October 20, 2016

Say What I Mean or Mean What I Say?

My office on our South Campus sits above Friends’ preschool. As I pass through the building, and as I listen to joyful laughter out my window, I hear and see many of the wonderful things that happen in our preschool every day.

One day, I overheard one of our preschool teachers saying to her class of three year olds:

“Before we go outside, let’s see if anyone needs to go to the bathroom.”

One little boy followed the directions to the letter.  He pulled open the front of his sweatpants to literally ‘see’ if he needed to go.

“Nope”, he assured his teacher.  He was fine.  Ready to run outside and play.

I love this story because it highlights so beautifully the importance of language.  As a linguistics major at the University of York in England, I learned that language matters. As I’ve navigated the sometimes sensational, occasionally tricky waters, of adulthood how well I learn this lesson continues to impact my life in meaningful ways.

Learning to use language well is more than just learning to speak in front of others or telling someone what you want or winning an argument. Effective communication is the backbone that elevates our lives. It determines the quality of our relationships, how well we do at work, the balance we experience and the ease and confidence with which we move in our world.

In our preschool, our experienced and highly trained teachers continually encourage their young students to use language well.  They model how to express ones’ needs.  They encourage children to say thank you.  They emphasize the positive by telling children what they can do rather than telling them what they cannot do.  Instead of saying, “Don’t do that!”, they say, “Here’s what you can do instead.”

Our teachers have learned that too much praise is not effective.  Instead of the relatively meaningless “Good job!”, they focus on telling children what they notice that they admire.  “I notice you’ve been working for a long time.”  “I notice all the bright blue in your painting.” Generic praise of kids fosters a dependence on praise and leads to them feeling less secure.  (For an excellent article that goes into this concept in more depth, please read Alfie Kohn’s Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!”)

I met with one of our elementary parents recently whose children had both gone through Friends’ preschool. As she was extolling the virtues of the preschool teachers, she said to me something along the lines of “If everyone spoke using the language learned at Friends’ preschool, a lot of marriages could be saved.” 

Or, as Lewis Carroll wrote in the fifth grade play I directed last year, Alice in Wonderland: Then you should say what you mean,' the March Hare went on. 'I do,' Alice hastily replied; 'at least, — at least I mean what I say — that's the same thing, you know.”

(A version of this column appeared in different form in Among Friends' in 2012.)

October 12, 2016

Spotlight on Krysten, new to Boulder and already Bahrain bound!

This is the first in an occasional series that will introduce our entire Friends’ School community to our new teachers and staff.

We kick off with a very warm hello to Krysten Fort-Catanese, who is our new 2ndgrade teacher.

Krysten, her husband Alex and her daughter Francesca, who is in third grade at Friends’, recently moved to Boulder from Phuket, Thailand. There Krysten helped to develop and grow an international school, Phuket International Academy which has recently become United World College (UWC), Thailand. She joined the school in 2009 first as an elementary teacher and then as the school’s first Director of Social and Emotional Learning and Mindfulness.

Krysten’s values and philosophy, which emphasize international-mindedness, differentiation, inclusion and developmentally appropriate practices, are strongly aligned with Friends’ own philosophy.

When Krysten and her family decided to return to the U.S after seven years in Thailand, she had very high expectations of any school she applied to, and therefore conducted a narrow search.  Friends’ was at the top of her list because she was specifically drawn to our educational philosophy of Head, Hand and Heart.

What Krysten admires deeply about Friends’ School is how very explicit we are here about focusing on the social and emotional well-being of children. She loves that there is an expectation at Friends’ on high academics, but even more important to her is that the teachers at Friends’ are consistently aiming to grow future citizens, citizens who are compassionate and will become change agents for a better world.  She knows that Friends’ is a place where kids are supported to take responsibility for their thoughts, their actions, and their feelings now, and for life.

Now that she has a few weeks of teaching at Friends’ under her belt, Krysten clearly sees that her teaching colleagues live and breathe Head, Hand and Heart.  She is impressed at the thoughtful ways they embody it. She believes that strong modeling from the adults in children’s lives is paramount.  
She says that Friends’ has completely lived up to her and her family’s expectations.  They all feel very welcomed, and checked in on, by teachers and by families in both her class and Francesca’s third grade class.  We held a lot of events in September, events which were helpful in giving the Cataneses opportunities to connect with the wider Friends’ community.

Francesca (3rd grade) and Krysten (2nd grade!)
One major difference between our small school in Boulder and a larger international school in Thailand is the diversity of the families.  At Phuket International Academy, families from fifty nations were enrolled.  In Francesca’s class, bilingualism was the norm.

Following this rich experience, as well as earlier teaching positions and opening a school in southern California, Krysten is dedicated to exploring diversity. Her Masters degree in education focused on developing a Cultural Responsive Teaching Practice.

Krysten was eager to join our faculty diversity committee and is passionate to create greater awareness of diversity in our school community. Krysten’s face lights up when she discusses diversity in all its forms: culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic, family background, and more. Even though Boulder is not the most diverse place in America, Krysten feels strongly that our progressive community is open to increasing awareness and opportunity. We can learn a lot from her.

Krysten has been invited back to Bahrain to speak and lead a workshop at an International Schools Conference on the topic of mindfulness and teaching with body, mind, and heart.  She will be in Bahrain for a few days in January, teaching teachers from around the world and sharing what she knows while representing Friends’ School on the international stage.

Our second grade families are already learning that Krysten is a natural teacher and leader.  All of us at Friends’ are excited that she has spent her entire professional career encouraging and coaching teachers to use innovative practices that are challenging, meaningful and nurture a growth mindset. And now she brings that passion and dedication to us.

We welcome her with open arms.

October 6, 2016

The Giant Pumpkin

Preschool teachers Christie Stanford and Katy Hollenbach
bring sunshine and rain to their pumpkin seed
On Tuesday and Thursday of this week, our preschool classes participated in our annual Harvest Celebration. 

This is a long-standing Friends’ School tradition, dating back to our founding families in 1987. Our Harvest celebrates all the bounty the earth offers us, and the traditional year-end harvest of the crops. Families are invited to come together to sing songs, hear a story, and share some food that the class has made together.

In the preschool, teachers tell the story of The Giant Pumpkin.  During the story, preschoolers are invited to close their eyes, and in those magical moments, the pumpkin mysteriously grows bigger and bigger, from a small seed to a giant pumpkin! The Giant Pumpkin story is based on an old Polish folktale of the giant turnip.

Our 2014 and 2015 Boulder Teachers of the Year, Christie Stanford and Jessie Vanden Hogen, have been telling the giant pumpkin story for 17 years!  In more recent years, they have been joined by colleagues Hetta Towler and Katy Hollenbach, and this year by their Teacher Candidates Lauren Mark and Mary Kay Morris.

Jessie, Hetta and Lauren celebrate The Giant Pumpkin
with their pre-Kindergartners
I try to never miss the story telling.  I’ve been to four this week! Words cannot quite capture the teachers’ passionate expression of surprise and celebration each time the pumpkin grows.  Raw joy and pure imagination reign.  For years, these amazing educators have been telling this story and they make it incredibly alive for the children.

Naturally of course, the excitement, delight and mystery follow for the children too – and for their parents – and for their head of school!

In our morning classes, preschoolers shout out all that’s needed to grow the pumpkin: sun, water, weeding, mulch, and love.  In the afternoon pre-Kindergarten classes, children act out the story, with each student taking a part that they practice ahead of time.  It ends with all the class in a line pulling together on an imaginary pumpkin vine.

Following the story, families shared delicious pumpkin muffins, made by the children and teachers.

For our east classrooms this year, the weather was so changeable that we saw both rain and sun to help grow the pumpkin!

Thank you, preschool teachers, for all the love and storytelling. Thank you for the stories, for the music, and for those all-important community moments that we cherish.

Our elementary Harvest celebration will be on October 20th. Please join my story telling of Stone Soup and our classroom celebrations! 

September 29, 2016

Election Season

In the currently charged political climate, it is not my place to weigh in publicly on the tension our nation is experiencing just a few short weeks ahead of Election Day.

However, I will gladly share with you stories of campaigning, voting, and leadership that we saw at Friends’ elementary school last week at our student council elections.

Our fifth graders are eligible to run for President and Vice-President of student council. Of our twenty-one fifth graders, twelve threw their names in the ring. We had six pairs of students on a ticket who wished to lead the student-led group that plans events and spirit days and brings the students’ voice to our school leadership.

Posters were created, campaign speeches were written, appeals were made, and all of our elementary students exercised their right to vote.

Leadership guru John C. Maxell once wrote: “A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way and goes the way.”
As our fifth graders reflected about what leadership means to them now that they are the oldest in the elementary building, they shared their thoughts in writing.  Here are a few samples:

I will help the younger kids when they are feeling down and not so good, and invite them to play with me. I will also set a good example like listening to my teachers.

I will be responsible and safe and helpful. I am excited to be a 5th grader and help.

I will do the best I can to be a good role model. I will help the new younger kids on getting to know all the rules of the school and I will help them find friends and to feel welcome to the school.

I'll set good examples, such as NOT running down the hall and DEFINITELY washing my hands before snack and lunch. I'll help them when they need it (and I'll help Dacia and the staff if they'd like, too). I'll do my best to show the kindergarteners how to do the things they don't know how to do, and I'll help them with the things they're not good at.

I will be nice, friendly, helpful, and yielding to young people. I will be helpful to my buddies and let them take their own steps at their own pace. I will make Friends School a better place for children and faculty alike. I will NOT bully people because I am bigger and stronger. I shall stand up to a bully if I see one.

I am proud that each of our candidates ran a positive and upbeat campaign and I know that they will support their friends and classmates in their success. Congratulations to Autumn and Kathleen on being voted President and Vice-President.

I am looking forward to working with them to help to improve our school.  I am eager to hear their ideas and have them report to me on what all the students are thinking. 

The real winners here however are all of our elementary students.  They have an opportunity to get a jumpstart on one of their most important responsibilities as citizens: voting. We all got a taste of what it’s like to hear positive ideas set forth by candidates, instead of negative messages.  And it was all done in a supportive educational atmosphere ripe with respect and courtesy.

 Our fifth graders know the way, show the way and go the way!