For several years now, I have been giving tours of Nueva to visiting educators from all over the world. My talk always begins with an overview of what I see as the pillars of our community and educational approach:
- Authenticity of purpose, of study, of what we ask students to do
- The administration’s trust in the ability of teachers and support of their ideas
- Our teachers’ commitment to each student and their ideas and capacity
- Our freedom to teach and explore our passion—rooted in the spirit of our prekindergarten classroom and on display on through to our QUEST projects and robust elective program
- Our flexibility and adaptability, demonstrated by our steadfast commitment to our mission through a time of immense growth and a changing world
- The way we place empathy and social-emotional development at the heart of all that we do
My aunt in Pennsylvania recently retired from teaching after nearly 40 years in the classroom. About 10 years ago, when diagnosed with a second round of breast cancer, she worked throughout the duration of her treatment. She said that being with her students and colleagues was the only way she could approach feeling normal, remaining focused, and moving forward.
Megan Terra is hearing a similar message from her team. “After every session, no matter the age, our teachers share that seeing their students is the highlight of the day,” she said.
On Monday, March 23, with several of my own usual Nueva roles in limbo (our afterschool enrichment program, summer program, and assemblies), I spent about half of my day in Zoom classes with teachers and students.
Christine Braun’s Middle School design thinking students gathered to determine how they would move the design of their escape rooms forward. Christine was clear, organized, motivating, and incredibly upbeat and as she guided students through brainstorming, voting, and a discussion of their ideas for the project. Students were engaged, supportive, and fully present. They left class with a clear expectation of what was to come.
Judith Worrall and her eighth-grade writing class met to establish some new norms and forge a way forward with their writing. Throughout her class, Judith took the time to make sure each student was heard and understood her directions. Fully embracing the capacity of Zoom, she used a predetermined set of emojis to quickly gauge understanding, breakout rooms for small-group discussions, and screen-sharing to entertain, focus, and inform her students. It was clear that the preparation, time, and thought she put into the lesson allowed her students to have an authentic and productive time together.
Following a journaling session and small-group discussion, Judith’s class came back together as a group and shared what they wrote. They shared their feelings and frustrations about the state of the world. They shared what had made them laugh this week. It was clear that the community we have built, which is trusting, authentic, flexible, committed to our individual and mutual well-being, was not just alive but thriving.
Before lunch, my daughter Elsie and I joined Zubin Mobedshahi and more than 100 Lower School students for a robust workout. Zubin began and ended his PE class with a heartfelt message to students about the importance of taking care of our bodies and minds. He spoke about the importance of getting our heart rates up and getting creative about using the space we have available to us. The technology allowed the feeling that he was speaking personally to each of us. Elsie, who is 5 and has never met Zubin, hung on his every word.
The three hours I spent in these classes were powerfully and prototypically Nuevan.
A Lower School parent wrote Zubin and Megan: “Your online PE is engaging, effective, and much needed during this remote learning period. My kids have been feeling down and restless since the lockdown, despite all the parental efforts to keep them active. You have brought back the happy, exciting, and supportive Nueva spirit to their remote learning.”
As Middle School Head Liza Raynal told parents last weekend, “As I shared with the 100 people on the call, this is not just taking lectures online. We are not that school. This is a paradigm shift, where we have asked our consummate, excellent, professional educators to completely change their job with one week’s notice. Think of what they must shift: their physical location, delivery mechanism, curriculum order and content, project design, resource bank, assessment techniques, relationships, and follow-up mechanisms. And many of them are doing so while caring for their own toddlers or having their own children in a remote learning environment. I think they are tremendous. Nearly heroic.”
The effort and willingness of our students to adapt to this “new normal” is equally heroic. Earlier in the year, Upper School design thinking teacher John Feland began collecting data from our freshmen, which was focused on their well-being. “The work was part of a Design with Impact project, where our freshmen measured themselves to help redesign their well-being systems,” he explained.
Over the past few weeks, John has gathered more than 3,000 data points from his students. Some key finds include:
- Students are feeling more supported by their families, friends, and teachers
- Students are feeling less sleepy, and they are feeling less hungry
- Students are doing far less physical activities
During the coming months, our communications team will continue to bring our community into our classrooms and celebrate the work being done. Despite the uncertainty in the world, the landscape of which seems to shift from day to day, our teachers and students remain lifelong learners—focused and committed to move forward, united by our shared love of learning.