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Lower School Wonderings

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a blog series by Lower School Principal, Mrs. Trina Haygaru

As a personal goal during my time at the International School, I’ve sought to increase my level of communication.  I’ve thought a lot about how to do that and have gotten advice from our marketing and development departments, teachers and parents.  In response to this advice, I’ve started a blog called Lower School Wonderings.  Very often in my communication with parents, I hear, “Ms. Trina I was wondering about…”  I thought if one parent is wondering then there are probably more parents with the same question. If you have a suggestion for a Lower School Wonderings post please let me know and I’ll add it to the list of ideas.

 

 

Post #5, June 7, 2018

Dear International Families,

Wow, the last day of school is here! It comes every year, and I’m always just as amazed, grateful, happy and exhausted all at the same time. I want to say thank you for the incredible support you’ve shown to me personally and professionally during this challenging second semester. I have learned many lessons and am ready to continue making our Lower School better and better.

As you prepare for your children’s summer holiday, many parents worry about the dreaded “summer slide.” The summer slide is the idea that children forget what they’ve learned over the school year and have to re-learn it in the fall. I would like to argue that true learning cannot be forgotten. Routines and formulas may be forgotten, but true knowledge is by definition something you carry with you. Just as you may feel a bit foggy when you return from a vacation and spend your first day at work trying to remember your log-in for your work files, students may need a bit of time to adjust. I encourage you to let your child spend as much time outside as possible this summer and to get up to many types of adventures. If they pick up a book and read a bit for the summer, this is good too, but more than that is not necessary. Many, companies use the scare of “summer slide” to sell costly tutoring programs in the summer. I would instead invest in a big pile of sand, a blow-up pool, some rocks, playdough or a trip to the actual beach. The lessons children learn out in the world will far surpass any study program you try to participate in for the summer.

So I wish you a beautiful summer full of fun and laughter. The only slide you should be concerned with for the next two months is the water slide at the pool.

All the best,

Trina

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201707/facts-and-fiction-about-the-so-called-summer-slide

http://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2017/06/28/rethinking-education-unschooling-kerry-mcdonald


Post #4, May 17, 2018

Dear International Families,

I received this wondering from an International School of Indiana parent:

“I am wondering if you can tell us a little about how we help our kids, your students to be “grittier”; I am using that term only because it is popular right now, but to be honest, coming from a place in the world where life is more difficult than here, I can see how some people are better prepared to deal with obstacles and not ideal circumstances. Not only do our kids live in a country where most important life issues are more or less figured out, but we have to recognize that we are part of a privileged group that can cover most if not all needs our kids may have.

Our children tend not to have many opportunities to exercise their “grit”; I am wondering how can ISI help develop persistence, passion, perseverance, courage, resolve, and strength of character. When I reflect on my experience so far with my daughter’s school life the teachers we have had are very nice, so much so that missing assignments is not a big deal; there are many opportunities for the kids “not to fail” and feel the need to try harder next time. I wonder if we are making things so easy for them that when they very encounter an obstacle, they don’t know how to figure it out, recover and move forward.”

This is a great wondering and one I’m sure many parents have thought about and that I’m happy to have an opportunity to talk about. The Primary Years Program (PYP) is a value-laden curriculum framework that provides guidance on raising internationally-minded students. Many parents have heard of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Learner profile as we regularly recognize students for the characteristics and it has become a part of our everyday language. The profile aims to develop learners who are: Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced, and Reflective.

A lesser-known component of the PYP is the attitudes: appreciation, commitment, confidence, cooperation, creativity, curiosity, empathy, enthusiasm, independence, integrity, respect, and tolerance. The attitudes are a list of things we want students to feel, value and demonstrate. While “gritiness” is not a specific attitude it can definitely be linked to both commitment (being committed to their own learning, persevering and showing self-discipline and responsibility) and confidence (feeling confident in their ability as learners, having the courage to take risks, applying what they have learned and making appropriate decisions and choices).

Teaching the values, attitudes, and profile has always been difficult and a bit elusive for teachers and IB schools. This is one of the reasons the IB has been developing the Compassion Framework. How do children overcome hardships if they’ve never experienced them? How will they grow up to help solve the problems of the world if their lives are always comfortable? While we want our children to be happy and healthy, is it possible for them to develop these attitudes and skills in the absence of adversity? The Compassion Framework works with three integrated components, Systems Thinking Tools, Mindfulness and Reflection, and Personal Anchors. Using personal anchors and simulations, we are able to create adverse situations for students to overcome. The third graders carry heavy water jugs about a mile to understand some of the inequities of water access, the first graders went without snack one day and had lunch late to experience hunger pangs, the fifth graders were given tokens and had to make serious choices about how to use them in order to have access to electricity in the school. These experiences allowed students to work through challenges and difficulties that they normally don’t experience.

We have more work to do in this area but we have a solid beginning. The introduction of the Positive Discipline model has also helped students to become proactive in solving their own problems instead of solutions being handed to them. They often realize that their problems can’t be solved in one meeting or with one action. They often require multiple attempts and sometimes never get solved but managed. I’ve often heard them comment about how they’ve been working on a problem all year and haven’t been able to fix it yet. This is great experience for the real world.

It is always a balance for all caretakers to know how much to let a child fail and how much to prop them up for success. We will continue to explore the relationship between the two and look for increasing ways to build “grit” in our kids.

Here are two great resources on the topic if you would like to learn more.
https://www.edutopia.org/blog/foster-grit-in-classroom-andrew-miller

“Gritty people have a growth mindset; when bad things happen, they don’t give up.”
– Angela Duckworth
https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance

Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Trina


Post #3, April 25, 2018

Dear International Families,

Whenever I get the question, “What is the most important job of a principal?” I always answer, “Safety and Security.” Keeping everyone in the school safe is my number one priority. When children feel safe, they can relax and learn. When you know your children are protected and cared for, it helps alleviate the stress you can feel when you are not with them.

Living overseas gave me hands-on experience working with safety and emergency situations. When there was a rash of kidnappings in Mozambique, we had a fingerprint scanning system installed to allow access to the campus. I learned the hard way that three-year-olds grow so fast you have to rescan their fingerprints about every three months. I’ve had experiences with evacuations due to riots, severe flooding, the Ebola Crisis and more. When I arrived back in the States, I have to tell you, I felt a bit exposed at school. I was used to large walled and fenced schools with armed guards in towers at each corner.

Keeping schools safe is a big job in any country as we all know from the horrific news stories that occur all too often. Recent events in this country have made many parents concerned and I understand why. This big job requires vigilance, information, planning, and reflection from everyone in our school community. Our Emergency and Crisis Management plan is reviewed yearly by senior administrators and outside experts in the field. All staff members are trained in procedures and copies of the plan are kept in red binders in every classroom. While we can’t imagine every scenario that might present itself, we have planned out procedures for a wide range of emergencies, such as Lock Down Procedures, Suspicious Packages, Natural Disasters, Field Trip Emergencies, etc. We have three main drills we practice regularly; Fire, Tornado, and Lock Down. Each drill is practiced at least once a semester. After the drill, the Lower School Leadership team reflects on the practice, provides feedback to staff and students and determines if another drill is needed.

Last semester after a fire drill, one of the kindergarten students asked me where the fire was because he didn’t see it. It was then I realized that as a school we should be letting you know each time we have a drill so there is no miscommunication. Tim Veale, the Upper School principal, and I have been working on common messages that can be sent out to the whole school each time we hold a drill. We’ve been working to coordinate our drills so they happen at roughly the same time on the same day. These will not be announced in advance because we need to keep the element of surprise in the drills for more authentic practice, but we will notify you shortly after they are completed.

Drills, communication, procedures, and policies can be more effective if we have the correct equipment and capabilities in our physical plants. I am very pleased to announce that our Director of Information Technology, Timothy Davis, was able to secure a renewable matching Safe Schools Grant from the Department of Homeland Security. This grant allows for the purchase and installation of school surveillance cameras, secure door systems, and school-wide Visitor Management Systems. Timothy, Diana, Nella and I have been carefully planning the updates which will be installed summer 2018. I would be happy to hear from you about any ideas or knowledge you have on the topic while we are still in the planning phase.

Thanks again for logging in to my blog. Our next topic will be on “Building Grit” or how to teach our children to persevere. This very relative and interesting “wondering” was suggested by Lillian Knarr who has a daughter in our 4th grade Spanish class. Email me anytime with your own wonderings.

All the best,
Lower School Principal
Trina Haygaru


Post #2, April 12, 2018

Dear ISI Families,

I hope you had a lovely Spring Break. The children have had lovely stories of Disney, cousins, airplanes and spending time with loved ones. Many of the stories were set in much warmer climates and it made me a bit jealous, as I was in Madison, Wisconsin with snow and ice. I spent the week at the University of Wisconsin – Madison attending a training at the Center for Healthy Minds.

Since the vision of the center is “A kinder, wiser, more compassionate world”, they are the perfect partners for our work with the International Baccalaureate on the development of a Compassionate Framework in our Units of Inquiry. Larissa Duncan is one of the staff chairs at the center and was here at the International School of Indiana in August with Mette Boell conducting training with our teachers.

The center sponsored a week-long training with Claire Petitmengin on Micro-Phenomenology. Ms. Petitmengin is Professor Emeritus at the Institut Mines-Télécom and member of the Archives Husserl (Ecole Normale Supérieure) in Paris. Her research focuses on the usually unrecognized micro-dynamics of lived experience and micro-phenomenological methods enabling us to become aware of it and describe it. The training focused on how to do interviews with people to gain more detailed information about their experiences. The interviewer helps lead the interviewee to find out why and how they do things. This has many wonderful applications for learning. One of the goals of education is to help children develop metacognitive skills so they are aware and in control of their learning. As educators, we have very few strategies to help us with this lofty task. Micro-Phenomenology could be very useful in this pursuit.

I first met Claire and started learning about Micro-Phenomenology in the fall of 2017 at MIT. The first idea I had regarding the application of this method was with the way I speak to children when they have had a conflict. I’m sure you can all relate to this conversation;

Student: “Ms. Trina! Ms. Trina! Betty hit me!”
Me: “Ok tell me what happened.”
Student: “Well I was just playing by myself and she came up and hit me and said she wasn’t my friend anymore.”
Me: “Do you know why Betty hit you?”
Student: “No, I didn’t do anything.”

While this scenario can happen, it is usually not the case. In most of these situations, both children have played a role in the conflict. The student will describe everyone else’s actions in clear detail and have an extremely hard time focusing on their role in the conflict. This is why you can ask a million times, “What did you do?” and a child will say, “Nothing.” Or you will ask “Why did you do that?” and your child will answer, “I don’t know.” I’m sure at some point in your interactions with children you have had one of these frustrating conversations.

After starting to learn about Micro-Phenomenology, I changed the way I ask children about behavior. I still start by asking them to tell me what happened because they are often in an emotional state and they need to feel heard and have an opportunity to express the distress they are feeling. After they have had time to tell me about everyone else in the situation, I start to ask them questions about themselves that help them remember and focus on their own actions. I may ask them to tell me what they were doing just before the incident happened, where they were, what were their hands doing, what were their feet doing, were they standing, sitting, running, were they saying anything? These types of questions allow the child to think about a less emotional time since it is immediately before the incident. They are able to focus on themselves. I have found children are able to identify their behavior in this way and we can start to work through the situation.

I believe the interview method also has a lot of potential to help children reflect on their learning. By asking the right questions, children can be guided to understand how they learn a skill, how they know they have learned something, and how they learn best. Too often our assessments of student learning come in pencil and paper form. If we can find effective methods that help us discover how children think about their learning, we have a wonderful opportunity to help them become deeper, more critical thinkers. I’m looking forward to sharing what I have learned with the teachers and the students.

If you would like to read more about Micro-Phenomenology please visit https://www.microphenomenology.com/home.

Thank you for taking the time to read my second blog post. I’m really enjoying the writing and have created a long list of topics I would like to share. Next post will be about Emergency procedures and drills. I’ve had several questions about those things lately and I thought it would make a good topic. Please email anytime with your own wonderings and suggestions.

All the best,
Lower School Principal
Trina Haygaru



Post #1, March 29, 2018

Dear ISI Families,

If you ask any teacher “What is one of the things you dislike about teaching?” many of them will reply, “Preparing Substitute Teacher Plans.” Teachers will drag themselves to work with a fever, rearrange doctor appointments, and put off going to the dentist for months to avoid writing sub plans.  I hated them myself as a teacher and can definitely sympathize. But as much as they try to avoid it, eventually a teacher has to be out of school.

There are basically three types of teacher absence, short-term middle of the day for appointments, internal meetings, staff development etc.  The second one is the planned, know about it way in advance leave, for out of school professional development, family business, maternity leave etc. Then the last kind and the trickiest, last minute illness, child illness, family emergency etc.

Finding a teacher to cover a class looks a little bit different in each of the three situations.  For short term, middle of the day coverage we often try to cover for each other. Teaching assistants may cover a class, Diana might (she has a degree in early childhood), it might be me, Stacy or Nella. Basically, we are all the children’s teachers and we move in and out of each other’s classrooms with the spirit of collaboration. Coverage for the planned absences are the easiest and if they are for more than a day or two we are able to notify parents and let you know who will be your child’s substitute teacher and for how long.  Then, of course, coverage for the last minute absence is the hardest.

Teachers who need to be absent at the last minute send a group text to Diana and me.  Diana goes through our list of substitute teachers and starts calling people to see if they are available.  Before our February break when we were passing around a stomach virus and the flu, our phones would start dinging at about 7:00 at night stop at about 10:00 pm and start again at 6:00 in the morning.  Then the fun would really begin. It is like putting a puzzle together. You think you have it all sorted out and another teacher calls in. We do the teacher shuffle a lot on these days and try to have the best-suited substitute teacher cover a class that matches their skill set.  

The first preference for a sub or for class coverage is to select a fully trained teacher who also speaks the language of the class.  As you can imagine this is also the hardest to find. Our second preference is to have a substitute who has experience working with children and speaks the language of the class but may not be a fully trained teacher.  It is important for the students to keep up with their language immersion and I believe it is more beneficial for them to be able to keep the language component going than to have a fully trained teacher who doesn’t speak the language.  The third preference is for a fully trained teacher who speaks English. We work very hard to keep a steady supply of substitute teachers employed. I recruit for these positions up to three times a year. Each candidate goes through an interview with me and completes a full background check.  The candidates then go through an orientation with Diana Torres and Mark Powers. After their background check has cleared, they spend a day with our teachers so they can evaluate their effectiveness and help to teach them about the routines of the school.

Our current list of substitute teachers:

  • Alicia Justice – Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology.  Currently, a Butler student studying to become a School Guidance Counselor – English
  • Olivia Leigh – Bachelor degree in Languages and Intercultural Studies from Strasbourg University France – Bilingual English/French
  • Margarita Molteni – Masters degree from Instituto Universitario ESEADE, Buenos Aires, Argentina – Bilingual English/Spanish/ conversational French
  • Sandra Schwier – Studied at Universidad Juarez del Estado de Durango, Mexico – Bilingual English/Spanish

Recently some parents expressed the desire to be notified when their child has a substitute teacher.  This sounds like a wonderful idea and will work for the long term, planned absences. However, for last minute placements, it is not practical for us to notify parents and it would probably be well after school started before we would be able to get that information out.  I’m hoping by providing this information and giving the names of our substitute teacher pool, you will feel more comfortable on those occasions when your child does have a substitute teacher.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns please contact me.  

Warm regards,

Trina

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