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    A Fan’s Perspective
    Thursday, March 10, 2016

    by Tracey Quillen Carney ’80, Director of Communications



    As of this writing, the Golden State Warriors are 57-6, undefeated at home. In their most recent win (3/9/16 vs. Utah, 115-94), the league’s reigning and presumptive MVP, Stephen Curry, had only 12 points, but they included two momentum-sparking three-pointers, and he led all players with 10 assists. The team’s graceful efficiency and intelligent athleticism has put it in a league of its own this year—and the Warriors also seem to be having more fun than anybody else; they are certainly more fun to watch.


    Earlier in the day of that 21-point win over the Jazz, I went to the fifth grade musical here at Wilmington Friends, Disney's Aladdin, Jr. The musical is an annual production that involves every student in the grade—under the direction of the lower school music teacher with support from the other members of the Performing Arts Department, all of the fifth grade teachers, some upper school students on tech, and a host of heroic parent volunteers. (The eighth grade class musical at Friends is produced in much the same way.) The students, from lead roles to the chorus, played their parts not only responsibly but with an exhilaration that will keep everyone who was in the audience smiling for a long time.




    We’re lucky at Friends. As a natural expression of our Quaker identity, we get to witness and be part of inspiring collaborations every day. There is a foundational belief in Quakerism that each person has unique value and inviolable dignity (“that of God in everyone”). And every member of the community shares in the obligation to recognize and answer what is best in themselves and in others—developing talents to the fullest and respecting the strengths, efforts, and perspectives of all.


    We have MVP-type leaders at Friends, leaders who recognize, often as early as their lower school student years, the truth of Babe Ruth’s observation that, “You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime.” From classroom discussions and group projects to meetings among colleagues to student clubs and committees to our Monday Gathering in lower school and Meeting for Business in middle and upper school—to the stage and athletic fields—this School is a team with a sense of purpose.


    We recently welcomed a group of visitors to Wilmington Friends, and they shared their observations with us. Most notable to them was that no matter whom they talked to—students, parents, teachers, or staff—what people were most proud of at Friends was the sense of community. And, in fact, our School’s formally stated mission includes inspiring students to act “with a conscious responsibility to the good of all.” That’s not just for one season or one show; it’s not, for us, just a practical “21st century skill”; it’s who we are as a Quaker school. And it’s very rewarding—and fun—to witness and be a part of it.


    To round back to Steph Curry’s game leading assist performance…There’s a 38-second video I have kept on my desktop for the past three years, dating back to a season when I videotaped for the Friends boys’ lacrosse team. I watch it from time to time for inspiration. Along with the photos from the fifth grade musical, Disney’s Aladdin Jr., please...have fun, and go team.



    Common & Standard Are Not Enough
    Monday, February 22, 2016

    In debates about curriculum and testing, a crucial point can be lost. Education is a deeply human endeavor. It starts with relationships, and the success of any true learning community depends on a foundation of trust. THE NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE LINKED HERE, which one Friends administrator described as "chilling," tells how an inspiring teacher lost his own inspiration, when his school's focus shifted from the well being of students.

    The Common Good...And College Admissions
    Wednesday, February 03, 2016

    From a Harvard Graduate School of Education report released 1/20/2016:

    "Too often, today’s culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others....As a rite of passage for many students and a major focus for many parents, the college admissions process is powerfully positioned to send different messages that help young people become more generous and humane in ways that benefit not only society but students themselves." 
    Like the messages at the heart of Quaker education.


    "Best Books" of 2015
    Wednesday, January 20, 2016

    It's January - and actually starting to feel like winter - time for our annual check-in with NPR's "Book Concierge." As we resolve to read more "good" books for pleasure in 2016, we take a look back at these helpful recommendations (with VERY helpful filter options) from 2015: VISIT NPR'S BOOK CONCIERGE.

    Monday, November 30, 2015

    (From an October letter to Friends parents)


    Dear Friends,

    As we return from the long weekend, I am thinking about David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character. Whenever I visited my father over the summer he would tap the cover with his glasses, look me square in the eye, and insist that I drop everything to start reading.  I’d seen Brooks interviewed about his premise on television and read many of the editorials that formed the argument of the text. Still, it was a profound read and truly gave me pause about how we live, parent and educate today. He urges us to refocus around principles and virtues he calls the “Humility Code.” In this mindset, we seek a vocation in life rather than a career. We develop the character values we would want in our eulogies, rather than resume additions. We approach the world with humility, courage and purpose, as opposed to self-aggrandizement.

    Brooks’ develops biographies of different people he feels exemplify character: Dorothy Day, Samuel Johnson, St. Augustine, General George Marshall and Frances Perkins, to name a few. These figures did not live perfect lives with straight trajectories towards greatness. They were like “crooked timber” in which they grew strong over time through self-reflection, hard work, and courage. Often they experienced hardship or failure in early adulthood, only to find their vocation as a result. Brooks urges us, through the stories of these heroes, to have national debate on the values we uphold today as a society.

    I was at a memorial service recently and could not stop thinking of this book as I listened to poignant, funny, emotional remarks about the life of someone with unbending integrity, who cared for others tirelessly before she worried about herself. Society sends many messages urging us all to accentuate our strengths and market ourselves for the next impressive resume-building appointment. As a parent, I have the fears we all share about how the world is increasingly competitive. How can our children distinguish themselves to earn a future of financial independence? It was refreshing to be reminded that what matters most is how we treat one another with generosity and kindness. 

    Luckily, at Wilmington Friends, we partner with you to teach the importance of character. As I mentioned at Parent Night, the learning outcomes of the International Baccalaureate program synthesize so beautifully with character-building. Our graduates become: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.  You can see why offering the International Baccalaureate makes so much sense as a Friends school. In all the classes from ninth to twelfth grade, students are growing in these areas. And on the court, the field, the stage as well.

    We recently had a discussion in my Theory of Knowledge classes about how these skills require agency. To be “caring” means that you are responsible for action based on your knowledge. To be “principled” means that you understand your own beliefs and live accordingly. To be “balanced” means that you make choices to live a well-rounded existence. These are not, in other words, academic skills learned in isolation. These are skills for thoughtful living right now, in the present. 

    The students, of course, may not realize they are learning these things intentionally. And that may be the best part. They absorb the importance of character continuously, in small and large ways. Just last Thursday we gathered for Meeting by advisory, watched a Brene Brown video on empathy, and shared ideas on the differences between sympathy and empathy.  We teachers have the benefit of seeing them bloom in these areas over the span of their time with us; we see it in how they listen, help one another, take academic risks and handle disappointments. 

    So I encourage you to read Brooks’ book and engage in conversation about what matters to you. As we head into the season of gratitude, I am grateful to be in a community where character is so important.


    In Friendship,
    Rebecca Zug

    Head of Upper School

    College Advice for 9th Graders - Be a Kid
    Friday, October 09, 2015

    Dear Class of 2019 parents,

    While I usually lean toward informational emails, please bear with me as I share a more philosophical reflection about the college process for our ninth graders. This past week, I saw a ninth grader who looked a bit dejected, so I stopped to chat. The student told me that her practice test scores weren’t good, tried to joke that she wasn’t going to college, and then hung her head. I wanted to share with all of you what I shared with that ninth grader.

    •Practice tests are for practice, nothing more. Practice tests allow students to get a sense of what this type of testing is like (long and boring!) because it’s different from a discussion-based, interdisciplinary WFS education. Standardized test scores do not correlate (at all!) to a student’s academic potential or ability; they merely reflect the student’s ability to take a standardized test. The SAT does not even accurately predict what a student’s freshman year English grade will be! In fact, there are some strong correlations with standardized testing – to parental education and income level, to race, and to gender – none of which have anything to do with student preparation or talent.  The National Association of College Admission Counseling has published an extensive report, which concludes that colleges and universities should rely on alternate measures of evaluation, since standardized testing is not predictive. Click to read more about the Testing Commission Report and subsequent correspondence - or you can take our word for it! 

    •How often in life do we have to take a four-hour standardized test to succeed in our professions? As we all know, grit, determination, perseverance, creativity, the ability to problem solve, people skills, and a lifelong love of learning guarantee success. Colleges know this too, and they’ve begun to incorporate the use of non-cognitive variables in admissions review.

    •Just as our children have spent years refining their ability to play a sport, an instrument, their art, or other interests, standardized tests are a learned, coachable skill. Your child will have a choice – to practice the standardized test skills through test prep or to focus his/her energies elsewhere by applying to amazing colleges that do not require standardized testing for admission (for a complete list, see

    •Ninth graders have not yet had all of the material that is on the SAT or ACT…but they will by the time they should be focusing on the SAT/ACT, which is in the junior year. Being down on yourself about performance on an early standardized test is like devaluing yourself because you can’t ski a black diamond run the first time on skis – don’t blame yourself for lacking a skill or knowledge that you have not yet obtained!

    •While it’s fun to think about colleges and it’s really exciting to watch a Big 10 (which, ok, is actually the Big 14) athletic event, it’s way too early to focus on a particular college – there are 2,000 four-year colleges in the United States to explore and discover! Part of the college process is allowing personal growth to happen, so students can discover who they are and who they want to be, which eventually leads to the ideal college match. Fixating on one school now is short-sighted (and unrealistic!).

    •Some ninth graders want to talk or think about college. For others, it’s not even on the radar. Follow your student’s cues and interests about college; just like potty training or staying home alone, they’ll let you know when they’re ready.

    What should ninth graders be doing right now:

    •Getting used to the upper school, academically, personally, and socially

    •Settling into friend groups (which often shift in the upper school)

    •Enjoying extracurricular activities, in and out of school

    •Being a goofy fourteen or fifteen year old – cracking up for no reason, hanging with friends, having crushes, obsessing about their appearance, and figuring out who they are in the world

    •Enjoying high school, realizing that high school is a rich and wonderful experience on its own, not just a cattle chute to college

    •Developing some life skills – organization, study skills, interpersonal skills, personal responsibility (some do this more quickly than others!)

    •Doing the best s/he can in courses, navigating how to go for extra help, how to plan ahead, how to study, and how to balance academic work with having a life

    •Being a kid!

    •Distressing though it may be, separating from parents and defining themselves as individuals (sometimes in an oppositional way!)

    •Taking some (safe) risks – trying a new activity, making new friends, investigating a new academic area, walking to Trolley Square with friends

    •Beyond college, here’s a nice overview of the important work that our kids are doing as fourteen year-olds: 

    Thanks for letting me climb on my soapbox. We are looking forward to sharing the college journey with all of you and your amazing ninth graders. 

    Kathleen Martin
    Director of College Guidance

    Opening Day 2015
    Tuesday, September 08, 2015

     Dear Friends,


    Welcome to the 2015-2016 school year at Wilmington Friends, and thank you for your partnership as parents and colleagues.


    As we welcomed new faculty and staff last week (you can see a photo on my Twitter account, @WFS_HOS), we talked about the concept of a “meeting for learning,” as described by Parker Palmer, a legendary leader of teachers especially in our Friends schools world. Palmer challenges us to approach learning as a genuine encounter among people, as well with curriculum. It is learning as a community as well as an individual experience, each of us bringing who we are to the process, building trust with an openness to growth in ways that are unexpected as well as planned.


    By emphasizing human experience, reflection, and growth—within the discipline of high expectations for intellectual pursuit and community responsibility—Quaker education moves beyond what Palmer describes as just “training.” Every time we leave our meetings for learning, our goal for our students and ourselves is that we are ready and inclined to engage ideas, challenges, opportunities, questions, and other people in more meaningful and effective ways. It is the foundation for lifelong learning in the most genuine sense.


    We celebrate that timeless mission as we celebrate all that is new at Friends School this fall—including our Global Learning Center and renovations from the Library Learning Commons and flex and design labs on the middle/upper school campus to the Reggio Emilia-inspired open studio at lower school. Facilities, like our laptops and textbooks, are not ends in themselves; but they are critical to nurture and inspire learning. Please take an opportunity to see what’s new on our campuses.


    Most of all, on this first day of school, we celebrate our community. We thank all of you who, in so many ways, made the final projects and all the previous projects of the Future of Friends campaign possible. We thank our faculty and staff, who bring the mission of Friends School to life and who embody the commitment to continuous innovation that has made Friends a leader in education for 268 years. We thank our WFS parents and guardians; my wife, Cassandra, and I are privileged to join your company. Our older son is now a freshman in college, and our younger son and daughter are new students at Friends.


    Finally, at the center of it all, we thank our students. Their energy today renewed our energy as we begin the year. We look forward to many meetings of learning with them, and with you, in the months ahead. As always, please don’t hesitate to ask questions. I will be available at parent coffees on September 25 and September 28, and look forward to seeing many of you then and at other events throughout the fall.


    Again, thank you for your trust in Wilmington Friends, your warm welcome to my family and me, and your partnership in the 2015-2016 school year.


    In friendship,

    Ken Aldridge

    Head of School

    Spaced Out Summer
    Friday, August 14, 2015

    By Tracey Quillen Carney ’80, Director of Communications


    Older than many of my colleagues and many of the parents at our school, I’m of the Apollo, and the original Star Trek/Wars, generation. “The final frontier” never lost its allure with me. But for others, including students, recent explorations in space just might have the appeal to re-fire imaginations.


    Several missions in space made headlines this past summer and, from an educational perspective, opened tremendous opportunities for discussion of practical and philosophical questions: from what is known and not known about the origins of the Solar System, to debates on the value of exploration without pre-determined applications, to whether there is/whether it matters if there is life on other planets.


    The space missions certainly also offered a counter-argument to a culture of immediate gratification and self-focus, representing long-term investments, persistence through adversity, and not only international but also intergenerational teamwork. A non-scientist’s (very incomplete) introduction to three summer 2015 space milestones:


    Visiting Pluto, Plus


    In July, NASA’s New Horizons, which launched in 2006, reached its closest approach to Pluto. The primitive icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune are believed to represent the material that condensed to form the terrestrial and giant planets. The hope is that exploration of Pluto and its moons, and at least one Kuiper Belt object beyond Pluto, will help fill a gap in our knowledge about the outer region and evolution of our Solar System.


    Hunting Planets


    Also in July, NASA’s Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of a planet and star more like our Earth and Sun than anything previously observed. The planet, Kepler-452b, is about 1-1/2 times as big as Earth (by radius) and circles its star in a 385-day orbit. The Kepler Mission was designed to survey the Earth’s region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover terrestrial planets (from half to twice the size of Earth), especially those within the “habitable zone” of their stars, the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface.


    Chasing Comets


    The European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Rosetta mission more than a decade ago, with the goal of conducting experiments on and around a comet (specifically, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko). As primitive objects, formed far from the Sun and preserved at low temperatures, comets contain a “record” of the physical and chemical processes in the early evolution of the Sun and Solar System. Scientists hope to gain insights into those processes, including the development of planets and the “delivery” of building blocks of life like water, by observing the comet in its path toward and then away from the Sun. In August of this year, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko reached its closest point to the Sun, perihelion, with the Rosetta orbiter alongside and scheduled to collect data through December.




    The explorations and studies in space seek to add to the store of human knowledge. For some people, the goal of discovery is enough. Some find reassurance that past explorations have often led to practical applications. Others note that investment in research toward innovation is essential to economic growth and global leadership. Many scientists, including a number from the Apollo generation, talk about the importance of inspiring young people, whose curiosity and creativity are also essential to a culture of innovation.


    The poet, professor, and critic Mark Van Doren is often quoted as saying, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” Of all the things that New Horizons, Kepler, and Rosetta achieved with their discoveries this summer, the most important may be to encourage us to discover more.


    Have a great school year.


    Non-Cognitive Skills and the MSA
    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    Why are non-cognitive skills important?


    Research indicates, as has the experience of Quaker schools, that non-cognitive skills – like curiosity, creativity, and resilience – are as important as cognitive skills to academic achievement (e.g. college grades) and long-term success (e.g. earnings, health, relationships). Even for schools that always have viewed character education and interpersonal skills as essential to their missions, the trick is how to measure such competencies in a way that can be applied systemically to improve teaching and learning.


    What is the MSA?


    The Mission Skills Assessment (MSA) has been developed by the Center for Academic and Workforce Readiness and Success at Educational Testing Services (ETS) in partnership with the Independent School Data Exchange (INDEX). The MSA focuses on character skills that research has identified as essential for success in and beyond school – teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiosity, and time management.


    Why did Friends choose the MSA?


    We chose the MSA because the skills it measures align well with the Friends mission and our curricular goals; our Quaker roots have ensured an emphasis on non-cognitive skills from the school’s founding. The MSA also has been recognized – notably in a November 2013 report by the RAND Corporation, “Measuring 21st Century Competencies: Guidance for Educators” – for reliability and validity, especially through its synthesis of several different measures. The MSA combines student self-assessment, teacher observations of student behavior, and performance-based/situational judgment questions (e.g., asking students to list “all the things that are or are usually cold,” with a time limit; or, “what would you do in this situation?”). We employ and value the multiple assessment approach in our own program; indeed, it was one of the appeals in choosing the International Baccalaureate on the academic skills side.


    How does/will the school use the results of the MSA?


    In these early years, we are using the data from our own school as a starting point, from which we can measure how different program initiatives – like an intentional, formalized curricular focus on ethics, for example – might impact results that are priorities for us. We also are using aggregate data, from all participating schools, which MSA correlates to other information (like grades, absences, etc.). The correlated data can reveal interesting subtleties even within expected results. So our own longitudinal data will inform program development to support the priorities stated in our mission, like inspiring students to be responsible (ethical, collaborative) citizens or to think creatively. And the overall correlated data will help us to measure not just whether but also how certain non-cognitive skills support other desired outcomes, like academic success.


    What about individual results?


    Individual student’s results on the MSA are not reported. Research tells us that non-cognitive skills do not develop in a linear fashion like math competency and that there are a lot of variables – including variables outside of school. But schools can have an impact through intentional instruction, both explicit and implicit – and the MSA can help to measure program effectiveness in serving all students and to guide improvement in priority areas.


    Why did Friends decide to try to measure non-cognitive skill development?


    Our traditional measure of the lifelong impact of Friends education has been the biographies and reflections of our graduates. And those data will never lose value; education is a deeply human endeavor. But we also recognize that we live in an era of metrics. We chose the MSA because it seemed mission-appropriate, reliable, and genuinely useful. We also hoped – and, indeed, have already experienced – that participating in the MSA would help to generate good discussions about our priorities, and how to maximize one of our distinctive strengths as a Quaker school, which is that the values expressed in our mission and the high quality of our program are mutually reinforcing.


    Transfer of Learning
    Friday, May 01, 2015

    "Transfer of learning," a defining approach and objective of Friends education, is a focus of a new book (and the article linked below, adapted from the book) by Larry Ferlazzo: "Researchers suggest that the pressure of high-stakes standardized tests does not support or encourage teachers to prioritize reinforcing this practice. This lack of support is ironic since a good case can be made that transfer is the primary purpose of schooling."

    Read more...…/the-real-stuff-of-schooli…/…



    Report from China
    Thursday, April 02, 2015

    On March 13, four Wilmington Friends students and upper school Chinese teacher Xiaohong Xu left on a 10-day language and culture trip to China - Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai. Read the blog post about the trip's first days, written by Friends juniors Jodi Lessner and Eli Akerfeldt-Howard at

    WFS to Host Apple Site Visit
    Friday, February 20, 2015


    On Monday, March 9, Wilmington Friends School will host an Apple Site Visit, a tour and program introduction designed for schools that are considering implementing one-to-one (1:1) laptop programs. Guests will meet with student as well as staff leaders of the technology program and visit classes to see technology in action in support of the academic program.

    In this interview, WFS Director of Technology Gregg Miller discusses the laptop program at Friends, its recognition as an "Apple Distinguished Program," and the upcoming Site Visit.


    How was Friends chosen to host an Apple Site Visit?

    Each school that earns the "Apple Distinguished Program" designation is asked to host a site visit as part of renewing the designation.



    How did the 1:1 laptop program at Friends earn recognition as an "Apple Distinguished Program"? What's distinctive about the Friends program?

    The application process for ADP involved creating an ibook about our program using Apple's "ibook author" program. Our book highlighted the process we used to go from a school with labs and servers to a 1 to 1. We also shared how we utilized student leaders for deployment of our 650+ laptops as well as ongoing tech support.

    I think the most distinctive things about Friends program is that we set ourselves up for success. We did the research and realized that the keys to great adoption were putting the laptops in the hands of the teachers first and sticking with a single model of computer. Those two features enabled our teachers to have a head start in using the technology to teach. Having a standard platform and standard applications makes the laptop a tool that is virtually seamless in the classroom. We never have to deal with incompatible versions of software or hardware.

    I also think something that is unique to Friends is how heavily we use – well, rely on – our student leaders in AppleCore [the student-led tech support group]. Maintaining our 650+ laptops along with our 100+ desktops would be a monumental task with only two full time employees. AppleCore empowers our student leaders to assist with tech support so that we end up having a tech team of more than 20!



    Friends is structuring the Apple Site Visit so that it's student-led. How are the students going to be involved?


    Jessica and Rebecca are among the leaders of AppleCore,
    the student-led tech support team at Friends. They will
    host the Apple Site Visit on March 9.

    Our AppleCore clerk, Rebecca Sakaguchi, and treasurer, Jessica Saunders, jumped at the chance to have our site visit be student-led. They recently attended an Apple Site visit at another school to take notes and get ideas about our visit. They will be our official "hosts" for the day – planning the day, greeting visitors, scheduling fellow AppleCore members to do classroom visits, organizing teacher presenters, etc. Other student leaders on the AppleCore team will be featured in our "panel" discussion later in the day answering questions from all of our guests.


    Friends leases its laptops, and other equipment like cameras. You're coming up on a new lease at the end of the school year. What equipment changes do you plan to make?

    The biggest change will be in our laptop model. We'll be switching from the MacBook Pros to MacBook Airs. We are excited to provide a faster and lighter computer, with much better battery life for our students and faculty. We are anticipating being able to switch students and faculty into new machines in late May.


    Is there anything you're looking forward to in the next phase of educational technology? Anything on the horizon that's especially exciting to you?

    I tend to dream big, so in the future, I'd love to see us pioneer being a 2 to 1 school – two devices for each student. A laptop for most of composing/processor-intensive work, accompanied with an iPad for electronic texts, traveling, pictures, etc.


    Thanks, Gregg, for your leadership of the technology program at Friends, and good luck with the March 9 event.

    Reggio Emilia in the Friends ELC
    Wednesday, January 28, 2015

    by Tracey Quillen Carney ’80, Director of Communications

    Last year, after a period of teacher-led research including school visits and studies of educational outcomes, Wilmington Friends started introducing components of the Reggio Emilia approach into our Early Learning Center program. One aspect of the research essential to us was to confirm that Reggio was a good fit with Quaker education – and we found that it is, especially in the respect for each student and the emphasis on community. The Reggio philosophy also fits with our commitment to global education; it evolved in Italy after World War II, with a value of teaching children to work together, to solve problems, and to resolve conflicts.



















    So what is it?

    Reggio Emilia 101

    Back in 1998, CNN did a special report on Reggio Emilia early childhood schools in Italy and “why they are considered the world’s best preschool model.” (You can now watch the report on YouTube,

    In the Reggio Emilia approach, students’ interests and questions help determine the course of the learning process, with the teacher as a partner, and designer of a sometimes discreet structure, in research. Opportunities for self-expression are frequent and varied, and in different ways in different schools – Friends primarily uses digital portfolios – student work is documented regularly. It is a program that encourages students to reflect on and to inquire more deeply into what they are thinking and doing.

    Recent research in neuroscience and long-term outcomes of early childhood programs has reinforced the value of this approach as a foundation for future learning and the development of so-called 21st century skills. The programs that are most effective focus on developing young children’s capacity to construct knowledge, rather than on dispensing information with rigid instructions.

    One of the designs that structures a Reggio Emilia class is the environment. Students have choices, but the choices available to them are carefully planned. The classroom is designed to encourage creative thinking and collaboration, and there is tremendous focus on building a learning community with a sense of mutual respect and responsibility.

    Again, research into outcomes of early childhood experiences confirms that relationship-building skills overlap with and are a critical foundation for cognitive skills – including cognitive integration and executive function – skills essential to future learning and well-being, to problem-solving and innovation.

    So what does it look like?

    Free Play

    I walked into an Early Learning Center classroom at Friends, a group of almost-three to four-year-olds, and was greeted by baby dragons. That’s what I was told by the three students making a sound that might have been mistaken for hungry kittens. The dragons were in a larger group in a sunny corner with blocks, plastic animals, some smooth stones, other items categorized by the baskets they came out of, and a sturdy two-step stool (some of the block structures got pretty big). Two students built a zoo and talked about what to do if it rained, which started a conversation about which animals would mind the rain and which – like a crocodile – might not.

    At a nearby table, students decorated a fallen tree branch that one of them had found on the way to school. They had scissors, tape, and several colors and textures of string and ribbon that they were winding in different ways. “We’re going to make the woods pretty for the dragons,” one said. Other students were at the sensory table experimenting with “gel beads” and a variety of containers. Another showed me how he could make patterns with magnets. There was music in the background.

    During this “free play” time, teacher Adrienne Meade approached the one student who didn’t seem engaged in an activity. “You look a little lost,” she said, “What would you like to do?” A number of times, students were asked to make informed choices. One boy was reminded that if he wanted to play in the loft, he had to be careful on the steps; he thought about it – you could almost watch the progress of his calculation – and decided not to play in the loft.


    At one point during free play, the light went off, and all the students grew quiet and looked at Adrienne. “Teacher Lisa [Morgan] is almost done getting snack ready,” Adrienne said in a soft voice, “When you are ready for your snack, please wash your hands.” Light back on. Some children walked right to the sink, but it was nothing like the race I expected (these are little kids). Others kept playing. There were two snack foods to choose from, or the option of some of each.


    After snack came clean up from free play and then Circle, a much more visibly structured time – sit cross-legged, fold hands, eyes on speaker, mouths still, raise a quiet hand – but most of the prompting from the teacher remained in the form of questions.

    During the “good morning” song, each person’s name was included in a verse, and teachers, students, and even I put a stone into a basket when we heard our names. The group counted the stones together, and then counted the stones left over. There was supposed to be just one stone for each person, but Adrienne remarked that there always seemed to be extra. One of the students turned to me to explain matter-of-factly, “Stone fairies.” Clearly, everyone else was already aware of this hypothesis. “What do you think the stone fairies look like?” Adrienne asked. “Blond hair and red eyes.” “The size of a 17-year-old crocodile.” “Maybe we should write them notes, asking them to stop. It’s confusing.” 


    After about 10 minutes of Circle discussion, it was time to go to the gym, with a designated line leader and preparation via the “hall song,” which reminded students of expectations like keeping hands to their sides. Gym time resembled free play, a lot of choices within a thoughtfully designed environment. Again, any needed redirection was calm, often in the form of a question, and usually a safety reminder. There was no objection to a ride-on bus being “ridden” upside down or to dumping the whole bin of plastic balls or even throwing balls around (there was no assumption that someone would get hit…and nobody did; there seemed to be an ingrained understanding of that expectation, as well). While Lisa supervised the last part of gym time, Adrienne set up the classroom for small-group work.

    Small Groups

    A long-term project had emerged, with the excitement of the first snow of the year, a couple of weeks before I visited the class. The snow got the class thinking about how people stay warm in winter weather. Then they discussed who at school might need to stay to warm, and started to focus on Mr. Rich, who works both inside and outside the building. They talked about ways to help Mr. Rich stay warm “on the inside” with things like hot chocolate and soup, and on the outside. The class had decided to make a coat – or, as some students preferred, a cloak – for Mr. Rich.

    To set up the small-group work on this project, students returned to their circle places, and Adrienne asked what Mr. Rich’s coat should be like. She wrote down each suggestion. Puffy with a zipper. Feathers. Pockets. Fuzz. A hood. A way to attach his mittens.

    Adrienne had set up a table with paper and pastels; an easel with two places for painters; and a table with four wooden, pose-able mannequins and different kinds of cloth. Students started to express their preferences, “I want to draw it,” “I want to make it,” “I want to paint it,” and outside of the options originally presented, “I want to build it with blocks.” The last was ok as long as the student could relate his block building to the project of designing a coat for Mr. Rich.

    Student work often focused on one aspect of the coat design – something that looked puffy or a color Mr. Rich might like. One coat was designed so that Mr. Rich could fly; another had a mask so that he could go under water. When a student seemed to drift into free play, Adrienne reminded her, “You need to show me your coat idea, and then you can play and choose where in the room you want to be.”


    Before small groups the following day, students had a chance to see an almost finished (everything but the buttons) homemade winter coat. Our friend, Teacher Tri, had made the coat for a child about the same age as the ELC students. She showed the class the pattern she had used, and students counted how many pieces had to be cut and sewn together. After a number of questions both from and to students, they moved into their work.


    The coat-design project was the same, but some of the materials were different – play dough and foam paper and scissors. “What do you do if there are no spaces where you want to work?” Adrienne asked. “Play somewhere else until someone is done,” a student answered. Two students found a different solution when both really wanted to be at the play dough table. They talked about whether they should share a chair, but decided that one of them would just stand next to the chair – one problem solved. And then when Adrienne asked what they would do about having only one glob of play dough, the student in the chair took the dough and split it.

    And More

    Although I had to leave after small groups for a meeting, where I proudly showed off the paint on my sleeve and glue on my pants, I did look to see the rest of the class schedule, displayed across the board in both words and pictures – read aloud, lunch, closing circle; full-day students take a well deserved afternoon nap. One of my two mornings included a music class, fascinating in its own right, and a service project – making soup for Mr. Rich.

    What impressed me most about my time in the ELC was something distinctive in how the students’ energy and the classroom’s calm reinforced each other. The rhythm of free play-circle-gym-work operated in an integrated way in each of the activities. Both student initiative and learning structure were evident throughout, and so was reflection – students made thoughtful choices, asked thoughtful questions, and gave thoughtful answers. There was a sense of shared responsibility that did not feel like a burden, just “what we do.” Minor challenges did not become disruptive. It was a confident classroom where each person seemed at ease.

    Thank you to Teacher Adrienne, Teacher Lisa, Teacher Liza, and all of the students who made me feel so at ease, too. Like Max, I learned a lot.



    Rosetta & Second Grade Inventors
    Tuesday, December 09, 2014


    This week’s blogger –
    Tracey Quillen Carney ’80, Director of Communications


    A recent “makerspaces” unit in second grade at Wilmington Friends got me thinking about the Rosetta comet mission.


    Our second graders had access to all sorts of repurposed materials with which to create "gizmos, gadgets, and doohickeys." The unit started with books and a short film about inventions. Students worked in pairs to brainstorm ideas, and to build and refine their gadgets, and then they presented “Shark Tank”-style promotions of their work to a panel of adults.


    In their presentations, the students exhibited confidence and enthusiasm, but also excitement about what the next steps might be for their inventions. Two second graders had made what they called “The Super Gizmo,” a long-legged device with a propeller on top. They proposed that it could be used, among other things, to carry medication-soaked cotton balls to wound sites. Assuring the panel that it would fly “pretty high and pretty far,” one student said calmly, “but we don’t know how yet.”


    The Rosetta mission started with an idea that valuable research could come from landing a probe on a comet’s nucleus, but scientists didn’t know how to do that yet. (And before they could start figuring it out, they no doubt had to convince a Shark Tank panel of their own.) At the makerspace of the European Space Agency, the idea evolved into this:  Get a spacecraft (Rosetta) to do three slingshot flybys of Earth and one of Mars to achieve the necessary speed, then put it into deep-space hibernation for 31 months to conserve energy; get it to wake up and start all its instruments again; have it rendezvous with the selected comet, itself flying pretty darned fast, 300-plus million miles from Earth; and then have the spacecraft drop an instrument-loaded probe (Philae), which no one can steer on the way down, onto the comet’s surface.


    It took 10 years to get from proposal to launch pad (during which the selection of destination changed), and another 10 years of actual space flight for Rosetta to reach the comet. Judging from the ESA web site, an international group of 16 teams, no doubt shifting over those two decades, was involved.


    And it all worked, until the very end when Philae’s landing thruster and anchoring “harpoons” didn’t fire. So the probe bounced twice and landed awkwardly in a dark area, limiting how and how long (without solar power) it could function. Scientists adjusted and got 57 hours worth of data, using every instrument, before Philae lost power. Rosetta continues to do research, still flying along with the comet, and there is some hope that Philae may wake up again when the comet gets closer to the Sun.


    I was fascinated by the whole thing; and I think I liked the mission more because it was bold enough that something didn’t go precisely as planned (though I hope the next comet probe has an easier landing). Rosetta has been a remarkable triumph of science and engineering, sure, but it’s also been a triumph of very human stuff—ambition beyond what we already know we can do and commitment to sustained effort toward a common goal without a guarantee of success.


    To me, Rosetta became, as The New York Times critic A. O. Scott wrote about the movie Interstellar, “an allegory of its own aspirations, an argument for grandeur, scale and risk.” In addition to the science of the Rosetta mission, it’s an inspiration for big-scale ideas and doing the real work, risk and all, that goes with them; for finding excitement and reward in the process; for seeing opportunities in complications; and for celebrating all that goes right without requiring everything to go right, because something always doesn’t, especially the first time you try, and so what. Keep working on getting The Super Gizmo to fly.


    Discovery, exploration, and invention are never done unless we get discouraged (or worse, discourage the next generation). The next step is always the most important—that’s nothing new, but somehow for me, Rosetta and Philae have been especially eloquent agents of the message. So many of the challenges we face, right here on Earth, require big-scale thinking, risk, and a shared commitment to 20-year or even longer projects. I think that one of the most powerful lessons we can teach our students/our children is what those second graders learned—that even if we don’t know how to finish the job yet, we can still get to work.


    Another Take on Testing
    Monday, November 24, 2014

    From our friend Benedict Carey, science reporter for The New York Times and author of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens.


    An excerpt:

    "PROTESTS are flaring up in pockets of the country against the proliferation of standardized tests. For many parents and teachers, school has become little more than a series of workout sessions for the assessment du jour.

    "And that is exactly backward, research shows. Tests should work for the student, not the other way around."

    Read article


    Lower School “Report Cards”
    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    Excerpt from a message to parents at Wilmington Friends from Annette Hearing, Head of Lower School, on the posting of progress reports this November and the ongoing service project to collect food and cleaning items for people in Liberia….


    Your child may be a math whiz and/or a fluent reader and/or have neat handwriting and good spelling. Equally important is if your child is excited about, and engaged in, his/her learning; if your child is a peacemaker among classmates, if your child is respectful towards others, and if your child cares about the community, large and small. I'm sure you chose Wilmington Friends School because you wanted your children to get an excellent academic education, but also because you wanted them to learn about the importance of being kind and caring, and the importance of giving to others, both those right next to them and those around the world. I hope you'll also recognize that every child, and indeed every one of us, has areas for growth and development, whether that is in reading or math or learning to respect others. If they have no growing edges, they'd have no need for us as parents or teachers! So, enjoy the opportunity to celebrate your child's areas of strength together and to talk about ways, both at home and at school, to help them as they work on their growing edges. 

    Every day last week, I smiled as I watched the growing piles of supplies for people in Liberia. You have all been so very generous and are setting such a good example for your children of the importance of taking care of our world family. This morning in Gathering [a Monday morning assembly of all lower school students and teachers], we listened to a group of children from Liberia singing a song especially for us. They sang "This Little Light of Mine," and then we sang it as a community (although we sing a more ecumenical version). It was a pretty moving experience to see both sets of children -- here in our Meeting Room as well as outside in Liberia -- sing those words, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.....Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!"  If you'd like to listen to the group of Liberian children, you can access the recording at The youngest children who break into a little dance reminded many of us of our own little ones who have been known to be moved to dance when we sing in Gathering.

    With great gratitude for all of your children and all of you,


    Annette Hearing
    Head of Lower School
    Wilmington Friends School 

    What's in a Nursery Rhyme?
    Friday, October 31, 2014

    Kindergarten student illustration of "Hey Diddle Diddle"


    A description of how to develop early reading and writing skills can sound pretty clinical. Phonemic awareness, sound-symbol relationships, blending syllables—all incredibly important foundational skills, but what does acquiring those skills look like?


    This fall in the kindergarten classes at Friends, learning those critical skills looks like a lot of fun. In their classrooms and in the Library Media Center, students are clearly enjoying their work with nursery rhymes, from listening for content and predicting outcomes (with the help of knowing which words would rhyme), to small groups acting out the stories for classmates and teachers.


    Nursery rhymes introduce young listeners (and actors) to story structure in a basic, accessible form. The rhymes also enrich vocabulary, since many of the words are not familiar to young children (e.g. lean, nimble, porridge). Not only the words actually in the text but also the explanations of those words, with definitions and synonyms, help to build students’ vocabulary in context.


    Nursery rhymes also provide a fun introduction to word families, like the “ill” family in “Jack and Jill went up the hill.” Familiarity with a variety of word families is a foundation for readers’ decoding skills. Finally, the rhythm and rhyme of the form boost memorization skills and support the development of that phonemic awareness that can sound so abstract—a perfect approach for emerging readers who are still developing their internalized sense of what words and stories are. (Kindergarten teachers at Friends also use rhymes as an accessible structure and memory tool for math problems that require critical thinking.)


    By performing the nursery rhymes in groups, students build collaborative and presentation skills—and confidence. The rhythmic pattern makes a connection to movement (just as to music) very natural. Like the ability to anticipate line and story endings based on rhyme, the rhythmic pattern gives children a sense that they know what’s coming next. And confidence leads to creativity. What starts as memorization leads to adapted imitation (based on the model) and finally to original work, as students create their own rhymes and tap out their own rhythmic patterns.


    In a final connection important to the global education curriculum at Friends, the learning value of rhymes—whether traditional nursery rhymes or other songs and poems—extends beyond the English tradition. For example, kindergarten students at Friends are in their second year of learning Spanish, and in that study, rhyming expands students' vocabulary base and builds their oral, listening, reading, writing, and social skills. Tres hurras por rhymes.

    The Skill of Taking Criticism
    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    This week's Quaker Blog is referring parents and teachers to the New York Times "Motherlode" blog, and a 10/2/14 piece by Jessica Lahey titled, "Helping Kids Take Criticism Constructively (Even When It Isn't Constructive)." 

    Excerpt...."We all face criticism, both constructive and destructive, but how we deal with that criticism determines whether we persevere and learn from experience or crumple under the weight of our own self-loathing and despair. Receiving feedback is a skill, and like most skills, it requires practice, and a willingness to change and improve. Most children get plenty of practice. Ironically, adults need to help them make that practice count — by giving them feedback on how they handle criticism."

    Read the full post.


    The Purpose(s) of Education
    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    The debate about the purposes of education is not new; it goes back at least to Socrates. But it seems to have picked up steam over the last decade in American academic life.

    • Harry Lewis, a former Harvard Dean, raised the question of “what is education for?” in his 2006 book, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education. (View a C-SPAN Book Discussion.) Lewis argues that education should help students to “grow up” and to become “the people we want to be responsible for society.”
    • William Deresiewicz, a former English professor at Yale has taken on the prevailing “system” for measuring success, which, he argues, has taught even many of the best students to view their education “as a game to be mastered.” Deresiewicz cites what is known as Goodhart’s law: “When a measure becomes a target, it is no longer a good measure.” (Read a Slate discussion with Deresiewicz.)
    • In September, David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times titled, “Becoming a Real Person,” identifying three purposes of education—commercial (career/marketability of the student), cognitive (acquiring information and learning how to think), and moral (which he defines as “building an integral self,” with a sense of meaning and purpose).

    For centuries, a focus on the moral and civic, in balance with the practical, purposes of education has been at the very center of the identity and mission of Quaker schools. As the Wilmington Friends School Statement of Philosophy and Belief reads, “Students at Friends are challenged to realize their potential: as learners, well prepared to succeed in college and career; as leaders, recognizing their power and opportunity to be agents of change; and as active and responsible members of communities, from the classroom to the world.”

    Renewing attention to the role of schools in helping students to develop a sense of personal ethics and public responsibility doesn’t mean lowering our standards. Indeed, it means raising standards to recognize, as Harry Lewis writes, that, “Competition to excel benefits humanity—given the right concept of ‘excellence.’” It means excellence with a soul.


    The 5 Needs You May Not Realize Your Middle Schooler Is Communicating
    Tuesday, September 30, 2014

    An excerpt from Head of Middle School Jon Huxtable’s most recent letter to parents.


    What are you hearing at home? Middle school students are among the most communicative individuals I know. "What?" you say? It's true. Middle school students are always telling us something. However, those of us who are not middle school students do not often understand exactly what it is they are trying to communicate. 


    Middle school communication is multi-modal, and often requires an anthropological approach for greater insight. Verbal communication is among the least utilized. Body language is an excellent and oft-used form of expression, as is the written word, though medium and audience demand wildly different techniques and vocabulary. While middle school is an ongoing journey in refining one's communicative abilities, we, as the adults in the lives of middle school students, must also practice listening and observing. 


    Some of the most common needs communicated by middle school students and misinterpreted by adults include the following (adapted from Basic Developmental Needs of Youth, Pittman & Wright, 1991):



    A need to belong. Often expressed as, "Nobody likes me."


    A need to be valued. Yet adults hear, "I'm bored."


    A need for independence. Parents often hear this sentiment shared through the comment, "Everybody else gets to do it. Why can't I?"


    A need for safety and structure. "I'd rather die than read aloud in class."


    A need to feel competent. The converse is often conveyed through, "I'm just dumb."


    Yet how we respond when we see, hear, or sense these sentiments makes all the difference to a middle school student. When we try to fix things for a middle school student we unintentionally deny an opportunity for independent problem-solving and thus competence and sense of worth. However, when we ask, "So, what do you think you can do about that?" we've engaged a conversation that places responsibility on, values the insight of, provides guidance for an eleven- to fourteen-year-old. 


    This is the craft of our middle school teachers. As a team, they are experts in providing structured opportunities to middle schoolers through which these needs may be met. Ultimately, the goal is to develop within our students such a secure sense of academic competence that the expectations and rigors of higher-level learning in high school and beyond are seen only as exciting new opportunities for greater understanding and skill development. 

    It is a long and often arduous road full of lots of twists, turns, and imperfect road maps. However, when our students know that wrong turns and moments of panicked uncertainty are part of the process, and that resilience comes from having persevered, they are moving in the right direction. Our role then is to provide a clear destination, secure guard rails, and a variety of comfort stations along the way.

    Wilmington Friends School
    101 School Road, Wilmington, DE 19803