Food for Thought

If you are anything like me, you asked yourself this past weekend, “When is it time to stop eating leftovers?” I LOVE Thanksgiving, political views aside, because most of my mother’s seven brothers and sisters, their kids, and extended family gather in a cozy home for hours on end and eat until we are bursting at the seams. The connectedness of the gathering feeds my soul more than anything, and I feel rejuvenated and ready to enter the last few weeks of school, before another break, when we do it all over again. However you spent the short break, I hope that you too feel fed by the love, meals, and time well spent with those that give us purpose.

It’s hard to believe, but at this time two years ago, I was getting mentally prepared for my first round of interviews at Hamlin. I was excited to see the school and hoped to fall in love.  As I walked down Buchanan to Broadway from my hotel, I saw Jane Gaito (didn’t know it was her) walking her dog up the hill, cars pulling around the corner into the drop-off line, and as I turned the corner onto Broadway, Amy Rees was standing at the top of the stairs waiting for me. She was as open, innocent, and curious as a newborn cub (she’ll laugh at that description) and put me at ease as I passed the large, intimidating lions protecting the front doors.

My first stop on the interview “tour” was a group of parents that were tasked with creating a space for me to share my values, educational philosophy, and my questions about the community. The parents in the room shared their commitment to Hamlin and why they chose this school. There were tears and laughter and bearing of souls. Really, this happened. I fell in love. That really happened too. There were many amazing questions, but the one that I remember most vividly was, “What are your thoughts on rigor?”  I responded by sharing that rigor is important. A vibrant community where girls are learning at ceiling-less levels is ideal. The challenge, excitement, and success that come with a school that values breadth and depth was and is extremely attractive to me BUT means nothing without confident, capable girls. I went on to say the same thing that I share during admission season, when I get similar questions. Our social-emotional curriculum is just as important as our academic one. In fact, they work hand in hand.

While there are many articles that address the importance of a solid social- emotional (SEL) curriculum in schools, a recent article in the New York Times validated the work that we have been doing at Hamlin. It explained why our girls will continue to fuel the rigorous learning environment via their ability to be resilient, approach problems with various pathways, and connect with one another using empathy as a tool.

Teaching Peace in Elementary School is not necessarily what I would have titled the article, but it does deliver the message that a peaceful mind and body are able to take on stress in ways that a disrupted one cannot. “The neural pathways in the brain that deal with stress are the same ones that are used for learning,” the article states.

It’s not uncommon for girls to end up in my office to take a break from an overwhelming situation. It’s the reason why my space feels a little more like a living room as opposed to a traditional office. Work needs to happen in this environment, on many levels, and those who enter need to feel comfortable enough to engage genuinely. Recently, a second grader was emotionally distracted from the academic work happening in her classroom and was sent to me to take a break. Below is an excerpt of the conversation we had and how SEL was essential in getting her back into the swing of her school day.

Background Info: The second grader was having an issue with a friendship triangle and was feeling left out. After explaining the problem using the book Two by Kathryn Otoshi, she went on to reflect on her own actions and did her best to think of solutions.

Girl: You see, Ms. Frank, SHE is such a good friend, and I know she’s branching out, and that I should too but it’s much harder for me.

Me: I can understand that. What do you like most about your friendship?

Girl: SHE is adventurous, kind, and really funny and I haven’t met many other girls just like her at Hamlin.

Me: I think I see a glimpse into the problem here. You’re looking for someone just like her and that doesn’t exist. She’s pretty unique right?

Girl: Yes, that’s true but I think she possesses many of the characteristics of a good friend.

Me: I can’t argue with that, but instead of looking for someone just like her, maybe we can think about people who possess some of the qualities you listed. Hamlin is filled with people like that and they are all waiting to connect with YOU.

Girl: Yeah, but I’m just really sad about our relationship changing.

Me: I’ve been there. Feeling like that is natural. I’m thinking we might need to use some of our tools to get us back on track.

Girl: Yeah, I think I’m going a little overboard with my feelings, but I’m just so sad about it. I used my quiet safe space tool yesterday and spent way too long in the bathroom.

Me: Well, I’m glad you’re thinking about the tools, but the ones that could be most useful now may be the garbage can tool and the apology and forgiveness tool.

The article goes onto say that “unless emotions are properly dealt with, they believe, children won’t be able to reach their full academic potential.”

The fifteen minutes it took to hear her out allowed me to gather that, while not completely resolved, she was well on her way to accomplishing the five goals of social emotional learning:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to reflect on one’s own feelings and thoughts. (“I know I’m going overboard, Ms. Frank but I’m just so sad about it.”)
  • Self-management (or self-control): The ability to control one’s own thoughts and behavior. (“I’m not sure what to do.”) This is where the teacher acts as guide and model. Using language and resources to allow the child to independently process her/his feelings and thoughts in the future.)
  • Social awareness: The ability to empathize with others, recognize social cues and adapt to various situations. (“You see, Ms. Frank, SHE is such a good friend, and I know she’s branching out, and that I should too, but it’s much harder for me.”)
  • Relationship skills: The ability to communicate, make friends, manage disagreements, recognize peer pressure, and cooperate. Through conversations with teachers, further engagement with the Toolbox curriculum, and resources like Kylie Cobb, our school counselor, she would work towards this goal and be able to recognize when she’s met success.
  • Responsible decision-making: The ability to make healthy choices about one’s own behavior while weighing consequences for others. So what did she do after meeting with me? She spoke with her classmate, shared her feelings, and listened intently to the feelings of her friend. At least for that day, she was able to move forward and engage in the other educational opportunities ahead of her.

Each girl walks through the doors of Hamlin knowing that she is going to be fully supported. While girls travel with their own baggage, our job is to make it a little lighter. We realize that our job is to educate girls for the challenges of their time, and the only way we can do this is to ensure that they have healthy minds and bodies.

Please read the full article attached to the title in the body of this post and feel free to share the “kid conversations” that happen in your home related to SEL. Connect with me at

What’s up around Lower School?

Kindergarten discusses skin color and who they are both inside and outside. Text used to guide conversation are:

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

Skin Again by Bell Hooks and Chris Rachka

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Grade 1 explores their neighborhood and community helpers via walks around Hamlin.

Grade 2 shares what they are looking for in a good friend.

Grade 3 learns about the continent of Africa and the diaspora through a trip to the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Grade 4 writes “I Am From” poems- inspired by Ms. Holland Greene

Listen to Lila Holt share her I Am From poem below.

Nicki Gaito and her grandmother wrote an I Am From poem together.

LS Coffee Reminder! 

Want to learn more about how your daughter learns best? Please join both Madeline Hancock and Amy Conger at an All-School Coffee on December 10th from 8:30-9:30am in the East Dining Room (EDR).

Check out the link to the video below from our last parent coffee: Growing From the STEM. Our parents had a great time and really engaged in the play…I mean work. 

Parents racing robots! (Click the word highlighted to see the video)