“It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” sang panel moderator Greg Behr to the audience at a Thought Leader session on Thursday. They answered back with the call-and-response chorus, “A beautiful day for a neighborhood.”
Fred Rogers’ television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” brought a smiling, gentle friend to children who shared child-friendly information, songs and more to entertain and teach them.
During a panel discussion, Behr, executive director of the Grable Foundation of Pittsburgh, Pa., shared his admiration for Rogers, and relayed some of the insights from a book he co-authored, When You Wonder, You're Learning: Mister Rogers' Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids. In what Behr described as the “Fred Method,” he painted a picture of school leaders who follow in Rogers’ footsteps by focusing on insights from thinkers, scientists and teachers.
“Essentially, learning sciences plus the whole child equals the Fred Method,” Behr explained.
Other panelists then explored the science behind children’s development and strategies of family and community engagement.
Ellen Galinsky, chief science officer of Mind in the Making and executive director of Bezos Family Foundation, summarized years of research about executive functioning skills in children and how it applies to school readiness and positive outcomes for society.
Key takeaways included discussion of the growth mindset and how children benefit from identifying obstacles and creating strategies to overcome them.
Curiosity is vital to the learning process, Galinsky said. Educators should allow children to pretend or assume alternate roles when problem solving. And when mistakes or successes occur, children should be allowed to explore why they were right or wrong.
Andre Spencer, superintendent to Manor Independent School District, located near Austin, Texas, plans to launch a campaign where each school will partner with a local tech company to gain alternate pathways for students to pursue college and careers. He hopes students will design something new when they return to the classroom.
“If students are visiting Tesla, I don’t want students to think about the car that drives itself, I want them to ask themselves if we could create a self-driving vehicle that replaces the traditional school bus,” Spencer said.
In Pennsylvania, Butler Area School District has focused on building relationships with community members to re-establish trust after a prior superintendent failed to share water testing results.
Superintendent Brian J. White has held more than 20 listening sessions with Butler parents. The most important thing he learned was parents mostly just “wanted their children to enjoy coming to school every day.” He also started a new stakeholder committee to keep board members and himself connected to the people they serve.
Grounding practice in firm scientific research about how children learn, forming innovative partnerships to build buy-in, and reinvesting in community relationships will help lead an important conversation in engaging families in the learning process.
“Like all great teachers, Fred Rogers used what he knew to captivate and enchant us,” Behr said in closing. At its core, a deep analysis of Rogers’ message of how to succeed at being human is engagement.
(Kate Crowder is a reporter for Conference Daily Online and communications director in Germantown Municipal School District, Germantown, Tenn.. She is the Tennessee School Public Relations Association president.)