Just About Boys? Girls, Too.

Monday evening I attended an event about boys, body image, identity development, and puberty in the digital age titled: “A Common Sense Conversation with Peggy Orenstein & Dr. Cara Natterson moderated by Steve Goldbloom.” The authors spoke about their new books and provided practical advice regarding navigating these topics with our children – advice that I intend to bring both to The Willows Life Skills Program and to my own parenting.

Sarah Bowman, from Common Sense, summarized well what I found most salient:

The conversations we have with our children are important, and they are, in fact, indelible. What you say counts. At Common Sense, we believe media literacy is a staple of parenting today, and our panelists did an excellent job of describing how to slip these conversations into your family’s daily life. Cara and Peggy urged us to initiate these chats earlier and surface these issues frequently, and to do it with humor. We instinctively teach our kids manners by gently prodding them to say “please” and “thank you” over and over; frank conversations about the body and a consciousness about media literacy likewise must become part of your parenting mindset. This past week provided two oversized examples of topics for conversation: Kobe Bryant’s death (men expressing grief and emotion) and the Super Bowl halftime show (body image).

The best advice of all? Trust your gut and remember to explain why you feel what you feel. This is what is unique to you and what your kids will cherish most.

While this talk and their books focused on boys, much of Orenstein and Natterson’s parenting advice and these conversations can resonate with girls as well.

These strategies may be used by families with both boys and girls.

~ Wendy Amster, Dean of Educational Technology

Once an Idea, Now a Reality!

Not only do Willows’ teachers possess the “Can Do” spirit, so does the facilities team.

Over the years, you may have seen some new additions at The Willows like the multi-purpose furniture between Buildings 4 and 6 or the free-standing sand sifter in the sandbox. What you may not know is that these were all made in-house by our talented facilities team.

The Willows’ facilities team consists of Treisha, Rocky, Gonzo, Eladio, Juan G., Juan V., and Daisy who have a combined 50 years at The Willows. They have embraced The Willows spirit, and when something needs to be done, they accomplish it!

Here are a few objects that have been created by the facilities team:

The multi-purpose furniture idea originated when students and staff noticed there weren’t enough outdoor classroom spaces on campus. They researched and found the best solution for The Willows would be a mobile outdoor classroom apparatus. The Middle School students interviewed teachers and students who would be using the space the most and collaborated with a San Francisco architectural firm, Thing One, to construct 2D and 3D models. The blueprint was then given to our facilities team to be constructed as a working product!

These Design Lab tables were made out of necessity–we had a wonderful design lab but no tables. The facilities team built tables to the dimensions that fit perfectly for the space for a fraction of the purchase cost!

It’s amazing to have a hands-on, talented facilities team, but more importantly, it’s beneficial for our students. By modeling the inquiry process and design thinking approach, students are able to see first-hand the ideas they formulated become a reality on campus in front of their eyes. Students then begin to understand that with the right amount of tools and resources, they can bring their own ideas to reality.

This collaboration and “Can Do” spirit is what makes The Willows a special place. As the saying goes, it takes a village, but in our case, it takes a community!

Once a Willows Student, Now a Willows Teacher: From the Perspective of Kendall Gross, Kindergarten Teacher

Contrary to my answer in the ‘99 yearbook, a career as a “ballerina” was never the real goal. In actuality, I have always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. The Willows has been my happy place since the day I arrived in 1998, and I feel honored and excited to show up to work—every day—in the very classroom where my love of learning began.

I consider myself academically driven, and I largely attribute my time and experiences at The Willows to that descriptor. Never before—and not since—have I been a part of a community where curiosity and exploration are at the forefront of experience every single day. The Willows practices as it preaches; we are allowed to make and learn from our mistakes, we can turn an assignment on its head to suit our needs and style, and we have ample opportunity to form authentic and reciprocal relationships with our co-learners (aka peers, teachers, specialists, etc.). These relationships were the lamp to my metaphorical moth, and the practices I relished as a student still inspire me to grow both as a faculty member and person.

As an alumna working at the school I once attended, I am often asked a lot of questions, which is great, because, thanks to The Willows and their inquiry-based education, I love questions. The question that comes up most frequently is this: How was it coming back to work at the place where you went to school? My short answer is usually: “Surreal!” The long answer has much more flavor…

Many of the faculty that taught me and formed my personhood, are still at The Willows today. So, coming back to the nearly unrecognizable campus in 2016 as their “co-worker” was quite an experience. It took a few months for me to accept that the conversations I had with them were no longer considered part of my year-end written evaluation. It took a few months longer to not feel out of place at faculty meetings–as if I had walked into the wrong room at the wrong time. By the end of my first year, I realized I wasn’t living some strange dream. I actually worked among my mentors at my favorite school doing what brings me great happiness and satisfaction, and I would get do it all over again the following year.

I believe a well-rounded education is the greatest gift a person can receive. The Willows offers that and so much more. It offers a safe space, a place to question and create, a home away from home. So thank you, thank you, to my teachers, who created, packaged, and put the bow on my gift. I hope to empower my own students and guide them toward a love of learning just as you did for me. That is my goal, and that is why I am a teacher at The Willows Community School. Although, I’m sure being a ballerina would have been cool too.

Current teachers that taught (and continue to teach) me:

Kindergarten – Andrea Passarella

First Grade – Jennifer Cunningham

Second Grade – Dakota Smith

Third Grade – Wendy Amster

Fourth Grade – Jill Offer

Fifth Grade – Bobby Hamm, Jane Lewine

Middle School – Stuart Knox, Steve Futterman, Kyle Smith-Laird, Doug Klier, Liz Ganem, Brian Tousey, John Lee, Ann Istrin

Specialists – Marc Weiss, Susannah Funnel, Kristie Toomath, Cathy Leverkus

ComicCon Meet Your Rival WillowCon!

Grab your cape and mask because this year The Willows will be hosting the very first WillowCon, a Willows version of ComicCon, on Saturday, November 9 from 11 am to 4 pm. In Willows fashion, it will be a collection of speakers, workshops, art pieces, books, costumes, music, fun, and food for all ages to participate!

Inspired by a school in Petaluma, CA, Director of Library Services Cathy Leverkus and Director of Teaching and Learning Terri Baird, decided that this was an opportunity to bring a version of ComicCon to the Willows. What better way to bring comic books and stories to life than to dress up, create masks, and speak to some of the industry’s top-notch comic book/story writers, artists, and directors?

Hence, the birth of WillowCon.

WillowCon will not only be a fun and exciting event, but it will also inspire and motivate those of all ages to read and write. Throughout the day, attendees will be able to listen to a panel of speakers, walk down artist alley that will include a collection of art work from Willows students and guest artists, meet and greet with speakers, develop writing skills through workshops, and decorate and create masks!

Some of the panel speakers will include Chris Ayers, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Dana Simpson, David Goodman, Cecil Castellucci, Emma Steinkellner, Josh Gad, Kyle Bornheimer, and Vaun Wilmott, just to name a few. Combined, these individuals have worked on Star Trek, Family Guy, The Daily Zoo, The New Yorker, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, DC Comics, The Okay Witch, Frozen, and much more.

Make sure to mark your calendars because WillowCon is going to be out of this world!

25 Years, 25 Stories

What started off as a dream and a vision for a dedicated group of pioneers became a reality in 1994 with the opening of The Willows Community School. Together they created a new kind of school with a balanced, progressive educational approach and strong roots that instilled character, compassion, and flexibility. Throughout the years, The Willows has grown to include not only a vigorous, committed community of students, faculty, staff, parents, grandparents, and alumni but also an outreach into the larger community and around the globe.

This year, The Willows embarks on a very special anniversary; The Willows turns 25!

To pay tribute to 25 years of excellence, we are honoring the inaugural Willows school-wide theme, which was The Ties that Bind Us. This inaugural theme represents the core foundation of what truly makes The Willows special. We celebrate our ties to each other, to our unique educational program, to our traditions, to our innovations, and to our phenomenal progress, as well as our ties to our broader community and the world.

We will also have an ongoing special exhibition that will be displayed in our reception area. Throughout the 2019/2020 school year each grade level of our students, DK-8, will be asked to choose 25 objects that best represent their experience at The Willows Community School to be displayed on exhibit. Pictured above is last years 8th grade’s curation. Be sure to check back as the exhibit will change throughout the year to offer different perspectives on what The Willows means to all of us.

As we continue to pay tribute to our roots, we also look forward to the future and continuing to embrace The Ties That Bind Us.

Mousetrap Car:
 
The mousetrap car represents struggles and triumph. Creativity and Bliss. It was a great learning experience where all of us were able to bond. Whether you won or lost, the memories will last a lifetime. Painting the cars, cutting the wood, our blood, sweat, and tears pouring into them. And when we released the snap, watching all of our hard work soar like a bird into the oblivion beyond. Going away as fast as our 8th grade year did. The wheels turning like a clock. We conquered something. We conquered the race

– 8th grade  

Level Up Village: 6th Grade Global Partnerships

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One favorite talking point for most educational leaders and policy advocates these days is that children must acquire 21st century skills in preparation for work in a global economy. Beyond the rhetoric, what 21st century learning actually looks like in schools can vary; personally, I believe The Willows remains on the cutting edge with our longstanding focus on interdisciplinary, project-based learning that integrates current technological tools in thoughtful, meaningful ways.

One recent example of The Willows cultivating students’ 21st century skills involved our 6th grade participating in a unique partnership with the organization Level Up Village. The mission of Level Up Village is to “facilitate seamless collaboration between students from around the world via pioneering global STEAM enrichment courses.” Our first experiences with the organization took place last school year, during middle school Intersession, where a group of Willows students collaborated with students in India to co-create websites using HTML and CSS. Encouraged by this initial experience, middle school teachers looked at other, potentially lengthier, course offerings, and they were excited to find one focused on a novel study of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which 6th graders already read in their Core classes each year.

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Click here to access the video.

As you can see in the linked video above, one of the main components of the Level Up partnership is student-created videos that are shared by students in one classroom with another classroom in a different country. Willows 6th graders were paired up with classrooms in Ghana and Zimbabwe for the novel study, and their first task was to create short videos introducing themselves to each other.

As they read The Giver over the course of approximately five weeks, students traded videos on various topics, including utopias, dystopias, and methods for solving specific problems related to one’s community. Teachers made use of blocks of time in their weekly schedules specifically devoted to technology integration for video creation and support with navigating the online Student Portal used to submit videos and access materials for the students’ collaborations.

The teachers involved with this project report that it was a worthwhile endeavor overall, though it was not without its challenges. For example, the classroom that was paired with students from Zimbabwe was presented with some unique teachable moments as that country found itself in the middle of a military coup during their five-week collaboration. Besides giving teachers with an opportunity to compare our government and culture with theirs, Willows sixth graders had to practice patience waiting for their partner videos to be uploaded. Furthermore, discussions in all classes emerged as our students had to come to terms with cultural differences observed while reviewing videos, as well as technological challenges (i.e. limited computers) that their partner classrooms might have been dealing with.

One of the unexpected gifts this project offered was that, through reviewing their students’ videos, teachers were able to learn so much about them, in a way that doesn’t normally happen in the typical school environment. Liz Ganem, one of the 6th grade teachers, said that “Going into parent conferences after this project, I felt like I knew some kids better than I ever have before.” She noted that students creating these videos in quiet spaces away from class and for an authentic audience had an opportunity to express themselves and elaborate in a different kind of way. Teachers and students, in a sense, treated the videos almost as they do traditional writing assignments, using revision notes and teacher feedback on ways to make their messages clearer before sending them off to their partners in Africa.

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http://www.instagram.com/willowscommschool

This last revelation has inspired the 6th grade teachers to contemplate how they can use video more often as a means for their students to respond to literature. Furthermore, the Level Up Village project reinforced the universal tenet that people all over the world can connect through great literature. As Liz remarked to me, “I love that it was a book that was connecting these two cultures – it made my kids realize that you can talk to anyone in the world about a good book!”

Raising Resilient Children

What is the mind? What can we do to help kids develop a resilient mindset when facing life’s challenges?

These perplexing and provocative questions were just two of many raised and discussed at the most recent event in our annual Ideas@TheWillows speaker series, led by acclaimed UCLA professor and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute Dan Siegel.

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One of the things that I truly value about working at The Willows is our community’s willingness to engage in a thoughtful exchange of ideas with extraordinary people like Dr. Siegel. I first became aware of his work in my early years of fatherhood, when my wife and I read his book The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Later, I became aware of his efforts to introduce mindfulness into schools through his Mindsight Institute’s MindUp curriculum that we’ve used parts of with middle school students at our school.

In his wide-ranging and lively talk, Dr. Siegel shared findings from research about resiliency, which he linked generally to the concept of integration in brain research. Adults and children who are adept at integrating the various systems of the brain in a harmonious manner are better suited to facing life’s challenges without becoming overwhelmed or disconnected. To illustrate this at one point in his talk, Siegel asked for volunteers – specifically, people who sing in choirs (including our Director of Library Services Cathy Leverkus) – to come on to the stage with him. He gave his singers various directions to demonstrate the results of an integrated brain (harmony, where different singers worked together towards a common goal) versus a non-integrated brain (chaos, where different singers covered their ears and only sang their own song). E_17_Speaker_Dan_Siegel040

Besides sharing essential brain research for everyone to ponder, Siegel also underscored several helpful takeaways specifically for parents in attendance. According to Siegel, the most powerful finding from parenting research that many are not aware of is the need for parents to make sense of their own lives first – in his words, “It doesn’t matter what happened to you, it’s how you make sense of it.” If we neglect to engage in this process of looking inward and examining our lives, we run the risk of sending mixed messages to our children as we direct them to make good choices in their lives.

Additionally, he mentioned several times the importance of parental presence. I have found myself repeating one line from his talk several times on this subject:

The more present you are, the more you are willing to learn about who your children are versus who you want them to be.

In Siegel’s view, modern parents’ preoccupation with a future destination for their children often leads them to send messages that provoke shame, which he defined as the opposite of resilience, as well as encouraging children to compete with each other instead of “competing with the world’s problems.”

Afterwards, I debriefed with my colleague Andrea, who is part of a team of teachers at The Willows working to implement and strengthen our school’s RULER emotional intelligence program from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. One connection she made between his message and our school’s work with mindfulness and emotional intelligence was Siegel’s emphasis on the need to look inward, to be aware of this inner world that we all need to connect to in order to recognize and regulate the energy associated with our emotions. Clearly, this message applies for adults and students alike in our community.

One final note: Siegel did give an answer to our initial question above – “What is the mind?” – which I have to share (I would recommend reading one of his many books on the subjects of mind for a detailed explanation:)

The mind is the embodied and relational self-organizing process that regulates informational flow between ourselves and others and the planet.

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Lisa Rosenstein, Head of School, Dr. Dan Siegel, and Christina Kim, Director of Student Life