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.
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
As a progressive school, we believe that children learn by doing. When children employ their minds, bodies, emotions, and social skills to understand a new concept or experience, they are fully engaged. By enlisting all of these domains, they strengthen their analytical thinking and their attention, memory, and communication skills. We strive to make lessons experiential so that students can better understand, remember, and apply what they learn. In the black box theater, in the Beehive kindergarten room, and in the Middle School science lab, I see children moving about, interacting with fellow students, engaging with teachers, voicing their ideas, and sharing their work. They are constantly developing, or as we educators say, constructing, new understandings about the world and themselves.
On Saturday I joined over 300 parents, colleagues, and friends of Catlin Gabel at our annual auction, held this year at the Portland Art Museum. It was a festive gathering, focused on fundraising for the school’s financial aid program, which currently supports 27% of the student body and accounts for $3.5 million or 19% of our total budget. While the final figures are not yet in, the event generated impressive support for this vital mission priority.
A highlight of the evening was remarks by one of our students, a talented junior whose Catlin Gabel experience has been made possible by financial aid. This remarkable young woman recently received a President's Volunteer Service Award, presented on behalf of President Obama. This award recognizes Americans who have volunteered a significant amount of time to serve their communities and country. In sharing her personal story of achievement, she inspired those in attendance and brought to life the importance of funding access …
Every moment of a Catlin Gabel education has value. Together those moments form a remarkable journey of self-discovery and mastery, which itself is an end as much as a means. Still, the journey does lead somewhere. Every year our seniors head to college, after navigating an admission process both revealing and challenging. Presenting themselves and their achievements to colleges is a culmination of the hard work, skills, and confidence they have developed here at Catlin Gabel.
These days the process of applying to college draws more attention than the experience of attending college. There are a number of reasons for this: the common application has increased the pool, which has driven selectivity to new lows; the testing and counseling industry fuels anxiety; colleges increasingly serve global communities; and graduates face uncertain job prospects. All of these developments have made accessing high-quality higher education a high-stakes process.
The good news is that students…
What is the future of education? What trends, tools, and concepts will challenge traditional notions of teaching and learning? Last Saturday, academically trained futurist Garry Golden (http://www.garrygolden.com/) led the board of trustees and administrative team in a compelling discussion of what might lie ahead—and what that might mean to Catlin Gabel. The session was meant to help the board and school leaders practice big thinking, as we look forward to strategic planning in 2015-16.
At the retreat we summoned our best foresight, which, to paraphrase Garry, is the study of plausible and preferable futures based on research and forecasting. We considered several examples of tools and trends: adaptive technology, civic culture, and mindfulness. As we discussed how our mission and curriculum might be influenced by these and other developments around us, it became clear that future thinking needs to be grounded in a clear sense of the present.
Catlin Gabel is a thriving school today …
Last week I joined eight students and five colleagues from Catlin Gabel in a memorable journey to Indianapolis. Along with 3,600 adults and teenagers, we attended the 28th annual People of Color Conference, held by the National Association of Independent Schools. The event aims to create a safe and inclusive gathering where educators of color and white allies can leverage racial, ethnic, and cultural differences for educational excellence in our schools.
I attend this conference because it is important for me to be reminded of the privilege I have in society as a white male, and because I am a school head with political authority and visibility. Teacher colleagues attend to connect with friends and allies, explore ways they can improve their communities, and learn about leadership. Students attend to join a larger conversation about equity and social justice and learn how they can be change agents in the world. We all attend to deepen our commitment to others.
This year's conference …
I felt very fortunate to be at the Open House student panel last month. Over thirty minutes, I listened with pride as Catlin Gabel seniors interacted with the audience of hopeful and attentive prospective families. The questions touched on school culture, courses, friendships, time management, extracurricular interests, and college. The cheerful panel eagerly responded, sharing their knowledge and personal experiences with warmth and humor. I marveled at their ability to share detailed, focused answers and to reflect on what they have learned at Catlin Gabel and how that will shape their lives in years ahead.
The confidence and poise of our seniors at the Open House certainly counts as one measure of our school's (and their) success. What other measures have value and validity at Catlin Gabel—and to whom? What outcomes matter most in our school community? What is distinctive and better about a Catlin Gabel education—and how do we know we are providing that?
As I begin my first year as …
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