An Ethic of Continuous Improvement

Zachary RobertsDear Gateway families,

What a joyous first day of school! From mindful stretching in Kindergarten to second grade apple tasting in Life Lab to hands-on science labs in sixth grade, today was just the beginning of digging into the deep learning and growth that will occur throughout the year.

And yet, even today, on this very exciting first day of school, you might be left dissatisfied if you ask your child “How was your day?” Perhaps the most common answer to this question is “Fine”, which can leave us guardians completely unfulfilled. “C’mon, gimme something more!” went through my head many times in my early years as a school-age parent, until I began asking questions that gave my children more specific frameworks for their answers. Some of the more successful questions I now ask include tell me who made you laugh today and tell me when you acted kindly to someone and tell me when someone surprised you with kindness and tell me two interesting things you learned (often the responses to this are about other people, not necessarily academic content or skills) and did your class read any books/do any science experiments/etc today?

By asking these specific questions, we show our children that we are truly interested in their lives and their experiences. We also avoid the messiness of unmet, one-side expectations about reconnecting at the end of the day and getting a freely-offered, detail-rich narrative recounting. Plus, children are exhausted by 3:00, and being specific helps set them up for success.

Helping children succeed is what drives our “ethic of continuous improvement”, in the words of Ted Sizemore from the Coalition of Essential Schools, and that’s why we keep working to strengthen our academic program. Our commitment is to innovate and refine our practices based on valid and reliable science reflecting cutting edge understanding of neuroscience and child development, while vigorously pursuing our vision of a dynamic and intellectually challenging educational experience rooted in Progressive philosophy and reflective of evolving research.

We know you’ve picked Gateway for your children not only because of what this school has been for the last 46 years, but also because of what we are constantly becoming! This year we’re excited to roll out the rotating “six plus fixed” schedule, new middle school math and advisory curricula, newly shared practices within our Upper Elementary division of fourth and fifth grade, the implementation of Writer’s Workshop in grades K-2, the flexible furniture initiative being piloted in 2nd grade and middle school Spanish, and much more. During the year ahead I’ll blog regularly about these new features of our program.

One example is the direct implementation of  RULER that will happen in every grade and class this year. RULER is an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that will help our community integrate the practice of emotional intelligence into daily life. Emotional intelligence (sometimes called EQ) is essential to effective teaching and learning, good decision making, physical and mental health, and academic success; a quick web search will show you that it’s seen as a crucial component for success in college and career (in fact, here at Gateway we integrate a variety of EQ questions into our hiring protocols). Last year we piloted the RULER approach with our faculty, and this year we’ll launch full implementation.

Our new dismissal routine is yet another programmatic change, and we appreciate your cooperation. We hope that the changes allow us to better track each child and facilitate an efficient dismissal. We also hope that you still feel welcome to come on campus and connect with each other before and during the dismissal window! As a reminder, any traffic leaving via Avenue A in the front of the school must turn left onto Lighthouse and left again onto Pelton, as per the terms of our traffic plan (especially as it impacts our neighbors).

I am full of gratitude for the hard work of our faculty and staff in the last few weeks to prepare the classrooms and curriculum; this is truly an awesome place to work, and an amazing team of which to be part. I took great pleasure in seeing children fill our rooms, halls and fields today, and the chance to chat with many of you over coffee this morning or at yesterday’s Preview Day. I do hope you can join us on Friday at 8:45 for our first First Friday assembly of the year.


Zaq Roberts, Ed.D
Head of School