GOALS FOR THE 2017-18 SCHOOL YEAR

BY ANDREW DAVIS

I try to end every Friday with my self-designed “Kanban Checklist.” This half sheet of paper forces me to systematically review the past week, tie up loose ends, and plan for the week ahead. As I look at the coming week, I review my goals for the year and calendar action items related to those goals. While occasionally pushed to my Sunday morning office time, this process is critical to my ability to focus on the mission aspect of my job versus the maintenance aspects of my job. And, of course, at the center of this ritual are my goals. 

A mentor of mine told me that goals are like limbs – any more than four are imaginary. Following her advice, this year I am focused on four goals. They, of course, have plenty of initiatives and projects. Here are my four goals and a few of the most notable initiatives for each goal: 

  1. Realize Planned Program Changes & Further Grow Our People and Programs: From our new social emotional learning programs, to the Readers and Writers Workshop implementation, and 5th and 6th Grade STEM courses, we are taking on a great amount of program innovation this year. I will be supporting this work while ensuring that we continue to support and grow our curriculum and pedagogy. Included in this goal is the redesign of our report cards.

  2. Strengthen Communication & Build Community: Throughout the year, I hope to clarify and increase school to home communications to create more windows into school life. As part of this effort, I plan to write more regularly for Thank Goodness It’s Almost Monday, my blog. I will also continue to be a regular presence in classrooms and at community events.

  3. Finalize Foundational Systems: With outstanding leadership and increased staffing in the business office, we will next focus on streamlining billing processes for greater transparency and ease. We will also look to better utilize technology to streamline behind the scenes processes.

  4. Strategically Plan for our Continued, Future Success: Using input from parents, students, and faculty, I will work with the Board of Trustees to write a Strategic Plan that will guide our future efforts. Growing student enrollment through focused admissions and marketing efforts will remain a top priority.  

I am not alone in being goal-oriented. This summer I was able to meet with my newly redefined administrative team and share my goals with them. They, in turn, have developed their own goals that build on these four priorities, while ensuring success in their particular roles. With all oars pulling in the same direction, we are rowing into an outstanding school year.

I think I’m alone, however, in not leaving my office until the items on my to-do list are all checked off.  It’s my only way to relax!

DESIGNING COMMUNICATIONS

“Amazing things happen in the classroom every day at MTS, and we want our families to know about these moments of joy and learning.” Head of School, Andrew Davis, opened with these words as he gathered a group of teachers and administrators to rethink classroom to home communication.

Reflecting on the last school year, Andrew was enthusiastic about the steps forward the school took with communication including MTS 1, MTS Too, a photo sharing website, and a handful of teachers actively using Class Dojo. He was also clear that the desire for even more communication was shared among the parent body, as well as the faculty. Knowing there was room for improvement, ten faculty members and administrators met over two days in mid-August tasked with redesigning classroom to home communication.

Andrew and that team approached the problem from a design thinking perspective. Design thinking, made popular by Ideo and the Stanford D-School, is a process for human-centered innovation.  Using the “Design Thinking for Educators” text, created by Ideo and Riverdale School in New York, along with hundreds of Post-It Notes, Andrew led the group from the question “How might we most effectively communicate between school and home?” to a solution that we are excited to launch next week.  

The design process included five steps:

The most obvious outcome of this “redesign” is our upcoming launch of ParentSquare. This platform and app will allow teachers and administrators to post regular updates to parents about life on campus.  In the lower school we plan to have more frequent, briefer posts with pictures similar to those that were on Class Dojo last year. Middle school families will see less frequent unit and mid-unit summaries from teachers.  Both of these are meant to be catalysts for further conversation and learning at home. The Head of Lower School and Head of Middle School will be using ParentSquare to share reflections on life in their respective divisions. As a parent, you will only see the posts relevant to your children, and you will be able to select whether you receive a digest email, text notifications, or app notifications. 

Our upcoming launch of ParentSquare is just one of the end products from this design process. Andrew’s earlier email clarifying who and how to contact faculty and staff evolved from an expressed desire by all of our parent users. Likewise, we emphasized the importance of the human connection in communication and community building at MTS. To this end we have opened up the black top for parents to drop their K-2 children off for school and have asked our homeroom teachers and advisors to be in touch with families every five to six weeks for a brief check in.

A core tenet of the Ideo design process is that we always evolve our designs. For this reason, we will ask for your feedback on the effectiveness of our school and classroom to home communication later this fall.  That feedback will allow us to open even more effective windows into the joyous daily life at Mount Tamalpais School.

 

WHAT DID YOU DO THIS SUMMER?

REFLECTIONS ON LEARNING MATH AND THE GROWTH MINDSET 

BY JENNIFER ADAMS

“What did you do this summer?”  I, like most people around a school, have been asked this question numerous times recently.  My first response surprises many people. I biked to school from my home in Novato. After they look at me askance, I quickly add that I got an early birthday present – a red, electric bicycle that makes the journey not only doable, but enjoyable. 

My second response, and the one that I have even more to say about, is that I took an incredible online course titled “How to Learn Math for Teachers,” taught by Dr. Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford. Dr. Boaler, a recent celebrity in the mathematics education world, reinvigorated my teaching in countless ways.  

Two of Boaler’s lessons that guide my instruction the most these days are a focus on mindset and number sense. Dr. Boaler emphasizes the importance of setting students up for success by creating positive and encouraging class norms. The norms remind students what is true and important to be a growth mindset mathematician, one who sees intelligence and skill as mutable through effort. To foster the growth mindset I am spending the first weeks of class introducing Dr. Boaler’s “Positive and Encouraging Math Norms”:

  1. Everyone Can Learn Math to the Highest Levels. There is no such thing as a “math” person. Through believing in yourself, having a desire to learn, and hard work, you can reach the highest levels in math.

  2. Mistakes are Valuable. Brain research shows that mistakes grow your brain! It is good to struggle and make mistakes. Mistakes are growth opportunities.

  3. Questions are Really Important. Ask and answer questions. Continually ask yourself, “Why does that make sense?”

  4. Math is about Creativity and Making Sense. Math at its core is about visualizing patterns and creating solution paths that others can see, discuss, and critique.

  5. Math is about Connections and Communicating. Math is a connected subject, and a form of communication. Math can be represented by words, pictures, graphs, and equations that can all be linked together.

  6. Depth is much more Important than Speed. Most great mathematicians think slowly and deeply.  

  7. Math Class is about Learning not Performing. Math is a growth subject. It takes time to learn, and it is all about effort.

These norms will remain front and center throughout the year, encouraging our students to approach math with a growth mindset.

With norms in place, Dr. Boaler’s course reminded me of the importance of developing number sense. Boaler defines number sense as a student’s ability to “interact with the numbers flexibly and conceptually.” Number sense helps students see that there are numerous ways to solve a problem, giving them the confidence to experiment and even “play” with numbers, critical skills for more open-ended problem solving and higher level mathematics.  

One of the strategies for developing number sense that Boaler described, Number Talks, is something I know well from working with Kevin Marcovich last year. Kevin would write a number expression such as 8 + 5 on the board and ask the first graders to mentally find the sum. After all students had a moment to think, he would ask for solutions. Next, students had the opportunity to share their strategies for finding the sum. For example, one student said, “I added 10 + 5 and then subtracted 2 to get 13.” Another student said, “Since 8 is 3 + 5, I added 5 + 5 + 3 to get 13.” Excited to share their own strategies, the students were also learning new strategies from each other. They were developing flexible thinking while understanding conceptually that 13 can represented in many different ways.

Growth-mindset focused norms and developing number sense are just two of the many learnings Dr. Boaler had to offer. If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Boaler, I encourage you to explore www.YouCubed.org. On this site you will find articles, videos, activities, courses as well as parent resources.  

On one of my electrically assisted rides to MTS this summer, I reflected on the connection between Dr. Boaler’s course and all that we do at MTS. From math class to English class, we want our student to develop a growth mindset, to believe that intelligence can be positively impacted through effort. Furthermore, we want all of our students, regardless of subject, to develop flexible, conceptual understanding, to know the why, not just the how. I am excited to bring this to life in my math classes.

Jennifer Adams, Dean of Curriculum, 5th Grade Homeroom, Math Teacher

"The Job I have Been Preparing For My Entire Life"

A Conversation with Dave Baker, Head of Middle School

Q: Many people know you as the technology director and math teacher.  What made you want to lead the MTS Middle School?
DB: In the 30 years I have spent in the classroom I have taught every age of student from Kindergarten through college and I have learned that the middle school years are the sweet spot for the age I enjoy working with the most (besides the kindergarten students in computer class). Students in their middle school years begin developing the intellect, passion and self-identity that makes them so much fun to work with. When people I meet learn I am a middle school teacher the usual response is something like, “Wow, I could never work with that age group!” yet it is, for me, a group that has so much to offer.  Middle schoolers have an energy that, when well directed, can take them to places and discoveries they never imagined. I want to lead the MTS Middle School because I get to work with an amazing faculty that teaches a wonderful group of students who are just discovering how great they are.

Q: How have you professionally prepared to lead a school division?
DB: I feel like leading the Middle School has been the job I have been preparing for my entire life. People do think of me as being focused on math and technology, and these are both passions of mine, but my interest in education has always been about working with children. Having worked at Four Winds Westward Ho Camps in the San Juan Islands while in college I decided to study psychology with an emphasis on child and brain development.  I continued to study and teach and took on greater and greater leadership roles at  Four Winds Westward Ho, eventually acting as the Head of Westward Ho.  My mentor at that wonderful institution noted that I like to be a part of organizational change and have an impact.  For this reason I completed a Masters in Private School Administration and a leadership fellowship with the National Association of Independent Schools.  These programs, along with the work I’ve done as Associate Head have given me a great foundation to move into this next phase of my career.

Q: You have been at MTS for quite some time.  What has kept you here? 
DB: Simply put, I have always believed that MTS is a gem that, with the right leadership, could go from being a really good school to one of the best in the area. I wanted to be an integral part of that change. 

Q: What changes are you most excited to make in the years ahead to the MTS middle school program? 
DB: The three that immediately come to mind are not changes I’m excited to make, but rather changes I’m excited to be a part of facilitating with the amazing group of educators at MTS. On the immediate horizon is the plan for a social emotional learning and advisory program, Developmental Designs. Second would be the creation of a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program. This is an obvious area I have a connection to with technology and math baked into it, but more importantly it will give our students more opportunity to learn about learning, exploring, making mistakes and problem solving all while diving into topics like coding, robotics, electronics and physics. Finally, working with the faculty to incorporate more problem and project based learning.  Much like STEM, the inclusion of Project Based Learning (PBL) will help our students be more self directed and independent in their learning which will prepare them well for high school and beyond.

Q:What do you hope you will do on a “typical” day in your new role?
DB: I plan to have a lot of contact with the students and teachers throughout the day.  Beyond the administrative tasks of coordinating high school visits and talking with parents, I hope to be out of my office more than in it. I am excited to still be teaching Algebra next year and working with students in Mathletes and their enrichment classes. As a teacher, these connections are important to me and will make me more effective as the Head of the Middle school.  I also plan on having the opportunity to get into other classrooms each day to really see what is happening across the middle school. This time will give me the opportunity to collaborate with teachers and facilitate cross-curricular discussion. I look forward to having the opportunity to talk with parents and be a part of a mechanism that creates more of a window into the daily lives of their children. As a parent I found it an invaluable dinner table conversation starter to have a bit of insight into what had happened on campus during the day.  For too long parents have been kept at arm’s length and I look forward to being a part of creating more of a partnership between school and families. 

Q: What is something students and parents might not know about you?
DB: The two things people seem most surprised learning about me are that I surf and I am a certified, although not current, IFR pilot. Having been born and raised on Oahu I started surfing when I was about 8 years old and it remains a big part of my life. The water is a little colder here, but it helps keep the crowds down. Flying is also something I’ve enjoyed over the years, but it has taken a backseat while Liam and Alanna have been growing up. It is something I look forward to doing again when I can give it the time and energy to go beyond the FAA minimums.
 

"I Strongly Believe in the Mission, Vision, and Direction"

A Conversation with D.J. Thistle, Head of Lower School

Q: You have taught across a number of grades at MTS, why are you interested in leading the Lower School?
Thistle: Most importantly I strongly believe in the mission, vision and direction of the school.  These convictions inspire me to take on this new challenge and lead the Lower School.  Having taught almost every grade level at MTS over the past eight years has allowed me to see the remarkable progress our students make over the course of their careers here.  I love working with our younger students because of their energy and enthusiasm. I love how they come to school with a smile on their faces and are always eager to learn something new. 

Q: You were recently in graduate school.  How do you think this work will help you be an effective Head of Lower School?
Thistle: Yes, I recently completed a Masters degree in Educational Leadership and Administration in January of 2017.  In that program I studied leadership, design thinking, diversity, curriculum design, and instructional leadership.  I can see all of these directly impacting my day to day leadership as we grow and evolve the Lower School program.  Through my program I also connected with an invaluable network of fellow school leaders.  I have already leveraged this group to set up visits to peer schools and explore other program best practices.  Finally, my culminating project was on improved teacher collaboration in the classroom. I believe the research and analysis of the topic will help me guide our lower school teachers to be even more effective with their students.

Q: What changes are you most excited to make in the years ahead to the MTS lower school program?  
Thistle:  Ooh.  This is a tough one.  We are taking on a number of great new programs next year and I am excited by all of them.  Our trio of new Social Emotional programs–Toolbox, Responsive Classroom, and No Bully–will provide the language, strategies, and time for our students to see increased value in being a part of the MTS community and to resolve the normal conflicts that arise.  These programs will also help all of the adults in our community, parents included, teach students how to self regulate and step in effectively when necessary. I am also  looking forward to the Columbia Readers and Writers Workshops. I believe the professional development and consistency of this program throughout K-4 will strengthen our Language Arts program. The program will also give us more data allowing teachers to more effectively communicate with the parents and benchmark student progress. Across the board I am excited about having the opportunity to be in the classrooms to develop stronger relationships with the students and dig deeper into how each individual student learns best, and support, collaborate with, and evaluate teachers.

Q: How do you hope to be known with students and parents in this new role?
Thistle: With all constituents, I want to be known as a leader that is in the classrooms daily and making decisions grounded in what I experience and in collaboration with the teachers that work with our  students every day.  I hope that every student can confidently say that DJ knows me.  I also want the students to feel comfortable enough to approach me with any questions, ideas or concerns.  Frankly I want parents to feel the same way–that I know their child and that I am an open partner in communication and problem solving.  Finally, I want parents to see me as someone who is working hard to build community among the grades themselves and the lower school.

Q: What is something students and families might not know about you?
Thistle: I didn’t believe I was “good at math” until I had that teacher that turned it all around for me in 7th grade. I hope to make a difference of this scale with every student at MTS.
 

From the Garden–Volunteer Spotlight

From the Garden–Volunteer Spotlight

The bell rings for lunch recess and I watch as happy faces race into the MTS garden. “We are the first in the garden!” beams a first grader.  Freedom and dirt, a magical combination the MTS Garden volunteers say make it one of the most rewarding places at MTS to be a parent volunteer. 

The MTS Garden was given to the school seven years ago through a successful Fund a Need campaign.  Wendy Anderson, who has been looking after the garden for the last six years, says this year the garden truly is the children’s garden. “Everything in here was planted by the kids.” Wendy’s background in teaching and her past work at the Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley means she brings a wonderful enthusiasm to the children when they are in the garden planting seeds, digging, weeding, watering or doing crafts. “I’m a teaching gardener. This place is the most active, inclusive and involved I can be with the children. It’s real, active learning and brings them connection, pride and ownership. And it makes the connection of what it takes to make things grow and develops an appreciation for the food they eat everyday.”

Helping Wendy is Lucie Charkin and Gwyn Thiessen. 

Beware the "Like"–Social Media Guidance from Andrew

Beware the "Like"–Social Media Guidance from Andrew

Oh how the word “like” has changed.  In sixth grade Randy asked me if I “liked” Jessica or like “liked” Jessica.  It sounds so odd now, but this was a typical–if not the quintessential–question of adolescence in the late 80s.  While like-like might still exist, “like”, as in I “liked” your photo on Instagram is the far more common usage.  In fact, as I write this on a Saturday afternoon my phone lights up every few minutes as friends “like” my photo of Huck and Harrison on the Angel Island Ferry from our morning adventure.  These “likes” make me feel good and, if with access to a brain scan, we would see dopamine being released with each notification.  I like “likes.”  We all like “likes.”

A recent New York Times article, shared with me by a MTS parent, reveals the dark side of the “like.”