in a peaceful display of celebration and hope for what could be in our society.


    Both our school celebration and our civic participation support Dr. King's observations about the role of schools: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education."

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  • Consolidating our own learning

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 1/9/2020

    Welcome back to school, and welcome to a new year – and a new decade. The turning to a new year always brings a sense of renewal, and hopefully one of optimism, as we look ahead to what could be. For some reason, I recently got to thinking about the passage of time with my own children and the curious fact that my older daughter, who is a freshman in college, has now seen a bit of four different decades. She was born right at the end of the 1990s. It’s mathematically accurate yet still not intuitive somehow that this January begins the fourth decade she’ll have lived in. Maybe that is interesting only to me, but I find it entertaining nonetheless. At any rate, whatever decade this marks for you, I hope the ’20s are good to your family.


    Staff meeting Our faculty and staff reconvened on Monday, as is our practice every year, for a day of reconnection and professional development. Last spring, we organized a day of in-house workshops led by our own teachers, and the event was so well received and impactful that we decided to repeat the format this week. We asked teachers who had attended a workshop or conference this year or last in the area of DEI work (diversity, equity, inclusion) to lead a small-group session based on a key takeaway or learning. Participating faculty and staff chose from eight different sessions, with topics ranging from the Impact of Trauma in children’s lives, to understanding our responsibilities and opportunities in working with students with disabilities, to understanding and mitigating Implicit Bias.


    As reported by participants last spring, our staff enjoy the chance to learn with and from one another, and presenting teachers have the opportunity to share essential concepts, not from the point of view of an “expert” but rather from their own personal perspective, and that may be what colleagues appreciate and value the most. In British Primary philosophy, teaching a skill or concept to another helps us consolidate our own learning. In this way, our professional community models what we expect and hope for our students.


    Again, all the best to you and your family for a happy and peaceful new year,

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  • Creativity is learned and needs practicing

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 12/12/2019

    During last year’s holidays, I had the pleasure of helping my daughter and nephew assemble Lego kits – a Hogwarts Express train and some sort of flying Star Wars death implement, respectively. It truly was a pleasure – great fun, with just a bit of spatial challenge and a satisfying feeling of accomplishment when done. The kids even got to do a few pieces (no, it really was collaborative.)


    Creativity need practicing The other day, I watched a group of K-1-2 students in choice time gathered around the Lego table. One student was working on an inventive multi-tiered aircraft. Two children were making a tower with a helicopter landing area on top. A group was building a small village with houses and a zoo full of assorted creatures. There were no instructions to follow. The end result was not “beautiful” like the Hogwarts train. But the creative value of these endeavors? No comparison. These students were provided a pile of random plastic building blocks and an imagination, and a working mantra of “what could this be?”— and that’s it.


    What a great metaphor for learning. It’s easy to fall prey to the allure of a “paint by numbers” approach to learning. The result is often compelling, with an illusion of making something worthwhile. The diligence of following instructions carefully gets rewarded. That’s certainly not a bad thing – learning to follow directions is an important and worthwhile skill in itself. It’s just a problem when painting by numbers becomes the dominant part of a child’s educational experience.


    Author, speaker and educational advisor Sir Ken Robinson describes creativity as making something original of value. “Of value” is clearly subjective. Value to whom? I love watching various creative contraptions make their way home in the carpool line. Sometimes they arrive in the morning destined for a classroom, but usually they follow a pattern of school creation, home display. While these various inventions, machines, sculptures, houses and artworks may have variable “value,” what is very clear is that the process they represent, the process of starting with an idea and making something tangible out of it, carries great value indeed. Like everything else, creativity is learned and needs practicing. What our children are doing today with Legos, cardboard and glitter forms the foundation of a creative process that will lead to one day creating all sorts of things, tangible and otherwise, of unquestionable value.


    Speaking of unquestionable value, we’re incredibly grateful of the tremendous response to this year’s Colorado Gives Day drive to support the Stanley Fund. With your generosity, we raised over $140,000 on Tuesday, which directly bolsters our ability to serve children and families in the best way we know how. Thank you!


    All the best,

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  • What do we teach?

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 12/5/2019

    I hope you and family enjoyed a restorative and reflective Thanksgiving break, and that the holiday left you in the mood for … more holidays, which are right around the corner this year.


    7th Drama We hand 8th graders a diploma at graduation that documents a Stanley education. What does that paper really mean? What have we taught, and more importantly, what was learned?


    Our curriculum guide traces the path of each core academic strand from kindergarten to 8th grade. It also demonstrates how our social-emotional program develops over the same span and how we integrate it. We revisit our K-8 curriculum on a regular basis, particularly in advance of our ACIS (Association of Colorado Independent Schools) accreditation process. We look for alignment across grades and divisions to ensure our academic program is sufficiently broad and also builds thoughtfully from one level to the next.


    All of that is important, but it’s not what we really teach. Some years ago, we asked our faculty to reflect deeply on what they hoped and expected students to gain from their years at Stanley. No one’s thinking went to the details of their individual curriculum. Instead, we generated an inspiring list of skills and attributes that are really worth teaching and learning. We coalesced this large list into seven categories, and we call these our “7 Goals for Learners.”


    Maybe there really should be ten goals, or we should condense them to only five, but the point is that these goals for learners are the basis of a Stanley education, and they’re what that diploma represents. Our teachers know that a particular subject or topic, whether it’s fractions or earthworms, is really a vehicle for teaching a skill or habit of mind – enabling curiosity, sharpening problem-solving, facilitating communication, developing analytical ability, practicing care for the world around us.


    Of course the content of curriculum still is important. Good content helps students understand fundamental realities of the world around them, helps them put current events into historical contexts, and helps them fully participate as informed members of a society. But try explaining to an 8th grader why factoring binomials or the names of all cell parts are essential ingredients to success in life. Much of the content we work with will be forgotten, of course, and it’s all retrievable anyway at the push of a couple buttons (funny how that expression is even dated).


    The ability to apply a problem-solving process to a novel situation, to see connections between one phenomenon and another, to apply logic and thinking strategies, to communicate one’s thinking – these skills do matter, and they matter a lot. Much has been written about the predictable economy of the future and the jobs resulting from it. Also well documented is how the way we “do school” lags behind the real changes happening around us.


    School systems were established to mass produce workers for an industrial society. That need is long gone, yet the same assumptions of our broader educational system – sort and rank based on a narrow skill set, reward obedience and compliance, provide a standard teaching and learning experience – still largely apply. Instead, we need to insist on an education that values a wide range of abilities and talents, that rewards critical thinking and questioning, and that elevates personalized teaching and learning.

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  • Two meaningful Stanley events ahead

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 11/14/2019

    We look forward to welcoming our grand people guests next week, and beyond that, to the celebration of gratitude represented by the Thanksgiving holiday. For many of us, Thanksgiving grounds us in the important opportunity to reflect and express appreciation, perhaps because we haven’t laden this particular holiday with the commercialism that seems to accompany many others (outside of an occasional inflatable turkey or two).

    Grand people day The multi-generational element of the day always makes the occasion all the more meaningful, and we look forward to welcoming any guests from your family who may be able to join us. The day begins in the ballroom at 8:30 a.m. for breakfast, a reception and a short program before joining children in their classrooms at 9:45 a.m. The morning will conclude at 10:45 a.m.

    To make our grand people’s arrival as easy as possible, we are reserving all of our main, front-lot parking spaces for our guests. We ask all parents to park in the Lowry Town Center parking lot (towards the east end, away from the front of the businesses please) or on Rampart Way (the 3rd- 8th grade carpool lane). Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

    Multicultural Feast- this Saturday!
    Our School Culture, Inclusiveness, and Equity Committee sponsors one of our school’s great, family-centered traditions, the Multicultural Feast, held on Saturday, November 16, starting at 5:30 p.m. in our ballroom. The event centers on the opportunity to share food from the many cultures that shape who we are. In the process of sharing food that has been lovingly prepared, and that has particular meaning to who we are, we offer something of ourselves in a most fundamental way. We’ll also enjoy entertainment from Flamenco Denver. Hope to see you there!

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  • The purpose of school

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 11/7/2019

    I like to reflect on the purpose of school, and it seems every time I do I come up with some slightly different twist. Many would say the purpose of school is to prepare children for further education, or for eventual employment. Some would say school is about more than that – it’s actually practice and preparation for life. I’m one of those, and yet it also seems to me that school works best when we embrace that school isn’t just preparation for life, it’s life itself.

    Classroom While we’re busy planning curriculum and activities that give children a foundation for what they’ll need in the future, we can also remember that we don’t get these years back with our kids. Childhood is a magical time. Kids are not just adults-in-waiting. A child’s experience in school should reflect that value, with all the richness and variety life offers.

    A recent morning I spent in the K-1-2 hallway makes the point better than I ever could. In the first room I visited, children were engaged in five or six different choice time activities, perhaps four or five students in each group. Everyone was busy, no one was left out. One group had just built an elaborate village out of the wooden blocks and were debating with one another about the next structure to be added. Another group was creating a house out of magnet tiles. Another constructed a race track out of cardboard tubes. Yet another group created a dinosaur community out of playdough.

    In the second class, small groups of math students worked to calculate basic single digit sums. Some wrote equations on paper (8+5=13) and others used colored counters to build the sums. A teacher asked a student how he knew that 9 plus 7 was 16, and he replied, “That one’s just in my brain already.”

    Another class was in the middle of a mindfulness and yoga session. Each child had their own yoga mat, and in silence they listened to the teacher’s calm language and instructions. I joined in time to attempt a few poses myself, with much less success than the students. The classroom had a beautiful sense of peace and tranquility about it.


    Second graders in the fourth room were busy with reader’s workshop. Some were reading and reflecting on individual just-right selections and others worked on their book club book, about a group of kids who are sent back in time to convince Abraham Lincoln to pass the Emancipation Proclamation.

    In the last of the five rooms, students were working on a project that blended art and science, a follow-up from a recent field trip to Sunflower Farm. Each child drew a picture of their own individual pumpkin – on the surface a seemingly straightforward activity. Yet the teachers coached students in everything from how to sit and hold colored pencils, to how to try various coloring techniques, to how to carefully notice nuances that made their pumpkin unique among the bunch. They were practicing “scientific drawing,” and children spent as much time observing and noticing as they did coloring.

    There’s a great quote from Annie Dillard that I like that I’m reminded of when I see the richness of children’s experience at Stanley: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”


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  • This little light of ours

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 10/24/2019

    Last week, we gathered as a school community for our first family group meetings of the year. We initiated family groups ten years ago as way to further build connections across grade levels and throughout the school. Every student staff member is part of a group – typically two students at each grade level, plus several faculty and staff. Like our mixed-age homerooms, students stay with their family group all the way through their time at Stanley.

    Light of ours K-1-2 Social-Emotional Teacher Allison, with help from former Stanley BPS teacher and consultant Katie Russell, leads the program, each year identifying a theme that becomes the curriculum of the program. Two years ago, we explored the notion of Integrity through family groups, last year focused on Stanley’s Umbrella (community), and this year, our theme is “This Little Light of Mine.” We kicked off the program in the ballroom by thinking together about ways each of us lets our light shine, culminating in a powerful “passing the light” activity set to song provided by a number of teachers. Groups then dispersed to various locations around campus to talk about ways we share our own light and to decorate beautiful light jars (perhaps your child’s made it home).

    Always at this time of year, we start to look ahead to a number of upcoming fall Stanley traditions in the next month. While some events have come and gone over the years at our school, there are many that have stood the test of time. As traditions tend to do, each of ours in its own way reveals a bit about our community and culture. Our events also serve to bring our community together, sometimes in celebration, sometimes to mark an important transition, sometimes to simply enjoy the company of friends and family.

    On Thursday, the 31st, perhaps the official beginning of our traditions “season,” we hold our annual Halloween parade-pageant-assembly in the gym, starting at 8:40 a.m. This tradition is one of our many truly unique, student-centered events throughout the year. We strive each year to make the event enjoyable and safe for all, and we ask that you help us by reviewing costume creations with your child or children. Please be aware that certain costumes can be culturally insensitive or stereotyping and may be offensive to particular groups or individuals within our school community. While we certainly do not want to dampen the creativity nor the slight irreverence of the event, we also have no intention of causing anyone to feel alienated. Also, older students planning scary costumes are reminded that our younger children can be easily frightened by excessive gore and masks that completely cover one’s face.

    We hope you’re able to come by on the 31st to enjoy the festivities, and if not, there’s plenty more on the horizon, including the Multicultural Feast (November 16), Grand People Day (November 22), and our Holiday Program (December 20).

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  • Prepping for the 4th Industrial Revolution

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 10/17/2019

    Last week, I, along with several of our administrative staff and a number of board members, attended the annual ACIS (Association of Colorado Independent Schools) fall conference. Our status as an independent school means that we are able to make our own educational decisions and set policies based on our school’s mission. Because we receive no public funding, we are able to manage our own finances and determine how to best allocate the resources we have.

    let light shing Our credibility within the larger community comes from two primary sources. The first, and most important, is the experience of our children and families. Nothing else can better represent the quality of our program. A second component of credibility comes through our accreditation by a greater organization. We are a member in good standing of both ACIS, the state-level organization, and NAIS, our national association. Membership within ACIS is by choice and is granted only through a rigorous accreditation process that ensures a candidacy school meets a detailed list of standards. Central to these standards, and the basis for school evaluation, is the degree to which a school’s practice and program aligns with its stated mission.

    The ACIS fall gathering provides school leaders with the chance to discuss current independent school challenges and opportunities with others from all over the state. In one session, Jefferson Burnett, from NAIS, discussed anticipated changes coming with the “4th Industrial Revolution” driven by automation and artificial intelligence. He remarked that children today will expect a lifespan approaching 100 years, meaning the old three-tiered paradigm of “school, work, retirement” will be disrupted. Over a career that may last 60-70 years, the average time in one job is expected to be 4.5 years, with specific job skills having a similarly short period of usefulness.

    The economy will reinforce skills-based, not degree-based, qualifications for employment, and the need for constant “reskilling” will be crucial. Burnett’s ultimate message is that he finds independent schools well-poised to provide the essential qualities- higher cognitive skills, social/emotional skills, and technological skills, that will allow our students to navigate a world of rapid change. Instilling in our children the value and habit of lifelong learning becomes one of our fundamental challenges and opportunities.

    Stanley Fund Launch!
    You will soon receive a mailing announcing the start of the 2019-20 Stanley Fund. Your generosity provides direct support to core elements of the Stanley experience, including faculty development, inclusiveness and financial access, technology, arts and theater, trips, our Stanley Scholars summer program, and much more. Thank you for helping ensure we’re able to meet our mission of serving children and families in the best way we know how!

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  • Nothing says “end of a unit” like releasing the curriculum content into the wild

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 10/3/2019

    What does a cricket eat? How can you tell a male from female? Can they swim? Ask any student in Catalina, Sally, Luanne and Anne’s class; they’ll know the answers: Pretty much anything, the males chirp, and no, they don’t swim. Their classroom completed a thematic unit on crickets, which concluded last week with an intimate and quite precious ceremony to return the subjects to the outdoors – complete with thoughtful written homages to each named cricket (Daisy, Pearl, Rainbow…). Nothing says “end of a unit” like releasing the curriculum content into the wild.


    Cricket release K12-3 Thematic units across our school allow students to explore a topic in depth, from multiple academic disciplines. This particular K-1-2 class initiated their study by sharing some class background reading – cricket picture books and articles – as well as offering to one another what they already knew about crickets. Following our British Primary emphasis on allowing children to ask they own questions and explore their own interests, they generated a list of what they wondered about – “Do they have a brain? How do they chirp?”. Once they had accrued enough background knowledge, students created a cricket habitat, specifically designed for optimal cricket health and comfort. Each child got their own cricket to study and care for during the unit. 


    It seems to me that both objectives, study and care, were critical and fundamental to the unit’s success. Students studied cricket habitat, observed changes over the two weeks – who knew crickets molted? – and learned about cricket lifecycle. They kept a classroom chart that tracked feeding times for their crickets, and they made a running classroom list of notices – “They poop a lot.” Along the way, children learned about caring for a living being. They learned a bit about respect for even the tiniest of creatures, and I expect they took away new understandings of the interconnectedness of life in our natural surroundings.

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  • As a “real world” awaits...

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 9/26/2019

    I love watching our youngest children arrive at school each morning. The way they walk, skip and run through the front doors seems to say, “Here I am, just the way I am, and I can’t wait to get going.” Children bring to school their interests, their hopes and their dreams – and the big decision for us at school lies in what we’re going to do with all that.

    Buddy group time in K12-3 It’s been well-researched that, sadly, schools do a good job of stifling the unbridled optimism and enthusiasm of a kindergartner. In one study, capacity for divergent thinking, or seeing multiple answers to a problem, was measured across a school age spectrum. Some 98 percent of kindergartners tested at the highest end of the study’s scale, and ten years later, only 10 percent did.

    Even more tragically, schools do an effective job of taking away childrens’ dreams. We send a clear message that it’s not good enough to be interested, even passionate, about some thing, whether it be science or basketball. We have built into the system ways of deciding who gets to follow their dreams and who doesn’t. We provide tests, tracking systems and tryouts to ensure that only the most talented will end up with full access.

    It’s easy to fall back onto the argument that a “real world” awaits, with competition, failures, disappointments just around the corner. Why not prepare them for that now? Let’s make sure we show them early on how they stack up with everyone else. Let’s reinforce the “I’m no good at math” refrain we hear. Let’s ensure that some kids don’t get much playing time in games so that they understand their physical limitations, stop trying, and miss out on all the good stuff sports are supposed to be teaching.

    Sure, there’s reality; not everyone gets to be an astronaut, and it’s really hard to make a living as an artist. But why do we worry so much about our kids being let down by life? What’s the worst case – they spend a lifetime following a passion and never “succeed” in it by traditional measures? And they spent their lives doing something they loved? Sounds okay to me. How many scientists or artists or engineers do you think we’ve lost because somewhere along the line a test, teacher or parent told them their work wasn’t as good as someone else’s? Of course feedback matters, and objective measurements can, and should, propel improvement. Ultimately, however, it seems we’re more secure in having our children go for the predictable path to “success” at the expense of what they might really care about.

    But the problem is, their adult world just might be a lot different from the one many of us navigated. The future is going to recognize a much wider range of talents and abilities (not my idea – researcher and author Ken Robinson has been talking about this for a while now). We have the opportunity, and mandate, as a school to help our children find passions, interests and the confidence to do something with them. Everyone we can think of who has achieved “success” at some point made a firm decision to do so. And we can definitely instill in our children the capacity for care- something each one of them will need and their world will reward.

    Here’s to a year of keeping our children’s dreams alive and well! 

    All the best,

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