News from St. Luke’s School in New York City

Dr. Robert Greenleaf Inspires Faculty
For one of the in-house professional development opportunities this year, Robert Greenleaf spent the day at St. Luke’s School.  He has worked on educational issues in schools around the country on how to encourage all learners to participate more in the learning process and increase connections for memory retention and improved recall. Dr. Greenleaf specializes in educational strategies for understanding behaviors, building esteem and achievement, and brain-based learning. He is the author of seven books and many articles. Before Dr. Greenleaf visited us at St. Luke’s School, the faculty read Brain-Based Teaching:  Making Connections for Long-Term Memory and Recall over the summer, and then read a few chapters in Nine Most Effective Instructional Strategies for Student Achievement in which he defines brain-based instruction as education that is respectful of the brain’s natural learning systems: how the brain receives, processes, interprets, connects, stores, and retrieves messages. His workshop for the St. Luke’s School faculty included brain-based learning and retention with attention to current research and practical applications in the classroom.  Robert Greenleaf was formerly a professional development specialist at the Education Alliance at Brown University. Having taught in all grades K-12, he has 20 years experience in public education ranging from superintendent of schools to assistant superintendent of schools, elementary school principal, teaching principal, teacher, and special education assistant. He served as adjunct professor at Thomas College in Maine.

Faculty participated enthusiastically in this workshop with Bob Greenleaf and took pleasure in working with a consultant who spoke from classroom experience, mindful of a group of teachers who work with students ranging in age from young children to teens.   He probed teachers to consider, “Who is doing the work?”  He also remarked, “He/she who does the work (thinking), learns.”   In talking about long-term recall, he stressed that this function depends on the emotional learning system that needs to be relevant to the learner in terms of personal meaning, context, or purpose.  He reminded faculty about the response “wait time” that is so vital after posing a question to students and suggested that teachers intermittently request two responses from students to keep the rest of the children engaged.  He also encouraged bimodal approaches to learning that include visual elements along with text.

 In one exercise, faculty were divided into groups and asked to think about a fairy tale. The first group had to retell the fairy tale without using the same word twice. The second group was instructed that when they used an adjective to describe something, they had to use a string of three adjectives. The third group was not allowed to use any verbs in their rendition of their chosen fairy tale.  As we told our stories, it became clear that the process of writing with these restrictions mattered and not the resulting fairy tales. Through this exercise, the first group had learned about word choice and synonyms. If we had simply discussed the definition of a synonym, it would not have taught us in the same way. Yet, by telling a story and having to use different words for the same thing, we came to a better understanding of the concept of synonyms. The second group thought about their characters in a multi-dimensional, descriptive way because they had to use so many different adjectives. The third group, by not using any verbs, learned how to establish chronology as well as isolate the main, concrete ideas of their story. We were doing the work instead of the teacher. As Dr. Greenleaf reinforced with us, “whoever does the work does the learning.”  Dr. Greenleaf reiterated that when meaning is learned through process it stays in the memory.

 Having been so positively received in the day-long workshop, and having faculty work successfully with so many of his suggestions, Bob Greenleaf returned to St. Luke’s School again in the spring for a day of working with individual teachers on classroom strategies.  Learning for St. Luke’s students was enriched by having this outstanding consultant spend time with faculty here and his encouragement of  ideas drawn from research on the brain is successfully being incorporated into teaching at St. Luke’s School.