Head of School’s Blog

Winding Down – May 30, 2019

As I write this, Jason Sorin (7th grade) is likely trying hard to get some sleep. A few hours ago (late Wednesday afternoon), he learned that he scored well enough on the written test to advance to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I don’t know how Jason will fare on Thursday – coverage starts at 10:00AM on ESPN2 – but I do know that an estimated 11 million students (including 100 or so at TDS) entered this competition locally across the United States, and now fifty remain. Switching subjects to math for a moment, that places Jason in the top .00045% of all spellers. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Since this is Jason’s third trip to the National Bee, watching him spell on TV has become one of several reliable indicators that the end of the school year is near. Intense preparation for MS exams, the GFGA, the fourth grade beach trip, the second grade wax museum – all signal that the final days of school have officially arrived.

While the passing of time slows to a crawl from November to February, the end of the year has the same furious, frantic pace as the beginning. Our students have done their best to remain on task, but, as I am sure you have observed, it becomes progressively more challenging to stay focused as the thermometer rises and countdowns begin. Since starting Kindergarten with Mrs. Beecher forty-one years ago, I have been living and measuring my life in nine-month chapters. Some of you have heard me say that nothing should last longer than nine months. That was the length of my engagement, and, having delivered our oldest child two weeks late, I know my wife would agree about the duration of a pregnancy.

Truth be told, the school year is closer to 9.5 months, but nonetheless, it will be over soon. Routines will relax. We’ll have yelling-free mornings, breakfast at the table instead of in the car, and homework-free afternoons. In short, we’ll feel the calm after the storm.

And what should we do with all this calm? While the tendency in 2019 is to fill every waking moment with travel-team practices, rehearsals, classes, and educational trips, I would advocate that you preserve some time for your children to “do nothing.” This downtime might entail walking barefoot through the grass, building a sandcastle, catching lightning bugs, sketching a flower from the front yard, watching the sunrise, skipping stones at a lake, stargazing, or creating a sidewalk mural. Summer is an opportune time for over-programmed, over-scheduled kids to develop their powers of imagination and creativity, and to learn how to amuse themselves.

To clarify, down time does not mean plopping oneself on the couch to play Fortnite. In his book, Last Child in the Woods (2005), Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe the phenomenon of children spending more and more time inside. Now is our chance to combat this trend. You’ll note that all of the suggested activities above take place outdoors. Apply sunscreen if necessary, hand your children water bottles, and then boot them out of the house. Summer is also a time to be less plugged in, less connected to the various media that monopolize our daily lives. Take the family camping, preferably to a spot where there is no cell phone service, or, as my mother-in-law advised in a toast at our wedding, just “play in the dirt.”

There’s a mountain of evidence to suggest that spending time in nature improves physical, mental, and emotional health. We are less stressed, more creative, and happier when we make time for nature in our daily lives. In one study conducted a few years ago at UC Berkeley, researchers presented subjects with pictures of naturally beautiful scenes (vs. a control group that saw unremarkable pictures). All subjects were then asked to play two economics games that measure generosity and trust. Those exposed to the natural beauty scenes acted in a more generous, trusting manner during the games. If simply looking at pictures of nature can have an effect, imagine what sleeping under the stars can do for our collective psyches.

I look forward to our final few days, and then reconnecting in August, when I hope to hear about your many outdoor family adventures!

Doug Norry
Head of School

“80 percent of success is just showing up.” – May 16, 2019

Those who attended this year’s Auction remember the “Head of School for a Day” experience. Today, Tyler Fox is serving as Head of School. Thus far, he has greeted your children with a handshake, decreed extra recess in TK-2nd grade, helped clear some bookshelves, and weighed in on a number of initiatives. If you have any questions today, please let him know.

As I mentioned earlier, TDS feels particularly quiet today. Fifth graders are enjoying their Great Fifth Grade Adventure in Gatlinburg, TN. They have enjoyed laser tag, the science park, and the Titanic. Tonight they sleep with the sharks at the aquarium. Meanwhile, our Middle Schoolers are in Virginia, reliving colonial times in Williamsburg and Jamestown and spending a day on the water with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

If a picture is truly worth 1000 words, then consider this video, arranged by Ms. Farrer, a 62,000 word essay on Field Day, the highlight of last week. Thanks to Jeff and Margaret Dean and their team of volunteers for running our Lower Schoolers through the 50-yard dash, softball toss, tug o’ war, sack races, hooping it up, wet & wild, and everyone’s favorite, water bucket holes.

Middle School Field Day, organized by Maria Morrison, had a similar combination of traditional and creative events, including hurdles, the 50-yard dash, three-legged race, softball toss, cone flipping, and tic-tac-toe relays. Our students competed – PURPLE v. GOLD – for an ice cream treat.

“80 percent of success is just showing up.” This quotation, attributed to Woody Allen from the late 1970s, has seen several derivations over the past forty years. 60%? 80? Even 90? Success or life? No matter the specifics, I thought of Allen’s words toward the end of MS Field Day. Coach Morrison presented all students with the option of running a mile. Simply by finishing, students would earn two points for their team. At the time, the PURPLE team trailed by four points. But PURPLE had four more runners “show up” and agree to battle the heat for a full mile. In the end, the PURPLE team emerged victorious, 138 to 134. In this case, and in so many instances in life, “showing up” made all the difference.

Life Lessons from Jeopardy – May 2, 2019

Jeopardy is a family favorite in the Norry household. As three contestants battle it out over 60 questions on this quiz show, we enjoy yelling answers at the television from the friendly, pressure-free confines of our couch. The last four weeks have been a wild ride!

In 2004, Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive Jeopardy games, amassing $2,520,700 in winnings in the process, and some dubbed this “the record that will never be broken.” Just as Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2130 consecutive baseball games was eclipsed by Cal Ripken in 1995, however, a current contestant who is rewriting the record books has fans wondering if “the streak” is, as the name suggests, in jeopardy.

Meet James Holzhauer, a 34-year old professional gambler, who has astonished viewers with his boundless trivia knowledge, lightning quick recall, and Jedi-like mastery of the often finicky Jeopardy buzzer. To date, Holzhauer has 20 victories (the winner returns the next night to face two new challengers). That’s good for second place on the all-time list, but he’s only 27% of the way to Jennings’ total. So why all the fuss?

Simply put, because he is raking in the dough. With just shy of $1.5M in earnings, Holzhauer is shattering Jennings’ pace. He already holds the top nine spots for single-day winnings, and if he continues at his current pace ($74,361 per win), he will lay claim to the top spot on the money list after a mere 34 victories. These outrageous totals have as much to do with Holzhauer’s aggressive style as his trivia prowess. He opts for the most expensive questions first, hunts the Daily Doubles, and often wagers most or all of his money.

What can we learn from Holzhauer’s turning the Jeopardy world on its end? Several things, actually. First, the value of hard work and preparation. Holzhauer might have been a math & science whiz as a kid, but he has spent countless hours deepening his knowledge of all trivia. Moreover, he watched reruns of hundreds of episodes – standing, in dress shoes, holding a buzzer – to acclimate himself to the show’s pace and intensity. Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice as a requirement to become world-class in any field (see Outliers) might have been debunked, but there’s no doubt that Holzhauer is benefitting from his extreme preparation. As a young child, he promised his grandmother that he would be on Jeopardy. He has likely been preparing ever since.

Second, the value of taking risks. When Holzhauer describes his strategy – “play fast, build a big stack, bet big, and hope for the best” – he sounds more like a poker player than a game show contestant. That said, there’s clearly a method to his risky madness. Many have pointed out that his ‘maximize your winnings per show’ strategy might ultimately lead to his undoing; losing big on a Daily Double could potentially open the door for an inferior challenger to catch him. Still, it’s hard to argue with his results.

Finally, the value of knowing what you know, and what you don’t. Despite his aggressive style and risky play, Holzhauer does not buzz in just for the sake of it. In fact, to date he has answered correctly 97% of the time, putting him in a class by himself.

Work hard. Prepare. Take risks. Have confidence in what you know, but understand the limits of your knowledge. I don’t know whether any of our students will compete on Jeopardy, but if they can take away these life lessons, they will be richer for it.

Switching gears for a moment, we are excited to host the annual TDS Art Fair next Wednesday, May 8. The event will be held in the HAC Commons. Your child’s framed artwork will be on display from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm.

We invite you to come and admire your child’s beautiful work, either during the school day or prior to attending the Spring Concert at 6:00 PM. If you would like to purchase a frame, they will be available for $30.00. A portion of the proceeds will be used to support the visual art program at TDS. Please note that purchases are optional, and all of the students’ lovely work will be returned.

Monday, May 6 begins Art Week at TDS. Throughout the week, we will focus on ways that the visual arts contribute to our cultural environment. Here are some questions to help you continue the conversations at home, perhaps during family meals or in the car:

  • What works of art (original paintings, sculpture, prints) do you have in your house? How did you choose them?
  • Does your family have a favorite artist?
  • Does your family enjoy creating art together? Making craft projects? Visiting art museums?
  • Please contact Cindy Lucas or Jodi Hughes if you have questions about the Art Fair or Sherri Fulp or Sheryl Blackwell to volunteer to help with the event.

Thank you!

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

International Festival – April 18, 2019

Do you remember reading The World is Flat by Tom Friedman? He wrote the book 14 years ago, explaining how several technological advances had come together to spur globalization, create a global marketplace, and effectively shrink our planet.

We tend to associate globalization with the need for cross-cultural competence. To be sure, many in educational circles recognized the benefits of seeking to understand other cultures and perspectives long before “globalization” entered our lexicon. Yet Friedman’s work, which described an increasingly interconnected world, added practical and economic reasons to focus on our receptivity toward those different than ourselves.

As articulated in our Statement of Diversity and Inclusion, we at TDS “are committed to creating awareness, developing cultural competence, and building a diverse and inclusive environment where all persons are valued for their unique qualities.” While much of this awareness and competence stems from our curriculum – what we investigate and what we read – we also are fortunate to have many different cultures represented at TDS, and we dedicate time to learning from one another.

Today begins International Week at TDS, five days focused on exploring cultures and customs throughout the world, many of which are seen in our own families. Students will be learning about the many elements that make up culture.

Today, classes are asking these questions:

What customs and traditions does your family practice?

What beliefs are important to your family?

Next week, the focus shifts:

  • Tuesday – food from around the world
  • Wednesday – music and art from different countries
  • Thursday – different languages

Of course, all of this leads up to our signature event, International Festival, which takes place next Friday. Many of you have volunteered to contribute to our International Cafe; students in each grade will sample cuisine – and in many cases family recipes – from around the world. At 1:00, parents are invited to join us in the gym, where Lower School students and the Middle School chorus will sing songs in Spanish, Swahili, Yiddish, Korean, Polynesian, and Japanese. The day concludes with students in all ten grades attending workshops run by teachers and parents. Lower Schoolers will have opportunities to create Rangoli art from India, explore folk art from Mexico, learn to salsa dance, play steel drums from Trinidad, speak in Welsh, cook traditional Cuban cuisine, and much more. Meanwhile, Middle School students will learn traditional drumming techniques from the Congo, get their bodies in motion as they practice various Latin dances, and cook classic Mediterranean dishes before sampling what they create in the kitchen. Thank you for sharing your stories, customs, talents and expertise with us at TDS.

It’s both obvious and important to note that our push to explore, appreciate, and understand the great diversity that exists, both in the world and at TDS, is not confined to International Week. Just as science and math take place beyond Science and Math Weeks, our exploration of cultures is woven throughout our curriculum.

Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

How to be Happy – April 4, 2019

Message from the Head of School:

Earlier this week, I received the Amherst magazine (Spring, 2019), a semi-annual publication that typically has me flipping first to the Alumni Notes to catch up with my classmates. This time, the cover story caught my attention: How To Be Happy. The article turned out to be four different stories, each with its own perspective on happiness. Eager for nuggets of wisdom relevant to my personal or professional life, I began reading.

#1 – Read Melville. This piece, written by a recent graduate, highlights an Amherst professor’s new book on the great American author. While I appreciated the focus on the importance of reading – “everyone needs a sense of the value of what has come before” – it’s hard for me to imagine that Ishmael’s fictitious account of the obsessive quest of Captain Ahab would hold the attention of our middle schoolers. After all, the novel didn’t rise to prominence until well after Melville’s death.

#2 – Change careers. Unless the Washington Nationals need a long reliever who throws in the mid-40s, I’m not giving this serious consideration. That said, I enjoyed the story of Cristian Hinojosa, the banker turned fire chief and paramedic. Hinojosa’s description of fire fighting as “feeding [his] soul” suggests that he made a personal choice in accordance with the final chapter of the TDS mission statement. That is, he is leading a life of purpose. During Career Month, our students hear from many alumni and parents about what they do, and why that work is meaningful to them.

#3 – Shift your outlook. Catherine Sanderson, professor of psychology, has written several books on mindset and happiness. In her words, “Those who approach life with a more positive mindset are happier regardless of their life circumstances.” In short, just think about turning lemons into lemonade. Though acknowledging that some of us have a genetic head start, Sanderson maintains that thinking positive thoughts can actually change neural pathways in our brains. When our lower schoolers add to their gratitude journals, they are setting themselves up to be happy. Secondly, Sanderson advises that we spend time with people who make us feel good. Studies show that having a happy friend increases your own happiness. At TDS and elsewhere, happiness is contagious.

#4 – Get rid of your phone. Those who know me well are surely aware that this story caught my attention. Rand Cooper ‘80 shared that he has been phone-free since being pickpocketed seven years ago. His reasoning is revealed in several questions he poses: “The history of innovation is littered with outmoded and discarded skills; nobody cares about not knowing how to shoe a horse or read Morse Code. But what happens when the skill we’re discarding is our ability to converse face-to-face? Or to write a complex sentence? Or to be alone with ourselves?” If Rand’s rant has piqued your interest, I encourage you to read “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation.” This thoughtful piece, published 18 months ago in The Atlantic, warns of multiple deleterious effects of these increasingly pervasive gadgets. For his part, Rand suggests holding off as long as possible before putting devices in the hands of our children. He also advocates for a weekend detox – lose the phone and reboot the actual human experience. If 48 hours seems like a lot to you, let’s start with time spent in carline at TDS!

Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School