Growth through change is both impactful and challenging

Posted by Greg Chalfin on 11/8/2018

As we wind down the first trimester, I am struck by the positive, productive, and thoughtful beginning to the year we have had. There are a myriad of reasons this has occurred, from the wonderful faculty who have engaged with your children to the positive tone that has been set by students across all grade levels to the incredibly supportive families of our middle school community students. In this new role, I am grateful to have felt a partnership with faculty and parents alike in supporting the most important constituent of our school, the students themselves.

8th soccer In coming into this role, one of the ways I am learning and thinking about Stanley and its evolution is through the lens of one of my favorite educational philosophers, former Stanford University graduate school of education professor Elliot Eisner. Before his passing in 2014, Eisner wrote widely on a myriad of educational topics. From the value of arts education to curriculum studies to educational reform, one way that Eisner thought about schools was as an ecosystem. In my own professional work as an educator, this was a transformative lens through which to see schools and the way they function.

As in an ecosystem in nature, the addition or subtraction of one organism or plant does not have influence in a vacuum. It influences everything else with which it interacts, and the same is true of schools. Eisner delineated five buckets that interact with one another: the intentions of the school, the structures it has in place (time and space), the curriculum it covers, the instructional methods it employs, and the evaluation tools it uses and values. Change one of these elements, and you change them all. For example, one might casually think that a minor change to the curriculum would not impact the success of a certain evaluation method. In schools, as in ecosystems, all is interconnected, and that makes change in schools both impactful and challenging. It’s why I am so enjoying the work that I am doing.

Last month, I asked the middle school faculty to engage with an exercise with this notion of schools as ecosystems, using a design thinking methodology from one of the faculty summer reads, “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelley, founders of the d.school at Stanford. Through this, the middle school faculty brainstormed questions about all of the different elements of our school, forming “How might we…” questions to think about places they hope Stanley can grow as the school evolves and continues to improve. The commitment to improvement and to joyful, lifelong learning came through in spades with the faculty, and I could not be more excited about the ideas that we are playing with in thinking about how to best support students and align our practice with the wonderful mission of our school. Growth through changes has already taken place with our schedule, curriculum, and teaching methods this year, and it is a true joy to be able to be in classrooms and to help teachers grow in their practice. I am so excited about the direction we are heading. 

It may go without saying, but this is an immensely busy time of the year at Stanley. With conferences completed and reports due for middle school faculty at the end of first trimester next week, everyone is hard at work to support and communicate with you about our students. Thank you for your support at home in processing these comments and conversations with your children.  

Finally, I wanted to alert you to a potential upcoming conversation for middle school families. As you well know, technology surrounds us all. You are receiving this very letter by email and are reading it on some sort of device. For adolescents, navigating the pressures of technology is an important element of growing up. At a recent 7th grade parent coffee, this was an important topic of conversation, and from that, there was momentum toward a middle school-wide conversation around how we can best support our children in this challenging facet of adolescence. There are two takeaways from this conversation to consider and then some possible next steps you may want to take.

First, Stanley and your families already have some wonderful measures in place around technology use. As I recently discussed with the 8th graders during Grade Level time, I fully support Stanley’s measure to not allow students to have their cell phones during the school day. Among a myriad of reasons, it allows your children to be more present in interactions with their peers when they are here. As you may have read, the entire nation of France’s policies aligned with Stanley recently. 

Additionally, I talked with the 8th graders about this past summer’s movie “Eighth Grade.” In watching a clip of the film, students said that if they acted in the manner in which the protagonist had toward their parents, their parents would have immediately taken their technology away and would not have accepted such disrespect. Keeping phones away at dinner, limiting screen time, and monitoring technological use appears to be happening in Stanley households, and I am so encouraged to hear that. Thank you for all you are doing at home.

If you are interested in some more resources and next steps, you may want to watch this clip from CBS Sunday Morning about the film “Eighth Grade” and read the book iGen: Why Today’s Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – And Completely Unprepared For Adulthood. That very book will also be the topic of conversation for a Middle School parent discussion on the evening of Sunday, December 2nd for middle school parents. If you are interested in being part of that conversation, pick up a copy and come discuss the thoughts and ideas of author Dr. Jean Twenge as it relates to your child’s experience. I look forward to helping and supporting you in with this topic, and please RSVP to me by next Thursday, Nov. 15 if you are interested in attending, so we can coordinate logistics of the evening. More to come on that soon.

Thank you again for all your support, and best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to you and your families! I am so grateful to be part of such a wonderful community, and I look forward to our paths crossing soon!