How We Learn

What Makes Our School Unique?

The Socratic Approach to Teaching and Learning

We all know that the 21st century will continue to value creative thinking, deep understanding, and problem solving. Our teachers create classroom environments where questions and strategies for understanding outweigh facts and answers:

Tenets of a Socratic Classroom

(touch/hover on spheres)

Be a Humble Thinker

Socrates felt that his best attribute was his awareness of his own ignorance. In other words, those who think they have it all figured out, surely do not.

Be an Active Listener

In a Socratic classroom, democracy consists of everyone listening intently. Like a well-coached basketball team, its players don’t snatch the ball from each other, but support the player who has it. All give the discussion full attention and interrupt with questions or observations when they do not understand.

Ask Better and Better Questions

The goal of Socratic questioning is as much about achieving self-knowledge as it is about discovering a truth. The practice engages us in an argument of reason over emotion and can free us from our biases and preconceptions.

Explore Tangents

Follow an argument wherever it leads. In a Socratic classroom, a wild idea is often more fruitful than a prudent opinion. The imaginative and the unexpected were frequent ingredients in Socrates’ own style, and are a hallmark of true Socratic instruction.

Have Fun

As Stringfellow Barr put it, “When free minds seek together for greater understanding, they tend as did Socrates to move with lightheartedness and a sense of the absurd. The relevant jest is never out of order, for good conversation always combines high seriousness with pertinent playfulness.”

Differentiated Instruction

Each child needs different emotional and intellectual “vitamins and nutrients.” In each classroom, through differentiation, we strive to have each student work in their "Zone of Proximal Development"—the territory between what a learner can do without help and what they can do only with help.

girls advisory group

Social & Emotional Learning

Skills for Success

Employers the world over recognize that empathy, resilience, and a growth mindset are essential for collaborative work. They rank these skills as more important than content knowledge. But it’s not either/or: studies show that social and emotional competence are highly correlated with academic success.

Goodness & Knowledge

We support students to be socially cognizant, self-aware individuals who understand the importance of goodness and knowledge, as highlighted in the school’s mission. Our upper school hosts a Black Student Union, an Asian Student Union, a Queer Student Alliance, and a Student Council which often explore topics relevant to social and emotional development and identity in middle school. Weekly town hall meetings, advisory, and parent-student-teacher conferences bolster these social and emotional touchpoints.

Student Support Services

We have a diversity of learners, learning styles, and academic achievement at Black Pine Circle School. We strive for students to grow, every day, through our focus on differentiated instruction as well as student support services for those who have needs in remediation, acceleration, or social and emotional support. Guided by the philosophy of zones of proximal development, student support services use strategies and interventions to meet students where they are and give them what they need to thrive. Additionally, our faculty and staff guide students forward in all areas of learning as they work towards subject mastery and personal growth.

Our on-site student support services team includes counselors and learning specialists who partner with families, as needed, to help children work through challenges that may impact social and academic potential. The team also consults with our teachers to help students who are moving through the curriculum and need additional scaffolding in order to keep them in their zone of proximal development.


Committed to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Since our founding in 1973, our community has been committed to serving all students and families, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, gender, ability, age, nationality, or religion. It’s a priority for us to prepare students to collaborate and thrive in a diverse world. Our graduates understand systems of inequity and what it means to be an agent of change. And we continue to make measurable positive movement in serving a population of families and educators who are representative of our richly diverse East Bay demography.

Our thoughtful approach to diversity, equity, and inclusivity manifests in many ways:

Multicultural Institute Award
NAIS People of Color Conference

“Having a diverse school like BPC is important so that students can learn to feel comfortable around people that are different than them. I’d argue that this is the most important thing students learn at this school.”


Grade 8

“So far, I think that the competency towards race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, and in general most things, has gotten even better since last year. And last year everything was also very good. Having the affinity groups not only helps us achieve a safe space, but helps create a good spot for people. And the cultural competency class has definitely raised awareness of a lot of issues in the world. I am grateful that at this school, we can talk about problems. We discuss racism, sexuality, and nationality freely. We are all open. We help each other. We are kind.”


Grade 7

So, how diverse are we?

who identify as people of color
who identify as people of color
who identify as people of color
born outside the US
in the student body
percent of families

all data as of Sept 2022