Teaching the Genius in Each Child

Matt Allio
A Year Teaching to the Genius in Each Child
Dear Trinity Community,
In 1987, I was in my 6th year of teaching at a new school - Crane Country Day School in Montecito, California.  Like all new teachers at a school, it was a disorienting time trying to learn and adjust to the school's ethos.  I taught middle school mathematics.
In October of 1987 and in my first year, one of our Outdoor Education trips for 8th graders was a 9-day/8 night journey to Bahia de Los Angeles in Baja, Mexico, right on the Sea of Cortez.  I went on that trip with the Science, History, and English teachers.  When we were in Bahia de Los Angeles, among the things we studied was the history of the Cochimi people and their encounters with the European explorers in the 16th century, the book The Log from The Sea of Cortez, which John Steinbeck wrote from the field station there, and the extraordinary marine biology of the gulf.  We also spent considerable time in the makeshift Museum of Nature and Culture in the small town and the Sea Turtle Sanctuary nearby - both run by people I could only call inspirational and in which I aspired to be due to their passion for history, sea turtles and life.
The trip, which was a tradition at Crane and I went on many times following, was a seminal experience for me and, I’m certain, for the 8th graders.  However, what was also formative, and has never left my mind, is a question I asked the science teacher on the grueling 16-hour bus ride down Highway 1 through Baja:  Tell me again why we’re doing this?
And his reply (paraphrasing as best I can remember):  
Because there’s a genius in each one of these kids - and this trip helps us reach it.
Flash forward from October 1987 to May 2023, and there’s Krystin Neuenfeldt in May of her first year of teaching Kindergarten at Trinity.  First years are always, as previously noted, disorienting and an adjustment.  Still, Krystin has done remarkable work with our Kindergarten students and their families.  She’s innately talented and exceptionally well-prepared.  
In Krystin’s 34th week of the school year and in May, I asked her:  What does it mean to you to teach to the genius in each child, and what does it look like in your Kindergarten classroom?
Krystin’s response:
Teaching to the genius in each child in Kindergarten is important to me because it develops a sense of purpose and identity, which is essential at this developmental stage. Allowing students to explore and develop an understanding of their unique strengths prepares them to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. Knowing my students' interests allows me to create intentional learning spaces in the classroom for them to explore. 
This can be seen daily in the kindergarten classroom after lunch during our exploration time. This industrious time in our classroom is when students can explore different interests. You'll see architects creating 4 ft tall magna-tile structures and authors quietly writing their next best seller. Our Kindergarten market is always buzzing with entrepreneurs creating their latest business ideas (a handmade paper fan store on a hot day - a genius business if you ask me.) Artists are working hard on their latest masterpieces, and mathematicians are crunching numbers with magnet equations. Typically, dress designers sketch for NY fashion week, but sometimes they prefer to be pilots in a self-made chair plane at the front of the class. During this magical time in kindergarten, each child's genius shines brightly. 
This is what we’re after at Trinity in all our classrooms at Trinity, exactly what Krystin noted.  As an intentionally small school in an environment where the expertise is focused in Preschool to Grade 5, we can teach to the genius in each child.  We can nurture that genius because we work as hard as possible to know the uniqueness of each student.  I’ve always said there’s a genius in each child at Trinity - the genius could be a musician, mathematician, social scientist, athlete, writer, artist, thespian, scientist, linguist, reader, or other areas of genius.  We see it everywhere.
Coming through Covid, we were really able to teach to the genius in each child in 2022 - 2023 without restrictions.  Our aspirational teachers, released from the majority of the Covid protocols, were experts in their classrooms from preschool through Grade 5 and in the Music Room, Art Studio, Library, Science Lab, Spanish Classroom, Gardens and Greenhouse, Chapel, Playing Fields, and Maker Space.  Merging the mindset and ambition of the teachers with maximizing the specialized campus facilities and materials with the curiosity and openness of our students truly made this post-Covid year a year of teaching to the genius in each child.
Have a great summer, everyone.