Friday, December 16, 2011

Karen and Halley's New Year's resolutions

Happy holidays, Team Seabury!

With only two weeks to go until 2012, we thought it apt to write a list of New Year's resolutions that we can all take part in. Without further ado, here are Karen and Halley's New Year's resolutions for 2012.

For us: 
Update the Seabury logo by the end of the school year
Keep spreading the Team Seabury love through social media
Have the most successful auction ever
Get better sweaters
Stop making cheesy photo montages online

For you:
Identify and recruit one Seabury mission fit family
Volunteer to work a festival, staff a committee or help at the auction
Spruce up Seabury – come man a blower, grab a rake and let’s clean up
Invite friends to join your table at this year’s the Magic of Learning auction
Work on procuring some of the items on this list.
Surprise your classroom teacher with a thank you note
Return your re-enrollment contract by the deadline

For teachers:
Roll up their sleeves alongside parents to work on committees, generate referrals and help market Seabury
Recognize the hard work of parents and thank them profusely for the gift of their children and their confidence in you

For Team Seabury:
Be free with compliments and look for the good in everyone
Wear your Seabury gear out and about
Schedule family “hang-out” time
Read a book on gifted education
Get your teeth whitened
Go to the gym
Spend fewer hours watching Keeping up with the Kardashians
Read to your child
Tell Joslyn how much you appreciate all she does
Attend the annual State of Seabury update at the lower school on Jan. 26
Go outside more often

Happy holidays from Seabury School

It was the end of the day and children were heading out of their classrooms to go home. As I was rushing around my office trying to wrap up my day, a first grader walked in and said he wanted to talk to me about something important.

“Mrs. Wollum, I was thinking we could do a coin drive, and that kids could collect money for the food bank to help people who are hungry. Could we start tomorrow?”

Talk about a way to melt the head of school’s heart!

As the holidays approach and the year draws to a close, one of the things I am most grateful for is the opportunity to be part of a school whose students love to serve. Whether it’s helping a friend feel better when he’s skinned a knee on the playground or taking part in a community service project like the Pierce County Hunger Walk, our students want to make a difference.

This first grader went door-to-door in his
neighborhood to collect this food!
The student and his family participated in this fall’s Hunger Walk as part of Team Seabury. Several weeks later, his class took a field trip to visit one of the local food banks to see an example of how the money they had raised had helped families in our area. They heard about the people the food bank helps, and about how the numbers of families, especially families with working parents and children, have increased during the difficult economy. They also saw empty shelves where there wasn’t enough food to meet all the needs. When they got back to school, the children immediately decided we needed to do a school-wide food drive to provide more help – an initiative that was supported by their teacher and so our November food drive began. Our first graders made posters, talked with classes, went door to door in their neighborhoods, tracked and graphed donations every day and ended up bringing in nearly 900 items. It was incredible. But it is clear from my first grade friend’s visit yesterday that we aren’t done yet!

A December service project was also student led this year. Inspired by a project her family supports every year, and seeing through the food drive what can happen when you involve your friends, a third grade student asked if she could ask our students to help her gather toys and coats for Allen A.M.E.’s Christmas House. This was another student led project – our staff just made the time and space for her to work with her friends to make it happen. And as a result, her family filled their car – twice – with donations for needy families in our community.

Service has become part of Seabury’s program across all our grade levels. Fostering our children’s desire to serve and providing opportunities for them to see that they can make a real difference in their community are important parts of Seabury’s program – and play key roles in the social-emotional development of our children. But it is times like this when we see our children take these lessons to heart that light up our days.

We often hear that gifted children have the potential to make a difference in the world. I believe that is true. But ultimately, the choices they will make in their lives and the work they will do as adults will be determined not just by their potential, but by the opportunities they have had to be inspired, to be challenged, to think deeply, to wonder, and to serve. When we provide children with opportunities to experience what is possible when we care and are willing to work together, and give them a chance to ‘try on” what it feels like to be involved in meaningful ways, they are inspired and want to do more. When we introduce them to those in their community who are using their gifts to inspire and lead and create positive change, they put a face on what is possible. The choice will be our children’s, ultimately. But if they have positive experiences in leading and serving as children and young adults, how much more likely will they be to continue to seek opportunities to serve as they grow up? It is exciting to consider.

So as we get ready to say goodbye for our winter break, I will be thinking about my first grade friend. And my third grade friend. And all our children. I am grateful to be part of their lives. And I am hopeful about our future. Because they are not only going to be great leaders and servants in the future - they are leaders and servants right now!

Happy Holidays!!

-- Sandi Wollum, Head of School

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gifted education educator, advocate to visit Tacoma

Where: Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, Commerce Room
When: Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012, 7 p.m.
How much: Suggested donation $10-15

TACOMA, WA, February 15, 2012: Seabury School is pleased to announce a visit from Dr. Jim Delisle, Ph.D., a respected educator and advocate in the field of gifted education.

Dr. Delisle, a nationally recognized expert on gifted education, will be speaking on "Parenting precocious kids: understanding the ups and downs of growing up gifted" This seminar will appeal to parents and educators alike, and is the second in a new series of annual gifted education seminars hosted by Seabury School.

The event will be held in the Commerce Room of the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center at 7 p.m., Wednesday, February 15. Pre-registration is encouraged for this event, with a suggested donation of $15. There will be a limited number of walk-up spaces available.

Dr. Delisle has taught gifted children and those who work on their behalf for more than 30 years. He recently retired from Kent State University after 25 years of service as a professor of special education. The author of more than 250 articles and 16 books, Dr. Delisle's work has been translated into multiple languages and has been featured in both professional journals and in popular media such as The New York Times and on Oprah! A frequent presenter throughout the U.S., he has also addressed audiences in nations as diverse as England, Greece, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Founded in 1989, Seabury is the only independent school in the South Puget Sound with a program specifically designed for intellectually advanced children. Children from Tacoma, Federal Way, Kent, Auburn, Gig Harbor, Puyallup and throughout the South Puget Sound region come to Seabury for its personalized approach to education and emphasis on the development of creative and analytical thinking skills. Seabury is a member of the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS) and the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NASC).

Seabury School challenges gifted children in a community that cherishes each individual and fosters a love of learning, discovery and creativity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving reflections

When I taught fifth and sixth grades, my students and I used to get together with younger children for cross-age activities.  I always prepped my students by reminding them that the younger students looked up to them and watched them closely all the time. 

“Remember, they are learning from everything you do – even when you don’t want them to,” was my mantra, and more than once one of my students learned the hard way that their preschool buddies were eager to copy all their behaviors, not just the positive ones. 

As a beginning teacher in my mid-twenties, I learned that this is the case for older children too.  One of my close friends had a younger sister who was a student in my fifth grade class.  Their family had a home daycare and took care of several preschool aged children.  My friend told me with great joy one day that her sister’s favorite activity was to play school with the children in the daycare, and that she always played the teacher – ME!

To my great embarrassment, when we got together with our friends, my friend loved to share how I sounded as a teacher – as played by her sister.  It was flattering to know that she wanted to be like me.  And some of the things that came through in her play were just how I hoped I came across as a teacher.  But some of it made me cringe – she indeed sounded just like me, even at my most unflattering!

I share that not to make us even more self-conscious than we already are as parents.  All of us have had that jarring experience of hearing how we sound or seeing our gestures and expressions through our children.  But as conscientious parents who care about their children’s learning, it is a good reminder that while trips to museums and educational toys are wonderful gifts we give our children, we can also rest assured that the times when we are just “hanging out” as a family are valuable learning experiences as well.

Seabury is blessed with parents who value learning and who support their children’s education each and every day.  Teachers at Seabury know that when papers go home, parents will look at them and talk with their children about what they are learning. They take their children to interesting places and recognize learning doesn’t just happen at school. They want to make use of each and every moment – to do parenting “right.”

As we approach a long Thanksgiving weekend, I encourage parents to consider how much your children are learning from the everyday moments when you are just hanging out or doing “regular” things.   From seeing a working mom or dad take time to slow down and read a book or take a bubble bath.  From spending time watching a fun movie or playing a game together.  From going grocery shopping and trying to figure out how much pumpkin pie Grandpa is going to eat this year.  From watching you orchestrate how to get the turkey and the potatoes to be done at the same time. 

In our children’s lives, whether they are in preschool or middle school, each moment is a learning moment – not just those we plan to be intentionally educational.  As parents who care deeply about our children’s learning, we sometimes put a great deal of pressure on ourselves to plan educational activities for our children and feel guilty when we aren’t doing something “valuable” with their time.  While those moments are wonderful and important, we can give ourselves permission to just be with our children as well. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!  Enjoy time with your children.  And take time to read a good book - your children will benefit and so will you!

- Sandi Wollum

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

It’s hard to see your child struggle. As a parent, one of the biggest challenges we face is how to handle those moments when our children are unhappy, uncomfortable, frustrated, angry, hurt or overwhelmed. From the time they are born, we worry about them, try to make the right decisions about what they will eat and where they will go to school, and do all we can to help ensure that they can grow up to have the life we dream of for them.

Perhaps it’s that I’m the parent of an eighth grader who is getting ready to head to high school at the end of this year. But I have found myself reflecting recently on the experiences my son has had as he has grown, and especially on those that seem to have had the biggest impact on his development. I am so thankful that he has been able to be at Seabury from the time he was a prekindergarten student. I’m grateful he has been in a place where he has developed strong friendships with amazing children who will, no doubt, be lifelong friends. A place where he has felt safe and supported every step of the way.

But if I look more closely and am really honest about it, many of the experiences and relationships that have had the biggest impact (both in and out of school) on making him the responsible, well-rounded, incredible young man he is becoming were those that were the hardest. The times when someone was mean to him on the playground. The time he left his science fair experiment to the last minute and then couldn’t get it to work. The time he had to work on a group project with kids he didn’t like working with. Situations that made him mad or frustrated or hurt or angry or profoundly sad. They were (and are) the events that have been catalysts for some of the most profound growth in his life.

As a parent, those times were (and are) hard. Even though I knew he was in a safe environment at school, that his teachers cared about him, that he had good friends to talk to and family who loved him, it was still heartbreaking to see him struggle. My impulse was to rescue him. To make it easier. To fix what was wrong for him. To take the hurt away and make it all better.

I’m most thankful for the times I was able to make myself resist. Because I realize that many of the traits that serve him best now – leadership, responsibility, confidence, for example – were developed as he found his way through those difficult times. And that rescuing him not only would have deprived him of those opportunities for growth, but would have sent the message that I didn’t wasn’t confident he could handle whatever challenges faced him – exactly the opposite of what I intended. Of course in life, there are sometimes situations that require me to step in because they are too far beyond what he is ready for, but those are few and far between compared to those that required me to step back tag along for the ride while he worked through the challenge and made mistakes along the way.  

Someone once told me that self esteem doesn’t come from being told you are great. It comes from coming up against something you don’t think you can do, making up your mind to take it on, making mistakes and dealing with setbacks along the way, and then finally succeeding. The doubt and fear and pain and worry and frustration that are part of the journey are what make the accomplishment so sweet – and build confidence for the next time.

As parents, we need to hold each other up, because parenting is hard. We need to help each other have the courage to watch our kids struggle. To walk through difficult situations with them. To give them the chance to solve problems for themselves. To experience the natural consequences of their choices – even when those consequences are hard to take. Because it’s in the times of struggle that they grow most profoundly.

- Sandi Wollum

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel
Parenting with Love and Logic, by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
The Parents We Mean to Be, by Richard Weissbourd

Friday, September 23, 2011


After years of working with gifted children, I’ve come to the conclusion that they have two main things in common.

First, they are all different. And not just “every person is unique” different. In spite of the common characteristics they share as gifted people, they have huge variations in their interests, strengths, challenges, skills, social/emotional/physical development, and more. It’s what makes working with them (and parenting them) such an incredibly rich, and sometimes incredibly difficult, experience.

Second, they are intense. It may be intensely reflective or emotional or curious or funny or interested in quantum physics … The list goes on and on. But whenever I talk to parents about their gifted children, the word “intense” seems to resonate more than any other.

So how do we meet the wide ranging interests, abilities, needs and challenges we see when we bring a group of intense, unique gifted children together in one classroom?

One important strategy that plays a key role in Seabury’s classrooms is collaboration. It might seem counter-intuitive that one of the best ways to meet individual needs is through grouping for work and play, but we have seen, and research has supported, that gifted children who get to work, learn and play with other gifted children have better academic achievement, stronger social skills and more self confidence than those who work in isolation or those who don’t get to spend all or part of their day with their intellectual peers.

Our children thrive when they have people who “get them” that they can share ideas with, create with, and be challenged by. Their giftedness makes them different enough from typically developing kids their age that the gap between the way they think and they way typical kids think can be too wide to bridge – especially at a young age. A six-year-old who thinks like a 10-year-old but has the motor skills of a four-year-old doesn’t fit well with the six-year-olds or the 10-year-olds or the four-year-olds. When we put that six-year-old together with other gifted children, they find their “true peers.” However, even then, each of our children is still unique and has a wide range of abilities and interests. So at Seabury, we provide a variety of opportunities for collaboration so that they can find their true peers in a variety of situations.

Some examples.

This year, our prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade teachers are using a common theme in their classes, and are bringing their children together from time to time during the week to share a story or activity that serves as a launching point for further study and discussion in their classrooms.

They are using Simms Taback’s book The House that Jack Built as the catalyst for classroom discussions and activities related to their theme, “Interconnections.” Last week, after reading the book and spending time with a page that showed lots of different houses with “classified ads” advertising them for sale, each of the students drew their own fantasy house and wrote their own ad. The students did this as part of a large, multiage group and had lots of conversation and sharing of ideas along the way – a collaborative activity. And yet because of the open-ended nature of the activity, each child approached it at his/her skill and developmental level. You will see the prekindergarten students with pictures and ads that are much more concrete in nature. First grade students were much more elaborate in their drawings and ads, and showed higher abstract thinking ability in their descriptions of things not shown in their pictures (like coffee makers or video games). As you look within each class, you will see evidence of each child’s advanced intellectual abilities for their age (vocabulary, level of detail, etc.) and you will also see evidence of their developmental level (dictated vs. written ads, detail in drawings, etc.). Within that activity, or the house building activity they participated in today, the children were able to laugh and talk and think with others who could stretch their imaginations and relate to their creative ideas, no matter what their age was.

Multiage, open-ended activities like this are incorporated into every classroom at Seabury. At the middle school, all students might be assigned the same project and essay, but expectations and results are typically much different for a sixth-grader than an eighth-grader, or for a student who is gifted in writing than a student whose gifts are in a different area. This allows for intellectual collaboration while still meeting individual academic needs.

Flexible grouping is another way we give children the opportunity to collaborate with those who can stimulate thought, creativity and growth.

Another example. At the beginning of the year, teachers spent time assessing students to see where they were in reading, writing, math, etc. These assessments were used to do initial groupings and placements. But unlike the way it was when I went to school, those placements were just a beginning point.

Day by day and week by week, placements, groupings, and expectations are reassessed and revised as needed. The use of flexible groupings within and between classrooms allows teachers to continually place students in an appropriate community of learners for a particular subject, unit or activity.  Our children tend to absorb and retain everything they are exposed to, especially in their areas of giftedness. But they have not typically been exposed to all things equally. So a student who is gifted in math may have had a particular interest in or a great deal of exposure to a particular concept like computation, for example, but may have had little or no exposure to another concept like measuring angles or place value.

Flexible grouping for math allows teachers to regroup students as they start each new concept, and to tailor expectations within a group to the needs of individual students on any given day. So the students get the benefit both of individualized programming and working as part of a group.

Collaboration in the classroom and between classrooms also gives students the chance to learn to work with a variety of people: those who are easy to work with and those who are more challenging. As adults, we know that we don’t always get to work with those who are easy to get along with. And we need strategies for dealing with those challenging situations.

At Seabury, we believe it is our responsibility to provide children with the tools they need to develop those strategies when they are young and have supportive adults around to help them navigate.

As a parent of an eighth-grader, I remember times when my son was younger and when I was worried about him having to deal with a difficult child on the playground or in a group setting. I wanted him to be happy and to have fun. It was hard to see him frustrated or angry or hurt. But looking back, those were the times when he learned the most. And believe it or not, those are times I am now grateful for. He learned how to work with lots of different people. He learned that there are caring adults around to support him. He learned he has a lot of internal resources and strength. And he learned that life isn’t always easy or neat. What great lessons for him to begin to learn at a young age, so he can continue to grow in his ability to collaborate with others as he gets older.   

Our children are wonderful. They are unique and they are intense. Our goal is to help them discover their passions and develop their gifts. To help them grow emotionally, physically, intellectually and socially. It is a complicated task. And ironically perhaps, it is in bringing these very unique children together that we give them the best opportunities to do just that.

If you have additional questions about this topic, or want to know more about how collaboration looks in your child’s classroom, please contact your child’s teacher or me.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Looking Back...Looking Forward

As we approach the end of the school year, we find ourselves looking both backward and forward. How have our children grown this year? What are our successes? What do we wish we had done differently? What are the next steps we want to take next year? What are our hopes and dreams for our children?

Today, as our staff gathered for inservice, we spent time talking about our successes this year. Many of us were brought to tears as stories were recounted of children who are have taken off in reading or math, who have matured and grown in their social skills or their organizational skills, who have made amazing discoveries… the lightbulb moments that make teaching such a rewarding experience.

As I reflect on this year, and begin thinking about the year to come, both as an educator and as a parent, I find myself remembering that learning and growing is often a painful experience. As a parent, it is difficult to see my child go through hard times. He has coped with disappointments and challenges and frustrations that were hard to walk through with him. It is hard to see him sad or frustrated. But I recognize, if I am honest, that it is those very times that have been the catalyst for his greatest moments of growth. That have made him the incredible young man he is becoming. And the challenges he faces today are the growth opportunities of tomorrow.

As you look back on this year, delight in your child’s accomplishments. Celebrate the incredible leaps your child has made in learning and growing and friendships, and more. But look at the circumstances that led to that growth. Was there pain involved? Was growth sometimes uncomfortable? For your child? For you?

As you prepare to thank your child’s teachers for the year, consider thanking them not only for the happy, fun times. Consider thanking them for the hard times as well. For the times they pushed and prodded and held your child accountable. For the times when you struggled to be on the same page and questioned whether this was the right path. My guess is that those are the times that allowed your child to grow the most.

Growing and learning can be hard. I am grateful that my child been able to grow at Seabury where he is loved and supported and nurtured and challenged – even when it is hard!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Case for Creativity

I was recently reading a post in the blog, This Creative Moment, by my friend, Eric Ode, a local children’s singer, songwriter, poet and writer who has visited Seabury as an artist in residence and periodically as a substitute teacher. Eric is one of the most creative people I know, and his blog explores the idea of creativity and where it comes from.

Eric refers to a recent article in Newsweek magazine about a study indicating that creativity is in decline among America’s youth. The article refers to a longitudinal study by Dr. E. Paul Torrance, that found a high correlation between a child’s creative thinking ability as measured by the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking and the child’s success in college and adult careers. The article states that, “the accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful… To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).” Highly creative children more often grow up to be CEOs, entrepreneurs, college presidents, inventors, and diplomats based on Torrance’s research.

Eric talks about his observation of how two different teachers handled a moment in which a five year old tried to take a creative step in a classroom project. One allowed the child to take a creative step, and another shut the child down with a “we’re not doing that now” comment.

As an educator, I am concerned about the ways in which education is being more narrowly defined as a series of discreet skills rather than a broader focus on learning to observe, think, analyze and create. I talk often with parents inquiring about Seabury, and am heartbroken when I hear stories about how their child’s vivid imagination and insatiable curiosity seem to be shut down in programs that focus on the one “right” answer.

As I read Eric’s blog post, I was reminded that what we sometimes describe as the “magic of Seabury” lies partly in the big things like the fact that we are committed to process as much as to product in our students’ work and learning. Our thematic curriculum and creative projects immerse students in both convergent and divergent thinking every day. But the “magic of Seabury” also lies in the little things our teachers do, almost unconsciously, every day.

Just this morning, a third grade student walked in and announced to her teacher she had brought three encyclopedias to school today because she had gotten interested in a particular topic and just wanted to do some research on it. The teacher, rather than telling her that wasn’t part of the plan for the day, celebrated her passion for learning and made time for her to explore her interest.

As a teacher of gifted children, I found that one of the most difficult things facing me daily was deciding what was negotiable in each lesson. “Take out a pencil for this lesson,” was always followed by, “How about a pen? Colored pencil? Chalk?” Lessons that were intended to go one direction could easily end up heading an entirely different way as students began to ask their own questions and as their interests guided discussions. Sometimes I had to do more steering to get us where we needed to be. But the magical times were those when we could follow the interests and inclinations of students and see where they took us. It was always an adventure.

At Seabury, one of the gifts we give our children is the room to wonder, to ask questions, think about possibilities, and to recognize that problems in real life don’t always have neat A, B, C or None of the Above answers. Our curriculum is designed to develop that kind of creative and analytical thinking. But our teachers also encourage creative thinking in a hundred little ways every day. By letting another way of doing something be a possibility. By taking time to say, “I don’t know either – let’s figure it out.” By valuing the process of learning as much as the product.

The next time you watch your child’s teacher work with your child, pay attention to the many ways, large and small, the teacher is encouraging your child’s creativity. You will be amazed – and grateful – as I am!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beyond the Basics

At Seabury, we know that learning goes far beyond rote memorization and basic skills. Foundational skills are just the launching point for exploring big ideas, making connections, analyzing information and much more. A program that encourages the development of creativity, imagination, and critical thinking allows students to take what they have learned and apply it to new situations, to innovate, to create and to reason.

In this age of educational standards, sometimes learning is reduced to what can be learned rotely and repeated – on creating students who score well on standardized tests rather than students who are thinkers and creators.

A recent article in Slate, Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School: New research shows that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire, by Alison Gopnik, points out the limitations of learning that is confined to direct instruction and rote learning. It is a great reminder of the value of the kind of learning we provide in our classrooms. Learning that promotes the development of a strong foundation of skills, but that uses those skills as a launching point for going farther and deeper, for taking learning in new directions, for promoting inquiry, and for developing creative, inquisitive minds.

One of the greatest joys of being at Seabury is seeing where our students take the material we give them. Students in fourth grade who studied revolutions in their classroom earlier this year, looking at the similarities and differences between revolutions happening currently and throughout history, nearly staged their own revolution when they felt they had been treated unjustly at a competition several of them participated in. Second grade students learning about the human body regularly use medical terms in conversation to talk about what is going on with them, or to describe what part of their brain is working on a particular activity. Preschool students who appear to “just” be building with blocks are having complex discussions about working together, engineering, transportation, and much more.

Learning in an environment that values the questions as much as the answers, that provides opportunities to go beyond the basics, that promotes exploration and discovery is at the heart of Seabury. Miracles happen every day as our students make discoveries, get excited about new ideas, and make new connections. It’s what makes our school such an exciting place to be!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Break Is Here!

Spring Break Is Here!! The school has been buzzing this week as students and staff prepare to head out on spring break adventures. Whether your family is staying close to home or heading somewhere exotic, we wish you a safe and happy week!

Spring break is a great time for families to share experiences together. You know, as we do, that our children remember the places they go and the people they meet, and that learning naturally happens in all kinds of circumstances. Helping dig the family garden can be a time for discovering how plants grow or what soil is made of. Meeting people, from a docent at a museum to the cab driver that takes your family to your hotel, can provide opportunities for discovery as well.

Learning at Seabury focuses on experience – learning by exploring, touching, wondering, building, doing. This week, our preschool students learned about the human body, including learning how long their intestines are by measuring 23 feet (the length of an average intestine) of spaghetti noodles, cooking them and then seeing how they fit in the bowl when they are all twisted together like intestines are in our bodies. Middle school students went to PLU to meet with a chemistry professor who is working on experiments with nano technology, something students are experimenting with at Seabury. Not only will these first hand experiences help them remember what they’ve learned, they will give students chances to see what a college campus is like, to find out a bit about what professors do, to think about what it must be like to be a doctor. The richness of these experiences provides for learning that goes far beyond simple facts.

As you work and play with your family this week, I encourage you to stop from time to time and think about what your children might be learning from the experiences they are having. Not just when they are doing “educational” things like visiting museums, but when they are doing regular things like riding in the car or helping with the garden. Listen to their questions and observations. Pay attention to the connections they make as they interact with people they come across and situations they find themselves in.

Children learn by doing. Have a great time this week doing fun, relaxing, family activities together!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Building a Strong Foundation

This has been parent-teacher conference week at Seabury. A time for celebrating the progress students are making. A time for identifying and addressing areas for growth. Conferences, both the ongoing, informal discussions that happen every day and the formal conferences held this week an important elements of the partnership between parents and teachers that supports the success of Seabury’s students.

Often, we find ourselves talking about the priorities in our academic program. The conversation often centers around the question, “How can we be sure our children are getting what they need?” In this era in which discussions of public education often focus on how we ensure students meet minimum standards, learning is often described as acquiring lists of distinct skills. Parents of Seabury students recognize that learning is more than that, particularly for gifted children. But the question remains, “Where should the emphasis be?” That our child is able to write in grammatically accurate sentences with correct punctuation and spelling, or that he communicate complex ideas through writing? That our child can add, subtract, multiply and divide correctly, or that she understand mathematical reasoning and algebraic thinking? That we develop a strong set of core skills and competencies, or that we focus on big ideas, deeper understandings, more complex connections?

Of course, the answer is yes to both – students need to develop a strong set of foundational skills in reading, writing, communication, mathematics. They need to develop basic knowledge and understandings in social studies and science. But they also need to think deeply, grapple with complexities, express themselves creatively, and develop skills in critical and analytical reasoning. A person with amazing ideas needs to be able to communicate them in a way that others understand, including with correct punctuation and spelling. Foundation skills are just that – a foundation. But the ultimate goal is to develop thinkers, dreamers, innovators and problem solvers.

You only need to read our classroom blogs to see how this happens at Seabury. There are examples to be found every day in every classroom of students becoming thinkers. Asking profound questions. Grappling with difficult problems. Applying knowledge in new and unique ways. Creating alternatives and new applications for basic ideas.

But the question often remains. How can parents be sure their children are getting what they need? Here are some of the questions I ask myself when I am thinking about my own child:

  •  Is he happy at school? Gifted children are typically not happy if they are not adequately challenged. While he might not love every part of every day (who among us loves every aspect of our jobs?), is he generally finding school to be a place where he wants to be?
  • Does he feel safe and understood at school – among kids and teachers who “get” him and who he “gets?"
  • Are activities at school thought-provoking, inspiring, and challenging? Is he finding topics that capture his imagination, provoke questions, or stimulate his interests? Does he bring home interesting ideas or want to debate with us on topics that he feels passionate about?
  • Is he growing in his ability to ask relevant, interesting questions? Gaining knowledge and having answers is important, but is he also encouraged to ask great questions? Is he digging deeper, inquiring more fully, and debating more vigorously?
  • Are his communication skills growing? Is he, over time, expressing himself more clearly orally and in writing? Is he showing steady improvement in the mechanics of his written work, but also showing growth in the thinking behind his oral and written expression?
  • Is his mathematical reasoning growing? When life presents him with a problem, is he showing increasing ability to call upon his mathematical knowledge to solve the math problems he encounters?
Last month, when Dr. Linda Silverman talked with parents about raising their gifted children, she encouraged parents to focus on what they can do to build the relationships they want to have with their children when they are adults. For me, that also applies to learning. As educators, we ask ourselves what we can do now that will move our students toward becoming the thinkers, communicators, leaders, inventors and learners we want them to become? As I think about the future that awaits our Seabury students, I can hardly wait to see where life will take them. But I have no doubt that they will march into their future as learners, leaders, innovators, and problem solvers. And that our job is to open the doors to the possibilities that await them as widely as possible!


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reflections on Dr. Silverman's Talk

On February 16, Seabury was proud to host Dr. Linda Silverman, director of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development and its subsidiary, the Gifted Development Center, in Denver, CO, for a presentation to parents and educators of gifted children. Speaking on the topic, “If Our Child is So Smart, Why Aren’t Our Lives Easier?” Dr. Silverman addressed the characteristics of gifted children and their gifted parents, talked about how we can support the learning, growth and development of our gifted children, and talked about the joys and challenges of parenting our intense, sensitive, inquisitive, creative kids. It was a wonderful night for those who love and support gifted children.

Since that night, I have found myself reflecting on one small side note at the end of Dr. Silverman’s presentation regarding introversion and extroversion in the gifted population. Research, including Dr. Silverman’s own research, has shown that about 60% of typical gifted children tend to be introverts, a higher percentage of introverts than is found in the general population. Research has also shown that the more profoundly gifted a person is, the greater the likelihood that the person will tend toward introversion. As she explained this to participants, Dr. Silverman pointed to me and asked, “Sandi, would you say that more of your Seabury students are typically introverts than extroverts?” I agreed – yes, the 60/40 percentages she talked about seemed about right for Seabury students.

In and of itself, that is an interesting tidbit to think about, and something for parents and teachers working with gifted children to consider when setting expectations and building programs. But it struck me this week, as I have given tours of Seabury to visitors and prospective families, that the majority of our students don’t look like introverts to visitors. And I think that says something important about our school.

Introverts, by nature, have a strong interior life. They tend to keep much of who they are and what they think to themselves until they feel comfortable enough to begin to reveal their true selves. Extroverts, by contrast, tend to be more outwardly focused and are usually comfortable opening up to people they meet right away. When you meet extroverts, you often get to see the best of who they are immediately. When you meet introverts, at first you only see the small fraction of themselves that they are comfortable sharing right away. It is only as you begin to build a relationship with introverts that they begin to open up and you get to see the best of who they are.

In thinking about Seabury, it struck me that many of our kids who tend toward introversion, those who were extremely shy in other school settings or who are quiet when they are with people they don’t know, feel safe enough and comfortable enough to let down their guard and be themselves at Seabury. Some of the students who have become our leaders, especially in our upper grade classrooms, are introverts who were extremely shy when they were younger. Being in a safe environment among intellectual peers who understand and appreciate them, and among teachers who support and encourage them, gives our students the confidence to take risks and step outside their comfort zone, something that is vital to learning and growth. Our students who tend toward introversion will always be introverts, appreciating time alone for reflection and re-energizing. But when introverts feel safe enough to reveal their true selves, they are willing to explore, discover, take risks, and develop confidence.

Perhaps this resonated with me because I tend toward introversion, and so does my son. I have watched my son blossom and grow in his years at Seabury, going from being a preschool student afraid to talk to his teacher to someone who is a leader in his classroom, on his baseball team, and in many areas of his life. I am grateful that he has had the chance to grow up at Seabury, and to develop the self-confidence that he will need as he moves on to high school and college. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of a school community that supports and encourages all of our children to discover their gifts and develop their talents. And I am grateful to Dr. Silverman for helping me see the value of what we do at Seabury in a new light.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Funding for gifted education in Washington is at risk due to the current budget challenges our state faces. Parents, school personnel and others are working hard to make sure that the needs of our state’s highly capable children are addressed through our schools. The Washington Coalition for Gifted Education is working to make the voices of those advocating for gifted children to be heard in Olympia.

What does this have to do with Seabury, an independent school that is not tied to the public system? At Seabury, we recognize and are committed to the unique learning needs of gifted children. As the only PK-8th grade independent school with a program designed for gifted children in the South Sound, our voices need to join those in the public school community working to raise awareness about our children and the kind of education they need and deserve to discover their gifts and develop their talents.

Seabury’s program is designed with these understandings in mind:
  • Gifted children are not better or more special than other children. They are simply children who learn differently and who deserve school programs that allow them to learn and grow and be challenged each and every day.
  • Giftedness is not just a quality related to school. It is a way of being. A way of experiencing the world. It not only affects the intellectual life of a person, but impacts all of how they perceive and interact with the world. Effective gifted education is not simply academic programming – it encompasses the development of the whole child including intellectual, social, emotional and physical growth.
  • Gifted education is different from academically advanced programs. It takes into account the fact that gifted students are not typically equally gifted in all areas, and that the degree of giftedness impacts the pace and depth in the curriculum that is required to provide adequate challenges. Tailoring the pace of instruction, and providing adequate depth, breadth and complexity of study are necessary if a gifted student is to be appropriately challenged in all subject areas.
  • Gifted students benefit when they have the chance to learn and grow with other gifted students who think and learn like they do. As important as classroom instruction is the opportunity to interact with other students who “get me.” Developing a strong sense of identity starts with finding a community of those who can relate to me, and with whom I can relate. Bringing gifted students together benefits their intellectual, social and emotional growth, and leads to students who have a strong sense of identity and confidence.

It is important that Seabury be a voice in the gifted education community, advocating for the needs of our unique children. We need to continue to reach out to find children in the community who would benefit from the program we offer, and to advocate for gifted children who are served in other places. We need to promote understanding of this often misunderstood population, and educate parents, teachers and the public. We look forward to continuing to be part of the conversation!


Friday, January 14, 2011

Thinking Differently

When people ask me how a person can tell if a child is gifted, I often find myself telling them, “They think differently. They see the world from a unique perspective. Once you’ve known gifted kids and spent time with them, you kind of just…know…” There are lists of characteristics, such as Dr. Linda Silverman’s Characteristics of Giftedness checklist , and descriptions of various types of giftedness such as Betts’ Profiles of the Gifted. They are helpful tools to use when identifying gifted children, but after working with these students for many years, I still am always challenged to describe that special quality of thinking that makes gifted people so interesting, and makes it hard for gifted children, sometimes, to find their place in classrooms of students who just don’t think like they do.

Earlier this week, Seabury’s first grade teacher came into my office with a great story about a lesson she had just taught that, for me, gives at least a glimpse of the difference our students bring to their thinking and learning. And speaks to what a gift we give them when we give them the chance to learn with other gifted children.

The first graders have been learning about maps – what they are used for, elements of maps, common symbols, map keys, etc. Relatively simple, but still more complex than you would find in most first grade classrooms because our students crave more details and are ready for greater depth of study. To reinforce what they have been learning, the teacher divided students into groups and asked each group to work together to create their own map. The teacher purposely left the activity open ended – something that is very important in working with bright children – so that students could take the lesson in whatever direction made sense to them. The directions were to create a map that had labels and a map key – their own version of the maps they had been studying in class. She expected students to draw maps of neighborhoods – with houses and schools and businesses in various forms, since those are the kinds of maps they had focused on. She expected that each group would have their own unique map, but that the maps would look like maps we typically use to find our way around.

But these are gifted first graders. Their minds and imaginations often take them out of the box and to places we were not expecting. As students began working, the teacher began checking in with each of the groups. The first pair were having a vigorous debate about whether their map should be a map of Kansas or a map of a different state. They were very worried about how they could get their map to be exactly, factually accurate. The teacher reminded them that their map could be of a real place if that’s what they wanted, but it didn’t have to be a real place. The boys stopped, and then huge grins broke out on their faces as, at the same time, they shouted, “Harry Potter!!!” They then went to work on a detailed map of the wizarding world of Harry Potter, including a detailed discussion about Hogwarts and Harry and his adventures.

Another group was deeply involved in their creation of an intricate, magical fairy world. It wasn’t just streets and parks. It was a whole world with mountains and rivers and villages on the map and even more detail in the children’s discussion about what they were creating.

A third group declared, “We’ll make the human body!” Another student in the group said, “I think for it to be a map, it has to show someone going somewhere.” All agreed – maps were about moving from one place to another. So the group set about creating not a picture of the human body, but a map of the human body, showing how an imaginary person could move through its systems.

It’s hard to describe, even through this story, what it is like to be in a room full of 6 and 7 year olds having complex discussions that are far beyond their years in some ways, and yet full of childish wonder. This is what gifted kids are like. And when gifted kids get to share a classroom with other gifted students, magic happens. Ideas spark other ideas. Creative minds go places together that they wouldn’t go on their own.

Giving gifted children the chance to work and play and learn with other gifted children is a gift that allows them to explore their own creativity, expand their horizons and challenge themselves in ways that is difficult with others their age who don’t think like they do. It’s an amazing thing. And a privilege I get to witness each and every day in each and every classroom!