Arbor Eyes

When my daughter Amelia was a New Hand Junior one of her classmates was a boy who was new to the school. After school one day I asked her how he was adjusting. “Well, she began, “he doesn’t have his Arbor eyes yet.” Intrigued, I asked her to elucidate. “He looks for the bad in people instead of looking for the good.”

The notion of “Arbor Eyes” is central to our social curriculum. We as teachers try to see the best in our students, highlighting their strengths in all domains - intellect, character, creativity. Like plants, kids grow toward the light, thriving on “just right” challenges, opportunities, and experiences that help to strengthen their sense of self.

Because they are just kids, a lot of these skills are explicitly taught and woven into the fabric of our day. Whether it’s learning how to hold the door open for the person coming in behind you, thinking of a clever and friendly way to greet the Librarian, learning how to give supportive comments, or being the first person to say “Thank you,” when a piece of paper is handed to you, we’re intentionally developing courtesy in hopes that it will become part of the students’ muscle memory.

Sometimes the lessons are better taught through role modeling and the Denners always get a kick out of seeing us behaving poorly. Just this week we demonstrated the difference between accidentally and intentionally bumping into someone. Tone of voice and extending an invitation to a friend have been other situations that have been modeled.

One of the most notable things about my conversation with Amelia was the fact that she said, “yet.” She was hopeful that her new classmate would come to see the best in others and we too are eternally hopeful and endeavor to instill this optimism in our students.

Lori Pressman
Primary Teacher

Return With Honor - Highlights from the Catlin Gabel Track Meet

I know a family who placed a motto over their door that read "Return With Honor." Time and time again I have thought about the way that doorway was passed through and about the way the people in that family could choose to regard or disregard a family creed.  On the last Friday of April, Arbor proved that our school may not have motto to invoke, nor a mascot to follow, yet our students can leave the campus and return with the best version of honor, the kind that shows regard with great respect.  

Linus, Senior teacher and Convener, traditionally shares the details of the Catlin Gabel Middle School Track Meet via time-of-day check-ins and noticings, which you can read below. Yes, there were the events mentioned and the progress of the runners, jumpers and throwers, but the main observations were around the way in which the students interacted with one another and with students from the other schools -- high fives, handshakes, cheering for all levels from first to last finishers. “We believe in you,” “Way to Go!” “That was insane!” “She got third!” ‘Thanks, Coach,” were exclamations captured by Linus, along with a plethora of nonverbal jumps for joy and personal bests “left on the track.”


Generosity was as abundant as the threat of rain on that spring day in Portland.  The good fortune of placing 2nd overall and 1st in the girls division, was secondary to the win of returning with honor to a school whose character development is, as our Director Kit Hawkins says, “The hinge on which intellect and creativity rise and fall.” 

Well done and thank you, Seniors

Kids are arriving in little clusters, buying or renting shirts from Leigh, milling about, getting the lay of the land, stretching, warming up. The sky is overcast. How can it be that the day of the Track Meet (and the Junior Bridge field trip!) is the first day that is not perfectly, gloriously sunny in a week?

Jesse: It’s so much easier to do the hurdles when they're in a straight line and there’s an even number of strides between them!

Coach Andrew has a cluster of kids around him. He’s showing them how the hand off zones for the relay races are marked. At Arbor they have been using lines in the bark chips.

It is no longer just overcast; it is definitely “misting.”

Two unnamed mothers discuss the fact that their kids have explicitly barred them from watching their events. They will watch anyhow!

Check-in for the girls’ javelin. Lots of people are milling around the tent. A girl from another school asks, plaintively, to no one in particular, “Why am I first? My name doesn’t start with ‘A’.” 

At what point does “mist” become “rain”?

Girls’ high jump has started. Sadie’s name is called. The throwing and jumping events will go on for hours.

A starter’s pistol goes off, but it must be a test because no one starts running. “Last call, girls’ hurdles,” says the PA.

Coach Leigh: In Spain they call this ‘fools’ rain, because it doesn’t seem like it’s raining, and then an hour later you’re soaked.

The first heat of the girls’ hurdles is off. Lily W can run very fast!

Cole, Charlie, and Jesse are waiting for their hurdles race, warming up. They are joking around with a runner from the Hawks. I can’t hear what they are saying, but they’re all laughing together.

Actually, as it turns out, it’s pretty clear when it’s “raining” as opposed to “misting.”

Maddie has just thrown her personal best javelin ever.

Girls 4 by 100. Sadie hands off to Ava G, waits in her lane, watching Ava take off. Then she high fives the runner in the next lane, who’s also just made her hand-off.

It’s no longer raining.

Sonia comes in second to the runner from OES; Sonia turns to her and shakes her hand.

Boys’ 1500. Amazingly, Emil still has gas in the tank to put on a burst at the end of the last lap.

A runner from Hyla — I have overheard that his name is Isaiah — is way at the back of the 1500. Sonia, Sophie B, Harper, and Audrey are in the infield. They cheer loudly for Isaiah as he finally reaches the finish line.

Esther: After the first lap [of the 1500], my legs were kind of buzzing, and then I couldn’t feel them. I’m just glad I didn’t collapse halfway through!

The 100 meter dash has started. There is heat after heat, so it is really impossible to tell who is winning. Ollie yells, “We believe in you, Lily W!” She absolutely burns it.

Ollie is readying himself for the 3000. 
Coach Azure: You know exactly what you need to say to yourself to get psyched up, Ollie.
Griffin runs by in the 800, puts on speed, passing another runner as he closes.

Nicholas is running the 800. Amazingly, he is smiling!

Melissa is trying to watch both of her kids triple jump at the same time, but they are jumping in opposite directions. We see Ava Hudson absolutely fly toward us.

Sonia starts the 200 near Melissa and me. As she rounds the far corner, ahead of the pack, Melissa points out what Sonia’s last name means in German. It had never occurred to me before.

Max and Emil are in the infield as Torben runs past them. They are leaping in the air, waving their arms, practically doing jumping jacks as they cheer for him.

The 3000 is starting. Go, Ollie! Go, Megan!

I’m chatting with Sophie Kruse (Arbor ‘17). The 3000 is still going on. We pause to cheer as the runners pass us.

It’s still going on.

There is one last runner in the 3000, from Hyla, way behind everyone else. The entire crowd cheers for him as he finishes his last lap.

Maya E: Will! She got third! Megan got third!

Sixth-grade boys’ 4 by 400. Kiko watches the end of the race. “Way to go, Owen!” He yells. “That was insane!”



ACT Voices Part 5: An Experience-Focused Approach

In this final “ACT Voices” video from our 8th cohort, Teacher Residency graduate Elsie McIver underscores the importance of an experience-focused approach in developing her teaching practice.  As an Arbor faculty member from the outset of her program, Elsie jumped into teaching immediately on the first day of school.  This active and immersive approach is supported by ongoing reflection and feedback from co-teaching mentors and coaches for the two years of the program.  

As a result of this perpetual experience and reflection cycle, residents come to see their lesson plans as their best hypotheses about what will work for their students that day, followed by analysis of the impact of their lesson design on students’ evolving understandings and habits.  This emphasis on analysis and adjustment in the midst of lessons as well as at the end of each day develops residents’ ability to focus on differentiating their practice for the range of children in their classrooms.  Their strong teaching practices stand out when ACT residents move to work in public schools during their second year.  

This ongoing planning/instruction/assessment cycle is engagingly depicted in Elsie’s “action research” project entitled, “Why Are They Telling Me This?  Reading Non-fiction for Understanding in the Early Elementary Grades”  Elsie studies her 2nd and 3rd graders’ non-fiction comprehension and shares the differentiation strategies she developed to support the varied reading and writing needs in her classroom.

Elsie also shares her background as a Peace Corps volunteer to Panama prior to joining the ACT program.  Capitalizing on her Spanish language strengths, she taught in a dual language immersion program at Trost Elementary school in her second year and worked to add 5th grade mathematics vocabulary to her teaching repertoire.  Currently, she teaches 4th grade in Sandy, Oregon within a small rural public school with a substantial proportion of English language learners.

We are currently accepting applications for our 2018-2020 cohort of Teacher Residents. For priority acceptance, our application deadline is March 1st.  After this date, we will accept applications if spaces are still available.  Contact us at for more information. 


Mind Your P's and Q's - Jobs at Arbor


From the first, students and staff at Arbor have always been part of making the campus work.  Every day every student in the school has a job -- from taking out the trash to running an elaborate composting program that keeps all of our paper towels and weekly pizza boxes out of the solid waste stream and helps to create soil for our gardens; from cleaning the guinea pig cage to mucking out the pygmy goat pen; from reorganizing classroom bookshelves to checking out and shelving library books... the list goes on and on.

Once a week the older students take on one class period of service to the community.  They may write letters of thanks to recent classroom helpers, prepare the food bank for a weekend backpack lunch program for children in other schools who are receiving free lunch at school but need it also on weekends.  They may work in the Office helping to.prepare mailings or go to our Primary classrooms to read and listen to young readers.  

This notion of tending to others beyond oneself is deeply embedded in many ways throughout the school.  It is so central that it was the a subject of a recent in-house publication produced and distributed by our Intermediate  (4th & 5th grade) Letterpress Elective

What follows is a result of their reporting on jobs throughout the school:

Primary Jobs by Margaret

The Den thinks that the Guinea Pigs are the most important job because they are "alive animals," and Denner Charlie has made up a song about pencil sharpening. The Nesters use the saying, "Many hands make light work" to help them with their jobs.

Junior Jobs by Elliot

The Juniors rotate through their jobs with a chart. They have partners called mates who give tips to each other. Most kids like supervisor, because the supervisor picks the words for the hangman game at the end of the day.

Intermediate Jobs by Lauren

The Intermediates now have four job crews with unique names like Environmental Enhancement, Intermediate Conservation Corps, Marc's Cleansers Incorporated, and Groundhog Cleaning Crew. 

Senior Jobs by Henry

The Seniors have two sets of jobs: classroom cleaning and speciality jobs. Classroom jobs involve sweeping, trash, recycling and compost, and other domestic jobs within seminar groups. Speciality jobs assigned based on surveys include curbside trash bins, gardening, and chicken wrangling.

Community Service by Harry

In Sr. Community Service Greg says goat vaccination or building African drums from Arbor logs are the craziest jobs, but Nick says rafter work is.


In this ACT Voices video, Teacher Residency graduate Cecca Wrobel discusses her experiences teaching in Arbor’s Middle School.  A linguistics major in college, Cecca specialized in math and literacy at Arbor, teaching algebra and geometry across the 6th, 7th and 8th grades.  She also worked in reading/writing workshops and facilitated her own literacy Seminar, reading novels connecting to Humanities themes with mixed age groups.

This full immersion experience enabled Cecca to develop an in-depth action research project around “Number Talks” with her 6th and 7th graders.  These are daily math discussions in which students engage in mathematical discourse that invites them to make their own mathematical conjectures, to support their strategies with logic, and to pose questions of their classmates.  Read her action research process and conclusions: "A Sensible Practice for Sense Making:  The simplicity of introducing a Number Talks routine for deepening quantitative reasoning."

We are currently accepting applications for our 2018-2020 cohort of Teacher Residents. Schedule an inquiry visit to Arbor School this fall to learn more about our program or e-mail for more information. 

The Naga Princess

Please enjoy this animated retelling of The Naga Princess, with puppets, artwork, and narration by the children in the Primary Nest. This truly was a class project - everyone had a hand in bringing it together. We hope you will delight in watching this little film as much as we did in making it.


In this “ACT Voices” video, teacher residency graduate Danielle Ito makes a case for building her teaching practice within an Arbor kindergarten/first grade classroom.  The multi-age setting meant that she needed to develop strong differentiation techniques to support emergent readers just beginning to link letters and sounds as well as strong transitional readers already delving into chapter books.  These practices added to others in her teaching repertoire and contributed to her success in a public school context during her second residency year.  Working in one of Portland Public School’s biggest elementary schools, Danielle taught third graders who brought 6 different first languages to the classroom community.  She says that her Arbor experience “definitely translates to teaching across any spectrum of learners.”

Also during her second year, Danielle focused her “action research” on taking her Arbor kindergarten and first grade students outside to the Arbor woods to study science, math and literacy.  She describes the benefits of this experience for her young naturalists, learning to observe carefully while exploring the flora and fauna right outside the classroom door.  Read Danielle’s action research article here for more about her discoveries and practical suggestions around place-based education.


Sojourn in South Africa

In 1995, only a year after Nelson Mandela was elected in South Africa’s first multiracial election, I began teaching. As a college student at Lewis and Clark in the early 90s, I’d followed the dismantling of apartheid in the news and marveled at Mandela’s ability to come out of prison after 27 years, ready to forgive and move the country forward. Earlier in my teaching career I taught a Global Studies course in which students studied apartheid’s origins and policies as well as the variety of ways in which this oppressive system was brought to an end. Then, as we do now when learning about South Africa at Arbor, students learned about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, grappling with the concept of forgiveness and exploring the ways in which a country heals from a horrible injustice like apartheid. It was from these experiences and interests that my desire to travel to South Africa was born.

Last summer, I traveled to Cape Town and Johannesburg, structuring the majority of my itinerary around visiting places that were significant to apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. In addition to seeing these places firsthand, my hope was to meet and talk to many South Africans about their lives. My plan was to take what I would learn from the people and places and develop curriculum to teach at Arbor, and to share with colleagues outside of Arbor, including in my work with the World Affairs Council of Oregon.

Entering the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg

Entering the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg

With the support of a generous grant from APT, I was able to enrich my study with two in-depth private tours. One of the many valuable aspects of these tours was the opportunity they afforded me to ask guides many questions, leading me to fill several notebooks with the facts and stories that I am now weaving into the curriculum I am writing.

Inside Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

Inside Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

In addition to my objective of learning more about what life was like under apartheid, I wanted to gain a sense of where South Africa is in its process of healing from apartheid. While I heard many stories of how racism did not disappear as soon as apartheid ended, the prevailing wound that is still visible at the surface of life in South Africa is an economic one. With official unemployment estimates sitting at 26%, people in the townships reported that rates among those living in these underdeveloped urban areas is actually 60% or higher. One of the most hopeful aspects of my trip was visiting non-profit organizations that are working to break the cycle of poverty so firmly entrenched by apartheid. From community center leaders to school garden program volunteers, I met individuals who were committed to Mandela’s legacy and to building a more equitable and just society, even in the midst of the cloud of corruption surrounding President Zuma. 

One of the habits we work to cultivate at Arbor is that of perspective-taking. Whether discussing a current event or something that happened in ancient Sumer, we ask students to reach beyond examining something through a personal lens, and to consider the variety of ways in which that same event or issue might be experienced and/or interpreted by others. Doing so not only helps students gain a richer understanding of the variety of ways in which humans experience the world but also enables us to get “under” more of the layers of that which we seek to understand. My trip has led to two curricular strands: one that is centered around a role-play aiming to teach students about the variety of perspectives molding and of issues facing the new South Africa and the other, that is a virtual “walking tour” of Cape Town and Johannesburg sites related to apartheid, the movement to end it, and post-apartheid South Africa. It is my hope that these lessons will help students understand the ways in which South Africa’s history has been a force in creating some of the challenges the country faces today, as well as provide rich opportunities for perspective taking.

- Cara

Arbor Faculty and Staff Retreat Recap

On the Friday before Veterans Day, Arbor faculty and staff gathered for our annual Faculty Retreat. As part of a year-long focus on cognitive neuroscience, we chose to begin by discussing a chapter from Daniel Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School? entitled "Why Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say." In this chapter Willingham explains that moving factual or procedural knowledge from short-term memory into long-term memory requires more than simply paying attention, and more than having an emotional response to the lesson or the material.  Repetition can be helpful when properly structured, using mnemonics for example, but even then, repetition without activating thinking only goes so far. In the end it comes down to what seems to be an obvious conclusion, that what you think about is what you remember -- “Memory is the residue of thought.” 

For teachers, this conclusion is only the beginning of the discussion. First of all, it is not just any lesson-related thinking that we are after but thinking about the meaning that is at the center of what we hope will be lasting for the students. On Friday, we spent time exploring approaches to making thinking about meaning unavoidable.  We discussed the utility of making the material “relevant” to the children, the positives and negatives of “attention grabbers,” and the ways in which organizing a lesson string as a narrative can be powerful; making the central meaning the answer to an engaging question is an effective means of focusing student thinking.  With our curricula in mind, we tried to put ourselves in the seats of our students and anticipate what they would be paying attention to and what would move into their long-term memories as a result.

After spending the morning sitting and talking, we were ready to move, and move we did, continuing our thinking about thinking in a new context. Instead of taking the perspective of our students, we became students ourselves in order to experience the cognitive processes that we had been talking about.  What could we learn about our own attention and thinking that would help us plan for our students?

Following Laura’s simple direction, “Please enter the Arena quietly,” we trickled in and found the space transformed. Entering in ones and twos to the gentle sound of Cuban guitar, we found a large circle of felt squares, each with a few cups of rice neatly piled in the middle.  With no direction given, each member of the faculty took her cue from those already settled, sat at one of the mats and began making designs with the rice.  After a few minutes of this contemplative and open-ended activity, and a quiet walk around the circle to gain inspiration from one another, we paused to consider ourselves as learners. We acknowledged worrying, “Am I doing this right?” and “Is it okay if I look to see what my neighbor is doing?” 

Laura then paired us up and gave the direction that one person shape the rice while the other moves to represent that shaping. The roles were then reversed, with the rice-shaper following the movement of his partner. “Are other people watching my movements?”  “I don’t know how to dance.” “If I just focus on my partner, it’s not so embarrassing.”

Next, groups created choreography for one of the gorgeous leaf pictures that the Intermediates have made (the leaf choice a secret -- could we guess which one from the movement?) and then expanded the possibilities by using  props, music and words to interpret yet another leaf. “Whose idea should we follow?”  “I’m feeling self-conscious about doing this in front of my friends.” “Everyone seems to be better at this than me.” “What was the direction?”


And then on to more directed work -- first learning a song together and then learning and practicing an ensemble marimba piece.  “Everyone else seems to be picking this up faster than me.” “This is so much fun!”  “Wait, I’m not ready to move on to the next part of the piece yet!” “I’m ready for the next part, why are we moving so slowly?” “My friend thinks she’s helping, but she’s really just making me feel worse about not being able to do it.”  

By the end of an afternoon of working together, some of us were tired, having been stretched beyond our comfort zone for significant portions of the day. Others were energized, feeling the satisfaction that comes from working within the zone of proximal development. And all of us had a renewed sense of what it means to be a student working together with others.  Sharing the ways in which each of us had experienced the afternoon led to a rich discussion of how we seek to balance the days for our students, to address the elements that compete for their attention, and to keep meaning at the center of what we ask the children to do.


Dangerous Tools

As a school we are constantly seeking sources of reflection, ways to have mirrored back to us those elements of practice that are producing evidence of efficacy for our students.  We send out questionnaires, conduct decadal self-evaluations, follow students through high school, college, graduate school, and into their lives as spouses and parents and community members.  We are further fortunate to have some of them return to Arbor as teacher residents in the Arbor Center for Teaching MAT program, as teachers, and, increasingly, as parents of Arbor children.

Those sources of feedback have been invaluable in correcting mis-directions, in opening up new avenues of practice, and refining Arbor ways.  Receiving unsolicited feedback is likewise very powerful.  This summer I received a remarkable letter from a young man who had just graduated from eighth grade at Arbor. He is a thoughtful and self-possessed young man, and I opened it with happy anticipation.  I have been carrying the letter around with me ever since.  

He writes... "Arbor is a sort of dream world.  One would almost call it the 'Arbor experiment.' Arbor is a place where the expectations are high, and yet always met with an unbelievable enthusiasm, a place in which you are not just expected but praised for being you, where your teachers, classmates, and principal do not just respect, but love you for who you are.  It is a place in which young children are given great responsibility and are trusted well beyond the average adult.  At Arbor we do not take away the dangerous tools, but instead show children their power, and show them how they can be used safely, to work towards a better world.... It is not a worried safety that limits kids, that keeps them from their curiosity; the world has too much of that.  It is a trusting safety, and it is truer, more two-sided, and it is something our world greatly lacks."

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 3.06.20 PM.png

This gracious portrayal has now become a powerful source of inspiration for us.  May we always be worthy of this young man's positive regard.  We believe he will go on to make contributions to the world  that arise out of his unique temperament, curiosity and drive.  He knows we will be watching and rooting for him every step of the way.