Headlines from the Head

February 5, 2020

What do you remember about school?

Think back to a time when you were in school? What learning experiences stuck with you? Which do you remember and which do you think you learned the most from? For me, it was Mr. Olson’s giant barrel of water. Every year, as part of a unit on water displacement in 7th grade, Mr. Olson would fill a giant barrel full of water and elect one student to get in the barrel and displace the liquid. Another was in high school when Mrs. Goff stayed after school with me when my grades slipped to get me back on track. I didn’t learn as much about history, which I would go on to teach, as I did about caring for others from her. 

These experiences stay with us because they are authentic. One of the characteristics of our students is that they are authentic learners. I believe that this is a result of their own personal momentum and the authentic ways they are taught at home and at school. 

What will your children remember about SRV? 

Our graduates are always full of stories about traveling to Bamboo Island, holding class in a canoe, or doing projects together, like building the sheep house, but what they talk about most is their teachers. They talk about the ways in which Peg Nowell, Margaret Rawson, Whit Burress, Meg de Moll, and so many others touched their lives. Why is it that the relationships that students at SRV have with adults are so salient? Perhaps, whether through their education or upbringing or sheer self-determination it’s because SRV teachers are authentic in everything they do. I was so glad to hear an SRV parent reflect on this recently, sharing that, “The teachers at SRV are authentic leaders and model authentic lives for the students, which means a lot- they are not at all pretentious, and their love for learning and working with kids shines through.” 

Students need to feel safe and secure and supported by adults who care deeply if we want their natural inclination to care for others to continue. Caring for the sheep, chicken, and other animals on campus and participating in service-learning are a few ways that the School’s integrated social-emotional curriculum teaches students to consider something outside of themselves, but it is the ways in which they care for one another that really touches me. Last week was Candle-Making Week and one of the students in the Kindergarten students was out sick. Worried that the absent child was missing candle making, she made extra candles for him. There is a high degree of collective responsibility that children and adults have for one another at SRV, and it is true, real, and authentic.

In what other ways can we lead authentic lives? How can we model this daily and help our children to grow up to have authenticity? I’d love to hear your thoughts and keep the suggestions coming! Email me at rod@theschoolinrosevalley.org

January 29, 2019

Thanks to everyone who has responded to my request for ideas for future Headlines from the Head! Keep them coming and I’ll keep writing. You can email me at rod@theschoolinrosevalley.org with comments about what I have written and with suggestions for other topics.

As we have been preparing for the Winter Arts Celebration my thoughts have been turning to art at SRV. Art must have been pretty important to the founders of the School because, in The School in Rose Valley, Grace Rotzel’s book about the first forty years of the School, the subject of art occupies an entire chapter. This makes sense given that the School itself grew out of the arts and crafts community founded by Will Price in Rose Valley at the turn of the 20th Century. In the Book, art is characterized as fundamental. The opening line reads, “Art, in the most comprehensive meaning of the word, permeated all of our school programs, though The School in Rose Valley is in no sense an art school, nor especially dependent upon artists. We were concerned with keeping the child lively, alert, curious, and creative, and to that end made art a part of everything”(Rotzel, 1971).

This aspect of the School is still evident today in its Art, Music, and Woodshop programs, our partnership with Hedgerow Theater, and the ways in which teachers collaborate to integrate art into everything we do. In addition, several of the SRV teachers are practicing artists. Most recently, Bob Deane and Drew Arata from the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, through the School’s Artist in Residence  Program, worked with our fifth- and sixth-grade students to create castles. Students and teachers dug clay from the ground and used it to build amazing structures, which were then painted and fired in a kiln. This was an incredible experience for our students and full of the wonder, curiosity, and freedom that we hold dear. The castles have now taken up residence outside near the Grace building and one will be on display at the Winter Arts celebration.

Volumes could be written about art at SRV and the nature of the art aesthetic that John Dewey writes about in Art as Experience (1934) but I only have so much space in Wednesday announcements and time in the day. I’ll end with a list of quotes that I think resonate with the approach to art at The School in Rose Valley. 

“Every artist was first an amateur” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Creativity takes courage” – Henri Matisse

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do” – Edgar Degas

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents” – Bob Ross

Stick with It!  

January 22, 2020

Ever since the publication of Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, schools have been searching for ways to teach this personality trait. In investigating a construct that dates back as far as Aristotle, Duckworth holds that individuals high in grit are “able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity” (Duckworth, 2007). The trait has become so ubiquitous that we even named our new Philadelphia Flyer’s mascot “Gritty.” Whether or not you believe this trait carries the importance that Duckworth and others assign to it, I thought I would share with you a story about what it looks like at SRV. 

Earlier this fall, Mike Nowell, SRV Woodshop and Sports Teacher, ordered two soccer nets, which were delivered to the School in a box and needed to be assembled. Mike gathered a collection of fifth- and sixth-grade students on the field and tasked them with putting the nets together. He then left them alone to do it. From my office window, I had a nice view of this activity and as I watched on this particular Thursday, there was some obvious frustration, evidenced by hands in the air and the throwing of parts. The students worked through this and within 30 minutes had the net assembled. It was slightly off balance and the net was not attached everywhere. They were not satisfied but needed to go to class. I was amazed the next day to see them at it again. This effort produced better but similar results and the project was left for the weekend. There also appeared to be less frustration this time. I assumed that some adult assistance would be needed on Monday but much to my surprise, the crew was back at it again. This time, the result was a perfectly assembled soccer net. It was straight and solid, and the net was completely attached. Those kids were proud of what they had accomplished and I was incredibly impressed by their perseverance in doing so.

This all made me wonder if grit actually needs to be taught or if a desire to persevere is within all of us and, given the right amount of interest, motivation, and mutual trust, can be tapped into when needed. Perhaps we should think less about finding ways to teach grit and start looking for the ways in which our students persevere every day. I see the way they throw baskets until it’s too dark to see, draw in their sketchbooks for hours on end, and play the same scale on their guitar over, and over, and over again; or even in the way that they hold it together all day on a tough day until they get home.

Let me know what else you want to hear about, email me at rod@theschoolinrosevalley.org