Increasing Social-Emotional Independence

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Something happened a couple weeks ago. It was nothing new; it is nothing out of the ordinary. However, it epitomizes our school’s (and our teachers’) approach to social-emotional learning.

THE SITUATION: A kindergartner is having a difficult time saying goodbye to Mom. The teacher is outside the classroom helping the child prepare to join the class.

THE SOLUTION: Rather than an adult trying to solve the problem or the parent entering the classroom, the student was able to make the choice to come in and go directly to the classroom library to take a break and regain composure. More importantly, the student was able to self-select a tool (one of the calming sensory bottles stored in the library area) to help herself calm down and transition into the school day. If you haven’t yet seen them, they work like magic for many children!

Within less than two minutes, the student had calmed down and was able to sit and watch the beginning of Morning Meeting (by far the most important time in the school day). And within another one to two minutes, the student had joined the class on the rug for Morning Meeting.
 Belief that the child is capable of overcoming the situation.
 Belief that children, like adults, need autonomy and opportunities to make choices.
 Belief that adults don’t need to solve every challenging situation a child faces (though we do provide support!)

This is a small situation that occurred within a matter of minutes, but I believe it sends a strong message about our school’s philosophy of teaching children various tools and allowing them to use these tools with increasing independence.

I congratulate our teachers for constantly innovating and bringing in creative ways of teaching, both academic and social-emotional skills. If you have not been on the school blog on the WHPS website recently, I encourage you to take a fresh look at even more of the ways our teachers and our school continue to live out our ESLRS (Expected School-wide Learning Results).

She Doesn't Seem to Love Learning Anymore!

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Have you heard this before?

[Insert name here]’s grades are fine; I’m not worried about that, but she just doesn’t seem to love learning anymore.


Jessica Lahey has a new book: The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. The book came out earlier this school year, but the topic is evergreen!   

In the The Gift of Failure, Lahey talks about wanting the world for her children. Yet, the very things she has done to encourage the sort of achievement she feels will help them secure happiness and honors may be undermining their future success.

Lahey gives the example of Marianna. 

“She is very smart and high-achieving, and her mother reminds her of that on a daily basis. However, Marianna does not get praised for the diligence and effort she puts into sticking with a hard math problem or a convoluted scientific inquiry. If that answer at the end of the page is wrong, or if she arrives at a dead end in her research, she has failed—no matter what she has learned from her struggle. And contrary to what she may believe, in these more difficult situations she is learning. She learns to be creative in her problem-solving. She learns diligence. She learns self-control and perseverance. But because she is scared to death of failing, she has started to take fewer intellectual risks. She has trouble writing rough drafts and she doesn’t like to hypothesize or think out loud in class. She knows that if she tries something challenging or new, and fails, that failure will be hard evidence that she’s not as smart as everyone keeps telling her she is. Better to be safe. Is that what we want? Kids who get straight As but hate learning? Kids who achieve academically, but are too afraid to take leaps into the unknown?”

Fear of failure also rears its ugly head when children are doing homework. Not long ago, I spoke with a parent who hired a tutor the moment their child began struggling with math homework. This was a very well-intentioned thing to do. Providing a tutor is not an inherently bad idea. It can be one way to avoid power struggles at home when a child, as typical older elementary children do, can resist help from Mom or Dad. Nevertheless, we also have to be cautious about overemphasizing the importance of getting a correct answer. As an educator, I would much rather see a child come in with scratch paper detailing the approach(es) they tried on the homework and a WRONG answer than a right answer without the struggle and creative critical thinking. 

I encourage parents and caregivers to think about how we can foster creativity and diligence in our children and worry less about homework coming back to school with correct answers. Each night’s homework is a form of formative (informal) assessment, and teachers often modify their lesson based on how students do on homework. 

As a school, we have designed our program with emphasis on each student achieving and striving to beat their personal best. It's the reason why we honor character, perseverance and bucketfilling even more than academic achievement. It's the reason why we utilize cutting-edge developmental programs like Writing Workshop, Words Their Way, and the Columbia University reading assessment system. These programs enable students to work for their personal best and receive specific feedback about what to try next. And it's the reason you'll hear our teachers choosing their words with the care and precision of a surgeon!

I think it's safe to say that our shared goal is to help our children develop into well-adjusted, confident, balanced individuals. Getting an occasional low grade in elementary school should not be a source of anxiety or frustration , but rather it should be looked at as a chance to learn something.  As you look over the trimester 2 report cards with your child, I encourage you to look at a B or a C (or an S) as an opportunity to show even more determination and perseverance in the final trimester of the school year. Focus on the process, and the product will be just fine!



Power Struggles

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Where were you last Thursday night? If you weren’t at WHPS to see Debbie Godfrey’s presentation about power struggles [and how to avoid them], I would like to recap a few of her points.

Debbie explained that children generally misbehave for one of four reasons called “mistaken goals”: attention, power, revenge, or avoidance. According to Godfrey, to identify a power struggle, the child may simply refuse to do something or continue doing something against parent's permission or direction. The parent can identify the power struggle based on how the parent is feeling, such as feeling that he/she is being provoked or challenged and wants to make the child do (or not do) it.

Godfrey explains that from age 2-5, children will “shop” for behaviors to meet their needs. By age 5, children have often identified one of the behaviors that tends to work with a specific adult in their life. They have also learned what Godfrey calls the joy of opposing. This means that they have learned it can be fun to argue; it raises energy, making them feel powerful and strong.

My favorite--though by no means the only--piece of advice from the night was about the Broken Record Strategy. Godfrey tells us to choose a calm and appropriate response to the child’s misbehavior and to repeat the same response like a broken record each time the child repeats the misbehavior. The goal is to avoid escalating the situation, such as raising one’s voice or becoming more and more animated, which may cause the child to experience the joy of opposing. An example of her strategy is when a child gets out of bed at night, a parent might say, “Sammy is going to sleep in her room until morning” and carry the child back to bed. Each time the child gets up, the parent would repeat the same calm broken record response. Godfrey said that this strategy may take 10, 20 or even 40 or more repetitions the first time around, but the child will learn his/her boundaries and the struggle will quickly diminish in subsequent instances.

Some other tips Godfrey offered were: Getting Out of Power Struggles

 Use loving guidance vs. trying to overpower the child or use punishment

 Find useful ways for the child to feel valuable and powerful

 Offer choices to side-step the power struggle (E.g. If a child says “no” to a nap, ask the child if he/she would like you to walk with him/her to the bed or for you to carry him/her to bed.)

 Win/Win negotiate

 Use a signal


Preventing Power Struggles

 Use one word

 Let the child have the last word

 Make it fun

 Talk less (Power struggles are often verbal battles and fueled by verbal responses.)

 Use GEMS (Genuine Encounter Moments) - In a University of Iowa study, it was found that the average child gets 432 negative comments per day versus 32 positive comments. GEMS can take only 1-3 minutes, and they help children feel important and supported, so they don’t need to use power struggles to get those needs met.


Learning More from Failure

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

I heard a great story on NPR's Morning Edition today about Charles Bolden, the first black NASA administrator. 50 years ago, his hopes of joining the Naval Academy, a first step toward his illustrious career, almost never happened. Representatives in his state of South Carolina refused to nominate Bolden for the academy because of his race. It took the direct involvement and support of, then Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson to launch Bolden’s career.

I think Bowman would argue that how you deal with failure says even more about you than how you deal with success. I try to be mindful of this as an educator as well as in my own personal life. Of course I want the children in our school to experience success! I would also argue that we should place equal importance on learning coping and problem-solving skills to do deal with life's disappointments in healthy, constructive ways. It can be dangerous for children to go into adolescence and adulthood without coping and resiliency skills, and it is our job to help foster these while they are in a safe, loving environment. 

Mr. Bolden's story is a terrific example how grit and determination can trump even the most unfair circumstances.

Take a listen to the story or view it online.


Seth Pozzi

Asst. Head of School

WHPS Creative Approach to Food Allergies

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

Like most schools, Woodland Hills Private School has a number of students and staff with severe food allergies. And like many leading schools we use a word study program instead of asking our students to memorize spelling lists. What do these two things have in common?

On the surface you might think nothing at all. Enter WHPS's creative, passionate kindergarten team. After a couple close calls this year in which well-intentioned parents sent unsafe food items to school, they sprang into action with a clever idea to develop their own food sorting activity based on the school’s word study program. As a class, students then worked to sort images of items and food labels based on whether they are "safe for school" or "unsafe for school." And while it's just one step in helping to educate and ensure the safety of our community, this creative approach to teaching is not only fun but it could help save a life!

 Feel free to download and share this resource with anyone who you think might benefit from it. 

Seth Pozzi

Head of School


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