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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Social Emotional Learning at Greensboro Day School

Intelligence plus character,
That is the goal of a true education.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Greensboro Day School has focused on building and sustaining relationships since its founding in 1970. The school motto outlines friendship, scholarship and sportsmanship as essential qualities of a GDS education. These qualities were foundational in the establishment of our Honor Code in the middle and upper schools, as well as the Four Respects that guide our relationships in the lower school. It is not unusual for our students on or off campus to be commended for their respectfulness and honesty – sure signs of students developing character.

Today, we continue our tradition of building strong character in our students through a focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Helping our students develop five basic skills is at the heart of our work: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. 

In one review of more than 300 SEL programs, researchers found that this approach  fosters “positive effects on students’ social-emotional skills; attitudes towards self, school, and others; social behaviors; conduct problems; emotional distress and academic performance.”

The goal of our focus on social and emotional learning is twofold. We believe that students who feel safe and comfortable are more likely not to bully other students and learn how to work collaboratively with those who have different backgrounds and ideas. We also believe that students who can develop respectful, positive relationships with adults and teachers are better able to be engaged and retain the learning that goes on in school every day.

It would be a misinterpretation of our SEL work to believe that it is only focused on  getting along with other students. The research is powerful in pointing out that students who develop positive social relationships are significantly more likely to excel in their academic studies.

Pat Basset, a past president of the National Association of Independent Schools, spoke at GDS several years ago and stressed what our school has always believed. “The leading purpose of independent schools is to provide the world with good and smart people,” said Basset. I agree! And, I have the pleasure of seeing “good and smart” students walking hand-in-hand down the hallways of our school each and every day.

I believe that each of us wants what Martin Luther King wanted for the children of our country – “intelligence plus character.” It doesn’t just happen. It takes commitment and teachers, parents and students working together. If you want proof that GDS produces such students, I would ask that you simply walk our hallways, talk with our students and read the biographies of our graduates posted in each division. You will discover both current and past students who believe in our mission and who are “constructive contributors to the world.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When Passion and Perseverance Carry the Day

How do our children grow to become capable, successful young men and women? Angela Duckworth studied successful children and adults across a wide range of schools and careers and says the most significant predictor of success she found is grit. “It’s not good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t I.Q. It was grit,” which she goes on to define as “passion and perseverance…”
Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, has developed something called a “growth mindset,” which is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, and that it can change with effort.

Children who can see failures as temporary and as learning opportunities will become more successful than those who believe that failures are permanent and can’t be overcome. Developing grit takes a growth mindset.
Paul Tough, the author of “How Children Succeed,” says noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brain power to achieving success.
I was reminded of this last summer just before I walked my daughter, McKenzie, down the aisle on her wedding day.
The day dawned with an overcast sky, and the weather app on my iPhone showed a large green expanse heading in from the Pacific and covering the Olympic Mountains to the west. It did not look good for a 5:30 outdoor wedding. McKenzie, now a Seattle native, seemed calm. At 2:30, with chairs and tables already set up, a light rain began to fall. My daughter, looking out the window and getting ready for the big day, seemed unaffected, while her father began a slow panic.
By 4:30, the tables and chairs were beading water, but there was a break in the drizzle and towels were found to wipe everything dry. By 5:15 sunlight was beginning to break through, and I saw my daughter for the first time in her wedding dress. I stood there unable to say a word, fearing I'd become an emotional wreck. Not only was she beautiful, but I was filled with pride at what she had pulled off in planning the day.
As we waited to walk down the aisle, I wanted to say something memorable, but all that came out was an attempt at humor to the effect of, “Hey, let’s skip this and just go get some dinner together.” To which she replied with great calm something to the effect, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Deal with it, Dad.”  I was a mess, but McKenzie stood radiant, fully present and in control. It was her day, and she was loving every moment of it!
If we want our children to become self-confident and successful, they will need a growth mindset and many successes and failures at solving tough problems. My daughter has developed perseverance and grit by successfully working through many setbacks in school, sports, work and life. We never rushed in to rescue her, but instead helped her to find ways to solve her problems and to know that her successes were hers, not ours.
I have been proud of McKenzie’s successes in school, where her writing and grades carried the day, but on the most important day of her life, she proved that persistence, self-control, self-confidence and grit were all she needed to carry the day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Helping our Children to be Successful

Tremendous importance has been put on "smarts" - intelligence as measured by IQ, grades, and frequently SAT and ACT scores.  Sure, you need a certain level of education and ability to get a job but, "smarts" in the real world isn’t so much about intelligence or IQ. It’s more about grit, tenacity, courage and hard work.

My daughter is a tenacious sales person for a well known business internet provider. She tells me that there is a direct correlation between the number of calls she makes each week and the number of sales she is able to close. I can’t argue her numbers, but I also believe that her ability to be successful and make those calls each day - week after week, month after month - has more to do with tenacity, the ability to take rejection and, most importantly, to learn from each of the 10-20 calls a day she makes. She has put herself on a fast learning curve, discovering quickly, each time she contacts a potential customer, what works and what doesn’t work. She has learned techniques to overcome rejection and not just accept it. She is also learning the rewards of delayed gratification and self-discipline. These are important life skills that reach far beyond the degree in Political Science she earned four years ago.

CEO Tom Georgens of NetApp, the $6.3 billion data storage company, made a very interesting observation: “I know this irritates a lot of people, but once someone is at a certain point in his or her career – and it’s not that far out, maybe five years – all the grades and academic credentials in the world don’t mean anything anymore.  It’s all about accomplishments from that point on.” He goes on to say, “I don’t even know where some members of my staff went to college or what they studied.”

Greg Becker, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank is quoted as saying, “Some of the better venture capital firms that I know want people who are scrappy, who have been through trials and tribulations. These people will figure out a way to make it work, no matter what.” I would add that these are the qualities and experiences that every employer wants.

So, how do schools and families help our young people to develop these talents? The old
saying is, “If you want your child to become a problem solver, let them solve problems.”

Here are some things that parents and teachers can do to prepare children to develop the skills they will need to be successful in the world of work:
  • Promote perseverance
    • Help your children to:
      • hold high expectations for themselves over an extended period of time
      • place a high value on challenging goals and low estimates on the costs of working toward those goals
      • see that goals are feasible
      • maintain high expectations despite failures and setbacks
      • (Note: Watch this TEDX Video by Angela Duckworth)
  • Be a nudge
    • Let your kids know that you expect them to do their best and create a structure that will help them do it
    • Learning any new skill, athletic, musical, or otherwise, is not easy. Nudging also means scheduling
  • Welcome boredom and frustration
    • Success comes with challenges along the way. Confusion, frustration and boredom are part of the voyage.
    • Help kids to learn that accomplishments are not always easy and that having a hard time doesn’t mean they are stupid
  • Let her or him fail — and model resilience
    • Letting her fail and pick herself up is probably the most important skill a child can learn
    • Share your own failures and how you overcame them. Modeling is powerful calm and determination in the face of your challenges.

We need to help our children to see that IQ and SAT scores are not what define them. In the real world, perseverance, delayed gratification and self-discipline are the "smarts" that our children need to be successful. When we help them to develop these qualities, and not step in to rescue them every time they face a challenge, we will be doing our jobs as parents and teachers.