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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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.”

“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.

Langley Launches New Research-Based Teacher Feedback Model

By Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School, The Langley School

The Langley School teachers have long been recognized as one of the best and most respected faculties in the Northern Virginia region. Research suggests that the single most important factor in student achievement is the quality of a student’s teacher. Thus, the recruiting and hiring process is taken very seriously when any opening occurs at Langley.

But just as important as hiring is the school’s commitment to develop teachers’ instructional and curricular knowledge and abilities. Langley invests heavily in the continuing professional development of our teachers as faculty attend national and regional conferences about the best practices surrounding their respective fields. While professional development is an important cornerstone of maintaining and growing a strong faculty, so is the evaluation model that a school uses to provide meaningful feedback about teaching and learning.

Starting this school year, The Langley School faculty are engaging in a new teacher evaluation system designed to provide more timely and meaningful feedback to teachers about their instructional practices in the classroom. After spending the last school year examining the previous system and exploring other models for teacher evaluation, the Langley Academic Leadership Team (ALT) instituted a new system, the Marshall Observation Method, which is based on the work and research of Kim Marshall. Mr. Marshall, a lifelong educator who resides in the Boston area, is nationally renowned for his work in teacher evaluation and feedback. Langley’s ALT worked with about 25 faculty members during the 2015-2016 school year who volunteered to pilot two potential models of evaluation and feedback before the final decision was made to implement the Marshall Method.

Under the new Marshall evaluation system, members of Langley’s ALT visit each faculty member at least eight times throughout the school year for short, focused observations. Following each classroom visit, the teacher and ALT member reflect on the areas of strength and growth of the lesson. The ALT member writes a summary of the post-observation conference, along with any recommendations, and sends it to the teacher for his/her review. Each teacher also meets with his or her supervising ALT member in January and May for a mid- and final-year conference to discuss professional growth. Research shows that more meaningful and frequent feedback about instruction results in more observable growth of teachers.

The Langley School

Feedback from Langley’s faculty is very positive. Ryan McKinney, Lower and Middle School science teacher and Science Department head, remarked, “As teachers, we know that teachable moments lead to authentic learning experiences that help students grow. Implementing the Marshall Method at Langley provides more of an opportunity for teachers and administrators to experience and reflect on events that happen between students and teachers in the classroom. These ‘teachable moments’ are used to help start the collaborative process of developing strategies that improve teacher performance. In the end, it is a win for the administrator, teacher, and most importantly, the students.”

Devon Davidson, grade 5 teacher, was also impressed with the new process for teacher evaluation as she stated, “I think the Marshall observations allow for more holistic and realistic observations. The regularity of having someone come into my room, and not just once a year at the end of the year, gave the observer and me the chance to examine my teaching and the students in a realistic manner. The observers see authentic moments in our room which help develop relevant and applicable feedback. I appreciate that the post-observation meetings are short, and are more of a conversation rather than an assessment of my performance. One of the things I find most helpful in our post-observation conversations are the immediately applicable suggestions. Throughout the year, we get into our routines and sometimes forget about ideas or strategies that could be effective for our students. The post-observation conversations I have had always spark an idea to refresh what I do in the classroom.”

We are very proud of the impact that this model is having on our already vibrant teacher culture and community, and most importantly, our students’ learning. We hope you’ll reach out to learn more about our program.


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A Balanced Summer: Combining Fun & Learning Into One

By Ayesha Flaherty, Director of Enrollment Management

You’ve likely read about the “summer slide” – the research that says academic skills can decline significantly during the summer months when children are out of school. And, at the same time, we’ve all read about the importance of play and fun in creating curious, happy, and connected children.

If you’re like me, fully aware of the importance of both sides of this coin, how exactly do you strike the right balance? And, if our reality includes kids with full schedules, is there a way to give our children the gift of more free time without sacrificing advancement, progression, and learning?

As an administrator of The Langley School, I’m lucky to witness how our teachers find this balance every day. Langley teachers successfully and intentionally intertwine learning and structure with fun and independence. Students are joyful, challenging their thinking and expressing their choice all at the same time. For example, students are dancing, while also learning about musical composers. They are designing jewelry on a 3-D printer to raise funds for students in Kenya. They are enjoying an outdoor scavenger hunt adventure while solving math problems.

How can we recreate this at home? Join The Langley School for a 30-minute webinar on Thursday, May 19 from 12:00-12:30 p.m. titled “A Balanced Summer: Combining Fun & Learning Into One.” Participants will learn how to strike a healthy balance between continued educational enrichment and well-deserved summer fun.

Langley Webinar May 19

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‘Tis the Season… To be Inquiring

By Mary Worthington, Director of Admission

December is one of my favorite times of the year. Langley’s campus is covered in garlands, the students are bursting with joy, holiday cheer fills our halls and the admission season is well underway. My days are filled with meeting new families, introducing them to our community and guiding them in finding the right educational environment for their child.

In my 8th year in Admissions at Langley, I continue to relish each admission season. It is a true pleasure meeting families with a deep commitment to their children. Welcoming curious student visitors to our classrooms is a highlight for not only our office, but also our student hosts as they share their school.

Our students are truly Langley’s best ambassadors. I want to share these wise words from one of our 8th graders – Jackson Sands – who joined Langley in kindergarten. Enjoy Jackson’s reflection on his experience in the video below.

In addition to our traditional admission events, we held three webinars throughout the fall providing families with important research and trend-based information regarding Langley’s dynamic program.

  • Introduction to Langley
  • Why Invest in a Private School Education?
  • Starting Young: What the Research Says About Choosing the Right Learning Environment

Langley Webinars

The demand for these types of events is exciting and we look forward to hosting more.

Langley’s application deadline is around the corner! For families interested in exploring Langley, I encourage you to take advantage of some of the material in this blog. Please also know that my door is always open as you think about the right school for your child. I wish all of you a happy, healthy and relaxing holiday season.


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Math and the 21st Century Learner

By Beth Morris, Math Resource Teacher

Our world has been transformed dramatically over the last few years, and so has the way in which we teach math. No one really knows what the lives of the next generation will look like. So how can we best prepare our children for a future that is largely unknown? We need to teach them how to think. Thinking is universal and will transcend any amount of innovation to come. If children know how to think and reason logically, then they will be able to adapt in a world that is rapidly changing.

Math Blog

Recent mathematics reforms call for a much different approach to teaching math in order to meet the needs of the 21st century learner. Students are exploring the math that they are learning, testing their beliefs, grappling with tough questions, and reflecting on their thought processes. They are collaborating and communicating with each other and exchanging ideas. Teachers are guiding their students to refine their thinking and to make connections between concepts and ideas. The goal is for children to build a deeper understanding of the math that they are learning that is useful for them now, but also in the future.

Conceptual understanding is now a major focus in math. Students are not just learning procedures. In fact, research shows that when procedures are introduced too early, children lose their curiosity about numbers and their enthusiasm for learning math. Instead, students are digging deeper and investigating why and how procedures work before those procedures are formally taught. They are being exposed to various strategies for solving a problem and discussing which of those strategies is most efficient and effective. They are modeling problems and using other tools to see those strategies in action. When math is taught like this, children are given the opportunity to make sense of the math that surrounds them. They are thinking like mathematicians.

Mathematicians use estimation, look for patterns, and utilize mental math strategies when solving problems. This is exactly how we teach our students here at Langley to think. For example, we encourage our students to look for number relationships. Children often learn their doubles addition facts first, and they should recognize 7+7 and 6+8 as related facts. Using manipulatives, our students learn that by taking one away from the first addend and giving it to the other that the sum remains the same.

Our students are also thinking about “friendly numbers.” Multiples of 10 and 100 are easier to work with. When subtracting 98 from 276, our students might start by subtracting 100 and then adjust their thinking accordingly. We urge our students to think about numbers in a variety of ways. For instance, 564 can be 560+4, which is helpful when adding 126. Or 564 can be 400+120+44, which is helpful when dividing by 4. This sort of flexibility with numbers leads to learning procedures with authentic understanding, makes computation much simpler, and lays the foundation for future success in algebra and beyond.

For more information about math instruction at Langley, current parents may view the presentation from the September 30 Math Curriculum Coffee by clicking here and logging in to our CampusNet site. As always, parents are also welcome to approach their child’s teacher or division head with any questions or concerns.

How Our Family Handles Online Safety

By Karen Frana, Current Langley Parent

I was one of many parents who attended the PALS presentation on technology in April. It Karen Franawas an informative discussion of our children’s use of technology laid against the backdrop of child development. Thus, it helped me understand what online content my son was being exposed to and what content was appropriate for my child as he ages. Once I was armed with a sense of “age appropriateness” of content, I set out to learn about the various ways in which parents can help manage our children’s use of technology. As a result of what I learned, our household has implemented a multi-tiered approach to technology safety. I wanted to share what our family is doing as a way of starting the conversation at Langley and spreading knowledge.

Home PCs, Macs, iPads, or Tablets

The first level of security or “filtering” that our family implemented was on the device itself. We set up individual user IDs for our child on all devices that enter or remain in the house. Each user ID has its own password and user controls which can be set with the highest degree of filtering for young children and with more flexible filtering for older children. Parents can use user ID controls or settings to keep our children from accessing undesirable applications or websites, while still having access ourselves.

This was a bit cumbersome at first. We were all used to using our PCs seamlessly. However, I can see how the extra effort will help protect our son as his eagerness to explore grows.


YouTube has its own privacy settings or filters which we set. I just logged in to our YouTube account and used the settings at the bottom of the first page to filter out some of the inappropriate content. This filter is not very sophisticated, so it doesn’t filter out everything we would want. It should be used in addition to what’s called an “advanced YouTube filter” which can be found in third-party software.

YouTube expands and changes daily. So while I know we are using filters, I am careful not to trust any video that I haven’t seen and heard myself. This gets harder, of course, as our children get older and more tech savvy. 

Third-Party Software

Free and fee third-party software applications add additional protection to our son’s exposure to content. We use K9 Web Protection software from a company based here in Vienna, VA, which actually monitors a device’s usage at what’s called the subdirectory level. This means that it will know the actual YouTube video that our child watches on that device. It also limits usage at the same level. I am told that this software can be implemented in such a way that it will e-mail the parent with historical data showing all of the websites and YouTube videos our children have visited.

Separately, if your children like to use an application called “Steam,” which is a company that sells many online games, there is software called Steam Nanny at www.steamnanny.com that helps monitor and filter usage of the Steam-based games.


The games that our children play using Internet access and multiple players are referred to as MMOs, or Massive Multiplayer Online Games. Games like Minecraft and Roblox are MMOs. These MMOs are either something we have to buy (or pay a monthly subscription fee) or they are free.  The games that we have to pay for are potentially safer for our children for two reasons:

  1. There is a company behind them that is trying to make a profit, so appropriate business standards should apply.
  2. That company does not allow access to the game source code so the game’s original content cannot be changed.

Minecraft requires buying a subscription and setting up an account; Roblox does not. Roblox is free or “open,” meaning that the game’s source code (software) is available to anyone who wants it which means anyone who wants to can change the content. This doesn’t mean that all content in Roblox is bad. In fact, Roblox is like building with Legos, but online, so our kids are naturally drawn to it. Some of the Lego-like worlds that have been created in Roblox are fun and appropriate for our kids. But it requires supervision because if our children don’t understand the risks, they can end up playing in a stranger’s world with strangers interacting with them.

The safer option for playing Roblox is in a “hosted” environment where our child or a child we know has created the world. As parents, we can do a couple of things proactively. First, vet each game for its content. Then, determine whether or not the game’s content is customizable. Many of these games have “filters” or privacy conditions imbedded in the user account. I had to work hard to find it, but I actually set up a user ID of my own for Roblox and found a way to set the privacy settings to keep strangers out of my access. I’m just not sure how well it works.

With summer starting this week, I am fighting the fear of screen time becoming a threat and instead trying to think positively about the skills our child can be building while doing something he enjoys.

 Click here for more resources from Langley’s April PALS meeting about online safety.

Celebrating the Preschool to Eighth Grade Years

By Kathleen Smith, Assistant Head of School

I write this having just spent the day with our spirited and talented seventh-7th Supreme Courtgrade class, five of the most dedicated and inspiring colleagues anyone could ask for… oh, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. After a morning spent touring the U.S. Capitol, our social studies field trip group moved on to the Supreme Court where we were treated, thanks to a Langley parent who had clerked for Justice Kennedy, to a private half-hour session with the justice and one of his clerks in the Lawyers’ Lounge of the land’s highest court.

While we know Justice Kennedy to be a powerful Constitutional scholar and leader, we were all struck by his engaging manner with our middle school-aged students. He was remarkable, and the students (and faculty!) left the meeting a bit star-struck and ready to review our copies of the Constitution when we arrived home, per his suggestion.

A field trip like this certainly makes me, a native of Boston, feel lucky to live and teach in the metro-D.C. area. What I thought about on the bus ride back to school, however, was how lucky I am to teach middle school in a preschool to eighth grade school. In a K-12 school, it would certainly not be the seventh-graders who were chosen for a plum opportunity like this. Private audiences with Supreme Court justices would be reserved for the upper school Student Council or the AP U.S. history class.

Middle school students at Langley, as we know well, are our leaders. They are the ones to whom younger students look for inspiration and mentorship. We look to our middle schoolers to represent us internationally in Costa Rica or locally by volunteering at So Others Might Eat (SOME), and we are never disappointed. We are proud when they leave the Langley nest and live our shared values in their new high school communities.

Recent studies out of Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Duke universities have borne out what Langley parents have known for decades. PK-8 schools provide an approach that both meets the unique developmental needs of their students and provides for superior academic achievement, particularly for those in their middle school years. While these studies largely investigated public middle school settings, they provide research that supports what I regularly posit to anyone who will listen: this is the best model for kids, period.

We know that in K-12 schools, resources and attention are disproportionately given to upper school programs. How lucky we are, as teachers and students at Langley, to work and learn in an environment that celebrates the unique developmental stage that occurs during the middle school years, rather than one that makes students wait until they reach the capstone high school years to discover their passions, to have authentic leadership opportunities, to stretch themselves academically.

As Justice Kennedy told our seventh-graders, they will inherit this democracy very soon, and they have a responsibility to understand what that entails. I am confident that our students will understand and be equipped to take on that mantle in myriad ways. And they will be able to do so thanks in large part to the opportunities they were afforded during their formative years, the preschool to eighth grade years at The Langley School.

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!