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!
“We have a crisis on our hands, and its victims are our children”
-Marc Brackett, “Permission to Feel”
day and age, the mental well-being of our children and adults is shockingly
poor. Marc Brackett knows why. And he knows what to do.
Marc Brackett, the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, has spent 25 years as an emotion scientist. Marc Brackett’s prescription for raising healthy children and adults is a system and approach that he calls RULER, which is an acronym that stands for the five skills of emotional intelligence: recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions. RULER was developed to help improve the lives of children and adults through understanding our emotions and using them wisely to help, rather than hinder, our success and well-being. The RULER approach has been implemented in more than 2,000 schools across the US and globe, reaching over 1 million students.His new book, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive, is the culmination of Marc’s development of RULER and his way to share the strategies and skills with readers around the world. Permission to Feel combines rigor, science, passion, and inspiration in equal parts. Too many children and adults are suffering; they are ashamed of their feelings and emotionally unskilled, they don’t have to be. Marc’s mission is to reverse this course and this book can show you how.
If you’re interested in learning more, Marc Brackett will be coming to The Willows to speak about his new book.It’s free and open to the public!
Tuesday, October 15, 2019 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm The Willows Community School Gymnasium 8509 Higuera Street Culver City 90232
Talk will be followed by a book signing of his provocative, new work!
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.
people?…Stories. There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good
story. Nothing can stop it.”
-Tyrion, Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”
As another school year at The Willows winds down to a close, it’s worthwhile to reflect on the journey we’ve almost completed and to look ahead to the next school year.
Our schoolwide theme this year was “Story,” which means
we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the power of the stories we tell each
other all school year (even watching the Game of Thrones finale I couldn’t
We started the year out welcoming the master storytelling
collective The Moth to our campus, where they shared valuable ideas about how
to craft powerful stories and what makes certain stories resonate with
audiences. As a theme, “Story” was easy to integrate into almost every aspect
of our curriculum, including Writer’s Workshop, Middle School Core, RULER
integration, and even into STEAM and maker projects along the way as well.
8th Grade Core teachers used one powerful story,
Angie Thomas’ novel The Hate U Give, as a springboard for several
powerful conversations within our community about race, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Multiple panels were
led by Willows teachers and parents about the book and several of the sensitive
issues the author deals with, and middle school student affinity groups were also
formed and met to continue the conversation.
As with every Intersession we hold each year, the schoolwide
theme was woven into all of the projects DK-8 students devoted a week of effort
and creativity towards completing. Some highlights included projects like “The
Story of a Meal” which prompted students to consider the role that personal and
cultural experiences play in cooking and eating, and “Choose Your Own
Adventure,” where students created their own digital versions of the beloved
choose your own adventure books many of us read as children.
All stories are open to revision or reimagining, according
to the needs of those telling and listening to them. At The Willows, our
community is engaged in regular, ongoing revisions to our story and to our
educational program. Besides bringing the Moth to our community, our faculty
engaged in several other thought-provoking professional development
opportunities that have caused them to revise certain approaches to teaching
and learning in their classrooms. In January, a large group of teachers
attended a workshop at Crossroads about the Harvard’s Right Question Institute (RQI)
and techniques for improving the questions we ask during inquiry-driven
projects. Onsite and on-demand professional development was embedded into one
Middle School Intersession project, where Catalyst Institute founder Jean
Kaneko came to lead students and teachers through a project entitled “Biomimicry
and Battle Bots: A Story of Survival.” Over the course of the one-week project,
we developed expertise with using our new Glowforge laser printer and with
research-based systems of critique and prototyping that Jean uses with various
school groups she consults with.
After our workshop with the storytellers from The Moth at
the beginning of the school year, one important takeaway for me was that it is our
job as educators to regularly
try to improve upon telling our own stories. Two important upcoming
events represent different manifestations of this idea, as we prepare to tell
the story of The Willows as best we can for a variety of audiences. First, next
school year, The Willows will welcome a visiting team from the California
Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) as part of our process to renew our
accreditation. Currently, we are in the middle of writing and revising several
documents that comprise a self-study of our entire operation – educational
program, facilities, development, alumni relations, and more.
Finally, next school year we will be celebrating our 25th
year anniversary with a large celebration that we are currently in the process
of planning. To commemorate this important occasion, we are bringing back our
very first schoolwide theme, “The Ties That Bind Us,” which in many ways is a
natural extension of this year’s focus on story. More details will be
forthcoming regarding all of the ways we will be celebrating this important
The collaborative spirit embraced at The Willows can be observed amongst faculty and staff as well as within a classroom’s structure. I am fortunate in my role as Dean of Educational Technology to collaborate with teachers across grade levels on a regular basis. Intersession is a week-long, innovative experience when the Middle School breaks from our regular curriculum and all teachers have the opportunity to collaborate in new teams and students collaborate across grade levels as well. This year, we brought in a Visiting Maker Expert and founder of Catalyst, Jean Kaneko, to teach a Middle School Intersession course titled Biomimicry and Battle Bots: A Story of Survival.
Working alongside Jean was a valuable learning experience that provided students with a unique and challenging skill building experience, and also offered me valuable professional development.
On a surface level, Jean taught us how to use equipment – Arduino boards with shields, Bluetooth electronics, wire cutters and strippers, air dusters to flash cool hot glue, and most exciting, our new 3D laser cutter – Glowforge Pro. This immediately sparked ideas for ways to engage with the 8th grade science teachers and have classes use the Glowforge with our upcoming mousetrap car project. Intersession culminates in a Family Education Night, an interactive evening for students and their families that highlights the projects and accomplishments of the students. Upon viewing the course artifacts at Family Education Night, two third grade students, with the assistance of their Maker teacher used the laser cutter to create a present for their teacher’s upcoming birthday. And last week I led a Willows Academy workshop where teaching faculty created laser cut projects and brainstormed potential classroom applications. The momentum is strong!
Less tangible but deeply powerful, was the shift in thinking that we really gained from collaborating with Jean. I have read a lot about prototyping in connection with making and design thinking, but I didn’t see the value for the time invested until now. My participation in this Intersession course showcased firsthand the amount of planning, critique, editing, revision, and teamwork that was necessary for each iteration of a bot – from ideation to battle ready. Now I am enthusiastically ready to incorporate this process in my teaching!
Another highlight of the class was Jean’s outstanding presentation of and emphasis on failure as a central part of the process. Watching the kids listen, and then later observing them undergo struggle and limited success made us all celebrate the victories and feel truly proud of what was accomplished. While debriefing with Jean about the course and future collaborations, she emphasized the unique value of The Willows Intersession as being “a year’s worth of work or focus in one week.”
This week, The Willows continues our fruitful collaboration with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with two special RULER trainings for educators. RULER is the evidenced-based approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) developed at Yale and designed to teach emotional intelligence to people of all ages.
On February 6 and 7, we will host the first event, entitled RULER Institute: Creating Emotionally Intelligent Schools with Marc Brackett, Ph.D., Director; Dena Simmons, Ed.D., Assistant Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; Yale trainers; and Willows teachers and administrators. Participants will learn about the RULER approach and anchor tools and become equipped to with the foundational skills to bring RULER to their schools or districts. A highlight of the training is the opportunity to tour our classrooms to see RULER in action throughout The Willows.
This is the second RULER training we have offered; our last training in May 2018 brought teachers and administrators from public, parochial, independent, and charter schools from West Coast schools in California, Oregon, and Washington State to The Willows with the goal of enhancing the emotional intelligence of students, teachers, staff, and families by integrating RULER principles and tools into the curriculum and cultural life of their schools.
Then, at week’s end, we are thrilled to be offering our very first RULER Implementation Conference for schools previously trained in RULER, also featuring Dr. Brackett and Dr. Simmons presenting alongside educators from The Willows. The conference will feature:
Keynote presentation from Dr. Brackett and Dr. Simmons
Breakout sessions led by members of our RULER team and art teachers on specific implementations of RULER
A panel led by Willows students and parents discussing their experiences with RULER
Some of the exciting topics that will covered within breakout sessions include:
Navigating Difficult Conversations
Integrating RULER into Secondary School Humanities
Project-based Learning and RULER
Supporting LGBTQ Students with RULER
The Willows is proud to be hosting both of these events in hopes of sharing with fellow educators what we’ve learned through implementing RULER at our school so far!
For over a decade, The Willows has sent a FIRST LEGO League team comprised of middle school students to one of the league’s qualifying tournaments held each fall. Every year, despite our best efforts and assiduous preparations, our teams have never advanced to the Regional Championships – until this year!
What changed this year? If I told you one of the key components to our team qualifying was related to RULER, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence approach to developing emotional intelligence that The Willows is implementing, you might at first be surprised by this. How could these seemingly disparate topics possibly intersect in a meaningful way?
Each year the FIRST LEGO League tournaments are organized around a central theme, and this year’s theme was “Into Orbit.” At the tournament, teams of students were judged in four different categories: project, robot design, core values, and robot game. For this year’s project, students were challenged to identify a problem related to long-duration human space exploration, and then to devise a potential solution to said problem.
During the team’s initial brainstorming for solutions, they researched solutions that NASA and other organizations had arrived at over the years to combat astronaut depression and other social-emotional issues that affected their time both in space and back on Earth. They read about software that had been developed that astronauts could use to connect to therapists while in space, though to date the software has not been implemented. This concept reminded our students about the Mood Meter app, which allows users to chart their moods on phones or tablets using the RULER Mood Meter that can be found in all Willows classrooms.
This connection sparked a great idea: what if we develop an app for astronauts that combined some elements from the Mood Meter app with the aforementioned software above, so that astronauts could self-monitor their emotional states plus also connect to mental health professionals on Earth to work through problems. The Robotics team now had a sharp focus for the project that they had to prepare for the tournament.
A detailed description of their app was incorporated into the project presentation that ultimately helped the team win First Place at the Qualifying Tournament on November 10th. “Honestly, it was one of the best feelings in my life,” said eighth grade student Isis Ginyard afterwards. “I never expected us to win after years of disappointment. It was exhilarating!”
In preparation for their next tournament, Isis then took the initiative to spend part of her Thanksgiving break creating a mockup of the app, got feedback from her fellow team members and her FIRST LEGO League coaches (myself and Wendy Amster), and brought a tablet to show to the judges at the Regional Tournament in early December. Unfortunately, the team did not have the same success at this tournament (though only 5 teams out of several dozen advanced to later tournaments in Houston, San Diego, and Uruguay).
We are so proud of our resilient Robotics team, not only for how well they represented the school at both tournaments but especially for incorporating the work we’ve been doing for the last several years with RULER and emotional intelligence. Their efforts this year were a huge testament to the power of our progressive, whole child-centered approach here at The Willows, where topics like robotics programming and emotional intelligence sit side by side in the same project!
Although the quote above from beloved literacy expert Lucy Calkins was originally intended to motivate writers to always remain open to revising and improving their written work, one might also apply it to the work we undertake here at The Willows. Given that our theme this year is “Story,” perhaps this quote has even more relevance. Our community is constantly writing and revising our story, through the changes we make to our campus and our educational program each year based on our needs and our desire for continual improvement and innovation.
This school year there are several such enhancements worth highlighting. First, inspired by the partnership we’ve forged over the last few years with Culver City’s reDiscover Center, a significant renovation was undertaken this summer in our Middle School designLab, overseen by Middle School Dean of Students Doug Klier. Last school year, Doug invited members of the reDiscover Center’s faculty to provide professional development to our faculty on safe use of woodworking tools, and also rented a variety of tools and related equipment from the center to be used in specific projects last spring (click here for more on information on this). Once these tools were in the hands of teachers and students, and we saw the inspiring woodworking projects being undertaken, Doug realized the need to not only permanently add such tools to the designLab but also to provide a workable space for all of us to access and store them. As you can see, his vision has been more than realized, with a permanent woodworking center now in place, complete with mounted power tools and safety equipment (to be used with teacher supervision).
A major wish list item from our music department was added to the Electronic Music Room: a sound booth. Each week, Greg Blum, one of our music teachers, helps students create sophisticated beats and compositions using software like GarageBand and Logic in his electronic music classes. However, when students recorded live audio, it was always challenging to do so without capturing the sounds of other students talking as well as other ambient noises within the building. Those days are over, thanks to the purchase and installation of the new sound booth!
In addition to changes to the physical spaces within our campus, we are always reflecting on whether we are utilizing the best approaches to learning throughout our educational program. Last year, various Lower School teachers met regularly as part of a new Language Arts Committee to examine aspects of our reading and writing program. One suggestion that emerged from these meetings was a desire to pilot the program Handwriting Without Tears with our youngest writers in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, which prompted us to purchase an introductory set of materials towards this end. Initial feedback from teachers using the program has been positive, and we are potentially providing additional professional development on the program in advance of next school year.
Many of these revisions were made possible thanks to generous donations to the school during last year’s annual Jog-a-Thon event. Other notable purchases made include:
an Occulus Rift, along with other materials needed for virtual reality explorations
potter’s wheels for our art department
additional Imagination Playground Blocks for students to use on our yard
Stay tuned for many other enhancements to come as the school year progresses!
“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” –
-Mary Catherine Bateson
As we wrap up the first month of a new school year, we reflect on the inspiration we’ve already received from our new school theme for this year: Story. As quoted above, stories help humans make sense of the world, they connect us to one another, and, especially in a school setting, are indispensable tools for educators to use in classroom to support the learning of our students.
This month, on October 10th, we are honored to be hosting a visit from the acclaimed storytelling organization The Moth. The Willows first connected with Micaela Blei, Ph.D., Director of Education and Community Programs for The Moth, this past spring at South by Southwest EDU in Austin, TX, after hearing her and three other educators share their stories as part of a keynote entitled, “Stories of Schooling and Getting Schooled.” On the 10th at 7:00 PM, she will be presenting “The Moth Storytelling for Empathy and Engagement – An Innovative Strategy for Child Development” as part of our annual speaker series (register here)
In addition to speaking to our parents and the larger community, The Moth will also be leading a workshop with our faculty earlier that same day. We feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to learn alongside these expert storytellers. Last spring we got a sneak peek of what to expect at this workshop because one of our Middle School faculty, Bobby Hamm, attended a similar session led by The Moth at South by Southwest EDU. During the training, session leaders asked participants to practice telling personal stories within the five-minute time limit that Moth storytellers have to adhere to.
According to Bobby, “The value of bringing The Moth to The Willows relates to the idea that we’re all storytellers,” sharing further that attending the session made him consider how using the techniques taught by The Moth storytellers might be able to help struggling writers at our school.
Ultimately, given our theme of “Story” this school year, we could not ask for a better time to have The Moth visit. As educators, storytelling is central to so much of our work, and whether we are sharing ideas with students or parents we know how important it is to be able to articulate stories about the learning that is taking place all around us each day.
Members of the organization American Independent School Librarians will be meeting at The Willows Community School for the summer institute Critical Literacies: Empowering Learners in Your Library. They will explore the intersections between source literacy, media literacy, information literacy, and the library program. The Institute will include workshops and discussions designed to help members effectively structure library instruction and collaborate with campus partners, giving students the tools and skills to be independent, critical researchers. Colleagues from all grade level divisions are invited to participate!
The main speakers will present workshops on source literacy, news literacy and inquiry as an information literacy tool. There will also be sessions offered on cognitive bias, and bias and diversity in google searches.
Nuts and Bolts of Source Literacy
Nora Murphy, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, La Canada Flintridge, CA
At the core of every critical literacy is source material, i.e. the texts that drive our questions and determine how we will answer them. What is Source Literacy, and how can we prioritize it as a necessary component of all critical literacy instruction (and why should we do so)? Nora will introduce key concepts and discuss case studies that illustrate how Source Literacy informs students’ research trajectory and, ultimately, their thinking.
Breaking News: Read Between the Lines, News Literacy Skills for the Digital Age
Bobbie Eisenstock, Ph.D.
How news literate are your students? Do they know how to judge the credibility and reliability of news and information flooding their digital devices? Can they detect “fake news” and political bias on social media? When they go online, are they trapped inside filter bubbles that reinforce cognitive bias and inadvertently spread untruths? A recent Stanford University study found that the majority of students cannot distinguish fake from factual news or native advertising from news articles. This workshop will demonstrate media literacy strategies to empower students to critically analyze and evaluate what they consume and create in the ever-changing participatory digital culture.
Connie Williams of The Right Question Institute
How does forming the “Right Question” encourage learners to engage deeply in the learning and research process? Learn how to create a question-driven learning environment by understanding how questions set the stage for exciting and engaging research. We will explore different kinds of questions, how to prioritize, categorize, and then use them to narrow topics, to broaden searches, and to assess learning. Using primary sources and other compelling subjects, we will practice several strategies that strengthen and enhance inquiry and information literacy.