Student-Led Conferences (SLCs)

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

As part of the Leader in Me program, our Elementary Division launched Student-Led Conferences (SLCs) this year. This Leader in Me program is designed to help children develop leadership skills and competencies, as well as foster initiative, critical thinking, and communication skills. While the exact format of the SLC varied slightly by grade level, the key ingredient was our students’ Leadership Notebooks.

Leadership Notebooks
Every student in the school has his/her own Leadership Notebook which is designed to capture and represent information about each student’s individual learning profile (a hallmark of the WHPS program). The Leadership Notebook has a section to identify and explain personal and academic strengths and a section for a variety of assessment data. Assessment data include the student’s reading level, developmental spelling level, published writing samples, graphs and charts showing progress over time, and other artifacts that reflect growth.

Parent Survey Results
We are proud of the work our students and teachers have done this year to begin to develop a long term portfolio and learning profile for each student. We also take your feedback seriously and wanted to know how parents felt after the second round of conferences in this new format, so we surveyed parents after the second round of SLCs. Of the parents who responded to our survey, 95% said they appreciated the SLC process over the traditional parent-teacher conference format.

Parents said:
 It involved and empowered students, holding them accountable and helping to build self-confidence.
 They were well planned. I loved hearing about my child’s goals and achievements.
 I really like that the students are having a say in their own goals. This is a necessary life skill for the children to develop.

We also received some great constructive feedback, which we take to heart. 12% of respondents said that they would still like a separate opportunity to meet with their child’s teachers. Parents are welcome to request conferences at any time throughout the school year. We will also create a more defined time to meet with any families who wish to have a formal sit-down prior to SLCs in the fall. In addition, we hope you won’t hesitate to reach out if you would like to have a more formal meeting with the teachers at any time during this final trimester of the 2016-2017 school year. And of course, if you didn’t fill out the SLC survey, I welcome any other feedback you might have about our Leader in Me program.

Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .


We are born creative. The average five year old asks 100 questions in a day. Most kindergartners consider themselves to be artists. But then something happens. As Tony Wagner, author of Most Likely to Succeed (the book that inspired the 2015 Sundance film of the same name) says, “We call it school.” The longer children spend in a traditional school environment, the less curious they become, the less they consider themselves artists, and the more preoccupied they become with test scores.

Perhaps even more alarming to Wagner was this staggering statistic: 45% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, with 1/3 of graduates moving back home after college. The conventional wisdom that a degree from a top school will translate into a successful career is not holding true for almost half of our kids.

To understand where we are going wrong, Wagner launched a massive-scale global study interviewing hundreds of notable innovators from all walks of life all over the world. One common thread among the subjects he interviewed was that they had a teacher who inspired their innovative mindset. Wagner tracked down many of these teachers, and then interviewed and observed them teaching. He found a recurring pattern of teaching in ways that were fundamentally different from their peers, yet remarkably similar to one another.

Below are five characteristics these innovator-inspiring teachers tended to have in common:
1) They promoted deep collaboration and teamwork and even participated in team teaching whenever possible.
2) They organized interdisciplinary work as opposed to focusing on a single subject at a time.
3) They fostered a unique classroom culture that centered on creative problem solving, not just taking in and regurgitating information.
4) They embraced the F-Word: Failure! As teachers, they were not afraid to take risks, even in front of parents and peers. They understood that true creativity and innovation cannot happen in a setting where everyone is averse to risk. They focused more on iteration, a process of trial and error, which is how we really learn as human beings. They also avoided too much emphasis on conventional grading. What if you could only give an A, B, or Incomplete?
5) They fostered intrinsic motivation in students. They didn’t want their students to get an A for the sake of the grade, but rather because the work had value and was interesting.

What would it look like if a school embraced these characteristics? I would argue that it would look a lot like WHPS. How could we leverage Tony Wagner’s research even further and foster a truly transformative innovator mindset in all our children? I invite you to come join the conversation at our Most Likely to Succeed film screening on March 8.

Most Likely to Succeed

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Did you know:

  • The current length of a job for a millennial is an average of 2.6 years.
  • Millennials will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives.
  • By 2020, 40% to 50% of all income-producing work will be short-term contracts, freelance work, and so-called “SuperTemps.”
  • Just 11% of employers—yet 96% of academic provosts—believe colleges are effective in preparing graduates for the workplace.  65% of today’s grade-school children will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet.
  • The World Economic Forum reports that creativity will become one of the top skills in demand by 2020.

Like many of the world’s best schools, Woodland Hills Private School is committed to designing our program to prepare children for the 21st century world they will encounter. Educational experts and business leaders agree that the skills our children will need include problem-solving/critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and cultural proficiency. Yet, there is not a simple, one-size-fits-all answer on how schools can develop these skills. One of the greatest debates about how to achieve this for our children took place in one of the hottest documentary films at last year’s Sundance Film Festival: Most Likely to Succeed.

From the film’s team:
Most Likely to Succeed examines the history of education in the United States, revealing the growing shortcomings of conventional education methods in today’s innovative world. The film explores compelling new approaches that aim to transform learning as we know it. After seeing this film, the way you think about “school” will never be the same. Over a century ago, American education underwent a dramatic transformation as the iconic one-room schoolhouse evolved into an effective “factory model” system that produced a workforce tailored for the 20th Century. As the world economy shifts and traditional white-collar jobs begin to disappear, that same system remains intact, producing potentially chronic levels of unemployment among graduates in the 21st Century. The film follows students into the classrooms of High Tech High, an innovative new school in San Diego. There, over the course of a school year, two groups of ninth graders take on ambitious, project-based challenges that promote critical skills rather than rote memorization. Most Likely to Succeed points to a transformation in learning that may hold the key to success for millions of our youth – and our nation – as we grapple with the ramifications of rapid advances in technology, automation, and growing levels of income inequality.

Film Screening & Discussion: Oxnard Campus - Wednesday, March 8, 2017 @ 6:30-8:30 PM
We are excited to host a private screening of Most Likely to Succeed, followed by a meaningful discussion about the vision for 21st century education within our schools. We are committed to taking on transformational initiatives, but we want parents to be part of the conversation.

Creative Schools

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

One of the greatest, most revolutionary educational experts of our time is Sir Ken Robinson. Perhaps you saw his now ubiquitous Ted Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? In it, Robinson contends that creativity is now as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status. He tells an amusing story of a little girl drawing. The teacher asked her, "What are you drawing?" And the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." The teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like." And the girl said, "They will, in a minute."

The point of this anecdote is that the little girl was not frightened of being wrong. Robinson argues that if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original. And, he says, we're now running a national education system where we drill children on rote learning and mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. This at a time when the top 1,500 business leaders from eighty countries say what they need most in their staff (and what is lacking) is: adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas.

This is why student creativity and ingenuity is an essential, everyday ingredient of learning at WHPS. We are a school that believes our students have original ideas that have value. And our upcoming Winter Show is a great example of how this creativity is cultivated and embraced. I was struck by this last week as I watched teachers and students rehearsing together; several students came up to demonstrate their dance and performance ideas. The teachers watched intently and actively incorporated the children’s ideas into the show.

When you attend the Winter Show this year, know that it is not just an amazing performance, but performing and visual arts are a proven pathway to student creativity, academic achievement, enhanced critical thinking skills and improved long-term memory. I believe Sir Ken Robinson would applaud our school for its emphasis on academic excellence while also inspiring students to examine and display their passions.

“All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”
-Pablo Picasso

Fake News

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

Pizzagate!  Russia! 

Unless you have been living under a rock (without Internet access), you have probably heard a lot of the recent buzz about fake news. It doesn’t seem like fake news and misinformation are going away. And according to today’s All Things Considered, many schools are not doing a great job preparing children to deal with fake news.

Why would that be a surprise, when many adults are having trouble sorting through what’s factual, what’s hyperbole, and what’s completely made up? Nevertheless, according to today’s story, The Classroom Where Fake News Fails, "How do they [children] become prepared to make the choices about what to believe, what to forward, what to post to their friends when they've been given no practice in school?" What this says to me as an educator is that it is incumbent upon schools to teach children Informational Literacy.

Informational Literacy: A set of abilities to recognize when information is needed and the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

It’s no longer about sourcing information, but rather children need to become connoisseurs who can validate information in a wide variety of ways. And if you think the fake news mainly pertains to topics we adults will encounter, think again.

While this has previously been reported by several news outlets, one of the top sites that (unfortunately) you’ll find on a Google search of Martin Luther King, Jr. is martinlutherking.org. The text on the search page says it’s “A valuable resource for teachers and students alike.” But once you click through it explains that MLK was a communist, wife-beater, plagiarist, sexual deviant and all-around fraud. There are flyers a child can “download, print and bring to school.” There is even an “educational video” that I didn’t have the heart or desire to click on.  

With the increasing prevalence of misinformation and fake news, especially online, great schools must continue to evolve. In a preschool classroom, this could be a simple as helping the children come up with a Google question of the week, thinking together about what Google might say, and checking the answer at the end of the week. In elementary school, we need to teach children how to: read URLs, see who owns the website, look at the history of a webpage, check the external links, and validate information from multiple reliable sources.

Like many emerging topics in 21st century education, this transcends the 3-Rs that were the primary focus of 20th century schooling. Our school is tackling this topic head-on in our best effort to prepare children for the ever-changing world they will encounter. Remember, as many as 65% of the jobs our children will hold have not been invented yet! What the experts agree on is that our kids’ future success will depend on four main skills: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Today’s discussion on All Things Considered provides even more evidence in the case for transforming the way we educate!

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