Conversations in Education
From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty and administrators think all the time about how we support our students. In this space each month we’ll provide links, resources and inspiration about teaching at Prep and education in general.
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.
By Gloria Diaz Ventura
Director of College Counseling
Summertime held a different meaning for me prior to becoming a parent. I hadn’t realized how challenging this time of year can be logistically and emotionally. We shuttle our kids from place to place, trying to keep them busy and tech-free, making summertime just as busy as any other time of year. However, there is a consistent idea about summer that remains, and that is the intent of the season: a time for students to decompress and rest.
Given the intense academic community of which we are a part, it is ever more important for us to rest and disconnect. Our students work extremely hard during the year, and it is developmentally necessary for them to take advantage of the intellectual freedom summer brings.
A question included in College Counseling’s initial questionnaire for juniors asks whether they read for pleasure. Very few have the time to do so, and summer provides them with this time. For a question that asks juniors to describe their favorite place, summer allows the time to explore and uncover such spaces.
Summer offers more time to live and experience, which in turn provides students with rich material to then use in the college application process—experiences which will help them uncover why they are the way they are. Self-discovery and self-awareness are the outcomes of a healthy summer; the tangible take-aways of growth.
The following are summer recommendations by grade level:
Middle School through 9th grade
Parents, begin to observe the areas your student is naturally gravitating towards. Academic programs out of the state or country are not necessary. Most include a high price tag and colleges will not consider such programs in their evaluation because it’s so early in the student’s academic career and because such programs are not accessible to most. That said, if your student has not experienced travel out of the country or state and you would like to travel as a family, this will most certainly contribute to their personal development and broaden the lens through which they see the world.
Therefore, a local academic course at a community college or online university will serve students well, prompting them to further explore the areas of interest they find most engaging. If students lean toward the arts or athletics, the 9th grade summer should immerse them in this interest. This summer is meant to offer time and flexibility.
This is the summer to dedicate to a student’s extracurricular focus. We want to present each student in a way that will highlight their layered personality. Thus, expanding on what they enjoy outside the classroom will be helpful when writing short essays and when interviewing.
A student may want to pursue a community college course this summer, in addition to their extracurricular activity, which is fine. Community college courses in one of the main academic areas (math, English, history, world language and science) may be incorporated into the student’s GPA by each college (not by Prep). Depending on the course, the University of California will designate an extra point for having completed a college-level course, and private institutions will average the grade as a non-weighted course.
When the college counselors begin with juniors in January, our initial conversation includes a discussion about summer plans. There are many expensive programs hosted on college campuses, and college counselors are experienced in knowing which programs are valuable and worthwhile.
Students interested in pursuing a science or engineering major will be guided towards an opportunity to conduct research or enroll in a program offering hands-on experience. In order to be competitive in the admission review process, science and engineering candidates must have completed a summer program to demonstrate their understanding of the subject. There are several local programs that seek Prep students, and we refer students to such programs when applicable.
Community college courses will be recommended to students who would benefit from an outside course to increase their GPA. Such courses will also be recommended to students who would like to demonstrate a genuine love of learning (compelling to liberal arts colleges) in a specific area of study. Residential summer programs (e.g., Brown, Columbia, Stanford) simply serve the purpose of exposing students to college dorm life and living away from home. Such academic courses are not considered more valuable or compelling in the admission process than a community college course, however.
I hope you have found this information helpful. In closing, successful applications are the ones that “pack a powerful punch.” With every turn of the page, they introduce a new topic, area of involvement, experience. Therefore, summer should aim to create experiences, exposing students to diverse perspectives and new surroundings. As parents, we know our children best, and I encourage you to continue guiding your student to pursue opportunities you feel would best shape and inspire them.
Several years ago, Headmaster Peter Bachmann noticed that more of his students were feeling as though their own success should be measured by what they do rather than who they are as people. Curious about this phenomenon, Bachmann found that his usual sources—from philosophy, literature and history—were insufficient. He turned to contemporary scientific research for insight.
The Flintridge Prep Community Speaker Series was also fascinated by his studies, and they invited Bachmann to speak on the topic. He agreed, on the condition that he be introduced as a teacher and a student, not as the school headmaster. The resulting presentation is a peek into a typical Bachmann Great Books lecture, one where as many questions are raised as are answered and where Tolstoy rubs noses with Carol Dweck.
While a full appreciation of Bachmann’s talk is impossible, here are a few of the takeaways.
What we say, and how we say it, has value
It may seem obvious that we have a fundamental influence on our kids’ lives, but Bachmann finds it “both terrifying and inspiring” that we have a profound ability to influence children. He references Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, who says the ability to break our children free of fixed ideas about their skills and abilities can encourage their lifelong development.
Such openness to growth can also reduce their stress substantially, he notes, according to Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit. Duckworth extends Dweck’s research, noting that individuals’ willingness to overcome obstacles and finish what they start, even in the face of extremely difficult circumstances, is the greatest testament to future success and happiness.
Cultivate a gratitude practice
According to Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, affluent schools are “entitlement incubators,” and entitlement is fatal to both gratitude and joy. As Bachmann observed, Brown’s research shows that consciously promoting joy – honoring small moments of pleasure and thankfulness with daily regularity – takes the “me” out of the equation, diminishing entitlement and increasing joy in students.
Brown says that nurturing groundedness in moments when students have control over their circumstances, and encouraging them to let go when things are beyond their control, is very important to their overall happiness. Such resilience especially comes in handy when the stakes are high, Bachmann says, as with the college application process — a deeply personal process for students and a business decision for colleges.
Encourage play, free time and daydreaming
Bachmann referred to one of the first Speaker Series presenters, Dr. Peter Gray, who encouraged parents to give students much more freedom and independence. Bachmann told the audience of parents to allow children to feel uncomfortable for a little while as they struggle for a solution. He discouraged parents from communicating with students multiple times per day during school hours. And he suggested that students need time to daydream, take a walk or play a game. Most of all, he encouraged parents to limit access to mobile devices when possible.
Follow Bachmann’s lead
Much of Bachmann’s research shows that the brain is plastic and that we can continue to learn and evolve over the course of a lifetime. You can follow his lead by studying on your own.
TechSex: Navigating the New World of Technology and Teen Sexuality, A Conversation with Vanessa Kellam
Health educator Vanessa Kellam began her Oct. 16 presentation on “TechSex: Navigating the New World of Technology and Teen Sexuality” with a series of statements for the 140 parents in Norris Auditorium to agree or disagree with.
- I would re-live my adolescence if I could. A healthy minority of the audience stood up.
- I want my child to make similar decisions to those I made when I was their age. About 50 percent stood up.
- I think my child spends too much time on social media and/or games. The vast majority of the audience stood up.
The presentation by Kellam, the parent engagement coordinator for the Bay Area’s Health Connected, launched the fourth year of the Parents Association Speaker Series, helmed this year by Prep parents Kirsten Harbers and Rob Tolleson.
How can parents of teens even begin to tackle the issue of technology or sex, let alone both together?
1. As parents, begin with values.
Kellam asked audience members to consider: What is one specific value your family holds that influences how your family uses technology? Try and link the value with the behavior.
An example could include cultivating a sense of purpose, which leads to putting technology aside for conversation or reading.
After parents articulate their values, then they are ready to find out what motivates their adolescent, a process that builds empathy.
2. Tap into the #1 need of adolescents: connection and belonging.
Keep in mind that, as Kellam said, “The adolescent brain predisposes to connection.” She continued by explaining that “the part of the brain responsible for emotional reaction is fully functioning, yet the prefrontal cortex, responsible for logic, is still very much developing.”
Imagine that moment when your teen’s emotions fully rule her decision—a time when she says something she may not mean or may not even have thought out fully. Rather than engage, try walking away for a bit and seeing what results can come. As Kellam says, “It’s amazing when you don’t engage–when they can come back into that cognition and say, ‘Sorry about that.’”
3. Remember that feelings rule your teen’s brain.
“Feeling safe, belonging in the peer group, belonging in the family is everything,” Kellam said. “Disconnection feels actually painful. There’s an overlap between social and physical pain—social status is really a powerful motivator.”
To understand teens and have them hear our understanding, we need to get on their level and feel how devastating it is not to be invited to that party. As adults, our prefrontal cortex works hard for us to make excuses, so our fear of missing out is not as painful as theirs.
4. Keep in mind that teenagers don’t necessarily view sex the way adults do.
With a slide called “Sorry, but you have to know,” Kellam introduced some intense statistics, such as that “more than a third of teenagers included oral sex in their definition of abstinence” (Advocates for Youth, 2007); “one in three teens have experienced dating violence” (Kidsdata.org, a program of Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, 2014); and “67% of college students said they had hooked up before the first real date” (Hooking Up and Forming Romantic Relationships on Today's College Campuses, Dr Paula England, 2007).
5. Find natural moments in the news or media to discuss topics relating to sex.
If you are watching a movie or TV show with your teen, consider opportunities to provide a brief interjection. For instance, if there’s a sexual assault on screen, parents can say, “Whoa, oh my goodness, that’s not okay,” or “Oh, that’s terrible.” As Kellam noted, “If we don’t say anything and there’s a sexual assault on the screen, I don’t want my kids sitting there thinking that because I’m silent I must be condoning it.”
This kind of conversation allows parents to “emphasize or call out values conflicts that would not be okay in our family.” Also be sure to call out positive representations in the media when you see them.
Here are a few more interesting facts:
- Between 2012 and 2018, the percent of teens who said “in person” is their favorite way to communicate with friends dropped from 49 to 32 percent. Social media filled the gap, rising from 7 to 16 percent; texting notched up from 33 to 35 percent, and video chatting shot up from 2 to 10 percent (Common Sense Media, 2018).
- Among some teens, the new word for dating is…talking. However, according to Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships, Pew, 2015, 18 percent of high schoolers are currently involved in a romance.
- The need for connection is so powerful that some teens have each other on FaceTime while they do their homework…with the sound turned off!
So, what’s a parent to do? Listen, don’t judge. Try to imagine how your teenager is feeling. Back off temporarily when you need to and then come back later at a different time. Draw upon empathy and feel what your kids are feeling to keep the lines of communication open.
The next Speaker Series event is on Thursday, November 15 at 6:45 pm in Norris Auditorium. Headmaster Peter Bachmann will present “A Flourishing Adolescence: Building Confidence and Resilience through Focus on Process over Outcomes.”
A Flourishing Adolescence: Building Confidence and Resilience through Focus on Process over Outcomes
A Discussion with Peter Bachmann
For over ten years, in an attempt to understand the neuroscience research that clarifies our understanding of adolescents and their needs, Peter Bachmann has embarked on a journey through the learning and the brain insights of scientists, psychologists, sociologists and medical doctors, emerging with strong convictions on how our students flourish. Join us for an evening of thought-provoking presentation and conversation.
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