By Jason Yaffe, Director of Academics
In my new role as Greenhill’s Director of Academics, I am fortunate to spend part of my school day visiting classes across our beautiful campus. I recently created a sign to hang outside my office door that reads “I’m out learning.” Class visits present endless opportunities to learn about Greenhill, observe best practices in action, and see our curriculum come alive. Through it all, it’s abundantly clear that students are engaged, love learning, and enter amazing collaborations with each other and their teachers. Here is just a sampling of what I witnessed during the first few weeks of school::
• Our Lower School Counselor reading to a group of pre-kindergarteners about filling other people’s “buckets” with kind, respectful, and compassionate deeds. When the students struggled to move beyond how their own buckets get filled, the teacher encouraged the students to consider how they might fill a friend’s bucket that day.
• A “First Day Jitters” chart for a kindergarten class where students wrote their name on a post-it note before placing it in one of five categories. The two classroom teachers modeled this informal assessment by posting their own first day concerns (both were tired!).
• Middle School English students building Legos, some with directions and others in free play, as an activity linked to structured and creative writing in their classroom.
• Several Middle School Science classroom walls plastered with posters that asked students, “Our class should be ___________everyday” and “what should students in our class be doing to make sure class runs smoothly?”
• A student-driven exploration and discussion about standards based grading in an Upper School Latin class. Talk about assessments centered around words such as competency and mastery instead of quizzes, tests, essays.
Across these diverse experiences, a couple of common threads emerged. First, in the wake of the all-employee summer reading (Breaking into the Heart of Character by David Streight), it was inspiring to see what learning unfolds in a climate where students feel empowered. As Streight reasons in his book, “The more choices teachers can offer – in areas where choice is appropriate, of course – the more autonomy students feel, the higher quality of work they produce, and the longer they remember what they have learned.” The first days of class are typically filled with setting the rhythm of the school year and establishing expectations. In my eyes, this is very much a collaborative process for our students that will lead to engagement and excitement throughout the year.
Secondly, I marveled at the deep relationships between teachers and students. Returning to Streight’s thoughts, he believes that “the closer we get to the heart of the person, the more meaningful is what emerges from the person’s thoughts, intentions, and actions.” Our students feel cared for, a sense of belonging, and inclusion as partners in learning. My classroom visits reaffirmed Greenhill’s commitment to the power of relationships.
I look forward to meeting and getting to know our new families, as well as our existing families, so I encourage all of you come by my office, but if you see that I’m away from my office, it’s likely I’m out learning.