Our Mission – Part 6: The Partnership

“We create a partnership between parents, teachers, and students, knowing that parental involvement is key to the success of the students and the school.”  

This last component of our mission is acknowledging the fact that we are a village.  The more we all work together, the better off our children will be.  Growing up is hard.  Parenting is hard.  School can be hard.  Sometimes we are walking a tightrope; other times it feels like we are in a mosh pit.  We have to communicate with each other, trust each other, respect each other, and support each other to get through this messy, complicated, foggy journey.

We encourage you to come to games, field trips and events so that you know the kids, the teachers and other parents–both at your child’s age, but also older and younger.  We encourage you to share your concerns with us, and we will share ours with you.  Let us know what’s going on in your children’s lives. All of their experiences are interrelated, and it helps us nurture and teach the “whole” child if we know the whole child.  The better we know your children, the better we can meet their needs.

Additionally, as an independent school, we are completely dependent on your support.  We don’t have a parish, synagogue or government to back us up.  So we are dependent on your support (your time, your talents, and your treasure!), both as current parents and after your kids graduate, in order to grow and thrive.

Our Mission – Part 5: Diversity of Cultures

At Fulton School, we celebrate a diversity of cultures, learning styles, talents, and personal goals.  Our definition of diversity is big, and our dreams for our students are even bigger.  We don’t want to merely “tolerate” differences (although sometimes that’s necessary), but we hope to instill a true appreciation in our students who will spend a majority of their childhood feeling bad about the ways they are different.

We want the quiet kids to appreciate the gregarious kids.

We want the talkative kids to appreciate the pensive kids.

We want the creative types to appreciate the linear thinkers and logical minds to enjoy the subjective minds.

We want our students to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, to have a sense of respect for various races, religions, world views, and cultures (even varying family cultures within the suburbs).

All of this information and experience contribute to the children’s own sense of pride in who they are–a frank acknowledgement of their strengths–and to their developing gratefulness for others in their lives.

This tone of true appreciation helps children take risks and develop self-confidence, kindness, empathy, and community.  We hope it removes unhealthy pressures and unnecessary obstacles. And ultimately, we hope it makes the world a little bit better place.

Our Mission – Part 4: The “How”

headimagesThe second component of our philosophy (our ‘how’) is to create a joyful and inspired community that develops communication skills, critical thinking skills, and creativity in every child through relevant, hands-on, student-centered teaching. Joyful and inspired is our goal–there is no reason that school has to be a necessary evil in our children’s lives. Humans love learning, we are built to learn, and children even more so than adults. Environments that make learning miserable are getting in the way of the child’s natural development and purpose. We want to free them up to learn as they can, rather than bogging them down in the needs of the institution or policy.

Then we delineate some of the primary skills we are aiming to develop–reading, writing, talking, arguing, discussing, presenting, persuading, taking initiative, articulating thoughts, and speaking up are examples of the communication skills we are working on. Summarizing, inferencing, critiquing, discerning, connecting, dissecting, analyzing, deducing, and concluding are all examples of the critical thinking skills we’re developing. And creativity grows out of a solid subject-area knowledge base in addition to the freedom to take risks, try something new, think differently, play, experiment, build, try, and collaborate. The only way to practice all of these skills (and they need lots of practice!) is by giving students the time and the space and the context to practice them in relevant, hands-on, and child-centered classes.

It’s amazing how a simple shift in goals can change the tone of the entire institution. Most schools focus on achievement and academic and athletic excellence. They focus so much on content, memorization, test scores, and getting into college that they lose sight of the child who is in front of them. When we shift from achievement to joy, from excellence to inspiration, from product to process, and from content to skills, the atmosphere shifts entirely. The irony is that we can still achieve, excel, and attend top colleges, if that’s our aim, without sacrificing character, joy and love of learning along the way.

Our Mission – Part 3: Montessori

montyThe next part of our mission comes in the form of our philosophy. This is the how of our goal. We believe the Montessori philosophy provides the best opportunity to build confidence, character and leadership in our students. I could talk about the Montessori philosophy all year (and it actually takes a full year or longer to get a certification in Montessori because of its complexity), but I believe there are three primary reasons why Montessori is the best opportunity to develop these characteristics.

First, Dr. Montessori started with the end game and worked backwards when she developed her philosophy and curriculum. Who do we want our kids to be as adults? What skills are most constructive in adults? What character traits are most important in adults? She never had the adult far from her mind as she focused on the child who would become the adult. This is what proponents of 21st century education are just now doing — and it’s a good thing — but Dr. Montessori was thinking that way 110 years ago.

Secondly, Dr. Montessori observed where children are developmentally and built her curriculum and philosophy to work with nature, rather than against it. We cannot just decide to give our students confidence; they develop it as nature intended and we have to use nature if they are going to develop successfully — in this case by providing as many opportunities and pushes for their independence as possible. A dependent child cannot and will not develop self-confidence, for example. The entire program is build around who children are and how they grow, rather than on the needs of the adults or the institution.

Lastly, Dr. Montessori integrated the whole child into her curriculum. Most curricula simply address the acquisition of information (like spelling rules) or the practice of a cognitive skill (like addition), but Dr. Montessori interwove the practice of concentration, the practice of conflict resolution, the practice of collaboration, etc. into her materials, schedule and annual goals for the classroom. Respect of others is just as important (and therefore takes just as much time) as math or reading. If we value character, leadership and intrinsic motivation, we have to carve time to practice those skills during the week. She saw the need for the time it would take and set the precedent that we all need to be willing to give our values that time.

Our Mission – Part 2: Where Are Our Kids Headed?

TFS MissionThe first half of our mission is challenge with support. I wrote about that last week. The second half of our mission is really about where our students are headed. What knowledge and skills do they really need to live fulfilling and successful lives? We believe they have the best chance of a fulfilling and successful life if they are aware of the context that we live in (globally minded) and if they are excited about life (passion for life and learning).

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children needed to begin understanding the world closest to them (their caretakers) and that the circle should expand as they get older (their families, their homes, their classroom, their school, their neighborhood, their city, their country, the world). This is more than geography, but it is not political. It is simply context.

What is going on around us?
How does it affect us?
How do we affect our world?

As children develop, they will naturally develop interest in the world around them, but it’s also a cycle: the more they know about the world, the more intriguing it gets and the more they want to know. Vision/life goals, compassion, a sense of purpose, respect, humility, perspective, civic duty, and intellectual stimulation are just a few of the characteristics that develop out of an interest in the world around us. From our perspective, the more they know and the more interested they are, the richer their foundation is for everything else they do with their lives.

We also want to equip them to approach life with zest. We want them to be confident enough to tackle life with excitement. We want them to have the skills and drive to continue to learn without grades or schedules or due dates. The primary way to do this is to introduce them to the intrinsic rewards (rewards that emerge from inside of us rather than rewards that are bestowed on us by others) of learning. Giving them choice in projects, encouraging tangents when we see something spark in them, Upper School interims, hands-on projects, sitting back and watching the students discover connections (instead of pointing them all out for the students), field trips and overnight trips, building multi-generational relationships, challenging them, and then celebrating with them when they overcome a challenge. These are all tactics to experience joy in learning, and joy in life. We live this mission ourselves, and then we pass this on to our students.

Our Mission – Part 1: Academically Challenging

Click to enlargeThe first component of our mission statement is something you should see in every school–to be academically challenging.  The second component, to be personally supportive, is rarer.  The two of them together create the heart of The Fulton School identity.  Supporting while challenging–it’s a dance.

Too much support with too little challenge teaches children that they can’t do things and leads to dependence on others, anxiety about new situations, and learned helplessness. Too much challenge with too little support also teaches them that they can’t do things and leads to discouragement, self-sabotaging, and giving up.  And if that’s not complicated enough, the balance is a little different for every child!

Another way we look at it is through the lens of an outdoor guide.  At outdoor education, we learn that we all have three zones: our Comfort Zone (which we all love!), our Challenge Zone (which we may think we dread, but which is rewarding after the fact), and our Panic Zone (we are so frightened that we can’t think straight).  They teach us that we really don’t learn anything in our Comfort Zone because there’s nothing new in this zone, or in our Panic Zone because we are too overwhelmed to take in new information.  We have to find our Challenge Zone to really learn.  This means there are new things to do or try, but that we feel supported enough to achieve it. It’s a challenge–not easy, but they are surmountable.

Finding the perfect Challenge Zone for every child in every subject and every situation is a lot of pressure on us both, as parents and as educators!  And it’s impossible. Let’s just get it out of the way right now that we won’t get it exactly right–you won’t and neither will we.  But our mission is to reflect, discuss, observe, debate, study, and do our best to find that balance for your child every day.