By Head of Lower School Bill Mulcahy
In a parent newsletter nearly two years ago, I wrote about the new “3 R’s of education,” and how they signified a shift in thinking from when I was a young student. In November 2019, I wrote:
Like many of you, I presume, I grew up hearing and learning about the all important "3 R's" of education—Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. I spent countless hours racing through computations (generally using a single learned strategy), reading books (Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys were personal favorites), and watching "Reading Rainbow" and attempting to have legible handwriting—an uphill battle that was a source of friction with my parents at home. While some components of my early schooling have endured in modern schooling—particularly the focus on developing appreciation and love for literature—much has changed.
Recently, I heard a description for a new "3 R's," which I think aptly describes three of the most important components of a balanced, well-developed curriculum.
It is vital that teachers get to know their students as learners. By doing so, they are able to tailor instruction to the needs of their students—meeting them where they are, while also engaging them and helping them to grow. Rigor isn't about workload—far from it—but rather targeted instruction that engages students while allowing for continued growth.
Just like adults, understanding the "why" behind learning is vital to students. When children see and understand connections between subjects they've learned and understand the practicality of what they're learning in their own lives, they are motivated to continue to want to learn and grow.
Research continually bears out that one of the best predictors for social-emotional wellness and academic success, is feeling a sense of connection to both peers and teachers. In fact, Michael Reichert, a well-known researcher on relational learning in boys, and the author of "How To Raise a Boy" (a great book for parents of boys that I'd recommend), makes the argument that relational learning is most important in boys, who can sometimes have more difficulty establishing relationships with peers and teachers, but who consistently rate them in his research as being more important than their female classmates.
All three R's are equally important, and I'm proud to say, are cornerstones of the Country Day program.
Fast forward to today—two years later—as a fellow Lower School parent, it is a joy for me to see these three R’s play out in our children's learning. In fact, last week I saw firsthand all "3 R's" with my own two boys. Early in the week, after an afternoon of afterschool activities, my wife and I were in a familiar situation to many of you—trying to figure out dinner, while also coaxing our boys to get their homework done. After getting both boys settled in two different spaces, my son called to ask me to help with his math homework on least common multiples and factors.
Though I was a confident math student growing up, given that this year is my 10th as a school principal, it has been a long time since I was a classroom teacher, and my math skills are rusty. Instead of telling my son how to complete the problem (which may or may not have required a bit of Google support on my end), I asked him to use a strategy that his teacher taught him. Though he looked a bit confused initially, I pressed him to give it a try and he did. Watching his process, I was struck by a few things:
- Although he was still developing mastery with the concept—a very sophisticated concept to be taught at the beginning of fourth grade—he already had a strong understanding of strategies to help him solve the problems. When I asked him after how he was able to complete the problem, he said, “my teachers help me make hard math understandable.”
- He is becoming a confident learner. He didn’t get frustrated or upset (a win for us when faced with a challenge after a full day of school and an afternoon at swim practice). He responded to a follow up question I asked about how he was able to not get frustrated when he didn’t initially think he knew how to solve the problem by saying, “I used some of the things we do in mindfulness.” He was able to see the relevance of what he had learned about with mindfulness strategies to successfully help him take on and successfully complete rigorous work.
On Friday afternoon when we got home from school, I asked my younger son what the best part of his day was. He usually doesn’t give us a lot—his most frequent response is PE and recess—but when asked, a big smile came to his face, and he shared, “My teacher was so funny today. She dressed up as 'punctuation princess' and taught us about punctuation.” He proceeded to share more with us, all the while smiling as he shared his story.
To me, it was a perfect example of the importance of relationships in teaching. By engaging her students in a fun and engaging way, and creating a joyful learning environment for her students, she made a topic as mundane as punctuation come alive.
How fortunate we are as Lower School parents to have such wonderful teachers!