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San Francisco Friends School

Academic Philosophy


SA N FR A NCISCO FR IENDS SCHOOL

Introduction The purpose of our work at San Francisco Friends School is to educate children to realize their full and particular potential as citizens and as human beings. Friends students develop not just the academic skills to succeed in high school and beyond, but also the mindset and experience to be creative, collaborative, optimistic, effective problem solvers, primed to use their skills and talents for the greater good.

A Friends education is joyful and challenging in equal parts, a foundation for a meaningful life. We look to progressive and Quaker educational traditions and to current research in psychology and neuroscience to inspire our program, which provides a model education: academically rigorous, intellectually engaging, purposeful, and affirming of the spirit of each child. In this booklet, we seek to explain both the theoretical underpinnings and the classroom practices that distinguish a Friends School education.


AC A D E M I C P H I L O S O P H Y

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Learning is an active process in which we use our experiences as building blocks to construct knowledge and understanding for ourselves.

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Making Sense of the World: How We Learn In the progressive school tradition, a San Francisco Friends School education is built on the constructivist theory of learning. Unlike those who believe that teachers transmit information to students who passively receive it and then “know” it, constructivists describe learning as an active process in which we use our experiences as building blocks to construct knowledge and understanding for ourselves. We assimilate some of our new experiences easily because they align with what we already understand. These things make sense to us, and we comfortably add them to our store of knowledge. But other new experiences challenge or even contradict what we think we know, and we are thrown into confusion. To reestablish equilibrium, we must change our thinking about either the new experience or our current understanding. This is exactly where learning takes place: in the active work of making sense of our experiences. At Friends, teachers are coaches and provocateurs, challenging each student to make sense of the learning experiences in the classroom. These experiences include problem solving, experimentation, hands-on projects, and simulations, which rarely yield simple solutions.

The investigations emphasize process as well as product and depth rather than breadth. Students grapple with content, share their methods (successful or not), and endeavor to articulate their developing concepts, actively building a strong, nuanced foundation for all their future learning.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF LEARNING While constructivism is an old theory, originating more than a half century ago in the work of developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, its essential ideas are supported by brain scientists’ recent discoveries about the production, pruning, and organization of the synaptic connections that comprise learning at the cellular level. To learn really is to “change your mind”!

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“Knowledge is not something that is given to children as though they were empty vessels to be filled. Children acquire knowledge about the physical and social worlds in which they live through playful interaction with objects and people. Children do not need to be forced to learn; they are motivated by their own desire to make sense of their world.” – SUE BR EDEK A MP, “HOW YOU NG CHILDR EN LE A R N”

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” – PAULO FR EIR E , PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPR ESSED

“The principal goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive, and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” – JE A N PI AGET, QUOTED IN EDUC ATION FOR DEMOCR ACY, PROCEEDINGS FROM THE C A MBR IDGE SCHOOL CONFER ENCE ON PROGR ESSIVE EDUC ATION

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Teachers are coaches and provocateurs, challenging each student to make sense of the learning experiences in the classroom.

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Learning together provides context, deepens motivation, enhances memory, and spurs academic growth.

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To Know Your Own Mind: A Community of Learners From every side, evidence is mounting that the old schoolhouse model of individual desks facing front is misguided. People learn best and do their most creative problem solving in relationship with others. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience confirm that the brain prioritizes the formation and storage of memories that have socialemotional content, context, and meaning. Research in the field of positive psychology reveals that the opportunity to engage with peers is a central condition for creativity and problem solving. Economists, educators, and futurists agree that skillful communication and collaboration are keys to success in the twenty-first century. As the pioneers of constructivism and progressive education recognized a century ago, the best learning happens in community. At Friends School, teachers set the stage for students to learn together by providing content, framing challenges, and explicitly teaching collaborative as well as academic skills. We help children to know their own minds, to articulate their emerging understandings, to listen carefully and respect each other’s ideas, and to stretch each other’s thinking. It may be a peer’s question, observation, or critique that pushes a student to a new understanding, or it may be the effort of communicating an idea to a

classmate that helps a student realize the flaw in her own thinking. Students are each other’s lab partners, teammates and competitors, sounding boards, debate partners, and critical friends. The diversity of children’s perspectives, experiences, and learning processes is essential to learning in community; if all our students had the same thoughts and ideas, they would have nothing to learn from wrestling with problems side by side. Learning together provides context, deepens motivation, enhances memory, and spurs academic growth.

REFLECTIVE PEDAGOGY While students at Friends learn together every day, quiet reflection also holds a special place in a Quaker education. Students of all ages are explicitly taught the language and habit of reflection: What have I learned? What do I still want to know? What’s my next step? How will I move forward? Educational philosopher John Dewey wrote more than seventy years ago, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflection on experience.”

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“Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving.” – JOHN DEW EY, HUM A N NATUR E A ND CONDUCT

“Difference of opinion leads to inquiry, and inquiry to truth.” – THOM AS JEFFER SON, QUOTED IN THE WR ITINGS OF THOM AS JEFFERSON

“We are not separated by our differences but connected by our differences. It is because of my difference that I am useful to you because I offer another perspective. To learn as a group means to learn from the learning of the others.” – C A R LINA R INA LDI, “THE R EL ATIONSHIP BET W EEN DOCUMENTATION A ND ASSESSMENT”

“Attending to the voices on the margin can ground an intellectual argument in a way that persuasion alone can’t be grounded, keeping us humble and reminding us that we depend on one another, and that ultimately, no one of us has a lock on the truth.” – NA NCY STA R MER, “TOWA R D A QUA K ER PEDAGOGY ”

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Teachers set the stage for students to learn together by providing content, framing challenges, and explicitly teaching collaborative as well as academic skills.

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Learning is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking.

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No Two Minds Alike: All Kinds of Learners Each human mind is different. Some people are linear thinkers and some are divergent; some find beauty in music and some in physics equations; some are quiet observers and some are active connectors. We each have a unique profile of assets, affinities, and challenges. Recent research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and related fields affirms the range and diversity of the brain functions that influence learning. It is increasingly clear that each child’s cognitive development proceeds at its own natural pace. Meanwhile, more and better tools emerge to diagnose and respond to learning profiles that make school difficult for some children. The more we learn about the brain and how it functions, the better we understand that learning is not a one-size-fitsall undertaking. At Friends, we understand that the diversity of learners in the classroom enriches everyone’s learning opportunities, and we value, honor, and support the differences in how children learn. Our curriculum is designed to be accessible and challenging to a range of learners. The program provides a wealth of opportunities— from performing arts to technology and

model building, quiet reading to outdoor education and athletics, international travel to purposeful service—for children to experience competence, mastery, and healthy challenge. Integrated units of study provide a variety of pathways into the concepts. Many projects and investigations are designed with built-in layers of complexity so each student can engage at a level that is appropriately challenging. Teachers often differentiate instruction, using a variety of modalities and materials to meet students where they are and to help each one to the next step. We want every Friends student to experience school, on the whole, as engaging and challenging. We resist the impulse to accelerate curriculum for the quickest learners, valuing the opportunity to go deeper rather than faster. Friends teachers are attuned to the natural ebb and flow of children’s learning; we coach every student to work at his learning edge each school day.

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SA N FR A NCISCO FR IENDS SCHOOL

CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT

“Child development research suggests that forcing a child to learn a skill or to master a subject before he is maturationally ready is ineffective and inefficient. It takes him longer to learn it, and the learning is less complete.”

Friends teachers create the curriculum through which students acquire the skills laid out grade by grade in the California State Educational Standards and the Common Core State Standards. Working with their colleagues, teachers select materials and develop projects and assessments that engage and challenge students as they build academic skills. Units of study are narrow and deep, and often interdisciplinary. It is the ongoing, directed professional work of the full faculty to map, review, and revise the scope and sequence of the K–8 curriculum.

– E A R L J. OGLETR EE , “SCHOOL R E A DINESS: THE DEV ELOPMENTA L V IEW ”

“Anything that is worth teaching can be presented in many different ways. These multiple ways can make use of our multiple intelligences.” – HOWA R D GA R DNER, INTERV IEW W ITH M AT THEW LY NCH, JA NUA RY 2012

“The point is not merely to challenge students—after all, harder is not necessarily better—but to invite them to think deeply about issues that matter and help them understand ideas from the inside out.” – A LFIE KOHN, “PROGR ESSIV E EDUC ATION: W H Y IT’S H A R D TO BE AT BUT A LSO H A R D TO FIND”

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The diversity of learners in the classroom enriches everyone’s learning opportunities, and we value, honor, and support the differences in how children learn.

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SA N FR A NCISCO FR IENDS SCHOOL

We are committed to nurturing children in a learning environment that honors the risk taking and mistake making that are key to learning.

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Effort: The Motivation to Learn Learning is hard work. It can be exciting in the breakthrough moments of new clarity and understanding, but it is frequently also frustrating and difficult. The best learners are those with the grit to hang in there, confident that clarity will eventually come. The key not only to academic success but also to long-term personal fulfillment, psychologists tell us, is drive and perseverance. It’s the internal motivation to pursue our goals even in the face of considerable challenges. It’s the mindset that improvement is possible with effort and practice. It’s the confidence to try (and maybe fail), and the resilience and tenacity to try again. People who understand their failed attempts as learning opportunities rather than reflections on their self-worth are more creative, more productive, more internally motivated, and happier. At Friends, we are committed to nurturing children in a learning environment that honors the risk taking and mistake making that are key to learning. We emphasize process as well as product, encouraging students to explain their thinking that results in wrong answers as well as right ones. Friends teachers honor wobbly first tries, near misses, and honest efforts. Revise, recalculate, reexamine, reconsider: in our approach, the opportunity to deepen learning is never over.

We expect students to master their gradelevel skills and content, and we diligently assess their growth and reflect our observations back to help them progress. Assessments are made both formally (through tests, projects, and performances) and informally (through observations and checkins). Teachers report student progress to parents regularly in formal written reports and conferences, and we give students specific feedback that helps them celebrate their strengths and make concrete plans to address their weaknesses. Students also learn to reflect on and assess their own progress, which they document in their learning portfolios. Self-assessment helps students develop an internal sense of the relationship between effort and progress, and to look inward rather than outward for affirmation that they have done good work.

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STANDARDIZED TESTING The power of a Friends education is roundly affirmed by external measures. Our students take the standardized, normreferenced Educational Records Bureau (ERB) test in grades four through seven. While we understand this test to be a limited measure of student learning, Friends students’ performance as a group typically exceeds the independent school norms. And our students are well situated for admission to a wide range of high schools, as shown by our graduates’ admission to schools that include the most competitive programs in the country.

LETTER GRADES Letter grades are never used at Friends. They work against too many of the educational values that we hold dear: creativity, tenacity, independence, and natural curiosity. Instead of letter grades, students receive detailed feedback that helps them improve, and parents receive regular written reports that thoroughly describe their child’s progress. This meaningful assessment, feedback, and reporting supports the development of a growth mindset, long-term internal motivation, and lifelong learning.

“Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity.” – DA NIEL PINK, DR IVE

“Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it. It would be an impoverished existence if you were not willing to value things and commit yourself to working toward them.” – C A ROL DW ECK, “SELF-THEOR IES: THEIR ROLE IN MOTIVATION, PER SONA LIT Y, A ND DEV ELOPMENT”

“Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.” – THOM AS A. EDISON, QUOTED IN EDISON: HIS LIFE A ND IN VENTIONS

“A disparate congregation of economists, educators, psychologists, and neuroscientists have begun to produce evidence…that what matters most in a child’s development is… a set of qualities that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.” – PAUL TOUGH, HOW CHILDR EN SUCCEED

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Revise, recalculate, reexamine, reconsider: in our approach, the opportunity to deepen learning is never over.

SEV ENTEEN


SA N FR A NCISCO FR IENDS SCHOOL

A Quaker Education: Three-Hundred-Year-Old Tradition, Twenty-First-Century Excellence Two religious Quaker beliefs underlie a Friends education: every person has a unique and divine Inner Light, and truth seeking is a process of continuing revelation in a gathered community. In our Quaker school, this means that each student enters the classroom with her particular responsibility to dig in to the shared work of learning. As longtime Quaker educator Parker Palmer points out, the common element between a Friends meeting for worship and a Quaker school class is that both are collective searches for truth, with the expectation that “if we give it space and time, truth will come to us.” Built on the foundation of Quaker philosophy, a Friends education is • inquiry based, honoring questioning, deep study, and process • highly participatory, requiring nuanced communication • intellectually challenging, stimulating curiosity and rewarding effort • reflective, taking time for complexity • purposeful, action oriented, in and of the world • respectful and inclusive of all The traditions that inform a Friends education are centuries old, yet they provide a powerful education for twenty-first-century engagement, success, and fulfillment. Friends graduates presume that learning requires perseverance, that they can accomplish more together than they can alone, that a diversity of perspectives enriches learning, that the habit of reflection and self-assessment leads to refined understanding, that they are flexible and resourceful problem solvers. Beyond these academic advantages, they are primed to move through life with optimism, purpose, and joy.

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“The distinctive aim of Quaker education, above and beyond excellence in academic instruction, is to…nurture a particular sort of personhood…a person who regards all of life as potentially revelatory of the Spirit and everywhere imbued with meaning; …a person who has begun to develop the courage to testify outwardly to what he or she knows inwardly; a person who has the courage to follow the inward argument where it leads.” – SA MUEL C A LDW ELL , “TOWA R D A CLE A R ER V IEW OF QUA K ER EDUC ATION”

“Humans, by their nature, seek purpose— a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.” – DA NIEL PINK, DR IVE

“The ultimate aim…is to facilitate growth of a whole human being, one who despite obstacles and challenges is able to find deep satisfaction in the events of life.” – THOM AS A R MSTRONG, THE BEST SCHOOLS: HOW HUM A N DEVELOPMENT R ESE ARCH SHOULD INFOR M EDUC ATIONAL PR ACTICE

“All the world is a very narrow bridge. The main thing is not to be afraid.” – R A BBI NACHM A N OF BR ATSL AV, IN W ENDY MOGEL’S THE BLESSING OF A B MINUS

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Mission: San Francisco Friends School

DESIGN BY PAT TER SON DESIGN | PHOTOS BY K ENA FR A NK, ISA BEL FR ENCH A ND SIGNE K UR I A N

At San Francisco Friends School, students learn in a community grounded in the Quaker values of reflection, integrity, peaceful problem-solving and stewardship. Our teachers challenge students with a dynamic curriculum that inspires curiosity, cooperation and hard work. We teach children to listen to all voices and to trust their own. We engage with the world around us with kindness and conviction, working toward the Quaker ideal of a caring and just society.


San Francisco Friends School 250 Valencia Street, San Francisco, California 415.565.0400 www.sffriendsschool.org

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SFFS Academic Philosophy Booklet  

SFFS Academic Philosophy Booklet  

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