Conversations in Education

From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty and administrators think a lot about how we support students. Each month in 2017-18, we are featuring a piece by a Prep faculty member or administrator that gives a slice of life at Prep. If you would like to share your ideas, feel free to comment on an individual post or contact Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper.

From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty read and talk a lot about education. Each month we highlight a few memorable pieces or videos. Our goal is to make the process of parenting, learning and living a little saner, to put things a little more in perspective. These articles will be chosen by Prep teachers and administrators.  If you want to share your ideas, feel free to comment on an individual post or contact Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper.

Discussing Screen Time

By Midge Kimble

Today, I can watch Ellie, my 21-month-old granddaughter who lives in Texas, dance on my iPhone screen.

In my parents’ generation, as grandparents, they would wait for the photo duplicates to arrive in the mail. By the time those photos arrived, the developmental stage was long over, and the child had grown another inch.

It is pretty wonderful that I am able to gauge each milestone on Facetime and interact with Ellie in real time.

Yet, for parents and teachers, technology is a loaded word.

We follow discussions about devices in the news every day. The headlines range from Teens Spend Nearly Nine Hours Every Day Consuming Media to Your Smartphone May Be Hurting Your Sleep. We blame screens for an increase in bullying, as screens create pressure to be liked. They are a constant source of distraction, according to another ominous study, which suggested that kids can no longer understand social cues and emotions because of their digital connectedness.

One recent blockbuster article, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? by Jean Twenge in The Atlantic, suggests that the current generation of teenagers go out with their friends much less, are in no rush to drive, date less, are more likely to feel lonely, are less likely to get enough sleep and seem to report more symptoms of depression. Twenge’s article states that screen activities are linked to less happiness and that non-screen activities are linked to more happiness. She claims that we are on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in generations.

Recently, I had conversations with Prep’s seniors on what rules should exist about smartphones and screens for adolescents. These 12th graders felt that rules for them, at 17 or 18, were not necessary. They did have suggestions for younger students, though: Kids in 7th, 8th and 9th grades should remove their phones from their bedroom when they go to sleep. If screen time is affecting their grades, parents should formulate rules with them. During homework time, social media should be turned off. And no video games during the week.

Certainly, a factor to consider as we parent and teach our children is our own relationship with technology as adults. I have had my conversations with other adults interrupted to look at their phones. The newest word that I have learned is phubbing. That means ignoring someone in favor of your mobile phone. It hurts relationships and hurts people’s feelings. And I have been phubbed.

We have all watched adults texting in the car next to us with a vehicle full of children. Phones beep and ring everywhere we go. This is not just an issue with our 12-to-18-year-olds.

Let’s continue the discussion! If you would like to have more parent conversation around this topic, please attend Community Speaker Series showing of Screenagers, sponsored by the Parents Association and Fathers Club. According to the documentary, the average child in America spends more time consuming electronic media than going to school, and the movie suggests that parents aren’t necessarily being good role models. ….in this regard? Should we clarify we don’t mean in general?

Screenagers will be shown at 6:45 pm on Thursday, November 9, in Norris Auditorium. The movie will be followed by a panel discussion with faculty and students. Please RSVP and be part of the conversation!

Posted by rfeliciano on Monday October 23
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6 Ways to Enjoy Back-to-School Night

By Sarah Cooper

Back to School Night has often felt to me like giving a backstage tour during a play. The students are in the wings for the moment, and you as parents get to see what makes the day-to-day classroom tick.

Having been to my share of back-to-school nights as a teacher and a parent, I’ve also seen the evening from the other side. It is such a pleasure to watch enthusiastic teachers explain their craft.

On that note, here are some tips for enjoying the night as much as possible. Curtain up!

Look for moments to connect with your kid.

If you can remember just one personal or professional detail about each teacher’s class and then bring it up during the following week or month with your student, you’ll create a pathway into any school subject, even if your child isn’t prone to giving a lot of details (and many aren’t). In the past I’ve asked my own kids about a teacher’s Star Wars poster, or NASA bumper sticker, as a way into finding out about a teacher’s passions.

Listen for values.

Many teachers at Prep discuss the school’s mission statement, vision statement and honor code with their students at the beginning of the year. Consider what your student will learn from all these different teachers in terms of character and values, not just academics.

Imagine moments of engagement during the school day.

While sitting in each desk, put yourself into your student’s head: How might he feel when he’s in class? What would pique her interest in this teacher’s presentation style? Watching teachers teach is special because you can see what lights them up. And if you were especially impressed by something a teacher said, feel free to say so afterward or send an email. We teach because we love it, but a specific, heartfelt comment can add a spark to our day.

Introduce yourself.

Often we can see a family resemblance between you and your child, but sometimes amid the buzz we can’t remember the wonderful adolescent you belong to, even if we’ve met before. Please say a brief hello coming in or out, and follow up with an email or phone call if you want to continue the conversation. We’re always happy to learn more about you and your family.  

Consider what goes into this night.

Performing five times, ten minutes each, to an audience of thoughtful parents can daunt even the most seasoned teacher. Crack a smile once in a while if there's something funny or appealing—the teacher will thank you for it!

Enjoy this whirlwind tour.

Middle and high school go all too fast. Back to School Night at Prep is a chance to see some of the best teachers anywhere spin their tales and hook you in. Your kids get to be here every day. You get one night a year. Please, sit back and enjoy!

Posted by rfeliciano on Monday September 18
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Advising: The Answer to Your Ninth Grader’s Questions

By Barrett Jamison

Ninth grade, the year that students begin their high school journey, is marked by two consistent themes: transition and possibility. These two themes have a common consequence: questions—and lots of them. A common list of questions asked by 9th graders before the end of third period on their second day of school might look something like this…

Should I play a high school sport? Or two? Or three? Should I go out for the play? Can I play a sport and be in the play? What club should I join? Can I start my own club? How will I make friends with all of these new students who are joining my class? How will I get to know all of these students that have been friends since 7th grade? How do I organize my binder? Do I need a binder? What should I wear to Homecoming? Should I ask someone to Homecoming or go in a group? How do I study for exams? Should I do community service? What are ACL, SCAC, JPD, Senior Leaders, Morning Meeting and Peer Counseling? Where do I check in during my free period? Do I even have to check in? What is for lunch today? How do I access my Prep email? What databases does our library have? Should I bring a laptop to class? Can I check out a laptop from the library? What is the policy on chewing gum in class? Can I use my cell phone at school? How do I write a research paper? How do I balance my time? What is Conduct Review? What time does the library close? What is the Pythagorean Theorem?

Enter 9th grade advising, a weekly moment of calm, safety and friendship. It is an emotional anchor on this tumultuous journey of transition and possibility that we call 9th grade. 

The 9th grade advising program has a simple structure. Students are divided by gender into groups of about eight, with a faculty member as their advisor. The groups meet every Friday for a class period. A weekly curriculum includes topics such as goal setting, study skills, sex education, time management and holiday traditions. 

But it isn’t the curriculum that is most important. What matters most are the relationships that are built into this weekly pause: the relationships built among students, and also between faculty and students. These relationships allow students to ask the questions that have been plaguing them since last week or since last period. These relationships allow them to share their concerns and worries. These relationships allow them to brainstorm solutions to their problems and to celebrate their successes. These relationships help create the sense of community that defines the Prep experience.

You may wonder what the 9th graders think about advising. I asked students in my last geometry class of the day to tell me, and this is what they said…

“Advising is a place I can talk openly about what I’m feeling about issues.”

“Now I have another adult on campus that I can go to for help.”

“In advising I get to talk to people I wouldn’t normally run into.” 

“The most valuable part of advising was getting to know a teacher I wouldn’t otherwise have known.”

“Advising was just what I needed on Fridays. A place where I didn’t feel stressed, and I could talk about my week.” 

“Don’t forget the snacks!”

So if your 9th grader comes home distraught and worried because they couldn’t get their locker open or didn’t know who to ask for help writing a lab report, you know what to do. Smile, offer a hug and a snack (because for some reason part of the solution to every problem for a 9th grader involves a snack) and tell them to bring up their concerns on Friday at advising. Or better yet, tell them to find their advisor tomorrow!

Barrett Jamison is the Dean of Student Life and the 9th Grade Dean.

Posted by rfeliciano on Wednesday May 17
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