Category Archives: Admissions

I used to think… and now I think…

Nancy Flanagan is one of the most thoughtful and respected edubloggers out there. Now a consultant, she spent 30 years in the classroom as a middle school music teacher. In an October entry for her blog “Teacher in a Strange Land” in “Education Week-Teacher,” she wrote about Richard Elmore’s new book in which he invited 20 well-respected educators to reflect on the prompt, “I used to think… and now I think…” Nancy’s entry detailed her complex and provocative reflections on the evolution of her own thinking. Nancy is a member of Teacher Leaders Network, and she posted a link to her blog on one of our discussion boards. Another member, Steve Owens (coincidently yet another music teacher!) proposed we all answer the question in that forum or on our blogs. Here then, is my own take on what I used to think and what I now think from my perspective as a long-term girls’ school teacher.

I used to think private education was a different world from public education. Then, I thought they were essentially similar. Now, I think the answer is both a) and b).

Like many people educated in public schools, I had a skewed and inaccurate idea of what private schools were like. When my friend Amy went to Miss Hall’s for her sophomore year and then returned to Amherst High as a junior, many of us thought that she had succeeded in convincing her parents not to force her to spend time in a world of privilege and smug arrogance. She strongly defended her old school, telling us we had no idea what it was like and that it was a really good place. No doubt, that helped open my mind to the possibility of working in a private school. I came here, settled in, and made this place quite literally my home.

During the first part of the 21st century, as I adjusted to and began to love the middle school world, I joined a number of listservs dominated by public educators. At first hesitantly, and then with increasing enthusiasm and confidence, I jumped in to discussions and found exactly what I had expected, that I had a lot to learn from public school teachers and that I could help them as well. My dear friend Bev, a now-retired teacher in Arkansas, used to point out that her kids in an inner-city public school had far more in common with my students in a rural private school than most people would imagine.

But as the 21st century progressed and the noose of NCLB gradually tightened around the necks of public schools, I was depressed to see a gap widening between the lives of many public school teachers and my own. As I worked to continually shape my practice and build the best middle school program possible, most of my friends were finding their creativity and autonomy increasingly undercut and, worse yet, despairing to see their students’ innate sense of wonder and curiosity gradually being snuffed by the focus on “The Test”. Kids are kids, and every single one of them deserves a chance for a great education no matter what school they attend. To so stack the deck against public schools is, in my mind, unconscionable, especially in the name of bettering them.

I used to think teaching girls wasn’t really all that different from teaching boys. Then, I thought it was. Now, I think the answer is both a) and b).

One thing that struck me in my first year here was how quickly I forgot that I was teaching a room full of girls. As a Teaching Assistant at UMass-Amherst and as a Lecteur at the Université de Bordeaux III, I had a decidedly coed classroom, but I didn’t notice a substantially different feel in my classes here. For the record, it’s not infrequent that a given 7th grade class will remark early in the year about how much less they notice the absence of boys compared to what they expected.

As I learned that girls speak In a Different Voice, that Ophelia needed Reviving, that there was a recipe for How Girls Thrive even if the Odd Girl was sometimes left Out, I grew to think that our culture created an atmosphere in which girls were all but inevitably different than boys. By then, I had long known that girls’ brains were wired differently, and it seemed to me educationally indefensible not to acknowledge the biology and sociology of girls as I worked with them.

But then I began to see evidence of what I had long suspected, that while gender helps shape who we are, it not always as binary as we might think it is. Four years ago, the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance did a workshop with the middle schoolers on LGBT people which led me to learn about the lives of transgender people. Additionally, I learned that from 5-20% of girls have “male-wired brains” at birth and the equivalent is true of boys. I learned the effects of sex hormones on the brain. I learned of the brain’s ability to rewire itself in interplay with environment. And I began to realize that when I said I worked to get to know each individual girl and teach the whole child, that meant I had to work to try and free myself utterly and completely from stereotypes and get to know, understand, and care for each of the special people entrusted to my care exactly as they were.

I used to think that teaching was about sharing a passion for something you love with kids in order that they might learn as much about it as possible. Now, I still do, but more importantly, I think that teaching is a means toward social justice, helping kids acquire the tools to find and be their authentic selves.

When I came to this school, I loved French and had for years. After a high-school homestay and two years abroad, I had deep roots in the country. So as I worked with students to teach verb conjugations and agreement of adjectives, I also worked to awaken in them a desire to go visit the country I loved so much, and even led several student trips there.

I still think it matters that students see teachers loving what they do. Why teach, say, music if you don’t love it?! I also want my students to see my own love of learning. And of course, I still want my students to learn as much as possible. But in order for my students to learn as much as possible, they have to be themselves as much as possible – which is to say, completely.

This morning, I read my Humanities 7 class this passage from Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons: “When girls can no longer agree upon the answer to the question “Who is a Good Girl?” we will know they are free to be themselves.” (p.12) If I can help create some momentum toward meeting that goal, along with a similar freedom from the effects of stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and more –  one student at a time – then I will know my career has been successful.

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A Tale in Tweets, Posts and Photos.

September 28, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Good luck to #volleyball as they take on Cheshire Academy & good luck to #soccer as they take on Miss Halls School! Bring back a win girls!

We lost to Miss Halls and our record was 0-2-0. Luckily, it was early in the season so we had plenty of time to improve.

October 5, 2011:

sbschoolorg

#Games today against @WatkinsonSchool, @aactweet and Eagle Hill School. Good luck girls! #highschoolathletics

October 6, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Congratulations to V. Soccer in their 8-0 win against Eagle Hill and to J.V. Soccer in their 1-0 win against @aactweet! pic.twitter.com/hVF6J6oS

We went on to win our game against Eagle Hill and our record became 1-2-0. After taking on Four Rivers Charter School and Forman School we were at 3-2-0. We took on Watkinson School a few days later and tied and our record became 3-2-1.

October 12, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Good luck to JV Soccer against @BementSchool, Varsity Soccer as they take on @DarrowSchool and Varsity Volleyball against @thewinchschool!

October 13, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Congrats to V. Soccer in their win against @DarrowSchool yesterday! Great job girls, keep it up!


Congratulations to the varsity soccer team on their win against Darrow School yesterday. Keep it up girls!

Our record continued to improve with a win over Darrow School and we took the lead in the league. With only a few more weeks of games, our record stood at 4-2-1.

 October 19, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Good luck to JV Soccer vs. @NMHSchool and to V. Soccer vs. @aactweet today! Bring home a win girls! #athletics

 Our winning streak continued and we beat the Academy at Charlemont 5-2 and Buxton School 6-1. The girls were fired up and their announcements became more enthusiastic with each win. The varsity soccer team held a record of 6-2-1 with only a few games left.

October 26, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Games today vs. @lawrenceacademy, @Dublin_Wildcats and @aactweet. Good luck, girls!

 October 27, 2011:

Congratulations to our Varsity Soccer team in their 5-0 win against Dublin School yesterday. They play Putney at home at 2 p.m. on Saturday for the league championship. Come cheer them on!

 Our win against Dublin gave us a record of 7-2-1 and the girls were ready to take on Putney for the league championship. They had high hopes of winning the game and (hopefully) the subsequent tournament and ending the season as league champions and tournament champions.

November 3, 2011:

Congratulations to the Varsity Soccer team for winning their last game against Putney School (5-2) in the snow and becoming the RVAL regular season champs! Check out the video!

 The win against Putney in the freak October Nor’Easter gave SBS the title of league champions. The girls were ready for the tournament and couldn’t wait to play.

November 4, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Congrats to V. Soccer team who will advance to RVAL semi-finals after 6-0 win against @buxtonschool today. Keep it up, girls! #athletics

Congratulations to our Varsity Soccer team on their 6-0 win against Buxton today. They advance to the RVAL semi-finals which will be played Monday at 3 p.m. Come cheer them on!

 November 8, 2011:

Varsity Soccer has done it again! Congratulations to the team on their 3-1 win vs. Charlemont in the RVAL semi-finals yesterday. They play for the RVAL championship vs. Putney School on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Go OWLS!

Going into the final tournament game of the 2011 season, varsity soccer boasted a record of 10-2-1. Spirits were high and the girls were ready for a fight.

 November 9, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Final tournament game for v. soccer today at 2:30 p.m. and v. volleyball hosts @MacDuffieSchool at 3 p.m. Come cheer us on! #goodluckgirls

@sbschoolorg

RVAL championship is starting NOW!!

@sbschoolorg

Stoneleigh is first on the board! 1-0! yfrog.com/nywg8wrj

@sbschoolorg

And just like that, it’s tied.

@sbschoolorg

Still tied with @PutneySchool in the RVAL Championship soccer game. 1-1

@sbschoolorg

Half-time!

@sbschoolorg

Still tied!!

@sbschoolorg

We’re going into overtime with @PutneySchool varsity soccer in the RVAL Championship game!

@sbschoolorg

Into the second 5 minute overtime! Still 1-1!

@sbschoolorg

End of 2nd 5-minute overtime! Still 1-1!

@sbschoolorg

Wow…we’re heading into a shootout!

@sbschoolorg

Congrats to @PutneySchool who are RVAL champs after the overtime shootout.

In the end, it was a tough loss for the Owls against Putney School. In spite of it, they had a winning season and finished as league champions. Perhaps the most heartening moment of the season came after the game had ended. As the students and guests from Putney School celebrated their win, our own fans, proud of their team and their school, ran across the field to support and encourage their peers. In spite of the loss, our fans were there to celebrate everything the team accomplished this season. Regardless of the final outcome of the game, they were proud of their friends and classmates. This is what Stoneleigh-Burnham is all about.


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Bookends: Volume 3: Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s not necessarily the easiest!

Dear Alex,

So much time has passed since you posted, and it seems that my thinking is evolving every day – not just in response to the posting itself, but also in response to real-life, face-to-face conversations we’ve had since then. The time is long past to try to crystallize this thinking into something to share with others – as you said at lunch on Family Weekend, sometimes you just have to sit down, write and see what comes out.

What you are doing with your “Theory of Knowledge” students, helping them make their thinking so intuitively transparent to themselves that they can’t help but take charge of their own learning, is impressive. Furthermore, you are doing it in such a way that it infuses the intellectual life of the school, bursting the bubbles inside which it can be too easy to retreat and which serve only to impose artificial divisions. (More on that, perhaps, in my next post!)

That is, of course, pretty much the same thing we have been trying to do in the middle school. One of our primary tools is the student-led conference. This consists of a half-hour presentation by each student to her parents and advisor about not only what she is learning and doing in all aspects of her school life (even community service!), but also what she thinks about her accomplishments and further needs.

Beginning one to two weeks before Family Weekend, we distribute a series of self-reflection sheets to our classes. These require the students to think very specifically about what they have accomplished and what else they need to be focusing on. Through prompts such as, “What are three of your strengths in this course?” or “What did you find to be the hardest part of doing research for your paper?” or “What are two things you’re doing to improve your work in this course?,” students can access fairly abstract thoughts through concrete thinking about specific actions. I won’t pretend there aren’t occasional groans when we first start passing the sheets out, and certainly some students do respond better than others. At the same time, it’s often rewarding and just plain fun to track an advisee over two years and see how much deeper and more sophisticated their thinking can become. By now, ninth grade teachers know they can count on our middle school graduates to be quite self-aware of how they learn, what they do well and where they need support.

Part of what we teach the students is to be honest with themselves. Giving themselves praise is often the hardest part. As my Humanities 7 students pored over their forms last week, several worried, “I don’t want to say what I really think because it will sound like…” and I completed, “bragging?” Their faces relaxed, perhaps because I had made it okay to name the problem, and they agreed. I told them that being honest about what they do well isn’t putting anyone else down for their own accomplishments; they thought about it for a moment and said, “Yes, but it’s still hard.” On the flip side, they sometimes have a hard time thinking about where they need to improve, at least at this early stage of the year. Several were inspired to write that self-reflection itself is what they most need to work on. Fair enough, although I suspect the student who wrote, “self-confidence” had really hit the nail on the head. It’s tough to be a girl growing up in our society, feeling pressure both to be perfect and not to be better than anyone else.

Most parents love these conferences. In our first year, one of the Founders’ moms told me, “This is so much more useful, and enjoyable, than when you sit alone with the teacher and they tell you everything your daughter is doing wrong.” This weekend, one of my advisees absolutely nailed her conference. She spoke with authority and in great detail about what she was doing, where she was going, and how she could know she was going to get there. At the end, thinking about the first 7th grade conference a year ago, her mother teared up from a combination of deep pride in her daughter and the reminder of how fast she is growing up. She got a long, warm hug from her beaming daughter. It was an image I will always remember.

With things like this, we have begun our journey which will lead these girls, five years down the line, into your “Theory of Knowledge” class. They will know so much more then than they do now, about themselves and about the world. Their brains will be more developed, with parts that aren’t currently pulling their share of the load having fully kicked into action around the age of 15 or 16. And, just as I knew with absolute certainty five years ago that the six-year Seniors would be an extraordinary group this year, so too can I tell that this crop of 7th graders will be amazing in five years.

But then, they are already. As is true every year!

Sincerely,

Bill

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Just a Color

Dance life deep into the dark night with the stars the keepers of your fate. No, you take its keeping. And the music of the peepers is the keeper of our salvation… In the end, there is one dance you do alone. – Millie Sutton (from an inscription in my high school yearbook)

It was the evening following Stoneleigh-Burnham’s graduation, a time normally given over to celebrations and parties. And indeed, part of our group was planning on stopping through on the way to or from one of those parties. But a solid core of us had decided to spend the entire night at the Greenfield Relay for Life, which happened to fall on the same date as our graduation that year. When I arrived around dinnertime with my tent and sleeping bag, I found a festive atmosphere. There was music, food, decorations, and a fire (s’mores!) around which many of us were sitting and talking. Several members of our team were out on the track at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, including Jess, the newly-minted alumna who (along with her parents Cyndee and Bill) was the driving force behind our presence. We had spent months holding bake sales, tag sales, car washes and more, raising money in every way we could think of. We had succeeded in meeting Jess’s goal of every single participant raising at least $100 to fight cancer. And now it was time to celebrate the newest SBS graduates, our group’s fund-raising success, and even more importantly, the progress that was and is being made in the fight against cancer.

One of the traditions of the Relays for Life is to line up luminaria alongside the track, their soft glow both lighting the way for participants and illuminating the names of both survivors and those lost to cancer. Although I prefer to run my laps during the Relay, I always take at least one very slow lap to read the names and honor the spirits of those who were and are loved so well. This year, I chose to do so during my 3:00 A.M. shift on the track while some of the students/alumnae were catching short naps. About three-quarters of the way around, I stopped short and my eyes filled with tears. I saw a sack with the name “Amelia Sutton” taped to it, written in simple block letters. I closed my eyes and envisioned my old high school friend, her smile, her laugh, the night before she left for college when she ordered “Superior” pizzas so I could stop by her “off to college” party as I made the delivery, the way her long skirts twirled as she spun her way through a too-short life. She was just 44 when she died.

I grew up thinking of cancer as something that could be serious but that could also be beaten. Though my grandmother was first diagnosed with breast cancer when my father was in college (and medical treatments, of course, were not remotely as advanced in the early 1950’s as they are now), she fought hard and achieved remission no less than six times before her eventual death at 74, nearly 30 years after her initial diagnosis. She was, and is, an inspiration. And I have many other relatives who have successfully beaten back cancer. When I hear that someone has been diagnosed with cancer, my first instinct is to think, “Okay, time to gear up yet again and win this fight.” So that night on the track, I was not just grieving for Millie, I was also forced to confront the fact that sometimes the fight is lost.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During faculty meeting when Jeff Conlon, our Athletic Director, shared the idea of getting pink uniforms for our athletic teams in support, there was a buzz of affirmation around the room. Already, Linda Beaudoin was planning to organize our community service club to help with the Greenfield Rays of Hope walk for the third straight year. Last week, on the top of Mt. Holyoke on Mountain Day, a number of faculty members were knitting pink scarves as part of the Rays of Hope tradition. When Sandy Thomas P’99 and Michelle Shattuck came to housemeeting to represent the Rays of Hope walk, they asked for a show of hands of how many people had had breast cancer or knew someone who had. Nearly every hand in the room went up. With that sobering image in mind, Stoneleigh-Burnham is proud to join with so many others to do our part and look to the day, as in the title of Kal Hourd’s beautiful song, “When Pink is Just a Color Again.”

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Making a New Home

Lately, I’ve been a little more irritable than I would normally be, or want to be. Like many teachers who care deeply about their craft, I can be hard on myself if a class doesn’t go well, but over these past couple of days, I’ve been carrying that to an extreme. I know why. It’s no secret. But sometimes you just have to let things take their course, doing everything you can to stay on an even keel so that the kids continue to have a good experience.

And they are! At our last middle school team meeting, I had put on the agenda some happy news a parent had shared with me. Her daughter could not be happier, and comes home each night raving about how much she loves it here. When I shared this news, it turned out other teachers had heard the same thing from this family, and we added other names to the list. Indeed, the kids seem relaxed, comfortable, happy, and (within the norms of young adolescence) focused on what they are learning.

At this point in time, if I were reading this blog aloud to my Humanities 7 class, they would be bursting with impatience, wondering why an author would say “It’s no secret” if they weren’t about to actually reveal the secret. So I will end their, and your, suspense. One of our two cats, Moki, while sweet and loving and affectionate with us, never bonded nor even accommodated to the other, and the situation had deteriorated to the point where it was clear that she really needed a home where she could be an only cat. I found such a home for her, with an alumna of our school (a newly-minted kindergarten teacher looking for an older cat that needed to stay indoors), and last night dropped her off there. It’s one of those things. I know she’s better off and will be happier, and I love her enough to want that for her. But I also love her enough to miss her terribly. The house feels empty, even as my other cat somewhat nervously works to make sure I know she belongs here and wants to stay.

As I woke up groggy this morning to my radio alarm, the first lyric I could clearly understand was, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. I know who I want to take me home…” It was eerie how perfect the song was for the moment. Beyond the lyrical coincidence, this song, “Closing Time” by Semisonic, was chosen by the class of 2003 to sing at Vespers as their farewell song to the school. I worked with them to prepare it, strumming along on my beloved black Strat set to its sweetest sound. They sounded beautiful, simultaneously wistful and brave as they reflected on their past here and turned toward their future elsewhere. One of the lyrics, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” has become a touchstone in my life.

Normally, I’ll think about this song at the end of the year, when our school is approaching that “some other beginning’s end” and somewhere else is soon to be the new beginning. But of course, it is the same in reverse for the start of our year. As we come together joyfully and build this year’s community, last year’s communities and ways of doing things are still engraved in our students’ minds.  In that same meeting, where we were talking about how happy our new students are here, we also talked about the sea change in culture some of them were nonetheless experiencing, and how to guide them through it. The girl who comes home every night raving about how much she loves her life also looked up at me quite frankly yesterday and said that in her old school, she had never had to present original research in a paragraph quite the way we do it here. I worked with her to pull ideas out of her existing paragraph, combine them, add to them, and figure out what the main idea was and how best to phrase it. Then we talked about how to test how closely each line of the paragraph related to the newly-written topic sentence, keeping some ideas but setting others aside for hopeful inclusion elsewhere in the paper. She had the sense it wouldn’t be easy and it might take a few more drafts to get it right. I told her that was possible, but that I also had the sense she would get it right. She nodded as if to confirm that she trusted my judgment on that point, and bent to her work as I moved on to confer with the next student.

And so it goes. We keep the best of the places where we have been, and move on to welcome the best of the places where we are. We continue our journeys to become our best selves, not without bumps but not without joys either. Part of the coming together must be to honor where we’ve been. It becomes natural once we recognize it as such.

Nearly two years ago, Moki made a cameo appearance in our school’s blog, in a piece called “Moki was right.”  In it, I wrote, “My little cat Moki has crawled into my lap. Perched on her haunches, she has one paw on my right shoulder and the other against my chest; her head is nestled under my chin and she is purring deeply. For her, there’s nothing all that complicated about love.” Sometimes, of course love can be complicated. But sometimes it’s not. As Moki moves on to her own new beginning, those thoughts remain.

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Making History

Well-behaved women seldom make history. – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

My 7th grade Humanities class has been investigating the theme question, “How does government affect girls’ lives?” We are using Deborah Ellis’s novel The Breadwinner as a starting point. The book is about a young girl in the Afghanistan of the 1990’s who has to dress as a boy to earn a living and buy food for her family when her father is arrested by the Taliban. Their first questions arising out of our discussions had to do with choosing and/or being forced to wear a burqa, and to what extent wearing either a burqa or niqab would have a deep effect on how girls and women felt about themselves. In pursuing those questions and viewing an Al Jazeera video about women’s rights in Afghanistan, we ended up identifying several directions for further discussion, including the nature of the Taliban, what is being and can be done about educating girls and women in Afghanistan, and more broadly the interrelationships of education and power on the one hand, and government and culture on another.

It’s still quite early in the year, and hard to tell exactly where this class is going to go as we dig deeper into the emerging ideas and themes of this unit. However, this is quite clear: they are asking all the right questions, they have a good sense of the role and importance of power in people’s lives and their intuition is to work to build a fairer and more equal world.

All of this, of course, comes back to our mission as a girls’ school. Developing, promoting, and supporting girls’ and women’s voices is at the core of what we do. As Leonard Sax once wrote, “a girls’ school can foster subversive girls who rebel against the narrow social roles prescribed for them.” The word “subversive” may shock here – it is not a word often associated with girls; but in point of fact, immersed as our students are in a constant stream of negative messages about girls, women and femininity, perhaps a little subversion is exactly what is needed.

It takes a major leap of faith to nourish subversion. You have to be willing to allow yourself to be challenged on occasion. It can be painful to acknowledge when that challenge might have some basis in fact; but imagine yourself looking at a girl struggling against everything she has absorbed about how it is her job to “be nice” and preserve relationships, working up the courage to let you know she sees something that she thinks is wrong and what needs to be done about it. How could you not listen to her? The alternative is to watch her retreat inside herself and know she is likely to have an even harder time speaking out in the future, if indeed she does. I, for one, could not live with that any more than I could live with squelching the girl who already has a sense of her own power and how to speak it.

So, trying my best to help nourish subversion, expressed of course with appropriate respect for feelings and human dignity, is in a very real sense part of my curriculum. I know that research shows girls’ schools have the potential to help girls and women derive their self-esteem from within rather than from external sources such as their appearance or what others think of them. At some level, everything I do here is oriented toward making that outcome a reality for our students.

In 2009, the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, wishing to avoid the trap of confirmation bias, commissioned a study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute into the effects of single-gender education. Entitled “Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College,” the study examined over 20,000 alumnae of both girls’ and coeducational schools. In the executive summary, the authors noted several benefits to alumnae of girls’ schools including greater academic engagement and confidence, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Particularly pertinent to my Humanities 7 class, they also note that alumnae of girls’ schools have “greater political engagement.”

I hope and trust that this year’s 7th grade class will only deepen their sense of political engagement as they continue to grow up and eventually go out into the world. I am still getting to know them, but already, I have a sense of their potential to help make history.

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Bookends: Volume 2: Allow Me to Burst Your Bubble

By the time students enroll in the IB Diploma Programme they have amassed a great deal of knowledge.  My job, as their Theory of Knowledge teacher, is to make them forget it.

Alec Peterson, the first Director General of the IB and a TOK teacher, wrote that the aim of this course, and the reason it rests at the heart of the IB, is to address two weaknesses common to most upper secondary schools: the failure to make explicit in the minds of the students the different forms that academic learning and knowledge take; and the tendency for students to study their different subjects in discrete, insular compartments.

In other words, I need to help these girls recognize their developing powers of the mind and the ways these methods of thinking can be applied to new situations in any context.

Their powers of scientific deduction can reveal much about the structure of a concerto. The implication of a word problem in calculus demands the close reading skills learned in studying poetry.  All of this makes sense, indeed its value to the invested, active participant in life and learning is undeniable. But how to teach this?  I thought the girls would probably do a better job than I could.

I asked them first to do some talking and writing about what they mean when they say “I know.”  They took this in some wonderful directions, with answers ranging from investigations of empirical knowledge versus faith, to dismissive appeasements of parents and siblings.  No need to worry about honest self-assessment with this group.  What I did not expect was how quickly this metacognition would pervade their lives.

The heart of their homework for the week was to identify a moment in another class that required them to decode connotation.  By lunch the next day, reports were coming in from other teachers of TOK students’ demands and accusations.  Higher Level IB Math became a discussion of ways that we decode.  In Spanish, a simple request to translate a word brought talk of everything that “what does it mean” can mean. Students began to suspect (correctly, I might add) that their other teachers were in on this plot.

And that’s another part of what I get to do: help these girls forge and map the connections between their disciplines.  One of the great strengths of SBS, one that makes the IB a natural fit, is the faculty’s eagerness to make connections.  There is an infectious enthusiasm for understanding and synthesis, and as these girls and I work to integrate their tools of learning we find that everywhere we look this approach is being modeled.  The bubbles around disciplines are bursting.  But that’s how this conversation with Bill started.

-Alex Bogel, TOK and IB English Teacher

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