“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.

What’s It Like to Be “Top Dog” in Middle School?

by Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School

A recent study published in the American Educational Research Journal confirms what many of our Langley families already know. Our intentional preschool to grade 8 educational model provides a safer and more conducive environment for student learning. The study, recently highlighted by NPR, concludes that traditional middle school models with grade spans of 6-8 and 6-12 had more incidents of bullying or threats against other students. In these traditional school models, middle school students were considered “bottom dogs” and reported feeling less safe with more incidents of bullying and less sense of community in comparison to middle schoolers who attended schools with a K-8 model. Click here to read the short article from NPR.

At The Langley School, our Middle School students have numerous opportunities to feel like “top dogs” and exhibit authentic leadership on campus. Langley’s preschool to grade 8 model intentionally creates such an environment, while the faculty and administration design learning activities that foster leadership and a strong sense of community.

Hear what it’s like to be a “top dog” from Langley’s Middle School parents and students:

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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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

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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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The Langley School: Curtain Calls Through the Decades…

By Elena Meschieri, Director of Web and Social Media

“It’s not just a Middle School play!” This is what I said to my friend last week when I told her about The Langley School’s latest drama production, “It’s All Greek to Me.” This play is the most recent installment in a long-standing tradition of high-quality performances here at The Langley School.

Every year, the young cast surprises the audience with their talent and dedication to the art. The Middle School play is the perfect example of collaboration, dedication, and unending creativity. More than 50 students work together, each of them playing an important role, to ensure that the props, costumes, makeup, music, and lighting are all perfectly coordinated. The cast then dedicates countless hours memorizing each line to perfection and practicing their roles so the audience can not only enjoy the play, but feel like they are a part of the story.

I invite you to take a trip down memory lane and enjoy some of The Langley School’s past Middle School productions. View the video:

 

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The Hidden Power of Sixth-Grade STEM Week

By Kathleen Smith, Assistant Head of School

Thomas Edison famously said of creating the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Experts in the field of education are currently researching and writing furiously about the “gift of failure” and the power it has to unlock creativity and innovation in our students. In his 2012 Harvard Business Review article entitled “The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure,” Peter Sims reminds us that “the odds are you were never, at any point in your educational or professional career, given permission to fail,” which puts us at risk of “disempowering yourself from exercising your inherent creativity.”

STEM WeekWe all agree that allowing for failure and growth and creating opportunities for students to be creative and innovative is essential to the development of their intellectual and moral character, of course. Now comes the hard part, if you’re a parent or an educator. At a primal level, we don’t really want our students to fail. Failure, despite all of its current good press, is often very painful. So how do we reconcile what’s in our heads and what’s in our hearts when we are dealing with young children and adolescents?

STEM WeekFirst, we reframe our definition of “failure” and internalize the idea that failure does not have to be a catastrophic endeavor. Second, we scaffold these opportunities so that students develop resilience over time and do not fall apart the moment they encounter a challenge. The sixth-graders’ recent STEM-immersion experience – a week during which they were encouraged to embrace failure and try, try again as they explored the world of bioplastics and polymers – provided exactly such an opportunity. The week-long chemical engineering workshop, developed by i2 Learning and researchers at Boston’s Museum of Science, challenged students to investigate, imagine, plan, create, test, improve, and communicate as they created bouncy balls, silly putty, and their own bioplastics. Reading the students’ reflections on their experiences was fascinating; they wrote not with frustration, but with joy about their failures and their perseverance when conducting attempt after attempt.
One sixth-grader wrote: “My best memory of STEM week was probably when I made the
car out of bioplastic. My group worked together really well, and we accomplished our goal. On the first try, we thought that we had made our mold perfectly. When we tried to put the pencils in, it just broke in half and we had to try again. On the second try, we made the base thicker and we made the wheels a lot bigger. It seemed like it would work, but the wheels wouldn’t harden and when we put the pencils in, it broke in half again. On the third try, we couldn’t make new bioplastic, so we used half of the second base and cut it into a circle. We had two wheels, so we melted our shavings down to more bioplastic. One of my group members had brought skewers instead of pencils, so we stuck those in and put the wheels on. It rolled!”

What a shame it would have been for one of my colleagues or me to step in with “TheSTEM Week
Answer” to these children’s questions as they puzzled through their initial “failures.” Encouraging students to ask their own questions – guided by faculty who embraced the open-ended, inquiry-based approach of the week – was essential to developing their intellectual toughness and grit. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer observed that questions “are the engines of intellect – cerebral machines that convert curiosity into controlled inquiry.” In keeping with our professional development focus on inquiry-based learning this year, faculty feedback about the program centered on the need to continue to provide opportunities for students to practice this “controlled inquiry” throughout their years at Langley, for them to formulate questions and tough it out with scaffolded teacher support. Such practice begins to impart to students that failure is not just okay, but necessary. The world will not end if something doesn’t go right the first time. When students push past that 10,000th try that “doesn’t work” and come up with their working light bulb, they will have achieved something personally and intellectually meaningful. And all of the failures will have been worth it.

We are thrilled to be offering another intensive STEM week this year! Our fourth-graders will investigate the world of programming during their workshop, “Building a Friendly, Interactive Monster,” coming in January!

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The Reading Experience

By Jan Silvano, Head Librarian

Stories and books…they conjure up memories as varied and personal as each individual’s experience. As parents, we may want to share our own love of reading with our child and are dismayed if he doesn’t take to it the way we did as children. We are so thrilled when that initial spark of independent reading ignites that we try to force abridged versions of Moby Dick on her. We express exasperation when he checks out the Alex Ovechkin biography yet again or she brings home Puppies and How to Care for Them for the third week in a row.

We are well intentioned! We want to encourage a love of reading in our child and are horrified to be met with resistance or downright defiance. What is meant to be an enjoyable source of common interest becomes a frustrating battleground of bargaining and negotiating: “If you read for 15 minutes, you can have the iPad back!”

There is a saying, “Single causality is simplistic,” and in the current climate of bits, bytes, tweets, polarized opinions, branding, and quick fixes, parents are hungry for “the one” easy solution. Alas, it is sad to say there is no “one” answer to the question, “How can I ensure that my child will ‘be a reader?’”

Educational research gives us these strategies. Make sure your child sees you reading. Have a variety of reading materials in the home that are easily accessible and available in a variety of formats. Talk about what you are reading with your child. If you have to read for work, describe the different kinds of reading you do as a grown-up. Discuss your own childhood reading experiences. Were you “a reader?” Maybe you weren’t. Maybe it was not an option you chose among the myriad of options competing for your time and attention – options that have increased enormously in the past 10, 15, or 20 years. Welcome to our own students’ experience!

The educational research is pretty unanimous when it comes to allowing your child to choose the books that interest him. He has to discover for himself the stories, subjects, and authors that motivate him, that nurture him, that help him develop his own sense of self. She will go through different phases, be drawn to a particular series, only read non-fiction, gobble up everything by a particular author, re-read favorites. It’s up to us, as parents and educators, to provide the forum for “courageous conversations,” to be available, and to support our children as they grow into evaluators and critical thinkers, navigating their way through the experience of the written word. That is our work.

Everyone reads for different reasons: to be informed, to be entertained, to be part of a community, to be seen to be reading. At Langley, all students have access to the school library. It is enlightening to witness the children as they make their book choices at each developmental level. Already by three and four years old, peer influence on the reading selections is in evidence. Non-readers, emerging readers, deep readers, struggling readers. Each child has a sense of what book she wants to choose when she comes into the library. It is the librarians’ job to guide, inspire, cajole, suggest, urge, badger, recommend, promote, and sometimes require depending on the curricular goal – but ultimately, peer influence wins out.

All is not lost. Children also sometimes want “the” book their dad read, or their aunt recommended, or their mom LOVES, or Mrs. Gustin says is a “must-read before you die,” or the biggest book, or the book of the movie/video game. Remember, a library is the place where a comprehensive collection exists to encourage independent free reading, with no strings attached, and the reading choices are made according to the interests of the reader.

Be assured: our Langley kids do read. They are excited and nourished by books, they love to read, and the annual Book Fair, December 9 and 10 in the Pat Bush Library, is one of the most popular and anticipated community events of the school year. Spend time with your young readers, be present with them (no screen between you), and read with them – at the Book Fair, at the school library, and at your public library.

The Power of Service

By Brent Locke, Interim Dean of Students

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a
difference. And we have a choice: What sort of difference do we want to make?”-Jane Goodall

Langley students impress me every day with their compassion for helping others both at school and within their community. By making acts of Middle Schoolers took part in the Capital Area Food Bank Face Hunger program.kindness both big and small a part of their daily routine, they make this community very special. Every day, I witness the simple, unprompted, thank yous our students give faculty after a class, a practice, an assembly, you name it. Langley students make treating others with kindness and respect a way of doing business.

While Langley students of all ages participate in a variety of service projects throughout the year, we launched Langley’s first-ever “Month of Service” this February to help raise awareness of the many ways students can help others on a daily basis. As the month progresses, I am hoping to harness the collective energy and goodwill our students exhibit by developing their understanding of service and the power of collective impact. Current educational research directly points to the immense benefits to students of participating in service learning. “Students benefit academically, socially, and emotionally; develop skills; and may come to appreciate the value of civic responsibility,” writes service learning expert Cathryn Kaye.

Developing a sense of empathy in adolescents, as they grapple with who they are and their place in the world, gives them powerful advantages in critical-thinking skills and awareness. Dealing with real-life issues, such as hunger and how to solve the overwhelmingly difficult hunger problem that exists within our own greater community, forces our students to see the perspective of others and expand their own problem-solving capacity. Further, students gain a deeper sense of gratitude and fulfillment of self when doing service projects.

As Langley constantly evaluates and improves our program and curriculum offerings for students, we have seen the overwhelming positive effects of collective impact that occur when our community works toward a common good together. For instance, nearly 30 people donated blood to support the American Red Cross blood drive we held on campus last week, donation boxes for the Capital Area Food Bank are already bursting at the seams, and best of all, students are learning the significance of our core values together as a community.

Langley students have embraced service and what it means to them in an inspiring way at school. At the end of the day, though, there is no greater thing you can do with your child than to continue these conversations about service with them at home. There are an abundance of opportunities to get involved within the community to further emphasize the impact and necessity of service in our everyday lives. If you are interested in volunteering as a family, I recommend you visit www.volunteermatch.org which lists a number of organizations that could use your help.

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.