May 3, 2021

Centering Curiosity (Ft Julie Mountcastle)

We’re back on another Tuesday with another podcast drop: this week featuring Julie Mountcastle, simultaneously Head of School and Grade 2 / 3 Teacher at Slate School, a K-12 independent school located in North Haven, Connecticut.  Julie has been a teacher for nearly 20 years and has taught every elementary grade level and worked in both traditional and project-based classrooms.  Passionate about reimagining elementary education, Julie has extended her collaborative and creative energy to every aspect of Slate School, including the development of the curriculum, the school and building design, the integration of the arts into every day, the school’s mission steeped in curiosity-driven education, and sharing that mission with the world . . . even (especially so) during this strange past year. Highlights of our conversation with Julie include:


  • How Julie’s less-than-inspiring experience in her own K-12 journey, her  love for theater, and having children of her own ignited a passion for her to make changes in schools (3:15-5:41; 6:43-8:59)
  • A day in the life of someone who really does seem to do it all . . . and why you should incorporate 7am “infinity fun” into your day . . . (9:30-13:48)
  • How to find “your people” in your school organization and why it’s worth the time to prioritize sharing your teaching craft with work buddies (13:58-16:30)
  • Julie’s number one collaborators . . . (hint- they haven’t yet hit the double digits in age!) and how she engages them in personal passion projects to follow their curiosity  (16:30- 17:30)
  • Slate School’s unique student-led, interdisciplinary, nature-situated philosophy toward education . . .  (18:44-23:54)
  • How passion project sharing can help all  young children “stumble upon”  their interests along the way and how kids that know so much about one thing can find a way to connect to everything else  (25:23-27:40)
  • Why it’s important to communicate our philosophy the parents of the youth we teach (27:43-31:28)
  • A (pretty glorious) day in the life of a second grader at Slate School . . . now and pre-pandemic (31:22- 41:15)
  • How all of us, even those from the most traditionally structured schools,  can scooch our way closer to the direction Julie describes . .  and how simple tweaks can make a day “a day a kid never forgets” (42:35-44:51)
  • Why we should center class activities with questions that inspire our own curiosity as adults (44:55-44:53)
  • How the pandemic has distilled priorities and recentered compassion (46:30-50:18)
  • When adults should intervene in student-centered moments, why sometimes “when things are going sideways we should step back,” and a call to avoid the tendency to “squeeze youth tighter” as they grow more capable. (50:33-54:34)
  • Why assessment is a sticky issue they are still considering as they conceive of their upcoming high school (54:35-56:18)
  • Why Julie’s favorite teacher was actually a student  (57:26-58:13)
  • The one book Julie thinks every teacher should read . . . and why we should never settle and should always pursue what gives us  joy. (58:48-60:37)

Don’t forget to also tune in to our Teacher Talks companion podcast . . . this week’s features Shea Egger interviewing three educators of young (and not so young) children:  PK3 educator Lea Crongeyer, first grade teacher Mary McCall McArthur, and fifth grade teacher Toby Lowe.

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