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In the Spotlight
 

 

Observations from Chris Marblo, Interim Principal

 

 

 

 

February 12, 2018

Dear Campus School Families,

Great teachers are always thinking about how to help their students grow and develop. The fruits of this thinking often come in an "aha" moment, when a teacher comes to a particular understanding of a student and has new insight into how to encourage this student's growth.

I remember a teacher of mine who figured out how to break through to my shy and retiring ways in the classroom - I rarely volunteered answers, content, instead, to sit back and observe. This teacher understood which button to push and told me, one day, that I had an obligation to share my ideas with my classmates. I felt guilty holding back and realized that it was selfish to do so. I subsequently changed my ways, perhaps to the benefit of the class but more to my benefit - this teacher knew I had to press against my uncomfortable edges in order to grow.

Great teaching is a complex undertaking - and excellent teachers have a deep understanding of and insight into their students. It is more art than science, acquired from experience and informed by wisdom, creativity, and psychology. 

Warmly,
Chris

 

February 5, 2018

Dear Campus School Families,

I was recently in one of our classrooms and saw students intently engaged in an exercise of observation, description, and reporting. They were watching the birth of a brook trout and quietly recording their observations. Each student was focused - looking, thinking, and writing, which was followed by a period of sharing with their classmates, prompted by the question, "what did you see?"

I heard a sophisticated display of language when the students were describing what they saw - very creative and descriptive words were used to capture and convey their impressions, and it was clear that students were taking the entire exercise, from observation to reporting out, very seriously.

And these three skills sets - observing, describing, and reporting - are fundamental to so many human activities. Their development in this lesson was attached to a real life and interesting phenomenon (the birth of the brook trout). This is what concrete, relevant, and practical skill building looks like in an elementary classroom.

Warmly,
Chris

 

February 2018

 

January 29, 2018

Dear Campus School Families,

I have remained in touch with one of my former college professors - we meet regularly for dinners and coffee, and it has been a real treat to maintain this relationship. I am now older than he was when he was my teacher, and he certainly treats me like an equal, but I cannot shake this sense that he will always be my teacher and I will always be his student. I am guessing other people have had similar feelings when they reconnect with former teachers - it's simply hard to reorient that relationship, and I have sometimes wondered why.

Perhaps it is that excellent teachers earn a mantle of authority and even power - they can be crucially influential people in our lives, helping shape us in ways that are long lasting. In this sense teachers are almost as influential as parents, another relationship that is hard to redefine as children age and become adults themselves. 

All this points to the power of the teacher-student relationship - and to the power of teaching itself. It still puzzles me that in our culture teaching is often not accorded the respect it deserves. And this is one more reason why our lab school, part of the college and the work of the education department, is engaged in elevating and supporting the profession of teaching; our society simply needs great teachers and the lasting influence they leave on their students.

Warmly,
Chris

 

January 22, 2018

Dear Campus School Families,

I once had a teacher in elementary school who would often respond to a student question with this retort: "are you being serious or delirious?" Needless to say, this attitude did not produce a classroom environment that was conducive to the free and easy exchange of ideas, and soon questions themselves dissipated, which, in hindsight, is what this teacher might have wanted all along. 

In his book Conscientious Objections, Neil Postman writes that "questions are the most important intellectual tool we have," and he wonders why the art and science of asking questions is not taught in any systematic way. 

In addition to this, far too many schools are good at providing answers but not asking worthy questions, and students receive information passively and understand that answers only have utility when they are transferred to the correct bubble on a standardized test. 

There is a better way. A curriculum rich in inquiry, in asking essential questions, the ones that stimulate real thinking and feeling, is a critical part of an excellent education. Good questions do, of course, lead to answers, but the process of getting to this end point is highly active, meaningful, relevant, and engaging, and the answers ultimately obtained are all the more satisfying.

Warmly,
Chris

 

January 15, 2018

Dear Campus School Families,

Our newly revised mission statement, which you received earlier this week, contains a bedrock assumption. We say that students flourish at the Campus School because they are known, valued, challenged, and nurtured. Everything good that happens in our school springs from this belief.

This is a school where children are known by their teachers - truly and deeply known.

This is a school where children are valued, where their intrinsic worth and dignity is affirmed and upheld.

This is a school where children are challenged because high expectations are things that students stretch toward. 

And this is a school where children are nurtured, where they are cared for and tended, where their emotional lives have meaning and relevance.

The good thing about a mission statement is that it acts as a north star, a rallying point, a clarion call. This seems especially important at this moment in the Campus School's history, when we are on the verge of launching an ambitious new strategic plan and collectively building an even better school experience for our students. Clarity of direction certainly makes the journey easier and more fruitful, and this clarity is what our revised mission provides.


Warmly,
Chris

 

January 2018

 

December 18, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

At this very moment when the days are short and the nights long, nature shifts; the slow climb into longer days and more light begins. Every day brings incremental growth that is hard to notice until one day you realize that it is not getting dark at 4:20pm anymore - it's 5:00pm and there is still light in the sky.

This slow pattern of change is mirrored in many human activities, with the growth and development of a child being one of them. I just realized, for example, that my 16 year old is as tall as I am. When did that happen? The answer, of course, is slowly and over time, in a way that is barely noticeable until, suddenly, it is.

These are the ways our children change right before us. One day we notice our child handles a situation with more maturity and perspective, or uses a more sophisticated vocabulary, is newly witty, or can suddenly play that challenging violin part flawlessly. What is more difficult to notice are the myriad steps that got our child to this new state, the daily and subtle shifts that accumulate over time to create a changed person.

So as we reach the shortest day of the year know that a minute here and a minute there all add up to 15 minutes then an hour and then many hours of additional daylight, just as the slow and steady growth of our children suddenly leaves us with someone new, someone both deeply familiar and delightfully surprising.  And isn't this one of the great joys of parenting?

My best to you and your family for a happy holiday and peaceful new year.

Warmly,
Chris

 

December 11, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

Educators sometimes find themselves caught between false opposites. At my former school in NYC, parents applying to our school often thought a school could be either challenging or nurturing, that it was one or the other. We made the argument that it is not an either/or proposition. A great school must challenge its students but it balances this with the right amounts of nurturing support. In fact, students truly learn when they know there is a supportive safety net beneath them; this creates the condition where students can take risks, try new and difficult learning, and grow and develop.

In schools where this balance between challenge and support is not well calibrated two things happen. Not enough challenge means that learning is left on the table. Too much rigor and students become stressed and not stretched, victims of what Alfie Kohn calls the "cult of rigor."

In excellent schools this balance between challenge and support is calibrated by teachers for each student. This is what happens when children are truly known by their teachers. And it is here where the Campus School shines. Our teachers know their students - know when to challenge them, when to dial things back, when to give an encouraging word, when to stretch them.
Think back to your own education. Weren't your best teachers those who truly knew you? I know mine were.

And the power of a student being known by a masterful teacher seems absent from much of the recent debate about educational reform, where the emphasis has been on standardized tests and data driven technology tools, as if education were some technical problem to be solved, a widget to be tweaked, instead of what it is - the meaningful engagement between teachers and the students they know.

Warmly,
Chris

 

December 4, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

Our 6th graders recently participated in Monte's March, which raises money for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and awareness about food insecurity in our region. Our students created and wore signs that asked for action:


hungermarch

This is an example of community action - citizens engaged in bringing about change in our society. When these citizens are 11 and 12 years old the actions are especially powerful; children can speak truth to power.

Community action like this is also, of course, a powerful educational experience for children, a wonderful example of applied knowledge and actualized learning. They also learn some hard truths about the world and society - and then figure out how to best respond to these truths. This is an empowering experience, and I have known a number of adult activists who can trace their involvement in various causes to their early schooling.

And community action also represents a core value of the Campus School. We help students understand their role in a civil society and how to be informed and engaged citizens.

So kudos to our 6th graders for supporting the march, making a difference, and learning important lessons and to Ms. Hermans and Mr. Golossi for facilitating this experience.

Warmly,

Chris

 

 

November 23, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday let's think about the word thanks. In fact, the origin of "thank" is related to the word "think." I find this to be a meaningful connection, for in order to be thankful we need to think; this reflective state generates a state of gratitude.

In this sense Thanksgiving is an invitation to be mindful of the things we are grateful for. And it can be very healthy for children to take some time during this holiday to connect think to thanks. Parents can encourage this contemplative act - and make it a regular practice if desired. 

This is more than simple positive thinking. Being grateful springs from being aware - of how much we depend on other people, how contingent we are, how much of a gift life is. At least this is where my own thinking takes me. How about you?

And it is in this spirit that I wish you and your family a "thinkful" Thanksgiving.

Warmly,
Chris

 

November 16, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

I have been paying attention to how our students treat one another. What I see, over and over, are small - but meaningful - acts of kindness. A student holding a door for another. A 6th grader volunteering to help a friend with dismissal duty. A student asking a friend "and how are you doing?" 

These acts of kindness are not random - they are the product of a school culture that emphasizes civility. And civility is a foundation virtue: it acts as an antidote to the often uncivil world beyond our school and it promotes better teaching and learning.

Civility helps create an environment where ideas, perspectives, and feelings can be shared and debated freely and respectfully, which is critical to real learning and growth. I can't imagine a great school that is not steeped in civility.

These small acts of kindness that take place within our school are threads that weave the fabric of civility and community together. Small acts become habits, which often generate greater outcomes, which is one reason why every act of kindness, no matter how small, matters.


Warmly,
Chris

 

November 2017

 

November 6, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

Expectations are, in a way, destiny. We often get what we expect, and this is especially true for children. For example, if we expect a child to be fragile, we typically get fragility; expect resilience and we usually get it. When I was in elementary school I had a teacher who told me that I was an average math student. Sure enough, I became an average math student, and I did not question this assumption until years later. 

Adults have enormous power to shape a child's self-perception. Adult expectations that are positive and growth-oriented can help children develop and internalize healthy habits of mind and heart, giving them more agency and making them less likely to be influenced by negative expectations in the future. 

All of this points to the importance of how we talk with children - the words we use and the implicit and explicit assumptions we make - and how vital this framing is during the foundation years of a child's life. 


Warmly,
Chris

 

October 30, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

Playground observations, part 2

There is a tree stump on our playground, right below my office. Over time, its interior has begun to decay and soften. Our students have taken this as an opportunity to engage in some very imaginative destructive construction. They have begun to hollow out an inner ring of the stump, leaving the center in place (for now) and using the stump in a number of creative ways. They stand in it. They construct bridges over the hollowed out section. They build "lakes" within it. They sculpt it. They put rocks and stones in, around, and on it. (And they use the rocks as tools to shape it.)

All this from a tree stump!

And this leads to a simple observation: imagination really is the currency of childhood. It does not take much to fire a child's imagination or to keep it happily (and constructively) engaged. I do believe that encounters with the natural world, like the ones our students are having with a tree stump, some rocks, water, and dirt, deliver an even more profound experience. Imaginative play within the natural world, or utilizing natural materials, can bring a deep sense of satisfaction and connection.

Some research shows we lose our imaginative capacity as we age, primarily because we wall it off in order to "succeed" or "adapt" to a world that sometimes asks for too much conformity. This is one of many reasons why imaginative play is so necessary for children - and important for adults, too.

Warmly,
Chris

 

October 23, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

It is always illuminating to watch our students during recess. The variety of games and activities being played, from kickball to dramatic presentations to quiet drawing, is a testament to the many interests our students have and the varying ways they find meaning during their free time. It also reminds me of how valuable unstructured play time is for the emotional, physical, and cognitive growth of children.

Some students challenge themselves physically during recess. They walk on stilts. Or play basketball. Others learn how to compromise or negotiate while they play in a group. Still others solve problems while they build a new structure with rocks, sticks and dirt. And sometimes students are happy to simply be - and immerse themselves in the joy of being a child. The unifying reality in these varied activities is how engaged students are - what they are doing is meaningful and often fun and challenging, initiated by and for themselves. This is a very good space for children to occupy. 

The power of unstructured play is real and necessary - and something to safeguard in this age where schools scrap recess in favor of even more standardized curricula and tests. That's not how we operate at the Campus School - and our students are happier and more complete for it.


Warmly,
Chris

 

October 16, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

I am happy to share the news that we have a new faculty diversity committee. This group of 11 teachers and staff will convene to act as an advisory body around issues of family, student, and staff diversity. While we are still formulating our specific goals for the year, we view the formation of this committee as an important first step in providing more support and direction for diversity at the Campus School. Diversity is also an important part of our strategic planning deliberations, as we seek the best ways to structure these programs at our school. 

I believe diversity is an integral component of a great school - it makes the school experience more real, more just, and more dynamic. We are happy to take this initial step toward more diversity and inclusion at our school and will continue to provide updates of our work.


Warmly,
Chris

 

October 2017

 

September 25, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

I was recently observing our kindergarten classrooms, where students were discussing monarch butterflies. I was struck by the powers of observation that our youngest students displayed. They were making very careful and nuanced observations about the butterflies, and other students were listening, processing and reacting to these reflections. I realized, once again, how observant children are and how, as we age, we often become distracted and have a more difficult time noticing what is around and right in front of us. 

I wonder why this is so? Certainly we live in a distractible world, with external stimulation taking up much of our observational bandwidth. We also carry more responsibilities as adults and they consume significant energy and attention. But younger children are often more present to the world. They see with fewer filters; there is, accordingly, a type of purity to their observations. This dynamic is one of the many reasons why it can be so enlightening to be fully present to our children - we might learn (and see) something new.

Warmly,
Chris

 

September 18, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

*Getting back to the routines of a new school year takes a lot of energy. I expect your children will be good and tired this weekend. This is perfectly normal and an indication, in fact, of a good start to the school year. In my visits to classrooms this week I saw students fully - and happily - engaged, expending the necessary energy to make the transition to the new school year. Some unstructured down time this weekend would be a good thing to help students rest and recharge. 

*We are marking and celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Campus School this year. Initially we had set October 22nd as the date for a school wide celebration, but we have decided to change the date to the spring; this gives us more time to plan and expand the event itself. Stay tuned for the announcement of the new date and further details about the 90th anniversary celebration.

*An anecdote to share: I was talking with one of our students and asked how things were going with the start of the new school year. He hesitated, smiled, and said, "Excellent. The Campus School always exceeds my expectations." One of many priceless moments I witnessed during the first full week of school. 

*Finally, the faculty and I are working on ways for dismissal to be safer and more efficient. We expect to make some modifications to the dismissal process within a couple of weeks and will, of course, fully communicate those to you before we implement them. 

Have a great weekend!

Warmly,
Chris

 

September 11, 2017

Dear Campus School Community,

*Well, we're off - a new school year is underway! What a joy to see the excited faces of students this week. It is quite an achievement, at any age, to begin a new school year, and I am grateful for the careful preparations teachers and parents made to begin this year in such fine fashion. I hope you and your children enjoy a relaxing weekend as we prepare for the first full week of school. 

*On the first day of school, as I stood out front greeting families, I was struck by the ways our students approached me. Some of them seemed to know I was the new principal but others simply did not know who I was. Regardless, I was greeted warmly, looked in the eye, and got lots of smiles. The warmth and confidence of the students was notable and, in my mind, a very important indicator of a healthy school community. By day two some students were greeting me by name - very impressive! 

*It was a pleasure meeting many of you at my coffees this week. I always enjoy opportunities to communicate with parents and to have a dialogue around the most important things - our students and school.  I hope you found the coffees to be useful, and I want to let you know that I will do several more during the school year; information on dates will follow soon.

*And in keeping with communications - an important request. It is likely that during the course of a school year something will not go as planned and a concern will arise. When this happens I ask you to bring your concern to the person who can best respond to it; I think this is both productive and fair and a hallmark of healthy relationships. 

*Finally, something, I hope, to entertain and educate. Sir Ken Robinson was knighted for his work in bringing creative thinking to schools in Britain, and his TED talk about schools and creativity is wonderful. (I am sure some of you are already familiar with it.)  It is well worth 19 minutes of your day. 

Creativity and creative thinking are core skills definitely worth cultivating and teaching. This is a topic I will return to in the coming months.


Warmly,
Chris

 

September 2017


Dear Campus School Community ,

As the chair of the SCCS Interim Principal Search Committee, I am delighted to announce the appointment of Christopher Marblo as the interim principal of the Smith College Campus School, effective July 1, 2017. Chris has been appointed to a two-year term.

Chris brings to the Campus School a distinguished track record as a school leader and teacher. He served for nine years as head of school of the K-8 Town School in New York City, and prior to that as head of the pre-K-8th grade Kent School in Maryland. He also served as head of the middle school at the Haverford School and Albany Academy. In 2003 Chris was named a Klingenstein Visiting Fellow to a prestigious program to support independent school leadership development at Teachers College, Columbia University. From 2010 Chris began teaching classes at Teacher’s College as well as serving as a mentor for aspiring heads of school. Aside from his experience as a school leader, Chris has also served as the executive director of the Garrison Institute and executive director of the the Arts Center in Troy, New York.

As we got to know Chris and his work during this search process, the committee was impressed by his reflective and collaborative approach to building independent school communities. He has led numerous organizations through strategic planning processes and implemented action plans that resulted in innovative curricula. Chris’ deep knowledge of education, his experience in diverse learning environments, and his thoughtful and engaging style will make him an excellent partner for the SCCS teachers and the Smith College administration during a period of transformation. Please click here to read a brief bio about Chris.

As interim principal, Chris will be the day-to-day educational leader of SCCS. His key partners in strategic planning will be the Transition Council and myself in the role of faculty director. Together, we look forward to strengthening our relationship with Smith College and expanding our reach as an educational lab school engaged in exciting educational innovation, research and development.

We will be developing a plan for the community to meet Chris in the near future. Please join me in welcoming him to SCCS.

Sincerely,

Sam for the SCCS Search Committee

SCCS Search Committee

  • Sam Intrator, Faculty Director of SCCS

  • Maggie Newey, Associate Director for Academic Programs and Public Education at Smith College Museum of Art

  • Bill Peterson, Associate Provost

  • Al Rudnitsky, Professor and Chair Education and Child Study

  • Jenny Silver, Assistant Director of Human Resources

 

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