Mission & Philosophy
Black Pine Circle’s mission is to create a learning community that encourages humanity, empathy, moral depth, cultural understanding, and freedom in intellectual pursuits.
Educationally, it is our goal to create intellectually vibrant people, independent thinkers, who will never lose their passion for learning, their delight in research and their involvement in cultural pursuits.
Black Pine Circle School’s teaching philosophy is best described as Socratic. This is a system of learning based on inquiry, questioning, exploration and discovery. This student-centered drawing out of ideas minimizes competitiveness and makes learning personally relevant, motivating students to acquire knowledge and skills for their own sake. By researching in depth the hypotheses they have themselves derived, they will “own” the knowledge they receive and retain it for a lifetime, especially when it is reinforced by an interdisciplinary focus which integrates academics with music, drama and the visual arts.
Socially, it is our goal to instill mutual respect, compassion and tolerance among our students. Our staff is dedicated to creating a supportive structure and a warm, loving atmosphere in which children can safely address problems and grow in their understanding of themselves and others.
The ideal Black Pine Circle student will be maximally free of all the “isms” which pervade most aspects of the world around them: from racism to sexism to the less obvious forms of discrimination. They will have a strong aversion to injustice, plus the awareness to identify the hidden signs of prejudice and the mental and spiritual strength to resist their influence.
OUR CORE VALUES
Four words are used to describe ideas that are important to everyone who spends their days at Black Pine Circle School.
We know that our most essential duty as educators is to protect, nurture and inspire the curiosity that is inherent in young children.
We also believe that we are charged with helping young people understand their role in the small community that is their classroom at Black Pine Circle School, their larger communities (clubs neighborhoods, etc) and the world community. Our curriculum and school mission reflect this commitment to community.
The process of education is about learning how to form questions. Too many Independent Schools today are overemphasizing what it means to be “a strong student” in comparison to “a strong learner.” Specifically in a K-8 environment, our mandate is to ignite the fires of life-long learning, rather than creating an assembly line that leads to the next top-ranked high school. Do not misunderstand. It is important to send students on to the best high schools, however, this is an important by-product of providing them with enthusiasm, industry, and love for learning; not the goal of scholarship, itself.
In his seminal 1959 work on inquiry and learning, Jerome Bruner warns that “curriculum alone cannot entirely solve the pedagogical problem. How shall we instill the necessary attitudes in the students, attitudes which are as much a part of understanding as the facts and structures?” Key content knowledge is essential, but should not take precedent over instilling intrinsic motivation in learners. This is “the real trick” in recruiting faculty that “make a difference.” Bruner encouraged school leaders to look for teachers who have “a sense of excitement about discovery…discovery of regularities, of previously unrecognized relations and similarities between ideas, with a resulting sense of self-confidence in ones abilities.” Bruner’s thoughts on relevancy with regard to curriculum are in perfect concert with the Socratic and humanitarian methodologies that our entire curriculum has been built upon. Rather succinctly, he stated:
Then truly the academic goal of our schools is to increase a student’s ability to understand. This does not mean that there is no place for “mastery” in curricular analysis. Research shows that understanding follows the structures accompanying “mastery”. The possible pitfall is making “mastery” the essential goal, rather than a stepping-stone on the way to understanding.
Young people need to be heard, to be listened to, and to be asked, “How can the adults in this community best help you develop a “voice” in the classroom setting and help you communicate effectively when navigating friendship/social issues?” We best serve our students by being facilitators who teach our students to seek social cues, and to understand that “good judgment comes from experience and that experience comes from bad judgment.”
Each day at Black Pine Circle School, students engage in the creative arts: music, visual representations, drama and dance. All of these creative expressions lead to self-discovery, greater self-confidence, cultural understandings and new strength as communicators.
In the Lower School, each grade K-5 puts on 3 class plays a year and in the Upper School, Drama [culminating in the 8th Grade Drama Night] is not an elective, but part of the curriculum for all students. Our belief in the importance of music as a means of developing “voice” has led us to include a Strings program in the students’ day.
At Black Pine Circle School, we embrace a role for every student and every family. We call this “Paths of Belonging.” If a student feels part of, and valued by, the school community then he/she looks forward to going to school. Our commitment to music, visual arts, service, and after school clubs, are critically important. If Clara finds handwriting difficult, that’s okay, because she helped create the school’s new Halloween Song! If Timmy struggles with math, he experiences islands of competence in his leadership around Hurricane relief fundraising. This demonstrates a true commitment to diversity…A diversity of learning styles, ethnicity, developmental readiness, and socio-economic strata. You don’t have to be X to succeed at Black Pine Circle School, you just have to be involved!
KNOWLEDGE AND GOODNESS
When John Phillips founded Phillips Exeter Academy in the late 19th century he laid forth two pillars at the foundation of the best schools. Over 2000 years ago, Plato referred to these same qualities as Goodness and Virtue.
Although some of Mr. Phillips’ language is antiquated today, his concise vision of a community that embraces the twin qualities of ‘goodness’ and ‘knowledge’ rings equally loudly as a lofty and, essential goal for all of our students. The best schools exude this commitment to ‘knowledge’ and ‘goodness’. It can be seen in the curriculum, the selection of faculty, the diversity of the families enrolled in the school, the commitment to scholarship, to community endeavors, and from the leadership of the Board of Directors and the administration.
HOW WE TEACH:
Authentic Partnership & the Socratic Method
In a seminal book on K-8 education, author Roland Barth stated:
“The relationship among the adults has more to do with the character and the quality of a school than any other factor.”
Barth’s quote reminds us of what we’ve all seen in schools we love. The teachers laugh easily with each other, enjoy sharing curriculum, swap stories of weekends and vacation, and look at the school’s parents as true partners. ‘Craft’ knowledge is enthusiastically discussed among all of Black Pine Circle School’s constituents. If an idea is important to the students and faculty, it’s considered equally important to administrators and parents. At Black Pine Circle School, we embrace families who want to come in to a science class and talk about their research on the human genome. We encourage faculty to present their impressions from a week-long Math Conference at Asilomar. We acknowledge the leadership of our parents who exude Black Pine Circle School’s mission, our values, and our stated goals. We are attentive faculty members who are taking positive intellectual risks in the classroom, and encourage all in the community to come forward when confused, concerned, or frustrated by an idea, or communication. At Black Pine Circle School, we believe teachers, parents, and perhaps, especially students should be encouraged to understand the power in emotional and intellectual risk-taking. This is indeed, the fastest route to authentic understanding. To engender this spirit, a school must be a safe place. At our school, the faculty and the students know they can ask difficult questions, and receive reasonable responses. Our students know that all their teachers are rooting for, and supporting, them. We approach our parents with unwavering commitment to the assumption of goodwill. We are united in all wanting what’s best for our children’s academic, artistic and social and emotional well-being.
A Gifted and Eclectic Faculty
Undoubtedly, the most important part of a school is the faculty. This key group of adults put the nurturing of young minds at the center of their personal mission, each day. The faculty in a strong and healthy school community must act with humane aggression and genuine love! Our faculty of poets, trapeze artists, wrestlers, songwriters, illustrators, bellydancers, mathematicians, folk dancers, painters, chefs, parents and scientists partner everyday with students and their parents to find what Vygotsky called the “Zone of Proximal Development” for each student. That is the place where the learner is at the edge of his/her abilities, and yet exhilarated by both their growing literacy and neurological development.