Reading, Thinking and Learning

Dear Flint Hill Families,

With a new school year well underway, I am sure teachers and students are taking time to reflect on their summer reading. Over the summer, there was a huge selection of books for our students to consider. While I was a reluctant reader growing up, I have found that I now enjoy reading every evening. There is just so much to read out there, whether it is fiction, like adventure and popular mystery novels, or educational books that help me grow as an educator. And with our needed focus on the future, books help me consider critical new ideas and thoughts.

Some students may be surprised to learn that our faculty and staff read books not only during the summer, but all year long as well. As a matter of fact, we also assign summer reading to our faculty and staff members. Sometimes, we read a school-wide book and other times, each division may have a specific book that they would like to read as a team. It is always fascinating to get a sense of what you can learn from those books and the discussions that take place in small groups, department meetings, division sessions, and occasionally, as a school-wide reflection. They are always insightful, motivating and sometimes, challenging. We have read many books over the last few years, but some truly stand out for having an impact on my thinking:

 

  1. “Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom” by Meena Srinivasan
  2. “Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  3. “Can We Talk About Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation” by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  4. “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” by Curtis W. Johnson
  5. “Creating Innovators: the Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” by Tony Wagner
  6. “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cane
  7. “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need — and What We Can Do About It” by Tony Wagner

 

While each book is very different, there is a common theme that I have found when reflecting on each of these selections. Most of the authors I mentioned wrote about looking ahead to how we need to teach in the future. Why can’t classes be the way they have always been in the past? How can we prepare our students to use the skills, like ingenuity and creativity, that they will need in the world today? How do we capture their ability to collaborate, think creatively, solve problems, and do things that are more advanced and rigorous than rote memorization?

Each book really pushed me, and us as a faculty, to think beyond the traditional classroom setup. What kind of furniture is needed for discussions and group projects? What is the proper structure? How much time is needed? At the same, the books clearly discuss the material that is absolutely necessary for a highly-educated person and the new areas for us to consider, such as more in-depth STEM topics, entrepreneurial experiences and leadership opportunities.

Other books that we read focused on individuals and their experiences. “Can We Talk about Race?” inspired us to think about different aspects of diversity and inclusion in our everyday lives and how those experiences frame our interactions and allow us to come together as we all forge new and more powerful relationships at a school like Flint Hill.  “Quiet” gave me a new appreciation for introversion, and how — while so many of us may appear extroverted on the outside — on the inside, we occasionally crave that private, quiet time alone to think and reason. It was important to share it with our faculty to remind us all that when we encourage our students to do collaborative work in teams, they will need to understand that some of our children will have a natural inclination and need for privacy and quiet time. The same actually holds true for the faculty as well.

This past summer’s reading, “Teach, Breathe, Learn,” taught us concepts of mindfulness and the importance of stepping back from the race we all seem to be on in our daily lives. To breathe and relax and center ourselves. A friend of mine, who is a Head of a School in California, once wrote about her admonition to her teachers and students: “Center as you enter. Breathe as you leave.” This mantra is a great reminder to be focused and ready in the classroom, but at other times, to step back, breathe, and remain calm in all that we do.

I am sure you all have books that have influenced your lives as well. Take a moment sometime to be mindful and reflect on the books that have influenced you. Whether it was a novel, a story that inspired and motivated you, a reading that helped you as a parent, or even an article that impacted your performance as a professional, reading can have a profound effect on our thinking and, ultimately, on our behavior.

This is what our teachers are doing with our children each and every day as they read novels, textbooks and primary sources in class. We want our students to read, think and learn. We want them to understand the concepts, the time period when it was written, and the expectations that come with new thoughts and ideas. Ultimately, as we look at our mission as a school, it is all about the learner. It is all about our children and faculty learning each and every day and appreciating the fact that every moment is a learning moment.

Last week’s Middle School Back-to-School Night was a huge success and a powerful demonstration of all that is going on in our classrooms. And with the Lower School Back-to-School Night this week and Upper School Back-to-School Night next week, the students and teachers are beginning to get into a rhythm. Remember, all of it is focused around your child’s education and what we hope will be a powerful and stimulating experience for them.

If you have any books that you would like to share with me, please do not hesitate to send me the title and author. I just received the book, “How to Raise an Adult:  Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,” by Julie Lithcott-Haims, who will be our guest speaker on Wednesday, October 7, at 7:00 p.m. I am looking forward to reading it and hope you will join us in the Olson Theater to hear her talk on this important topic.

Best wishes to you!

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster