Reaching Beyond

May 29, 2019

Given how close we are to the end of the year, I felt it worthwhile to revisit one last time our theme for the year, Reaching Beyond. Since capturing the myriad ways this theme has played out all year would result in a post longer than most research papers, I’ll simply scratch the surface by highlighting how we’ve lived it in just the month of May alone.

 

Reaching beyond comfort zones…

In mid-May, our 7th grade enjoyed a fantastic Colorado trip, an annual adventure where students visit the iconic Sand Dunes and raft the Arkansas River. Opportunities abounded for students to reach beyond their comfort zone on this four-day trip, from persevering amidst false summits while hiking the sand dunes to navigating rapids while rafting for the first time. Our chaperones were also proud to see and hear so many students extend themselves to spend time with students whom they may not have before.    

      

Reaching beyond ourselves…

Throughout the month of May, our 8th graders have reached beyond themselves to create fun experiences for their second grade buddies, exhibiting patience and exuding positive energy,  both at their day at St. Anne’s in the Hills and for those who helped run a fun team trivia competition (including a very entertaining “match the current 8th grader with their second grade photo” activity) on the day of the musical. We had an epic field day as well with our 8th graders leading an assortment of games and water play. If you’ve never seen our 8th graders in action on Field Day, you’re missing out!

 

Reaching beyond our walls…

                         

Last week, we had two groups of 6th graders go to Project Cure, an organization that received $2500 from St. Anne’s during our Penny Wars over Blue/Gold Week. Our students had the opportunity to reach beyond the walls of St. Anne’s to make an impact on those in countries around the world by giving time out of their day to help stuff medical supply bags that would go to hospitals and clinics that serve kids in Cambodia. This final outreach capped off a great year of service for all of our middle school students, which included serving the hungry at the soup kitchen, spending time with those at a memory care center, and helping volunteer at both the Charles Hay World School and the Joshua House to work with younger students and students with autism.

         

No description of last week though would be complete without mention of the Middle School musical, Girl Rising. To watch this musical was to feel inspired and hopeful for the future, given the way our students raised our awareness about the obstacles that girls around the world have to overcome to pursue their education.  One of my favorite aspects of this musical was that Jason Lemire invited international organizations that aim to improve the educational experience of kids around the world to set up tables to engage with our community (and see the production). It is one thing to pull off a high school level musical in middle school but it is another thing completely to lift up and call our community to action in the process.

The St. Anne’s Way, reaching beyond the PS-8 years

In just a week, we will watch our fabulous Class of 2019 graduate from the gardens of 2701 S. York for new adventures in high school.  Though they will leave the physical bricks and mortar of the St. Anne’s community, I have no doubt that St. Anne’s will continue to be with them and shape how they lead their lives moving forward. 

 

How do I know this? Consider the multiple St. Anne’s alumni who have led walks and raised awareness at their local high schools around suicide prevention.  Or how about the fact that very movie that inspired our musical was being produced by a St. Anne’s alum who is committed to improving the lives of young women around the world? For the past two weeks, we have had high school seniors from Kent Denver return to St. Anne’s to give back and help teachers. It’s an annual tradition which all of our faculty look forward to because it is a reminder of the amazing young people who graduate from our school. This year’s volunteers, Rory and Venus (Class of 2015) have been amazing in their one-on-one work with students to tackle challenging math problems or science concepts, or even run through drama scenes and discuss character motivation. One can only hope that these two will continue to find ways to be around kids as they having a huge impact on all of our students. When it comes to alumni, I will say that whenever I run into one, I leave more certain that, while you can take the students out of St. Anne’s, you can never take the St. Anne’s spirit out of a student. They make us proud in the ways they are making a difference in the world, whether it is with their friends or the way they serve their local communities or those across the globe.  Though it will be bittersweet to bid adieu to the Class of 2019, we cannot wait to see how they will enrich their next communities.

 

Best wishes to all on a great summer with family and friends. We are grateful for a fabulous year, and we can’t wait to welcome the current 5th graders and Class of 2022 into our halls to join our returning middle schoolers!

 

-Sumant Bhat

Head of Middle School

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.”  -Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher.

 

When I recently came across this quote, I immediately reflected on the journeys of our 8th graders over both their middle school time and their St. Anne’s careers. They have grown as students, athletes, friends, and leaders, and the progress they have made between where they once were and where they are now is a source of pride for our whole community.

Further reflection on this quote reminds us of two important aspects of growth. First, meaningful journeys rarely are completed overnight. And second, journeys don’t begin until you take that first step forward. There are countless obstacles that can either delay or prevent the start of a journey from perseverating about finding the perfect path to being overwhelmed by the prospect of the whole journey itself. These obstacles can easily derail growth before an earnest attempt is even made.   

We’ve all experienced this at some point with ourselves and kids, and I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Kaizen, a mindset and approach used in Japanese businesses to realize growth by overcoming typical barriers to change. Big growth can feel daunting to achieve for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it is actually demotivating.

 

Consider the following situations as examples. First, imagine a middle schooler who is struggling with organizational skills. For this student, “keeping a clean locker” could seem like a monumental task, particularly if they’ve struggled with it for years or their locker looks like it exploded inside. Now imagine the student who is receiving feedback to participate more in class. It might feel confusing and intimidating thinking about how to go from not participating to being a more active participant. In another situation, we might picture a student going rafting for the first time with a group of people they’ve not gone with before, and the whole thing can feel like a giant leap of faith and cause anxiety.

 

So, what can we do? Kaizen suggests that instead of spending hours, days, or weeks wondering how to achieve the big growth, identify a small, simple, and concrete step that would represent even the tiniest of growth. 

 

Cleaning a whole locker or room might be a gigantic undertaking that you don’t think you have time for or really don’t want to deal with right now. However, putting in your planner to use the last minutes at BLOC/study hall every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to just collect loose pens, throw out trash, and recycle old papers is simple, quick and clear. It creates visible (hopefully) value and allows for success to be all but inevitable. Doing that every other day even for a few weeks creates a habit that you can then build on. It also keeps it on your mind in a way that might lead to a habit of not putting random loose papers or storing a half sandwich in your locker in the first place. Moreover, it makes the large undertaking of organizing your locker seem less daunting.

 

I’ve been trying this with my own desk at school that, admittedly, can have papers pile up (my digital organizational skills are far more advanced fortunately).  Putting in my Google Calendar to spend two minutes every other day cleaning my desk has actually paid dividends. It has also mitigated the situation of me seeing a desk that would take twenty minutes to sort through.  My hope is that it’ll also help me by discouraging me from simply putting a sheet on my desk without a plan.

 

To close, here are a few other suggestions/applications I came up with that directly relate to how we can use this technique to work for our kids:

 

1) Instead of trying to just be a regular participant, have a student put one box on the top of their notes every day at the start of class. The student’s responsibility is to check that box before the period is over by participating in asking a question (excluding a bathroom visit request) or making a comment. It’s a simple strategy that is visible, and it is much more likely to be successful long-term than jumping to four or five comments a class.

 

2) Rafting: Let’s say you’re rafting in Colorado this spring. You’ll want to consider all the possible components for a nervous student that roll into “rafting.” There’s the wet suit, life jacket and giant paddle that might be a new experience. There’s seeing an unfamiliar river and sitting with a group with varying paddle experience. Kaizen would suggest replying to a student who is reluctant to do it by simply asking, “How about we just put on the wet suit and/or life jacket inside and see how it feels?  Could you sit in the raft on the ground and hold the paddle?”  Just having those experiences before jumping in can make all the difference, reducing the number of barriers and worries.

 

3) Mitigating negative self-talk: For a student who struggles with frequent negative self-talk, try having them write one compliment to themselves every day or every Friday while eating breakfast. Have a jar at the table and a pencil there to lower the barriers to this task, and consider putting words on the jar as triggers (friend, artist, soccer player, brother, daughter). Again, make it simple, concrete, small, and routine.  Start with less frequency to help it be successful, but make it a routine so that the journey can begin.

 

4) Being more active: Do you have a student who every day goes right to a gaming system when you’d rather see them play outside? Instead of asking for 30 minutes of playing outside, tell them beforehand that they need to be outside for five minutes. Stick with it for a period of time before raising that time request. The first few days might seem like a struggle, but soon they might discover something growing in the garden or a cool bug on the tree, or they kick a soccer ball around. Most likely this will eventually lead to their voluntary staying outside longer than the five minutes you had agreed on together. You may not get to thirty minutes in the short-term, but you can get the student on their way to being outside more often.

 

Again, these are just a few suggestions of how the principle of Kaizen can be effective. Avoiding the decision paralysis of trying to select the perfect path by instead finding a simple small step that moves you along can make all the difference. In many cases, it makes the bigger change feel more attainable once the first steps have been taken and internalized. In other cases, the first steps can help by getting you some initial information or feedback. This in turn can give you new insights that ultimately lead to steps you couldn’t have imagined at the outset.  Whether it is in school or out of school, there are plenty of opportunities to embrace the technique of Kaizen to grow ourselves or support the growth of others.

-Sumant Bhat 

Head of Middle School

Innovating from Diversity

March 29, 2019

Every year the annual National Association of Independent School Conference draws amazing keynote speakers and holds fabulous workshops which inevitably lead to me walking away both with new ideas and perspectives, but also inspiration for our work at St. Anne’s. This year, Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, was among the keynote speakers and his remarks on innovation, prompted me to immediately go out and devour his accompanying text.

In reading his book and listening to his talk, it was encouraging to see several of his essential ideas for fueling innovation be represented in components of the design thinking curriculum we do in innovations to nurture creativity. For example, he noted the effectiveness of using selective constraints around design to actually spark new ideas. I’ve seen this first hand when our sixth graders design circuit games in science with some parameters on materials or while they were creating architecture projects in innovation. Having to design an underwater hotel or ice cream store in a densely populated city requires you consider specific needs of users you wish to engage. Another key point was the importance of the proliferation of a huge volume of ideas in the brainstorming process. Resisting the urge to jump on the first idea and instead produce more ideas can ultimately help you arrive at an even more innovative creation!  

6th graders designing circuit games in science

However, what has most stuck with me from the talk and book has been the specific insights and examples he shared highlighting a direct link between diversity and innovation, two areas that have been passions of mine for many years now. In his talk, Johansson shared memorable anecdotes such as how surgeons were able to improve patient care by reviewing organizational practices of race car pit crews. He relayed the journey of Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s who was born in Ethiopia, adopted and raised by a family in Sweden,  and trained in France, before opening a Michelin star restaurant in NYC with flavor influences drawn from around the world . His willingness to combine flavor combinations in unique ways has led to him pushing the food industry forward. Perhaps my favorite story shared was how architect Mick Pearce in Harare, Zimbabwe found solutions to design the Eastgate Building, a climate-controlled building, by looking at the way termites built housing for themselves in the same climates. It involved using an intricate system of gradients and vents to keep the temperature constant around 30 degrees celsius while the outside temperature fluctuates between 0 to 40 degrees.  What was clear from each of the three cases, innovation and creative solutions occurred at the intersection of seemingly disparate worlds.

As I consider my experiences working with students and teams at various schools I’ve worked at, I’ve seen first hand how a central barrier to creativity is the tendency to fixate on one solution. That tendency is the product of associations our brains develop from the sum total of our experiences and the voices and perspectives that surround us every day. The more homogenous those experiences and voices are, the stronger the associations that get built between ideas. The stronger the association between ideas, the more likely we ignore other alternatives in designing solutions or thinking of possibilities. Yes, strong associations in the mind can be helpful, making for a simpler, more efficient approach for our brains to manage lots of information. However, too often they are inhibitors to innovation.

So how do we mitigate these associative barriers that naturally exist for us all?  Below are a few measures that I’ve been a part of and which are shared by Johansson.

A)Diversity in group composition:  At St. Anne’s I’ve been part of different critical friends groups, taskforces, committees and think tank sessions. I’ve found when you get people together who bring diverse subject expertise, prior school experience, or backgrounds together, the discussions often yield more complex and sometimes even surprising solutions. This is because they bring their own perspectives which helps mitigate associative barriers that would arise from a homogenous group. At Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant Aquavit, his 100 employees come from countless different countries around the world. For our students, this provides a great case for intentionally seeking out and working with different people in classes on projects, rather than just your close friends who might think the same way as you. That goes double for our 8th graders who are heading off to high school and will have opportunities to expand their social circles in their increasingly diverse communities. Yes, some norming and agreements may need to be laid as foundation for successful collaborating, but the different perspectives are likely to yield more creative solutions.


B)  Designing solutions from the perspective of the user, rather than your own- This is a principle that is at the core of design thinking and is an essential stage in creating solutions that actually work for the users for whom you are designing. Over the years we've had sixth graders interview preschoolers and kindergartners as a step before building prototypes for the outdoor classroom. We've done an empathy exercise simulating what it's like to have limited mobility when we were designing everyday solutions for the elderly. As a staff when we’ve been building our program at St. Anne’s in the Hills and trying to iterate the program, curriculum, and logisitcs, we’ve been conscious to interview and survey students and faculty about their experiences. I have also found that by faculty doing training that has put me on the low ropes elements, we all have a greater appreciation for the experience and feelings of our students, thereby better allowing us to scaffold and design our trips.


C) Nurturing divergent and alternative uses for objects to overcome the cognitive bias of functional fixedness - Functional fixedness refers to the mindset of being unable to see other uses for an object beyond its primary use. Alternative use exercises like finding ten different ways to use a paperclip help counteract functional fixedness. For example, a paper clip can be used beyond clipping papers together such as a tie for a bag or screwdriver for a loose screw on glasses to even jewelry! While the practice of generating lots of ideas is important, ultimately what is more important is to simply not have one chain of thinking.


D)Exposure to a variety of experiences:  Part of what is so impactful in our students’ experiences is the breath of classes they get to take at St. Anne’s. Beyond science, social studies, English, and math, are students can take world language, learn about world religions in chapel, support various communities outside St. Anne’s through outreach, and education at St. engage in cultural competency curriculum. Add in the outdoor education and a robust art offering and are students are put into a variety of environments from which to draw inspiration and make connections. When I see the creative content our 8th grade students are producing as artists, musicians or actors on stage, I’m reminded of the role of variety of experiences they are gaining are influential in the creative process.


In a world where content creators are becoming increasingly more valued than content consumers, helping students see the value and role of diversity in innovation is essential to their growth. It is also vital for us as adults to keep in mind as design and provide experiences for our students to nurture their perspective.

 
-Sumant Bhat
Head of Middle School

By Kristyna Yeager

The social, creative, and educational opportunities that come by way of digital technology are limitless and, as we well know, not without peril. The two best resources for keeping children safe are their parents and themselves, but a little technological support can be useful. Staying informed, taking action, and communicating openly will help build positive online experiences that will help foster responsible behavior in your household.

Young people interact with digital media in a variety of ways. According to study conducted by Common Sense Media, American tweens (ages 8-12) spend an average of about 4.5  hours on screen media use a day, while American teens (13-18) spend an average of about 6.5 hours worth of daily screen media use (daily averages do not include time spent at school or for homework). It is difficult to believe this is an accurate snapshot within our small SAES community because of the intentions we have behind our no cell phone policy, the non-academic activities many St. Anne’s students participate in after school, and digital guidelines at home. Regardless, the SAES Digital Life survey given last year indicated that “too much screen time” was what concerned parents most about their child’s online life. Digital media plays a key role in how kids function and develop, staking claims on their time and attention. Consequently, it deserves our continued scrutiny. Keep your kids’ digital world safe, fun, and productive by implementing and evaluating some best digital parenting practices while in your home and about.

Good digital parenting begins with acknowledging risks and reducing harms associated with having digital lives, both in ourselves and our children. Being calm, open, and direct when talking with your kids is the first step. The earlier you open this line of communication, the better. Discussions can include age-appropriate content, with whom we have contact, and how we behave while online. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recommends that parents never miss a teachable moment where smart technology is concerned: first device, turning 13, getting a driver’s license, or when your child wants to try or buy a new app/game/site. Exploring and learning can be a two-way street when it comes to technology. Take time to enjoy digital media with your child, and you may be surprised at what he or she can teach you. If you start this habit at a young age, it may just become routine. Check out FOSI’s tips and resources to educate yourself on some of the most popular games, apps, and social media sites. Additionally, heed social media age limit restrictions when your child wants to create an account. Most sites have a minimum age requirement of 13 so letting your child know your feelings about honoring those guidelines will help curb the notion to join too early.

Fortunately, with many big-name platforms and companies beginning to address digital well-being, using parental controls and safety settings is more accessible than ever. However, choosing a parental control utility can be a little daunting. You’ll have to do a bit of homework to determine the program that might work for your family, but the payoff will be well worth your time. It’s important to consider all device types and operating systems. Also, you will want to keep in mind the filtering and blocking capabilities, social media tracking options, and ease of installation and usage. PCMag, Tom’s Guide, and Top Ten Reviews have comprehensive reviews to help point your family in the right direction. Don’t forget or ignore the built-in options on your current operating systems and devices. 

Another invaluable consideration for good digital parenting is establishing ground rules, setting boundaries, and applying consequences when necessary. There are multiple tools parents can choose from, including family media agreements or plans, cell phone contracts, or simply making a list of rules to apply to your child’s digital life. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but these tools are all useful in starting a conversation with your family about how to behave online in a positive way and help keep the lines of communication open. Choose one that works well for your family and make adjustments when necessary.

Do you want to wait as long as possible before you open the door to smartphone usage? A recent movement sweeping the country is the Wait Until 8th pledge, a cause that empowers parents to band together in waiting till their child is in 8th grade or beyond before purchasing a smartphone. The organization suggests skipping the smartphone contracts altogether with a long list of reasons to wait until a teenager actually has a purpose for having a smartphone. This pledge might work well in a community such as St. Anne’s. But do keep in mind that, even if you wait until 8th grade to buy a smartphone for your kids, they will begin to have online activity the moment you put any online device in their hands--be it an iPad, family computer, or Roku.

Here at St. Anne’s, the Technology Department does our part to support community-based digital citizenship. We regularly utilize Common Sense Education’s curriculum to teach students how to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world. In grades K-2, students are learning how to go places safely online, what kinds of information to keep private versus what information is okay to have in your digital footprint, and what to do when you encounter cyberbullying. In grades 3-6, students are learning how to represent themselves, the effects of what they say about others, media literacy, and how their media choices affect their own well-being. In grades 7 and 8, students are learning how to think before they post, practice netiquette (online etiquette), understand their digital footprint and reputation, reduce oversharing, and find a media/life balance.

Because so much of our children’s lives involve communication via computers, smart devices, and gaming systems, cyberbullying remains an important topic to discuss at home. Following good digital parenting practices such as having open communication and media plans, first-hand experiences with applications and digital tools that interest your child, and using parental control features are key to helping prevent and protect against cyberbullying. But another consideration includes device location. Keeping your home computers, laptops, and gaming systems in highly visible or central locations is a great way to keep tabs on digital interactions. A central docking/charging station for everyone’s device is another good idea. In addition, take time to show your kids how to block, flag or report abusive and inappropriate content and encourage socializing with friends in person. Parents can also discuss using anti-cyberbullying technology such as ReThink, a free app that can help detect and prevent hateful language. It gives users the opportunity to think before posting something they may regret.  

One of the most important things you can do to be a good digital parent is to be a good digital role model. Evaluate your own digital habits and curb any bad ones. It is necessary for parents to be aware of their own digital behavior so they can promote positive behavior in their children. You can’t expect your kids not to text and drive if they grew up watching you do it. If you have “no phone zones” or a common docking area, make sure you are following those guidelines as well. Take the lead on setting time to unplug for yourself and your family and find a balance of online and offline activities.  

Keeping our children’s online lives safe, fun, and appropriate is on the minds of teachers and parents everywhere. Thinking about it and doing something about it are two different things. A lot of us get stuck on not knowing what to do, and the task at hand can be challenging. But good digital parenting and community-based digital citizenship are all about taking an active role in minimizing risks and maximizing benefits. Check out the list of resources below to take a step in the right direction.

List of resources

Current Research:

Common Sense Census: Media Use by Teens and Tweens

FOSI: Tech Addiction; Not All Screens Are Created Equal

FOSI: Online Safety Across the Generations

Good Digital Parenting Resources:

Safer Gaming Guide

Apps Guide

Social Media Guide

Social Media Privacy Guide

Tech Education Guide

Cyberbullying Guide

Cyberbullying Conversation Guide

Parental Control Plan

Smartphones: Why Wait?

Parental Monitoring Software Reviews:

TopTen Reviews

Tom’s Guide

PCMag

A Secure Life

Built-in Safety Features for Devices:

CompariTech (Reviews and detailed instructions for various operating systems)

iOS Devices

macOS Parental Controls

Managing Microsoft Family Group

Xbox Healthy Gaming Guide

Family Link by Google

Family Media Agreements:

AAP’s Family Media Plan & Media Time Calculator

Smartphone Contract by Teen Safe

Family Agreement by ChildNet

Family Media Plan by Common Sense Media

Words of the Month

Middle School Blog

February 1, 2019

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