Awarding Athletes

ImageAt a recent Assembly we heard that our middle school track & field team has been experiencing remarkable success, even against high school athletes. While the Atrium filled with loud applause, I was reminded that at Burke we celebrate athletic achievement as much for the passion and commitment of our athletes as the scores they put on the boards. Although we don’t prioritize sports the way some other schools do, athletics play a very important role in student development here. Sports provide unique opportunities and experiences and teach skills that are essential for success both in and out of the gym. These include learning how to be part of a team, how to win respectfully and lose graciously. We honor our talented Bengals, to be sure, but we also recognize those who show improvement and leadership. And, of course our highest athletic award, membership in the Bengal Club, is not about scoring points but is instead given to those who show dedication to Burke sports by playing on a team for 10 trimesters of their high school careers. Several of our seniors will be inducted in to the Club this spring, and I know that the cheering will be as loud for them as for any of our teams that bring home a banner. Go Bengals! — Andrew Slater


Set The Stage

phones“It’s Complicated” – that’s the title of a recent book by Danah Boyd (click here) about teens and internet use, and it’s also a phrase that accurately captures how many of us feel about parenting adolescents. As our seniors begin their transition to college students the challenge of holding on while letting go is very real for lots of Burke parents. It’s not limited to 12th grade families, however – it begins when kids leave elementary school and start to take on responsibility for homework, getting to class on time, and using a mobile phone and/or a laptop. The temptation is to do everything for them, or to set very strict rules – anything to protect them and to keep the control that we had when they were small. But by the time you have a high schooler in your house, you know that your job is much more about setting the stage for success rather than forcing it on your child. We make it clear what we value, and we stand back and give our children room to learn how to make their own choices. A recent analysis by Keith Robinson and Angela Harris (click here) found that parental involvement is tricky – things like helping with homework and calling school can actually hinder a child’s achievement. Another article by Steve Henn (click here) illustrates that what parents DO is really much more important than what they say. Children from 4 to 18 report being frustrated trying to compete for attention with their parents’ smartphones and computers. It turns out that kids, no matter their age, need our undistracted attention more than our help with that science project. These are good reminders for Burke educators too – our focus on and willingness to listen to students are some of the strongest teaching tools we have. Despite the craziness of these last weeks of school, we’re all concentrating on setting aside distractions and focusing on our wonderful students before they leave us in June!

Spring Service

“Spring Break “– thiServicePRs phrase may conjure up images of tropical beaches or rowdy students, but for many it means a chance to plunge into community service. At Burke we’ve established a tradition of spring service trips that illustrates our mission of graduating students who will “step forward to make positive contributions to the world.” This year for the first time we are sending out two trips at once – one to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and the other to New Orleans. Students will be helping those who are suffering the effects of poverty and natural disaster. Both of these journeys are designed to address what education professor Joseph Kahne calls the “three dimensions of citizenship: those who are personally responsible — that is they help people they know and donate blood; participatory citizens, who are active in community projects; and justice-oriented citizens, who examine causes and possible solutions for society’s ills.” (Click here to read more.) Service is much more valuable if participants understand the larger issues involved – not just that homeless people need sandwiches, but why people lose their homes and how public policy can help or hurt. This has always been a part of how we educate Burke students – service learning begins in the middle school, and our Activism class delves deeply into the causes of social problems and the need for political engagement. Students going to Pine Ridge and New Orleans will be discussing both the work they do each day and how citizens can effect change through political action. We’ve also added a third trip this year that is focused on social justice – the Civil Rights trip to Atlanta. Participants will learn about the struggle against racism and how social movements can, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “bend the arc of history towards justice.” We’re sure that students will return with a new perspective on their role in the global community. Edmund Burke would undoubtedly approve!

Learning Language

FrenchTShirtBonjour. Hola. Salve. No doubt you recognize these as greetings in other languages (although the Latin might be a bit of stretch). Foreign language has always been a part of a basic education, even for us native English speakers who are lucky to know a language that’s used all over the world. While most students don’t become fluent in a second language just from studying it in middle or high school, they do benefit greatly in other ways. There’s no shortage of arguments for strengthening foreign language education – we like this one from Stacie Berdan in the Huffington Post: “Students who study a foreign language will develop the critical skills of adaptability, empathy, communication and relationship building — skills that can be applied to technology or any other field he or she chooses to pursue. It helps one learn about another culture and enables one to cross cultural bounds more easily, appreciating and understanding differences and similarities. It enhances cognitive abilities and actually makes one “smarter” by enhancing math, science and even English language skills.” (Click here to read the whole article.) While Burke students are already required to take three years of the same foreign language, we are always looking at ways to improve language studies, as is appropriate for a progressive school. Next year we’ll be expanding and enriching the middle school foreign language program, adding more class times and different levels. We recognize that our mission of preparing young people to be good citizens includes giving them a deeper understanding of other cultures – we do this with classes in geography, history, art AND language. Happy National Foreign Language Week!

Worth the Risk

Audrey2WP“If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you?” I read this line in an essay by Megan McArdle (“Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail”) as Burke students outside my door filed into the theater to prepare for tomorrow’s opening of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Ms. McArdle talks about the importance of taking risks and the value of learning to cope with failure. She bemoans the obsession with perfect grades and getting into elite colleges. She points out, rightly, that high school should be a time to stretch, to challenge yourself, and to learn from your mistakes. Students who try out for our famously excellent productions do this from the moment they sign up for auditions. They take a risk that they won’t get a particular part, or that they will mess up on stage in front of their peers and families. Can they learn all those lines, hit all those notes, remember the dance steps, make it to all the rehearsals and still get their homework done? Our supportive community and the fact that the musical is a for-credit class help, but those students are still taking on a challenge that might not result in a report card full of ‘A’s. They may get behind in school work or forget lines during a rehearsal. But eventually they will make up the work and also put on a great performance. This is really the basis of all learning – to try, to make mistakes, and to figure out how to succeed. I know that all our young actors have learned something about themselves that will stay with them into college and beyond. I also know that it’s going to be a terrific show – I hope you’ve reserved your tickets! —Andrew Slater, Head of School

In Touch With Teens

wordpicI recently read a great article by Burke parent Maria Ferguson titled “High Schools: Grow Up!” She points out that although the world has changed dramatically in the last generation, high schools have stayed pretty much the same. She argues persuasively that today’s teens need to feel that school is relevant, which means schools have to incorporate modern technology, emphasize collaboration and problem solving and foster connections between teens and adults. I was struck by the quote: “Teenagers – so outrageous in their self-absorption – desperately need to feel connected to adults who care about them as individuals.” I believe this is one of Burke’s greatest strengths – our small size, informal culture and comprehensive advisory system allows our teachers to really get to know students. By the time they graduate, Burke seniors have a bond with several teachers who have inspired and motivated them to excel in class and beyond. Our progressive teaching style relies on group projects and real-life examples to teach both content and skills, just as the research suggests schools should be doing. This includes teaching with the smartphones, tablets and laptops that are already such a part of teenagers’ lives. It’s great to have education professionals such as Maria confirm that not only is Burke a great place to be a teenager, we’re doing all the right things to produce successful young adults for a society that looks very different from the one we all graduated into! — Andrew Slater

Lesson Plans

ImageThere are no classes for students this Monday. However, that doesn’t mean that learning won’t be going on in the building. The entire faculty will gather to work on ways to be more effective in the classroom. One question we’ll be asking is: what makes a great lesson plan? Just as a splendid building can’t be built without well-drawn blueprints, a terrific lesson depends on thoughtful preparation by the teacher. What is the objective of the class? What’s the “hook” to get students to plunge in as soon as class begins? Will there be group work, time spent at the board, a class discussion? How will the teacher assess whether the students have taken in and retained the material? Putting a lesson together comes relatively easily to most experienced teachers, but for those in a progressive school it is more challenging. Progressive means change – Burke teachers don’t use the same lesson plans year after year, instead they adapt them to incorporate discoveries in educational research, current events, or new technology. Progressive also means experiential and interactive – lesson plans cannot rely on a simple lecture every day. And because it’s dynamic, how the plan works will depend on how the students react – a progressive teacher has to be flexible and creative. On Monday our excellent teachers will share with one another the ways they plan progressive lessons, and we’ll also take some time to reflect and recharge so we can welcome students back on Tuesday re-energized for the rest of the year!