Little Makers in the Makerspace: Focus on 4th Grade

Authored by Rachel Scott

This year has been quite a change of pace in the Makerspace and PBL world at the Lower School. Not only are students engaging in a more integrated approach in the classrooms, 1st through 4th grade students are also spending scheduled time in the Makerspace workshop each week. Throughout the year, I want to take time to showcase the maker magic that is taking place both in the classrooms and inside the makerspace.

International Day of Peace

As you may already know, September 21st was the International Day of Peace. Students in the ECC and the Lower School spent time prior to the International Day of Peace on learning and discussing this special day, as well as brainstorming what peace means to them and how they each can spread kindness in their homes, classrooms, and greater communities.

4th grade students worked on a special project as a result of collaboration between Hailey Allin, the Lower School chaplin, Mayson McKey, Asst. Director of Global Studies, and myself, Technology Coordinator and Integration Specialist over the Makerspace. The 4th grade students in Mrs. Black’s, Mrs. Cosgrave’s, Mrs. Frame’s, and Mrs. Lin’s classes spent 2 weeks designing, and constructing their very own peace lanterns. 

Students drew and traced out designs that symbolize peace and kindness. They later laser cut their designs into a thin plywood, and constructed the lanterns that were later displayed during the Lower School chapel service.

Take a look at their final peach lantern project:

Coding Competition

Each year students from several schools are invited to attend a coding competition sponsored by CSpire at the Mississippi Children’s Museum. This year, the event took place on September 14th. I was honored to bring four 4th grade students to participate in the all-day event. Grant Abston, Kaiden Ambrose, Robert Farr, and Beau Wright attended the competition where they were able to work with mentors from CSpire where they worked as a team to design and build a course. They then worked to complete the coding sequence for a Cue robot to complete the course of their own design.

It was a day full of learning new things, hard work, and lots of FUN!

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I can’t wait to share more of what our little makers are working on next time!

A Case for Educational Philosophy: On Mirrors, Windows, and North Stars

I admit it. I used to assign those teaching philosophy statements to my poor undergraduates. I can’t quite count the number of times I talked students through how problematic “gardening” metaphors were, as in: “I believe that children are like seeds and my job is to nourish and water them so that they grow into beautiful flowers.” 

I shouldn’t have blamed them.  They were 19 years old and had never taught a day in their lives.  

Philosophy comes in handy, in my experience, only insofar as there is practice to shape it up.  In other words, teach a week or a month or a year and let’s revisit that statement.  Some of it will hold true.  Some of it won’t.  The blessing of articulating an identity comes in the mandate to confront a whole bunch of elusive “whys” that surround every teeny tiny and big teaching decision you/we make.  As in, Why did I start class that way? Why did I set up that particular procedure? Why did I pace things in that particular order?  Why do I talk to students that way? Why do I grade that way? Why are we reading/writing that text? 

I believe the more we examine the whys, the more we can (1) shift our practices to better align with our values and beliefs and (2) consider how our practices and real experiences with actual youth in classroom spaces might convince us that our beliefs need shifting. 

I want to be clear here: there are better and worse ways to help youth access content.  There is an entire body of learning science, brain science, sociocultural studies, etc. that we owe it to ourselves and our children to learn about, internalize, and acknowledge.. . . . (link to fields of education)  We are not merely islands trying things out and guessing and picking what we like. We are growing together to do this impossible thing we do better, more efficiently, and more appropriately.  So let me add a third reason why ed philosophy matters: It can function as aspirational.  By naming who we want to be, and not merely who we are, we can better support every member of a school to reach those goals.

After all, you put together all of our individual micro-teaching decisions and look across the corpus of all of our classrooms across every program at St. Andrew’s, you make a school culture.  It’s important to be honest with our students (prospective/current), parents, alumni, admin, staff, and fellow faculty about who we are trying to be. 

Different schools offer different flavors and cultures of education. I recall in my first meeting in my first day at St. Andrew’s, I asked the group I was with “what do we mean by innovation?” There was a natural resistance to unpacking that term, because the moment we operationalize something we might limit freedom or possibilities.  Besides, how could we possibly account for the wide variation of best practice that accompanies every field of discipline at every age level?  We are an independent school, after all. Teachers need independence.

Yes, AND sometimes the number of choices and ways of being can become a form of exhausting torture.  Sometimes I want the comfort of knowing the practices and norms that my incoming class will have internalized.  We have all been new to the community.  The lack of already-established structures and practices can be terrifying.  

That is why I believe the most important initiative I can help forward this year at St. Andrew’s is ensuring we articulate a philosophy of education. (Footnote: That, and also because Kevin Lewis put it as my top professional goal in my role this year during our end of year review this summer.  But mostly, I really do believe in it.)

The Faculty and Administration Advisory Council began the work in earnest last school year in subcommittees examining the areas above.

In case you were wondering, it just takes one SAIS or NAIS publication or conference to see we are not alone.  Everybody and their brother is attempting to find their ed philosophy, which is now often popularly called “finding your school’s north star.”  Cool, right?

But just now I did a little googling and I discovered something amazing.  Sure, the north star is a guidepost that marks the sky’s north pole.  But (brace yourself for a shock), guess what?


Not a lot, of course.  The star can still help us find the direction north.  But apparently it makes a small little circle around the exact point of the north celestial pole every day.  

As we engage in trying to pin down who we are, we should perhaps find solace in knowing why this work is so dang slippery.  The point is not in locating the exact spot: “hurray! I found it!” The point is in the pursuit, the maddening, glorious conversation.  The constellation of all of our individual north stars coming together to form a school that is going places with students who are, perhaps most importantly, in their own furious pursuit of their personal north stars.  

Will you join us in this work?

This One Thing I Know: Cultivating Communities of Writers

I have shared extensively about my myriad failures and falling shorts with my senior English class.  This is because I am honest to a fault, and I am that peculiar brand of person that both hates not being perfect and learns a lot when I make space for my imperfection. 

But let me act out of character and brag a minute about a thing I think I know, something I do decently:  Classrooms function best as communities of practice.  So in my English classroom, we better darn well be sharing our writing with each other all the time.

I attempted this the first day of class (let’s write a poem inspired by a mentor text) and the discomfort was visceral.  I may be a fool, but I wasn’t born yesterday, so I expected this to happen. We pushed through the discomfort.  “We are going around the circle and you can talk ABOUT what you wrote if you aren’t ready to share a sentence, phrase, or the whole piece.”  Everyone talked about their poem.  No one read aloud the actual text.

I built in daily ways that their writing would be showcased.  If we were working on thesis statements, I’d feature anonymous excellent thesis statements folks submitted and we’d talk about why. If they had submitted journal freewrites about why homecoming is important to SA, I featured anonymous snippets of those.  

Every class this is my goal. We may fail in a million ways but we are going to write together.  And then we are going to have the opportunity share that writing with at least one other person.

This includes me and my own sharing.  Last week I nearly started crying reading aloud a piece conveying how much I longed to make my dad proud by loving the things he loved, but how rarely I actually found a shared interest with him. The poem wasn’t great. But their support in the moment was. 

Right now I’m in the midst of mining their first essay drafts for mentor sentences that show off things some students are struggling with: powerful introductory sentences, thoughtful commentary following up evidence, a properly constructed paragraph, a correctly cited quote. 

I never use anonymous student work to show mistakes, only to show moments of success. The amazing thing is it is quite easy to showcase everyone at different times. One kid has an incredibly creative voice, but not thoughtful commentary.  Another senior can mine quotes from a text like no one’s business.  Another student is killer academic in his big ideas but lacks specificity of evidence. 

If I put all of these writer’s strengths together, I’d have some magic.

That’s what classrooms can be.


Last week we were in a hurry, had lots to do, and I was thinking we might skip doing an original poem inspired by the poem of the day. 

Beginning Again

“If I could stop talking, completely

cease talking for a year, I might begin

to get well,” he muttered.

Off alone again performing

brain surgery on himself

in a small badly lit

room with no mirror. A room

whose floor ceiling and walls

are all mirrors, what a mess

oh my God—

And still

it stands,

the question

not how begin

again, but rather


So we sit there


the mountain

and me, Li Po

said, until only the mountain


—Franz Wright

The students seemed into it though so we had a short freewrite.  “Maybe we’ll skip the open share out,” I thought to myself.  But the writing time felt so intense, I felt the urge to ask if anyone wanted to share.  Four hands went into the air.  Four very different creatives read excerpts for their piece.  There was no vestige of the discomfort I sensed on the first day when no one wanted to share. Students snapped and smiled in appreciation of the brilliance within their ranks. 

As I walked out of the room that day three students stuffed their poems in my hand. “We know you aren’t collecting these for a grade or anything,” they said, “but we just thought you might want to read them.” 

I did.  

Much Ado About Deadlines

Okay, let me run two scenarios by you:

Scenario 1: Over two weeks ago in class I gave students this very clear, scaffolded assignment sheet and timeline for their literary analysis paper.  We worked on chunks (thesis, evidence building, drafting) in class.  Yesterday was our peer review day in which they were asked to bring a full draft, hard copy and one submitted digitally.  There was a visceral sense of panic.  Students came to class by our 8:15am start time, and most had at least part of a draft digitally completed, but only a handful actually had a printed out hard copy draft.  Several said “I only have a few paragraphs done.” One said “I need an extension; I don’t have anything.” Another said “I have a full draft, but it is terrible and makes no sense.” Another comes in visibly frustrated, with a loud volume of a voice: “It was WAY too much to have us bring an entire draft today, Dr. Rust!  We can’t write an entire paper in two days!” I swallowed my frustration.  I let people go to the library so they could print out their draft and engage in the peer review exercise, despite the fact that class had begun.  I calmly talked through how deadlines like this will also sneak up on them in college, and gave them some tips for how to better hold themselves accountable.  We discussed what a fair next step would be, and ended up with a one day extension and one extra Monday class for writing conferences.

Scenario 2: TEAM members and I gathered over the summer and then more recently to co-construct deadlines for blog blasts.  We first planned a clear deadline for September.  Then, when we met that month we decided we needed an extra week.  I updated the shared google doc timeline and sent everyone a calendar reminder of the new deadline. I started an informal TEAM google chat to start sharing about my in progress blogs to get everyone’s feedback and put the deadline on everyone’s radar.  Then, three days before our newer extended deadline, we all began to feel a sense of panic. I realized I had never caught up one of our TEAM members in-person that had to miss our last meeting because of a sick child.  Besides, my plan to blog for hours the past weekend hadn’t gone to plan because of unanticipated kid obligations.  I got a message from one TEAM member:  “This week has been overwhelming; would it be a disaster if I didn’t have a blog this month?”  I felt an unexpectedly huge sense of relief.  Perhaps I could have another weekend to put words on a page instead of accumulating incredibly late nights! What a gift that would be!  “Let’s push it to the first week of October! We could all use the extra weekend,” I quickly messaged back.  When I sent the news to everyone, the joy was communally shared.  I could be wrong, but I have the distinct sense that the content on this blog blast was the better because of it.

I put these two very true anecdotes side by side, not to make any solid points, but merely to raise questions:

  • How should I have better scaffolded deadlines in both situations? Should I have?
  • Are expanding deadlines actually a normal part of any workflow process? Should we just expect them? 
  • Is there an appropriate age difference situation in our relationship with deadlines between when I work with seniors in high school and our collaborations with adults/or our own adult work?
  • What are deadlines for?
  • Is it possible that some types of deadlines, purposes, and audiences should be held more strictly and others should allow for more flexibility? Which types for which?
  • Would I fail/serve both my seniors, myself, and my fellow TEAM members more if I:
    • Extended with great grace or
    • Held strictly to the original deadline or
    • Found a balance between the two?
  • Should we seek to cultivate class cultures so that students are more or less likely to put our class last in their invisible triage of tasks (aka “Dr. Rust is nice, so she’ll let us have an extension but I absolutely HAVE to do my other homework”)?
  • Should we believe our students if they say they are overwhelmed by a deadline, or should we assume they are being lazy procrastinators?  
  • Should we believe ourselves when we feel overwhelmed by our adult deadlines, or should we consider we are being lazy procrastinators?
  • How can we cultivate honest and clear lines of communication for our students, our collaborators, and our own selves when we need to share that we are quite honestly overwhelmed and need some form of support?
  • Are we all just too durn busy? 
  • In essence, yet again, the question remains: how do we balance grace/responsiveness/flexibility to our learners and ourselves with high standards/accountability/commitment? 

End of Quarter 1: A Time to Reflect

If you are anything like me, you are in no way facing a dearth of ideas for teaching.  There are so many things to cover! There are so many WAYS to cover them! I just learned how to turn any old boring worksheet into Capture the Flag! Thanks, Teacher Tik Tok! (Yes, I did just type three exclamation points in a row.  Yes, I do have to edit my writing for excessive exclamation points.)

For me, the real challenge is slowing down.  Slowing myself down.  Slowing my students down.  Is everyone in the room on the same page? Are we hearing each other with a clear ear and learning from the moment well, deeply? Breathing.  Remembering.  Reflecting.  Why is this thing we are doing important? Why are we doing it? What did we do yesterday and how does it connect to today? And where can I locate myself in the midst of all of this?  

In other words, are we actually learning anything at all if we don’t make space to jog the old memory banks and remind ourselves about that learning from time to time? 

We all need people that help us do this well.  Enter Rev. Hailey, stage left.  She does for me often when we are in meetings together with her trademark humility (e.g. “sorry- I want to make sure I am clear on what you are saying” or “what I’m hearing you say is . . . “) but really what she is doing is clearing the space for us all to take a breath and get on the same page.  She is gently nudging us into what is far more appropriate, more human pace for collaboration. 

She also did this today in chapel at Lower School in a way that is going to shape something I do next week with my seniors in English class.

Backpack on her back, she did a quick review of topics covered in chapel throughout quarter 1.  Pulling laminated big topics one by one (“honor”, “prayer”, “respect”) she did a quick spiraled review of what was covered.  Then she did a quick synthesis/tie together of the logic of these chapels with the climactic laminated heart she whipped out of the bag.  Love.  The seemingly disparate topics all had love in common.  Jackpot.  

It should be said, the kids were squirming in their criss-cross-apple-sauce positions, several raising hands in not-so-subtle pleading to be picked to hold up one of the signposts. I mean, who wouldn’t?

She took a whole chapel to do, in essence, a spiraled review with a cherry on top tying the whole first quarter together. She could have covered another burning topic.  Instead, she decided to take a breath so that the children could see the internal, invisible logic behind what they had perceived as disparate chapels and topics each Friday. 

What if we all found a way to celebrate the end of the first quarter by making our invisible backpacks (link to research on invisible curriculum) visible?  What if our students helped us hold up the concepts, ideas, and aha moments in simultaneous recognition, realization, and celebration?  What if we all took a moment to say to our students, ourselves, our colleagues:

“Sorry, can we just take a breath? I want to get clear on what we are all learning.”

We Learned More than CPR: Lessons about Teaching Gleaned from Our PD Training in September

It was just a few weeks ago, at about 4:20pm on a Wednesday. I ran into Matt Luter in our collective dash to the post-PD-time parking lot.  

I blurted out my predominant feeling at the time: “That was TERRIFYING!”  Any story involving blood, unconsciousness, emergency medical situations gets my heart going.  I am not in the medical field for like about 100 reasons.

Matt, however, had a different initial observation: “I am so impressed with that presenter.  I remember her from last year as well.  She fit in so much information in such a short amount of time and yet kept us locked in.”

He was, as he usually is, completely right. Sure. the husband-wife duo weren’t visiting our campuses to help us get better at teaching/learning.  They didn’t have doctorates in pedagogy.  But there sure was a lot we could take from them to level up our classroom impact. Here are some of our greatest takeaways from the CPR training this year:

  • They spoke loudly and clearly with big voice modulation.
  • They kept the pacing super quick and made sure to get us out on time.
  • They asked questions throughout to see what we already knew.
  • They included dramatic personal stories (often locally situated)  to lock us in emotionally.
  • They related it to our own risk (self, family, etc.) to gain investment.
  • They provided props for each of us participate
  •  They differentiated by offering other options for those with knee/back issues, etc.

Learning how to save lives while singing “Staying Alive” in our heads is important enough to spend PD time on. But simultaneously learning lessons about how to teach better by excellent presenter modeling? That’s worth staying after school for.

Why Asking for Help is a Superpower

I’ve already shown off the wrist  x-ray that signifies my past summer of “oh yeah you are middle aged, not a figure skater.” You know, this one:

(Good news side note: the x ray was clean. It was just nerve damage!)

But there’s a part two to that story. 

Several weeks past the injury, I was still in major pain.  Texting and typing and carrying anything at all in my left hand were impacted in a way that made me wince constantly. I remember at one point trying to cut vegetables for stir fry for my family and bursting into tears because, even with every smart modification I could attempt, I couldn’t make it happen. 

Lucy and Justin (it’s always Lucy and Justin) rushed to the kitchen.  “Ask for help,” they admonished me, taking the knife gently out of my hands and becoming my on-demand sous chefs. 

A few days later, I was lamenting to my office neighbor buddy Annie that I had a work trip coming up and I, for the life of me, couldn’t figure out how I was going to manage the carrying of luggage required for flight. I had tried to call a few orthopedists to see if they could fit me in before the trip, but no one had a slot earlier than two weeks away.

“What about [one of our co-worker’s] husband? Do you have her text?”

I hesitated. I knew this colleague peripherally, as a beloved member of our community, but she wasn’t a bestie I had in my contacts.  Also, I wasn’t that kind of person, ya know, the kind of person that jumps the line because of a connection I have. Also also I didn’t want to bug her. I imagined her confusion if I texted: “who is that weird woman texting me?” and “doesn’t she know my husband is super busy?” 

Annie (as she often does in a way that I so admire) took matters in her own hands. She sent a quick text to Leah connecting us. Approximately 53 seconds later, my phone dinged.  “I’m going to go ahead and have my husband’s nurse call you. I bet he can fit you in Monday morning first thing.” 33 seconds later the nurse messaged.  I was speechless.  Suddenly this big, insurmountable problem was fixed.  Just like that.

I thanked Annie profusely.  I also articulated how unlike me it felt to take advantage of a connection. She laughed.  “Julie, you know that good feeling you get when you help people? Guess what? Other people get that same feeling when they help you.  Don’t take away their chance at that good feeling.”

Mic drop.

Asking for help is more than just taking advantage of all the doctors that are part of our St. Andrew’s community.  It has a lot to do, for me, about becoming a better teacher.  And the first step is being real and vulnerable about my teaching struggles. When I mention a mistake or tension that I face in my Tuesday Teaching Tips, I am always met with grace, commiseration, and help, and often a mixture of all three. 

I think my October new year’s resolution (that should be a thing) is to ask ask ask for help.  I think the work we do is too difficult and too potentially isolating not to.  And I know I am surrounded by a community-network of helpers.  We are literally in this profession because we are professional helpers. 

But people can’t help if they don’t know I need it. So maybe we can all work to make spaces in which it is possible to say how this thing is hard.  I’ll raise my hand first.


There.  I feel better. Now if you can help me do a better job of scaffolding deadlines with seniors, I’m all ears. 

If Only You Knew, Part 1

Authored by Hannah Williams-Inman

As teachers, we’ve probably all had moments where students were just maybe a little too honest with us. Maybe it’s our “course evaluation” survey, and the teenagers see it as an opportunity to air their grievances, or maybe it’s when we found out that Sally’s “mommy said a no-no word,” and straight from Sally’s mouth, no less! Sometimes, I long for the day that the adolescent filter (if we can even call it that) falls into place, and they realize that they don’t have to share everything that pops into their head. But sometimes, I find myself wishing I could peek into their brains, just for a second.

As a middle school teacher, I am aware that students, particularly in the 7th and 8th grades, are maybe living the hardest years of their lives. Everything is changing, everything is weird, they’re always hungry, and nothing seems to be easy. I’m aware of this on our best days, when we make inside jokes and giggle together, and on our worst days, when they give me the “lights on, nobody’s home,” stare as I ask why they haven’t turned in any of their assignments. Particularly now, it seems that students are retreating into themselves, and are having a hard time communicating with people not through a screen – in fact, some would actually prefer if they could TEXT their way out of having a real conversation with an adult! Some of them think even an EMAIL is too much! 

This may seem wild to you, but for me, as a 27 year-old baby-adult, I kind of get it… I’m not exactly jumping at the chance to make a phone call and schedule an appointment, honestly. All of this got me to thinking; what would the students tell us if they didn’t have this fear of conversation, fear of confrontation, and fear that they may somehow suffer for sharing their thoughts? What do they wish we knew?

Now, obviously, these are teenagers. I’m going to share their messages within the context that we sometimes need to filter this stuff out. They can be emotional, stressed, and say things they don’t mean (which we totally can’t relate to, as adults), so bearing that in mind, I asked a few lucky kiddos, “What do you wish you could tell your teachers?”

To start us off strong, in an absolutely BRUTAL response from an upper schooler, this student wishes we knew that we aren’t as funny as we think we are. I beg to differ.

A few middle school students wished that we understood that they have more going on at home than we may know about. I think their teachers wish they had this inside info, too! One of the students actually gave the example, “Well, I didn’t do my homework, because my dog died.” Oof! I got to have a nice chat with this group, and shared that there are things we don’t know because we can’t read their minds… we wondered what it would look like for them to actually go to their teachers with things like this, openly, rather than hope that their teachers somehow discover it. It was a nice picture.

Finally, another student wanted us to understand that each of our classes isn’t their only class. They feel like they’re juggling so many plates, and that they are still figuring out how to keep them all spinning. They wanted to share that, although each of their classes is uniquely important, there’s more than one important class on their course load. To me, this sounds like a classic thing to hear from any student who could maybe stand to improve their organizational skills (this student in particular is highly organized and high achieving, so there’s that). Rather than discount it entirely, I found myself trying to consider their perspective, and feel some compassion toward this teenager doing their best. Of course, ultimately they need to turn in their work and study for their tests, and that’s not going to change, but is there room for us to acknowledge just how much we ask of them?

For me, the kids are the best part of this job! Getting to hear things like this is helpful to me as I form relationships with them, and I hope it’s the same for you. Hopefully, as I share these things through the filter of my brain, this column can help us all to learn something new about our students, and maybe, in my conversations with the kids themselves, I can try to (possibly? sometimes? if I’m lucky?) encourage them to be better students in the long run… but we’ll see how all of that goes.

I wonder what we’ll learn next time… if only you knew.

Jazz Steps: Dancing into the Joyful Unknown

Authored by Jessica Parker-Farris

“The 3 ‘M’s’: Make, Meditate & Celebrate, and Move On,” Created by (our very own and very talented) Jessica Parker-Farris

I’m on a personal mission to find joy! While on my journey, however, I’ve noticed that rather than being kind to myself, I often torment myself for my lack of perfection in all things. This caused me to ponder both the literal and possible unconscious semantics of one word I use quite frequently: mistake

At the Lower School we now use Responsive Classroom when talking to our students, a common language that helps us communicate in a way that is clear, consistent, and constructive, thereby empowering students to evolve their growth mindset, to remove needless judgment, and to focus on new possibilities. In my classroom I frequently use the word mistake for just that, an opportunity for growth, and insist it can be something beautiful, referencing books like The Book of Mistakes and Beautiful Oops. (Just an fyi – the former is brilliant, great for folks of all ages, and has abruptly shifted many a 4th grader from wailing in defeat to literally jumping up and exclaiming, “I know what to do!”) But I still wonder if that choice of word, mistake, has its limitations. 

Sometimes described as an “elder millennial,” I didn’t make positive associations with the word mistake during my childhood but rather incredible amounts of self-judgment, so much so that while I can be hopeful for my students, when the word is applied to myself, I can feel my entire nervous system screaming, “Oh no! You failure!” It hasn’t hurt that I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last couple of years. (If you haven’t tried professional help, can’t recommend it enough – Mental health is a part of health!) It’s thanks to these conversations with my therapist that I even have a new awareness of this quiet, yet oh-so-persistent voice of self-judgment in my head: you’re not _____ enough. (Think of a word, insert it there, and I’ve probably thought it!)  

Turns out I’m not the only one. Thanks to a colleague’s recommendation, I recently checked out neuroscientist Beau Lotto while researching for lessons and listened to one of his TED talks. In his presentation he reminded me of our collective cognitive bias towards all things negative. Survival being top priority, our brains have evolved first to notice threats to our survival, meaning, we’re genetically conditioned to notice any perceived shortcomings, weaknesses, points of vulnerability. (Noticing good stuff is nice, but it doesn’t stop a lion from eating you!) And the unknown being infinite, there’s endless possibilities of what the mind can imagine to worry over. (Yay for creative types!)  What’s worse, even if something is perfectly safe, if the nervous system misinterprets any stimuli as threatening, our brain still wants to play it safe and go into defensive mode, cutting off confidence, discovery, connection, and joy.  

I know it’s important to “own” our mistakes. I do in fact make p-l-e-n-t-y of mistakes, but when Thomas Edison was continually testing to make the lightbulb work, I don’t think he told himself that he was failing or “mistaking” every time he got a result different than his desired outcome. Surely he wouldn’t have persisted? So when things go awry in my classroom, I try to ask myself, What might better yield the result I’m hopeful for this next go ‘round? 

I’ve also learned I’m energized by curiosity, joy, creativity, and connection. We say failure makes us stronger, but that’s only true if we move past that “failure” and into what is at least perceived as “success.” I recently heard that celebrating success with others – with others being a vital component – is what actually helps us pair a positive association with any learning that occurs. Otherwise, our brains will instead form an association with all of the stress and exhaustion it takes to persevere through a challenge. Yikes! If that’s not a reason to connect, celebrate, build games and fun into your classroom, or have a drink with your colleague, I don’t know what is!  

I recently took a quiz on the NYT’s called, “What kind of perfectionist are you?” and discovered even though I get excited and jump into projects, I often don’t finish them because I go to that self-critical place that brings the creativity and joy to a halt. In an attempt to hold myself accountable, last year I ended the last quarter sharing small works of art with Lower School Faculty via the weekly bulletin. I continually struggled with thoughts like, Oh you can’t share this week. You messed up this, this, and this. This value is wrong, the perspective is off here, and the composition needs to be rearranged like so to better facilitate the story point. I still have those thoughts – like while writing this post – and rightly so. I still believe in holding myself to high standards, but these thoughts were preventing me from exploring and connecting. I decided to create my own visual to remind myself to move past imperfection, connect with others, and move into new ideas. I called it, “The Three M’s,” which stand for make, meditate, and move on: create the work of art; meditate on how you would improve it if you wanted to invest more time; and allow yourself the grace to move on. I then realized this still left me largely focusing on what I wasn’t happy with in the composition, and so, without making an entirely new visual, I challenged myself to somehow include joy and resolved to incorporate the word celebrate! With just one moment of moving past that fear, doubt, and self-criticism, I was freed to connect with my Lower School community by finding joy in the ridiculousness and humor of the stories that sometimes occur while working at a school. 

I recognize you may have no problem with the word mistake at all. You may even see strengths in using this word. These thoughts are in no way meant to be judgemental of other folks’ use of language but rather a question for personal reflection: what language might best help me continue to brave the unknown, might help me evolve into my best and most joyful self? It’s taken long enough, but I’ve finally reached the point in my life where I at least have the wisdom to know that what is helpful for others is not necessarily helpful for me – I have to take my own steps! 

My current thoughts on that little word mistake are essentially this: If it is both impossible to achieve “perfection” and to avoid mistakes as the world is continually spinning, each moment new, class period unique, each student different from one moment to the next, if I’m different from one moment to the next, if that “misstep” is not only inevitable but the required yet unknowable step for any new discovery, growth, or reframing of knowledge, is it then truly a mistake or misstep at all or rather the necessary step to brave the unknown and form new meaning? A step of possibility? And if so, what language might honor and celebrate leaping into that uncertainty rather than inhibit it? I reflected on many neutral words like observation one, unintended discovery one, unknowable step one, and hopefully, eventually, desired outcome, but those are all rather unpoetic and uninspiring. For the time being, I’ve currently settled on jazz steps. Improvisational, there’s no way to know ahead of time, nor does that one step make or break the composition, but, as a whole, it bravely embodies movement, creativity, a little dissonance, and joy in the possibilities of the unknown. 

I hope that you too continue to reflect and find language or practices that fill rather than deplete your cup, especially if curiosity, joy, and connection are what propel you forward…or to the right, or the left, or backward and forward again. You matter, and you’re all doing wonderfully hard, messy, beautiful things. Keep at it! 

References that informed these thoughts:

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey 

Bea Lotto: Thriving in a World that Doesn’t Exist  

The Book of Mistakes by Anna Corinna Luyken  

The Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg 

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard Rorty 

Countless hours of therapy 

A Glimpse into Early Childhood: ECC SPOTLIGHT #1

Authored by Taylor Davis

When I taught kindergarten I truly had no idea how much time a three year old teacher spent in the bathroom…really no idea! I continue to find myself uttering phrases that few adults have ever strung together. “Get the beads out of your nose. You have blue energy but you need more red energy? And of course…please…don’t lick the door.” ECC is a completely different animal than the lower school and along those same lines PK3 and K could not be more different.  Children in these formative years grow in leaps and bounds just over a few years and so the way that we teach must scaffold according to children’s developmental stages. My classroom routines, assessments and  priorities vary greatly from a PK4 or K classroom. However, we do share the same goals and more than likely have the same sense of humor…because a laugh is always necessary in the ECC!

This year I hope to spotlight some of the wonderful things I see each day all around me. I will be peeking into classrooms to see the process of how we engage our students. Best practices will be the focus and (selfishly) how can I simplify these practices to meet the needs of a PK3 room. I hope as you read some of these ideas, they will take root and can be modified for your own classroom. I know some of my favorite activities are “borrowed” from another’s brilliance. So feel free to take, substitute and add your own St. Andrew’s sparkle! 

PK4: Kim Sewell

My first ECC spotlight is on former TEAM member Kim Sewell! I chose Kim for many reasons and I can honestly say the main one was not to spy on my own child…however it is one of my greatest pastimes. Kim’s classroom is somewhere I have always enjoyed stopping by…usually uninvited…it’s just who I am . An overwhelming sense of peace comes over a person when they enter her doors.  I have “borrowed” many of her routines/rituals seeking that zen vibe. Alas, I am very loud and I love a good polka dot every now and again. Aesthetically, Kim’s decor is welcoming and warm and so I have modified her ideas to make them my own.  Come to think of it…I am now blaming her for my impulse basket buys and everytime I must water my 14 philodendron plants. 

 Kim’s background in educating young children stems from her training in The Catechesis of The Good Shepherd. She leans into the mindful and process driven approach of the Montessori method while also staying true to our PK4 program. Spirituality and being in touch with these feelings are a cornerstone of the Catechesis class. Kim leaves room for feelings associated with these sacred ideas. Students who are struggling to regulate their emotions have the option to calm down at a “Peace Table.”

 I learned about the Peace Table on the evening of Symphony on the Green. My own little headstrong bundle of energy had snagged at least three battery powered tea lights from this event. I found him pulling them out of his pockets after arriving home at a very late hour. He was cranky and in no mood for a bath. He began gathering decor from his bookcase as I resisted. “Why do you have your McCarty Lamb? No, don’t take that down..that is Mae Mae’s angel.”  He pulled his tiny rocking chair up to his bedside table and slowly started turning on his (stolen) tea lights. “I’m making some peace mama.”  He sat quietly in his room for a few minutes and came out smiling. What an amazing tool he has learned from this space! It is disappointing that I am raising a thief,  but I am also so proud of how he readily accessed this strategy. I frequently use this language to help squash brother/sister squabbles. Mama loudly proclaiming “go to your peace table Fields!” when a fight erupts may appear counterintuitive to its peaceful origin but it is my own well intentioned spin. This language conveys to Fields he needs to check on his emotions. Is it the blue car that he is upset about or is it actually an overwhelming sense of frustration that cannot be solved by the blue car? This type of check in with his emotions will be very valuable in years to come.   


Any article focusing on early childhood these days highlights the importance of outdoor exploration for young children.  Kim uses natural elements to make her classroom seem more of an extension of their patio. The room seems almost ethereal because the lighting is exclusively from lamps and sunshine. This sets a wonderful tone for the students entering her room. Her porch door is usually wide open and various activities beckon children outside. Children paint on easels in the sunshine and there is always a fun way to get your hands dirty. She regularly has sand for digging and her sensory table items rotate. Children use shaving cream as an adhesive to create large block towers or the bins might be filled with dirt to stomp dinosaurs through. Children are working on cooperation, fine motor and spatial skills, engaging in colorful language, creating memorable learning experiences all while they “play.”

Inside the room her centers are just as engaging but seem to be more focused on independent fun. Children can work together and play but there are also many contemplative centers that children can enjoy. One of my favorite teaching tools is when children have learned how to consolidate their play. Early childhood rooms have an excess of tiny fun materials that provide wonderful learning experiences but also can make a huge mess. The importance of teaching young children to play using trays or mats helps promote a sense of order. Children are able to have a clear mind in their play and this set area allows for complete focus. 

Routines and consistency are key to a well run early childhood classroom. One of my favorite Kim routine’s I stole (oh my… I just realized I exude thief energy) is her clean up song. I never could jive with the preschool “clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere song.” It is super important you jive with a song you must sing multiple times a day. It is also quite exhausting to remind your children it is no longer play time, it is clean up time. Kim uses Jack Johnson’s Upside Down to signal to her class it is time to clean. They understand that once the room is tidy they are to walk to their spot and dance (the best part). My clean up song for the past few years has been Paul Simon’s, You Can Call Me Al but this year I have switched to the much longer version of Hey Jude. My group this year is a little slower to clean and they need time to dance! Modification is key! Kim says depending on the time of year she changes her song up. 

Another routine Kim uses each morning is her question board. This helps with role taking and also exposes kids to pre-reading practice. Today, her question was  “How does your body feel?” She drew faces to illustrate different feelings. When children arrived they placed their picture under the face they were feeling. As an example my child chose to be sleepy, because he did crawl in my bed at 3am. 

This blog could go on and on about all of the things that I admire about Kim. She throws academic tasks into routines like grabbing water bottles or lining up. The language she uses with her students is always prompting them to think deeper and recall information. I encourage everyone to stop by and observe the fun that can be had in PK4! I have already broken the ice by arriving (many times) uninvited. 

Introducing . . . TEAM, 2023-2024!

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again.  The magic of our school is all wrapped up in the magic of the humans that are here.

Hey, here are some cool humans: Taylor Davis (PK3), Jessica Parker-Farris (Lower School Art), Hannah Williams-Inman (Middle School Spanish), and Matt Luter (Upper School English).

What could they possibly have in common? They are our new 23-24 TEAM (Teacher Education, Assistance, and Mentoring) reps, and they share a deep interest/passion/commitment to all things teaching and learning. I know, I know, we all do.  We work at a school.  But these guys REALLY do.  Let me prove it by sharing snippets from their applications, glimpses into their vision of what a community of faculty can really afford:

Representing Early Childhood (PK3-K): Taylor Davis

[I want to] help with alignment in ECC by putting a spotlight on things that are effective in each classroom. I always enjoy visiting schools and bringing back ideas and making them work in my own classroom. Sharing these ideas with colleagues and recognizing that wonderful things are happening all around us can sometimes be hard. I believe more opportunities to share out within ECC needs to be a priority.

Representing Lower School (1st-4th): Jessica Parker-Farris

I enjoy reflecting and connecting through sharing stories/findings.  . .  I’ve been reading “The Daily Lives of Artists,” and it’s about how each individual artist had to figure out their uniquely quirky self in order to be prolific and create. I’ve found that I’m burned out as an educator – maybe it’s just being a human who’s just turned 40 – which is why I’ve started trying to figure out what I need personally to find joy, and I think it may very well be through connecting with co-workers through our shared experience!  My goal and hope for being a part of TEAM would be that it proves a fun way to reflect, connect with coworkers, and find joy in the difficult and often chaotic challenge of teaching. 

As someone who was not an education major, I think of Neil Postman and his book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity.” In it he talks about the true “content” of learning, which is meaning making – “What’s worth knowing?” – and learning how to learn through the sheer joy of discovery. I think what we perhaps forget as educators is that, more than anything, we have to facilitate experiences that promote a love of learning NOW so that kids develop a positive relationship with the uncertainty of our ever-changing world.  I think this is also just as true for educators. Some of the things that have helped me most as an educator this past year haven’t been new skills for teaching but following passions of curiosity to renew my own personal growth and joy as a human being.

I think we should reconsider what “counts” as professional development. Many of us get into the monotonous routine of focusing on our students and their needs (rightly so!) but without reflecting on personal growth, passions, and wellness. [Last year] I signed up for Rev. Hailey’s PLC because I thought, I can’t give anything else right now..I need to be filled up myself!, and it was SO wonderful and exactly what I needed. I also signed up for a monthly subscription this past year to study lessons with professional artists as I’m interested in illustration and animation, and it too has been one of the biggest renewals of my energy and has continually informed my teaching. I also think learning what other educators are passionate about might help better connect our community. Creativity and innovation lie in making new connections, and that can only happen if we shift perspectives, and sometimes that might be what we consider “playing.” 

Representing Middle School: Hannah Williams-Inman

Community is an important value both for me and St. Andrew’s. . . and I look forward to opportunities to help grow our community toward being united and on each others’ teams as the years roll through. We have so much to offer each other both professionally and emotionally, and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we aren’t sharing the love and knowledge and experience we each individually cultivate in our own teaching practice. 

St. Andrew’s has a rich history of experience in teaching and learning, and there are so many teachers with so many good and productive years of teaching under their belts. In addition, it seems in recent years that St. Andrew’s has made a conscious effort to also offer jobs to younger teachers with less experience, and take a chance that they may bring something valuable to this community as well. Hopefully, St. Andrew’s has been made better by both the inexperienced and seasoned perspectives it brings together through the practice of teaching (sometimes even having those teachers on the same team).However, even as St. Andrew’s brings these very different teachers together within the same school community, our classes and teaching styles often couldn’t differ more, and we don’t often have a ton of overlap professionally. I wonder about the future of a teaching community that is deeply connected across these varying experiences – I know I have so much to learn from teachers who have been doing this for a long time, and I also know that I have valuable things to offer them as well. I would love to be a part of seeing these connections formed or deepened over the next few years!

Representing Upper School: Matt Luter

I would like to create opportunities for PD at SA to be a bit more bottom-up than top-down–in other words, I’d hope to see our programming built around the needs and interests that faculty voice to admin and to each other (as opposed to, say, the model of bringing in a big-name speaker for a one-and-done presentation). Along those lines, I’d also hope to see more faculty-led PD that gives recognition to the expert practitioners among us and lets them share with colleagues the strategies that have helped them build successful classrooms. (And of course, I’d always be glad for us to have more discussion of alternative modes of assessment and shifting campus culture with regard to grading.)

All of us begin the year with high hopes and goals.  And all of us are currently finding us scratching our heads in disbelief, repeating the refrain: “ How is it OCTOBER already?!”  Still, I think there is time, much time, to do good work.  And I am very grateful to be guided by the thinking, philosophies, and priorities that Taylor, Jessica, Hannah, and Matt bring to the table.

4:48 PM, First-Day-of-School-Eve

It is quiet. It is loud.

Hours ago, we were smiling and shaking hands at meet-the-teacher like half-trained politicians. We laughed too loud, had myriad awkward social situations. (I almost tripped Andy. ) Children rushed about on orientation scavenger hunts and colleagues huddled around copy machines like cold warriors around a fire in the darkening evening. We did not know whether to exchange pleasantries in summer-mode or acknowledge the sweaty-palm-urgency of the situation.

We have written syllabi and created Google Classrooms and updated MySA bulletin boards and posted weekly plans (HA) and scoured thousands of AI-policies. We have put names on desks and supplies in cubbies and labels on things. We have googled and pinterest-ed and teacher tik-tok’d our way into witty puns and ice breakers and anchor charts and some of us have managed to relax because we’ve done this a time or two and these are the days for resting, not running.

Mostly, we imagine the humans, the faces, the souls that will populate our classrooms. We make room for all of the noise and smells and mistakes and brilliance they will inevitably bring with them, the glory of the odor and the chaos of the beauty. We make space, too, for the absolute truth that in no way will all of our best-laid plans succeed this week. Hitting about 45-65% of what we hope to cover is a relatively optimistic estimate, for me anyway.

I think of the prayer I love that I heard from Revs. Annie & Hailey, the one that sends shivers up and down my spine in a way that signals, to me, a not-so-subtle-God-whisper: “PAY ATTENTION JULIE YOU NEED THIS.”

It is night after a long day.
        What has been done has been done;
        what has not been done has not been done;
        let it be.

This is true at night.

This is true in the afternoon, and morning, and . . .

This will be true at the end of this semester, this school year.

I wonder if I can let it be.

There is another stanza, the final stanza to “A Night Prayer”:

The night heralds the dawn.
        Let us look expectantly to a new day,
        new joys,
        new possibilities.


Using AI (Authentic Intelligence) in Youth Theatre: Elementary Summer Camp ‘23 Arts Blog

This post was authored by David Kelly.

What does authentic student centered learning look like in the performing arts? Theatre is amazing because it can be completely centered on the student experience and bring out a range of perspectives. This is at the heart of learning at St. Andrew’s: student centered and authentic learning.

Imagine five days with a diverse group of twenty elementary students from multiple schools, all signed up to present an all original performing arts camp with singing, dance, and acting. Nothing is pre-packaged, everything created within the week of the camp and a final performance on Friday.  

Far from a pre-canned, rinse and repeat experience, day one, we ask: What would you like to have in the show at the end of the week? 

The responses included, singing, dancing, and a story with a guinea pig, a dog, a cat, a bunny, astronauts, a wolf, the three pigs, a ghost, a yeti, Santa Clause, tigers, police officers, a donut salesman, a witch, and a crow. Yes, we included all of this in one production with elementary aged students. 

What story could this possibly be? Through brainstorming, collaboration, and a lot of imagination, a plot is formed. Four friends find a magic key, the witch and her pet crow want the key. The witch turns the friends into a guinea pig, a bunny, a cat, and a dog and are cast to ends of the earth. 

The story follows the friends as they reunite and ultimately defeat the witch with a rock-paper-scissors tournament. The production includes four song and dance numbers that take the production around the world to Ghana with “Che Che Kule,” Mexico with “Live Life,” Italy with “The Tarantella,” and Japan with “Sakura”. 

Days two through four: What makes this good education and good fun at the same time? The students made it. The students created the characters. They wrote the production with original dialogue that was improvised through the rehearsal process. They learned the dances and songs and collaborated throughout the process. 

Day five: The students arrived with confidence and excitement. Why? Because they owned the show. The final show, attended by friends and family members allowed them to share their collaborative voice. 

How do you make theatre relevant to students today? One of the most memorable parts of the show was a surprise song. The characters spoke about giving up and not wanting to go on. As they did one turned to the other and said, “I’m never gonna give you up.” We then played, “Never Gonna Give you Up” by Rick Astley as the entire cast came on stage singing and dancing to the first 16 measures. It’s a common and harmless prank now to kids these days to include the song in a surprise way, it’s called getting ‘Rick Rolled’. We included this in the production and it was a highlight for the students. They also, without knowing it, got to examine the relationship between the performers and the audience in a way that was meaningful to them. 

The learning was authentic and lasting. It was a Picasso-esque collage of child creativity and a highlight of the summer – a sure antidote to automated learning and popularizing Authentic Intelligence. 


Authored by Michelle Portera

It’s almost here! Fun, exciting, leisurely times ahead, a break from being pulled in all directions. Maybe there are plans to travel, or plans to read that stack of books on the nightstand. It’s a hopeful time. 

And yet. 

As much as I resist it, the sudden slow down in pace leads to a predictable pattern in my thoughts and moods. I’m going to be vulnerable here and describe this phenomenon because SURELY there are other 10 month employees who can relate in some way. Please say there is. Regardless, here it goes. 

The first 2 weeks of break I feel FREE from the demands of the world. The introvert in me has no problem retreating into my shell, ignoring the phone, and taking a social media pause. My days are spent in pjs, catching up on Netflix, leisurely cooking meals instead of frantically throwing them together. In this window of time, it’s kinda fun to clean out closets and cabinets and take care of the random things I’ve been meaning to do. This luxury feels worth the effort required to make it to this point. 

But after that. . . 

Things take, I wouldn’t say a turn, but they definitely swerve. If my mind is a car, my steering is a degree or two off the mark, and almost imperceptively I start to drift toward the edge of my lane. It begins to take more effort to keep my thoughts at equilibrium. As someone who is no stranger to depression, this is when I pull out all the tools and tricks to reassure my brain and body that everything really is ok. In reality, this is my subconscious’ response to the change in schedule but it’s easy to start finding fault with other things to explain away my malaise. The motivation, which came so easily before, drops during this time and I start to feel guilty for not doing enough and crossing things off the to-do list. I lack the energy, but tell myself I should be rested enough by now and later on I will regret being so lazy. 


Other people are out doing amazing, world-changing things and what am I doing? I’m certainly NOT scrubbing the fridge or prepping freezer meals for busy weeknights. You probably know about the tricks and tools I referred to earlier. Pick up the phone and call or text friends, especially those way down on the contacts list with whom it’s been a minute. Ask the kids if they want to play a game. Sometimes I flop down on my teenage daughter’s bed and read next to her while she’s on her phone. Eventually, we end up watching funny animal videos together. These things really help, but it’s the “choosing to do them” that is hard at the moment. Who even was that girl who thought she could get to the bottom of the laundry or paint the kitchen? Never heard of her. 

What I’ve learned not to do: commit to something out of character, like running 5 miles a day or starting a side hustle. It’s easy to say yes when we have the luxury of time, but will our future selves be happy about it? 

The strongest, most recent tool I’ve acquired is called being nice to myself. To accept this shadow side of my reality and befriend it with care. At the Lower School, as a rule, we pledge to “be nice to ourselves and others.” Oftentimes, it’s obvious how we can be kind to others but so far my 40’s have been spent learning to be kind to myself. It does get easier with practice.

Phase 3 of summer mood: Summer Lady emerges from her chrysalis! That’s the name my husband gave my summertime alter ego. She’s adventurous and knows how to have fun. She isn’t cranky in the evenings like School Lady. She stays up late. But this year, Summer Lady plans to make a flexible schedule to guide her summer days and make the transition more smooth. This agenda will make time for doing nothing and also plan opportunities to do a few things School Lady would approve of. We will see how it goes! Will it disrupt the pattern? Is the pattern inevitable no matter what? Regardless, I remain grateful for all the passing seasons of life and what they teach us.

A Benediction

Authored by Kim Sewell

I wish you this summer…

Waking up to birds chirping instead of an alarm buzzing
Novels to get lost in
Drool-induced naps on couches and hammocks
Nandy’s candy’s snowballs with cream
Many dips in a cool pool
Food off a grill
Fresh cut flowers 
A ‘getaway’ whether a quick weekend or a week-long trip
A fun new hobby
Lighting bugs to watch
Staying up late
Taking in your favorite movie for the 100th time
Getting caught taking a walk or run in a summer shower
Catching up with an old friend you didn’t even realize you missed so much

But more than anything I wish you time… time to enjoy the slower pace, time to get to know yourself better, time to just be… you are the only you there is. Love yourself well and when August rolls around you will be ready;)

Summer Send-off: A Mash Up of Goodbyes and Hellos

Is this blog blast about the ends of things or the beginnings of things?

“Lions,” Composed by 4th grader Amelia McCaughan

Is this season a bit like being on the landline phone with your high school boyfriend in the 1990’s in that extended mating dance of trying to say goodnight but wanting to have the last word of “I love you more”? Or is May more like you trying to leave a party but your subtle let’s-get-out-of-here cues to your middle aged spouse (the one who hours before had complained that he didn’t feel like socializing) aren’t making a dent into his consciousness?

Julianna Wright, 2nd Grade, “I’m Out”

And if May is the goodbye, is summer a series of hellos? “Hello, family I haven’t seen for a year!” “Hello, sleep!” “Hello, new place I’m visiting for the first time!”

“Vacation Time,” Mila Marjanovic, 2nd Grade

Or perhaps that’s more like August. June-July lay somewhere in between the goodbye and the hello, perhaps a short-term, blessed no-man’s-land of “let’s sit a spell and just be.”

Abby Blackwell, 4th Grade

Whatever summer has in store for you, I hope there’s a bit of big-city-excitement.

“New York,” Kit Patrick, 2nd grade

I hope that you are entertained and amazed and that, at some point, you find yourself shouting with a chorus of a crowd: “Oooooo! Ahhhhh!”

“Circus,” Austen Cooperstein, 4th Grade

I hope you lose all sense of time.

“Dino Time Machine,” Owen Newman, 3rd Grade

I hope you find the treasure you are looking for.

“Puppy Pirate,” Mila Marjanovic, 4th Grade

But most of all, to be honest, I hope you find a place of rest.

“A Night in Egypt”, Harry Hayslett, 4th Grade

Until August,


The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters You

Authored by Mary B. Sellers

Here I go quoting Rumi again, but we all have those teachers we circle back to, don’t we? Rumi is one of those teachers for me. Another is (are) children. I started paying attention differently this year, and it’s amazing just how many of my students’ daily trials and triumphs reflected so much of my own internal state(s). 

Below are a few of my most vivid fourth grade memories from this year, in condensed, bite-sized, paragraph form: 

Our fourth graders have managed choppy waters this year, and because of that, I feel an especially tight bond with these kiddos. We’ve weathered port a potties state mandated crises like the seasoned sailors we very much are not (like that time Willa and I mistakenly went to the ones near the ECC and not for the LS); or how a few days last fall when Patrick ended up impressing us all with his rockstar-level backstage play/sound system skills. Many have occurred over our recesses, under the cool, satisfying shade of the big tree where the land falls into the little valley of gravel. There, on that bench, I oftentimes hear and see such interesting things; it’s a delight, weather permitting. I’ll miss eating lunch with students outside and getting to catch up with them on a less formal basis. 

Writing isn’t just a skillset, it’s a craft, a tool for processing the external. Writing is a direct conversation with the psychological and emotional weather of its practitioner’s internal state. It involves the mind, yes, but also relies heavily on subjective stimuli and emotion, too. Recently, I got to help out with an ELA writing workshop with three of the grade’s eager writers. While I took turns reading each of their stories, I encouraged my students to talk to each other about what they like and don’t like about their pieces. Not only did they give insightful and helpful feedback for one another, but they were also eager to then read each others’ and provide their own peer reviews. A week later, these same three students came into my office to announce that they were collaborating on writing a play! 

A few months ago, one of my students was the subject of some bullying at a co-curricular. Since I had a free hour ahead and they did not want to go back to homeroom, I offered to have them come read their library book with me while I graded in my office. They were still visibly upset, but eventually opened up to me about several family matters at home. I said little, listened more, attempting only gentleness in opening space for her. Students sometimes just need to be heard instead of spoken at. Eventually, we steered the conversation to books and her favorite authors before she happily settled down to read for half an hour.

Kid Bids Hub Fans Adieu

Authored by Buck Cooper.

In 1960, The New Yorker published what I believe to be one of the most beautiful pieces of baseball writing ever written, John Updike’s Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu. If you have a soul, which means you probably love baseball, but even if you don’t (love baseball), which means your ensouledness is in serious question in my book) then this article will speak to you. It goes alongside Arnold Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as something that I try to come back to year after year, particularly in the springtime as spring training begins, because of the joy of reading it. Though the entire article is worth your time, there is one particular paragraph that I anticipate with every reading. Here’s the most salient excerpt:

“My personal memories of Williams begin when I was a boy in Pennsylvania, with two last-place teams in Philadelphia to keep me company. For me, “W’ms, lf” was a figment of the box scores who always seemed to be going 3-for-5. He radiated, from afar, the hard blue glow of high purpose. I remember listening over the radio to the All-Star Game of 1946, in which Williams hit two singles and two home runs, the second one off a Rip Sewell “blooper” pitch; it was like hitting a balloon out of the park. I remember watching one of his home runs from the bleachers of Shibe Park; it went over the first baseman’s head and rose meticulously along a straight line and was still rising when it cleared the fence. The trajectory seemed qualitatively different from anything anyone else might hit. For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter’s myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money. It may be that, compared to managers’ dreams such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.”

Go back up there and read that again if you didn’t read it more than once on the first go round. It’s all that I love about baseball distilled into one paragraph about one player. It also happens to be a lot of what I believe about teaching distilled into one paragraph about baseball.

In the space below, I’ve done some strategic replacement that I think will help you begin to realize why this paragraph works for a part of me that isn’t a sports fan, but is a math teacher.

Teaching is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual classes is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that administrators feed upon but by teachers who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the a ha moment when you see a kid finally get it is not a myth, it is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money.

I’ve spent the last 21 years of my life worrying one way or another about how children learn science and math. I’ve failed A LOT. I’m not the Ted Williams of teaching, but thinking about Ted Williams has taught me a lot about how to think about this work. Williams cared about hitting the baseball, so much so that he wrote a book about the science of it. He cared so much about it that in the one season in which he failed the least (the 1941 season in which he hit .406, a feat which hasn’t been matched in over 80 years) he could have sat out of the two games that his team played on the last day of the season and would have gotten credit for hitting .400 because .3996 rounds up. Instead, he cared enough to go out and play both games of a doubleheader, putting the record on the line and going 6 for 8. And he managed to care even when his team wasn’t in contention, even when the season was effectively pointless. I want that kind of motivation for myself. I don’t want to be the unpleasant person that Ted Williams sometimes was, but I do want to do my job well. I think one of the keys to success in teaching and learning is learning how to manage your own sense of failure, especially because it entails recognizing the limits of what you can do and what you control.

A baseball season is 162 games long. A year of teaching is 180 days. Nobody wins all 162 games or all 180 days. In fact, most of the time, the best people in both of these endeavors either fail or feel like they failed a lot of the time. It’s caring enough to show up every day and give 4 or 5 good at bats or teach 2 or 3 good classes and knowing that you don’t control everything but care enough to be good at the things you can control that makes people good at both jobs. And that’s hard. It’s hard to care, as Updike says, on a hot August weekday in baseball when most of the season is done, when you might not be headed into the playoffs, but you still have this job to do. And it’s hard to care in late February or early May when the end seems remote or super close and you feel like you’ve done all that you can but the kids are still antsy, the math is still tough and there are a bunch of meetings to attend and papers to grade.

Finally, as Updike says about baseball, teaching is essentially a lonely game. It’s you and 20 kids in a room for a lot of the time. And they aren’t your peers. They also aren’t your children. And yet you’ve got to do something with them—ultimately you’ve got to figure out how to love them and how to love the thing that brings all of you together.

I realize this sounds terrible–that teaching is about caring and showing up to do a job that feels remote from its outcomes and that’s also a lonely business that entails managing your feelings around failure. Why in the world would anyone want to do it? Well, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I haven’t figured teaching out. I haven’t figured children out. I’m better than I used to be for sure, but I’m a long way from legendary. And now here I am, walking away from it, maybe permanently, maybe just for a few seasons. And I’m going to miss failing and caring and doing this often lonely work because I’ve grown to love it.

Blasts from the Past: Did you Know our Blog will Turn 4 This September?!

Are you the kind of skeptic that’s been around enough that every time an administrator launches a new “initiative” you’re like “okay I’ll just hang on a month or year and it will be gone by then anyway.”

Well if you felt that way about the blog THE JOKE’S ON YOU BECAUSE SHE’S BEEN GOING STEADY SINCE SEPTEMBER 2019!

Almost-four years is still pretty young. But old enough to be generally trusted not to run into a road. What I’m saying is, I think we safely say at this point the blog is potty trained. So let’s celebrate with some BLASTS from the BLOG’S PAST! This curation features blogs from Fall 2019-Feb 2020 to explore the question: What were like as a school community before the pandemic? Plus this can totally function as fun entertainment over the summer when I know everyone plans to catch up on every blog they missed.

  1. Go back to where it all started with “Wall O’Teacher Awesomeness” , when I used to have an office with writable walls and kept track of cool things I saw in classrooms.

2. Get some still-on-point podcast suggestions from Susan Pace for your summer road trip in “Podcasts: A New Generation of Listening and Learning”.

3. Dreaming about your 2023-2024 classroom set up? Check out Carla Kelly’s “Transforming My Classroom with Flexible Seating” for inspiration.

4. More interested in thinking about pedagogical choices than furniture? “Two Flavors of Flipped” might be more your speed, featuring Rebecca Bernhardt and Krissy Rehm (oh how we miss her!)

5. Do you want to be more deliberate with homework next year? Get a quick theoretical framework to help guide your thinking in “Homework: Bringing Purpose to the Practice”.

6. Want a little boost? Check out Shea’s “30 Things I’m Thankful For” from 2019 and see some familiar, pre-pandemic faces!

7. Do you want to be reassured that all is well, even if you are feeling uninspired and only met like one of your goals this past school year? Check out “Tis the Season: Embracing the Ebb and Flow of Innovation & Inspiration”.

8. “NaNoWriMo- 30 Days of Writing with Reckless Abandon” is a fabulous Margaret Mains (then Margaret Taylor) authored piece with true stories about her own fifth grade classroom successes and a killer-good list of further reading for anyone interested.

9. Thoughts on our Free Choice Friday program in Middle School . . . authored in January 2020! Oh Julie Rust, you had no idea what was coming.

10. Mary McCall McArthur wrote “Teaching Self-Advocacy” and it is an incredible blend of theory with how she practiced what she learned with her own students. This could be a really powerful way to start the school year for sure!

11. Weeks before the pandemic hit, Emily Philpott takes the “center” model from elementary and expands it brilliantly for upper school students in “Students on the Move”. Check it out and try it out next year.

12. Maya Buford shares the power of TPR (Total Physical Response) model for learning languages in “Aprendiendo Colores”.

13. Check out this interview with Perry Goldsbury to learn his super-cool use of interviews to bring science to life.

14. See the possibilities for cross-disciplinary partnerships in Kate Dutro’s “Messy Making in the Makerspace”!

It turns out we were doing some pretty cool things in 2019-early 2020. . . much like we are today. Here’s to summer functioning as a good time of remembering our past as we rest and rejuvenate for the future.

The Many Faces of Summer: Featuring Foundations!

Running in the sprinkler.  Ice cream trucks.  Slower morning starts.  Late night fun. Bug spray, sunscreen, and entire days at the pool.  Beach reads.  Taking a breath and re-setting for the upcoming year.   When you say the word “summer” to most faculty members at St. Andrew’s, many many things come to mind.  But for our Foundations faculty, the bulk of summer months have more in common with the rest of the school year.  I sat down with (pictured from left to right) Ashley Singleton (PK1 teacher), Abby Cockerill (Infants teacher), Idelia Walker (Infants teacher) , Catoria Mozee (PK2 teacher), Tabitha Gibson (Assistant Director of Foundations; PK1 teacher), and Sheena White (Head of Foundations) to get a better understanding of the distinct rhythm that makes up a school year in Foundations.

Okay, let’s start with Sheena.  Give us a brief overview of the schedule throughout the year for faculty and our youngest saints at Foundations.  What’s so different?

Sheena: I’ll say the biggest difference between Foundations and other divisions is the summer breaks.  As a teacher when you get to May, you’re thinking about the summer like: “Ok we are at the finish line!” So, the biggest differentiator is that we are 12 months, year round.

Ouch- that definitely sounds tough to see everyone starting to slow down for the summer and pushing full steam ahead!

Sheena: Though it sounds like it’s a bit more stressful, honestly when the other 4 divisions are out, it’s pretty laid back.  Our summers are chill: from carpool (assistants not as stressed during carpool) and there aren’t as many students present, because some of our kiddos take a break, especially if they have older siblings.  I mean they’re here, but it’s a lot more laid back.

Well that’s good to hear.  Okay so if you don’t have summer break to mark promotion to a new grade level, when does that happen? 

Sheena: The last day for the children is June 30th, which is a Friday.  That Monday, July 3,  is  Professional Development Day, and our faculty’s first day [of the new school year]. Tuesday 7/4 is a holiday and we come back on 7/5 for “Meet the Teacher” and children start on 7/6.  As a classroom teacher, August was always the most hectic month of the whole school year.  You’re getting ready for meet the teacher, labeling all the things, getting your class list together.  But for us that happens in July.  It’s super busy.  On the flip side of that, in August, we see faculty in other divisions running rampant and going bonkers and I’m like “oh we did that a month ago!” Our crazy town month is July.

What a different rhythm! So the first day of school falls on what is traditionally a holiday week.  Do most children make it that first day?  What is it like in early July as infants/babies are transitioning?

Sheena: Parents do come to meet the teacher. We typically have 100% participation, but then the day after that is not as busy.

Abby: There is more of an ease.  [Foundations is in] a quaint smaller space.  All  the [new]  kids I get, I already see that every day.  It’s less pressure than new starts, new grades, and less of a big deal about a new start.

Sheena: It’s easier for [the children] too; there are not as many tears. 

Catoria: The transition is much better than in other places I’ve worked.  They are only out for a week, so it’s easier for the kids to say, “okay-it’s another school day.” It’s the same friends and they’re used to seeing the teacher passing, so it’s not like that big of a shock in terms of, “wait- I don’t get to have ALL of my friends; I have to take a different way to class!”

Sheena: Even the transition [to PK3] is smoother. Their familiarity with the school environment makes a huge difference! In the past there were a lot of tears for PK3 students: parents struggling and children were struggling with the transition.  

Idelia:  I think it’s a little different for me, because I’m the teacher that gets all the new students. Every year it’s a change. I start everything over: new babies, new schedules, new everything for me.  But my hectic times, are kind of staggered. They come in at different times. When I start, I may not have ten.  I may start with six or four.

Sheena:  Yes! There’s a lot of differentiation in your space. I noticed that this year! 

Idelia:  Of course by the time we get everybody on the same page, it’s time to move!  

Sheena:  And you get all the parents that are nervous and new to the community.

So is there even a time of year that is more stressful than the rest in Foundations?

Idelia: I wouldn’t say it’s hard a certain time of year, but July for me is that month: you have to revamp the room, make sure everything is labeled, talk to the parents.  They’re going call me and say “we don’t know what we’re doing”, so you have to try to ease their minds because they’re leaving their baby with someone they don’t even know. “I just met you at ‘meet the teacher’” and now they’re going to drop them off with me in two days! You’ve got some that stick around and don’t want to let go. You’ve got to try to fit all of these characteristics of different people into one classroom.

Catoria: I would say there are two hectic periods in PK2.  July can be tough getting them fully adjusted; they are used to routines but they have to switch up their routines. We are adding in co-curriculars, practice walking in a line, things like that.  And also the end of August/September when the other kids come back is when we start the curriculum, our themes.  In the summer we can do it light, we learn the routines and have fun, [have them] get used to us. And then we get to the point of “ok we’re gonna start learning letters and numbers,” starting the curriculum in August and September. 

That’s a good point! So to help those of us not familiar with Foundations understand, can you give us some concrete examples of what you all are up to in May-June-July?

Catoria: In May-June we are winding down, and getting ready to have them transition over, making sure everybody’s potty trained.  Some [parents] start the beginning of the year like “ok we’re going to do it,” and some it’s the beginning of March and they are trying to force you “okay here you go- he needs to be potty trained.” 

Tabitha: I would say July is a little hectic in PK1 because they are going from cribs to cots and sitting at the tables and chairs since it’s more structured.  [So the] month of July is getting them to sit down in a circle, getting the routine down, like they all sleep at the same time from 12-2 and so trying to get that all down pat in the month of July. They are getting up from the table, “oh I can run around.” Just  the structure, like we sit down for story time, getting into a routine.  Like in the infant side they aren’t used to getting the bin out and cleaning up.  In August-September we are bringing in thematic units, but we still have group time during the other months: singing songs, getting into the rhythm.

It’s so interesting, because if you walk into Foundations classrooms this time of year, the kids have GOT the routine down! It’s crazy to imagine all of that starting again. 

Tabitha: I can tell you about this year, when I got Ms. Walker’s kids, ten of them,  the transition was much better because they knew the environment.  It was just a new space they were coming to so the transition was much better, and they helped the four new ones that I had to transition do better because they came in and were like “hey we’re doing this? I’ll do it too!”

You’ve got to love that positive peer pressure! For those of us that work with older youth, sometimes we take for granted they know it’s weird to get up in the middle of class and run in circles.  Although sometimes in middle school . . . hahaha.   

So now real talk.  This is tough work.  How do you find creative ways to get restored and refreshed without the traditional summer break? 

Tabitha: I could say from my perspective in the PK1 era, Ashley and I share some of the roles. She’s not the only one doing newsletters; we rotate the newsletters and different responsibilities for the grade level.  If I need something as far as resources I can go to her and vice versa. So I think the teamwork of the grade level makes it work better.  

Idelia: I was going to pretty much say the same thing.  You work with your other teacher in your grade level, and it kind of helps you; this week is your down week.  The newsletter or lesson plan, another person is worrying about it; it’s not your time to worry about it. I guess personally, my restoration would be to take advantage of the days you have off.  Take your vacation!  We’re offered a vacation, so take it!  Use your days.  

SO much wisdom there!  But do you all struggle like me with actually turning it off on the days you are off? 

Idelia: That was was my biggest thing even when I was out of school on Thursday, I’m in the corner and I text like “Can you put _____ in Seesaw.” I’m thinking about them even when I’m not there physically, but still there mentally.  Like “can you put in Seesaw they need diapers?”

Catoria: It can be hard too, not just the teacher letting go, but the parents letting go!   You can put out “hey, I’m gonna be out this day and that day” and I’ll still get the message: “Hey have you seen this person’s cup?” and “Hey- can you give them this snack?” 

Idelia: I’m not there, but I’ll just relay the message and answer back like I’m still here.  They tend to forget [that I’m out.]

Got it!  Anything else throughout the year feel different schedule-wise from the rest of the school? 

Sheena: We’ve got holidays throughout the year that are different.  For Thanksgiving, we get 3 days instead of 5.  For Christmas instead of a two week break, we get six consecutive days.  We have the same flow for Easter and Spring Break as the other divisions, except we are out of school for two days during Spring Break instead of the whole week.  The school year is not as lengthy as it seems when you consider the number of breaks we get. I will say the first year- I struggled quite a bit; because I was accustomed to the PK-12 experience. I was like “ohmygosh, year round”  but when you live into it, it’s not really that bad.

So we’ve talked so much about what it’s like being year round, but we haven’t stated what is perhaps the obvious: WHY?  Why is Foundations open so many more days than its divisional counter-parts? 

Tabitha: It’s the challenging world we live in!  Families need the care year-round, so what the demand is, we have to fill!  

Are there any schedule ideas you’d like to suggest while we are all together?

Tabitha: Even though we are year round, it would be so helpful to close as a collective for that first week in July. . . like a reset week.

Sheena: Even if we had four days off and a day for PD! That would be great! (Ha) I will say we worked hard to align the Foundations calendar with the other three divisions… and I took a lot of heat from parents for that. They were like, “I’ve never seen a school out these many days!” 

Tabitha:  It may be worth getting some more data from parents.  [In a past survey there was resistance to closing any additional days.] Our audience may be a little different now.  This year by 4:30pm the majority of my class is already gone.  Maybe we need a more updated survey. Another place it would make a difference is closing for the full spring break week. 

It is interesting that as a society we have expectations for childcare for younger children to be available much more often than in K-12.  (Of course, the year round approach is coming to Clinton schools next year, and we hear Madison is also considering the move.)

Catoria: It is the trippiest thing!  You’ll have kids in our building, but they have older siblings and the older siblings are at home and the younger kids are here.  Well if you’re taking care of 1 or 2 or 3, [what’s the difference]?

Of course practically as a parent I can tell you I can get a lot of work done with my nine year old at home, but when my kids were one and two years old, it was a very different story! 

Sheena: But they ARE the sweetest children! 

Tabitha: Every child is unique . .. in their own way!