December 09, 2016
In mid-November I had the great pleasure of attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme of the convention was “The Faces of Advocacy” and most sessions threaded the topic of advocacy into their presentations. As the biggest gathering of English teachers from Elementary through College, this convention offered hundreds of sessions on a myriad of topics. I attended sessions on Shakespeare, non-fiction, poetry, digital and social media, social justice and teen literacy to name a few.
The highlight of the convention was the discussion of literature and advocacy by the many notable Young Adult authors. Sharon Draper, Jason Reynolds, Linda Sue Park, Neal Schusterman, and even S. E. Hinton, to name just a few, presided over discussions about the value of books and stories. Certain themes arose time and again. Authors noted that before students can read literature, they must develop a relationship with literacy through books and stories that matter to them. Students must be able to respond to literature, or to be, as the Palestinian author, Ibtisam Barakat described “respond-able”. The authors stressed that books provide opportunity for conversation, and give students a chance to be seen and heard. Literature fosters communication about different ideas and students learn from reading that “I am not alone in the world”, which encourages empathy and awareness. The final event was a dialogue with the winner of the National Book Award, Ta-Nahisi Coates, capping off a dynamic and challenging weekend.
Returning to Winston I appreciate even more the value literature and stories and the value of encouraging students on all levels to find that “just-right” book. A great book can open a world of profound understanding, empathy and joy for all our students.
November 22, 2016
On Saturday, November 12, The Winston School of Short Hills sent a group of staff, trustees and current parents to the Far Brook School Diversity Conference; the conference title and main theme centered on the words: “Widening the Lens.” And, most assuredly, the Winston participants did indeed widen our collective lens and perspectives towards the ideals and concepts of “diversity and inclusion.”
I am grateful to the following Winston community members who joined me at the conference and participated so actively and passionately as the “Winston School group”:
Staff: Peter Lewis, Head of School; Jill Schuster, Assistant Head of School; Abby Debevoise, Lower School Division Head and Fifth Grade homeroom teacher; Susan Thompson, Middle School Reading and Literature teacher; David Stevens, Middle School Math and Science teacher; Spiro Spiratos, Middle School Social Studies teacher.
Trustees (who also happen to be Winston parents): Bernadette Hopman, parent of a fifth grader; Greg Hoffman, parent of a fifth grader; Jennie Tinkelman, parent of a seventh grader.
Parents: Bill Crawley, parent of a sixth grader; Neisrein Mahmoud, parent of a sixth grader; Michael Brown, parent of an eighth grader.
Our group brought an enlightened and committed perspective to the conference and there are so many “take-aways” and ideas that we together identified, discussed, probed and sought to place into a comprehensive and multi-dimensional “action plan” for the school. The goal we embraced was to move forward in our commitment as a school to creating a “Diversity Task Force” that is charged with the responsibility of building and sustaining our school community’s commitment to and understanding of the many issues and opportunities afforded by the ideals inherent to diversity and inclusion.
There is so much more I could report to you in terms of what we discussed and what we learned at this conference alongside over 200 participants from the following independent schools that are all part of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools of which Winston School is a fully accredited member: Elisabeth Morrow School, Dwight-Englewood School, Gill St. Bernard’s School, Peck School, Stevens Co-operative School, Pingry School, Far Hills Country Day School, Newark Academy, Kent Place School, St. Peter’s Prep School, Pennington School, Far Brook School, Winston School of Short Hills.
Our Winston team felt privileged to be part of this conference and with the group I will be reporting on further initiatives and ideas for moving forward. The Winston team also noted that in light of the current climate in our country in which vitriolic rhetoric and negative and even hateful language are so omnipresent, it would be beneficial for our community of children and parents to engage in community conversations that accentuate and help us appreciate our school’s core values of respect for others and for oneself; as well as the ideals and the practices of kindness, character and integrity. The Winston team and I look forward to spearheading for our community a robust and meaningful series of conversations and future actions that are in alignment with our values as a school and as a society. On behalf of the Winston School team, I will be apprising you of full community gatherings that we are now planning and scheduling for the future months.
On behalf of the Winston School Board of Trustees and the entire staff at Winston, I wish you a healthy and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.
Peter S. Lewis
Head of School
October 20, 2016
On Monday, October 24th, Winston School staff will be attending the biennial NJAIS conference. As a result, Winston will NOT be in session on Monday. NJAIS, "New Jersey Association of Independent Schools”, is comprised of 80 private independent schools across the state. The theme for this year's conference is: “Life Skills Summit: Health, Wellness, and Steps to Stronger Learning Communities.” Featured speakers include: Susan Cain, author of the recent best-seller, Quiet, who will be speaking on: “Quiet Kids: How Our Education System Can Teach Introverted Students,” and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, MD, who will discuss: “Achieving the Good Life: Tips for Educators. We are excited to bring back to Winston our knowledge and experiences from the conference.
During the conference, other workshop topics encompassing the theme of “wellness” include: grit, resilience, character education, motivation, pace, mindfulness, anxiety, depression, technology, social media, social-emotional learning, self-care for students, nutrition, sex-ed, spiritual, physical and intellectual development, and additional themes and subjects.
The Winston School has been able to align with one of the major presenters at the conference: Kidpower International. According to Executive Director, Irene van der Zande: “Kidpower is a global nonprofit leader dedicated to providing child protection, positive communication, and personal safety skills to all ages and abilities. These skills help to keep kids safe from bullying, violence, and abuse—and prepare them to develop healthy relationships that add joy and meaning to their lives.” Since 1989, Kidpower has served over 4.1 million children, teens and adults, through workshops, partnerships, and educational resources. We at Winston are fortunate to have Kidpower coming to our school to work with parents and interested adults on Monday evening, October 24, from 6:30pm to 8pm in the Parish Hall of the main Church building “down the hill.” You can enter from the main Church entrance and park in the adjacent Church lots. The following day on Tuesday, Kidpower will be working with all Winston students in separate class sessions during the school day. Parents: please come to this adult workshop and bring your friends and colleagues. The presentation from Kidpower will be well worth your time.
The New Jersey Association of Independent Schools is the main accreditation association for The Winston School. Winston currently holds joint accreditation with NJAIS and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Next year, Winston will be vigorously involved in its reaccreditation process through these two associations. NJAIS and Middle States administer a rigorous standards-based accreditation program that supports continuous school improvement. NJAIS, in particular, promotes “best practices” and the value of education in independent schools.
Peter S. Lewis
October 14, 2016
Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled for next week. Last year at this time, I wrote a blog in which I stated: parent-teacher conferences “are a crucial beginning to the development and blossoming over time of our home to school partnership.”
I offer a “reprint” of that blog with my personal thoughts on what these October conferences are intended to achieve.
I use the words “essential conversation” that I came to appreciate after reading the book The Essential Conversation by Sara Lawrence Lightfoot of Harvard University’s School of Education. The “essential conversation” is certainly applicable to parent-teacher conferences at The Winston School of Short Hills. The conference is a vital component that will lead to the many exchanges that will occur between parents and teachers throughout the school year and beyond.
The parent-teacher conference is also, to use Professor Lightfoot’s words, a “dialogue that takes place more than one hundred million times a year across our country.” I like to think that at Winston we can make the parent-teacher conference so much more than that obligatory rite of passage that occurs in the fall and is normally marked by sincere decorum and politeness but often does not achieve that much. I have discovered over my forty years of working in schools, that the conference can be a benign and comprehensively dull experience. In my mind, the conference can be characterized by robust, sincere and open conversations on how a child is doing and what priorities need to be established for the immediate and for the future. Professor Lightfoot hones in on this potentially “productive engagement with the teachers” that is truly essential for the child’s continued learning and growth, and for the parents’ “peace of mind.” But, Professor Lightfoot also accentuates the alternate reality of a parent-teacher conference where potentially “beneath the polite surface” there “burns a cauldron of fiery feelings.”
There are challenges and human emotions then that can become obstacles for the intended productivity and forward-thinking intentions of the conference. Professor Lightfoot in many ways speaks to other educators when she states: “What is fascinating about my experience relating to my own children’s teachers is that my own hard-earned wisdom as an educator and social scientist concerned about these matters did not prepare me for the depth of emotion and drama I felt in parent conferences.”
I must say that as a life-long educator with five children, I recall the parent-teacher conference as often terrifying, sometimes hopeful, normally helpful but always an emotional experience and sometimes a “roller coaster” of emotions. By my estimates, based on five children at two parent-teacher conferences a year over the span of Kindergarten through grade 12, I experienced the roller coaster sensation of parent-teacher conferences—as a parent—about 250 times! Still, with all my experiences as a parent, I am still a novice at giving advice on the optimal format and conducting of these conferences. At Winston, our philosophy is to provide information, insight, support and follow-up discussion points. And, as much as possible we wish to include a group of teachers and specialists in the essential conversation itself. Sometimes, we come to the end of the conference according to the tight schedule that we need to impose with a sense of unfinished business; but at Winston, we can agree at that moment that “we need to meet again.” Truly, “meeting again” is ok.
I urge parents to come to their conferences prepared to engage in a meaningful and open conversation. Similarly I ask teachers to come to the conferences prepared to share, learn and develop new and further insights into the lives of their students. We seek to establish fruitful working relationships and partnerships between teachers and parents. We want to speak with caring and pride about a child’s many strengths and positive attributes but we also want to hone in on the child’s challenges with learning and further build and reinforce a student’s self-confidence and willingness to succeed and be happy in school.
My sincere goal for us at Winston is that we can together make these meetings “essential conversations” based on trust, respect and candor with caring and vision for the ongoing educational journey that awaits our children.
Peter S. Lewis
Head of School