This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing to use this website, you consent to our use of these cookies.

A Balanced Perspective: Acknowledging Our Role in Education

By Marti Champion, Head of Middle School and Tara Lavizzo, Middle School Counselor
Graland’s partnership with Challenge Success, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, began in August 2021, when we, like the rest of the world, were looking forward to getting back to life as we knew it. In recent years, purpose has become the cornerstone of our work, where Georgia Nelson’s vision of “live the learning” has had to be amplified. We had to go back to basics, focusing on the whole child and the “development of the body, mind, and spirit as a whole.”
Challenge Success partners with schools and families across the nation to provide practical, research-based tools and strategies to support a more balanced and fulfilling life for all students. This organization’s mission was and continues to be a nice complement to our work with World Leadership School, a Boulder-based organization dedicated to bringing greater purpose to learning. It was with purpose that the Middle School took a deeper look at Graland’s practices by hearing from our students, parents, guardians, and faculty. The pandemic highlighted the growing mental health crisis among adolescents and teenagers, so there was a lot to examine. In October 2021, students, parents, and faculty participated in a Challenge Success survey to collect data about time and schedule, motivation, assessment, school climate, anxiety, learning conditions, and the overall experience of being a Middle School student at Graland. For the past two and a half years, we’ve been paying even closer attention to our role in student wellness and wellbeing. The survey results shared that students felt connected to and supported by faculty, with many noting they had an adult at school they could go to if they had a personal problem. Knowing that the majority of students in the Middle School felt supported, we mined the data to find ways we could move the needle to increase the wellbeing of students who reported an imbalance in their lives based on time allocated to school, homework, and extracurriculars.

“Graland teaches its students that innovation can transform lives and challenges them to be creative problem solvers.” This is the first line of one of Graland’s guiding principles, Stimulate Innovation. As leaders in the school, we used the survey data to innovate by creating pilots to respond to the feedback we received. Our first pilot was Quiet Week, which has been met with success over the past two years. Born from the pandemic’s pervasive technology usage and social isolation, Quiet Week emerged from a collective desire within the Graland community to reclaim the social interconnectedness and more balanced technology usage of pre-pandemic times. Recognizing this yearning, we sought to find an intentional practice that could address these needs. Quiet Week was created with the aim of offering our community a chance to detach from screens, engage in meaningful face-to-face interactions, and acquire vital skills for managing stress in healthier ways. Students across various grade levels appreciated the innovative approaches teachers used to facilitate reflection, mindfulness, and other essential practices. Our primary focus during this week was on playtime, downtime, and family time (PDF). Through ongoing efforts and adaptations, we hope to continually improve our approach to Quiet Week, ensuring that its benefits have a measurable impact on our student body and beyond. Using tools like the Time Activity Wheel can help all of us work together to achieve more balance in the lives of our children.

Our second pilot focused on the major sources of stress students identified, specifically tests, quizzes, and major projects. Everyone surveyed noted that while they recognize that assessments are an integral part of measuring student growth, there were times when the lack of coordination among faculty increased the level of stress. At the start of the 2023-24 school year, we introduced a pilot of the project/test calendar. This pilot allowed us to leverage our Learning Management System (LMS) to create grade-level calendars dedicated to communicating with students, parents, guardians, and faculty about the major assessments any one student might experience in one week. Because this calendar was on the LMS, it also gave students and their families access to their Graland athletic competitions, providing a fuller picture of their day and week ahead. We surveyed our Middle School community (parents, guardians, and faculty) shortly after the project/test calendar launch and learned a great deal about the calendar’s impact and areas for improvement. Although this was a new habit for our seasoned faculty and students, we learned that we could do a better job of reminding everyone to use the calendar, posting projects and tests, and referencing it as a resource. 

Finally, we are in the process of unpacking the Growth Purpose Statement shared in the article “Making Sense of the Grade in the Middle School” in the fall 2018 issue of “Graland Today”. “The primary purpose of grading at Graland is to empower students to better understand, articulate, and take responsibility for their progression toward mastering learning objectives. The secondary purpose is to communicate that same learning growth to parents.” Right, wrong or indifferent, letter grades are important. As educators focused on the wellbeing of our students, we recognize the impact grades have on student welfare. 

This fixation is simply unhealthy and impacts student learning - checking the boxes only to get the grade rather than learning the material. With the support of Challenge Success and World Leadership School, faculty have been working to create a purposeful statement that clearly communicates the process of learning and the importance of skill growth that provides more informative data than a letter grade. Although students in Grades 6-8 will continue to receive letter grades, our focus on growth and practices to communicate and celebrate that growth will reflect the importance we place on the overall wellness of our students. An updated statement and our practices to support this statement will be shared in the 2024-25 school year. 

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.