Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lessons From Charlotte's Web

E.B White’s children’s book, Charlotte’s Web is a classic. The story of barnyard animals talking to each other and sharing their lives, along with the unlikely relationship that develops between a pig and a spider has captivated the imaginations of thousands of moms, dads, teachers and children since it was first published in 1952.

Last night, I had the opportunity to see our Upper School production of the play in the Sloan Theater on our campus. It was a marvelous production and the acting, lighting, direction and staging once again demonstrated why GDS is the premier theater program in the Triad.

One of the things I so appreciate about our productions is the Director’s Notes found in the programs. They always speak to the underlying messages of our productions, and I was particularly moved by Ruthie Tutterow’s comments for Charlotte’s Web:

That we can overcome incredible obstacles – not on our own, but because someone loves us and invests their time in us. That Wilbur and Charlotte are incredibly different, and didn’t know that they could be close at first, but grew to be the best of friends. That courage begins when you stop worrying about yourself. That there is something more valuable than a ribbon or a medal. That ordinary miracles happen every day.

Ruthie points out the central point of the story, which goes to the heart of what we want to develop in our families, our schools, our communities, and our nation. She notes that incredibly different people can find common purpose and work together in overcoming obstacles to create outcomes that benefit both parties. It usually takes courage as well as mutual trust and support as people move toward common goals or into the unknown. That is the miracle which comes from looking beyond self and helping others.

If we want our children to grow into ethical adults who can create mutually successful and connected communities, we need to help them learn how. This is not done without trial and error, hurt and healing, correction and reformation, because this is the way that we all grow into caring adults. Our work as parents and educators is not to define a narrow, unforgiving line for our children and students to walk, but to make sure that we are providing a wide path with guard rails – a path where errors can be successfully forgiven and rectified and where stepping outside the boundaries will have more serious consequences.

Our children need opportunities to develop their ethical and interpersonal skills, but they can’t do it if the pathway doesn’t allow for errors and opportunities to learn. Our students strengthen their ability to solve problems as they have problems to solve. Let’s allow them appropriate challenges so that they can come to know and value the impact that they can have in making positive changes with their classmates and in their communities.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Considering the Purpose of Education

A favorite Quote from James Baldwin

“The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not.

To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. 

The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it—at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.”

-James Baldwin, A Talk to Teachers, 1963

Friday, February 23, 2018

Direct From Our Students!

Two of the many reasons I love Greensboro Day School, where I have the honor of being the Head of School, is because of our great teachers and students.

Our Lower School Director, Gillian Goodman, shared a recent discussion that she had with our 4th grade students. Somewhere in the conversation the topic turned to the Lower School teachers when one of the students commented that it was the teachers who made the division so great. When Gillian asked why, they volunteered the following responses:

· They are fun
· They are not on their phones all the time :)
· They are patient
· They talk to us privately when we mess up or we are struggling to learn
· They help us with conflict
· They stay with us when we struggle
· They help us so we don't feel behind

As the conversation was winding down, one of the students began talking about getting rewards and recognition for doing the right thing. This was quickly followed by the following comments:

· You shouldn't get rewards for things you should do anyway
· If you get a reward for being good, you will start to be good just for the reward, not because it is the right thing to do
· You should do good/kind things because of the way it makes you feel on the inside
· Little kids are watching and if we are kind to them, they will be kind to other little kids when they get older
· We should pay kindness forward

I’ve never felt prouder of our students and teachers!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Power of Moments

When I reflect on the traditions and experiences that bond our students as classmates and as members of our Bengal Nation at Greensboro Day School, I think of the many shared experiences that they have together. These range from the plays they are in beginning in the Lower School to being members of the student council, participating on teams, engaging in class projects and going on day and overnight trips together. I’m sure that there are many other shared experiences that take place on buses to games, during clubs and activities at parties and casual get togethers.

In their latest book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath extol the importance of creating memorable moments whether for children, customers, families, friends or partners.  In each case the intent is to find ways to design instances of joy that create great memories and lasting bonds.

I am intrigued with finding opportunities to create memorable moments which can draw families closer together during the holiday season. Fortunately, the Heath brothers have some great thoughts on how to do that. They describe the importance of thinking ahead about ways of making deeper, more meaningful connections with families and friends.

 A great way to begin thinking about creating memorable moments is to consider your own memorable experiences. As I reflect on special times with my family, one of the most memorable was a Christmas tradition designed by my parents. 

We usually celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with our cousins, and none of us could wait until dark and Santa’s arrival. My parents, aunts and uncles decided that in order for Santa to put gifts under the tree, all of my cousins and I would need to be out of the living room. My grandmother offered to read T’was the Night before Christmas to all her grandchildren in one of the back bedrooms of the house. This allowed our parents to put gifts from Santa under the tree and created an incredible tradition in our family.

Somehow, through a timing system I've never figured out, toward the end of my grandmother’s reading, we would hear the jingling of bells and our parents calling out to us,“Hurry up or you’ll miss Santa!” You can imagine the pandemonium as all of older and younger kids began falling over each other as we raced tumbling down the long hallway toward the living room and our parent’s voices. And, imagine our excitement and wide eyes as we turned the corner to see our parents waving goodbye to Santa as they lifted us up to the window to search for him. Then, after searching the skies, we would turn to see a sparkling tree surrounded with the gifts that Santa had left.

What a memory! I don’t know how many years this went on; I do remember some winking between the older cousins, after a few years, as they began to understand the trick, but they played along, encouraging the younger cousins race out first and to look hard for Santa through the windows.

I think that this is just the kind of “moment” that Chip and Dan Heath imagined when they wrote their book. It takes planning and commitment to create such moments, but from my experience such moments bring back warm memories of family and fond, bonding remembrances when we get together.

What powerful “moments” are you creating this holiday season and over the course of the upcoming year? I would love to hear about them!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Growth Mindsets and Exams

This week our students are concentrating on exams and it's eerily quiet in the Upper School.

But, if you walk outside and look at the sidewalk there are signs of energy and support written in chalk. Our students are so great about working together and supporting one another during times of stress. And, they have an incredible can-do attitude about most everything they do.

Many of you have heard or read about Carol Dweck and her work at Stanford University on Growth Mindsets. She defines this mindset as a belief that one's basic qualities are things that can be cultivated and improved. This, she says, is in contrast to a Fixed Mindset in which a person believes that they are born with certain talents and abilities, or disabilities, that cannot be changed.

Time and again in sports, the arts and in academic achievement I have had the opportunity to see our coaches and faculty help our students to see that they can improve both their natural talents and those that do not come easily to them. As a result, our students develop a passion for stretching themselves and sticking to it, even when things are not going well. Developing a Growth Mindset allows our students to thrive during exams and some of the most challenging times in their lives.

What impresses me the most, though, is how our students support each other when things get tough. Just another example of how we work to foster a caring, trustworthy and joyful learning community at GDS!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

GDS Value Added

Part of our re-accreditation process with SAIS includes a dinner in which we invite students, parents, board members, teachers and administrators to sit a mixed tables for discussion.

I wish we could have such a gathering every night! It was like the perfect family meal where everyone jumps in with a story and tells about what they learned or did during the day. It was an incredible opportunity to hear from so many different viewpoints about what makes GDS a special place to be as a student, parent, board member or on the staff.

I was particularly impressed with the senior student at our table. She was articulate and clear about both the academic advantages and social connections that she had gained since enrolling. When asked what she thought the "value added" was to a GDS education she didn't hesitate to say that it was the day-to-day interactions with other students who were as inspired and determined as she was to do well. She described study groups that formed in her classes, teachers who held high but reasonable expectations and the many opportunities to be involved in clubs and to take leadership positions.

Most impressively, when asked how we could communicate the "value added" component of a GDS education, she quickly volunteered, "Just video tap any of us, and we will tell you!"

So, I'm dropping in a video that tells the story of two of our graduates, Jake Keeley who is now a sophomore at St. Olaf, and Katie Glaser who is now a sophomore at Georgetown.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Fairness Principle

Several of us have been reading John Rawls and his Theory of Justice which has intrigued us as we've thought about our work in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In this work we regularly talk about how we can do a better job of supporting each person in our community and Rawls causes us to think more deeply on this issue.

In his book, Rawls asks us to consider how we might redesign a community or society from scratch and asks us to reflect on several questions:
  • How would you distribute wealth and power?
  • How would you make everyone equal, or not?
  • How would you define fairness and equality?
He then challenges us with one final question: What if you had to make those decisions without knowing who you would be in this new society?

He offers a process whereby decision makers could only make laws and rules from behind the Veil of Ignorance in which they would not know who they would be in this perfect society. His theory is that the rule makers would not know their natural abilities, their sex, race, nationality or individual tastes and, as a result, would create a more equitable society. He posits that in this new society everyone would have the best possible life.

As an illustration, consider a rule that some classroom teachers and families have regarding the sharing of the last cookie or last slice of pizza. The rule is: You can choose to split the last one into pieces or you can be the first to choose which piece you would like. This rule has created fairness in our house on many an occasion!

One of the questions I frequently ponder at GDS as we consider a rule or policy is, "If I did not know if this would affect me or not, would I support it?" This question allows me to mentally walk around the table and consider many different points of view before making a decision.

Although I doubt that Rawls believes that it's possible to create such a perfect society, his thoughts do tickle my thinking and make me think twice about the decisions I make and how they might affect each person or family in our community.