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Starting Strong • ENGAGE for Aug. 23, 2017

Scott Erickson, Head of School

ENGAGE is the newsletter of the Head of School. His message to parents is reproduced here.

Welcome to the 2017–2018 school year at PBS! I hope you had a good summer, and it's exciting to bring our learning community back together. The PBS team is looking forward to parent–teacher conferences at the end of this week and to our first day of school on Monday, when we hope to see all of you bringing your children to their classrooms and then staying for our first-ever Welcome Back Reception. I am looking forward to reconnecting after summer.

What’s New This Year

My colleagues and I do everything we can to support a positive and high-quality student experience in the classroom. In June, five faculty teams did just that through our Curriculum Deep Dive (CDD) and the Phillips Brooks Summer Institute (PBSi); we expect to see their recommendations implemented throughout the year.

In addition, I want to draw your attention to several ways we’ve identified to grow our school:

  • Increased faculty and staff supervision of students in learning spaces outside the classroom, particularly at lunch and recess
  • New team structures expanding support for students, teachers, and families
  • A new food-safety policy: Fully nut-free across the school to enhance care for student safety
  • New giving guidelines: Continuing to strengthen our generous culture of philanthropy by working to limit the number of asks and add clarity around priorities and opportunities to give
  • Expanded language on student behavior to make our practices more visible to families
  • Revamped website with improved content and messaging: We hope you’ll be encouraged to share your stories about your PBS experience and be energized ambassadors of the school.


Another way to grow our school is to draw our collective attention to three key concepts: challenge, achievement, and competition. PBS teachers work hard to challenge our students, encourage appropriate achievement, and engender a competitive edge whose goal is self-improvement. We always want to do more in pursuit of these goals, and we also want to increase your knowledge and understanding of how this happens in the classroom.

It’s important to be intentional in how we name and define challenge, achievement, and competition, as well as how we translate them into actual curricular plans and outcomes. The reason we need more focus here is that these terms can be misleading, hard to understand, and difficult to describe, particularly as students are developing their intellectual capacity and academic skills. For example:

  • What is challenge, really? Is it just getting stumped and throwing up your hands in frustration? Is it merely powering through a difficulty? Or is it identifying a problem at the outer edge of your ability, and working to solve it so you can improve?
  • Is personal achievement counter to our values because it is self-focused? Or is it the appetite and motivation to push your abilities to another level?
  • Is competition always at the expense of the other athlete, team, musician, spelling-bee opponent, or peer against whom you’re auditioning for a part in the play or chorus? Or is it an inner edge whose goal is self-improvement, the drive to want more of yourself?

To explore these ideas, I will present a three-part GATHER series to start the year: One talk each on challenge (September 1), achievement (September 8), and competition (September 15). I view these talks as a launching pad for an interactive community forum whose goal is further enlivening student learning and love of learning. I started thinking about my GATHER talks over the summer and shared some initial thoughts with faculty and staff last week. It is clear to me that there are several benefits to a community dialogue on definitions and practices around challenge, achievement, and competition:

  • Aligns with our values and educational philosophye.g., it takes a lot of courage and kindness to do them well
  • Focuses on the day-to-day experience of students by teaching them to push their learning to new heights, keeping them engaged, and balancing with other things they need to be successful: play, sleep, time with family, physical activity, and friendships
  • Gives our students an academic edge because the resulting outcome is student mastery of key concepts and academic skills – the central, research-based goal of PBS
  • Highlights our students as inventors and discoverers and the trial-and-error struggle required for intellectual discovery
  • Ensures continued, high aggregate results in external measurements (standardized tests like the E.R.B.) and internal measurements (ratings on progress reports)
  • Includes measurements on the multiple bell curves that measure success in today’s world, not just test results; e.g., academic ingenuity, strong working memory of facts, facile problem-solving, collaborative learning, emotional intelligence, acuity with algorithms and writing mechanics, insight making inferences, teamwork, conflict resolution, class participation, and more…

Finally, I believe that our interactive dialogue on defining and incorporating challenge, achievement, and competition will deepen your confidence in PBS academics. It is obvious to me that our world is filled with increasing reasons to be anxious rather than confident. I’d like our school to prepare students to navigate this world and to be a place where the learning process itself does not cause anxiety and is not consumed by anxiety. When we encounter school-related anxieties, the PBS team is committed to partnering with you to address them so we can drive the arc of progress in your children’s learning.

Please join us for the GATHER series. Tell me what you think about how we can continue to challenge our students, encourage appropriate achievement, and engender a competitive edge whose goal is self-improvement.

I think with this as our focus, we are in for a strong start to a great year. Thank you for your support!

Scott Erickson has been Head of School at PBS since 2011. In that time, he has focused on curriculum growth, faculty support and professional development, expanding parent and community relationships, partnering with the board to strengthen the school’s financial position, and developing and implementing the school’s Strategic Action Plan. Scott enjoys reading, public speaking, projects at home, exercise, traveling, and time with family, friends, and pets.

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