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Checking In

A Quarterly Communication

Fall 2014




e are pleased to dedicate this issue of our quarterly newsletter to our teachers at Sabot at Stony Point.

and rich, collaborative learning experiences. Every year, we build on our understanding of exactly what a teacher does — in a social-constructivist paradigm — to facilitate collaboration, learning, and understanding.

We recognize, every day, that it is our extraordinary teachers who take our guiding values, views, and beliefs and spin them into engaging classroom environments

We returned to school and to this ongoing deliberation, with two new works of educational journalism in the news. The Teaching Wars by Dana Goldstein focuses on the

history of and controversies over the teaching profession. Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green explores the question of what is required for effective teaching as we seek, on a national scale, to move beyond high stakes testing as the sole measure of a teacher’s success.

backdrop against which we can consider and marvel at the “magic show” of great teaching — in education, in general, and at Sabot at Stony Point, in particular.

Both books raise provocative questions and offer important ideas. Together they offer a thoroughly researched

Watching a great teacher at work can feel like watching a magic show. DANA GOLDSTEIN The Teaching Wars


What makes a good teacher?


“W When you see an expert teacher guiding a class with the finesse of a master conductor leading an orchestra, the performance can seem seamless and effortless. But that mastery is the work of a lifetime.

hat I like about working in education is that you always keep learning,” says Sabot Executive Director Irene Carney, after more than four decades in the field. “Teaching is an intellectually challenging profession. It is a never-ending process of practice and reflection and refinement and learning — not a finite body of information or a set of skills that you acquire and apply.” And yet, as Elizabeth Green argues in her recent book, Building a Better Teacher, despite decades of hand-wringing over education in the U.S. — and the relentless accompanying flood of policy prescriptions, reform movements, standards initiatives, and testing regimens — until quite recently, astonishingly little effort has been made to study the actual work of good teachers — to learn what

AT SABOT, TEACHER COLLABORATION IS BUILT INTO THE SCHEDULE. Here, middle school faculty discuss their strategies for helping 6th Graders manage the academic changes and challenges of the middle grades.

the earliest days of universal education in the U.S., about the true purpose of the nation’s schools. Is their role to cultivate basic literacy? To prepare every student for college? To serve as the primary engine driving social and economic equality? To impart a system of “American” values? To train a future work force? To secure America’s continued leadership in the world? Little wonder, then, that, as Green outlines, every major initiative aimed at improving America’s education system has virtually ignored how teaching actually happens in favor of prescribing what teaching ought to do. Rather than seeking to identify good teaching practices that could be adapted, focus has consistently been brought to bear on metrics designed to identify good teachers who are getting results — according to whatever measure is in latest vogue — and to make it possible to eliminate the bad ones who aren’t. Against this backdrop, Green explores the work of a handful of individuals who have taken the contrary path of choosing to examine teaching itself, believing that good teaching is a set of best practices that can be analyzed, generalized, and Green’s book principally concerns itself with America’s disseminated. In short, with the right education, training, public-school system, and the quasi-public charter-schools and support, good teachers can in fact be made, and good offshoot, where the vast majority of America’s children are teachers, in turn, can cultivate successful learners. One educated, along with the Schools of Education that prepare would hardly think this was a remarkable proposition, yet many of the millions of teachers who staff these schools. Green demonstrates that, when barely a decade ago, Doug And within these institutions, insists Green, has persisted a Lemov — a leader in the new generation of education pervasive notion that, applied to any other intellectually “disruptors” who championed the No Excuses charter-school demanding profession, would seem absurd: that good movement — began compiling an itemized “taxonomy” of teachers are somehow born, not made. “Teaching is their the most effective teaching practices he’d seen and learned, calling — not a matter of craft and training, but alchemical he was hailed as a groundbreaking innovator. inspiration,” Green writes, describing what she calls the “Myth of the Natural-Born Teacher.” By contrast, Green turns to Japan and a practice long they do and how they do it, and to help foster those same skills in other teachers.

She also notes that the first institutions, founded in the 19th century, to prepare teachers (which would later evolve into university schools of education) were led by professors who apparently actively disdained any thought of ever stepping into a classroom where teachers were at work. Interested only in theory, they seemed to regard the actual practice of teaching — whatever went on between a real teacher and students — as insignificant and not worth the bother of noticing. A third factor, that Green does not address, but that is touched upon in another recent book, The Teacher Wars, by Dana Goldstein, is an ongoing ambivalence, present since

considered fundamental to the education system there: known as jugyokenkyu, or “lesson study,” it is a tradition in which teachers observe each other’s teaching and then exhaustively analyze what worked and what didn’t as a way to help teachers continually examine, refine, and improve their craft.

In outlining the principles of lesson study, Green also analyzes the difference between Japanese and conventional American teaching models: in the typical American approach, she says, the teacher demonstrates a problem, leads the class through a group exercise on the problem, then turns the work over to the students to practice individually. But in a Japanese classroom, according to Green, the

teacher first directs the students to tackle an unfamiliar problem individually and together. Only when they have wrestled with the problem, and considered possible (and possibly incorrect) solutions, does the teacher lead them towards a full understanding. In describing a process she dubs “you, y’all, we” (versus the standard American model of “I, we, you”), Green points to another essential factor in good teaching: understanding how students actually learn and how they develop true proficiency. Lasting, effective learning is not the accumulation of information but rather the ability to analyze, process, and manipulate information and to apply previously acquired knowledge to new and novel situations. That’s the kind of learning the 21st century requires of students, who will graduate into a globally interconnected, rapidly changing world facing enormous challenges. And yet, notes Irene Carney, in comparison to their international peers, “When it comes to critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge to novel questions and problems, American students are being left in the dust.” The U.S. response has been to keep doing more of what’s already being done, doubling-down on assessment tests, Advanced Placement classes, curriculum expectations, and homework assignments — all of it placing more demands on teachers’ time. Ironically, it’s actually time itself our system needs more of.

This collaboration fuels constant growth and learning — one teacher might share a recently read article, another a novel approach to a lesson that resulted in a leap of insight among students, and a third a solution to a common classroom challenge.

As the writer Sara Mosle writes in a review of Elizabeth Green’s book for Creating the structure that allows for The Atlantic, “every single country that collaboration, says Carney, that outperforms us has significantly “fosters a disposition that says that smaller teacher workloads.” Noting whatever it is that we do, it will be that American teachers spend roughly better if we can talk to somebody double the number of hours in the else about it. None of us can figure classroom than their counterparts in this out all on our own.” Finland and Japan (1,051 hours versus 500 and 553 respectively), two countries that consistently outrank the U.S. in student achievement, Mosle writes, “In practice… most teachers in this country have zero time to work together on new How Sabot is pedagogical approaches and share redefining feedback.” At Sabot, however, teachers are reaping the benefits of collaboration built into their schedule. “Every teacher in the school is meeting with colleagues, minimally, once a week as a group,” says Irene Carney. “They are looking at the program, thinking, and planning together.”

our understanding of teaching s

“Teaching is a collaborative process,” says Irene Carney. “The job is not just the amount of time that you are in the classroom with students. We need to redefine our understanding of teaching to support the work

outside of the classroom — to create a coherent infrastructure for teacher education and ongoing professional development, to allow teachers to talk with and learn from each other, to help them process and refine and improve their teaching.”

LEFT: Lower school faculty, along with the Math Specialist, consider together the work of the second grade. RIGHT: Preschool faculty bring the Studio Teacher’s perspective to the children’s and teachers’ investigations.

Articulating specific practices involved in a constructivist paradigm l

Attending carefully to our student:teacher ratio


Our faculty present at VAIS


Pairing newer teachers with teachers of longer tenure on classroom teams l

Starting and ending each year with goals and reflections l

Collaborating in weekly meetings to share ideas, problems, and solutions l

Providing opportunities to work on and contribute to curriculum development and peer mentoring l

Making ongoing efforts to provide additional time for planning, collaborating, and reflecting l

Committing to ongoing, high-quality professional development

On November 3, 2014, Sabot at Stony Point was honored to have six of our fabulous teachers leading sessions at the annual Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) Conference. We are not the only ones fascinated by their work! STUDENTS TAKE OWNERSHIP FOR UNDERSTANDING: DOCUMENTING THE CULTIVATION OF LEARNING COMMUNITIES USING THE HABITS OF MIND

Mary Driebe, Kindergarten Andrea Pierotti, 3rd Grade Marla Wilson, 5th Grade




Lyman Coffey, Middle School History

Go, Sabot Dragons! This soccer season began with a new identity for our athletic teams — the Sabot at Stony Point Dragons! Lee Martin, a recent middle school graduate, led the process of selecting a school mascot and developing a team logo. Lee used our middle school Exploratory class to survey each grade to determine which mascot they preferred. Suggestions ranged from the Pokémons to the Copperheads to the Dragons. It was this year’s 2nd grade who put the dragon nomination over the top! Lee’s next Exploratory goal was to work with an artist and a graphic designer to create a logo. He recruited current 8th-grade student, Hunter McGuire, to utilize his artistic talents to bring the Sabot Dragon to life. Hunter drew the dragon according to their shared vision — investing it with personality and style. Parent Kathryn Gammino contributed her graphic design skill to marry Hunter’s drawing with our school brand for a fun and eye-catching solution. Collaborative learning at it’s best!

Mark Your Calendar DECEMBER 18

Night Tree Celebration 5:30 PM DECEMBER 22 – JANUARY 2

Winter Break (School Closed) DECEMBER 31

Final day to make a taxdeductible contribution for the 2014 year JANUARY 13

Annual Town Hall Meeting 7:00 PM JANUARY 21


Bienniel Sabot Institute – vist our site to learn more!

Support Sabot at Stony Point We are grateful for the generous support of our extended community. Here are ways you can continue to make a difference: • Annual Fund Gifts • Building Fund Gifts

• Endowed Gifts • Gifts of Stocks/Securities

• In-Kind Donations • Planned Giving

• Program-Specific Grants • Volunteer Support

For information about how you can make a lasting impact for Sabot at Stony Point, please email Erin O’Regan, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, at or call 804-272-1341.

Fall 2014 Newsletter  
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