If You Ask a Teacher Out to Mexican

Authored by Rachel Scott

Let me set the stage: A few years back, in the pre-pandemic world of education, I was a classroom teacher in a Mississippi Title 1 public school and a mom of four. I was never able to leave school until early evening and was mentally and physically exhausted by the end of each and every day.

On this particular day, I came home from school, collapsed on the couch, and was fighting the overwhelming urge to close my eyes and drift off to sleep. (This was one of the days where you feel so “done” that you just know you are not even being productive anymore…) As teachers and educators, no matter if you are in a public, private, or independent school, I think we can ALL relate to that feeling at some time or another.

I could not have been lying on that couch for more than 15 minutes when my wonderful husband (NOT being sarcastic here, he really is!) walks in from work, sees me lying there like some form of permanently exhausted pigeon, and says, “Honey, I know neither one of us feels like cooking. Let’s go to the Mexican restaurant for dinner.”

This is where the idea was born for a story in which educators everywhere could, hopefully, relate. This was just for fun, and I will tell it in a similar fashion to If you Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.

Here it goes: 

If You Ask a Teacher Out to Mexican

If you ask a teacher out to Mexican,

they’ll ask if you will drive.

She will pick herself up off the couch and guiltily glance at the school bag on the kitchen floor. 

As she make her way to the car,

she’ll tell you how exhausted she is and that she doesn’t think she could drive that far.

You will drive to the restaurant. The warm sun on her face will make her feel like a cat,

so she will close her eyes and quickly take a nap.

After the short nap, she will realize she needs edible fuel,

so she will want to order queso and guacamole, too.

The salty chips will make her want something to quench her thirst,

so she looks at the drink options to decide what to get first.

The drink choices make her remember it’s a school night,

so she checks the time on her watch to see if it’s too tight.

Checking the time on her watch will make her think that it is 5 o’clock somewhere,

and she will ask what you think.

You will tell her it is still early,

so she will order a margarita and loves that the restaurant salt is pink.

Dinner is delicious and the server mentions a treat.

“Drinks are on special, so what will it be?”

She’ll think about all the work she has to do in that bag sitting on the floor,

but what will it matter if she waits to grade papers for one day more?

The procrastinated work will make her feel some guilt,

but you will reassure her with the slightest head tilt.

The second margarita will make her miss the beach.

You’ll promise to take the long, beach-route home and ask her what she thinks.

On the way home, the sun will be setting over the gulf,

so she will want to watch it and soak in the last of the sun.

Soaking up the sunset will make her think of the sand.

She will want to park and feel it cover her toes and her hands.

After she feels the sand, she will think about putting her toes in the water,

but chase the thoughts away with memories of something she read.

She will think of the article and with whom it was shared,

and remember her students and of lessons planned both past and ahead.

She will start thinking about what all needs to be done. 

Her mental list will keep growing as you drive closer to home.

She will begin to feel the weight of her work as the ride continues on,

so she will stay up late working to try and lighten the load.

The late night of work will cause her to get very little sleep,

and chances are,

tomorrow, when you ask her to go out to dinner and are heading to the car,

she’ll tell you how exhausted she is and that she doesn’t think she could drive that far.

I wish you memorable lessons with your students, moments to witness their joy, and the balance between work and rest so that you don’t feel like some form of a permanently exhausted pigeon, too!

February is a Time for Celebrating

Authored by Maggie Secrest

What makes February so special? Every February, the U.S. honors the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation. Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs, and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history. Below are some projects and posters you can find in the Foundations building. Our littlest Saints have enjoyed learning about influential African Americans and working on projects to display out in the lobby for all to see.

Simply the Best: Hollie Marjanovic

Authored by Marty Kelly (and Upper School colleagues)

Photo of Hollie Marjanovic
Hollie Marjanovic, Upper School Learning Facilitator

Have you ever had something that you never knew you really needed until you had it? Like something you lived your whole life without and now absolutely cannot live without? Like dry shampoo. Or a straightener. Or wine. Seriously, how did I ever live without them? They make my life so much easier, better, smoother, and enjoyable-er. You know what else does all that for me (and on a WAY more important level than giving me good hair and superficial confidence)? Our Upper School Learning Facilitator. I cannot live without Hollie Marjanovic.

When I was in high school here, we didn’t have a learning facilitator, so when I returned here to teach, I was skeptical (and as you all know, I hate change). My pretentious little first-year teaching self thought, “I mean what is a learning facilitator? I’m a teacher. I facilitate learning.” Um, no I do not. Well, I mean, yes, okay I do, but not Hollie-level which is next level.  Now fast forward twelve years to now when I am ready and happy to say I was so wrong (and “when I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong”: name the movie!). 

Now that I have her and know her, I cannot do my job without Hollie. She is my runway clearer, air traffic controller, pothole filler, fire putter-outer, rodeo wrangler, and left tackle blind side protector. That’s a number of metaphors, but you get it: she does everything. For everybody. Not just me. I’m not even sure what her actual job description is anymore, but I can guaran-darn-tee that she does that job and then about ten others. All while being her good-natured, good-humored, hilarious Hollie self. I mean who else can pull off getting hit on the head with a volleyball in front of the entire upper school student body while wearing a blow-up unicorn costume?

But Hollie isn’t just a fluffy unicorn. She is a boots-on-the ground do-er, and she gets it (whatever the “it” is of the hundreds she’s handling at the time) done efficiently and effectively. During the school day, you may catch a glimpse of Hollie as she scampers back and forth past our windows across the courtyard or across campus to steer rope various students for the rest of us. When I asked faculty for their input on what Hollie means to them, they captured her in the words “godsend,” “true Saint,” “gift,” “saving grace,” and “the best” (twice, and one time in all caps). Keep reading to see what else Upper School faculty had to say about Hollie, who, in the words of Tina Turner, is simply the best.

Colin Dunnigan: Hollie’s willingness to jump into issues with students has been phenomenal. She has become the de facto academic advisor/caretaker for every upper school student, carefully monitoring what they are doing, keeping up with what assignments are due in a dizzying array of classes, setting up tutoring sessions, getting extended time materials handled, calling parents who are upset about how their children are doing, reminding folks to update their assignments online, all while keeping a cool head and staying relentlessly positive. She has been a big help to me, but more importantly, she has been the saving grace for many students whom she has served through coaxing, cajoling, organizing, and keeping them focused, especially in times of challenge or crisis. 

Ray McFarland: ALWAYS WILLING TO HELP….always with a smile…there seems to be nothing she can’t do ….if you need it organized she is the one to call…she is the definition of a good friend.

Jen Whitt: Hollie is always willing to share her time and institutional knowledge with me. Last year she patiently answered all of my questions. She was also a friendly face to talk to at events, which for a new person can be a bit daunting. She went out of her way to make sure that I felt welcomed. 

Emily Philpott: Hollie is the best! Not only does she do everything she can to support students and teachers, but she is also a fantastic problem-solver. She figures out a way to make things happen, even when it causes more work for herself. And she does everything with a smile, when at times she would be justified in getting grumpy and frustrated (like today when I accidentally booked a meeting in the space that her study hall meets). We are all lucky that she is at St. Andrew’s! 

Jim Foley: Hollie Marjanovic is a godsend to this Upper School. I honestly do not know where we would be without her. She has helped my students and me many times. To give but one example, Hollie has provided help to my tenth-grade World History II students with note-taking skills, study skills, and arranging for Writing Lab Fellows to work with these students on writing essays. Hollie also knows the students she helps and shares her knowledge with those students’ teachers. She is a true Saint

Russell Marsalis: When I first started working here at St. Andrew’s, there were two things I noticed right away about Hollie Marjanovic.  First, was the passion and drive she has to care for our students both in the classroom and out. Second, was how hard she works to accomplish those tasks. Hollie is always willing to help out around the school when any issue arises. I know for me, personally, and many of the other coaches she is a huge help without student-athletes. She alerts us early on if there are behavior or academic issues so that we may correct them before a problem persists. How she still has enough energy once she lives work every day is beyond me because she pours so much of it into her job.

Jennifer Gunn: Hollie has been a great help to middle school students this year. She has helped me schedule math, English, and history tutors. Hollie is so knowledgeable of what students can be good mentors to younger students that her help has been invaluable to me.  

Julie Rust: I have literally never been in a meeting where Hollie is involved when she didn’t bring up a point, topic, concern, suggestion, or idea that radically improved/informed the conversation or next steps.  She is perhaps one of the most “with it” colleagues I’ve ever had. Hollie is not only good at figuring out the details that have been missed, she’s also quick to propose (and usually be part of) the solution.  She is a fighter of a multitude of good fights every day and when I grow up I want to be her. 🙂

Linda Rodriguez: It is almost impossible to find Hollie.  Whenever a student asks “Have you seen Mrs. Marjanovic?”  I inevitably say, “She was just right here!  But she’s gone now.” The truth is, Holie is one of the busiest people on campus.  Her dedication to student success is admirable and chasing down kids is sweaty work.  But no matter how many students she’s supporting, she is always gracious and smiling.  Her teacher tool bag is full of student centered resources and she’s more than willing to share – it speaks to the priority she places on helping kids.  We are lucky to have her…when we can find her!!

Sarah Spann: Hollie is the prime example of a giver with such a big heart. She does so much for the school and not just students but with her colleagues as well. She wants to help students be successful but she knows she can’t do it by herself. She’s selfless and constantly communicates to that particular faculty about a student that needs help or extra motivation. She has taught me a lot just by observing her and the attention to details that she has. She works so hard in wanting to make St. Andrew’s better. And it is better because of her. She’s selfless and genuine. Give credit where credit is due and Hollie deserves it. Thank you for all that you do Hollie.

Annie Elliott: When I ask how the US can be supportive when students lose a relative, have surgery, etc., folks often ask if we can help to alleviate concern about missed work or getting behind.   I am so thankful that I can refer those families to Hollie and that she helps our students triage assignments and manage their workloads in those times of stress. 

Lauren Powell: A giant heart for others. She works to make sure that everyone is cared for and attended to and she does it with a smile and an infectious laugh. She has a natural ability to attend to details, is organized, and has an awesome memory–great qualities for a learning facilitator. Hollie is tireless in her pursuit of folks who need help doing or finishing work. One of Hollie’s specialties is helping motivate students who are ‘not in the mood’ because she always seems to be in the mood to facilitate learning and growing. 

Gracie Bellnap: The threads of Hollie’s influence are woven deeply into all facets of the St. Andrew’s experience. She makes me feel connected and inspires me to be a better teacher and friend. 

Dan Roach: Speaking both as a teacher and a coach, I have the utmost appreciation for the way Hollie manages our student-athletes and helps keep them on track with all their assignments (particularly when one or two may be missing or late).  She keeps teachers and coaches connected in our collective mission for the academic and athletic success of student-athletes.  One might say that she acts as a conduit between the academic and the athletic realms of our school. Kudos to our Learning Facilitator Hollie Marjanovic!

Emmi Sprayberry: Hollie Marjanovic is one of the most dedicated individuals I know. She works tirelessly to provide support to students and parents. Her persistence, wisdom, and ability to keep a cool head is coupled with an amazing sense of humor and positivity which always leaves me encouraged and amazed. She is always ready to help, even when her plate is overly full. Time after time I have seen her step in and step up, a constant communicator making things happen. I honestly don’t know what this community would do without her. To say Hollie Marjanovic is a saint would probably be an understatement for all that she does. 

Darin Maier: Here’s one for you — after getting her kids home on Friday, she came back out and judged two debates for us on Friday evening at the Saints Classic.  This is not the first time she has answered the call when we’ve needed folks to come out and help.

Lara Kees: We all know that she’s great at keeping up with many kids and their work AND taking the load off of us, all while staying cheery and optimistic. She’s always up for the various contests & games–ready to take a pie in the face, e.g.

Claire Whitehurst: Hollie is a completely joyful gift everyday. Seeing her always makes me feel like I have someone in my corner no matter what. She also has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. St. Andrew’s is incredibly lucky to have her on the team! She is also equally loved and cherished by all of the students. She’s on top of everything. She lent me a cake dish in the midst of finals last semester. She’s just THE BEST!

7th Grade Attitudes of Gratitude

Authored by Dean Julius (and various 7th graders)

If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that teaching was never easy, and a global pandemic only served to make the challenges of this career even more daunting. Trying to make deep, meaningful connections with twelve & thirteen-year-olds behind the veil of a Zoom or Google Meet screen is equivalent to betting on early investments in “a unicorn” startup company. Which is to say, one rarely picks the right startup company, and I think secondary education met her match when she tried to wrestle with virtual learning. And though we’re not fully out of the woods yet,  I’m grateful we’ve all come this far as best we could. 

What has buoyed me in these rough waters were the little kindnesses from students and colleagues. A thank you note here or a comment by a student there. A Christmas gift. An email from a now high schooler, post-peak pandemic to let me know that they missed seeing me in person and having my class now that they’ve moved across the crosswalk. Which is one reason why I was inspired to begin this “Attitudes of Gratitude” blog series. I wanted to give students a chance to publicly express themselves and their gratitude for their teachers. This month, we get to hear from the seventh graders and their appreciation for the seventh grade team. I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed reading their comments and writing this blog!

“I appreciate Mr. Goldsbury very much because his class is fun, and he makes a lot of jokes that are funny and keep his class entertaining. When we are learning things, he always finds a way to make it enjoyable. And I’m excited to dissect pigs! 

I also appreciate Coach Spann because I talk to her about my life problems, and she always listens. She is fun to be around, and she lets us play in the gym sometimes during Study Hall if our work is done. She’s so nice and funny”

“I like Mrs. King because she is always trying to make us feel happy. I also like how she is a new teacher because, since she is new, we can tell her stuff about the school. I also like how she gives us homework passes because some students have a hard time with homework and that helps.”

“Mr. Julius is very fun. He makes me like creating stories. He also asks us questions of the day which make my day a bit not boring. Mr. Julius is also a relatable teacher. He’s friendly, and I appreciate that!”

“Mrs. Johnson is a great teacher because she gets straight to the point and doesn’t stall class time. This makes it a lot easier for us to learn. Choir is one of those classes that you need to learn something fast in order to practice.”

“I really like Mrs. Newburger’s class because she’s very laid back and an amazing teacher. Even though math is hard, I appreciate how she tries to help us.”

“Mrs. Irons is one of my favorite teachers. She makes good assignments and is encouraging to all her students.”

“I appreciate Dr. Clark’s class because she is friendly and gives the class some say in what we do. We get breaks often and she takes her time to let everyone understand the subject.”

“I love Coach K.J.’s class because he shows us how to win an argument. He cares about us and I always look forward to coming to his class.

I also love Mrs. Runnel’s and Mrs. Gunn’s class because they help us with assignments for other classes. I really feel they like teaching and care about me.”

“I love Mrs. Venters because she makes our class a cool environment and makes it that our drama class is a fun break from real classes.”

“I really loved Mr. Rennie. He was so nice to our classes and he would let us have second chances (with corrections), but then also he would let us work at our own pace and even give us breaks as a breather. I really hope he comes back one day.”

“I appreciate Dr. Cranford because not only do I get to learn a new instrument, I can (re)learn things that I’ve either been taught by my piano teacher(s) or not. He has made the band a fun class, even with all the events we participate in.

It’s also pretty surprising how Dr. Clark is able to handle three different grades. It seems pretty hard to keep up with whatever each grade has learned, as they’re all on different levels. Translating Latin is pretty hard, but I’m sure that with Dr. Clark’s guidance, I will be fine.”

“Mr. Rennie is one of my favorite teachers because whenever you need help with a math problem he will help you the best way possible to help you find the answer very quickly, and he will also write an example on the board too.

Dr. Cranford is one of my other favorite teachers because when our instruments are having problems and stuff, he will fix it for us, and whenever we forget to bring our music book he always will have a spare one that we can use. He also usually leaves somewhere around 5:30 each day, just in case we need to practice in his room.”

“Mr. Goldsbury is one of my favorite 7th grade teachers, he is also one of my favorite teachers I’ve had so far being at the middle school. His classes are fun and interesting and I always leave the classroom with new knowledge of science. He teaches in a way that you can easily comprehend the lessons he teaches. He fosters a very good learning environment that helps the students excel in science, and I appreciate that.”

“When you ask me ‘Who is the best coach?” the answer is always Coach Spann. I love Coach Spann because she’s someone I can talk to about anything. When I’m feeling sad, I like to go to her because I know she will always cheer me up.”

“I love Mrs. Newburger’s class because she always stops to make sure everyone fully understands what she is teaching. Even if no one asks a question she will still check you know it by going around the classroom and checking on each student individually. By doing this it shows that she really cares about her students and I appreciate that.”

“I love Mama J., Mrs. Johnson, because she is really nice and funny. She also gives us candy. She has a lot of patience to deal with our classes.”

“I enjoy Mr. Julius’ class. We get to discuss all sorts of fun topics. We read different kinds of books too. Some are goofy and some are really sad. The way that he teaches brings joy to me, and Mr. Julius is the teacher that I wish all teachers were like.”

“I love Mrs. Venters’ class because she is always making us laugh. She is always coming up with games for us to play. When it comes time for us to plan out a play, she is always listening to our suggestions and making us smile.”

“I like Mrs. King’s class, even though I don’t like history. Mrs. King’s nearpods make it very fun to learn in class, and they are very entertaining. I enjoy her room too. She has a very calm environment in her room, and she never yells at us.”

“Mr. Brister is one of my favorite teachers because he actually understands students and what they go through. I remember a time when a friend and I were talking about why we couldn’t go outside. He said we should go outside, but he understood why we didn’t want to and empathized with us. Spanish is also amazing because he helps us with our grammar and how to say real sentences.”

Presenting Val Prado’s “$450,000 Inheritance Project”: The Perfect Antidote to the School/Real World Divide

Authored by Julie Rust

When I was a fresh-faced 21-year-old middle school ELA teacher with big ideas and way too much confidence, I knew I was going to crush my admin’s class observation and evaluation. I loved these kids. They loved me. We were whirling through novels and grammar concepts and writing projects like nobody’s business. I had high standards, but also tons of scaffolds and high thresholds for fun. The morning of the observation I can still picture my principal sitting in the back row. We’d just had a robust conversation about a quote of the day, and I had rocked a mini lesson on sentence fragments versus run-ons. As I passed out a quick worksheet to serve as a formative assessment on the concept, Jimmy, a particularly brilliant and ornery 8th grader (my favorite kind of adolescent challenge), sighed loudly. “What’s up?” I asked. “I feel like there’s so much busy work in here,” he said, rolling his eyes. “What does this class have to do with my future, with the real world?” 

I thought it was a great question, and it provided the perfect segue for me to provide some real world examples of grammar mistakes in resumes that didn’t result in an interview.  In other words, as I expected, I crushed my evaluation.  Except, according to my principal at the time during our debrief, I didn’t.  I got major marks down in the classroom management section of the rubric.  “What Jimmy said … that was blatant disrespect,” she said.  “You shouldn’t have taken his comment seriously. You should have punished him and moved on.”  My face flushed hot and red as I walked back to my room.  “She’s just super traditional,” I thought, “responsive teaching is more important than silencing kids.”

Now with nearly twenty more years under my belt, I think we were both right.  I think kids need direction on how and when to share their opinions and beliefs in appropriate, respectful, and positive ways.  And I think they deserve constant reminders about how what we are doing in our classrooms links up to their past-present-futures.  That’s why I am so excited to share with you Val Prado’s super-dope $450,000 Project.  

Val knew her students needed practice with determining the value of a percentage of a given number, but she didn’t want to give them more rows of artificial math problems.  By fake-gifting her sixth grade math students with a $450,000 inheritance and then asking them to responsibly spend the sum among charity, housing, transportation, education, vacation, and savings, she provided her students more than just numeracy practice; she helped them begin to think about spending, shopping, finances, and budgets. Sure, the work in creating the assignment far surpassed creating a worksheet, but so did the benefits gleaned by the students working the project.  

I have a feeling Jimmy would have approved of the $450,000 Project.  In fact, he wouldn’t have even needed to ask what math had to do with the real world; the connection is in-your-face blatant. More importantly, Val’s sixth graders gave this assignment a big seal of approval.  While I was doing carpool duty about a month or two ago, a sixth grader, unprovoked, shouted something into the wind as she made her way to the flagpole. “What?” I said, buttoning my coat to cut the chill.  “I said math was SO FUN TODAY!” she said. She went on to describe the $450,000 project, not knowing that I was already planning on blogging about the thing and had been in touch with Val about it.  

Sometimes our students need relevance.  Sometimes they need fun.  And when we are really lucky, the two things, the work of relevance and the play of fun, swirl together to coalesce into an assignment that is really meaningful.

Tis the season at the lower school… to CELEBRATE!

There are so many reasons to celebrate this time of year. The holidays, of course, but in our school world we are celebrating the end of the 1st semester and all of the accomplishments, big and small, of our teachers and students.

Join me as we take a short visual journey through recent pictures of some of our amazing lower school students working and growing! (Did I mention short? Learning is so much fun that I forget to stop and snap pictures!)

First stop…

4th grade students worked with a partner or small group as they researched and chose a method to share and teach others about topics related to American history and as the title of the 4th grade play suggests, American Voices! Students chose ways to share their research in a variety of ways to be included on this mall covering timeline including: a graphic novel, a video blog, Google Slides presentations, diorama, posters, and so much more!

Next up…

Learn and eat!?!? I’m a little sad that I didn’t get to join class for this activity, but what a fun and engaging way for 4th graders to learn about the phases of the moon in Ms. Cosgrave’s class. This is one opportunity where the students can actually eat their work. No blaming it on the dog here!

And moving right along…

1st graders made direct fossils by creating petrified paper. They then explored trace fossils by creating footprints of our very own St. Andrew’s kid-o-sauruses in science class!

Speaking of 1st graders. Do you know the actual measurements of the Mayflower? Our 1st graders do! The 1st grade students, along with their teachers, joined me on the May Day Field as they worked on estimating, on a very grand scale, and then measuring out the length and width of the actual Mayflower ship. (Grand visions of creating parts of the ship like rails or the bow to scale danced through our heads, but alas, there just isn’t enough time in a teacher’s day to build a Mayflower replica, even if it would be made out of cardboard and paper. A teacher can dream, can’t they?)

Our next stop…

The 3rd grade students recently accepted a mission, Mission:Impossible, as they learned how to navigate the world of Google. Not just “googling” in the search engine, but the applications in the Google Suite. It can really feel like a scary and foreign land for beginners. The students acted out conversations with mission control to help remember keyboard commands on their chromebooks, and then used Google Slides as a tool to help collect information for their research project.

The research project mentioned above: Owls! 3rd grade students are building their background knowledge and developing research and writing skills as they discover and write about owls in preparation for their upcoming novel study of Poppy by Avi.

And our final stop…

2nd graders are discovering ways that writing, history, the nativity, art, nature, and technology can all come together in a super special and meaningful way. Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, only a sneak peek here. These 2nd graders want to do the grand reveal at the end of the week.

I hope you enjoyed seeing and reading about a few of the special things happening in the lower school! The growth of our students is always something to celebrate!

-Mrs. Scott

Statistics Meets Academic Conference

Students in David Bramlett’s statistics class put their learning on display this week through collaborative poster sessions this week. The project was a powerful way to put their semester’s learning to use, and presenting to small groups (rather than a formal speech to an entire class) was hugely preferred by the students. Of course, as with all larger scale projects, the journey wasn’t always smooth, such as when it was discovered (too late) that a free survey monkey account doesn’t allow an unlimited sample of participants. Nevertheless, students pushed through and applied their learning in interesting ways. David noticed that this particular project brought out motivated participation in a student that wasn’t always the most outwardly excited by math. One tension he’s still wrestling with is how to fairly and objectively assess projects like this beyond a checklist-like approach.

Want to see all of the posters? Take a gander at them in the north campus library. Interested in how Bramlett framed the assignment? See the snippets from his project description below:

For the final project, you address some questions that interest you with the statistical methodology you learned in Statistics.   You choose the question; you decide how to collect data; you do the analyses.  The questions can address almost any topic (although I have veto power), including topics in psychology, sociology, natural science, medicine, public policy, sports, law, etc. The final project  requires you to synthesize all the material from the course.  Hence, it’s one of the best ways to solidify your understanding of statistical methods.  Plus, you get answers to issues that pique your intellectual curiosity.

Your project will be presented in a poster session during the last week of class. In a poster session, each group makes visual materials that explain the project.  Then, people wander around looking at the posters and talking to the presenters, thereby learning about the various projects.  Poster sessions are extremely common at professional conferences in many disciplines, including statistics.  In our poster session, one member of each group will be stationed at the poster to answer questions, while the other member wanders around to examine the projects.  The poster-sitters and wanderers switch off after the wanderers have examined all the posters.

6th Grade Attitudes of Gratitude

Since I began working at St. Andrew’s, I have kept a string of cards running across the windows of my classroom. Something over twenty feet of cards. Each card is from a student or colleague, and is a catalogue of gratitude over the course of the four years that I’ve been a teacher here. It has grown from one string to three. And will continue to expand the longer I teach here. But this little piece of my history at St. Andrew’s is, I think, the perfect example of why gratitude (little things like a Christmas card or a thank you card to end the year) goes such a long way. Rereading these cards every year, for me, is a buoy that keeps me afloat. It reminds me why I do what I do. Because, candidly, being a Middle School teacher isn’t easy!

Last month, I asked the 5th graders to catalogue their gratitude for the 5th grade team of teachers by simply telling me two teachers they appreciated and why. It was so joyful that we decided to keep the spirit alive for each grade. This month, the sixth graders have shared their little joys with us, and they are equally endearing and inspiring. 

“Mr. Brister is one of my favorite Spanish teachers because he is very chill and likes to play with us. Yes, we can be a handful, but he has a lot of patience with us and teaches us things in a fun way. We do lots of Spanish games, which helps me learn my Spanish better. #BestSpanishTeacher #MyFAVSPANISHTEACHER”

“I really enjoy Mrs Colletti’s classes. She is a really fun teacher and allows us to give her our opinions on books we read. She is also really kind to us and thinks of fun activities.”

“I really love Mrs Burke’s classes. She always greets us outside the door before class and likes to join our conversations at lunch. She is also really fun to be around.”

“I love Mr. Anderson’s class because he teaches us about Speech & Debate. Some Days he takes us outside for brain breaks to play Gaga Ball & Basketball!”

“I love Ms. Venter’s class because she has a way to keep us focused but also having fun. She brings in a lot of positive energy and lets us play games. The way she teaches makes me anticipate Green Block everyday.”

“I love Dr. Clark’s class because she is very flexible tries to make sure we really understand things in Latin before we move on to something else.”

“I love Mrs. Truckner because she is an amazing teacher and advisor. She lets us give our opinion. Also, Dr. Cranford, because he gives us mask breaks, and I know his door is always open to talk.”

“Mrs. Prado is fun and always teaches in ways that help the students. She doesn’t just teach her personally preferred method, she always gives us options on methods to do problems.”

“I love Mrs. Watt because whenever someone doubts themselves then she believes in them and tries to encourage them to push themselves to their best. Mrs. Watt cares for all of her students and engages in our conversations when we talk. Mrs. Watt is the best choir/music teacher, and there are still more reasons why I love Mrs. Watt, but it would take me five paragraphs to explain.”

“Mrs. Truckner is one of my favorite teachers because she is really nice and flexible. When I went to Disneyland and missed stuff, she helped me!I also like the way she teaches, the class is generally fun and challenges me, and I like history 🙂

“Mrs. Prado is one of the best teachers because sometimes she teaches us math in a fun way like Kahoot and Math Knockout. She teaches math in a way that everyone can remember, and she has a way of magically un-confusing people.”

“I love Mrs. Colletti’s class. She understands people if they have a different way of learning, and she tries to make her class as fun as possible, even if the thing we are doing is kinda boring.”

“Mr. Brister is one of my favorite teachers because he is funny and makes me happy. He is able to connect with all of us in different ways. He calls me G.O.A.T, and calls Nicholas Bruce, and sings Layla’s name. He gives us brain breaks, lets us “take a walk” and does so many things that make everyone appreciate him.”

What I have loved about this blog project is the sincerity of each student’s comment(s). They have all taken the opportunity to write about the teachers they love and appreciate, and they’ve done so candidly. The results have been both precious and heartwarming, and a little silly. I don’t think students always take the time, in writing, to talk about their teachers and what they enjoy about their classes, and I’ve had so much fun putting this blog together as a way for students to catalogue those joys!

The Athletics-Academics Connection, and Why Preparing for Finals is a Lot Like Practicing for the Big Game

This post was contributed by Hollie Marjanovic.

Coach Russell Marsalis partnered with Hollie Marjanovic during lunch on Monday of finals week to give upper school students a very different kind of pep talk.

What better person to present on the topic of stress in a “high stakes” situation than Russell Marsalis, who coached in (and won) his first basketball state championship last March?!  Coach Marsalis did a fantastic job of explaining that every game you play is just a game–whether it is the first game of the season with no one watching or a state championship. He advocated for students to treat them all the same and give just as much effort.  This is also true of exams–in the end they are just a big test; do not let the hype around them get you psyched out of your mind.  Additionally, always make your practices tougher than the games; that way, you will never encounter a situation in a game that you did not already anticipate.  Students left the session empowered to ask the questions to teachers and classmates to help you them understand and put in the time and mental effort needed to make those study sessions count. So the next time you need a little academic reinforcement, consider partnering with one of our athletic pros in the ARC. It turns out that coaching has a whole lot in common with solid teaching and learning.

Why Teaching Two Year Olds is a Whole Lot Like Teaching Anyone: A Foundations Highlight

I have a theory that we as humans need tribes.  As much as we all subscribe to the great unifying collectivity of our species, the notion of “we’re all in this together” can simply be too big for our small selves to contain.  We need groups the size of “I can hold you in my head all at once”, shared identities that warm us with familiarity, a sense of “these people are mine” and “this place is home.” I think, to a certain degree, our grade-level, departmental, or divisional affiliations can serve as our work families.  I think this is natural.  I think this is human. 

In this current job role of mine, I have the strange position of belonging to no single divisional or even campus tribe.  I float-drive across I-55 from south to north and north to south countless times each week, sometimes more than once each day.  On a given Tuesday, I might play-learn in centers with some three year olds, pop in an eighth grade level meeting, visit a senior-level English class, and engage in a classroom debrief with a second grade teacher.  It is the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of this job, this “every division is my home” which can sometimes feel a bit like “no division is my home.”

 But one magical side effect of this nomad-like existence is that I can see, with vivid veracity, the patterns, the themes, the stories that surface and repeat again and again across our very-different, very-same everyday classroom realities. It’s probably slightly annoying to have a classroom visit debrief with me these days, so eager I am to connect the dots, to say “we are also seeing _____ in _____ context!”  These are all my clumsy efforts to shout the same refrain: “You are not alone in your struggles . . . they are entirely legitimate!” Or, as the kids say nowadays: “SAME!”

But this blog is not about my clumsy efforts.  This blog is about highlighting Foundations, since our regular and fabulous Foundations blogger (Maggie Secrest) is out nurturing a familial tribe of her own right now.   See, I think we as faculty at St. Andrew’s, whether we teach two year olds or fifteen year olds, have a lot more in common than we think.  And part of our goal with these monthly blog blasts is to connect some of those dots that tend to exist on separate islands within the same school network.  

 So, without further ado, here are four ways that teaching two year olds is a whole lot like teaching whatever grade you teach, brought to you by images I snapped one rainy early Mid-November morning while observing Sandra Flores and Maggie Secrest work their magic. I hope you experience a little beat of resonance, a moment of synchronization, a vibe of “oh yeah I do that too”  in what you see.  And I hope that this helps expand all of our conceptualizations of what constitutes our work-tribe here at SA.

  1.  We are all giving students performance tasks that naturally adjust to, showcase, and accommodate their skill level and interests: Whether students are working with pottery in upper school art, crafting an essay in eighth grade English, or putting rubber-bands on a pumpkinit’s all the same thing.  We as faculty are all about seeing what kids can do with the challenge at hand, and while we rarely have a single “right” product in mind we often have ideas about  how to bump up student performance to the next level.  
  1.  We believe that we learn best in community, that collective meaning-making may get messy but can push us all to greater heights that individual pursuits: When kids are actually helping pour the sand into the center, when ninth graders are sitting around a Harkness table and going deep into historical analysis, it may take extra time and extra clean-up after the fact . . . but the learning gained is worth the mess.
Children in the “young twos” class work together pouring sand into a bin for a center to play with later.
The older twos were WAY into this game of shape review. The hard part was being silent when it wasn’t your turn and you knew the answer.
  1.  We know that part of the schooling game is learning how to be better humans.: This year more than any year it is clear that we teach academic content and skills to navigate the world together.  The two buckets are not in opposition to each other; they, in fact, prop each other up.  And play is one powerful anchor for both pursuits.
  1.  We love to plan and prepare, but are also open to adapt and adjust when our students surprise us with how they take up a task or material: Whether you are a math teacher celebrating how a student found a new way to approach a problem solve or a Foundations teacher allowing kids to flip over the coloring sheet to draw their own shapes, the same spirit of humility, openness, and celebration undergirds our response to the surprises at hand.
This kid was totally into this halloween pumpkin sticker that he wanted to show me again and again. It was starting to lose its “stickiness” but, no matter. It was still his favorite and most treasured thing.

Looky, Looky, I got Book(s)y*

(*Please, at least one person, tell me you get this reference.)

Authored by Marty Kelly

In my last post I confessed to not reading any books this semester. Well, technically I think I confessed to not finishing any books this semester. Which honestly is weirder than my saying I haven’t started any books. You see, I can go through dry spells without reading, but when I do pick up a book, I must finish it. Like, immediately. Books and bottles of wine: I never start what I can’t finish. So the fact that Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell sits looking at me, only partially-read on my bedside table is, for me, akin to my mother’s raised, reproving eyebrow. Or The Office’s Kelly Kapoor when she demands of Ryan the temp, “I have a lot of questions. Number one: How dare you?” 

Seriously, how dare I. Especially since I am the person who, when taking a three day beach trip, packs (at minimum) three books because I know I will read one for every day I am there. And it’s not like I am reading rigorous, academic tomes outside of school. My husband, whom we will also generously call a reader because he reads online articles about sports, makes fun of my penchant for reading anything with “girl” in the title. I mean, in looking back at my list of books I’ve read, I see it’s not *exactly* untrue. I’ve got at least 19 girl-ridden titles under my belt: Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Luckiest Girl Alive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/in the Spider’s Web/who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest/who Takes an Eye for an Eye, All the Missing Girls, The French Girl, The Perfect Girl, The Girls, Local Girl Missing, The Girl With No Past, The Girl in the Ice, The Perfect Girlfriend, The Good Girl, Woman in the Window, The Kept Woman, The Woman in Cabin 10… okay so some of them matured into “woman,” but still, this is getting embarrassing. 

As a teacher of primarily classical literature, I really should be highlighting the other genre of books I love, which I call revisionist fiction (some just call it “retellings”; some call it “historical fiction” but that label is a fiction itself; but the best description is probably “parallel novels”): I’m talking about the books that revisit myths to expand on the story or explore the story from a different perspective. Some of these include Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (yeah, girls again, I know), The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes, and that cheeky little Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell that judges me from my nightstand. And now, we’ve come full circle. So in another episode of what I call “getting other people to do my job for me” (and to live vicariously through those around me who are indeed still reading), I asked other Upper School faculty to recommend some books for us, just in time for the holiday break!

Blake Ware: I’m in the midst of The Art of Loading Brush by Wendell Berry. It’s been good. He’s basically a cranky old agrarian who is critiquing modernity, which is different from his more well-known fiction, although obviously on brand. 

Dawn Denham: I read 100 pages of The Sun Also Rises on the plane yesterday. Because my son had it on his coffee table and because I’ve never read it and because many of my students did last year!

Lara Kees: I read Home, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s part of her Gilead quartet (I guess that’s the term–there are four). Anyway, I loved it and those books in general. Small-town life in Iowa in the 1950s-ish. I find Robinson very insightful in terms of the real, felt effect religion has in everyday American life. 

Gracie Bellnap: I finished Song of Achilles (interesting read since I completely forgot about the movie Troy and the myth), Alice in Wonderland (haven’t read it since I was a kid and it was just as weird and wonderful as I remember), and Comfort Me with Apples (A wickedly weird and dark and twisted story— more like a novella— that I read in an hour and loved so much), and I am almost finished with The Four Winds (a horribly depressing book following a mom/daughter through their life during the Great Depression in west Texas and California). 

Catherine Bishop: I had totally planned on reading Dispatches from Pluto, but the best laid plans… it’s definitely on my list, though. 

Price Chadwick: I just finished Woke Racism by John McWhorter.  John McWhorter is a professor at Columbia University.  Here is a snippet from Penguin Random House: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/696856/woke-racism-by-john-mcwhorter/

And then here is a Washington Post article that calls the book horrible: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/at-war-with-the-woke-a-fresh-perspective-makes-the-same-tired-arguments/2021/11/24/7dcd37d8-38e7-11ec-91dc-551d44733e2d_story.html

Lauren Powell: I started reading A Gentleman in Moscow, almost done. The review does a much better job of explaining why this book is so marvelous but I love the characters, the Russian history, and the seamless connections between things like the importance of a great meal, the necessity of a life philosophy, and the art of finding meaning in life. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34066798-a-gentleman-in-moscow

Claire Whitehurst: I just finished GRASS, a graphic novel by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, about Korean comfort women in Japan during WW2. It was gorgeous!

Burton Inman: Right before Thanksgiving, I recently read Anxious People, Fredrik Backman’s latest novel and I LOVED it! I’ve read a few of his works before this one and was so eager to read it given how much I loved A Man Called Ove and Us Against You.

In this book, Backman does such an excellent job of weaving together multiple story lines and placing these different characters together in a way that is just so charming and engaging. I loved the way that he writes about human beings and the simple, common struggles that we all have. A bank robbery turned hostage situation can warm your heart and make you laugh–yes, you read that right!

Linda Rodriguez: I have a few favorites that you might like:

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – great backstory about Shakespeare’s family

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – explores ancient womanhood through the story of Dinah, Biblical Jacob’s daughter

Till We Have Faces  by CS Lewis – the Cupid and Psyche myth retold

The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier – a classic time travel story with a twist

Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis – murder mystery set in the ancient Roman world

Marks McWhorter: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins: it’s the most impactful book I have ever read in regard to how I look at science as a whole.

Kendra Perkins: I re-read an old favorite (Skellig by David Almond), it’s a middle school book, but it’s one of those that’s such a powerful story and such incredible writing that it’s a wonderful read at any age. This author is British so you can enjoy the fun language he uses so well to tell this story. 

This (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson) is one of those books that I wish had been published when I was younger. It has revolutionary, yet simple ideas to help anyone navigate through the trials and tribulations of life with a practical and positive outlook. 

Final Episode of the Season: Parent Teacher Conference, Lower School Edition, Academic Performance

In this final episode drop in our Parent Teacher Conference season, we feature a conversation about the oh-so-fraught topic of academic performance, facilitated by Rachel Scott, our new Lower School Technology Integration Specialist.  Tune in to get some perspective-shifting wisdom from Rachel Rice (mom of five young saints spanning Foundations to fifth grade), real talk from Dalton Howard (third grade teacher and mom of two herself), and honest sharing from Abigail Shannon, third grader who (if she does say so herself) has some pretty great handwriting skills, even if she didn’t totally ace the last timed math test.

See timestamps below:

  • How academic performance is a fluid concept (3:03-3:55)
  • One parent’s changing definition of academic performance; the importance of meeting children where they are; and why what matters most is “mental health, love of learning, and not squashing that” (4:14-5:40)
  • Abigail’s academic performance goals: “I’m trying to be that kid, the kind of kid who knows how to get her stuff done, maybe not on time but she always gets it done.” (6:00-6:43)
  • Why high performers have a harder time dealing with mistakes and feedback than kids were more experience of struggle (7:10-9:05) 
  • Growing from mistakes and how to best advocate for your children by partnering with their teachers (9:07-11:45)  
  • Why the word “bored” isn’t a thing in Dalton Howard’s classroom, and the importance of demonstrating and modeling intellectual curiosity (12:25-13:51)
  • How a mom of five moved from “you need an A” to a focus on instilling good work habits; and a reminder that what your kids learn or what mistakes they make isn’t a reflection on you as a parent (15:00-18:15) 
  • Those dreaded timed math tests: from the perspective of a third grader and a third grade teacher (18:50-21:00)
  • Tips from a very astute third grader on studying (21:20-22:11)
  • Dalton’s plea to parents: “Let kids mess up, let them take responsibility, let them take ownership, let them remember their own library books.  They are old enough; they are ready.” (22:32-24:38)

A Time to Be Tired

Authored by Marty Kelly

After falling down a rabbit hole of teacher memes, I saw this post on Instagram (I’m not cool enough for TikTok or savvy enough for Snapchat and certainly not young enough for either). This particular post was a picture someone offered of Work/Life Boundaries for teachers. “I will only enter grades on Wednesday.” Okay, sure. “I will use an ‘out of office’ email notification after 5 PM.” Got it, done. “I will not do work on Friday or Saturday evenings.” Cool, cool. “I will stop working by 9 PM during the work week.” Sounds goo… wait, what? That’s a “boundary”? Good grief. How did we get here? A colleague just this morning (cheerfully) said to me he “only” has around 6 hours of work to do this weekend. Um, just no. 

So, I don’t know about y’all, but I’m feeling kind of, well, tired. That feels so unoriginal that I can’t believe I’m saying it. Everyone is tired. But maybe teacher tired is its own special tired? Here’s the thing though: I love our students and love my job and love this place. Like LOVE. I literally am sitting here drinking tea out of a Gail Pittman Saints mug made in 2003 (the year I graduated from here) and wearing my self-imposed uniform of a navy polo with “SA” embroidered in white that I ordered from Land’s End. (I’m also eating dry peaches and cream Quaker Oats, but that’s a different story that would get into my weird childhood tastebuds so let’s not.) 

Anyway, the point is, to say I’m “all in” as a teacher and for this school is a colossal understatement. So please please please do not read this as a criticism against our school; I would do most anything for this school. Which actually may be part of my problem. Sigh. How do you create a work/life balance when the borders of your life and your job are so fuzzy that they bleed into one another? Maybe fuzzy is too negative in connotation; bleed definitely is, if accurate. Beautifully blended? Magically melded? Inextricably intertwined? After all, this place raised me and shaped me and taught me and gave me my best friends and now my career. So is my job my life? Is that bad? Is that healthy? I have no idea. 

I owe this school so much for gifting me the life I have now. But I also know my students and colleagues get the best of me and my husband gets whatever is left over at the end of the day. Poor guy. And he’s a talker. Who wants to chat when we happen to be home at the same time. Because he has spent hours in a car by himself for his own job. But I have spent the hours of 7am to 4pm “on.” Performance level on. And sometimes I am tired. And here’s a brutal confession: I haven’t read a full book since school started. I look forward to going home so I can sit and stare at one screen or another and just be. Which is ridiculous. I’m an English teacher and apparently a hypocrite. And it’s not like my job is physically demanding. Plus, my students are great. My coworkers are great. My administrators are great. So why am I tired? Do I even deserve to be tired? Have I earned my tiredness? Why do I think I have to earn my tiredness? 

The internet tells me teachers suffer from decision fatigue. That sounds right. Maybe it’s decisions, maybe it’s grading, maybe it’s committees, maybe it’s extracurriculars, maybe it’s a new schedule, maybe it’s adding and not subtracting, maybe it’s shouldering the emotional burdens of our students and coworkers, maybe it’s a pandemic, maybe it’s all of these or some of these. I just know I’m kind of tired. For whatever reason. But I also know I’m not alone. The narrative of teachers being tired this year is everywhere. Which is why I was loath to even say it myself; it’s so predictable, so ubiquitous. And everyone is tired of teachers saying they are tired. And I wonder: is this tiredness a self-fulfilling prophecy? Have I imbibed that message of teacher tiredness so much that now I feel permission to be tired so I am? And what’s wrong with that? Maybe nothing? Clearly I have a lot of questions about being tired. Lots of questions, fewer answers.

We certainly couldn’t be tired last year because we were even deeper in the trenches. This year, we are emerging from the trenches and perhaps over-optimistically thought everything would be beautiful and wonderful and perfect; and so much is. But we are also clumsily in the process of re-building our worlds (not to mention the pandemic isn’t exactly over…), and as I keep telling some of you, “It’s like we have forgotten how to human.” We don’t know what to do with our emotions. We are mentally maxed. We don’t have the social stamina we once did. There have been a number of times where I have said to friends, “I just need everyone to calm down,” knowing full well that, like the meme says, no one in the history of the world ever calmed down because of being told to calm down. I’m also trying to remember to just be kind. To each other. To our students. To our administrators. 

Side point: there’s a toxic sentiment in schools that places teachers and administrators squarely against each other. I don’t like that. Our administrators are dealing with *stuff* too, and sometimes it’s hard to see because we don’t (or can’t) know about much of what they are handling; but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot. A whole lot. And so I’m pretty sure they are tired too. Do I complain and get frustrated? Obviously. But do I think my administrators care about me as a person? I do. Do I think that they are working as hard as we are? Yes. Do I think they get overwhelmed and frustrated and tired too? For sure.

Okay, back to me. As an English teacher, I always reach for a literary analogy, despite the fact that apparently I don’t read anymore. Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking. Maybe this particular moment in the life of teachers and schools is like when the naval officer shows up on the island at the end of Lord of the Flies. The island is burning and Ralph is being hunted, and when the boys chase Ralph onto the beach, he falls down in the sand. It’s over. But he has fallen at the feet of the naval officer. Ralph is safe; but he’s exhausted and he knows what he has been through and he has seen what humans are like and he cries for all of these things. 

Or when Odysseus finally arrives home to Ithaca (asleep on the boat, by the way, because he’s exhausted!), but his work is nowhere near done even though he is home. Finally, once he has cleaned house of all the swaggering suitors and he is surrounded by his loyal serving-women, “he, overcome by a lovely longing, broke down and wept” (XXII. 527-8). Maybe for us, for teachers, last year was a battle or journey or chase or fight for our lives or whatever analogy feels right to you; and this year we are home and safe(r) but still righting our houses. So maybe it’s a time to be tired. And a time to weep. A time to weep in lovely longing for time and things and people we cannot get back. In lovely longing for a future that will forever look different. And all of that is okay. Or it’s going to be okay. We will be okay. I rest in the comfort of the cliché that “this too shall pass.” And that even heroes get tired. And even heroes weep. 

Welcome to the Crossworld: Meet Your Guide, Dr. Matt Luter

Authored by Marty Kelly

Matt with Middle Schoolers on Free Choice Friday

Please don’t judge me, but I didn’t pick up a pandemic hobby. I mean, if gluttony counts, then absolutely I did. And, sure, I dyed my hair hot pink at one point, but other than that, I was quite the pandemic let down. Unsurprisingly though, many of my colleagues were far more pandemic productive than I. For example, while the rest of the world was burning bread and whipping coffee, Upper School English teacher Matt Luter was concocting crosswords. The crossword king sat down with me last week to talk about crossword puzzles and draw back the veil to the crossworld. That’s right. The crossworld. 

As it turns out, there is a person behind each puzzle. Matt quickly clarified, though, that the person behind the puzzle is not typically hunkered down with a No. 2 pencil and graph paper laboriously filling in boxes. It’s 2021 after all. There’s software for that. But don’t think that a computer just generates an entire puzzle at the click of a button. Well, okay, it can, but the puzzle wouldn’t be good. And that matters. Obviously. Puzzles have personality. “The first few I made are bad,” Matt said about the puzzles he started making a year ago. They were “not as elegant” as they could have been. Who knew “elegant” was a word that would describe a crossword? I’m learning. In listening to Matt explain the puzzle process, I realize what I’m watching is very much an art infused with the creator’s whims: from the placement of black squares to the long key words in the puzzle, from choosing a theme to cluemaking with puns. Given Matt’s profession as an English teacher, literary references abound in his puzzles. When he started making puzzles, he got some good advice: “Make the crosswords that you would want to do.” And so he does. In addition to literary nods in his puzzles, “I like to do clues based on trivia,” he said. I remembered pre-pandemic that he and other SA faculty dominated local trivia nights, but when I asked Matt if he is good at trivia, he self-deprecatingly laughed: “I mean if I say yes, then I sound ridiculous.” Finally and begrudgingly he admitted, “I carry my weight on a pub trivia team.” I’m pretty sure he does more than that. And how does he know so much stuff, you may ask? You will never expect this answer. READING. Okay, so you probably did expect that answer. Specifically, Matt said his knowledge is from “reading a whole lot, reading lots of different stuff,” and “reading fiction widely and paying attention to the news.” I am always trying to get my students to be more culturally literate, and now I can add “pub trivia” and “crosswording prowess” to the list of why they need to be up on culture. 

So obviously the pandemic played a part in his puzzle-ing, but what was the journey before then? Matt said he has “always been a puzzle person…always puzzley or gamey stuff…trivia and words based things like Scrabble.” Around 7-8 years ago, he got the subscription to The New York Times crossword and started doing it religiously everyday. Enter the pandemic, and crossword puzzle competitions that used to be in person went virtual, so Matt started dabbling. And he was (to no one’s surprise) good. “I placed in a couple,” he finally revealed to me after prodding. “I had a few top ten finishes,” he continued, “At the American Crossword Tournament in March, which is the big one, there are about a thousand people, and I was in the top 30, but I had one error.” He has already vowed that if the tournament is in person this year, his personal days will be spent in April attending. 

Even “geekier” (his word, not mine) than participating in tournaments, he said, is the fact that he subscribes to an email everyday with a list of Indie crossword puzzle makers. And apparently the fact that there is a crossword twitterverse goes without saying. And just how is Matt making a name for himself in the crossworld? Well, for starters, let’s talk about his crossword brand: Lutercross. Matt, whose aversion to self-promotion is clear, says this brand is both to get his name out and is also a “nod to a silly family story.” When his oldest brother Chris was born, his parents were very careful to pay attention to initials and possible nicknames before naming him. It wasn’t until they looked down at the hospital bracelet that they realized they had essentially named their son “ludicrous.” Matt’s Lutercross crosswords (a clever hybridized wink to this family name hilarity) are published on his website (matthewluter.com) every Tuesday morning. 

Besides sharing his gift of crossword puzzles with Middle Schoolers on Free Choice Friday, Matt has also submitted several to the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. “All rejections so far,” he said, but they have given him “helpful” and “actual feedback,” so he will keep trying. One of the beautiful if frustrating things about crossword creation, he reveals, is that “solving one problem creates another.” For me, a crossword try-er (I aspire to be a do-er), it feels the same when doing them: more problems than solutions. I told him that I try to do his crosswords, and I’m definitely not smart enough or clever enough or cross-wise enough or something. I told him that I have to click on the “Reveal” hint button for letters and words, like, a whole lot. Matt laughs and dismisses the idea when people say they “cheated” when solving one of his crosswords. He said, “Cheating doesn’t exist” in this context; there is no great crossword test for which we are all training. Puzzles are for fun. So, perhaps our Honor Code needs an asterisk: I will neither lie, nor cheat*, nor steal (*not applicable in the crossworld). As the Honor Council advisor and aspiring crossworder, I approve this message. 

Find the latest Lutercross crossword here. 

(Ep. 3) Parent Teacher Conference, Early Childhood Edition: Fostering Independence at Home & School

Fostering independence in three, four, and five year olds may sound like a paradox, but in this episode of Parent Teacher Conference, Kim Sewell (PK4 faculty member and mom of three not-so-tiny young adults) and Leslie Hambrick (parent to Jimbo, kindergarten, and Charlie, PK4) discuss the successes and challenges they have had both at home and school toward these ends.  In other words, we explore the conundrum that parents and teachers share, well-articulated by Kim: “if we do our job well, we work ourselves out of the job.” Enjoy the entire conversation, or skip to the themes that interest you using the timestamps below:

  • Why the most convenient moves aren’t always the best “long view” approaches: parenting and teaching children that will grow into well rounded, independent adults (1:35-4:25)
  • How involving all young children in cooking (and other challenges) sets the stage for vital resilience in the face of life’s inevitable messes (5:02-6:27; 9:26-10:50)
  • What Montessori isn’t and what Montessori is: the centrality of modeling, works, safe structure, and giving children tools they can manage (6:50-8:45)
  • Real talk on the difficulties of following youth’s interest and fostering independence . . . and why they are still worth it (11:08-12:30; 15:25-16:00)
  • The history of Maria Montessori and how she came upon her methods to ultimately build a more peaceful world (12:48-15:00)
  • It’s not a free-for-all; how to avoid chaos by slowly easing your way into choice for youth (16:43-19:38)
  • PK4 classroom footage brought to us by Seesaw along with a description of jobs and routines that Kim uses to foster independence (20:12-22:57)
  • Promoting motor skill development at home and in the classroom (23:05-26:20)
  • How preparing snacks and gardening can build foundational mathematical thinking; “using the materials and the child you have in front of you” to build on (27:10-30:25)
  • “What happened at school today?” and the home/school connection (31:08-32:27)
  • Celebrating cultural identities at home and at school (33:09-35:20) 
  • Parenting as a roller coaster and the reminder to stay calm because “you have years with these kids” (36:40-37:37)
  •  “If you do parenting well you work yourself out of the job”; why fostering independence is “a gift of love over and over”, a series of “slow deaths” (37:50-39:14)
  • Final words of wisdom from both guests: trusting children and regulating your own emotions as an adult (40:55-41:32)

Inspire & Innovate’s “Parent Teacher Conference” Episode 2 Launch: The Power of a Story

 This episode of “Parent Teacher Conference” takes us to the Upper School, where Emmi Sprayberry (chair of our arts department) facilitates a conversation with Raymond Huang, current senior; Tangela Chambers, mother to two upper school students (a senior and sophomore); and Dawn Denham, senior seminar English teacher.  

High school is full of challenges…and for many students it is where they start to figure out who they are and grapple with the idea of identity and belonging. In the past 19 months, our students have had their worlds deeply changed by a pandemic that redefined what was our new normal as well as the murder of George Floyd that sparked a movement. In this podcast, we feature a meaningful conversation about what diversity, equity, and inclusion look like in a high school setting and how we can create spaces that build deeper connections and community. For the audio version and show notes, see below:

  • What diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to our guests (3:00-7:00)
  • Bringing people together in a positive way (7:00-13:09)
  • Encouragement for listening and fighting against fear and the “what if’s” (13:15-17:00)
  • How educators can help communicate to students where the safe places are that students can go to have conversations (17:30 – 21:30)
  • The power of a story (21:35-23:35)
  • Personal experiences in relation to DEI (23:45-31:30)
  • The need for more educators of color and systems that impact who end up teaching (33:00-36:15)
  • Self reflection; where it all begins(36:30-42:00)
  • Being comfortable with being uncomfortable (42:00-45:00)
  • Suggestions from each guest for one small change in a classroom environment that would help promote more diversity and inclusion (46:10-51:30)

It was a privilege to get to talk with these amazing individuals and listen to their stories. We went well over our original time but I believe this is only the beginning of much deeper and extended conversations. My hope is that this episode can be used to continue the conversation with each other and our students as we consider and personally reflect how we can foster an environment where students feel seen, valued, heard, and where they also can see themselves in their studies. 

Interviews with 2 Year-Olds

Wouldn’t it be nice to be a 2-year-old? Not having a worry in the world, being hilariously honest, and most importantly getting to be your true authentic self every day. Here at Foundations, no two days are ever alike and our students are full of surprises always keeping us on our toes. We wanted to know what some of our youngest saints thought about their time at school and learning in general. As I’m sure most of you know, it can be a bit of a challenge interviewing a 2-year-old but it is always entertaining. Here is a little look inside of what goes on inside the mind of a 2-year-old:

“How old are you?”

-“Mississippi”

-“6!”

-“2!”

“What is your favorite thing to do at school?”

-“Ummm I like legos.”

-“Toys”

-“Painting apples”

“Where do you go to school?”

-“Friday”

-“Outside”

“What is your favorite animal?”

-“I like a tiger”

-“A camel”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

-“I be a dragon”

-“Oh I want to be a alligator”

What is your favorite song?”

-“I like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and I like golfing last year”

-“Me too.”

What is your favorite book?”

-“Library books”

-“Animals”

What is something your teacher tells you?”

-“I love you, I love you, I love you.”

-“Circle time”

I would like to give a huge shoutout to my patient and honest interviewees Leila Taheri & John Sullivan Barwin.

Launch of Next Podcast Series: “Parent Teacher Conference” (Episode 1, Middle School & Positive Classroom Environments)

Well, we just made it through parent teacher conference season here at St. Andrew’s. From all accounts, they were generative and collaborative conversations in which it was clear that parents, teachers, and admin are all part of the same team dedicated to supporting youth in their growth and abilities. In the spirit of those dialogues, we are thrilled to release our latest season, entitled “Parent Teacher Conference.”

In our kickoff of this season, Meriwether Truckner, Haydenne Archie, and Katie Hathcock talk “middle school classroom management” with Dean Julius as host.

In this series (which includes both a video and audio only version), we feature illuminating conversations between parents, students, and faculty about a range of issues that especially impact the age group of focus. (Sorry- we are not sharing actual recorded parent teacher conferences, although that would be fascinating!) Dean Julius hosts our first release focusing in on the delightfully messy period of middle school and the pursuit of creating positive classroom environments. Learn more in his write up below:

Thanks for stopping by to check out the first episode of Parent Teacher Conference! This episode features a thoughtful conversation with 5th Grade History Teacher—and St. Andrew’s parent—Meriwether Truckner, Haydenne Archie, a current 8th grader at St. Andrew’s, and Katie Hathcock, a parent of two St. Andrew’s students, Stella and Carter. We chat about classroom management styles and student behavior, centered around an article in Edutopia by Ben Johnson. It was such a privilege to sit and chat with these three ladies. Mrs. Truckner has been a colleague I’ve looked up to since I started at St. Andrew’s because her organizational skills and her classroom management are among her many talents, and I loved hearing Katie and Haydenne’s perspectives on parent involvement in student success in the class as well as what students can do to be more successful stewards of the classroom. Hope you enjoy the episode!

Our conversation is time stamped below: 

  • What makes for the best classroom environment (1:45 – 7:00)
  • Self-care & its impact on behavior/teaching  (7:20 – 14:00)
  • Parent & Teacher communication (14:05 – 19:20)
  • What do you do when things go amuk? (19:30 – 24:00)
  • COVID’s impact on management & behavior (24:05 – end)

Fourth Grade Retreat Recap & Reflections

“The 4th grade retreat is one of my favorite Lower School traditions each year because of the way it fosters teamwork, collaboration, communication skills, and self-awareness in our oldest lower school students. We’ve watched many of them grow through the years, and at the retreat, they have the time together to reflect on what it means to be leaders within their community.”

-Shea Egger, Head of Lower School


This year’s 4th Grade Retreat took place a couple of weeks ago on Friday, October 8. At the risk of mixing metaphors barely two sentences into this recap, it has to be said: this year’s retreat was considered on all accounts a slam dunk smashing success!

Buses rolled out about a half hour after Chapel in the gym, students were encouraged to eat a snack on the short ride to north campus, and I suddenly found myself in possession of a hefty bag filled with medical supplies, EpiPens, and fancy-looking asthma inhalers.

Since I’ve already decided on employing a narrative voice which assumes we’re already all dear friends on intimate terms, let me also say this: being responsible for a medical bag full of things–God Willing–no one will never, ever need is a shockingly potent way feeling like a mildly competent human. Trust me, it does wonders for your self-esteem. 

…which, funnily enough, was one of the supporting tenets of the retreat. Shea was kind enough to elaborate on this by adding:

“This year, students learned to communicate with a team as they worked through challenges on a ropes course. I watched them reflect on their own strengths and talents as they created character strength flags with classmates. These and many other activities they participated in helped to set the tone for a year of leadership and service to the lower school. I’m proud of our 4th graders as I watch them step into these leadership roles this year.”

Shea Egger, Head of Lower School, and Chelsea Freeman, Associate Head of Lower School, kicked off the retreat with a short introduction that was immediately followed by several songs led and performed by a few musically (not to mention, comedically!) talented representatives from the SA high school. The kids ate it up, the grown-ups were chuckling; on all accounts, it was good, old-fashioned fun. Would. it be fair to say that most all of us, no matter what age, have missed that at some point during these last 2 years?

Shea and Chelsea explained to students that this year’s theme was Community Building that challenged the 4th grade to take collaborative approaches to 4 different rotations of activities including arts, cooperation exercises, teamwork, strengthening connections amongst their peers, and developing reliance on personal self-worth.

After cheese pizza for lunch, we then all indulged in a much-needed gymnasium break. The day would conclude with an exciting, multifaceted activity requiring focused group participation that would ultimately reinforce the importance of We over I.

A rough schedule for the four rotations that morning:

Rotation I: Ropes Course 

Rotation II: Strength Flags

Rotation III: Cup Stacking

Rotation IV: Teamwork/Unity Activity 



Before deep-diving into these rotations, would you mind terribly if I introduced a second narrative thread of a more personal flavor which I hope will make sense to you–its reason for inclusion–in a couple more paragraphs? And if it still doesn’t make sense, contact me directly, for I have failed, and someone needs to tell me.

On several separate occasions, when glimpsing children deep in play or hard at work world building or otherwise bewitched by the promises of playtime, recess, etc., my grandmother—according to the story my uncle told to me earlier this summer—was known to say things like, “Don’t you wonder what all kinds of things are going on in those little heads right now?”

For the next several days I found myself more and more frequently returning to that image of my grandmother saying these things. It was as if the story had registered her presence in my life again, somehow. The force of my grandmother was strong with me, if you will. I have always thought that the concept of a ghost is suspiciously similar to that of a well-digested memory.; the kind you keep with you throughout life as hybrid talisman-scars, relying on them like the oldest of friends. Despite the 17 years since her death, I recall my grandmother’s finely boned face with spooky accuracy, her cat-scratch ballpoint pen handwriting in the margins of my homework. My favorite way of remembering her goes something like this: she looks up from her desk in her 3rd grade St. Andrew’s LS classroom, it’s the late seventies and I don’t exist yet. Since I’ve edited this memory to fit my specific needs, she still acknowledges the great perhaps of me with a trademark gentle deadpanning she was famous for. My grandmother’s southern accent was mellow, opaque, more lilt than drawl. Children adored her long after they stopped being children anymore and in turn she remembered them as they had been. I’ve had the moderately awkward pleasure of meeting several of my grandmother’s former students over the years and each of them described the same thing, just in different ways and with different words based on different memory touchstones.

She’d remembered their joy for them, keeping it safe long after they’d completed the messy business of growing up. Fossilized Joy. I don’t think it’s going a step too far to argue that this is what a truly great, exquisitely gifted teacher can offer students. St. Andrew’s has–and has always had–startlingly high percentages of these sorts of teachers.

Which is where I’ll now take a moment to shout out the 4th grade team in particular. 

I am still frequented by my trusty imposter syndrome and compulsively wonder how I of all people got to be the person who gets to support, eat lunch with, laminate for, and simply sit back and drink in the 4th grade team’s combined power, force of will, capacity for radical kindness, and my favorite–the easy laughter, the graciousness. In their case, the sum is very much equal to the parts. These last two months have shown me how certain contrasts actually beget the most surprising and productive of intimacies. Learning how to work for and towards the right kinds of tension(s) in a place with so much raw radical kindness feels a little like magic when left in the measured, meticulous hands of the St. Andrew’s community. At least, that’s what it looks like from over here. 



There was a moment during the 4th grade retreat when I bore witness to something I’d never seen before and it reminded me of something Caroline Pratt wrote in her book I Learn From Children:

The child, unhampered, does not waste time.

Caroline Pratt

As the 4th grade teaching assistant, I was helping out with one of the four activity stations set up for students. A team of four had just successfully been the first in their class to stack all of their solo cups using the ingenious string and rubber band method Chelsea had demonstrated for them. 

But wait, there’s a catch…

The only way for a team to accomplish the cup stacking was to work together, with each member pulling one of the four strings knotted to the rubber band; this simultaneously served as a great equalizer and motivator.

Fourth grader Mia Machost especially enjoyed the Hula Hop rotation, while Madison Thornton and Bella Klein enjoyed the Cup Stacking and dodgeball rotations.

Bella adds that her favorite part about being in the 4th grade is having Mrs. Buggage as her homeroom teacher. Parker Purnell on the other hand thinks the extra freedom allowed to 4th graders is the best part.

Nina Craddock is confident that getting to change classes and getting to spend time with all four of the 4th grade teachers is one of the best parts. She also thinks that getting to eat pizza outside with everyone was one of the retreat’s highlights.

I walked around the room in an effort to both supervise and encourage, knelt to watch particularly nail-biting close calls, and offered a few stray (hopefully helpful) tips about aforementioned gravity and elastic potential energy (less helpful, as I successfully avoided ever having to take a Physics class, circa 2009).

It soon became clear that this was an exercise in power dynamics. It was about teaching our students the intricacies of the necessary give-and-take required in any successful, healthy relationship. Like any unique and self-sufficient organism, each of the 16 teams went about finding their own complex equilibriums in unpredictable starts and stops. Some big points of frustration. A few tears mixed in with a little hope and a major heaping of gritty resolve.

Honestly: I’d never been prouder of them.

A few groups achieved equilibrium within minutes of a few initial trial and errors. Other groups required a couple of detours nmbefore establishing functional checks and balances systems for the interplay of their group members’ powers. 



CUP STACKING CHALLENGE 

Time: 10-15 minutes   

Supplies: Solo cups, rubber bands, and strings 

Each member can only touch one string.  

Questions/Things to Think About:

  1. How did your team communicate with one another to solve this challenge?
  2. What actions/ideas helped your group find success?
  3. How did your group overcome challenges or frustrations? 
  4. What did you learn about cooperation from this activity? 
  • All credit goes to Chelsea Freeman, Empath Wizard / Associate Head of Lower School who led this rotation and originally provided these instructions and takeaways

Later that day, I started thinking about how annoyingly necessary tension is for almost everything we set out to do in life. This eventually led to me googling “symbiosis” on my iPhone while on the school bus ride back to the lower school. If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t really expecting to be too interested in any search results because as a child–actually not too much older than the students I currently serve–I developed my own problematic, entirely self-defeating relationship with tension.
Instead of learning how and when and how hard or how soft to push back against challenges, I’d just stop, play dead; in other words: avoid! avoid! avoid! It wasn’t until I was 29 years old with nearly a decade gone by since I’d taken my last math class that a close and monumentally brilliant high school friend of mine suggested I do research on something called Dyscalculia. That’s another story for another time.



The fact that I was a generation and a half too early to benefit from Chelsea’s cup-stacking exercise and Emotional Learning doesn’t matter. There’s only the honest-to-god raw delight and something that feels an awful lot like the hope of knowing there are schools brimming over with teachers and administrators and staff members like the St. Andrew’s Lower School.

Thanks to Rachel Scott, the retreat’s finale was a brilliant, complex, multilayered, reading comprehension heavy group project that culminated in each group creating their own battery-powered lights. Honestly, chef’s kiss for that seamless blend of poetry, hope, and technology. As I walked around and spoke to groups once the project was over, I saw lots and lots of awe and delight on our students’ faces. 

My grandmother had a quiet kind of intelligence. It ran deep and was deceptive in its stillness which oftentimes led to other adults prematurely discounting her and her talents. By today’s standards, she’d probably be considered as having had a genius-level E.Q. for her proven ability to know something was going to happen before it happened and not know how she knew.

By the time I met her, she openly maintained the opinion that children were far more interesting than most adults she knew. I tend to agree with her.

****

I think part of the hard work of growing yourself up and grasping at maturity is recognizing when you don’t have the proper lens with which to view a situation or someone(s). And I also think we all do this to some extent–fail to bear witness to the real truth of a thing because we’re too busy sussing out the bottom line of The Something, too infinitely looped into valuing the outcomes over the answers. Because outcomes and answers are two entirely different beasts, although they are oftentimes mistaken for each other. St. Andrew’s is doing its best in so many ways to change this kind of thing for future generations.

Special Thanks to:

Shea Egger, Chelsea Freeman, Rachel Scott, Julie Rust, Greg Buyan, Sarah Spann, Abram Jones, Hailey Allin, Anna Frame, Susan Pace, April Cosgrave, Chandler Buggage

5th Grade Attitudes of Gratitude

Something I have always appreciated—and continue to hold dear about St. Andrew’s—is how much my colleagues and the students show gratitude and support for one another in various ways, from observing and learning from one another’s teaching, to little comments students make to show their appreciation for those who teach them. 

To highlight these little joys, I will be asking each grade over the next several months, starting with 5th, to take a moment and share why they are grateful for their teachers.

This month, the 5th graders’ reflections are earnestly heartwarming and a true catalogue of unabashed gratitude, as the poet Ross Gay would say. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have, and as another testament to shared gratitude, I’d like to thank Dr. Foley for his thoughts giving life to this idea!

“I really appreciate Mrs. Taylor because she’s very forgiving and can relate to things that we are going through. She makes learning fun by giving us projects like making computer comics on Pix-ton and doing some fold-able things . She really knows how to treat kids with work in a fun way. I also really like Mrs. King because she always doesn’t put a lot of pressure on us when we are nervous or scared. And she doesn’t give like melt your brain kind of work or make it too easy. She’s very understanding and lets us do fun things.”

“I like Mr. Lowe because he brings an element of humor and cleverness into his class. He is always singing or doing funny voices.” 

“I love Mrs. King. She is an outgoing, kind, and loving person. I love her class too and her energy. I love her class because she makes good use of the class time and makes the work hard but makes it seem easy and nothing to worry about.”

“I appreciate Mrs. Bernhardt very much because she is very sweet and kind.” “Mrs. Bernhardt brings brightness to St. Andrews. I am super grateful that she is in my life.”

“I really appreciate Mrs. Ambriz because she goes out of her way to make Spanish fun. Also she is kind, sweet, and understanding. I’m really grateful for her.”

“Mrs. Watt gives us fun activities to do, especially with instruments, while still teaching us new things every day. She also teaches us funky music, like Mi Gallo and Hey, Ho, Nobody Home. We got to sing them in rounds as a class and it sounded SO COOL! For example, about five people would be singing “Hey, ho, nobody home,” over and over again, while another group of about five people would sing “I said hey!” over and over again. In result, the background music would be: “‘I said hey!’, ho, nobody home.” Another group of five people would sing the four lines of the song, and then the remaining five people would sing the four lines of the song, but starting a little after the first group. Music is always so fun!”

“I also appreciate Ms. Bernhardt because she makes science really fun and exciting.”

“I really appreciate Mrs. King. She is so calm and kind and is great for when you need some help. I love the books she picks out for us to read, and we always have a great time in her class.” 

“I appreciate Mrs. Ambriz because she is always willing to help us get better In Spanish and because she always plans fun activities for us to do every day.”

“Ms. Taylor makes learning fun, and she is kind. She also disguises the learning to make it fun, and we also do a lot of all hands on deck projects, and that is what I think makes her a unique and a kind person.”

“I appreciate Mrs. Bernhardt because she lets us know when we have missing work. I also appreciate Mrs. Runnels because she helps us organize the space around us.”

“Mrs. King makes reading fun, and I love the conversations we are having about The City of Ember. She is also very sweet and very welcoming. I am so glad she is my advisor.”

“I love Ms. Taylor as a teacher because she will go out of her way to help a student. She is very kind and never makes me feel pressured. She has amazing and fun games to play for strategies to learn a topic! I love all my teachers, but Ms.Taylor stands out!”

“I like Mr. Lowe because he makes math fun and he sings a lot!”

“I think Mrs. Bernhardt really teaches well. I appreciate Mrs. Bernhardt for being our advisory teacher. Thank you Mrs. Bernhardt!”

“I appreciate Ms. Taylor because she is really kind and cares for everyone. She also makes learning history seem like an adventure.” 

It’s easy to forget, as Esperanza says in The House on Mango Street, our “reason for being.” But when we take a moment to enjoy the little things, like these comments from the students, as Esperanza says, they help us “to keep keeping.”