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.

Brimmer Sports Banquet

Good Evening,

Thank you for braving the elements today to come out and celebrate all of our varsity athletes tonight. As a 3 season athlete and coach for 10 years, I know first hand about the positive impacts of athletics- I also am used to playing or standing out in the rain on nights like tonight and I definitely appreciate being inside and not on the sideline.

So, why do we do it? Why do we ask all our students to participate? We know about the multitude of benefits of sport. As you know our coaches are not just helping the student-athletes become better technical soccer players or runners. They are teaching about the benefits of physical fitness and nutrition. They are helping students develop leadership skills and collaboration skills. Our teams develop into families that look out for each other, help motivate each other, and support each other. And our student athletes learn about adversity and how to overcome failure or challenge- whether it is pushing through on a run when they are unsure about how much they have left in their tank or scoring a goal at the end of a match even though doubt may have crept in about their unlikely chances.

It has been well researched in the business world that the values and skills developed in athletics are parallel to those needed to be successful in the workplace. According to a Cornell research study, they found that many employers will ask about participation in sports as a way to better assess a candidates qualities.

Why do businesses look for athletes? Well, in a 2013 article in Forbes called Why You Should Fill Your Company With Athletes they explain:

  1. They have the drive to practice a task rigorously, relentlessly, and even in the midst of failure until they succeed.
  2. Athletes achieve their goals.
  3. Athletes develop new skills.
  4. Athletes are exceptional entrepreneurs
  5. Athletes strive for balance in every aspect of their lives AND
  6. Athletes work well with partners and in teams.

At Brimmer we are proud of the work we do in athletics. I am excited to be here this evening to celebrate the incredible seasons of our 3 varsity teams, though we aren’t done yet- We still have two games tomorrow. Tonight we are celebrating their success as teams, including two league championships and three invitations to participate at the NEPSAC level AND equally if not more importantly, the individual growth that each student-athlete made over the course of the fall season. It should be a great night!

Go Gators!

Celebrating Our Diversity

Like many, over the past forty-eight hours I have struggled over the election results. My first thoughts were how did we get here and how do I explain the results to my four and half year old? His understanding of Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton was that Trump said mean things and did not apologize, whereas Clinton made mistakes and said she was sorry. So, as we explained who won the election he was obviously confused. In his world, we value respect and taking responsibility and not the use of “mean words”.

After trying to explain to my son the results, I left the house Wednesday morning still struggling with what to say at our Upper School Morning Meeting. How do we make sense of this to our students? While I still do not have all the answers to this question, and I’m not sure I ever will, I wanted to share the thoughts I gave to the Brimmer Upper School.

In 1796 George Washington stepped down from the Presidency marking the first peaceful transition of power to a unrelated person in Modern History. Washington easily could have stayed on for another term but understood what would be one of his final nation-building responsibilities- establishing the transition of Presidential power. This idea has been a hallmark of our democracy for the last two hundred twenty years. A peaceful transition is how other modern democracies model for their government election processes.

In four years, just about everyone in this room will have an opportunity to vote in the next Presidential election.That being said, understanding the nature of our democracy does not offer much solace for those that are in shock over the Presidential election results. Intellectually the importance of transition makes sense, but emotionally this change doesn’t, due to the nature of the campaigns. This election was filled with hate and hurtful words from conservatives and liberals. No one was immune from divisiveness engulfed us. But President-Elect Trump has come to symbolize those intense feelings and words that have many of our diverse students, faculty, and staff feeling uneasy about what this means for them. What this means for the future our country?

Now, I want to share a short personal story. This year, when I began at Brimmer, I was transitioning from a school that had little diversity. One reason I came to Brimmer was because I wanted to be in a place that was more diverse, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact that this aspect of Brimmer has had on me. At our school we celebrate our diversity and each morning I wake up inspired to come to a place that has such a rich cultural, ethnic, religious, and gender diversity. Celebrating diversity is part of what makes this school a special place.

So, when I think about the past year, I remember a lot of arguing and yelling about what people thought was most important. Whether it was Bernie, Trump, Clinton, Cruz, Rubio…the list goes on. There was a lot of talking but there was not very much listening. People were willing to shout their values at the top of their lungs, but found it difficult to open their ears to the underlying fears of each side. As a community we can respond to this election by continuing to create a powerful, thriving diverse community that is engaged in dialogue. We know that being diverse is not easy. Putting together so many different people with a wide range of values and experiences takes work. A lot of work. In many ways, it is easier not to be diverse. But easier does not mean more valuable. We don’t want to settle for easy. The desire to be diverse challenges us to think about what is necessary to live in a society that respects all voices, takes responsibility for its actions, shows kindness even in the most difficult situations, and remains honest. 

So how do we respond to the divisiveness that has come out of this election? We respond by building the community we desire for the country here at Brimmer. This is going to require us to be upstanders. We cannot allow the hate and disdain to permeate our community and build walls between us. We are going to need to stand up for those people whose voices may be silenced. We need to support each other and not create more fear. The subtleties of our words and actions can have a powerful impact on our community and we must work to be supportive. If we do this, we can begin to heal. We can be an example for how to build community, instead of creating divisions. Over the next few hours, days, weeks, and months- be there for each other. I know that this will create the light that will shine through the darkness that has come from our divided nation.

Today, I cannot think of a better way to honor the memories of our Veterans. To honor their sacrifice for protecting the United States and the world. Our veterans do not represent a single political party. Rather they come together from all different backgrounds to to preserve the freedoms we know in our country and to protect those around the world that cannot stand up for themselves. I cannot think of a better way to move forward, then as coming together as upstanders celebrating our diversity and standing up for those that need our help.

 

Teaching Resilience

Resiliency: Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In recent years resiliency and grit have become buzzwords in education. There has been a growing sense that character building is a critical part of education and supports screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-11-01-48-pmclassroom learning. The University of Chicago has positioned themselves as a leader in research for Resiliency, Grit Education. They have found that the most effective methods are those that are focused on the skill development coupled with supporting a growth mindset. As educators, it is critical for us to develop the tool box for students, because we know those tools lead to improved academic performance. (To learn more about the noncognitive factors involved click here for the paper published by the University of Chicago.)

So, how does one teach the general ability of being able to recover from misfortune or change? As educators, we often are focused on a student’s ability to recover from a poor grade, but does this truly represent resiliency? There certainly is an aspect of resiliency in these moments, but how reasonable are our expectations for how a person responds to major disappointment.

When incorporating ways to develop student grit and resiliency, their ability to overcome disappointment or change, teachers look at the lower stakes moments that occur in classes. Some of these questions to consider are:

  • Do you celebrate failure in the class and encourage risk-taking: How do you respond when a student gives an incorrect answer or an interpretation that is off-base. These are small moments to encourage students to take risks
  • In what form is feedback delivered to students: Is feedback auxiliary to the class or is it a core component. How do you hold students responsible for using the feedback and promote growth in their work? How does constructive criticism flow in the class- teacher to student? student to student? student to teacher?
  • Do you model resiliency in class? How do you respond to adversity in the class? If a part of the lesson is not flowing as anticipated do you show frustration? If some piece of technology is failing, what is your response? Are you as aware of your body language as you are of the words you choose?
  • What is the role of revisions? Can students rewrite essays and papers? Do students receive an opportunity to run an experiment another time?  Can you promote opportunities to renew or revise that will help develop these habits of mind.
  • Are you explicitly developing the skill? Are you looking at teaching and assessing resilience in a traditional manner or are you considering this to be a skill that needs to be practiced honed?

Our students are growing up in a society where information is available at their finger tips in unprecedented ways. Considering how often an adult may get annoyed if the internet is running slow or if there is a bad cell phone reception, think about the kids that are growing up in this type of fast-paced era. It is our responsibility, more so than ever, to help provide the scaffolding for students to develop the ability to overcome adversity and be flexible when they face change. The research shows that this is a duel approach and the development of a growth mindset is critical to this work.

If you are interested in learning more about how children develop resiliency, I invite you to read the article How Kids Really Succeed from The Atlantic, a comprehensive look at the development of resiliency in children from infancy to teenage years .

In what areas of school do you think resiliency plays out most often?

Getting to the Root of the Problem

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In addition to teaching, I had the privilege to coach Varsity Soccer for ten years at Gann Academy. My experiences coaching soccer had a major impact on my development as an educator. It gave me an opportunity to think more deeply about such pedagogical concepts as differentiated instruction, self-paced learning, maximizing growth potential, balancing nurture and challenge, skill development, and project based learning.

One aspect of coaching that had a profound impact on me as an educator is in identifying the root of a breakdown in play, or in the classroom a misconception. Often we get entrenched in the mistake we see last. Personally, I started making this crossover as a soccer coach. In soccer, the last defender gets beat and a goal is scored. Yes, there was a breakdown in that immediate situation, but we often lose sight of what may have happened before to cause the defender to be in a more difficult scenario.

Transitioning to the classroom- a student asks a question that displays a clear misconception. Our immediate reaction should not be to answer the question, but rather to identify the source of the misconception. What aspect of the lesson did they not grasp or make an inaccurate inference? Did another student’s idea cause the misconception? This is where a true teaching moment occurs and allows us to think about our own practice.

I would often find myself asking: Is there a question I asked that may have lead the student astray? Were they exposed to this idea somewhere else? Is there a more effective way of setting up the activity to help guide the student? Are students developing incorrect analyses acceptable if it means they are developing their analytic thinking skills? Did the breakdown happen 10 seconds before, 10 minutes before, 10 days before? There is not always a deeper reason for a misconception, because sometimes a bad kick is just a bad kick. Yet these are all relevant questions that begin to surface as we think deeply about our practice and student misconceptions.

As educators continue to move down the path of becoming more coach-like in the classroom as facilitators, we are adapting our way of thinking about formative assessments and how we collect data to grow professionally.

In The Power of Teacher Teams, Vivian Troen(Brandeis) and Katherine Boles(Harvard Graduate School of Education) discuss how developing teacher teams to do co-observation and develop their skills of observation and evidence-based conversations on classroom learning can have a deep impact on how teachers think critically about their own practice. At Brimmer our teachers and students are not disturbed by other teachers coming into the room to observe a lesson. During the year we will be engaging in evidence-based conversations about classroom observations. Since we are a school that believes deeply in professional development and a growth-mindset, these conversations will help our educators continue to grow in their craft. They will help our educators look past the immediate question that was raised by a student and look for a deeper underlying learning misconception.

Core Values at Work

Every so often “Core Values” come up in the email subject line for students and faculty. I have to admit that these are some of my favorite emails, because they are evidence of Brimmer’s Core Values coming to life. Our school’s Core Values are rooted in creating a supportive community that creates a positive learning environment and upholds our school mission of developing lifelong learners that are informed, engaged, and ethical citizens and leaders in our diverse world.

Honesty, Kindness, Respect, and Responsibility are values that are instilled throughout the entire school. Students that began their Brimmer journey in the Lower School may have earned Gators for going above and beyond the Life Rules/Core Values and in Middle School they grew accustom to earning commendations for their actions.

In the Upper School students continue to live out the Core Values. Often a student turns in a lost phone or missing book. In class we see students using respectful language in class discussions and debates or taking responsibility for their mistakes. Our core values are evident every day in the classroom, hallways, and outside of school hours.

It can be difficult to balance the pressures of time and academics and often when pressed for time it can be difficult to choose to help someone and put your needs on hold. However, recently we had a “Core Values Alert” that is a prime example of the impact of character education.

As the Cross Country team came out for practice they noticed that a student and a few teachers were staring down at the gravel outside the gym searching for something. When one of the students asked what they were looking for, the team learned that someone had lost their earring. Just as the four or five people that had already been searching for a while were beginning to lose hope, the Cross Country team, without being asked, immediately spread out across the area to help find the lost earring. As the search continued, feelings that the item would never be found grew until one student exclaimed, “I found it!” They returned the quarter-inch long earring to its owner and everyone cheered over the success.

This is just one of the many extraordinary ways that the Brimmer community comes together to support each other. From small acts of kindness to larger efforts, our students are not just striving to be great in the classroom but to also develop into informed, engaged, and ethical citizens.

Learning through Hamilton the Musical

Like many people, I have spent the past year constantly playing the Hamilton soundtrack in the car, on lazy weekend mornings, and other times throughout the week. While the music is infectious, I was hooked by the brilliant way that history is weaved into the lyrics- let’s be honest, writing hit songs about the formation of the country’s national banking system and the Proclamation of Neutrality are not an easy task.

The magic of Hamilton is the way that the musical has brought history to life and engaged millions of people in learning about a part of the country’s past. How was Hamilton so successful? In many ways the show was impactful due to the same qualities that we find in successful classes. We know from research that building student connections to a subject area or topic has a direct impact on the level of learning that occurs in the classroom.

One way that I observed our teachers bringing relevance to their classes was in a ninth grade history class. During the class students were working in small groups discussing Brexit. Groups were tackling the reasons why some citizens wanted to leave the European Union, why other wanted to remain, the impact of the decision to leave the EU, and what it could mean long term. Students were researching information, referencing their readings, and debating the topics with each other. In another class, AP Environmental Science, the teacher was leading a conversation about the Zika Virus. During the conversation the teacher would bring the students back to what they learned and modeled how historians think about modern issues.

This type of learning is indicative of the classroom environments we have at Brimmer. Students are not only learning the important information in the classes, they are also building the 21st Century Skills needed to be successful.

Perhaps the class discussions did not have the same lyrical rhymes as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in the “Cabinet Battle I and II”. However I feel confident that students came up with strong reasons for whether or not Britain threw away its shot.