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.

The Power of Camp

I was talking with a friend last weekend and he was a bit surprised to hear that we start the school year off at Camp. He jokingly asked, “Didn’t they just get back from camp?” After admitting that students did just return from summer break, I had the opportunity to talk about the value experiential learning has in education.

dsc_1028During Upper School Camp “Embrace the Discomfort” was a running theme. At the beginning of Camp we discussed that every student and adult were going to be exposed to something that was not in their natural comfort zone and that created an opportunity to have a new experience. The discomfort may have included things such as overcoming a fear of heights on a Zipline, sleeping in a shared bunk, eating a meal with people you do not know well, or leading an activity for the entire school. The camp experience serves as a way for students to develop resiliency and to take risks by embracing the discomfort.

ropesCollaboration. Communication. Critical Thinking. Empathy. Problem Solving. These skills were an essential part of the activities students participated in throughout the week. Whether it was finding a creative solution to the ropes course, working as a team during evening activities, or helping classmates overcome a fear, students were immersed in real opportunities to further develop the skills that will help them be successful in their academic classes this year.

Camp served as a living laboratory for Brimmer’s Core Values, Guiding Principles, and leadership development. This was evident during our grade level meetings where students shared their experiences at Brimmer, goals for the year, and ways to strengthen our community. During these discussions it was clear that our students are living the values of Kindness, Responsibility, Respect, and Honesty. It was inspiring to hear our students talk so passionately about Brimmer and how they were going to explore new ideas, lead the school with compassion, and set new learning goals for themselves.

First Day of School

The first day of school always brings a lot of excitement and nerves. First days bring with them hope and possibility and opportunity to start anew. Whether it is the first day of Kindergarten, Middle School, or your senior year, you are faced with new experiences and opportunities to grow. Of course all that change and unknown also can bring about feelings of anxiousness.

During our Faculty Opening Meetings we had the opportunity to learn from Lynn Lyons,fullsizerender LICSW, an expert in Anxiety and Worry. During her presentation she spoke about how we often feed “worry” instead of acknowledging “worry” for what it is- a state of mind. She spoke in depth on how to avoid the worry trap by focusing on the process instead of feeding the worry with content. Lyons said “Don’t ask the person afraid to ride a bike, ‘what’s the worst thing that will happen.’ Instead, normalize the experience and move into action. Use phrases such as:

  • I don’t like it, but I can handle it
  • This is what I’m experiencing
  • I’m willing to feel uncomfortable

Every person has nerves about the start of a new school year in different ways. It may be the anxiousness of starting a new school or having moved to a new town, the desire to get a lead role in the school play, or the pressures of what comes after high school. However, if we frame these nerves as opportunities, we can enjoy the excitement of a new year.

 

 

Welcome…

As I embark on a new journey at the Brimmer and May School, I hope to provide some insight on the directions and patterns being found in education, from technology integration as a tool to thoughtful decision making to 21st century learning and innovative education. At the same time, I will be providing reflections on the incredible work being done at Brimmer.

I welcome your thoughts and questions on posts.