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News From Keri Gelenian

March 19, 2014

Dear Rivendell Families,

In advisory at the beginning of the year, students wrote responses to four questions:

  • What is community?
  • What is great, unique or special about Rivendell?
  • How do you contribute?
  • What holds you back?


Mary Rizos and Jenny Ellis took every response and fed them into a computer program that prints out the information in a unique pattern and increases the size of responses based on frequency. Frequent responses are bigger and bolder than less frequent responses. The information from this activity has been hanging in the café on four, 5' x 3' banners since the second week of school.

The day after the posters appeared in the café, students crowded around looking for their particular answers to each question. Now, we all walk by the posters without giving them a second thought.

I decided to devote some time to reflect upon what students had to say about the questions. People working together is printed in big bold letters on the poster about community. Other significant words were help out, support and advice, friends and neighbors, accepting, understanding, everyone contributes ideas, and care about each other.

Small and freedom stand out on the poster about the "What is great about Rivendell?" question. The other frequent words were voice, creativity, innovation, sports and activities and academics.

By far the largest response to the question about contributing was By helping others. This was followed by community service, being positive, listening to others, I don't know and I don't. Any way I can and giving everyone's ideas a chance were great individual responses on this poster.

The students' responses to the question about what holds them back mostly opposed their answers to the other three questions. The top responses were People followed by Nothing. Many of the less frequent responses specified how "People" held them back. The issues with other people were negative people, mean people, people who judge, getting judged, people who don't contribute and people who don't listen. The poster also identified issues more internal to the individual who was responding: not knowing if I am right, not speaking my feelings, laziness, and lack of motivation. The responses to this question reflect what still seems to be on our "to do list."

Reading these posters again so carefully has made me realize that the students predicted what we have all experienced so far this year—people working together, helping out, being positive and receiving support and advice. I would also concur that the levels of creativity, voice and freedom are higher than ever. As a group we are demonstrating higher levels of responsibility, respectfulness and trustworthiness than I have seen in my previous three years at RA.

In looking at the questions and responses again, I believe that students were thinking more about the social atmosphere at RA than the academic atmosphere. But because student learning is the number one purpose of RA, I started to think about what it would mean to maximize freedom and voice in the learning process. I wondered how students would respond to four slightly different questions:

  • What is a community of exciting learning?
  • What is great, special or unique about teaching and learning at Rivendell?
  • How do I contribute to the develo p.m.ent of a rich and exciting learning environment?
  • What diminishes my ideas and creativity?


I believe that the students' excellent perceptions about community strength, uniqueness, contribution and hesitation would be equally keen if we focused their attention on the process of teaching and learning.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian

March/April 2014