Head of School’s Blog

Small Moments

A few days after Christmas, the Norry family headed West in search of fun, adventure, and larger-than-life family moments. We had a fabulous time, and there’s certainly plenty to remember from our trip. That said, a funny thing happened when a fifth-grader turned my question around, asking me about the highlight of my vacation. I responded confidently and without hesitation: “Helping my daughter clean out her closet.”

While I did not major in physics, my elementary understanding of the second law of thermodynamics (or the law of entropy) is that everything in the natural universe tends toward disorder. Kate’s room is the perfect example of this. Through forces seemingly outside of her control, no matter how often she cleans and organizes, it always ends up a mess. And her closet? It’s a good thing that space is not visible from the hallway!

Kate and I woke up on Saturday with no school, no homework, no club soccer, and very little on our to-do lists. After breakfast, I offered my organizational services, and to my surprise, she accepted. We grabbed some trash bags and got to work. I left my phone in my room and promised myself that I wouldn’t judge. Not distracted by any electronic devices, I began to notice the small things. She tried on two-thirds of her clothes and generated two full bags of give-aways. In the process, I took note of which clothes she really likes. I think I can now tell her jeans from her sister’s.

Even with fewer articles of clothing, we needed additional space, so we attacked the top shelves. Virtually everything we found led to a story: unopened bat mitzvah gifts, a pillowcase full of candy from Halloween (2018 or earlier), a photo album dating back to her days as a toddler, the complete set of Berenstain Bears books, artwork from Kindergarten, and various stuffed animals (of course, she knew when and how she acquired each of them). We laughed as we remembered both the milestones (her bat mitzvah) and the seemingly smaller moments (my reading to her each night), and we argued about the shelf-life of chocolate.

Though each story caused us to veer a bit off course, we eventually completed the task. While I’m still not sure if the newfound tidiness will take hold, I’m proud to report that, each of the past three evenings, I’ve found Kate doing her homework on the floor in her closet. Apparently, she now relishes having a neat space of her own.

In an article appearing in The Bump, Joanne Chen explains relational savoring in this way: “By taking the time to notice the moments you share with your child and relishing all the little details surrounding it, you enhance your emotional well being and overall life satisfaction.” This might seem quite intuitive, but one of our greatest challenges as parents is to slow down, be mindful, live in the moment, and awaken to the daily experiences with our children. This past Saturday, I was able to do just that, and I emerged not only happier, but also feeling closer to my teenage daughter. Until someone figures out how to freeze time, taking stock of life’s small moments will have to suffice. Whether you traveled far or stayed at home, I hope that the past few weeks provided you with many of these moments.

Doug Norry
Head of School

The Streak and Seven Habits

As a baseball fan growing up in Bethesda, Maryland years before the Nationals’ eventual move to Washington D.C., I pulled hard for the Baltimore Orioles. I remember fondly trips to Memorial Stadium with my father, cheering for the Birds and then falling asleep during the rides home on 95 South. At age 11, I watched Cal Ripken play his first game for the O’s in May 1982. No one could have anticipated what happened next.

While Ripken soon transitioned from third base to shortstop, he never stopped playing. On September 6, 1995, Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game, surpassing Lou Gehrig’s streak (which had stood for 56 years) and officially becoming baseball’s Iron Man. I watched that game from my living room in St. Louis, and as a 23-year old, I cried tears of joy as he circled the field and acknowledged the fans. I was overwhelmed with pride and in awe of his accomplishment.

Since then, I have always loved streaks. Not so much winning streaks, but streaks that hinge on the daily grind. Ripken was a great player, but he is best known for fighting through the aches, pains, and nagging injuries that arise while playing 162 games in 180 days, and not taking a day off for more than 16 years.

Fast forward to 2017. Inspired by my baseball idol, motivated by my new Fitbit, and amused by some rather zany streaks accomplished by a lifelong friend, I proclaimed on February 1st that I would walk at least 10,000 steps a day for 1,000 consecutive days. To be clear, I was not striving for the extraordinary. Many of us walk this much on many days; my only challenge was to do it every day.

A few weeks ago (October 28, to be exact), I completed the streak. While there were a few nervous moments – a kidney stone and a nasty bout of food poisoning top the list – I was lucky to avoid any serious issues, and I just kept walking.

What I failed to anticipate in February 2017 is that adhering to this streak would fundamentally change my habits in profound ways. I became less sedentary, walking in between morning handshakes, intentionally parking far from stores, taking stairs instead of the elevator, and leaving my office more during the day. I also became more helpful, as I came to see walking the dog, grocery shopping, and even basic household chores as opportunities to get steps. A shift in mindset accompanied my new habits. Even this morning, as I frantically scoured the house in search of my daughter’s gym bag, my mood stayed relatively light as I thought about my increasing step count.

These thousand days afforded me a much greater respect for the power of habits, behaviors which grow stronger and more automatic over time. Psychologists explain that habits create neurological cravings – my wife would agree that I have become a compulsive walker – as our brains link reward pathways to these repeated behaviors. We certainly try to instill habits at home (brushing teeth, eating healthy, expressing gratitude) and at school (living the core values, reading, staying organized), and this can best be achieved when teachers and parents work together.

As a final note, I’ll share that I even re-read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. While these habits are less quantifiable, they are certainly worthy of our consideration. For those who don’t plan to read the 245-page book, here’s a quick summary:

  • Be Proactive. This begins with, yet ultimately goes far beyond, taking initiative. Being proactive means accepting responsibility for our actions, making choices based on principles, and becoming agents of change.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Years ago, having learned that I had proposed to his daughter, my future father-in-law asked me about my 15-year plan. I suppose he wanted me to work on Habit #2.
  • Put first things first. Moving from procrastinator to prioritizer requires that we devote more time to the “important but not urgent” quadrant of our lives.
  • Think win-win. People with this mindset think in terms of “we” and not “me.” Founded in mutual respect, it makes conflict resolution possible and leads to powerful collaboration.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. “Doing good” often involves asking a question and then listening intently to the entire answer.
  • Synergize. Avoid cliques. Celebrate differences. Reach out to others.
  • Sharpen the saw. Adults should pay particular attention to this final habit. As we balance work with raising children, it’s important for us to carve out time for personal renewal.

My niece recently suggested that I shoot for 10,000 consecutive days. I’ll be back in touch in 2044.

Doug Norry
Head of School

An Attitude of Gratitude

LS library displayWith Thanksgiving only a week away, I trust that many of us are anticipating some time-honored family traditions. As a kid, I looked forward to a family football game, a crowded dinner table, my Aunt Rosemary’s pies, and my uncles engaging in a protracted, boring conversation about politics. Thanksgiving is a time when we all feel encouraged to slow down, count our blessings, and express thanks for the many wonderful people in our lives.

While not wanting to detract from this national holiday, my question is a simple one: why do we wait until late November to do this?

Much has been written in recent years to document the positive effects that expressing gratitude has on one’s physical and psychological health. Reviewing several studies, Harvard researchers conclude that “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” An article appearing in Positive Psychology finds that gratitude is associated with greater empathy, more sleep, and even more regular exercise.

Kindergarten classroom's things to be grateful for
Is it really that easy? Does simply saying thank-you lead to this plethora of positive outcomes? My sixth grade math students would point out – correctly! – that we should be wary of confusing correlation and causation. Perhaps healthier, more empathetic people are naturally more grateful, or perhaps all of these stem from another variable entirely. Attempting to address this issue, researchers have run controlled experiments in which subjects are asked to keep a journal for several weeks. One group is specifically advised to keep a gratitude journal; they spend their time writing detailed notes about things for which they are grateful. Typically, researchers find this “gratitude group” to be healthier – as defined by several metrics – at the conclusion of the experiment.

All I Really Need To Know PosterRobert Fulghum wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten thirty-three years ago. It rose to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List, and more than seven million copies have been sold. While Fulghum’s work is best characterized as a credo about what’s important in life, it’s true that the Kindergarten year at TDS lays a solid foundation for continued growth and progress. This includes learning several powerful habits. As we teach the ABCs, we engender a love of reading. As we teach social-emotional skills, we instill positive habits such as being proactive and “thinking win-win.” Near the top of this list is the habit of expressing gratitude. Frequently during circle time, Kindergartners are asked to express one thing that they are thankful for. Often, new responses find their way onto the wall. For their sake, I hope our Kindergartners carry this habit of gratitude throughout their entire lives. We clearly have much to learn from them.

Doug Norry
Head of School

Raising Problem Solvers

With our Lower School intramural program in full swing and Middle School practice starting next week, I find myself thinking a lot about basketball these days. The missive below is similar to one I wrote seven years ago for the Parents Council of Washington blog.

Immediately following graduate school, I taught and coached at Bryn Mawr, an all-girls independent school in Baltimore, MD. During my first year there, I served as the assistant coach for a high school AAU basketball team. The head coach had more than thirty years experience, including many at the collegiate level; he even served on Tubby Smith’s staff at one point in his career. (Among other distinctions, Coach Smith led the Kentucky Wildcats to the men’s NCAA championship in 1998.) This AAU team, comprised of top players from several schools in the area, was assembled as a group of all-stars, and they aspired to win at the state level. At our parent meeting to open the season, the coach delivered a line that I have never forgotten:

“If you want your daughter to be happy all the time, this probably isn’t the right place for her.”

The coach, of course, was referring to the fact that these girls would need to work hard, take on unfamiliar roles, and be unselfish. The parents, who viewed this team as a key step toward playing at the collegiate level, ate it up. At the time, I remember thinking that we should use his line at Bryn Mawr’s Back to School Night – to send a clear message that parent over-involvement and solving kids’ problems did more harm than good in the long run.

A few years later, I had kids of my own, and I began to understand the impulses that I had previously regarded as simply poor parenting. When an infant cries, our instinct is to soothe her. In fact, at this age, we attend to their every need – feeding, burping, wiping, swaddling, rocking to sleep (just ask me about the absurd methods I employed to get Will to go to sleep!). When our children become toddlers, we want them to be happy, not only because we love them unconditionally but also because if they aren’t, they will likely throw a tantrum. And so the foundation of parent intervention is set; parents are only as happy as their least happy child.

While the coach’s message was crass, its content merits careful consideration. True growth and learning stem from life’s disappointments: being cut from a team, failing a test, or, as Wendy Mogel suggests in her book, a skinned knee. Now more than ever, we manage our children’s lives, and our first instinct is to fix their problems. Mogel cautions us not to spoil our children emotionally by “trying to inoculate [them] against the pain of life” (91). Instead, we should teach them that they are both unique and ordinary, and, rather than assuming fragility, we should “prepare them for rough conditions by teaching them to tolerate some stresses and extremes” (113). Doing so will foster their development of resilience and self-reliance.

Have you ever made a second trip to TDS to drop off an item that your son or daughter has left in the car or at home? I have, in a moment of weakness. And perhaps it’s not fair to lump all of these cases together. After all, bringing a Kindergartner her lunch feels different than bringing a sixth grader his Social Studies project. At some point, fixing these mistakes equates to denying our children the experience of explaining to the teacher why they do not have their homework. The benefits of that interaction far outweigh the loss of a few points on an assignment. Put another way, if we want our children to grow up to be good problem solvers, we need to let them encounter some problems on their own.

Doug Norry
Head of School

Crossing the Finish Line

This past Saturday, nearly 300 runners and walkers alike wound their way through American Village in the 2019 Twister Trot. Thank you for taking part in this wonderful event, for honoring Marcy Speer and the many others in our community who have battled cancer with courage and strength. I was struck by how many names were submitted to be read during the opening ceremony. So many in our extended TDS family have fought this terrible disease.

In particular, I’d like to thank Casey Speer (TDS ’10, Riverside HS ’14, and Georgetown University ’18) for returning to TDS to speak about her mom, and what this race means to her. Casey traveled home from Washington, D.C., and, as has become her custom, she brought a dozen friends with her. Thanks as well to the many volunteers who made this event possible (including Maria Morrison, event planner extraordinaire!), to the TDS chorus for singing the national anthem, and to the TDS cheerleaders for helping many of us find that final burst to cross the finish line.

5K Overall Winners

  • Male – Wil Schneider (7th)
  • Female – Natalie Dickson
  • TDS Middle School boy – Wil Schneider (7th)
  • TDS Middle School girl – Avery Keats (7th)
  • Male, TDS Lower School boy – PJ Lefebvre (4th)
  • TDS Lower School girl – Irena Rand (5th)

Students Crossing the Finish Line Ahead of Mr. Norry (boys) or Ms. Hofmann (girls)
These students earned an all-you-can-eat lunch from Cookout

  • 3rd – Bella Boytor, Olivia Neely, Skylar Offield
  • 4th – Milan Krishnamoorthy, PJ Lefebvre
  • 5th – Lingfei Tang, Irena Rand, Jahan Krishnamoorthy, Joseph Schneider
  • 6th – June Calloway, Connor Winstead
  • 7th – Avery Keats, Will Pavlicek, Wil Schneider

One thing I love about this challenge is the milestones it creates. Each year, I find myself sprinting down Neal Road amidst a pack of TDS students, wondering who will have the stamina to sustain the pace for 3.1 miles. In past years, I was surprised by the performances of PJ, Milan, Connor, and Wil S., who all beat me at very young ages. This year, I never saw the four of them once we turned into American Village. Each is a year closer to his athletic prime, and it showed!

Instead, I focused my attention on Joseph and Jahan. Running 10-15 yards behind them (and Will P.) for the majority of the race, I wondered if these fifth graders, with their short strides, would fade. I recalled passing them in the third mile in prior years. My eyes fixated on Joseph’s shirt: JUST DO IT. I had trained for this race, and I was trying. I even ran a minute faster than last year.

Here’s the thing – they didn’t fade. If anything, they gained strength and speed during that third mile. It’s worth noting that both of them joined the Cross Country team this year! They both passed this milestone, crossed this threshold. I imagine I’ll be buying them lunches until they graduate.

Ms. Hofmann shared a similar story about racing the girls. She trained diligently for this race, improving her time by five minutes over last year! Still, Avery, June, Irena, and Lingfei were far too fast. She did attract a sea of girls, and while some faded, Bella, Olivia, and Skylar matched her pace through three miles and then sprinted through the final segment to earn their lunch.

With the 2020 race twelve months away, Ms. Hofmann and I are back in training mode, determined to keep setting the bar high. Still, I find myself wondering which students will hit that milestone, or cross that threshold, next year.

Doug Norry
Head of School