All I Really Need to Know I Learned in the Woodshop


MARK MORTENSEN, ARTS DEPARTMENT CHAIR: Thirty years ago, American minister and author Robert Fulghum published a book of short essays, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. His credo would become a New York Times bestseller: Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours and so on. Simple advice from kindergarten to help steer complicated adult lives.

In my quarter century in Peck’s woodshop, I’d learned a lesson or two from my experiences there.

Countless parodies followed extolling lessons learned from pets, trees, the Internet, Star Trek, and even zombies. It occurred to me that, in my quarter century in Peck’s woodshop, I’d learned a lesson or two from my experiences there.


All I Really Need to Know I Learned in the Woodshop

  1. Be squareI spend a fair amount of time maintaining Peck’s woodshop power equipment. One thing I check often is the “square” of a tool. Blades, miter gauges, drill bits, and sanding disks at 90° angles to fences and tables will help create projects that are plumb and level. Square corners make for tidy, stable, and aesthetically pleasing construction.Being square also means being fair and honest. Fair to oneself, honest in all one does, ethical in one’s dealings with others. It’s not always easy, but being square makes for tidy, stable, and pleasing relationships.

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Coming to Terms with Failure


Have you noticed that as parents we are reluctant to allow our children to fail? If they forget their sports uniform, we will travel to school and drop it off to save them from missing sports in the afternoon. We check their backpacks to make sure they included all of their assignments to save them from a late homework grade. When we receive a report from school that they were engaged in inconsiderate behavior toward a classmate, we defend them and doubt the validity of the claim. We tend to take many teachable moments and turn them into “saves”.

We tend to take many teachable moments and turn them into “saves”.

Sometimes I wonder whom it is we are saving. Is it really our children? Or are we actually saving ourselves from what we see as our failure as parents? If my child doesn’t play in today’s game, how will that reflect on me as the parent who failed to send her son to school with his uniform? If my child loses points in class for homework not handed in, am I worried what a disinterested/incompetent parent I will appear to the teacher?

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Why Everyone Should Be Literate in Technology


BRUCE SCHWARTZ, UPPER SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATOR: My phone rang on a recent Sunday morning. It was my 82-year-old father wanting to know the best way to transfer content from his old computer to the new one he had just purchased. He said, “I think I have too much for a USB drive, so should I buy an external hard drive?” “Should I upload everything to the cloud?” “Is there software that makes this easy?” Great questions obviously predicated on prior knowledge.

This is an octogenarian who grew up listening to Orson Welles and Red Skelton on the radio…

Without further inquiry, my father told me that he had 73.5GB and that most of the content was JPEGs and AVI files. Being a Technology Integrator, I could not resist asking if he even knew what a GB is or what JPEG and AVI mean in terms of file types.

This is an octogenarian who grew up listening to Orson Welles and Red Skelton on the radio; a man who has never been particularly interested in math or science or engineering…or, technology. However, this is a man who recognized 12 years ago that computerization was causing the world to change at a faster rate than at any point in his lifetime.

At the age of 70, my father had embraced the use of email and Skype to stay connected with family and friends. He used the World Wide Web to learn about the cancer that my mother was battling. Likewise, he embraced the importance of learning how and why technology works and how it can be used in this rapidly changing world. He is my father, so I may be a bit biased – but that’s pretty darn impressive!

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We are at our best when we are timeless


DAISY SAVAGE, HEAD OF UPPER SCHOOL: We humans have an interesting relationship with time. The way we view time and its passage depends very much upon our age. The same is true for our embrace of tradition. For those of us in the business of adolescence, we know that, for them, time can not move fast enough: our young students rush to embrace the newness and challenge of each new stage, in search of both a license to drive and in search of a license to live.

We humans have an interesting relationship with time.

We urge them to slow down, seize the moment, and they scoff and strive forward, pressing hard against the traces of our rules and traditions. They seek their own truth and their own way. Tradition belongs to someone else’s vision… Until suddenly, they see their own legacy in the wake they leave behind. And then the nature of time changes.

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Encouraging Mindful Transitions


DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Transitions – we experience them continually. Sometimes they happen smoothly and seamlessly; we hardly know they are occurring. In other instances, they are rocky, disruptive, and the cause of utter discontent.

If you have the sense of being a little “off,” chances are, once you pause to reflect, you’ll have that “aha” moment that you are in the throes of a transition. Even as I write, I am still basking in the glow of a lovely trip that allowed me to spend time with my daughter in Chicago. I am left with the task of adapting once again to day-to-day life without her. Ah yes, transitioning again.

Students may not have access to the same coping strategies that adults have developed with time and experience.

For our children, transitions are no less significant. Students, though, may not have access to the same coping strategies that adults have developed with time and experience. As we watch a group of students transitioning from home to school, from one class to another, or from unstructured to structured activities, it is strikingly apparent that some children transition more fluidly than others.

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Seize the Opportunity: Spontaneous Learning


NINA SHARMA, HEAD OF LOWER SCHOOL: Learning happens anywhere, any time. In school, learning is mostly driven by curriculum that has been thoughtfully planned and designed to appropriately align with pedagogy. Foundations are laid and every year skill sets are built upon this scaffolding, resulting in productive learning and academic excellence.

Learning happens anywhere, any time.

Typically, students are inspired to learn because of an immediate desire to know how to do something, or understand a topic, and teachers are there to provide them with the resources and to give them guidance. This formal method of teaching provides the outcome desired, and students acquire the necessary skills to take them to the next level of competency. However, the power of ‘informal’ learning or ‘spontaneous’ learning should not be underestimated. Informal learning is what keeps young minds vibrant, mentally active, and interested in the world around us.

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Opening the Door to Happy Discoveries: Student-centered Learning


CHRIS WEAVER, DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM & FACULTY DEVELOPMENT:  The phrase student-centered learning has been around awhile. Most people understand the idea, at least in a broad sense. Student-centered means shifting the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student – and by doing so, giving students more choice, agency, and ownership.

At its root, the phrase is a reaction to another kind of classroom, one that is usually termed teacher-centered. Here the image is most often of a lecture. The teacher is at the front and shovels the content to the students who eagerly (or not so eagerly) take it in.

On a gut level, these two opposites – student-centered and teacher-centered – are attractive because they are simple and direct; you can grasp them in an instant. They aren’t, however, particularly actionable. You can put students at the front and provide lots of choice, but that doesn’t instantly translate to a rich learning experience.

The other danger of clinging too tightly to these opposing views is that they often put teachers on the defensive. After all, it’s not very pleasant to have your meaningful and important work, in all its daily nuance and complexity, so narrowly reduced.

So what is an actionable approach to student-centered learning? How we can bring teachers into the work in a way that is genuine and meaningful? What are the opportunities to bring students more fully into the process of their own learning? How can we leverage these opportunities to help students become better problem solvers, as well as more agile and independent learners?

Here are three approaches that I’ve found helpful…

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Let’s Get Real with Role Models

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DAISY SAVAGE – HEAD OF UPPER SCHOOL: When I was growing up, I had to sneak off to a friend’s house to play Barbies because my mother did not think such dolls were proper role models for young girls. Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Amelia Earhart, those were appropriate role models! At 8-years-old, I wasn’t thinking about that; I just wanted to play dolls.

Now, of course, as an educator and a parent, I have a slightly different perspective. I still think girls and boys should be able to play with dolls, but they should also be able to play with trucks and legos, build robots, seek election to high office, fly to the moon.

We expose children to all sorts of opportunities and tell them that all things are possible, but real live “role models” are also imperative.

We expose children to all sorts of opportunities and tell them that all things are possible, but real live “role models” are also imperative. Girls need a Sally Ride and boys a Jim Henson to understand that the future is available to them no matter their race, gender, or religion.

However, there is another important ingredient. Too often our role models in the headlines reach an almost action hero status; there is an illusion that they are special. How do we help children realistically see themselves in those big shoes? How will they rise to the occasion: how should they act, how should they prepare? What should they be doing now? And what will other people think of their efforts?

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Putting the “Fun” Back in Youth Sports


DON DIEBOLD, DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS: When I was a 10-year-old boy, every piece of equipment was carefully laid out and my uniform was clearly organized the night before every game. It should not have been difficult to sleep, but it always was on those nights. Why? I guess I just couldn’t wait for the fun.

Research is showing a significant decline in youth sports participation

Sadly, research is showing a significant decline in youth sports participation. Although there are many factors contributing to this decline, the number one reason cited by youth is that sports are just “not fun.”

Sports are just “not fun.”

How can we, as adults, focus on reinforcing the fun factor in our sports programs?

Amanda Visek*, an exercise science professor at George Washington University, surveyed approximately 150 children, 40 coaches, and 60 parents to identify all of the factors that make sports participation a fun prospect for kids.

She found 81 factors contributing to sports-related happiness. The top three factors were:

  • being a good sport
  • trying hard, and
  • positive coaching.

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8th Grade: The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow


CHRISTINE WILLIAMS, DIRECTOR OF SECONDARY SCHOOL COUNSELING:  Frequently, middle schools are physically attached to a high school or they exist as a stand-alone environment for students in Grades 6 through 8. According to research, however, this model has multiple flaws. A far more successful model is the K-8 paradigm—which I have witnessed successfully implemented at The Peck School.

A far more successful model is the K-8 paradigm

When Peck’s eighth grade class returned at the start of this school year, I was delighted to see how each student matured over the summer months. The magical growth from seventh grade spring to eighth grade fall is transformational. From day one of the new school year, these students embraced both the privileges and the responsibilities of reaching the pinnacle grade at The Peck School.

Where else but in a K-8 environment could the very challenging years of adolescence be positively offset by the opportunity to be role models and leaders for eight other grades of younger students? Our eighth graders are not living in the shadow of older high school students. They are at the top of the ladder, and have finally reached (as one wonderful alumna recently described quite eloquently) “the pot of gold at the end of the Peck rainbow.”

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