Welcome to my blog, a way to present ideas, reflections, and observations with the school community and beyond. I blog on a regular basis, commenting on a thought-provoking experience, a significant development in education, and news of student and teacher work here at Catlin Gabel. My goal is to make you think, provoke a reaction, elicit diverse points of view, and affirm your faith in our school's mission. I hope you'll share with me and other readers any reactions you may have to my posts.
(What's happening? Languages at Catlin Gabel)
What’s the point of learning a second language? There are many answers, including developing neural pathways, expanding communication skills, understanding a different culture, enhancing learning in other subjects, and learning geography. Being proficient in a second language connects us to other people and experiences that deepen our understanding of the world. It is a ticket to literature, arts, travel, and experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible.
For these reasons and more, most schools have long included second language study as a core course and graduation requirement. That will not change at Catlin Gabel School, but how we teach language is changing significantly. In keeping with our emphasis on experiential learning, deep understanding, and being able to transfer, or apply, what you know to real-world situations, language study is moving away from traditional methods to a more dynamic and powerful approach.
Facing an ever-more unpredictable future, our students not only need a solid academic foundation; they need the skills and habits of mind which will equip them to ask insightful questions, analyze information, think creatively, communicate in compelling ways, and work with all kinds of people.
This fact is at the heart of our two new strategic priorities: deepening our commitment to experiential learning and creating an unrivaled educational laboratory. Last month, I sent to our community an introduction to these priorities, and since then I have been banging the drum at divisional back-to-school nights. I want all parents and guardians to know what they are and where we are heading, and because I believe they will be transformative for our students.
These two concepts are not new to Catlin Gabel, but we must commit to them with a new and deeper sense of purpose. They are core features of a progressive education model that we know is best for students and teachers, a model more …
One of the reasons I joined Catlin Gabel School last year was the opportunity to build on the work of previous years in the areas of diversity and inclusion. In 2013-14 we conducted the Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM), which helped us to set goals related to leadership, community, employment, and professional development. Those included creating a new senior administrative position, the director of equity and outreach; a standing board committee on diversity and inclusion; an inclusivity leadership position on the PFA executive council; and a variety of community events, forums, and activities.
We have taken these steps in response to AIM and because I believe that creating a diverse community in which every child feels safe, known, and valued is a precondition to effective learning. I am not surprised, given the complex nature of diversity and inclusion and the changes that we have made, that some people in our community have questions about this institutional …
At this significant moment in the life of our successful school, we have a choice to make. We can let fast followers catch up to us, or we can leverage our progressive history, our commitment to inquiry and experience, and our independence, to reimagine how we can be even better. What will distinguish a Catlin Gabel student and graduate in ten years? How can we question and challenge what we believe to develop new insights? What structures, processes, and distinctive ways of working will sustain our excellence?
These were some of the questions I considered as I traveled to San Francisco recently for the 2016 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference. Four Catlin Gabel colleagues and I joined over 5,500 educators from around the country to explore topics including technology integration, social justice, and educational innovation. I have been to this conference over 20 times in my career, and I was struck by the dynamism and variety of innovative …
Progressive educators John Dewey and Ruth Catlin believed that the best learning happens through experience, an interaction between an individual and the environment. In schools, the interaction and environment are designed by the teacher, who selects materials, methods, subject matter, and surroundings that will engage students and inspire them to learn.
I was reminded of the importance of the learning environment recently when I attended the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) Conference on Oahu. Joined by over 100 educators from around the country and overseas, we focused on the concept of “place-based education,” which speaks to Dewey’s belief that teachers should become “acquainted with the conditions of the local community, physical, historical, economic, occupational, etc. in order to utilize them as educational resources” (Experience and Education, p. 40). Over three days, leaders of outdoor education, service learning, …
Last year, as a new head of school, I asked the school community how we define success. I was heartened to hear that people at Catlin Gabel understand we must use a variety of measures to answer that question. Assessing the success of our school requires us to think in three dimensions. The first is student achievement and well-being; the second is institutional performance; and the third is the causal relationship between inputs and outcomes across the first two dimensions.
Every year we collect and analyze a wealth of academic, operational, and financial data to help us measure our success. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a conference of the Independent Schools Data Exchange (INDEX), a consortium of 35 selective PS-12 schools similar to Catlin Gabel in size and structure. Over two days, with school heads and CFOs, I pored over our institutional numbers to better understand how we currently allocate our time and resources and how we compare to other schools across many ……
My predecessors at Catlin Gabel School had the vision and courage to ask teachers to dream big. And they do – with energy and purpose. The result is a school that is successful by any measure: student and faculty achievements, college success, alumni lives, enrollment, and fundraising. The expertise and commitment of our faculty and staff inspires the parent community to trust the education we provide.
Building on that success is our next great challenge. Meeting it will require us to deepen our commitment to innovation and become even more strategic.
This year we are engaged in a strategic thinking process at Catlin Gabel. We are committed to designing a process that is inclusive and decisive. By gathering information, developing hypotheses, prototyping, and forcing choices, we will determine how to improve our students’ experience in the years ahead. The process includes the potential paradox of affirming and sustaining who we are and pushing hard against Catlin Gabel …
The first week of school is exciting at Catlin Gabel. Children arrive full of energy (and some anxiety); parents and guardians beam as they cross the campus; and teachers wait eagerly in well-prepared classrooms. Familiar rituals of setting expectations and explaining schedules signal the next school chapter has begun.
During our first week, we repeated a new “tradition” begun last year – all students and employees gather in Schauff Circle to celebrate the start of the new school year. This year, teachers led us in old and new songs, Student Association officers rapped a welcome message, and we heard from several new members of our community. With all of us together, I introduced a community theme to guide us in the months ahead: share your story.
As I said to the 950 students, teachers, and staff in the circle, we have much in common. We all are drawn to Catlin Gabel by the promise of a challenging and engaging education in a supportive community. We love …
At Catlin Gabel, we value academic excellence and a life of the mind. It would be a narrow education, however, if that was our only focus. Donning the blue and white uniform of a Catlin Gabel Eagle and taking to the field (or the court, track, pool, course, or mountain) is an important learning experience for all students. As our athletic director Sandy Luu often says, sports don’t automatically build character, but they do reveal it. Playing sports at Catlin Gabel gives our students an opportunity to build their character through choices they make each day in practice and games.
In fact, it has been a stellar year for our varsity boys and girls teams. Catlin Gabel has earned the OSAA All-Sports Award, given to the school with the most postseason success of any 3A school in the state. Those impressive results include state championships in girls’ tennis, and in boys’ track and field, cross country, and swimming. We earned state playoff bids in girls’ soccer, ……
Finding time for professional reading can be a challenge. I consider it a priority, however, because as extraordinary as the learning experience is at Catlin Gabel, the world keeps changing and we need to keep learning.
As we approach school-wide strategic planning in 2015-16, I want to share with you several new works that are informing my thinking on Catlin Gabel’s future.
Tom Little, head of school at Oakland’s Park Day School for 27 years, visited 45 private and public schools in the course of writing Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools (with Katherine Ellison). To demonstrate how schools like Catlin Gabel inspire, motivate, and educate students, he identifies six “core strategies”:
- Attention to social-emotional intelligence
- Interest-driven learning
- Real-world learning experiences
- Integrated and thematic learning
- Teaching social justice and citizenship
- Limited testing, grading, and ranking
Choose groups to clone to: