About jneudel

father, food allergy advocate, soccer enthusiast, educational innovator helping to maximize collaborative learning in schools. Upper School Head at Brimmer and May School

I Wish I Could Go Back to High School!

“I wish I had these classes in high school” is not an uncommon phrase to hear parents say after they have a chance to look through the Brimmer Curriculum Guide. The amountwow of coursework choice that Brimmer offers students far surpasses that of similar sized schools and is on par with schools that are four to five times bigger than Brimmer.

However, it is not just parents and students that are taking note of the incredible opportunities at Brimmer. Schools in New England are paying attention as well. Over the course of the school year, Brimmer has hosted professional development visits for multiple schools. School leaders feel it is important to visit our school because they see our focus on student choice and that we allow students to pursue their passions. They also see that our curriculum is focused on engaging students in real world studies and finding authentic ways to connect them globally. 

As a school that is committed to reflection and growth, we are constantly looking at our program and looking for ways to deepen the student experience. Over the past few years, we have seen the creation of Problem Solving Through Design, a course that merges art, technology, engineering, and entrepreneurship; Criminal Law; Women’s Studies; and International Relations. As we continue to look forward, we are excited about some of the new class opportunities for students next year. In the 2017-2018 Curriculum Guide, you will find new classes such as Latin American History, a new look for our Architecture and CAD classes, App Design, and Tech Shop–which will utilize our new space.

These new additions to our Upper School program, and our willingness to grow, are why we have become a resource for many schools as they look to improve their own programs. 

What classes are you most excited for?

The Power of Disagreement

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend an event where Governor Charlie Baker was speaking. It was a fantastic event, and it is always such a pleasure to hear the Governor speak about the state of the Commonwealth and our society. During the discussion, I could not help but be encouraged by a story he shared from his childhood that has shaped his view on debate, disagreement, and decision-making.

Governor Baker shared that his mother was a registered Democrat, and his father was a registered Republican. In his house, while growing up, his parents often engaged in conversations and disagreements on a number of issues. As he reflected on growing up in a household that embraced debate, I want to share two important ideas that resonated with me and are relevant for our students.

First, Governor Baker talked about the idea of surrounding oneself with the best minds regardless of their party affiliation and encouraging debate. He empathized the difference between intellectual disagreement and malicious disagreement. It was a critical distinction. The purpose of debate is not to tear another person down, but to deepen one’s own understanding, as well as the other person’s.

The point he shared was about how his parents and family friends were able to enter into strong arguments over politics, but it never impacted their relationships. By not entering a discussion with malicious intent, they knew that the arguments was about ideas.

Governor Baker’s words ring true if we are to live up to our mission of “develop[ing] life long learners who are informed, engaged, and ethical citizens and leaders in our diverse world.” We must continue our work with students so that they can engage in authentic discussions about what they are learning, the issues in our own community, and current events.

In recent conversations with ninth grade students, it was clear that they want to be a part of intellectual debate. They want to engage in conversations about our world and to dive deeper into the issues. They also shared that they believed the Brimmer community was one that was welcoming of all diversity–race, ethnicity, religious, identity, and intellectual.

We need to continue to teach students to engage in these discussions in order to learn and not to create conflict. In this way, like Governor Baker’s parents and family friends, respectful debate can lead to stronger personal relationships and deeper understanding, instead of creating wedges between people.

A Week of Civic Engagement

Over the past week I had the pleasure of working with a group of students in the Boston Winterim group for Brimmer and May. The week was built to be an exercise in Design Thinking while looking at a way to make a social impact on our community. Students want through a process of identifying an social issue to focus on for the week and eventually chose to look at environmental issues facing our local community.

With the uncertainty that a Design Thinking process can take a team, it wasn’t clear where we would end up. However in the end, it became a deep lesson in environmental issues, civics, local and state politics, and moved past the traditional lens of community service.

To learn more about the impressive week of work(that will continue outside of this week), visit the Hammond Pond Reservation and Webster Woods Improvements site that was setup to record the work.

Exploration

Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.
— Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Since the beginning of time, humans have been explorers, seeking out new experiences through travel. From the hunters and gatherers that migrated across continents to Magellan circumnavigating the world to NASA’s New Horizons satellite reaching the edges of our galaxy, we learn through exploration and new experiences. At Brimmer, we develop explorers in a multitude of ways including our biennial program, Winterim. Next week, Upper School students will be spreading out across the globe, spanning nearly eleven thousand miles.
Today, more easily than at any other time in history, we can connect to people globally, learn about the history of every aspect of humankind, and experience different cultures. Access to information has allowed people to virtually travel to and explore new places. While reading, listening, and watching videos about different cultures can allow someone to deepen their global connection, it is not a replacement for physically visiting those nations, cities, or towns. It is impossible to get a true sense of the grandeur of the Giza Pyramids or to truly appreciate the awesomeness of the Parthenon without standing at those sites. One cannot fully understand the choices and values of a community without being there in person and talking directly with its residents.
I can still recall admiring with students the detail of the beautifully carved two thousand year old Roman statues and being in awe of the deep love of city and culture that drove New Orleans residents to rebuild even with future uncertainty. The power of our Winterim programs are the transformational moments that will lead students and faculty to a new understanding of people, places, and culture. It is an opportunity to learn what cannot be found in books or online. Many of these moments will be captured by pictures or videos, but it will be the ones that are etched in students’ memories that will never leave them. What will our students bring back with them when they return? I don’t know, but I’m excited to see and hear about their experiences.

 

To all our students no matter where they are going: Safe travels. Viaje seguro. Kār deinthāng thī̀ plxdp̣hạy. Bon voyage. Anzen’na tabi. Turas math dhuibh.

Leveraging Design Thinking in Schools

If you step into my office, you will see pads of sticky notes sitting on different surfaces and easel pad paper filled with used stickies. I was not always sticky note obsessed. The truth is that I resisted using them for a long time. So what happened? I was introduced to Design Thinking (or Human Centered Design). I became hooked on the way in which the process, when done right, took an empathetic lens to design and focused on developing solutions from a broad user base. Most fascinating is the way in which it identified unique solutions that generally were not easily predictable.

During the process, the team of “designers” collect information from users and learn about their experience. They work to understand how the purpose is interacting with the people that are using it. It is easy to extrapolate how it can be used in areas of STEAM, particularly arts and engineering. It pulls from those processes. While it originated out of IDEO’s product design work, it was adapted over the past two decades to improve patient care systems in hospitals, improve a person’s experience while waiting in line, and enhance social entrepreneurship. The implementation of design thinking has grown exponentially as Stanford’s d.school has made the work more mainstream.

The question remained for me, how can design thinking be leveraged to improve programs and decision making in schools? When I watched David Kelley’s 60 Minutes special, it became clear to me. The process places the human at the center, which is ultimately the goal of education organizations.

Here are the basic principles:

  1. Empathize: During this initial phase the team is design-thinking-2collecting information from various
    groups and individuals that may interact with issue. The goal is to connect with the people that may be impacted and understand the issues from their perspective.
  2. Define: In this second part of the process the team works to define a problem statement that sums up what they learned during the empathy phase. This may shift over time as ideas are created and tested, and more information is collected.
  3. Ideate: Similar to brainstorming, the goal is to develop as many ideas as possible without limit. The end result should be lots of ideas that can be grouped and refined.
  4. Prototyping: The goal at this point is to quickly develop one of the ideas in more detail- create a model, sketch out how it will work, put together something that can be tested as a rough outline.
  5. Test: When you get to the “test” phase you are not done. You are looking to collect information and learn about your prototype. How can it be improved? Do you need to incorporate other ideas? Do you need to start over with the new information you collected.

The power of the process is how it can be utilized in school decision making. It provides the context and process to involve the important stakeholders in the school, helps to bring out new ideas, and creates a culture of innovation. However the process itself does not work unless the right team is assembled. It is critical to include a cross-section of the community- this must happen to get the most out of the ideate phase.

In the end the process is key. Many organizations have a difficult time balancing when to make a decision versus when to continue with the process. The human centered design process is most helpful in finding the right balance. The process allows schools to take a thoughtful approach to decision making and program development, while also working towards a final solution. The process has a way of identifying the underlying issues that are at play and developing a solution- keeping schools out of the extremes of rushing to a decision or getting stuck in process or unpacking.

 

2016 Favorites

Now that 2016 has come to a close I thought I would share a few of my favorite articles and
videos from the past year. I am sure that I have left things off that moved me, but here are the ones that rose to the top as I reflected on this past year.

Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection: In this Ted Talk, Reshma Saujani discusses how she came to create the organization Girls Who Code and the way to encourage more girls to enter STEM fields.

The Puzzle of MotivationDaniel Pink’s Ted Talk on redefining motivation is seven years old, but is still quite relevant in thinking about what motivates people. The extension that I find particularly interesting in how this may be extrapolated to what we do in schools and the monetary incentive parallels in education.

The Power of IntrovertsSusan Cain gives an impassioned talk about the struggles over introverts in today’s social world and the extraordinary talents and perspectives they bring to world.

Enabling Our Future: Cam’s 3D Printed Journey: Read about a family’s struggle to get a prosthetic for their child and how that was solved with 3D printing. The end result lead to a worldwide network of 3D printed prosthetics that are at a fraction the price to produce. While they may not be permanent replacements to other prosthetics it has freed thousands of people to get a prosthetic at a fraction of the price, built community, and is a shining example of social entrepreneurship.

Why Understanding These Four Mistakes Can Help Us LearnNot all mistakes are creating equal. This article discusses the values of different mistakes and what they offer teachers and learners.

Design Thinking/Human Centered Design

Design Thinking or Human Centered Design was a large focus of mine this year. Here are a couple of my go to resources:

Stanford d.School Virtual Crash Course: Experience everything that is Human Centered Design through this 90 minute crash course.

The Field Guide to Human Centered Design: A step by step guide that will introduce you to the process and purpose.

60 Minutes Visits IDEO: Hear from found of design firm IDEO on how they solve the world’s engineering and human problems.

Acumen+ Design Thinking Online Courses: Take one of these multi-week free online courses and you will enter the world of problem solving in a new way. These courses can both be a learning experience for you, as well as a way to make an immediate change to an organizational issue.

21st Century Yellow Journalism

How do you get the majority of your news information? Do you pick up a newspaper in the morning, scanning the articles and titles? Do you spend time throughout the day visiting traditional print media outlets that post their articles digitally? Or do you depend on news aggregators and social media to get the majority of your information about the latest happenings in the world?

The headlines over the past few weeks have been filled with concerns about “fake news”.yellow-journalism-spanish-war The sensationalized headlines with disinformation have spread quickly across social media platforms reinforcing concerns people may already have about a specific issue. Some people have called on companies, such as Facebook, to fact-check stories being posted, some have blamed media outlets for normalizing some types of sensationalism, and others have called on readers to be more discerning when they read articles. Fake news and sensationalism isn’t a new problem. Personally, I remember learning about Yellow Journalism during my 8th grade history class with Mr. Zabinski.

In an era where information is so easily attained and shared, we have known for a number of years how critical it is to develop digitally literate students. As a core 21st Century Skill, digital literacy refers to a range of skills such as:

  • the ability to utilize technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate and communicate information
  • the ability to use use digital technologies, communication tools, navigating social networks
  • manage, integrate, evaluate and create information to successfully function in the world
  • understand one’s place ethically in the chain of shared information

Regardless of how you collect your information, the ability to evaluate and analyze information is a critical part of media literacy. We need to resist the temptation to share, like, favorite, or love articles based on their headline- something that I am guilty of doing from time to time. We also need to properly evaluate an article, taking the time to decode facts that may seem to good to be true.

How do we do this? What do students need to do? Here are a few ways…

Be Critical: Regardless of the source do not assume that all information presented is unbiased or factual. If there is a statement or fact that does not make sense, investigate. If an article is use broad statements and isn’t supplying quotes, sources, or data, then dig deeper.

Be a Fact-Checker: Cross check a story against other sources. Look up the original source that is being referenced.

Know Your Sources: Develop a list of sources you trust- media outlets, specific people, websites

Be Responsible: Understand that once you share something electronically it can never be permanently deleted. Think about who may be reading the information. Consider whether you are supporting the spread of rumors or fake news.

We are all responsible for the information we share, no matter the medium. Our students cannot depend on Facebook or other people to filter stories for them. Instead they, we, need to continue to develop the key skills needed to navigate our world.

The Architects of Our Future

Opening Convocation Speech, September 2016. 

Good Morning! The theme, Build the Future, is more than just a theme to be talked about in formal conversations or by the adults in the school, it is a way for us to shape our thinking and learning. As students you do not need to wait to be the builders and designers of our future world, when you leave this morning’s convocation you have the opportunity to take an active role in the process.

16 years ago today, I was a brand new teacher sitting with a far more experienced one brainstorming an experiment to run on the first day of class. Mrs. Pordes, who was also the Associate Head of School, asked me one simple question: “What do you think we should do.”

Still lacking confidence and not wanting to make a mistake or sound foolish, I replied how most people trying to avoid failure would: “They are all good options, which experiment do you think we should do?”

That answer did not go over very well with Mrs. Pordes. She slowly raised her head up and looked me directly in the eyes. I had the overwhelming feeling that a student would have if they had just been sent to her office and dreading the fact that she was going to call their parents. The longer I sat there not answering her question, the more my nerves grew. The silence was probably only a few seconds, but it felt like 20 minutes. Finally she broke the silence and said to me, “I already know what I think; I asked to hear your thoughts.”

She continued with a piece of advice that I have kept with me throughout my professional career: “To be successful you need to go out on a limb and share your ideas. You can’t always take a backseat. Sometimes you will have better ideas than others times, but you need to put yourself out there and take some risks.”

Every day at Brimmer you will experience thousands of moments. Most will pass by without being noticed, but on occasion, you will be struck by a particular interaction, observation, or action that will have a profound impact on the way you see yourself and how you choose to pursue your life. For me, the moment happened in my meeting with Mrs. Pordes. Instead of being content with not being wrong and being afraid of failure, I chose to immerse myself in my career, taking risks and not fearing missteps.

It would be easy to only focus on the successes in your life, but successes are not the only instances that have a deep impact on you. Often failures are what you remember and carry with you. How you view failure is crucial- does it define your limits? Or does failure serve as place from which to grow.

The most successful leaders choose the latter. They understand that failures are moments to learn from, to grow from, and envision a new future. Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Oprah, Walt Disney, Indira Ghandi, the list goes on. These are all people who define their success through their failure. They believe that failure is not something to fear, but to embrace as an opportunity to grow.

Stephen Covey, the best-selling author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said that leadership is a choice, not a position. It is an action. So this year, I am challenging you.

Our world needs young leaders who are actively working to make a difference. So, don’t just sit back and be consumers of information. Be creators. Be active participants in the world and strive to make a difference- no matter how big or small. Some days you will take a risk and you will fail miserably. Other days those risks will pay-off. But in the moments of attempting something new and stretching yourself, you will be setting yourself up for future success. And, if you do this, you will be the architects of a future you built.