a little something extra
Andrew W. Niblock
Director of Schoolwide Initiatives
The Greenwich Country Day School
Director of Schoolwide Initiatives
The Greenwich Country Day School
I have been a student and/or teacher and/or parent my entire life, and it is the promise and challenge of a new beginning each September that makes the first days of school my annual Mardi Gras.
I believe that is the prevailing sentiment among children and adults on our campus. We have built the habit. The joy of school habit.
The first days of school are magical and we all know it.
Neuroscience tells us that the habits are default behaviors, in this case dispositions, in the brain that have been formed through repetition and experience. Just as one grooms a forehand or masters a scale through guidance and practice, our children have built the habit of loving school through years of doing just that. Even our youngest have deep connections with the adults on this campus, and most of them have already made friends who will be lifelong. When you know that is waiting for you in September – it's hard not to move quickly to the front door.
We are past that now. Where is the magic as the first week becomes the second or third?
There is a new anticipation, a knowing anticipation, built out of the honest excitement that comes when faced with great opportunity among friends, old and new. It is this new anticipation that drives each member of our community forward, through challenge, and into a year of exploration, conversation, discovery, and growth.
This is when the school year finds its groove. It can be heard in questions asked less about new expectations and more about developing opportunities… fewer introductions, more debate. With growing familiarity, classrooms, hallways, stages, and playing fields resonate with a combination of deft improvisation and lively call and response. It is an engaging, blooming melody.
Listen for it.
Summer slide... Summer melt…
Whatever we might name it, there is a widely accepted notion that learning goes backward over the summer months.
I don’t buy it.
University of Pennsylvania Architect-in-Residence David Hollenberg had this response when asked about the inevitability of the daily learning process,
“You can’t help it. It’s almost harder if you didn’t want to keep learning."
Learning is what our children do, what we all do. Every day. All the time.
Not learning would not just be harder, it might be impossible. Summer learning may look different than the rest of the year, but it is just as relentless.
Exploring, reflecting, laughing, reading, singing, storytelling, discovering…These are a few of the sights and sounds of summer learning. We are all hardwired to learn. Our children are professionals.
This summer, rather than lamenting the slide, take care to notice, and join in, the joy of the summer learning our children do every day.
Happy Summer, Everyone!
“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.”
— Jeannette Walls
Leonardo DaVinci... He could think like an artist and a scientist, which gave him something more valuable: the ability to visualize theoretical concepts.
There may be no better argument for a liberal arts education. With experience and expertise in both arts and sciences, Leonardo DaVinci may have been the most creative thinker ever.
Da Vinci was also voraciously curious and audaciously driven – neither of which would have borne fruit without his broad multidisciplinary knowledge and experience. Everything was interesting, so DaVinci made the most of every conversation, sunset, book, question, or walk through the town.
This made for exciting days.
This time of year in New England there is so much natural beauty to fuel curiosity.
This time of year on campus there is so much energy and excitement to fuel many interests.
Be voraciously curious. Make everything interesting. Embrace your, and your child’s, inner DaVinci.
I learn through, from, and with people. My most powerful lessons have a face behind them.
We need role models. We need bars to reach for and examples to follow. The role models in my life are some of my most powerful teachers.
My grandfather was an accomplished athlete, educator, and musician, and I thought all that was amazing, but he also talked to my brother and me like we were the only people in the world. In my life, I have hoped to achieve even a portion of the success my grandfather found in athletics, education, and music, but the brass ring is the "only person in the world" power.
I work on that tirelessly every day.
“I’m not a role model.” —Charles Barkley
I disagreed twenty-five years ago, and I still do. Sir Charles was not a very good one, but he was a role model.
The NBA playoffs began earlier this month, and the Utah Jazz have a role model worth staying up late and rooting for. GCDS alum and rookie of the year favorite Donovan Mitchell GCDS '12 is aware of the role model requirements, and he wears them well. He works hard, is a good teammate, plays fair, and seems to have a whole lot of fun doing it. He is also an awfully nice guy.
It is too easy and risky for our children to find their role models in professional sports, but they do it anyway. I’m glad Donovan is there.
Take time to think about role models. They are important. They are the faces behind our lessons.
I love music. I always have. I believe every space is a little better with a melody.
Over the last year I have had two experiences that changed the way I listen.
The first was a conversation this summer.
A good friend was telling me about a wise professor he had when studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He and his classmates had been scoffing at the latest top 40 hit when his professor, an accomplished songwriter and producer, put a halt to the conversation and said, "It's a hit. There is genius somewhere in that song – you want to be musicians… find it!"
Life-changing question number one…Where is the genius?
The second happened during a game of "Name That Tune" a few weeks ago.
The discussion, centered around generational differences, went to what we can learn about the history and disposition of a time by listening to the lyrics of its music. Art may give us a window to the soul of a time. We shouldn't miss the opportunity to take a look.
Life-changing question number two… Is there a story being told?
These two questions have resulted in a renewed curiosity when I listen to music. I am hoping it spreads. I am hoping my curiosity extends to the books I read, the movies I watch, the art I see, the conversations I have, the people I meet…
We are missing out when we don't take the opportunity to listen curiously. Learning gives life purpose, and every time we open our ears, we dramatically increase the chance we might learn something.
Over the next two weeks I hope to find opportunities to listen curiously – find the genius and enjoy the story.
There is a worthy champion in the hierarchy of learning. It is called productive learning, and it is an experience to which we should all aspire every day.
Productive learning is the name for what is happening when you leave a class, conversation, book, or blog with more curiosity than you had before you started. In the end game of enthusiastic lifelong learners, productive learning is the gold standard.
How many of our learning opportunities are truly productive in this sense?
How many learning opportunities end with the bell, or the last page, or when dessert comes?
How many learning opportunities leave us with a lingering, nagging, smoldering curiosity?
That is the calling card of productive learning.
In the quest for the cultivation and discovery of productive learning, I propose a new line of interrogation at the dinner table.
Instead of the oft dodged, what did you do at school today?… Try, what are you still wondering about?
A person with many interests is rarely lonely and never bored.
– John Lynn Miner
These were the visionary words of the founding head of The Greenwich Country Day School. In his mind the brass ring of education was the cultivation of a love, curiosity, and aptitude in many things. It was not enough to be a gifted writer; Miner hoped his students would also have a passion for the outdoors, and the skills in debate to honor and protect it.
In a world in which specialization at a young age is expected, Miner's words bear reflection. A well-rounded learner is one who may bring knowledge from many disciplines to bear on a challenge. A well-rounded athlete will understand spacing principles apply in all sports. A well-rounded artist will use her understanding of notes and rhythms to inform her storytelling with a paintbrush.
A well-rounded learner, athlete, and artist will connect the knowledge and experience they have to change the world. I wouldn't bet against that model.
Happy new year! We are two weeks in, which means most of us have abandoned our resolutions. Statistically speaking that's a safe statement. Even if we are outliers, there is something to be learned from an article I read recently.
The argument is that resolutions fall by the wayside not because we are overshooting, but we are using the wrong motivation. Northeastern professor David DeSteno suggests that resolutions, and goals in general, are doomed unless we can attach them to real emotions and relationships. Attaching a worthwhile goal or resolution to how it makes you feel or the effect it has on others is a profound and powerful motivator.
Being more generous in my listening – particularly with my children – is a worthy resolution. One I would strive to keep on face value alone. However, I would argue I am far more likely keep it if I remember how it feels to come out the other side of a barrage of "whys" with a new appreciation for the remarkable perspective of a six-year-old.
Over the past five years I have had many occasions to reflect with gratitude on this community. Never has that been more powerful than this past weekend. The love and support our family feels from this community is overwhelming and wonderful. Thank you.
My new position this fall has afforded me a unique perspective on the whole of our school. I have had the opportunity to teach Upper School design classes, work with faculty in our Middle and Upper School, shake hands in all three divisions, write an article or two, and dive deeply into the schoolwide work of health and wellness.
A purposeful day is one in which you seize the opportunity to learn something new – I am distinctly advantaged in this pursuit!
There has never been a more exciting time in ALS research and care. However, there is so much still to learn and one of the greatest challenges is making the advances in science available to everyone who might benefit. Collaboration will be a key in ending this disease, and our charity partners for the Walkathon are dedicated to this aim.
One of the most exciting scientific advances in developing therapies has been in stem cell treatments. Thanks to the support of our family trust, I will have the opportunity to travel to South Korea three times over the next four months to receive this therapy. The data on their early work is remarkable, and I am hopeful that it will make a real difference.
Thank you for helping to make this possible.
Andrew, Eliza, McCrory, and Towns
Our world is topsy-turvy. How we make sense of that is important. How we help our children make sense of it is possibly more so. Two years ago I wrote an article on educating after a tragedy that was printed in Education Week, and recently reprinted following the events in Las Vegas.
At the core of that article was my belief that hope lies in honoring the questions of our children, listening to their concerns and dreams, and helping them find the good people in our world. It is through this process that moral courage is cultivated. They might even help us find some of our own.
Care must be our most powerful tool. We should address the honest questions, have age-appropriate direct discussions, recognize and acknowledge students’ fears, discuss the many responses the governments around the world are pursuing, and emphasize the solidarity and common purpose of good people supporting each other all over the globe. The 24-hour news barrage and the anxiety that comes with repeated exposure can only be diminished when students are afforded honest conversations with adults whom they trust, and who inspire them to carry the good and the hope for our world.
Lagniappe is New Orleanian for a little something extra. On this blog my goal is to share something that has caught my eye or gotten me thinking. Something extra…I truly enjoy writing it, and I appreciate the time spent to read it.