Recently in school success Category

     Children's brain development is a constant process - neurons don't know anything about summer vacation. There has been much good research about the benefits of year-round schooling (three months in school, one month off from school, repeat, etc.)  yet we as a culture seem to be wedded to our present school calendar (which was started to help families in farm families deal with planting and harvest times - go figure). So - ten weeks off - how do we keep the learning process fresh and vital?

     Here are some ideas that might be helpful:

1)            Read everyday: make frequent trips to the library, have lots of books around, and make sure there is an equal amount of reading time as there is screen time (or at least a healthy fraction...). Have a family read-aloud book that everyone will enjoy, and sit together every evening you can and read together. Be a good role model and read in front of the kids - even if it's a magazine or a newspaper. Some families might pick the Bible to read together, others might pick the Chronicles of Narnia series, still others might pick Pretty Little Liars. The activity is more important than the content - reading is a habit you want to nurture.

2)           Do some everyday math: Pay your kids for vacuuming the carpet by the square foot (and have them measure the whole house while they're at it!). Have them weigh the recyclables every week and see if you can improve your family efforts to be green. Cook with recipes that you can double - or half - and teach fractions naturally. Help them learn money skills when at the store.

3)           Have you and your child pick one new activity to try over the summer - playing the guitar, painting,  jogging, sailing, birdwatching  - and do it with them. There is good research on the Suzuki method of music instruction (where a parent and child start together as beginners playing the violin) that the learning rate improves when learning a new skill with a parent.

4)           Keep a journal of summer activities - be transparent about how summer learning will help in school and use either a journal for each child or a family calendar that tracks summer activities on a daily basis. Journals can work with younger children, too - they can draw pictures and use inventive spelling to make captions. Send the journal in to school for show-and-tell in the fall - teachers will appreciate your efforts.

5)           Realize that you, too, can be a lifelong learner and a role model for a lifetime of exploration. What are you waiting for?

What are Quakers "for"?

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Edward Burrough, an early convert to Quakerism, described what Quakers are "for" in 1672, writing that:

"We [Quakers] are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
These words seem especially relevant today as we seek to educate our community to be informed skeptics of arbitrary power and discerning judges of character and intention.

Who are the people in our schools that we send out into the world on graduation day as they "commence" the next stage of their lives? Do we produce graduates who will only be successful in conventional ways (money, achievement, power) or do we produce individuals who will be beacons in troubled times, helping those around them to find comfort in truthfulness and courage in doing "the next right thing" in their lives.

Once you have joined a Quaker community, you will see that there is much to be celebrated and many good people whose good works have been of value to all. Yet we must remain vigilant in our application of the testimonies to our everyday lives:

·         Do I value the simplicity of straightforward speech and uncluttered perception so that I can focus on what is really important?

·         Do I seek true peace in my life, not just the absence of war but the presence of compassion and non-violence?

·         Do I maintain my integrity in all I say and do?

·         Do I create community, even with those of different faiths or political views?

·         Do I practice equality in my acceptance of others, providing not just the same gifts to each person but instead the specific gifts each person needs to have equal access to the "good life"?

·         Do I give back in service through an acknowledgement of my own privileged position in the world, recognizing how my path has been made easier from day one by the gifts of others?

·         Do I practice stewardship in my care for others and for the planet, realizing that "best practices" are not dictated by government regulations but instead by individual choices of conscience?

In the words of George Fox, a founding member of the Religious Society of Friends:

"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you."

Here are five things every parent would do well to remember about teachers:

1)      Teaching really is "rocket science" - and brain science, too! There is research-based practice that goes into good teaching, and teachers strive to be up-to-date in the "best practices" of their field.

2)     Teaching is a calling as well as a profession. We educators feel "called" to do what we do: to provide a service to the next generation - education - that is more important than money or power for our children's future happiness.

3)     Teaching demands rigorous preparation for each day in the classroom. Today's young people - "technology natives" who have grown up with the Internet, cell phones, and social media - won't do well with old lesson plans and rote learning.

4)     Teachers are humans too - and we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as parents to compliment what is happening in the classroom.


AND - here are five things every teacher would do well to remember about parents:

1)      All parents want the best for their children, and sometimes this blinds us when faced with the necessary discipline that teachers must administer.

2)     Parenting is the most important work many of us will ever do, and thus we can all use the help and support of one another on this journey.

3)     We live in a culture where shame, embarrassment, and sarcasm are common in the media - we parents don't want this for our children, and our classrooms need to be safe havens that are free of these unnecessary challenges.

4)     Parents are humans too - we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is indeed a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as teachers to compliment what is happening in the home.


Wishing everyone a great start to the school year...!


      Every fall families with children in school face the same challenge: how to transition from the days of summer vacation to the days of school bells and homework. For families with working parents going back to school may be a relief - childcare for the summer can be quite daunting and expensive - yet the addition of school anxiousness, new teachers, and academic rigor provides new territory for everyone.

     Some tips to remember:

·        Check in with yourself: am I able to relax? Take a deep breath? Be calm in the face of change? We parents set the tone for back-to-school: will it be well-planned and calm or hectic and last-minute?

·        Make sure all health needs are taken care of beforehand: school can be at the "cutting edge" of experience for your child, and we all want to be in our best form when starting a new endeavor.

·        Go over all of the paperwork you received over the summer, and make sure all forms are filled out and ready to go.

·        Check that list of supplies again: no one wants to be the only child without the specific pencil box/calculator/notebook that was requested by the teacher!

·        Check for any dress code requirements before you go shopping: it will avoid a lot of fights and trips back to the store. Help your child pick out that special outfit for the first day and maybe have a special outfit for yourself as well: it is indeed a special day for everyone!

·        Set up a family calendar (large whiteboard calendars with dry-erase markers work well) that is color-coded for each family member. Keep track of how busy everyone is going to be!

·        Be sure you have re-established bedtime and wake-up times - don't wait too long!

·        Make a plan for lunches: make them the night before if possible. Children who are old enough to make their own lunch should do so, and perhaps also make lunches for younger siblings. Remember: responsibility at home reinforces responsibility in school and leads to responsibility in life.

·        Start to minimize TV time: most of us watch too much TV in the summer, so begin that transition now.

·        Have a designated homework place and a schedule for after-school/HW time. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.

·         Make a resolution with your child for the new school year: "I will not yell in the morning" might accompany "I will follow my own morning checklist without your help." Put the resolutions on the fridge door and keep track of how you are doing.

·        Remember: childhood (and, indeed, life) is a journey, not a race.   

Blessings on the new school year!

What's Your Mindset?

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In her book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS, Carol Dworkin talks about fundamental differences in the way we approach the world - through school, work, and relationships - to either maximize our development as people or remain stuck in our present life situation. She presents two worldviews - the "fixed mindset" and the "growth mindset" - that represent these approaches to life:  

                        Fixed Mindset:                                 Growth Mindset:    

                        Intelligence is static...                     Intelligence can be developed...   

                        Look smart at all costs...                 Remain curious and humble...

                        Avoid challenges...                           Embrace challenges...

                        Give up on obstacles...                    Persist in the face of obstacles...

                        Effort is fruitless...                           Effort is the key...

                        Ignore negative feedback...            Learn from negative feedback...

                        Feel threatened by the                   Find inspiration in the

                              success of others...                          success of others...       

                        Lose interest if things are hard...  Get motivated if things are hard...

Parents can be examples of either mindset for their children, as can teachers for the students in their classrooms. Wouldn't we want those we serve and love to see life as an unfolding adventure rather than a process of protecting themselves from the trials and tribulations of the world? And how can you build resilience if you always give up too easily (i.e., "That's not for me"...."I just don't have the talent"..."I'm too (old/tired/busy) for that")?

Quaker schools embody the growth mindset. Human development is seen as the :"continuing revelation" of our gifts as we "grow into goodness" and build fulfilling lives, day by day.

SO - Try new experiences (the opera, NASCAR, a yoga class)...learn a new skill or hobby (the violin, welding, sailing) about people who can be role models (Michael Jordan, Mother Teresa, the Quakers)...ask yourself "what would (my role model) do in this situation?" and see if you can act in a positive way, too...learn to give and receive feedback with compassion and acceptance.

People who live long and productive lives never stop learning from their mistakes and continually work on themselves and their skills. How about trying on a "growth mindset"?                         


Every school year begins with a learning curve: teachers and students need to learn about one another and develop a style and routine that will (hopefully) lead to a successful experience. Why not help the process along by creating a learning biography for your student?

Start with a photograph - either paste one onto a page or download one from the computer - that captures your child's personality. Then sit down with your child to complete the following, discussing each point and coming to some agreement about the most honest and helpful answers that could be given:

1)     I am a (good/fair/poor) student in the classroom.

2)     I am a (good/fair/poor) student at home.

3)     Three things in life that I absolutely love to do are a)_______________ b)______________________c) _____________________.

4)     Three specific skills I hope to learn and/or improve this year are a)_______________ b)___________________c)___________________.

5)     My favorite subject area is __________________________because _________________________.

6)     My most challenging subject area is _____________________because ___________________.

7)     I describe myself as (circle all that apply): self-motivated   a lover of learning   an independent learner   a detail person   attentive   impulsive   fidgety   a reluctant learner   organized   sloppy   forgetful   curious   bored distracting   distractible   competitive   a team player  critical of others   critical of myself   a teacher's pet responsible   lazy   critical of myself  

a class clown   a positive person a negative person    ______________________

8)     I wish I could be more like this (circle all that apply): self-motivated a lover of learning   an independent learner   a detail person   attentive   organized  curious   competitive   a team player  a teacher's pet responsible  a positive person ________________________________________________

9)     The most important goal I have for myself this year is _____________________.


End with your student writing a brief note to the teacher, followed by a brief note from you. Then send it off to school and know that you and your child have done something positive to start the new year in school. What are you waiting for?


Diversity Matters...

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There was a lively and interactive discussion last night at West Chester Friends School regarding diversity: how do we as a community handle our differences as we celebrate one another? Many areas of strength - as well as many areas of challenge - were shared after we began with exploration of our own positive and negative experiences with diversity over the course of our lives.

I am reminded of the mission of Friends schools - to educate the whole child as each person grows into goodness - and and glad we are "checking in" to see that all feel welcomed and supported. Quakers set the bar quite high on issues of integrity and equality - two of our core testimonies - and we need to continually monitor how we are doing as new families join our community.

For me, every time I come to the school and walk through the halls, diversity jumps out at me: art, writing, music, creative play, and meaningful reflection are woven into the very fabric of our school, with room and encouragement for individual expression and "thinking outside of the box." May this be the case for all of us in all parts of our lives!

It is, as always, my privilege to work here. Blessings to all...


In peace,


Teacher John


Friends - here's the handout from my workshop at the New York City Association for the Education of Young Children Conference 2010 on October 16th:

• Welcome/Introductions/Ground Rules ( confidentiality, no judgment,
      right to pass, stay with the program, push yourself)
• Emotional Intelligence versus Cognitive Intelligence (EQ vs. IQ)
• Naming Feelings:
     a) "Feelings" card game
     b) Feelings chart with faces
     c) Hand signals/check‐in
• Managing Feelings:
     a) Feelings thermometer
     b) 1‐to‐10 scale: what would make you feel better?
     c) Tantrum/Good Deed Book
• Developing Relationships (parallel vs. shared play):
     a) "You can't say you can't play"
     b) Best Friend versus Classmate/Sharing with everyone
     c) Praise game
• Solving Conflicts:
     a) Peace Rose/Peace Table/Talking Stick
     b) Attack the problem not the person
     c) "What will I do differently next time?"
• Developing Optimism:
     a) Gratitude list
     b) Imagining positive solutions
     c) Allow for natural consequences to build resilience
• Closure
     It is my privilege to work with each of you.

Dear Friends,

           We had a small but attentive parent group tonight at the mindfulness training session. We discovered that simple moments of focused attention - to breathing, to eating, to the natural world, and to our own active imagination - can bring a sense of serenity and a heightened awareness to our often hectic lives. It also tunes our children's brains to the present and provides an opportunity for learning that is quite effective in the classroom.

          Take a moment each day to simply breathe consciously. Eat a raisin or an apple or a section of orange slowly and deliberately, sensing all of the wonder of this taste explosion in your mouth. Spend quiet time with your child in nature, not directing the activity but simply observing what is.

          The universe is always there for us - our children still know this intuitively, and we can certainly recapture that magic of living fully in the moment.

           For those of you who like more intellectual reasons to be mindful, check out John Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living - it just might change your life.


In peace,
Teacher John

I have been blessed by the opportunity to work with the Friends Academy community as the QIR. My goal is to bring support, insight, and presence to an already thriving school community, helping to guide the day-to-day life of the school by an active example of Quaker practice. This might involve all of the following: singing with the Lower School at Gathering; teaching simple techniques for centering in Meeting for Worship; helping to plan a Middle School Quaker wedding reenactment; talking to the Upper School Quakerism class about my own Quaker practice; helping faculty members find ways to include worship sharing in their advisory groups.

A Friends school is not just another good independent school - it is a manifestation of what William Penn said of Philadelphia and the colony of Pennsylvania: a "Holy Experiment" in community living that is spirit-centered. The Quaker commitment to education is grounded in the principle of continuing revelation: human development, like spiritual truth, is an unfolding process toward Truth and Light. We believe that children "grow into goodness" with the proper guidance and nurture. Even in the midst of a very material culture we believe that a spirit-led life can lead to right thinking and good choices.

I look forward to more opportunities to meet with each of you and share our experiences in the education of these wonderful students. Please feel free to schedule a time to see me - I do have e-mail at the school - and also feel free to check out my own website ( for a broader picture of what else I am doing these days.


In peace,

Teacher John Scardina   

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