“Progressive education, education as the practice of freedom, enables us to confront feelings of loss and restore our sense of connection. It teaches us how to create community.” -bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope.
It is safe to say that we all could use inspiration and hope as we chart these untested waters of what and where the pandemic may bring us over the next few months—and ultimately what our “new normal” may be.
As progressive educators and students, we seek to engage each other to ask questions, work together to seek knowledge, and benefit from each other's unique perspectives and talents. Students fan their creative and intellectual sparks through projects, discussions, and activities, which they have a role in shaping and engaging in fully. Equally important is that we strive to effectively create community, regardless of whether it is virtually or in person.
These new circumstances require us all to adopt a growth mindset, to be more self-reliant and independent, and to have a deeper sense of who we are as people and as learners. Fortunately, these are the very qualities we nurture through progressive education. The beauty of our approach is that we teach to the individual, allowing each child to excel as thinking, caring, passionate learners in their own style. Furthermore, students’ ability to advocate and express themselves among peers and with adults is a lifelong skill developed at Green Acres. The result? Lifelong learners who are enthusiastic, active participants in the school, community, and world.
A few years back, Director of Professional Development (and now also Lower School Head) Tracey Marks wrote a brief article entitled “What Kind of Teacher Does It Take to Teach Progressively?” As I marvel at the many ways in which your children’s teachers channel their inner progressive educator to take on today’s new challenges, I draw a connection to her description of the kind of teaching we value and practice at Green Acres—just as true in these COVID-19 times as they were in 2017:
A popular adage says that great teachers are born, not made. But is this true? I would venture to say that great teachers usually are born with a love of children, an enthusiasm for spending time with them, and an ability to connect with them at a deep and fundamental level. But the craft of teaching itself involves much more.
This important work requires that teachers create curricula that meet students’ needs and interests. They must plan engaging lessons and identify students’ developmental levels and readiness to learn. To teach in a way that involves children, stimulates their desire to acquire knowledge, and unlocks their intrinsic motivation is a skill that takes time to develop and grow as teachers learn educational theories, familiarize themselves with educational research, and practice over time what they have learned in the classroom. With reflection, feedback, and practice, lessons improve in a recursive cycle. Teachers who thrive in a progressive classroom value the process of learning itself and find joy in developing in their students a lifelong love of it.
Most notably, progressive teachers realize that they are impacting the lives of children—and this affects the future and changes the world. In his seminal book To Teach, William Ayers defines teachers as “relationship builders, inventors and creators, protectors and advocates and doers” (Ayers, To Teach, p. 12). I would argue that this best describes the progressive teacher, and the kind of teacher who thrives at Green Acres School.
Our talented progressive educators are harnessing their passion to practice their craft in new and unexpected ways, and I look forward to hearing your stories about the teaching and learning you witness, as well as sharing my own anecdotes, once school resumes. As we take a moment of gratitude for our community of teachers, I am also pleased to share that we recently made new hires for 1st grade and art, respectively.
Ryan Elias will be joining our community as a 1st grade Homecorner teacher, partnering with Ali. Ryan has been teaching since 2008 at a number of schools in New York City, both public and independent, including Park Children's Day School and TriBeCa Community School, among others. most recently, Ryan taught at The Langley School in McLean, VA. Ryan holds a Master's degree in Early Childhood & Special Education from Bank Street College. Ryan is a progressive teacher with broad experience as an early childhood educator. A graduate of a progressive school herself, Ryan believes that teachers have much to learn from children, and that learning is a lifelong endeavor. She is well-versed in offering young children engaging learning opportunities virtually, as well as in person, having produced numerous videos for children which are both enjoyable and instructive.
Innovative teacher and gifted artist Eric Butters will be our new art teacher. Eric has worked with ceramics and photography in addition to drawing and painting, which are his areas of greatest passion as an artist. You can view Eric's artwork on his website. Eric has lived in the area for over 20 years, and he has taught students from a broad range of ages. Recently, he has been teaching art at Laurel High School, where among other things he led his students in developing a diversity mural for the town. Eric’s work in a virtual environment last semester highlighted his creative lesson designs and his technological savvy. He is especially excited to work with our younger students this fall.
Just as we welcome Ryan and Eric, we also say goodbye to Lara Marks Finder, who accepted a position as Director of Operations at her child’s preschool. Lara writes: “I feel prepared for this new position in many ways because of my experience at Green Acres. Watching all of you do your jobs with such creativity, passion, and expertise has been such an education. When friends ask me what it's like to work at Green Acres, I always talk about what a nice place it is, as if you have stepped into some alternate universe where people are decent and caring and love each other. I truly believe Green Acres makes its students better people, but I also feel like I've become a better person too. I'm so appreciative of the opportunity I've had to work and learn and laugh with all of you. I plan on taking those Green Acres priorities with me to my new school.” Our search to find a new Registrar and Head's Assistant is already in progress, and we hope to share more with you in the coming weeks.
Today I met with parents and guardians during three coffees to field questions and share information about our fall plans. I had led a similar town hall conversation with staff two weeks prior. What I gain from these conversations and perspectives is hearing the many different needs of our families.
While we strive to meet these needs, it is inevitable that some people will not agree with our decisions. We discussed the sample class schedules for Lower School and for Middle School, shared some health and safety protocols, and clarified what HyFlex means for families for whom in person may not work as campus starts to reopen in the future. We recorded the K–4 and Middle School talks and will share a link to that early next week, along with FAQs we derived from your questions. As you think of new questions or seek clarity, please reach out to your child(ren)’s division head, teacher, or me. Your feedback and input are most welcome and appreciated.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
Rebecca Geary (she/they)
Head of School