By Dr. Bob Gillingham
Head of Lower School
Lower School classroom teachers are eager learners, always looking for ways to be more effective and engaging. In fact, many will visit Campus on weekends and over the summer tweaking favorite lessons and creating new ones to ensure that they are meeting students’ needs. Additionally, and in service of that inclination, Parker prides itself in ongoing professional development, providing both individuals and groups with educational tools, knowledge, and perspectives.
Recently, all of the classroom teachers, many of the associate teachers, and our support staff were assembled in the Considine Library on a Late Start Wednesday, learning more about reading assessment. The goals of the meeting included sharpening teachers’ abilities to fully understand our young readers and their needs as well as bringing greater consistency across all assessors to what can be a rather subjective process.
As teachers discussed the many ways they get to know their readers, the conversation moved from the pragmatic, such as the appropriate sequence of steps for assessments, to the philosophical–a rich, heartfelt sharing of perspectives on our hopes and dreams for those we teach.
We mused that the Lower School is a place where children arrive with natural curiosity, abundant enthusiasm for exploration, and, generally speaking, a willingness to fully engage their environment. So oriented, these young people will take risks, approximate learning goals (quite unbeknownst to them), and persevere to completion. For example, anyone who observes a young child attempting to build a castle out of blocks, the shining vision held firmly and clearly in their young mind, will note the multiple, varied attempts, despite failures, and the natural desire to “get ‘er done.” A keen understanding of this reality has shaped Lower School pedagogy over the last decade, bringing us ever closer to Francis Parker School’s educational vision of “learning by doing,” while also preparing our students for the challenges of the 21st Century.
Simply put, the emphasis has shifted from a more “traditional” approach, often described as standing and delivering a body of information to be learned, tested and perhaps forgotten, to something much richer and more relevant. Basic skills and understandings have been and still are essential, but teachers are now engaging students in ways that require them to think and write more independently, to approach problem-solving from multiple perspectives, to delve more deeply into concepts presented, and to work with all kinds of others to accomplish shared goals.
To accomplish these lofty outcomes, our teachers have learned that they must know each of their students as individual learners. Understanding their learning styles, preferences, motivations, and challenges lead to far more effective student-centered learning, but it also preserves the natural joy that we see and treasure.
And so, we find ourselves regularly “Coming to the rug.” This is standard practice at all Lower School grade levels, but also typical of teachers’ relentless quests to connect with their students. Such a gathering provides teachers with invaluable insights into both the individual students and groups, also affording them a means to scaffold learning. Rather than simply issuing facts and figures to be memorized or algorithms to be meticulously followed, children construct their own knowledge by learning to think critically and creatively; by learning to listen to and appreciate others’ perspectives; and to benefit from the communities that their teachers have cultivated.
Socrates would be proud.