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

This time of the year always reinforces the concept of seasons. The warm days, the cool evenings, leaves showing up on the patio, and even just a hint of color in the trees remind us all that Fall is here.

Our school year also has seasons. It is hard to believe that this week marks the first mid-marking point of the first quarter of the school year. Time is moving forward, grades are now being shared with students, and clearly we are off and running.  Throughout the year, our teachers work with the students on different forms of assessments underway in their classrooms, inform them of how things will be graded, and even teach them how to understand things like the rubrics.  Ultimately, faculty has to come up with grades to help the students “benchmark” where they are in their learning.

I wish we didn’t have to “grade” at school.  Unfortunately, human nature teaches us that low stress is actually demotivating – just as high stress is.  There needs to be some way for students to have an idea whether they are fully understanding learning the material and in most cases, they need to really understand previous material before they can move forward to the next level of material.  As grades come in, as tests are completed, or assignments are finished, some students realize that their plans to start the year strong are right on target. Other students occasionally find that they may still be in “summer mode” and it is time to really focus now.  There is still plenty of time in the school year and there is no reason to panic on anyone’s part.  But at all levels, we need to realize that part of the rhythm of the year, this new season in our lives, does have these tangible touch points called “grading periods.”

The whole concept of recognizing how we are doing in school makes me think of several things, I hope, we will all keep in mind:

  1. Grades, like tests, are simply samples of behavior.  We need to keep them in perspective.  An enormous amount of effort can go into the work needed for an assignment, whether it is a written paper, a project, a lab, or simply taking a test.  Ultimately, everything comes down to motivation, determination, learning styles, and exactly how students share with teachers how much they are learning.  Teachers work hard to create insightful, meaningful lessons as well as effective methods to assess students grasp of the material.As parents, we need to keep in mind that we shouldn’t put too much pressure on grades alone.  Obviously, we want our children to do their best, but many of them already have that switch flipped in their own internal drive and put plenty of pressure on themselves to do their best.  One of the great things about our school is that it is “cool” to do well.  And if students struggle in class along the way please let them work it out with the teacher.  They really are capable of doing that.   There may be extra help sessions, time to retake a test or rewrite a paper.  Our sole purpose is for them to “learn” and they need to be active participants in that process.  Please believe me – they know when they are not doing well – our frustration or disappointment only adds to their anxiety.
  2. Mastery of the material is the most important thing.  We want our students to be well prepared. If students get a low-test grade, then we expect them to move on to the next unit, is only asking for trouble.  More and more, our teachers are spending a great deal of time to make certain that our students know the material before moving forward to the next unit.  Some of the focus on “mastery” has been most beneficial as students.  To get there, they have to work much harder than ever before.   But the reward is that they get it and then can fully appreciate the next level of material.  Please believe, this concept is not “dumbing” down the curriculum… it is simply making sure they “get it.”  It is individualized and very personal.  It is actually an approach that is harder and more time consuming for both teachers and students, but in the end…far more beneficial.
  3. Awards and recognition are always important.  In age appropriate ways, we need to find ways to make sure students feel good about the hard work that they demonstrate.  But it has been interesting to know that in the Middle School, more and more students and parents have raised concerns about all the recognition for awards.  I met last spring with the entire sixth grade class, after they sent me a very well written petition asking me to re-think how we do the “Headmaster’s Awards.”  The Headmaster’s Awards are for students who receive straight “A’s” in everything they do.  It wasn’t that the students were embarrassed to receive it, but they were worried about their friends.  They knew that in many cases, some classmates had worked really hard and just missed the award by maybe one grade or even one point.  Therefore, they felt badly.  They also questioned about us having to do it in such a public way at Town Meeting.  I have talked about this issue in many of my coffees last year, and even wrote about it in one of my weekly letters.  I even met with parent leaders over several years with this topic always on the agenda.

While we will always honor students with the Headmaster’s Awards and we will continue to have Honor Society inductions in the Upper School, as well as the Headmaster’s List, I will make a change in our process this year with our Middle School scholars.

The students who earn the Headmaster’s List Awards, will still receive their certificates.  But this year, I will write students a personal note congratulating them on that achievement.  And the letter and certificate will be mailed home.  I will, however, still make a point of getting to Town Meetings around that time, to talk to all students about how impressed I am by the hard work that all of them are doing.  They deserve recognition and a chance for all of us – faculty and students alike, to stop and reflect on the end of each marking period and the “accomplishments” we should all respect. It is important to note, that at the end of the school year, during the Closing Ceremony, we will still publicly recognize those students who have earned the Headmaster’s List for all four quarters.

In all of our academic endeavors, there is that wonderful balance of challenge and support, as well as opportunity and feedback.  Together, we can help our children work with their teachers to make their learning personal, meaningful, and ultimately, transformational.

The fall academic season is well under way now and the sense of newness of the school year is behind us.  Let’s always enjoy the “season” we are in and make certain to make it the very best it can be!

If I can be helpful in any way possible, please do not hesitate to call on me.



John M. Thomas
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