An Honorable Life

Recently Director of Marketing and Communications Kerry Shea asked a group of new-to-Greenhill ninth graders about some proposed marketing pieces.  Like all Greenhill students, they had very definite opinions about both image and message, but the most interesting feedback involved a core value of the Greenhill experience.

“Trust,” the kids said. “We really like how the teachers trust us to do the right thing.” 

For those of us who strive to keep Greenhill’s core values of Honor, Respect, and Compassion in front of the community every day, it is especially gratifying that new students so quickly take in the overarching importance of Honor.  These students were particularly enthusiastic as they related how Honor plays out in daily life. 

 At this busy time of year in the Upper School, each student carries a hefty schedule of commitments.  Students independently schedule and complete missed tests and quizzes, no teacher or proctor present.  They check answer sets in math only after their homework is completed, and they use research resources with honesty and integrity.  And students routinely borrow school cameras and other school property in order to complete projects.  We know the equipment will be well cared for.

Students have innumerable opportunities to live up to the trust placed in them.  Do they stumble from time to time?  Absolutely.  There is no middle ground, though, on Honor, and so we support them when they have to learn sometimes painful lessons.  Our students are challenged by high standards and by adults who know that “They are always watching,” as Dan Heischman stated in Good Influence:  Teaching the Wisdom of Adulthood.   

In their post-Greenhill world, we hope that our students will become citizens of honor, rigorously demanding honesty of themselves as well as positively influencing the next generations of young people.  That is quite a vision to imagine, but given this group of young people who are excited to be trusted here at Greenhill, not an impossible one.

Please and Thank You

Last week, kindergarten teacher Rachel Baldwin gathered her group together after their return from an outing on campus.  She said to her class, “Finley has something to tell you.” 

Finley stood in front of his peers and stated, “I held the door open for all of you, and only two people thanked me … and they were teachers!”  His disappointment was evident, and his friends were sad.  After that, it was reported to me by one student, the kids said thank you all of the time.

Manners!  At Greenhill, manners are the guides we use to help us all get along, and respect for others and manners go hand in hand.  It doesn’t take long for our youngest students to understand this concept, and, as you can see, become their very own enforcers.

Manners are not automatic.  Emily Post stated that manners can be learned.  Kids are not born knowing “please” and “thank you” – at least mine weren’t.  Pre-school teacher Greg Browne-Nichols values manners so much that he begins his year with our youngest students learning manners.

Greg is really teaching “how to go to school.”  Each day, students thank each other for sharing an item from home.  They learn how to greet people, saying good morning and shaking hands.  They practice table manners, checking to see if everyone has gotten a snack before they can all eat.  They share clean up duties.  I even observed Spanish teacher Beth Stromberg demonstrating “Perdόn” in Spanish following some very amusing bodily noises.

To Greg, the respect that good manners embody is essential to learning at school.  Good manners pave the way for a sense of community and the understanding that each of us has worth and a place here at Greenhill.  Later this fall, Greg and his students will invite their 6th grade buddies down for a manners party where they will demonstrate what they have learned.    I am positive that the 6th grade teachers will thank Greg and his students for the reminders, as it seems that good manners may come and go without some nurturing, but it is good to know that the seeds are planted.  What better way to bring life to our Core Values of Honor, Respect, and Compassion.

Learning, Character, and the Web

Greenhill’s Core Values of Honor, Respect, and Compassion can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

I was invited this week to visit Vince Mikulski’s Web Design class in the Upper School.  A small group of students – Drew, Bo, Brad, and Isha – each take on a defined role in the web design process.  They gain real-world experience by providing design expertise to a variety of clients.

This year, however, the web design class’ efforts can be seen close to home.  They have taken on the responsibility of enhancing the existing web site entitled http://abcstopbullying.org, the brainstorm of Greenhill tenth graders Sarah Bates and Kayla Ellis.  Last summer, Sarah and Kayla took the initiative to create a plan to minimize bullying and its detrimental effects in the North Texas community.  Sarah and Kayla developed a website, designed and printed flyers, spoke to DISD summer camp groups, and sold green ribbons to signify their commitment to healthy, kind, bully free schools.  They determined that their website needed expert attention, and they turned to Mr. Mikulski’s class.

I was asked to visit the class to provide background information on bullying and anti-bullying programs.  That included connecting the students to latest research, relevant literature such as Barbara Colorosa’s The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, and the work of Greenhill’s own Anti-Bullying Task Force.  The students will take this information and incorporate it into their design.

The team working on Sarah’s and Kayla’s website has decided to use a chalkboard theme and will create ways to tell relevant stories through animation, photographs, and videos.  At the conclusion of the trimester, one member of the team will continue updating the website through a tutorial with Mr. Mikulski or they will train Sarah and Kayla to do so.

Greenhill’s Core Values at work!  Honor, Respect, and Compassion infuse the efforts of everyone involved in this project.  From the inception of this idea last summer to spreading an anti-bullying message through the powerful voice of the web, students and faculty are learning together under the umbrella of Respect.  Their collaborative learning signifies their commitment to the kind of world they want to live in, both here at Greenhill and beyond.  Think how far their influence will be felt.

Welcome!

Amazing things happen at Greenhill every day, but unless you are lucky enough to be a consistent fly on the wall, you might miss them.

As Director of Curricular Programs for Pre-K through Grade 12, I can be that fly on the wall.  In my first few weeks on the job, I have quickly determined that many of the details of teaching and learning at Greenhill go unreported.  Perhaps your child is too young to fill you in completely about a project or perhaps your son or daughter is in the non-communicative stage.  In either case, you will miss out on some pretty amazing stories.  We have created this blog to fill in those gaps in both experience and information.

I frequently make “learning walks” across and around campus where I have the opportunity to sample the teaching and learning that take place at Greenhill.  These snapshot visits, originally defined by Tony Wagner from Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, allow me to develop an understanding of both the purpose of lessons and the skills students are learning in their classes.  I routinely see students learning with joy and enthusiasm.  I see teachers focused on the tiniest detail of planning so that the day’s activity will meet each designed learning goal.   I see faculty members plotting and planning around the copy machine, soliciting feedback from one another.  I see open, friendly, and affectionate exchanges between faculty and students.  I see so many “ah ha” moments that I am dying to share.  And now I have a place to share those stories.

Over the course of the school year, this blog will inform readers about best teaching practices and how they can be witnessed at Greenhill.  I will celebrate learning in its purist state and will take you (virtually) into all of our divisions and departments.  You will see clear examples of the strategic plan in action and our continuous commitment to examine carefully everything that we do.   From time to time, guest bloggers will bring their own expertise and perspective to this space.

I look forward to sharing many remarkable moments with you, from a third grader’s take on economics to legos in eighth grade to cheers from the Class of 2011 when they are first recognized as Seniors.  Please join me as we celebrate teaching and learning at Greenhill.