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?”

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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."

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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.

Putting it on Paper

Not all weeks at Arbor have whole-school galvanizing themes, but undeniably the second week of October coalesced around “putting it on paper.” The choices of how and why we “put it on paper” varied from class to class. From Kindergarten to eighth grade, students were practicing mapping, leaving evidence of thinking on the page, and writing to show appreciation of others.

Our youngest students considered a variety of maps -- road maps, atlases, subway guides, and garden plans -- and then made personal maps plotting the way each Primary kiddo traveled to Arbor School. Intermediates were mapping too; many of the Arbor trees were mapped with the purpose of adding their location and measurement to an Arbor Guide to Trees.  

Every class took on the responsibility of making sure that thank you’s were abundant and heartfelt for the plethora of parent volunteers at this year’s Arborfest, our annual fall festival and fundraiser.  The habit of expressing gratitude is well-practiced throughout the year, and the thank you notes varied in size and shape, from large chart paper in the Primaries to smaller cards and letters in the Intermediates.   And note-taking served as a vehicle to practice descriptive writing in the Juniors. 

Also evident was the habit of communicating math thinking through writing and diagramming. Students left evidence on the page to prove success or to find errors in calculation or thinking.  The Primaries and Juniors practiced showing multiple ways to solve Arborfest-related math problems, as did the Primaries, although using simpler computation sets. 


 

ACT Voices, Part 2: A Teacher from Day One

Our second “ACT Voices” video features Whitman College alumna and teacher residency graduate Elizabeth Thompson.  Elizabeth explains that she was drawn to the ACT for her Master’s in Teaching and Oregon teacher license because the residency approach meant that she could be a teacher from the outset of her two years of graduate study.  Working among a close cohort of teacher residents, Elizabeth describes the rigorous academic side of the ACT approach and how she explored the idea of teachers as perpetual students and inquirers.
 

During her two years at Arbor School, Elizabeth taught within one of our K/1st grade classrooms, extending her practice to 5th grade in her second year at Stafford Elementary in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.  She now teaches 4th/5th grade at the Cottonwood School of Civics and Science in Portland, Oregon.
 

Source: http://www.arborcenterforteaching.org/blog...

Warm Demanders

How can a little, independent school amidst fields and woods have anything to say to developing teachers whose classrooms will one day be found in large buildings in the middle of a city?  While the externalities may appear to separate the two contexts, the essence of schooling is based not on such surface elements but on the practices that can be learned in such a setting as Arbor's.

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In a recent conversation with former Arbor Center for Teaching (ACT) apprentice, Ren Johns, who was aiming for and found a mathematics teaching position at a large urban high school after earning her MAT through ACT, we discussed what it is that she believes she brings to her students that is making the difference in her teaching.  She attributes her successes with her current students, who might appear to be very different from those she taught at Arbor, to the lessons she learned through ACT, to the relentless commitment to students she saw modeled and now exhibits herself, both in the development of meaningful relationships with them and in her provisioning them with work at which they can be successful.  Ren commented further that she finds herself at the same school as another ACT graduate, Ben Malbin, whose successes in teaching American Sign Language to a wide range of students are likewise predicated on connecting with students authentically as human beings and as capable learners.  

Both of these teachers are "warm demanders," intent on working with their students students from a perspective of high expectations and empathic understanding.  Becoming committed to such understanding and developing the pedagogical imagination required to do this kind of work can be learned in any school committed to individual growth and development within a community of learners being asked to be their best selves.  Arbor is such a school.

Inside the ACT: Teaching/Life Balance

Training to be a teacher through a residency model means working in the classroom all day, combining this with graduate work after school, and during some evenings and weekends.  As a result, one of our seminar themes is the topic of life balance and how to sustain a rigorous and time-consuming professional life as an educator during and beyond the ACT program.

One healthy element in this regard is to embrace opportunities to explore the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, and to recharge by trying a new outdoor adventure.  Recently, Assistant Director Peter ffitch built on an evolving tradition and invited ACT Apprentices to join him sailing in Puget Sound, following in the footsteps of previous ACT cohorts.  K/1 Apprentice Lauren Reynolds and 2nd/3rd grade Apprentice Kristin Bollingmo took Peter up on his offer.  After this breathtaking experience, both Kristin and Lauren headed back to Portland ready for the teaching week ahead!

Source: http://www.arborcenterforteaching.org/blog...

How Do We Start?

The beginning of the school year brings the same freshness and potential as a clean sheet of paper and a never-been-used pencil bring to an eager writer.  Supplies have been gathered, names practiced, routines introduced, and the meaningful work of being and learning together has been launched.  

First classroom newsletters provide new and returning families a window into our teachers’ hopes for the coming year.  Their styles shine through.

Primaries: “We have been so proud of the Old Hands (first graders) for carefully tending the incoming Kindergartners.”
Juniors: “I believe strongly that all children can learn high levels of maths, that maths are creative and beautiful, and that appropriate struggle, making mistakes, and persistence are key to learning.”
Intermediates: “We will become collectors as we listen to all 44 poems, culling gem-like lines for the craft."
Seniors: “But it is important too, to realize that those final products can only emerge from daily, dedicated labor.”  

Intentions have been set, basic information about classroom and personal needs around celebrations and lunches shared, and clear communications have commenced. Our aims are high and the year begins. Onward with a fleet of felt mice at the prow and a sturdy collection of eighth graders at the rudder. 

In the summer our Primary (Kindergarten and 1st grade) students are sent a homemade felt mouse. They detail the mouse's summer adventures on a postcard which they send back to Arbor -- as well as building a mouse boat to bring in for the first day of school.

In the summer our Primary (Kindergarten and 1st grade) students are sent a homemade felt mouse. They detail the mouse's summer adventures on a postcard which they send back to Arbor -- as well as building a mouse boat to bring in for the first day of school.

ACT Voices, Part 1: Learning to Teach Through Mentored Classroom Experience

Listen to the first in our five part series “ACT Voices” in which Teacher Residency graduate Oriana Connolly discusses her reasons for working for her Master’s of Arts in Teaching and Oregon teacher license at Arbor School.  

Oriana points out that no other graduate program offers as much classroom experience, supported by a co-teacher and seminars linking theory to practice.  In addition, she explains her draw to Arbor School’s philosophy with our focus on helping children develop critical thinking and questioning via deep exploration of science and the arts.  Having the chance to build her own teaching practice with two years in a second/third grade Arbor classroom, outside on Arbor’s twenty-two acre farm and woodland campus, and in a dual language Spanish classroom in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, Oriana went on to teach fourth grade in a dual language classroom in Oregon City. She currently works in the Canby School District teaching fifth grade within the inspiring dual language community of Trost Elementary School.

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 act@arborschool.org for more information. 

Source: Arbor Center for Teaching

Primary Class: How to Make a Pretzel

Our Primaries have been very busy this week making pretzels to sell at Arborfest, our annual community celebration and fundraising event. But how do you make a pretzel? Check out a behind-the-scenes look at the process below: