Pre-primary Workshop: Preparing Your Child for the Primary Classroom

tncs-preprimary-workshopOn Wednesday, October 11th, The New Century School welcomed a very special guest to host a workshop on a topic she knows well, both professionally and personally: Johns Hopkins Child Clinical and Developmental Psychologist Carisa Perry-Parrish. Dr. Perry-Parrish may already be known to many among the TNCS community, as she has presented on other topics over the past few years (see Mindful Parenting: A TNCS Workshop that Could Change the World) and has also hosted workshops for TNCS staff professional development days (see TNCS Teachers Get Mindful!). She also just happens to be a TNCS parent. On this occasion, her focus was on milestones that the 2- to 3-year-old child should be approaching, a topic that has special significance at TNCS because, at age 3, children are eligible to enter the primary classroom.

For those of you who were unable to attend (and those of you who want a refresher), Dr. Perry-Parrish generously shared her presentation and slides with Immersed, which are reproduced here.

About Carisa Parry-Parrish

Originally from Georgia, Dr. Perry-Parrish has been in Baltimore for the last 10 years. She introduced herself to the large group of pre-primary parents in attendance by explaining a bit about her professional expertise. “I have a lot of training with normal children, but also kids that have anxiety,” she said. “I do a lot of work with parents, mostly on behavioral challenges, with medical conditions, medical stress, and traumatic stress. On the developmental side, I have a lot of training on normal development. I lead [JHU’s] post-doctoral training program for child psychologists, so I have a lot of experience and interest in teaching and training new psychologists. I work with primary care physicians and collaborate with Hopkins pediatricians. I like training, I like kids, I like working with people who work with kids.”

Specifically, her titles are Licensed Psychologist; Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Director of Behavior Medicine (Psychology) for the Pediatric Burn Program, Pediatric Dermatology, and the Center for Sweat Disorders; and Director of Training, Pediatric Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Her clinical service includes age ranges from birth through 20s, individual and parent therapy, behavioral medicine consultations, integration of behavioral health into primary care, and psychological testing.

She teaches psychology fellows and child psychiatry residents parent management training, mindfulness, and motivation enhancement.

Her current research areas include emotion regulation and psychosocial functioning across development, parental socialization of children’s emotional development, and parent and child adjustment to medical stress.

Milestones for the 2- to 3-Year Period

The changes that are happening in children at this stage are staggering in number and in scale. They are becoming people—becoming themselves—and a lot of work goes into that. This can be a difficult time for them and no less so for you, their parents. Therefore, you’ll be happy to hear that Dr. Perry-Parrish’s overriding message was that you have allies: your child’s teachers. Rather than viewing teachers as judges who determine if and when a child is ready to move up, or, worse, as the arbiter of a child’s entire scholastic career, she urges parents to embrace them as collaborators in a child’s development. They have the same goals as you do, that is, to guide children along their path, meeting milestones as they go. Although this makes perfect sense, until she said it, some of us had never thought of it in quite this way before. We’re in this together.

Dr. Perry-Parrish breaks milestones down into five categories; physical, cognitive, language, emotional, and social, as shown below, and they synergistically feed into each other. Her biggest priority, though, and the one she feels best serves children is emotional development:

There are a lot of things that are changing with kids. I feel as a parent, that once we’ve mastered one stage, they are on to another stage, so we’re always trying to keep up with them. Another interesting thing is that there are different aspects of development that influence the other ones. A big one for our kids at this age is language development. Language facilitates cognitive development, social development, and emotional development. They are all interwoven, so when you see new developments in one domain, they are anticipating development in another domain. One of the things I’m interested in my work is how parents socialize kids emotional development. I have a big interest in supporting kids’ social regulation and emotional regulation.

 

Physical Milestones

  • Climbs well
  • Runs easily
  • Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)
  • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step 

Cognitive Milestones

  • Can work toys with buttons, levers, and moving parts
  • Plays make-believe with dolls, animals, and people
  • Does puzzles with three or four pieces
  • Understands what “two” means
  • Copies a circle with pencil or crayon
  • Turns book pages one at a time
  • Builds towers of more than six blocks
  • Screws and unscrews jar lids or turns door handle

Language Milestones

By 2 ½ years:

  • Understands a lot more than can articulate
  • Will attempt to use over 100 words but cannot produce all the sounds needed to pronounce words, so many of them will be unclear
  • Talks while plays
  • Relies more heavily on words, rather than gestures, to communicate

By 3 years:

  • Can follow multistep instructions
  • Can be understood by strangers most of the time when talking
  • Asks many questions in order to understand the world
  • Listens to stories and will have favorites that need reading regularly
  • Enjoys imaginative play and often has a running commentary during play

Emotional and Social Milestones

  • Expressive behavior
    • Limited differentiation…extensive specific affective states
  • Regulation/coping
    • Dyadic regulation….independent regulation
  • Relationship building
    • Primary attachment….multiple, varied, diverse relationships
  • Influence of socialization figures
  • Cognitive understanding

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Emotional Regulation

“Besides language immersion, another important aspect of coming to this school is facilitating your child’s emotional and social development,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish.

There is a shift from infancy to 2- to 3-years-old, moving from a dyadic regulation to more of an adult/independent regulation. Also, in the pre-primary level, the child is moving from the egocentric to now engaging in more of a social way. Their social world is expanding, which brings new opportunities for intimacy, friendship, and connections but also lots of opportunity for conflict, frustration, sadness, and jealousy.  So we’re trying to narrate that landscape for our kids to help it make sense. To me, this is one of the most important building blocks toward long-term development that we have. A popular book by Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, talks about children’s emotional regulation. It’s something that research suggests is predictive of long-term academic and social success.

For those of you who have never seen the Stanford marshmallow experiment, you’re in for a treat watching these children try to stave off their quite natural and intense desire to eat the apparently very fragrant marshmallow in favor of a potentially double reward.

Spoiler Alert: In general, fewer than half the kids “pass” the test. Most kids are unable to delay gratification and give into the marshmallow-y temptation. (Except, a recent study found, kids from the Nso tribe in Cameroon.) But this test has profound implications—researchers have followed the original participants for decades and discovered that those who did manage to wait were more likely to have better SAT scores and better jobs as adults.

Emotion Coaching Strategies

“There is so much that can be done right now, the shaping that you guys are doing right now is so critical and powerful and is going to shape the trajectory of your child in so many ways, in a good way,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. But, for many parents in the room, the idea that their whirling dervish—that is, toddler—could self-regulate to the extent that he or she could pass up a marshmallow (let alone not throw tantrums, hit siblings, bite schoolmates, or refuse to dress) was sheer fantasy.

It might take a while and hundreds of repetitions, but they will begin to get it. Their reactions are completely natural and appropriate given all the enormous transformations that are going on within their bodies and minds. “We are sowing so many seeds right now that are going to yield a harvest of self-regulation and social successes,” Dr. Perry-Parrish assured the audience. That’s not to say that consequences of disruptive behavior are not warranted. The key there is to be consistent with your choice of limit-setting, whether that’s a time out or separation from a favorite toy or activity.

“When kids’ challenging behavior is most bothersome to us is often when it has an emotional intensity,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish; nevertheless, our job is to stay calm and help guide them through what they are experiencing. She next shared some specific emotion-coaching strategies as well as recommended reading John Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Rather than emotion dismissing, an all-too-common knee-jerk parental reaction (“there’s nothing to be afraid of”; “what are you crying for?”), it’s important to engage in emotion coaching.

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Different styles of emotion coaching/positive parenting exist, but the point is to validate what the child is feeling, by:

  1. Being aware of the child’s emotion
  2. Recognizing emotion as opportunity for intimacy and teaching
  3. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feelings
  4. Helping the child verbally label emotions
  5. Setting limits while helping the child problem-solve
    1. Can include limit-setting around inappropriate behavior
    2. Setting limits on inappropriate behaviors associated with affect (hitting)

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Collaborating with Teachers to Support Development

Finally, Dr. Perry-Parrish brought the two threads of her discussion together by explaining how young children benefit from a collaborative, two-way parent–teacher partnership that includes robust information exchange. Again, teachers are your allies in the effort to turn out nice human beings, and your child is your shared priority.

  • Parents help teachers learn about their child (e.g., temperament, preferences, expectations)
  • Teachers help parents learn about their child in a new social setting
  • Teachers and parents can support each other in their interactions with children
    • Sharing important information about your child
    • Receiving information about school and social behavior
    • Exchange strategies that work well in each setting

What can you specifically do to support preprimary teachers?

  • Learn about the routines at school
  • Observe your child in class—volunteer!
  • Identify shared goals of school and home
  • Attend parent–teacher conferences
  • Share concerns with teachers to support your child
  • Invite teachers to share observations to inform your understanding of your child at school

Adriana Duprau Becomes Curriculum Coordinator at TNCS!

With the commencement of the 2017–2018 academic school year, The New Century School scaled some exciting new heights. To name just two, the inaugural 7th-grade class made its debut, and the student body en masse has grown to more than 200 children. These milestones are impressive, certainly, but are also not without accompanying challenges. How does one small school accommodate an age range from 2 to 12 years? How do teachers keep all students engaged in mixed-age classrooms? With such a well-rounded curriculum, how is continuity of instructional approach maintained across so many diverse subject areas?

Enter Adriana Duprau, TNCS’s new Curriculum Coordinator (also known as Curriculum Specialist). Mrs. Duprau is already known to many among the TNCS community—in fact, there’s a very strong chance that she has taught your child in her classroom at some point, considering that she has been at TNCS since it first opened back in 2010. Being so familiar with TNCS operations, she was the natural choice to take on this new role, which, in brief, entails supporting teachers and giving them constructive feedback on how they are implementing the curriculum. Interestingly, however, she came into the role less because someone was actively being sought and more so because she was already the go-to when an instructor needed strategies for example, for differentiating lessons. In Mrs. Duprau’s case, as you’ll see, this support extends to students as well.

Job Description

She spends about 80% of her time in the classroom so she can see firsthand what teachers are doing. She makes sure, for example, that lessons are being appropriately differentiated to accommodate the varying skill student levels in each classroom. At the same time, she wants to see that students are being challenged. On a macro level, another thing she looks for is that students are transitioning smoothly among divisions (e.g., pre-primary to primary, primary to kindergarten, elementary to middle school).

These are tasks that Head of School Alicia Danyali has handled in the past, but as the school grows, it became clear that a dedicated role was needed so that Mrs. Danyali can devote her time to running the school.

Sometimes school teachers can feel overwhelmed. Mrs. Duprau is there to “close the loop,” as she puts it. “What are their challenges; what are things that I can help with?” she asks herself, to provide an extra resource to the teachers. In some ways, it’s also a means of quality assurance. “If teachers are having a hard time, how can I offer support? Or, they may be having a hard time with a particular student—what can we do to come up with solutions?” she explains. “Having an objective observer who can stand back and take notes can be very revealing in these situations,” she continued, “and together we can problem solve and brainstorm the best approaches to addressing the challenges.”

Mrs. Duprau also plays a big part in helping Mrs. Danyali with professional development outside of the classroom, such as by demonstrating lessons during PD days and doing trainings.

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Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau

Although she has embraced this support role, taking on a new position also can come with challenges. For Mrs. Duprau, the one thing she most worried about was not having her own classroom. “But, as it turns out, I spend most of my time in classrooms, so I’m really excited that I still get to have that time with students and with other teachers,” she said. And, although she has found herself so far spending most of her time in elementary and middle school classrooms, she nevertheless has had to get to know all 200+ students on a first-name basis . . . now that’s a challenge!

However, the biggest challenge she has found so far is having her suggestions go unheeded, whether inadvertently or from an unwillingness to take feedback, although Mrs. Duprau anticipates that this will probably dissipate as teachers acclimate to the idea of having a curriculum specialist and get used to accepting support.

Job Goals

She says her main goals, at least initially, are to make sure that teachers feel supported and know what should be taking place inside their classrooms. For example, programs like Reading A–Z might be new to a instructor, so Mrs. Duprau guides him or her through implementation. Again, her experience—not to mention her particular area of expertise—come in very handy here. She also sets up technology in classrooms so that appropriate ages all have access to SuccessMaker, a stalwart in the TNCS math program. All this, says Mrs. Duprau, because “we want to make sure we see growth in the students. This will give us a ‘closer look’ at the kids.”

She then uses the data she gathers to close any would-be gaps, such as finding ways to help former Montessori students matriculate into the non–classic Montessori Kindergarten classroom, or, conversely, introducing students who did not come up through the TNCS primary ranks to the “Montessori feel” of the K classroom. The Kindergarten group, by the way, is the largest it has ever been, so this is an area of keen interest. Moreover, Kindergarten can comprise a wide variety of skill levels, from students who are not yet reading and writing to students already completely comfortable with chapter books. Helping teachers set up their Daily 5 stations, for example, can go a long way to successful classroom management in this heterogenous setting. This has given her ideas for how to manage next year’s K transition: “A goal for us is to figure out what objectives the primary kids should end this school year before ‘going up’ so that they are prepared and can thrive in the more structured environment,” she explained.

Incidentally, in her tenure at TNCS, Mrs. Duprau has always had children of this age in her classroom, but now she says, “having my own kindergartener at home and seeing where he is developmentally has taught me even more about this age than having been a kindergarten teacher for so long.” So now, she can bring a dual perspective to the support she offers current TNCS K teachers—that of the seasoned teacher as well as the parent.

“I also get to spend a lot of time in other subject areas,” she explains. Chinese, music, and art, for example, are not classes she would have been a part of as a teacher. Now she observes how those are going to make sure all aspects of the curriculum hang together in a cohesive way and that instructors are meshing well. “One thing I saw was that having all of one division participating in a specials class together made the class too big. Being able to be there and see what’s unfolding and offer potential solutions has been very useful. We are now splitting the groups and adapting schedules to make sure that students and instructors are getting what they need.”

Another goal is to firmly establish units of study (e.g., in Global Studies and Science) that rotate on a 3-year basis so that students are all getting the full breadth of each discipline. The information is taught at differentiated levels, and she envisions gathering all of these lessons together in a master curriculum.

Reflections

“Although I really miss having my own classroom,” says Mrs. Duprau, I am really enjoying this new position, and I think it’s very beneficial to the school. “There are aspects of the role that I am continuing to grow in, because I have never held a job quite like this one before—I now work as much with adults as I do with kids!” She finds the position perfect for her current situation, with two young children at home to care for, and she is also learning a tremendous amount about teaching from this new vantage point.

“My primary objective is to be helpful and to facilitate smooth operations,” she said. “My interest was sparked when I would help other teachers who were unfamiliar with the mixed-age and mixed-language approach, and I found that I loved that interaction. I broached the idea of having a curriculum specialist in some capacity at TNCS, and the administration agreed immediately.” She learned her superb classroom management skills both as a Baltimore City public school teacher and by her first mixed-age experience at TNCS.

If she ever does return to the classroom, she says she is considering trying an older cohort to see what that would be like. In the meantime, Curriculum Coordinator suits her just fine!

 

 

 

 

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!

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 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.”

Meet the Teacher: Michele Hackshaw Joins TNCS Primary Division

michele-hackshaw-joins-tncs-primaryMichele Hackshaw joined The New Century School at the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year as a Montessori Lead Teacher with Gloria Jimenez assisting. A native Spanish speaker from Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Baltimore with her husband in 2000.

In her home country, she pursued a macroeconomics degree but decided to come to the United States to immerse herself in English while earning a Master’s in business. She spent a few years working in the business field, and then, Señora Hackshaw says, the recession of 2008 hit. She began volunteering in her children’s school and found to her surprise that she really enjoyed that type of work. She liked childhood education so much, in fact, that she went for Montessori training. Once certified as a Montessori teacher, she worked at Bridges Montessori School in Towson for about 5 years. “I definitely prefer teaching to business, to my initial surprise. Then, even after the economy got better I told my husband that business is something I don’t want to go back to. I really love what I’m doing right now. I really love to get up and go to my work. This [gesturing to her classroom] is my vocation.”

The switch in careers from business to teaching might seem like quite an about-face, but Sra. Hackshaw believes that the work has greater significance for society. “We have such a a big impact on these children. How they turn out depends on what we do for them, show them, expose them to.” Besides her humanitarian reasons, teaching is also a lot more fun for her than working in an office was, where interactions with irate clients were often less than pleasant. “Here, it’s not like that. Somebody might be crying because I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, and 10 minutes later, he’s got a huge smile. There are no bad work days,” she says.

Her children, a girl and a boy, are now 9 and 10 years old, respectively and have the good fortune to be growing up bilingual. The same can be said of Sra. Hackshaw’s 10 3- to 5-year-old primary students who are in a Spanish-immersion Montessori classroom. “In the beginning, teaching in Spanish was a bit challenging because it was a new language for my students, who were all new to the school. But they learned so fast, and now it’s just great,” she smiles.

About being at TNCS now, she says it’s not only a wonderful experience, but she is learning a lot, professionally. “This is a different environment,” she explains, “because I never worked in a full Spanish immersion classroom, although it was Montessori. But I have never taught Montessori in Spanish or given a Montessori lesson in Spanish. And, unlike teaching Spanish, for example, at an after-school program, which is mostly teaching vocabulary, here it’s different. I speak Spanish the whole time. It has been a valuable process of learning and discovery.” (Please see Montessori Language Arts, Match, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS to learn more about how Sra. Hackshaw and other TNCS primary teachers give Montessori lessons.)

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For now, Sra. Hackshaw’s “business” is nurturing her students within her warm and peace-loving classrom. “There’s so much that you can give to them, and they will learn from you. If you keep empowering them and model how to be good people, they learn that.”

Welcome to TNCS, Sra Hackshaw!

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Meet the Teacher: Laura Noletto Joins TNCS’s Pre-Primary Division!

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Laura Noletto is seen here dressed for Love Day, during TNCS’s Spirit Week.

The New Century School welcomed Laura Noletto as Pre-Primary Spanish Lead Teacher about a month ago. Although “Señora Lala,” as she likes to be known by her students, has been at TNCS only a few weeks, she is already well-loved by her students and their families and an integral member of TNCS faculty.

 

Early Life

Born in Caracas, Venezuela to a Venezuelan mother and a Cuban father (she has dual citizenship), she visited the United States regularly growing up. “My family always vacationed in Maryland or nearby—D.C., Baltimore, Annapolis—(every summer and every Christmas), and I have very fond memories of these vacations. So, Maryland was, for me, a second home because my aunt lived in Bethesda for 50 years,” she explained. “My father and my aunt left Cuba in the 1960s. My father went to Georgetown University, and my aunt attended Maryland University and stayed here. During this time, my father met and fell in love with a Venezuelan, my mother, and returned to Latin America.”

She moved to Baltimore in 2016 from Eugene, Oregon, where she was a toddler therapeutic teacher for a foundation called Relief Nursery.

Professional Background

Sra. Lala originally studied law and was a practicing lawyer for 5 years before realizing that she needed something more creative. Her professional history, though amazingly varied, has always been in education or tangential to it in some form or another:

I was always teaching. Even in law school, I was assistant professor to a Roman law professor. So, I think my passion has always been education, even though I thought I wanted something more grandiose, and teaching might not seem so adventurous or glamorous (or so I thought when I was younger). As I get more and more mature, I see that it’s the most important profession that exists. I also did art research. I got Master’s degrees in curatorial art and Latin American studies.

But, I think that what lead me to early childhood was a seminar that I took on autobiographical books about childhood. We read writers who were exploring their first 5 years because that period contains the most profound memories that any human can have. The first 5 years of your life sets up the rest of your life—so, reading Wordsworth, Proust, Garcia-Marquez, they all tried to recover that first 5 years, those intense memories, such as the first time you try a different fruit, or you hear someone speaking another language, or someone teaches you a song. That seminar switched me to early childhood, although it took me a long time to realize it. I remember my first 5 years. I can remember being a 3-year-old living in the tropics, but coming to New York and opening my eyes to see snow. I wanted to eat it. These very simple memories are still there because of their impact. It tells me that we really do make a difference with these very young minds, these very young students.

She now knows that she prefers teaching this age group to teaching older kids. “I tried,” she says. “When I came to Baltimore, just to try it, I was teaching 4th- and 5th-grades and middle school at a public school. I was teaching about 75–100 kids a day 45 minutes of Spanish, again, just to try that age because each age is very different.” The workload was taking a toll on her, she reports, and she found herself exhausted at the end of each day. “After 2 months, I said, ‘I miss the little kiddoes.’ When I was in the Relief Nursery, I had already fallen in love with teaching the toddlers, but I thought it was related to being there, or something fleeting. I thought to myself, ‘Do you really want to change from college students to toddlers age 2 with nothing in between?’ So, I tried the in-between ages and realized, ‘Yes, I definitely love the extremes—either I teach college, or I go all the way down to toddlers.”

After some reflection, she realized how logical this seeming contradiction actually is:

In college, the students are there because they really want to learn. Students age 2 also really want to learn—how to put their jackets on, how to communicate with others, how to become a civilized human being, everything. So, it’s two passionate moments of human being. The other ages are in rebellion. They don’t want to learn in the same way. They either want to play, or they think they already know—they want independence from adults. At those ages, being a teacher is more about classroom management than about tapping into the fervor to learn.

She explains that when she saw the curriculum at TNCS, she felt an immediate kinship. Her sons (she has fraternal male twins, currently 19-years-old) not only grew up bilingual, but one of her sons even attended a Montessori school, which is not a common kind of school in Venezuela (there are only two or three in the entire capital of Caracas, despite its size):

My child blossomed in the Montessori environment. So, I already knew the program, and I thought it was fascinating how TNCS incorporates language learning within the Montessori curriculum. To allow language and culture to be a tool, a vehicle of learning. It’s not only that you’re speaking in Spanish, but the child is so eager to learn that he doesn’t care that he can’t understand the Spanish in the beginning, he’s open. He’s open to the culture, and sometimes language is not about only knowing language, it’s also about a different way of perceiving life because it’s cultural.

You know, the Chinese teachers, we Latin teachers, we have lots of similarities with Americans, but we also have our own approaches to early childhood education. You can see the differences with our approach to classroom management compared to that of the Chinese teachers. They are very different, but each very beautiful in their own ways, with very beautiful results, but it’s different. And the kids here in TNCS, they get to see both, and that’s preparing them for the 21st century and a global perspective. I think in the 21st century, all this culture will blend in—I hope so. It’s healthy to learn from each other.

Transitions

She moved to New Orleans from Venezuela in 2014, where she lived for 1 year, working as an educator in the Degas House museum. “At this point, I had already changed careers twice (lawyer to college professor to art researcher), and I could see a point where I switch from art researcher back to educator. The Degas house was my transition. I was researching Degas and also teaching kids 3 days a week. Then, in Oregon, I was immersed full-time in teaching toddlers.”

Her husband is a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is currently involved in the longest-running study on HIV, that began in the late 1980s. It was landing this position that brought them to Baltimore in 2016, although he formerly worked there for 5 years in another capacity.

On Teaching

Teaching takes a passion, and each teacher has an age-group that they love. I love the 2s and 3s. I was a college professor in Venezuela, which is big, big, big kids—almost grown-ups—teaching in a film academy, the School of Visual Thinking. Before that, I was in charge of developing art programs. So, I was in the education field, but I was always separated from little kids—I don’t know why. Then, when I came to the United States, maybe because my own kids are 19 years old now, I just fell in love with early childhood education. And there has been a lot of development in the area. So, 10 years ago, if you had a high school diploma and you loved kids age 2, you could be a toddler teacher. Now, you must study curriculum and learn about how they learn. I find it so fascinating. They learn so fast—like computers. They’re incredible; they’re sponges.

Being in Baltimore 

Sra. Lala says she adores Baltimore for its history (especially relating to Edgar Allen Poe, whose entire catalogue she has read) and culture, with New Orleans also a favorite for similar reasons. “Baltimore and New Orleans have the most haunted history and the most beautiful historical buildings. They also have this connection with the Caribbean, and I’m Caribbean. They are port cities, so they are very culturally rich cities. I am amazed at how vibrant the art community is here. I do hope that it gets better as a city but not so overpriced that it kills the great energy it still has,” she says.

One thing that people might not know about her is that she created a historical graphic novel, published in Venezuela, about a 14-year-old princess living in an ancient (pre-Columbian) city and gifted with super powers—the ability to control mosquitoes, which acted as barriers to visitors by carrying yellow fever and other often-fatal diseases. She also wrote several short stories that won national competitions. “I really want to try now to write kids’ books,” she says. “I want to contribute to literacy in Spanish. I am inclined to that path. I now see Dr. Seuss as a genius!” (Who knows, maybe one day Sra. Lala’s graphic novel or one of her as-yet-to-be-written children’s books will grace the shelves of TNCS’s library!)

“I have to keep re-inventing myself,” she says. She points to a plaque hanging on the multipurpose room wall that reads, “You have to bloom where you’re planted.” “So, I’m blooming in Baltimore now.”

And we are so glad you are here, Sra. Lala! Welcome to TNCS!