Defining Excellence: For Kids

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

In our previous blog post, we took a look at what it means to define excellence and work towards that excellence with thought and intention, and we continue that conversation this week, taking a deeper look into what excellence looks like at Einstein Academy.

For us, our guiding concept is “learning for life,” and we believe that school (and the learning that happens at school) is for something greater than memorizing facts or passing a test or getting to the next grade level; it’s so that our students are able to thrive in this world and contribute in a positive way. Learning for life involves four different areas: for kids, for families, for communities, for today and the future as we believe that the best way to achieve the excellence for which we strive is for these four areas to work together. We’ll start with “for kids.”

At Einstein Academy, we believe children are amazing, unique beings who should each be celebrated for whom they are, and our job is to help them become the best versions of themselves. As such, we inspire kids to grow through a joyful learning environment. We believe that students learn best when learning is fun and relevant, and we have three main strategies for achieving excellence for kids.

1. A highly differentiated program that personalizes learning for each individual student.

We believe that each student is different and should be treated as such. Students should not (and cannot) be defined by simple labels such as gifted, dyslexic, active, smart, in-need-of-support, disengaged, or artsy. Each student, on any given day, is a combination of these and so many other adjectives, so each of our students has a personalized learning profile to help us better understand who they are as learners. At the beginning of the year, students, teachers, and parents work together to compile this document which includes areas of strength (both academically and social-emotionally), challenges (both academically and social-emotionally), interests, learning preferences, “love language” (how students like appreciation and praise shown), specific goals, and a plan for how we will work together to support your student in becoming the best version of his/herself. We believe in teaching students, not curriculum, so these documents form the basis for relationship building and design of instruction, giving students voice in their learning and finding just the right balance of challenge and support to optimize their individual growth.

2. An emphasis on both social emotional and academic growth.

While academic growth will always be at the core of what we do, we value growth in the social emotional realm just as much, believing that the person a child becomes is just as important as what he can do or what she knows. As such, we focus on cultivating four different areas of growth within our students:

  • Self-awareness, which includes understanding one’s own feelings, motivations, and abilities and recognizing how they impact others.

  • Self-management, which includes thinking before speaking or acting and taking responsibility for one’s actions.

  • Social-awareness, which includes empathy and understanding the opinions, emotions, and reactions of others.

  • Relationship management, which includes conflict management and teamwork as well as how to navigate friendships and other relationships.

Our social emotional program is integrated with our academic program, cultivating growth of the whole child and giving space and opportunity for students to use their growth in one area to enhance their growth in another area.

3. A focus on building an excitement for learning.

We believe in creating lifelong learners who love coming to Einstein Academy each day. High academic standards and an engaging learning environment are not mutually exclusive. In fact, students learn more and retain more when they are engaged in their learning. Through personalizing the learning, allowing for student autonomy and choice, and creating a positive and supportive culture, we build and support that engaging learning environment that is highly conducive to learning.

As educators, we have our rubrics to measure and assess student growth. We know how to set our SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) and to use various assessments to glean specific data. We know how to align our curriculum to the standards and how to discreetly teach valuable 21st century skills. And we will.

But, ultimately, the true measure of excellence when it comes to kids is when they wake up excited to come to school each morning. When they dominate the dinnertime conversation sharing everything they learned during the day. When they want to borrow an iPad to continue researching a topic they were discussing in class. When they help a friend (or a stranger) because they know it's the right thing to do. When they feel seen and heard and recognized and appreciated and celebrated for just being themselves. For us, and for kids, that’s excellence.

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