New year, exciting new beginnings: Dwight Middle School came into its own this fall by becoming its own division under the direction of Ron Posner. He came to Dwight in 2011 first as a fifth grade teacher and later became Associate Head of the Lower School before assuming this new role. We sat down with Mr. Posner to learn about his exciting new role and what's in store for the Middle School.
What makes Dwight's Middle School special?
The students, first and foremost! Their energy and excitement about learning is evident every day. Our teachers also make the Middle School special. We have an experienced and energetic team, who knows the IB Middle Years Program very well and makes important and insightful connections to different parts of the curriculum within different subjects.
What are some exciting plans for the Middle School this academic year?
We have a few new initiatives that we're undertaking. I'm a really big proponent of encouraging students to be active. There's a lot of research that shows that physical exercise or activity stimulates the brain, helps memory, and enhances concentration. So we've started a program for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders within recess called Intramurals. Every four to six weeks, we'll have a different organized sport or event. Students who want to participate will join teams and compete. We'll keep standings as we go and at the end of each unit, there will be a championship game and we'll award the Bentley House Cup to the winning team. The only rule is: If you join a team you have to stick to it through that unit to promote commitment and being a good teammate.
We're also introducing a few new software programs to promote learning. One is called TenMarks and it's an adaptive-learning math program. Teachers can assign individual content to students, who can self-pace their learning. The program assesses their understanding and then moves them forward, or can remediate if they're having challenges. It also appeals to a wide range of learners. There's a video component for those who are more visual and written instructions, so they can follow along.
We also have new vocabulary software called Worldly Wise 3000. It's a research-based program that takes all the high-frequency words within a grade level and puts them in vocabulary lists. Teachers assign different lists to each student to enhance their reading comprehension through an individualized approach, which is very much in keeping with Dwight's commitment to personalized learning.
We're also enhancing our morning meetings to be more student-driven. We share student work and performances, or do an interactive activity for greater community-building.
What are some milestones the students achieve in Middle School?
This year, we're excited that seventh graders will have the opportunity to go to Dwight School Seoul for an exchange program. The goal is for students to experience another culture, to work collaboratively with students there, and to build what we hope will be long-lasting friendships. Another significant milestone in seventh grade is that this is the first year students can participate on our athletic teams.
Our 1:1 laptop program is also a great addition. Grade 6 began this year with iPads and grade 7 has laptops. This is the first year that we're extending this program all the way to grade 12. It allows students to access another component of technology and affords them additional ways to demonstrate their understanding.
When students get to eighth grade, they have their first opportunity to start leading the Middle School by running sections of student advisory and participating in student council. They also go to Washington, D.C., at the end of October where they will meet with a lobbyist and a member of Congress. All in all, Middle School students have so much to look forward to!
Can you tell us about the new Middle School leadership program?
I teach this program with Shelby Korman, Associate Head of Middle School and MYP Coordinator. In grade 6, the focus is on looking at oneself and identifying leadership characteristics in oneself and others. We identify famous leaders and what makes them successful. In seventh grade, we examine the relationships that are built through leadership; and in eighth grade, it's all about service. The goal of this program is to develop Dwight students into innovative global leaders of tomorrow.
What do you envision for the Middle School in the future?
This touches on my philosophy for what I want students to get every day. If students are happy, excited, and engaged, you can see great things in the classroom. I want every student to understand why they're learning something and how it will help them in their life. I want their passions to come to the forefront of their education, and for them to feel the freedom and creativity to explore different avenues and ultimately, to tackle challenges around the world.
What are some of your fondest memories of Middle School?
It was so long ago! I was really into sports. I have two older brothers, so I was always playing sports with older kids and it was very competitive. Many of my school-based memories are of being on a sports team.
What is your personal spark of genius?
Sports and math. Growing up, I played both competitive soccer and basketball for almost 20 years. And I always loved math; numbers made sense and always engaged me. I tend to think mathematically.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher?
No, but when I was in high school, I was part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. When I was a senior, I went to elementary schools once or twice a week and worked with third and fourth graders. I would go into a classroom and read with a student or help with their work. I always liked kids.
When I graduated from college, I started working in business but I didn't think I wanted to do it forever. That's when I decided to get a masters degree in childhood education at night — and I dove headfirst into teaching. My mom, aunt, and uncle were teachers, so there is a family lineage of sorts!
I've been teaching for a while now and working in a school is amazing. There is never a moment in the day that feels slow.
Can you tell us about your personal philosophy of teaching?
One of the most important things for me is building relationships and trust with people. Something I think that goes hand in hand with that is recognizing that every learner in the classroom is different. Each student has different needs and different strengths and I think that understanding those and adapting to them all is critical. It's important to give students the opportunity to be themselves, to understand themselves, and to value that understanding and the work that they're producing.
I think all of us at Dwight do a great job of that.
I'm also a firm believer in the idea that the faculty member is not the only teacher in the classroom. So students should be taking on leadership roles at times. When the teacher acts as a facilitator, students can feel empowered to share their learning in different ways and to tackle issues in the classroom and around the world.
What would you like people to know about Dwight's Middle School that they don't already know?
I say, come see it in action! I think that people who take the opportunity to do so would sing our praises.