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Articles    H2'ed 5/22/11

FAN Brings Great Programs to New Trier Township Parents

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My guest today is Lonnie Stonitsch, Co-Chair and Programming Chair of FAN [Family Awareness Network of New Trier Township Schools]. Welcome to OpEdNews, Lonnie. FAN sponsored Dr. Carol Dweck's appearance at a recent education program. Can you tell our readers a little about her and why you brought her in? 

Lonnie [left] and Carol Dweck, Ph.D. 
photo credit: Eric B. Dynowski 

Carol Dweck, Ph.D., is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She is one of the most highly-regarded researchers in the field of motivation and learning in the world. Her theories about "growth" and "fixed" mindsets have wide application in many areas, including education, sports, and business -- really, any field that is vested in maximizing human potential. 

FAN brought her in to speak to the New Trier Township community because her work speaks directly to the issues of student success, failure, resilience, motivation and learning. There are many misconceptions among parents (and educators!) about how children learn best, and about how to motivate them properly. There are also a lot of pressures placed on students to hew to a performance model -- how good are your scores, your GPA. 

We thought it would be beneficial to the entire community to gather together and learn from Carol, so we organized two events. The first was an afternoon faculty workshop, co-sponsored by the Winnetka Public Schools and the WPS Foundation. It drew 400+ educators from all around Cook and Lake counties, from every type of school, every age of student, and every subject taught, along with school administrators, social workers, and curriculum directors. 

The second event was a free evening community lecture co-sponsored by North Shore Country Day School that drew 500+. This event drew parents from Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth, Glencoe, Evanston, Skokie, Highland Park, Deerfield, Barrington, Chicago -- from all over! 

Let's start with the afternoon session. How do you structure a workshop with over 400 participants? 

I worked closely with Trisha Kocanda, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the Winnetka Public Schools, on framing the day. Every teacher in the WPS had been given a copy of Carol's 2008 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success at the end of the 2009-10 academic year, with the idea that they would examine it over the course of the 2010-11 year. WPS had made this plan prior to even knowing that FAN was bringing in Carol. Once I caught wind of it, I approached Trisha and told her that Carol was coming for the evening event with North Shore Country Day, and asked if WPS wanted to partner on an afternoon faculty event. She said yes very quickly, as you might imagine. It was a wonderful piece of serendipity! 

I explained to Trisha that FAN events are always open to the general public, and that I would appreciate it if we could make the faculty piece also open to everyone. Some schools might have resisted this, wanting to keep the speaker all to themselves, but Trisha was quite forward-thinking on this topic. She saw great value in opening the event to all comers, and rather than diminishing the impact of Carol's presentation, having 400+ educators and administrators all together, from all over, was thrilling, and created quite a buzzing environment! 

FAN set up an online registration process -- we had over 225 educators sign up online, plus the WPS had 200+ of its own faculty, administrators, staff and substitutes present as well. North Shore Country Day alone sent about 45 educators. 

Carol spoke for 50 minutes, and then the WPS screened a four-minute video created by 7th grade students who had worked with Carol's Brainology software in their classroom. It was a fabulous video, very funny and smart, and Carol loved it! After the video, three faculty members from the WPS joined Carol on stage for a conversation about how they utilized Carol's theories int heir classrooms, and how using Brainology affected student attitudes and performance. 

It was a stimulating afternoon -- Carol, the student video, and the teachers onstage with Carol. 
Dweck and Stephanie Pace Marshall, Ph.D., founding president of the Illinois Math and Science Academy
photo credit: Eric. B. Dynowski 

And the evening session, with Carol presenting to parents and the general public, was nothing short of spectacular. The nature of the Q & A following Carol's presentation showed that a good portion of the audience was familiar with her work. Was the enthusiasm and the size of the crowd unusual for a FAN offering? 

Both the WPS and North Shore Country Day had done parent book discussion groups prior to Carol's arrival. The WPS hosted one in each of its five schools, and North Shore's event drew 30 parents for a discussion facilitated by a faculty member from each of the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools (each faculty member also had at least one child in the school, too, making them parents in the system, too). 

FAN's programs routinely run large, especially for a well-known speaker like Carol Dweck. Our largest program to date was the one we did last year with Howard Gardner, Ph.D. form Harvard. We had 900+ for the evening public lecture, and then about 240 the following morning for a professional presentation, and then an additional 180 parents took part in six separate facilitated discussion groups two days later. 

A small program for us is around 200 -- these are usually niche topics, like substance use or nutrition or early childhood. Though we did have nearly 500 for David Elkind, Ph.D., who spoke on the power of play; but that's to be expected whenever the icons arrive! 

Our biggest event so far this academic year was our November event with the amazing Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab (PEPLab) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. We drew around 675 for this event. 

Most typically draw between 300-500. 

As for enthusiasm -- well, we work quite hard to get our audience ready for a very special evening. We promote hard, make great flyers, post them everywhere, have great word of mouth and buy-in from principals, superintendents and PTOs and PTAs. We have fantastic name recognition and a lot of credibility with our audience -- FAN is a brand now, and people expect top-quality speakers doing cutting-edge research. 

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Joan has been the Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December 2005. She writes on a large range of subjects and does many interviews and reviews.
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