Posts Tagged Melinda Tsapatsaris

Happiness Club! Thanks for Hosting :-)

Hardwiring Happiness PicOur community is about learning. That means opportunities to think and grow are consistently offered for Wildwood students, faculty, and parents. This past week, I enjoyed engaging with over two dozen Wildwood parents who took part in Book Club discussions on both campuses. The seasonal gatherings are sponsored by Wildwood’s Parent Education Committee. This session’s read: Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson.

Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist whose work addresses the brain science of happiness. Too often, peoples’ thinking is clouded by fears and worries, according to Hanson. He believes that our brain’s capacity to establish new neural pathways, called neuroplasticity, can allow for less anxious thinking. His book provides concrete strategies to help people firmly establish new, more productive ways of thinking.

In co-facilitating these discussions with my colleague, Melinda Tsapatsaris, Wildwood’s Assistant Head of School, we opened by asking parents to think of and share a recent positive experience. Most related meaningful interactions with children or a partner—experiences that made them smile, feel appreciated, or loved.

Next we asked the assembled parents to apply some of Hanson’s theory—to extend their thinking: enrich the experience—fill the brain with thoughts of it for at least 10 to 15 seconds and recognize its importance—and absorb it—visualize the experience settling in and soothing the mind and body.

I enjoyed sharing Dr. Hanson’s thesis in Hardwiring Happiness because I found it much more than a simplistic treatise on the power of positive thinking. Rather, he argues—with a wealth of evolutionary and scientific research in support—that taking these additional cognitive steps can help us re-configure our neurons, and actually make us happier.

After enriching and absorbing their positive experiences, as Hanson advises, Melinda and I led the group through a discussion protocol we call “Block Party”. Each parent chooses a card printed with a salient quote from the book. After reading the quote and making a personal connection to it, each person seeks out a partner in the room. The partners share their quotes, describe their significance, and identify connections.

Enhancing Happiness Takeaways: Parents and teachers can help kids’ brains develop a propensity for happiness—much the same way developing a penchant for math or reading. For adults—it’s never too late to change our own, more mature brains for the better.

At Wildwood these practices are exercised daily.  Our students are continually asked to forge and nurture meaningful connections—both to the content they are learning and to one another.  Our seasonal Book Club gives parents that same opportunity to connect with ideas and individuals.  Deep insights and real relationships: the heart and the brain of a Wildwood education.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Pitch Fest, Wildwood Style


Final Draft LogoYou know, it’s kind of like Meet the Parents meets March of the Penguins.

I bet you figured my elevator pitch was a joke.

But here in LA, the creative work of adapting literature for the screen is no joke, it’s big business.

So the Literature to Film class here at Wildwood upper school is quite popular, and the work is real.

The dilemmas are authentic: the student writers and filmmakers are looking for creative partners whose style and sensibilities match well.

On the day I visit, writers Morgan V. and Brandon B. pitch their script based on Ray Bradbury’s science fiction tale, All Summer in a Day, to a jury of peers who will hear from five teams all hoping to have their script produced by the Digital Film students in arts teacher Laura Forsythe’s class.

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

The filmmakers have a lot of questions about the Bradbury script. Some seem dubious about taking on an adaptation set on the planet Venus. Morgan touts the script’s inherent relatability to viewers. “It’s set in a school, with teenage characters from Earth,” and he adds, “with teenage issues.” The story’s main character, Morgan describes, “faces an internal conflict about getting revenge on peers that have tormented her.” The filmmakers now see the possibilities.

The scripts are a culminating project for Emma Katznelson and Melinda Tsapatsaris’s students, who have been working for several weeks to adapt favorite short stories and books.  For Laura’s film students, the process and project will be a genuine test of their skills and creativity as they connect their own visions with the screenwriters’ creating finished products that will  “premiere” just before Spring Break.

Everett D. (center) and other filmmakers assess their peers' pitches

James D. (center-right) and other filmmakers assess their peers’ pitches

Kaiya K., Georgia P., and Quinn M. pitch their script—an adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman first published in 1892. “Would you be open to a more contemporary setting?” one of the filmmakers asks.  “I think we’re ok with it,” Kaiya responds, “as long as it stays true to the story.”

The filmmakers take in the other pitches, each posing its unique challenges and opportunities.  Mason A. and Clay K. describe their adaptation of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the eponymous short story in a 1982 collection by Raymond Carver, which is dialogue-heavy. “What kind of action do you imagine?” they’re asked. Mason relays their vision of lots of flashbacks and voice-overs, and the filmmakers nod their assent.

xxx, Sarah Bales, xxx, and Benji (l to r) make the case for their script

Lucy A., Sarah B., Sophie L., and Benny L. (l to r) make the case for their script

Other offerings range from the lighthearted, like Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, to dark comedy, with David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Across the genres, this collaborative learning experience is realistic— mirroring the real work and meaningful learning that students will do in college and beyond.

This type of story to screen project prompts students to develop some specific skills in the Habits of Mind: Perspective, which the writers develop through their adaptations and Connection, as the filmmakers seek to merge the writers’ visions with their own, to create something new, and ideally fresh.

Which brings us back to my idea about Meet the Parents.

JK. I don’t have a screenplay….


~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Parents step up and think big

Last night, Wildwood held its State of the School meeting for parents and members of the school community. It was an opportunity for Head of School Landis Green and Board Chair Cynthia Berkshire to address the school’s financial health (rock solid); our current enrollment (healthy and strong); and to look ahead to future goals.

Prior to the meeting, parents were invited to take an online survey that asked, among other things, in what areas they wanted to see Wildwood recognized as a leader. At least night’s event, the nearly 100 attendees were asked to revisit this question in a uniquely Wildwood way: through a protocol.

Before I came to Wildwood, I would never have put the term “protocol” in the same sentence as “classroom.” In fact, here’s one definition of protocol I found on Merriam-Webster:

  • a : a code prescribing strict adherence to correct etiquette and precedence (as in diplomatic exchange and in the military services) <a breach of protocol>

At Wildwood, protocols are “structured ways to work and communicate to promote growth” – a definition that was given to parents courtesy of Assistant Head of School Melinda Tsapatsaris. Following Cynthia and Landis’ presentation, Melinda explained to parents that they would be dismissed to separate classrooms, where they would meet with a facilitator and use a protocol to hammer out a response to this question: “What does being a leader in (math/science, athletics, college placement/technology, etc.) look like for Wildwood?”

I had the privilege of facilitating the eight-member group that considered Wildwood as a leader in math and science. They were parents of elementary and middle school students, and one was a parent of an alum. They represented a broad swath of professions and interests, but they all shared a keen interest in the topic and the (very Wildwoodian) desire to dig deeply into the topic and consider it from all angles. They were ready to Think Big.

So back to this idea of a protocol. Our assignment wasn’t simply to have a free-for-all discussion. A protocol has a clearly defined set of parameters that are meant to guide our thinking. In this case, we started out with a short writing assignment, where everyone was asked to write down three answers to the question. Obviously, this was a very individualized activity.

The next step was to share their written responses with a partner and narrow their ideas to two responses. We went from the lone thinker to double brain strength. The conversations were lively as each pair collaborated to come up with their answers.

The final activity was a focused group discussion, with an end-goal of producing three responses to the question that we would then report out to the larger audience.

It was a dynamic conversation. The group ended up agreeing that being a leader in math and science would mean having nationally recognized math and science teachers; establishing partnerships with universities, research institutions, and corporations such as JPL and Caltech; and being acknowledged by national institutions and education leaders for our work in math and science.

As interesting and relevant as these outcomes were, I was equally fascinated by watching this group of parents go through the protocol process. They were tackling a concept in the same way their kids do almost every day: through a structured process that deliberately moved them from different levels of thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving. The final outcome was a solid set of ideas that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the strategic planning work that the school will be undertaking in the coming years.

The last part of our protocol was to reflect on the process we’d just undertaken. The group unanimously agreed that it was a great experience. They also wished for more time. “We only got to talk as a group for five minutes,” said one mom. I smiled. Actually, they had debated for a full 20 minutes.

Time flies when you’re thinking big.



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