Melissa Soderberg, Head of School
August 5, 2019
Dear Columbus Academy Families,
In welcoming you to a new and wonderful school year, I plan to add a little bit of a twist.
I have hopes for this year that I want to share with you. They are not big, flashy power-point hopes that get planned and marketed and measured. Those are goals that we enact each year, and the school grows and thrives as a result. Instead, these are deep wishes... quiet thoughts that are more private, careful and fragile about the ways we talk to each other and think about one another. And how those ways affect what we are like as people -- children and adults together -- in the school.
Columbus Academy is incredibly intentional about how it is organized. Our curriculum, program, buildings, calendar and business model are designed with the aim of providing the best possible education of mind, body and character for our students. Since 1911, we have eschewed concepts like "economy of scale" and "mandatory testing" -- even hall passes and bells -- because they value managing volume over creating a culture of trust and learning.
Sometimes our intentionality is absolutely counter-cultural. In a world where the faster, flashier communication wins, our school seems slow and deliberate. We know that tweets and push notifications don't raise children well because they emphasize showy, shallow attention when learning is deep, deliberate and intuitive.
These days the socially normed culture seems so raw, superficial, self-serving and unkind that I begin to wonder how our students navigate through the casual hate expressed daily in the media (social and otherwise) into a school community that values caring, personal responsibility and excellence.
So, this summer I have been exploring the theme of "unintentional consequences" to see if I can gain insight into how the world around me appears to be ignoring and denying the repercussions our actions have on growing young children. Also, I've been searching for what good ideas exist that we can employ to call to our attention the thoughtlessness creeping into our daily interactions.
It may not surprise you that research points overwhelmingly to how we use language and the powerful effect language can have on our brain and health.
For the past few months, our lower school educators have been reading What We Say and How We Say It Matters, the premise of which states "all day long, (teachers) are the tone-setters for students and model what grown-up behavior should look like. How do we talk about work and learning? How do we deal with frustration and anger? In any given situation, the way (teachers) talk and act gives students important clues and signals about how they themselves should act."
While these concepts may sound obvious, they are strikingly far from our public discourse at the moment. My hope is that we agree -- as students, teachers, parents and coaches -- to ask more of ourselves in the way we approach communicating with and about each other. Wendy Mogel, child psychologist and author of Voice Lessons, describes how parents can use language to better connect with their child because, as she frames it, "at every age, children will bring you the worst problems you can imagine and also the most dazzling moments. The more you know what gladdens your child's heart, the more of those moments you'll get to see."
Research is overwhelming about the cognition-emotion connection that leads to healthy growth. In a recent issue of Science News , the "chambermaid study" is described when two Stanford cognitive psychologists explain to one group of hotel workers that their daily work of making beds and cleaning is equivalent to going to the gym to get exercise. Over a short period of time, all their health markers (weight, blood pressure, BMI) improve markedly without change in their diet or routine while the control group's numbers remain the same.
How we perceive the world may have more of an impact on our well-being than anything else.
Carol Dweck, groundbreaking author of Mindset , has made a profound impact on cognition studies and language, citing, "after seven experiments with hundreds of children, we had some of the clearest findings I've ever seen: Praising children's intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance. How can that be? Don't children love to be praised? Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow -- but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they're smart, then failure means they're dumb. That's the fixed mindset."
Despite popular opinion that dismisses meaning in cheap soundbites, what we say to each other and about each other matters. I think we have always known this. Maybe we just need the science of cognition to bring us back to taking the time and care required to communicate well.
This year, the school's faculty and staff will be devoted to learning more about what makes students flourish. It is the third goal of our Strategic Vision . But we cannot do the work alone in the vacuum of the school day. Therefore, I ask you to join us in thinking about how we talk with each other and the young people in our charge, and help make this year a meaningful one.
Welcome Back!
P.S. -- Below is a list of our new faculty and staff. Please join me in welcoming them to our fantastic school!
Pre-Kindergarten Associate Teacher
Upper School Spanish Teacher
Upper School Math & Computer Science Teacher
Fourth Grade Associate Teacher
Pre-Kindergarten Lead Teacher
Admissions Administrative Assistant
First Grade Associate Teacher
Kindergarten Lead Teacher
3YO Explorers Program Lead Teacher
Middle/Upper School Health & Wellness Teacher
3YO Explorers Program Associate Teacher
Middle School Language Arts Teacher
Upper School History Long-Term Substitute Teacher
Pre-Kindergarten Lead Teacher
Middle School PE Teacher & Varsity Girls Basketball Coach
Director of Athletics
First Grade Associate Teacher
Lower School Spanish Teacher
Assistant Director of College Counseling
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