TNCS Head of School Attends NAIS Conference!

This year, Baltimore City had the good fortune to host the 2017 NAIS conference—and The New Century School didn’t pass up the convenient opportunity to attend!

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NAIS stands for The National Association of Independent Schools, a nonprofit membership association that provides services to more than 1,500 independent private K–12 schools in the United States. They define independent schools as . . . “independent in philosophy: each is driven by a unique mission. They are also independent in the way they are managed and financed . . . each is primarily supported through tuition payments . . . They are accountable to their communities and are accredited by state-approved accrediting bodies.”

NAIS’s mission, according to their website, is to empower independent schools and their students. “The association offers research and trend analysis, leadership and governance guidance, and professional development opportunities for school and board leaders.”

The NAIS Annual Conference, then, is the “premier professional development and networking event for administrators, trustees, and teachers at independent schools.” In the course of this year’s 3-day event, the theme of which was “Make Your Mission Matter: From Vision to Values,” thousands of participants attended. See highlights in the short video below.

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TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali in her bustling office.

TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali was thrilled that the conference was in Baltimore; previous conferences have been held at various cities across the United States. She wanted to experience the conference first-hand, she said, having never been able to attend until now. She networked with various groups, visited the different vendors associated with education, and sat in on some of the speaker sessions. She describes it this way:

They have an unlimited amount of resources for independent schools. The conference is attended by well-versed, well-educated people in the field of education in every aspect. They had individual booths for everything—from admissions to school psychology to gender-specific schools to service learning to extracurriculars. Debbie Rothman, for example, had a whole day dedicated to health education. She helped us develop our health education program at TNCS.

(See Right from the Start: Talking with Elementary Age Children about Sexuality for more on Baltimore’s health education guru Debbie Rothman.)

In addition to local, well-known education experts, internationally acclaimed speakers also presented. The keynote speaker, in fact, was Sir Ken Robinson, whom Ms. Danyali calls, “one of the biggest and most respected names in education.”

His landmark 2006 TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (shown below) and subsequent follow-ups have earned him the distinction of being the most watched TED Talker in the history of TED Talks!

Ms. Danyali explains that her primary reason for going was to network, in particular about her particular professional interests:

 I think about us as a young school, and I also think about what would be vital to network about in reaching out to these experts in the field who can help us to grow. Especially now that we’ve grown into a middle school, one of my focuses, of course, has been restorative, and how that looks and how people deal with behavioral issues. I’m also always going back to character development—how do we identify self as a learner? I think about students I’ve taught and people I’ve hired. What stands about them and how they’ll model behaviors to influence our population? It can be really challenging in a multicultural population. So this was a good way to get names and information.

See TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices! for more on how Ms. Danyali has adopted restorative practices at TNCS.

“Another area I was very interested in was how to involve schools in helping the environment,” she said.

“The conference brought a lot of like-minded people together, and I’m grateful to have gone.” Another aspect they offer is webinars and recordings. She plans to utilize this service next year, when the NAIS conference will be held in Atlanta so she can stay closer to campus but avail herself of the presentations and break-out sessions on best independent school practices.

She also took home some great reading material thanks to the conference’s pop-up bookstore!

Resources and Tips to Avoid the Summer Slide in 2017!

Since its opening for the 2010–2011 school year, The New Century School has annually offered resources to families to help prevent the “summer slide” phenomenon that can happen to kids over summer break when they might be less academically engaged than during the school year and lose scholastic ground as a consequence. Although this problem disproportionately affects underserved communities, it is nevertheless felt to a certain degree across the board, as teachers find themselves re-teaching concepts that were learned the previous year and then forgotten. Some research has shown that students can lose as much as 3 months of reading and math achievement over the course of just one summer. (See Making Summer Count for more details on relevant studies.)

The best way to slow the summer slide, according to the research, is to provide students with resources and educational activities. Head of School Alicia Danyali provides the following ideas:

1.  Visit museums with your child/ren. Between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore there is an abundance of great, educational opportunities. Depending on the age of the child, together or independently, visit the museum website prior to the visit. If the museum has dedicated tabs for educators or parents, peruse to get ideas of a focus for activities to make the experience a learning one.

2.  Reading is key in the summer to encourage and reinforce a love of reading in spare time, as well as discussions related to comprehension and how authors can open a wide range of interests.  Visit the library weekly and allow your child/ren to choose books of interest. Forming a summer “book club” can bring like-minded kids together to make it a rewarding experience.

3.  Whether it is on car rides to camp, the grocery store, at breakfast, or together time, play language, math, and vocabulary games to keep skills fresh.  If you are comfortable with online platforms (elementary and up) for introducing or reinforcing topics of interest or need, Khan Academy is one of the best with its interactive and descriptive teaching tools (video, examples) built into practice.

4. We encourage you to have your child work through a supplemental workbook selected by your child’s teacher over the summer. The books are published through Singapore Math and align with the backbone curriculum taught at TNCS. They will be collected and reviewed in the first week of next school year. Parents are encouraged to review work completed periodically to ensure students are staying on the right track. Order one here.

To point #2, making sure children have access to books is something Enoch Pratt Free Library is all about in summer. Their former “Summer Reading Program” has become the Summer Reading Challenge for 2017, the challenge being to “Build a Better World.” The challenge incentivizes kids to read, read, and read some more during summer, offering related activities and even prizes.

Señora Sanzana offered these tips for continued Spanish language learning (in addition to what is shown below):

  • One way is reading: Scholastic’s Spanish website offers many titles for young  readers that can be purchased at a low  cost.
  • Pekegits.com is also an amazing website where you will be able to  find readings, tales, games, and grammar  review.

Websites by Category

TNCS students have been introduced to multiple websites throughout the year. These are either free, inexpensive, or can be easily accessed. The children should be familiar with their log-in information because they are familiar with these websites.

Math

Math skills can also be lost without regular practice. Here are websites that TNCS students can use during the summer months:

Language Arts

After TNCS students have worked very hard on their reading and comprehension all year long, to keep these skills sharp, try to read with your child each day and ask questions or talk about what you have read together. Here are suggested lists of unforgettable books, differentiated by grades:

And here are websites:

World Languages

To keep current on both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese skills, your kids can visit the following websites (they will already know their log-in information for some of these):

Handwriting

 Students entering grades 3 and higher are expected to write in cursive. We recommend having your students continue writing throughout the summer. A fun way to do this is to have them write to friends and relatives. There are also handwriting workbooks that try to make the task fun or valuable. Here are two such books, available on Amazon:

Wacky Sentences Handwriting Workbook

Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes

Typing Skills

There are a number of great apps and sites that will help to teach typing in a fun way, for students who are not yet typing by touch. This skill becomes more valuable as students advance in school.

Finally, see Hit the Ground Learning in Summer 2016 with TNCS-Approved Resources! for additional websites and resources differentiated by age for keeping English Language Arts, Math, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish skills sharp over the summer.

The TNCS elementary team looks forward to seeing their students back for the 2017–2018 school year, refreshed and ready to once more hit the ground learning!

TNCS Bids Farewell to an Original!

Catherine LawsonAfter 7 years at The New Century School, primary teacher Catherine Lawson, of the Pear Tree classroom, is embarking on an exciting new life chapter and is consequently moving from the area. Of course, it’s not unusual that teachers come and go, as life changes—changes of locale, growing families, continuing education, etc.—dictate, but what makes this particular departure so significant is that Mrs. Lawson was one of the handful of teachers who opened the school in its current location back in August 2010 and, with Adriana Duprau, is one of only two who remained from that original group, as of the 2016–2017 school year. The other original teachers were Angela Lazarony (primary); Raquel Alvarez (toddler Spanish immersion); Zhihong “Jewel” Xie (toddler Chinese immersion); Jenny Miller, now DeFusco (art teacher); and Valerie Lim (Admissions Director). Back then, the student body comprised only about 50 children from ages 2 to 6 years.

Needless to say, this will be an emotional goodbye for Mrs. Lawson, for her fellow teachers and staff, her past and present students, and their families. Being a Montessori teacher, she taught many TNCS youngsters for 3 years during an especially formative time in their development. She knows them well, and she is very dear to them.

Immersed got the chance to chat with Mrs. Lawson to reminisce a bit and give her the opportunity to tell her story. Here is a transcript of that conversation.

Immersed: What was that first year like, here at TNCS?

Mrs. Lawson: It was a little crazy [smiling], because all of our materials were out in trailers in the back. We had just the empty building. During set-up week, we moved all of the materials into our classrooms.

Immersed: How long did it take you to get in the groove?

Mrs. Lawson: We found our groove pretty quickly. As a group, we all started working really well together, and so we were able to figure out the logistics. We worked as a team—that was the big thing. When we didn’t know what to do in a given situation, we would go to each other and work it out together. We were a really strong team.

Immersed: Can you tell us about the event that precipitated your move?

Mrs. Lawson: I inherited a house sitting on 3 1/2 acres in Vienna, VA from my aunt and uncle! It’s well located—only 5 minutes from anything—but, at the same time, it’s in the woods, so it’s nice and private. We have lots of wildlife there, like deer, fox, chipmunks, squirrels, and birds like bluebirds and big woodpeckers.

Immersed: Will you continue working in some capacity?

Mrs. Lawson: Oh yes—I plan to continue teaching, but with moving and all that entails plus closing the year out here, I haven’t begun to look for a position yet. My goal is to be in the house by July 1st. My last day here at school is June 16th.

Immersed: How long have you been teaching, and have you always been a Montessori teacher?

Mrs. Lawson: I have always been a Montessori teacher. I was getting a degree in preschool education in Massachusetts and realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do. My sister-in-law, who was a secretary at Julia Brown Montessori in Silver Spring, MD, urged me to come visit. So over winter break I did, and fell in love. That summer, I attended a 10-week training program and discovered how intense the preparation really is, in terms of interning and compiling albums of all the lesson plans (nowadays they just give teachers the albums already made). And, in the state of Maryland, a college degree is required to teach Montessori. I finished my senior year of college then returned to MD, interned for 2 years, and have been teaching ever since—that was in 1990.

Immersed: Would you like to share any reflections on your time here at TNCS?

Mrs. Lawson: Oh, I’m definitely going to miss the kids. One of the things that’s really wonderful about working in the school as long as I’ve been here is being able to watch them over the years, many of them from age 2, growing and maturing and becoming their own people. I also love to see the families grow, with the the second child in a family coming through my classroom and maybe even a third. But the best is watching the individual child grow and mature. Like, the other day, Mr. McGonigal’s [2nd- and 3rd-grade] students came to read my students, and some of them had been my former students! I remember teaching them their letter sounds, and here they are reading fluently to my current students who are just now beginning to learn their letter sounds. It was so cool to watch. . . seeing who these children are turning out to be. I guess the hardest part for me is not knowing what they’re ultimately going to become. That’s going to be hard, especially having been with them for so long.

Immersed: Do you anticipate being able to visit?

Mrs. Lawson: Oh yes! I’ve kept in touch with some of my former students who are now graduating high school via Facebook and hope to do the same with my TNCS students. That’s fun.

Immersed: How have you seen TNCS evolve over the years?

Mrs. Lawson: When I started here, we had a Chinese and a Spanish toddler class, three primary classes, and an elementary. Now, we have two Spanish and one Chinese toddler classrooms, four primary classrooms, a 2nd-/3rd-grade classroom, and a 4th-/5th/6th-grade classroom. That’s a big expansion. Also, the Chinese and the Spanish language learning has evolved—we used to have just one teacher of each language to cover everything. Now we have big populations of Spanish and Chinese staff members. This means that the children can really be immersed because they are being spoken to in these languages continuously throughout the day, not just in blocks. In Professor Manuel’s K/1st class, he speaks full Spanish, for example, so at that level, the students are really getting it. I have worked at schools that taught Spanish or French for 45 minutes a day before, but I’ve never experienced anything like this level of immersion.

Immersed: Do you have any closing thoughts to convey? [Cue tears.]

Mrs. Lawson: I really love The New Century School. The staff and the families are like no other. The love and support of the families and the staff are like no other. This is the eighth school that I’ve worked in, in my life, and for the first time I really feel like I’m leaving family. When I have needed support this year, everyone has stepped in and done anything they could to help me, to make me feel supported.

On behalf of the TNCS community, Mrs. Lawson, Immersed would like to say that your ninth school will be very lucky to have you. Although you will be dearly missed, we hope that your next chapter is the best one yet!

Chicken Check-in at TNCS!

IMG_1628Wednesday, May 31st was a colossal day in The New Century School‘s chicken run. (No, the sky was not falling.) On this monumental occasion, two of TNCS’s small brood moved into their permanent residence after having been lovingly incubated in primary teacher Maria Mosby’s classroom and even hosted on weekends by both Ms. Mosby and Chef Emma Novashinski in their homes over the last several weeks. Having attained a size large enough to be able to weather nights and weekends without continual supervision, they were permitted to take up housekeeping in their lovely new coop and run. (“Cluck” Great Things Are Hatching at TNCS for additional details . . . and super cute pictures of TNCS students coddling their new feathered friends.)

As you’ll see, the pair took to the coop beautifully, and who can blame them? Carefully crafted by TNCS dad Blair Nahm, this structure is palatial by chicken standards. (Shouts out to the two other TNCS dads who constructed the run!)

But that’s not all. TNCS chickens have officially been named after a whole-school vote overseen by Head of School Alicia Danyali. Say hello to Sapphire and Nugget!

Chicks 3 and 4 have also been named. Mrs. Cluckington and Henrietta (aptly named by Chef Emma, a special dispensation for all of her hard work in getting this initiative up and running) hope to join the chicken run soon and look forward to meeting the TNCS community.

Without further cockle-doodle-ado, here are Sapphire and Nugget enjoying their new habitat and friends!

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TNCS’s Second Annual Art Show Beguiles Attendants!

tncs-seconnd-annual-art-showThe Arts are an integral part of every school day at The New Century School. Visual arts teacher (and newlywed, hence the name change) Elisabeth Davies hosted the first-ever TNCS student art show during the 2015–2016 school year, but her show this year took it to a new level.

Kicking off Memorial Day weekend, the show comprising works from each and every primary through middle school student took place Friday, 5/26/17, from 5:30 pm–6:30 pm. Paintings, drawings, and sculptures were on display, spiraling up the central staircase of building south and spilling out into the hallways. A silent auction* and reception were held in the multipurpose room. Attendees were invited to have some snacks and do a gallery walk through the school, guided by their young artists.

Ms. Davies says she came up with the idea for hosting an art show having grown up participating in one every year. “I grew up always having an art show in the district,” she explained. “It combined art from three elementary schools, two middle schools, and the local high school. It was a really fun event that brought everyone together and meant a lot to the kids to get to show their families.”

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It evidently means a lot to TNCS students as well. Ms. Davies says, “The students have worked so hard on every project this year, knowing that I would be putting together an art show at the end of the year. They were all very excited.”

Her primary goals for the show were to have some fun but also demonstrate the technique and skill that go into creating art:

I wanted to show parents all the skills their children learned this year in art. It may just look like a drawing of a snowman, but the kindergarteners and 1st-graders learned how to create foreshortened space and give volume to a sphere using shading. The 4th- through 6th-graders are learning how to draw from life and see and translate those things into paper. I’m so proud of every single student in the school.

As for the primary students, Head of School Alicia Danyali explains, “Primary students have studied communities all year long, working from the closest community to them (their families) all the way out to the world. This month, we have discussed what we all have in common and what makes us different, and that we are all part of a larger community outside of ourselves.” You’ll read below how this translates to their art.
And, with this brief introduction, we leave you now to feast your eyes on these amazing works of creativity, beauty, imagination, and masterful execution. This is truly one of those times when the picture is worth 1,000 words.

Snowmen at Night

Bad Hair Day

Self-Portrait

Cooperative Monsters

Space

Inner Self-Portrait

Van Gogh, Pigasso, and Mootisse

Inedible Food

Quilts

Other

Auction

*TNCS’s curriculum teaches global citizenship and peace. With that in mind, the primary students are excited to help other children in North America by making something with their own hands. The Peter Hesse Foundation aims to promote quality early childhood education; compassion; and a peaceful, just world. Parents for all ages were invited to take part in primary’s silent auction to benefit The Peter Hesse Foundation.

TNCS Elementary Talks Some Serious Trash!

. . . Litter-ally. Last month, Baltimore artist and activist Bridget Parlato, a.k.a., “the RecyQueen,” paid a visit to The New Century School at the invitation of TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali. Ms. Parlato gave a salient and illuminating two-pronged presentation on what trash does to Baltimore neighborhoods and waterways as well as how plastics harm the health of our global environment and the health of Earth’s inhabitants—including us.

Conservation Conversations

Ms. Parlato graciously shared select slides from her presentation to give Immersed readers an idea of what she teaches students. (Click the pause button on each slide to allow yourself time to read all of the alarming but critical facts.)

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Of the event, Ms. Danyali said, “The presentation was wonderful—eye-opening to the realities we face and inspirational.” A few days after the RecyQueen’s presentation, Ms. Danyali visited elementary classrooms to gauge their impressions of the “Trash Talk.”

The “circling” technique she uses in the videos below was detailed in TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices, and you can see it being used here in a novel way, that is, to give students the opportunity to share something they found surprising about the presentation and/or something they found to be inspirational.

It’s abundantly clear that Ms. Parlato’s presentation struck home with them, from the scary new oceanic feature called “gyres” (swirling vortexes of microplastics such as what is found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) to the physical harm and disfigurement done to aquatic animals who encounter plastic trash. The studnets began to grasp how vast the plastic problem is in terms of scale and of impact. The fact that plastic never breaks down but simply gets smaller and disperses more widely (and consequently does greater harm) was something that got them thinking about how to dispose less and re-use more. They learned about the dreaded bisphenol A (BPA) contained in plastics that disrupts the human endocrine system with downstream impairments in neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, and metabolic systems. (By the way, the recent “BPA-free” label sported by many plastic products these days probably means very little—manufacturers have likely just substituted bisphenol S [BPS], the effects of which are as yet unknown.) These problems do not have quick fixes, which makes the RecyQueen’s crusade to educate children so important. It will take a concerted global effort to prevent further harm.

They learned some good news, too, in that a brilliant young inventor named Boyan Slat has engineered a machine to help rid the oceans of trash through his organization The Ocean Cleanup. And shout-outs were, of course, given to Baltimore’s own water-cleaning wonders Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel.

About the RecyQueen

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Merging her two vocations, Ms. Parlato uses art to convey her important messages about trash and sometimes even uses trash to make art. (And then there’s the royal recycled regalia she designed entirely out of would-be trash—bags and boxes held together by tape, paperclips, and string—that is not only thought-provoking but exquisitely beautiful as well.) She explained that RecyQueen and her community organization Baltimore Trash Talk (BTT) are “offshoots” of her career as a graphic designer/artist at her studio Full Circuit Studio. She also happens to really love nature, so finding ways to protect and preserve it come, well, naturally, to her. She describes how she brings all of these threads together, starting with discovering her inner artist:

Most of my family is creatively gifted in some way. My mother went to art school. My father was a woodshop teacher. However, it was a teacher I had both in grade school and high school that helped direct my life. She even scheduled my interview and loaded me into the car and took me to Alfred University where I got the last spot in my class. I have a BFA and an MFA in fine arts concentrating in graphic design and sculpture (ceramics) as well as minors in writing and literature.

The tools, programs and social media I use as a freelance designer are heavily used for Baltimore Trash Talk. I love the idea and concept end. My past experience in writing is utilized all the time—coming up with campaign themes and writing my own copy for posters and print materials. My MFA in sculpture (as well as past job experience in events) has helped when thinking through installations.

I am also a person who feels like we should always be growing and learning, so as often as time permits, I try new stuff.  I just won a small scholarship and a month of studio time at Baltimore Jewelry Center. It is pretty exciting to think of how I can apply what I am learning about metals to my previous training in sculpture.

One such installation, well known to many in Baltimore was the River of Recycling, which grew out of her keen belief that we should be throwing away less stuff, such as by encouraging “bottle bill legislation.”

I planned and executed two grant-funded bottle deposit events. All the items were assembled into a River of Recycling in Patterson Park and then taken to the recycling facility. The data from my events was used to support a bill that was being considered at the time. Sadly, it died.

But, the River of Recyclables went on to happen at JHU, Artscape, and Loyola University. The JHU River was a partnership with MICA grad Chris Beer for his curatorial thesis. His event was on a work day so drive-up item return was going to be low. We utilized can/bottle drives at area schools for our recyclables. In return, schools got a small stipend and a presentation. Waterfront Partnership/Leanna Wetmore provided the stipends, and I presented at the schools.

Pickups of trash are great but never ending. Hitting trash from top down (legislation) or bottom up (education) is going to have bigger impact. I have had my hands and head in the policy end and continue to do so. In fact, it is through support of bottle bill legislation that the RecyQueen program started. Bottle deposits exist in 10 states—a 5–10-cent deposit is paid on a can or bottle and received back when the bottle is returned.

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“Hey, Let’s Teach More Kids!”: Further Outreach

Ms. Parlato’s cause has so far been funded entirely by BGE, but she has to find more grant money to keep going and must reapply regularly (“keep your fingers crossed!” she urges). In the meantime, though, she is eager to get the word out in as many ways as possible to as many students as possible. “Learning about sustainable practices and how to battle litter and how to keep our water clean can happen in so many ways. Let’s partner,” she says. (Click Baltimore Trash Talk schools to learn what is covered during a BTT school presentation.)

She also is willing to meet students off campus for special tours, projects, trips, etc. She has “canoed and scooped” with students from Bard Early College, taken a trip to Annapolis to support policy with Western High School students, and acted as teacher/student guide to American Visionary Art Museum for a Loyola University STEAM project.

She is actively looking for schools, organizations, or clubs to present to throughout the summer and into the fall. Contact Ms. Parlato if you want a presentation!

She also attends festivals where she educates about litter or makes art out of litter—or both. Got a festival coming? Contact her!

“As a result of Baltimore Trash Talk,” she says, “my freelance work has really become far more cause-related. Purpose is good—not always lucrative, but rewarding in other ways. One particular project that would be really really useful to any of the readers is the Baltimore Clean City Guide. Please check it out—there are all sorts of good pointers in there, from reporting 311 issues to bulk trash to recycling and rat abatement quick guides.”

New Century School (2)In keeping with TNCS’s commitment to community and environmentally related service, Ms. Danyali hopes to welcome Ms. Parlato back soon to work with students: “I thank [the RecyQueen] for sharing her important vision and mission and hope to continue the conversation for possible initiatives with TNCS students before the school year ends,” she said. For her part, the RecyQueen also wants to stay connected with TNCS, saying “Presenting at TNCS was such a lovely experience. What a great school. It really was a great morning and I left feeling really happy. I would love to do something else with the school—let’s think about other projects!”

Don’t forget to like Baltimore Trash Talk on Facebook to see how Ms. Parlato tackles trash problems through political, artistic, and social engagement.

TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices!

There’s a trend emerging in U.S. schools currently, including here in Baltimore and surrounding counties, to improve school culture by fostering healthy interpersonal and intrapersonal dialogue instead of by using the more traditional punitive approach to deal with problems. Restorative practices (RP) gives students concrete tools with which to resolve conflicts with others as well as internal conflicts that might be preventing a given student from realizing his or her potential. RP, thus, “restores” both the community and the individual to wholeness.

Although RP is sometimes associated with schools in crisis or as a last-resort way to redirect students otherwise headed for the criminal justice system, it is more accurately applied much more broadly. RP is useful in any social setting because its primary goal is to promote relationships.

Restorative Practices at TNCS

That’s why The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali has begun using RP at TNCS. “Restorative practices has been my focus for the whole year,” she said, “because I think it’s beneficial for any relationship. It has been around for about 30 years as a reaction to chronic poor student behavior. Although we do not have that problem at TNCS, I am very interested in giving TNCS students this tool to take ownership of their words and actions—that’s where the ‘restorative’ comes in.”

IMG_2283During the 2016–2017 school year, Ms. Danyali attended three professional development sessions with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) to ultimately become a “Trainer of Trainers,” meaning that she is now certified to teach TNCS staff (or anyone else) how to implement RP within their classrooms. She also attended sessions in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Development (CD) at the University of MD, put on by like-minded educators from Rutgers’ School of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Development (CD) in Schools and After-School Programs. She became familiar with RP through her colleague Barbara Sugarman Grochal, Director of School Conflict Resolution Education Programs, Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Said Ms. Danyali:

I’m a longtime believer in restorative practices in education as well as private industries. I read the books; it was life-changing. Hearing [Ms. Grochal] speak is the reason I got so interested in restorative practices. It fits with so many of the other things I was interested in like mindfulness and strong, supportive emotional and social character development. These disciplines all send a similar message but use different tools and strategies to effect their outcomes.

She even brought Ms. Grochal to TNCS as an independent consultant to talk about RP to staff during TNCS’s first professional development day back in October. They learned about the RP ethos and got a “crash course” on how to use RP strategies. Since then, Ms. Danyali has undertaken subsequent trainings, working in small groups as needs are identified to present possible activities that teachers can use. She sometimes works within the classroom herself and other times models an approach for the classroom teacher to start from. Her goal is to have everyone ready to use RP as needed for the next school year as part of an overall increased emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL):

What can teachers do to keep this message of teaching the whole child going? We want our children to be emotionally competent. They are facing things that previous generations haven’t necessarily had to deal with socially. They don’t have that much face-to-face contact, and I think that’s a component that’s missing, to ensure accountability. We live in a society where everybody has a platform to speak their mind. I also want students to know that if they send a message for example on SnapChat airing a certain opinion, they still need to take accountability for that. There is a unifying theme to all of these things I’ve been exploring that I hope will support teaching the whole student. I professionally see equal value in SE/CD for student growth as in the academic portion.

A facet of the “trial run” she has been doing lately is in figuring out how to implement RP in age-appropriate ways. “The research shows that you can plant these seeds very young.” said Ms. Danyali, “If we plant conflict resolution tools even in students as young as age 2, those are not only part of our pillars of what makes a TNCS learner—compassion, courage, service, and respect—but also vital skills that they can use to navigate challenging times in their lives. We’re currently working out how to make it age-appropriate and differentiated, such as with how much time is needed among the various age groups.” Sixth-graders can handle lengthy discussions, but 2-year-olds need a modified approach, such as gauging the pulse of the class during the morning meeting and modeling empathy.

Restorative Practices in the Classroom

Exactly how RP works in application comes down to one essential premise: that we are not responsible for anyone else’s thoughts or feelings, but we can work as a community to raise up a community member in need of support. “We all come from our own personal stories, we take a lot of baggage, but restorative practices reminds us that we’re conditioned to react in a certain way to what goes on around us, while allowing the facts to evolve without the emotion. You may have experienced trauma in one of any number of forms, but that doesn’t excuse treating other people badly. Taking accountability, repairing–it can be as simple as something that happened on the playground when unkind words were used,” explained Ms. Danyali.

Thus, RP can undo the negative stories students might be telling themselves. “It makes us more aware that ‘I’m not only responsible for myself, but when I’m in a community setting, there’s an expectation of how I treat others’,” she said.

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To reinforce the concept of community, RP generally happens in a circle formation. Circles convey inclusion and equality. Said Ms. Danyali:

Circling is probably my favorite tool among the arsenal because you can see everybody. Everybody is exposed, and everybody’s voice is heard. It forces the issue of really listening to others and reminds us that everybody’s voice is important. There are so many valuable concepts that go along with this, and a lot of it is intuitive, but the most important part to me is that there is trust. What we say here in our community is okay, because we care about our community and everyone in it. Restorative speaks to working with students instead of doing something for them or even to them. I’d rather do with because when we’re working together toward the same goal, we’re making real progress. There’s also the sense that my teacher trusts me, or I’m not just here to please others.

For the last quarter of the school year, Ms. Danyali has been regularly visiting elementary classrooms and circling the students for discussions on a wide range of topics and with varying goals. For example, Señora Cabrera felt that the 2nd- and 3rd-graders were not focusing as the end of the year draws near, and in-class work was not getting completed. She was having to constantly redirect them and ask them to refocus. “RP allows you to be transparent about your goals,” said Ms. Danyali. “I told the class what Sra. Cabrera had observed about their high energy and said to them, ‘I just wanted to come around and check in with you. This is your community. Let’s sit in a circle and talk about it’.” This led to a discussion of “norms”; just as norms would be set in the workplace, they also need to be set in an academic environment.

So I said to them, ‘I know you set classroom rules at the beginning of the year—why aren’t they being followed? We’re going to revisit those rules now. I think you know what they are, but we’re going to talk about what our expectations are in a respectful environment, and that’s called norms.’ Everybody gave suggestions and I wrote them down verbatim on a big chart. The next day I followed up with another circle and brought the norms list to take another look at and provide feedback about what we had created now that they had some time to mull it over. There’s always a reflection piece to restorative practices. ‘Never be disrespectful to your peers or to your teachers.’ I asked how they felt about this–does anybody disagree with anything or want to add something? One student replied that she felt the word ‘never’ was too strong. ‘None of us are perfect, and sometimes we mess up. I worry about the consequence if I mess up. And I don’t want to let down my community.’ I thought that was so deep and reflective and accountable. It turns out that everyone wanted to change the wording, so we agreed on new verbiage and we moved on!

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That example embodies how RP works, but, as mentioned, it has wide-reaching applications. She also circled the 4th- through 6th-graders recently to get their feedback and thoughts on how they felt taking the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE®) on an informal basis as well as what they were anticipating during their upcoming overnight trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School.

See those circle sessions here!

Ms. Danyali explains her approach to circling this way:

I set a lot of boundaries to keep things brief and above all respectful. I gauge the attention span and where we are in the day. Something I’ve been using regularly in circles during class time is the ‘talking piece.’ As a teacher, it’s a valuable tool to get feedback and to, for example, rein in some of the excess energy during hard transitions like playground to classroom. In 60 seconds, you can get everybody on the same page—all right everyone, what are your goals for the afternoon, pass the talking piece and let each student speak briefly, and it resets the stage. You’ve said what you’re going to be accountable for, and you go off and do it. I end with community-building questions: ‘Who found out something new about a classmate? Who found they have something in common with someone else that they didn’t know before?’

To respond to challenging behavior, restorative questions might include:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking of at the time?
  • What have you though about since?
  • Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To help those harmed by other’s actions, restorative questions might include:

  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

 

Ms. Danyali wrapped up the RP discussion by saying, “I’m not doing this because I feel that our students are headed down the wrong paths but to remind them of what we have to be grateful for. In general, I believe that we have to combine best practices from a variety of sources. There’s so much invisible curriculum in this school already of tolerance and of understanding and cultural understanding—wouldn’t it be nice if we had a really deep understanding of ourselves and be okay with owning up to it when we make mistakes? The main thing I want our community here to understand is that RP is a mindset of coaching.”