Every classroom has shelves full of them, available for students to build whatever their imaginations desire. If you go into a classroom while school is in session, you’ll likely have to step over at least a couple walls or towers as you maneuver the space. In doing so, you are stepping right into the middle of a math lesson.
“We use the blocks to teach math concepts like half and whole and fractions,” said kindergarten lead teacher Melanie Robbins. “We start with a student exploring with blocks and expand that experience by asking questions and exploring new ways to look at things.”
Research shows that an early focus on math helps not only with mathematical cognition later, but also with overall learning throughout a child’s education.
Math isn’t a subject that you normally think of being taught in an early childhood setting. For decades the focus has been on literacy for younger children. Research shows that an early focus on math helps not only with mathematical cognition later, but also with overall learning throughout a child’s education. It’s something kindergartener Aria S. seems to realize, even though she’s only six. “I love math because it helps organize your brain,” she says. “It clears your brain and makes it so you can think easily.”
The ways math is taught in early education don’t look like what you might imagine. Yes, if you ask the students if they are learning math they will say they are, and will tell you all about addition and subtraction, how one plus one equals two, and the differences between working with “big” numbers and “small” numbers. What they won’t mention, though, is that they are being taught that math is all around them, in every part of their daily lives—that’s because it’s so naturally woven through the curriculum.
“We are a math community. We do math workshops, but we also use the language of math when we go on shape walks, or during dramatic play time,” Melanie said. “We do so much of our math through stories. It allows math to fluidly enter their brains.”
Teaching math through storytelling also allows the students to teach each other. In one recent lesson students listened to a story about a baby’s adventure as he explored his backyard. While they listened, they drew maps of where the baby went, how his movement formed shapes, and how far he traveled. Then they compared what they had each drawn.
Teaching math through storytelling also allows the students to teach each other.
“We look at how everyone thought about it differently,” Melanie said. “The students explain their thinking, and other students can collaborate and expand on concepts. It brings a joyful energy to math.”
While communal lessons are a cornerstone of teaching, there is also value in the smaller teachable moments. “We as teachers are always looking at how our students are exploring and how we can expand those experiences with questions,” said Melanie. “It’s about giving them choice and voice in how they learn and retain those lessons. We are intentional with our actions, but we are teaching in a way they aren’t thinking, ‘We’re doing math right now.’”
That brings us back to the blocks. As the kids get them out to build the city of the day, they are talking about their design ideas and who or what will live there. But they are also talking about how many blocks they will need to complete the various parts, and how to brace those blocks so they won’t fall down easily. It’s play, but math is also at work.
“The block building piece of the Beginning School is very mathematical,” said Melanie. “You can always identify Rowland Hall students by their block-building abilities.”
Research is clear: Investing in early childhood education is a smart move. Not only is it one of the surest ways to set students on paths of lifelong curiosity and well-being, but it’s also been proven to enhance both individual lives and society at large. At Rowland Hall, thanks to a focus on evidence-based education, we have long been crafting a top-tier early childhood program centered around best practices for young learners during crucial years of their development. As a result, students leave the Beginning School viewing themselves as capable knowledge-makers, ready to thrive in the next stage of their joyful educational journeys.
In Melanie Robbins and Mary Grace Ellison’s kindergarten classroom, a small sign hangs over a row of student cubbies. It’s inconspicuous, but, once noticed, seems to summarize the day-to-day happenings of the energetic and vibrant room.
“Play,” it states, “is the work of childhood.”
This Jean Piaget quote, beautifully succinct, is a reminder that the activities that take place in Melanie and Mary Grace’s room, and in all Rowland Hall Beginning School classrooms, are not just fun—they’re incredibly meaningful, and essential to children’s development. By tapping into the most natural and essential of early childhood activities—play—educators are building crucial connections in young brains and setting a joyful foundation for discovering, exploring, embracing, and creating knowledge.
On a Thursday morning in February, the Piaget quote kept watch over a bustle of activity among the kindergartners. Walking by, a casual observer may have thought the activity was free play, but there was a thoughtful academic purpose behind the fun: the five- and six-year-olds were busy making their way through an array of learning centers designed for their Animals in Winter unit, a study of how animals hibernate, migrate, and adapt during the coldest months.
It was a time of play—and yet it was about so much more than the play. The longer the class was observed, the more apparent it became that a trove of educational and developmental benefits were taking shape just below the surface.
At one table, two girls bent over the covers of the animal reports they were creating for the unit; using library books as guides, they illustrated their chosen animals, a chipmunk and a fox, on the report covers. Nearby, a group of students, sprawled across cushions, worked on core literacy skills on iPads, while another, more rowdy, group rolled an oversized die and moved animal figurines across a homemade playing board. On the far side of the room, students looked through a pile of materials—empty oatmeal canisters, bits of cardboard, string—to be crafted into an animal habitat. In between these stations, children sorted animal pictures into groups or practiced writing letters, some with crayons on paper, others with fingers in sand. For an hour, the students enjoyed the freedom to sample whatever most appealed to them at any given moment, and to take from the group what they needed—for a few, it was a time to step back to reflect and quietly work on activities alone; for others, to engage with peers.
It was a time of play—and yet it was about so much more than the play. Like taking a cursory glance at a frozen winter landscape, which doesn’t reveal the rabbit blending into the snow or the entry to an animal den, just glancing at the fun would have limited the viewer’s understanding of what was occurring in the classroom. The longer the class was observed, the more apparent it became that a trove of educational and developmental benefits were taking shape just below the surface: Students cutting materials for the animal habitat or practicing writing the letter S with stumpy crayons were honing fine-motor skills. Those at the game board were mastering math by matching the number of dots on the die to the number of spaces they had to move. And all around the room, students were building social skills, whether while waiting for a turn or while navigating a disagreement.
“This is the power of early childhood,” said Melanie.
A Solid Foundation
At Rowland Hall’s Beginning School, an emphasis on well-grounded early childhood research, such as that around the benefits of purposeful play, is at the heart of the student experience—and for good reason. Between the ages of three and six, the time during which they begin to attend school, children’s brains are in the midst of a tremendous evolution that educators need to understand to fully support.
“The three-to-six age range is marked by huge transformation in the architecture of the brain, and the structures that get laid down during that time will persist,” said Principal Emma Wellman, who has led the Beginning School since 2018, and, in the 2021–2022 school year, took on the expanded role of Beginning School and Lower School principal. During the preschool and kindergarten years, Emma explained, foundational behaviors, aptitudes, skills, and values are ingrained in the brain, so it’s essential that children’s first teachers know how to positively impact this development.
“Early childhood teachers are laying the foundation for lifelong learning in terms of how students relate to school and to one another, and to themselves as learners and workers,” said Emma.
During the preschool and kindergarten years, foundational behaviors, aptitudes, skills, and values are ingrained in the brain, so it’s essential that children’s first teachers know how to positively impact this development.
Through thoughtful play and other proven early education tactics, educators can boost brain-building in ways that last: studies show that students who attend early childhood programs are more likely to later demonstrate high-functioning skills, such as strong emotional and social intelligence, curiosity, and discipline, and more likely to report high rates of fulfilling relationships and fulfilling careers. And it’s not just individual lives that benefit; there are also economic advantages to investing in early childhood education. Dr. James J. Heckman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago and an expert in the economics of human development, has found that investments in early childhood education result in the highest rates of economic returns, both for individuals and society at large. Simply put: investing in early childhood education is one of the best ways to greatly impact lives.
“You’re giving extra support in a time when it matters most,” said Emma.
An Emphasis on Relationship
When it comes to how children relate to school, teachers are often the key factor, and this is especially true in early childhood classrooms, where the trust educators build with young students sets them on paths of learning, curiosity, and self-discovery. In fact, said Emma, because warm, trusting relationships are strongly shown to be vital to early learning, they’re the first thing she recommends people look for when exploring preschool and kindergarten programs.
“The most important thing is the teacher-student relationship, because learning happens in the context of relationship,” she explained. “Everything is built on that.”
In the Beginning School, a focus on relationship, alongside an emphasis on reciprocal respect between teachers and students, guides everything from class sizes to division specialties; as a result, students remain at the center of decision-making. A focus on relationships also encourages more natural student participation in classroom happenings, an essential component to building brain connections in young learners.
“We want to make sure that kids remain in charge of big chunks of their own learning so that they don’t become dependent on the grown-ups to drive it for them,” said Emma.
This ownership over learning expands during children’s time in the Beginning School. As they build strong relationships with their students, teachers can encourage them to work on mastering both early academic skills and self-care activities. Through a process known as scaffolding, teachers support students as they make their way through the zone of proximal development—that is, the difference between what a child can do without help and what they can do with guidance and encouragement from a teacher. It’s a way to meet each learner where they are their own individual development, and it can be applied to both academic subjects, like building foundational skills in number sense and phonological awareness, or life skills, like putting on a coat or a mask.
“School is the perfect place for that practice to happen and to develop those skills, which are critical in other learning,” said Beginning School Assistant Principal Brittney Hansen ’02. “We take our time to let everyone learn that they can do an activity all by themselves and feel that confidence, that sense of pride, and carry themselves a little bit taller because of it.”
A Child-Sized Experience
It’s not difficult to find students owning their learning in the Beginning School: the process can be observed in the 3PreK student working to zip her coat, the kindergartner choosing a quiet-time book from the classroom library, and the 4PreK student sorting a pile of twigs, pine cones, and leaves gathered during outdoor classroom. Active learning is around every corner.
“All of our learning is entirely exploratory and we foster kids’ natural curiosity,” said Kelley Journey, the Beginning School’s experiential learning specialist. “We give kids a lot of authentic opportunities to learn in real-world situations.”
The design of the building even encourages this exploration; you don’t need to walk far into the Beginning School to realize that the place is built for young learners. Bulletin boards, supplies, and books are set at the children’s eye level. Easy-to-access cubbies provide space for each person’s belongings. Child-sized restrooms are attached to classrooms, encouraging independence (while also providing reassurance that trusted adults are nearby, if needed). Simple decor and minimal reference material leave room for imagination. All of these choices, explained Brittney, are based on sound research and made mindfully and intentionally to encourage natural curiosity and to empower students to move effortlessly among spaces as they follow their interests or learn to manage their personal needs.
“A key function of early childhood education is for students to learn, to be able to take care of themselves and their belongings, to feel ownership over their space and learning environment, and to feel confident navigating the school,” said Brittney.
Educators in the Beginning School are very intentional about integrating areas of learning in meaningful, authentic ways for children.—Brittney Hansen ’02, Beginning School assistant principal
Beginning School days are also set up to harness the ways in which children learn best: there are moments of active play as well as quiet time, and educators stretch young brains with both structured lessons and space for choice and self-exploration—what Rowland Hall often refers to as choice and voice. This inclusion of choice, explained Kelley, is important for all students, but especially significant to young learners who often don’t feel they have a lot of control over their lives: when much of your day includes being told what to do, and when to do it, by adults, having choice in how you want to learn—alongside access to child-sized structures and materials that allow you to work without a grown-up’s help—you begin to view yourself as a capable knowledge-maker. Students given choice can see themselves as scientists, engineers, or artists, and they believe in their ability to find solutions, improve processes, or add beauty to the world.
And because Rowland Hall is an independent school, Beginning School teachers (like teachers across all of the school’s divisions) have the flexibility to explore the topics that spark their students’ interests. They’re naturals when it comes to identifying subjects that light up students’ eyes, and they enjoy the flexibility to adjust lesson plans in order to follow these paths, weaving foundational academic knowledge into the areas their individual classes wish to explore.
“Educators in the Beginning School are very intentional about integrating areas of learning in meaningful, authentic ways for children,” said Brittney. “We are less about saying, for instance, ‘Now is our time for science.’ Instead, we think of something that’s captivating and interesting for the child and then say, ‘It’s my job to figure out how to weave science into this.’”
A Community of Learners
There is a common refrain about Rowland Hall’s Beginning School: “This is a happy place.” Visitors frequently comment on the division’s warm atmosphere and often report feeling a sense of joy during their time there. For Emma and her leadership team, these reactions to the school aren't a coincidence; they’re confirmation that Rowland Hall is providing support exactly where it’s needed—for young learners, as well as for the adults who make their education possible.
Rowland Hall is so special. All faculty members are complete lifelong learners and continually challenge themselves to practice the best theories and pedagogies for children.—Kelley Journey, experiential learning specialist
“One way we show respect to teachers is by giving them opportunities and responsibility to be learners in their own right, to continue their own professional lives,” explained Emma. And this is important because early childhood programs that prioritize the well-being of their educators see numerous benefits—for instance, teachers with supportive administrators spend more of their time focused on students, and they’re more likely to stay with a school for the long haul. Professional development opportunities at Rowland Hall range from growing personal passions or areas of growth, like when kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins helped incorporate outdoor classroom into the division’s curriculum, to exploring ways teachers can support Rowland Hall’s mission and strategic priorities, such as when 4PreK lead teacher Isabelle Buhler studied equity and inclusion in the early childhood programs.
“Rowland Hall is so special,” said Kelley. “All faculty members are complete lifelong learners and continually challenge themselves to practice the best theories and pedagogies for children.”
They challenge each other too: faculty are encouraged to share takeaways from their professional development experiences, a practice that supports one another’s engagement with, and investment in, their essential roles. It’s a practice that also ensures everything they do comes back to students: by staying current with early childhood research findings, the Beginning School team can provide the school’s youngest learners with what they most need, creating a solid educational foundation for those students and, at the same time, illustrating for them the value of learning.
And it’s perhaps this practice that best explains why the Beginning School is such a happy place: it’s a place that highlights the thrill of learning, where students see in teachers the lifelong benefits of staying curious, and where, through the eyes of children, adults are continuously reminded of the pure joy of discovery, of allowing curiosity to take you to new places, and of understanding just what you’re capable of.
It’s the magic of early childhood.
Looking for a preschool or kindergarten? Download Rowland Hall's tips for picking a top-tier early childhood program.
On a mild January morning, a Rowland Hall kindergarten class gathered around an imaginary fire. Surrounding them were the sounds of birds chirping, and the open fields and majestic trees of Sunnyside Park, a public greenspace located across the street from the McCarthey Campus. Behind their masks were the unmistakable signs of smiles as they called out the reading powers they’d been practicing.
“Beginning sound power!”
After listing all of their superpowers, the students picked up books, as well as pieces of carpet to help keep them dry, and excitedly walked to their favorite park trees. They settled down at the base of the trunks and began to read out loud. From across the field came the sound of little voices sounding out words. At each tree, a child sat focused, tracing a finger across a page to track their place and, occasionally, pausing to share an illustration with the tree.
The research is clear: spending time learning outdoors results in stickier learning, better emotional regulation, connection to and appreciation for nature, better collaboration skills amongst students—even improved appetite and eye development in young children.—Emma Wellman, Beginning School principal
Reading to the trees has become a beloved component of outdoor classroom, the newest addition to this year’s kindergarten curriculum. “There’s something magical about it,” said kindergarten lead teacher Melanie Robbins, who—with her background teaching outdoor classroom at the International School of Zug and Luzern in Switzerland, and studying nature education in Finland—has played a big role in introducing the learning method to Rowland Hall.
Put simply, outdoor classroom is the practice of taking school lessons outside to enhance learning. It’s a good fit for Rowland Hall’s Beginning School, where a focus on indoor-outdoor education and its benefits has always been a priority (design features of the Beginning School building even include access to common courtyards from all classrooms and a dedicated division nature yard).
“The research is clear: spending time learning outdoors results in stickier learning, better emotional regulation, connection to and appreciation for nature, better collaboration skills amongst students—even improved appetite and eye development in young children,” said Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman. Melanie agreed, noting that her early interest in outdoor classroom was sparked after seeing firsthand the benefits of learning outside, including the realization of how much more captivated students seemed to be in nature.
“I noticed that the children were even more engaged than they were when we were inside, and I wanted to know more about this,” she said.
And though an emphasis on outdoor classroom was already playing a role in plans for the 2020–2021 school year, the pandemic helped turn it into a priority (or, as the teachers view it, a COVID silver lining) since learning outdoors is safer for teachers and students. Many Beginning School teachers now choose to utilize Sunnyside Park for lessons each week—appointments that have become so cherished, teachers say, that students are “devastated” when a scheduling conflict or severe weather derails plans.
“I think there’s this freedom in the outdoors that they’re connected to,” Melanie explained.
In fact, the instructors say that despite the park’s many distractions, students are greatly connected to outdoor activities, and their focus and overall stamina for learning have improved outdoors. The story fire ritual that opens each session, for instance, is helping to sharpen their listening and imagining skills, while reading to trees is helping to build confidence and endurance (“We can read a lot longer outside than we do inside,” said Melanie). These benefits aren’t limited to certain subjects, either. Teachers can take almost any unit of study to the park (and some have been known to wheel two wagons’ worth of supplies over to do just that) and are also utilizing the space’s natural materials for lessons. As a result, students are trying all sorts of activities, from practicing measurements and studying patterns, to creating art and making science drawings.
“We want to get kids learning from the world around them, making real-world connections with science, and bringing math, language, and literacy into an outdoor space,” said lead kindergarten teacher Kelley Journey, who previously taught at a nature-based school in Massachusetts.
I used to think it was fun to take kids outdoors. But now I know that it is a uniquely powerful setting to help develop curious, happy, focused learners.—Melanie Robbins, kindergarten lead teacher
Outdoor classroom is also proving to be a way to build on already-successful units. 4PreK lead teacher Kait Abraham, who’s attended outdoor classroom seminars, brought it into her classroom this year and said it’s been a valuable addition to units like the evergreen study, which had previously only been conducted on campus. By including Sunnyside Park in this year’s study, Kait said, students could view more types of evergreen trees as well as access fallen branches, sticks, and pine cones to use in counting and sorting exercises.
“It was really cool to see how kids take what we usually study indoors into the outdoors and study it even deeper,” she reflected.
And that indoor-outdoor link is happening across the division, with teachers seeing children asking more complex questions and realizing that learning happens in all kinds of places. For Melanie, their joyful engagement, and the fun they’re having because of it, is a reminder of the initial spark that drove her to study outdoor classroom.
"I used to think it was fun to take kids outdoors,” she said. “But now I know that it is a uniquely powerful setting to help develop curious, happy, focused learners."
Rowland Hall has always emphasized literacy development for our Beginning School students.
Teachers foster a love of reading by using positive reinforcement to build confidence and encourage effort. Thanks to the generosity of annual fund donors last year, our kindergarten literacy program recently got a boost: the Lucy Calkins Classroom Library, a collection of diverse reading material with selections specifically chosen for that grade.
Curated by Lucy Calkins and colleagues at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, these classroom libraries—available for kindergarten through eighth grade—give students access to "high-quality, high-interest books," including some "all-star classics, but also many of the newest cutting-edge titles," according to their website. They cover a wide range of subjects, from sports to travel to history, and some offer traditionally underrepresented students a chance to see themselves in stories. The volumes are organized into different reading levels within a grade—though Rowland Hall students aren't made aware of such designations—and students can progress to more complex material throughout the year.
Kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins is delighted with the new library and said that her students use the books in some capacity every day, including a reader's workshop three times a week. "The quality is top-notch," she said, "and the library was built with a worldwide perspective." Titles, for instance, include Animals at Risk, about endangered species, and Houses Around the World, which depicts dwellings from nations and cultures across the globe.
While teachers welcome the collection's cultural diversity, their primary goal centers around getting students excited to read—and the Calkins Library helps them achieve that goal.
While teachers welcome the collection's cultural diversity, their primary goal centers around getting students excited to read—and the Calkins Library helps them achieve that goal. Kindergarteners Milo Canale and Ruby Mertens spoke enthusiastically about the books they read: Duck Goes Swimming and Animal Tricks, respectively. They eagerly read portions aloud, pointing and laughing at the illustrations. In particular, in Animal Tricks, Jasper the cat knows how to read the label on a tuna can, something Ruby and Milo found very amusing, if not entirely believable.
The children go "book shopping" at least once a week—they can swap out titles to keep in their cubbies at school, Melanie explained. Additionally, the three kindergarten classes all have different volumes from the library on hand, so the teachers will rotate material when it's time to refresh.
According to Lucy Calkins, the Richard Robinson Professor of Children's Literature at Teachers College, "The kind of readers that you build will grow to match the libraries that you build...The challenge is to nourish our children with books that will make them into the readers, writers, and citizens that we long for them to become." She led the effort to develop the Calkins Classroom Libraries both to provide greater access to students and to improve literacy instruction for teachers. Each library arrives with tips and tools for using the books, along with ideas for reading activities that students will enjoy.
Congratulations to the following teachers who received awards this June for outstanding service to their profession and to the school.
The Sumner Family Faculty Awards are given each year to outstanding faculty members in each division who have demonstrated a love for teaching and excellence in their field. It is an award given by a family who has shown an unparalleled commitment to the school for three generations. The award symbolizes the Sumner family's high regard for the faculty.
Congratulations to the 2016–2017 recipients of the Sumner Family Faculty Awards:
The Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award was established through an anonymous gift to the school in honor of Mr. Jones' dedication to the faculty when he was a member and chair of the Board of Trustees. This year Rowland Hall proudly honors Cindy Hall, music teacher in the beginning and lower schools, for demonstrating excellence in the classroom and service to the entire Rowland Hall community with the Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award.
Researchers in early childhood mathematics are producing some surprising findings. The early development of mathematical skills has proven to be an even greater predictor of school success later on than reading and literacy proficiency. Additionally, early knowledge of math not only predicts later success in math but higher achievement in reading.
Professor Doug Clements, a nationally recognized early childhood mathematics researcher, spent a day with Rowland Hall Beginning School teachers in August to present the research, and provide tools and information for teachers to facilitate mathematical learning in the early years.
“We were so honored and excited to bring a guest educator of his stature, who knows how young children learn and gives specific activities that help develop a specialized skill set,” Beginning School Principal Carol Blackwell explained. “Hosting such a distinguished guest reaffirms our commitment to the first pillar of the strategic plan to support and strengthen our already excellent teachers.”
An article in The Wall Street Journal reported that New York City’s Department of Education is spending $6 million to implement Clements’ math program in its public preschools. The article described Clements’ Building Blocks program as a “math curriculum that has had good results in Boston and other cities. It uses puzzles, games, art projects, and songs to help children learn more about numbers, shapes, and patterns.”
Clements, previously a kindergarten teacher himself, is now the Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning and the Executive Director of the Marsico Institute of Early Learning and Literacy at the University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education. Clements’ studies are widely published, and he continues to conduct projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).
One reason for Building Blocks' success is its very specific developmental levels and the learning trajectories that give teachers a clear roadmap. The program includes professional learning opportunities, so teachers feel confident about maximizing children’s math abilities. Carol said that in addition to Clements' visit in August, he has developed videos for teachers and “we have had access to his staff through three webinars during which we've asked more in depth questions to become even more familiar with the information.”
Many of the Beginning School teachers agreed that Clements' visit to Rowland Hall was a boost to kick off the school year. Kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins said she particularly enjoyed Clements’ workshop because “he has so much information that is pertinent to our daily life in the classroom, and he has the research at his fingertips to back it up.”
Melanie speaks from experience as one who received a master’s degree in early childhood education with an emphasis in mathematics at City College of New York. She stayed in NYC to work for a year with Cathy Fosnote, founder of Mathematics in the City, a nationally recognized center for professional development at CCNY.
After graduating from the University of Utah and before heading to New York, Melanie was a teacher in the Salt Lake City School District, involved with the specialized math committees. Her class became a lab classroom where teachers could be more innovative in their approach to various subjects. But she wanted to be a trailblazer and find ways for children to delve more deeply into math. She said she “found the materials and memorization to be zero fun.”
Graduate school gave Melanie the know-how to integrate math into the classroom in an effective and natural way, so when she returned to Utah, she realized Rowland Hall was the place to teach using progressive ideas. One such idea is the importance of play, and that play involves children in the process of discovery. Mathematical exploration can often be found in free play as children encounter shapes, patterns, and counting, and begin to make comparisons.
Clements is unequivocal in his belief that early math skills are the basis for later school success, and "it is high-quality education that can help all children utilize their inherent skills to truly mathematize."
"You know it's a success when teachers are using Tuttle as a verb. As in, 'So, who Tuttled the most?'"
That's a quote from Upper School math teacher Missy Tschaubrun, who wrote the congratulatory letter to teachers in every division at the end of the second annual Tuttle Cup—a friendly competition (named after our beloved founder, The Right Reverend Daniel Sylvester Tuttle) during which teachers observe and learn from the teaching of their peers. The brain child of Middle School teachers and an outgrowth of the Strategic Plan's goal to improve teaching, the Tuttle Cup has been a big, early success—and one that benefits students even more than it does teachers.
As Missy told us, "The Tuttle Cup is a friendly competition between the faculty members at Rowland Hall. It is two years old, and in that time it has fostered observation and collaboration across multiple divisions and disciplines. The Tuttle Cup originated when Garrett Stern, Middle School math teacher, suggested a challenge to encourage teacher interaction across divisions. All the administration enthusiastically supported the initiative; therefore, we created a team of representatives from each division to manage the Tuttle Cup. The team includes Melanie Robbins (Beginning School), Stuart McCandless (Lower School), Garrett Stern (Middle School), and Missy Tschabrun (Upper School)."
This is how it works: "During the month of February, teachers and staff are placed on teams that accrue points by visiting other classes throughout all the divisions. At the end of the month, we tally the scores to see which team averaged the most visits per team member. In 2014, each team was composed of teachers from the same grade level. One of the main challenges we discovered in 2014 was how difficult it was for teachers to leave their classrooms during the day. In 2015 we wanted to create more cross-divisional teams to encourage greater communication throughout the divisions and to recognize each division’s unique challenges.
"This year, we topped last year's total participation. Such significant participation really engenders a strong sense of community and respect throughout Rowland Hall. Several faculty members reported new ideas that they could incorporate in their classrooms. Many also noted that the visits broadened their understanding and appreciation for the work other teachers do. The Tuttle Cup Team is looking forward to continuing this tradition into the future."
According to Missy, "As teachers, we are always pressed for time. So it seemed counterintuitive to give up valuable planning time to visit other teachers during the month of February. However, I took the challenge and am so glad I did. Seeing my colleagues interact with former students and watching how our curriculum develops throughout our four divisions was, in a word, awesome."
To Middle School teacher Garrett Stern "the Tuttle Cup is a homecoming. I get to return to the first grade as a student sitting criss-cross applesauce; return to Spanish class as I stumble to convey my thoughts in a foreign tongue; return to building with blocks in 4PreK; return to discussions of good and evil in Lord of the Flies in the eighth grade. I return to the joy of learning and the excitement of seeing our great school from the perspective of an applicant. Teaching can be an isolating act; I myopically focus on my single subject. The Tuttle Cup removes me from my island and facilitates a reunification with the larger community."
The Tuttle Cup gives Fiona Halloran, Upper School history teacher, "an incentive to visit my peers—especially those in other divisions. I'm always impressed by how much energy, enthusiasm, and creativity I see."
"The Tuttle Cup has helped my teaching by reinforcing the practices I model in my classroom," said fifth grade teacher and Tuttler Sarah Button. "As educators, we all have a role in the development of the young people we work with each day. Witnessing fabulous teaching and meaningful interactions with students reinforced the practices I have put in place in my classroom. This in turn benefits how I treat and am present for my current students. In addition, the Tuttle Cup benefits my students because I can speak honestly about their upcoming experiences. I want my current students to know that just because I am no longer their fifth grade teacher, I will still be 'checking in' on them as they continue their learning. Observing and interacting with my colleagues was invaluable in helping me feel that we are all in this together."
Upper School Administrative Assistant Linda Hampton's participation this year was notable, and about it she said, "It was so great to see the Beginning School in action. Now I know why it has such a great reputation!"
Congratulations to this year's winning group, Team Two, comprised of Gary Lindemann, Sarah Tobin, Ted Zeitler, Sarah White, Coreen Gilliand, Sarah Button, Gina Kiechle, Erika Palsson, and Stephen Brink, and to notable individuals Fiona Halloran, Christy Whitman, and Linda Hampton.