Making Values into Actions
Crane School Embeds Active Learning
into an Updated Credo
By Leslie Dinaberg | November 10, 2022
Crane Country Day School is in its 95th year, but a lot of the core values of the school remain unchanged. Probably the thing that is the “most Crane-like,” says Head of School Joel Weiss, “is that it’s a school that believes in — the old way of talking about it used to be experiential learning — learning by doing, project-based learning, active learning.” The concept was first articulated by John Dewey, but Weiss sums it up as: “Kids learn best when they are actively engaged in the material. So it’s the diametric opposite of sitting passively in a class where somebody’s lecturing and you’re just taking notes.”
While keeping the same core value concepts (experiential, academics, creativity, community, character, and confidence), the school recently reworded its values so that they are also actionable. As Director of Marketing & Communications Kristen Peralta writes, “Making the school values active allows students, Staffulty (staff + faculty), parents, and board members to live by the values and talk about them daily. They are memorable and relatable for all ages, and they give purpose and direction for communicating with peers on the playground, managing a classroom, running a meeting, and planning for the future of the school. The values are now visually and verbally depicted around campus in a student-friendly, inclusive way.”
“A core value is intended to be both descriptive of where the school is today, but at the same time, hopefully rich enough that it’s aspirational,” explains Weiss. Here are a few examples of how the core values are embedded into the daily doings of the school.
Doing Deepens Discovery
The 7th-graders have a year-long QED (Quests, Explorations, Discoveries) project that provides them with the opportunity to choose something they’re really interested in, find a community mentor to work with on that topic, and set up an ongoing relationship, and at the end of the year they have a big celebration to present what they have learned.
“This is a very different thing where the kids really get to select something that they’re really passionate about. And it’s so much fun to watch it unfold, because it’s so powerful,” says Weiss.
“We equally value character development alongside academic development because we know who our students are is as important as what they know,” reads one of the value statements posted around the school.
Value Your Voice
“Crane has always been known as a school that kind of aggressively teaches public speaking,” says Weiss. That was part of the founding of the school, and today, students, starting from kindergarten, go up on stage by themselves, memorize a poem, and recite it to a full audience. “It’s quite an impressive thing with a 5-year-old.”
In their final year, “every 8th-grader is expected to lead an all-school assembly with everybody in the school — all the adults, all the visitors, it’s probably an audience of 300 to 350 people — and they do a 10-minute speech on something that they’re passionate about,” says Weiss. The speech is quite a rite of passage, he says. But what’s even more impressive is that after their speech, they field questions from the audience. “So it’s not only preparing, memorizing a speech, and delivering it well, but it’s being so well-versed on the topic that you can respond to questions on the fly.”
Put ‘We’ Before ‘Me’
“Our individual experiences wouldn’t be possible without the collective, and an inclusive culture is a shared responsibility,” reads one of the value statements. “Together, we ensure that every voice is heard, and that students and adults not only feel included, but that they express a strong sense of belonging as part of their experience in this community.”
Find Joy in the Pursuit
With so much emphasis on rigor these days, “I think there are some schools that would be embarrassed to say, ‘Oh, we’re a joyful place.’ But we like that,” says Weiss. “I go around as the Head and I see kids having fun and laughing and being silly and doing kid-centered things. And that it has a sense of fun and lightness and playfulness. To me, that’s good teaching, not something to be embarrassed about.”
At the same time, he says, “with the right teacher, a teacher can take something that is hard and bring a lightness to it.” He continues, “To make sure an elementary school is using words like ‘joy’ … I think our world could use more joy. And especially this generation of kids who, for the last two or three years of their life, had so much that has been taken away from them.”