Community Service, Of Course!

By Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood

The anticipation was great as children waited for the clock to change to 8:15 and the line of parents and faculty stretched almost out the door. The countdown began -10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. And… the art gallery was open!

For a mere 100 pennies, each person could purchase a piece of visual art after he/she had been given the full tour of the gallery. Each child could easily explain the art process for each piece he or she had created. Every pre-kindergartner remembered the courtesies of a host – make sure you offer cookies and lemonade, allow your client time to choose a piece, and then help your client count out their payment. Putting your client first, authentic social learning at its best! But, why?

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Community Service, of course! ”Pennies to Share to Show You Care” Art Gallery was the first event of the year for pre-kindergarten’s community service project, “Fuzzy Wuzzy Bears to Share.” Early in the year, these children had decided to purchase stuffed bears for the Town of Addison EMS, something each child could easily identify with should a trip to an emergency room be necessary. Identification and relevance is a key to ownership of community service especially when you are four.

Community Service is a strong thread woven throughout this school community. Some projects occur in a day and some go for the length of the school year. Some service is a yearlong commitment, which then requires parents to step in and fill in the summer and holidays. Some projects incorporate more than one grade level. Some projects are impromptu yet meaningful. Few projects are easily forgotten and most hold strong places in our hands, our heads, and our hearts.

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Community Service of this caliber requires a dedicated director like Mrs. Rosenberg, who is always searching for new opportunities, holding decision-making conversations with grade-level faculty, providing training sessions and lessons with students and faculty, and networking with the community at large. For the pre-kindergartners’ art show, it took the community to make the art gallery successful.

With a now empty gallery, the pre-kindergarten classrooms are covered with stacks of ten pennies. I’m headed down there now to find out how many bears we will be purchasing. I hope someone asks me where I am headed so I can say, “Community Service, of course!

Teaching and Learning Across Cultures

By Laura Ross, Head of Upper School

In the Upper School, we recently concluded hosting our second exchange with Minglun High School in Taipei, Taiwan. The 15 students all lived with Upper School families and the two teachers with Upper School faculty. In the spring, we will send 15 students to Taiwan for the second time and we hope to continue to do this every year.

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Watching our visitors interact with Greenhill students made me think about what it means when we say “Teaching and Learning.” The image that is conjured in the mind, in my mind at least, is of a teacher, in a classroom, talking to students in a traditional classroom setting. Teachers do the teaching and students do the learning. End of story. However, this exchange reminded me that the stereotype in my mind is so very narrow, and, at least at Greenhill, wildly inaccurate.

What are learning opportunities? Who are teachers? What is knowledge? How is it shared? The risks these kids took while they were here were remarkable. Their English was imperfect, their knowledge of our culture was partial, and their reaction to the peacocks was priceless. They were tired from jetlag and generally overwhelmed. Even with all that, or maybe even because of it, they were remarkably open. Their defenses were down, and they didn’t have any idea of what to expect. In short, they were ready to learn. And in being so ready to learn, they ended up being teachers. Our own students watched these kids laugh, dance, go to PE classes with little kids, talk to anyone who would listen, and generally absorb everything around them. While our students certainly took away nuggets about the culture in Taiwan, what they were more impressed with was the openness of the our visitors. Seeing them treat every moment as a learning opportunity, reminded our students, many of whom have attended Greenhill for years, that learning opportunities extend beyond the classroom. We simply need to be open enough to recognize them when they occur.

So who are teachers? Who are learners? It’s incumbent on us as a school to remember the lessons we’ve learned from participating in this exchange. It’s important to remember that the lessons to be learned don’t require traveling half way around the globe. The lesson is that people learn when they are in a safe space to let down their guard and when they are open to whatever comes of sharing themselves with others. It’s something we try to do every day on the Hill, but sometimes it takes 15 strangers to help us remember its power.

Teacher Teamwork in Middle School

By Susan Palmer, Head of Middle School

Just in the last month, I have seen a surge in excitement throughout the Middle School. The energy that results from working together towards a shared vision cannot be overemphasized, and I can report countless examples of faculty collaborating to design the optimum learning experience for our students. The best schools are those where collaboration is embedded into the culture – for both students and faculty – and the opportunities for collaboration in the Middle School are yielding exciting and dynamic results.

In the Science Department, close collaboration began over the summer when the fifth grade science team met to review curriculum, refine and adjust learning expectations, and create engaging, hands on lessons. The teachers have forged a new partnership with the Trinity River Audubon Center in support of the theme of “sustainability.” Teachers have also been trained in skills of water quality, and those skills will soon be transferred to their students. Under the guidance of Science Department leaders, project-based learning, design thinking, and data collection and manipulation are becoming everyday terms to both fifth and sixth grade students. From the uninterrupted days of summer to Saturday professional development activities to touching base at the copy machine, these teachers constantly revise and refine their lessons based on each other’s ideas and experiences. They are creating a uniquely age-appropriate science curriculum that calls on students to take on the skills and habits of real scientists.

The eighth grade science faculty spent several weeks in the summer developing their understanding of modeling, a uniquely student-centered method of learning physical science. On the second day of school in August, eighth graders could be observed working in small groups to determine the nature of measurement. New-to-Greenhill students joined right in, and groups used small white boards to explain and illustrate their findings to their classmates. Teachers asked guiding questions and students worked to draw conclusions. Rather than being the recipients of knowledge delivery, eighth grade students discover and own important concepts and theories.

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When teachers take on new responsibilities, they are often energized by the intellectual challenge, newly engaged in the learning process. Teaching across divisions, getting to know a new colleague, or approaching each task as a group problem have all led to interesting and engaging classes. Just this year, a MS teacher is taking on sections of Upper School chemistry and will soon be designing an upper level biochemistry course. An Upper School physics teacher has brought his expertise to eighth grade physical science, and a science teacher new to the Middle School has eagerly grasped both sixth and seventh grade teaching responsibilities. Also exciting, our new Engineering and Problem Solving teacher is promoting design thinking and problem solving in his own classes and across the science curriculum.

To be a great collaborator, all that is required is an open heart and a desire to charge into the unknown. Our teachers model risk taking and accept challenges, just as they hope their students will. The end result of all this willingness, enthusiasm, and passion is great teaching and learning.

Languages in Lower School

By Michael Simpson (Head of Lower School)

Although Chinese study has been a part of our Upper School languages program for quite a long time, we have only recently added Chinese to our Lower School program. While the goals of exposure and foundational preparation for proficiency in later years remains unchanged, our method of laying that foundation has been enhanced.

Lower School students now have both Chinese and Spanish every year, all year long. Basically, students alternate their visits to language class. Previously, students in grades 1-4 had an hour of language each week, but now it is up to 90- minutes per week, divided equally between Spanish and Chinese.

We believe putting the study of these two languages and cultures side by side for four years will have a significant impact on our students’ readiness to learn when they choose between Latin, Chinese, and Spanish in 6th grade. One element of our plan is to have the teachers, Senora Garcia and Nusi Laoshi, do parallel studies on topics and concepts at roughly same time. For instance, children could be learning about family in Spanish while also learning about family in Chinese. This will allow students to process learning comparatively and anchor new knowledge to the contexts of two other languages and cultures, their own plus one. Another goal is to integrate Spanish/Chinese content with that of humanities, science, or math when opportunities arise. We expect this to become powerful learning that will allow our students to construct firm conceptual frameworks for understanding language, culture, and diversity.

We are unique among our peer schools in that while some may study two languages in the elementary years, it is rare for those two languages to be from such different parts of the world. To us, it is the difference between Spanish and Chinese that provides the real energy to the comparison of these languages and cultures in the minds of our students.

Rediscovering The Feeling of Discovery – Thoughts During Mini-School

By Kim Barnes (Head of Early Childhood)

During the middle three weeks in September, parents of children from eight weeks to nineteen years of age come to Greenhill School. They come to discover what their children are exploring, what their children are asking, and what is being asked of their children. They want to know how their children spend their time. This is frequently the time the important adults in a student’s life bond.

On September 10th, it was pre-kindergarten and kindergarten parents’ turn. For many of them, this evening was the first of fourteen or fifteen Mini-Schools. How was their time spent?

The air was filled with laughter and conversation. Everyone was set to head to their classrooms. The whistle blew and we were off!

First it was Spanish with a song our children had just learned the day before our visit and experienced the Spanish vocabulary our children practice.

Then we headed to music and drama; we sang and moved and found out what drama means in the lives of our four, five, and six year olds. Drama means our children are doing what comes naturally – pretending and imagining with a bit of structure and support from their teachers.

In art, we talked and listened as we drew. You know if we draw and color a picture Mrs. Swize will hang it on the wall. There was genuine excitement and discussion at the anticipation of whether a child would mention the drawing at the end of the next school day.

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Mrs. Rosenberg shared the new community service project our pre-kindergartners will be participating in – Fuzzy Wuzzy Share Bears. The bears the children purchase will go to the Addison Fire Department to comfort children the fireman and paramedics come in contact with as they perform their important occupation. When a child is in kindergarten, community service means Meals on Wheels. Mrs. Rosenberg said this is the 12th year for kindergartners and 8th graders to deliver these meals. I wonder how many meals these children have delivered.

The new Lower School Library changes sound amazing. We will have to stop in after school one day while we wait for Lower School carpool. It sounds like a wonderful place to enjoy a few books. This was a wonderful welcome from Mrs. Martin.

Shaving cream and colors! Ramps and pathways! Color mixing! Melting noodles! Wow! So this is what centers are!

Did you know if you touch a noodle to water it will meld to another one? Look, he made a crown! I want one. Wonder if he will help me?

Did you see those colors in that shaving cream? Bright, vivid streams of yellows, blues, greens floating on puffy strands of clouds that smell like my granddad did. I could stay here forever.

Ramps and pathways? This will take team work. This better work! This is hard work.
Debrief? Four and five year olds can debrief. Wonder if that will work at home. Might create a bit more ownership. All of this is so deliberate, so specific, so intentional.

Whewwwwwwwwwww! I’m tired! Oh yeah, I discovered that number I was wondering about is somewhere around 12,500.