WHPS Professional Development & Brain Rules

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

WHPS is committed to ensuring that our teachers, directors and support staff receive the highest level of training available in early childhood education. You may have noticed a couple weeks ago that a number of preschool teachers - and even the campus directors - were off site for professional development at the California Association for the Education of Young Children (CAAEYC) Conference. We spent three days immersed in a wide variety of workshops, ranging from teaching science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) to social-emotional learning (SEL) to Kindergarten readiness, and much more. Our school administration also attended the CAAEYC Leadership Summit at which we studied emerging trends and issues in early childhood education and participated in site visits to other leading preschools, including: Pacific Oaks Children’s School, Glendale Community College Lab School, and the Outdoor Classroom Project at the Child Education Center.

One of the keynote speakers at CAAEYC was John Medina, a molecular biologist and bestselling author, who has applied “a robust scientific filter” to parenting research. Medina is the director of The Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.

Medina discussed his seminal research while working on Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five in which he addresses common parenting questions and debunks some myths:

  • Does telling your child they are smart actually help boost their confidence?
  • What’s the best way to get your kid into Harvard?
  • Will playing Mozart to the womb make your baby smarter?
  • Will listening to language DVDs boost your toddler’s vocabulary?
  • Do toys that promise to exercise your baby’s brain actually work?
  • And, more importantly, how do you raise a happy child?

One of Medina’s key points that is widely accepted among early childhood researchers and educators is that Executive Functioning is far more predictive than IQ when it comes to a young child’s future success. “A child’s brain can be trained to enhance self-control and other aspects of executive function,” according to Medina, and building Executive Function is one way to help that baby get to Harvard. Says Medina: “Executive Function is actually a better predictor of academic success than IQ.”

If you are curious about Medina’s research and some of the parenting questions and myths he addresses or debunks, I recommend trying out his 20 question quiz: Are you a Brain Rules parent? How did you do? Consider taking it with your spouse/partner or co-parent.
Hint: a clue for question 1 can be found in the above paragraph.

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Head of School

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?


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.


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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!
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