As we turn the calendar to 2011, we find ourselves thinking about resolutions for the New Year. While there are many topics we could consider, we have dwindled our list down to three items. Allow us if you will to share our resolutions for 2011.
First of all, we want to more fully use the Wheeling Country Day School campus. We are fortunate enough to work at school that has six acres of natural landscape at its disposal. Although the school resides in the heart of Woodsdale, a wonderfully full residential neighborhood, a bird’s eye view of the area shows the amount of green space that surrounds our school. We resolve to extend student learning beyond the walls of the classroom to the outdoor “classroom” we have. The possibilities are endless.
Eriks Janelsins of Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Education Center opened our eyes to the richness of our campus not just for science experiments, but also for math lessons, language arts activities and so much more. Under his guidance, our faculty pulled on warm boots, gloves and hats and set out on a cold November morning to become students of our own campus. The trees we walk by each morning awakened as habitats for the wildlife that doesn’t leave us in the winter. Signs of life were uncovered on seemingly dead trees and odd frozen patches in the stream led to a line of inquiry that would make any earth scientist proud.
While time outside is limited in the coldest months, children still need to play and learn outside every day. We have even read with great interest about preschools in northern climates that take children out every day no matter what the temperature. Thus, our first resolution is to more fully use our campus as a classroom beginning right away even though the thermometer might fall below freezing.
The second resolution is to turn “worksheet” into a four-letter word. Well, not really. We just have resolved ourselves to use many more hands-on activities in places where we have typically used worksheets for reinforcement activities. Our study of learning style theories and brain research has painted a clear picture that effective understanding and long-term retention requires students to be active learners far more than that which is required to complete worksheets.
We know brains develop better in real world rather than artificial learning environments, so we plan field trips, engage students with real problems, create project-based lessons and more. Still, we want to employ even more strategies in the upcoming year. Indeed, we dedicated time to create these learning experiences over our winter break.
Taking time to reflect is the final resolution we have determined for 2011. As one year ends, we often reflect on all that has happened over the last 12 months. We hope to take account of each day in a similar fashion. It sounds like the simplest of the three resolutions on paper, but in the hectic reality of our daily lives, it is the reflection that gets put on the back burner. Even if we simply ask one another a simple question each day we can accomplish this. For example, “What went well today?” or “Would you do anything differently if you could do it again?” instigates reflection that leads to improved teaching and learning.
We even want to bring this resolution into our personal lives. We want to ask our daughters whether it be by phone or as we tuck them into bed, “What was the best part of your day?” It is an uncomplicated question with outstanding results. A bad day fraught with difficult decisions or hectic demands dissolves into a quiet moment with your child and the importance of the latter becomes crystal clear.
If you know us, you know we will take one another to task to work on these resolutions. Feel free to help us out with one of those simple questions.
By the way, what was the best part of your day?
– Linda Krulock graduated from West Liberty State College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and early childhood. She teaches senior kindergarten at Wheeling Country Day School. Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education.