Good evening everyone and welcome to Back to School Night. I can’t believe that I’m starting my 4th year at TPS--it feels like my 10th. I look out into the crowd and I am pleased to say that I actually know most of you. And most of you know that I too am a TPS parent. My children argue with me as much as your children argue with you. They ask hundreds of questions, never take no for an answer and never want to go to bed. That’s kind of our fault. You’re welcome!
Back to school night is an opportunity to come together as a community, a chance for you to hear from classroom teachers, and for us, as a school, to talk about what your child will do and learn this year. They’ll learn all of the core academic skills that they need, that’s a given. But the product of what we do here at TPS is far more nuanced than that. The path to the kind of learning students do here at TPS is not always linear and progress can be challenging to quantify. Over the course of my career, I’ve had many conversations about the things that can be measured about a child’s learning. I guess it’s human nature to seek a certain score, a grade, or dare I say, a percentile rank. That’s the way most of us grew up.
Our pedagogical approach at TPS, however, is driven by the tenets of progressive education and allows us to attend to the whole child. We focus on depth of learning to arrive at an end goal of competence, confidence, and strength of character through a very nuanced and complex process.
As I’ve transitioned into leading our upper school, I’ve thought a lot about how we can meet the needs of a wide range of learners while holding true to our progressive values and emphasizing concrete learning at the same time. Doing this well is what makes our graduates highly sought after, and highly successful no matter what type of high school they decide to attend. So how do we do it and what exactly do we do?
First, we focus on essential questions:
How is power gained, kept and resisted?
How does the land define us?
What does it mean to be a responsible, active citizen?
These questions allow us to dive deep and navigate learning in a multidisciplinary manner. They are asked and emphasized throughout the books we read, what we write about and what we discuss. This broad focus, as opposed to a narrow path, allows all children to have an entry point to understanding, a significant seat at the table and the opportunity to engage in the process in a manner that serves them well as individuals.
Next, we focus on habits of mind.
In math, we ask children to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, to use appropriate tools strategically, to reason abstractly and quantitatively, and to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. We do this with an understanding that mathematical skills are meaningful, but only if we foster a mindset that allows for the deep understanding of those skills. The standards of mathematical practice, a few of which I just shared, allow us to do so. Regardless of the skills we navigate with kids, such as multiplicative thinking, fractions and decimal concepts, expressions, equations, rational numbers, integers, the Pythagorean theorem and the skills our upper school kids will learn, it’s the habits of mind that make the learned skills stay with them long after their time at TPS.
Lastly, we hire outstanding educators!
We’re in the very fortunate position of receiving dozens and dozens of applicants, from all over the country, for every teacher opening. Such talented and diverse applicant pools have resulted in us adding new faculty from New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and, of course, right here in Philadelphia. Our new faculty members have combined with TPS vets to make up the best team of teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
As a staff member, but most importantly as a parent, I can assure you that you and your children are in the right place, in the right school, at the right time. Welcome to Back to school night! I hope you all enjoy your evening.