Relationships, Balance and Innovation in Action

[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]Dear Flint Hill Families,

A parent asked me with great enthusiasm during a recent Back-to-School Night (BTSN), “Why didn’t I get to learn like this?” What a tremendous thing for someone to feel. This annual tradition always gives us the opportunity to meet teachers and to get some sense of the entire program our children will experience.

On the heel’s of last week’s final BTSN of the year, I can say that all three divisions did a wonderful job in sharing their plans for what is certain to be an exceptional year at Flint Hill.

While so much of what we share in our newsletters, notes, coffees and events focuses on building relationships, let’s always keep in mind the “balance and innovation” that we all experienced on those evenings.

Across all three Divisions, I constantly hear of new and more meaningful ways our students are being exposed to active learning, to new challenges, and to personal and more powerful opportunities. For example, in the Lower School, one of the most productive things faculty did during BTSN was ask all parents to log into the teacher’s course page. Everyone could see where teachers were posting information and how they were presenting things to the students. Parents really got a sense of how vigorous, rigorous, challenging and exciting the curriculum is for all students. At that same time, as I finished up all of our “Ice Cream Socials” with the Lower Schools students, I also heard their “analysis” of the new school year. I heard students openly talk about math and reading, art and music. Their lists kept going on and on.

In the Middle School there is an energy and spirit this year that is exciting to see. There is instruction that is creative, thoughtful, and truly gets our kids to learn in a different way. Our Maker’s Program is growing almost by the day. A Fifth Grade teacher shared with me that one of the 45-minute periods (out of the sixth day rotation) is used to give students the opportunity to “pursue their passion.” Similar to a practice once used at Google, this “20% Time” is a traditional way for fifth graders to focus on what gets excites them the most. In a presentation teachers use to introduce this concept, there is a quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “Don’t say that you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Theresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” Students can use this “gift of time” to self-direct and focus on those things that really draw their interest, curiosity and drive.

Also in Middle School, Latin students in Sixth Grade are using Latin as if they were learning a Modern Language class. They are conversing in Latin, singing songs in Latin, speaking to each other in Latin, and making the language come alive. Anyone who says that Latin is a “dead language” is dead wrong. And in a math class, students can learn from their mistakes on tests by doing an “Error Analysis Report” to help make certain they gain mastery over a subject before moving on. It is done in a spirit of helpfulness and support.

Examples of balance and innovation in the Upper School are countless as well. In an AP English class, students have 10 minutes to complete a set of multiple-choice questions on their own. Then the teacher puts them into groups to come to a consensus on the right answer. “They have to convince the others, explain their thought processes, and defend their choices” as to why their answer is the correct one, shared a teacher. In a Junior/Senior English Seminar on Science and Literature, students are reading Mark Twain’s book “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” While learning about literary analysis and the myths surrounding King Arthur, students are also doing a “multimedia project on the history of the written work, in which they study the development of books and literacy through changing technology from 3,500 B.C. to the present.” They consider “the impact of clay tablets and hieroglyphics, to printing presses, paper backs, social media and Amazon Kindles,” the teacher reports. Again, this is an unbelievable way to learn with and “through” a very traditional and known book.

In a French III class, students go on a field trip to the teacher’s car, so they can learn about the parts of the car as well as the related verbs. They read articles about apps that are connected to various technological devices and must create presentations to advertise their own products…in French. In French IV, students used a film as a platform to choose between several follow up projects. One group “created a morning show, in which film critics discussed their views on the similarities and differences between the film and the documentary” on which a book they read was based, the teacher noted. “Another group debated how well various social and cultural themes were represented (in this film), such a racism and immigration, as well as social and physical handicaps.” A third group “wrote a sequel based on how the film ended.” Our students are constantly finding new and more engaging ways to learn.

Other quick samples include Math teachers using an “Individual Learning Activity” (ILA’s), to enable students to differentiate the curriculum and make choices that are compatible with their strengths. A History teacher has students research the countries they are reviewing and then present what they have learned as if they were briefing the President of the United States before a “State Visit.” And in Chinese class, students are communicating with their peers in a class in China through video messaging. The Chinese students have replied to our videos in both English and Chinese. This is now a weekly routine activity.

For many of us, when we went to school, we sat in a row, hopefully quietly, at our desks, memorizing lots of material, doing worksheets, and going home with homework that required repetitive questions for hours at night to “show” how hard we were working. Today, learning is active, participatory, more relevant to everyday experiences, and ultimately, more impactful. While there is still plenty of content that needs to be learned, it is now applied, analyzed and shared through a variety of methods. Our faculty and staff are committed to finding that balance and innovation in all that we do.  Learning is now more personal…and meaningful.

“Why didn’t I get to learn like this?” is a great question.  A simple answer is that we didn’t get to go to Flint Hill. The wonderful reality, however, is that at least, our children can!

Continue to enjoy the start of the school year. Please do everything possible to engage your children about their learning and to join us in cheering them on as they continue to grow and thrive in this very new and creative way. And please remember that it all comes down to our relationships, balance and innovation.

Best wishes to you!  Enjoy this cool weather and I look forward to seeing you soon.

 

Sincerely,
John M. Thomas

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