In March, Wilton Youth Council, Wilton SEPTA and the Wilton Public School PTAs sponsored an informative, interactive two-part book discussion and workshop to discuss the bestselling author, Katie Novak‘s book, Let Them Thrive: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Succeed in School and in Life.
For the series, several parents, community members and Wilton Public Schools Board of Education members met with Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, WPS Director of Digital Learning Fran Kompar, Wilton High School Assistant Principal Dr. Amy Korn, and Cider Mill School Assistant Principal Dr. Jeremy Cross.
Katie Novak, EdD is an internationally recognized expert and practicing leader in education who has authored several best-selling books on evidence-based, inclusive practices for helping all students succeed.
Novak provides practical strategies for helping children become self-navigating, expert learners, which is a key aspect of the Wilton Public Schools Portrait of a Graduate initiative.
According to Novak, an “expert learner” is someone who is motivated to continuously improve and develop his or her skills while working towards a meaningful, relevant goal in a personalized way. Expert learners don’t necessarily start with the highest level of ability or knowledge, but they never give up and work hard to reach their goals when provided with a motivating environment that values the process of learning more than the mastery of specific knowledge.
Kompar was one of the facilitators and organizers of the programming.
“Katie Novak focuses this book and many others she has penned, on the principles of brain science and the importance of universally-designed classrooms and homes. Parents were able to share their experiences and strategies and relate them back to the book’s takeaways.”
The presentation and discussion also explored the key components needed to cultivate expert learners. It also explained the science behind the learning brain and how just like fingerprints, no two brains are alike, which is in essence the definition of Learner Variability, the fundamental premise of Universal Design for Learning:
“Every learner is unique and has different strengths and challenges, but one size fits all approach to learning does not account for those variations. Understanding a child’s strengths, interests, challenges, and learning needs helps to support them in their learning.”
The book, Let Them Thrive explores these concepts as well as additional components that are rooted in science-based learning, such as “Growth Mindset” and “Voice and Choice”. Growth Mindset is one where a child is encouraged to believe that they can improve their abilities through effort and perseverance. Voice and Choice is creating opportunities to support a child’s learning by creating a positive environment that fosters exploration, curiosity, and creativity; and being mindful of potential barriers in learning and home environments that may unintentionally thwart a child’s access and opportunity to be curious and open to learning.
The participants in the workshop noted that the atmosphere was warm and inviting as they had the opportunity to discuss and see these concepts come to life within the workshop.
The response to both the Let Them Thrive webinar and book discussion was overwhelmingly positive.
“It was refreshing to hear the administration talk about learner variability and brain science,” parent participant Margret Greene said. “Not only is Wilton being proactive but mindful of all our students’ needs, while upholding rigorous standards. Kids are all different and we need to support all our students.”
Another parent who attended the book discussion call the topic “relevant to our times,” and added, “The presentation and the facilitators made the discussion engaging for us.”
Parent Beth DiLullo had several key takeaways.
“I learned that Universal Design for Learning is about removing barriers and providing students choice in the learning process. Choice frees a child’s mind to think deeply about their values, interests and how they see the world. Choice promotes freedom of expression and opens doors of the mind to many, many possibilities. Personal choice in education creates a natural engagement, motivation, and desire — the aspects of the flow state or “being in the zone”. This is key for all students to access learning.”
As the lead facilitators, Korn and Cross enthusiastically presented to the group. Parents were able to obtain valuable insights into how the concept of cultivating expert learners is beginning to take shape within Wilton schools.
“It was a great opportunity and a lot of fun discussing the UDL principles with our parent community. I think parents appreciated how easy it is to begin to use the UDL framework at home to support their children. The research I conducted for my doctoral dissertation showed that UDL increases joy in both teaching and learning. Without a doubt, it will do the same for the home environment.” Cross said.
Dr. Amy Korn also valued the opportunity to present directly to parents.
“I greatly enjoyed our book discussion around the Let Them Thrive by Katie Novak with parents from all grade levels and hearing both their insights and perspective on how we can best support all students. This is something I am very invested in as we seek to develop self-navigating expert learners through a universally designed classroom that all students can access. During my doctoral studies, I became particularly invested in this approach so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to not only share some insights but to learn alongside our parent community which as an assistant principal is a rare opportunity. I hope that our school community will continue to support this and that more parents will get involved and invested in this important conversation to partner with the schools as we seek to grow our students collaboratively to ultimately make the world a better place,” she said.
Smith appreciated the effort to bring this programming to the school community.
“The Wilton education community is strong because of its rich partnerships with parent organizations. The Let Them Thrive workshop sponsored by Wilton SEPTA, Wilton Youth Council, and each of the school PTAs enabled participants to take a deeper look at the neuroscience behind practice and strategies that truly set all students up for lifelong success. These opportunities to meet and dialogue are invaluable and I look forward to more,” he said.
Access to the recorded Let Them Thrive webinar from March 9 can be viewed on the Wilton Youth Council website. More information about Universal Design for Learning is available online.