Wonderful News at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School

I love to listen to the weekly TED Radio Hour on National Public Radio.  I am often astounded by the amazing new innovations, creative approaches, and new ways of thinking that each TED speaker brings to an always lively presentation.  Every educator or administrator hopes that one day a former student will pen a quick note about having been impacted by having crossed paths with them.  Well…how about having a Harvard ME, education innovator, and CEO dedicate her TED Talk to what a passionate, innovative, and inspiring 6th grade teacher you were?  Someone whose creative and innovative assignment taught not only about fractions but the value of hard work. Michelle Skinner was speaking about the recently-named new Head of School for St. Stephen’s, Will Webber. 

As I move towards my retirement at the end of the 2017 – 2018 school year, I am so pleased to welcome this dedicated educator with 30 years of experience as a teacher and administrator.  Will’s many talents will serve him well as he takes the reins to lead St. Stephen’s School over the next years.  Will says that:  "Education and the relationship between the teacher and the pupil build a long-term bond. I am a servant, dedicated to helping children learn the things they should learn while guiding them as they grow."  Ms. Skinner’s talk confirms that these are not hollow words from Will, but that he is truly “the real deal,” and St. Stephen’s School looks forward to a bright future under his leadership.

Click here for Ms. Skinner’s TED Talk on YouTube—How we make innovation work in education: Michelle Skinner at TEDxHGSE



Posted on April 4, 2018 .

Social and Emotional Learning and Brain Research


Educators utilize various resources to encourage students to develop skills to manage their emotional reactions, make good choices, and to think through difficult situations before taking action. This kind of social and emotional learning helps to build a positive and healthy school community. Parents are engaged in teaching these same invaluable interpersonal skills. The work of Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. bring together the best of neuroscience and cutting-edge research with down-to-earth, concrete strategies to support both teachers and parents in helping children to grow in their social learning and emotional wellbeing. Through their books, The Whole Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline, quick guidance is distilled into the form of a refrigerator check list and a note to caregivers.  Each succinctly sets out how-tos on this quest to, as they write: “shape hearts, minds, character, and even the structures of children’s brains.” Their recommendations include: to set clear boundaries for children including high expectations; to always handle situations that arise with love, respect, and consistency; when a child is upset, connect with them first with a calm, non-confrontational approach and wait until the child has calmed down and is more in control before attempting a teaching moment or redirection of behavior; to help this process along, ask the child to tell you what has caused their upset, allowing them to reveal their emotions to you; use empathy to validate their feelings; and finally, use a collaborative approach allowing the child to come up with ways to address the situation. The bottom line of these approaches for an individual child or for an entire class of children is to allow learning to come out of the situation and to build skills to lead to better behaviors the next time.  Children will only be able to handle their big feelings and emotions well when they have been given opportunities to develop the skill of self-regulation and making good choices.    

Posted on October 20, 2017 .

Captivating Kids’ Imaginations


As schools across the country place more emphasis on their STEAM curriculum (academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, art, and math), some have chosen to utilize robots.  This might immediately conjure up visions of the Jetsons, the 1960’s futuristic TV cartoon favorite, but use of robotics as a tool to teach STEAM basics may provide the “hardest fun” students will ever experience. 

Not only are the STEAM subjects of programming, design, math, science, and engineering part of the visual learning that is robotics, but the valuable “4Cs” skills of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication are also built into a robotics program.  As pairs of students work together to tackle building and programming their robot for a specific purpose or challenge, students must work together, brainstorm approaches, try out solutions, reflect on what worked and didn’t, encourage one another, play various roles, and find and utilize each one’s strengths.  Students have multiple opportunities to try out ideas and refine their work.  This is hands-on and minds-on learning at its best, and kids can’t get enough of it.  As each challenge becomes more difficult, the problem solving moves to new levels, and each student’s internal motivation drives them to try and try again as they move toward their goal.

Perhaps the greatest lesson that a robotics program can teach students is that trying something without succeeding is not failing but is simply a necessary step on a path to success.  The experience of Thomas Edison’s 10,000 tries before creating a successful filament for his light bulb, becomes real to students as they tackle more complex and novel problems.  The excitement and engagement that a robotics program brings to students is the perfect use of technology to teach resilience and risk-taking without students even knowing that they are absorbing the basics of otherwise abstract and difficult STEAM concepts.  Even the Jetsons’ world couldn’t dream this would be the future of education.


Posted on April 11, 2017 .

High Quality Brain Fuel Makes a Difference

Included in most every New Year’s resolution is a focus on diet and healthy eating.  Now is a perfect time to include a renewed focus on our children’s eating habits, too.  The food we eat is our body’s daily fuel.  An article by Alan Greene for the Center for Ecoliteracy argues that our children’s brains “are high-performance engines, and if we want them to do their best in school, we need to provide them with clean, high-quality fuel.”  Science has proven that food affects children’s memory, attention, and cognitive skill. A terrific way to assure that growing children are learning at their best, is to provide them with a healthy breakfast to start their day.  Experts recommend a breakfast of whole foods - those designed by nature and grown in a nutrition-enhancing way.   With the realities of getting multiple children dressed, fed, and out the door, how does a busy parent do that?

Here are some helpful tips from mealmakeovermoms.com:  1) plan the meal and  have the kids help to set the table the evening before; 2) stock the pantry with a varied selection of 3 – 4 all-natural whole grain cereals avoiding the highly processed, high sugar, fat, and salt cereals; 3) try hot meals like oatmeal with chopped nuts, berries, and maple syrup or a scrambled egg with slices of fruit and whole grain toast;  3) consider yogurt “parfaits” witha combination of sliced berries or fresh fruit, crunchy cereal,  or nuts; 4) occasionally have last night’s leftovers; and 5) keep healthy “grab and go” food on hand like apples, bananas, grapes, whole grain granola bars, low fat cheese sticks, and whole wheat bagels with peanut butter.

For a more thorough look at food and the brain, check out authors Michael Pollan and David Kessler, MD. 

Posted on February 22, 2017 .

What is dyslexia?

With the help of Casey Harrison, CALT, LDT, founder of the new Wimberley Dyslexia & Learning Center, I was recently able to traverse through some of the myths surrounding dyslexia.  The label dyslexic is often thrown around when describing young readers who are struggling.  Research tells us that 1 in 5 students currently have a language based learning disorder.  It is important to have accurate and factual information about it. 

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin.  Dyslexia is characterized by difficulty in learning to read, write, and spell accurately.  Dyslexia does not affect everyone in the same way; it occurs on a continuum; it is a language-based disorder, not a vision problem; it is not an intellectual deficit; and it runs in families.  The most important thing to know and to communicate to struggling readers is that dyslexia does not mean that you can’t learn, can’t be successful, can’t achieve.  In fact, many very successful and well-known scientists, doctors, writers, politicians, and entertainers also have dyslexia.

To overcome dyslexia, students need explicit, research-based and proven multisensory and systematic instruction which is often delivered in a very small group setting.  There are many such approaches that are beneficial to all students and can be incorporated into all classrooms, such as the use of a “growth mindset” approach where mistakes are learning opportunities not failures. Dyslexic students are just students who learn a little differently.  As educators, it is our job to dispel the myths, find and teach the tools and approaches that will benefit all students inclusively, and remember that highlighting strengths in students rather than focusing on challenges can make a huge difference in a child’s way forward. 

Posted on October 25, 2016 .