Liz Buchan, Head of Lower School

This year’s school-wide theme is Share Stories. Sharing stories, and the connectedness that comes with that, plays a significant role in our community and in learning.

To kick off our theme, we gathered as a whole Lower School on the first day of school—170 students and faculty. We talked about how we are all connected. If one of us is having a great day, our collective happiness is higher. And if one of us is having a rough time or feeling excluded, we are, as a group, just a little bit more sad. If one of us needs help with a concept in class, we all benefit from asking or answering each other’s questions. We need each other. We need to pick each other up and celebrate each other’s successes. At Tower—we are all known and needed.

We promote connectedness throughout our program, and recognize when it happens spontaneously each day. Here's how we experienced connectedness in week one of the school year:

  • Connectedness is woven explicitly into a program we created for 4th and 5th graders, called ServeUp, which promotes character education, problem solving and service learning while enhancing the social studies curriculum. ServeUp’s tagline, not co-incidentally, is Lead. Connect. Grow. The first ServeUp class of the year began with a raucous team building session. Students were challenged to stand in a circle and hold up wooden blocks, together, using only their pointer fingers. They needed to push with equal force, to keep all blocks off of the floor, all the way around the circle. Then they even had to carefully shuffle their bodies and move in a circle without dropping the blocks. They had to sense each other’s movements and be aware of each other. They needed each other to succeed. Literal and figurative connectedness.
  • I observed a spontaneous example of connectedness on the second day of school when a hesitant 1st grader stood at the top of the new playground structure, willing himself to take the risk and jump into the soft pile of woodchips below. A 1st grade friend looked up at him and called, “3! 2! 1! JUMP!” Our hesitant friend was inspired by the counting to JUMP—he did it! And exclaimed with glee, “I don’t know, he just started counting, and then he got to 1, and I just JUMPED. I did it!” And then he embraced the challenging task that had scared him just a few minutes earlier, by jumping again and again.

Connectedness. We pick each other up. We know each other, and we need each other. This year’s theme will remind us of the importance of connectedness throughout the year.

This all makes us feel good, to be sure, but it’s much more than that. One of my favorite summer reads is Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Coyle writes about the power of stories and connectedness that allow people to establish a link that drives engagement and success. He writes, 

“We tend to use the word story casually, as if stories and narratives were ephemeral decorations for some unchanging underlying reality. The deeper neurological truth is that stories do not cloak reality, but create it, triggering cascades of perception and motivation. The proof is in the brain scans: When we hear a fact, a few isolated areas of our brain light up, translating words and meanings. When we hear a story, however, our brain lights up like Las Vegas, tracing the chains of cause, effect, and meaning. Stories are not just stories; they are the best invention ever created for delivering mental models that drive behavior.”

In other words, stories drive positive and successful behavior. 

This is why we do this at Tower, why we stress connectedness and social skills. It lights up those brains and creates meaning for children across all disciplines and in all parts of their learning. 

These skills will serve them for the rest of their lives.

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