Parenting As A Community Pt. 2

In October I put a list of parenting links on my blog, in response to the wonderful parent education event we held with Sheri Glucoft-Wong (which you can still watch on our  Youtube page). To continue that community conversation, next Tuesday at 6:00 we will be hosting a screening of Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a recent documentary about the life and career of Fred Rogers. In the meantime, here are some provocative articles about parenting and child raising that have come through my inbox in the last three months.

How do we recognize our children’s authentic selves? Jessica Lahey’s perspective on Why parents need to be patient with their school-age kids is a great reminder that trying to mold children to our goals can cloud our vision of who they really are. “We offer the “shoulds” because we want the best possible lives for our children, but when we focus all of our effort on who they should be, we inadvertently invalidate who they are.”

How do we raise children to be grounded, not spoiled? Joe Pinsker believes that The Way American Parents Think About Chores Is Bizarre, because “the chores-for-allowance agreement…can give kids the sense that they’re entitled to rewards for fulfilling basic responsibilities.” Instead, he proposes we recognize that children are eager to help, and find fulfillment by serving a useful role in the family.

How do we strength our connection as a family? In  Raising the Mindful Family,  Elise Goldstein and Stefanie Goldstein explore how individual, couple and family practices of mindfulness can lead to connection that transcends the busy schedules, long commutes and digital lives that create distance in many families.

What’s my role in my middle schooler’s social conflict? Psychologist Lisa Damour offers three keys to parents. First, don’t confuse conflict (which is common) with bullying (which is rare); second, teach skills for healthy conflict; and third, let them pick their battles. Read about the the thinking behind these three key parenting skills in How to Help Tweens and Teens Manage Social Conflict.

How do we help children understand consent? In I’ve Talked With Teenage Boys About Sexual Assault for 20 Years. This Is What They Still Don’t Know, Laurie Halse Anderson offers a wake-up call to parents of all children, regardless of gender. “We need to ask our boys questions so that we understand what they think they know about sex and intimacy. Sharing books, movies and TV shows are a great way to open these conversations. Discussing the choices made by fictional characters paves the way for more personal conversations. We need to tell our own stories to make sure our boys understand that these things happen to people they know and love.”

A few more quick, interesting links:

I welcome your thoughts on these articles, or any other resources you’ve found helpful in your own journey as a parent. Our whole community benefits from this dialogue. And I hope to see many of you on Tuesday at the screening of Won’t You Be My Neighbor!

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

The Value of Gateway

Dear families,

This time of year tends to provoke more than the usual portion of gratitude, and I’d like to take this space to express how profoundly grateful I am for Gateway School.

I am thrilled at the way our program can face the unknown future with eager anticipation. We have the flexibility and innovation to consider the world students will be living in as adults, and to design educational experiences to prepare our children for that future.  

I am impassioned by the rich education that we deliver to students. On one hand, we have a great emphasis on the lived experience of being a child, on valuing childhood and creating a joyful and secure school experience. On the other, we ensure our students are well-rounded individuals equipped with excellent academic, co-curricular, and social/emotional skills, as well as personal character, integrity, courage, and empathy.

I cherish our faculty and staff. Rare it is to have a school where teachers are so committed to their own professional growth, to supporting each other’s success, and to knowing every child as a unique, complex, nuanced individual. From our custodians to our business office, everyone is here with one purpose in mind, and that is to create the best possible learning environment for the children.

I am humbled by our families. From putting their trust in our faculty and staff, to prioritizing the family budget to pay tuition, to volunteering in the classroom and playground and with the Family Association and Board of Trustees, you do and give so much to make this shared dream a reality. We are very fortunate to be partners with you in raising your children.

And of course, I am inspired by our children. Our student community radiates compassion and warmth. They are so full of curiosity and imagination, constantly revealing and revelling in new worlds and discoveries. Year after year, I see that our graduates possess a lifelong love of learning, and the confidence and skills necessary to thrive in high school, college and life beyond.

Thank you for being part of this very special project, and happy holidays.

Warm regards,

Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School

Civil Discourse is not Dead

“Who really killed Bob?”
“Should the children have stayed there and taken consequences?”

“Johnny was doomed from the start.”

On Monday morning, you could have heard these phrases spoken in our 7th grade Humanities classroom. The culmination of a literature study of S.E. Hinton’s beloved book The Outsiders, the students assumed costumes and characters to debate topics such as whether killing someone is ever justified, and the intersection of personal and social responsibility in conflict situations. Using the Anti-Bias Framework from Teaching Tolerance, this project succeeded in challenging our children’s preconceived ideas (and developed their public speaking skills): by the end, they were looking past what the “Greasers” wore and where they lived to think more deeply about the perspectives and experiences of those characters.

Teaching students to truly listen closely to each other is just one of many ways that our Middle School pursues the part of Gateway’s mission statement focused on developing citizenship in our students. But it is not easy. At a young age — and even more so in early adolescence — children begin to listen defensively, to seize on perceived weaknesses, and to respond selectively.  We believe it is very important to teach the skill of listening without judgement, and with an open mind that is willing to change its views based on new information.

Educating the next generation of citizens for participation in our society means teaching children to sort through a wash of competing information to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions and decisions about how they will participate and the issues for which they will advocate. At Gateway we explicitly promote the ideas of environmental sustainability, economic security, and social justice, which requires teaching students to be self-reflective about our own privileges, and develop an ability to see multiple sides of an issue. Unfortunately, many of the visible models in the public arena available don’t reflect these behaviors in positive ways. As Bay Area school leader Dr. Barbara Gereboff puts it, “How unfortunate that politicians currently refer to this so cavalierly as ‘flipflopping’ rather than the careful reconsideration of ideas that it often is.”

In our middle school, students apply critical thinking and problem solving skills in highly engaging and thought-provoking curriculum that often interdisciplinary. Through both academic curriculum and the Advisory program, our faculty create strong classroom communities where students see inclusion in action as a lived experience, and further conversations that move children and adults alike towards thoughtful anti-bias attitudes. Citizenship is an ongoing process that relies on self-reflection in pursuit of better self-knowledge, and it’s one of the many ways our Middle School supports our students on their journey to citizenship.

I do hope to see you at tomorrow night’s Middle School Information Night, where you can experience the magic of our Middle School classrooms for yourselves.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Play Is a State of Mind

Dear Gateway families,

Of our school’s nine core values, play, creativity and innovation are perhaps the most natural and instinctive to human experience. We are born with an innate ability to play that continues throughout our lifespan — a trait shared only by a very few other species — and it has the ability to bring joy and balance to our daily lives.

At Gateway, we embrace the idea that “play is a state of mind” advanced by the National Institute for Play. Children enter into lasting learning through their play, be it social, artistic, or intellectual. Through innovation and iteration, through making and tinkering with our hands and minds, we build connections within and between ideas and each other. The act of imagination is a unique neurological moment that activates emotion, memory and organization, and it can be applied with individuals, through collaboration, and to problem solving. Only when a child is rooted in play can her individual agency to make ideas into reality flower.

You can see this value deeply intertwined everywhere you look in our program. Our daily schedule protects free time because that is one of the many types of play that is beneficial for children’s growth — recess is a wonderful “SEL classroom” where children learn how to be good friends and playmates. And from our specialist classes in studio art, music and the Discovery Center, to interdisciplinary projects and classroom activities, we ensure that children have access to many different types of playful engagement with content acquisition and skill building.

Indeed, the Gateway education not only protects children’s love of learning, it teaches them to engage with ideas in an intellectually playful manner. Thinking deeply and critically might be serious, but it can also be serious fun! This questioning, creative spirit is a key part of our school’s mission to develop children to be scholars who can make positive change in the world. We know that as they move into high school, college, and life beyond, their ability to be playful and creative is a crucial element of their future success in work and relationships.

Here’s some recommended reading on this topic, if you are interested in exploring more:

The Book of Joy, by HH the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer

 

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School

Parenting As A Community

Dear Gateway families,
Our recent parent education events, the first one featuring Sheri Glucoft-Wong (if you haven’t watched the video yet, you really should!) which was then followed by two elementary-grade parent coffees, have sparked an exciting flurry of conversations about parenting in our community. Many people have since asked me to recommend articles about parenting to help them continue their thinking and learning, so I’ve put together the following list as a starting point.
How can we help our children learn resiliency? Often it is our own adult discomfort with our children’s disappointment or struggle that leads us to try to remove challenges from their path. Jessica Lahey’s reflection  Why We Should Let Our Children Fail takes an honest and painful look at how over-parenting can lead to learned helplessness.
How do we teach children healthy tech use? As Erika Christakas writes in The Dangers of Distracted Parenting, the short answer is that we have to model the behaviors we want to see. So put down the phone when you are with your kids. And if you haven’t watched it yet, make sure to check out last year’s fabulous parent education event with Lori Getz on our Youtube channel.
Is social media actually dangerous? The data is clear that increased social media use leads to more feelings of vulnerability and isolation.  As  Sean Cavanaugh reports, research shows that restricting use alone won’t be effective in promoting mental health; children need active coaching in how to build healthy relationships, set boundaries, and stand up for themselves in real life if they are going to have those skills in the online realm.
Will my child be prepared for and get into college? Many parents start asking themselves this question while their child is still in elementary school, and it influences how they approach middle school and high school. In Elite College Admissions are Broken, Alia Wong writes a compelling piece about how a culture of achievement pressure conflates selectivity with excellence.
A few more resources we’ve found:
  • Wait Til 8th empowers families to delay giving their children devices until 8th grade.
  • Lean In discusses how to be a feminist dad.
  • Talk With Your Kids helps parents discuss sex and healthy relationships. We offer a parent ed event on this topic in January, when we run Puberty/Sex Ed Programming.
What recommendations did Sheri Glucoft-Wong have? If you’ve read this far, here’s your reward: the one book recommendation that she passed along! “I usually recommend The Runaway Bunny.  It’s my favorite “parenting book” because it shows parents how important it is to simply be there to “hold” their kids whatever they do, wherever they go and to start from where the kids are, not from where you think they should be.”
I welcome your thoughts on these articles, or any other resources you’ve found helpful in your own journey as a parent. Our whole community benefits from this dialogue!
Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Teaching Students to Take Charge of Their Learning

Dear Gateway families,

How do we effectively prepare children for the world to come?

Curriculum and education defined by historical facts and contemporary skills will always struggle to prepare children for their future. The challenges they will face are different from the ones we faced growing up; just look at how the pace of human knowledge creation has accelerated, and the impending automation of many traditional jobs. It’s a scary, humbling task we face!

A recent article by Greg Satell posits that the skills children will need for their future are the ability to understand systems, to apply empathy and design skills, to communicate complex ideas, and to collaborate and work in teams. Already we see this driving elite universities as they look for intellectual curiosity among their undergraduate applicants, and in graduate programs that conduct group interviews to check for social cognition and communication skills.

To this excellent list, Gateway adds another critical element: metacognition and self-reflection.

Metacognition is the ability to think about one’s own thoughts and learn from them. It is also the key skill that helps students improve their learning process. Through metacognition, students become aware of their strengths and challenges as learners, and begin to monitor their use of learning strategies. They learn that their own learning processes can change, that they can iteratively use goal-setting and planning to achieve their objectives, and how to self-monitor and adapt. Through this process, students become confident scholars who develop inner standards of success and achievement, and learn to transfer their abilities to new tasks and contexts.

We build students’ metacognition at Gateway by teaching them about the concept, by incorporating their authentic voices and choices into their learning, by explicitly articulating and modeling it in the work of faculty, and by regularly guiding children to engage in reflection. In grades fourth through eighth, families will see this driving force during the upcoming School/Family conferences, in which the students participate to present examples of their work, discuss their learning experiences, and review goals for their academic growth.

Being metacognitive means being more aware of one’s journey on the path of learning. How much more pleasurable and intentional it feels for our children to be agents of their own scholarship, rather than perceive school as something outside of their control that happens to them!

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Design

Dear Gateway Families,

What does it mean to “be good at math”?

Most of us grew up in school environments that emphasized speed and accuracy using specific algorithms to solve discrete problems. If you didn’t go fast, or you weren’t accurate, then likely you didn’t think of yourself as good at math; deep understanding wasn’t necessarily considered part of the equation. Far too many children developed math anxiety during their elementary years because of this focus on a narrow definition of mathematical excellence, and as adults, their relationship with math continuous to be fraught.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to help children develop both strong skills and lasting confidence in math, and last week our Bridges trainer, Alison Mazzola, helped families understand how the math curriculum here at Gateway does that. It starts with redefining the goals and outcomes we have for students’ math learning:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  4. Model with mathematics
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically
  6. Attend to precision
  7. Look for and make use of structure
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Of course we still want students to be efficient and accurate, but a broader view of math outcomes explains why our program looks so different from traditional, rote approaches. An experienced elementary grades teacher, Allison peppered her talk with hilarious anecdotes drawn from her time in the classroom, while helping the audience understand why our faculty is so excited about Bridges. It fits directly into our view that academic excellence means working both hard and smart, and that’s done by learning and then applying strategies. We also recognize that selecting the right strategy for the situation is an essential aspect of academic success. For example, counting on fingers is typically viewed as an appropriate strategy for younger children, but we often expect children to have quick recall of so-called “math facts” that are simply computation. However, Stanford Professor Jo Boaler’s important work with Youcubed.org explains why finger-counting can be an effective go-to strategy with older students who are tired, stressed, or struggling to integrate new concepts.

Bridges is based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a set of academic knowledge and skills in math and language arts that has been adopted by 45 states.  CCSS were developed by the National Governors Association (they are not federal standards), which believes that one way the U.S. can catch up to other countries in test scores is to have a more consistent curriculum across the states, rather than every state having its own. Though the pre-existing California State standards were already very good, the CCSS has had a positive impact on public education in some ways, such as increasing the emphasis on critical thinking and reasoning, rather than rote learning and regurgitation.

However, we feel that the CCSS leave out so many wonderful elements; for example, the language arts over-emphasizes reading informational texts, and misses out on novels, poetry, drama, lyric and other forms of creative writing. It also doesn’t fully attend to all five strands of mathematical thinking that are important in a curriculum, as defined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: numbers and operations, data and measurement, statistics and probability, geometry, and patterns and algebraic thinking.

Gateway is proud to be members of the Independent Curriculum Group, a consortium of 200+ leading independent schools from around the country (York School, in Monterey, is another member). We keep a close eye on the trends and standards in national curriculum, and we also pay attention to child development, psychology, neuroscience, and our core institutional values to build curriculum with authentic and engaging student experiences. From science labs studying the movement of seismic waves to calculating compounding interest based on holiday shopping, our academic program weaves areas of high student interest into the curriculum to teach key knowledge and skills.

I encourage you to contact your child(ren)’s teacher with any questions you have about our curriculum, and to enjoy and participate in the curriculum celebrations that mark our year, from the Starlight sing in Kindergarten to Author Parties in the Elementary grades and the Science Fair presentations in Middle School.

Recommended reading on math and curriculum:

Jo Boaler: Youcubed.org

Alfie Kohn: Punished by Rewards

Cathy Seeley: Faster Isn’t Smarter

Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher: Neuroteach

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Let Your Children Get Tired, Hungry and Wet!

Dear Gateway Families,

I relished the opportunity to speak with many of you at Back-to-School-Night last week. Just as the children burst with excitement during Preview Day and joyfully engaged in the year’s first First Friday, the chance to connect with new and returning families energizes our faculty and staff. Back to School Night is such an important step in shaping the family/school dialogue into a strong and aligned partnership, and as one of the central rituals of the beginning of the school year, it helps us establish the meaningful connection and community that supports student growth over the year to come.

At Gateway, success is defined as much more than academic and intellectual skills.  We want children to know how to make and keep friends and solve conflicts, and to have a sustaining portion of self-esteem and resilience. We know that success often comes in a journey that includes failures — by being tired, hungry and wet, a child learns to appreciate being rested, dry, and warm. We want our kids to learn how to deal with difficult people, so we continue to hold them accountable even if they feel challenged by a classmate or uninspired by a teacher. By doing so, they will learn valuable lessons that will help them throughout their journey towards adulthood.

With this in mind, this year at Back-To-School-Night I offered some advice to new Elementary families as well as Middle School families. I am pleased to offer those same thoughts here, condensed and consolidated in blog form, for anyone who was unable to attend last week’s events.

  1. Most children are very sensitive to time. Please arrive on time or even a little early in the mornings, and try not to miss a day next to vacations.
  2. Resist the temptation to over-schedule. We want children to have lots of opportunities, but free play is essential neurologically; it makes kids smarter, and helps them learn to solve problems, iterate, imagine, and develop stronger social skills.
  3. Keep “the long game” in mind. Raising a school-aged child can be hard, especially when a child has a hard day or bad experience. Please be careful of mistaking a snapshot for an epic movie, and avoid catastrophizing. Remind your child that tomorrow will be a new day.
  4. Hold your child accountable. Your child will mess up — whether it’s not doing homework, or being disruptive, or speaking rudely, or not being truthful. If we tell you that there’s a problem with your child’s behavior in school, remember that we want the best for your child. It’s important for children to see that we have standards and expectations, and that when they don’t meet those, we expect better from them.
  5. Hold all of the children, including your own, with compassion. Growing up is hard to do, and children should not be shamed for their struggles to mature. For many people, early adolescence is a very difficult time to be kind. It’s also a hard time for many kids to learn to follow through academically, to manage their emotions, and to navigate a shifting sea filled with peers experiencing their own intense identity formations.
  6. Model the behaviors you wish to see. This includes how you talk about other people, including children, parents, teachers and staff; how you reach out to build an inclusive and loving community; how you resolve conflicts and settle disagreements; how you use phones at home around the family; and how you celebrate successes, share worries, and set goals for yourself.
  7. Expect your child to struggle academically at some point, and don’t freak out when that happens. School work won’t always be easy, and it also won’t always be hard. Certainly don’t conflate quantity and quality. And please, please don’t ever do your child’s homework for your child — we need to know what your child can do on their own.
  8. Learn to speak adolescent. If your child says they are “bored”, it doesn’t usually mean they are bored. It does mean they have some unmet need, or are anxious, or that they are struggling to understand the work (and yes, in some rare cases they are actually bored). Similarly, if your child says “whatever”, they don’t mean “I don’t care what you say.” They mean “I care so much about what you say, and it’s different from what I believe, and I’m having cognitive dissonance about this and I don’t know how to resolve that.”
  9. You probably know less about devices, social media, and the online world of children than you think you know.  Online behavior is a tattoo, not a footprint, because it never goes away, and social media is extracting data you probably don’t even know you are providing (that’s how they make money off us). There’s also new research on how screens affect brain development. So take the time to do the research, and make intentional decisions. Check out last year’s parent education even with Lori Getz on the school’s Youtube channel for more.

My hope is that all of our families engage in an ongoing conversation about our beliefs and values as families, think carefully about the parenting choices we make, and don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to the hard work of raising children. We are confident that your children are poised to become outstanding adults. While they are here at Gateway, they will have an extraordinary experience, and an aligned family/school partnership is an essential part of the supportive environment that our children deserve.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

“Integrity is My Referee”

Dear Gateway families,

In the hyper-competitive world of professional sports, it is rare for someone to not only give lip-service to the concept of integrity, but also demonstrate their commitment to it through their actions. Kirsten Mehl, our superb Physical Education teacher in grades 4-8, tells her students the story of Ruben Gonzalez, the racquetball player who chose integrity over victory by calling a “skip” on himself on the final point of a match in 1985. In a much smaller but perhaps even more visible incident this summer, Marcell Ozuna, a professional baseball player, waived off an umpire who ruled he had been hit by a pitch when he had not.

At Gateway we have nine core values, and integrity is first among them. We believe children must learn that behaving consistently with one’s beliefs is the foundation of a values-centered life. If stealing is wrong, don’t take someone’s pencil from the floor; return it to them. If kindness is important, don’t ignore someone who is upset; slow down and check in with them. By learning to work in groups in upper elementary Language Arts and Middle School math, by playing inclusive games in Kindergarten and First Grade, by discussing sportsmanship in PE, and in so many other small ways, we continuously guide children back to the concept of behaving with integrity.

Integrity goes by many other names and has many facets, including character education, responsibility (to both oneself and others), and personal courage.  Our faculty present obstacles as stepping stones in both our academic and social/emotional curriculum in order to help students along the path of developing their own integrity. From the Circle of Power and Respect in our Middle School advisory program, to the public sharing of emotions and feelings through the tools of the RULER curriculum (including the Mood Meter, Meta-moment, and Blueprint conflict-resolution protocol), we give children many opportunities to develop the personal integrity that leads to success in work and relationships.

Sometimes I get to tell students a story about my own struggle to act with integrity when I was in Fourth Grade. On a shopping trip with my father, I pocketed four packs of gum. When we got to the car, he asked me what I had in my pockets; in my 10-year-old terror, I stammered out that I had nothing. He then sent me back into the store to return the gum, and when I returned, he explained to me that he was less upset about the fact of my stealing and lying than he was about the underlying issue it revealed: that I was violating my own integrity. That powerful lesson has stuck with me many decades later, and it never fails to engage the children when I tell it. Who hasn’t wanted something they don’t have, or told a lie to cover up a mistake they’ve made?

Integrity comes easily to some, and for others it is a struggle, for a variety of reasons. As a community of educators and families, there is no greater gift we can give our children then to teach them to act with integrity; to know that they will make mistakes — because they will! — and that we must not add shame to the situation; to hold them accountable for their behaviors even if it hurts our hearts; and to share and model our own journeys towards living lives of integrity, responsibility and discipline.

“Integrity is my referee.” — Herm Edwards, football coach

Warm regards,

Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School

#Enough

Gateway School students standing in silence during the National School Walkout

Dear Gateway families,

How do you teach a child to lead?
How do you get a child to care passionately about a subject?
How do you inspire a child to believe in their ability to make a difference?

Almost 40 of our middle school students participated in the National School Walkout, in which tens of thousands of students across the country walked out of class to honor the lives lost in the recent school shooting in Parkland, FL, and also those of earlier shootings.

In order to be eligible to participate in the walkout, Gateway middle school students were required to attend at least two of three preparation meetings. A group of five student leaders met separately to craft a permission slip, which required each participant to explain to their parents why they felt it was important to be part of the walkout. Each student then wrote their personal call to action on a sandwich board, which the students wore during the walkout.

Our students walked down West Cliff to the Lighthouse, where they formed a line facing the street. At the mark of one of the student leaders, they began 17 minutes of silence. Many passing drivers and pedestrians showed their support; for example, a woman jogging with her baby stopped and asked to take a picture, while a driver pulled over and told the students they were heros.

Those students who did not participate in the walkout also had important learning experiences. In small groups they discussed their choices to stay at school, their feelings and comfort with the idea of direct action, and the responsibility they each carry for finding the right ways to advocate for the issues about which they are passionate.

Hearing and seeing our middle schoolers choose to take their time to learn about the Second Amendment, how gun control and mental health issues are depicted in the media, think through their own views on these and related subjects, and then take action, was inspiring and uplifting. Our school goal is for children to discover their individual and collective potential to make a positive change in the world.  Truly, today, our Middle School students showed they are ready to be agents for positive change.

This past weekend, over 200 schools from the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) published a signed letter in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times (click the link to read the full text of the statement). This is an exceptional step of public activism on behalf of our school, and I’m proud that through Gateway’s participation in this publication, our Board, employees and community are beginning to take a more active role in promoting a safe, peaceful, and just society. On behalf of all children, we have much more work do to.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School