Preparing Students for the Metaphors of Life

Ron Monroe, Upper School English teacher

What has been my primary mission as an English teacher? As I reflect on my 44 years in the classroom, I keep coming back to the notion that I’m helping my students to live and thrive in a world of metaphor. I hope that by thinking, writing and discussing the complex meanings found in literature, they’ll come to understand that almost everything and everyone they encounter in life is, to some degree, a metaphor embodying complex meanings.

Just as an object in a poem, a character in a novel, or a gesture in a play can be interpreted in a variety of ways, so too can the events, ideas and people my students will experience in their lives. My goal is to encourage students to look beyond superficial appearances and to realize that there’s always more to something than we see initially. I hope to equip them with the analytical skills needed to decode and navigate deeper layers of meaning, enabling them to lead more fulfilling, more thoughtful, and more productive lives.

For this reason, one of my favorite novels to teach is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Most of us are familiar with the more prominent symbols in the novel, such as the green light on Daisy’s dock and the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg on the billboard, but almost every character, incident, conversation or object in the novel also bears multiple meanings. 

We view all the events in the novel through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway. But who is Nick? Is he a steadfast reporter who tells the story straight? Or does he shade the story to reflect his own biases and judgments and to hide his own weaknesses? Can we trust Nick to tell the truth?

And then there’s the complexity of Gatsby himself. In chapter 4, when Nick and Gatsby are driving into Manhattan, Gatsby gives Nick what seems to be a load of baloney about attending Oxford University, living like a raja in all the capitals of Europe, and machine-gunning Germans during World War I. But when Gatsby pulls out an authentic medal for valor from the tiny nation of Montenegro, Nick begins to think these stories might all be true. In fact, Nick doesn’t know what to think, and neither do we, the readers. And it’s just that uncertainty I want students to explore, discuss and analyze. Just who is this guy Gatsby anyway? 

To be honest, when I was the age of my students, I pretty much took life and literature at face value, paying little attention to ambiguity and complexity. But sometime during college, with the help of brilliant and provocative professors and classmates, I learned to live in the world of metaphor, to think beyond the obvious and to explore ambiguity and complexity, not only intellectually but emotionally. 

My life has been the richer for it. That’s why I’ve tried to create that same experience for my students so that they’ll gradually develop what Fitzgerald described as a “first-rate intelligence” – “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”      

Sharing the Joy of Math

Denise Garcia, Upper School Math Teacher

Excitement. Joy. Pride. These probably aren’t the words most of us would associate with the study of math. Yet these are the emotions my students and I experience as we explore this elegant realm of beauty, logic, and precision.

             I first knew I wanted to be a math teacher at the age of 17 when I volunteered to tutor a younger girl in arithmetic. The pride and joy on her face at the moment she mastered the process of subtraction told me I had found my calling.

            Solving a challenging math problem requires not only perseverance, tenacity, and determination, but also flexibility, improvisation, and creativity. I challenge students to devise new ways of looking at a problem, to break it down into its simpler components, to use the known to discover the unknown.

            One of the deepest pleasures of solving math problems is total engagement in the task at hand. The process can be almost meditative. When my math professors in college would give me a take-home test, for instance, I would put my hair in a ponytail, head straight to the library, and immerse myself completely in the problems for hours. My concentration was so intense that the outside world didn’t exist. One time, I was so intensely focused on a problem that a friend sat near me in the library drawing a sketch of me and I never even noticed her presence.

            Math shouldn’t be easy. It should push your brain and use every cell in your brain to circle in on a problem and devise a variety of possible approaches. What questions does the problem raise? What might work? What else can I try? What elements of this problem have I seen before? What might I be overlooking?   

            Unlocking the secret of a tough problem through hard work, ingenuity, and patience is like cracking a safe. When the tumblers fall into place and the door opens, students experience an amazing sense of exhilaration and accomplishment.

             These are skills, processes, and experiences that will equip students in whatever endeavors or careers they pursue. Learning how to size up a problem, pursue logical steps to figure it out, and then explain your solution to others is essential, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a governor, or a business leader.

            I love teaching math at Kingswood Oxford. Because the classes are small, I know my students well; we joke around; they feel comfortable telling me when they don’t understand something. For all of us, math is personal; when they figure out a hard problem, I’m as excited as they are. Above all, I really want my students to love math as much as I do.

Teachers Pursue Professional Development to Meet Pandemic Challenges

by Heidi Hojnicki, Director of Teaching and Learning

Despite the logistical limitations imposed by the current pandemic, our teachers’ vigorous efforts to enhance their professional growth and discover new ways to engage and excite our students have continued unabated.

Although teachers are no longer able to meet in person for workshops and group discussions, they’ve pivoted to address the challenges of both online learning and in-person classes requiring masks and social distancing. Teachers have acquired new skills, perspectives and technologies to help their students become effective, independent and passionate learners.

A Collaborative Venture

Because this is an exceptionally difficult time, connecting with one another is more important than ever. So this year our professional development efforts have focused on collaborative learning among teachers. By working together with their colleagues, teachers are modeling the collaborative learning they seek to nurture in our students.     

Thanks to the magic of Zoom technology, our teachers have continued to participate in full faculty meetings, peer presentations, remote workshops, support sessions and individual check-ins to make sure they’re encouraging and sustaining one another’s professional growth and well being.

New Resources and Strategies

Necessity has made us all innovators. Teachers share the latest technology applications, online educational resources and fresh strategies to deliver content, engage our students and help them take ownership of their own learning. 

By thinking critically about our curriculum, the ways classes can meet both synchronously and asynchronously, and how we can best meet the needs of all our students, our teachers have devised workarounds, improvisations and solutions that are creative and ingenious.

Sharing Innovative Ideas

During our recent professional development day in early January, teachers gathered on Zoom to discuss ways of implementing the school’s Strategic Vision into their classes. Several faculty members presented work they’re already doing that embraces elements of the Strategic Vision. While it was definitely more challenging to share the work of our colleagues through Zoom rather than in-person, these presentations offered us all not only creative inspiration but also a wonderful moment of connection.

The presentations and the values of the school’s 2020 Strategic Vision they exemplified were:

• Choreographer Showcase with creative arts teacher Kyle Reynolds addressed: 

  • partnering with people and institutions in the Greater Hartford area 
  • engaging in real-world learning opportunities 
  • working toward equity goals  
  • Collaborative Math Problems with math teacher Chris Vicevich addressed: 
    • working toward equity goals 
    • developing compassionate collaborators 
    • developing ethical problem solvers  
  • Global Cities with history teachers David Baker and Scott Dunbar addressed: 
  • developing ethical problem solvers  
  • engaging in real-world learning opportunities
  • The KO Garden: Soil Composition and Composting with science teachers Tim Allerton, Lisa Bailey and Natalie Lynd addressed: 
    • developing compassionate collaborators 
    • engaging students in real-world learning opportunities
    • leading and serving in the wider community 
    • developing active citizens 
  • The Lunchroom Recipe Project with math teacher Megan Farrell addressed: 
    • developing compassionate collaborators 
    • engaging in real-world learning opportunities 
  • The Power of Water with history teacher Peter Burdge, science teacher Josh Garrison and English teacher Beth Repp addressed: 
    • engaging in interdisciplinary learning opportunities 
    • engaging students in real-world learning opportunities 
  • Witness Stones with history teachers Katie McCarthy and Tricia Watson addressed: 
    • partnering with people and institutions in the Greater Hartford area
    • developing ethical problem solvers  
    • engaging students in real-world learning opportunities 
    • working toward equity goals 
    • leading and serving in the wider community 
    • developing active citizens

Connecting With One Another

Collaborating equitably requires relationship building. As we adults form relationships across disciplines and departments on campus, we are modeling this transformative act of working together for our students, preparing them to enter the global community knowing how to create local community. KO adults and students alike are strong, resilient and resourceful in large part because we care about each other and connect with one another.

New Methods, Schedules for In Person Classes Provide Expanded Opportunities for Learning

by Jackie Rubin, Director of Academic Skills 

All members of our school community have shown remarkable flexibility, creativity and resourcefulness as they’ve implemented in-person learning under pandemic protocols this year. In making adjustments to meet this challenge, teachers and students have discovered ingenious ways to enrich and energize the educational experience, both inside and outside the classroom. 

The new academic schedule necessitated by the pandemic has fostered rich opportunities for independent, experimental and exploratory learning. Moreover, because teachers are also adjusting to this new environment, they themselves have become learners, fostering a sense of camaraderie with their students.  

Masks and Motion      

Wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and sitting in rows facing the teacher are new and unfamiliar experiences for students who have become accustomed to sitting in a circle, moving around the classroom, and collaborating on group work. 

But after enduring the limitations and isolation of online learning last spring, students are very happy to be back to “real life” with their friends and teachers, and they’ve energetically and enthusiastically risen to these new challenges.

Speaking Up

Projecting your voice through a face mask that covers your mouth and nose isn’t easy, but students have adapted by speaking more loudly and enunciating more clearly. This enables them to practice speaking authoritatively and emphatically, a skill that will boost their communication skills when masks are no longer required.

Gesturing

Because teachers and classmates can’t see one another’s facial expressions, students have found kinetic ways to indicate their responses, including nodding, clapping and giving “thumbs-up” signs. Teachers have encouraged students to “go big” with their reactions, and these creative gestures make classes more dynamic and enliven students’ sense of spontaneity and fun. 

Spreading Out

Teachers have been especially creative in finding ways to allow students to engage in face-to-face discussions and work together in small groups. Literally “thinking outside the box” of the classroom, teachers often move classes to larger spaces or outdoors, which allows students to face one another during full-class discussions. Sometimes teachers send groups of two or three students to vacant classrooms, halls or lobbies for collaboration. Students also work regularly with one another in Zoom breakout rooms to incorporate remote learners and maintain the safety of social distancing. 

Exploration and Experimentation

Under the school’s pandemic-adjusted schedule, students are spending only four days, instead of five, in the classroom per week and now have 15 minutes, rather than five minutes, between classes. Each Wednesday is dedicated entirely to asynchronous learning, which provides valuable time for students to hold one-on-one meetings with teachers, participate in group extra-help sessions, meet for collaborative small-group projects, work solo on an assignment or conduct independent research.

By building in more time for non-classroom learning, the school has provided students with expanded opportunities to take risks, to discover new interests, and dive deeply into subjects that fascinate them. Through group work online, students have more time to teach one another and to enjoy interactions with classmates and teachers. They also have more freedom to pursue their intellectual, artistic and creative interests, such as reading, painting, writing, singing and playing instruments. 

Resilience, Reflection and Renewal

The school has responded to the challenges of the pandemic with ingenuity and flexibility. By devising new classroom strategies and innovative schedules, our teachers have enabled students to take more responsibility for their own learning, to hone their communications skills, and to savor more time for personal reflection, growth and renewal. These have always been fundamental goals of a Kingswood Oxford education. Necessity is the mother of invention, and our school intends to continue many of the learning strategies devised to adjust to the pandemic, such as additional open-ended work, a more skillful incorporation of technology and a less rushed pace of learning, even after the pandemic ends. 

Applying To College in the Age of Covid-19

by Jami Silver, Director of College Advising

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 continues to dramatically alter the college admissions landscape. Many of the methods and markers that colleges have traditionally used to evaluate candidates have been disrupted or de-emphasized. Meanwhile, the pandemic-induced recession has led both students and colleges to reassess their financial realities and priorities. 

While these shifts pose significant challenges for college applicants, they also provide the opportunity for students to discover, explore and communicate their unique interests and their true selves.

• How the Pandemic Has Changed the Admissions Process 

Standardized Tests

Colleges have been reducing their reliance on the SAT and ACT for several years now, and the pandemic has dramatically accelerated this trend. Because in-person administrations of these tests have been greatly reduced, fewer students have been able to take them. As a result, many more colleges have now made these scores optional or discontinued their use altogether.

Grades

When secondary schools turned to online and hybrid learning last spring and this fall, students completed fewer tests, papers, and other assessments, and grading of necessity became more subjective and generous; some schools simply adopted a pass-fail system. Consequently, grades earned during the spring/fall semesters of 2020 are not always reliable indicators of achievement.

Extracurriculars

The suspension of traditional, in-person extracurricular activities, such as clubs, athletics, publications, and performances, as well as summer internships, academic programs and sports camps, has deprived students of certain opportunities to demonstrate to colleges their talent, breadth, creativity, and leadership.

Finances 

While the cost of financing higher education has been skyrocketing over the years, the financial pressures of the pandemic have forced many families to reconsider the realities of paying for college. More students are applying for financial aid and prioritizing cost as a factor in deciding which colleges they apply to and choose to attend. At the same time, many colleges, facing diminishing enrollment and tuition revenue, have been forced to reduce the financial aid they offer.

• Who Are You? What Can You Control? 

Students can no longer rely on the traditional checkboxes of the admissions process. Instead, students now have the opportunity to focus more intensely on what they love to do, why they love to do it, and who they truly are. The pandemic has provided students with more time to explore their authentic passions, whether it’s building and launching a model rocket, taking an online course through a Mooc (like Coursera), writing poems or short stories, starting a blog or podcast, volunteering at the election polls, or reading everything Dickens, Morrison or Wharton ever wrote.

• How Students Can Communicate Their Passions to Colleges

The college essay and teacher recommendations continue to be important in evaluating applicants and offer an opportunity for colleges to “get to know the student” beyond traditional indicators. 

The essay allows students to convey their passions, personality, character and style. Through storytelling, introspection, self-revelation, anecdotes and humor, students can put an emphatic exclamation point on their unique imprimaturs. In supplemental essays, which are geared to specific colleges, students can show how their identity and goals mesh with the values and culture of the college.

Likewise, teacher recommendations celebrate not only a students’ intellectual and academic abilities, but also their enthusiasm, effort and character, especially in response to the challenges of online learning. 

• Money Matters

A student’s answer to the question “Who am I?” is now likely to include “Which colleges can my family and I afford?” The economic consequences of the pandemic and the $75,000-plus costs of exclusive private colleges, have led many families to take a fresh look at less expensive public universities and to prioritize financial aid in choosing a college. While every family’s financial situation is different, it’s important that all students and parents think realistically and strategically as they try to match family resources with college costs.

• The Process of Self-Discovery Continues

While many unknowns remain about what college will look like during the next few years or how the admission process will evolve, students will continue to have the opportunity to get to know themselves, how they define success and why they want to go to college. These aspects of the college process, while often overlooked, will remain very important.  

What Parents Should Know About Online Learning

by Dan Bateson, Director of Technology

In adjusting to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, Kingswood Oxford teachers have quickly pivoted to implement a variety of technological resources and platforms to provide students with effective remote and concurrent learning. Understandably, this rapid transition to online learning has raised important concerns for many parents. These include:

• Will my child be safe online?

• How adept are my child’s teachers at online instruction?

• Will my child continue to develop social skills?

• How will my child build a strong relationship with teachers?

• Will my child be spending too much time online?

• Do I have the necessary technical expertise and digital devices to support my child in online learning?

I hope the following information will help to allay these concerns and provide parents more peace of mind about online learning, enabling them to share more fully with their children the richness, depth, and delight that digital learning can provide.  

Our Students Have Been Well Instructed in Digital Safety, Literacy, and Citizenship

Even before the school moved to online learning last spring, students were well prepared for this transition. For several years, two required courses – the Upper Prep Computer course for sixth graders and the VQV (“Vincit Qui Se Vincit”) program for Upper Schoolers – have been teaching students how to:

• engage with others online with respect and empathy

• evaluate the accuracy, perspective, and validity of online information

• use technology as a source for good

• balance priorities and time spent online and offline

• be alert and know how to be safe online, such as avoiding suspect websites, detecting scams, and protecting personal information

As the school engages more deeply in online learning, these courses have provided our students with a strong foundation in digital literacy and conduct, and our teachers are continually reinforcing these principles and guidelines. 

Our Teachers Are Experienced and Proficient With Educational Technology

For several years now, KO teachers have been on the cutting edge of using technology in the classroom. This experience has enabled them to make a natural, informed, and energetic transition to online platforms this year. 

Many of our teachers are intuitively and instinctively “early adopters” who are quick to familiarize themselves and their colleagues with the latest learning digital hardware and programs. As a consequence, our students are already well versed in the use of technology and comfortable with many of these platforms. 

A group of teachers who are especially expert in technology, known as “ATCs” (Academic Technology Coordinators), provide their colleagues with frequent ed-tech workshops and one-on-one computer support.

Effective Online Learning Fosters Social Interaction

When students aren’t able to be with their classmates and teachers in person, a variety of online activities and tools allow them to interact with one another. During online classes, teachers often provide “breakout rooms” where small groups of students can meet to discuss academic topics or collaborate on projects, research, reports or presentations. Even when the entire class is gathered online in synchronous learning, they interact through discussions, presentations and question-and-answer sessions.

Technology Can Foster Student-Teacher Relationships

Though technology is clearly not a substitute for in-person interaction, teachers continue to build strong relationships with their students by checking in with them frequently and inviting students for one-on-one meetings online to answer questions, clarify class material, and discuss papers, labs and projects.

Teachers Strive for Balance in Online and Offline Learning

Our teachers believe that students should experience a healthy balance of digital and “real world” education. Thus, in addition to their online classes, students still will continue to spend a good deal of time offline as they read, study, research, and write.

Parents Are Strong Partners in Online Learning

While the levels of parents’ digital fluency and comfort with technology vary widely, parents can support their children’s online learning by familiarizing themselves with the programs they’re using, asking them questions about the work they’re doing online, and ensuring that they’re completing their assignments for each class.

Because families use different types of devices and programs, the school has chosen platforms, such as G Suite for Education, which work across multiple devices. Likewise, the school also uses several different channels, including texts, emails, social media, telephone and regular mail, to communicate with parents.  

As the role of technology in education expands, the school may soon begin offering parents workshops on technology to help them support their children’s learning.

A Learning Platform for All of Us

I hope this information will help parents to approach the online learning process as their children do – with curiosity, enthusiasm, and confidence. From my experience, as parents become more familiar with their children’s online learning, they often begin to appreciate the many opportunities for creativity, curiosity, and originality that digital resources can provide. 

Community as Classroom: KO Initiates Program To Engage Students in Local Learning

Dan Gleason, Head of the Upper School

On January 30, 2020, our Board of Trustees voted to approve a new strategic vision for Kingswood Oxford. The approval followed months of information-gathering and iteration by the Strategic Design Team, with strong input from faculty and staff, Board members, students, parents, alumni, and even recent accreditors. The new vision highlights several aspects of learning at KO – local connections, interdisciplinary thinking, student leadership, collaboration – that we believe are crucial for student engagement and essential to emphasize within our current program. In short, our strategic vision defines who we will become, and it specifies the exciting programmatic choices we are committing to.

While there are many key elements within the strategic vision, I would like to focus in this post on what is likely the most fundamental curricular initiative in the strategy: local experiences and partnerships. According to the vision itself, KO faculty will engage students “by expanding the classroom beyond our campus and partnering with people and institutions in the greater Hartford area.” We believe that these local connections are powerful motivators for learning, revealing in sharper relief the relevance and purpose of coursework.

The Power of Local Learning  

Schools that engage with local learning harness the power of the real world to motivate students and increase the relevance of the curriculum. In essence, local partnerships ask students to apply their classroom learning within a real-life situation, whether a meeting with a non-profit organization, benchwork at a biomedical lab, or a presentation at an art museum. One key accelerator for local learning is the richness of the context: in the medical lab, students don’t just learn the facts of science but also see firsthand what scientists do every day; in the art museum, students don’t just learn about art (or even analyze it) but also see how exhibits bring those ideas to life for visitors. This authenticity is compelling, and it helps students understand the power and purpose of their learning.

Promising Precedents

Certainly, building local experiences into curriculum is not a brand-new idea; several influential independent and public schools have created programs that do this. For example, The Winchester Thurston School (in Pittsburgh) pioneered the “City as Our Campus” program, and it has served them as a powerful platform for authentic learning. The Lovett School in Atlanta has found success with the semester-long Lab Atlanta program, which asks students to dive into local civic challenges. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a public school for gifted STEM students, has used its Student Inquiry and Research program to place students in cutting-edge research projects at local universities and organizations. And Iowa Big, a program that draws students from three districts in Cedar Rapids, challenges students to help solve authentic problems posed by community organizations. 

Here at KO many teachers have been designing local learning experiences to energize their curriculum for years. Students in U.S. History have taken part in the Witness Stones project, an initiative run by local teachers that challenges high school students to research the lives of enslaved people who helped found Hartford-area communities. Through this project, KO students have presented their findings to community members and created public markers to recognize those otherwise forgotten founders. Students in our ninth-grade Earth and Environmental Science class have conducted longitudinal testing of a nearby waterway (Trout Brook), gathering data on water quality as part of a state-funded grant. Students have also taken learning walks through the community to ground their learning: a Wallace Stevens walk for an English class, a Frog Hollow walk led by local author Susan Campbell for a History class. Our strategic vision builds on these practices and deepens them, bringing more application and relevance to all KO courses.

Students Thrive

Local learning does not just sound impressive – it gets good results, too. A recent review of studies on place-based education found a raft of positive outcomes for students engaged in exploring the local community or natural surroundings within their classes. Students involved in place-based education earn higher test scores and grades than their matched peers outside those programs. They also stay in school longer and earn higher scholarship awards. Even more impressive may be the effects of place-based education on critical thinking: a study of 400 ninth- and twelfth-grade students in Florida found that students involved in place-based education outscored matched peers by a significant margin on the Cornell Critical Thinking Test. And the students in the local learning programs also registered much higher motivation to achieve and learn than their peers.         

These are powerful results. Not surprisingly, colleges and universities take notice when students engage deeply with the meaningful civic and research challenges posed by their local environments. For example, Greg Moyer, the Associate Director of Admissions for Dickinson College, notes that Lab Atlanta’s emphasis on local engagement translates very well to the college environment: “Lab Atlanta’s focus on community-focused education resonates well with the work that we do at the college level. We look for curious minds that care about inclusive, diverse communities…Empathy and engagement is critical.” Halfway across the country, students coming out of the Iowa Big program have also found that their experiences have been viewed very favorably by colleges: 97 percent of the program graduates who applied to college were admitted to their first-choice school. Obviously enough, the purpose of local involvement is to engage students and increase learning – not just to rack up college acceptances – but these results nonetheless speak to the power of their work.

Engaging the Entire KO Community

With these compelling stories and potent research findings – on critical thinking, grades, and motivation – in mind, we at KO are thrilled to bring the power of local learning to our students. We are also thrilled to collaborate in this initiative with our parents, alums, and others in our local community who look forward to partnering with us and forging connections between our coursework and their organization’s goals and needs. Please reach out to us if you are interested in working with our students and building a meaningful learning partnership. 

 

River of Learning: Seventh Graders To Embark on Interdisciplinary Expedition

Ann Sciglimpaglia,  Head of the Middle School

The Middle School years, when students are brimming with energy and curiosity, offer the perfect opportunity for exploratory or “expeditionary” learning. It’s the ideal time for them to take a deep dive into learning that’s experiential, immersive and interdisciplinary – learning that allows them to explore new ideas, connect learning from different areas of study, and to examine the region and community where they live in an entirely new way.

This September, seventh graders and their teachers will embark on an expedition to create just such an experience. For an entire semester, they’ll be intensely engaged in an interdisciplinary study of the lifeblood of human civilization and culture in the Connecticut River Valley: water.

The Expedition

The Connecticut River Watershed will become our classroom. We will follow the river wherever it takes us to ask the essential question: What is the power of water?

Like any authentic quest, our expedition will lead us into the unknown and generate a range of emotions, including real and perceived risk, discomfort, surprise, and exhilaration. Our students will make this voyage of discovery as crew, not passengers. They’ll be relying not on teachers, but on their own collective knowledge and problem-solving ability. They will experience both successes and failures.

Through the lenses of science, history, and literature, students will examine the biological, chemical, geological and hydraulic features of water, its role in sustaining and shaping the economic, political and societal structures of indigenous peoples and European and African settlers in the region, and the cultural and metaphoric meanings and interpretations of rivers as expressed in myths, legends, writing, and art.

Most importantly, this process will build and strengthen their skills as thinkers, readers, writers, researchers, analysts, and synthesizers.

H-2-O Odyssey

As scientists, students will investigate questions such as: What are the sources of water in the Connecticut Valley? How has water shaped and carved the landscape? How have humans sought to use, control and distribute water and what effects have their efforts produced? What does a healthy watershed look like?

They’ll take a canoe trip from Hartford to Long Island Sound, conduct fieldwork to collect data on the quality of water and the flora and fauna in the watershed, and assemble field guides describing and cataloging the river’s environment.

Plunging into the Past, Present, and Future

As historians, students will ask: How did water shape the farming, hunting, fishing and trading patterns of Native American and European settlers in the region? What role did water play in the slave trade, the Pequot War and King Phillip’s War, and the American Revolution? How did waterpower lead to the development of manufacturing in the area? They’ll take field trips to archeological sites, dams, former factories and canals, and historical museums and homes.

They’ll also assess the state of the river today and discover how local, state and federal laws and public opinion affect how we currently use the river. They’ll analyze the impact of current policies and practices and on the future of the Connecticut River Valley.

Lapping Up Literature

As readers and writers, students will examine the inspiration that rivers have furnished for myth and literature. What is the role of rivers in legends and origins stories? How have novelists, essayists, poets, musicians and artists such as Walt Whitman, Gary Paulsen, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, and Billy Collins drawn on rivers as metaphors and sources of meaning? Students will keep personal journals and write their own narratives and creative responses to their experiences. They’ll create a literary magazine and podcasts featuring their writing.

River Keepers

During the course of their journey, students will interview key stakeholders in the river’s fate – farmers, hydrologists, naturalists, environmentalists, engineers, public officials, including KO alum Chris Hayes of Riverfront Recapture, State Archeologist Nick Bellantoni, former State Historian Walt Woodward, WNPR environmental reporter Patrick Skahill, master fly fisherman Iain Sorrell, Connecticut Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson and KO alum Benjamin Bachman, author of the book “Upstream: A Voyage on the Connecticut River,” as well as curators, scientists and conservationists at the Connecticut River Museum, the Connecticut River Conservancy, the Connecticut Audubon Society, and Trout Unlimited.

Journey’s End

As the expedition approaches its conclusion, each student will present their answer to the question “What story is the river telling?” in one of three ways: by writing a literary journal, producing a podcast, or devising a computer application. Collectively, they’ll compile an ethnographic study based on their interviews with the river’s stakeholders.

The expedition will culminate with a showcase event where students will share their experiences, discoveries, and reflections with the wider Kingswood Oxford community through exhibits, maps, artwork, and verbal presentations.

The Five Qualities of Effective Leaders

Will Gilyard, Dean of Students

What makes a great leader? At a recent conference dedicated to exploring the type of atmosphere schools can create so that faculty of color will feel safe and supported at trying their hand at leadership in independent schools, I had the opportunity to join other educators in answering that question. Working together, we identified, discussed and practiced the attributes and skills that make an effective leader.

In our school’s mission statement, we highlight the importance of inspiring students to excel and lead lives of integrity and involvement. Preparing our students to be leaders is part of living out our mission. I’d like to share some insights and strategies with the larger Kingswood Oxford community.

  • Soft Skills Are Hard Skills 

With the rapid increase of advanced technologies, we tend to assume that highly intelligent people with technical expertise and specialized “hard skills” make the best leaders. 

But many organizations are discovering that “soft skills” – having a high EQ, effective communication, making connections with colleagues, collaborating with them, and respecting their differences – are equally important attributes of strong leaders. Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls this “emotional intelligence.” 

Effective leaders, like great teachers, are able to inspire and motivate people to achieve their best, not only because they know so much about their subject areas, but also because they know so much about their colleagues. 

  • Tell a Story 

As any successful teacher, coach, speaker or writer knows, the most effective way to explain a process or clarify a message is to tell a compelling story that invokes an emotional connection and illustrates your point. What better way to encourage your sales team to be persistent than to describe your experiences as you knocked on 500 doors before making your first sale?   

  • Ask Questions 

Too many managers think their job is to give opinions and orders. In fact, their job is to ask questions and listen to other people’s ideas. Great leaders welcome multiple perspectives and seek dissenting opinions that differ from their own. They ponder not only what people are sharing, but also why they’re sharing it. 

You’re the one who makes the ultimate decision, of course, but by incorporating different perspectives into that decision, you can enroll others.

  • Set a Goal

One of the most effective practices of good leaders is “backward design” – figuring out exactly what you want the final result to look like and then engineering a process to achieve that result. That way, as the project progresses, you’ll know how each piece and step of the plan fits into the long-term goal, and you won’t be distracted or deterred by temporary obstacles and setbacks.

So, instead of false starts and blind alleys, you know in advance just what your goal is and exactly what tools you’ll need to achieve it. 

  • Yes, you can! 

Many leaders, even those who have risen to great success, suffer from “the imposter syndrome” – a sense of inadequacy, self-doubt and feeling fraudulent that overrides any feelings of success. They feel that they’re just faking it and that someone will unmask them as frauds. 

You can short-circuit this self-doubt by pausing to review your track record, reaffirm your competence, and remember the validation you’ve received from your teachers, colleagues, supervisors, and mentors. 

Give yourself the same advice you’d give to a good friend – “You can do this, and you know it!”

Centering on Students Is Our Twenty-first Century Vision

 Joan Edwards, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency

At the dawn of a new year, I imagine that I join others in reflecting on what this time of renewal offers us. I am not focused on committing to a new exercise regimen or a new self-care plan. Instead, I have given great thought to how to address what ails us as a society. We need to focus on the needs of our children. Seeing them as our North Star will bring us clarity on how to educate them for the present that they are facing and the future that lies ahead of them.

With the onslaught of hatred and violence streaming in the news cycle and the way that incidents of hatred and bias show up in the online and real-time lives of students, I ask us adults to commit to:

•Highlighting how systems of oppression still persist today. All students need to learn how those systems operate today in their daily lives.

•Letting students of color know that they are not an advertisement or representation of our equity goals. Neither are they required to teach us about how to achieve full inclusion in schools. They are young souls who deserve to be loved as people with the full spectrum of skills, needs, and dreams that are assumed of white students.

•Teaching white students how white supremacy robs them of their humanity every time they say, think or feel that they are superior because of their race.

•Refraining from teaching boys and men that women and girls are primarily sexual beings with no ability to lead.

•Teaching all students that people from the Asian diaspora are neither the “in between” people, nor perpetual foreigners. They have a history and present that is a salient part of the current discourse about race and class in this country.

•Refraining from teaching that white people are the involuntary perpetrators and that Black, Indigenous and People of Color were only the unfortunate victims of enslavement and genocide.

•Telling all children the truth about the founding of the United States with all of its contradictions, ugliness, and beauty. 

This is a call to action I share as an educator and a parent. I’m not calling us out. I am calling all of us adults in — into this work of raising our children honestly and with the respect they deserve.

Raising the future is challenging and often scary work but it is not impossible. Before we can effectively commit to and live out these promises for 2020, we adults need to do our own learning and unlearning.

We need to clearly see for ourselves how white supremacy, heterosexism, ableism, sexism, and classist thinking have clouded and continue to cloud our vision and therefore our teaching. Let’s promise that in 2020 we will “get our learning on.