I grew up in a family of educators. Therefore even as a young child, I knew I would be an elementary school teacher. I dreamed of teaching in my own classroom one day. I wanted to foster a love of learning by creating a classroom where students would feel free to take risks and accept challenges. My dream became a reality and I began teaching in public schools. I taught with very talented and well-educated instructors. Year after year, my classroom was packed (literally) with a wide range of creativity and brilliance. Through my accomplishments there, I had come to believe I was a seasoned and successful teacher. Many teachers would even consider this an ideal working environment. And then I became a mother of a little girl who was nearing school age and my perspective on education changed abruptly. It became impossible to look at education through any eyes other than that of a mother.
When you think about where your child is going to spend the majority of their time, the various influences on them daily, and the type of education they will receive you become very critical of the little details you never seemed to notice. The details began to concern me. I began searching for something more and while doing so I recognized my values as both a teacher and a parent. I realized I value tailor knit curriculum created to meet every individual need in the classroom. I value teaching the noble traits of compassion, empathy, and inclusiveness. I value teaching practices that don’t just have a “one size fits all” model. I value when children’s talents are celebrated through artwork and presentations that demonstrate the depth of learning versus typical “I’m a super kid” award ceremonies. Many schools claim that this is an integral part of their approach, but until The Cooper School, without fail, it has always been lip service. The Cooper School actually puts what I value into practice every single day.
In August of 2015, I was lucky enough to join The Cooper School. In a very short time I have become aware how fortunate I was to find TCS and how lucky our little community is to have each other. As a teacher, I am not only encouraged, but challenged to exceed my limits of creativity, communication, and education. As a mother I get to watch my little girl thrive in a place that pushes her through individualized curriculum, encourages her to be unique, and insists on her being herself. In my mind, the best gift I can give her is knowing she is receiving the tools, confidence and enthusiasm to realize her potential.
2nd Grade Teacher
When my son told me that his “hope and dream” for the school year was to raise enough money to extend the school through 8th grade so that he could stay, I knew The Cooper School was a very special place. The community of creative exploration, support, and kindness has inspired a confidence and love of learning in Charlie that will prove invaluable throughout his life. We feel privileged to be a part of and support such a unique learning environment and are excited for what the future holds.
– Ashley Rini, Grade 2 Parent
“Education must be not only a transmission of culture but also a provider of alternative views of the world and a strengthener of skills to explore them.” Jerome S. Bruner
Global citizenship is a way of thinking and living that recognizes that all of us in the world are interconnected and interdependent. Our community is not just our small school, town, or state, but can also be viewed through the wider lens of citizen of the world. At The Cooper School, we believe that global citizenship is important. When you think of yourself as a global citizen, you develop a deep respect for others, no matter where they live. You are able to make decisions and form beliefs based on a clear understanding of how the world actually works, and the diversity that it includes. Media, travel, migration, politics, economics, social media and telecommunications means that today we are linked to people of every continent every day. We want to nurture thoughtful, flexible, prepared citizens that understand how to communicate and collaborate across cultures, and grow to contribute to the formation of a better world.
We know that everything we do sends a message to our students. If we want to affirm beliefs about the equality of all human beings and the importance of treating everyone fairly and with respect, we need to ensure that our learning processes and relationships reinforce and reflect these values. Therefore, the concept of global citizenship softly permeates everything we do. It is behind the scenes of the continent and indigenous peoples studies that occur in each grade. It is brought to bear as our students learn how to greet each other in our three world languages. It can be heard as the choir learns Portuguese folk songs. It is present as dumplings are shared for Chinese New Year and a galettes des rois is devoured. Of course, it is always deeply entrenched in our explicit teaching of social emotional concepts such as gratitude, wonder, joy, creativity, flexibility and compassion.
One of our favorite ways to promote Global Citizenship is in December as we commence our study of Holiday Migrations. During this month, teachers present the migrations of many different holidays across time and place. We also choose a theme to connect the study. In years past we have focused on food, light, music, and gratitude. This year, we will focus on symbols as we learn about Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas, St. Lucia Day, Kwanza, Tamkharit and Los Posadas.
“Before you finish eating breakfast this morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the US, one student drops out of school every 12 seconds. Why? As a country, what are we doing wrong, and how can we do better? In a study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 47% of high school dropouts left because they “were bored with school.” Student disengagement is creating a crisis among our students. Even though this statistic may not directly affect our own elementary school students, it started to make me wonder: Are we doing enough at TCS to create engaged and passionate learners? If we believe that elementary schools offer the foundation for success, are we creating a strong enough one?
As I pondered this, I was led to the work of Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski. Authors of Leaving to Learn, Washor also co-founded Big Picture Learning. This educational initiative in Rhode Island led to a school redesign model which now includes over 65 schools in the United States, and many more around the world. They have created 10 expectations that students want from their schools.
I was struck by how this work captures much of what makes learning “stick” and feel joyful at progressive schools such as The Cooper School. A standardized, one-size-fits-all, traditional approach to learning doesn’t reflect how children (or adults) learn best. At The Cooper School, we take these expectations seriously each and every day. Below you will find the top 4 expectations that I believe are critical to the work we do here.
One of the hallmarks of The Cooper School, and progressive education in general, is this relational piece. We believe that children learn best in relationship, with each other and with their teacher. By design TCS teachers are in deep relationships with their students. In fact, it is one of the reasons students call their teachers by their first names! Teachers are seen as the lead learner in the classroom, a guide. By using first names, the sense of being partners in learning is fostered. Not only are these relationships delightful to engage in and witness, they matter academically. Multiple studies have shown that positive teacher-student relationships have been shown to support students’ adjustment to school, contribute to their social skills, promote academic performance and foster students’ resiliency in academic performance. At The Cooper School, we know relationships matter, and we make time to foster those relationships each and every day.
Parents, have you ever had your child ask you why they have to do something? Well, research tells us the “why” matters! This makes sense, right? As adults, we are more engaged, more present, when what we are doing actually has real world applications – when it makes sense and is meaningful. Kids are no different. The benefits of relevance are rooted deep in brain research. Relevant, meaningful activities that both engage students emotionally and connect with what they already know, help build neural connections and long-term memory storage. Students have to connect to the material in deep ways in order to engage and remember. This is precisely why paper pushing and busy work is not only boring, but it doesn’t create long lasting learning. Here at TCS, we give students the opportunity to explore and apply relevant, real world work. Students map and plan, collaborate and design, fail and try again, all in ways that make sense to their own, meaningful interpretation of the world they inhabit. In these ways, they both learn and remember.
We all can agree that play is how the very youngest children learn. But somehow, in many schools the time and space for play is eliminated by First Grade. Teacher led, lecture format instruction has replaced play in many traditional classrooms across the country. At TCS, we know that when you eliminate play from your classroom, you eliminate opportunities for innovation and growth, both academically and socially. Plus, isn’t joy in discovery what is should be about? Play at TCS can take two forms. First is when children are given ample time to carry their own ideas into play—with assistance from teachers as needed. For example, last year, as Grade 2 students were deep in their Bird Study, playground play was transformed. Second Graders became a family of birds at recess. They would gather wood chips and materials around them to intricately create their nest. The “clutch” was often seen in the nest, while the mama bird searched for food. Little “hatchlings” could be seen spreading their wings and learning to fly. It was magical and all inspired by what they were learning in the classroom. Play at its finest.
The other type of play is when the teachers enrich content in experiential ways, using hands on activities and exploration. This may not be delineated by your student as “play” but, in fact, play is at the heart of it. Student’s play and teacher’s content should go hand in hand. As adults, these children will be expected to create, to problem solve, to negotiate, to socially navigate what others say and mean, and to follow through to completion something of their own initiation. This is what play allows. At TCS we create space in both time and environment for this most important work of children.
Ah, academic rigor. We say we want our students to be “challenged” but what do we really mean? One common misconception of progressive schooling is that it is laissez faire, steeped in hippie idealism. Certainly, I understand the marketing ploy of “if it is not hard, it can’t be working.” In fact, I recently read an article about the “Listerine Theory” of education, which was based on an ad campaign run by Listerine. In effect this ad proposed that because Listerine tastes bad it must really work! The converse being implied is that if it is fun and engaging, it can’t be educational. Our students are so darn happy, they can’t actually be challenged academically, can they? In fact, by definition progressive education is rigorous and challenging. Constructing your own learning, having your academic needs individualized, and designing your own academic goals within a discipline are far more challenging in their nature than a series of rote worksheets or flashcards.
At The Cooper School, teachers are assessing their students daily and planning with administration weekly in order to make decisions about the direction that a student’s learning is going. This may mean that one student needs to be presented with more challenging work, or this may mean that a group of students needs some more focused instruction with a specific skill. By individualizing instruction, we can make sure each and every child is challenged appropriately. Every day, every discipline, every student.
Please join the TCS teachers and administrators on Thursday, September 29 from 5:30pm-6:30pm for Curriculum Night. This is a night where parents will learn all about the fantastic and engaging curriculum that their children will experience this school year. Parents will participate in a teacher led Morning Meeting and have time to browse their child’s classroom. Students do not attend this event.
Wondering what to do with your children all summer? Send them to TCS Summer Camp! We are excited to announce the very first TCS summer camps! TCS students will receive first priority in signing up, but these camps are open to the public so please share with your friends! Come have some summer fun with your friends at TCS!
For more information and details about the camps, click here.