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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

“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.

 

Learn about Langley

 

 

Where Vital Academics Meet a Deep Respect for Childhood

by Ayesha Flaherty, Parent and Administrator at The Langley School

Focusing our children’s attention on academic success is critically important to us as parents. And while we seek, encourage, and reward academic activities and accomplishments, we also want our children to retain the joy of being children.

We know that no single model or methodology can universally achieve this perfect balance. However, at The Langley School, the essence of who we are and what drives our curricular decisions is guided by our mission to seek this important, and necessary, balance.

What “vital academics” means at Langley

The word “vital” is defined as “absolutely necessary or important; essential.” When it comes to educating our children, making the trade-offs on how they spend their time and what skills and values are prioritized makes all the difference. That’s why The Langley School stays agile enough to respond to the most vital 21st-century skills. We invest heavily in professional development for our teachers and regularly review our teaching instruction and curriculum, building our students’ schedule and experiences with their futures in mind.

For example, we practice collaboration starting at a young age through our Big Buddy program. We teach empathy through our formal service learning program. We enforce digital citizenship to embed safe habits. We approach lessons with essential questions to spur innovation.

The secondary definition of vital is “full of energy; lively.” If you’ve ever set foot on Langley’s campus, you have witnessed the palpable sense of joy on every corner of campus. As one 2015 Langley graduate stated, “Langley was a place I could come and be assured that I would be safe, comfortable, and most importantly, happy. I feel blessed to have grown up at such a school.”

Guided by a deep respect for childhood

At The Langley School, we believe that childhood isn’t just a stage to pass through – but it is a period of crucial, foundational learning. From age 3 to early adolescence, there is steep cognitive and interpersonal growth. Our teachers are experts in this critical period of development and celebrate childhood while giving their students a solid foundation on which to build.

Where vital academics meet a deep respect for childhood.

This phrase captures our identity as a school. At Langley, you don’t have to choose; you can have both. Another 2015 Langley graduate summed it up best: “Of course I learned a lot academically at Langley, but I’ve also learned life lessons like how to work with other people, how to make lasting friendships, and how to be kind and tolerant.”

Langley Social Media

Blog header