Superheroes are showing up everywhere

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There’s going to be palpable superhero theme around Westside School next week. Maybe it’s the launch of the 2016 NFL season in Seahawks land, or the release of a slew of fall movie fare. Even our Westside School Fund BBQ & Movie Night this Friday, September 30, is celebrating the “heroes of the school” with capes and grilled fare.

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Yesterday I heard two different “What superpower would you choose?” conversations on the playground – both in groups that crossed gender lines and ages. Despite popular belief, “invisibility” fell low on the list. I’d like to think it’s because our students are increasingly confident and willing to stand up and be seen in public. A third grade student told me, “Sorry, no. It’s just that time travel is way cooler. You can go back and do anything over again.”

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I can’t argue with that. The opportunity to notice mistakes, revise work and improve is at the heart of what we want from students. It’s what digital advocates point to as an inherent strength of video games – we will return again and again after failure, just for the possibility to taking a problem a bit further, or deeper.

This desire for time to “get it right” is worth paying attention to. In today’s world, we lament an apparent national decrease in attention span and resiliency in our students, yet often complement that concern with tasks meant to be completed or meet standards rather than problems we engage, and reengage over time.

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Superheroics have always been about imagining the power to fight the ineffable elements that we have little power over – to seize opportunities for a “do over” or to get it right. We have a chance in schools to engage that dream by creating complex, meaningful problems for students and letting them work through them, over time, without immediate resolution. When we do, progress becomes its own measurement of growth, and, sticking to it becomes heroic.

Talk more at the dinner table?
Recommended Video: Chris Anderson on TedEd

The worthy endeavors of Outdoor Education

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We choose to start each academic year with trips not because it’s easy, but because it is a worthy endeavor. By spending our first full week of school out on trips, we send a powerful message to ourselves, our students, and our community about what we value.

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We value community – trips make it easy for the ‘new kid’ to become just another member of the class much more quickly than would otherwise be possible.

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We value connection – trips provide opportunities for teachers and students alike to share new, often challenging experiences.

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While teachers are often perceived as ‘experts,’ trips in particular provide opportunities for teachers to show that they, too, are also learners.

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We value the development of a sense of place – throughout Middle School, our students explore and experience a wide variety of local environments and outdoor pursuits, from Mt. Rainier to the Salish Sea.

This fall, our fifth grade students explored Mt. Rainier, including visiting Paradise and the Grove of the Patriarchs.

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Our sixth grade students learned to rock climb and went hiking in the North Cascades, our seventh grade students backpacked to a variety of alpine lakes, and eighth grade students enjoyed team building and sea kayaking at Camp Orkila!

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Sarah Path, Director of Outdoor Education

Why make time for teacher collaboration?

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Why has Westside School increased time for teacher planning and collaboration?

Increasingly, research is gathering on the common traits of high performing schools. The wide variety of school cultures and demographics in our country mean it can be hard to generalize data, but one thing is clear across the board: our teachers are our most important resource, and schools that commit time to and invest in elevating teaching practice are seeing profound benefits for their students.

In particular, schools that make time for teachers to plan together, reflect on their practice, and regularly review and revise curriculum tend to create experiences that are most dynamic and responsive for all of their students. Click here to read a great article about the connection between collaboration with colleagues and student achievement.

The article notes, in part, “…social capital resides in the relationships among teachers. In response to the question ‘Why are some teachers better than others?’ a human capital perspective would answer that some teachers are just better trained, more gift, or more motivated. A social capital perspective would answer the same question by looking not just at what a teacher knows, but also where she gets that knowledge. If she has a problem with a particular student, where does the teacher go for information and advice? Who does she use to sound out her own ideas or assumptions about teaching? Who does she confide in about the gaps in her understanding of her subject knowledge?”

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One of the first things we looked at this summer was the Westside School schedule and calendar. We found there were a number of places we could add additional collaborative planning times for teaching teams in our current schedule, but also wanted to create the time and place for meaningful review of our curriculum by the whole faculty.

Deep school-wide curricular work takes a great deal of time, and often requires extended research into the best practices and possibilities of the profession. While we meet as a faculty weekly, our top priority is always coordinating current work and supporting students. This is the reason Westside School has added two early dismissal days and two teacher in-service days to the calendar this year. Each day will create time for faculty to participate in retreats dedicated to teaching and learning.

We’re confident the benefits of this work will soon be evident across classrooms in the school. We’ll share the work of those retreats as we progress! Click here to watch a video about the power of teacher collaboration!

Ted Kalmus, Interim Head of School

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Expeditionary Foundations

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In the first weeks of school, we are all working on laying the foundations for a strong learning cohort – creating the systems for working effectively together, communicating with one another, and noticing our environment in even more sophisticated and meaningful ways. Whether inside the classroom, outdoors or on field trips, we draw on some of the principals of expeditionary learning throughout the year – one’s own responsibility for learning, empathy and caring, connection to the natural world and the importance and value of self discovery.

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Indeed, why do we launch all our Middle School year with extended outdoor education trips? Expeditionary learning lays the groundwork for a year of deep collaboration with a cohort of peers whom we have traveled beside. It’s the trust and familiarity built on these trips that helps us challenge and support each other to be our best. Here’s a 30 second video (with music!) about the design principles of Expeditionary Learning.

Ted Kalmus, Interim Head of School

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a hui hou

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In celebration and gratitude for four extraordinary years of love and service to Westside School, the families, students, staff, and faculty honored Kate Mulligan this past Friday.

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As all of you know, what Westside School is today is in large part a direct result of Kate’s leadership, enthusiasm, and vision during what has been a pivotal period in our school’s history. She presided over negotiations with Seattle Public Schools following their unexpected decision to reclaim the E.C. Hughes building after we had just moved in. She guided Westside through the land purchase for our new campus, followed by the design, permitting and construction process. Under Kate’s leadership, Westside School surpassed its goals in the first-ever capital campaign.

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And while that may seem like enough for a lifetime, Kate also helped shape and grow our Middle School, with exceptional contributions to the Westside School alumni who have gone on to outstanding high schools.

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So it was only fitting that on the last day of school this year our families and students gathered to enjoy milk and donuts with Kate, and to say ‘Mahalo’ during an all-school assembly with our students, faculty and staff.

The entire Westside School community wishes Kate the very best, and extends our deepest gratitude for all she has done.

Aloha!

The Class of 2016….a little like ‘French Tea’

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On the evening of Thursday, June 9, Westside School gathered in our beautiful theater to celebrate and honor the eighth grade students – our Class of 2016.

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With decorations from our sixth grade class, beautiful flower arrangements, and hundreds of well-wishers the twenty-two graduates officially became the first class to graduate from Westside School’s permanent home.

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This year’s graduation speaker, Susannah Muench, reflected upon the 180 days a year, five days a week, 90 minutes a day she has spent with the students over the last two years, noting “if you add that up it is 16,200 min or 270 hours. If you know anything about this class, that is a lot of time.”

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This class has a very special place in my heart. They have taught me a lot. First and foremost they have taught me to laugh, to laugh at myself, to laugh at them and to not take things so seriously.

When I was little my favorite dinner my mother made my sister and me was something called French Tea. As I got older I realized French Tea was actually little bits of everything we had in the fridge, but put together and arranged neatly on a plate, which made it different and special.   

The Class of 2016 is a lot like French Tea. They are an eclectic assortment of personalities and traits, but each student is unique and when you put them all together they really are an amazing class to teach.  

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Connor is full of surprises, from his beautiful voice to his creative writing. Don’t count him out.

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Karl is all about perseverance and dedication, just look at all his ski racing medals. When he puts his mind to something, you know he will make it happen.

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Kieran’s quiet on the outside but always scheming up something in his head, whether it’s helping out others or thinking of ways to revolutionize the system.

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What I appreciate about Ben, other than his amazing intellect, is his dry sense of humor and those rare moments when he breaks out into a smile. I look forward to seeing his inventions.

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Kovit is solid gold, funny, smart, and astute. You can always rely on him to make it real.  

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Jordan has the biggest heart, she feels so deeply and has more empathy and compassion than anyone I know.  

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Olivia really is a lot like Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz), she is good natured and kind but feisty too. She is going to make the world a better place.  

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Angie is wise beyond her years. She has a quiet grace, yet don’t cross her because she is one tough cookie.

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Will is not afraid to speak his mind, he has a razor sharp wit that flies under the radar. He is a leader in the making.

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If you have ever seen Jac around young kids you know he has a heart of gold and the ability to put everyone at ease. He’s also a famous cook, just check him out on YouTube.

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Jamie is an inspiration; she has had a hard road this year but her strength and courage are a lesson to us all.

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What I admire most about Nate is his passion, for  drumming, for shoes, for fashion and also for standing up for what he believes in and for what’s right.

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Justin is a bundle of energy, drives you crazy and makes you laugh at the same time.  He doesn’t believe it but I will miss him too next year.

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Juliet is good at everything from writing to basketball. She is humble almost to a fault, but if I was ever stranded on a desert island I would want her on my team.

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Riley came to Westside School two years ago looking like a deer in headlights, but he has grown leaps and bounds. He is a solid student and a fine young man.

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Helen is kind to everyone, yet a perfectionist to herself. I love reading anything she writes, she will be as famous as Bethany Mota one day.  

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Callum is a rock. He is one of those quiet leaders, who seems to be good at everything and other students naturally respect and look up to.  

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Everyone knows Sarah is a beautiful dancer, but she is so much more. Thoughtful, kind, smart, but not afraid to throw on a tutu and get a little crazy.

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Levi is as feisty as they come; you never quite know what to expect but he makes it real and speaks the truth.   

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Isaac was new to us this year, but his quiet, solid presence and gentle smile was a wonderful addition to our class.

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Henry is so much more than a superstar athlete. He doesn’t always like to show it but he is an amazing writer and a compassionate friend. And he has the best last name ever.

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Bianca epitomizes the saying don’t judge a book by its cover. She might be petite in size but she is a powerhouse, not only for her black belt in karate but ability to be completely herself.

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Life is a series of steps forwards and sometimes backwards, and don’t let anyone tell you different.  

When you get to high school and even beyond there will be people, teachers, friends maybe even family who will question what you believe in and who you are or want to be.

My challenge to you is to take risks and question everything and everyone.

Question what your teachers tell you, question what your friends  think is cool,  question what others tell you is important, question The Feed.

Find your own path, be willing to believe in yourself and take risks to stand up for it

Remember Westside School and the teachers and friends who gave you the confidence to be true to yourself no matter what.

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Graduates, we wish you nothing but great success and happiness. The door is open anytime, and we sincerely hope you’ll visit often.

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Congratulations!

The Class of 2017 hosts the Class of 2016 at Luncheon

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Our Westside School Graduation Day celebrations are in full-swing and our seventh grade students, and their families, successfully carried on the traditional Graduation Luncheon this afternoon!

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After finishing a morning rehearsal, the Class of 2016 dined on a delicious menu of tri-tip steak with chimichurri marinade, mac n’ cheese, marinated vegatable salad, potato salad, brownie sundaes and ice cream!

With a Hawaiian theme, bubbles, balloons and a fun photo booth our graduates celebrated this amazing milestone and the exciting ceremony to come!

Tonight, our eighth grade students will make history as we celebrate a Westside School Graduation for the first time in our permanent home.

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Special thanks to the wonderful parent volunteers and our seventh grade students for making this year’s Graduation Luncheon a very special event for our graduates.