Head of School Updates, November 15, 2019

Dear Parents, Students, Faculty, and Friends,

It’s hard to believe that we have reached mid-November. As can be seen from the photos below, it’s been a busy week of active learning.

A special shout-out goes to Chris Demas and our IB Music students who showcased their talent during the IB-DP Recital on Thursday.  Congratulations are also due to Jill Sculerati–our IB-DP Biology teacher–who organized and facilitated a Job-Alike of approximately 15 other IB Biology teachers from across the region here at SCIS. These job-likes are an important way that professionals share strategies and grow as professionals, ensuring we’re doing all we can to support students.

On Saturday and Sunday, 25 SCIS teachers along with 30 additional teachers from the region will take part in a different professional development opportunity focused on inclusive classroom practices and strategies that allow us to better meet the individual needs of students. It’s an opportune time for us to put into practice our progressive view of rigor – an often misunderstood concept in education.

Many people may define rigor as a high bar that schools strive to have all children reach. Parents may equate rigor with difficult and time-consuming tasks. “If it is hard, it must be rigorous.” While this sounds logical (and slightly mean!), that concept of rigor is flawed. The bar can be arbitrary, an appropriate learning experience for the “average” student. 1) Some students will find it far too difficult and 2) some students will still find too easy. Progressive schools are now redefining rigor. At SCIS we have adopted this definition:

“the goal of helping students develop their individual capacity to understand content and approach dilemmas that are complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally, physically, or emotionally challenging.”
Strong, Silver and Perini (2001)

What’s different about this definition of rigor?

The big difference in this definition is that rigor is personalized for each child. As a school that subscribes to this definition of rigor, it is not OK for educators to say, “Here is the bar for everyone, I’ve done my job.” Our job is to strive to create experiences that are challenging for each individual student.  

“If everyone’s standard of rigor is individualized, how can there be a standard for learning?”

At SCIS, we are guided by our adopted content standards in each subject. For example, our curriculum for English Language & Literature is aligned to the US Common Core Standards. These standards are the indicators for what skills and content students must demonstrate at each grade level.

We use our understanding of rigor to design experiences that support students’ ability to reach or exceed the standard, always building on their knowledge, skills, and understandings they bring, and facilitating their extension. That can only happen when you begin with the premise that all children are unique, and all children have learning strengths and weaknesses. 

What else is different?

A progressive concept of rigor changes the type of tasks that students are likely to encounter.

If you believe that rigor is an arbitrary bar, then it’s easier to teach with rote tasks that allow students to demonstrate their ability to reach (or not reach) a certain level. 

At SCIS, teachers collaborate to design experiences which allow students to struggle within tasks that are “complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally, physically, or emotionally challenging.” These tasks are far closer to the real world. As an example, compare these two tasks:

  1. Read chapter 2 and take this quiz.
  2. Create and give a proposal to your Principal in order to …

The first task relies on a textbook selection to determine the level of difficulty.  The task will be easy for some students and difficult for others.

The second task is for more likely to be “complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally, physically, or emotionally challenging.” Students can approach this problem at their current skill level. From the outset, the task differentiates itself for each student, providing a challenge for each.. The teacher’s job is focused on building on each student’s strengths and addressing areas of weakness in order to improve. This is true for students who have already exceeded a particular standard as well as for students who are struggling to meet a particular standard.

To be clear, both tasks may allow teachers to assess progress towards learning standards. But the authentic tasks not only provide real-world context, these tasks naturally differentiate the learning so that students can approach this task for their proximal zone of development, in order to improve to the next level. 

This weekend, 55 teachers will be studying inclusive classroom practices. It is with this understanding of rigor that we define inclusive learning. Inclusive learning is far more than learning strategies to support learners who struggle. We define inclusive learning as a “rigorous environment where all students are inspired to become increasingly expert learners.”

I’m grateful to be a part of an educational team that sees learning through this lens, and I’m appreciative of our SCIS teachers who are dedicating their weekend to learning more about it.

It’s something that makes us special.

Our goal is always to partner with parents, so if you have any questions, please reach out a Principal or me. 

There are two important events on the horizon – our Upper School Musical The Addams Family and our Winter Festival, put on by our ever-dedicated PAFA! Attending these events is easy because they both happen on the same day: November 30. See more information below, and reach out with any questions you might have.

Wishing you and your family a pleasant weekend. Enjoy the sunshine!

Derek Luebbe
Head of School

Upcoming Events

  • Saturday, Nov. 16:
    • CISSA CRE Soccer, Boys @ SAS-PD, Girls @ Dulwich Shanghai
    • SSL Swim Meet #2
    • Varsity Boys and Girls Basketball @ Concordia, 10am
  • Wednesday, Nov. 20:
    • Varsity Girls Basketball Home Game vs Dulwich College, 4:15pm
    • Varsity Boys Basketball @ Dulwich, Away, 4:15pm
  • Thursday, Nov. 21:
    • Lower School Assembly (3J), 3rd floor theater, 8:15am
    • Waterloo Math Contest, Room 414, 9am
  • Friday, Nov. 22:
    • Varsity Girls Basketball @ SAS-PD, Away, 4:15pm
    • Varsity Boys Basketball @ SAS-PD, Away, 4:15pm

Photos From Around Campus

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