Breaking the Education Vending Machine

Authored by Dean Julius

– from Roadside Lights by Eiji Ohashi

There is roughly one vending machine for every 25 people in Japan, the highest number of vending machines per capita in the world. It’s an often popularized factoid about the island nation, especially for Westerners. Just take a moment to think about what more than five million vending machines spread across a relatively small island looks like, where do they all go? It was certainly one of the more peculiarly distinctive realities of Japanese culture that I discovered while venturing around central Japan. It was both anachronistic and beautiful to walk through the woods in Nagano or the streets around a two-hundred year old ryokan (traditional, Japanese inns with tatami matts) to find, somewhere along the way, a lone vending machine with coffee, juice, and milk soda. If you’re curious about the latter, I won’t go down that rabbit hole, but you’re welcome to explore. Of course, my time in Japan was much bigger, more spiritual, and taught me so much more than what I found in coin operated machines, but vending machines are such a good metaphor for what I believe is happening, currently, in education. Insert money. Press a button. Receive. 

If you know me at all, you know that I’m serially optimistic. It’s a blessing and a curse. So apologies in advance if my title seems like click-bait or this blog breaks with my typical demeanor, but I’ve become increasingly worried, in the time of a pandemic especially, that students are losing their ability to self-start. That their ability to think creatively and independently, something I believe they (we all) inherently possess, has been lost, to some extent, in the time of COVID-19, post COVID-19, and in the age of Siri, Alexa, & the Google (I’m sure he’s tracking me as I type this). Students are traversing through schools like consumers, thirsty for soft drinks.

Last week, Mr. Brister told me about a thought experiment he did in class that caught my attention. He began class as he always does, roll call, housekeeping, the usual, but on the whiteboard were a set of clear, enumerated instructions for his students. They needed to create a short skit, entirely in Spanish. They were allowed to use any tools available to them, including the internet and WordReference–a reliable, digital source for translating–to help them craft their skits. And of course, they were allowed to partner up. However, the most important caveat of this assignment was they weren’t allowed to ask Mr. Brister any questions. They needed to achieve their goal entirely alone, using only each other, their tools, and the instructions provided. For just one hour and twenty-five minutes, they couldn’t ask their teacher for help. 

You might be asking, what’s the aim of such an assignment, beyond the obvious language learning outcomes. What might it prove to ask the students to work alone, without the help of their teacher? Moreover, what role does the teacher even play in a framework like this? To me, the answers are simple. Mr. Brister (and I would agree with him) wants to measure students’ independent, creative ability, in addition to their ability to complete a multi-step assignment, without needing to be given the precise means with which to accomplish the task. His goal, and invariably all of our goals as educators, are to equip our students with the tools they need, the skills necessary, to complete not just the tasks they face within our respective subjects, but more broadly–and perhaps more importantly–help lead them to finding themselves and their own capabilities. The same charge Virginia Woolf gives in her diary, “The thing is to free one’s self: to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded.” To do this takes stepping back and giving students both the opportunity to succeed and to fail.

This is no easy task. Students, particularly middle school students, are quick to seek immediate validation and confirmation they’re on the right track, so are adults. I’m certainly guilty of this. Many students will ask at the beginning of a new task or assignment, “How do I do this?” or “How do you want us to do this?” or some other variation of these questions–before even attempting to try risking failure or finding success. And though this is, I would argue, quite lazy as an approach to learning, it is also a deeply human instinct—the desire for immediate gratification. It keeps students (all of us) from the harder work of trial and error. The latter involves risk, analysis, and the potential for much greater reward.

We’re all familiar at least with the scientific method: observe/ask questions, research, hypothesize, test, analyze results/data, conclude, and report. It’s a cyclical loop. It’s keystone is built on the idea that even if failure happens, there’s always more questions to ask; therefore, more to learn, repeating the loop again. But in a moment, culturally, historically, when it is so easy to simply ask, “Hey, Alexa?” or “Hey, Siri?” when the answers to simple and complex questions alike are just a Google search away, what incentivizes students engaging in high-level, thoughtful inquisition? After all, I can quickly tell you that a chef’s hat has precisely 100 pleats or that Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart once took an aviation joyride together to Baltimore, instead of attending a dinner in D.C. because Google. And while I’ll admit that these are simple trivia factoids, students, parents, anyone with a connection to the internet can quickly find whatever it is they’re looking for, without the need for much inquiry or creative problem solving for themselves. To be fair, this is also both the beauty of our current moment in history and also the problem. The ease with which we can access information is, frankly, pretty glorious, and quite helpful. But it’s equally exploitable, and occludes us from pondering, on our own, difficult questions. 

It is, I would argue, part of the reason why the news is saturated with headlines like, “Students use AI rewrite tool to beat plagiarism checks,” “NFT marketplace halts most transactions due to proliferation of fake and plagiarized tokens,” “Rand Paul admits his plagiarism ‘is my fault’.” It’s also why the Department of Justice and others in the US continue to battle with China over claims of intellectual property theft. Clearly, these few examples aren’t representative of every student or individual, but they represent a growing sentiment among teachers and leaders who have been trying to educate, work, and live in a more digitally saturated age—certainly in the midst of a pandemic that has forced life to go entirely online in a lot of ways. If you’re curious about how this fits into the metaphor I created above, you should know that the quest to “hack” vending machines is a tale as old as time. We love the idea of free munchies. You can look deeper into the realities of vending machine tomfoolery by reading this article in Slate if you’re interested, but the TL;DR is that it’s not worth your time trying to manipulate vending machines. I would also argue that it’s entirely counterintuitive to the value of education to try and cheat the systems; however, grade-based economies, like vending machine economies, do nothing if not encourage finding shortcuts to getting that delicious end goal—the grade, those potato chips.  

Students are not just more inclined to academic dishonesty in this framework. They’re also struggling to trust their own instincts and find validation in their own ability to get their work done. My earlier example from Mr. Brister’s class represents this problem precisely. He found that students were unable to complete the assignment without asking for validation or feedback or asking questions. They immediately began to ask him questions within the first few minutes of the assignment. “How do we do this?” they asked. “What do we need to get a ‘good’ grade?” But none of them were asking the more difficult, internal question of why Mr. Brister might be expecting them to take on a difficult challenge alone, why his decision to not help gives them more freedom to create their own work without the influence or pressure of trying to create purely to please Mr. Brister—a chance to find themselves in the assignment. Of course, this isn’t to say that the students are the issue entirely, in fact, I want to emphasize that I believe the system we’ve created, the grade based system, incentivizes finding shortcuts. So if anything, students are doing what the system encourages of them. And this is precisely why I’d like to encourage more inquiry-based learning that is entirely devoid of numerical valuation. 

Everyone wants validation. I get that. Affirmation and validation are my middle names, so I empathize on a fundamental, deep in my soul, level. It’s probably because I’m a four on the Enneagram. But so often we do things for the reward or the affirmation, not simply for the sake of doing, just like students are quick to complete work merely for the sake of a grade, an often arbitrary number. They complete work based on what they think their teacher will like, not work they’re necessarily fully invested in or proud of. This particular kind of student-teacher relationship, transactionalism, feels much more like vending machine economics and less like education. What I deeply desire as an educator, what I think all of us desire, is for students to care less about GPAs and whether or not they’re an A, B, C, or XYZ student, and more about the intrinsic value of what they do at school. Why learning matters and what they’re truly interested in. Something that is, some might argue, impossible to truly teach.

Grade-based economies in education force students to build identity around numbers, numbers that are, if we’re (educators) being completely honest, at times arbitrary. For example, completion grades, or zeroes given solely because a student didn’t do the work, which doesn’t tell us anything about their inherent ability to do an assignment–just that they did or didn’t do it. Students develop identities around these numbers. Parents and teachers communicate about students and characterize students based on these numbers e.g. “Susie has always been an A student”; “Joey was never an A student, but he’s certainly not a D student.” Likewise, when students make something, complete an assignment, or take an assessment, it often feels as though they’re engaging in a transaction with their teacher, one where they expect, in return for whatever effort they put in, a “good” grade. But if or when students are let down by the number they receive in return–like getting the wrong drink from the vending machine, or having their snack get stuck on the glass–they feel slighted, let down because, again, in an economy where they’re identities, their futures, are wedded to numbers, numbers are self-defining. Sure, having a grade creates incentives for timeliness/time management, learning to comply with rules and guidelines. But can these outcomes also be accomplished without a numerical grade? When was the last time my boss gave me a numerical grade for the work I do day in and day out? Assessment can still happen without numbers associated with said assessment, and this doesn’t take away the ability to gauge competency with skills. 

Authentic learning and work in the “real world” doesn’t, by and large, involve grades. Your physician, your dentist, your pilot on this upcoming Spring Break trip could have all been C students in their fields. But it doesn’t matter one way or the other. They’re still professionals. I care less about the grades they made and more about how they’re performing the skills they need, right now, to do their job. Conversely, in the grade-based model, students are buying progress from the education vending machine. The value of learning comes from the incentive of a good grade. Learning for the sake of learning is discouraged by the nature of the pressure to perform for a number. Students put in the work/effort necessary to get the item they want from the vending machine. I want an A; therefore, I perform and work accordingly. If I know a shortcut or way to jiggle the vending machine to make that A happen more easily, I might also take that opportunity, because, after all, gaming the system is part of navigating any numbers-based economic system. 

While I don’t have all of the answers, there are a few things I often return to. The idea that less is more, and that our emphasis as educators on what is deemed important needs to shift away from numerical metrics and homework to skills metrics and doing more work at school. 

  1. School should be shorter, not longer, in my view. At the very least, it should start later. There’s science behind this. Kids need more sleep and they stay up later, naturally. Here’s some brain picking from The Atlantic on this issue. Or if you don’t fancy reading more, here’s a video from the same source. More ideally than a longer day with a later start, intended to match the American 40 hour work schedule, our school days should be centered around the science of learning and best practices. The current model has little to nothing to do with the pedagogical efficacy of “teaching” students for seven plus hours a day. In the current systems of American education, students are at school from 7:30 am to sometimes 5:00 pm purely because parents need some place and someone to watch their children. I know this sounds harsh or perhaps critical, but I cast no judgment. I just think it’s an honest assessment of how the system is structured. While this idea of a shorter academic day might seem entirely unachievable, it should be seen as an aim. Heck, reduce the work week. Can I get an amen? There’s plenty of recent evidence that shorter working weeks leads to happier, healthier, more productive adults as well. Feel free to explore that rabbit hole more if you like. At minimum, we should be giving our students more free time and less instructional time. Why? Because exploration, innovation, and deep learning happens when kids are left to their own devices to explore, innovate, and play. Recess is also learning. I’ll die on that hill. There’s also data to support this, so you don’t just have to take my word for it. According to a study out of George Washington University, as quoted in this article from Time,

In 2007, the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University found that 62% of school districts had increased the amount of time spent on English language arts or math in elementary schools since 2001, while 44% of school districts had cut down on time spent on other subjects. The survey showed that 20% of school districts had reduced recess time. According to the 2016 Shape of the Nation report, just 16% of states require elementary schools to provide daily recess.

Katie Reilly, Time

We’re, across the country, taking away time from our students because we’re playing a national game of numbers chasing. Between a history of wrestling with No Child Left Behind policies and our current infatuation with state standards, standardized testing, and data driven schooling, teachers—especially in the public school systems—often struggle with this pull between teaching for the sake of a test or standardized testing and teaching what they know is best for their students. Perhaps we don’t need this dichotomy at all. Maybe the answer is simpler than we thought: let kids play. Granted, this is slightly reductive of the complexities and nuance of the broader issue, but it goes without saying that students deserve more time to explore and be children. Adulting is hard. Save it for adults, or can we also make adulting easier too? I’d like some more recess myself. . . 

  1. Again, kids are at school from, roughly, 8 am to 3 pm. Seven hours a day, five days a week. 

A couple of years ago, a former colleague, Chris Harth, showed me a chart he’d plotted out (based on student survey data from high schoolers at St. Andrew’s) of how much time students spend every day preparing for school, going to school, doing extracurricular activities, and you know, showering etc. Essentially, most students at St. Andrew’s (at that time) woke up around 6:30 am to be at school by 7:45 am. From there, they were at school until 3:15, unless they had sports or extracurriculars. Most students in 7th – 12th grade do, so that means they’re busy until after 4:30 pm though many are here until 5 or later. Considering also the nature of a metropolitan area and travel to and from places, students don’t get home until 5:00 pm at best. Factoring in also that students need to eat, use the bathroom/take care of personal hygiene, and do any other non-school related chores/responsibilities they may have—sleep also has to happen at some point—this, in good faith, only leaves students with a roughly three hour window every day to get things done and do whatever it is they enjoy doing to unwind. That means that the average student from grades seven through twelve needs to complete, at worst, seven classes worth of homework in a few hours and also enjoy their evening? This isn’t always the case. Obviously some days they’ll have more or less work, depending. And many students, especially at our school, have a study hall. But the point is simple and the same one that each and every adult argues most days: there isn’t enough time in the day. Students don’t just need more time. They deserve it. Dare I say all of us humans deserve more time to ourselves to just be who we are sans a mountain of responsibilities: human. As Eugene O’Neil says in Long Day’s Journey into Night, “It was a great mistake, my being born a man, I would have been much more successful as a seagull or a fish.” Clearly, he knew what I’m talking about. Sometimes, it’s gloriously perfect to just be. 

  1. Which leads me to my last point about homework. Homework, in the traditional, take-home sense, isn’t helpful, and it often doesn’t lead to deep learning. More often, it feels like an arbitrary numbers generator. We need grades. Notably, we need lots of little grades to help students out when they don’t do well on big grades. Which means we also need a decent amount of big grades because we don’t want a student’s grade to hinge on just one or two assignments. Students know this. Teachers and administrators plan for this. It’s expressly why I rewrote my entire grading system a couple of years ago to be “big grades” and “little grades,” if only to simplify my own thinking and student thinking about how grades work. But also because I understand that the nature of our grade-focused systems forces me to give students numbers, and I know that I need to give them as many opportunities to get “good” numbers as possible within this system, otherwise they run the risk of feeling like a failure. Likewise, parents feel like their child is lacking the necessary skills to move forward. Ultimately, I feel like the whole lot of us are trapped in this cycle of thinking that because Joey only, numerically speaking, understands seventy percent of what I’ve taught, he’s somehow on the cusp of failure. However, for some perspective, Steph Curry shoots roughly forty percent from the three-point line. Drew Brees has a seventy-four percent completion rate. Ty Cobb, The Georgia Peach, the best hitter in baseball history, got a hit only about thirty-seven percent of the time he walked up to the plate. Which is to say, numbers don’t accurately represent greatness and they’re subjective, relative, and don’t accurately depict the whole child (or athlete).

These are all, to be fair, big shifts in the way we think about teaching and learning. There are mountainous obstacles in the way of implementing changes of this magnitude on a larger scale, and I’ll admit that. However, this shouldn’t be a deterrence from thinking and talking about them and aiming to overcome them. The other option, of course, is to continue munching on snacks from the vending machine. Though, as I’ve tried to highlight here, this framework is to the detriment of not just our students, but our teachers, and parents. And it’s a rather reductive way of educating. Pursue grade. Get a grade. Move on. Repeat. Sometimes the best learning comes from simply, being, existing. As Walt Whitman says, 

To be in any form, what is that?

(Round and round we go, all of us, and ever come back thither,)

If nothing lay more develop’d the quahaug in its callous shell were enough.

Mine is no callous shell,

I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,

They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.

I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I think we could all use a little of that kind of happiness. More time for that kind of being, like the quahaug, and less time jumping through hoops. And I think once our students are given more time to be on their own, they’ll learn, like clams, to live in their own shells, pearls or no pearls. Until then, they’ll keep working to make their own jewels for a system that encourages only the shiniest.

4th Graders Share St. Andrew’s with Students in Perú

Authored by Rachel Scott

4th graders in Señora Buford’s Spanish class have spent the last several weeks focusing on creating content to share all about St. Andrew’s Lower School with students in Perú.

Maya Buford, the Lower School Spanish teacher, began communicating in the fall with teachers from Lord Byron School in Arequipa, Perú. The teachers collaboratively came up with the idea that would allow 4th grade students at both schools to practice their newly learned Spanish and English vocabulary by creating a digital tour of their schools and talking about their classes (like modern-day pen pals, but with videos).

Our 4th grade students spent some time taking and collecting pictures of the different classrooms and special places at the lower school. They then worked in small groups collaborating on the development of a Google Slide deck to present their pictures, descriptions, and new vocabulary. Each small group then recorded a unique video where they introduced themselves in Spanish, and described our St. Andrew’s Lower School and the picture slideshow they created with their peers.

Although the project had some hiccups along the way, this was such an amazing experience for our students. They learned new Spanish vocabulary, developed collaboration skills, integrated technology, and had the opportunity to further develop their oral presentations skills.

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:

And then here is a Washington Post article that calls the book horrible:

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.

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 ( 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?”




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

-“Ummm I like legos.”


-“Painting apples”

“Where do you go to school?”



“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”


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)