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.

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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.

Nov 082016
 

 

perspective“To the middle, run to the middle,” I yelled from the sidelines to one of the players on the U9 girls soccer team I’m helping to coach. As her teammate dribbled down the sideline and prepared to send a cross to the middle of the field in the front of the goal, the player turned around and ran back toward the center circle – the middle of the field. I started to yell and then, simply, stopped. After the ball went out of bounds, I called the girl over to the sideline and tried, as best I could, to explain what I had meant. She had a big smile on her face and nodded enthusiastically, and yet I could tell she wasn’t following me. “Just play hard, try to get the ball, and have fun,” I said as I sent her back out on the field.

Coaching 7 and 8 year old girls this Fall has been humbling. I find myself trying to balance the need to teach the difficult and technical skills of soccer – controlling the ball with your feet and other parts of your body, passing to a teammate, receiving a pass from a teammate, shooting – with the need to teach basic game sense and understanding of strategy. My co-coaches and I have tried to structure practices so the children are touching the ball all the time, not standing around in lines, and thus they are focusing on moving and developing a feel for the ball. We have also tried to provide some basic understanding of the game so that when we get on the field, they are not just chasing the ball. While the former has been successful – the girls are touching the ball a lot in practice – the latter has been harder. We have been the masters of the swarm much of the season, although there have been moments of passing and spacing these past few weeks that provide hope.

For context, soccer was my favorite sport growing up, and I remain a passionate fan of professional soccer. I also coached older players – high school junior varsity and varsity soccer teams – for a number of years earlier in my career. To be clear, no one is going to invite me to coach a top soccer team anytime soon, and yet I probably know more than your average AYSO soccer coach.  

Coaching this team has reminded me of a few important lessons that apply to parenting and school.

First, controlling children is not the same as teaching children. Soccer is complex and fluid, and it is not possible to create a script and simply direct children around the field. I can yell to the girls to get to the middle, and yet so many things can make that difficult, from the challenge of controlling the ball to the abstract nature of the flow of the game. The fundamental beauty of soccer to me is that it is a player’s game, not a coach’s game. Just like in parenting our children, we ultimately need to sit back and let them control their own game.

Which leads to the second lesson – I need to understand the children I have in front of me and meet them where they are. A quick review of the Yardsticks developmental continuum that we often share with parents reminds me that 7 and 8 year olds can “Listen well but may not always remember what they’ve heard,” and that they “may give up when things are hard.” It also notes, that they are “full of energy, play hard, work quickly, and tire easily.”  Wondering about the different shapes and sizes of children out there? Well, not surprisingly, they “may have a growth spurt.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they have a “limited attention span, and short exercise breaks help concentration.” I’m no longer coaching high school varsity players, nor do I necessarily want to be – but that’s a column for a different day.

Which leads to the final lesson – I should not be measuring success by whether we win or lose the game. I will admit that I am competitive (probably more competitive than I sometimes want to admit) and there have been moments where I’ve been enthusiastically directing the girls on the field and getting pulled into the competitive nature of the moment. “Go, go, go,” I’m yelling from the sideline. And then I look over and see the three girls who are sitting on the sideline with me doing cartwheels. Perspective is important.

Next week, two excellent speakers will be visiting the area as part of the Common Ground speaker series – Richard Weissbroud and Frank Bruni. Both have written interesting books, Weissbroud’s book The Parents We Mean To Be focused on parenting and children’s moral and emotional development, while Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be challenges students and parents to rethink how they view the college experience. The two will be delivering separate talks – Weissbroud at Nueva on Tuesday, November 15 and Bruni at Bellarmine on Wednesday, November 16. In addition, the two will be part of a joint discussion, moderated by Denise Clark Pope, on Tuesday, November 15 at Menlo School. For those who don’t know, Denise Clark Pope is impressive in her own right, as the author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students and the founder of Challenge Success, a nonprofit that challenges parents and schools to redefine the meaning of success.

While Weissbroud and Bruni are not talking about soccer, the lessons that I have been reminded of in coaching 7 and 8 year-old girls are not too dissimilar from the lessons they are exploring, albeit in the context of older children. For those who are new to the Hillbrook community, we were one of the founding schools of Common Ground more than 10 years ago and the group continues to bring extraordinary speakers to help all of us – parents, teachers, and coaches – work with our students and children.

A final note about the team. A few weeks back, I found myself at 8:15 am on a Saturday morning with ten eager girls dressed and ready to play an 8:30 am soccer game. The only problem? The other team wasn’t there. The rainy weather had created confusion about whether or not we could use the field and thus the other team did not show. Our team’s other coach and I talked and then we talked with a few other parents. What should we do? “The parents should play the kids,” one child said enthusiastically. We looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “Why not?” One hour later, a number of us collapsed on the sideline, big smiles on our faces, as we completed perhaps the best sixty minutes of the season. A parent smiled at me and said, “You know what? This is what they are going to remember.”

Oct 122016
 

In a little more than a week, we will have Student Progress Conferences, a twice-yearly opportunity for parents to learn about how their child is doing at school. The focus is on the student, the academic and social emotional growth they are making and the goals they are setting with their teachers to challenge themselves. In the Middle School, students join parents and teachers for student-led conferences. Each student facilitates their own conference, proudly sharing what they have accomplished and the goals they have set for the year ahead. The conference is organized in close consultation with the student’s advisor and offers an empowering moment for each student to take ownership of their own learning journey.

Our teachers know children extraordinarily well, and they are experts at understanding where each child is on their learning journey and finding ways to help them continue moving forward. Part of that expertise is knowing that all children have jagged learning profiles. Put another way, each learner is at a different place for different areas at any given moment in their learning. A student may be an exceptionally talented writer, for example, and yet find themselves struggling to solve problems in math. They may quickly design and create a complex experiment to prove a scientific concept, and yet struggle to comprehend and speak Spanish. And, just as importantly, the “struggling” Spanish student may find themselves thriving two months from now in Spanish class, just as they discover that essay writing is no longer quite so straightforward. We are each unique learners and, as a school, we are committed to trying to meet each child where they are to help them reach their highest individual potential.

Conferences are a snapshot in time, an opportunity to stop and pay attention to where each child is on their learning journey. As parents, we have a chance to celebrate our child’s growth and to understand their struggles. We can learn what is happening in the classroom, and how we can best partner with the school to support our child throughout the school year.

During two recent Lower School Learning in Conversation events, Lower School Head Colleen Schilly shared some excellent articles about how we can support our children in school. One of them, “Give Late Blooming Children the Time They Need,” by Jessica Lahey, particularly resonated with me as it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite children’s books, Leo the Late Bloomer. Lahey recounts the story of Leo, a tiger cub who cannot read, write, draw, eat neatly, or even “say a word.” Leo’s father watches Leo for signs of blooming, but nothing seems to change. He anxiously questions Leo’s mother about whether or not Leo will ever bloom, but his mother keeps reassuring him: “a watched bloomer doesn’t bloom.” All the while, Leo’s father looks around and sees the other young animals doing all of the things that Leo can’t do.

As Lahey writes, “We all watch our children as they grow, for signs that all is well. We crave evidence, both of their healthy development and of our own competence as parents, and lacking any other source of information, we scan the playground for comparisons. That boy can count to 100 in Spanish while my son can barely speak his native tongue. That child can traverse the playground structure with the athleticism of a spider monkey, while mine needs help climbing up the slide. That girl can eat her healthful snack with chopsticks, while my child eats his boogers.”

Next week’s Student Progress Conferences are our effort to provide you information about your child so that you do not need to “rubberneck on the playground.” It is our effort to share with you information about the joyful, challenging, and unique journey your child is on, to help fill in the gaps of knowledge that can lead to anxiety about their development. It is also, however, a moment to remind each of us that children all bloom at “their own rate, in their own sweet time.”

All children bloom early in certain areas and later in others. For some children those moments of early blooming are more obvious, while for others, like Leo, it may feel at times like nothing has bloomed at all. While late blooming can sometimes leave us, as parents, feeling anxious, I encourage you to remember that the journey from childhood to adulthood is a long one, best measured in years.

And, to paraphrase Lahey, in the end – spoiler alert – they all bloom.

Sep 282016
 
Photo Credit: Tammy McGarry Nickel

Photo Credit: Tammy McGarry Nickel

This past Saturday morning, recent Hillbrook alums – Alex Nickel ‘16 and Liam Strand ‘16 – were honored as Los Gatos Youth Citizens of the Year. They join a growing list of Hillbrook alums –  Isabel Perez ’15, Courtney Mathisen ’14, Olivia Borenstein Lawee ’14, JT Belshe ’13, Cole Hammers ’13, Molly Ball ’12, and Jo Sanford ’11 – who have received this high honor, an award that recognizes students who have made a significant contribution to the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno community and are role models for other young people.

Their recognition highlights how members of the Hillbrook community are being noticed for our commitment to reaching beyond themselves to make a difference in the world. Last Spring, for example, Hillbrook was by far the largest team entered in theGreat Race. With more than 65 runners, we earned prize money that was then utilized to sponsor the recent Stop Hunger Nowproject that was part of the Week of Service. In just a little over a week, the school is receiving the 2016 Compassion in Action Award from the African Library Project, a recognition for the 15 libraries created by the school in Malawi and Swaziland since 2009. Over the past five years, we have been consistently recognized byBreakthrough Silicon Valley as one of their strongest and most valued partners, a partnership that has made both of our organizations stronger.

Of course, as a school we are not performing a wide variety of service project in an effort to be recognized. Instead, we are striving to live out a core piece of our vision “to reach beyond ourselves to make a difference in the world.” The recognition simply affirms that what we are doing is making a difference and, we hope, inspires others to join us in seeking out their own way to make the world a better place.

Even more importantly, we are continually seeking ways to integrate our service projects into the curriculum. Last Friday, for example, our Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten students met a visitor from the West Valley Waste Management team who taught them about the importance of the 3 Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle as they launch their yearlong study of garbage and the impact we have on the environment. This coming Friday, the 3rd grade will be launching their study of disabilities, with the DisAbility Awareness Presentation, a hands-on presentation that helps students gain insight into the reality of those with disabilities by having them experience different types of challenges that people can face. Students then develop a pen pal relationship with local children and, later in the year, meet and play with the children.

HSPC Service Learning Parent Coordinator Elan Nguyen has recently completed a beautiful, inspiring, and accessible exhibit in the library that ties together children’s literature, a wide-array of grade-level service projects, and big questions about how children can make a difference in the world. The exhibit will help teachers, students, and families extend the work we are doing as part of our curriculum and consider how we can push in new and interesting ways to make things better both on campus and beyond 300 Marchmont Drive. I encourage parents when they are next on campus to swing by the exhibit and check it out.

This coming week, we will be donating 100 iPads to Treasures 4 Teens, an organization that provides holiday gifts to under-resourced teenagers. Founded by a group of Los Gatos high school students back in 2010, the organization is currently led by several students, including their vice-chairperson and Hillbrook alumnae Sophie Mortaz ‘13. Youth Citizen of the Year recipient Alex Nickel and Aleksy Coughlin ‘13 also were active members of the organization last year. Sophie’s commitment to service connected Hillbrook with this worthwhile cause, and enabled us to make a gift that will positively impact a number of teenagers this December. Sophie’s leadership and initiative, traits we know were nurtured during her time at Hillbrook, and her recognition that Hillbrook is committed to giving back to our community enabled this positive outcome.
Vision 2020 calls on us to “deepen and extend the work of our Service Learning program, creating opportunities to partner with a broad range of organizations throughout Silicon Valley in order to engage the Hillbrook community in meaningful service projects both on and off campus.” Clearly we are already doing much of this. I can’t wait to see where we take this program in the next four years and beyond.

Sep 142016
 

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At the heart of our campus sits the Village of Friendly Relations. Built by our students back in the late 1930s, these small houses represent the physical manifestation of founder Mary Orem’s vision for how Hillbrook (then called The Children’s Country School) could make the world a better place. The Village serves as “an experimental plant for promoting Peace,” she wrote in a letter in September 1937. She continued,

“Training for peace must begin in the nursery, where tolerance and a willingness to share are natural outgrowths in adjustment….to discard the chaff before prejudice has a chance to set in… (to show) that friendly settling of disagreements is possible in a group of variegated backgrounds and so through understanding and working for a common good, Peace is possible.”

More than 80 years later, we remain committed to this idealistic and optimistic notion – the belief that through an educational experience that prioritizes engagement, collaboration, social emotional learning, and student choice, our students are inspired to become changemakers and leaders, individuals who look for ways to reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.

We are in the middle of Hillbrook’s inaugural “Week of Service,” a weeklong exploration of how our community can reach beyond ourselves to engage both on and off-campus in meaningful service opportunities. Inspired by the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, the week provides us an opportunity to link our efforts to a broader, national effort.

As we noted at Flag this past Monday, 9/11 has become a historical event for our students, not all that different to them from other historical events like Pearl Harbor, the Civil Rights Movement, or the Vietnam War. For all of us adults, who have strong and indelible memories of that day, it is often hard to recognize how quickly something shifts from a felt memory to just another historical event read about in history books. With this in mind, it is important that we find ways to teach them in age-appropriate ways about that day and help them understand that giving back and making a difference in the world are not only Hillbrook values, but values that are shared by many within our local, regional, and national communities.

p1000443This week our students are having an opportunity to learn about hunger, poverty, and homelessness, serious and complex issues that are somewhat invisible to many within our community, particularly students. We are working with a broad range of local organizations – St. Luke’s Pantry, House of Hope, San Jose Family Shelter, Georgia Travis House – to provide hands-on experience and education for our students. In the process of serving others, our students gain insight into the broader needs of the community and the ways, both big and small, that they can help to make a difference.

p1000438We are also finding opportunities to engage with other local organizations, in the process strengthening our connections with the broader Los Gatos community. Last Spring, our school received an $800 prize from the Los Gatos Rotary as the largest team to participate in the Great Race (over 65 members of the Hillbrook community participated!). When we learned of the prize, we immediately talked with the Rotary Club and decided that together we would utilize the funds to support Stop Hunger Now, an international organization committed to ending world hunger.  Thus, this week, volunteers from Los Gatos Rotary joined with students and parents from Hillbrook to package more than 15,000 meals. As explained on the Stop Hunger Now website, “meals are shipped throughout the world to support school feeding programs, orphanages, and crisis relief. The food is stored easily, transported quickly, and has a shelf-life of two years.”

We are proud of the impact our efforts are having this week, efforts that build upon the extraordinary work we have done in previous years as part of our service learning efforts. Whether it is the fifteen libraries created in Malawi through the African Library Project or the school foundation laid in Nicaragua by our students two years ago, the thousands of meals served at local shelters or the hundreds of students at local elementary schools positively impacted by our Middle School students, the indelible connections forged between our third graders and special-needs students from the local public schools or the passionate commitment to recycling inspired by our many green projects, our community has always been committed to making a difference in the world.
Since 1935, we have believed that through the creation of an educational environment that nurtures, challenges and inspires, we can raise children who will change the world. While many things have changed in the past 80 years, our “experimental plant for promoting peace” continues to thrive and grow both on and off campus.

Aug 242016
 

August is a time of entries (and reentries). The largest cohort of new students and families in our history is joining the community this year, as we increase our enrollment to 339 students. In addition, we welcome a new group of teachers and staff members to join our extraordinarily talented team.

At Hillbrook, we put a lot of time and thought into how we structure these entry experiences. From those first moments in March when families enthusiastically open the envelopes with their acceptance letters through the welcoming committee events coordinated throughout the summer, we focus on helping families not only learn the organizational details that they need to know to prepare for the first day of school, but also on helping families develop the connections they need to ensure they feel like full members of our community when school starts on August 31.

For me, on-boarding new community members means dedicating a significant amount of my time during the summer to meeting with new families. These conversations provide me an opportunity to connect with people and hear their Hillbrook stories. I’m always impressed with the thought and intention that people have put into their decision to join Hillbrook, and I continually find myself inspired and humbled by the commitment that families are willing to make to ensure their children are able to be part of Hillbrook’s extraordinary educational experience. As in past years, several families shared with me that they moved to our area in order to be part of our community.

In addition to working with new families, we also pay careful attention to how we integrate new teachers and staff members into our community. Last week, we had a three-day orientation that helped prepare these new employees for the start of the school year. While some time was spent sharing nuts and bolts essential to helping new employees successfully perform their jobs, a significant amount of time during the orientation was devoted to conversations focused on Hillbrook’s vision, mission, core values, and history. We shared stories about Hillbrook traditions, like Flag, reflected on our continuing connection to the progressive educational philosophy visibly reflected in things like the Village of Friendly Relations and our many flexible classroom spaces, and talked about how the core values – be kind, be curious, take risks, be your best – animate everything we do as a school.

One of the threads that struck me this year during conversations with both new families and new employees was that Hillbrook is a school of optimism and hope, a school committed to celebrating and preserving childhood. It often feels like we live in a time of fear and anxiety, a culture that is particularly visible when we look at how our society approaches parenting and education. The sometimes overwhelming narrative that we as parents hear is that we need to protect our children from the world around us, that our children must do more, earlier and faster than before, or else they will not make it when they grow up. We are told to fear for their futures, and to start preparing and protecting them from the day they are born to help them compete in an ever-more competitive world.

At Hillbrook, I like to think that we reject the fear. We believe that preparing our children for the future means creating an educational experience that prioritizes skills – communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity – that will equip our children to tackle any and all challenges that come their way. We believe that creating experiences that prioritize student engagement and choice, and leave room for struggle and even failure, help children develop the independence, the flexibility, and the resilience necessary for success in an increasingly ambiguous world. Our job is to help students develop a sense of agency and to identify a purpose larger than the self, so that they may be positive solution-makers when they leave school. Just as importantly, we believe that preserving childhood – allowing children to remain children longer – enables our young learners to develop into confident, self-aware, and capable adults. Imagination, play, joy, and laughter remain critical components of the Hillbrook experience.

The night before the first day of school I always have a difficult time sleeping. Despite more than 20 years as an educator, I find myself tossing and turning, anxiously anticipating the arrival of students and families to campus. Yet, each year, as I look out at the sea of clean uniforms, fresh haircuts, and smiling faces eagerly awaiting the start of our first Flag, I am filled with an incredible sense of optimism and calm. It is the confidence of knowing that I am working with an extraordinary team of educators and that we are partnering with you – our families – in the most important and rewarding work there is – inspiring children to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world. The future is bright indeed.