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Faculty Insights Blog

Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences teachers and other faculty members share insights about childhood development and educational issues.

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The Letting Go

Barnesville Art Teacher Sarah Eargle writes her own "Barnesville Buzz" blog where she shares stories and photos of the work that goes on in her classroom. This post about empowering students with more independence struck a chord with teachers and parents alike, so we wanted to share it here. (We almost posted it to our Parent Blog!)

It’s been a year of letting go. I’m slowly retreating from more traditional approaches to art education, while simultaneously rewriting my own philosophy of teaching.

When once I might have tried to re-direct a project seemingly gone “off track,” saying things like “well, this is not really what the point of this project is” or “uh…I don’t know, could you maybe infuse some of (insert artist’s name here) back into your work?” I have instead started saying things like, “I want you to be excited about what you are making, and if that means it does not look exactly like what I imagined, that is okay.”

It is is more than okay. Because learning about an artist is important but imitating one is not.

I grew up learning through imitation, making one-off projects that I sometimes loved but never felt I could really call my own. Suddenly I was an undergraduate in college and I had to generate my own ideas, which I had never had to do because my teachers always gave me their best ones. And it’s hard for us art teachers not to. The process of creating a lesson plan is a creative endeavor itself, so much so that it begins to feel like we have some ownership in what our students make. It’s fun to watch your plan soar or crash or land somewhere in between, usually with little regard for how the student may feel about the process or the finished product.

The arts are one of the only subjects that are regularly presented to the public and as an art teacher everything that goes up around my school feels like a reflection of me. Naturally, I want my students’ work to look polished and precise.

The problem is good craftsmanship is developed over a long period of time, as is the intellectual complexity of a work of art. I can’t reasonably expect my students to make outstanding work every time unless I hold their hand through every step of the process… a set of steps that I have developed for them and which does not actually teach them how to have ideas of their own nor to problem solve.

Luckily, there’s another way to think about this:

Process: a way of creating that invites experimentation, challenge, and reflection; where artists engage with materials and ideas through research, observing the world around them (as well as the work of other artists), all while developing their craftsmanship and expressing their feelings, thoughts, and values.

There’s a lot in that definition but nowhere does it talk about the product. Removing the emphasis of art making from the product frees art teachers and their pupils to focus on the skills that artists use rather than what they make. This is important because if we follow this model of “process over product” most of what we make, and I mean in all subjects, will fail. But in the process of making and reflecting, students will learn that failure is not an invitation to quit but one to keep going.

If instead, we hand-hold through all aspects of teaching, when students do fail (and they will) the effects can be catastrophic:

  • “Ms. Eargle, can I throw this (artwork I have spent the last month working on) away?”
  • “Ms. Eargle, do you like this?” (5 minutes later) “Ms. Eargle, do you like this?” (5 minutes later)….
  • “Well, I think I’ll do it this way because it will be easier.”
  • “I saw my grade was an F and I knew that couldn’t be right because it’s just art.”
  • “I just want my art to be at least okay. I want standard/average level. I don’t have any big goals for this.”

I love my projects. I love the results and all the parents that tell me how great the work looks. But I hate hearing my students’ lack of confidence and their apathy towards the visual arts even more.

And so I find it’s time for THE LETTING GO (which also happens to be the album title of one of my most favorite artists, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.)

What does this letting go look like?

The short answer:

We never know because each student is different and so is their work.

The long answer:

  • Rethinking how to present student work and give it context so that the process, the cornerstone of this philosophy, is made visible. This could mean that all of the student’s sketches, research, and written reflection is presented alongside their finished artwork.
  • Re-configuring the art room and its materials to be organized and accessible.
  • Making clear in all sorts of formats (visuals, text, video, etc.) how to use materials safely, effectively, and cost-efficiently.
  • Modeling the 8 Studio Habits of Mind.
  • Scaffolding students in the beginning of each year with a number of skills that they can refer back to as they design and produce their individual artworks.
  • Empowering students to think independently and use all of the resources available to them. When students come to see their peers as people they can learn from and the internet as a tool for learning new techniques, they are no longer reliant on me exclusively.
  • Regular one-on-one conferences with students as I help each to work through a distinct set of problems.
  • Being a coach and a cheerleader, and believing in a kid’s project even when it’s not something I would make.

As you can see, letting go does not happen effortlessly. It is not an escape from planning, but a new approach to it. Where once there might have been a lot of work cutting, printing, prepping, there is now more emotional labor: looking, listening, showing compassion and enthusiasm, encouraging creative problem solving without actually solving the problem for students. I get to keep my best ideas for myself and my students get to learn how to generate their own.

This post originally appeared on Sarah Eargle's blog "Barnesville Buzz."

Posted by Jan Hyland on Tuesday August 14, 2018 at 09:40AM
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Reflections on Recess Duty -- Make Time to Play

Reflections by Debbie Don, Director of Admissions & Advancement at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences

The school board in Loudoun County, Virginia recently voted to require a minimum of 30 minutes of recess per day for students in kindergarten, and 40 minutes per day for students in grades 1-5. The decision to double recess time was based on research that shows the allowance of unstructured, free time improves student concentration and memory, and helps students focus better when back in the classroom. Based on my personal experience, this may be equally true for adults.

One of the many advantages of a Barnesville education is its small size, but because the school is small, those of us who work here wear many hats, including that of recess monitor. Recess duty is both a benefit and a curse – getting outdoors and taking a break from staring at a computer or the four walls of an office is generally welcome, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to observe our students outside of the classroom. But the weather here in the Ag Reserve isn’t always kind, and there are days when I would much rather be warm inside. For the past three years I’ve monitored recess twice a week for Lower School (grades K-4). My role as one of the recess monitors is primarily to redirect, moderate, and ensure everyone is safe. To the students, I am merely the adult on duty. I mostly stand and watch, and from November through April, pine for warmer days and sunshine.

This past year I was asked to add once a week recess duty with our Preschool students. Candidly, I wasn’t entirely happy to be given this additional duty, but in the spirit of teamwork, I donned my boots, bundled up, and headed outside. It didn’t take long for me to realize recess duty with three and four year olds is far different than monitoring recess for elementary school kids. While our youngest students do seek help with resolving conflict or when sustaining an injury, they also actively engaged me in their games. I got to be one of their playmates. I traveled on our wooden train play structure to Mexico and Wyoming, pretended to be a pirate, was captured and locked in jail, played numerous games of chase, explored our flora and fauna, and chased butterflies. Our 30 minutes is up before I’m ready, and I often head back into my office out of breath and a little sweaty despite the cold and wind, but also full of the joy that only playing with young children can bring.

Photos include a Preschool student on a swing, kindergarten time on Barnesville's natural playground, and Middle School Language Arts teacher Tara Barnhart playing Follow-the-Leader.

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Barnesville Faculty Members Speak Out Against Gun Violence

In March 2018, when students across the country were speaking out against gun violence, members of our faculty and staff joined them in saying "#NeverAgain."

Posted by Jan Hyland on Friday April 6, 2018 at 03:55PM
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Developing a Growth Mindset Culture

Mary Cay Ricci, Potential and Possibilities Educational Consulting LLC, author of Mindsets in the Classroom, Ready to Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom, led an interactive workshop with Barnesville teachers about components of a growth mindset learning environment. Discussion topics included deliberative cultivation of non-cognitive skills, conceptual understanding of neural networking, learning from our mistakes/failures, and growth mindset feedback.

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is understanding that intelligence is not fixed, but rather that that you can learn through effort, and thus achievement is more a factor of practice and persistence than innate talent.

Why does it matter?

When students believe that dedication and hard work can change their performance in school, they grow to become resilient, successful students.

What can teachers do to help develop a growth mindset?

Teachers can challenge students to change their thinking about their abilities and potential by focusing on critical thinking and teaching students to learn from failure.

What can parents do?

All parents want their children to be successful in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. But it's not just about giving your kids praise or setting them on the right direction. Research shows that success is often dependent on mindset. Hard work, perseverance, and effort are all hallmarks of a growth mindset. Ricci’s book, Mindsets for Parents: Strategies to Encourage Growth Mindsets in Kids provides parents with a roadmap for developing a growth mindset home environment.
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Making the Move from Public to Private School

Barnesville’s Director of Admissions Debbie Don was recently asked by “The Washington Post Magazine” to discuss making the transition from public to private school. Following is her response that was quoted in the magazine’s 2017 Private School supplement.

We find that many parents look at private middle school as an alternative to larger public schools where it can be challenging to navigate social dynamics in what is already a difficult time in adolescence. Some families are also planning ahead for their children to attend competitive magnet programs or selective independent high schools, and they want to ensure their children are academically and socially prepared.

Parents often worry about their children’s ability to blend into a classroom with students who have been classmates for several years. In reality, new students are warmly welcomed and quickly get to know everyone in a small class setting. Activities like sports, clubs, theater, and student government provide opportunities for new students to make friends outside the classroom. The best advice for making a smooth transition is to get involved. Smaller schools still offer a wide variety of activities, so students can explore their interests and try new things.

One of the greatest attributes of small independent schools is that faculty and staff are available and attentive to each child’s needs. Students are able to develop close relationships with their teachers and become comfortable seeking help when they need it. The ability to self-advocate is an important skill that serves students well throughout their education.

An honest and open dialogue about academic readiness is an important part of the admissions process. Often when a student transitions into an independent school from public school, there are academic gaps that need to be addressed. Independent schools are able to address the individual needs of each student, and ensure that new students are appropriately placed in classes that will both meet their needs and provide an appropriate level of challenge. Younger students generally catch up quickly with additional teacher instruction, while older students may need to do independent work to prepare for a different curriculum and often a different style of teaching. Tutors are also available to work with students on areas of concern.

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Finding the "Best" School Really Means Finding the Right Fit

Insights from Debbie Don, Director of Admissions & Advancement at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences

Once a family makes the decision to explore an independent school education for their child, there are many factors to be considered. While it may be easy to be swayed by what others may deem “the best”, the first and foremost question parents should ask is, “Is this school the right fit for my child?” Education is not one size fits all, so what constitutes “the best” is highly subjective. To help determine which school is the right fit, parents should consider the following:

1. Do we desire an education that will include faith-based instruction?

For many families this is a priority and a quick way to narrow down choices. Other families may consider it less important but are not opposed to faith-based instruction if the school can otherwise meet their needs. And for those families who prefer to keep education and religion separate, non-secular schools are good choices.

2. Does our child have a special need/talent/interest that can only be served by a certain type of school?

Many independent schools are able to serve a range of learning profiles, but some students will be better served in an educational setting that has staff specifically trained to meet their needs.

If a family has a child with a special talent or interest (e.g., theater or science), it’s important to carefully research the curriculum and extracurricular offerings of the schools in consideration to ensure that their student will have exposure to a varied curriculum that will allow them to pursue their desired path, and even explore other opportunities that may not have been considered.

3. What is most important to our family in a school?

Strong academics often tops this list, but what does that actually mean to your family? Is rigor the only measure of a quality education? Is rigor even what’s right for your child? Current research indicates what should be obvious to all of us – children learn when they’re engaged and enjoying the process. Independent schools can achieve this through small classroom instruction and experiential learning that allows students to explore new concepts and be active participants in their learning. Small class sizes also allow for the development of strong student/teacher relationships and a deeper understanding of how individual students learn. Independent schools are also often able to provide differentiated instruction aimed at allowing for enrichment for high-achieving students and additional support for students who are still developing mastery of concepts.

4. Can we afford tuition?

Private school education can be a significant, albeit beneficial, financial commitment, but don’t dismiss a school because you believe tuition may be out of your range. Most schools offer variable tuition or financial aid to families who are eligible in an effort to make an independent education more accessible to a wider range of students. Financial aid allows for socioeconomic, racial, and cultural diversity that enriches the classroom experience for all students. Many families are hesitant to apply for financial aid because they don’t think they’ll qualify or perhaps because they are uncomfortable asking for help or sharing their personal financial information. All schools keep financial aid information in the utmost confidence, and other families do not know who may or may not receive aid.

5. Does the school community reflect our family values?

Students spend so much time at school that it often becomes a second home with the school faculty and staff feeling like extended family. It’s important to ask questions of teachers and administration when touring different schools to get a sense of what the school community is like beyond what is depicted on the website. Do the teachers model the values you want to reinforce? Does the student body reflect the culturally rich community you are seeking? Do the students seem happy and eager to learn? Reach out to current parents and attend events on campus to see if it feels like someplace you would want your child to attend. Open Houses are a great way to get a first look at a school you might be considering.

Choosing an independent school can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Families considering independent education will be best served if they take the time to reflect on what will work best for their child and keep their personal objectives at the forefront as they navigate their options.

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Tips for Parents to Help With Student Stress -- Faculty Takeaways from the 2017 NAIS Annual Conference

Image from ClipArtFest by Ms. Toni McDonald from West Covina

photo: Image from ClipArtFest by Ms. Toni McDonald from West Covina

Donna Kaufman, Barnesville’s Teaching & Learning Coordinator, shared the following key points from a NAIS Annual Conference session titled “Stressed Out Kids Are The New Normal.”

To create an environment that helps students feel less anxious, parents need to focus on the process, not the end product. Let your child practice solving their own problems. It is important to let your child fail, as this will build resilience.

Key points for parents to understand:

  1. Anxiety runs in families.
  2. It is important to let your child experience anxiety.
  3. Parents can increase anxiety if they over monitor for stress.

Presenters suggested a “submarine” analogy. Parents should work to remain “below the surface.” Allow your child to experience some stress. Let your child problem-solve. Discuss possible strategies for what to do when faced with a problem. Parents can “rise up to the surface” when a problem appears to have become too large or too difficult for the child to manage without direct parent involvement.

Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences faculty and staff spent their March in-service day at the 2017 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, the premier professional development event for teachers at independent schools. Barnesville participation was funded by the Jaralyn Hough Professional Development Fund, created in honor of Jaralyn (Jeri) Hough, Head of School from 1984-2006 to provide financial support for ongoing faculty enrichment.

Posted by Jan Hyland on Thursday March 30, 2017 at 09:51PM
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The ‘Three Rs’ of Communicating With Students -- Faculty Takeaways from the 2017 NAIS Annual Conference

Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences faculty and staff spent their March in-service day at the 2017 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, the premier professional development event for teachers at independent schools. Barnesville participation was funded by the Jaralyn Hough Professional Development Fund, created in honor of Jaralyn (Jeri) Hough, Head of School from 1984-2006 to provide financial support for ongoing faculty enrichment.

Nancy Taylor, Lower School Music Teacher shared the following insights about communicating more effectively with students:

The workshop called, "The Power Of Teacher Language" was really great, and it gave me many valuable tips on the most effective ways to talk to a classroom full of young students. Teachers should be using Reinforcing Language, Reminding Language, and Redirecting Language, and many specific examples of each were given to us in an excellent hand-out. One wonderful take-away for me personally was this: Sometimes, instead of using a long string of words, ask one quick question to the group to get them thinking and focusing on what you want.

Parents can read about the “Three Rs” at the Responsive Classroom site.

Posted by Jan Hyland on Tuesday March 28, 2017 at 02:06PM
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An independent private school in
Montgomery County, Maryland
offering innovative preschool
through 8th grade programs.

Barnesville School

21830 Peach Tree Road
PO Box 404
Barnesville, MD 20838

p: 301.972.0341
f: 301.972.4076


We offer a vigorous academic program for students as well as engaging, hands-on learning experiences.


Our positive, supportive learning environment promotes imagination, exploration, personal growth, and achievement.

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