Giving Thanks for Meaningful Relationships

IMG_1132 (1)A friend of mine recently shared a link on Facebook to this blog post by Kylene Beers: “Why I Hated Meredith’s First Grade Teacher.” Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link. To my surprise, it’s actually a tribute to her daughter’s first grade teacher, Ms. Milner, and the joy of learning she helps her daughter find. After reading it with tears rolling down my cheek, I took the time to reflect on my own Ms. Milner and thought about the educators who helped lead me to where I am today. Then I thought about my daughter Mia, who is in kindergarten and came to Walker last year in pre-k, and the immeasurable ways her Walker family – her classroom and specials teachers, her preschool counselor, her EDP and SummerGarten counselors, even Mr. Tinsley who watches over things, but most importantly, opens our car door in the morning with a warm smile – has already made an impact on her life in just 18 short months. The list of those at Walker who are instilling a love of learning for her is endless, and I realized how incredibly grateful I am for Mia to attend a school where meaningful relationships abound.

Students at Walker are surrounded by educators who teach, nurture and inspire every day. As you think about your child’s experience at Walker, you can likely recall so many moments when teachers and coaches recognized your child’s potential and went out of their way to help him shine. They are his cheerleaders, his advocates and the ones who cultivate his ‘wanting to know.’ And they are the ones who provide the invaluable experiences that help our children find success now and in the future.

My role at Walker is to manage our school’s Annual Fund, which through the philanthropic support of our community, brings resources to our operating budget that tuition alone could not provide. I am often asked, “What exactly does the Annual Fund support?” “Why should I give?” The short answer is that the Annual Fund supports the educators who are the cornerstone of a Walker education. Whether this is new curriculum materials, technology enhancements, or professional learning opportunities to help ensure our teachers remain experts in their field, Annual Fund gifts work to provide our faculty the resources they need to help our students flourish in and out of the classroom.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting the Annual Fund and giving Walker teachers like Ms. Milner the tools they need to provide an exceptional education to our children. For I know, just like me and Kylene, we all are incredibly grateful for the tremendous ways they teach, inspire and nurture our most precious gifts each and every day.

“What Do You Think?”: Critical Thinking and Your Young Learner

As a part of Walker’s continual pursuit of growth, faculty members have been looking at how to better develop critical thinking skills in our students. The entire school met for a talk about critical thinking skills, addressing questions like what is critical thinking, what makes a critical thinker, and how do we as teachers encourage critical thinking.

In this presentation, we were introduced to Dr. Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills Needed For the 21 Century. These skills are as follows:

1) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
2) Collaboration Across Networks and Cultures
3) Agility and Adaptability
4) Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
5) Effective Communication Skills
6) Accessing and Analyzing Information
7) Curiosity and Imagination

I loved this list because I see these skills being accessed and developed every day in the Preschool. Yes – our young students use critical thinking skills too; I would venture to say they are even better at it than we are as adults. Preschoolers have not developed a fear of failure yet and are willing to explore their world in a way that allows them to learn and grow.

Here is an example. To set the stage, I was eating lunch with the Early Learners class this week; while we were eating, there was a repair man dressed in a blue uniform working in our kitchen. The critical thinking went something like this…

Child One: “Mrs. Stoll, why is there a policeman in the kitchen?” Curiosity
Me: “You notice that man in the kitchen and he looks like a policeman to you.”
Child Two:“Is he a policeman, Mrs. Stoll?” Analyzing Information, Curiosity, and Collaboration
Me: “What do you think?”
Child Three: “Why would a policeman be in the kitchen?” Problem Solving
Child One: “He is wearing blue. ” Accessing Information
Me: “Oh, you know that policeman wear blue so you are thinking he must be a policeman.”
Child Two: “I think he is fixing something.” Problem Solving
Child Three: “Looks like the refrigerator.” Accessing Information
Child Two: “The refrigerator must be broken.” Analyzing Information and Problem Solving
Me: “So you know that when things are broken someone has to come fix them. I am wondering if policeman fix refrigerators?”
Child One: (laughing) “No, Mrs. Stoll!”
Child Two: “He must be a man who fixes refrigerators.” Analyzing Information
Me: “Ah ha! Do you know what we call people who fix things?”
Child Three: “What do we call them?” Curiosity
Me: “We call them repairmen.”
Child One: “Repairmen.”
Child Two: “Oh, he must be a repairman.” Analyzing Information and Adaptability
Child Three: “Fixing the refrigerator.” Problem Solving
Me: “You guys figured it out! He is a repair man, and he is fixing the broken refrigerator.”

And there you have it – Preschoolers at work using collaborative critical thinking skills and effective communication to draw conclusions about the world. I love eating lunch with my students!

As a parent, how can you encourage this kind of interest in problem solving using critical thinking skills?

First, stop answering all your child’s questions before giving them time to think through a solution independently. This is most easily accomplished by restating the question as an observation. I like to use the go to phrase “You are wondering about…”.

For example:

Your child asks, “Why do I have to eat dinner to get dessert?”
Your answer is “You’re wondering why there is a rule about eating dinner before you can have dessert.”
Your child says, “Yes.”
You respond with “What do you think?”

Then, follow this up with questions like why do you think that? How do you know that? Can you tell me more?

These students I wrote about today are three and four years old. If they can engage in a critical thinking conversations then anyone can! When we encourage our children to use Dr. Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills to search for the answers to their questions, we are sending the message that we believe they are skilled and capable learners. We are modeling the value in accessing prior knowledge, gathering information, problem solving, and using persistence to reach our goals.

Slow down. Give your children time to think. You will be amazed at the knowledge they give back to you.