Welcome to the second half of the school year! As we consider the year ahead of us, what are you leaving behind in 2019, and what will you bring forward in 2020? I want to leave behind feelings of uncertainty and fear in 2019, and bring forth more gratitude and courage in 2020! In the spirit of courage, and as independent schools are working to try to better understand what attracts parents to our schools, I want to reflect on the idea of rigor.
A recent conversation with the PA co-leaders, Erin McLaughlin, Karen Shakman and Farley Urmston, underscores this reflection. Karen brought up the subject of “rigor” and its relationship to progressive education and Fayerweather. Our discussion centered around how to make FSS’s culture of teaching and learning more visible to those of us within and outside of our community. We were asking ourselves, how to better show the rigor in our work at FSS?
Many parents choose Fayerweather because they want a different experience for their children. What I hear most frequently is, “I want my child(ren) to love learning, to be excited about school, and to feel affirmed and appreciated for who they are.” “I want my child(ren) to learn to care for themselves and to develop empathy for the plight of others.” Many parents express sentiments like, “I want my child to be challenged and pushed academically.”
Honestly, as a parent of a young child, I perceived independent schools as being the best place to foster my child’s intellectual, spiritual, and social growth and development. This kind of education would position her to attend an excellent college that would ultimately lead to financial security and independence. I was obsessed with her encountering a better educational environment than I did growing up in Richmond, Virginia. There were significant social costs, and hard lessons learned along the way, but I would do it again.
What we know and understand about education is deeply rooted in our own experiences. For many of us, our beliefs about what makes a good education were shaped by the traditional drill and kill method of learning. This kind of teaching and learning rested on a hierarchical process that resulted in those who are deemed smart and worthy, and those who fell short. Educational policy and process today continues to uphold this traditional view of what constitutes a solid education. There is also this idea that knowledge is neutral and the process of educating is separate from human interests, perspectives, and values.
Vanessa Rodriguez, who wrote the book, “The Teaching Brain,” emphasized the importance of attending to the cognitive, social, and emotional needs of both students and teachers. She writes about, “The Five Awarenesses of the Teaching Brain, which include, Awareness of Interaction, Awareness of the Learner, Awareness of Context, Awareness of Teaching Practice, and Awareness of Self as a Teacher.” Dr. Rodriguez argues that teachers who are able to utilize multiple awarenesses will likely figure out the best learning conditions that create the most effective and transformative learning experiences and outcomes for students. One of Fayerweather’s strengths is understanding how to apply these awarenesses to teaching and learning.
Important tenets of progressive education at Fayerweather Street School is that children love learning, know how they learn best, and have a voice and agency in their school community. We teach students to value essential competencies like creativity, imagination, collaboration, communication, critical analysis, entrepreneurship, leadership, and social responsibility. This is accomplished through hard work, a deep commitment and belief in the potential of every student, and a desire for continued growth and self development.
There is nothing more rigorous than teaching students the essential skill-sets and mind-sets to lead and adapt to a constantly changing human landscape. What we understand at Fayerweather is leveraging our relationships with students, each other and ourselves is key to the sustainability of our learning community.