Head of School’s Blog

Nelson Mandela and Forgiveness – December 12, 2013

Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Umtata, South Africa in 1918. (His teacher gave him the name “Nelson” on his first day of school.) Loosely translated, Rolihlahla means ‘trouble maker,’ and Nelson Mandela certainly made trouble for the status quo of apartheid in South Africa.

After repeated arrests for seditious activities, Mandela was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1962. Amidst increasing international pressure, he was released after twenty-seven years in 1990, and he immediately began working to end the systematized segregation and discrimination in his home country. Mandela took leadership of the African National Congress in 1991 and was elected President of South Africa in 1994, garnering 63% of the vote in the first election open to citizens of all races. In the years that followed, he tackled issues of poverty and inequality, as well as a legacy of racism. Declining to seek a second term in 1999, Mandela continued to play the role of elder statesman until his death last week.

From anti-apartheid revolutionary to politician, from international peace-keeper to philanthropist, Nelson Mandela was a transcendent figure who left a remarkable legacy to all those who seek freedom and justice. Drawing comparisons to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi and George Washington, to name only a few, Mandela is rightly referred to as the “father of a nation.” We admire his idealism and courage (in being prepared to die for a democratic, free society), his principled determination (in living through his twenty-seven years in jail), and his humanity and statesmanship (in earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his leadership of the African continent as a whole).

All of that said, perhaps Nelson Mandela’s most remarkable character trait was his capacity for forgiveness. As I explained to the Middle School during our meeting yesterday, he immediately urged forgiveness for the government that imprisoned him: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” In a deeply divided country seemingly on the verge of a bloody civil war, Mandela’s genuine, profound insistence upon compassion and tolerance rather than bitterness and retribution paved the way for a peaceful democratic transition.

Nelson Mandela’s capacity for forgiveness helped save a nation, and it continues to inspire those who wish for a kinder, more caring world. This includes all of us here at TDS, who continue to focus on forgiveness, November’s character trait, encouraged by the example set by this remarkable man.

The Grant Study – December 6, 2013

In 1938, Harvard University researchers embarked upon an ambitious longitudinal study. Establishing two cohorts – sophomores at Harvard and a group of lesser advantaged inner city young men – the goal was to track subjects throughout their lives and identify predictors of healthy, successful aging. With more than seventy years worth of data generated by regular questionnaires, physical exams, and in-depth interviews, the “Grant Study” represents the most comprehensive, long-lasting longitudinal study in the field of social science.

Joining the research team in 1966, George Vaillant has published findings in multiple books, including (most recently in 2012) Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study. Reflecting on generations worth of qualitative and quantitative data, Vaillant is crystal clear about the single most important finding – “it was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.” Or, as he put it a few years earlier in an article appearing in The Atlantic, “the only thing that really matters in life are your relations with other people.”

Consider this data from World War II as one small example. What factors correlated with attained military rank? Body build, parents’ social class, and IQ had no influence. By contrast, what did correlate significantly with achieving a higher ranking “was a generally cohesive home atmosphere in childhood and warm relations with mother and siblings” (43). Whether it’s lifetime earnings or happiness and health in old age, Vaillant instructs that warmth of childhood and quality of adult relationships make the most difference.

Several weeks ago, I called attention to the fact that – whether it’s “emotional intelligence,” a term coined by Howard Gardener in 1983, or “emotional quotient,” a term popularized by Daniel Goleman twenty years later, our lexicon has rightly broadened to include this ‘softer side’ of intelligence. Furthermore, I discussed how teachers work to meet the emotional needs and develop the emotional capacities of our students, creating classroom climates in which students are engaged, caring and respectful.

When I meet with prospective parents during Admissions Information Sessions, I suggest that, during their tour, they should pay particular attention to student-to-student interactions. Essentially, I ask them to watch how our students treat one another. While no day is perfect, our students feel free to be themselves and to express their feelings, and they support one another in meaningful ways. Having now met many TDS alumni, it’s apparent to me that these friendships extend well past graduation.

Beyond providing a solid foundation for high school and college, our goal at TDS is to help prepare our students for healthy, successful lives. The Grant study findings suggest that – in creating a warm, comfortable setting in which close relationships develop over time – we are on the right track.

How Children Succeed – November 21, 2013

If you’re searching for a book to read over the Thanksgiving holiday, consider How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Building on years of social science research, Tough stresses the importance of certain character traits as predictors of achievement and life satisfaction.

Let’s start with the marshmallow test. In the 1960s, Stanford professor Walter Mischel designed an experiment to test the willpower of four-year olds. Subjects were placed in a room with a bell and a marshmallow and given a choice: ring the bell, have the experimenter return, and eat the marshmallow; OR wait for the experimenter to return on her own, and get two marshmallows. More than ten years later, Mischel pulled his data out of storage and began to track down the then teenage subjects. The results: “Children who had been able to wait for fifteen minutes for their treat had SAT scores that were, on average, 210 points higher than those who had rung the bell after thirty seconds” (62).

What other traits, in addition to self-control, might affect one’s progress? In the 1960s, Calvin Edlund administered an IQ test to young children. Several weeks later, the kids took a similar test, but this time half the group got an M&M for each correct answer. While the control group scores remained stable, the IQs of those in the M&M group shot up by twelve points. So much for the permanence of intelligence.

Experiments involving motivation have proven challenging to replicate with older subjects, in part because it’s hard to pinpoint what motivates people. Still, consider the research of Carmit Segal, who analyzed the results from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Segal focused on an assessment that measured coding speed, essentially a mindless activity, widely regarded as “the world’s most boring test” (68). Segal reasoned that the assessment actually measured one’s ability to force himself to focus on and care about such a boring, low-stakes task. Twenty years later, the fast coders were earning significantly more than those with slower coding speeds. Why? Tough concludes that the quality of trying hard even when there are no obvious incentives – or conscientiousness – is important in the workplace.

Self-control. Motivation. Conscientiousness. What about grit? Angela Duckworth defined grit as “a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission” (74). She developed a twelve-item grit questionnaire and administered it to 1200 freshman cadets at West Point. In the end, her data proved more reliable than the military’s comprehensive evaluation system, more accurately predicting which cadets would survive the summer training course.

The good news, according to Tough, is that character, like intelligence, is malleable. In fact, some charter schools have instituted “performance character” report cards, reasoning that informing parents about their children’s grit and self-control will help pave the way for improvement in these areas. Of course, Tough cautions that “the best way for a young person to build character is for him to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure” (85), and he encourages schools to provide these challenges. While it might seem counter-intuitive, we need to let our children experience the painful bumps along the way, knowing that character growth comes from pulling oneself through a crisis, and from overcoming one’s shortcomings. As parents and teachers, we then lovingly stand by their side as they pick themselves back up.

The aforementioned studies only scratch the surface of book. I encourage you to check it out during the holiday season.

Twister Trot – November 14, 2013

Yesterday, TDS played host to two much anticipated community events. In the morning, grandparents and friends joined students in the classroom and then were treated to a musical voyage around the world, featuring songs from six continents. In the evening, the multicultural theme continued with International Night in the gym, a celebration of different cultures, foods, and family traditions.

Soon, the TDS community will gather again for a morning of exercise and fun. Calling all runners and walkers: I hope to see you on campus next Saturday, November 23rd at 9:00 AM for our 5K timed run, or 1-mile fun run, through American Village.

The TDS Twister Trot, formerly Marcy’s Run, is a race to honor the courage and strength of our community. Marcy Speer was a dedicated wife, mother, and world-renowned geneticist at Duke University. She lost her battle with cancer in 2006. At the time, Marcy’s Run was created as a way to honor her memory as well as her contributions to the TDS community, and to support science education. Sadly, in the years since the race began, the TDS community has had many other families affected by cancer. With the blessing of the Speer family, the race takes on a new name this year as TDS seeks to honor all families who have been or currently are being affected by this terrible disease. We invite all of our racers to honor a friend or family member impacted by cancer at our race.

Racers will have much to look forward to upon crossing the finish line, including performances by the TDS cheerleading squad, Dance Theatre South’s Tour de Force dance team, as well as a few mystery guests. Enjoy a bagel or chicken nugget, have your face painted, and plan to stay with us through the awards ceremony.

This year, TDS is excited to host Be The Match, a national marrow donor program that connects patients with their donor match for a life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant. Be The Match will be at the race to swab cheeks and help any individual register to be a bone marrow donor. Amy Wolf, a TDS lifer, and Caroline Daniels, a family member, both received transplants in recent years. The transplant journey takes courage and strength. Both girls are beautiful examples of grace and courage. Every new bone marrow donor added to the registry increases the possibility of healing for a cancer patient.

Go to www.twistertrot.eventbrite.com to register. Packet pick-up will take place at the Refectory Café in Durham on Friday, November 22nd from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. We hope you’ll stay for dinner – this dine-out is a fundraiser for TDS.

If you’re excited about everything except the running/walking, please consider volunteering for the race. Visit www.signupgenius.com/go/30E0B48ABA82AA31-twister to join a team of dedicated volunteers.

Finally, your children have learned about multiple contests and incentives in recent weeks. The class with the highest level of student participation will win a pizza party. In addition, any TDS student who crosses the 5K finish line ahead of me will earn an all-you-can-eat lunch at Cookout. No free lunches for TDS alumni, but Ms. Katy and Mr. Sikes will be on hand to cheer you on. Please consider joining us for this fun-filled morning at TDS.

The “D” Team – November 7, 2013

With the start of basketball season at TDS this week, it seems appropriate to tell the story of my first experience coaching this sport. I began my teaching career at a well-established independent school in St. Louis, MO. During the winter season, rather than abiding by the more traditional Middle School basketball routine, each grade fielded teams that practiced one or two evenings per week and played games on the weekends. As this program occurred after school hours, most of the teams were coached by parents.

In the winter of 1994-95, thirty-six 7th grade boys tried out for basketball. Since space was not an issue – it’s easy to stagger practices when teams need only one hour per week in the evening – there were no cuts. The parent-coaches, with help from the Athletic Director, scheduled a mass tryout one evening. The top ten made the A-Team, the next ten comprised the B-Team, and #21-30 were assigned to the C-Team. That left the final six, #31 through #36 on the depth chart, for the D-Team. Perhaps four teams of nine would have been a more sensible, equitable choice, but this was not to be. Not surprisingly, no D-Team parent jumped at the opportunity to coach, so I got the call. With that season began my passion for coaching basketball.

On the D-Team, we had several things working against us. First, none of the boys had played organized basketball before. Second, we had only six players. For one game, five showed up and one fouled out. We switched to zone defense at that point. Finally, and perhaps most critically, no other school fielded more than two teams, so there were no other D-Teams for us to play.

Winning was not an option. We played ten games and lost each by more than twenty-five points. My task was to teach fundamentals, to stress teamwork, and to buoy our collective enthusiasm amidst double-digit defeats. Over the past nineteen years, I have coached many teams, from first grade to Varsity, both boys and girls, but that winter might have been my best season of coaching. The boys became better players, supported one another, and had fun.

At TDS, in addition to our athletic program, some of our student-athletes participate on one or more out-of-school teams. In some cases, formal practices run year-round, and they compete constantly. Do they measure their progress solely by wins and losses? Even if winning is not the expressed goal, everyone still wants to win. Members of the D-Team felt none of that pressure. The game’s outcome was never in doubt, and that added real clarity to the situation. While we played against and certainly respected our opponents, we competed with ourselves; we tried to improve with each game.

My boys enjoyed the season. A few played as eighth graders. One boy continued to work hard, began running and lifting weights, turned himself into an athlete, and ended up as a bench warmer on the Varsity team as a senior. It was a remarkable story of perseverance and love for the game. As for me, I have that same passion for coaching, and while my competitive spirit runs deep, I know that it’s my job, as an educator and as a parent, to convince my players that there is more to sports – and to competition – than the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of a game.

Report Cards – October 31, 2013

With the conclusion of the first quarter, teachers generate report cards for each student.

In Lower School, students receive feedback in twelve major subjects or areas: Approaches to Learning, Math, Reading / Language Development, Social / Emotional Development, Social Studies, Spelling / Vocabulary, Writing, Spanish, Art, Music, and Physical Education. Each of these areas is divided into a group of skills (for example: “works neatly;” “uses a variety of strategies to solve problems”). For each of these skills, teachers assign a mark according to the following scale:

  • 4 – Exceeds expectations consistently and independently
  • 3 – Meets expectations consistently and independently
  • 2 – Meets expectations with support
  • 1 – Currently does not meet expectations. Additional support and practice needed.

In some cases, teachers offer comments to share specific points or examples. In addition, students in grades three through five will receive letter grades in six of the subjects according to the following scale:

  • A – Excellent work
  • B – Good work
  • C – Average work
  • D – Below average work. Remediation needed.
  • F – Failing

In Middle School, students receive two grades in each of six subjects: Social Studies, Language Arts, Spanish, Math, Science, and Physical Education. One grade assesses performance and is expressed as a percentage (0 – 100). The second grade reflects attitude/effort and uses the following scale:

  • 1 – Excellent
  • 2 – Good
  • 3 – Average
  • 4 – Fair
  • 5 – Unsatisfactory

Teachers will write narrative comments for all Middle Schoolers at the conclusion of the second quarter.

These reports (along with the conferences earlier this month) offer you a good sense of where your child is right now in each subject. These marks represent a starting point in a long process that continues until June. Please keep that perspective in mind as you engage your children in conversations about what they are most proud of, and how they think they can improve.

Along these lines, please pay close attention to the descriptions listed above. Whether it’s a seventh grader with an 84%, a sixth grader with a “2” effort, a fourth grader with a B, or a second grader who earns a “3,” these are all defined as “good” marks, which students have earned within a challenging academic program. Even amidst our zeal to pinpoint how our children can achieve more and score higher, let’s be sure to celebrate all that they have accomplished and ‘gotten right.’

School Safety – October 24, 2013

In 2001, I was teaching at the Bryn Mawr School, an all-girls school in Baltimore, MD. A few weeks after 9/11 shook our nation to its core, I happened upon a seventh grader sitting on the steps outside my office. Having removed herself from the crowd, she sat in solitude with an expression of sadness and concern, not eating her lunch. Expecting to hear about a missed assignment, low quiz score, or friendship issue, I inquired as to what was on her mind. Her response has stuck with me for more than a decade. “Mr. Norry,” she said. “I just don’t like the way the world is right now.” As I listened to her fears stemming from those acts of terror, my thoughts drifted to my own family. My wife was seven months pregnant with our first child. What kind of world was he about to enter?

The tragic events at Sparks Middle School in Nevada earlier this week serve as a reminder of many things: the fragility of life, the prevalence of violence in our society, and, closer to home, the importance of keeping safety as our #1 priority at Triangle Day School. Even as we focus on creating a warm, inclusive community in which students feel safe to take appropriate risks and be themselves, we understand that safety extends to the physical realm as well. As a faculty, we reviewed security measures, classroom safety policies, and crisis response plans in August, and we will do so again in the coming weeks to ensure that we are providing the safest possible environment for our students.

Please know that teachers did not initiate conversations about the events in Nevada with your children. We respect that, particularly in the upper grades, some families will choose to discuss this openly, while others will opt for a different strategy. In these situations, it’s important for all adults, at home and at school, to pay attention, listen closely, and determine if a child is struggling. Parents in search of additional help in this area should consult these tips from the National Association of School Psychologists. Certainly, if you have any concerns about how this tragedy might have impacted your child, please contact Dockery Durham, our Counselor.

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, Robert Evans and Mark Kline, two psychologists and school consultants, shared a few pieces of advice for parents:

  1. “Don’t over-assume what the event means to them….Showing little reaction does not automatically mean a student is hiding or denying his or her feelings.”
  2. Children are remarkably resilient. If given a chance to express their feelings, most resume their normal lives more rapidly than do adults.
  3. Children’s questions are often motivated by feelings. Therefore, taking time to fully understand a question can prove more helpful than answering it right away.

This advice notwithstanding, as with all parenting issues, no template exists for dealing with situations of this nature. All of us have invested deeply to create caring connections with our children. Trust this relationship, and stand ready to listen.

Diwali, and Fresh Starts – October 17, 2013

Yesterday, a parent visited Kindergarten to share the significance of Diwali. After learning about the upcoming holiday, students decorated their own diyas (small clay lamps).

Translated as ‘rows of lighted lamps,’ Diwali is a five-day Hindu festival of lights. One of the most important festivals of the year, Diwali is an official holiday in India and at least ten other countries.

With India’s roots as an agricultural society, Diwali originated as a harvest festival. Today, celebrations in cities take on more of an urban feel. Businesses in India mark the day after Diwali as the start of the new fiscal year. Specific interpretations vary according to geography. In Northern India, the festival signifies the homecoming of the Hindu God Rama after fourteen years in exile. By contrast, in the South the holiday celebrates the victory of Krishna over Narakasura. These differences notwithstanding, Diwali marks the triumph of good over evil, of light over darkness, and of knowledge over ignorance.

Holiday traditions focus on being together as a family. Rituals include cleaning the home, wearing new clothes, enjoying festive meals and sweets, lighting diyas to symbolize the inner light that protects us from darkness, and (in some cases) leaving doors and windows open so that the Goddess Lakshmi may enter homes.

For families who celebrate, Diwali symbolizes a renewal of life. In business and at home, the holiday carries with it a clean slate, a new beginning. At TDS, kids are presented with multiple opportunities to make fresh starts. Next Thursday marks the end of the first quarter, and, for our older students, a chance to wipe the slate clean and begin a new grading period. A second grader might find herself at “Think About It” on Ms. McIntyre’s behavior chart on Tuesday, only to hit “Good Day!” on Wednesday. As we lay out challenges and guide students on their journeys, we stress the importance of learning from our mistakes as we begin anew. In this process, students develop both resilience and optimism, understanding that tomorrow is another day.

The Modern Dad’s Dilemma – October 3, 2013

Attention dads. This letter is for you. (Of course, I hope moms will read it as well.)

After hearing John Bedalament speak at a conference, I read his book, The Modern Dad’s Dilemma. Along with providing vignettes of men striving to become better fathers, Bedalament offers a road map for dads who hope for greater connection and intimacy with their children.

At the outset, the author invites all fathers to create a Dads Vision Statement. To begin, ask yourself these questions: If, twenty years from now, your child is interviewed about her relationship and time with you, what do you hope she will say? What do you hope she won’t say? Given these answers, dads should take stock of their priorities today and assess what needs to change. Bedalament goes on to suggest five ways that fathers can achieve a deeper connection.

First, dads need to determine how to pass along, in practical terms, the gifts they received from their own parents. One father discussed searching for ways to imbue his son with dignity, hard work, and self-respect, traits that he learned from his own parents. The flip side of this is that, along with the gifts we have received, we must examine and fully process any “liabilities” handed down to us, so that we can determine what we want to do differently with our own children.

Second, a modern dad should view himself as a new type of provider, one who acts as both a breadwinner and a caretaker and attends to the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual needs of his family. Along these lines, dads need to model full participation at home, at times stepping out of their comfort zones, because “children learn what they live” (77).

Third, Bedalament focuses on the importance of relationships and the scarcity of time. Fathers need to eliminate discrepancies between what we hold as priorities and how we actually spend our time. To achieve greater intimacy, we must favor home over work, our hearts over our heads, and expression over silence.

How well do you know your children? The author offers a twenty-question quiz to assess one’s knowledge. For example: what recent accomplishment is your child most proud of? What is one of your child’s biggest disappointments this year? Regardless of what they might say, our children want us involved in their lives. We need to be aware, accessible, active, and attentive. Along these lines, we need to understand who our children are becoming rather than simply who we want them to be.

Finally, how well are you known by your children? Bedalament has found that children (and boys in particular) everywhere yearn to ask their dad two questions: what was your relationship like with your father?, and what were you like as a child? We can help our kids with emotional expression and sensitivity by telling them stories, having the courage to share our flaws and our fears along with our joys, and allowing them to witness our struggles with vulnerability.

Woven throughout this book are exercises designed to provide dads with an assessment of where they are when it comes to these themes. The final and most comprehensive of these is called the Relationship Check-up. It consists of fifteen statements/questions, to be completed by father and son or daughter.

As you might have guessed, I found this book to be quite provocative in many respects. I have completed some of the exercises that Bedalament recommends, and I am working up the courage to take the Relationship Check-up with my own children. While I believe this book would make excellent reading for either parent, I encourage dads in particular to add it to their reading lists.
 
Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School
doug.norry@triangledayschool.org

Social-Emotional Learning – September 26, 2013

It is generally accepted that the term “intelligence” represents something broader than what an IQ test measures. Howard Gardner popularized this concept in 1983. With his “Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” Gardner wrote about eight forms of intelligence. Included under this umbrella were interpersonal – maintaining a sensitivity to others and an ability to cooperate and empathize – and intrapersonal – understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Twelve years later, in his book entitled Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman built upon Gardner’s ideas, suggesting that one’s EQ (emotional quotient) matters as much as one’s IQ when determining success in the workplace.

Over the past twenty years, schools have come to recognize the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) while at the same time struggling to settle on best practices for teaching it. This is chronicled in a recentNew York Times Magazine article by Jennifer Kahn, who describes the goal of SEL as instilling “a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.” As Goleman posited nearly twenty years ago, many studies suggest that developing these non-cognitive skills make children less vulnerable to anxiety and better able to recover quickly from setbacks, leading to more successful careers and happier lives.

In her article, Kahn concludes that canned programs in schools have mixed results. This is not surprising, given that the term “social-emotional learning” encompasses a wide range of behaviors and traits. Indeed, the monthly character traits at TDS fall in this realm. In addition, I plan to use these letters to highlight other traits that merit our attention, including persistence, grit, self-control, and empathy.

The counseling program at TDS is facilitated by Mrs. Durham, who meets weekly with students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. Asking students to reflect on themselves and their interactions with others, Mrs. Durham promotes the development of self-knowledge and insight into others’ feelings. Perhaps most importantly, she leads conversations among teachers as we discuss how to create a classroom climate in which students are engaged, caring, and respectful.

Is it working? Last week, I visited Mrs. Logan’s 8th grade English class. Students were discussing The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and in particular how they manage the stresses of everyday life. I sat in awe as student after student expressed personal thoughts and emotions with ease, confidence, and insight. As our mission states, the setting was comfortable; students shared their feelings and received feedback without judgment. Having visited every classroom during my first month of school, I have seen this example repeated time and time again. As we focus on character and connectedness, the social-emotional learning curriculum is alive and well at TDS. Students graduate knowing who they are, having made meaningful friendships and understanding the value of helping others in this world.

Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School
doug.norry@triangledayschool.org

The Morally Mature Sports Parent – September 19, 2013

With our recent move to North Carolina, I gave up coaching my children’s soccer teams. Transitioning from coach to spectator – and resisting the temptation to blurt out instructions or offer post-game analysis – has been challenging. I suspect that many of you will join me on the sidelines this weekend as we cheer on our children.

Tens of millions of American children engage in youth sports at some level. This participation has the potential to be quite positive. Kids learn the value of teamwork, the importance of fair play, and how to manage the disappointment that comes with losing. However, if parents and coaches aren’t careful, these opportunities can be squandered.

Devoting an entire chapter of his book to “The Morally Mature Sports Parent,” Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd suggests that parents often bring “unresolved, often subtle conflicts and hopes that can cause us to lose perspective on a child’s interests and fail to model for children basic respect and responsibility for others” (The Parents We Mean to Be, p. 139).  When I first read this, I assumed that Weissbourd was referring to the irate parent or coach berating a child or an official, but I have come to understand that the author is addressing the more mainstream, identifying “large risks when parents or coaches are too emotionally wrapped up in children’s sports.”

I vividly remember one of my daughter’s first grade baseball games last spring. One of the coaches for the opposition stood in the field as our team batted. With every ground ball, he would run toward the fielder, barking out instructions about what to do next. He refused to let his third baseman throw to first base. Apparently, he had calculated that there was no chance of throwing the runner out, and he was worried about our players taking the extra base on an errant throw.  At one point, he even employed ‘the shift’, moving his shortstop to the right side of second base when our left-handed batter stepped to the plate. While I don’t wish to read too much into these actions, it became clear to me that this parent had lost perspective on the purpose of the game.

Whether we are reliving our own childhood, hoping that our offspring will achieve an unfulfilled dream of ours, or whether we simply assume that winning will make our kids happy, we are too focused on our children’s athletics. On a personal level, having coached and watched hundreds of games, I understand how palpable this force can be.  If a parent’s emotional well-being depends on a child’s performance, then he/she has crossed a line, and the situation is not a healthy one.

On a more basic level, Weissbourd identifies competing value sets emphasized in youth sports.  In some venues, we praise excellence, toughness, and perseverance. While sports can help develop these traits, there exists a danger that kids will label themselves as weak if they perceive that they don’t measure up to our high standards. Conversely, others promote sports as a vehicle for building self-esteem, empathy, and understanding. Of course, those espousing this “purely fun” outlook risk hypocrisy if their behaviors don’t match their words. Moreover, removing the competition results in missed learning opportunities.

I recently read a provocative article by Steve Hensonwhich discussed years of research by two longtime coaches. College athletes were asked about their worst memory from playing youth sports. The #1 response: “The ride home from the game with my parents.” Hoping their parents would instantaneously shift from spectator to mom or dad, athletes instead recall enduring post-game analyses and critiques.  Reading this gave me pause, as I am regularly guilty of making ‘helpful suggestions’ as my children sit captive during the ride home.

Even as I anxiously pace the sidelines at soccer games, mumbling to myself about hustling and getting back on defense, I try to remember the ten words that I encouraged the parents on my youth teams to utter upon greeting their children after the final whistle: Great game. I love you. Let’s get something to eat.

Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School
doug.norry@triangledayschool.org

Back-to-School Night Advice – September 12, 2013

It was wonderful to see so many of you at Back-to-School Night this week. I have included below some excerpts from my remarks.

Thank you for entrusting us with your most prized possessions, your children. I want to welcome all of you, but especially the families who are new to Triangle Day School. You and your children bring fresh perspectives and diverse experiences to TDS. As I said to our new teachers, you are not here simply to replace anyone, but rather to help us pursue our mission more fully than ever before.

As for me, I already love it here. Having spent most of the past 19 years in Middle Schools, the younger ones here have taken me by surprise. I wasn’t prepared for how much I would enjoy seeing the Lower Schoolers in action. A high five, conversation, or hug from a Kindergartener is guaranteed to leave you smiling.

This is my favorite night of the year. Tonight is special because so many important people in our students’ lives are in this room. So much of what we do here hinges on a partnership with all of you.  At TDS’s core is an emphasis on the development of our students as human beings. We want them to think, to question, to analyze, to collaborate, to learn to read critically and write creatively, to develop organizational and time-management skills, but, we also want them to act honorably, to be good listeners and friends, to become good citizens, to develop empathy and compassion, and to respect all people. These are lofty, long-term goals, and parents and teachers must work together to achieve them.

Along these lines, I want to pay tribute to our faculty.  Along with our students, this group is TDS’s greatest asset. They are smart, creative, full of energy, and they care deeply about your children as well as the craft of teaching.

Last spring, TDS was re-accredited by the Southern Association of Independent Schools. The visiting team, comprised of educators from schools throughout the region, commended TDS for being a “caring and compassionate school community.” Last week during morning drop-off, one of our first graders was in tears because she didn’t want to leave dad. Without being asked, Lauren Laughton, an 8th grade morning greeter, gave her a hug, held her hand, and walked her into school. So yes, the accreditation team got it right. This is a special community.

When it comes to improvement, communication was atop everyone’s list. With an informative weekly newsletter and a growing presence on Facebook, I believe we are off to a good start on that front. Please know that you can call or e-mail me with any question or concern.

I’d like to close by offering a few pieces of advice.

The first piece begins in the form of a question. How would you complete this sentence? “I want my son or daughter to be _________.” If you answered HAPPY, you are not alone. A clear majority of American parents, when asked about their kids, ranked “being happy” above “being a good person.” Now, on one level this makes perfect sense. It’s human nature. When our children are little, we attend to their every need – feeding, burping, wiping, soothing them when they cry. But what happens when they get older? Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be, argues that making happiness so central can stifle children’s development. When we shield them from suffering, and cater to their every need, when we remove life’s burdens, we unknowingly make our children more fragile, more entitled, and more self-occupied.

Any teacher would tell you that it’s the moments after a setback when real growth occurs. As my former boss, Maureen Walsh was fond of saying, “Parents want their children to be good problem solvers; they just don’t want them to have any problems.” Well, practice makes perfect. As your children move from Ms. DeLaTorre in TK to Mr. Butler in 8th grade, please give them the space that they need to make and then learn from their mistakes.

Second, enjoy this time in your child’s life. A father once said to me that when his son turned 9, he told him that his time with him was half complete. That gave me pause. My oldest cannot yet hang up a wet towel after a shower, and he’s more than halfway to college.

Third, keep family time sacred. Life in 2013 moves at warp speed, and there seem to be lots of demands on our time. Do what it takes to resist this. Don’t answer the phone during dinner, hang up the cell phone before your children get into the car at carpool, and better yet, don’t take calls when in the car with your kids. In other words, be present for your children, and enjoy your time with them.

The fourth and final piece comes in the form of a story about my youngest child, Kate, currently in second grade. Now, Kate is one who, to quote Dead Poet’sSociety, sucks the marrow out of life. In doing so, she broke six bones in her first five years, including the femur, the largest bone in the human body. Last summer at Rehoboth Beach, DE, I taught Kate – age six – to ride the waves in the ocean. After a few false starts, we got our timing down. She kicked, I pushed, and she was off. One second later, she had climbed to the wave’s crest, and in that instant it hit me, I had forgotten to mention the part about the wipeout. And so she crashed down into the surf, flipped head over heels, bounced back up, and looked at me with expression that read: “is that really what it’s supposed to be like?” And even as I contemplated which Emergency Room was closest, I pumped my fists in the air, smiled and cheered loudly. Within seconds, she beamed from ear to ear, and she was hooked.

Why do I tell this story? For one, school can resemble body surfing – we see children cresting, crashing, and bouncing back, sometimes all in one day. Finally, don’t underestimate your role in your child’s ride. When faced with something new, different, or unexpected, anything that throws her for a loop, she will look to you as Kate did to me, and your reaction will profoundly influence how she makes sense of this world.

Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School
doug.norry@triangledayschool.org

Rosh Hashanah – September 5, 2013

Today is Rosh Hashanah. Many of our Jewish students spend the day at a synagogue or at home with their families. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, represents the official beginning of the Days of Atonement which will end next Friday on Yom Kippur. Over the course of these days, Jews reflect on the past year and seek forgiveness for their sins.

There are two types of sins that members of the Jewish faith must address: those against God and those against other people. Regarding the former, God is forgiving. The latter type is interpreted more broadly; into this category fall actions or words which have made someone unhappy, have hurt someone, or have caused someone to be disappointed. In these cases, Judaism instructs the offender to seek out the other person and clear the air.

Today on Rosh Hashanah, some Jews engage in a practice called tashlich, a custom that involves breaking off pieces of bread and tossing them into a pond or lake. Each piece signifies an episode or personal quality from the previous year that the person regrets. This exercise, then, forces one to review the situation and take stock of where he or she is in life. The goal is total reflection – to think about how one’s actions affect other people. Likewise, in synagogues on these days, the solemnity of the prayers leads to personal reflection.

While not espousing any particular religion, I see much in these customs that is applicable to school. First, there is the notion of reflection. Schools attempt to build this into the program, but meaningful reflection is often precluded by the frenetic pace of life that exists between 8:15 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. If we ask students to reflect on their effort and academic performance when report cards are published, then shouldn’t we also ask them to consider what type of people they have been throughout the quarter? Have they embodied the TDS character traits? Have they been a good friend? Have they hurt anyone? Have they been positive members of our community?

Secondly, the Jewish custom instructs us to approach the person we have hurt so that we can set things right. This requires taking initiative, which remains a major goal that we have for our students. In many disciplinary situations, I find myself telling students that they will be judged less by what they did, and more by how they respond to the original act. Do they admit it to themselves and to others?  Do they feel remorse? Do they take the necessary steps to make it right? Do they learn from the situation?

To accomplish all of this requires human contact. Jewish culture and tradition evolved well before e-mail. My suggestion would be not to wait until the new year, whether it be September or January, to make things right. If this were a continuing process, it would enrich our community immensely.
Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School
doug.norry@triangledayschool.org

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens – August 29, 2013

Over the summer, all TDS teachers and administrators read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. Some of you might remember reading the 7 Habit of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (Sean’s dad). While the title of Sean’s book is geared to teens, thinking about these habits is helpful whether you’re 4, 14, or 44. As a faculty, we discussed these habits during Orientation – how they mesh with our character traits, and how we plan to model and teach them this year.

So that the forces of home and school can work together (and for those who aren’t planning to buy the 245-page book), I have summarized the seven habits below.

#1 – 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.

#2 – 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. Covey also encourages us to think about our missions (and not simply our careers). This week, with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we celebrate Dr. King’s mission to bring civil rights to all people.

#3 – 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.

#4 – 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.

#5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Last Friday, I accompanied the sixth grade to Duke to participate in a series of low ropes course initiatives and challenges. Students soon realized that listening to one another was essential in order for the group to accomplish the goal.

#6 – Synergize. Let’s avoid cliques and celebrate differences at TDS this year.

#7 – 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.

The home/school partnership is critical to the successful development of your children this year. Along those lines, I look forward to seeing you at Back-to-School Night – Tuesday, September 10th at 6:00 PM for Lower School parents; Wednesday, September 11th at 6:00 PM for Middle School parents.

Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School
doug.norry@triangledayschool.org

A Fresh Start – August 22, 2013

During our time at Rehoboth Beach, DE this summer, my family enjoyed a morning routine of slathering ourselves with sunscreen and then hauling our blankets, shovels, and towels to the sand. At that point, I dug my feet into the wet sand and waited patiently. Ten minutes later, I was still dry from the knee up. By contrast, my three children sprinted toward the surf, dove headfirst under a crashing wave, and reappeared with a look of pure joy and exhilaration.

While the faculty and I eased into the school routine this summer with a series of meetings, the reentry experience for most of our students bears far greater resemblance to my kids’ plunge. Seemingly overnight, alarm clocks and barely toasted bagels replace lazy mornings, and carefree afternoons are suddenly filled with essays, projects, practices, and studying for tests. This scenario, unmistakably, is the first half of September.

Perhaps my favorite thing about school is that, every twelve months, it offers us an opportunity to make a fresh start. Students can redefine themselves each fall. The child whose locker or cubby resembled a construction zone last year can develop a sound organizational scheme this year. Friendships change. New students alter the social mix. A student might try a new sport or activity, run for Student Council, or go out for the play for the first time.

In all of this, it’s important for our children to realize that they begin the year with a clean slate. Moreover, it’s expected and appropriate for them to experiment with different ways of doing things. A few years ago, a father answered my request for the Child Development Form by sending me an e-mail which stated: “Last year [my son] experimented with the strategy of turning assignments in late or not at all until prompted to do so.” While this father repeatedly stressed the benefits of staying organized, he also realized that, as a seventh grader, his son needed to learn some of these lessons for himself. The dad realized that one cannot force a child into adult standards. Instead, our students must be given the freedom to learn and grow. While this can at times be frustrating, it is also enlightening and energizing. Whether this year’s path is straight and smooth or circuitous and full of potholes, each step taken is an essential part of your child’s growth and development.

In an editorial appearing in the Wall Street Journal last August, Adam Falk, President of Williams College, stressed the importance of “the living, breathing professor,” even as technology brings global education to our fingertips (see article here). He posits that the cultivation of “deeper abilities,” such as writing effectively, arguing persuasively, solving problems creatively, and adapting and learning independently, depends almost entirely on personal contact with professors. I believe that his argument applies to independent schools and younger students as well. Today, your children begin a nine-month journey with a dedicated group of professionals. These teachers will connect with your children every day, pushing them to develop these “deeper abilities” while cultivating a “respect for each other and the community.”

Sincerely,

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School
doug.norry@triangledayschool.org