Looking at School Through the Lens of a New Parent

  • Give Each Child
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog

In anticipation of a New Parent Saturday Morning at Carroll (September 22, 2018), I sent out a brief survey to our 110 new families. I wanted to learn of their hopes, dreams, anxieties, fear, and questions.

Seven philosophical statements about what we believe about education framed the survey and opened parents up to discuss some profound thoughts. What we received back was a primer on how to help families adjust to their new reality at Carroll School.

This article could become as long as "War and Peace" if I attempted to answer every question, so I have selected one representative parent comment for each statement:

#1 - Teachers need to be skilled enough to deliver what each child most needs.

Parent Response: Each child is different, with different needs. Similarly, each teacher has different skills, training, and certifications. If we start with the premise that each teacher is OG-certified, and there is a baseline of skills appropriate for the language-based learning disability, what are the additional skills that are required for being a teacher at Carroll? And are students with particular needs specifically assigned to teachers that have the particular skill set to address that need?

Answer: Carroll teachers are required to complete coursework in five core areas: (1) Orton Gillingham Principles, (2) The Whole Child, (3) Data-Informed Instruction, (4) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and (5) Pedagogy: How to Teach.

Every teacher and tutor has a coach, a department head, a team leader, colleagues, and a professional learning community in which the core teaching practices are emphasized on a daily basis. We support all teachers and tutors in this way, regardless of their length of tenure at Carroll.

#2 - Defining the student profile tightly enables us to focus.

Parent Response: I know you are referring to the student's academic profile but is there anything that you are doing to look at their profile in all of who they are? Personality, interests, family. I understand that, from an institutional point of view, you have to have a particular academic profile in order to keep your focus. How do you do that and at the same time take care of the whole, individual child?

Answer: Carroll tracks student profiles in a wide range of areas: academic skills, cognitive skills, daily work product, social-emotional skills, and standardized test measures. We believe firmly that academic growth occurs best in an petri dish that includes each student's personality, hobbies, passions, families, and dreams. A healthy community prizes achievement in all these areas, not solely in academics. Nonetheless, every student is at Carroll to close some gaps in their academic performance. We track those areas with particular tenacity.

#3 - Data are essential in determining what each child most needs.

Parent Response: How do you determine what data to collect? Is it focussed on the quantitative? How do you capture, or at least take into account, the more qualitative data that may be difficult to gather and analyze but equally important - especially social & emotional issues, enthusiasm for learning, confidence to self-advocate, and satisfaction with their educational experience? I found the IEP process set very artificial goals in these areas. Student will do X (self-advocate, socialize etc.) 7 out of 10 opportunities. I think trying to quantify such instances significantly limits the richness of the qualitative data available and the lessons to be learned.

Answer: We collect data in five major categories:

  1. A child’s daily performance
  2. How the child is responding to the skills and strategies that are being directly taught to the student
  3. The child’s availability to benefit from instruction - examples of motivation, attitude, comprehension, and social interactions
  4. The development of the cognitive skills that underlie acquisition of academics - processing speed, memory functions, executive functions, and attentional factors
  5. Performance on nationally normed standardized assessments.

Some of these measures are quantitative and others are qualitative; together they can paint a picture of a child that helps us deliver what that child most needs.

#4 -Teachers need to believe that radical change in a child’s educational path is possible.

Parent Response: I agree but does the child similarly need to believe such a thing is possible? How do you encourage children to see the possibilities when their experience with education may be so negative? Particularly when a child doesn't have access to Carroll until Middle School.

Answer: Children absolutely need to believe that they have control over their educational path. So many bright children arrive at Carroll assuming that their learning differences are a major obstacle blocking their futures. We teach them that the opposite is true.

When a student new to Carroll looks around her classroom and realizes that she is surrounded by other bright, interesting, creative children whose academic skills are no better than her own, she is able to change her judgments about her own skills set and opportunities. We constantly articulate - implicitly or quite overtly - the following messages:

  • What we are doing is important
  • As your teacher, I believe completely in your ability to succeed
  • As your teacher, I will never quit on you
  • Your results are directly tied to your effective effort

For most children, this philosophy influences their own attitudes towards school and their sense of possibilities in their lives.

#5 - Neuroplasticity leads us to understand that teaching changes children’s brains.

Parent Response: I do not understand why this is a hard concept for non-believers to grasp. It's extremely frustrating when the science is right in front of someone, and he/she refuses to accept it, for whatever reason.

Answer: Carroll has developed a tight partnership with the Gabrieli Lab at MIT in order to develop diagnostics and interventions designed to improve brain function in areas that are essential for strong reading acquisition, comprehension, and math performance. We believe that the signals from neuroscience are strong enough to harness their research to create interventions to help children with language-based learning struggles.

While we are early to the table on this topic, Carroll is committed to understanding the science, collaborating to conduct our own research, and developing interventions that will encourage positive neuroplastic responses in our children. Over the past seven years, we have become more convinced than ever that cognitive development is a valuable ingredient in a program that is dedicated to closing academic gaps in children.

#6 - All remediation and no fun makes for a lousy school experience.

Parent Response: For my child, it seems like "fun" is anything that is not school and "not fun" is anything that acts as an obstacle between him and his devices and video games.

Answer: We accept the challenge! Children find fun in their daily experiences at Carroll. The program is broad enough that every child should find an area of strength and passion. Perhaps surprisingly, often children find the greatest fun in succeeding where they once struggled.

#7 - Children with dyslexia tend to look at the world differently ... Isn’t the world lucky they do?

Parent Response: I'm just so happy Carroll knows this is the truth. Because they know this is the truth they can reflect back to all the kids in the school how beautiful their vision is and that because it differs from perhaps the norm, makes it even more special.

Answer: The response above is the perfect final words to this blog! 


Watch Steve Wilkin's Presentation from the New Parent Saturday event

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