Innovative Plans for our New Space

Conversations about how we will be using the new space with students have increased now that we are in the final months of the school year. Most recently, Mr. Neudel and I gave permission for a Robotics Competition team to begin enrolling participants. As I spoke with the students about their plans, I was impressed with their knowledge of the equipment needed and the process we will use to gain a place among other high school teams. They will be looking for parents who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise once this program gets underway.

Other conversations have involved discussions about digital equipment, green screens, open lab time, and new curriculum and electives. Partnerships between grade levels are also emerging as our first graders begin their collaboration with the Upper School astronomy students next week, and the sixth graders collaborated with our fourth graders on the construction of catapults using the creative design process before spring break.

Our School’s mission to “uphold high academic standards while implementing innovative ideas” matters more than ever as we balance core curriculum with innovative approaches to teaching and learning. As lifelong learners themselves, Brimmer’s educators embrace change and see innovation as an opportunity to apply their creativity and expertise to the complex practice of educating young people.

Head of School Judy Guild’s Well Wishes for Spring Break

Mark Twain writes in Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views … cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” This past week, and into spring break, we have students and faculty traveling together throughout our world and within our own country. Together they are talking about ideas, cultures, challenges, and beauty. And, of course, they love the food choices! I have been reading their tweets and posts, seeing their pictures and videos, and texting with our chaperones about how well-behaved our students are and how proud our young people make us as they learn about being globally minded. You can follow them by going to our website.

As we move into spring break, I want to thank all of those who helped to make Winterfest a grand success. It was delightful to watch our children have a fun-filled day. Congratulations as well to our cast and crew of Into the Woods. The talent of our student body is astounding. Likewise, the Lower School production of Robin Hood showcased the creative talent of our young actors at Brimmer. It is such a privilege to be part of the creative lives of our children.

When you return from break, you will notice how well our construction is moving along. We are still on schedule to open the new addition in late August. Some of the renovated space will take us a few more weeks, but we are very excited for the fall and the changes that will take place at our School. Warm wishes to all of you for a delightful time with your children over spring break.

Head of School Judy Guild Attends NAIS Conference

I spent this week at the NAIS Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I met with educators from around the country and world who work in mission-focused schools that uphold their unique values and visions. After listening to a variety of speakers and workshop leaders, I came away with an assortment of fresh ideas and insights. However, I was reminded frequently how Brimmer’s faculty and administration are thought leaders, expert practitioners with a clear focus, and are working on the cutting edge of curriculum development and delivery. I look forward to sharing the readings, ideas, and topics with Brimmer’s educators and families in the coming months.

As I write this, I am eager to return to see the Upper School play, Into the Woods, tonight and to be part of the WinterFest event tomorrow. I hope to see many of you at one of the events.

Judy Guild Shares History and Implementation of Coalition’s 10 Common Principles at Brimmer

Last month, the Coalition of Essential Schools announced the organization will be closing their doors. A reporter from Edutopia called me to ask about the impact the Coalition’s work had on our School. We discussed how the Coalition’s 10 Common Principles are routed in everything we do at Brimmer, and the impact of them on student learning has been profound.

One outcome of implementing these principles is that they produce lifelong learners. Recently, the cover of the January 14 edition of The Economist examined this issue in the context of today’s schools: Life Long Learning: How to Survive in the Age of Automation. The article begins with a summary of how over the past two centuries education has had to keep up with technology in order for our country to prosper. The fear today is that our schools have not been able to keep up with the needs for tomorrow’s worker. Change is taking place so rapidly that an education focused on a set of skills with a vocational aim will produce unprepared, out of work citizens. The solution, according to the author, is that schools shift their focus: “Lifelong learners start at school. As a rule, education should not be narrowly vocational. The curriculum needs to teach children how to study and think. A focus on ‘metacognition’ will make them better at picking up skills later in life.” The Coalition Principles speak to this topic.

A school that adheres to the Coalition Principles teaches students to “use their minds well” (Principle #1), resulting in students being problem solvers and critical thinkers; this, in turn, produces lifelong learners who know how to study and find information. At the center of this education lies the teacher who is committed to coaching a student (Principle #5) to stretch and learn beyond any given assignment. Importantly, a School must do this with a commitment “to democracy, equity, and diversity” (Principle #10), so all members of the community are prepared to be productive citizens.

At Brimmer the Coalition Principles, which have guided the school since the late 1980s, continue to be the cornerstone of our practice. The Coalition’s sound principles are firmly routed in the pedagogy of Brimmer’s educators.

Instruction and Learning Beyond Brimmer’s Classroom Walls

Next month, our faculty will be extending instruction and learning beyond Brimmer’s classroom walls. Three Lower School teachers and co-director of International Students Helen Du will travel to China to teach in an elementary school and offer workshops on STEAM related curriculum. Sarah Abrams, Kate Pappas, and Janet Sweezy will offer workshops that demonstrate how we infuse creativity across the curriculum. In turn, they will learn how lessons are taught in China. They will be visiting the Dapeng New District Education Research and Development Center, which includes nine K-12 public schools in that district. Dapeng is a district in Shenzhen, in southern China, which is a one-hour train ride from Hong Kong. Last year, teachers traveled to Bejing. The experience was so enriching, we worked with our partner to offer this program again this year. Our teachers will be doing this work over their spring break.

In the Middle School, our faculty will be traveling with the seventh grade to the nation’s capital. As part of the U.S. history curriculum, our students will visit the many monuments, museums, and historical buildings with their teachers and peers. While they are visiting Washington, D.C., our Upper School students will embark on their Winterim trips. This year, students will travel to Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia, Switzerland, Ireland, England, Cuba, and Boston. Every trip has a curricular focus, and all trips are designed to expand our students’ understand of our interconnected world.

Our faculty’s commitment to offering their students a broadening experience that takes them out of the classroom and into new environments is commendable. When we survey our graduates, they rate these experiences as a highlight of their time at Brimmer, and many point to their time off campus with their teachers as life changing. Likewise, our faculty reflects on these opportunities as periods of constructive professional growth.

Head of School Judy Guild Shares School’s Mission and Core Values with Middle and Upper Schoolers

On Monday, I spoke to the faculty and students in grades 6-12 about the School’s Mission and Core Values in the context of some of the recent executive orders issued by President Trump. Many students have been confused about the executive order regarding immigration and some worried about what this may mean for their extended family members and other members of the Brimmer community.

Throughout its history, Brimmer has had an unwavering commitment to inclusion and diversity and the Board of Trustees and administration strongly believe that we all benefit from being part of a diverse and inclusive community. Among other topics discussed, I shared stories of when the School accepted refugees from an area in the world suffering from war and genocide. Current students learned about the children of a family who came to our country looking for a new beginning. They found a community at Brimmer where they were educated, loved, and supported. Today, as alumni, the members of that family give back to our School in many ways and make it possible for our current students to have the same strong education they received. We continue to benefit from students attending our School who are from various places in our world; they are enriching the community with their presence and different perspectives.

Our Mission states, “We develop lifelong learners who are informed, engaged, and ethical citizens and leaders in our diverse world.” I asked the students to think about how they might stay informed, be engaged in their education, and learn about people around the world so they will be prepared to be good citizens and leaders. As we strive each day to realize our mission, we proudly continue our belief that we all benefit from being part of a diverse population.

Lastly, we discussed the importance of upholding our Core Values, especially to be engaged actively and to be upstanding people. I stressed how each day we must strive to show kindness and be respectful, honest, and responsible community members. I encouraged them to support one another, to think about their behavior as they engage in conversation with others, and to discuss ideas with their teachers. I ended by referring to my Thanksgiving remarks using the words of Greek Philosopher Socrates who said, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”

As you might imagine, talking to a large group of students, some as young as 11 and others as old as 18, can be difficult. I would encourage you to discuss these topics with your own student in a manner you feel is appropriate. I hope by sharing the conversation I had with the Middle and Upper School students, we might together engage our young people in a conversation about the ideas that underpin our democracy as well as the principles on which their School is based.

Head of School Judy Guild on Navigating the Digital World

Common Sense Media is an excellent resource for parents and educators as we help young people navigate the digital world. Their Twitter feed has helpful daily suggestions, such as how to help your child spot fake news or how to navigate the complex world of digital imprints and identities. The more parents know about the digital world and make it a part of their regular conversations with their children, the better equipped our children will be to make choices about how they will interact with media and the world around them. This resource offers game reviews, movie and book reviews, and offers insights and comments on the use of all forms of media.

As the advancement of technology offers us countless ways to improve and enhance our lives, we must also recognize the importance of guiding our students to be responsible and respectful users. This requires us, the “non-native” users, to be committed to staying ahead of our children so we can guide them in their growth and development. Common Sense Media is a great place to find help with this responsibility.

Next week, on Thursday morning, the Parents’ Association will offer an interactive session with members of our Technology Department for parents who would like to discuss their ideas and ask questions regarding this subject.

Humanities, Journalism, STEM and more in the Year Ahead

2017 promises to be a great year for Brimmer with the opening of the new addition. Our students will soon be able to flex their imaginations in the new innovation and science/maker rooms, and our community will have beautifully designed space to spend time with one another. I am excited that our College and Career Readiness Center will be adjacent to the new reception area as we help each student prepare for his and her future.

Just as we expand to accommodate the growing demands of the STEM disciplines, we remain deeply committed to the arts and the humanities. We are fortunate that as a private, independent school, we do not have to choose between these disciplines when we administer our budget. Brimmer students benefit from the rich intersection of creative thought and interdisciplinary curricula, which produces citizens who are culturally alive and participating in the world around them.

The most recent publication of the Independent School Magazine focused its theme on this question: What’s Happened to the Humanities? Many domestic and international schools and colleges are stepping away from robust offerings in the arts and humanities despite the persistent need to be good at what is uniquely human: “the capacities of creativity and empathy” in a century where nearly every job that can be done by a machine will be. (Horn, Independent School Magazine)

In this prestigious and widely read publication, Brimmer’s curriculum was featured in Mr. Cutler’s article “Journalism: The Most Useful Humanities-Based Course.” Mr. Cutler writes about the importance of “distinguish[ing] information that is well-sourced and vetted from information that is less reliable.” He also reviews the importance of students’ ability to ask probing questions, own their own learning, and be resilient in their writing process. Mr. Cutler launched the digital journalism course three years ago as a response to the School’s strategic objectives in preparing students for a digitally rich world, one that needs effective communicators and critical thinkers. Our new facility will further this important work by providing a lab equipped with the machines and software needed to produce newsroom quality productions and advanced editing techniques.

I hope you will take a minute to read Mr. Cutler’s article. After a fall when fake news attempted to disrupt our democracy and headlines continue to draw attention to a variety of cyber attacks, it is critical that we educate our students to be active readers, critical thinkers, and effective writers.

Head of School Judy Guild Reflects on a Future filled with Opportunities

As I reflect on 2016, I am mindful of how members of Brimmer’s community have dedicated their resources to education. As a result, our students have the promise of a future that will be filled with opportunities. Each day our students are given a range of experiences that help them imagine, think, and work at becoming the best they can be. I enjoy watching them turn their hard work into impressive results.

Our investment of time and money is well placed because children see the possibilities. When I was observing four Upper School student groups share their innovations this week as part of the “Problem Solving through Design” curriculum, I was impressed with their ability to see possibilities where others see trash. When I watched our Lower School children carry the food donations over to the collection area for the Greater Boston Food Bank, I heard them believe in the possibility that no one will go hungry. Over the past few weeks, our Middle School students brought in extra coats for those who will need help staying warm this winter, knowing that it is possible to have no one suffer due to the cold weather.

The spirit of possibility abounds at Brimmer, and I look forward to what this will offer us in 2017. I wish you all a wonderful vacation with your children.