An Expression of Gratitude from Langley’s Head of School

by Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of School

One of the great privileges of being the head of The Langley School is the opportunity to meet with a small group of elected student advisors on a monthly basis. This group, my “advisors to the head,” keeps me focused on the real work of school leadership: the quality of student lunch, the number of minutes spent at recess, and the spirited debate over 4 Square rules. Last week, however, after the obligatory conversation about food and fun, I asked the students what they were looking forward to most as Thanksgiving approached. While food was certainly mentioned, more of the discussion centered on spending time with family, cherished holiday traditions, and seeing grandparents and special friends. The group reminded me that the purpose of the holiday is to be thankful for our families and friends and to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives.

These wise students reminded me what should be obvious, that gratitude is at the heart of the holiday season. And this year in particular, I definitely feel a strong sense of gratitude for the compassion and strength of our school family. For a number of members of this school community, 2016 has brought significant health challenges and untimely loss. In just the last few months, I have attended memorial services for parents taken from their families too young and I have sat with community members battling life-threatening illnesses. I have also watched our community step up with arms wide open and offer the kind of support that makes a real difference in times of sadness and struggle.

The Langley School Community

At a recent service I attended, one of the speakers offered the following advice to the group gathered to mourn the loss of a friend, father, and colleague: “Invest tirelessly, relentlessly, and fearlessly in your relationships.” I watch this happen every day at The Langley School. I watch colleagues step up and cover classes so that someone can tend to a seriously ill family member. I am in awe of the candor, tenacity, and humility of one of our parents who is battling cancer, all while being fully present in every moment of her life. I’m moved when I hear this same person offering to help another community member who is just beginning her chemotherapy. Publicly and privately, in large and small ways, members of our school are doing everything they can to lighten the load for those whose burdens are heavy.

When you live in a community as large and multigenerational as ours, illness, loss, and struggle are expected. This fall, however, it’s felt like we’ve had more than our share. In the midst of this, my young advisors brought me back to what matters most – gratitude, compassion, and hopefulness. Investing tirelessly, relentlessly, and fearlessly in our relationships gives us the strength to weather tough times, connects us to a community that is here when we need them, and reminds us not to take any moment for granted. So as we head into a season that can be eclipsed by “to-do lists” and frantic work to get everything right, slow down, be present for those you love, and savor those relationships you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

I give thanks this holiday season for Langley, our community, and all of the inspiration and hopefulness it has brought into my life.

 

 

You Don’t Have to Choose: Why True Success Depends on Academic Achievement and Social and Emotional Competence

By Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of School

The summer months usually afford educators an opportunity to catch up on their reading, both for pleasure and professionally. This summer was no exception for me, and one of the most gratifying aspects of my summer reading was to see the proliferation of more research supporting some of the major goals and objectives of Langley’s next strategic plan. Educators have long known about the benefits of social and emotional learning for students of all ages, but particularly young children. However, the research supporting the long-term interpersonal and academic outcomes for students who develop these vital capacities is becoming clearer.

Research related to The Fast Track Project, administered in schools in North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Pennsylvania, reveals that the development of specific social and emotional skills can be tied to success in later life. (Brown, The Washington Post) Particularly, skills related to problem solving, successful peer relationships, empathy, cooperation, collaboration, listening skills, assertiveness, and kindness are linked with positive school affiliation, achievement, resisting negative social behaviors, and ultimately finding stable full-time employment in young adulthood.

“These findings add to a growing body of evidence—including long-term studies drawn from data in New Zealand and Britain—that have profound implications for educators. These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness—strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.” (Bornstein, The New York Times)

The Langley School has long been committed to developing these capacities in our students. Our new strategic plan, however, seeks to take our expertise in this area further and to develop a more comprehensive program to target these well-researched skills. I am often surprised when these skills are referred to as “soft skills” or “non-cognitive,” suggesting that they are somehow less important and even easily achieved. In point of fact, being able to regulate negative emotions, to deeply appreciate the perspective of others, and to simultaneously balance the ability to assert oneself and work collaboratively and effectively with others are not simple, “non-cognitive” tasks. They are essential, and most successful adults I know continuously work at perfecting the art of these so-called “soft skills.”

We are in the fortunate position at Langley to start building these skills with our youngest students on day one. Research supports that this is when to do it, by kindergarten for sure. We have a mission that sees the mutually reinforcing and equally essential dependence of academic and social and emotional skills. And we have parents who share in a commitment to raise academically sophisticated students, who act with heart and mind in equal measure. Schools should not privilege academic achievement over social/emotional competence and moral goodness. My summer reading, whether from The Huffington Post or The Washington Post, The New York Times or Kim Marshall’s excellent Educational Digest, reinforced once again that that is a false choice. And this new research reminded me that our mission at Langley to raise students who can lead lives of self-defined meaning and purpose requires we attend to these skills deliberately and comprehensively as soon as students arrive on our campus.

Off to a Great Start!

By Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of SchoolElinor-Scully-spring-2010

One of the many perks of being the new head of The Langley School is the unbelievably warm welcome I have received from all of the consitutencies of this great community. I have had such fun experiencing the rituals of a new school year alongside all those who are new to the community. There are many highlights of the first month of school, but here are a few particularly memorable ones that I will draw upon in the months ahead.

I was at the airport in early September to bid farewell to our eighth-graders as they began the journey to Costa Rica and Earth University. As their blog posts attested, the experience was life changing for many who ventured out of the United States for the first time. Their exposure to principles of environmental sustainability and stewardship, biodiversity, and cross-cultural communication clearly will influence them well beyond their time in Costa Rica. Many of the students continue to develop their own personal leadership plans as part of their return to Langley. Poised and articulate, these eighth-graders demonstrate on a daily basis why this trip is a fitting capstone to the Langley experience.

While the eighth-graders were in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to substitute for a sixth-grade science class. These budding scientists built towers out of spaghetti, string, tape, and marshmallows. Despite having an inexperienced science substitute like me, the students managed to build towers that were several feet high without incurring any injuries! Their innovative approach to the project was most impressive, though I am not sure I will be called upon to substitute again soon.

The Primary School students have invited me into their circle time, to read to them, and to attend a music class. One of the great joys of being at Langley is seeing for the first time how much learning takes place in these foundational early years. I have been moved by the joy and optimism our youngest students bring to school every single day.

And finally, thanks to our dedicated fourth-grade Langley school store cashiers, I am in possession of some awesome Langley swag. I have a new sweatshirt, hat, t-shirt, coffee mug, and Langley Spoonfuls cookbook! Like everyone I have encountered in these first weeks of school, they have ensured that I feel part of the school community. Thanks to everyone who has extended this kindness to me and to all of the new members of our community. I couldn’t wish for a better start to the school year!