WHPS Blog

Becoming Leaders

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Someone recently asked me, "What is so special about your school? Why should I send my child to WHPS?" You might imagine my response would be to rattle off a litany of tangible items, such as our school’s Science & Nature Center, Engineering curriculum, Responsive Classroom, or the number of hours our teachers spend on professional development each year. To be sure, these are all indispensable elements of our program. However, there is one thing we do that I believe supersedes, or perhaps grows out of, all of this. We help children find their voice and become leaders!

This first means developing self-confidence and becoming self-directed. Beginning in the preschool, leadership (of self) is explicitly taught to our youngest students. Whether creating their own classroom rules, learning to make their own choices instead of imitating their friend, or deciding how to independently work during centers, students learn that leadership means doing the right thing. Beginning in our earliest elementary grades, students take on more formal leadership opportunities. TK and Kindergarten students learn to initiate the quiet signal—getting the attention of the whole school community—and speak at Morning Assembly. They learn how to hold themselves in public, how to project their voices, and how to feel comfortable in front of a crowd. They begin learning to adlib as they pull Bucket Filler cards on Fridays and call up students who were caught doing something good.

Elementary students also practice for the classroom job of Greeter, getting up from their seat the moment they see a guest walk into the room. They begin with: “Welcome to Room ___ , I’m __________.” Next, the Greeter puts out his/her hand, offering a firm handshake, and goes on to tell the guest what they are working on at that moment. Some of the older students go a step further and explain how they use their Leadership Binder or may even conduct a mini-SLC on the spot. If you were fortunate enough to attend the elementary spring talent show, you saw the students’ resulting confidence on full display. It was evident not only in the songs, dances, comedy routines and science experiments, but also in the stage presence of the student emcees, and students backstage, managing props and the sound system.

And as our students graduate and go on to some of the city’s most elite middle schools, they demonstrate that they ARE leaders. They have a strong sense of right vs. wrong and choose to stand up for what they believe is right, they exude confidence, they demonstrate strong public speaking skills, and they positively influence others to make good choices. I could not be more proud of our students and the opportunity to work with them in a school that leverages all its unique ways of helping children find their voice and become leaders!

Talking to Children About School Safety

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Dear WHPS families,

There were some updates in the March Newsletter that you received this morning about our School Safety Plan, improvements to our crisis response initiatives and additional safety training our staff are taking part in this month. It is important to us that you know about the ways we are ensuring safety of our community. But it’s also evident that this most recent school shooting in Florida hit a nerve, particularly in light of the repetitive nature of violent incidents in recent years.

As children returned to Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida this week, you probably heard many of the students and their parents in the news talking about anxiety, anger, fear, and their activism. We, ourselves, are feeling these emotions, and depending on the age of your child(ren) a lot of this may be palpable to them as well. Teachers are trained in how to foster cognitive, physical and social emotional growth in children. But most of us are not trained to deal with the ambient trauma of a school shooting that puts a city, state, and a country on edge.

Many of us are struggling with how to talk to our children about this. How young is too young? How much or how little information should we share? And even if we’re not talking about it with our children, how do we address fears they might have?

TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT SCHOOL SAFETY

Here are some recommendations when talking with children about this topic (adapted from Child Mind Institute and the National Association of Elementary School Principals):

  • First and foremost, a rule of thumb for parents and teachers when discussing any mature topic, whether it has to do with school safety or puberty or peer pressure, is to follow the child’s lead.

  • Don’t avoid talking to your child about what happened. If you avoid the topic, your child may find the event even more threatening or think it is simply too horrible to speak about.

  • Invite your child to tell you how s/he feels, but avoid leading questions, such as “Are you worried about being safe at school?”

  • Answer the questions they’re asking honestly but reassuringly, but don’t delve deeper into the topic than they take it. Give children the facts they need to know now, but avoid discussing your fears or anxiety about the future.

  • Correct any inaccurate information: If your child has misconceptions or inaccurate information, correct them in a simple age-appropriate way.

  • Reinforcing safety is important with very young children. Emphasize that the incident happened very far away from us and let your child know that we have wonderful people who are doing everything they can to make school a safe place for learning and having fun with friends and classmates.

  • Stay calm and use “emotional self-control” when talking about this topic. The emotions you express will influence your child’s feelings.

  • Focus on ways your child/family can take positive social action.

Once we complete the latest school safety training with our staff this month, we will have our next lockdown drill with the children in early April. Prior to that drill, teachers will review the safety procedures with their students.

Our administration team understands that this is an emotional and tricky topic to broach with children. If you have questions, concerns or other feedback, please don’t hesitate to speak with me or anyone on our administration team. It is incredibly important to us that ALL children and families feel supported as we process this most recent tragedy.

Warmly,

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Head of School

 

School Safety Procedures

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Dear WHPS families:
 

The recent tragic event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has caused anxiety and concern regarding safety on school campuses around the country. WHPS is committed to ensuring the safety of our entire community, and  we hope you will find the following information helpful in understanding the steps we have taken and are taking to ensure the continued safety of our community:
  • PARTNERSHIPWe are part of a School Safety Task Force with LAPD Topanga Division. As part of this task force, we have a direct line of communication with the Senior Lead Officers in the area, which enables us to work together quickly and efficiently on threat assessments, investigations, and any other safety concerns that may arise. 
  • PLANS AND PRACTICEOur school has an approved School Safety Plan. School safety encompasses multiple domains within the school environment that must be reviewed altogether when assessing the level of safety for students and staff.  All students and staff participate in safety drills to test their preparedness and understand their roles and responsibilities in the event of a crisis. 
  • TRAININGIn January, our administration team met with our LAPD Senior Lead Officers to discuss the latest information about school safety and to craft a comprehensive plan for training to our entire staff on these new measures. This month, all staff will be participating in training sessions for the enhanced safety measures. In addition, we are hosting a workshop provide the training to other school directors in the San Fernando Valley.
  • COMMUNICATION AND MONITORING: We take every piece of information and every concern seriously. Parents, we ask you to continue to report anything you see, hear or sense that could affect student, staff or school safety. In addition, we closely monitor the school grounds through our closed circuit camera system. 
These are some of the measures we have in place to promote the safety and security of our school community as our top priority. We also rely on our students, parents and guardians as partners to maximize safety.

Here are some things parents and guardians can do to help:
  • Memorize your gate code and do not give it to anyone.
  • Be sure the gate closes behind you when you enter/exit campus (the person behind you should enter with their own code).
  • Please take a moment to discuss the above procedures with your child(ren).
  • Report any suspicious activity to our administration right away.

WHPS Selected to Pilot New SEL Program

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

Everyone is talking about non-cognitive skills. Do you have a growth or a fixed mindset? Are you a gritty person?

The growth mindset concept stems from the pioneering research of Carol Dweck at Stanford, which began in the 1970s. In the past decade, the conversation around child development shifted to include grit, which was the mind-child of Dr. Angela Duckworth, in her research at the University of Pennsylvania and in her work with KIPP, a now infamous charter school system whose mission is to educate underprivileged and socio-economically disadvantaged children and give them a leg up into college. In the early 2000s, KIPP was graduating kids were academically advanced and were accepted into college; then failed or dropped out before graduating.
 
KIPP had a problem and Duckworth thought she had answers. In working with KIPP, Duckworth and several of her contemporaries developed a program for teaching character strengths such as growth mindset, grit, resilience, curiosity, and optimism. By developing these character strengths in children, KIPP was able to significantly improve on its mission of helping its graduates achieve a college education.
 
By all accounts, Duckworth and her colleagues’ work at KIPP proved quite effective. This got a lot of parents and educators wondering: What would happen if we applied similar character strengths education principles to children who already have many of life’s advantages? For instance, what if elite private schools did this? There is a wonderful case study about this very idea in Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. This book is a great read if you are curious about how this work and research might apply to our school!
 
Up until now, experts and even common sense tells us that it is a good practice to teach these skills to children. Many of these skills are embedded in The Leader in Me andResponsive Classroom, which are core beliefs that underpin our program at WHPS.
 
So we can all agree that these are vital skills for success. What’s been difficult for us—in a school that’s known for building each child’s individual learning profile—is figuring out how to assess the skills in our kids and knowing what to do next. Until now! WHPS was selected as one of 10 schools in the U.S., Italy, and Brazil, to participate in a pilot study with Tessera Research, designed to evaluate children on six domains: Tenacity/Grit, Organization/Responsibility, Teamwork/Cooperation, Composure/Resilience, Curiosity/Ingenuity and Leadership/Communication. When it’s fully operational, the program will provide us with individual strengths reports for each student and specific activities we can use to support continued growth and development.
 
We are fortunate and excited to be on the forefront of this emerging area of education. A huge thanks to Mrs. Jacey Dexter, our Elementary Principal, who has been leading the partnership with Tessera Research since first learning about the program last year. Mrs. Dexter insisted that our school was the perfect platform to test and implement these new ideas to enable our graduates to become even more well-rounded. Students in grades 3-5 will be able to participate in the Tessera program this March. Parents of those students, please stay tuned for more information about the program in the weeks ahead!

CONFRONTING BIAS IN SURPRISING PLACES

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

Last month we talked about teaching our children how to disagree respectfully and about the danger of confirmation bias. Our school is about so much more than just teaching our kids the 3 R’s or how to hold a pencil correctly. Woodland Hills Private School is known for teaching kids to be deep critical thinkers. While critical thinking certainly applies to literacy, math, science and social studies, it more broadly—perhaps more importantly—applies to how we take in information. And, one way great schools promote this kind of higher-level critical thinking and also develop empathy in children is by exposing them to a variety of diverse perspectives. We are preparing children to enter an increasingly global society where their ability to work with people across a wide variety of cultures is at least as important as their academic skills. One way we can promote this kind of learning and continually broaden our children’s world view is through great literature that provides a window into other cultures.

Multicultural children’s literature can help children develop appreciation and understanding for other cultures and promote their thinking about social justice. Tolerance is often the go-to term when we think about multicultural education, but I believe tolerance is a low bar. Just as we want our children to learn to disagree respectfully and with genuine curiosity in their heart and mind, we also want our kids to develop a well-informed paradigm of society. We have an opportunity to raise children who have less unconscious bias than the generation before them. And, books are a great springboard for accomplishing this.   

With that being said, this infographic should alarm you. It is one of many examples of bias in the canon of available children’s books. The Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has done some of the most extensive research on diversity and bias within children’s books and has found that children’s literature in the U.S. is overwhelmingly white, full of gender and racial stereotypes, and severely under-representative of people with disabilities. This is just looking at books published in the past 20 or so years. We might not even realize that some of our coveted childhood favorites, such as Little House on the Prairie, are not free of bias. Now, we don't need to ban such books or remove them from the school library, but we have a special opportunity, or perhaps a moral imperative, to teach our children about bias and stereotypes—in a developmentally appropriate way—so they can think critically about how they take in this information. And that is exactly what some of our classrooms began to do in December.

After a classroom discussion on the topic of diversity, some of our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders spent time brainstorming different forms of diversity they are aware of. After sharing their ideas on diversity, they decided to start by looking at two manageable topics, gender and race. Each student selected a genre (historical fiction, realistic fiction, nonfiction, sports, etc.) and gathered 25 books. In a Google Doc, they tallied up how many books showed only white people on the cover and how many books showed only male characters on the cover. Breaking it down by genre enabled them to look at sectors of the library to see, for instance, if the majority of sports books were about boys or how many realistic fiction books featured persons of color.

It turned out that our classroom libraries did much better than the national average at reflecting people of color and bucking gender stereotypes. However, the students felt that there was still room for improvement. Having just studied persuasive writing in Writing Workshop, the students felt a call to action. They wrote persuasive letters advocating for literature that fully reflects our diverse society. As one student put it in her persuasive letter, “14% of children’s books in the U.S. represent diversity [citing the national average according to Scholastic]; that means 86% don’t!” Some letters were written to our school administration in the hopes that we will urge the school community to take action.

I suspect this is just the beginning of many meaningful conversations in our school about valuing, not just tolerating, diversity and about ensuring that our libraries reflect a broad spectrum of race, culture, religion and gender differences. If you feel inspired by some of the work our children have begun, you might wish to broaden your home library or donate some books to your child’s classroom. While there are a number of cultivated book lists available, here is one list that allows for sorting by topic and age-level. It’s a great place to start when looking for multicultural books and books that promote social justice. You can also keep it simple, like our students did, and preview books before you buy. If there are no main characters who are persons of color, the characters seem to have stereotypical gender roles, and everyone is able-bodied, you don’t have to put it back. But, it's always good to maintain a critical eye and see if these books constitute a large percentage of your collection.

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