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Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Importance of Our Stories

My name plate from conference
Sumant Rama Bhat. My name has seen numerous creative pronunciations over the years, but it also captures a great deal of my own personal story. The name Sumant comes from the name of a trusted advisor of King Dasharatha in the Hindu epic The Ramayana. Given my daily practice as an educator, that name seems fitting. Bhat is a Brahmin Hindu name, and throughout my life, Hinduism has shaped my values and daily practice from being vegetarian to the importance of honesty and respect. The middle name, Rama, is my dad’s name. As a professor of medicine and a relentlessly selfless and compassionate man, he has been a model for me to emulate both as a teacher and as a father.
In our opening middle school faculty meetings this all, the St. Anne's faculty made name cards and share their stories with one another. I picked up this exercise at The Meadowbrook School’s Multicultural Teaching Institutelast summer. It proved to not only be a great icebreaker for new faculty, but also a great opportunity for those who have taught together for decades to learn something new about old friends. 
Admittedly, during my first years of teaching, I thought little about my own story or the value of sharing windows into it. My energy was spent staying one day ahead of the kids in lesson planning and trying to make connections with students on surface-level interests like favorite sports teams or the latest top 25 iTunes song I had downloaded. I do not dismiss that there is value in that kind of sharing. However, I also recognize that pieces of my story got left out and could have helped students dealing with experiences similar to mine, from navigating being a minority to responding to hurtful comments about their religion. 
Everyone has the right to determine what they wish to share with others about themselves. However, I think it is important that we create a school environment where it is OK for our students to tell their stories, what makes them unique. As part of our capstone Project 8 course, which focuses on self-reflection and identity, our eighth-graders have been sharing aloud their “This I Believe” essays with their classmates and families. In these essays, students connect their own core values to their personal narratives. From perseverance in sports to navigating the loss of family and loved ones, these stories have opened new connections between students. 
I’ve seen firsthand how hearing stories from one another can help build previously unseen connections between individuals from different social circles. These stories often reveal what is beneath the surface for those around us, illuminating a depth of character and life experience that we could not possibly know otherwise. In doing so, they cultivate empathy by providing windows into experiences different from one’s own. 
As a school, we have a limited number of hours a day to choose what we will teach our students, and our choices send implicit messages to our kids about what we do and do not value. Working on and sharing stories with some frequency sends the message that everyone’s story is of importance. It can also foster an appreciation and desire to seek out more about other’s stories, and perhaps motivate someone to delve deeper and reflect on their own experiences.
There are countless examples of individual personal stories—like Malala Yousafzai’s, Misty Copeland’s, Jason Collins’ and Caitlyn Jenner’s—that have raised awareness on various societal and world issues. Social media has radically amplified our ability to share stories that galvanize movements, but young students’ understanding of social media is often limited to snapping selfies, vacation photos and celebrations. Without authentic opportunities to explore their own stories and share them, the pressures for conformity have the potential to cause children and teens to reject that which makes them unique. 
As we look at our school days, the time does exist to promote these rich experiences, and there’s no shortage of projects and curricula out there around personal narratives. From English and social studies to advisory and capstone projects, we have opportunities. As educators, the avenues to build an environment that fosters an appreciation for stories are multiple too. Utilizing our blog posts and newsletters, seizing teachable moments on outdoor trips and using assembly time all afford opportunities to promote the value of our kids’ stories and our own. 
With every passing moment of our lives, we add characters, plot twists and lessons learned that help make our stories and us more interesting by the day. Why wouldn’t we want to share them one another?

Republished with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Understanding and Counteracting Our Biases

It’s fairly common knowledge that hurricanes are given traditionally girl names or boy names in alternating occurrences. Surprisingly though, hurricanes with girl names have caused greater damage than those with boy names.  Researchers have found that this is due to people taking the threat of hurricanes with female names less seriously, despite hurricanes being given names on chance!

This example of gender bias was one of several shared by Mahzarin Banaji at a conference I attended last month on multiculturalism and inclusion. Banaji is a Harvard professor who co-authored the book Blind Spot: Exploring the Hidden Biases of Good People.  She is also world famous for her creation of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) which has shown time and again that we all have preferences or biases at the subconscious and conscious levels across gender, race, and other categories.  While biases can help us make decisions more quickly, they can also have damaging impacts. In Blind Spot, Banaji references studies about how identical resumes sent out with African American sounding names get selected less frequently than white sounding names for interviews. 

The reality is we all default to biases at times in some capacity, no matter the number of workshops we attend, the life experience we have, or the literature we read. That is what makes us human. The messages we receive from the media, music and entertainment worlds are certainly powerful as are our respective life experiences.  For our younger students whose sample size in life is even smaller than our own as adults, their youth is a double edged sword. On one hand they should not have as many predispositions because of their lack of life experience, but on the other hand, the limited life experience can dramatically color their perspectives and shape their decisions in the absence of counterexamples and varied experiences.  

If we all have these biases, how can we work to counteract them? Both the book and Banaji highlight strategies that while not silver bullets, can be helpful in counteracting these biases. One way is simply raising our own awareness to the notion that we might have biases, including biases that we are not aware we had. If we can acknowledge that we have biases, we can then spot them when they come out and try to remove them. Seeking out that cognitive dissonance that exists between an automatic response and reflective response (where we intellectually disagree with that kneejerk reaction) is a way by which we can grow and reduce the effects of bias. Pursuing different experiences in our lives in different environments also provides an exposure that increases our sample size for people, places and situations. At St. Anne's,  I believe that experiences such as outreach can often help our students. From seeing patrons of the soup kitchen who are well-dressed, well-spoken and kind, to the intelligence and humor of some of the autistic students they work with at the Joshua House, students have opportunities to confront and counter preconceptions. 
Part of the intention behind our philosophy to have every student take a trimester of music, art and drama is so that students are forced to confront preconceptions. The number of times this has result in students learning more about themselves and interests that they did not know existed is too numerous to count.

In the last month, we’ve had discussions with all members of our community on this topic. At LS and MS divisional meetings, we have explored tools and engaged in dialogue over how we can incorporate this into our work with students. Both in months past and in the weeks ahead, we also have and will be putting bias, stereotypes, and discrimination on the table in developmentally appropriate ways for our students. 

We  hope to begin cultivating a mindset in students that helps them avoid predispositions that hinder them pursuing growth opportunities. Engendering an attitude to approaching new experiences with curiosity to learn rather than rejecting them based on inclinations or feelings is difficult but important work.   Our 8th grade recently finished creating videos in social studies telling the story about the civil rights movement and racism. This coincided with their reading of To Kill a Mockingbird in English class to provide a strong lens for our kids. Younger grades will look at the ways in which different behaviors are often unfairly attributed to either males or females and the impacts that has on them.

I am not naïve enough to believe that our time and efforts to unpack biases and provide tools ensures that our students become "bias-free." We cannot go back and change life experiences and are not always aware of our own biases that have grown over time.  However, at a school that values respect, kindness and integrity like St. Anne’s does, I do think we have a responsibility to help our students along on this journey that they will be on for a lifetime.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Autonomy and Choice

Whenever I ask a sixth grader about what they like most about being in middle school, most responses I receive involve the word  “freedom.”  What I've learned they really are referring to is the increasing choice and autonomy that they desperately crave as young adultsIn his book, Drive, Daniel Pink, speaks about this power of autonomy over other types of rewards on motivation, highlighting examples at companies like Google where employees have choice built into their day.  Given that autonomy and choice motivate adults in their performance, it should come as no surprise that it motivates our middle schoolers as well who are young adults growing into adults. As a middle school,  we understand this idea and use it as we make decisions in curriculum, programming and our daily approach so that we can provide developmentally appropriate opportunities of independence and choice for our students. Below, I've highlighted below a few of these opportunities and some thoughts on the kinds of conversations we find effective for kids this age.

World Language
In middle school, students pick either a world language course (French or Spanish) or pursue learning enrichment to gain extra support in their classes. This year, World Language students are also participating in the OWL program which has a much larger immersion component to it. Our faculty have pursued significant professional development and talked with teachers from other schools in building this fantastic program. The result is our students are speaking in the target language for the majority of the period which we have learned high schools are increasingly valuing as well. As part of this new program, students routinely gather in a circle and engage in organic conversations that will necessitate them learning additional vocabulary to talk about topics they wish to discuss. Not surprisingly, this additional vocabulary routinely gets mastered quite quickly because of need and choice! In Spanish classes, teachers also often set weekly goals for kids that can be obtained by picking from a list of assignments of different weights. It may be early in the year still, but I have already  been impressed stopping into our language classrooms and seeing the energy, enthusiasm and language being spoken!

By design, students in St. Anne’s middle school  do not choose one art for the year, but rather take one trimester of art, drama and music each every year. By requiring exposure to each subject, students are able to avoid the pitfall of picking arts classes based on peer choices and preconceived notions about their abilities. The number of students who in turn discover an unexpected affinity because of this experience always surprises me. 

Uke performance at All School Assembly
Never ones to rest on a good program though, Mr. Sigler, Ms. Gilbert and Mr. Lemire have put together a new 8th grade arts choice program. Last spring, 7th graders (now in 8th) voted on the different areas they wanted to learn as a group and then ranked their top choices in each area. Incredibly, over their summers those three teachers learned new skills and put together curriculum to support those choices.  This fall, we had eighth graders playing ukuleles in music, creating large sculptures in art, and focusing on acting (as opposed to writing).  With similarly interested groups of 8th grade students learning together, these classes have accomplished amazing things from uke playing at all school events to beautiful large sculptures to a wonderful play on stereotypes and assumptions put on by the drama students.  

Activity Period
Graphic Design Activity Period
Though the idea of activity period is certainly not new at St. Anne’s, this year 8th graders led mixed grade activities as opposed to teachers. They were responsible for everything from gathering resources to planning the time to actually leading everyone. Students even had to prepare and pitch their idea at MS assembly to garner interest. One group even spent several hours putting together an incredible promotional movie which blew us all away. Our first session last month was a huge hit with students who were motivated to pursue passions taught by students provided the autonomy to lead others in areas of expertise. All of us are looking forward to our next session!
Zumba Activity Period

Coaching  Academic, Social and Personal Decision Making
Amidst all the programming and curriculum design aimed to provide choice, what should not be overlooked are the daily conversations and approach our faculty bring to working with middle schoolers daily. Regardless of the nature of the challenge, middle school students benefit from the opportunity to have autonomy and choice in working through it. This impacts the way we as adults engage students of this age to support them. Even though we might have the exact right answer, because middle school aged kids are craving independence, they may be resistant to embrace a strategy or suggestion from a parent or teacher. This is why when a student is struggling in a class, an advisor might ask, "Well what strategies have you tried already?" or "How do you think you could go about improving?"  It may take more time to arrive at the same idea, but at least it was THEIR idea, and THEIR choice.

 When it comes to the ability to self-advocate and come up with strategies to address challenges,  students are developmentally in very different places. In those cases, it's often best to provide a few options and then let them pick. Not only does this still provide the opportunity for choice, but it also opens their mind to different possibilities which they can then generate the next time.

To really make this process effective, following up to cultivate self-reflection and help make the connection between a choice they made and the result that happened is essential.  This is helpful regardless of whether their choice leads them to success or not. Often at the outset we will set up a "trial window" (e.g. two weeks) for them to pursue their approach and then set up a time to  check in to evaluate the success. "It sounds like you're going to try looking up videos on Khan Academy when you are stuck. Let's plan to revisit in two weeks to see how it is going for you." This approach both gives them space and trust, but it also provides an opportunity or out to re-direct if it doesn't work. It's much easier to have a student go seek out a teacher willingly after they've discovered that going online to watch Khan Academy videos did not translate into increased success. Their receptiveness to other ideas than their own expands once they have had the opportunity to explore a choice they made.

A final piece that can help this process is to start with agreed values, boundaries or hoped for outcomes. Academically, agreeing upon an expectation for effort grades is a great place to begin rather than setting the expectation of getting all B's or A's for example. Perseverance is a core value at St. Anne's, so for a student who is looking to improve a grade, an advisor will encourage the kid to aim for a "2" on their effort grade. From there, a conversation on what the effort should look like, what choices the student can make on a daily basis and then setting up the trial window can ensue. This same approach works coaching when trying to decide about weekend activities. Agreeing upon boundaries or expectations and then revisiting them after allows for both reflection and support of their independence.

All students entering middle school need to work on self-advocacy and decision making. High school and college educators and parents say the same. No matter how old I get, my parents will likely say the same as well for me I am sure! This is partly because as we get older our world continues to expand. For kids this age, it happens more rapidly as they gain access to cars or friends who can drive in years to come. Students at a given age do vary developmentally and require subtle differences in their coaching. However, we must remember that their desire for more autonomy is also rooted in their desire to have us put trust in them. As adults, we cannot possibly be there all the time to hold them back or prevent them from failing. We can though provide opportunities to help shape their decision making and reflect on the consequences good and bad after the fact.


This is an RSA video from Daniel Pink which can be found on YouTube. The whole video is interesting around motivation, but at the 5  minute mark is when he specifically talks about autonomy.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Village

 I have lost track of the number of times that I’ve heard people use the phrase “It takes a village…” as it pertains to nurturing student growth. The accuracy of this statement is absolutely true and part of the reason families choose St. Anne’s is because they know there is a real strength in the partnership between home and school. I hear regularly from parents about how impressed they are with the countless hats that faculty wear as advisors, teachers, coaches, trip leaders, dance chaperones and more.

Mock interviews with faculty and staff
However,  the village at St. Anne’s extends beyond our faculty, and my recent experiences provide clear detail of it. The impact of and investment of our staff in your kids at St. Anne's cannot be overstated.

In the last two weeks, members of our development, alumni relations and admissions jumped at the chance to help our 8th graders do mock interviews as part of our secondary school support process.

SAES faculty, staff and students climbing 14,000 ft mtns together!
Multiple members of our admin and dining staff joined members of the faculty to hike up 14,000 foot mountains Grays and Torrey’s Peak, an annual St. Anne’s tradition.

Last week, we held our first ever St. Anne’s Top Chef (See the video at the top!) which was amazing. John, Anthony and Thesala from Sodexo each served as mentors and cut short their lunch break to sit with each pair of competing chefs to brainstorm ideas and give them tips the day before the big event. The next morning along with the maintenance staff, they set up an incredible Top Chef Arena early before the kids arrived for MS Assembly. Even our technology team of Jennifer and Glen got in the act and rigged up live feeds of the cooking to display on the big screen. That each of these groups did all this and then went on their day preparing lunches for the Soup Kitchen and 400+ kids, fixing tech issues and doorways is crazy. Every one of these individuals though were so excited to help make this happen, because of the experience it would provide our kids.

The list goes on in terms of the ways our staff genuinely take interest and shape the lives of our kids beyond their typical job descriptions. From playing in the faculty –staff soccer games to helping out with transportation or the yearbook, their generosity of spirit and talents truly know no bounds. These interactions go a long way in helping our kids cultivate relationships and gain appreciation for all of the adults in the St. Anne’s community.

So, the next time you see a member of our staff,  give them kudos!  They are a big part of the magic of the St. Anne’s village and we are lucky to have them as part of our community!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Embracing Tradition

Officially the Bhats
As many of you know, this summer I got married in Wisconsin to my wonderful wife, Courtney. We had a multiple day wedding, which included a Hindu ceremony and a Mehendi celebration (where the bride’s hands and feet are adorned with henna). In the month since this incredible experience, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on the value of tradition and its role at St. Anne’s, which is celebrating its 65th birthday this year.

Henna at the Mehendi
Honoring traditions I’ve learned can be a powerful way to celebrate that which is important and carries great meaning. For example, Jai Mala is a Hindu tradition where the bride and groom exchange beautiful garlands after a cloth separating them is dropped. Historically this would be the first time a couple would see each other, but at its core, this ritual symbolizes the joining of two individuals’ lives into one. The practice of honoring tradition can be effective in engendering appreciation. Traveling to a relative’s house every Thanksgiving can cultivate an appreciation of family. On our first day, Monday, every sixth grader will partake in a tradition of shaking every seventh and eighth grader’s hand forging a pact of respect and kindness in the middle school.  

On a horse for the Barat
Another piece of tradition is that it allows us to be a part of something larger than ourselves, connecting us with both prior and future generations over these shared experiences. This was abundantly clear to me as family and friends who came from over 10,000 miles away in India shared memories of their own ceremonies during our wedding weekend. Though I had not seen some of them in nearly a decade, our shared experience proved a fertile ground for us to reconnect. As I look back to my first year, I am hard pressed to recall a community event where alums were not present. It says a lot about St. Anne’s when you see alumni from different class years return to campus and reminisce about who spoke at graduation on their behalf or what carnival games they ran for younger students. These traditions they all went through still hold meaning to them, and they have clearly played a role in nurturing an appreciation for building and maintaining relationships.

As adults, we can help our students better embrace and see the value of traditions by whenever possible scaffolding them with anecdotes and windows into their importance to us or historically. I know for Courtney and I spending time with our priest hearing historical significance of various rituals prior to the ceremony helped us better understand why we did things like having our scarves tied together or walking around a fire as part of the wedding ceremony.

Now, over time some traditions will inevitably fade or change for various reasons. Bundt cakes are no longer a part of Founder's Day tradition, in part because of practicality, but also because it turns out Mother Irene never even baked Bundt cakes!  In earlier years at St. Anne’s, there were hedges and small gates that marked spaces around campus where only the Sisters were allowed, but eventually those went away over time. Mother Irene believed it important for the beautiful grounds to be used  and enjoyed by all.

While some traditions fade, new ones invariably spring up and grow legs too. In just the last year, we’ve begun traditions of student led assemblies that start with faculty and students sharing kudos for one another. This practice is intended to cultivate kindness and foster a positive environment. In the first week of school, I am excited for every student and faculty member to once again create and sign a Middle School Constitution comprised of our core values that we will live by.

Perhaps what I love most about St. Anne's is that while the bricks and mortar and some traditions may change, the spirit and purpose of it has not.  St. Anne’s will always maintain a tradition of community, service, putting the needs of its students first, and cultivating core values throughout the community.  I cannot wait to see what the 2015-2016 school year holds for us all appreciate all that you do to support the St. Anne’s tradition!

Courtney & I at our Mehendi celebration

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Infinite Campus

It is a regular occurrence that I find myself stopped somewhere on our beautiful St. Anne's campus, taking in the beautiful physical space where our students and faculty learn and teach each and every day.  Last week though, I was reminded that some of the best learning for our kids happens in a classroom miles away from the bricks and mortar at 2701 York Street.  I had the good fortune of accompanying our seventh grade students on their four day Colorado Trip last week where they explored and camped outside the Colorado Sand Dunes, rafted the Arkansas River and engaged with nature at various times throughout the trip. Though it’s natural for middle school aged students to view any trip off-campus as a “day off,”  the reality is that trips like these, that St. Anne's students take, provide a different kind of classroom that has an enduring and transformative impact on them.
Trips like these also remind me of one of my favorite quotes by influential educator John Dewey- "Education is not preparation for life; it is life itself." The experiences and lessons learned on trips like these are not intended merely to set up students to be more successful in high school, but rather for them to learn more about themselves and what they are capable of as individuals and as a group. While it is impossible to fully capture the magic of the experience without being there,  I will do my best to share some of the educational takeaways from our outdoor classroom last week.
Taking the plunge together as a group!

Pushing Your Limits:  "Step out of your comfort zone." Our students hear those words all the time from the adults in their world to the point that the phrase itself has become a veritable platitude. Last week, our students did not need to hear it because they were thrust in it at some point. For some, setting up their tent and camping outdoors was a challenge. For others, trying to summit the Colorado Sand Dunes or rafting the Arkansas proved to be a taxing or anxious task. Even sleeping in different beds and having different routines ended up being an important and significant stretch for many kids. Ultimately learning to recognize and be able to work through the feelings that arise when one arrives at the precipice of our comfort zone is an invaluable understanding to develop.  From taking on a new job responsibility that you might not have experience in, to speaking in front of a crowd, throughout our life we find ourselves on that edge time and again. To be on this trip and see this growth first hand was both incredibly rewarding, but also inspiring.
Solo journaling in peace and quiet
Reflection:  It's no secret that people are more plugged in than ever. With omnipresent technology, updates and alerts pushed to our devices, and increasingly busy schedules, opportunities for reflection are few and far between for us and our kids.  For these four days, our 7th grade students were truly "unplugged"...and they survived! Not only did it encourage face to face interactions, but our trip also prioritized reflection in a variety of forums. On multiple different occasions, our students had short journal prompts for ten minutes connected to their events of the day such as their thoughts on their relationship with nature or ways they have been pushing their comfort zone. On the first night, our students spread out in silence for fifteen minutes and watched the stars pop out at night on the sand dunes. As a culminating piece to our trip, our students spread out in silence for just under an hour on the grounds of our lodge with views of the mountains all around them. Some wrote a letter to themselves, others drew, and others let their mind wander to reflect on their growth this year as a student and person.
In our debrief, most every student commented on how much more they heard and observed by having this time to reflect. There was a common theme of appreciation for this opportunity and how much faster it went by than they expected. While they might not be able to capture forty-five minutes at the base of a mountain with regularity, it's possible to sit outside free of distractions for even ten minutes in the pursuit of mindfulness.

 Empathy: When you spend 24/7 with other people in small spaces like rafts, tents and bunk beds, you get to know one another in a different way. At some point we all show our vulnerability when we are exhausted,  sunburned, nervous while running rapids for the first time or struggling to sleep in a new environment. Recognizing the impact of pushing buttons at this time and the value in being supportive and encouraging is an invaluable interpersonal understanding. It is no surprise that students gain greater appreciation for one another and that new friendships get cultivated on these trips.

Having led plenty of experiential education trips in the past, I know that these experiences have galvanizing effects on groups. This past week was no exception and our kids really deserve a lot of credit for their willingness to engage fully in all the activities and be so positive to one another.  But a big kudos also needs to go to the remarkable team of chaperones. As is the case with all SAES faculty who go on trips to St. Anne's in the Hills, DC, Winter Park and more, this group brought positive encouragement, a willingness to seize teachable moments on the river or around the campfire, and a unique understanding of each of our kids. The result was learning and growth that are enduring and a lifetime of memories, all without a pencil sharpened or a laptop opened!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Enriching Hearts

Over the course of this year, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to blog about and hold coffee chats at St. Anne's  on an assortment of topics such as taking risks, student leadership and digital citizenship. However, the reality is no topic or aim of education is more important to me as an educator than that of cultivating empathy in students. It's the title of my blog.  It is written in our mission in the form of enriching hearts and broadening horizons. It is reflected in the faculty who work with our students every day. It is what drew me to St. Anne’s. It is what makes me most proud of being a part of this community. 

The Challenge:

Of course, like anything important, cultivating empathy is hard work, made even more difficult by the developmental age we work with in the middle school. Adolescence is a stage when students are trying to separate from parents to gain greater independence while having to navigate the physical, emotional and mental change that is omnipresent in their lives. It’s no surprise they can be more egocentric at this time. While technology can be a gateway to the world to learn about others experiences, the reality is that at this age, kids are often using it to turn inward, seeking feedback and “likes” from others about themselves as they wrestle with feelings of identity.  Further complicating the matter of cultivating empathy is that the bad in life is felt 100 times more than the immense good in their life.

Our Program 
6th Grade writing
valentines to their buddies!
At PS-8 school like St. Anne’s, we have a natural edge on providing organic  opportunities to cultivate empathy in our middle schoolers simply by having them share an intimate space with those younger than them.  As the oldest in the school, they must embrace the role of caretakers of our community. The faculty who spend seven plus hours a day with our kids are unrivaled in their investment in the whole child and fostering our core values. Enough cannot be said about their understanding of where kids are developmentally in middle school and their willingness to seize teachable moments as they relate to character education.

Below, I’ve quickly captured some recent examples that highlight programmatic  and curricular initiatives aimed at cultivating empathy amongst our MS students.

+CHARACTER ED CLASSES:  St. Anne's alum, Willy Boatman, returned to SAES to run a workshop for 8th graders on unpacking privilege. Willy attended the student diversity leadership conference as a freshmen at Kent and wanted to give back to St. Anne’s and did a great job leading an activity that delved into challenging topics like class, race, family structure, and more.We've done stereotype workshops and gender splits as well this year in the middle school. Every grade has a weekly RE/Focus class focused on Socio-emotional learning taught by Ms. Need, Mr. Smiley, Mr. Knippenberg or me. 

+CONNECTIONS IN THE CURRICULUM: Students in 6th through 8th grade engaged in texts such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Red Scarf Girl and Wonder which touch on social justice,  racial conflict, and understanding differences in ability. 
Designing for needs of
 another user in Innovations

+DESIGN THINKING:In Innovations, students have built prototypes and designed solutions to everyday problems that required them first considering the needs and wants of their partner or another user, forcing them to be good listeners as well.

 +GLOBAL AWARENESS/CONNECTIONS: I've discussed French Pen Pal projects before but in the last six weeks we've had a lot of resonance  guest speakers Martha Adams (Girl Rising Producer) and Genevieve Chabot (Iqra Fund founder),  One St. Anne’s selecting I am Malala as their book,, a middle school assembly and advisory celebrating Malala’s life and now a Penny Wars fundraiser to support girls education  really provided a clear energy and alignment of efforts.

Middle School
Compassion Circles
+OUTREACH: In 6th grade students work with the elderly. In 7th they work in a soup kitchen encountering greater socioeconomic and racial diversity. In 8th students visit two different local schools, one of which has a community of students with autism and different  ability. It's no accident that our outreach program provides opportunities for our students to work with different groups of people to better understand their experiences and build relationships. 

 COMPASSION CIRCLES: Today, in the 7th Grade Hallway, over 160 circles of paper went up in the display case as part of our Compassion Circles activity. Every student and teacher in the middle school spent time in the last few weeks brainstorming appreciations for others in the community. While the end result of having a visual display and reminder that we value all members of the community is in itself powerful, the process of finding the good in one another during advisories was a fabulous experience for our students as well. Plus, it's a reminder of the power of small gestures and the impact they can have on others. Be sure to check it out next time you're around!

At St. Anne's, we know that cultivating empathy needs to be an unrelenting effort on our end. For any who work with middle schoolers, it is essential to remember that the seeds you plant may only bear fruit a few years down the road. There's no switch that toggles students between being empathic and not, they, like all of us, move along a spectrum. The path is gradual and rarely linear and that is because eleven to fourteen year olds still have so much to experience in life. Over their middle school years, every student will experience bumps, bright spots,and opportunities for the kind of self-reflection necessary for them to enjoy enduring and meaningful growth. Though this kind of work can test one's patience at times, the reward of the growth we see over the years as our alums keep coming back is compelling and inspiring for us all.

Check out this great video  by Brene Brown on Empathy as well as the "Give a little Love" video at the top on the power of small acts of kindness!