Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It is Right to Protect and It is Right to Respect

Monitoring what our children are exposed to is a real and difficult struggle all parents face. Being exposed to influences from particular friends, certain music or even dangerous environments, is a threat we carefully navigate every day. Every family wants to keep their children safe, and every family has different boundaries when it comes to deciding what is appropriate and inappropriate exposure to things they perceive to be risky. As a counselor, I frequently field two common questions in relation to our children’s exposure to various forms of electronic media:
  • How much and what kind of video games should I allow my child to play? 
  • What if I go through all this trouble to limit my child’s exposure, and then he gets to play it at someone else’s house? 
It is worthwhile to be careful and thoughtful in discerning what you allow your children to view. Subsequently, it is absolutely critical that parents are aware of what their children are viewing. With awareness, we are all well-equipped to guide our children to make good choices. In addition, I encourage parents to monitor their child's play behavior to see if they notice trends related to observing "violent games." Too much of anything is not good.

Sometimes children get agitated when they have too much time with screens in general. If they have trouble responding to the limits we set, that may be another sign they are a bit too invested in it. And of course, ADHD plays into it too, complicating things for certain children even more. All games, movies and music have ratings, and I find them very helpful as a guide in what is appropriate for kids. Ratings are useful in "backing me up" as a parent. The ratings alone, however, are not enough to make a good decision. That being said, I have found the values that set the ratings scale are not always reflective of what I think is appropriate for my children. There is no substitute for actually viewing things yourself and using your own judgment.

And therein lies the right vs. right dilemma. It is right to stand by our values and hold fast to that which we believe in. Our common values within our family hold us together and give us purpose. Our common values guide our every decision in parenting. We invest a great deal of time and energy sorting through what we believe in and how that will influence the way our families will conduct their lives. This includes careful discussions with our partner and other loved ones as we defend the position for our family on many subjects.

It is also right to respect that each family works through this process uniquely. And each family’s values are just as important to them as mine is to me. Where one family places a high value in avoiding all possible risk, other families believe in allowing their children to experience some risk as they grow and mature. This can build resilience and problem-solving skills. Too much risk is certainly dangerous. But I have yet to meet a parent who intentionally exposes a child to what they think will result in danger.

It seems easy at first to respect the two rights; we can all have different opinions, I get that. But what do we do when our child is exposed to things we don’t approve of at the neighbor’s house? Again, a right vs. right. It is right to protect and it is right to respect.

So what do I do? Sometimes I politely say no to an invitation. As my kids get older I see this is not always feasible (I am in the phase of picking my battles very carefully). Other times I know that the small amounts of exposure to higher risk environments outside my home could actually be a good thing. A time for my children to learn and practice how to navigate a world beyond the boundaries of my home. So that leaves me thankful for the different values evident in the families of my community. Hmmm…..it IS a good thing we all don’t think alike.

Michelle Bostian, Lower School Counselor

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Supporting Diverse Learners

Working with students who have a variety of personalities, strengths, and interests is both a privilege and challenge for teachers. In addition, a student’s learning style is among the many characteristics that make him unique. How do teachers support diverse learners? Having an elastic MINDSET, providing DIRECT INSTRUCTION, creating time for COLLABORATION, and teaching ADVOCACY are ways to construct an effective learning environment for all of our students who each have a unique and developing mind. 

An accepting and caring MINDSET is the most important key to supporting diverse learners.

Each student has something to contribute to the learning environment and school community. Discovering students’ strengths, interests, and personal goals helps us to appreciate and highlight who they are beyond what grade they earn on a test or how fast they read. Once these qualities are discovered they can be integrated into lessons and discussions, thus increasing the value of the lesson for students. Students need and want to know that we are on their side rooting for their success. Once this is achieved, academic support can happen in the most effective ways.

  • Incorporate “get to know you” activities or have students write letters describing their strengths and interests.
  • Support a student’s interests by attending his drama performance or sporting event.
  • Talk to them about what is going on in their lives and show genuine interest in their responses.
  • Constantly remind yourself where your students are developmentally and be realistic in your expectations while at the same time strive to help them grow academically and emotionally.

DIRECT INSTRUCTION of effective work habits goes a long way with all types of learners.

Offering instruction in study skills and executive functions allows students to understand the best ways for lifelong learning. Skills including goal setting, engaged reading, active listening, planning and scheduling, and organizing materials are habits that students can apply to a variety of settings and content areas.

  • Give time and attention outside of class time by providing extra support on a more personal level.
  • Help students set personal, specific, and achievable goals and then implement daily behaviors to move toward those goals.
  • Review calendars on a regular basis and make action plans for the day/week/month.
  • Allow time to clean out desks, notebooks, and lockers.
  • Meet individually or in small groups to increase attention and engagement.
  • Pre-teach new content by showing pictures and videos or having students research the topic ahead of time.
  • Offer alternative options in your room, such as soft lighting and round table seating.
  • Allow for different seating options such as exercise balls or bean bags.
  • Coordinate extra support services such as homework help, one-on-one tutoring, or peer mentoring.

COLLABORATION among teachers, parents, and the students themselves creates a team approach

Individually, we see how students perform in our particular setting. It is important to collaborate with colleagues who also work with our students whether it be in a different subject area or in an after school activity. Making time to meet as a team allows teachers to discuss the whole child, as the best ways to address the needs of our students are developed. Parents should also feel a part of the team, as they can help us see each child as someone beyond a student in our classroom. Each child has a history, a personality, and hopes for himself that parents can help us to understand. We, in return, are able to share our expertise of learning and developmental characteristics with parents who crave this type of insight into their children. Finally, students must be part of the team. When we consult them, talk with them, and allow them to be a part of the decision making; we create buy-in from them when it comes to their learning. This collaboration creates a mutual trust with everyone working together in the best interest of the student.

  • Collaboration with teachers: set aside time for team meetings, share strategies that work for a student with colleagues, observe students in other classes to discover what might not be noticeable while teaching the student yourself, and keep a log of student concerns and successes to share with appropriate teachers.
  • Collaboration with parents: LISTEN and offer support (with Kleenex and chocolate if needed,) participate in parent conferences, always maintain confidentiality and be respectful to the privacy of families, and educate parents via workshops, book clubs, and website resources.
  • Collaboration with students: Set aside time for individual conferences to set semester goals or to review a writing assignment, provide choices when coming up with a plan for students to achieve their goals, and LISTEN to their ideas and needs.

Teaching ADVOCACY allows students to be the leader of their educational experience.

When students are given opportunities to discover their strengths and accept their challenges as learners, they can then set realistic goals and implement the best strategies for reaching those goals. Students are also in a better position to advocate appropriately for themselves, thus becoming their own best supporters.

  • Provide students with opportunities for constant reflection of their learning whether it be completing test corrections with a written explanation component or leading their own parent-teacher conference.
  • Give a multiple-intelligence survey and help students focus on their own strengths while becoming resources for each other.
  • Steer students away from ineffective strategies and offer options that are better suited for their learning styles.
  • Coach students on how to advocate respectfully for themselves by helping them to compose a letter or email.
  • Accompany the student to chat with another teacher when issues arise.
  • Assist students in preparation for a parent conference with a template which the students fill in with their own notes.

Our students are the center of what we do and what we want to accomplish. We do not simply teach a subject, we teach children. We teach them how to learn and also to value the process of learning whether it be the process of writing a book report, completing a project, or preparing for a test. Our students are incredibly unique and yearn for us to know and value their strengths as learners and their qualities as people. When we appreciate our students’ diversity as learners and promise to stretch their capabilities and minds, we ultimately prepare them for independence from us.

Greensboro Day School Learning Resource Department

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In a Student's Words...

I learn so much from the students I teach; they are incredibly intelligent, talented and creative. One of my students had an assignment to write an "artistic statement" about her life as a dancer. I'd like to share this piece written by Kate Montgomery, an 8th grader, and offer a glimpse of just one of the special things that I witness each day a in my role as a Middle School teacher at Greensboro Day School. – Pamela Thaxton, MS Learning Resource Specialist 

Artistic Statement
By: Kate Montgomery ’17

Blue, this is the color ballet would be, not pink not black, blue. Why is it blue you might ask? It is blue because it is light and airy yet strong and vibrant. Blue is one of those colors with seemingly endless shades that can literally be interpreted into any form, story, or emotion. This all depends on two points, the eyes of the observer and the feelings of the performer, and we can only hope that our feelings are dusted over the audience. The ability to take physical movements and turn them into a story or emotion takes someone with a wild imagination. To be able to share this sensation with an audience is what makes it an art. Ballet to me is that one place where you can say everything by simply raising an arm and touching it to your forehead, just as the corp girls in the first movement of Serenade so beautifully do. All of this because of a connection that you have between your body, your mind, and the observer; you first begin this connection when you are a child with a dream that will soon become an ambition.

Almost every little girl goes to ballet class and can't help but dream of being a Ballerina. Then the technique begins and suddenly that giddy feeling goes away. For me, my love for this art only grew stronger. As soon as the time came to begin working on our technique I was all in, and became more and more excited to go to dance. At Greensboro Ballet this meant moving up to Mr.D's class (John Dennis), and for many it seemed to be the scariest thing in the world, including me. However, his classes made me want to see what else was out there in the ballet world, so for Christmas that year my parents took my brother and I to New York City. While I was there my mom took me to see New York City Ballet's Nutcracker, where I got to meet one of the dancers who danced in the snow corp. I remember taking a picture with her and thinking how much I wanted to be her. I could barely sit in my seat as I watched the dancers fly across the snow covered stage in there long tulle skirts and pink shiny point shoes. My young seven year old self couldn't help but think how one day I would be there with my own pair of pink shiny point shoes. From then on, I worked as hard as physically possible. The summer of 2011, when I was attending Greensboro Ballet's summer intensive, I knew it was all going to pay off one day. The idea of waking up in the morning and knowing that my job would be to do what I loved suddenly became the only thing I could ever picture myself doing, and that's when I knew that this is what I was meant to do.

Dance, drenched in a pallet with beautiful shades of blue, a pallet that each person sees differently, the artist is to take their paint brush and create their desired shade. In other words, it is like a blank sheet of paper with guidelines and basic rules, but what you decide to do with it is up to you because every dance is like a new story or emotion just waiting to be unleashed. Sometimes the story is given to you and it is your job to bring it to life, other times you have to search for the story and let your imagination run wild. For when I dance I get that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you come home after a long trip and you finally sink into your own bed; that feeling of pure joy that overflows your veins and is released through your limbs. It empowers me to slip on those practically magical point shoes and show the audience what I can do and how happy I am to show them. It is that itch that you always feel the need to scratch, that one thing you dream about at night hoping it will only bring the moment where you can feel free and alive that much closer. I'm in a deep relationship with dance and we are in it for the long run.

Olga Lepeshinaskya, one of my favorite ballet dancers, was a principal with the Bolshoi Ballet in the 1940's. However, she recently died of old age. I first came to know about this once extraordinary dancer when I was nine years old waiting for class to begin. I looked up and saw a black and white picture of a seemingly happy dancer posing in attitude. Under the picture in black ink was typed a name that was obviously Russian with a particularly daunting last name. I sounded out the name that gave me such joy to pronounce. When my ballet teacher John Dennis walked up behind me while I was telling some of the other dancers about Olga, Mr. D told me a little bit about her. From then on, I was fascinated with the smiling petite Russian girl who could captivate an audience by throwing herself into the air and twirling across the stage with her massive pique turns. While looking at videos of Olga, I stumbled upon a full length recording of Balanchine's classic Swan Lake, this being my favorite ballet being performed by one of my favorite companies, I couldn't resist. I clicked play and was quickly put into a trance by the gorgeous choreography of the White Swan Pas de Deux into Odettes solo, a role I have always dreamed of portraying. For you are given the chance to show much diversity by playing two roles, Odette and Odile, who performs my favorite Pas De Deux, the Black Swan Pas De Deux, a Pas where Odile transforms into a sassy black swan who tricks prince Zigfried into thinking that she is his one love, Odette. What made watching this magnificent ballet even more spectacular, were the beautiful dancers of ABT, a company that I have come to love after watching endless videos of Misty Copeland, Gillian Murphy and so many more amazing dancers I can hardly resist the urge to someday be up there with them. There is just something about their dancers that just pops on stage with everything from superb technique to flawless stage presence. This company is a place I would like to someday make my destination after a long journey. One tool I have used to better my training is to get inspiration from ballets, dancers, and companies. When you know where you want to land it makes taking off that much easier.

"Always have a secret". These were words spoken by my ballet teacher, Mary Helen Mayfield. One day in class she told us to always have a little secret while we were dancing; something that the audience doesn't know, allowing you to perform and for the audience to not take their eyes off of you. Mrs. Mayfield's secret was always that she had a ruby in her tutu, my secret is that I have a little bird behind my ear that whispers all the steps to me. When my little birdie tells me what the steps are, it is then my job to show off the steps in beautiful shades of blue. This is a job that takes a large amount of imagination, passion, and a little birdie that tells you all the steps. That is why I dance.