January 2019 Lower School Principal Column

Barbara Shea, Lower School Principal

This New Year brings a new member to the Lower School faculty. We are very happy to welcome Andrea Rackow as a math specialist who will work two days a week with small groups of students in Kindergarten through Grade 4. Her role will be similar to that of the learning specialists in providing extra support for students. For the past four years, Ms. Rackow has been a mathematics consultant, providing math coaching to teachers, developing curriculum and pacing guides for Singapore Math-based programs, and creating and leading demonstration lessons to showcase mathematical content and pedagogy. Prior to that position, Ms. Rackow was a teacher and associate teacher at the Town School and an associate teacher at the Allen-Stevenson School. Ms. Rackow graduated from Cornell and has a J.D. from the New York University School of Law and a masters degree from Bank Street in Early Childhood and Elementary Ed. Ms. Ingrassia will continue her work as the Lower School math coordinator and work closely with Ms. Rackow and the classroom teachers.


Dr. Debra Pager, the school psychologist and director of Student Support Services, often works with Lower School students in various grade-level friendship groups to help them develop the necessary skills to nurture and maintain good relationships. Dr. Pager also leads classroom discussions on a variety of health and wellness topics. Since December, Dr. Pager has expanded her program in each of the grade levels to include more lessons on health and wellness, which are gathered from a variety of sources. Some lessons come from the Great Body Shop, which offers a variety of topics. While the focus of the lesson is on the discussion with students, this program also provides students with pamphlets to reinforce their understanding and allows them to share this information at home. In addition, Dr. Pager emails families to let them know the topics that she has shared with their children. This is done to keep families abreast of our curricular topics and to encourage conversations with their children.


On our professional day in November, RCDS was fortunate to have Cindy Foley, executive assistant director and director of Learning and Experience at the Columbus Museum of Art, talk to us about "creativity." This talk was applicable to all three divisions and fit in beautifully with our Lower School choice art program, the Question Formulation Technique, (the process of generating questions that are important to the individual student and serve as a guide in their research) and the greater emphasis on STEM projects that support student innovations, to name just a few! A dynamic speaker, Dr. Foley, makes the case that art's critical value is to develop learners who "are creative, curious, that seek questions, develop ideas, and play... and to stop the pervasive, problematic and cliché messaging that implies that creativity is somehow defined as artistic skill." Her view of creativity transcends art and is an approach that focuses on three critical habits. The first is "discomfort with ambiguity:" how do we work through the initial disequilibrium we feel when dealing with a new challenge; how do we break down a task and approach it as a problem solver. (This is a key skill that Lower School students learn as they build three-dimensional art or as they try to put on paper what they envision in their minds.) Creativity is the tool in defining this new perspective. Rarely is there one path to problem solving, but rather many different paths - some more successful than others. How comfortable students are in being flexible in changing gears, generating new ideas, and working through disappointment will determine how successful they can be in finding solutions. All the things we work on with our students on a regular basis!

The second is idea generation: there is potential to jump-start ideas in "play." In order for ideas to emerge, one has to allow the brain to roam in many directions and to make connections, no matter how divergent the connections may seem at first. Artists will play with materials in their search to find a new way to express an idea. Providing students with the opportunities to use play as a way to generate ideas is one that needs modeling and support. Talking students through their play and helping them make connections to new activities lay the foundation for their own creative process to develop.

Lastly, interdisciplinary research serves our curiosity and not the reverse. The various disciplines should be used as tools in the service of an idea. "Ideas are king," and creativity is the tool to make the ideas come to life using information from across the subject areas. For more information about this topic, please visit Cindy Foley's TED Talk, "Teaching Art or Teaching Art to Think Like an Artist."

Fueling the creative mind in our students is critical. Helping students to understand that their education across the disciplines provides the tools with which they can create their own new ideas and innovations is even more important. As part of our "Curricular Conversations" across the school, a group of faculty members gathered last Tuesday to discuss in greater depth the ideas that Ms. Foley shared with us and how we can incorporate more opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate their creativity.