J.R. Neiswender | December 14 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear Upper School Families,

In Upper Schools all around the country, the three weeks between Thanksgiving break and the winter holidays are filled with community service projects, class activities, club meetings, and basketball games.  This bustling activity is no different here at TNS.  In addition to these community-building events, the month of December also brings the final projects, tests, and assessments that wrap up our academic semester.  Our students are working diligently and taking on these challenges, and the work they have put in all semester long is coming to fruition over these closing days.

Our Upper School students have heard me say on multiple occasions throughout this year that “grades are a form of feedback”.  Our teachers have put tremendous time and energy into designing assessments that not only reflect the content and skills that are learned throughout the term in each course, but that also provide feedback to students on how well they have approached this material and to what degree their individual efforts have met the challenges presented to them.  Not all courses are created equal, not all assessments are created equal, and not all students are created equal.  And that’s OK.  Sometimes a culminating assessment may be a traditional “sit-down” test.  Sometimes it may be a performance-based project.  Sometimes it is something completely different altogether.  Our teachers do an outstanding job of matching these assessments to the goals and priorities that they set out at the beginning of the year, and students are able to test themselves against these metrics to determine what they have mastered, and on what they need to continue to improve as the second semester approaches in January.  And that’s an important lesson for each student to learn as well - improvement is possible for each and every individual, and the feedback they have received throughout the term offers opportunities to self-assess and determine what are the best next steps in each student’s learning journey.  

So what does this “feedback” tell them?  For some students they will see grades of which they will be justifiably proud, and it will mean a validation of the excellent study habits they have formed, the efficient use of study time in which they have engaged, and the work they have put in throughout the semester, both in and out of the classroom.  For these students, the challenge is to not get complacent as we approach the second semester.  These students should be asking themselves, how can I challenge myself further?  How can I take on a more demanding project in class, rather than the one I know I can ‘ace’ easily?  How can I deepen my learning and expand upon those skills and abilities I have already mastered to continue to make myself a more complete student in the semester ahead in every one of my classes?

For others, this feedback may bring disappointment about opportunities missed.  But that disappointment is a learning experience unto itself.  We want our students to think about how they will respond to setbacks.  Will they choose to redouble their efforts?  Will they take full advantage of the study hall time built into each day?  Will they seek out their teachers for extra help in courses in which they are struggling?  Will they utilize their advisors as resources to make the strides of which we know they are capable?  

These opportunities exist in each class for each student, and the new semester provides chances for each student to renew their commitment to their own academic success.  And while we often speak about the importance of student ownership of their learning process, it is important to note that it does NOT mean we as faculty and administrators are leaving these students “alone” in this endeavor.  Each and every adult in the upper school is committed to aiding our students in becoming the best students they can be.  There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t personally witness our teachers using their planning periods to meet with students to prepare for tests, to work with students on essay revisions, or to have a discussion about better ways to approach material for problem sets and homework.  Our teachers are committed to empowering our students to develop the skills and ability to be academically successful, for the course they are in this year and for the subsequent courses they will take in years to come.  All our students need to do is balance that commitment with dedication of their own.  I am proud to see these connections between our students and our faculty each and every day.

We thank you, as always, for your commitment to The New School and for sharing your children with us.  We hope that you and your family remain safe and healthy over the winter break and enjoy the time together.  See you in 2021!

With Cougar Pride and Gratitude,

J.R. Neiswender

Head of Upper School    

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