Middle School News
by Shannon Beckley, Director of Teaching and Learning
Graded's commitment to each one of our students and families is captured in our vision statement:
"Individuals empowered to reach their potential and positively impact the world."
This vision is borne out of community-wide reflection upon our valued traditions and plans for the future and drives our Teaching and Learning team's work. Graded's vision prompts our school and faculty to examine curricula, student learning experiences, and professional approaches. In an ever-changing world, reviewing and adapting our work is an ongoing journey. Over the past several years, we have hosted Graded's Think Tank, studied with experts in cognitive science and design thinking, and begun to weave teaching practices for deep, enduring, and transferable learning into our classrooms.
At Graded, deeper learning is the convergence of what authors Jal Mehta (Harvard University) and Sarah Fine (High Tech High School) call the virtues: mastery + identity + creativity. Learning is most profound and long-lasting when it results from the intersection of knowledge and skills (mastery), motivation and purpose (identity), and the ability to produce and create in new ways (creativity). When we plan and organize our classrooms to foster the development of these virtues, we know that we will graduate students who are knowledgeable, action-oriented, confident, innovative, and globally-focused.
Equipping our faculty to teach in this manner is critical to our overall success. In March 2021, Graded's Learning Lab began implementing an innovative professional learning experience designed by Graded teachers for Graded teachers. The "Deeper Learning Pilot'' is a 10-week intensive course produced by the Teaching and Learning Department in collaboration with external partners Dr. Kevin Mattingly of Columbia University, the Stanford d.Lab, Explo Elevate, and the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL). The course is delivered by the school's four deeper learning coaches and two curriculum coordinators. Twenty Graded teachers enrolled in the initial offering.
Our pilot is designed as a series of informational workshops and classroom coaching cycles. During the workshops, teachers come together across grade levels and content areas for two to three days to study, learn, and plan. They explore the following guiding questions:
- What is deeper learning?
- How do we foster the virtues of mastery, identity, and creativity in our students?
- How can I apply the deeper learning frameworks to my own learning and professional growth?
Each workshop series is followed by a two-week classroom coaching cycle during which teachers match with a deeper learning coach. Together, they practice applying strategies that promote deeper learning with students. As part of the coaching cycle, faculty collect and analyze student work to understand its impact on student learning. This sequence repeats three times and culminates in a celebration of learning.
While the faculty learning journey is still in its infancy, teachers are already reflecting upon the impact this work is having on their teaching and their students' learning:
"I have never experienced learning like this. I have never learned in the same way the teacher is teaching me to teach."
"I am taking a hard look at my curriculum and standards. I want to examine them through the lenses of a 'focus on the concept' and 'big ideas!'
"The concepts we are learning about will make a HUGE impact in my classroom... I am most looking forward to seeing my students develop as independent problem solvers in a community of learners."
It has been said that when teachers are learning, students are learning. Over the next school year, the Deeper Learning Pilot will expand, and we envision that by the end of 2022 all Graded teachers will have participated in the program. We believe that combining a robust curriculum with purposeful and motivating learning experiences will further develop Graded students, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding in novel ways. They will become individuals who positively impact the world.
Reference: Mehta, Jal and Fine, Sarah. In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019. Print.
1. You have a Master of Education in School Counseling from Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. What led you to pursue school counseling?
School counseling is the perfect blend of two things I love: education and helping others. Before pursuing my Master of Education in School Counseling, I realized that I spent a lot of time helping students reactively – seeing a problem and coming up with a "Band-Aid solution" to get them through. I realized I wanted to be in a role that helped students proactively build skills, identify issues that might cause problems for them, understand themselves as humans and learners, and advocate for themselves in the school setting. School counseling allows me to do this.
2. How does school counseling look different at Graded than at other schools in which you have worked?
The biggest difference I notice here is how the community values the role of the counselor. The Graded community is eager to seek a counselor for support, consultation, and/or collaboration. Sometimes the stigma around "seeing a counselor" impedes people from seeking support. That is not the case here. At Graded, I feel like we are viewed as an integral part of the school, helping students to achieve success. I also appreciate that if a counselor has an idea that could promote belonging, student success, or well-being, we receive the green light to move forward with the idea. Graded trusts me as a professional, and I appreciate that.
3. What are the parts of your job that other people might not know about?
There are so many. I guess the biggest piece is that a school counselor does not provide therapy. We help students access therapy, but we are not the providers. The terms "counseling" and "therapy," often used interchangeably, are different skill sets with different outcomes. Another piece of my role is that you have to perfect the "counseling face," which means staying neutral at all costs without verbal affirmations, head nods or shakes, or any sort of agreeing or disagreeing. I use it on my husband a lot, to his displeasure! pleased.
4. How do you explain your role to students and community members?
The best way to explain my role is that I am a helper. My job is to make sure that students feel safe at Graded, and I am there to help them with that. This can mean physical or emotional safety and looks different for every individual. I also explain that my job is to be a questioner. It is not about providing the solution for anyone's problem but instead asking the right questions to help them arrive at their own solutions.
5. What is one thing that you're currently passionate about?
Well, recently, it has been trail running. My amazing sister is a trail runner in the States, and she has encouraged me to start doing races, as well. Trail running is the perfect blend of movement and nature – all with my favorite running partner (my husband) by my side. I am so passionate about it that during a race in October, I fell and broke my patella but kept running to finish the course. So, now I am passionate about healing to get back out to the trails and become an even stronger racer and runner.
6. As a child, what was your idea of fun?
Anything that involved being outside. My sister and I had all sorts of amazing outdoor "hobbies." They included collecting and analyzing bugs, harvesting tree sap, building forts in the old cow feeders, fishing in the stream on our property, making perfume from random flowers and plants, digging in the compost piles for worms for said fishing, riding dirt bikes and quads around the property, helping my dad in his shop, riding horses, and more. Fun was anything that involved creativity, doing, making, and being outside with my awesome brothers and sister.
7. Would you enjoy a month all alone in an isolated, beautiful, and safe place with food and shelter provided? Why or why not?
I know I could do it because I know I am capable of doing hard things. However, I would not enjoy it because I would be without my husband, who is my best friend, my partner in crime, and the person who keeps me grounded and in a good mental headspace. If I could find a way to bring him (and frescobol) to the island, then sure, I would be ready.
8. Have you discovered a spot in São Paulo that you think everyone should visit at least once?
One of my favorite places is the back garden at Museu da Casa Brasileira. Pre-COVID, the museum had something in the garden each weekend - live music, craft or food festivals, kids weekends with entertainment and acts, garden shows, and more. It is a nice place to go and just sit and be. Even though you are in the middle of the city, it feels like a slice of nature and stillness with great people watching. I am eager to visit again when the world opens back up.
9. Are you more of a rule keeper or a rule breaker?
Rule follower. Full stop. I start sweating, simply thinking about breaking the rules. I wish I could be more rebellious, but my middle-child, people-pleaser instincts are too strong.
10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
The energy. Being on campus provides an energy that is hard to explain. I think it is a combination of the amazing humans, the beautiful grounds, the dedicated staff who keep our space clean, safe, and green, the excitement in the classrooms and on the fields, the strong coffee and delicious meals prepared for us, and the palpable love of education that makes this place buzz. Even on "off days," it is hard not to pick up on the positive energy and feel a little bit better when you arrive on campus. It really is a unique place to work and learn, eh?!?
1. What years did you attend Graded?
I attended Graded from Kindergarten in 2001 to senior year in 2014.
2. You were a member of the Graded Scholar Program. How did it impact your life?
Access to a Graded education was such a blessing for my family and me! Receiving a scholarship allowed me to pursue everything that I set my mind to. The Graded Scholar Program was a tremendous opportunity that inspired me to work hard and to aim high. Graded exposed me to different experiences and ideas I had not imagined. For example, the concept of studying abroad, or even living abroad, never crossed my mind. In middle school, I realized I would like to attend college in the US, and I started laying out my plans for the future. Graded made that possible for me - from expanding my horizons to offering the best resources and connections to help me achieve my goal.
3. What made Graded special? What is your fondest memory from your 13 years there?
What was most special to me at Graded were my relationships with my classmates and my teachers. I always looked forward to going to school because Graded was filled with people I wanted to be around 24/7. The levels of love, respect, and appreciation I was surrounded by throughout my time at school cannot be measured. Also, the class of 2014 had some of the most amazing people to ever set foot at Graded (and I'm totally not biased). On a serious note, though, I regularly find myself wishing I could relive all the after-school adventures with my friends and all the school trips, which says a lot to me about the amazing experience Graded was for me.
4. What were your biggest challenges at Graded?
Some of the courses, especially IB, were challenging. Learning, however, wasn't that hard. My biggest challenge was time management. My dad worked at Graded and arrived by 6:30 am, which meant that I did, too. I'd wake up at 5:00 am, go to school, attend all my classes, participate in after-school clubs and activities, and get back home at around 8:00 pm to do homework, have dinner, and get to sleep at a reasonable time before repeating everything all over again.
5. What clubs and activities were you involved with?
In middle school, I joined the soccer and futsal teams. When I got to high school, I gave up futsal and joined the volleyball team instead. I was also a part of MUN (Model United Nations) and the Graded Jazz Band.
6. Did you take a class or have a teacher at Graded who was particularly impactful?
Definitely. To start, my Kindergarten teachers influenced me tremendously because that's when I started learning English. And they did a fantastic job because, by first grade, I was doing pretty well already. Oh boy, I don't want to skip any teachers. They were all so great. Two teachers who immediately come to mind are Guilherme Faria and Robbie Stange. Music was my greatest passion throughout my time at Graded, and those teachers elevated my skill level and my love for music in ways that are hard to define. However, when it comes to molding character, I feel like the most important class for me was Peer Group Connection (PGC). The program allowed me to dive deep into how I interacted with those around me and taught me how to empathize better with others.
7. You studied Computer Science at Skidmore College on a full scholarship! What led you to this field of study, and how do you think it has impacted your view of the world?
The one thing that I've always wanted to do was be able to help people on a large scale, and very early on (around middle school), I decided that the easiest way to do that was through technology. My objectives haven't changed since then, but being more involved in the field has made me realize how much power I have at my disposal and how much responsibility I bear to help those around me. Computer science reaffirmed both my negative and positive perspectives of the world around me. However, it also taught me to balance and observe people and things not through a lens of judgment but understanding. My minor at Skidmore was in music. So I pursued my passion for Computer Science but didn't forget about my hobby!
8. What kind of work are you doing currently, and what are your professional goals?
After I graduated, I enrolled in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program and accepted a job offer in Jacksonville, FL, referred by a friend. I currently work at CEVA Logistics, a freight management company, as a software engineer. I spend most of my day writing code. I mainly build customer-facing web applications and develop websites/mobile applications in my free time. All of my professional goals are entrepreneurial. My objective is to establish my own companies by age 30 to provide me with a stable income source so that I may take a step back from all the programming and start researching neural technology. Once that has been achieved, my life goal is to create at least one piece of life-changing technology.
9. What are your favorite hobbies?
Playing bass is my number one hobby. I generally rely on music to give me a break from my routine. My instruments bring balance into my life. I don't typically have much time to do anything other than programming, but I always make sure to allocate some time for music. Videogames are also on the list, but I don't play them as often as I used to.
10. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to Graded students?
I'd tell them not to be afraid to be ambitious. Your chance of failure is higher when you aim too high, but in the end, you'll have achieved much more than you would have, had you set the bar lower. There's a lot of knowledge to be found in failure. Also, make sure you build relationships as soon as you get to Graded because your friends will help you achieve your goals. You can always learn a lot from those who surround you.