Upper School Back To School Night 2019 - Lisa Sun

Good evening, parents! We are so happy to have you here so you can meet your child’s teachers and to hear about the year ahead.

As an educator, my favorite and most rewarding part of my work has always been focused on program aspects that include instruction, curriculum, teacher training/teacher development, and student support. 

I began my teaching career with an internship at the Francis Parker School in Chicago. That first experience in a progressive school was unlike anything I experienced as a student who attended public school. 

Like Francis Parker, TPS is a progressive school. While last year, my first year as Head of School was spent learning about the TPS curriculum and program, this year, my goal is to make sure that our community is grounded in a shared understanding of what progressive education is.

Progressive education is different from being progressive-minded or holding progressive ideology. TPS’ pedagogical approach--that is, our method and practice of teaching--is grounded in the tenets of progressive education. As such, we hold to an educational approach that:  

  • Attends to the whole child

  • Is inquiry-based

  • Allows our children to learn by doing

  • Recognizes the student voice as an integral part of the curriculum

  • Encourages students to be active participants of their learning instead of passive recipients

  • Emphasizes deep understanding over breadth of content

  • Is collaborative--our students work and learn from each other

  • Teaches our children to participate in a democratic process and engage in active citizenship

Throughout my many years in schools, I’ve heard first-hand the impact a progressive educational experience has had on people and the ways that it helped prepare them for life after school. When talking to alums who are scientists, activists, writers, academics and artists, the one overarching thing I hear is that their school experience fostered a natural curiosity. They asked questions and they knew they needed to be actively engaged in finding those answers.

They were not taught what to think, they were taught how to think, how to puzzle, grapple, and try--sometimes fail--and try again. There is grit and tenacity that is developed when students are not given the answers and information but expected to participate and be engaged in their quest for knowledge. 

Now as the parent of a 9th grader, who is at a very fine school, I find myself mourning the loss of a progressive school for my son. There are hours of homework, there are quizzes, tests, final exams and grades for participation, and I wish--and hope--that he will find joy in learning. That he will find something that really excites and challenges him. I hope that the rigor of work will not put out the spark of discovery. I hope his teachers will ask his opinion, that his questions might shape what/how he learns, and that teachers will know him as well as he was known at TPS. 

Earlier, I mentioned that the work of academic program is what I love--curriculum planning, teacher training and development, student support and meeting students where they are are all the things that excite me and drew me into administrative work.  

Since last year, Yves, members of the program team, and I have been engaging in deep discussions about our curriculum, utilizing qualitative and quantitative data, and considering on-going professional development for our teachers.

This summer, we sent our entire middle school math team to Michigan State University to attend a week-long workshop where they were guided through the Connected Math Project training.  

We are in the second year of a school-wide reading professional development under the guidance of a reading specialist who utilizes the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project model. The purpose is to have a shared framework for reading instruction across the school, inspire teachers, and provide coaching in the use of this reading workshop model.

I share all of this with you so that can understand the ways that our academic leadership team is working very intentionally and purposefully to provide a strong academic program grounded in our progressive pedagogy.  

Qualitative and quantitative data confirms that we have a strong program. As Alyssa Rickels, the Middle School Dean of Students, and Yves visited secondary schools this summer, they heard over and over that TPS students are strong candidates and highly sought-after students.  

When we review ERB scores of the 7th grade students, TPS scores are highly competitive against other independent school norms in language arts and math. Our overall composite scores have our students outscoring other independent school students. These scores are for all independent schools, even those that are traditional and emphasize tests and test-taking. 

This is my son’s first year in a more traditional school and he is transitioning just fine.  He’s academically prepared for the work but more importantly, he works hard. He understands his role and responsibility in his education. As a freshman, he’s still finding his way, but I know that we’ve prepared him well. 

My son has been in progressive schools pretty much his whole school career, and I firmly believe that he is successful and engaged because he learned in environments that encouraged him to take safe risks, to explore, to ask questions, to seek his own answers, and to be his true authentic self.

As you go into classrooms tonight, I hope you’ll look for the ways that your children will experience engagement and joyful learning; the ways that your children are active participants in their learning; and the ways that we are working to live our mission to educate children for a future that is impossible to know but not impossible to shape.