My heart goes out to each and every child, returning and new, with his and her trepidations, anxieties, excitements, consternations — you name it!
DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: One of my dear friends and colleagues always told me, “Sometimes having too much empathy can be a hazard.” This statement is never truer for me than on the first days of a new school year. Every year, I enter the new adventure with my most empathic heart on my sleeve, and my family would be happy to tell you that it’s an emotional roller coaster.
My heart goes out to each and every child, returning and new, with his and her trepidations, anxieties, excitements, consternations — you name it! The one certainty is that each and every student walks through the doors of our school with a myriad of emotion. Some are just better at buttoning down and masking those emotions. While all of us as adults fall into the trap of feeling we have somehow “succeeded” when we minimize or avoid first day tears, we are simply deluding ourselves if we believe that many are not “raining” or trembling on the inside.
Note: The Ben Alexander Grant for Faculty Enrichment at The Peck School is awarded to one or more faculty members each summer. Up to $2,500 is available for a personally enriching experience that demonstrates the growth mindset and sincere interest of the applicant. A proposal for the grant need not relate to their teaching responsibilities at Peck. The following story poignantly illustrates that growth and success do not always travel hand in hand.
CHELSEY CARR – UPPER SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER AND DEAN OF STUDENTS, 7TH AND 8TH GRADES: My four year old son, Matthew, recently asked to go to the jet pack store. He wanted to fly and saw the purchase of a jet pack as an obvious substitute to the gift of wings. Matthew instructed me to research a store on my phone’s map; I did my own research — on Pinterest. Finding DIY jet pack instructions, we set out to gather the materials. We bought, emptied, and dried two 2 litre bottles; went outside, spread newspaper on the driveway, and started to coat the plastic with silver spray paint. Only, the nozzle became stuck. The freon continued to spray, but not the paint. So, with one green plastic bottle still green, we moved inside and waited for the painted bottle to dry. Later, we cut felt and glued it along with shot-sized red Solo cups to create the boosters — and, no, I did not have these on hand. Once Matthew was harnessed into the contraption, I waited for his reaction. How did our homemade jet pack stand up to his expectations? Did it feel like half-painted empty soda bottles were stuck to his back? Or, like he was one with a machine, a jet pack, revving and ready to take him to new heights? I braced myself for a response.
ANDREW SCHNEIDER, DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS: As the finance guy at Peck, I’m not often associated with the importance of the arts. But here’s my dirty secret: I was (gulp) an English major! In fact, I started my career as a teacher.
Back when I taught English at a Connecticut boarding school, I could set my watch to the time of year when the first student would ask “why doesn’t he just say what he means instead of saying it all weird-like?” It was always in October, and it was always after being assigned T.S. Eliot’s The Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. As a young teacher, I struggled to answer the basic question: “why do we have to read poetry?” Admittedly, there was a part of me that wondered the same thing my students did. Deep down, perhaps I didn’t want to admit these feelings because it would have invalidated my career path or, even more simply, because I thought it would make me look stupid. In my mind, the real answer was probably “poetry is important because a lot of smart people say it is, and if you don’t think so, then you are probably not smart enough to understand why it’s so important.” So rather than answer the question, I consistently dodged it, continuing to tell my students about “the wonderful imagery” of “measuring out my life in coffee spoons” and how they needed “a hundred visions and revisions” of whatever essays they were submitting the following week.
DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Having started a career in education over thirty years ago, my views about educational best practices have naturally changed and grown over time. However, one thing has remained constant, and this one thing is my fervent belief that the greatest gift we can give our children is a genuine love of learning. When children love learning, they commit to a lifetime of seeking knowledge, understanding, and truth. They become the problem solvers who are the true change makers.
MARIBEL MOHR, KINDERGARTEN HOMEROOM TEACHER: As a kindergarten teacher, I am blessed to have wonderfully rich, teachable moments sprinkled throughout my day. One of my favorites occurred one day, last year, during our reading time.
I was reading one of our AlphaTales books, a series of letter books with thought-provoking animal tales. In this particular story, a young, naive yak kept discarding new foods her parents were desperately attempting to feed her. The young yak kept yelling “Yuck!” and tossing the food over her fence.
As I approached the end of the story, a little girl in my class shared a terrific saying, which I had not heard before; she said, “Don’t Yuck My Yum.” She explained that she liked to say this any time people said rude things about her food. We all thought that was a terrific thing to say and proceeded to remind each other of this statement as we went through the year.
DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Recently, The Peck School invited parents, students and members of the greater Morristown area to attend a screening of the thought provoking documentary Screenagers. As the film’s website asks, “Are you watching kids scroll through life, with their rapid-fire thumbs and a six-second attention span?”
For many of us who are equal parts parent and faculty, finding ways to positively navigate the current technological landscape is a high priority.
The site goes on to explain that physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston saw this with her own kids and learned that the average child spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. She wondered about the impact of all this time and about the friction occurring in homes and schools around negotiating screen time—friction she knew all too well. The film ultimately reveals how tech time impacts children’s development and offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance.
Several days after the screening, The Peck School scheduled a follow up coffee to allow parents the opportunity to share their thoughts and impressions. Having the opportunity to experience and then discuss timely topics that impact our community is one of my great joys here at Peck. For many of us who are equal parts parent and faculty, finding ways to positively navigate the current technological landscape is a high priority. For this reason, continuing to contemplate the messages delivered in Screenagers is useful.
JANE ATTAH, GRADE 2 TEACHER:
I believe that the most impactful academic learning cannot be decoupled from social-emotional growth.
I believe that what we learn is as important as how we learn, and who we are learning with.
I believe that children who feel safe, who feel valued, and who feel loved will discover they have the potential to reach any academic height.
When I decided to become an educator, I felt strongly and earnestly that it would be crucial to create a learning environment that supports and nourishes both the mind and the heart throughout the school day.
…create a learning environment that supports and nourishes both the mind and the heart throughout the school day.
As a teacher who follows the tenets of a Responsive Classroom method, I’ve seen its incredibly positive learning effect on my young students. This method is a research-based approach to a K-8 curriculum focuses on the strong link between academic success and social emotional learning.
CHRIS STARR, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH:
At The Peck School in Morristown, parents (in addition to students) are learning that the practice of mindfulness improves cognitive abilities and increases brain density in areas associated with improved attention, learning, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, happiness, and compassion.
At the forefront of this movement is Peck’s Mindfulness Trainer Suzy Becker. This past December she held a four-week course exclusively for parents entitled, “Introduction to Mindfulness.” The workshop not only presented neurological and psychological studies supporting the tremendous benefits of mindfulness, but also taught parents specific mindfulness techniques and introduced them to online and offline tools that support a practice of mindfulness.
We are often our own worst critic…
CHRIS WEAVER, DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM AND FACULTY DEVELOPMENT:
Here’s a question — if you gave an eighth grader a chance to design a class, something individually meaningful and big enough to stretch across a year, what would happen? How would it turn out?
We asked this question here at Peck, and it resonated immediately with a couple of things that we feel strongly about.
It’s a time in life that seems to call out for trying something big.
The first is that eighth graders can do more than most people expect. As a K-8 school, these are our oldest students, the ones we’ve watched grow up, and the ones we depend on now to be our school leaders. Probably we’re a little biased, but to us there is something special about eighth grade — a time that contains so many of the parts of being a kid and so many of the parts of being an adult, all swirled together. It’s a time in life that seems to call out for trying something big.
The second has to do with growth. We want our students to be self-starters and problem-solvers, we want them to have a sense of agency around their future, and a sense of grit in pursuing their passions. But to develop these skills, to grow into them, we also know that our students need meaningful opportunities to practice, to try and fail, and to find their own way forward.
So, here’s what we did.
JENNIFER GARVEY, LOWER SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATOR: Most children today are considered digital natives. They seem to be born knowing how to operate a smartphone. Many of them have likely FaceTimed with long-distance relatives before they could walk. Their coloring books often pair with apps that bring their pictures to life. With the ubiquitous nature of mobile technology, children are connected like never before.
Does all of this technology create a void in empathy?
But, we worry about the impact of screen time and social media on our children and we have many questions. How much screen time is too much? What is the right age to give a cell phone? Should I allow my child access to social media? Are they getting enough face-to-face time to develop appropriate social skills? Does all of this technology create a void in empathy?