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.

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.

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?

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.