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The Rise of Online Teaching & Learning

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In what ways does it work best?

 From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Dan Griffiths

We adults tend to evaluate current classroom techniques through the lens of our own educational experience. None of us had access or exposure to the wide variety of technology that is commonplace in the 21st-century classroom, and attitudes toward educational innovation often tend to be conservative—if traditional teaching methods have been successfully educating our children for generations, why risk introducing distracting gadgets in place of “proper” teaching? Information technology also has its champions, who see the internet, social media, and ubiquitous access to the required hardware as tools that are capable of driving an educational revolution.
My feelings fall somewhere between these two extremes. In his book The Shallows Nicholas Carr cites TV and radio pioneer David Sarnoff: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determine their value.” This quote neatly encapsulates my thoughts about the role of technology and online learning in a 21st-century school. As a direct replacement for a classroom teacher, online learning is of limited value. But in the hands of a skilled educator, it is an incredible tool that can enhance the educational experience of our students.
One of the major concerns about online learning is the absence of interpersonal relationships that are crucial in both social and intellectual development. This fear arises from a vision of children downloading information into their brain and then demonstrating via some kind of automated test that this information has been saved on their mental “hard drive.” In this model, the computer is merely a substitute for a lecture-style class with a standardized test at the end of the course (which is a model that we accepted for many years both in schools and colleges, but when put in these terms it sounds sinister). This concern was more valid in the early years of online learning due to limitations in both software and hardware. With the advent of social media, Voicethread and Skype for example, it is much easier to develop a course that requires interaction between both student and teacher and groups of students. Online courses that are thoughtfully developed by skilled teachers are no longer a lonely pursuit of factual knowledge.
The central role of the teacher in an effective online course cannot be overstated. In his review of the integration of learning theories and technology, Norbert Pachler identified the need for teachers to “identify appropriate learning outcomes, choosing appropriate software and activities and structuring and sequencing the learning process.” To see online classes as simply a new way to deliver information limits its potential to just another transmission model of education, where the student is an empty vessel to be filled with information. If the full potential of online learning is met, it can be a highly progressive teaching method in which each student can have an individualized, discovery-based experience consisting of a wide variety of interactions with students and teachers from different backgrounds. Such an online experience can develop essential skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration as effectively as any physical classroom, arguably in a way more easily translated to the world outside academia.
Online learning is not a new concept, particularly in higher education. Providers such as the University of Phoenix have been operating an online program since 1989, and more recently the University of Texas launched an online and blended learning school, Western Governors University. Both of these seek to make education in high-demand fields more accessible and affordable to working adults. Many colleges now give access to their courses in a variety of formats such as podcast series and videos of lectures with accompanying course notes that allow public access to educational content. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), with offerings from providers such as Coursera, EdX, and Udacity (with content provided by professors at colleges such as Stanford, Princeton, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania) attract millions of users from hundreds of countries. The completion rate of their courses, however, is reported to be less than 10 percent. These MOOCs were founded with the noble goal of providing access to high-level education for all, with the only limitation being access to a computer and an internet connection. Peer reviews and assessments, discussion boards for posting questions, and enrollment in global study groups provide the social element of learning.
One of the most interesting outcomes of these courses is that they are challenging how we assess learning and raise questions about how we measure success. Critics point to the ease with which students can plagiarize and cheat on assessments, but for now the age-old adage of “you are only cheating yourself” holds true because completion of the course comes with a certificate that has limited currency in terms of gaining qualifications from established schools or an advantage in the job market. The stakes, however, will be raised if and when MOOCs gain credibility with employers and possibly even qualify for academic credit (the University of Washington is now giving credit for a Coursera course).
Most early online-only courses were aimed at students in higher education, but information technology has been integrated into the classroom since the turn of the century. Virtual learning environments (VLEs) have been widely used in schools, often making use of learning management systems such as Moodle and Haiku. They give students access to course notes, quizzes, and other resources and allow interactivity through discussion forums and wikis. As these platforms mature, they are becoming more intuitive and can take advantage of an increasing number of multimedia applications.
Catlin Gabel has been at the forefront of digital innovation in schools, adopting a one-to-one laptop program in the Upper School in 2002. Many courses use Moodle as a content management system, student and faculty laptops come preloaded with a wide variety of software, and our classrooms are well equipped with IT hardware. In 2011 Catlin Gabel was a founding member of a consortium of highly academic independent schools that formed the Global Online Academy (GOA).
Faculty from member schools teach all online GOA classes. A rigorous selection process requires applicant teachers to show that their class will be innovative and well structured, and will take full advantage of the tools made uniquely available by both an online environment and access to a diverse group of students. The classes are designed for collaboration, with a blend of individual and group assignments. Students are required to have regular Skype conversations with their teacher, and the workload is equivalent to a full class in a bricks-and-mortar school. GOA classes follow an asynchronous schedule, which means the students work in their own time and set up virtual meetings with teachers and classmates at mutually convenient times. GOA has plans to expand in number and geographical diversity over the next six years from its current 24 member schools in the U.S., Japan, China, Jordan, and Indonesia.
In the GOA’s first year, Catlin Gabel teacher George Zaninovich taught an urban studies class, and four CG students enrolled in a variety of classes. This year, three Catlin Gabel teachers offer GOA classes, and 19 students are enrolled in classes such as Medical Problem Solving, Bioethics, and Global Health.
The many benefits GOA offers our students include the ability to interact with students and teachers who bring a wide variety of perspectives to the class. For example, George’s urban studies class had students researching and discussing community issues in Jordan and in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Honolulu. It also allows them to take classes Catlin Gabel can’t offer due to staffing and scheduling limitations. Students enrolled in online classes are challenged in different ways than in a physical classroom. They need to learn efficient time management skills and take ownership of their learning in a more explicit way than at their home school (a skill that will be invaluable in college). Finally, asynchronous online classes allow those involved with activities such as high-level athletics, dance, or drama to balance classes with the time demands of training or rehearsal schedules that clash with the traditional school day.
Teachers also benefit from involvement with online education. In preparation for teaching her Hispanic Experience class for the GOA, Lauren Reggero-Toledano attended a weeklong workshop that she considers the best professional development experience of her career. She came back brimming with ideas not only for her online class but for her current Spanish courses at Catlin Gabel. Teachers who think about how to teach a class online must also reexamine how they teach in general. It exposes teachers to a whole other set of tools with which to engage their students.
The Global Online Academy is just one example of how online learning can enhance the educational experience of our students. “Flipping” the classroom, another idea, is receiving a great deal of attention, and this teaching technique certainly has its merits. The basic concept is that students read or listen to lectures and presentations at home, either prepared by the teacher or from online services such as the Khan Academy. Their time with the teacher is then spent discussing and analyzing what they learned. When reading about such innovations, I am always struck by how familiar they sound. Classes in the Upper School regularly involve students reading and researching, then presenting and discussing in a student-centered classroom environment. The chalk-and-talk delivery model of teaching is discouraged, and student engagement is a central theme in our classrooms, be it in a problem-based math class or a senior English elective where students often take the lead in teaching. The flipped classroom helps public schools with large classes by allowing students to control the pace of content delivery. It is a less novel concept at Catlin Gabel, where small class sizes, differentiated curricula, and availability of teachers to meet with students individually are commonplace.
Although information technology can be a highly effective tool in the hands of skilled educators and has the potential to enhance the experience of students at all levels, it is not a panacea for our educational challenges. Any ill-conceived and poorly executed use of technology in any field will lead to poor results—and online learning is no exception. When the Catlin Gabel faculty and staff discussed joining the GOA, some felt that “if we don’t get on this train, we will be left behind.” We can extend this metaphor by saying that it is foolish to get on a train that might be going somewhere you don’t want to go. I am confident, however, that in this case we are going in the right direction, and the journey will be an exciting one. My hope is that in the next few years all students at Catlin Gabel will take advantage of the opportunity to sample an online class, and that our faculty will blend the best of online learning with the exemplary methods already used in our physical classrooms.
Dan Griffiths, Upper School head, has been at CG since 2007. He holds an MA in biological sciences from the University of Oxford and a PhD in zoology from the University of Cambridge. He was formerly the IT director at St. Columba’s College in Ireland.   


Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Lewin, Tamar. "One Course, 150,000 Students." New York Times online article. July 8, 2012. Accessed January 2013.
Long, Katherine. “UW to offer fee-based courses through Coursera.” Seattle Times online article. Accessed January 2013.
Pachler, Norbert. “Theories of Learning and ICT.” In Leask, Marilyn & Norbert Pachler, editors: Learning to Teach Using ICT in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. London: Routledge, 1999.
Pereira. Eva. "Coursera: Opening Ivy League Universities to the Masses." Forbes online article. June 28, 2012. Accessed January 2013.
Sloan Consortium. Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States. Online survey report. Accessed January 2013.
Wukman, Alex. "Coursera Battered with Accusations of Plagiarism and High Drop-Out Rates." Online Colleges online article. August 22, 2012. Accessed January 2013. 


How to Teach Boys & Girls Equitably

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Creating conditions where everyone flourishes

 From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Barbara Ostos & Lark P. Palma

A short history of equity in education

The education of boys and girls has been debated since the establishment of formal education in the United States. At the end of the 18th century, society’s established gender roles, cultural norms, and perceived futures for boys and girls resulted in boys being granted higher educational opportunities than girls, for the most part. Colonial expansion demanded more literacy of women who were often involved in family businesses, leading to increased equity for girls’ education—but this was often still segregated and not the same as that of the boys. America’s westward expansion led to more coeducational opportunities, because population was small and educating boys and girls together made financial sense. Depending on state and private or public school systems during this period, education became more accessible for both genders, but access did not necessarily mean equality.
The passage of Title IX in 1972 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in public schools in athletics, financial aid, career counseling, admission practices, and the treatment of students. Two years later, the Women’s Educational Equity Act provided support to schools to recruit girls for math, science, and athletic programs. Teachers received training to increase awareness of possible gender bias in the curriculum and their pedagogy. Twenty years later, the American Association of University Women commissioned a study, completed by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, that challenged the common assumption that girls and boys were being treated equally in public schools. They reported that girls do not receive equitable amounts of teacher attention, are less apt to see themselves reflected in the materials they study, and often are not expected or encouraged to pursue higher-level math and science. This report, with its 40 recommendations, sparked a 20-year debate on how best to teach boys and girls and the nature of single-gender and coeducational schools.

What do we know now that’s different?

Because of advances in brain science and educational research since those days, we are now able to pose a question that could not have been asked or answered in the 1700s, 1972, 1992, or even 2002: What do we know about boys and girls that informs how they learn? Girls’ and boys’ brains are different, and these differences manifest themselves in how they learn. As a coeducational school, Catlin Gabel is committed to serving both genders well in an environment that allows them to thrive and enjoy each day of school.
For many years, debate over structural differences in the brain due to gender has been lively. Myriad theories have been posited, but what is broadly accepted is that different regions of the brain develop in a different sequence in the two genders. For instance, researchers reported at a recent National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE) conference that while the areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills mature earlier in girls than boys, the areas of the brain involved in targeting and spatial memory mature earlier in boys. As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this type of insight connects
Differences in how the two genders learn are most pronounced at the younger ages and transcend personality and cultural constructs. Girls tend to evaluate themselves more judgmentally than boys, hold themselves to a higher standard in the traditional classroom environment, and tend to outperform boys in school (as reported at NASSPE). Ironically, girls are more likely to be excessively critical of themselves and lack self-confidence, while boys demonstrate high estimates of their abilities and are more confident than girls. Not surprising, psychologists have found that motivation for boys and girls also tends to differ. Eva Pomerantz and Jill Saxton wrote in the journal Child Development that girls are more concerned than boys are with pleasing adults, while boys are motivated by material that interests them personally.

Strategies to guarantee success

Knowing these differences between the genders, what are some strategies coeducational schools can use to help guarantee the equitable success of both boys and girls? How does Catlin Gabel address this challenge for the benefit of all students?
The core values that guide teaching and learning at Catlin Gabel lay the best foundation for coeducational teaching: relationships, spirit of inquiry, community, critical and creative thinking, experiential learning, and integrity. Student confidence and success build on the relationships students develop with their teachers and each other. As described on Catlin Gabel’s website, “Students learn in a social context that colors their experience and impacts their learning. Teachers understand that relationships provide fertile ground for learning and strive to create the kind of classroom in which students are free to discuss, disagree, formulate ideas, and wonder.”
The spirit of inquiry at Catlin Gabel supports students’ confidence in asking questions, independent thinking, and respect for diverse views. The voices of boys and girls in the room enhance the learning environment and foster curiosity, openness to differing perspectives, and the desire to keep learning. Children learn to become competent, caring, respectful, contributing members of a community at school—just as in communities outside of school, where a diverse group of men and women work together. Sharing community from an early age at a school that gives credence to all student voices allows boys and girls to learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another.
We strive to create conditions that encourage students to know the power of their own ideas, develop new-to-them ways of doing things, be able to think inventively and reason well, and critically assess ideas and events. A school that encourages creativity, teaches critical thinking and analysis, and supports discussion with broad perspectives from both genders provides for the development of thoughtfulness and confidence for both girls and boys.
Experiential education means that students learn through real and direct exposure to places, events, and people. Active learning helps both boys and girls learn deeply and retain their experience and connections. Exploring beliefs and values in a setting where students listen to and begin to understand others’ points of view gives them the freedom to explore their own core beliefs, then test and revise them—all within the context of a supportive community. Helping students develop integrity and understand its value is an important goal at Catlin Gabel.
In addition to the school’s core approach to working with students, other aspects of Catlin Gabel’s philosophy lead to the success of a coeducational environment. Reading and discussing issues that connect to the real world, as well as to students’ lives, builds a foundation upon which students can have strong opinions and feelings. The curriculum strives to make connections for students and asks them to speak about their thoughts and feelings. The ability to confidently verbalize ideas is a lifelong skill that leads to success across disciplines for students. As a coeducational environment, when appropriate, we can separate boys and girls to address various issues or dynamics. For instance, during human sexuality and health classes when discussing sensitive issues, separation can provide a level of comfort for discussion. Students appreciate these divisions, but often comment that while they like it for a little while, they are glad to be reunited. While teaching pedagogy is at the core of creating an environment that balances the needs of boys and girls, perhaps the most important factor for successful coeducation is having teachers of both genders so students can see themselves reflected in their classroom leader. At Catlin Gabel we are fortunate that all divisions benefit from male and female teachers.
While the beginnings of education were androcentric, education in the U.S. has become accessible to both genders. Science has allowed us to better understand brain development of boys and girls, leading to thoughtful discourse on how to best serve students in a co– educational environment. Catlin Gabel’s progressive roots and our commitment to community and respect allow the school to feel confident in its service to both boys and girls now, and for many years to come.
Barbara Ostos has been Middle School head since 2011. She holds an EdD in educational leadership from the University of California, San Diego, an MA in nonprofit leadership & management from the University of San Diego, and a BA in government from Harvard University. Lark Palma has been Catlin Gabel’s head of school since 1995. She holds a PhD in English literature and an MEd from the University of South Carolina, and a BA in English from George Mason University.
Barbara Ostos completed her doctoral dissertation last year at the University of California, San Diego. Her work, Tapping on the Glass: The Intersection of Leadership and Gender in Independent School Administration, explored questions of transformational leadership— how heads of independent schools can provide vision, stability, and inspiration and lead teams of people in cooperative ways—as well as the relationship between leadership style and gender. Her study’s findings, supported by extensive research in the public sector, constitute a call to action for independent schools to develop policies and establish practices that resolve the gender disparity in independent school leadership. You may download her full study


Boyatzis, Chris, E. Chazan, & C. Z. Ting. “Preschool children's decoding of facial emotions.” Journal of Genetic Psychology, 154, 1993.
Costa, Paul, Antonio Terracciano, & Robert McCrae. "Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: robust and surprising findings." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, volume 81, number 2, 2001.
Feingold, Alan. "Gender differences in personality: a meta-analysis." Psychological Bulletin, volume 116, 1994.
Hanlon, Harriet, Robert Thatcher, & Marvin Cline. “Gender differences in the development of EEG coherence in normal children.” Developmental Neuropsychology, 16(3), 1999.
Higgins, E.T. “Development of self-regulatory and self-evaluative processes: costs, benefits, and trade-offs.” In Gunnar, Megan R. & L. Alan Sroufe, editors, Self Processes and Development, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
Labarthe, Jean Christophe. “Are boys better than girls at building a tower or a bridge at 2 years of age?” Archives of Diseases of Childhood, 77, 1997.
Madigan, Jennifer C. The education of girls and women in the United States: a historical perspective. Montgomery Center for Research in Child & Adolescent Development, Advances in Gender and Education, 1, 2009.
NIH/NIMH. "Sexual dimorphism of brain developmental trajectories during childhood and adolescence." NeuroImage, volume 36, number 4, 2007.
Pomerantz, Eva, Ellen Altermatt, & Jill Saxon. “Making the grade but feeling distressed: gender differences in academic performance and internal distress.” Journal of Educational Psychology, volume 94, number 2, 2002.
Pomerantz, Eva, & Jill Saxon. "Conceptions of ability as stable and self-evaluative processes: a longitudinal examination." Child Development, volume 72, 2001.
Riordan, Cornelius. Girls and boys in school: Together or separate? New York: Teachers College Press, 1990.



Developing Minds, Developing Teachers

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What and how teachers need to learn to equip their students for the future

 From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Hannah Whitehead

When I began teaching in the late 1960s, no one had heard of multiple intelligences, neurodevelopment, or differentiated instruction, to name a few important additions to the way we think of teaching and learning that have developed in the intervening years. I would no longer have a job if I were teaching as I did 40-some years ago; I and all teachers must continue to learn.
Schools need to project into the future, since we are educating our students to enter that future well equipped to bring positive and successful approaches to whatever comes their way. To remain relevant, schools and education have to be responsive to the rapidly changing lives that our students will lead, affected by things we haven’t yet imagined. Preschool students who began in the Beehive in 1998 are graduating this year into a world of social media that didn’t exist until they were in 5th or 6th grade. The pace of change affects all of us individually, but also our institutions, businesses, governments, and schools. All must figure out how to plan for an unknowable future.
Not surprisingly, the knowledge base of the teaching profession, like others, is evolving. Our role in our students’ learning is being reshaped by discoveries in neuroscience and the possibilities of the internet, to name only two important factors. To explore the skills and understandings that teachers will need to be flexible and inventive in the face of great change, we might look to people such as Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Sir Ken Robinson, Will Richardson, the folks at Project Zero, and educators looking at gaming and new technologies with an eye to their application in education.
Heidi Hayes Jacobs, a curriculum expert, feels that most schools are preparing their students for 1991. Get rid of the number two pencil, she says. This symbol for filling in testing bubbles should be abandoned as we move to the apt use of web 2.0 applications and social media to enhance the concepts schools are teaching, especially the ways in which students can show understanding. She points out that by the time textbooks are printed their content in many disciplines is obsolete; the notion that teachers are dispensers of knowledge has never been an effective model, but is even less so when it is impossible to keep up with the flow of new knowledge.
Sir Ken Robinson goes further, with his assertion that education must be personal, rather than standardized, since people and their brains, interests, and talents are individual, and each learner is the constructor of his or her learning. He makes a strong case for education being collaborative and active, given what we know about distributed intelligence and the methods by which people learn and understand things deeply. Education must also be flexible and dynamic to encompass the complexities and interrelatedness of the world. He suggests that we move from thinking about curriculum as subjects to thinking about curriculum as disciplines, where the focus is on skills, procedures, and processes. Assessments, instead of being judgmental, should be descriptive, as is appropriate to the continuous learning needed to encompass change. Pedagogy should focus on coaching and guiding, rather than lecturing and telling. These are not new ideas, but they have not been widely adopted.
Will Richardson agrees with Jacobs that schools need to be conceived differently. He quarrels with the fact that schools often do not allow students the full use of the technology that they already use in their lives outside of school. Take your phone out of your pocket and you have a billion possible teachers and the sum of human knowledge. Why aren’t we using that potential? Schools must be re-envisioned as places where we learn to collaborate with global peers, and as places of deep inquiry into the complex problems of the world.
Howard Gardner and his team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, known for their earlier work on multiple intelligences, now focus on identifying the kinds of minds we will need to develop for the future. He and his team of investigators have defined what they call “the five minds for the future.” These are ways of thinking that they have identified as necessary for the lifelong learning one needs in order to be successful in a world of rapid change. They call these five minds the disciplined mind, the respectful mind, the ethical mind, the creating mind, and most important for the 21st century’s overwhelming flow of information, the synthesizing mind. Each of the five minds has limitations and strengths, so collaboration is also an important skill for leveraging their use. According to Gardner, the future of education will involve teaching to produce continuous, lifelong learners. With globalization, the digital revolution, and what we are learning from neuroscience, we can see that successful people need to be flexible thinkers who draw from varying disciplines to solve complex problems. In order to do this, we need to learn to think in non-linear, systems-oriented ways.
Harvard’s Project Zero gives us an example of educational methods aimed at putting the ideas of such thinkers into practice. Last year three investigators from Project Zero published their work with schools in several countries on seeing such thinking at work. In their book, Making Thinking Visible, Ritchart, Church, and Morrison outline 21 practices to nurture thinking in the daily life of students. Schools that teach and use these thinking routines, which are targeted at solving specific kinds of problems, have shown that students using these practices become excellent posers of questions, thoughtful, creative investigators who reason with evidence and have disciplined processes to engage when a problem is put before them or when they identify one themselves.
As educators, we naturally look to our evolving knowledge of how learning best occurs to think about what would enhance our own learning— effective adult professional development. Neuroscience has supported a constructivist notion of learning. It has confirmed what we suspected all along: each brain is unique. We now know that we create the architecture of our brains by how we use them to process our experiences. Knowing that students (and teachers and parents) are literally constructing their brains leads us to want to make sure that the time we spend together, in school and out, is filled with experiences rich in possibility, intriguing problems, and questions to engage with. Since our brains are uniquely wired, it follows that one size does not fit all in any learning situation.
So, what kind of professional development translates into making a real difference in student learning? What is effective for adults who need to keep up with the fast-changing world of education?
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform, housed at Brown University, and the National Staff Development Council (now called Learning Forward), among others, have in the past 10 years compiled research focused on answering this question. They have identified a few key elements as important factors in effective continued learning for teachers, or anyone, really. Happily, these elements will look familiar to anyone with experience in a Catlin Gabel classroom.
First, new learning should be ongoing. This means that one-shot workshops, lectures, and conferences, while often interesting, rarely lead to change in the classroom. This result can be improved by adding follow-up coaching to the original experience.
Second, learning should be embedded in the job and the needs of the teacher. When this is the case, practice is built into the situation and is purposeful and relevant. We know that all of us have to live with, experiment with, and reflect upon new learning for it to be fully understood and useful. This takes practice over time, sometimes years. To justify putting this kind of time and effort into it, the purpose needs to be clear.
Third, for change to be truly systemic, it needs to be part of a larger reform or change effort. A single teacher or a small group may introduce an innovation, but to create systemic change, it must be picked up by others who come to see its advantages.
Fourth, inquiry-based collaborative learning creates the most improvement in instruction. Learning together in teams is much more likely to lead to systemic innovation than finding oneself the lone practitioner of a great idea. Using evidence of student learning is a key piece of the inquiry. Peer coaching enhances collaborative learning, as Bruce Joyce’s work has shown. Peer coaching helps consolidate new learning and integrate it into one’s teaching repertoire. Everyone concerned, coach and coachee, benefit. Professional learning communities appear to be the most effective model for this, according to the Annenberg Institute.
Professional learning communities embody all of the above attributes and mirror the kind of learning we expect in Catlin Gabel classrooms: collaborative and inquiry-based, centered on engagement in reflective dialogue about ideas, which is then shared with others. Sound familiar?
A good example of the power of learning communities can be seen in the Lower School. The division identified math as an area for improvement. Several excellent workshops were offered to the division faculty as shared professional experiences. However, things really took off when Courtney Nelson, who had taught several of the workshops, was hired as a math specialist for the Lower School to support teachers and students with planning, curriculum design, and coaching. She now co-plans with grade level teams and co-teaches some lessons with homeroom teachers. She helps teachers look at student work and analyze its strengths and errors, and then helps plan the next steps to move the students’ math understanding forward. Teachers report that this embedded assistance and coaching has been essential in consolidating their own learning and has strengthened the math understanding of Lower School students.
The fact that everyone is aware that change takes time and focus has helped, too. One teacher said, “It’s going to take me years to learn everything Courtney has to offer. I appreciate that we are just focusing on one thing this year. It really means we can dig in and make progress.”
Learning communities that investigate, practice, coach, evaluate, and research together over time hold great promise for Catlin Gabel, or any school. Working in such a collegial environment is also a great joy. One of the great gifts of being in education is that lifelong learning is built into the profession. One year is never like another, a lesson is never the same twice, and no student is exactly like another. It’s a beautiful thing.
Hannah Whitehead, Beginning School head, has been at CG since 1982. She holds a BA in English literature from Reed College.   


Annenberg Institute for School Reform. “Professional Learning Communities: Professional Development Strategies that Improve Instruction.” Providence, RI: Brown University.
Gardner, Howard. Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2007.
Jacobs, Heidi Hays. TEDxNYED talk. March 5, 2011. Accessed January 2013.
Joyce, Bruce & Emily Calhoun. Models of Professional Development: A Celebration of Educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2010.
Joyce, Bruce & Emily Showers. Student Achievement through Staff Development: Fundamentals of School Renewal, 2nd ed. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers, 1995.
Richardson, Will. Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere. Kindle Edition: 2012.
Richardson, Will. TEDxNYED Talk. March 5, 2011. Accessed January 2013.
Ritchhart, Ron, Mark Church, & Karin Morrison. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.
Robinson, Sir Ken. “Changing Education Paradigms.” RAS Animate, April 13, 2011. Accessed January 2013.
Robinson, Sir Ken. “Leading a Learning Revolution.” Presented at the Learning Without Frontiers Conference, London, January 26, 2012. Accessed January 2013.


Grading Gets a D-

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From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Vicki Swartz Roscoe

As a young, conscientious teacher I wanted to figure out a way to grade my 3rd graders fairly. I asked colleagues to show me how they assigned letter grades; the more I asked, the more confused I became, and the more I questioned how grading worked. I talked to my principal, then my professors in graduate school, and decided to take it on as my master’s thesis. I truly wanted to grade well.
For years and years we have accepted letter grades as a natural part of schooling. It has been part of the education system, so there must be a good reason for it. You can imagine my surprise to learn that this practice is actually unsupported in research.
My goal was to evaluate and compare research that supported grading with the research that supported non-graded alternatives. However, after a year of searching, I found so little research to support letter grading that I had to convene a gathering of my thesis committee. How could I compare the balance of research that was utterly lopsided? Should I reframe my initial goal?
With knowing glances, they suggested that I instead conduct interviews of educators and parents who favored letter grades to analyze the perceptions that have kept grading practices alive and well. So I did. These perceptions are the same I hear from some of our prospective families who ask why we don’t give letter grades.

The perceived advantages of grading students, based on interviews, include:

Grades are objective and clear. Parents can understand them, for society in general likes to classify things.
Grades focus the school’s efforts into measurable academic skills and content rather than on hazy areas that are best dealt with at home. The premise here is that perhaps we should not be dealing with the “whole child.”
Grades and percentile rankings give parents an idea of where their student stands in comparison to other students.
Grades promote healthy competition with self and others, motivating students to work harder and try more.
Top students are recognized and reinforced.
Students take their work more seriously when they know they are being graded.
Grades are a valid predictor of future achievement, which helps college admission officers select whom should go to college.
Grades offer a ranking scale to determine those students most worthy of scholarships, or participating in student government, sports, and other special privileges and programs.
Most of us were raised with grades and people feel more comfortable with the familiar. It is much easier to keep things the way they are.

Based on research that has grown exponentially over the years since I began my own research, disadvantages of grading students include:

Grading encourages lower-level, rote-memory learning. Student and teacher energy is focused on those tasks that lend themselves to being measured, making goals that aren’t or can’t be graded less valuable such as critical inquiry, engagement, problem solving, perseverance, creativity, or working cooperatively with a group.
Grading discourages individualization or differentiation, since grading involves comparing students to a single standard. Grading essentially places in order, from highest to lowest, the students on a given test or skill to show group comparison. The focus of teaching is on the group, and everyone goes through the same curriculum at the same time. Grades are not part of the learning process; they are a consequence of it.
Grades do not motivate most students. Many parents are deceived by a belief that grades are a strong motivating factor for learning. This fallacy continues in spite of much evidence that far greater and more beneficial learning takes place through individual goal setting and the development of self-commitment based on personal meaning. Current research on the “growth mindset” (see article by John Mayer and Dawn Sieracki) shows that students who believe they can improve their abilities have greater motivation and higher achievement than do students who believe their abilities and grades are fixed, and that teachers can be a powerful influence on students’ mindsets. This includes establishing high expectations for each student; creating a risk-tolerant learning zone; giving feedback that focuses on the things students can control such as their effort, challenge-seeking, persistence, and effective strategies; and introducing students (even at a very young age) to the concept of the malleable mind.
Grades have a built-in system of failure, and make teachers less accountable. By simply pointing to a student’s low marks, a teacher is not accountable for a student’s failure. All one needs to do is point to the famous “bell-shaped curve” to justify the awarding of a spread of letter grades. Competent teachers know better; it is our job to pick up the stragglers, motivate the indifferent, challenge the able, and completely replace the normal curve by affecting qualitative changes in our students. n Grades create unhealthy competition and cheating. Competition exists only when there is not enough of something to go around. If graded on the “curve,” where the number of As given is controlled, there really aren’t enough marks to go around. For every winner, there must be a loser. There is ample evidence that students achieve better in a cooperative social context.
The reason for a grade may be unclear. What does a B in math mean? Does it mean that Sue did excellent work in multiplication, probability, and 2-D geometry, but “blew it” in fractions? Does it mean she had excellent scores but was absent for one test, lowering the final average? Does it mean she didn’t hand in some of the daily work, yet aced the tests? Does it mean that Sue mastered most of the skills taught? Or that she was virtually failing math until the last two tests, and was rewarded for her marked improvement? Or might it mean that in actuality Sue already knows these math skills and is feeling a bit unmotivated to strive for excellence? If Sue wants to improve this B to an A, what must she do?
Research points out over and over again that grades are in fact subjective and not objective. Teachers have different values and expectations that influence the way they grade, causing great discrepancies in grading practices. Even young students perceive inconsistencies in the grading process, which causes them to mistrust their school experience.
Grading does not foster favorable attitudes towards school and learning by most students. The vast majority of research shows a more favorable attitude toward school when students weren’t graded. Some students see grades as restrictive—they may not explore a personal interest or a challenging class because they might be penalized with a lower grade. Lower-achieving students are constantly reminded of how poorly they do in school, even if they are making strong growth and working to their potential. The pressures for good grades can smother students’ innate quest for learning. Many of the brightest students do not wish to play the grading game and would much rather be challenged with appropriate curriculum. Another group of students finds grades repulsive and a direct threat. The one group of students who had a more positive attitude toward school when they received letter grades were the higher-achieving students who liked having their achievement recognized. Fortunately, this band of students can be motivated in a number of intrinsic ways that will prepare them to be lifelong learners, so they are not dependent on outside recognition.
Graded programs have not proven to produce higher academic achievement. The vast majority of studies cited advantages in achievement for students attending schools employing non-graded alternatives. n Grades do not provide helpful feedback to students. Formative assessment, consisting of ample feedback and opportunities to use that feedback, enhances performance and achievement. Such feedback is goal-referenced, differentiated, tangible, transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, ongoing, and consistent. According to researcher Grant Wiggins, letter grades are utterly useless as actionable feedback.
Grades encourage extrinsic and not intrinsic rewards. When self-discipline, self-awareness, efficacy, intrinsic motivation, and lifelong learning are the ultimate goals, grades just do not cut the cake. Students have the ability to do well because they want to do well—if this attitude is nurtured and valued. Even at a young age, students can come to know their strengths and weaknesses and set their own goals, which is much more meaningful. n Abstract activities and tests used to determine grades are developmentally inappropriate for youngsters who are not yet at the abstract level of reasoning. Elementary and middle schools overuse paper and pencil tests and activities to come up with letter grades even when students are at a concrete level of development.
Grading encourages “academic cloning.” Teachers typically give the highest grades to students who think along the same lines as they do. Opportunities must be provided for students to exercise some degree of freedom, nonconformity, originality, and uniqueness; indeed, the notion of “academic cloning” rubs against the very heart of freedom and democracy.
Supposedly there is about a 5-year lag between research and practice in the business world, but that there is often a 25-year lag in education. In the case of letter grades, there is an inexcusable gap of more than 100 years. Well-meaning and skillful teachers across our country are put in the position of figuring out how to work within a system requiring the assignment of letter grades, which is actually incompatible with the learning process. Administrators are put in the position of justifying letter grades that were never meant to show learning.
Letter grades are found in most schools in our country and are still required for admission to most colleges. Because we want our Catlin Gabel students to go on and further their education, we give “grade equivalents” in the Upper School. But our goal is to send intrinsically motivated learners on into the world.
Alternatives to traditional letter grading, many of which we employ, include written narrative evaluations, developmental continuums, self-evaluations, student goal setting, parent-teacher conferences, student-led conferences, performance-based rubrics, and competency-based assessment and reporting.
Progress reporting and evaluating student learning are outgrowths of a school’s philosophy of education. If a school has a clearly defined mission and core values—as we do here at Catlin Gabel—then we know what we are aiming for. Our evaluation process must support what we believe. It has been a pleasure to come to Catlin Gabel and join a group of educators who have known the limitations of letter grading all along and have been courageous enough to swim upstream and align our assessment and reporting with our values.

Vicki Swartz Roscoe has been Lower School head since 2002. She holds a BA in early childhood from Central Washington University, an MA in teacher education from the Bank Street College of Education, and an educational leadership certificate from Lewis & Clark College. 


Azwell, Tara & Elizabeth Schmar, editors. Report Card on Report Cards: Alternatives to Consider. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995.
Brookhart, Susan. “Preventing Feedback Fizzle.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Chappuis, Jan. “How Am I Doing?” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Di Michele Lalor, Angela. “Keeping the Destination in Mind.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Fisher, Douglas & Nancy Frey. “Making Time for Feedback.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Goodlad, John I. & Robert H. Anderson. The Non-graded Elementary School. New York: Teachers College Press, 1987.
Goodlad, John I. A Place Called School. New York: McGraw Hill,1984, 2004.
Himmele, William & Persida Himmele. “How to Know What Students Know.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Hattie, John. “Know Thy Impact.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Kohn, Alfie. No Contest: The Case Against Competition. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1986, 1992.
Argues that competition is counterproductive in all areas of human life—work, school, play, and family—undermining achievement, damaging self-esteem, and poisoning relationships.
Kohn, Alfie. Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. New York, Mariner Books, 1995, 1999.
Makes the case against using rewards with students, children, and employees; lengthy chapters offer alternatives to traditional carrot-and-stick practices at school, home, and work.
Kohn, Alfie. Beyond Discipline:From Compliance to Community. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 1996, 2006.
Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve:Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards." 
New York: Mariner Books, 1999.
Kohn, Alfie. What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.
A collection of articles originally published between 1999 and 2003, dealing with topics ranging from the purposes of schooling to the SAT to the implications of Sept. 11.
Lehrer, Jonah. How We Decide. New York, Mariner Books, 2009.
Nichols, T. Philip. “Feeback in an Age of Efficiency.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Sousa, David A. & Carol Ann Tomlinson. Differentiation and Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, 2010.
This book describes the key elements in a full model of differentiation (e.g. learning environment, curriculum, assessment, readiness, interest, learning profile, classroom management) as well as current research from neuroscience that relates to those elements. Each chapter also includes classroom scenarios and application examples.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann & Marcia Imbeau. Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2010.
Addresses two key elements for guiding the work of students in a flexibly organized classroom: leading students and managing details. The first half of the book explores what it means to leader students in a differentiated classroom. The second half provides practical guidance for dealing with issues such as assigning students to groups, handling student noise, movement around the classroom, using materials, grading, and so on. A toolkit at the end of the book provides additional illustrations.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann & Jay McTighe. Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Contents and Kids. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2006.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann, Kay Brimijoin, & Lane Narvaez. The Differentiated School: Making Revolutionary Changes in Teaching and Learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2008.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann, Sandra N. Kaplan, Joseph S. Renzulli, Jeanne H. Purcell, Jann H. Leppien, Deborah E. Burns, Cindy A. Strickland, & Marcia B. Imbeau. The Parallel Curriculum: A Design to Develop Learner Potential and Challenge Advanced Learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.
Tovani, Cris. “Feedback Is Two-Way Street.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Wiggins, Grant. Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Wiley,1998.
Wiggins, Grant. “7 Keys to Effective Feedback.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Wiggins, Grant & Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2005.
Wiggins, Grant & Jay McTighe. Schooling by Design: Mission, Action, and Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.
William, Dylan. “Feedback: Part of a System.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.
Wilson, Maja. “Look at My Drawing!” Educational Leadership, Vol. 70, No. 1, ASCD, Sept. 2012.


Can Praise Harm?

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 From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Dawn Sieracki & John Mayer

Our 2nd grade class is huddled in a circle on the rug, we’ve cleaned up from our math workshop, and we’re about to leave for lunch. Before we go, we attend to our daily ritual of discussing what we found challenging during math time. I ask, “Did any of you have any ‘Aha!’ moments during math today?” At least five hands shoot into the air, students eager to share what new learning happened for them. Sydney responds, “I was trying to balance a number sentence, but I couldn’t get it to work. I kept trying different numbers and then I realized there was a pattern. I tested the pattern and it worked!” “Hmm,” I respond, “I notice Sydney mentioned it was hard for her, but she kept trying different strategies.” Alex interjects, “Yeah, she didn’t give up because if she did she wouldn’t get smarter.” Twenty heads nod in agreement as they scamper out the door.
During lunch, my students sit casually discussing the perennial thought of seven-year-olds, “What do I want to be when I grown up?” They give varied answers from scientist to writer to doctor. The reality is, in our world where the amount of information continues to grow exponentially, they don’t know—as their teacher, I don’t know—what jobs will look like a decade, two decades from now. I do know they will need to know how to access information, how to learn, and, perhaps most importantly,they will need a highly defined internal drive to become flexible, continuous learners. Gone are the days when someone could develop a specific skill set—say, become a software engineer—and then work at that job until retirement. Instead, today’s students will need to survive in an ever-changing environment where the necessary skills and knowledge are continuously expanding.
Catlin Gabel has long dismissed the outdated factory model of education, with teachers as dispensers of information, and students as receptacles, moving passively through the system. In the 21st century, we do not need students who are compliantly ingesting information; we need students who are actively creating knowledge. How do we create classrooms that, by their very structure, build a capacity for continuous learning?

What is a growth mindset?

Through the ways we talk to and praise children, parents and teachers are passing along our society’s notion of intelligence. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, four beliefs about success are common in our society:
• students with high ability are more likely to display mastery-oriented qualities (the desire for challenge with an attitude of perseverance in the face of adversity)
• success in school directly fosters mastery-oriented qualities
• praise, particularly of a child’s intelligence, encourages mastery-oriented qualities • students’ confidence in their intelligence is the key to mastery-oriented qualities
Surprisingly, research shows those beliefs are not true. Dweck’s research has demonstrated that children who have internalized our society’s beliefs about success develop a fixed mindset, the idea that intelligence is wholly innate and they do not have control over it. Children who have internalized a fixed mindset are more likely to shy away from challenges and give up when faced with setbacks. These children often seek out easy successes in order to confirm their self-perception. In other words, the very praise teachers and parents bestow on them, believing it will shore up children and enable them to take on challenges, may be having the opposite effect. In contrast, those with a growth mindset, the notion that intelligence is malleable and they can choose to strengthen it, are more likely to seek challenges and persevere when faced with difficulties.
Although language and behaviors fostering a fixed mindset are common in our culture, they are not necessarily prevalent across other cultures. Education researcher Jin Li has studied the cultural frames of children’s learning beliefs, as well as conversation patterns between mothers and children. She found European-American mothers often spoke to their children in ways that supported a fixed sense of self, “I’m so proud of you. You’re so smart.” In contrast, Eastern Asian mothers were more likely to reinforce a malleable sense of self, “I remember when you weren’t very good at _____. How did you get better?” Other cultures are developing a growth mindset in their children; how can we do the same for our children?

What we can do to support a growth mindset

Luckily for all of us, human experience has taught us that the growth mindset can be cultivated, and neuroscience is catching up with supportive evidence of our brain’s malleability. Knowing so, we want to empower children to have a shame-free and lifelong relationship with the possibility of growth. A classroom is the perfect place for such a relationship to begin.
Just as any of us can practice in order to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, so too can we can encourage the habits of mind that help children see challenges as possibility and recognize that easy is not always good. Sydney and Alex’s willingness to discuss challenges is an example of children in the midst of developing a growth mindset. How did we get here?
In our classrooms, we have purposefully created a community that honors challenge. We have done so by ritualizing conversations in which perseverance is of primary value because we know it will lead to mastery and success. Dialogues such as the one between Sydney and Alex are now commonplace in our days. In addition to being delightful to listen to, they are important markers of a shift in the tone of the discussions.
We teachers are intentional about orchestrating every aspect of our classroom to support this notion of growth. In response to correct math answers, we don’t celebrate with high fives and cheers, but rather ask, “How did you do it? How are you sure? Could you do it another way?” or, depending on what the child had been doing recently, we might respond with, “Last week that was hard for you, what did you change?” Likewise, incorrect answers are not met with, “Try again” but rather we might say, “Aha! Now you’re doing a mathematician’s work . . . let’s find where it went wrong.” These are very small adjustments to any classroom, but the pattern serves to buttress the idea that we are all on a path, moving forward is our goal, and mistakes help us get there—even more than “being correct.”
Something meaningful happens to a child’s affect in the classroom with these types of interventions and praise. Many children stop asking if they got it right, because they know that such a question will be met with the challenge for the proof. Rather, they approach the teacher—and one another—with something more like, “I think this is the answer and here’s why.” This confidence and independence is ultimately our goal in the early years of education, when children learn the fundamentals of how to learn—which means to be independent, reflective, and thoughtful about the process. When confidence is paired with a lack of shame that comes from mutual celebrations for sticking with something hard, children know they are on a path like we all are 

Stretch projects: a shift in thinking

In combination with these everyday ways of talking to children, perhaps the most profound shift in our classrooms happened when we implemented what we called “stretch projects.” Students designed and built projects where they would intentionally work on getting better at something that is hard for them. We’d been learning about Harvard researcher Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. We presented the idea that we are all good at lots of things but also have plenty to stretch towards, and that no two people’s stretches would be exactly the same. When asked early in November to articulate their struggles to the class, there was a predictable embarrassment from some kids until one brave boy spoke clearly and openly about his struggles to learn to read. “I’ve been trying and trying and I see some of my friends reading hard books that my mom reads to me. I know I’ll get it, but it’s hard for me.”
Here is a child who inherently understood that his struggles were just that, his struggles, nothing to be ashamed of. At this public admission, the ice broke; the empathic stories of struggling to learn to ride a bike, write letters in the right direction, or make a friend on the playground came pouring out. The truth that we all struggle was coming out into the open. Once there, we decided to collectively tackle these challenges by designing projects that would stretch us in purposeful ways. Upon systematizing the practice, and giving language to what it is to struggle, the playing field of the classroom was newly leveled. There weren’t smart kids and less smart kids; there weren’t math kids and reading kids. Instead the classroom identity is a collective one of learners grappling with how to grow purposefully.
Second grade teacher John Mayer has been at CG since 2006. He holds an MAT from Lewis & Clark College. Dawn Sieracki has been a 2nd grade teacher at CG since 2011. She holds a BS in elementary education from Bradley University and an MA in educational leadership from Maryville University.


Boulanger, Lisa M. “Immune Proteins in Brain Development and Synaptic Plasticity.” Neuron Review 64 (2009): 93-109.
Dweck, Carol. “Even Geniuses Work Hard.” Educational Leadership 68 (2010): 16-20.
Dweck, Carol. Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadelphia, PA: University Press, 2000
Kanevsky, Lannie. “Deferential Differentiation: What Types of Differentiation Do Students Want?” Gifted Child Quarterly 55 (2011): 279-299.
Li, Jin. “Cultural Frames of Children’s Learning Beliefs.” In Jensen, Lene Arnett, Bridging Cultural and Developmental Approaches to Psychology: New Syntheses in Theory, Research, and Practice, 26–44. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011.



Where in the world are CG students?

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Mid-March is go time for Catlin Gabel’s global education program. Five groups, three from the Upper School and two from the Middle School, are spread across three continents.

Upper School students are traveling to Guatemala, France, and China.

Middle School students are traveling to Costa Rica and Taiwan.

» Visit the global education section of the website for trip details and to follow student blog posts 


March 12 US concert canceled

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 Stay tuned for information about rescheduling this event.

Robotics team wins top regional award, qualifies for world championships

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The Catlin Gabel Flaming Chickens won the Chairman’s award for the fourth time! The team will go to the world championships in St. Louis, April 24–28. They've qualified for the world competition five out of six years, more than any other team in Oregon.

» Check out the Flaming Chicken's website for details

Video: Diversity Conference a cappella performance, "Shosholoza"

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"Priority Male," the male section of the Catlin Gabel a cappella choir, performed the South African freedom song "Shosholoza" at the Upper School Diversity Conference on February 27, 2013. The choir is directed by Charles Walsh.

FREE bus service in April

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 Dear Families,

We are excited to offer FREE bus service for the entire month of April. Get on board!

• There is NO COST for riding the Catlin Gabel bus in April.

• The school will WAIVE April's bus fee for families who have already paid for bus service.

• Existing arrangements made for Beginning and Lower School students remain in place. After-School Care should be notified only if there is a change.

• Students who will ride the bus for the first time this year must complete two required documents, which posted below for your convenience.

• Parents of Beginning and Lower School students should take special note of the section about arrangements for afternoon rides. (See Parent/Guardian Guidelines 2012-13.)

• Riders DO NOT need to sign up in advance to reserve a seat. Contingency plans are in place should ridership exceed bus capacity.

» Link to Catlin Gabel’s transportation page  where you will find a route map and bus schedules.

If you have questions, please email Chris Balag at balagc@catlin.edu.

The school offers this month of free bus service to address campus parking and traffic congestion during peak drop-off and pick-up times. Let’s see if we can change habits and make a difference.

If your children have never ridden the CG bus, April is the time to give it a whirl!

Vicki Roscoe, assistant head of school

Parent meetings with head search consultants

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All current parents and guardians are invited to attend one of two meetings with search consultants Bob Fricker and Sherry Coleman of Carney, Sandoe and Associates.

Meeting #1 is on Tuesday, March 5, from 6 to 6:55 p.m., in Gerlinger (lower level of the US library)

Meeting #2 is on Wednesday, March 6, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., in the Cabell Center Theater


CG team wins 2nd in World Quest competition

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 Captain Curtis Stahl ’13, Terrance Sun ’13, Theo Knights ’14, and Tyler Perzik ’14 placed 2nd at the Oregon Council on World Affairs World Quest state competition at Portland State University on February 17.  Nathaniel Hamlett ’12, Chris Park ’12, and Hunter Ray ’12 also competed and finished in 10th place.  It was Catlin Gabel's best showing to date, with only one point separating the 2nd place team from the 1st place finisher. Congratulations to all!

Head search – community input meetings and survey

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A letter from Peter Steinberger inviting parents to meet with the search consultants and complete an online survey

UPDATE: February 20, 2013

The survey deadline has been moved to February 21.


February 12, 2013

Dear parents and guardians,

Catlin Gabel’s search for a new head of school is under way, and it’s time for our first round of community input. As I will explain below, we are very hopeful that you will:

• Complete the confidential online survey by February 20. 

• Make time to meet with our search consultants when they visit campus on March 5 and 6.

As I wrote on February 1, we have retained the services of Bob Fricker and his associate Sherry Coleman—both representing the nationally prominent firm of Carney, Sandoe and Associates—to serve as our search consultants. (Link to letter) Bob and Sherry will be on campus March 5 and 6 to meet with community members and to engage firsthand with Catlin Gabel’s culture and program. During their two-day visit, they hope to meet with people from many parts of the Catlin Gabel community.

The members of the search committee are eager to learn as much as possible so that we can develop a complete and comprehensive picture of the school’s future leadership needs. Toward this end, and using the information they collect both during their visit to campus and from an online survey, Bob and Sherry will prepare a position statement that will focus the search for our next head of school. Thus, we need your help. The more people participate either in the on-campus meetings or in the survey, and ideally both, the better our information will be.

All current parents and guardians are invited to attend one of two meetings.

Tuesday, March 5, 6 – 6:55 p.m., Gerlinger Auditorium


Wednesday, March 6, 8:30 – 9:30 a.m., Cabell Center Theater

I would ask all community members, whether they are able to attend a meeting or not, to complete a brief survey between now and February 20. Survey link.

The search committee aims to make the process as open and transparent as possible while maintaining confidentiality as appropriate. We welcome your involvement and your thoughts along the way.

If you have any questions about the meeting schedule, please contact Jill Jones. Faculty-staff, and groups of students, alumni, and friends have also been invited to meetings with our head search consultants.

Peter Steinberger, trustee, parent of alumna, search committee chair

Search committee members

Dave Cannard, Jr. ’76, trustee (1997-07), board chair (2004-07), current parent, parent of alumnus, alumnus

Li-Ling Cheng, Middle School Mandarin teacher, parent of alumna

Clint Darling, interim head of school (1982-83), Upper School head (1973-86), retired Upper School English and French teacher, parent of alumnae

Isaac Enloe, kindergarten teacher

Aline Garcia-Rubio ’93, Upper School assistant head, dean of students, science teacher, current parent, alumna

John Gilleland, trustee, board chair (2009-12), current parent

Alix Meier Goodman ’71, trustee, endowment committee member, board chair (2007-10), parent of alumni, alumna

Vicki Roscoe, associate head of school and Lower School head

Eric Rosenfeld ’83, vice-chair and treasurer board of trustees, current parent, alumnus

Miranda Wellman ’91, director of advancement, alumna

Jim Wysocki, Upper School math teacher and department chair



2013-14 calendar highlights

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First days of school, holidays, breaks, and end-of-year info

Upper School orientations, book pick-ups, locker assignments (specific dates and times for each grade level to follow)
Tuesday, September 3

Middle School classes begin
Tuesday, September 3

Lower School open house
Tuesday, September 3, 10 a.m. – noon

Lower School classes begin
Wednesday, September 4

Upper School classes begin
Wednesday, September 4

Preschool classes begin for half of class
Kindergarten orientation
Wednesday, September 4

Preschool classes begin for half of class
Kindergarten classes begin
Thursday, September 5

Beginning School – all classes in session
Friday, September 6

Faculty professional development day – no classes
Friday, October 18

Thanksgiving break
Monday, November 25 - Sunday, December 1 (yes, it’s the whole week!)

Winter break
Friday, December 20 - Sunday, January 5 (note: Friday is a no-school day)

Classes resume
Monday, January 6

Martin Luther King Jr. Day - no classes
Monday, January 20

Faculty professional development day – no classes
Friday, February 14

Presidents' Day - no classes
Monday, February 17

Spring break (note: Friday is a no-school day)
Friday, March 21 – Sunday, March 30

Memorial Day – no classes
Monday, May 26

Last day of classes
Friday, June 13

Saturday, June 14

Reserved days for closure make-up (if we have three or more unplanned closures)
June 16 – 18

New student enrollment for 2013-14

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Please carefully read these instructions

Each signer will receive an email from DocuSign with his or her own link to each child’s contract. Each of you must use your own link to access your copy of the contract, complete the form, and add your signature. DocuSign will combine everything into one contract per child, with multiple signatures. Once all parties sign, the contract is complete and each party receives a confirmation email. Detailed enrollment instructions follow and DocuSign help line is available at 1-866-219-4318. 

STEP 1 — Open the DocuSign link

When you first open the link, you will see a small overview screen that gives you the following options:

  • agree to do business electronically with Catlin Gabel, and go on to review and sign your documents
  • decline the contract using the button at bottom right 
  • finish later saves your work for finishing later
  • sign on paper leads to options for downloading, printing, and sending hard copy by fax or mail
  • change signer is only for cases in which the original recipient should not be a signer, and wants to transfer that to someone else

STEP 2 – Review, sign, and confirm the online enrollment contract

Each signer should access and sign the electronic contract(s) via the link sent to his/her email account.

Pages 1 and 2:  Click "Start" and select a tuition payment plan. All parties need to select the same option. The first signer’s selection is visible to successive signers.

Consider tuition insurance. The option to decline ("no") or accept ("yes") tuition insurance must be selected to complete the contract. Your family is responsible for the year’s tuition even if you leave before the end of the school year. More information on tuition insurance is attached to this email.  All parties need to select the same option. The first signer’s selection is visible to successive signers.

Page 3:  Add your electronic signature. DocuSign will generate different styles for you. The style you select will be saved so next time you sign, you’ll use the same signature.

Complete the billing information. If more than one household is responsible for monthly charges, please specify which charges are for each household and let us know if you would like a statement showing only these specific charges.

Page 4:  Choose a payment method so we know how to expect your payment. If you are bringing in or sending a check, please print this page and include it with your payment. If you are selecting method 4 to set up automatic payments for your bank account, use the ACH form on the next page. Please review all of page 4 before confirming your signature.

Page 5:  ACH form for people who set up automatic debit payments. This form can also be downloaded below.

After you have confirmed your signature, you will be able to print, save or download the contract for your records. A copy will also be sent to all signers via email when the contract is complete.

STEP 3 — Send payment to the business office by the date specified in your contract 

Please use one of the following methods to pay your deposit

  1. Mail or drop off a check to: Catlin Gabel School, 8825 SW Barnes Rd, Portland, OR 97225  attn: business office
  2. Make a payment through your bank’s online bill pay service
  3. Set up an ACH debit to pay the deposit and ongoing monthly and tuition charges. Use form and include bank information or contact Mary Ann Rogers in the business office at 503-203-5114 or rogersm@catlin.edu.

Both the completed contract and deposit amount are required for enrollment to be complete.

Helpful tips

  • Please contact DocuSign's help line at 1-866-219-4318 if you have questions or difficulties with the online process.
  • Contracts signed by one parent from one email are not considered complete. Each signer must complete the contract using the link in his or her own separate email.
  • Sometimes we send both contracts to the same email, but in that case each parent/guardian still needs to sign the contract from that email address.  
  • The forms and your signature are absolutely secure. DocuSign is used for many confidential transactions such as mortgage closures. More information is available on the DocuSign website  
  • Payment must be submitted separately.
  • If you wish to re-enroll but do not want to use our online system, use the Sign on Paper option.

If you still have questions…

…about re-enrollment, please contact Marabeth Passannante in the admission office. 
…about billing options, please contact Mary Ann Rogers in the business office.
…about financial aid, please contact Mary Yacob in the financial aid office.

We look forward to seeing your family on campus next year!

Supporting links and documents

Catlin Gabel Bus Service
Before and After-School Care

Science Bowl team places 2nd in regionals

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Terrance Sun, Valerie Ding, Lawrence Sun, Ben Hutchings, and Nick Petty beat out 64 other teams from Oregon and Washington to earn the 2nd place trophy in the BPA Regional Science Bowl. The competition was fierce.

We congratulate our scientists and the scientists from Mountain View High School for their 1st place finish.  

Head search committee chair invites community participation, announces search firm

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A letter from Peter Steinberger

Dear Catlin Gabel community members,

On behalf of the Head of School Search Committee, and even as the search process is just getting under way, I am writing to the entire Catlin Gabel community to describe where we are and how we intend to proceed.

I should say at the outset that the members of the committee are all honored and delighted to participate in this important process. Of course, the responsibility is daunting. We have very large shoes to fill, and it will be a challenge for all of us. Nonetheless, the committee is confident that we will find a terrific Head of School who will build wonderfully on the many great accomplishments under Lark’s leadership.

Let me also say that you should not hesitate to contact me if you have any suggestions, concerns, questions or comments. This is an honest invitation. The committee is committed to a process that is open, inclusive and, to the greatest degree possible, transparent; and we frankly seek your advice and counsel. As the process unfolds, formal opportunities will exist for a great many members of the Catlin Gabel community—teachers, staff, trustees, students, parents, alumni and friends—to provide input. But in the meantime, and indeed throughout the search, you should feel free to share your thoughts; and certainly could include thoughts about who, in your opinion, might be a strong candidate for Head of School. For convenience sake, the best way to communicate would be by email at searchchair@catlin.edu, or by phone (503-777-7231). I would be delighted to hear from you, and I can assure you that I will act as a faithful messenger to the search committee.

I am extremely pleased to report that we have retained the services of Bob Fricker and his associate Sherry Coleman—both representing the nationally prominent firm of Carney, Sandoe and Associates—to serve as our search consultants. The process of selecting a consultant was intensive and highly competitive, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Bob and Sherry. Together, they bring to the search not only a wealth of experience and insight, but also a deep understanding of all things that make Catlin Gabel such a special place.

As a first step, our consultants will work with the search committee to write a profile. This central document serves to introduce the school to prospective candidates, describes our goals and ambitions, and effectively functions as a job description. Toward this end, Bob and Sherry will visit campus in early March for a whirlwind series of meetings with members of the Catlin Gabel community. Details will be worked out shortly, but it is certain that all constituencies will be well represented, and we hope to have one or more open forums that will allow all lovers of Catlin Gabel to participate.

From there, the process is apt to be relatively straightforward. The spring will largely be devoted to building the applicant pool. During the summer, our consultants, along with the search committee, will work to construct a short list of preferred candidates and, from there, a small set of semi-finalists for the search committee to interview face to face. On the basis of these interviews, and if all goes according to plan, we hope to have perhaps two or three finalists on campus for open, public interviews, possibly as early as mid-to late-September. We would like to be able to announce our new Head of School sometime in October.

Of course, the most rigorous and well-conceived plan rarely unfolds exactly as anticipated. We are searching in a complex environment, and this may indeed require us to be flexible. As contingencies arise, we will endeavor to keep you posted. Be assured, in any case, that we are strongly committed to finding just the right person for Catlin Gabel, and to do so in a way that is fully faithful to the spirit and tradition of the school.

On behalf of the search committee, I can say that we very much look forward to working with the entire Catlin Gabel community. And again, I would be delighted to learn of any thoughts you might have regarding this very important project.

Peter Steinberger, Chair
Head of School Search Committee

19 students receive a record-breaking 45 awards from the Portland Metro Scholastic Art Competition

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Students were honored in photography, sculpture, drawing, painting, and mixed media

Congratulations to the following Upper School students who helped Catlin Gabel sweep the competition! Several students won more than one award.

Xander Balwit, Matt Junn, Fiona Noonan, Maya Rait, and Zoe Schlanger earned Gold Key honors.

Matt Junn won Silver Key honors for his entire portfolio and for individual pieces.

Other Silver Key honors were awarded to works by Katie Fournier, Max Luu, Hayle Meyerhoff, Nadya Okamoto, Kristin Qian, Craig Robbins, Hannah Rotwein, Zoe Schlanger, Alexandra van Alebeek.

Honorable mention recipients are Violeta Alvarez, Anna Dodson, Adele English, Kelsey Hurst, Matt Junn, Kallisti Kenaley-Lundberg, Thomas Newlands, Fiona Noonan, Craig Robbins, Hannah Rotwein, Zoe Schlanger, and Alexandra van Alebeek.

Next stop regionals, followed by the national competition.