Broadening Our Definition of Success

I wanted the part of the Wizard of Oz in the school play--badly. I practiced lines for the audition with focus and intensity, and I trained my eight-year-old voice to resonate deeply and creepily. When audition day came, I was ready for my closeup. 

The audition was flawless--and my head grew large. The next day, they posted the cast list on the door. I scanned the page, saw my name and...I was to be munchkin #3. Dumbfounded and defeated, the drama teacher pulled me aside and told me that I should feel proud of how much effort I had put into preparing for the audition, and how that effort had made me a serious contender.

Though that was cold comfort to a third grader, I now know what she meant. With her nurturing manner, that teacher helped me to recognize that I had experienced success by exhibiting hard work and perseverance. We know through the work of Dr. Carol Dweck that success is not so much an outcome as it is a mindset. It's just as much about developing resilience and self-awareness as it is about crossing the finish line first. Had I been cast as the wizard, that certainly would have been a big success. But it wouldn't have been the only success.

High Meadows happily celebrates successful outcomes. We are proud to see the long list of respected high schools and colleges our graduates attend. We tout that our middle years debate team has won the state competition 12 years in a row. But it's the stories of those graduates--stories about how High Meadows taught them tenacity, compassion, and self-efficacy--that really define success for us. It's that many of those debate students have never before stood up publicly to defend a sophisticated idea. As caring adults, we need to teach our children that success has many faces, and that it is always within their reach.

Take care,
Jay Underwood
Head of School
What Success Looks Like at High Meadows
By Kate McElvaney, Director of Educational Advancement and the Center for Progressive Learning

How do we know if our child is "successful?" Is it winning a trophy in a soccer tournament? Is it scoring in the 99th percentile on a standardized test? Tangible accolades are certainly markers of achievement, but are they indicators of future success as adults? And are they the only ways we want to measure our children's success?

Noted psychologist and author Dr. Madeline Levine, who will speak at High Meadows on November 3rd as part of our Center for Progressive Learning's Speaker Series, has grappled with these very questions. Dr. Levine contends that society's current view of success over-focuses on academic success and over-achievement to the detriment of the development of the whole child. In her latest book, Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies, or "Fat Envelopes," she issues a call to action: "We must embrace a healthier and radically different way of thinking about success."

Dr. Levine's work resonates strongly with us at High Meadows because it supports the values and skills we hold dear. For example, Dr. Levine views children as "works in progress" who need to develop important coping skills such as resilience, resourcefulness, and creativity. She believes we must teach our children to take action in their communities: "Authentic success is being 'the best me I can be' not simply in isolation, but as a part of a community, and it always includes a component of meaningful contribution and connection with others." High Meadows  supports children's sense of social justice and empowers them to become active participants in their communities. We teach our children to find solutions on their own rather than solving problems for them.

So what does success look like at High Meadows? Read further to see how our teachers define "success" in their classrooms and how they foster resourcefulness, creativity, and resilience in their students. 
An Evening with Dr. Madeline Levine

Please join us on Thursday, November 3, at 7:00 pm, in the High Meadows School Community Center as the High Meadows Center for Progressive Learning welcomes Dr. Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well . Dr. Levine will speak about broadening our definition of success and preparing children for success in today's world. She will have a Q & A at the end of her presentation as well as a book signing.  The event is free and open to the public; please register at High Meadows Center for Progressive Learning.
Successful Self-Regulation in a Safe Space
By Emily Kleinberg and Elizabeth Swern, K-1 Teachers

Using the classroom's "Safe Space" to self-regulate

In the Kindergarten and First Grade Classroom, students acquire new academic skills at a surprising rate; they develop phonemic awareness, math literacy, and an understanding of basic science principles. Traditionally, when students display proficiency in these areas, we say they are "successful." In our classroom, however, success is not so narrowly defined; we also encourage social and emotional skills, such as problem-solving and working with others. One skill that we focus on specifically during the first six weeks of school is self-regulation: the ability to control one's own behavior and emotions. Being able to self-regulate not only helps students emotionally, but it also positively influences their academic success. When students are working in the executive state of their brain--a state in which they feel emotionally and physically secure--they are ready for optimal learning. 

To encourage self-regulation, we created a "Safe Space" in our classroom, a quiet, cozy corner with stuffed animals, various lotions ("cranky cream," "concentration cream," "boo boo cream") and noise-cancelling headphones. In addition to comfort items that allow children to feel safe and calm, our "Safe Space" also provides objects that enable students to work through emotions actively: a Koosh ball, a "Feelings Board" for reflection, and a clipboard for drawing. One of our kindergarten students explains her experience using the "Safe Space": "I calmed down and used the cranky cream from the Safe Space basket. I chose what my feeling was going to be." Becoming aware of their emotions and learning to regulate themselves enables students to feel successful and powerful in the classroom.
Eighth Graders Reflect on the Meaning of Success
By Pat Wolf, Middle Years Principal

Eighth Graders Bond at their Retreat

Each year at High Meadows, our eighth grade class begins the school year with a three-day retreat on our Lower Meadow to bond as a group and to set goals for their capstone year. We challenge our students to consider "What makes us successful?" Retreat activities, such as rock-climbing, camp set-up, meal preparation and games provide opportunities for students to reflect on the attitudes and attributes of success. At our campfire on Thursday evening, students identified a wide variety of behaviors and skills that lead to success: 

  • setting a personal goal; 
  • overcoming fear; 
  • making a commitment;
  • listening to others; 
  • offering encouragement; 
  • trusting in other people, and 
  • giving your best effort. 
For our students, success doesn't derive solely from an individual accomplishment or a tangible or quantifiable result. Success requires both individual and group commitment to a goal.
Collaboration and Community Create Success for Second and Third Graders
By Katie Huffner and Ensley Nesbitt, 2-3 Teachers

Students in 2-3 collaborate to cross the "Acid River" safely.

When I reflect on my childhood education, I remember how I struggled with learning to read and with memorizing multiplication facts and spelling words. If one believes there is a "straight and narrow path" toward success (to borrow Madeline Levine's words), it was clear I wasn't on it. Teaching at High Meadows, however, has allowed me to embrace the "winding path" toward success that celebrates children for their unique abilities. In our second and third grade classroom, success is measured by the individual child. We guide and encourage our students to develop their own learning interests, set their own goals, and create their own work habits. Trying something new, volunteering in a group discussion, or increasing one's writing stamina are all reasons to celebrate "success" in our classroom.

Recently, to encourage interpersonal skills among our students, we challenged the class with a team building exercise called "Acid River." The goal of the exercise was to have the whole class cross the "river" in small, cohesive units. Teams were given one block per person and instructed to proceed across without falling in. Individuals could only stand on the block they had received except when moving themselves forward. The task presented both physical and mental challenges as they worked collectively to move their peers along. After the activity, we debriefed our experiences as a class, which led us to an organic conversation defining "success." One group felt successful when their team was able to make it across the entire river without falling in. Another team looked at their success as having all group members make it onto their assigned blocks. A third team understood their success as having made it more than halfway across the river before having to turn back. Ultimately, our students came to the conclusion that success is "accomplishing something you have never done before, having fun, and doing your best."
Apply Now for 2017-2018 Admission to High Meadows

Our online application for the next school year is now available for Pre-K through 8th grade!  Click Here to learn more about the application process, upcoming events, and to set up your account with Ravenna Solutions--our online admission system.

Mark your calendars now for our Open House on Sunday, November 13th! 

Have questions about admission? Contact Director of Admission Laura Nicholson at or 678-507-1170.
It's Not About the Trophies
By Karen Allen, Physical Education Teacher
A K-1 student basks in his success.

What does success look like in Physical Education? Is it being the fastest, the fittest, the strongest, or the most athletic? At High Meadows, children can be successful in PE in a variety of ways: confidently participating in a team activity or conquering a fear like diving for the first time. Students determine their success based on where they are currently and where they would like to grow.

Recently, during her PE swimming class, a young student told me that because she was not a very good swimmer, she would like to do the lesson in the shallow end. Knowing that a comfortable learning environment fosters student success, I agreed and she began her lesson on floating in the shallow end. After practicing for a few minutes, the student discovered that she had made progress and decided to join her classmates doing the same lesson in the deeper end of the pool. After floating with her friends, she felt ready for the next challenge: to touch the bottom of the pool. Because she was apprehensive, I offered to go with her. A community helps you succeed. I wrapped my arm around her, we took a deep breath, and we traveled down to the bottom of the pool together. When her feet touched the bottom, she was thrilled--the smile on her face said it all. Now THAT's success!
Drawing On Success in the Visual Arts
By Brenda Major, Art Teacher

Sketch pad of an art student

Success in the visual arts is often judged solely by the artist's finished product, using a variety of criteria such as composition, color, form, and balance. Teaching Art at High Meadows, however, allows me to see each student's progression as artists and as individuals. One way to help students recognize their work as steps along a continuum of learning is to work in sketchbooks. As they progress from kindergarten through fifth grade, students create a visible record of ideas, skills, and failures that blossomed into successes. 

Recently, I had my fourth and fifth grade students use sketchbooks for a series of drawing mini-lessons as one means to hone their artistic decision-making skills. For our first lesson, students worked in small groups to arrange a variety of objects to provide a good view from multiple perspectives. Student reflections about what worked and what didn't work led to the creation of a shared "strategy bank" that made their thinking tangible. In the second mini-lesson, students analyzed still-life paintings of accomplished artists and identified a pattern of arranging objects. Students again worked collaboratively to arrange the objects similarly and then drew the objects, incorporating methods from the "strategy bank." For the final mini-lesson, my co-teacher and I modeled the thinking process by arranging a still life with commentary about the decision making. Students also received individual coaching at their level.

The latest drawings in their sketchbooks illustrate the results of incremental adjustments within the cycle of doing, reflecting, revising and doing again. Most importantly, they show that success is not about a single finished work. It's about the string of little victories in the life-long effort to grow a little bit every day.

The High Meadows community celebrates and perpetuates each individual's quest for knowledge and skill, sense of wonder, and connection to the natural environment. We empower each to be a compassionate, responsible, and active global citizen.
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