RULER Institute & RULER Implementation Conference

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!

RULER and Robotics: An Unlikely Yet Winning Combination

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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.

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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!

 

 

Open to Revision

When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun!

                                                                                                            -Lucy Calkins

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).

 

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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!

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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!

Learning to Tell Our Story: The Moth Comes to The Willows

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“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.

The Willows Community School and AISL Summer Institute 2018 Critical Literacies: Empowering Learners in Your Library.

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!

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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.

Workshop Descriptions

Nuts and Bolts of Source Literacy

NoraNora 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

 

bobbieBobbie 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.

Exploring Inquiry

Connie_pic_2014Connie 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.

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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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!”

Student-centered Learning Environments: Redesigning One Fourth Grade Classroom

“It is sobering to realize that the majority of American schools today, barring a minority of interesting experiments, look as they did at the end of the last century”

-Mara Krechevsky & Janet Stork, Harvard Project Zero (2000)

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Click here to access a short video on our Instagram page illustrating the flexible seating arrangement in action!

When I walk the halls of our campus at The Willows, I’m not so sure the above quote rings completely true. The schools I went to as a child and that I first taught in 17 years ago definitely don’t have the unique, vibrant energy from faculty and amazing artwork enlivening the environment that we have here.

However, even though The Willows does not closely resemble a school in 1899, some features in education are notoriously slow to change. Personally, I believe it is safe to say that the classroom arrangement of individual desks facing a teacher lecturing at the front next to a board is one of those features.

This year, in one fourth grade classroom at The Willows, dynamic changes are underway. Inspired by similarly-minded teachers and school leaders across the country, fourth grade teachers Stephanie Tanner and Lily Solomon have embraced the concept known as a flexible seating classroom for their students.

This arrangement was described in a recent article in NEA Today as the “Starbucks classroom” because of the focus on creating spaces for students to sit and work comfortably as adults are accustomed to at the iconic coffee shop. Instead of rows of desks, flexible seating classrooms feature students working at standing desks, café tables, couches, on top of pilate balls and next to hokki stools.

Beyond just giving students comfortable spaces to think and work, the research behind a flexible seating arrangement highlights several potential positive impacts for students:

  • Focus and engagement: students who struggle to remain seated and still throughout the day are often better able to focus and stay engaged with the task at hand when they have some choice over what type of seating is best for them
  • Responsibility: teachers allowing students to choose what type of seat is best for them communicates the message that the student is responsible for his or her learning, and that he or she is mature enough to make smart choices

When I first heard about flexible seating coming to The Willows, I wondered what had initially led Stephanie and Lily to consider redesigning their classroom space in this manner. Both teachers shared that this past summer, they reflected on how their group of kids had a lot of energy that was sometimes hard to channel, and that traditional seating arrangements were just not fitting the needs of most students (*note – 3rd and 4th grade students “loop” at The Willows, meaning they have the same teacher and classroom for two years in a row).

After scouring Pinterest and several other education blogs that featured tips for setting up a flexible seating classroom, Stephanie and Lily pitched the idea to Terri Baird, our Director of Teaching and Learning; she loved it, and had actually already been researching flexible seating on her own. Terri asked the teachers to write up a proposal for materials, with a plan in mind to pilot this approach this year in one classroom and possibly expand to other rooms if successful.

Two months into the school year, teachers and students alike approve of the new classroom arrangement. The teachers report that students are getting more work done without becoming distracted, and are working quicker and staying focused for longer. Students are motivated to stay focused since they know that if the teachers feel they have chosen an unproductive spot, they will be asked to move. Favorite spots for many children include the standing desks, wobble tables, and the couch; least prized seating options so far, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the traditional desks – though some students do prefer them.

Other Willows teachers are showing interest in potentially changing some, if not all, of their classroom seating arrangements. In one faculty meeting where we discussed flexible seating, many teachers agree it may not be the best approach for every classroom, or for every group of teachers and students. So far, however, for one fourth grade classroom, the change has been welcome.

Tips for Helping Kids Navigate Digital Connections

Technology provides a powerful means of connection, keeping us connected with our our friends and our school community – students, colleagues, parents, and alumni. At several recent Willows events, we have had a chance to hear from experts in the field and Willows alumni regarding their thoughts on how parents can connect with their children’s use of technology and social media in particular.

One such event featured featured high school students, including Willows alumni, from Archer, Santa Monica High School, Wildwood, Windward, and Vistamar. Themes discussed that evening included:

  • Technology is a way to find inspiration and role models.
  • There was a range of ages when the panelists received their first cell phones, many of whom started with basic functioning devices without internet capabilities. The consensus from the teens was that it’s fine to have kids wait until it is needed.
  • Multitasking is really task switching.
  • “Technology taught us how to adapt and change really easily. It’s something that defines our generation.”

These are a few of my favorite tips shared by the high school students during the parent evening:

  • The 2, 2, 2, 2, Rule – Ask yourself will it matter in two days, two weeks, two months, two years?
  • Setting rules/expectations around technology is fine as long parents are clear about why they are in place.
  • Trust between teens and their parents is important. Those who haven’t established this are more likely to rebel, get into trouble, and may not feel comfortable seeking help from adults.
  • Have kids read books!

March’s Common Sense Media Teen Panel was the second parent education event hosted at The Willows focusing on children growing up with digital technology. Earlier last school year, we hosted a screening of the documentary Screenagers followed by a panel of experts discussing social media and the digital landscape. The success of the Teen Panel, like that of the Screenagers evening, prompted Head of School Lisa Rosenstein to share the experience with our middle school students.

A Willows Alumni Teen Panel event was the perfect follow up to the Screenagers film, which many Willows students felt highlighted the more negative aspects of technology. The alumni panel, consisting of Koorosh Hadavi and  Zach Elbaum, Windward School, and Talia Goodman and Annie Schindel, Archer School for Girls, spoke with our 7th and 8th grade students in May. The conversations focused on teen’s productive and pro-social use of technology and social media, as well as some of the smaller, less extreme lessons they learned in high school.

Highlights from the panels with 7th and 8th graders:

  • Don’t text when you are in an argument.
  • There is nothing wrong with asking someone to take a post or photo down; they usually will. And along with that, take yours down if asked.
  • It is important to gain parents’ trust early on so later they earn more freedom and not to make social media the first priority.
  • How to maintain academic integrity and to be your real self on social media
  • Everyone feels FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) sometimes, especially when making the transition to a new high school. It’s normal, and it will pass.

Beyond being proud of how poised, articulate, and reflective our alumni panelists were, I also felt the themes presented echoed and validated the skills and discussions covered in tech life skills classes here at school. And I’m looking forward to using a new resource with middle school students this year, The Tech Savvy User’s Guide to the Digital World by Lori Getz.

For parents wishing for further information on these topics, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner, PhD provides valuable scenarios and strategies for being a digital mentor as we raise children.

Cultivating 5th Grade Designers

Each school year, educators working in schools across the country gravitate towards some of the same shared ideas that are touted to transform teaching and learning in the classroom. Several years ago, the burgeoning Maker movement made such promises, and you’d be hard pressed to find a set of slides at most educational conferences these days that forgets to make at least a passing reference to Stanford University professor of psychology and author of Mindset Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindsets.

Here at The Willows, we strive to keep up with the current trends everyone is talking about, while still staying grounded in the values and traditions that have guided us for the last two decades. The last two years or so, one of the current educational memes that we’ve tried in earnest to incorporate is design thinking (see previous posts here and here for more information).

However, true to our constructivist and progressive traditions here, we are not just talking or teaching about design thinking – we are actually designing, and, hopefully, cultivating young designers in the process.

Let’s take a look at some of what our fifth grade students have been up to lately as an example. In Maker classes, I began a design and robotics unit back in March with an initial study of a particular design problem nested within our own community – well, to be more specific, a few blocks away from our campus proper.

Here are two photos (annotated by a fifth grader) and a video of a stoplight near our school that myself and many other community members approach each day on our way to The Willows. For first time users approaching this intersection, it is entirely unclear how traffic is supposed to proceed – there are no yellow or green lights (only constant flashing reds), and “Right Turn Only” signs are regularly ignored by drivers who weave their way around the concrete median in the middle of the intersection. As I told the kids, I am consistently baffled that there are not more collisions here!

designthinking annotated process copyTo approach this intersection as a design problem, I gave my students an annotated version of Stanford’s dschool’s design thinking diagram and asked them to consider several questions for each step in the process, including:

  • How do you think the drivers approaching this intersection feel?
  • How do users of this intersection decide when it is safe to proceed?
  • If you were to redesign this intersection how would you want users to feel?
  • What specific changes to the design of the intersection do you recommend?

In order to answer these questions, we not only watched videos but also took a short field trip to the actual intersection to accumulate some real time observational data. I encouraged each group of students in their observing to really try to put themselves in the shoes of the people who used this intersection – to empathize and understand the decisions of the drivers and how the unsafe conditions at the intersection impacted these decisions. Unsurprisingly, many fifth graders enjoyed seeing people disobeying the traffic signs and going around the median (though I discouraged them from chastising the drivers while we sat there at the intersection!)

Once we had collected data about the intersection and came up with some possible solutions, it was time for us to move on to the next step in the design process – to begin working on designing prototypes of a new intersection. Currently, we are in the middle of this process; first, we have had to take a few weeks to learn how to program LEGO EV3 Mindstorm robotic vehicles to be our “cars” in the new traffic systems.

Look for a new post on our progress as well as some other design work 5th grade has been engaged with very soon!

 

Music: The Natural Resource of a People

Can making or listening to music shape our identity? Can music effectively challenge stereotypes? How does music impact the way people think and act? What role can music play in a movement for social change? These were some of the guiding questions I pondered recently while taking part in the Facing History and Ourselves workshop FullSizeRenderentitled “The Sounds of Change” on, quite poignantly, both the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots and the 50th anniversary of Detroit’s historic civil unrest.

Together with my teaching partner, Steve Futterman, I am tasked with preparing our 7th graders for their upcoming trip to Memphis, Tennessee and Little Rock, Arkansas by bringing to life the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and by encouraging the students to consider its relevance to the divisiveness and unrest that seem to be permeating our country right now.

While attending this workshop, I had the opportunity to try out lesson plans that delveFullSizeRender[1] deeply into several classic soul songs produced by legendary Stax Records, placing them within the context of the African Americans’ struggle to gain equality and examining how the stories of the artists, the music and the lyrics provide a window into the ways that music can both inspire and reflect social change.

Steve and I are excited to incorporate this approach into the 7th grade Core (Humanities) classroom. Students will analyze the lyrics of “Soul Man” within the context of the Detroit riots, compare and contrast Otis Redding’s “Respect” (later immortalized by Aretha Franklin as a feminist anthem) and “Respect Yourself,” a Staple Singers hit, investigate how music is able to build community among seemingly different groups through a close study of The Staple Singers’ “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me)” and examine more contemporary message music.

The soul music that came out of Memphis and the musicians who followed in their footsteps offer a very compelling pathway into some pretty challenging material. The idea here is to give our students the opportunity to engage deeply with the music by exploring each song’s social and political commentary, by reflecting on how they connect with the music intellectually, emotionally and ethically and to consider which aspects of the music challenge their thinking. What shocks or surprises? What is most interesting or intriguing? What is particularly troubling? What can they discover in the music that offers insight into something new or unfamiliar or, conversely, that serves as a mirror of their own lives?

These lessons extend the curriculum that Steve IMG_5303and I have developed to further our students’ comprehension of not only the history that they will encounter on our field trip to the South, but also of the complexities that characterize the contemporary American experience. And they touch on some of themes that run through our instructional program: society and the individual, the oppression of one group over others and those moments when people take action to change the status quo.

This is what I learned at “The Sounds of Change” workshop and through my ongoing work at The Willows: People make choices. Choices make history. And unless people begin to make different choices, history will continue to repeat itself. I am hopeful that as our informed, compassionate and thoughtful students come of age, they will have in their possession the tools necessary to promote greater understanding, inclusivity and kindness.

In the meantime, the 7th graders and their teacher chaperones head to Memphis and Little Rock in early June to learn more about our country’s past, its present and the role of music to reflect and incite social change and to bring people together as we embrace the future, come what may.