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Community Reflections on the Innovative Learning Conference
Nueva Community
Teachers raising hands at ILC

(Photo by Willow Taylor C.Y. '21)

Last week, Nueva hosted another successful Innovative Learning Conference, opening its doors for two profoundly impactful days of learning, sharing, and connecting. Speakers presented rich content that sparked thoughtful conversations and provided new insights on a variety of topics that were popular among both educators, parents, and students in attendance.

Below, members of the Nueva community share their reflections on what they learned and the sparks they're taking back to the classroom and beyond.

 

Lissie McAlvey, Middle School Math Teacher
What a beautiful gift it is to play student for a day, soaking up information, inspiration, and collaboration from the leaders of innovation who come to the ILC every two years! I find the ILC a particular catalyst for inspiration since I get to attend with my colleagues, sharing conversations about sessions over lunch, in passing, or in coming days or weeks.

The apotheosis of the conference for me, and the one I’ve been discussing most with colleagues, was Jo Boaler’s presentation on her book, Limitless Mind. During her talk, she shared a study by David Yeager where they tracked student growth based on teacher feedback. The study showed students who received teacher feedback with the phrase “I’m giving you this feedback because I believe in you” grew significantly more than students who received the same feedback without that phrase. Having just prepared for a presentation on “Giving Feedback for a Growth Mindset” during Thursday’s ILC conference, Jo’s thoughts and research on teacher feedback struck a chord. Teachers often hear anecdotes about how much their words and guidance mean to students’ and I constantly find myself, like an experimenting chef, trying to conjure up the perfect "motivation mixture" of pointing out strengths, growth areas, and offering strategies for student growth when giving feedback. I love when new nuance is added to my understanding of how to better motivate students. Like adjusting the seasoning in a beloved family dish, hoping to obtain the one that will be passed down for generations. I’m walking away from Jo’s talk and pulling my teacher apron back over my head, with more ideas of how I might make slight adjustments in the recipe, finding more ways to share the “why” behind my feedback along with the “what” and “how” in order to better build limitless minds in our students.  

 

 

Erin Metcalf, Third-Grade Teacher
To distill my takeaways from ILC into a few short sentences is like asking me to contain the ocean in a bucket. After years of continually developing my questioning techniques, I was pushed to consider how I am developing my students’ ability and confidence to ask questions and remain asking questions as they grow older. From Warren Berger’s session on questions, I am armed with the tools of Why? How? And What if?  By helping students develop their own wonders with these three simple questions, they can move from passive wonders to active investigators.

Two days back from the ILC and the entire third grade is already implementing lessons learned. Within our book groups students used a visual decoder to represent their current understanding of their books. Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin, discussed the importance of sharing ideas visually with a tool that breaks up the who/what, where, how many, when, and moral of a story. We are excited to explore additional avenues to use the visual decoder throughout our curriculum.

 

Suzi Berry

Suzi Berry, Nueva parent and first-time ILC attendee
This was my first opportunity to attend the ILC and I loved it. There were so many interesting sessions it was hard to narrow my list down, there was truly content for everyone from gifted learning to the joy of movement. The presenters were experts in their fields and were so engaging—I learned so much. It was truly transformational content that will help me be a better parent and person (I hope!). I am grateful to the organizers for putting on such an amazing event, and I am already looking forward to the next one.

 

Grace H., Upper School Student
As a student—and especially a student at Nueva—I spend much of my life on the inside of the systems the ILC aims to construct, learning through the lenses it helps teachers hone, and participating in projects and activities based on the philosophies presented at the conference. Being on the other side of the curtain, if only for a day, was nothing short of spectacular. 

In a session about maintaining academic engagement in gifted populations, I got a glimpse into what seemed to be the theory behind Quest; in Dr. Sapolsky’s lecture on the criminal justice system I saw the information I learned in Interdisciplinary Studies of Science (ISoS) and Neuroscience & Addiction in a different light with new implications for the way our constructs of morality are structured: our version of ‘justice’ isn’t really just in a world where free will doesn’t exist, which, at least according to the physicalist philosophy Sapolsky described, it doesn’t; and in the halls, I found that the behind-the-scenes functions of our school take shape just as our own projects and ideas do—in fits and starts, from unexpected conversation and ideas elaborated on by close colleagues and total strangers alike, and built from a brilliant mix of expertise and a pinch of chaos. 
 

 

Ted Theodosopolous, Upper School Math Teacher
Catherine Lewis’ talk, as part of AkihikoTakahasi’s research team on problem-solving-based teaching practices, inspired me to redouble my efforts in cultivating a culture of journaling in my classrooms. While I have incorporated journaling in my teaching for a couple of years, the conversation during this talk helped me realize the importance of incorporating journaling into the daily routine of the class. If it is important in my pedagogy, I should actually devote time to it, and teach it.  I have already taken steps to add an in-class journaling experience in my classes. This helps address my concerns that my students are not taking adequate advantage of the journaling component of my curriculum.

Justin Reich’s talk about school innovation made me shift my perspective from what innovations to pursue, to what practices to cultivate so that our culture becomes more fertile to innovations. I intend to use this energy in participating and building out the upcoming faculty unconference on innovative practices. As Dr. Reich underlined, teachers mainly learn from other teachers, and getting into each other’s classrooms to observe the experiments we are carrying out on an ongoing basis is one of the most effective ways to kindle innovation.

 

Chris Egy Rose

Christine Egy Rose, Nueva parent and third-time ILC attendee
The rich topics, valuable insights and practical knowledge keep pulling me back to the ILC.

This year I heard a powerful discussion about neurodiversity and anxiety and learned strategies to help kids study more efficiently and effectively. In other years, I participated in a hands-on design thinking workshop with David Kelley, and heard fascinating presentations from Carole Dweck, Jo Boaler. I’ve built lasting personal and professional relationships at the ILC and this was another fantastic experience.

 

Kelly Ward, Middle School Writing Teacher
“What is your life’s mission question?” asked Warren Berger in his ILC session entitled, “A Beautiful Question.” After Berger’s session which was brimming with creative and thought-provoking inquiries, I was intrigued by this idea of a world where businesses, schools, and individuals did not have mission statements, but rather, mission questions. Berger posited that mission questions are more inviting than mission statements—they say, “Do you want to be a part of answering this?’” I love this idea that life shouldn’t be determined by answers, but rather by the questions we ask. So then my question becomes: In a society that values "fast thinking," how do I encourage my students to ease back and bask in the "slow thinking" of a really deep, rich question, the kind that you can contemplate for an afternoon, a month, or perhaps even a school year? Berger’s talk inspired me to foster a mindset in my students that life is not lived by the answers you find, but rather the adventures that an extraordinary question can lead you on.
 

Eileen Horng, Nueva parent and ILC committee member
Being a small part of the committee of parent volunteers who helped organize the ILC, I caught a glimpse of the inner workings of the conference planning process. I now understand why this is not an annual event—it takes over 18 months to organize this conference! The thought put into selecting each and every speaker and constructing diverse and comprehensive content strands is simply astounding—not to mention the care put into considering every detail to ensure that both speakers and attendees had an excellent experience.

The ILC co-chairs, parent volunteers, and Nueva staff are truly to be commended for all their dedication and tireless effort.
 

Zubin Mobedshahi, Lower School PE Teacher

Every two years the ILC brings together a community that hungers for insight. Nobody sticks to one discipline; PE teachers learn from math teachers, and vice versa. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is being redefined based on a reexamination of his unpublished works. Our punitive criminal justice system is inhumane, misguided, and myopic. Dancing causes muscles to secrete myokines, engendering hope, wellbeing, and connection. The questions people asked in every in every session made our collective purpose clear: we care deeply about our own lifelong learning as educators in the service of better understanding and guiding our students’ growth. Nueva’s motto was alive in our curiosity. We learn by doing, learn by caring.

 

Karen Tiegel, Middle School Writing Teacher

As I witness the increase of anxiety and other mental health issues in my students, I'm always on the lookout for new ways to help them (and me!) manage their (our!) stress and emotions. Faye Sahai's session, "Mental Health Innovation and Possibilities," explored a number of apps that support self-care and active practices to reduce stress. I learned about an app that makes specific suggestions (like guided meditation or a short walk) in response to a "check-in," and then asks the user to rate how their mood changed after doing the meditation or other action. Another app uses a voice journal combined with AI to evaluate the user's mental state and then offers prompts like "what were two good things that happened to you today?" or "how did a friend make a positive difference for you?" to redirect the user's emotional state. I'm excited to explore these and other apps Faye introduced to us and see how I can support my students with managing themselves.

 

Paul Knight, Kindergarten Teacher

I took the opportunity to see a variety of speakers this year at the ILC. From Michael C. Reichert’s session on "Rethinking Boyhood" to Cindy Goldrich’s presentation around executive function skills, I was left with new frameworks to support and connect with my students. When reviewing my notes, I was also left with a lot more inspiration and questions! I can’t wait to get my hands on a few speakers’ books to learn more, and already look forward to revisiting speakers in 2021.

 

Alegria Barclay

Alegria Barclay, PreK-12 Equity & Social Justice Director

You could hear a pin drop in the room where Fred Luskin was speaking on the topic of forgiveness and happiness. One of the few speakers to not use any slides, Professor Luskin brought a compelling warmth and deeply felt sense of purpose to the presentation. It was riveting to hear him speak of his experiences researching and teaching in the field of positive psychology. Less a talk then an immersive experience, Professor Luskin’s presentation touched upon the many ways our current culture and, in particular, the ethos of Silicon Valley is at odds with our ability to be truly happy. He spoke to the increasing levels of anxiety and mental health issues amongst the study body at Stanford and how so much depends on a person’s ability to navigate the distance between what you expect to happen and what does happen. Drawing from psychology, history, and Buddhism, Professor Luskin led us to think deeply about our own pathways and encouraged us to consider how we’ve come to frame our understanding of the world; and, in the end, urging us to move towards a life rooted in gratitude and awe.

I had the good fortune to hear Marc speak at the last ILC and was delighted to get the chance to see how far he’s progressed on the making of this ground-breaking documentary about giftedness. The central premise of his film is “who gets to be gifted in America and why?” Given the work I do at the cross-section of equity, inclusion, and giftedness, the film’s message is dear to my heart. Marc has assembled an extraordinary cast of characters for the film with stories that represent an incredible diversity of experiences and worldviews. There is a definite poignancy to the pieces he shared, knowing how so few students have access to the kind of education Nueva offers. And yet, one of the most compelling shorts he shared is about a public school district in Arizona that is in the second poorest zip code in the state. Despite their lack of resources, they send the most students of any school district in America to John Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth every summer. The story of how they are able to do so is deeply moving, inspiring and certainly made several of us cry. I can’t wait to see the final film and am so glad he was at ILC to share his work so far!



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