by Susan Clain, Chief Strategic Communications and Advancement Officer
Agility. Innovation. Community. As I reflect upon the unprecedented events of the 2019-20 academic year, these words resonate; they permeate how we have operated academically, budgetarily, and philanthropically. The adaptive, resilient nature of our students, parents, faculty, staff, and Board members as we have migrated from in-person, to distance, to blended and dual-synchronous learning has, and continues to be, extraordinary.
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Graded closed its campus doors for the first time in 100 years. The coronavirus and its social, cultural, political, and economic repercussions have engendered real darkness. Consequential circumstances have thrust us all into unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable, territory. However, we have learned to embrace, or at least tolerate, ambiguity and change. We have grown more nimble. We have questioned how and why we do the things we do and, sometimes, we have discovered better ways to do them.
Such was the case in the Office of Institutional Advancement. After producing a physical annual report for many years, we shifted to a digital version. On behalf of my team, I am pleased to present Graded's online 2019-20 Annual Report. This report provides an overview of the school's financials, highlights our accomplishments during a most unusual year, and recognizes the generosity of our donors. It is dynamic and includes photographs and videos. I encourage you to peruse and explore it on your mobile device (on which it is best viewed)!
Thank you again to our stakeholders for your dedication. We are so very grateful for your support during this very challenging year! I am confident that together we will grow, flourish, and overcome.
1. You are passionate about the Montessori Method. What is this method and how is it different from other ways of teaching pre-primary children?
Dr. Maria Montessori broke barriers. She became a physician during a time women were not allowed to attend medical school in Italy. She also studied natural sciences and engineering. But most important of all, she studied the child. Her method is based on scientific evidence, taking into consideration a child's development and needs. She developed materials and believed that well-prepared adults and the environment are key to fostering children's natural desire to learn, along with choice and autonomy. I am really proud of being a MACTE (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education) certified teacher. I learned so much about the methodology and its peaceful philosophy during my Montessori training at Centro de Educação Montessori de São Paulo. I feel lucky to have done my internship in a Montessori classroom here at Graded.
2. Have you ever lived outside of Brazil?
After working for a couple of years as a bilingual secretary for a Dutch company, I was offered a job in commercial operations. That was an interesting opportunity. They sent me to the Netherlands to be trained where I lived for two months that year. I lived in a city called Delft and was thrilled by their way of living, biking everywhere I could. I rented a bike the day I arrived.
3. You have two children at Graded. What have you learned or studied because of their education that you might otherwise not have?
My oldest son has just started middle school and my youngest is in grade 4. It has been interesting to learn how different an American school can be from a Brazilian one. Most Brazilian schools, for example, do not offer a full-day experience for their students. The Middle School curriculum at Graded also differs from the curriculum in Brazilian middle schools, especially with regard to electives and advisory classes.
4. What is your all-time favorite band or singer?
I have a very eclectic taste in music, but on every playlist, you will find a hit by Queen.
5. What lasting lesson did you learn from your parents?
Education is the pillar of one's life. My father passed away when I was only nine years old, and my mother dedicated herself to bringing up both my sister and me. She made sure that both of us attended good schools and went to university. I am very grateful for all they did and all they taught me.
6. As a Pre-primary teacher, what are your happiest moments with students? What moments, if any, discourage you?
Maria Montessori once said, "The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.'" It is so beautiful to see children moving, choosing, and discovering. It is for sure one of the happiest moments in the classroom – seeing children showing love for what they are doing with interest and autonomy. There certainly are more challenging days, but they can be great opportunities for us to get to know ourselves and our students better. On those days, it is always a good idea to stop, take a step back, sit on our hands, and observe. This can lead to better days.
7. What's something you've done that's surprised even you?
A couple of years ago we spent our vacation in Minas Gerais. We visited Inhotim and were amazed by the beauty and diversity of the place. As we were traveling by car, we stopped in a small town called São Lourenço. When we arrived there, we found out the city had some adventure options. There, I was convinced to fly in a hot air balloon. I can't say that I was feeling 100% sure about it. It was a lovely ride, but we had a bumpy landing in the middle of a farm.
8. What is a fabulous place that you, a native of São Paulo, know about, that people in the Graded community don't necessarily know about but should?
São Paulo is very democratic in terms of leisure. I like places that can connect me with nature and involve outdoor moments with my family and friends. If you happen to go to Campos de Jordão, make sure you visit Amantikir, a lovely garden with a great view of the Serra da Mantiqueira. It's a quiet place that will guarantee you fabulous shots.
9. What's your idea of a good time?
Taking walks and watching good movies or a series that make me laugh or think about life in the company of my family. Lately, I have also been experimenting with some meditation and yoga, and I like the well-being these practices offer me.
10. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
Its cultural diversity. Getting to know people from all around the world and learning more about their cultures is a unique and enriching experience.
Graded has been named an international finalist in the 2020 Council for Advancement and Support of Education's (CASE) Platinum Awards for its video "Have You Ever Wondered?" CASE's Platinum Awards recognize the best-of-the-best programs and practices in educational advancement globally.
The video, which demystifies giving to Graded, was a finalist in CASE's Latin America's Regional Competition and subsequently advanced as one of just four international finalists in the Global Platinum Communications and Marketing Category. Judging criteria included creativity, innovation, strategic use of resources, audience engagement, and the ability to demonstrate significant results.
On a shoe-string budget, Graded's Office of Institutional Advancement, in partnership with the production company FILMISTAS, cast Lower and Middle School students in this short video which illuminates the different ways that members of the Graded community can help support the school.
"We have made significant progress in the last several years in educating our stakeholders about philanthropic opportunities," says Susan Clain, Graded's chief strategic communications and advancement officer. "Video has proven to be a highly effective medium to engage our audience, convey the differences between Graded's long- and short-term fundraising initiatives, and demonstrate how far Graded has come with respect to giving."
The CASE Platinum Awards recognize exceptional programs and practices in the areas of communications, fundraising, and alumni affairs. Sue Cunningham, CASE president and CEO commends Platinum Finalists who "are indeed in rare company" for their success in advancing their institutions. "To be named a finalist in this global award competition is indeed a distinction worth noting and celebrating," asserts Cunningham.
by Angela Park, Senior Communications Officer
When eighth-grader Ana Lucia B. learned in late-January that Graded's 2020 Upper School musical would be Annie, she was elated. Ana Lucia had performed in several other school theater productions, but Annie was like no other. She jumped at the opportunity to audition. The following month, Ana Lucia was cast as the protagonist Annie, an orphan who sees her life change when multi-billionaire Oliver Warbucks decides to let her live in his home to promote his image. By the end of February, live rehearsals had commenced.
In March, however, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spread throughout Brazil. In response, Graded transitioned to distance learning and after-school activities were temporarily suspended. Initially, cast and crew members believed they would be returning to school in a few weeks as the show was postponed until April. However, as distance learning was prolonged, faculty advisors Ms. Beatriz Campos and Mr. Tim Cabrera assured students the show would still be happening, albeit online.
"I was disappointed, but I was still grateful we would still be able to perform in some way," recalled Ana Lucia, who is now a freshman.
The musical experience had to be redesigned. "We had to completely transform the show to adapt it to an online format," said Ms. Campos, the musical director. "In theater, you can make expansive movements in a large space. However, online, the acting becomes more like that of a movie. You have to think of entrances and exits in terms of frames and also consider the mirrored images."
According to the Technical Director Mr. Cabrera, the Upper School production became a "musical-film hybrid, with completely different technical considerations." The faculty duo had to first train themselves to direct the students with respect to camera angles, green screens, self-recording, and blocking while simultaneously determining what computer-generated imagery needed to be developed in post-production. While this was a completely new challenge, they knew it was possible to lay the groundwork for students.
Soon enough, blocking instructions for each scene and choreography videos were uploaded and shared with cast members. Piano accompanist Ms. Maristela Neves recorded each score and guided students. While performers weren't able to work together in the same space, they recorded their rehearsals and received individualized feedback from Ms. Campos. "The kids really went above and beyond – all in the middle of a big transition," she said. After individual practice, students proactively convened online via Zoom to rehearse group scenes.
For Ana Lucia, this meant spending three hours per day rehearsing for the show, but she would not have it any other way.
Freshman Olivia D. loved rehearsing the role of Lily St. Regis, one of the main antagonists who has a sassy, whiny personality. "I enjoyed playing a role that was so different from me," she beamed. Olivia frequently met up with her partner Santiago G., who played the role of Lily's boyfriend, Rooster Hannigan. Practicing from home was challenging. From 3:30-4:30 pm, she would ask her family members to keep the noise down so she could rehearse.
Her family got involved, too. Her brother helped her to practice her partner dance scenes after school and rehearse her lines. Olivia added, "Normally in a show, you have a costume designer, a prop designer, a lighting director, etc., but it was actually pretty fun to set up my own lighting, stage my bedroom, and take on different responsibilities."
Although students were not able to rehearse in the same space, they were still able to build a tight-knit community from a distance. Some students found the process to be extremely challenging and considered giving up but would change their minds when they realized theater was an important creative outlet, affirmed Ms. Campos. "Our students also loved hanging out with each other and bonded over their challenges; they relied on each other."
On Fridays, Ms. Campos would leave her Zoom meeting room open, and students would spend hours in conversation. More experienced High School performers reached out to Middle School students, providing support and encouragement. Students made sure each member was supported and held accountable, and throughout this uncertain time, displayed true independence, responsibility, and leadership.
"In theater, you have a lot of skills and roles that come together – acting, directing, designing, managing the stage – and that teaches you a lot about teamwork, respect, and unity," asserted Olivia.
"You meet a bunch of new people, and you make friendships that you keep forever, and not just with people in your own grade," added Ana Lucia.
Through this extraordinary musical season, Upper School students have learned a tremendous amount about the numerous factors that impact a production. They have demonstrated exceptional resilience and patience and also developed more confidence.
"We mapped out this plan and students didn't know what to expect," said Mr. Cabrera, "but they trusted we would be able to produce these fan videos with their individual parts."
A huge congratulations to the cast and crew of Annie!
Click here to watch the musical fan videos on Graded's Youtube Channel.
John Reynolds '66, founder and executive director of Veterans2Work, was a 2012 recipient of former President Barack Obama's Champion of Change Award for his work helping U.S. military veterans discover and launch civilian careers. After serving as a combat infantryman in the Vietnam War, John went on to obtain an MBA from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, founded a management and technology consulting firm, and taught business ethics at the University of California, Davis. In this edition of the Graded Gazette, John talks about how his formative years at Graded provided him with exposure to a rich diversity of people and experiences, which expanded his world view.
What years did you attend Graded?
I entered Graded in 1962 and stayed for all four years of high school, graduating in 1966. My dad was in the foreign service, and we had already lived in several Latin American countries. It was a big adventure for us kids during a real watershed period of our lives.
You were at Graded during an eventful period in history, both in Brazil and around the world. Are there any particular incidents you remember?
In 1963, JFK was assassinated. I remember I was practicing guitar with a friend of mine in his bedroom when his mother came to tell us. At the American consulate, where my dad worked, Brazilians were wrapped around the block, waiting to express their condolences.
There was also the local military coup in 1964. We had also been through a coup in Argentina and a couple in Bolivia, so it could be argued that it seemed pretty routine for us kids in South America. I think that kind of has to affect you in certain ways.
Do you have a memorable teacher or class at Graded?
I had a math teacher, Mr. Demucci, who always encouraged me. Once I wrote a paper about math and music, and he was impressed by that. He said, "Wow, this is something you can run with." To this day, music is a huge part of my life, and Mr. Demucci had a big influence on that.
Were you involved in any clubs or athletics activities?
I participated in athletics because it was easy to do so at Graded. There were a lot of opportunities to play sports. I learned how to be a team player through all the different activities I was involved with at Graded. I was most serious about playing tennis. Fernando Gentil was our number one player; he was nationally ranked and number one by a mile. I remember playing with him and thinking what a thrill it was to be on the same team.
Graded Tennis Team, 1965.
What did you do in your free time outside of school?
I was a free-range kid and took full advantage of all the opportunities to explore. In terms of culture, my best friend was Brazilian, so I had a connection to the Brazilian culture and community. There is a real stark contrast between Brazil and the US. To encapsulate that, Brazilians are fond of saying Brazilians work to live and Americans live to work, and that is true. Brazilians have a more relaxed mentality, and that is good for a kid, rather than the strict work ethos so common in the US. I would say I am now benefiting from growing up in this kind of culture.
How did your time at Graded shape the way you view the world?
At Graded, I had access to many different ways of thinking, points-of-view, and cultures. I had friends who were American, Israeli, Brazilian – from all over the world! I am most grateful for that exposure. When I served in the army in Vietnam, I realized I had a much broader perspective than my fellow soldiers. Graded expanded my world view.
What did you do after graduating from high school?
I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I was drafted into the service right after arriving in the US. Eventually, I pursued a career in business. Graded offered me exposure to a rich diversity of people and experiences, which allowed me to spread my wings and figure out what I enjoyed.
After returning from military service as a combat infantryman in the Vietnam War, you began your studies at Ohio State University. How does that story unfold?
This story has a real connection to Graded. I had a friend, Carol Young, a classmate of mine from Graded, originally from Columbus, whom I had visited before joining the service. I really liked Columbus, and when I finished serving in the army, I decided I wanted to go to Ohio State. To be completely honest, when I came back to the United States, I felt like I didn't belong. Although I was from the US and my dad was an American diplomat, I had never lived there. It was hard. However, being at Graded provided me with the skills to overcome these challenges later on.
After majoring in international relations at Ohio State, you pursued an MBA at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. You also have worked both as an entrepreneur and a business executive. What is one thing you have learned from your many years of experience in business?
I always liked that business – more precisely, entrepreneurship – encourages imagination, demands discipline and resourcefulness, and rewards pragmatic solutions. The process of taking one's idea to market is exciting and can be a source of lasting satisfaction and financial reward. But the business world can be harsh and unfair. My business experience has served me very well in my nonprofit work.
In 2008, you founded Veterans2Work, a nonprofit organization that provides veterans with the means to qualify for and launch their civilian careers. What inspired you to begin this work?
I stayed in the business world for a long time, and when I was done with that, the accidental stuff that happened in my life – such as getting drafted into the military, living overseas, and studying at Stanford's Graduate School of Business – inspired my interest in helping veterans. I developed good business relationships and had this affinity for the military, and had been through the experience of transitioning to civilian life and career. I knew firsthand what those challenges were, so I just decided, 'I am going to help people like me, who are coming out of the service today and don't know how to find a job that suits their level of competence or ability.' That is how Veterans2Work was born, and that is what I have been doing for the past 12 years.
Your work helping veterans led you to the White House in 2012. Can you tell us more about this experience?
In 2012, I received President Barack Obama's Champion of Change Award for the work we had done with Veterans2Work. It was a nice surprise to be invited to the White House and get that kind of recognition. Actually, it was pretty thrilling! My daughter watched as I gave an interview. Knowing that the work my colleagues and I do is appreciated is a big motivator, of course, but I am just fulfilled and grateful that I can do it.
Do you have any favorite hobbies or interests?
Carried over from Graded days: tennis and playing the guitar (our Graded band was called "The Gents"). Other more recent interests include hiking, history, and philosophy.
Reynolds with his wife Jan and daughter Annie at Annie's college graduation, 2019
On October 8, 2020, Graded reopened its doors, welcoming students back to campus for Eagle Flight Testing, two day-long sessions of non-academic activities, team building, health and safety training, social-emotional wellbeing, and fun.
In November, we continued to provide students with on-campus learning opportunities in accordance with governmental school opening guidelines. Lower and Middle School students engaged in non-academic, social-emotional, and team-building experiences, while High School students prioritized academic coursework through dual-synchronous (simultaneous in-person and distance) learning.
Graded students have expressed great joy in meeting face-to-face with their teachers and friends. Our hope is that we will be able to reunite as a whole school in the near future.
We are pleased to announce that Friends of Graded Foundation (formerly the São Paulo Education Foundation) is online! Now you can make a gift of securities. Visit https://friendsofgraded.org to learn more.
The giving season is here! Did you know that you can support Graded just by shopping online? AmazonSmile offers Amazon customers the benefit of making a donation (0.5% of every purchase) to the Friends of Graded Foundation – at no additional cost. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
A series of letters between Graded Superintendent Richard Boerner and Ariel Raz, head of learning collaboration at the Stanford d.school. These letters address the use of design and futures thinking in schools to navigate uncertainties amidst a global pandemic and improve distance learning.
Welcome back to the United States! I suspect that after being in Brazil for the last school year, it must feel like you hopped into a flying metal tube from some science fiction saga and have been transported into another reality.
While I've had the great fortune of being healthy, safe, and grounded over the last five months, the pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to how our group at the d.school has worked with K-12 schools. Of course, with that disruption comes opportunity. But despite my natural optimism, when I think about what each school must do to prepare for the next academic year, it still feels daunting.
I suspect that the feeling stems from the difficulty of navigating uncertainty while preparing plans that remain solid, specific, and communicable to the wider school community. It's been helpful to reference the work my colleague Lisa Kay Solomon has done on the intersection between futures thinking and design. In design, we take on an empathic lens towards the human experience, embracing complex problems in the hope of creating equitable and liberatory outcomes. Futures thinking gives us the ability to look further out, practice flexibility, and rehearse critical decisions, setting the conditions for an adaptive school community.
The cloud of uncertainty brought to schools by the spread of COVID-19, racial inequities, and an economic downturn require a unique approach. We believe that approach must blend an equitable design approach with an active posture towards the future.
How do we use design and futures thinking to plan and prepare for this unique moment?
- Futures thinking helps you investigate and explore possible futures and their effect on your organization. It helps you develop a long-term vision based on macrosocietal conditions.
- Design is about discovering and understanding what people might need in that future and co-constructing experiences that will build their skills, mindset, and abilities to thrive in that future.
- An equitable lens helps design with our community members who have been historically marginalized, and amplifies their voices as we design together.
- Both methodologies hold a method of parallel prototyping, or creating multiple versions at once. In futures thinking, we work within multiple possible futures to better understand what's possible. In design, we plan for multiple prototypes and iterate on them based on feedback.
- Our hunch is that when futures thinking and design is incorporated into K-12 planning, these two methodologies enable schools to be more agile, imaginative, and ready for disruption. It builds our muscle for change by mitigating "change fatigue" and helps us be "change fit."
- When you structure such work through a collaborative process, it spreads adaptive knowledge across your organization so that many members can rise to challenges as they arise.
I wonder about how these methodologies play out in your school. How have you worked with your community over the last few months, and how has design and futures thinking impacted how you've prepared for the fall?
Your friend in California,
During the 15 years I have been working overseas, my travel home this summer was by far the most bizarre and unsettling. My break will be short, as I will return to Brazil within the next two weeks to begin the 2020–21 school year in the most unique way — from a distance.
For us in Brazil, the pandemic arrived swiftly and hit aggressively. Our campus doors closed on March 13, and we remained in distance learning mode until June 10, at which time we concluded our school year.
I must confess that responding to the pandemic while leading an international school was one of the, if not the, most challenging professional experiences of my life. Living with ambiguity is unsettling. Sometimes school leaders are described as "town mayors" and when in doubt, people want answers. Moving so quickly to distance learning required our teachers to be incredibly nimble and flexible. Soon after our distance learning launch, I began to pivot my thinking to the future — to August and the opening of a new school year. Questions that immediately came to mind were:
- How would we design learning when we could not predict the modality in which we would be operating?
- In what ways could we ensure the best learning experience for students while mitigating the risk of viral transmission?
- What actions and measures would we need to take, in the midst of a pandemic, to ensure our community the confidence to send their children to school for in-person learning?
As Graded began to face this looming reality, we needed a way to bring clarity, objectivity, and process to our thinking and decision-making. For the last few years, Graded has, fortuitously, been deeply embedding design thinking into our operational structure.
We started on a macro level by formulating assumptions about the future and making bets as to what the months ahead might hold. We then used that thinking to help us design various scenarios in response to potential conditions we might face. We considered student schedules, course offerings, transportation, internal and external learning spaces, health and safety, cleaning protocols, lunch experience, and student movement throughout campus. This design/futures thinking experience offered us several pathways, which ultimately allowed us to prepare multiple deployable solutions.
As we conducted our design experience and tackled specific COVID-related challenges, we reached out to our stakeholders. By assembling a short-term faculty task force, engaging our Board of Directors, and holding parent information sessions, we built confidence, understanding, and community. Trust during moments of disruption is key.
Our reopening plan, Eagles Reunite, prioritizes the health and well-being of our students and faculty, while allowing for an optimal learning experience.
We will prioritize student, faculty, and staff health, safety, and well-being over all other objectives:
- By establishing and promoting practices and policies that reduce the risk of viral transmission and enable us to be responsive and agile when facing evolving health circumstances.
- By ensuring hygiene- and health-related policies are research-based, effectively implemented, clearly communicated, and diligently enforced.
We will emphasize student learning and the integrity of faculty instruction:
- By providing as much face-to-face instruction as is safe.
- By conducting full-day in-person instruction with physical distancing when it is safe.
- By ensuring that the social and emotional needs of students and teachers are met.
- By providing the greatest level of instructional consistency between in-person and distance learning modes.
Ariel, it seems to me that inequity is further heightened as we engage in remote learning. I am curious how the issues we are facing in Brazil are being seen in context to those in the United States. In what ways are you deploying design and futures thinking to help remedy the ambiguity schools around the world are facing? In what ways are you designing for equity as these schools plan for reopening?
Be well and stay safe my friend.
Hello again, Rich,
In my nine years as an educator, I can only recall one other instance where the American education system felt like it was under an existential crisis similar to today. It was 2012, and we were approaching the holiday break down in Louisiana, where I worked for a rural school district. As I tightened my tie and gathered my belongings for the 20-minute drive to school, I checked my work email. I clicked on a message from my principal, notifying me of a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Struggling to process the emotional weight of the news, I read the next few lines. Here were direct instructions that we may not, under any circumstances, discuss the news with our students, and that counselors were available to support as required.
I went through the motions as well as I could that day, doing my best to maximize the instructional days while numb from shock. My sixth-graders were likely studying fractions (it feels like all we ever studied in sixth-grade) and I noticed one of my pupils had his head face down on his desk. He lifted his head ten degrees and in the sleepy, pained breath of a middle-schooler asked, "Mr. Raz, did you hear about those kids that got shot?"
Suddenly, I realized what should have been obvious: on this day, we needed to stop the clock and move away from content. Students throughout the entire United States were experiencing a moment of trauma, a moment that had to be spoken about, understood, and processed – a moment that demanded a response. And I, not being one to rankle my superiors, I was frozen: do I buck the system, or do I answer my students?
Today, I feel that you and I find ourselves as actors in a system that's in a similar moment of crisis. Not only are students feeling the shock of school closures, but agony at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. Much like school shootings, racism is an endemic threat to equality and justice in American society. And the presence of both has a profound impact on students' ability to feel safe in schools.
These profound historical moments have enveloped the collective consciousness of American society, and we can be certain that our students, be they are entering pre-K or matriculating into college, are managing a complex emotional universe. Like us, they seek to understand what's happening and find their own place within this moment.
In the 2018-2019 school year, my colleagues at the d.school explore how we make sense of navigating ambiguity. As part of that series, our Executive Director Sarah Stein Greenberg recorded a short interview where she references a piece by marine biologist Aaron Hirsh. He writes "[e]very pedagogical situation can be thought of as a kind of triangle among three parties: the student, the teacher, and the world that student and teacher investigate together." This school year, we should offer ourselves the freedom to examine and understand the outside world with our students.
Part of this project requires us to look inward. I've found it helpful to develop a practice of self-awareness, and interrogate how my identity shapes my understanding of the historical events that unfold around me: How am I positioned with respect to power? How does that influence my relationship with my students? How does my own identity affect how people treat me and how I perceive the world?
And part of this work is outward and organizational. The near-term future of education is one where we should expect conditions to change, schools to shift, and educators to pivot. Amid this change, a consistent process can help offer guidance and consistency as educators work to advance towards equity. Here are a set of powerful actions you can repeat as part of a design process:
- Ask yourself whose voice is missing from the choices your organization is making. Identify vulnerable populations in your community and design with them. Reach out to the school community members who aren't captured by learning experience and redesign the learning experience to include them.
- Experience student life as students experience it. While you may be unable to physically shadow a student when school opens in the fall, you can experience their remote school day. Talk to an adult in their life to get a sense of their home schedule. Contact their teachers to understand their academic schedule, and ask to access the online platforms they use. If the student is unable to log in, request permission to speak with them by phone so you can understand what their school day is like at home. Use that experience to craft human-centered insights to guide improving the learning experience, be it hybrid, remote, or in-person.
- The Liberatory Design resource collection, shared by my colleagues from the d.school K12 Lab and the National Equity Project, offers scores of suggestions for engaging in equitable design work.
When I first came into the classroom, I was guided by a tendency to control all that I could. I was most comfortable when the learning experience traveled across a straight line: information was passed from me to my students. I would receive a signal back, and my task was to correct or accept that information and move on. Over time, I became aware of how we were poorly-served by the district-mandated pedagogical model, and we began to explore my diverse, experiential learning.
I look at the morning when my sleepy, middle-school student asked me about the school shooting at Newtown with a mix of shame and sadness. I must admit that I did not have the courage to rise to the moment. Partly, I felt it wasn't my place, that I didn't have the training, and perhaps I feared reprisal from a local teaching administration where I felt I was an outsider. I realize now that I was designed not to rankle my superiors, and of course, it was easier to travel the path they carved for me, the path of least resistance.
You and I are both in a unique, privileged position: we've been designed by schools, succeeded in schools, and now, have the opportunity to redesign schools. How do you think of your role as superintendent during a time when we may need to stop the clock on content and assessment? What might a courageous educator look like to you? And how might you lead your educators to address old inequities as you manage the new crisis caused by the pandemic?
Stay safe and be well,
We, as educators, have long spouted a "less is more" or "depth over breadth" approach to better schooling. Yet, many times we are just paying lip service to this construct. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reexamine educational delivery — now as a matter of pragmatism. Distance learning has required our teachers to move slower, cover less, and pause to ensure students are grasping content and concepts. It has forced us to assess in new ways. What is becoming more and more apparent to me, to our faculty and, most excitingly, to our students, is that just maybe we won't ever return to some of our former ways.
The constraints this crisis has placed on educational delivery and assessment have spurred a reconceptualization of "content coverage." How much "stuff" is enough to learn? Schools must challenge their conventional thinking. How many war battles and dates should one memorize in 10th-grade history to ensure understanding of cause and effect of conflict?
Seminal moments like the one in which we are living challenge our frameworks. They should awaken us and make leaders consider what really matters. These are moments of deep introspection and serve as opportunities to pivot one's actions.
What are the "things" we want students to know and be able to do? I'm not talking about dates, times, or formulas, but rather those deep, enduring learning experiences that can be transferred. The learning that sticks. Cognitive scientists suggest that only learning that is deep, enduring, and transferable — the content that is accessible over time — is worthy of being taught. So, why, in schools, do we spend so much time on things that don't adhere to what we know works best? Don't get me wrong, content matters. However, content without purpose and meaning does little beyond the immediate moment of recall.
Before COVID-19 swept from continent to continent, teachers at Graded were implementing these science of learning principles. They focused on challenging themselves to first understand and assess the needs of every learner in their care. Now in the midst of the pandemic, our work continues.
Most recently, in July, when leading our faculty pre-service training, Dr. Kevin Mattingly, professor of science of learning at Columbia University, challenged our faculty by asking them to ensure that all of their students could answer the following questions with a resounding "yes."
- I belong to this academic community.
- My ability grows with effective effort.
- I can succeed at this.
- This work has value to me.
Learning is an experience held by the student and fostered by the teacher. Dr. Mattingly calls this "inside-out teaching." By starting with the learner, we begin to deconstruct what they already know, what they care about, and what they want before we teach them anything. Ultimately if done well, we can ensure the learning can be used in their lived lives.
Now, we find ourselves living within a new reality. The medium in which we teach, be it in-person, at-a-distance, or blended, does not change the need for this most important work to continue. In fact, it necessitates its acceleration to ensure learning is equitable regardless of the education platform.
In order to offer service to the faculty and students in my care, I must be courageous. I must not allow this moment to prevent us from the real reform we need both in my school and within the education space at large.
Ariel, your questions have challenged me! They will hold me accountable for my actions today and in the future. This is the true power of thought partnership. Your personal journey, shared in your last letter, resonates so deeply within me. It speaks to the educator you knew you should be in the moment, but were restricted from being. We must, as leaders, allow our teachers the space, know-how, and time to be the true artists they were meant to be. This takes courage for them and for me.
Thank you for reminding me of this most important truth.
Be well my friend and let's march on — bravely!
Staycation has never been more fun!
In response to the pandemic, Graded launched Graded+, an expansive online vacation learning experience. During the June/July school break, students in grades PP-12 participated in three-week enrichment sessions taught by our talented faculty members.
When enrollment opened in late-May, 621 participants registered, representing a whopping 47% of Graded's student body! Over the two holiday sessions, students immersed themselves in 153 courses listed in the Graded+ Course Catalog.
At the conclusion of the six-week period, 1,892 certificates were awarded in myriad subjects, including science (Synapses and Circuits - Neuroscience and Learning), mathematics (The Mathamagicians), theater and cinema (Non-Academy Award Winners), arts (Let's Get Artsy), languages (Parlons Française!), and sports (Shake it Up).
The photos here showcase our students and teachers in action this winter break.
1. You're a science teacher. How did you decide that you wanted to teach and what parts of teaching science do you enjoy most?
I've always loved biology, and for a time even considered attending medical school. However, as a senior in college, I actually realized I wanted to teach science. Growing up, many of my friends' parents were teachers, and I always viewed the profession positively. Summers off were also very appealing.
I enjoy teaching anatomy. It tends to generate the most student interest, which leads to more productive class sessions. I have tons of random facts about anatomy stuck in my head. When I notice kids are starting to lose focus, it is easy to get back on track by throwing out, "Hey, your small intestine has the same surface area as a tennis court," or "Humans are the only animals with chins."
2. As you look back at your school years, what was your crowning achievement - your moment of glory - as a kid?
I dominated my neighborhood in Tecmo Bowl in 5th grade. Tecmo Bowl is an old American football video game on the original Nintendo console. If you let me pick the Raiders with Bo Jackson today, I'd still be unstoppable.
3. What kinds of things do you do on vacation and in your free time?
We try to get outside as much as possible. Over the last few years, we've spent quite a bit of time visiting national parks around the US. Graded's schedule allows for the opportunity to visit places like the Grand Canyon during the off-season. You pretty much have the place to yourself then. Last year, my son and I hiked down to the bottom and back. He gained so much confidence from the experience.
Last December, I bought a camper van. We got a good deal because it smells like a cheap motel room and burns oil. We call her Ol' Smokey. While my kids seem to genuinely enjoy it, my wife is undecided; but I think she's coming around.
4. Do you have any advice for your students as they resume distance learning?
Advocate for yourself! If you don't understand the lesson, ask questions. If you want to know more about a topic, reach out to your teachers. Teaching and learning is a relationship. Relationships work best when both parties feel like they are being heard.
5. You taught in Saudi Arabia before coming to Graded. From your experience, what was one interesting thing about living there?
We lived in Saudi Arabia before they had traffic cameras. The roads were chaotic. It was stressful when my family was in the car, but pretty awesome when it was just me. Our last year there they started to install radar and driving by myself became expensive.
6. French fries or onion rings?
7. You've worked with your wife Laura, an Optimal Learning Services teacher, for nearly 20 years. What's that like?
We met working together at our first school in St. Paul, Minnesota. We're both passionate about our work, and it is humbling to be the least competent teacher in the house. I've heard some people say they can't imagine working with their spouse. However, our lives, especially since we've started to work abroad, have always centered around school, so it hasn't ever been an issue.
8. You're a track and field coach. Do you run?
Since my early teens, I've relied heavily on running to maintain my emotional health. Obviously, regular exercise has physical benefits, too, but as a coach, I try to emphasize that running is a great means to deal with stress and anxiety. I enjoy coaching track because it is such an inclusive sport. Anyone can join the team, fast or slow. We just want kids to work hard, have fun, and, hopefully, become life-long runners.
Early on, I found that signing up for races was a good strategy to stay focused and motivated. At this point, I think I've run about 45 marathons. The most memorable race was in Rome. The course went by St. Peter's Square as the Pope was giving mass. I was raised Catholic so I took off my hat. The least memorable race was in North Dakota. There was a horse at mile 20 alongside the course - that was about it.
9. What book is on your nightstand right now?
The Outsider by Stephen King.
10. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
I'm incredibly impressed with the quality of education my children have received at Graded. As a High School teacher, I can't imagine the complexities of teaching elementary-aged kids. Year after year, Jack and Cora have had amazing experiences with teachers who have totally different styles of teaching. It has been fun to observe their lessons in distance learning. I often "borrow" the techniques and approaches I see in their lessons and adapt them to use with my own students.