Collaboration Across Campus

Natalia Hernandez, Director of Curricular Programs, writes about how Greenhill students collaborate with each other in class.

Collaboration is a skill; one that is widely recognized as foundational to success in school and eventually the workplace. Last week, as I traveled from classroom to classroom, I witnessed students collaborating from Kindergarten to 12th grade both organically and by teacher design.

Collaboration is everywhere in kindergarten because the students still haven’t conformed to adult constructs of learning. My favorite example was Zac and Betty who worked together to disassemble a discarded computer. Zac said, “You hold it steady so I can get the screwdriver to turn.” Betty answered, “Okay, but then you hold it so I can take this screw out and then we can take the top off.”

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In Middle School, Ms. Nihill assigned small groups the task of presenting on either Aphrodite or Hephaestus. Each group was to present a description of their chosen character and then act out an interview that gave the audience more information about the character. I asked one group how they divided up the tasks. This was one student’s answer, “We talked about the things we are good at and then gave each other jobs. When we were finished with our own parts, we talked about it with the group and then made changes.”

In freshman algebra, Mr. Gibson’s students were given problems to complete. Instinctively, they turned to each other as they finished to verify their answers and understand the thinking behind each other’s solutions. When I asked a student why she did that, she said, “Mr. Gibson tells us there are many ways to arrive at the solution. The more ways we understand, the better off we are.”

Collaboration is a necessary skill. Teachers at all levels must engage in active and purposeful teaching of the concepts that lead to collaboration such as negotiation, empathy, listening, disagreeing respectfully, challenging, and compromise. Our students are learning these skills each day – and many of them do not even realize that they are doing it.

Attracting Talented Faculty

Kerry Shea, Director of Marketing and Communications, writes about attracting talented faculty to Greenhill School.

The Marketing and Communications Office at Greenhill is charged with making sure that top students and their families know all about the school – its mission, its strengths, and its uniqueness.  At the heart of Greenhill is a marketing office dream: outstanding faculty members who live the mission of the school and excite learning at every level.  How do we identify and bring to campus such educators?

Part of our process involves sharing the Greenhill teaching experience on paper and on our website.  We are currently updating our faculty-recruiting brochure.  In a previous blog entry, I wrote about how easy it was to find photographable moments on our campus.  I felt the same way when I started researching and writing the copy for this brochure – you can find amazing faculty members in each division across the campus.

In Middle School, a Greenhill alumnae teaches Spanish using a whole-body method of learning.  Students not only gain a deep understanding of the language, they are also engaged to a point that their class time seems to be over in an instant.  In Upper School, a history teacher coaches track and cross-country and is the process of starting a summer institute to help young teachers.  In our Lower School, the Carter Fellows Program brings aspiring teachers into the classroom, ultimately providing energy and fresh ideas to our youngest learners.

At Greenhill, we also know that the ability to inspire passion in students starts with faculty members that also love learning.  The School offers a generous trustee grant program to provide teachers with funds to pursue learning outside the classroom.  Last summer, a Chinese teacher received a grant to study meditation at a Buddhist monastery, and a photography teacher attended a conference to learn new techniques for printmaking.  These and all the faculty members that pursue passions off campus create a rich learning environment for their students.

My biggest challenge was distilling the entire Greenhill teaching experience into a few paragraphs.  The words are important, but as I mentioned previously, the photographs of faculty members working closely students, instantly convey the warmth and dedication that I see in every classroom across our campus.  Together the words and photos create a powerful message that makes it easy for us to attract the best teachers for our talented students.

A Carousel of Languages

Head of Middle School Susan Palmer writes about Greenhill’s fifth grade language program.

In mid-November just before Thanksgiving, I observed a fifth grade class conducted solely in Mandarin Chinese. This week, those students are acting out skits in Spanish as they play the parts of various animals. And later in the spring, those very same students will begin to master Latin vocabulary connected to the lives of Roman gods and goddesses.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Fifth Grade Language Carousel! At Greenhill, fifth grade students learn what it means to learn a language. They receive one trimester each of Mandarin Chinese, Latin, and Spanish instruction, and they have the opportunity to develop a practical understanding of the linguistic and cultural elements of each. They develop learning strategies that will allow them to be successful language students no matter what language they choose to pursue after fifth grade.

When I talk to the fifth graders, I hear comments such as, “I never dreamed I could learn so much Chinese in only a trimester!” and “We made a video all in Spanish, and I was the tiger,” and “Latin is so organized. It really makes sense to me.” Our students are enthusiastic about the Carousel. They like the variety across the three trimesters, and they respond to the novelty of a fresh start three different times. They are amazed at their own ability to quickly become immersed into the culture of the languages, and they are uniformly proud of their ability to rise to three distinct challenges.

By the third trimester, our students are able to make connections between languages and language learning – they find similarities and identify differences. Their minds are open to connections across cultures, and they are thinking on an abstract and sophisticated level. Study skills take the forefront, too, as the students can now identify strategies appropriate for specific language learning.

Near the end of the fifth grade year, students and their parents choose Latin, Chinese, or Spanish as their language of choice for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Three solid years of language learning in Middle School then allows the students the option of taking two languages in Upper School – the language they chose after the Carousel year and a new language as a high school student. An additional benefit is that, after fifth grade, the students know and understand what their peers in other language classes are doing.

The Fifth Grade Language Carousel is just one element of the positive learning environment in the strong fifth grade program. The language choice at the end of fifth grade is an educated choice that leads to great motivation and excitement about language learning. All of this rationale aside, though, I must stress that the most common descriptor used by students and teachers to describe the Fifth Grade Language Carousel is “fun.” That says it all.

It Takes a Village to Produce A Nutcracker

Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood, reflects on Greenhill’s Kindergarten performance of The Nutcracker.

Ahhhhhhh, The Nutcracker! There is magic and excitement in the air as sixty-four kindergartners move into the theater. The mice are playfully ready. The soldiers have stoic faces (or at least stoic for playful five-year-olds), ready for battle. The Spanish Chocolates have castanets in hand and Cossacks are ready to yell, “Hey!” Chinese Tea dancers take their bows and the top hats on the Candy Flutes sparkle and glitter in every light. Flower Fairies and Sugar Plum Fairies leap and spin their magic on the audience. Everything is in place and in thirty minutes, all of this will be over. But….Greenhill School’s kindergarten version of The Nutcracker is truly a labor of love of many people and takes many hands from “this village” to ensure this production is realized each year.

There are, first of all, the children; the excitement begins with their dance practices in October as they find out what part he/she will perform. Mrs. Bossalini, early childhood music educator, has centers ready for practices as she works with each group individually – nutcracker music ready on IShuffles, blocks for building, keyboards on which children can practice songs from earphones, drawing paper and markers (“Look, Mrs. Barnes, I can draw a nutcracker.”). Classroom teachers support the excitement as children produce symmetric nutcrackers from pattern blocks and then dissect the creation to note how many of each block was needed to create his/her beloved soldier. In class, individual books are created – what is your character, what does your costume look like, what have you liked best about The Nutcracker? Teaching fellows prepare to hand out props and draw the curtains during practices and performances. In art, Mrs. Swize began with shapes and ended with detailed colorful paper nutcrackers ready for printing and placement on the programs. Mrs. Wilson’s (Communications and Public Relations Associate) patience prevails as she ensures she has a photo of each child and each group. Mr. Monaco, Web and Media Services Manager, is ready with download directions for the kindergarten families as they eagerly await an opportunity to view the performance they just witnessed.

Julie Kronick, The Nutcracker Parent Coordinator, has been working with Mrs. Bossalini since April checking costumes and looking at the set. She’s detail-oriented and each piece of this production has been well-organized for all volunteers to understand and execute smoothly. Krista Weinstein is there as well as Pre-k Nutcracker Parent Liaison for Nutcraker Coordinator will be her job next year. Kindergarten parents have volunteered to help with costume try-ons, creating an assembly line for the programs, organizing and setting up the set, and take down and cleaning. Pre-kindergarten parents were ready each morning before dress rehearsal and performances to help children dress, apply and reapply make-up, and then reverse everything after the performance. A broken slipper finds itself in the bag of a pre-k parent who makes a quick repair after dress rehearsal and has it ready that same afternoon. Middle school moms like Nancy Brickman and Amy Roseman are always willing to come down and lend a hand with makeup and dressing and a bit of reminiscing.

With Mr. Paraskevas at the helm, the Upper School orchestra is tuning and the music is beautiful. This time the music and instruments are so intriguing they mesmerize and capture the attention of a flower fairy as she performs her steps and movements, never missing a step but head always turned towards the orchestra. Mr. Griggs leads the audience through the magic of each dance and a bit of history of Greenhill School’s performance of this beloved story as the work of the village is almost complete with the utterance of “Ahhhhh, The Nutcracker.”