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!


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.


Written by Seth Pozzi on .

Staying up on the news can be exhausting and even painful these days. The headlines are full of allegations of fake news and ad hominem attacks. And on the flipside, many studies are now showing the dangerous effects of confirmation bias – our psychological tendency to embrace new information that affirms our pre-existing beliefs and to ignore evidence that doesn’t. This is played out on Facebook, in particular, as there is an increasing tendency to mute or unfriend people who think differently than we do. While I am definitely not advocating for any of us to go on Facebook to troll those with whom we might disagree, there is danger if we simply lean into our confirmation bias or are too afraid to engage in genuine, respectful debate and discourse. While it is concerning that our children are entering a world that can be fraught with disrespect and vitriol, I believe this actually creates a special opportunity (and moral imperative) that we equip our children differently.

So what can one school in the San Fernando Valley do? We may not be able to make an immediate impact on what’s being said and done in the public domain, but we can certainly teach our children that it is possible to cheerfully disagree, question, or only partially agree with others, but still respect and get along with them. The Center for Responsive Schools, which developed our school’s social-emotional curriculum, shared a wonderful article last month about using Interactive Modeling to expose children to what respectful disagreement might look and sound like. This approach gives children a chance to notice for themselves the exact words and tone to use when respectfully disagreeing. Then children actually get to practice wondering, disagreeing, and questioning and get immediate feedback from their peers and teachers about how they were doing with this social skill.

There is no better time than the holiday season when you spend time with family and friends to help children with this skill at home (and maybe even practice it ourselves). It doesn’t have to be a contest between right and wrong, but rather an opportunity to listen with an open mind and heart.

In our school, when we teach children sentence starters or special ways to talk about their thinking, we call this Accountable Talk. Here are a few examples of Accountable Talk sentence starters you can model and practice with children (or even other adults):

  • “I see what you’re saying, but I wonder if __________.”
  • “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with that because __________.”
  • “Could you give me a few examples of what you mean?”
  • “That makes me wonder if/about __________.”
  • Paraphrase what you heard and ask, “Could you explain a bit more, please?”
  • “I haven’t thought about it in that way before. Where could I find more information about that?”
  • “So that I can be sure I understand you, could you say that in a different way?"

2017 ERB Results!

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

While Woodland Hills Private School is open to all students and not exclusively for gifted, talented and high achieving students, many families choose WHPS for the advanced and enriched academic program. Over the past few years, with the adoption of cutting-edge curriculum and enhanced teacher training, we have found new ways to help our high-achieving students reach new heights.

To that end, we were pleased this week to receive our students’ ERB results from the spring. This assessment compares our students to peers in private and independent schools across the country, and unlike the test children take in California public schools, the ERB uses a constructed response section to look at students’ thinking, not just multiple choice questions. Thus, it assesses critical thinking at a much deeper level.

Here are the results from this year’s graduating class:


  • 60% of our students scored in the 8th stanine, which means they were in the top 11% of students who tested nationally.
  • 87% of our students scored in the 7th stanine, which means they were in the top 23% of students who tested nationally.


  • 53% of our students scored in the 8th stanine, which means they were in the top 11% of students who tested nationally.
  • 73% of our students scored in the 7th staninewhich means they were in the top 23% of students who tested nationally.                     

 Parents in grades 3-5 will be receiving their child’s individual ERB score report via email this week. Please watch for this email and don’t hesitate to contact the school office if you have any questions.

WASC Update

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

As you may know, WHPS has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since 1996. This past March, as part of our school’s six year accreditation renewal, we completed a Mid-Cycle Review. You may be wondering what WASC was looking at during the visit. Below are the seven key areas which our school had chosen to focus on in our 2014 WASC Action Plan:

1. Formalize the cutting-edge curriculum and programs that were happening in some classrooms across
the entire school.
2. Educate the school community on the research that underpins our educational philosophy.
3. Increase strategic technology integration across the entire school.
4. Continue to enhance the physical structure of indoor and outdoor learning spaces.
5. Strengthen our relationship(s) with feeder schools.
6. Build Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLRs) into student metrics and strengthen community
awareness of the ESLRs.
7. Engage the school community in the adoption of new programming.

As a result of the emphasis areas in our WASC Action Plan, you have already seen some of the following

 Elementary Division’s adoption of Responsive Classroom, Columbia University literacy program and leveled library, Words Their Way, FOSS Science, and STEAMTrax 3D Printing & Engineering.
 Preschool’s adoption of Emergent Learning, Dramatic Play, and the expansion of the Outdoor
 Family education opportunities for our programs, such as The Leader in Me, Columbia University literacy, Emergent Learning, and our recent screening of Most Likely to Succeed.
 Expansion of technology hardware and infrastructure at both campuses, focusing on novel, transformative uses of technology, such as the 3D Printing & Engineering program, the addition of Interactive Projectors, and mobile technology.
 Formation of strong relationships with 25 top middle schools that are of interest to our families and the launching of middle school information sessions.
 Report Cards and Progress Reports that are now aligned to the ESLRs.

As the 2014 WASC Action Plan is nearing completion, we are already beginning to strategize for the school’s next steps. In the year ahead, will be exploring a number of ways to take our children’s critical thinking to new heights and focusing on Arts-Integration across the curriculum. Stay tuned for more discussion about these topics in the 2017-2018 school year!

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