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!


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