This past week, I have been thinking about the college admissions scandal and what it says about the disconnect between what we say our values are and the messages we send through our actions. If I assume the best about the parents involved, I would like to think that on some level they purport to, and most likely believe in, the values of integrity, fairness, and honesty. But they also struggle with what they consider the real world of college admissions and what makes for a meaningful life of the child they love. It’s complicated, right?
In thinking about this internal struggle, I came across an article written by Richard Weissbourd (who also happens to be the author of The Parents We Mean To Be). In the piece, Weissbourd addresses the gap between what parents and teachers say we value, and the messages children are receiving. Research suggests that most parents and teachers value caring over achievement. The problem is, that is not the message students are hearing.
80 percent of students reported that their parents prioritized achievement (57%) or happiness (27%) over everything else. Only 19 percent of students reported that being a caring individual was highly important to their parents. Teachers did not fare much better. While promoting caring is a top priority of a majority of teachers, students believe academic achievement is by far the main thing teachers are concerned about.
The research shows that parents and teachers want caring to be a top priority (above achievement) for their children but our messaging is not in sync with that desire. A majority of teacher conversations with students is around academics and parents often want to know how their child did on a project before they ask about how they cared for a classmate. It is not that students don’t think we value caring, they do, just significantly less than achievement.
Our fears are that the real world of high schools and universities care more about the transcript than the person. But our inner selves know that a caring individual leads a rich life beyond measure. It’s complicated, right?
It is not as if there is a right or wrong answer here. Academics are important, caring is important and striking the balance between the two is an ongoing conversation. If you would like to be part of that conversation, please join us in reading The Parents We Mean To Be.
Why Do We Have a GPSF Day?
Many of you know that I am the father of a 14-month-old toddler who goes by the name Finn. She came to my wife and me by what we like to call a “spontaneous pregnancy.” Children were never part of our life plan and we had absolutely no clue what an impact a child would have on us (emotionally, physically and financially). Furthermore, we had no idea of the support one needs when raising a little human.
I bring this up not because I like to talk about Finn (although I do), but because I never understood the importance of a support network when it comes to raising a family. I have come to learn that extended families serve at least two crucial roles in my family’s well being. The first of course is the emotional and hands-on support they give. The second, and just as important, is as a role model. I have lost count of the number of times I have thought about how my siblings or parents did their child rearing to help guide me in my efforts .
I bring this up because having a child has made me see Grandparents and Special Friends Day in a new light. As educators, we spend over seven hours a day with your sons and daughters. We work to partner with you and keep you up-to-date and support you in this complicated world of child raising. But sometimes we are unfamiliar with a key component of the equation – the grandparent or special friend. I have always enjoyed Grandparents and Special Friends Day because our visitors are such neat people, and they are always interested in what is going on at school. But, to be honest, I had not really viewed them as a critical cog in the work of creating a good person.
Hence the importance of Grandparents and Special Friends Day. They are an integral part of your child’s journey (and sometimes the key to your sanity). On the 29th of this month, we look forward to connecting, sharing and honoring those “others” who are so essential to your child’s life. #SaklanConnected
Waialae Charter School of Hawaii Visits Saklan
In early January, I received an email from Lianna Lam, the Board Chair of the Waialae Elementary School in Hawaii. She wrote to share that they had heard great things about Saklan’s program and were interested in visiting us to learn more.
Specifically, Lianna wanted to know about two specific aspects of what we do at Saklan: our mission of Creativity, Compassion and Courage and our social-emotional learning (SEL) program.
While I love talking about our mission and how we work with students on a social-emotional level, what I valued most from Lianna’s visit was how much it made me reflect on our program. It was clear from talking with her how unique and powerful our mission and SEL program are. Moreover, what became even more clear to me was the commitment and talent of our faculty and staff.
We have been promoting Saklan as a “Lighthouse” for education, and a place where others will come and see what things are possible in education when you put Creativity, Compassion and Courage front and center. What I did not expect is how much we can learn when teaching others. #SaklanLighthouse
For the Heads Corner this week, I am going to cheat a little and link you to two outstanding pieces regarding the importance of relationships in education. As you are aware, strong meaningful relationships with our students are part of the secret sauce at Saklan.
The first link is a 3-minute video from Edutopia discussing how Oxytocin is released in the brain when we feel connected to others. This release of Oxytocin has many positive effects on learning.
The second link is a recent opinion piece from David Brooks of the New York Times. In it, he shares some of the cognitive science that supports the idea that “A key job of a school is to give students new things to love — an exciting field of study, new friends……. It reminded us that children learn from people they love.”
I hope you have time to take a few minutes and delve into these two pieces, they help explain what makes Saklan successful at growing good people.
Trying New Things
One of those things that I appreciate about the Saklan community is its openness to try new things. This attitude demonstrates a willingness to take a risk, make yourself vulnerable and learn from mistakes. One such example is our Lower School teachers and their Learning Exhibition set for January 31st from 3:30 to 5:30 pm.
Over the past couple months, Liz Peters (our Lower School Dean) has been discussing with teachers how we can share, in a real way, what amazing things we do with kids. The teachers decided that an exhibition of learning where all parents can tour all classrooms and meet teachers and students from across the grade levels would be fun. Fun yes, extra work yes, slightly scary.. maybe.
Doing something new that is also public can be scary, but is good for us. It focuses our minds on what is important, creates opportunities for collaboration and learning while simultaneously providing us with valuable feedback from a real world audience. Most importantly though, by putting ourselves out there, we are modeling for students what real learners do.
At Saklan, we talk about the importance of hands-on real world experiences – we just don’t talk the talk, we walk the walk. I hope you will be able to join us on the 31st for this “New Thing” and be an integral part of our learning.
“We are a small school, you have probably never heard of us, but if you have heard of us, you have probably heard good things.”
17-29-19, those are the attendance numbers of our last three Open Houses. 17 and 19 at our two Lower School Open Houses and 29 at the Middle School Open House two weeks ago. As a point of reference, when we have held lower school open houses in the past, we have never had more than a handful of people and the most at a middle school one would be 15.
Why the increase? I would like to say that it is due to the banner at the Orinda Bart, the yard signs, or our Facebook push. But every time I ask a family who tours how they heard of us, they inevitably tell me a current or former family told them about Saklan. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising out there. In the independent school world, it is the most important reason people decide to join a school.
We hope you place our Saklan magnet on your car out of pride, but also to give others a chance to ask you about our work here at Saklan. The more children that experience an education like the one Saklan provides the better it is for our world.
So hopefully we will be soon saying, “We are a small school, you’ve probably heard of us and heard good things.”
You Say Tomato, I Say Field Study
If you have heard us talk about our students’ “field trips” recently, you may have noticed that we try to exchange the word “trip” with “study” or “experience,” or even used the term “field work.” Words matter, they send specific messages in our educational culture. The phrase field trip is predominately used when describing experiential learning. But “field trip” sounds close to going on a fun excursion as opposed to doing the work of real world learning.
Today, our kindergartners went “into the field” to do the serious work of researchers. They are currently studying the different aspects of what makes a community and traveled to the Moraga Fire Station. At the station, they interviewed the firemen about the different roles they play in our community. They discovered that a fireman not only puts out fires but helps with medical emergencies, educate citizens, as well as participates in activities that bring our community closer. While I am sure the students had fun (engaged learning is fun), make no doubt about it, the students were doing the work of researchers in the field.
Next week, our 8th graders head to Washington D.C. to do field work. Their objective is to understand how D.C. represents American cultural values. They have been doing research over the past two weeks in order to do a real world investigation of their driving question. To understand their question at a deeper level, they will be examining artifacts, hearing from experts, as well as learning from each other.
In the case of both the 8th graders and the kindergartners, students are doing the serious work of researchers. They are investigating, talking with experts, reflecting and revising their understanding. In other words, they are approaching learning like graduate students. Which is why we prefer the phrase “field experience” or “field study” to field trip as they more accurately describe the serious nature of the work our students do.
Annual Gratitude Fund
As we take a breather (poor choice of words considering the AQI) this week leading up to Thanksgiving, I have been pondering the relationship between the Saklan Annual Giving Fund and gratitude. As a nonprofit, Saklan depends on the generosity of others to give students a unique experience. A couple of quick examples would be the marine biology field study we took students on a few weeks ago or importing drums from Ghana.
When I think about the Annual Giving Fund, I want to be sure that the message behind it is that we are grateful for anything that people can give. We sincerely value the fact that families make significant sacrifices to send their children to Saklan and support our community. When we seek a donation for the extra, we want it to come from a place of pride, love, and inspiration. But more importantly, we want you to know how grateful we are that you support our school.
Some of the things that I am grateful for is the fact that you allow us to spend significant time with your children, that you trust us, that you understand we sometimes make errors, and you help us grow as a school. But mostly, I am grateful that Saklan feels like family and we are all in this together: raising good people.
And yes, to do some of those extra things it takes money, but I do not want this to be about the money. I want it to be about a family school coming together. Thus, we are measuring not dollars, but participation. I ask you to give what works for your situation, be it one dollar or ten thousand dollars. Whatever you decide you can give, I want it given because you believe that what we do together at Saklan is life changing.
How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off
This morning we had our first Lower School Open House of the year with 17 people in attendance. As we prepared for the presentation, I started to think about the creativity part of our mission statement and how we encourage creativity in students. That process led me to one of my favorite articles on creativity. While the writer Adam Grant is talking about parenting, what he has to say applies to schools just as well. The read is well worth your ten minutes. Click here to read the article.
Last night’s screening of the film Beyond Measure by Vicki Abeles moved The Saklan School closer towards fulfilling its promise of being an Educational Lighthouse to the East Bay and beyond. The documentary itself validated that many of the things we do here at Saklan are on the cutting edge of what excellent schools do. That is not to say we do not have work to do; we do. But it was clear from our conversation with Vicki (who attended the viewing and held a Q&A after) that we are poised to be a leading voice in educational best practices.
What was even more exciting was that there were many attendees from outside the Saklan community. Teachers and parents from the area came, and in speaking with them, they were not only interested in the documentary, but also in Saklan. We are in a unique place at Saklan to be a leading voice in the conversation about 21st Century education.
I feel fortunate to be part of this community and truly believe that what we are doing here is important work bigger than just us. The students that we touch become bright spots in the high schools they join; the parents we reach think about education in a different way.
If it sounds like we are on a mission, you are correct. Saklan has been a “hidden gem” for far too long. I am asking for your help in spreading the word about Saklan by promoting our Open Houses in the coming months. While every parent who attends our Open Houses may not join us, they will see that there is a different and engaging path to educating children – one built on strong relationships, hands-on real-world work and giving students autonomy in their education.
Please share our Open House events with friends and families through your social media and other contacts. This small act will not only help Saklan but will further an important discussion our society desperately needs to have.
Lower School Open House
Middle School Open House