Abby’s Corner: How We Do Community

October 5, 2017

Building Community

We are officially entering the second month of school! The first weeks of school for teachers are always about building the classroom community, as this is an essential building block for the learning students will engage in all year long.

Recently I saw Vivian, our Kindergarten Assistant Teacher, looking at one of her class books (she’s in year two of the BATTI program) in the faculty room, Tribes: A New Way of Learning and Being Together by Jeanne Gibbs. The book isn’t new; in fact it’s quite old as Tribes has been around since the 70s. My parents were Tribes trainers and eventually started their own school based on the Tribes group norms. So I had to smile when I saw that this was a book still being used in teacher ed programs, as I know it well and practically lived it at my dining room table with my four siblings! Seeing that book was a good reminder for me that while there is always new research that must be incorporated into the process of teaching and learning, there are also those things which are not new at all but so very important when it comes to building the foundation of a school community. Things like creating safety, building a trusting and inclusive environment, and sharing ideas in such a way that individuals feel they have influence within the group are critical. These things come about in all kinds of ways at Tapscott – partner projects, group shares, class meetings, buddies, presentations to the school, school families, morning meeting sharing, and more!

I thought you’d all appreciate some peeks around campus as kids engage in building community together. It is a beautiful, joyful thing to see!

This year’s school-wide theme is community – something I can say with certainty that we have as a school, and something that we do not take for granted. Community must be nurtured, supported, and developed every year. This is true not just for the kids in their individual classrooms, but for the faculty and the parents as well. For those of you who made it out to Panther Picnic, you know what I mean! It isn’t just about attending, but also working together, that develops community. In these moments, you get to know others more deeply, and more authentically. Whether you were flipping burgers, teeing up music for performances together, helping others with incredible artistic creations, or helping kids build cars for Nerdy Derby track racing, you were most likely getting to know the community more deeply. I hope that your day was filled with moments where you engaged in something joyful and also got to know someone you didn’t previously know. Many thanks to the team parent effort it takes to put on Panther Picnic – it is a true display of our strong and joyful school community!

A Peek into Program

Sometimes being a school administrator means remembering that while I have hundreds of conversations about curriculum, project ideas, and new lessons with teachers, and therefore have a robust understanding what what we do and why we do it, parents understandably only know what we tell them in the short amounts of time at Back to School night, Open House, and through our written communications.

With new programs, this is particularly important to remember, and I was reminded of this as I read feedback this summer from last year’s parent survey. I want to thank everyone who participated, as this feedback was a good reminder for me that especially with newer programs at Tapscott such as colab and Spanish, parents need to hear a lot about these programs so that they really understand both purpose and philosophy well. This year I will highlight these relatively new programs, sharing about our approach to language acquisition and integration of STEM in ways that most likely aren’t the way you and I learned! Both of these programs are solidly based in research about how kids learn and what is important for 21st century skill development.

Below are just a few “peeks” into our Spanish classroom in room 8. One thing I’d like to highlight is that our Spanish program most likely looks different from how you learned a second language. This is because we use a program that is guided by the idea that kids acquire language over time and through a variety of interactions with the most commonly used vocabulary structures. This means that in Spanish class our students interact with vocabulary in a variety of ways – they hear it, sing in, hear it again in story, write it, and even read it. The goal of our K-4 Spanish program is not to create fluid Spanish speakers by the end of fourth grade, as this would be an unrealistic goal given the fact that we have two touch points (lessons) a week in Spanish! It just isn’t enough time. However, what we do want is for students to have real comfort and familiarity with the most commonly used and needed vocabulary structures in the Spanish language.

Our current third graders are the first group that has moved entirely through our program with Spanish, and we are keeping a close eye on how they will do as they transition over to Avis, where some of the grammar and mechanics, as well as more speaking, is expected of them. So far, the feedback from the Avis Spanish teachers has been impressive in that each year our students can do more speaking and certainly understand quite a bit more in the target language than they did the year prior. This is good news for us, as it means our approach is really having an impact. It also means that as parents there is a degree of patience needed as you hear your child say they can’t really say anything in Spanish – it is the same patience you needed as your one or two year old acquired language. For some kids, they might listen for long periods of time and then all of a sudden burst out entire sentences. Other students might practice single vocabulary words right away and then utter phrases and finally build to full sentences. It is a process of acquiring language through multiple modalities that we are working on. I have been so impressed with the amount of reading and writing in Spanish our fourth graders are capable of, and I’ll try over the course of the year to share tidbits of this learning with you as well!

If your child is interested in revisiting some of the songs and stories from class, you can click here (username and password is tparentspanish – prospect2017).

And here’s a short video from Spanish class as well!

Helpful Parent Reminders

Parents often ask how they can support their child’s learning at home. There are lots of ways, really, from creating a family charter to talking about how you want to feel as a family to taking time to read books together! Another important but often overlooked moment is dinner time. Families sitting down to eat is a wonderful way to connect authentically with one another. Often, dinner time can be a moment to really listen to what might be on your child’s mind. Recently, my daughter and I went in search of new ideas for family dinner conversation starters. We do “Roses and Thorns” regularly as a way to share about our day, and we wanted to change it up a bit and do something different. We found this resource, the Family Dinner Project. It includes Roses and Thorns, as well as things like “Would you rather…” and other fun ways to make dinner time an opportunity to share with one another and practice both listening and contributing to a group conversation. These skills are worked on daily at school, and the dinner table is just another moment in the day when these skills can be practiced in a way that also builds a sense of inclusion for children and adults alike. Check it out if you have time!

https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/conversation/conversation-starters/

Worth Reading

Our students are readers, and they love to share their reading with friends, buddies, and teachers. In the spirit of sharing, I have two book recommendations. First, my book club read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is very appropriate for upper elementary readers through adults. I loved it and highly recommend it! I also recently read the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It is beautifully written and I can honestly say one of the more powerful books I’ve read in a long time.

I hope you have a great October, full of reading, community, deepened learning, and interesting dinner conversations!