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.

Once More with Feeling

By Rob Lewis

I’m learning to play the guitar. Oh yes, it’s been a longstanding, bucket-list wish of mine to play and sing and have others sing along. That goal lies just over the fence in far greener pastures. But that fence is tall and I’m not going to lie—it creaks. Yet, as time passes, my hands get a little more familiar and seem to make sense of this seemingly unnatural process. 

Our students embrace this process every day. I see them lacing up jazz shoes, rosining their bows, murmuring their lines in hopes to deliver their best performance. To raise the bar. To be the next Yo-Yo Ma or Misty Copeland. I admire these students, who confront moguls and pitfalls, because they inhabit the essential value of an artist: get up and try again. Look back to learn and look forward with renewed, revised vision. Undoubtedly, there is an art in the setback. 

It’s so easy to get caught in the emotional trap involved with failure. Of course! Who doesn’t? We’re always eagerly and earnestly giving 100%; therefore, when we trip and fall, we bruise our pride and lament the decisions we made. However, it is in that moment between staying down and getting up, something magical emerges: resilience. 

“Check your ego at the door.” You can hear this time-tested axiom in every performing arts classroom. While we may associate the motto with dismissing arrogance, in actuality, when you let your ego go, you are destined to bounce back quicker and with less pain. We march forward, proudly brandishing a mistake and displaying the fortitude to overcome those thorny challenges to create something great. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a craft.

Our students exercise courage in risk-taking every day. As teachers, our part is to set up a room that is supportive, safe, and warm—and perhaps with a dash of inspiration to put wind in our sails. After all, when a class is at ease having peeled away worry and woe, we put our minds and our hearts in the magic of this moment. And what a ripple effect! I have the utmost joy watching the culture of care reveal itself through peer-to-peer positive reinforcement, whole-being listening, and that precious gift of giving another person uninterrupted time. 

Imagine: you are at work and you have a presentation to spearhead or an idea to pitch—and everyone in the room is rooting for you! Suddenly your wellspring of potential geysers upward because you’ve unburdened yourself from stress and concern and can just concentrate on your goal—or in this case, art. This is why the performing arts program champions the ensemble-driven learning environment. Through upholding a supportive culture and sharing a common goal, individuality can emerge in leaps and bounds. 

An acting professor once told me, “There is only one of you in the entire world. There is no one, absolutely no one, who can be you and your magnificence.” We promote individuality via expressing your art and honing it through the process of craft. Then we infuse it into a collaborative journey. Be resilient, be kind, be magnificent. 

All of us started from somewhere—wide-eyed, vulnerable, inexperienced, not so polished, but eager to shine. And after years of practice, toss in some nicks, a few scratches, and a heart full of grit, we figured it out—or we’re still trying, at least. It’s not so unnatural as you'd think, and it gets a little more familiar each day, if we keep at it. I’m sure I’ll get blisters and break a few guitar strings before the year is up. But, as I wince from one twang to the next, I always remember say to myself, "just play."


Posted by rfeliciano on Monday November 20, 2017 at 10:23AM
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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, 2017
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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, 2017
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