Friday, December 16, 2011

December 15: Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Last weekend, our heating system went down and we were forced to call a repairman to the house.  He arrived promptly and (to our surprise) with his two sons—age 3 and 6.  The repair called for changing a circuit breaker causing me to lead the technician and his sons to the basement.  The area in which you can stand in our basement is relatively small and there is a large crawlspace which is not lit.  To help occupy the two boys, I mentioned that a dragon lived in our crawlspace.  The six year old immediately called my bluff by saying it was not true and dragons do not exist.  The three year old was less positive.  I suggested, he look into crawlspace intently as sometimes when the dragon breathes hard, little sparks can be seen.  After about a minute of staring into the darkness, the three year old triumphantly announced that he had seen a spark.  His brother stared into the darkness and still saw nothing.  He was adamant no dragon was hiding back there. 

I then mentioned that I know the dragon’s name—Sparky.  The older brother, with a bit of disdain in his voice, yelled, “Here Sparky.”  Immediately after he called, someone upstairs moved a piece of furniture creating a noise that was clearly heard in the basement.  At that moment, a little boy once again believed in dragons and more importantly he believed in magic.  I hope that this holiday season helps you notice and believe in the magic of family, good will and cheer.  Enjoy your time off with family and friends and I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year!     

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 12 Riff: Duke School students are prepared to face the future

Last week, the first grade had their reptile project culminations.  Both classes were fantastic.  Six and seven year olds, having made life-like representations of their reptile, talking about them with calm expertise was impressive, and so rare.  Games, made by the students, were projected onto the smart boards to make them interactive while board games were displayed as well.   A buzz of knowledge, confidence and pride permeated the room. 

Interestingly, Carolynn and Rebecca invited prospective families to attend their culmination and about fourteen attended.  Their enthusiasm for what they were seeing reminded me how special the work we do at Duke School is.

This Sunday, I read Thomas Freidman’s article in the New York Times.  In it, he suggested that the country’s economic future will not be found in factories but in “hubs.”  These areas (and he names Raleigh-Durham) are “networked urban areas where people learn, imagine and create value rapidly by … collaborat[ing] and compet[ing] to invent things that make people’s lives more entertained, productive, healthy, educated and comfortable.”  

I agree that future success requires creativity, imagination, collaboration, hard work and resilience.  The reptile project, and indeed all our projects at Duke School, allows students to practice and become proficient in these skills.  Our students leave Duke School prepared to face the future and prepared to be the problem solvers for our complex world.  How exciting and gratifying. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Riff for December 5:

Tonight is a Duke School board meeting and to prepare I read through all the reports in the lengthy packet.  As I read the packet this weekend, the PSO report caught my eye—well, really, it took my breath away.  The report, which is printed below, lists some of the volunteer support offered by the PSO and the list is extensive.  Duke School is so much stronger because of this volunteer work, powered mostly by parents who are carving time from their busy schedules.  Not only am I thankful for this great volunteer effort, I am humbled that so many people care so deeply for the school and for all of its students.  I also want to thank the PSO leadership whose organization and leadership allow volunteers to shine.  It is exciting to be part of such a vibrant community.

Here is the list of PSO events thus far:
  • Class liaison and committee chair training was held prior to the first Parent Night.  
  • Creation of lunch coverage sign-ups for lower and middle school classrooms and ongoing management of volunteer coordination (approximately 616 positions filled)
  • Hosted 3 days of hospitality coffees for the Preschool and K/1 buildings affording parents the opportunity to visit during the first few days of school.
  • Supported “Coffees with Directors” for the lower and middle schools.
  • Approximately 55 Duke School volunteers participated in NC Big Sweep collecting over 60 bags of trash.
  • Approximately 26 Duke School volunteers harvested vegetables and tended gardens with SEEDS, Durham Inner City Gardeners.
  • Over 186 volunteer opportunities were filled at Fall Festival.  New events and activities were included this year.  Attendance was strong.
  • More than 60 parents attended the first discussion group of Raising a Self-Reliant Child in a Self-Indulgent World.
  • Approximately 100 parents attended the lecture by clinical & organizational psychologist and author Robert Evans.   
  • 38 parents filled over 60 volunteer roles for the Book Fair.  74 middle school students shared an original work or brought an existing piece of prose to life on stage and more than $2500 was raised for the libraries.
  • Breakfasts featuring homemade treats and fresh fruit were provided for teachers during conference days.
  • Over 1,000 individual baked goods have been provided for Fall Festival, Teacher Conference Breakfasts & the Book Fair.
  • 11 parents delivered approximately 3,050 slices of pizza to lower school students.
  • Ongoing collection of Boxtops.  New “collection worksheets” given to the preschool, kindergarten and 1st grades.  
  • Hosted two “Playground Socials” for the kindergarten and 1st grades.  Over 50 families attended.
  • An immeasurable number of parents have volunteered not only to cover lunch duty but have also driven for field work, participated in classroom activities such as cooking, interviews and story reader as well as attended culminating events.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reflection for November 21: Professional Growth

I spent the morning of today’s professional development day with the middle school faculty as they worked on improving projects even more.  The morning session was structured like a mini-project.  Faculty started by sharing stories of project successes and frustrations and then generating questions they would like to see addressed in the workshop.  I snapped a picture of one’s groups “wonderings,” as I saw it indicative of the deep thought that goes into developing great projects.  See the sheet below:

I noticed the intellectual tension in the “what do you do if it is not good?” question.  Teachers want and will guide students into doing their best work.  But, what do you do if despite that the student is not producing how they should.  Inherent in the question is the struggle between allowing students autonomy and insisting on teacher control.  One team mentioned that after they allowed some substandard work at the culmination, the student commented in his post project reflection that his work was subpar and strategized how to improve it for next time.  That is real learning.  Others talked about how some work needs to be improved before it is published, if it falls below minimum standards.  Finally, there is no right answer.  Much of this is the art of knowing how to best motivate students (or let them motivate themselves) and that differs depending on the child. 

I do know that these days, when teachers can focus on their professional growth, are something to be thankful for. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reflection for November 4, 2011: Middle School Camaraderie

I arrived at FAMM today and saw a microphone in the middle of the gym.  David got up and said, "note the open microphone, figure out what to do."  Oleg started by thanking the seventh grade for being so awesome, which started a flood of students making comments thanking folks, including Carol who is leaving today, observing good things, like the library, and promoting future events, like next week’s play.  Every comment was impromptu, every comment positive and supportive, and every comment productive.  It made me appreciate Duke School even more.    

Riff for November 2: It's Hard Being a Parent

It is hard being a parent and according to last night’s speaker, Rob Evans, we often make it harder on ourselves.  He discussed how to navigate the shoals of parenthood.  Evans emphasized that we need to give our children three things—nurture, structure and latitude.  Here is what he meant:
  • Nurture—kids need to know they are loved unconditionally.  In some ways the best way to prove that is for parents to spend time with their children.  Rob debunked the idea of quality time and sometimes children make it hard for experiences to be high quality. Sometimes they just need you around.

  • Structure—children need to understand the "non-negotiables" in your family.  The "non-negotiables" can change from family to family but in your house with your own children they must be clear and you must enforce them.  As Rob mentioned, your job is not to be your child’s friend but to be his parent.

  • Latitude—While keeping your child safe from real danger, let him struggle, fail, get up and fail again.  Understand that the process of problem solving, being defeated and finally finding victory builds perseverance, the attribute most associated with a happy and fulfilling life.  
Rob then suggested three tips to help better supply nurture, structure and latitude:
  • Technique won’t save you.  By all means read parenting books but understand that you will not be able to faithfully follow any one program.   Learn what you can from books but embrace the best you.  

  • Take what you are good at and build on that.  Rob suggests taking a piece of paper, putting a vertical line down the center.  On one side write what you are good at as a parent, on the other what you want to work on.  Take the paper, rip down the middle and throw out the “what I need to work on” side and really focus on and “do more of what you are good at.”

  • Most kids are mostly resilient.  You as a parent will not be perfect, but your children don’t need perfect parents.  They need parents that supply reasonable amounts of nurture, structure and latitude.

I left Rob’s talk with three counter cultural parenting approaches I ask you to consider:
  • Schedule less, perhaps dramatically less, outside activities for your children.  They will get more from spending time at home with you than they will get from being coached by someone else as you wait to drive them to their next activity.  With the time not spent on the road, have family dinners.  This will increase nurture.  

  • Next time your child says that everyone has something or does something except for him, calmly say, “oh well, that is the way we run our house and I guess you have to live with that.”  This will help supply structure.  
  • Next time your child is struggling at school, at home or at an activity, look him straight in the eye and say, “I bet that is hard.  How will you fix it?”  Give them advice (not directives) on their plan and then let them attempt to fix it at least twice before getting further involved.  This will build latitude.  
I was so glad to see about 100 of you there last night.  It gladdens me to know that you and Duke School are partners in preparing the next generation of problem solvers for our complex world.  None of us can do it alone and we are truly stronger working together for all of our children.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reflection for November 1: Design is Important

I was somewhat worried about what I might find wandering around the morning after Halloween night, but all students seem relatively focused.  Indeed, I meandered into Marki’s art room where a third grader commented; “it seems awfully quiet in here.”  And why not?  The students were creating covers for their art portfolios, which would house much of their work for the year.  So, they had to be perfect.  Each student had selected a font and was copying the style (by hand) onto a cover.  The pride they were taking in their work was palpable. 

It was also great that students were beginning to see that the font you select sets a mood.  In a world in which design is increasingly important, Duke School starts teaching those skills early and in an integrated way.   

Monday, October 24, 2011

Riff for October 21: A New Brand

The school has officially rebranded—a new logo, a new website and even new magnets.  Before the rebranding, we had a full school assembly where I asked, “What is a logo?”  A fourth grader answered, “It is a symbol that represents a company.”  (Who knew our fourth graders went to Fuqua before matriculating at Duke School?)  After congratulating him for a great answer, I asked what thoughts does the new logo stimulate and the students starting firing off answers—modern, clean, professional and sophisticated.   They got it.  As Duke School works to position itself as the school of choice in Durham, we want our name to be synonymous with modernity and sophistication.  Further we want to send the message that our curriculum and pedagogy represent the best of 21st century education.  I think the logo carries some of that weight. 

We wanted the website to send some of the same messages.  As you know, the website is really divided into two portals—public and private.  We hope you find the private section personalized to your needs.  It should give you the information you want and need.  The public section is designed to help folks new to us to envision the school as we are.  The videos capture our program—its rigor powered by student engagement.  The advantage section touts our graduates’ success as well as the advantage of attending a 3 year-old-8 school.  The whole site speaks to a confident school positioned to help students master an ever-changing world.  It is exciting.

I want to thank the advancement team for their tireless work in getting the new brand ready.  I especially want to thank Danielle who spearheaded the project.

As we move forward remember to put the new sticker on your car, use your magnet and enjoy your cup.  It is an exciting time to be part of the Duke School community as we grow and improve.  As the kids like to remind me:  "We are dragons; we are real."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 6 Riff: Validation

From October 2—October 4, the accreditation team came, they saw and they were conquered.  Within 72 hours they interviewed groups of teachers, students, parents, board members, administrators, visited classes, and reviewed our finances. They trekked around the campus numerous times and were glad they brought comfortable shoes.  At the end, they made recommendations—we need to hire more diverse faculty members, we need to do a better job with marketing and we should think about changing our signs.  Then they started their commendations:

·      They commended the faculty for their outstanding constructivist teaching,
·      They commended the strong overall academic program,
·      They commended our project based curriculum and urged we keep it,
·      They commended the strength of the communication between school and parents,
·      They commended the school’s strong sense of community, and
·      They commended the skill and dedication of the administrative staff. 

I literally chocked up hearing Marcia Spiller, our accreditation chair (and Chair of the National Association of Independent Schools board) sharing the team’s accolades at a school-wide faculty meeting.  The team concluded that Duke School is excellent at doing the most important thing--preparing our children for their future.  One team member said he so enjoyed visiting our classrooms that the three days felt like a vacation.   It is great to have an outside group validate your program; it is even better to know our children are getting the best education has to offer.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reflection for September 30: Vibrant and Exciting

Every five years, a team from SAIS (Southern Association of Independent Schools) visits Duke School to determine if the school is worthy of reaccreditation.  That team comes Sunday and stays through Tuesday. They will visit classes, interview parents, faculty, staff, board members, and students.  In a short time, they will learn a lot about us.  While such a visit causes some anxiety, I am confident the team will see a vibrant, exciting school giving its children the skills they need to succeed in high school and beyond.  I cannot wait to get their report.   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reflection for September 23: Work to Stay a Step Ahead

Ran into a seventh grade sub today and asked how the day went.  He said it was the easiest and hardest teaching he had ever done.  Easy because the students were well behaved and had the disposition to learn and hard because the students were so engaged and sharp he had to work to stay a step ahead.  I love hearing that about our students—and better yet, it is true.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Riff for September 21: Bloom's Taxonomy

I walked into Madeline and Kara’s first grade class during snack time.  Madeline was reading a fiction book featuring a box turtle that slowly walked down to a pond and stuck out his neck to drink because box turtles do not swim.  She then asked her first graders what facts they learned about turtles from a fiction book.  One student volunteered that turtles move slowly.  Another observed that box turtles do not swim.  I then asked why an author writing fiction would put in real facts.  One student answered so the reader could learn facts.  Another stated that it makes the story more interesting if it seems true and real.

One of the seminal pieces in education is Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The Taxonomy helps teachers understand that the most basic questions are at the bottom of the Taxonomy; the most sophisticated questions at the top.  See it below:

Note that our first graders were not being asked to just remember or even just understand.  They were being asked to analyze—first what was true and second why an author would try the strategy she did.  Most schools stop at remembering.  It is great to see our first graders meet the challenge of climbing Bloom’s Taxonomy with such grace.  This is how creative thinkers are molded.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reflection for September 16: Welcome Lunch

I just had lunch with the new fifth graders and it was gratifying to hear what they said about their first few weeks at Duke School.  

“The teachers teach; they don’t just give a reading assignment and workbook pages to complete.”  

“The other kids are really nice. I have three to four good friends already and I have only been here, for like, three days.”  

“I love the projects that we do at school, because I can work with my classmates and learn more.” 

I should have taped the lunch; Duke School would sell itself.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 8 Riff: Meeting Needs

As I visited classes over the last few days, I have focused on bulletin boards. Two in particular caught my eye. I instantly thought back to my student days and compared and contrasted them. I liked how they told of the continuity of program and maturation of students.

The first picture comes from the 1st grade and illustrates the student’s goal for the year. The second picture is created by an 8th grader describing a mythical beast adapted for life in a closet.  Note the similarity of the assignment—illustrate an idea that is important to you.  Notice the care both students put into their work and the efforts they made to communicate. These attributes are shared by the 6 and 14-year-old students. Note the pedagogical similarities. Both assignments gave the students autonomy to create within a framework.  The first graders had different goals for the year, but each picture spoke to that student’s dreams. Likewise, the 8th grade closet critters were different but all shared adaptation to life in the closet. (Don’t you love the fact the critter hydrates on human foot sweat.  A graphic, if somewhat gross, image.) Both assignments called for creativity, and both asked students to apply and synthesize knowledge.

However, the assignments also showed the difference between 1st and 8th graders.  Most prominently, the 8th grader can write—no dictation to the teacher required.  Obviously the 8th grader’s drawing is more sophisticated with more details.  On the other hand, a bit of exuberance in the art was lost.  The older student’s work was more academic; indeed it applied one of the cornerstones of evolution, less than two weeks into the year.  The first grader was doing important and foundational work. 

Duke School is meeting the needs of both these age groups with similar and yet very different assignments.  My fervent wish is that Sophie learns to read better and learns tons about turtles. Also, I hope that all of us continue to live under the illusion that no yet undiscovered animal resides in our closets.    

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 6 Reflection: Composure

Everyone, and I mean everyone, was quiet and composed while in closets and bathrooms waiting out the tornado warning.  It was gratifying to see.

September 6 Reflection: Progress

I wandered into a sixth grade project time as students wrestled with the question “how do we recognize human progress?”  One student talked about tools for hunting. The student pointed out that as hunting technology improved from rock to spear to bow to gun, hunting could take place at farther and safer distances.  Another student agreed and then pointed out that hunting technology also led to increased danger as people could more easily harm one another.  Sixth graders discovering the plusses and minuses of progress…that is great. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1 Reflection: My Favorite Book

Wandering through the preschool building, I see the Older Preschool children sitting on the rug in the shared space. They are staring intently at Sandy who is reading Jane Brett’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  She introduces her eager audience to Brett’s wonderful illustrations and attention to detail.  She shares that her daughter, Ella ‘08, loved that book so much that they must have read it 1,000 times.  Sandy told the children that sometimes she hid the book to avoid reading it every night.  The preschoolers nodded; they understood, but they will still ask their parents to read their favorite book to them tonight.   

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 31 Riff: All for Haimish

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote an article describing the Yiddish word haimish.  Haimish is the qualities associated with an unpretentious warm environment in which you feel relaxed.  Brooks argues that the fancier or more elegant an establishment—be it a restaurant or a hotel—is the less likely it is to be haimish.  As he puts it, “Often, as we spend more on something, what we gain in privacy and elegance we lose in spontaneous sociability.” 

In the last few years, Duke School has moved into a nicer, prettier and, dare I say it, more elegant campus.  In lots of other ways we have become more professional—online forms, weekly centralized communications and a myriad of other advances.  However, as a school and a community haimish remains important to us.  Learning, dialogue between teacher and parent, and a love of school happen more easily when everyone is comfortable.  In lots of ways, Duke School is dedicating itself to haimish this year.  Having teachers and parents read the same book this summer was to help strengthen the community.  Writing a school song was meant to build community.  Encouraging attendance at sporting events, fall festival, and the end-of-year party all help build a haimish culture.  Further, Sandy and David will be holding coffees so you can talk with and feel more comfortable with them.  All for haimish.

We will never get the balance between growth and haimish exactly right.  However, as glad as I am about Duke School’s improvements, I do not want our sense of community to lessen.  Help continue to strengthen Duke School’s sense of community.    

Friday, August 26, 2011

Reflection for August 26

Today started with the welcome back assembly, complete with our dragon mascot.  After the assembly, I visited a kindergarten class, where a new student introduced herself to me.  She mentioned that she had seen me at the assembly and then stated, “at first the dragon scared me, but I remembered I was good at making friends so I gave him a high five and shook his hand.”  That is bravery and that is the kind of problem solving I wish for all of our students.    

Riff: August 26

For those who don’t know, Duke School adopted a new school song last year--written by the class of ’15 in response to a contest.  After a summer of not hearing the song, I heard it twice in the last two days--today at the welcome back assembly and most wonderfully at the conclusion of the PSO meeting last night.  It was great seeing our core volunteers join to share in the Duke School spirit.  

Clearly the song is important to me (and I would argue), to the students and at least some parents.  Why?  In many ways, the school song helps create community.  It is something that Duke School’s community shares uniquely among themselves.  It helps draw us together in spirit and emotion which is important.  And it does this without demonizing others.  Often symbols that draw communities together do it by condemning another group.  Because I root for the Yankees, I hate the Red Sox, by definition.  A school song leaves no enemies, it just creates friends.  

See the lyrics of the school song below and hear the Duke School community singing it.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reflection for August 24

Reflection for August 24:  On school’s first day do I focus on earthquakes and hurricanes or rather beginnings.  I chose beginnings.  The campus was alive again with energy and enthusiasm.  Classes from 1—8 were greeting and getting to know one another.  I asked a 7th grader how today was and she responded, “I learned so much, my head hurts.”  

My wish for the year: May all of our students’ heads hurt from so much knowledge and may all the hearts grow from gaining so much wisdom.  

Reflection for August 23

As a new year starts I am trying to use my blog in different ways.  My plan for this year is to write more often, two to three times a week, and to employ different types of entries.  Most regularly I hope to write a brief reflection, almost a tweet, though perhaps longer than 140 characters.  The second type of piece will be a riff, brief thoughts and conclusions about a reflection.  The third type will be a traditional magazine article piece about once a month.

Reflection for August 23:  It was great seeing students and parents reuniting after summer.  Children calling out to one another; parents with large smiles and big hellos.  Anticipation is running high and everyone is rejuvenated, looking forward to a great year.  This is one reason schoolwork is so rewarding.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Duke School Diverse Enough?

Is Duke School diverse enough?  Do we have “enough” students of color?  Are we concerned that no Duke School lead teacher is African American and only one is Hispanic?   As a community do we believe that diversity is critical to a well-rounded education or is it a nice extra? 

Some of these questions were somewhat addressed in crafting the strategic plan.  As part of the process, Ian Symmonds, our consultant, surveyed various constituencies about what they most valued about Duke School.  For both parents and faculty, diversity was a top ten value.  However, in each group, it was tenth.  (Love of learning was number one in both groups.)  So it seems that diversity is an important value but perhaps not a critical one, based on the survey results. Duke School’s strategic plan mirrors that perception. 

The strategic plan does have diversity goals—15% of the student body should be either Hispanic or African American and 8% of the total faculty should be faculty of color (non-Caucasian).  However the goals do not require much additional work from the community and may not have been set high enough.  Currently, 24% of our student body is non-Caucasian with 12% being either African American or Hispanic.  In addition, 8% of our current faculty is of color.  Hence the addition of twelve more Hispanic and/or African American students and keeping the number of non-Caucasian teachers steady would allow us to reach the strategic plan’s goals.  Two questions arise in my mind—would these numbers give us enough racial diversity and if not what barriers make it difficult to improve our diversity numbers.

After meeting the strategic plan goals would we then have enough racial diversity?  To answer that question, we need to wrestle with why racial diversity is important at all.  Some answers are obvious.  Our children will be entering a diverse workplace and will be interacting with people who are from different races, countries and religions.  They need to feel comfortable in such environments and early exposure to diversity is one way of creating such comfort.  Throughout their careers, our children will work for many diverse bosses.  As a result, they should have experience of seeing diverse people leading.  Further racial and ethnic diversity exposes children to different outlooks and thoughts, enriching our children’s education.  Perhaps less obvious, diversity tends to highlight similarities between people as much as differences.  As a result, stereotypes are broken.   

So if we agree that diversity is important, why focus on racial diversity?  Inevitably, when discussing this concept someone will comment, “There are many forms of diversity which add to the community.  Focusing on race is counterproductive and diminishes other forms of diversity.”  My response to this concern is threefold.  First is the objection correct?  We all bring diversity and enrich our environments.  However, racial diversity is critical to a community because racial diversity is visually obvious in a way that religious diversity or sexual orientation diversity is not.  

If we believe that diversity is so important why not just accept more black and Hispanic students and hire more diverse teachers? Well, as they say, it ain’t so easy.  First, our educational philosophy does not appeal to everyone, white or black.  So the pool of potential students and applicants is relatively small.  Second, our deeply ingrained custom of calling teachers by their first names strikes many African Americans as disrespectfully informal.   The rationale for that informality must be made clearly and articulately.  Finally, it is difficult to ask people to be trailblazers.  So we must create a warm and embracing school for diverse faculty and students. 

To overcome some of these obstacles, the board appointed a Diversity Committee, consisting of board members, community members and school staff.  We are currently working on crafting strategies to improve the climate for diverse faculty and students. 

Being a diverse and inclusive school is a journey.  We can always do better; we will never be perfect.  However, in a rainbow world, Duke School should have more colors shining brightly.  It will happen; but it takes work.