Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Common Purpose

I started my spring vacation in an elementary school corridor, reading key values of the community while listening to a group of kindergarteners sharing weekend news in their morning meeting. I was 200 miles from Belmont Day School, but in many ways, I was right at home. Good schools feel the same, no matter where they are.

Honesty, Caring, Joy, Responsibility, Respect, and Excellence: these are Belmont Day School’s values. The words are featured prominently outside the school and in numerous locations throughout the building. They are the core of our social curriculum and the foundation for everything that we do.

Respect, Excellence, Attentiveness, Critical Thinking, and Heart: these are the values that underlie the teaching and learning experiences at the Community Partnership Charter School in Brooklyn, New York, where I spent Patriots Day. The words are painted in bright colors on the brick wall near the front door and on banners in the hallway. More importantly, the teachers and students refer to their values throughout the day. Our buildings may look different at first glance, but it’s what’s inside that counts.

Beyond the similar sense of community created by our values-driven programs, both of our schools include opportunities for students to build knowledge through exploration, rich discussion, and careful attention. Children are presented with real-world situations and challenges that empower them to ask questions. In a 3rd grade CPCS math class I observed, the teacher encouraged her students to analyze 3-dimensional objects. “How do you think mathematicians decide how many vertices there are?” she asked. “They explain their ideas and show proof.” The children eagerly investigated the wooden shapes, counting faces and corners and comparing their answers with one another. Down the hall in a 1st grade reading class, a small group of students sat on a colorful rug with their eyes closed while their teacher led them through a story visualization activity that she called “mind movies.” Listening to all of these children’s use of descriptive language and the ease with which they spoke to me and each other, I could create my own mind movie, easily imagining these same types of interactions at BDS.

The commonality of our core values and the similar focus of our curriculum were among the many reasons that a team of CPCS teachers and administrators joined our summer educators’ institute last June, and why they will be returning this summer to share some of their best practices with us.

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