Documentation Panels at The St. Michael School of Clayton


cad collar The St. Michael School of Clayton (SMS), 5 miles from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO, has recently uploaded to their website an impressive array of documentation panels, 21 in all.  Each panel is easily viewed and read as a PDF.   SMS has also printed each of the panels as a 2’x3’ poster to display in the hallways, turning the school into a gallery of student work.

The SMS faculty has been composing documentation panels for over 20 years having adapted this reflective practice from their colleagues/mentors in early childhoods schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  The first panels were attempts to tell the stories of student projects through teacher narrative, photos of students working, student dialogue and artifacts of student work.  Some displays would take up entire walls of the hallways…as large as 4 feet high and 15-20 feet long.  Most also included a long and detailed narrative by the guiding teachers…more than you’d want to know…however, each narrative was a concerted attempt to articulate the process that the students went through and to explain the artifacts as evidence of learning.

The current panels are much more succinct and they are composed with a high level of graphic design skill, yet they include all the same elements as the original panels.  As you read through the panels you get a sense of the essence of a project, rather than a detailed explanation of the process.  However, what is more clear than in the older panels, is the connection between spontaneous or planned provocations and the deliberate development of skills and habits of mind.

For instance, in the panel Mapping the Movement of Animals we see that the teachers artfully captured the students’ fascination with a class cat and connected it with the concept and tool of mapping.  The teachers even helped the students transfer this knowledge to the science lab where they were studying millipedes.

From a whole school perspective, including preprimary through eighth grade, when you read through the panels, you develop a strong sense of the ways a strong reflective practice effects the day to day life in the school; and how the daily intentions the teachers support a gradual, profound development of skills and habits of mind within the students.

That SMS has uploaded their panels to their website for easy access to all is a gift to all educators...a generous collaborative action for which all can be thankful.

A Beautiful Opportunity


cadcollab A few months ago, we wrote about a learning opportunity coming up in about six months that we are so excited about.  This week together in June will be a wonderful chance to enjoy Italian culture, cuisine and wine, (yum), and the people of a small town that is designated a "best small town in Italy" in a lovely region as well as to enjoy and learn with a small group of colleagues.  We are so looking forward to this chance to build hopeful and renewed energy to work in education as a positive force.  We are thrilled to work with our colleagues Angela Ferrario and Lori Ryan.

Contact us if you have questions and want to chat about what we are planning. The groups will be small and space is limited.  Sign yourself up here as a treat to look forward to.   But, don't miss it!  See you in Italy.

group photo italy may 2015




cad collar It seems many of our friends have died this year, and even this month.  With tragedies in Paris and everywhere far and near, the world seems heavy with sadness.  This becomes all the more poignant during this time of gratitude for family and love, for daylight and moon light.

cad collarWe especially appreciate the bare trees and blue sky, the bittersweet and golden colors that we bring inside during the Thanksgiving season.  Tomorrow our tribe arrives and for that we are so grateful.  We are surely blessed to be alive in this beautiful world.

We wish all of you a wonderful holiday, warm hearts and a spirit of optimism and hope.

Louise and Ashley

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Indianapolis Public School Butler University Lab School


  cadcollabA month ago or so, I finished up a long time contract with a favorite school, the Indianapolis Public School Butler University Laboratory School, better known in Indianapolis as the Lab School.  I have worked with Butler University for, let's see, 10 years! and have worked with the Lab School for 5, ever since they became a school.  It has been an inspiration and a privilege to work with such a dedicated and hard working group of teachers, professors and administrators at both Butler University and their Lab School.  The great majority of the teachers employed by the school are Butler University graduates and this creates a unity and loyalty to both institutions, the university and the lab school.  The school is always on the trajectory of learning...undergraduates, graduates, instructors, deans, professors, teachers, pre school and elementary students, everyone is interested in continuous improvement.  By that I mean designing and fully participating in making learning more meaningful, more effective, more relevant, more exciting, more real.


So, I have grown too, alongside them.  Working with the Butler Lab School was my first significant contract as a consultant.  Soon after Ashley and I founded Cadwell Collaborative, I was hired by Ena Shelley who is the Dean of the College of Education at Butler.  Dean Shelley believed that I could be an effective coach and professional development leader for the Lab School and that meant a lot to me.  As it turned out, we have worked closely together and also with Ron Smith, the principal of the school to co-design the shape our learning would take.


I am so grateful for and proud of the work that we have done together.  We are all close colleagues now and will find ways to keep in touch.  Congratulations to all of you at the Butler Lab School for all the good and hard work that you continue to do every day.

My last day there, the teachers and I gathered for a final meeting.  I shared images that I had captured during the week of the beautiful work at the school some of which are featured in this blog post, and they reflected on what they were most proud of and what they celebrated the most about their work. (They had also done this earlier that week with Dean Shelley.) I conclude with some of their comments.


I think our greatest accomplishment as a school is creating the school’s culture. We are now reaping the harvest of that hard work . It is such a joy and a blessing. I would not be the teacher that I am today if not for the staff with whom I get to teach.

Personally, I feel tremendous growth. One way that I have grown is in allowing children to be more and more independent each year.

I love thinking about the deep personal connection that I have made with families over the years.

I feel that I understand how to create a space that welcomes children and offers opportunities that provoke wonder and thinking.

I want to make sure that the tone of my interactions with families comes from a place of caring, mutual understanding, and respect.

I have been especially proud of how my teaching is responding to the needs and thoughts of my students. I feel my strongest Reggio Inspired area of practice has been in my child driven inquiry of multiplication!

One of the things I am most proud of is my own development is the process of writing engaging, inspiring curriculum.

I love our library. We visited other classes and we all decided that we wanted the library to feel like a tree house.

It’s like a family here. Everyone is just a question away.

I’m new and that is true for me too. I could go into any classroom and ask for help.

Those 5th graders…they have made it all this way. They say, “You were a football player and now you are a teacher!”

Some days I think, “Do I really know anything?”

I am a filter. I help mediate so that we can move forward in the best way.

My teammates helped me. Even if I was crying they would say, “You are not going to have a day like this tomorrow. We are going to help you set up your room and your plans for tomorrow.

I love it here every day. I am so proud to be a part of this community.

In our school there is a feeling of warmth, inviting experiences and engagement. A community of parents and children.

There is a genuine, authentic spirit, a joy, and excitement for learning.

We see democracy here …children’s voices, children’s ideas for guidelines and agreements in their hand writing and in their portraits. We hear their voices when we walk the halls.

There is so much life and light in our school…green plants, energy, enthusiasm, freedom and openness and thoughtful, prepared spaces.

I love it here every single day. I am so proud to be a part of this community.

cadwell collaborative


Why What You Learned in Preschool is Crucial...


P1080011Compare this New York Times Op Ed by Claire Cain Miller with the David Brooks column from the NYT on October 16 and you have a good spectrum on the importance of BOTH cognitive learning and social skills development.

Miller quotes Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, where he studies education: “Machines are automating a whole bunch of these things, so having the softer skills, knowing the human touch and how to complement technology, is critical, and our education system is not set up for that.”

Miller goes on to cite David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University and author of a new study

Preschool classrooms look a lot like the modern work world. Children move from art projects to science experiments to the playground in small groups, and their most important skills are sharing and negotiating with others. But that soon ends, replaced by lecture-style teaching of hard skills, with less peer interaction.

Work, meanwhile, has become more like preschool.

Jobs that require both socializing and thinking, especially mathematically, have fared best in employment and pay.

Miller's article includes a fascinating interactive graphic grid that shows the jobs that have grown most consistently in the last two decades have been those that require high math skills and high social skills.

Again, I come to the same point I made in my comments on Mr. Brooks column, we need to create schools that extend what most pre-schools do well into the realm of cognitive learning; to impart knowledge AND to develop life skills.

* The image included was taken at Indianapolis Public School Butler University Laboratory School in September, 2015.