Division Edition

We are excited to debut our new bi-monthly Division Edition Blog with entries written by Early Childhood and Elementary Head, Kathryn Bauman-Hill and Upper Grades Head, Tom Sellevaag.


 

Lessons from the Journey: Reflecting on Student Growth and Resilience

By Tom Sellevaag, Upper Grades Head

It’s time for the sprint to the finish line of the race that is the 2023-2024 school year. Teachers’ days are busy tweaking plans to fit in the most important content and projects, coordinating details for year-end events, encouraging students to stay motivated, and much more. It’s a head-down period of time, both exciting and demanding. Because we’re so busy with our own to-do lists, it’s difficult to make space for stepping back and reflecting, taking time to see our work through others’ eyes, and learning about the challenges others are facing. Maybe you can identify with the feeling that these are luxuries unavailable to busy people. But two experiences in the past month have reminded me that it’s important to make time for getting outside of my bubble. 

In late April, our School participated in the relaunch of Capital Area Progressive Schools (CAPS), a network of peer schools with shared beliefs about what matters most in education. Our first CAPS conference since the arrival of COVID gave us the opportunity to connect with job-alike colleagues to share experiences and identify potential areas for future collaboration. During the conversation in my administrators’ group, I appreciated being able to pick my colleagues’ brains for ideas, and I received encouragement from the experience of having something to offer my peers who were seeking advice. Being vulnerable made it possible to find connection and support.

The following week, Capitol Hill Day School hosted a team of educators from fellow member schools in the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools (AIMS) for a multi-day site visit as part of our 10-year re-accreditation process. The visiting team had already reviewed the lengthy self-evaluation report we had prepared, and the main purpose of their visit was to gather observations and engage us in conversations about the strengths and areas for growth that we had already identified. In other words, this is intended to be a supportive process, not a “gotcha” exercise. Still, the act of examining our program through the eyes of a group of outsiders evoked in me an interesting mix of feelings. There was pride when talking about our successes and when the guests dropped in on a class that was in the middle of an engaging activity. There was mild stress in the face of the pressure to explain myself clearly and succinctly. As is natural when being observed, at times I felt uncertain when trying to interpret the meaning of a particular guest’s question or observation. And, in all honesty, there was a bit of defensiveness when discussing areas of challenge. 

As I’ve reflected on these recent events, it strikes me that the feelings I experienced are not unlike those our students experience on a regular basis. We encourage students to be proud of their successes, and we give them opportunities to demonstrate their expertise and help each other. But we also talk candidly with students about areas of challenge. We expect them to learn to take and apply feedback and move past defensiveness into a posture of openness. We press students to explain themselves clearly. We ask lots of questions, including many that are open-ended and multifaceted. We create conditions for collaboration and expect students to learn and work together. All of these are important practices that ultimately prepare students for success in future schooling and in life, and I’m proud that they are defining characteristics of our program. But there’s no getting around it: these practices are difficult! I’m not suggesting we need to scale back our expectations—after all, time and again, our students rise to the challenge and thrive while doing so. I’m simply saying that my own recent experiences with these practices have given me renewed appreciation for our students’ drive and resilience. 

As I write, the cast and crew of this year’s Arts Choice musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Jr, are in the throes of Tech Week, an intense period of rehearsals and preparations for this week’s performances. By the time you read this piece, the cast and crew will have done three shows in 24 hours at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and students, families, and community members who attended will be raving about meaningful acting performances, the singing and choreography, the costumes and set design. I enjoy live theater in general, but I find student productions particularly compelling because I know firsthand how much they require students to get out of their bubble, to put themselves out there in a very public way. This is true during the actual performances, of course,  but also throughout the entire creative process. Students must demonstrate technical proficiency in the memorization of lines and blocking, assume the identity of their character, who is often quite different from themselves, and make that character believable and three-dimensional. They must work unselfishly with their scene partners to create something that’s bigger than each of them individually. They must take candid feedback from the Director and respect the chain of command of the theater. They must learn to push through discomfort and improvise when things don’t go according to plan. It’s a lot to ask of a bunch of teenagers. But we do it anyway. And when they rise to the challenge, as they always do, it’s because we asked them to do a lot, not in spite of the fact.

While the musical is the most labor-intensive and largest-scale demonstration of learning in these final weeks of the year, there will be other opportunities for us to appreciate Upper Grade students’ achievements. 7th Graders will present their Year-End Project research and their Sustainable Cities projects. 6th Graders will present their civil rights monument proposals. 5th Graders will share their devised theater sketches. 8th Graders will recite their collaboratively written and edited poem, “We Were Given,” at graduation. If you’re attending one of these events, or if you’re just looking at the work your student brings home in their backpack at the end of the year, be sure to express appreciation not just for the product, but for the process that got them to that point and the many steps they had to complete along the way. 

And if you’re looking for a bonus, try opening up to your student about something you’ve been working on, whether in your vocation or a hobby. Share what you see as your strengths and areas for growth, and talk through your process. Ask them for their feedback. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn. And if nothing else, it’ll be an interesting perspective-taking and empathy-building exercise—for both of you.
 

  • Tom's Blog

KEEP READING!

Catch up on past Division Edition entries below:


 

Kathryn Bauman-Hill

Early Childhood & Elementary Head

Tom Sellevaag

Upper Grades Head & Outplacement Coordinator