Among my mementos from teaching at ITDS is a simple notecard written by a first-grader in their faltering handwriting. It reads:
“And if you follow these ideas you will give an amazing read-aloud. Today, we are going to give an amazing read-aloud to you. Thank you.”
Standing at the front of my classroom, the first-grader concluded the presentation to preschoolers during our weekly buddy reading. The preschoolers were a rapt audience and clapped with enthusiasm. Then, first graders fanned out around the classroom to read one-on-one with their preschool reading partner. The room was filled with a quiet murmuring of young voices reading. I stood back and observed.
This one little notecard reminds me of the hard work being done throughout the school every day to make learning meaningful for every single student. At ITDS, all ages are constantly being stretched to think big — here, the first graders were not simply reading aloud to these younger students, but were pressed to think about why give a read-aloud, what are the best techniques, how do you make a read-aloud engaging? I saw the proud faces of the first graders as they viewed themselves as researchers, writers, and public speakers. I was mesmerized by how quickly time passes - imagine, just a few short years ago, they were my preschoolers!
There are so many things I loved about my years teaching at ITDS, and the respect and intentionality around mixed age group learning is at the very top. From its earliest days, ITDS has partnered each of the younger classrooms with an older classroom, celebrating and fostering connections across the ages. These structured pairings reap so many positives for all students. I have witnessed the most beautiful and unexpected interactions. There are perhaps no better role models than an older student lighting the way, showing the excitement and possibility of learning new things. For our older students, I think there is even a "letting down of the guard" - a chance to be a little more relaxed and confident about skills. It is beautiful to watch an older student become a mentor, learning to defer, to bend, to soften, to wait for a younger learner. Older students make learning more approachable, younger students are pulled into richer understandings. Learning is not static, it is never done. When students of all ages interact, one sees more clearly the breadth of learning - how much practice, how many mistakes, how much repetition, doing over, trying again, being vulnerable, and stretching oneself are inherent to the best learning.
I have so many fond memories of this mixed-age learning, including:
- preschool love parades throughout the whole school;
- middle school science exhibits;
- whole school Evening of the Arts rehearsals;
- invitations to test elementary engineering projects;
- creating garden space and murals together;
- middle school chaperones at end of year celebrations;
- visits by an older student, who simply needed a scene change, a break from their homeroom, and was welcomed into the preschool classroom to join us in whatever we are doing … to take that much-needed breath surrounded by happy adulation from younger friends.
We are committed to having a school environment that pays attention to the needs of each individual student. Additionally, it is so important that we work and learn together. Woven throughout all our teaching is the encouragement to think deeply about the whole - how have our actions affected others, what does it mean to be in community with one another, what are we hoping for in the world? ITDS strives to show students how interconnected we are, providing students of all ages the chance to work at this. The best learning has community and connection at its core. We do this together.
I am so proud to be a part of this school.