Back-to-School Night: Meet New TNCS Teachers and More!

Thursday, September 11th was The New Century School‘s Back-to-School Night for the 2014–2015 academic year. Back-to-School Night is TNCS parents’ chance to learn how their child’s classroom operates. Whereas Orientation is a more general introduction to school, at Back-to-School Night, families get details on everything from what the daily schedule looks like to when it’s their turn to provide class snack. Teachers introduce themselves and their teaching styles or philosophies and explain the curriculum (K:1st syllabus), demonstrate how their educational materials are used, and answer parent questions.

tncs-kindergarten-teacher

TNCS’s new Kindergarten/1st-Grade teacher Teresa Jacoby.

This year, several new instructors have joined TNCS, and Back-to-School Night was a great way to get to know them. One of the new lead teachers is Mrs. Teresa Jacoby. She brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm to TNCS’s new mixed-age Kindergarten/1st-Grade classroom, which parents recognized immediately. (See biographical details below.)

A former 3rd- and 4th-grade science teacher and Reading Specialist in the Baltimore City school system, Mrs. Jacoby integrates reading and writing into all other disciplines and declared her expectation that all of her students will be strong readers by year’s end. Her personal philosophy meshes beautifully with TNCS’s educational values:

I believe that each student is an exceptional individual who requires a safe, caring, and encouraging learning environment in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. There are three elements that I believe are beneficial to establishing such an environment: 1) the teacher acting as a guide, 2)  the child’s natural curiosity directing his/her learning, and 3) encouraging respect for one’s self, others, and things found in our world.

kindergarten-classroom

New for the 2014–2015 academic year, Kindergarten/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby introduces her students to the classroom and its special routines.

She also believes strongly that education is optimized when a mixture of self-guided exploration, small-group learning, and one-on-one instruction is utilized, very much a TNCS-held value. Just as TNCS focuses school-wide on inquiry-based learning, in her class, such inquiry “gives students ownership of their learning and more lasting knowledge of the skills needed to achieve real understanding,” she says. Additionally, Mrs. Jacoby believes that critical thinking/solving problems is key to developing leadership skills, the ability to collaborate in teamwork, and self-sufficiency as individual learners.

As appropriate for a General Studies teacher, Mrs. Jacoby can pretty much do it all (art, math, special ed, etc., in addition to what has already been mentioned), but she says she has more and more discovered her special fondness for science. She incorporates scientific thinking into every nook and cranny of her curriculum in fun ways that ignite her students’ curiosity. “The kids are so naturally curious; it’s nice to discuss [science] with them, and they like to talk about it,” she said. She also has students keep journals, which gives her another way to guide them in further exploration of topics that they have broached.

“Just like a well-oiled machine works efficiently,” she says, “so does a well-thought-out and planned classroom environment.” Thus, the classroom she shares with her (also new) Assistant Teacher Mrs. Kimberly Tyson, with her own impressive résumé, encompasses several discrete learning environments—there’s a technology corner equipped with computers, an area with worktables for  groupwork such as with manipulative materials, a large carpet for whole-class circle time, and even a settee for students to sit back and enjoy a book on individually. She also generously brought along her own personal class library, which students are encouraged to use as much as possible.

One aspect of teaching that Mrs. Jacoby holds very dear is knowing and understanding her students. She has quickly learned a lot about her kindergarten/1st-graders and has an amazing ability to adapt to their needs on her feet so as to keep learning happening. So, when she found that after Spanish lessons, for instance, students struggled to be able to focus, she decided to let them “get the wiggles out” for a few minutes before resettling. Even the movement she incorporates in class has an express cognitive function. She uses a version of Simon Says that gets them using their whole brains—that is, integrating both left and right hemispheres—by performing a series of continuous movements and asking them to repeat the last movement she made. She demonstrated the activity for parents attending Back-to-School Night, many of whom were surprised by just how challenging it was! As if she had intuited it, TNCS will begin implementing movement regularly within classrooms to promote blood flow to the brain. (More on this topic is to come in the near future!)

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This artwork was created by TNCS elementary students to exemplify the school-wide theme of Community Building.

Finally, mutual respect is the capstone of Mrs. Jacoby’s pedagogical approach and is yet another way she shows just how right for TNCS she is. “A healthy learning environment must also include respect for all, a sense of safety as well as trust,” she says. “I work extremely hard to build a learning community based on mutual respect for one’s self, others, and our surroundings. Creating a strong sense of community in my classroom instills security, which builds trust and in turn builds comfort levels conducive to learning. I nurture that sense through personal modeling, class meetings, role play, and reflective journals.” It just so happens that TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali’s first theme of this school year is Community Building, and school-wide, students have engaged in activities that help them grow stronger both as individuals and as a team.

We welcome you to TNCS, Mrs. Jacoby, and anticipate an incredible first year together! Stay tuned for more posts in this series to meet TNCS’s other new lead teachers and learn the inner workings of their classrooms!

Mrs. Jacoby’s Bio

Teresa Jacoby holds a Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist from Loyola University in Maryland and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education with an Art Education Minor from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She also has an Advanced Professional Certificate Special Education 1–12 and an Advanced Professional Certificate Reading Specialist Certification, both from the state of Maryland. She has taught a wide variety of students ranging from Kindergarten through 8th grade Special Education in all content areas in both self-contained and inclusion environments. She also has run many extracurricular activities from chairing the Science Fair to Chess Club to Lego Robotics Club. She lives in Baltimore and enjoys using her artistic skills in and out of the classroom, gardening, riding bikes and spending time with her family.

Cultivating a Growth Mindset at TNCS

“You can do hard things,” author Barbara Kingsolver regularly told her Montessori-educated children as they were growing up. The independence that the Montessori method fosters in the youngest of children manifests later as the perseverance to work through difficult math problems, learn another language, and make deadlines in upper grades. And there’s that word again—perseverance. It has peppered this blog ever since author Paul Tough spoke at the Patterson Park Public Charter School during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 about his latest book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Power to Succeed. Since then, grit and perseverance (they’re never solo anymore, always hand in hand, the Brangelina of the education world) have become superstars, rising meteorically to the top of the class. So pervasive has perseverance become that it even gets billed as one of the skills your preschooler will learn by watching “Peter Rabbit” on Nick, Jr.! (Peter is always getting into scrapes and must think on his furry feet, take chances, and make a few mistakes before ultimately avoiding the hungry Mr. Fox’s stewpot or the broadside of angry Mr. MacGregor’s garden spade by the end of the show.)

The New Century School, although strictly Montessori only in the primary program, embodies the principles of independent learning, self-guided discovery, and the curiosity to delve deeply into a topic of inquiry throughout its curricula, from primary all the way up through elementary. Independence, curiosity, the wherewithal to see something through . . . what does it all add up to? Self-esteem, which, in turn, cultivates better learning. In an interview with The Sun, Kingsolver explained“There’s this myth that self-esteem comes from making everything easy for your children and making sure they never fail. If they never encounter hardship or conflict, the logic goes, they’ll never feel bad about themselves. Well, that’s ridiculous. That’s not even a human life. Kids learn self-esteem from mastering difficult tasks. It’s as simple as that.”

Authors Kingsolver and Tough aren’t just waxing poetic, either. “Grit” in the education context (as in the persistence, determination and resilience needed to succeed at learning) was coined by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth, who won a MacArthur Genius grant for her pioneering research. Thanks to work like hers, we now recognize that academic mastery requires an enormous outlay of time and effort as well as being able to start over if at first we don’t succeed (something that artists of every stripe have always intuited). The next logical step must be to figure out how to systematically inculcate grit, perseverance, and the self-esteem they engender in students. Can grit be taught?

Mindset Works

Mindset Works has developed the Brainology curriculum to teach students that they have the power to learn. IQ is not ultimate benchmark for learning!

Mindset Works has developed the Brainology curriculum to teach students that they have the power to learn. IQ is not ultimate benchmark for learning!

According to Janna Peskett, Curriculum and Professional Learning Specialist at Mindset Works®, yes it can! Profiled recently on NPR’s Morning Edition, Mindset Works’ flagship product is the Brainology curriculum, which is designed to cultivate a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. “Growth mindset,” the brainchild of Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, means believing that success comes from effort, not inborn intelligence or talent. Dr. Dweck is a cofounder of Mindset Works, and, like the gritty Dr. Duckworth, hopes to help students believe that not only are frustration and mistakes part of learning, but that intelligence is not static—it can be developed; it can grow.

Mrs. Peskett says, “Cultivating a growth mindset is connected to the grit and perseverance movement, but goes a step further into developing student agency.” Students who have a fixed mindset tell themselves things like, “This just isn’t my thing” or “It’s [so and so’s] fault that I can’t do this” in response to failure. Eventually, avoiding the risk of failure becomes habit, and scholastic progress comes to a screeching halt. With a growth mindset, by contrast, students faced with failure ask themselves, “What can I learn from this?” and “What different strategy can I approach this with next time?”. “Whereas fear of making mistakes holds students back, struggling and taking risks facilitates learning,” explains Mrs. Peskett.

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed, whereas a fixed mindset holds that intelligence is static

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed, whereas a fixed mindset holds that intelligence is static

Brainology

Underwritten by a grant from the Raikes Foundation (“Empowering young people to change their lives”), Brainology is currently being implemented in eight Washington, D.C. middle schools. The D.C. school system is undertaking this pilot year as a research study to determine whether the curriculum’s concrete strategies will improve education outcomes in its underserved communities. For example, in one lesson, students are taught about how negative emotions can interfere with learning and are given four specific strategies for circumventing those negative emotions:

  • Square breathing: Inhale for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts. This allows time for emotion to drain out from the frontal lobe and let the rational brain take over.
  • Positive self-talk: Reframe negative thoughts in a positive way. “I don’t understand this word” becomes “I don’t understand it yet, but if I ask for help or practice a different strategy, over time, I will get it.” (Recall that Dr. Bonnie Zucker named similar strategies in her recent TNCS presentation.)
  • Visualization: Visualize a desired outcome; see yourself doing it. “I want to read this book from start to finish.”
  • Avoiding “fight or flight”: Recognize that the brain is sensing a threat when, for example, the palms start to sweat. “Recognize it, name it, and then let it go,” says Mrs. Peskett.
Just like our muscles, our brains can be shaped and toned---worked out.

Just like our muscles, our brains can be shaped and toned—worked out.

Brainology is a blended curriculum (some takes place in class and some online) and is appropriate for 4th through 10th graders. Says. Mrs. Peskett, “it all boils down to helping students believe that their brains are malleable.” She sums up this concept of neuroplasticity by telling kids, “You can change your intelligence through effort.” Because fixed mindsets can affect students of all socioeconomic backgrounds and prevent them from realizing their potential, Brainology potentially has quite a broad appeal. Even at TNCS, where cultivating growth mindsets is inherently part of the everyday curriculum, students naturally experience frustration, negative thinking, and anxiety. Helping them learn how to respond to failure can subvert such barriers to learning. Of course, exercise, sleep, and nutrition also play important roles and are integral to Brainology. Certain foods (e.g., those containing omega-3 fatty acids, leafy greens, etc.) increase neuronal communication; exercise also gets those synapses firing. Sleep optimizes waking brain function. But all of this relates back to those conjoined concepts, grit and perseverance. “Everything you learn from is going to require you to take a risk and possibly fail,” says Mrs. Peskett.

We can help our kids recognize that they can do hard things.

Related

What’s your mindset? Find out here.

Want more Mindset Works resources? Click here.

Find Brainology and Mindset Works on Facebook here.

Read about the perils of overpraising your kids here.