May 182017
 

Hillbrook alumni returned to campus for our Alumni Celebration. Many looked back on their Hillbrook experiences and looked forward to exciting new beginnings as they head off to college and into the world.

I find myself becoming increasingly nostalgic. This past Friday, more than 100 alums returned to campus to participate in our reunion activities. It was such a joy talking with alums, particularly those in high school and college, and I marveled at the growth they have shown during the years since they had left Hillbrook. I was particularly struck talking to one high school senior, who described in detail the college program he was entering next year in theatrical direction and writing, a program that he noted accepts only six students each year. Wow, I thought to myself, he is on the verge of being the adult I had imagined he would become back when he was at Hillbrook. Older, more mature, more assured, and ready to fully pursue his passion in drama and theater, and yet his passionate and charmingly unique Middle School self still shone through.

As you read this, we are less than three weeks away from summer break, another reason I suspect I’m feeling nostalgic. Next week, all Middle School students will be off-campus on expeditionary learning trips to Yosemite, Catalina Island, and Washington, D.C. Here on campus, we are gearing up for several year-end experiences, including the 3rd Grade Greek Play, the 5th grade Living History Night, the 1st/2nd grade Author’s Walkabout, and the 8th grade Capstone projects. All of this activity creates a powerful mix of excitement and accomplishment, as well as a strong sense of endings.

And, yet, even as we focus on culminating experiences and projects, I’m struck that what we are really witnessing is a series of new beginnings. Our 1st and 2nd grade authors, for example, will be introducing themselves to us for one of the first times as writers, an identity that will continue to grow and broaden in the years ahead. 8th graders are exploring areas and passions in a new and more in-depth way, building electric bikes, coding virtual reality experiences, drawing message-driven cartoons, apprenticing as teachers for younger students, and learning and then teaching peers and adults how to bind books While their public presentations at NuMu on June 1 will be inspiring, what we are seeing is the emergence of young adults and lifelong learners who are just beginning to understand their full potential. These young people are not at an endpoint at all, they are at a series of extraordinary and exciting new beginnings.

This is also the time of year when we say goodbye to some teachers and staff members who will not be returning for the 2017-18 school year. Included in that group this year are several resident teachers – Yanelly de la Rosa, Rasha Glenn, and Helga McHugh, JK/K PE teacher Regina Reilly, Director of Admission Nikki Butts, Middle School English teacher and Humanities Lead Julia Rubin, longtime Substitute Coordinator Chris Lawrence, Facilities Manager Alan Bahnsen, and our longest serving employee – Physical Education Teacher and coach Sue Yoshioka. As they leave Hillbrook, I know that each of them will be having their own new beginning. In some cases, they leave us to launch into their first lead teacher role, while others are looking to move into the next chapter of their lives as they “rewire” and imagine what the years ahead hold in store for them. All of these talented individuals, whether they were here for 2 years, 39 years, or somewhere in between, have made a difference in the lives of our students and have made our community a better place. We will have an opportunity to recognize each of them at our Final Flag of the year on Monday, June 5.

At the same time as some people are leaving, we are preparing to welcome a new cohort of talented faculty and staff to our community.We will share news about our new community members in August. We are also thrilled to see the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship continue to grow and flourish with the addition of Annie Makela, the Founding Director for the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship, joining our community in July.

Ultimately, each goodbye represents an ending and a beginning, depending on the angle from which you view it. The departure of the dynamic and talented Class of 2017, for example, represents the end of an era for many students and families, and yet as they leave they prepare to begin anew at high schools around the Bay Area and beyond. Their departure also opens up space for an extraordinary group of new children and families, including our largest cohort of new 6th grade students ever. A whole new set of Hillbrook stories are soon to be written.

Circling back to where I started this essay, this past Monday one of our 8th graders talked about how this year’s graduation marks the end of an era for her family at Hillbrook. She and her two sisters have been a part of this community for the past 14 years, meaning she has been a part of Hillbrook since she was born. There are seven other families marking a similar transition this year, with the youngest member of the family graduating and thus marking the end of 10 or more years at the school for the family. In addition, there are a number of families with only one child who are also marking their own graduation from Hillbrook as their child leaves for high school.

It is definitely bittersweet to see these families move on from the school, and hard in the moment to imagine Hillbrook without them here. As I was reminded at the reunion last weekend, however, the end of this era represents the beginning of a new relationship, one that is marked by significantly less frequent interactions, but the same level of affection, appreciation, and wonder at the journey we all take through life.

Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” In the weeks ahead, I encourage all of us to celebrate and honor the closing doors of this chapter of the Hillbrook story, while looking with enthusiasm toward the new doors that are just beginning to open.

Apr 282017
 

As a school, we have a long commitment to creating and nurturing a culture of reflection. We seek input and feedback and strive to work in partnership with families to meet our mission each and every day. We have always recognized the importance of gathering feedback from our community and using that feedback to help us both appreciate and affirm our strengths and also identify areas for growth and improvement.

This past year, we partnered with an outside firm, Pacific Consulting Group (PCG), to create, administer, and analyze a family survey. We sent out the survey to the community in November and invited all current families (representing 255 households) to respond. A total of 175 households completed the survey, representing an impressive 69 percent response rate. PCG shared the results with the school and then created a presentation for us to deliver to our community. The PCG presentation was shared at the HSPC meeting in April.

The survey was separated into ten areas – Educational Skills, Lower School Educational Program, Middle School Educational Program, School Programs, Teachers, School Leadership, School Culture and Community, Communications and Parent/Guardian Involvement, Facilities and Transportation. Parents also rated their overall satisfaction with Hillbrook. The results were strongly affirming for the school, with high satisfaction ratings in every category, including an overall satisfaction rate of 91 percent. 97 percent of families would recommend Hillbrook to a friend or relative, an incredibly high percentage.

One of the appeals of hiring PCG to administer the survey was that they conducted a leverage analysis of the results. The leverage analysis identified the school’s strengths to focus communications and highlight those areas where we are doing well and that are important to families. The leverage analysis also identified areas where improvement will create the most impact. These are areas where people are relatively dissatisfied and/or the area is very important to people. As PCG noted, improvement in these areas creates the biggest “bang for the buck.”

The survey reaffirmed our strengths, encouraging the school and community to highlight these areas when discussing the school :

  • Strong leadership that includes school leaders who treat people with respect and who provide a clear and compelling vision for the school
  • Exceptional teachers who combine a deep knowledge of their subject with a deep understanding of each child and responsiveness to parental communication
  • An extraordinary campus, that includes excellent facilities

On the other side, the survey suggested three areas that we should focus our improvement efforts. First, family’s are very interested in seeing us do even more to meet each child’s individual learning needs. PCG included a few quotes to help show how families respond when we do this well, as well as what families suggest for improvement. As an example of what it looks like when done well, one family wrote, “We have been thrilled at how much Hillbrook has seen our kids as individual learners with a lot to say and offer the world. Our kids have gained confidence and are more engaged in learning than ever before.” On the other side, families suggested that we might find more effective ways to challenge students. As one family wrote, “I think Hillbrook has a good program but needs to get a little more educationally intensive. For students who are academically ahead it appears that they don’t feel as challenged.”

The second and third areas were closely related, with families offering suggestions about how we can better help each child reach their highest individual potential and communicate student progress in ways that makes sense to both students and parents. As an example of what it looks like when done well, one family wrote, “I am so happy that Hillbrook and their teachers are willing to differentiate learning for kids. Some are advanced and some are not and I feel like they do a good job of adjusting the curriculum based on the child.”

On the other side, one family encouraged us to reconsider our homework, writing, “I think overall homework can cater to each child more. I find that it could be more challenging. This doesn’t necessarily mean traditional homework, but more project-based, integrated learning that truly engages.” Another family suggested we reconsider parent/teacher conferences writing, “20 minutes feels quite rushed to cover a child’s academic progress, social & emotional status, and allow for questions. Our teachers know our children so well, they have such rich feedback to share with us, and I come away from conferences feeling like an incremental 10-25 minutes would be so very helpful.”

In addition to the leverage analysis, PCG included survey results that addressed some general areas. For example, the survey affirmed that both “The Week Ahead” and “Hillbrook Happenings” are used by the vast majority of families, with 88 percent using the former and 85 percent using the latter. When asked, “How would you rate Hillbrook’s level of initiative in identifying opportunities for parent/guardian involvement?” 90 percent of families said “about right,” a strong endorsement of the HSPC and the school and how we structure volunteer opportunities. Additionally, 80 percent of families felt that our level of initiative in soliciting financial support was “about right.” Eighty-seven percent of families are satisfied with our transportation programs, with 77 percent of families using our transportation services.

The survey also affirmed the school’s success in creating an inclusive community, with 98 percent of families saying that both their child and their family felt included at Hillbrook. When asked about our vision and mission, 80 percent of families felt like Hillbrook was successful in achieving it. As one family wrote, “Our kids love waking up to go to Hillbrook and are excited to share what they are learning, and are learning a great deal on all fronts. Their confidence, knowledge, and life trajectory is far beyond mine at the same ages and it’s very impressive. I believe Hillbrook’s mission contributes to these traits in our kids.” As another family wrote, “Every child deserves a school like Hillbrook and we have seen our child blossom and thrive and grow by leaps and bounds in so many areas—academically, in her confidence, in her ability to become more responsible and self reliant. Her overall happiness with school has grown tenfold, and that is priceless.”

Overall, we feel that the survey reaffirms the focus of Vision 2020, and it has us well-positioned to build on our strengths, while addressing key issues identified in the survey. In particular, we believe that the school’s focus on reimagining the student experience, with particular attention on how we use time, how we challenge each child, and how we strengthen our assessment system, will ensure we are able to make meaningful progress in our efforts to meet the needs of each child and help each child reach their highest individual potential.

This was the first time that we have conducted a survey with PCG, and we plan on bringing them back every two years to measure our progress and help us continue to identify our strengths and areas where we can improve. We are excited that this new process offers us a meaningful and effective way to gather feedback for the school, something that we know is essential to ensure we continue to grow and thrive as a school.

Mar 172017
 

gratitudeI had the opportunity to hear Brené Brown at the recent NAIS National Conference in Baltimore. Author of several books, including bestsellers Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, Brown has garnered a great deal of attention by speaking to the powerful role that shame and vulnerability play in our lives, and how we need to understand and lean into those feelings if we are ever going to be able to be courageous and do great things.

Brown is a gifted and humorous speaker, and she managed to be simultaneously disarming, funny, and thought-provoking, as she challenged each of us to think about how our fear of being vulnerable leads to misunderstanding. It takes courage to speak our truth, particularly to those closest to us, she noted. She told a story of a morning swim with her husband that quickly devolved into a fight when the two of them failed to understand what the other was thinking. She encouraged us to develop facility with the phrase, “The story I am telling in my head…,” as a way to open conversation with another person and help them understand what you are thinking and, in the process, often help to reveal the misunderstanding at the core of the conflict.

I quickly thought of the many misunderstandings I had with people, especially my own family members, as I leapt up the ladder of inference and became frustrated, judgmental, and angry instead of opening myself up to a real conversation and a search for understanding. I thought of a recent situation in which one of my children came to me to ask if we could get a subscription to Adobe Photoshop. I looked up from my computer, and immediately, angrily, and, let’s be clear, irrationally launched into a mini-tirade about how all my children ever do is ask for things and want more. I was tired of their sense of entitlement and their never-ending need for things. I then turned back to what I was doing, shutting the conversation down.

Later, with the benefit of time and perspective, I went back to said child and asked them to tell me more. It turns out, that this child had already figured out a way to pay for this service by canceling another service we had, and was not simply asking for something more. I sheepishly listened and we worked out an arrangement that, in the end, actually highlighted the importance of financial management and this child’s growing awareness that “money does not grow on trees.”

It was definitely a low point as a parent, and one that I’m not proud of in the least. I could make a number of excuses, but if I’m being brutally honest (ie, fully vulnerable) and if I play out “the story in my head”, the question triggered complex feelings from my own childhood about money, an underlying fear that careless expenditures of money would have long-term consequences, coupled with shame about any type of conspicuous consumption. The latter undoubtedly traces all the way back to a purchase in 7th grade of an expensive pair of Vuarnet sunglasses with money I had earned through yard work and babysitting, a purchase that my parents viewed with a combination of disgust and disappointment. In retrospect, I now recognize their feeling – it was discomfort with the privilege I had (the ability to purchase a pair of Vuarnet sunglasses) combined with a larger fear that I would not recognize my privilege and would simply become entitled.

Brené Brown beautifully addressed this concept when she talked about her own efforts to ensure her children were not entitled. She distinguished between privilege – unearned access to resources  – and entitlement – expectations of access to resources. The key to keeping the one – privilege – from becoming the other – entitlement? Understanding and gratitude.

As a parent, how do we do this? I think it is important to explicitly name the privileges your children have, as well as helping them see how privilege varies across different communities. It is important for children to recognize, for example, that within the Hillbrook community, different families have different types of privilege, whether due to differences in socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity. At the same time, even with those differences, it is helpful for our children to recognize the privilege that all Hillbrook children have simply by being students at the school, namely, access to an educational experience that the vast majority of children throughout the Bay Area and around the world do not have.

And how do we teach gratitude? To my mind, the best way to teach that is by modeling it for your own children and by showing your own gratitude for the things and experiences you find valuable. I regularly tell my children about how grateful I am to be part of this community, how grateful I am to live in such an extraordinarily beautiful area, and how grateful I am to have the freedom and the opportunities that I have had throughout my life.

For additional exploration  you might check out the following:

Feb 172017
 

This past weekend, I found myself standing alone in a theater lobby during intermission of the stage production of “Finding Neverland” up in San Francisco. I started to reach into my pocket to pull out my phone, when I stopped myself. Instead, I looked around the lobby and started people watching. Nearly half of the people in the lobby had their phones out, intently looking at their screens. I watched people standing there, often in small groups, immersed in their virtual worlds, ignoring the people standing around them. A few people challenged the norm, talking animatedly with friends and family, phones nowhere in sight. moment

The next day, I was listening to NPR, and a short story came on about a South Korean Buddhist monk, Haemin Sunim, who has taken to Twitter and other social media, including Facebook and YouTube, to share Buddhist philosophy. Sunim’s 140-character tweets have taken South Korea by storm, and a new book that is a compilation of those tweets was just published in the United States. Titled The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, the book provides daily inspiration to challenge us to be be present, to connect more fully with our emotional life, and to find ways to hear within an increasingly noisy world. The irony was not lost on the NPR correspondent or Sunim that he was using Twitter to share this message. As he explained, however, “You can fight against the technology, but I realize that it’s difficult to fight against technology. So rather than fighting it, why don’t I provide better content?”

Apparently, the stars were aligned and the universe was imploring me to pay attention, for the next morning I and other members of our community had the good fortune to hear our own Hillbrook parent and psychologist, Sarah Levoy, talk about mindful parenting at the HSPC meeting. Sarah provided a brief introduction to the topic and then shared several activities that challenged us to reflect on our interactions with our children. She asked us to rate which obstacles most commonly interfere with our ability to fully be present with our child or children, with choices ranging from being distracted by your other children, work on your mind, social media, environmental distractions, or running late. I cringed a bit as I thought about the whirlwind departures that sometimes happen in our household and how I am most definitely not my best in those moments. She also challenged us to think about a moment in which we had felt like we were a parenting superstar, and another in which we had been less than our best. Needless to say, both scenarios gave me pause.

Coming together in such rapid succession, these three touch points challenged me to think about how I am making sense of the always on, often hectic world we inhabit. The biggest takeaway? The way we experience our life is something we can control. It is the lesson we teach children from the youngest ages. We all likely remember telling our children, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” or some variation of that sentiment. While we can’t control every outcome and while we can’t ensure that things always work out the way we want them to, we can always manage how we react to those things. The key, it seems, is recognizing two seemingly contradictory truths at the same time – we have both more control and less control than we think.

Returning to Haemin Sunim, I particularly appreciated this tweet from last week. “Do only one thing at a time. When you walk, just enjoy walking. When you listen, really listen. You will become happier and more centered.” I’m adding one more for myself – “When on Twitter, tweet. When on Facebook, like. At all other times, keep the phone in your pocket and live in the moment.”

Jan 122017
 

kindjarTen years ago this week, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world. As a school, the iPhone – and its many subsequent iterations and offshoots – has challenged us to rethink the meaning of education. What exactly do students need to know if they have near instantaneous access to information in their pocket?

The iPhone, of course, is just one example of the transformative changes that are happening at an ever more rapid pace. Artificial Intelligence may represent an even greater disruption to our lives. In 10, 20 or 50 years, what exactly will we be able to do more effectively than computers in an age of ever “smarter” technology?

Amidst this ever-accelerating rate of change, we as educators and parents are continually challenged to answer the question: How do we prepare children for a future we cannot imagine today? Some schools answer by playing to fear, creating programs that emphasize rote learning at ever younger ages and arguing, indirectly, that stressful, homework-intensive environments are the best way to prepare children for the world of tomorrow. The message seems to be that visible evidence of “accomplishment” represents learning.

At Hillbrook, we offer what I believe is a more optimistic, child-focused answer. We focus on nurturing the growth of each child, and we understand that authentic learning and understanding happens for different children, at different times. The classic one-size fits all approach to education simply does not work in today’s dynamic environment, in which we are looking to equip students with skills – critical thinking, writing, scientific reasoning, creativity, empathy, cultural competency – that are not taught or measurable through traditional, more rote avenues.

At the heart of Vision 2020 is a challenge to us as a school and a community to reimagine the student experience and create ever-more opportunities for students to engage in authentic problem solving activities. In addition, we have challenged ourselves to push beyond our campus and create opportunities for students to reach beyond themselves and make a difference in the world.

With that as a backdrop, I am excited to announce the launch of a program that we believe will help us transform the educational program at Hillbrook and beyond – the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship – the application of an intentional and entrepreneurial approach to prototyping innovative solutions to social problems – lies at the intersection of several key strands of Vision 2020 – project-based learning, design thinking, making, and service learning – and will be a major driver in helping us to reach beyond our own campus to make a difference in the world. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, for example, has been described as an early social entrepreneur, with his groundbreaking work in micro-financing that enabled philanthropists around the world to loan small sums of money – typically less than $100 – to provide the necessary capital to change someone’s life.

The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship would build upon the Maker Movement, design thinking, and problem-based learning, challenging students to design products, concepts and processes that aim to make a difference in the world. While many schools across the country have focused on pieces of this puzzle – creating centers for design thinking, for example, or building MakerSpaces – few, if any, schools have created integrated programs that prepare children to be the future leaders and problem-solvers that will make our world a better place.

Like other innovative initiatives in the past five years – our 1-to-1 iPad program, our reimagination of learning spaces, the creation of the Resident Teacher program – we believe that the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship will open the door for us to build connections and partnerships with organizations and schools locally, nationally and internationally.

Our first step is to hire a founding Director for the program. The founding Director has the exciting and unique opportunity to co-create with our community a program that will extend the work we are already doing in service learning, making, and project-based learning. The founding director will join us as we near completion of the design phase and embark on the building of the Hub (projected launch date, January 2019), the new state-of-the-art MakerSpace that will serve as the epicenter of hands-on, project-based learning on campus. The founding director will be charged with designing a social entrepreneurship program that serves our own students and faculty and also creates opportunities to engage the broader community outside of our campus. The founding director will also seek and develop partnerships with community organizations, and will help us explore satellite campus facilities and spaces in the community, and will develop both on-campus and off-campus programming for school year and summer sessions. The full position description is posted on our website.

The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship is being funded by the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the school – a $2.5 million pledge by Shannon and Kevin Scott, which includes seed funding and an endowment that will fund the center in perpetuity. We are so grateful for their extraordinary generosity, and for their understanding that the future of education requires all of us to create opportunities for students to engage in real-world problem solving. With their support, we will be able to build a program that helps our community to reach beyond our campus and truly make a difference in the world.

Steve Jobs said he wanted to make a dent in the universe. The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship is one way in which we at Hillbrook are trying to impact the world for the better.

Dec 092016
 

p1010251Make the job you want to have.

That’s the advice a Google program manager shared with our 8th graders yesterday during their visit to the Google Campus. It was the punchline to his own story. A graduate student in 2008 at the depth of the economic crash, he and a fellow graduate student took matters into their own hands – they made the job they wanted to have. They founded a toy company that designed apps and, nearly 10 years later, he and his co-founder are program managers at Google. “I get to make toys at age 35,” he said with a smile.

The visit was tied into “Everybody Can Code,” our weeklong effort to create opportunities for students of all ages to participate in a range of coding activities. The goal is to demystify coding and to help students see how coding is at the heart of the transformative changes happening today. In addition, given our yearlong focus on reaching beyond ourselves to make a difference in the world, we want students to understand how coding can make the world a better place.

p1010135

The focus of the 8th grade field trip was a session with the two founders of Toontastic and one other member of their team. Founded back in 2008, the company was bought out by Google several years ago and the two co-founders became Googlers. The app helps students tell stories by creating cartoons. It is, in essence, a techy puppet show, with the students providing the voices for the computer generated animation. Geared toward 8-12 year olds, the app was a tad young for 8th graders, although it definitely captured their interest and engagement. In just 25-30 minutes, the students quickly explored the app and created some simple stories, mostly silly and not necessarily fully formed, but remarkable in their polish and structure given the short timeframe. The room was full of laughter and enthusiasm, and I’m sure the app would be a hit, particularly with younger students.

Talking with the app’s two co-founders, it became clear that there was a great deal of intentionality and design behind the program. Geared toward educators and students, the app scaffolds the storytelling experience for children, teaching them about the arc of a story and integrating the work of renowned educators like Lucy Caulkin’s, the creator of Writers Workshop at Teachers College Columbia University. The program managers, one of who had taught for several years and another who had initially considered a career in education, were committed to designing a free app that would help children from all different backgrounds learn how to tell stories. Their goal is twofold – the creation of a teaching tool that also becomes a favorite online toy for children.

At the end of the session, the three Googlers took a few minutes to talk with the 8th graders about how the app was making a difference in the world and to offer advice for what a 14-year-old should be thinking about today. We are always telling stories, they noted; indeed, stories are at the heart of the human experience. And, yet, until recently there have been few tools that provide young children the ability to tell a story and speak up. Toontastic gives children a way to share their ideas, to tell their story.

As for advice? One noted that the students need to “rage against the machine of not being creative.” The people he worked with at Google were not just good at ones and zeros, he shared, but knew how to approach problems and how to solve them creatively. Keep drawing, singing, or doing whatever creative things inspire you, he encouraged. Don’t let school stifle your creative soul.

Another manager, as noted early, shared my new favorite line – make the job you want to have. It epitomizes the Hillbrook way, to my mind. Ask what problem you want to solve, start down the path of seeking a solution, collaborate with others along the way, and show your work and learn from it as you make your way back through the cycle. They are the skills we prioritize at Hillbrook – storytelling, creativity, problem solving, risk taking – encapsulated in the idea that we are narrators of our story.

As we often note, we are preparing children for a world that we can only imagine at this point. Yesterday’s visit provided some real-life affirmation that the skills we prioritize at Hillbrook are the skills that will enable our children to change the world.

Thank you to Hillbrook parent and Googler Sherice Torres for setting up this visit for our students.