Dear ESHA Friends,
As our President Elinor Scully notes below, there are several opportunities within ESHA for professional development. Now that I'm in my fifth year as your Executive Director - and after many years as a Head of School - my perspective on your work is this: not only is running a school a demanding and complicated job, filled with pressing issues and requiring many sophisticated and subtle strategies, but it's also one that can give tremendous satisfaction and actually be exhilarating and amusing and of course, at times, almost absurd!
To fully embrace your impressive careers, however, I implore you to take advantage of our organization - your fellow members and peers - by scheduling the time to engage, collaborate, and enjoy the our ESHA Heads. Jump into our Annual Retreats, Connecting Flight calls, and Annual Receptions. You simply MUST allow yourselves to be nurtured and stimulated off campus or on discreet mentoring calls so that you can take yourselves and your schools to even greater heights. It's not a case of doing yourselves a favor; it's just favoring yourselves.
From ESHA President Elinor Scully
Dear ESHA Colleagues,
Welcome back! I sincerely hope that your school year is off to a terrific start.
As we begin a new school year, I always look forward to the annual ESHA retreat, this year being held in Nashville on October 19-22. I strongly encourage all of you to make the time to attend the retreat, as it is a unique opportunity to connect with other heads of school who truly understand what it is like to lead an independent elementary and middle schools.
During my time at ESHA I have also participated in mentoring flight calls, which have become a wonderful touchstone for me to get support from peers and trusted friends. While our calendars often make it hard for connections outside our schools, ESHA provides a nourishing, vital and enriching way to do just that.
I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks in Nashville!
Always a Tough One…
Helping Students Use Online Resources without Plagiarizing
“For as long as there have been students, there have been lazy methods for getting work done,” says Illinois high-school teacher Amy Cavanaugh in this English Journal article. But according to recent surveys of students, plagiarism has escalated in recent years, largely because of what’s available on the Internet and how easy it is to cut and paste other people’s work. Cavanaugh polled her own ninth graders and almost all of them fessed up to taking answers from classmates or the Internet in the previous month. “I’m just so stressed out,” said one, “and if someone has the answers to a stupid worksheet, I’ll take them.” “It’s just sort of normal,” said another; “I’m not a cheater but I share.”
That student’s lack of shame stems from a youth culture that engages in wholesale sharing of music, photos, videos, memes, tweets, posts, and more. The line between harmless interpersonal communication and violation of the traditional norms of intellectual property is fuzzy because authorship of lots of online material is unclear and kids get used to the idea that sharing a tweet credits the source. A 17-year-old German author who was accused of copying large chunks of her best-selling book defended her use of “mix and match” by saying, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” Students who are immersed in this culture know that sharing schoolwork and online material is against the rules, but they don’t see it as a serious transgression.
Educators do, but Cavanaugh believes their response is ineffective. “If students do not feel ashamed of what they’re doing,” she says, “our current, mostly punitive, strategies for deterring plagiarism are useless, and so are our assessments.” Here’s her example of an approach that doesn’t work – and how to tweak it so it does:
Early in her career, Cavanaugh assigned the following essay prompt as her class read To Kill a Mockingbird: “What does the mockingbird symbolize in the novel?” Students who Googled “mockingbird symbolism” found a wealth of information: other kids’ essays on that exact topic, a comprehensive SparkNotes analysis with cited evidence, and impressive critical articles by scholars who had thought through the question and come up with top-notch answers. Teachers can’t expect students to ignore such a treasure trove of material, says Cavanaugh: “When the questions that are proposed ask them to regurgitate the ideas of those that came before them, we can guess what the outcome will be…”
One student said to her, “It’s just a matter of working smarter, not harder. If the answer is out there, it’s kinda dumb not to look.” But there’s a big downside: “Students often work harder to avoid getting caught ‘stealing’ ideas than they do thinking meaningfully about the question, or even about the answers they find, and they don’t have opportunities to improve.” Clearly, mockingbird symbolism-type essay questions are a problem and don’t advance the deeper mission of the English curriculum.
Cavanaugh decided to take a different approach, making “the devil into my ally”: she asked students to do an Internet search for credible material on that question, analyze and evaluate the reasoning, and defend, qualify, or refute what they found. “This assignment,” she says, “requires the same kind of literary analysis, but minimizes the incentive to plagiarize and better acquaints students with using outside sources effectively.” She tries to orchestrate assignments and discussions that aren’t “busywork.”
Over the years, Cavanaugh has also focused on classroom culture, developing relationships with students, and creating a community that is trustful and in which students feel they can take risks and make mistakes. She also minimizes high-stakes homework assignments and has expanded her use of in-class discussions, weekly in-class essays; group inquiry; and questions that require original thinking, for example: Is Atticus justified putting his kids at risk? Should we pity Mayella?
Cavanaugh also believes it’s important to go beyond what current ELA standards call for – citing sources to support arguments – and explicitly teach students how to find and examine good evidence and determine when citation is necessary. “Students might read numerous blogs or tweets or documents before coming to a conclusion about an idea,” she says. If students come up with what they believe is an original thought, should the sources be cited? Is that synthesis or plagiarism? And how can teachers get away from being “thought police constantly skeptical of students’ ideas” and move toward being “facilitators of critical thought”?
One avenue is to teach students what a good academic discussion looks like. In the first week of school, Cavanaugh has students read “A Rose for Emily” and practice using notecards with conversation stems:
- While I agree with [student’s name], I also think…
- What I think [student’s name] is suggesting is that…
- So, [student’s name], are you saying…?
- I disagree with [student’s name] that…
- [Student’s name], what do you think about…?
This gets students practicing “citing” and “retweeting” each other’s ideas, giving credit where it’s due, and establishing habits that carry over to their written work. “By encouraging them to credit each other in discussion,” says Cavanaugh, “I am helping them to see how ideas evolve, change, and are challenged by a community of learners.”
Another cause of plagiarism, she says, is students’ insecurity about their own thinking. Frequent in-class essays with low stakes and quick feedback help build confidence – “the development of a critical vocabulary that feels personal, relevant, and helps eliminate the will to cheat. It introduces students to other communities of thought and invites them to add to, rather than take from, the conversation. If we can keep the secrecy out of what students are doing with homework, if we can get students to communicate their insecurities with the content, experiment with using the Internet as a tool in the light of day, and get them to trust us to guide them in doing so ethically and without punishment, then we can show them that we are more concerned about what they’re learning than whether they get the ‘right’ answer.”
“Cultivating Critical Thought in the Gen-Z Culture of Sharing” by Amy Cavanaugh in English Journal, July 2019 (Vol. 108, #6, pp. 32-38), https://bit.ly/2Zch7p0for members; Cavanaugh can be reached at email@example.com.
Humor in Our Work as Educators and Leaders
From ESHA member Dane Peters
And also from Dane...
How to Raise a Reader
Posted: 20 Sep 2019 08:16 AM PDT
This a must-read book for all parents and teachers. The authors are so sensitive about timing, especially for young readers—and their parents—that begin the process a bit later in life.
One quote in their book jumped out at me because I remember reading the same reference in the book Freakonomics:
"According to studies that measure the likelihood of a child growing up to be a reader, the most important factor is . . . the statistic most highly correlated to literacy is the number of books present in the home." (p. 26) And, here is a link to an editorial opinion about this point that was made in USA TODAY.
Give some thought to using How to Raise a Reader as a school-wide read where faculty, parents, and boards read the book together, and then discuss. What better way to build a school community.
Here is a short, neat video by the authors on their book and three myths about reading to children.
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Boardable Demo: https://boardable.com/schedule-a-demo/
Boardable Free Trial: https://boardable.com/free-trial/
and finally, from Mike Vachow of Knuckleball Consulting...
July 18, 2019
Al Adams' piece in the 2010 fall issue of Independent School magazine, Thirty-One Windows: the Evolving Metaphors for Headship, is one that I re-read at least twice a year and have forwarded to dozens of head friends and clients. It's a study on the roles that heads play in leading their schools and how the relative importance of those roles changes over their tenure. Adams discerns 31 "windows" into headship that he groups into 9 overarching roles.
I've been thinking a lot about these passages and wondering how these roles might shift in relative importance when one inserts a third vector: the cultural moment(s) of the head's tenure. I would posit here that whereas the Pater/Mater Familias role has always been one of the most important in headship, it has become even more valuable now as families come to our schools looking for an antidote to the impatient discord and loneliness that characterizes our national times. They are looking for a school community where their child and the entire family feel connected and cared for.
The good news is that independent schools are already good at creating community and possess enormous practical advantages over of our educational counterparts: we are place-based and selective; we are small and heavily staffed by comparison to even the best-resourced public schools; our faculty are the central value proposition. So, how can heads take this core strength and make it even stronger?
Most important, attention to community needs to exist first in classrooms, all of them. Woe to the school that mounts efforts to connect adults when there is inconsistent attention to the children's social and emotional worlds. Floating before the eyes of any head reading this piece are the faces of the current parents or faculty members who would hoist the irony/bullshit flag on that matter. If necessary, and functioning as Mayor and Architect/Builder, the head must lead the effort to shore up attention to community in the classroom then the faculty room before widening the circle. Responsive Classroom practice provides a powerful framework for elementary and middle school classrooms and an important model for the entire school as it elevates to central importance how we form our circles of community at the beginning of the year and daily prioritizes how we greet each other and conclude each day with reflection. I've seen schools push Responsive Classroom practice into faculty meetings to great effect, and at schools that have entered the work earnestly, teachers discover that the time they dedicate to these constructed community building activities is more than re-captured through the student empowerment they build.
Heads are also fortunate to have many formal and informal opportunities to communicate and demonstrate the value of community. What the head has to say at Curriculum Night, in the letter that accompanies progress reports, in the email sent to families on the heels of a national tragedy, in the head's presence in classrooms, the admission office with prospective parents, at the Saturday away game, at the front gate every morning, in the phone call to a grieving teacher. In all of these moments and scores of others like them, heads have the opportunity to model in word and deed how the school cares for its members.
It's also a good idea to ask the community. At Forsyth School, we asked the community how they felt (or did not) feel connected and cared for--not with a survey (which by their very nature carry a whiff of corporate cynicism and tedium) but in face to face, individual conversations with one person from a small group of volunteers who asked just two questions: How does the school help you feel connected and cared for? How does it not? We thanked our interlocutors profusely, pulled out the common threads, fed that information back to the entire community, built plans to address a fair bushel of low-hanging fruit--easy fixes in scheduling, communication--and longer plans to dig through the dilemmas. We conducted this series of activities two years in a row and communicated milestones, but I'm convinced that the greatest positive outcome of this effort came in the most common thread: interviewees told us again and again that more than anything else, they were glad to be asked and to have evidence that they were heard.
As we think about how we distinguish ourselves as independent schools, it's understandable that the conversation quickly turns to exemplary and innovative programs, bold new facilities, ingenious marketing strategies, but we must also consider one of our longest held assets and our primary marketing tool--a caring, connected, mission-focused community--and how deeply contemporary Americans desire it.
ESHA Is Delighted to Welcome Its New Members
ESHA's Annual Retreat will be in Nashville, Tennessee, from
October 19-22, 2019.
Things to know:
Venue: The Hermitage Hotel
We're in Nashville, so come early, put yourself to work, and learn how to write a song with Grammy nominated singer Jamie Floyd. Then go to the Country Music Hall of Fame for a tour, dinner, and music on Saturday.
On Sunday, hear from Ketch Secor, lead singer of the Old Crow Medicine Show. Among other things, he knows how to put a band together and how to put a school together (he's co-founder of The Episcopal School of Nashville).
Monday we'll go to Vanderbilt University's Peabody School to hone our skills under the guidance of Patrick Schuermann, director of their Independent School Leadership Program.
Tuesday's finale will include visits to a couple of Nashville's varied ESHA schools.
Registration is open. Click here. https://www.elementaryschoolheads.org/events.html
Thanks to our sponsors!