A Letter from Tim

  • 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.”

    Best,
    Tim

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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,
    Tim

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  • From the wilds of Colofado

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 9/19/2019

    Wild pics

    Earlier this month, Stanley students took to the wilds of Colorado for annual outdoor adventures. Our 3-4-5 students participated in a one-day excursion to Lair o' the Bear State Park near Morrison, and the day’s activities included hiking, boat building, river exploration (vigorous wading), an art choice, outdoor games, and river ecology. 6-7-8 students participated homeroom-based camping trips, three-day journeys into remote areas of Colorado’s nature. It’s refreshing and inspiring to watch how naturally and eagerly our students take to exploring the outdoor world. Their fascination with wildlife, water, mud- anything related to the natural environment – opens up so many possibilities for them that we often miss as adults.

    All the best,
    Tim

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  • Actively involving you in your child's education

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 9/12/2019

    I enjoyed seeing such a great turnout for last week’s middle school back-to-school night, and look forward to the same this evening. We appreciate the opportunity to share your child’s classroom experience with you. I hope the evening offers insights into the richness of activity and learning that’s already taken place over the first month of school. I also hope your time in our classrooms demonstrates a critical part of the “why” of Stanley – the way we think about carefully blending academic and social-emotional learning – a combination that is a defining trait of British Primary philosophy and an essential element of our program’s success.

     

    Back to school Our back-to-school events are the beginning of a rich program of parent education opportunities throughout the school year. Some, like our grade-level coffees and Parent Association pop-up socials, are held first thing in the morning after dropoff, and others, such as a number of our committee meetings and occasional guest speaker presentations, are held in the evenings. You’ll find parent events listed on the all-school calendar.

     

     We are mindful of how we schedule events to encourage and allow as much attendance as we can. Given the frequency and quantity, it’s unrealistic to try to attend all, and we invite you to join us as you’re able. In our values statements that accompany our vision and mission, we write, “We actively include parents in their child’s education and view partnership with parents as a critical means to recognize our mission.” We know that when children see their parents interested and engaged with their lives at school, learning is enhanced.

     

    We often say that parents know their own children better than anyone possibly can – with unique and valuable insights to share – and teachers know children in general better than any of us as individual parents can. The combination of the two in partnership provides a powerful platform to support our children.

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  • Starting with Why

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 9/5/2019

    Each summer, our faculty engages in a wide variety of professional development endeavors, and our summer reading is one experience we share as a full staff. This year, we read Simon Sinek’s book "Start with Why." He’s an organizational management consultant, author and speaker, and his Ted Talkis one of the most viewed ever. Like many thinkers and writers of his kind, he posits a simple, but powerful, idea that has a great deal of significance in the way we think about our lives and our work. 

    What's your why His basic premise is that the most compelling organizations start with a clear understanding of why they exist – what they believe, what they stand for, why they matter. In his book, he uses examples ranging from MLK to Apple to show that the most effective companies, or people, are rooted in a strong sense of why they’re doing what they’re doing.

    Martin Luther King, Jr., was passionately able to convey what he believed, and people wanted to follow. Sinek notes that MLK had a “dream,” not a “12-point plan” – big difference. Apple sets out to challenge to status quo – that’s their why – and their products follow from that. In a model he calls the “Golden Circle,” Sinek shows that once the center, the why, is established, the “how” and “what” of the organization can flow outward.

    At our retreat in August, we used Sinek’s notion of starting with the why to first think about our own personal “whys,” and then worked in groups to reflect upon Stanley’s why (see the full display in the Hambidge Commons community space). Here’s what we came up with: 

    Stanley British Primary School exists:

    • to create a community that fosters joyful, lifelong learning
    • to help children become engaged citizens of the world
    • because children educated in a safe, joyful community make a difference in the world
    • to make the world a better place for all

    Some ambitious whys indeed, yet I know that we’re deeply committed to doing our part to make the world a better place. We’re dedicated to a promising vision of the world to come, and we’re honored to help our students find their place in it. 

    All the best,
    Tim

    PS read about one of our newest staff member's whys below in this newsletter and in our Learning Report blog.

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  • Student safety and well-being, on and off campus

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 8/29/2019

    As we begin our school year together, I wanted you to know we are committed to student safety and well-being, on an off campus. Students flourish only when they know their community is a safe one, and we take a broad view of safety towards that end. Our educational program intentionally fosters social-emotional as well as physical safety, though for the purposes of this communication I’d like to focus on the latter and share some key elements of school safety and security. Like all aspects of student well-being, our approach to physical security invests in the active participation of all community members. 


    Orientation with Tim Our faculty and staff engage in regular trainings and embrace the responsibility we all share in addressing any unsafe situation and in responding to any emergency that may happen. We prepare students to respond to a range of crises and design trainings that help them understand real versus perceived risks. We also work to create safe spaces for our students to discuss their worries and we acknowledge the prevalence of student anxiety around the issue of school security. Here are specific ways Stanley addresses school safety and security:

    Oversight and Management
    Last year, we initiated a Risk Management and Child Well-Being Committee of our board of trustees. This group, comprised of board members, senior administrative staff, and school community members with relevant expertise, meets throughout the year to review and advise school policies and practices.

    Stanley’s Emergency Response Team, comprised of senior administrative and facilities staff, meets monthly to continually plan, review, and revise the school’s safety and security measures. We plan and implement regular trainings for students and staff, and we engage in regular “tabletop” scenarios to preview practices and communication strategies in the event of a school crisis. 

    We draw heavily from outside expertise and resources to inform our work, in particular the Colorado School Safety Resource Center. (Colorado.gov/CSSRC) We use the organization for on-site staff trainings, consultation on campus physical security, and off-site safety workshops. 

    Building Security
    We provide a locked school perimeter during the school day. After drop-off times, all parents and guests enter Stanley through the front door after being granted entrance by our front desk staff, and all sign-in and receive a visitor’s lanyard. On campus, we provide limited access to each of our campus classroom buildings, with one unlocked door into each. 

    All entrances to the main building are covered by video surveillance cameras, as is most of the rest of campus, and we’re currently exploring the most optimal locations for additional cameras.

    We employ the firm Securitas to conduct several patrols each night. They ensure buildings are secure and monitor the campus for any unwanted visitors.

    Crisis Trainings
    Our purpose in conducting campus emergency drills- evacuation, lockout, lockdown, and shelter in place- is to give students tools and agency to respond in an emergency. We use age-appropriate language with our students to ensure that we are not contributing to the anxiety many may feel. We want them to understand that these drills are simply a part of our overall plan to keep the Stanley community a safe place for them and for all of us. These drills also enable us to pre-brief and de-brief as a faculty and staff at grade levels to ensure everyone is familiar with safety procedures for different situations.

    More details, including answers to FAQs, can be found on our website at stanleybps.org/parents.

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  • Creating an environment in which students want to learn

    Posted by Tim Barrier on 8/22/2019 12:00:00 PM

    Welcome to our year at school and our first edition of the 2019-20 Weekly Bulldog! After a busy summer session and weeks of campus preparations, we’re thrilled to have students back in our classrooms. Thank you for your assistance in all that you do, from online forms to class setups, to help get our year smoothly underway.

     

    Outdoor classroom Along with the joyfulness of students on the first day of school, I’m energized by the passion and enthusiasm of our teachers ready to engage once again in the lives of our children and families. I marvel at what our teachers do, in and out of the classroom, to support our kids. By choice, teachers make a fundamental commitment to make a lasting and positive impact on the lives of children, and Stanley teachers are uncommon in the depth of their dedication.

     

    The role of “teacher” continues to be transformed, or at least it should be. Teachers were once seen as the ones with all the knowledge who were tasked with transferring some of that knowledge to students. Of course, whatever body of knowledge teachers once had is dramatically obsolete – any information imaginable, and plenty that’s not, is readily available and accessible. We don’t need teachers to provide factual content, even to help students find it.

     

    What we do need teachers to do is show why information matters and help students realize the power of information in their grasps. What might they want to do with it? Build a persuasive argument? Solve a problem? Gain an insight into how something works?

     

    Teachers help children understand what kind of information matters. Some of it matters for its own sake and is needed for participation in society – like why our government is structured the way it is, or how everything in an ecosystem is interdependent. Other information matters because it means something to a teacher – and they convey that interest – or it resonates somehow with the curiosity of a young mind. Either way, teachers first demonstrate that knowing all you can about something is worthwhile – whether that something is politics, literature, planetary science or the Broncos.

     

    Teachers also help children with things that they otherwise may avoid, and they do it by creating an environment in which children want to learn, not because they’re coerced. Writing a coherent, compelling essay is hard work. It takes lots of practice, and to learn to write well takes a patient teacher who can reveal the magic of expressing oneself through written language. It certainly doesn’t come by completing worksheets on sentence construction.

     

    Mostly, it seems to me that teachers like the ones we have at Stanley teach children to care. They don’t tell students what to care about, but they model that caring about something is important. It’s a critical step in the process of learning what interests you, what you want to know more about, what’s worth spending time and energy on. Ultimately, that capacity to care gives life meaning.

     

    It’s a great privilege to work every day alongside teachers who live our mission, “to engage, challenge and inspire children to reach their potential and develop their own voices…”  We look forward to a tremendous year ahead with your children and you.

     

    All the best,
    Tim

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