What Is Social-Emotional Learning Anyway…and Why Does It Matter?

By Dr. Sarah Sumwalt, Director of Social and Emotional Learning at The Langley School

What’s all the buzz about SEL?

The term social-emotional learning (SEL) has become ubiquitous in the field of education. SEL also dominates the mainstream media, with articles peppering news sources about the role of SEL in the classroom. Just last week, the D.C. Schools chancellor, Antwan Wilson, argued that students need to feel “loved, challenged, and prepared” and shared his vision for bringing an increased focus on social-emotional learning into the District’s classrooms.

Despite the intense current interest in the topic, the term social-emotional learning is not new. In fact, it has been a widely used term since the late 1990s. Definitions of the term typically include references to intrapersonal (e.g., self-awareness and self-management) and interpersonal (e.g., social awareness and relationship skills) competence. However, there is not one agreed upon definition and many differ on exactly what skills SEL entails. Continue reading

In the Face of Another Natural Disaster, Reconciling Joy and Comfort with Empathy and Action

By Brent Locke, Dean of Students

As our 75th school year begins, our hallways are once again filled with the laughter of children, the gifts of friendship, and the comfort in knowing we have a joyous place to learn and grow each and every day. Of course, these happy emotions can be hard to reconcile with the helplessness we may feel in our inability to act and in the guilt we may feel in our abundance as we watch so many in our country and around the world battle the destructive and unrelenting forces of Mother Nature. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and the earthquake in Mexico have wrought untold devastation in the Caribbean, Mexico, Texas, Florida, and much of the south. The needs are many and urgent as families, businesses, and schools are trying to survive, regroup, and rebuild. It is in these times that Langley shines brightest as we come together to help those who most need our support.

 Dr. Jane Goodall at The Langley School

Dr. Jane Goodall, former Lower School Head Ghetta Hirsch, and former Head of School Doris Cottam speaking to students about the Roots & Shoots service program which Langley still uses for service learning today.

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Summer Is Like Childhood

By Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of School

“Summer is like childhood. It passes too fast. But if you’re lucky, it gives you warm memories from which you take strength in the cold days ahead. Summer is also like childhood, in that you may not think what you are doing matters very much while you are doing it, but later you realize it mattered far more than you knew.” -from The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by Edward Hallowell

I was blessed early in my educational career to hear Dr. Ned Hallowell speak on the topic of childhood and raising authentically engaged, happy, and healthy young adults. I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but Dr. Hallowell put me on an educational journey as a teacher that ultimately resulted in my coming to lead The Langley School, a place with a mission at the heart of what I believe is most essential in education, and frankly, in life. Continue reading

Can We Make More Hours in a Day?

by Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School

I am sure you have thought to yourself, maybe more than once, “I wish I had more hours in the day.” I know I have. While balancing both personal and professional responsibilities, many times I find myself wondering, “Where has this day gone?”

I wish I had more hours in the day

I can tell you from personal experience that teachers are always trying to find new and innovative ways to maximize the instructional minutes during the school day. Excellent schools, like The Langley School, look for ways to balance the academic program (math, language arts, social studies, science, and specials) with our students’ well-being (structured and unstructured times for student interactions such as lunch, breaks, and recess). Though school schedules might look simple, they are really complex road maps that truly impact teachers’ decisions about their instruction. The length of the class period, the time of the class during the day (morning or afternoon), and the sequence of classes (does it come before or after lunch or recess?) during the day are just some of the considerations that teachers think about when planning lessons.

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A Different Kind of Conversation at My Parent/Teacher Conferences

by Devon Davidson, Grade 5 Teacher

This week, I’ll have the pleasure of meeting with the fifth-grade parents to discuss their children’s progress during parent/teacher conferences. Spring conferences are my favorite discussions, as they’re focused on the progress each student has made, and my hopes for their sixth-grade transition. The conferences also kick off the emotional unwinding of the end of a school year. Every school year is a fluctuation of progress, but teachers, students, and families begin to see the overall linear line of growth toward the end of the year. This is why at conferences I’ll be focusing on growth of character, independence, and resiliency, as opposed to growth in grades. Over the past month, my fifth-graders embarked on their greatest challenge of the year — an inquiry-based project on Egypt from our social studies class — and their success was not marked by a grade, but rather by an empowered sense of self.

Taking the First Step Toward Growth
I started our inquiry project by telling the students they might feel uncomfortable and frustrated, but that we needed to learn to embrace frustration in order to grow and build our problem-solving skills. From the perspective of a fifth-grader, an inquiry project can feel unsupported, unguided, and as if their teacher has abandoned them. Breaking from the structures of detailed rubrics, graphic organizers, and step-by-step directions can be overwhelming and scary.

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Third-Graders Discover the “Real” America by Mail

by Shari Bozorgzad, Grade 3 Teacher

In February, we asked our third-grade students, “How can we research the unique qualities of each state in our nation?” We got the typical responses such as, “We could check out books from the library or look up information on the Internet.” I love that our students know where to find information, but I was looking for something a little more unusual.

Before coming to Langley, I had witnessed a project that I thought would be perfect for our third-graders. I explained to our students that the best way to learn about a city, town, or state is to get firsthand information from the residents. In order to solicit this firsthand feedback, our third-graders sent letters to several small-town newspapers in each state, asking residents to help them learn more about their state by sending postcards, maps, photos, souvenirs, and other useful information.

 Just one week later, I returned to my classroom after lunch to find my chair full of packages.

We received various items from across the country, including an original painting from an 83-year-old Mississippi man that depicted the Natchez Trace Parkway and a sample of cotton from a Mississippi woman’s family farm with a note telling of the fond memories she had of picking cotton as a little girl.

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Performing with Joy

by Sheila Malcolm, Music Teacher

When it comes to my youngest students, musical performances are much more about showcasing their joyful exuberance than achieving a “perfect” show. And that joy is what parents saw last week during our Primary School spiral unit performance, “Let’s Go to the Zoo.” It was a true reflection of what the children learned in class, rather than a staged show. My aim was to create a safe and fun environment in which even the shyest of children felt comfortable.

Our performance reflected the culmination of a month-long study of age-appropriate, zoo-themed activities undertaken by each Primary School grade across subjects, including P.E., Spanish, technology, library, and of course, music. It represented a genuine team effort, not only from the faculty, but also from the children as they learned how important it was to work together, be considerate of others, and always strive to do their best in order to make their performance successful.

The songs and movement activities were chosen with great care to ensure they were age-appropriate and enjoyable for the children. There were lions roaring, kangaroos hopping, penguins waddling, elephants trumpeting, and monkeys playing, just to name a few. The songs were also linked to their classroom studies. For example, the junior kindergarten classes learned about how the welfare and well-being of the animals was important, so one of their songs was about the training requirements and work responsibilities of a zoo veterinarian. The kindergarten classes learned about how zoos help endangered species, so one of their songs was about the gorilla. They also learned how to differentiate between a monkey and an ape.

Musically, much of what was seen on stage was a direct reflection of skills the children had learned in music class. They played their instruments to a steady beat, used dynamics in the songs, learned about verse and refrain, focused on keeping together by listening to others, learned to recognize and listen for phrases in music, and learned how to count beats and listen to musical cues for their choreography and dances.

Performing in front of an audience, no matter how scary for some, helps build the confidence our students will need to flourish in the wider world. We’ll see this growing confidence on display on stage in the coming weeks as our first-graders take us Down Under to Australia, our second-graders give their “Coming to America” performance, and our Middle Schoolers present the musical, “Willy Wonka.”

Inspiring Ideas at the STEAM Fair

by Mollie Morneau, Junior Kindergarten Teacher and Chair of the STEAM Fair

More than just an acronym, STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics) represents a way of thinking, growing, and learning through hands-on experimentation and critical-thinking challenges. STEAM projects are inherently interdisciplinary – they drive us to develop methods or propose solutions through actions like creating, designing, building, and testing.

This past weekend, The Langley School hosted hundreds of enthusiastic community members at our second annual STEAM Fair which offered families the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dig into the integrated business of work and play.

Here are a few STEAM projects that you can do at home. Note that the instructions are deliberately vague:

  • If you were given 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string, what kind of tower would you build that could suspend a marshmallow in the air? This type of activity is based in the reality of limited resources, but allows for children – and their parents – to approach it in a multitude of ways.
  • Offer your child a selection of materials such as popsicle sticks, plastic spoons, rubber bands, and binder clips. Challenge him or her to create a catapult that will fling a cotton ball or a marshmallow across the room! Can you create one that launches straight up in the air, or does the cotton ball go sideways? Is it possible to focus your aim in order to hit a specific target? You may be surprised at how creative your child can be when given raw materials and a goal grounded in his or her natural sense of experimentation and play.
  • Gather a handful of objects to build an “artbot” that moves across the table with marker “legs” that draw as it walks. The Digital Harbor Foundation has basic instructions for several different models; the version we made at the STEAM Fair requires a 4.5V round mini motor, a AA battery casing with wire leads, an eraser or cork to destabilize the movement, a cup, markers, and tape. Slight variations in the placement of materials had a great impact on the artwork created, and students at the STEAM Fair delighted in discovering how their robots could operate!

In addition to incorporating physics-based thinking like how shape and spatial relationship affect a structure’s design and a process of scientific experimentation, these types of challenges encourage social-emotional growth, an area we nurture in equal measure at Langley.

It can be frustrating when something breaks or when a carefully conceived design has the opposite of the intended effect. We build resilience and a growth mindset when we see these supposed “failures” as anything but – in fact, as children’s book character Rosie Revere realizes, these initial prototypes are often the “perfect first try.” Throughout our STEAM Fair, families could be found tackling the posed problems with a spirit of collaboration and innovation that only grew with each temporary roadblock they encountered.

Langley STEAM Fair 2017In addition to hands-on challenges, the STEAM Fair provided a venue for young scientists to present their work and for families to explore all that Langley has to offer. As the site of the science fair for grades 6 and 7, the auditorium was filled not only with the buzz of students eagerly explaining their findings to judges and parents, but also with the literal buzz of remote-controlled robots using claws to move objects across the stage.

Families were treated to technology demonstrations of our 3-D printer as well as a myriad of iPad-based educational games offered by Osmo. Our librarians staffed a carefully curated selection of STEAM-themed books geared for all ages in our book nook. Free LEGO play and magnetic tiles provided an outlet for creativity to visitors of all ages, and free tickets to the awe-inspiring planetarium show “sold out” as families jumped at the opportunity to take a detailed look at constellations and planets in our night sky.

154Truly, there was something for everyone at Langley’s second annual STEAM Fair. Ours is a community of students and parents whose spirit of imagination and ingenuity seems boundless and we are thankful for the chance to continue to explore and grow alongside them!

“Planning” Ahead for 2017

By Amy Jones, Director of Resource at The Langley School

I love the comics. Here’s a strip from Luann by Greg Evans. The girl exclaims, “This is great!  No homework!!”  Her classmate stares at her in disbelief, “What about that huge science project that’s due in two days?  You haven’t even started it!”  She replies with delight, “I mean no homework TONIGHT!”

Executive functions, the thinking which takes place primarily in the pre-frontal cortex, are the functions responsible for planning — or lack thereof as we see in Luann. Many refer to these brain functions as an air traffic controller or the conductor of an orchestra. Students and adults alike use these functions not only to plan, but also to prioritize, organize, remember, reflect, and shift attention from one task to another. These functions help regulate emotions, inhibit desires, and attend to tasks. These capacities don’t mature until the mid 20s, but can be strengthened with practice — and it’s a perfect time to practice with a new year ahead!

Here at The Langley School, we are teaching these skills from an early age. In the Primary School, children are learning about time management and planning as they discuss the “before and after” as well as the present. During morning meeting, the children and their teachers review the calendar. “Today is Tuesday, December 20, yesterday was Monday, and tomorrow will be Wednesday.” In Lower School, the work continues. Schedules are on the board and teachers help students break down long-term assignments. Teachers give students more opportunities for reflection, allowing them to develop their metacognitive skills. In some grades, students keep track of their goals on their desks as well as use checklists for important routines.

Executive functions Skills Building

Middle School often presents challenges and opportunities for students, as they are changing classes and keeping track of homework in at least five different subjects. During sixth-grade orientation in the fall, teachers explicitly work with students to understand planning, time management, studying, and metacognition. In advisory at the beginning of the year, students “map” their week so they have a better understanding of the time that they have to manage. Self-reflection is built into many assignments, and students prepare to lead parent-teacher conferences by spending time in advisory thinking of their strengths and areas for improvement.

You can help your children develop better executive functioning at home. To learn more about executive functioning, and executive dysfunction, click here to view a recent PALS talk given to Langley parents by Kathy Essig of The StudyPro and to access other resources.

From New Student to Langley Ambassador

By Cory McLucas, Eighth Grade Langley Student

About three years ago, I transferred to The Langley School. I was entering sixth grade and knew no one. I was nervous, scared, and had no idea what to expect. I was worried that I would not fit in and would not be able to make new friends. Fortunately, all these feelings were washed away within the first days of school. When I walked into Langley on that first day, I was immediately greeted by students and teachers who showed me where my classes were, sat with me at lunch, and went out of their way to make sure I felt comfortable. Even though many of my classmates had known each other for years, Langley’s warm and welcoming atmosphere made it easy for me to fit in. After only one week of school, I felt as though I was a part of the school’s community and no longer felt like I was the “new kid.” I had new friends and felt accepted at my new school.

cory-mclucasAs an eighth-grader, I found myself wanting to share my experience of switching to The Langley School with prospective students and parents. The student ambassador program gave me that opportunity.  Every year, a small group of Middle School students are chosen as student ambassadors. I am one of these students. As a student ambassador, I get to communicate my experiences to families interested in the school. Since I transferred to Langley in Middle School, I can relate to many families and tell them how easy it is to make the switch to Langley.

Student ambassadors are dedicated to the positive promotion of The Langley School. We work with the Admission Office and help with events held for prospective families. At information sessions, we give parent tours, answer questions, and make sure we show parents the highlights of our school. We host students who come for a shadow visit. We also help out at school events like the Fall Fair and Grandparents & Special Friends Day. Recently, we went on a field trip to The Lab School in Washington, DC. At The Lab School, we went on a tour and got a different perspective on what makes a good tour guide. We learned a lot from this which will help us improve our ability to interact with others and better promote our school.langley-tour

As a student ambassador, I am learning many things. It has helped me improve my interview skills, made it easier for me to interact with people I don’t know, and made me appreciate the positive and welcoming Langley community. It also made me realize that I want to go to a high school that has a similar community where I can feel both challenged and supported at the same time.

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