Pizza Day!

Every Friday at Classroom on Carpenter Lane was Pizza Day.  Children brought $1 per pizza slice they wanted. Each child in turn placed their money in the pizza box, and selected one plastic “slice” per dollar.  They would put their piece into the pie labeled with their choice of topping. (In the photo below, the choices were plain and mushroom.) Then came the trades! Sometimes a pizza could be ordered with a different topping on each half.  How many eighths (slices) would the class need to make a half pizza? It was a conversation in which children had a personal stake! “Pizza Day was a 4th grade arithmetic lesson that Dee was giving to 5 year olds!” according to “mathemagician” Bob Pollack, Dee’s husband. 

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Walking around downtown Mt. Airy putting up fliers for the Saturday May 18 screening of Empress of Everything: Messages from a Master Teacher, I stopped in to Fino’s Pizza .  When I was the assistant teacher at Classroom on Carpenter Lane, one of my jobs was walking to Fino’s on Fridays to pick up the pizza for Pizza Day.  The proprietor of Fino’s has been in this location for 33 years, and I saw him every Friday for two years, many years ago.  He didn’t really remember me, but he was delighted to be reminded about his good neighbor Denise Dee Haines.  He showed me the two pies on his wall, each with a slice made by a different child at Classroom on Carpenter Lane, in art class in the studio of Karen Singer.

This pizza was created by the students in the Classroom on Carpenter Lane and presented with gratitude to Fino’s Pizza.
These two clay pizzas with individually designed and created slices hang on the wall at
Fino’s Pizza

Responsive Classroom®

I was thrilled when I found the website for Responsive Classroom® (https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/), because the material on their web site described the components of excellence that I saw at the Classroom on Carpenter Lane. And, they have gathered data that show how widely applicable are these components of excellence: “Independent research has found that the Responsive Classroom approach is associated with higher academic achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher quality instruction.”

The work described on the Responsive Classroom® website gives me hope that high quality instruction like that seen at the Classroom on Carpenter Lane, could be available to children everywhere!

The following paragraphs are direct quotes from the Principles and Practices page of the Responsive Classroom® web site:

The Responsive Classroom approach to teaching is comprised of a set of well-designed practices intended to create a safe, joyful, and engaging classroom and school community. The emphasis is on helping students develop their academic, social, and emotional skills in a learning environment that is developmentally responsive to their strengths and needs.

Core Belief

In order to be successful in and out of school, students need to learn a set of social and emotional competencies—cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control—and a set of academic competencies—academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors.

Guiding Principles

The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Six principles guide this approach:

  1. Teaching social and emotional skills is as important as teaching academic content.
  2. How we teach is as important as what we teach.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. How we work together as adults to cre­ate a safe, joyful, and inclusive school environment is as important as our individual contribution or competence.
  5. What we know and believe about our students—individually, culturally, developmentally—informs our expec­tations, reactions, and attitudes about those students.
  6. Partnering with families—knowing them and valuing their contributions—is as important as knowing the children we teach.

The following paragraph is a direct quote from the Research page of the Responsive Classroom web site: “Responsive Classroom® has been found to be a high quality program to support social and emotional learning: “In 2011, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) conducted a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.”



A Public Screening of the Empress of Everything–Messages from a Master Teacher

Please join me in supporting Science Leadership Academy at Beeber (SLA@B), which is adding its first 5th grade class in School Year 2018-2019!  I have been the School Psychologist at SLA@B since it began in 2013. I admire the staff and am amazed by the students.  Adding project-based middle years is their next adventure.

Please join me at the first School District of Philadelphia screening of Empress of Everything-Messages from a Master Teacher at 4:00 PM on Wednesday May 23 at 5925 Malvern Ave, Philadelphia, PA.  (This is school with a parking lot.) Suggested donation to the Home and School Association is $5.00.

I began working on this documentary film before I worked for the School District of Philadelphia, and when I retire from the School District in June, I will be traveling to conferences and festivals to promote it.  The film shows the inner workings of a school where young children love learning. I hope that the film starts conversations about the importance of the relationship between student and teacher.

For background and updates, please follow my blog  Messages from a Master Teacher and my Facebook page Messages from a Master Teacher




Empress of Everything-Messages from a Master Teacher is available for purchase!

I am thrilled to report that Empress of Everything-Messages from a Master teacher is now available for purchase on my Vimeo page. Proceeds will support a wider distribution plan. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/empressofeverything


After the First Screening! (with new photos by Greg Windle)

The day after the First Screening! of Empress of Everything–Messages from a Master Teacher, the parent of a student featured in the film posted a heartfelt comment on Facebook.  She permitted me to share it here.

Gretel DeRuiter writes (6/12/17):  Yesterday afternoon, Peter and I went to the first screening of Empress of Everything, a thoughtful documentary directed by Wendy Galson about Dee Haines and the unique school she created and ran for decades in her home on Carpenter Lane. Peter attended the Classroom on Carpenter Lane (CCL) for 1st and 2nd grades, and this movie was filmed throughout his — and the school’s — final year before Dee retired.

Peter was one of the more challenging kids in this blended class of 11 students from 5-8 years of age, and he and his issues are featured prominently in the film. It was both familiar and startling to see Peter again as a 7-year-old boy, figuring out his place in a community so expertly led by this master educator. I know no other teacher as attuned to her students as Dee Haines, and I felt all over again how fortunate we were to find our way to her doorstep.


 Denise Dee Haines and Peter Pillar at the First Screening! of  Empress of Everything  (photos Greg Windle)

The school had one Prime Directive: “Take care of people and things,” and the clarity and simplicity of that message made it profound to the young children who lived with it at CCL. The centerpiece of the film was the part of the school day called Class Meeting, where students could share thoughts about their interactions with each other and find their way to better understanding about each other and themselves. I rarely see adults engage in such productive, respectful discourse — and these were YOUNG kids!

PJ is 8 years old
P.J. (now Peter) during the final year at Classroom on Carpenter Lane

 So my heart is full right now
— of compassion for my delicate-featured little boy who so wanted to be knowledgeable and powerful but needed to know how to balance those urges with behavior that would also make him a good friend;
— of continuing reverence for Dee Haines and her non-judgmental, never humiliating, but always lovingly firm and clear guidance and instruction;
— and of gratitude to the filmmakers for having the presence of mind to capture this extraordinary educational environment on film.

Sitting with Peter this morning over coffee, still talking about all the thoughts percolating after watching the movie, he said, “I loved the movie, but seeing it through a filtered lens was not as warm as actually being in that house with those people. You had to be there to get that feeling.” I am so glad for every child who got to experience that warmth.


I am grateful to Gretel, for her testimony, and to Peter, for being willing to talk so astutely about his journey.

Making this film has taken many years for me, starting from the time (26 years ago!) when I felt (like Gretel) that Dee was “my angel” for accepting and loving and understanding our own challenging son.  The members of the audience at First Screening! included people with many years of history with Dee, and people who had never heard of her.  All of us witnessed, not only a master teacher at work, but  a compelling vision of the kind of learning communities we want for all children.

Individual Attention

For 15 years, THE CLASSROOM ON CARPENTER LANE was a school for a few young children, for their kindergarten first and second grades. Denise Dee Haines gave my two boys a great start, and I love her for it!….and CCL can model practice with young children in other settings.

In this video segment, Dee describes an especially important part about how things worked at CCL:

“If I was having a turn with a child, I knew there were other kids who wanted that attention.  They ALL wanted that attention. So that I would use my powers to give them fair turns. They were usually quite patient, because each child was getting what EVERY child wants, which is INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION….

“So, the circle set up the tone for the day, and the grown-ups were in charge of what got done….We paid a lot of attention to setting up things so that children were active, and that we were supports, but we also gave them individual attention, their own time, where someone would come and get in line, but …eventually…not interrupt, but just wait, for a turn just like that, where you’re only looking at me and you’re only talking to me…..”


Individual Attention:





At Classroom on Carpenter Lane,  “messages” were shared at the end of each daily morning circle, at each weekly class meeting, and almost each time the children gathered. Messages were given after each student read and showed work in Writers’ Circle, and after each poem was read on Poetry Day.  When someone gave a message to someone else, the receiving person listened and said “Got it.”  If others agreed with the message or comment, they raised a fist.  If they disagreed with a message or comment, they lowered a fist.  If they had something new to say, they raised a hand, index finger up.

“Commendations” are special messages at the beginning of each weekly class meeting, about something really special that a child or teacher did, or a really special quality of character that a person showed.

I launched the blog Messages from a Master Teacher yesterday, July 20, 2016.  I was delighted to receive this Commendation from my friend Rabbi Phyllis Berman:

“You talked about this film with me (in 2008)…and now you’ve taken the steps to bring it into existence.  Kol HaKavod  (congratulations) to you and to Greg!  It sounds like such an important film now, at a time when neurologists are saying that one out of five children in our country have some sort of mental illness, to learn from the Empress of Everything who ran a school that went far beyond the ABCs to the U of Uniqueness, the R of Respectful, the L of Loving, and the E of Empowered.  I can’t wait to see the completed film.  My Aunt Tillie (Margulies) of blessed memory, who was a consummate preschool teacher in Great Neck, NY for many years, educating hundreds of children and their inexperienced parents, would have recognized a colleague in your beloved Master Teacher.”

Here is the link for the Blog Home, where you can view the trailer, and previous posts: