Head of School’s Blog

What are you good at? – Thursday, October 29, 2015

My wife and her two sisters are proud graduates of Greensboro Day School. Founded in 1970, the school currently serves hundreds of families and is thriving. A critical component of this success story is Dr. Ralph Davidson, who arrived at Greensboro Day (GDS) in 1986 and served for twenty years as Head of School. At the time of his retirement, Dr. Davidson’s tenure accounted for more than half of the school’s history. Given my family connection to GDS, some of Dr. Davidson’s essays are famous in our household. In one piece, he put forth a question that he hoped every GDS student could answer. The question is a simple one: What are you good at?

When considering this question in the context of school, the first thing that leaps to mind is academics. Plenty of students regularly demonstrate their intellectual mettle on tests and quizzes; they have proven that they are ‘good at academics.’ For some, the proficiency is more specialized. A student might consider herself to be good at math or Spanish or writing. Some children are skilled artists, while (as we saw at the Talent Show) others are accomplished musicians. Many excel at one or more sports, which can be a more public domain in which to shine.

Other children excel in areas that are more difficult to pinpoint or measure. Some are exceptionally kind, loyal, and empathetic – qualities that comprise a good friend. Some have what Howard Gardener refers to as “interpersonal intelligence,” in that they possess the “capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people.” To put it in a kindergartener’s terms, they play well with others. While not always scored on a report card, I have highlighted in prior letters that this trait can profoundly affect one’s success in the workplace. Others stand out because of their integrity, courage, and character; they are ‘good at ethical behavior.’

Still others have talents that seemingly have no place in school. One vignette from “Raising Cain”, a PBS documentary featuring psychologist Michael Thompson which explores the emotional development of boys, chronicled the life of Mike, an awkward, overweight Middle School student who endured more than his fair share of abuse from his peers.  Passionate about heavy metal music, Mike became the leader of a band.  The band’s successful performance at a local teen hangout was central to Mike’s emotional well-being; it confirmed that he was in fact good at something.

At TDS, with “A Focus on the Individual” as one of our five Guiding Principles, we understand that one of our most important tasks as educators is to help our children develop a positive identity by discovering an answer to Ralph Davidson’s question. In Lower School, when teachers present Talented Tornados at weekly meetings, students beam with pride as they listen to positive feedback from their peers. Throughout the school, every child has multiple opportunities to lead and to serve, and with this responsibility comes a heightened sense of importance and self-worth. My daughter Emily (who once learned nearly 500 digits of pi) has put her memorization skills to work learning the names of Lower Schoolers, and she seems to understand how much that helps when opening car doors in the morning. Meanwhile, my son Will is part of a team of eighth graders who organize Walking Club. He is definitely walking taller as a result of this experience.

A few years ago, during the initial stages of the strategic planning process, we administered a core values survey to different constituencies at TDS. When asked to choose which TDS values mattered most to them, many Middle Schoolers listed “uniqueness.” While this did not find its way into the list of TDS Core Values, the spirit of recognizing and honoring everyone’s unique talents, quirks, and contributions is one of my favorite things abou

The Importance of Sleep – Thursday, October 22, 2015

When my son Will was in Kindergarten, he went to bed at 7:00PM. It was glorious. He got the rest he needed, and Carrie and I had time to enjoy each other’s company as adults (or at least answer e-mails). Fast forward eight years. 10:00PM is the “new normal,” and a variety of factors can push that even later. Of course, Will’s younger siblings tend to follow suit.

While 90% of parents believe that their children get enough sleep, 60% of teenagers report extreme daytime sleepiness, and half of this group admits to averaging less than seven hours sleep on school nights. By contrast, doctors recommend at least nine hours of sleep per night for children between the ages of 12 and 14, and 9-11 hours for the broader cohort of “school age children.” It appears that sleep deprivation was much less of a problem a generation ago; reports suggest that, 30 years ago, teenagers averaged one hour more sleep, in part because many did not set their own bedtimes.

Scientists have conducted many interesting experiments on sleep over the years. A few of these are documented in Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. For example, researchers at Tel Aviv University asked groups of 4th and 6th graders to go to bed either 30 minutes earlier or later for three consecutive nights.  Students were given an intelligence test at the end of each day.  After three days, sleep deprived 6th graders scored lower than 4th graders with extra rest.  Apparently, sleeping a bit less can be equated with a rather significant dip in brain functioning.  Scientists at the University of Minnesota surveyed 7000 high school students, inquiring about sleep habits and grades in school.  They found that, on average, A students slept fifteen minutes more than B students, who slept fifteen minutes more than C students, and so on.

Beyond success in school, studies have documented many physiological and health-related benefits associated with a full night’s sleep. Perhaps most alarming is a recent longitudinal study conducted by scientists from University College London and summarized in Night School: Wake Up to the Power of Sleep by Richard Wiseman. Researchers spent twenty years examining the relationship between sleep patterns and life expectancy in more than 10,000 British civil servants. Results indicated that participants reporting two hours less sleep a night than required nearly doubled their risk of death.

So why don’t we sleep more? During that last hour of the day, sleep faces stiff competition from other priorities – finishing a lab report, checking Facebook, texting some friends.  We have grown so accustomed to trading sleep for other perceived needs that we have created a culture in which giving in to fatigue may be viewed a sign of weakness.  After all, we can survive, and 15-30 minutes does not seem like a big deal.

While I have yet to find a study highlighting a correlation, I also believe that sleep is related to ethics or character. Ethical behavior requires us to be civil, aware, respectful, curious, thoughtful, and open-minded.  Our ability to be these things relates directly to how well-rested we are.  Put another way, we cannot be fully ethical without being fully awake.

Recently, I read a New York Times article by Annie Paul. The author suggested that parents should take time to emphasize why sleep is important. Moving beyond the vague “you’ll be tired tomorrow” threat, we should explain that sleep restores the body and mind. Even better, we should put it in their terms. Studies show that proper sleep helps reinforce skills learned during the day, so if you learn a new dribbling move at soccer practice, a good night’s sleep will help preserve the muscle memory.

After conducting research on seventh graders, Amy Wolfson, a clinical psychologist, concluded that educating children about sleep led to earlier bedtimes and more sleep on weekends. I plan to try this experiment on my own children this week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Overparenting – Thursday, October 15, 2015

In Between Parent and Teenager, Dr. Haim Ginott shares the reflections of one emerging adult: “Mother hovers over me like a helicopter.” This phrase from this book, published back in 1969, is credited as the origin of the term “helicopter parenting.” Popularized by exasperated school administrators in the early 2000s, the term found its way into the dictionary in 2011. According to Wikipedia a helicopter parent “pays extremely close attention to a child’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.” Dr. Ann Dunnewold offers a more succinct definition: “overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting.” Resulting from good intentions gone awry, helicopter parenting has been blamed for multiple negative consequences in young adults, including low self-esteem, poor coping and life skills, and increased anxiety.

Looking for another sign that helicopter parenting has become prevalent in society today? It spawned a movement typically defined as its opposite. In her book, Free-Range Kids, Lenore Skenazy posits that organized activities, flashcards, and overly involved parents are ruining a generation of children. Instead, she presents “free-range parenting” as an alternative; offered freedoms and allowed to take risks, kids will learn to function independently.

If any of this strikes a chord with you, I recommend How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. (Alternatively, you might try this excerpted version, appearing in Slate.) Reflecting on her years as a Dean at Stanford University, Haims describes an “existential impotence” – brilliant, accomplished, and brittle, her students exhibited remarkably little control of their own lives. These interactions led her to review the available data, starting with a 2013 survey of 100,000 college students on 153 different campuses conducted by the American College Health Association. More than half of these students reported instances of feeling sad, lonely, overwhelmed, and overly anxious. It does appear that universities are experiencing a spike in mental health issues, but it’s reasonable to ask if overparenting is actually to blame.

While designing a study to prove causation would be quite a challenge, Haims does refer to several studies which demonstrate a correlation between a high degree of helicopter parenting and heightened feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, and depression among college students. At that age, kids certainly need autonomy to develop self-confidence, and there’s data to suggest that many parents are stifling this.

College might still be a long way off, but one recent study caught my attention. In 2014, researchers at the University of Colorado surveyed the parents of 70 six-year olds and then administered a simple test to the kids. Their findings? Children with fewer structured activities each week tested higher for self-directed executive functioning. This makes sense on an intuitive level. When left to their own devices, children grow accustomed to setting goals and taking steps to meet them.

As parents, our intuition tells us that, the more we engage with our children, the more loved, accepted, and confident they will feel. Moreover, when our children are young, we do cater to their every need and manage their lives. The question then becomes, when do we stop: making their beds? Engineering their friendships? Doing their laundry? Helping with their homework? Making their lunches? As a school, TDS maintains an Educational Partnership as one of its guiding principles. Teachers and parents work together to promote student growth and success. As we contemplate what “success” looks like, I suggest that we keep an eye on the long-term, and developing resilient, well-adjusted young adults who choose to meet challenges head-on and lead lives of purpose.

In Defense of Conversation – Thursday, October 8, 2015

If you happened to be watching Fox Sports Arizona last Wednesday night, you saw the video crew focus in on a group of young women in the stands at the Diamondbacks baseball game. On TV, the announcers spent the better part of two minutes mercilessly mocking the sorority sisters for their obsession with taking selfies. As is often the case in 2015, this clip went viral, and barbs were exchanged on both sides. Were the announcers out of line? Absolutely. Did the women appear more interested in their phones than with having a conversation? It sure seemed that way.

After watching the clip and reading some of the banter, I had a strong desire to direct all parties to Sherry Turkle’s insightful essay appearing in the New York Times on Sunday, September 26. Entitled “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” the piece begins by shining a spotlight on the ability of college students to sustain eye contact while simultaneously typing on their phones, a trick designed to conceal their split attention while in a conversation. Turkle argues that, in our technological age, face-to-face conversation is suffering. Topics are kept light, and people experience less of a connection.

Does any of this matter? Turkle cites research from the University of Michigan in which authors review 72 studies of dispositional empathy between 1979 and 2009. They note a steep drop in “empathic concern” and “perspective taking” since 2000. Beyond simply wrecking conversations, our devices interfere with moments of solitude. In these moments to ourselves, we learn to concentrate and to imagine, and this helps us to be fully present when listening to others. Turkle suggests that “the capacity of empathic concern goes hand in hand with the capacity for solitude,” and the latter is virtually nonexistent on our overly connected age.

The good news is that humans are resilient creatures. In a 2014 study, experimenters divided pre-teens into two groups. The first attended a five-day overnight camp with no screens, while those in the ‘normal condition’ stayed at home with their devices. Given a test requiring subjects to infer emotional states from photographs of facial expressions, the campers showed significant improvement after five days. The authors concluded that social interaction in the absence of screens leads to an enhanced comprehension of nonverbal emotional cues.

Turkle concludes by warning her readers that our phones are far more than accessories. Rather, they are “psychologically potent devices” that can change who we are. She suggests that we self-regulate by imposing limits. Don’t carry your phone all the time. Carve out device-free locations within your home (the kitchen table and bedroom are great places to start).

For the past two years at TDS, we have unintentionally conducted an experiment of our own. On the 7th and 8th grade trip in May, we allow use of electronic devices during the long bus rides to and from our destination (either Washington, DC or Jamestown/Williamsburg). Upon arrival, we confiscate the phones. The 3-4 hour trips up and back are eerily quiet (a chaperone’s dream in one sense!); everyone is plugged into his/her device. For the two days in between, it’s hard to hear yourself think on the bus. I have no doubt that Sherry Turkle would view these lively conversations as a positive step toward reclaiming our basic humanity.

Walking Club – Thursday, October 1, 2015

This summer, I read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey. As you might expect, much of this book offers neuroscientific evidence in support of the author’s thesis – that “exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn” (10). Before plunging into the micro-world of brain chemistry, Ratey shines a light on Naperville Central High School, located a few miles from Chicago. Fifteen years ago, Phil Lawler, an innovative PE teacher, abandoned the traditional “team sports” curriculum, replacing it with treadmills, stationary bikes and an unrelenting emphasis on physical fitness. Student achievement on a wide variety of standardized tests shot up virtually overnight. Today, the Naperville PE program boasts heart rate monitors and a personalized approach to physical fitness. At-risk freshmen hit the cardio machines at 7:10 each morning, an hour before English class.

Even as we ponder how this research, and these stories, might impact our PE program at TDS, many of our Lower Schoolers engage in physical fitness each morning. Under the innovative leadership of Mrs. Logan, the TDS Walking Club has truly blossomed. From 7:45 to 8:10 each morning, Lower School students – approximately fifty per day – walk or skip around the gym, collecting one ticket per lap. At 8:10, they deposit their tickets into their own envelope, and Mrs. Logan is able to chart their progress each week – eighteen laps to a mile!

This well-oiled machine requires many helping hands, and Mrs. Logan has groomed a squad of 8th grade leaders: Rory Smith, Molly Chmura, Ana Karhausen, Will Norry, Jenny Nechyba, Gabby Meltzer, Morgan Rogers, Akshay Mankad, Beni Garcia, Jeff Lindsay, Ethan Smith, and Caleb Farrelly. These students hand out tickets, walk with the Lower Schoolers, and disseminate and then collect the envelopes. They also ensure a safe environment, build relationships with their younger peers, and act as true role models, living the TDS Core Values. As Mrs. Logan reflected, “ there’s no way this could be done without them.”

Even small steps turn into many miles over time, and TDS has joined the 100 Mile Club, a national organization dedicated to improving the health and learning of students through walking and running, to provide some long term goals for our students. In fact, Ethan Weimer-Kopf and Madison Hill hit the 25-mile mark earlier this week, and several of their Lower School peers are close behind. Please stop by the gym between 7:45 and 8:10 to see our students in motion!

TDS Twister Trot – Thursday, September 24, 2015

Middle School students have Physical Education classes each day at TDS. Under the leadership of Coach Morrison, students develop athletic skills, play games focusing on teamwork and problem-solving, and build their physical fitness. To that end, students run the mile twice a month, and Coach M charts their progress.

We have some fit, fast students at TDS. Thus far, 28 Middle Schoolers have posted times of 8:00 or better. Leading their respective genders are a pair of eighth graders, E’manuel McIntosh (5:44) and Rory Smith (6:48). Our sixth graders are new to this routine, and 19 out of 20 of them improved their times on round two. Having run my first mile at age 34, I’m impressed with everyone who had the stamina to finish all 5280 feet of the race.

Looking ahead to early November, the entire TDS community will have the opportunity to gather for a morning of exercise and fun. Calling all runners and walkers: I hope to see you on campus on Saturday, November 7th 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 took on a new a few years ago. The Twister Trot honors all families who have been or currently are being affected by this terrible disease, and 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 a performance by the TDS cheerleading squad, an ambulance from Duke, and a UNC helicopter landing on Myers Field! You, and more importantly your children, will not want to miss this community event!

Early-bird registration ends September 30th, so please do not delay. Click here to join the students, parents and alumni who have already registered for the race.

To ensure the success of this race, we need a team of volunteers. If running or walking isn’t your thing, please consider directing runners on the course, managing the water station, collecting timing chips at the finish line, or helping with race-day registration or parking. Click here to join a team of dedicated race-day volunteers.

Finally, your children will learn about multiple contests and incentives in the weeks ahead. The class with the highest percentage of student participation will win an ice cream party. In addition, any boy who crosses the 5K finish line ahead of me, or any girl who finishes ahead of Ms. Newman, will earn milkshake from Cookout! Please consider joining us for this fun-filled morning at TDS.

People Skills – Thursday, September 17, 2015

This past summer, all TDS faculty members read one of three books by Daniel Pink. In A Whole New Mind (2006), Pink posits that “right-brainers” will rule the future. As we have transitioned from the Industrial to the Informational, and now to the Conceptual Age, several factors have joined forces to accentuate the demand for skills outside of the traditionally left-brained, logical / sequential realm. Specifically, Pink calls attention to three trends:

  • Abundance – Remember the dizzying array of choices when you last purchased a cell phone, or even a toaster? With so many options out there, products must be beautiful, unique, and/or meaningful to generate interest.
  • Asia – Picking up on the trend highlighted by Tom Friedman in The World is Flat, Pink points out that many jobs can now be performed overseas due to technological advances.
  • Automation – Remember the famous chess championship from 1997? Deep Blue’s triumph over Garry Kasparov was perhaps a harbinger of the rise of machines capable of performing tasks that extend well beyond the routine.

In the latter half of the book, Pink discusses six “senses” that will become increasingly more crucial to success as we move further into the Conceptual Age. Some of these closely resemble what have been traditionally regarded as softer “social skills.”

Pink weaves together a compelling story, but my left hemisphere couldn’t help but wonder if there is data to support it. Enter David Deming. An economist in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Deming recently published a working paper which concluded that, since 1980, “jobs with high social skills requirements have experienced greater relative growth.” The strongest growth has occurred in sectors requiring a combination of cognitive and social skills. In an interview with Bari Walsh at HGSE, Deming concludes that cognitive skills “are increasingly a necessary but not sufficient condition for obtaining a high-paying job.” Citing a 2015 survey, the author notes that employers listed the “ability to work as a team” as the most desirable attribute for new college graduates. Historically, this top spot has been reserved for problem solving or analytical skills.

At TDS, these softer skills have always been a key part of our mission. This was reinforced last April, when respect and compassion were adopted as two of our five core values. Moreover, one of the three stated goals of our Middle School Athletics program is that “students will learn the importance of teamwork and experience camaraderie associated with being part of a team.” Typically, I try to reserve a chunk of time each day to visit various classrooms. During these visits, I consistently witness teachers pausing lessons on math, science and literacy to address a “social skills” or core values issue in the moment. While this might look different in Kindergarten (helping two students learn to share a ruler) than in 7th grade (helping students understand how to respond – and how not to respond – to an incorrect answer), the goal in each situation involves advancing students’ understanding of, and appreciation for, other people. Along these lines, I believe that our teachers are preparing our students well for the future.

Back to School Night Remarks – Thursday, September 10, 2015

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 coming, and thank you for entrusting us with your most prized possessions, your children.

Having served in Middle Schools for 19 years before coming to TDS two years ago, I continue to marvel at our younger students. I am the beneficiary of several hugs per day from our TK’ers and Kindergartners. More precisely, they wrap their arms around my leg. And they have so many questions. How tall are you? What do you do all day? How old are you? Last year, as part of a math lesson, each student in TK guessed my age. The average of the guesses was 77.

Some of you have heard me say before that this is my favorite night of the year. Tonight is special because so many important people in our students’ lives are in this room.  As you read in the Strategic Plan, the parent partnership is one of our guiding principles at TDS. Why? Because so much of what we do here hinges on this 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 embrace our core values: to act honorably, to be compassionate listeners and friends, to become responsible citizens of the world, to experience setbacks in order to develop resilience, and to respect all people. These are lofty, long-term goals, and parents and teachers must work together to achieve them.  In addition to hearing about your children’s classes, tonight is a night for parents and teachers to make a personal connection.

As has become my custom, I’d like to close by offering two pieces of advice.

#1 begins with a story. In late June, my wife Carrie took our older two kids to rural Virginia for a week of sailing camp. That left me home with our 9-year old daughter, Kate. Now, this raised my anxiety level for a few reasons. For one, Kate is accident prone. She broke seven bones in her first five years of life. I really didn’t want to be frequenting Urgent Care while flying solo. Equally as important, Kate seems to have inherited her father’s stubbornness as well as the thinking-you’re-right all-the-time gene, which can cause some father/daughter friction on the home front.

All of that said, it was a wonderful week. Kate even called her mother on Wednesday to say that she’d had the “best day ever.” I might have given her a second dessert; I cannot remember. We spent that evening in the pool, staying in the water until well after dark. We played. We talked. We splashed. We sang. We laughed and laughed. I cannot remember what we talked about, but I can remember hearing her giggle, feeling her arms around my neck, looking into her eyes, and feeling like we were the only two people on the planet. In that moment, I felt pure warmth, pride, and love, and while I’m not an overly spiritual person, I felt such a strong connection, it was like our souls were intertwined. I wanted to freeze time.

Reflecting back on this night, I realize that I’ve shared similar moments with my other children, and these moments have almost always come in the summer. Why is this? During June, July, and part of August, Carrie refers to me as “Summer Doug.” You can ask her for a more complete description, but apparently I’m more relaxed, less focused on what’s coming next, and more apt to live in the moment.

So my advice to you is simple. Make Summer Doug the rule rather than the exception. Slow down, live in the moment, keep family time sacred, be fully present for your children, and enjoy your time with them.

Now, I would argue that these devices are antithetical to this goal. So, keep them away from the dinner table, don’t take calls when in the car with your kids, and understand that no badge of honor comes with multi-tasking. Beyond that, please understand that the precious times when our children want to talk do not always coincide with the times when we want to listen. And we’re the ones who need to adjust.

Now that I’ve encouraged you to simply enjoy your children, let me contradict that with my other piece of advice, which begins in the form of a question.

How would you complete this sentence? “I simply 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, more self-occupied, and yes, far less resilient. Any teacher would tell you that it’s the moments after a setback when real growth occurs. Many of you have heard me quote my former boss, Maureen Walsh, who 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 to Mr. Forringer, please give them the space that they need to make, and then learn from, their mistakes, and please help them to keep things in perspective.

Summer Work Grants – Thursday, September 3, 2015

I am proud to say that the faculty culture at TDS is defined by continual improvement. Rather than relying solely on last year’s lesson plans, teachers are always innovating, blending new approaches and content with time-tested techniques. This past June, nine teachers received Summer Work Grants to develop various aspects of their curriculum. Below, you’ll find first person accounts of their work.

Anne Hopkins – MS Social Studies

It is challenging to teach comprehensively about history, culture, and society without studying art. There may be no better medium for understanding culture and humanity than through the art of a particular time period. This summer, I developed an art history curriculum to supplement both the 7th grade Global Studies and 8th grade American History courses. The art history lessons aim to motivate students to think more critically about a given historical time period through the thoughtful investigation of an important work of art.

Steve Butera and Kate Newman – Community Service (TK – 8)

This summer, we collaborated to plan a school-wide community service and service learning program for TDS. The theme of this program is “Ending Childhood Hunger.” Over the course of the school year, students in all grades will be engaged in hands-on service learning projects, both on-campus and at non-profit agencies throughout Durham. This theme will also make its way into the classrooms, where teachers will lead discussions and create connections that link service projects to academic content. To support classroom teachers, we have already established relationships with several local non-profits, created a web-based resource list, started a service-learning library with TK-5 read alouds, created numerous lesson plans, and made plans for a TDS community garden. We are excited to unveil this program to the community this fall.

Allison Colin and Amy Cowan – Kindergarten Math

This summer, we enriched our math workshop by creating a variety of games in all topic areas, including number recognition, counting, adding and subtracting, 2D and 3D shapes, money and time. These games and activities will be used in small groups. During this time, we work in guided math groups to help students understand the targeted math concepts, and to delve deeper when appropriate. We also researched great math read aloud books and devised accompanying lessons.

Amie Tedeschi – Fourth Grade Social Studies

I created new activities to enrich my Social Studies curriculum, which focuses on North Carolina. First, I designed the Exploring North Carolina Project, which takes students on a virtual journey across our state. At each stop, students will write about and collect pictures and momentoes of the people, places, and cultural events that make our state unique. Also, I have written a play about a group of young people discovering the important moments and people in North Carolina history. I hope to have the fourth and fifth graders perform the play in the spring. Finally, we will end the year a new fourth grade event: The Old North State Banquet. This will be a gathering for fourth graders and their families to celebrate all that the students have learned about our wonderful state.  We’re looking forward to an exciting year of North Carolina learning!

Erin Nelson – LS Robotics

My time this summer was spent researching, building, learning, writing, and playing. As a result, we now have a robotics curriculum that will engage students in all seven Lower School grades. Here are the additions resulting from my summer work:

TK – The K’nex Early Transportation unit will have our students building, thinking and playing. Students will also learn science concepts like stability, engineering principles, and simple machines as they build SUVs, airplanes, convertibles, sailboats, fire engines, tow trucks, and dump trucks.

Kindergarten – The LEGO Early Simple Machines Set has students connecting, constructing, communicating and continuing their studies through Legos. Children experience pulleys, levers, gears, and wheels and axles while exploring energy, buoyancy, and balance.

Third Grade – The WeDo unit introduces students to building and programming. Students first learn to program and code, and then study simple machines. Using this knowledge, they build multiple Lego models and programmed these models to use specific sensors to complete tasks. The expanded WeDo curriculum builds on the previous activities, with more complex programs and Lego models.

Fourth Grade – With the Lego EV3 Mindstorms unit, students are challenged to problem solve on a daily basis as they complete tasks of increasing difficulty. Students will be led through activities on the Carnegie Mellon EV3 website. At the conclusion of each set of activities there will be a classroom-wide challenge.

Lauren Logan – Digital Storytelling in MS Language Arts

What do George Lucas, Common Core, and 21st century skills have in common? They all promote Digital Storytelling as a powerful communication tool for today’s global community, and an effective way to engage all students in a modern classroom.

Digital Storytelling combines the ancient art of storytelling with contemporary technologies so that the personal narrative can be expressed.  In the classroom, Digital Storytelling engages students in their learning by asking for their perspective and then validating it.  Through sounds, music, graphics, photos, and original artwork, Digital Storytelling allows students to express their creativity in ways beyond plain text.  The creation of digital stories requires students to build planning, organization, and time management skills, as well as to rely on collaboration and teamwork.  Telling personal stories helps students learn about voice in a narrative form, but it can also help in curriculum areas beyond language arts and media literacy. For example, students can take the voice of a rain drop and show its progression through the water cycle. In a collaborative environment, students are actively engaged in the exchange of ideas and are not only responsible for reaching their own academic goals, but the goals of others in the group. I look forward to introducing Digital Storytelling into the Language Arts curriculum this year. For some examples of digital stories, see my YouTube playlist.

Fisher – First Grade Robotics

Building on our study of simple machines, I worked on adding lever and pulley activities to the Lego Robotics unit that we began last year. I researched a variety of online sources for exciting videos about levers and pulleys. Students will write about what they notice and learn, and they will complete a project as well. Finally, I will emphasize how machines can help humanity.

TDS Opening Assembly – Thursday, August 26, 2015

Welcome (back) to TDS. Yesterday morning, we gathered for an all-school assembly in the gym. After taking some time to meet our new students and faculty, I offered some thoughts on the upcoming year. Below are some excerpts from my remarks:

So here we are. It’s 8:40 on the first day of school. We haven’t even attended a single class. And this gym is full of energy, emotions, and potential – the joy of seeing old friends, the excitement of a new year, the grogginess that goes with an early wake-up call, and the eagerness about what lies ahead with new teachers, new courses, new classrooms, new activities, new responsibilities, new sports, and new friends.

Whether you are in TK or 8th grade, each of you begins this year with a clean slate. There are infinite possibilities for this year. At this moment, school is 99.99% potential and possibility, and (at least for a few days I hope) no tests or projects to worry about. At this moment, we speak entirely in the future tense. Anything could happen this year.

So, do me a favor. When the leaves on the trees start changing color, when exams loom on the horizon, when ice starts forming on our windshields, when February comes, I want you to think about how you’re feeling right now. I want you to feel the freshness, and the possibilities, and the positive energy all through the year.

Last year, teachers, administrators, parents and members of the Board of Trustees worked together to write a Strategic Plan. Think of this as a roadmap for TDS to follow over the next several years. During the process of creating this plan, which was a true community effort, we agreed on and articulated five core values. Now, if you ask teachers like Ms. Tedeschi and Ms. Lucas, who have been here for a few years, these values aren’t new to TDS. In fact, they’ve helped to define our school since we opened our doors in 1991. These core values are respect, integrity, responsibility, resilience, and compassion. There are lots of ways to define these words, and just as many ways to demonstrate these qualities.

  • When you stop, look me in the eye, shake my hand, and say “good morning,” you’re off to a great start with showing RESPECT.
  • When you leave your stuff in your unlocked locker, or on a bench, or just about anywhere, and come back to find that it’s still there, you’re relying on the INTEGRITY of your peers.
  • When Ms. DeLaTorre and Ms. Morgan send one of their TK students to the front to get milk for the entire class, those students demonstrate RESPONSIBILITY.
  • When you run for Student Council, and don’t win, and then run again the next year, and don’t win, and then run a third year in a row, that’s RESILIENCE.
  • When a morning greeter sees a Kindergartner who seems a bit scared to leave the car, and when the greeter gives that child a hug and offers to walk him/her into the classroom, that’s COMPASSION.

I’ve seen all of these examples time and time again over the past two years at TDS. My hope for this year is that I continue to see them, and that these values become even more a part of who you are, and who we are.

I just want to say one more thing to you before sending you off to experience the next 99.99% of the school year: Be Worthy of Triangle Day School. In case you think I’m lecturing you, please know that I also say this to myself and to your teachers. This is a special place – a small percentage of children your age in this country (and a far smaller percentage of children in this world) have this opportunity. Don’t take it for granted. Like so many things in life, you get out of it what you put into it.

Have a wonderful year!

Play in the Dirt – Thursday, June 4, 2015

Regardless of your barometer – passage of year-end field trips, frequency of class celebrations, Yearbook dedication and signing, Middle School exams, or even TDS magnets left on my car – the start of summer is right around the corner. 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 we all count down the final days. For the past thirty-seven years, 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.

While the tendency in 2015 is to fill every waking moment with travel-team practices, camps, rehearsals, classes, and educational trips, I would advocate that you preserve some time for your children to “do nothing.” This downtime might entail simply hanging out with family and friends. It might involve 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.

My second recommendation is that you encourage your children to try something new. Several years ago, I worked at a school where all students, in between their junior and senior years, undertook a “personal challenge.” Some learned how to rollerblade, others taught themselves how to cook or take black-and-white photographs, and one non-athlete even spent the summer completing an exercise regimen designed to allow him to dunk a basketball. The common thread through all of these activities was that students, only nine months away from being on their own, were expanding their interests, skills, and passions. Much is written today about the opportunity that summer presents as an “extended learning session.” While I agree with this sentiment, I would rather see children learning how to set up a tent than studying quadratic equations.

To clarify, down time does not mean plopping oneself on the couch to play video games, and Angry Birds Star Wars II does not qualify as “something new.” 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 hiking and 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.”

On a final note, while I will certainly do this in person tomorrow, I want to thank our eighth graders for their outstanding leadership this year. We will miss them, and we wish them well as they head off to fifteen different high schools. To everyone else, congratulations on an excellent year. See you in August!

*Click here for other recommendations for summer activities.

Graduation Speeches – Thursday, May 28, 2015

One advantage to writing about graduation speeches is that lots of people reply, passing along their favorites. Last May, Admiral William McRaven, Navy SEAL, Special Operations Commander, and graduate of the University of Texas, delivered the Commencement address at his alma mater. Beginning with UT’s slogan – “What starts here changes the world” – Commander McRaven recounted experiences from his six months of SEAL training, distilling these stories into ten lessons. I recommend that you listen to his 20-minute speech with your family. Short of that, I’ve attempted to relay his advice below.

  1. Make your bed every morning. Do this, and you will have accomplished the day’s first task. Then, according to McRaven, “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
  2. Find someone to help you paddle. McRaven described a daily ritual of eight-person boat crews paddling through an intense surf zone in San Diego. Successful navigation required meticulous teamwork and complete synchrony; going it alone was not an option.
  3. Measure people by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers. McRaven recalled that the smallest men always seemed to finish the long swims first. In his words, “SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”
  4. Get over life’s hurdles – fair or unfair – and keep moving forward. Uniform inspections were not intended to be fair. Instructors would often find “something” wrong, forcing trainees to roll around, fully clothed, in the wet sand. Many who ended up quitting couldn’t accept the fact that they weren’t going to have a perfect uniform.
  5. Don’t fear failure. It will make you stronger. Those who lagged behind during these exhausting days were sent to two hours of extra physical training each night. As much as the SEALS dreaded this, over time the repeat offenders became stronger.
  6. Tackle obstacles head first. A student in McRaven’s class broke the long-standing record for the obstacle course by several minutes by sliding down a 200-foot rope head first. Perilous? Absolutely. Successful? The record speaks for itself
  7. Don’t back down from the sharks. Before completing night swims from San Clemente Island off the coast of San Diego, SEALS were reminded that many species of sharks inhabit these waters. The advice they received? “Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you, then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout, and he will turn and swim away.”
  8. Be your very best in the darkest moment. McRaven described swimming under an enemy ship at night, in complete darkness, and needing every bit of composure, tactical skill, and inner strength at the exact moment when we’re most apt to panic.
  9. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud. McRaven used a story from Hell Week to illustrate the power of hope. Faced with spending fifteen hours neck deep in freezing cold mud, one SEAL began to sing. As the chorus became louder, the mud felt a bit warmer. In his words, “one person can change the world by giving people hope.”
  10. Don’t ever ring the bell. That’s all it took to quit in SEAL training. Quitting is often the easiest alternative.

The values behind these stories – resilience, courage, hope, teamwork, attention to detail – are ones that we work on each day at TDS. Remembering all the way back to August, it’s evident just how far our students have come. As June approaches, we find different ways to celebrate their growth and many successes.

Kindness – Thursday, May 21, 2015

It’s officially graduation season. All across the country in May and early June, college and high school seniors, eighth graders, and even kindergartners walk across the stage. An integral part of the ceremony, graduation speakers will encourage us to reflect on our lives, consider our futures, and inspire us to be better people. Contemplating my own brief remarks, to be delivered on June 5th, has caused me to remember two of my favorite graduation speeches, which shared a theme.

In 2010, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos returned to his alma mater, Princeton University, to speak at Baccalaureate. Bezos began with a story from his childhood. Riding in a car with his grandparents, Jeff heard a radio ad about how every cigarette puff shortens one’s life by a certain amount. After some quick mental calculations, he announced how many years his grandmother, a smoker, might lose. She promptly burst into tears. At this point, Jeff’s grandfather pulled him aside and shared some wisdom that has stuck with him: “one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

Bezos went on to distinguish between gifts (such as cleverness) and choices (such as kindness). Echoing the words of his grandfather, he warned the graduates that, while gifts are easy, choices can be quite hard. Still, he stressed the importance of the latter, concluding that “in the end, we are our choices.”

In 2013, fiction writer George Saunders delivered a humorous, irreverent graduation speech at Syracuse University that went viral and was ultimately printed in the New York Times.  Beginning with a story from Middle School of his neglecting to reach out to a girl who was consistently ostracized, Saunders opined, “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

Saunders went on to explain his theory that we become kinder with age as we lose some of our self-centeredness. Regarding this process, he encouraged the graduates to “speed it along. Start right now.” He also warned them to avoid becoming so fixated on succeeding that larger, more important questions would “go untended.”

At yesterday’s Middle School meeting, I thanked our 7th and 8th graders for making our trip to Jamestown and Williamsburg such a success. It was certainly uplifting to receive so many compliments from strangers – gift shop clerks, hotel guests and employees, park guides – about their behavior, but I shared that what truly made the difference for me was the opportunity to sit back and watch them interact with each other. They lived in the moment, moved seamlessly among different friends, and enjoyed each other’s company. Above all else, they were unfailingly kind to each other.

I often refer to a culture of kindness at TDS. I realize that, while reading and writing are learned at school and reinforced at home, the reverse is true for kindness. So, as we are poised to return your children to you for the summer, let me simply say thank you for sharing them with us.

From the Vault: Emily and the High Dive – May 14, 2015

[While I originally wrote this piece several years ago, I enjoy returning to it and its message.]

For each of the past five weeks, I have taken my son Will (6 years) and my daughter Emily (4.75 years) to the Montgomery Aquatic Center on Sunday afternoon for a few hours of swimming. The activity is not dependent on the weather, and it tires them out. It’s also less stressful and far less frustrating that watching the Redskins. We enjoy tossing the football, diving for the plastic seahorse, and jumping off the diving board.

On each of the past five Sundays, Emily has climbed the steps to the 3-meter high dive, walked the entire length of the board, curled her toes over the edge, leaned forward, stared at the water roughly ten feet below her, looked at me, and listened to my words of encouragement. She has then proceeded to turn around, retrace her steps, and return to the lower board. A few weeks ago, she informed me on the way home that she would take the leap when she turned five. This made sense to me; another three months and a dozen trips up and down would allow her time to warm up to the idea. This past Sunday, she followed the same ritual, but this time with a different result. Much to my surprise, she reached the end of the board and kept walking, plunging into the water below. I cheered wildly, gave her a huge hug, told her I was proud of her, and then watched her jump eight more times – she had crossed the threshold.

Reflecting on these past five Sundays, I realize that the 3-meter plunge represented a significant hurdle, one that required the buildup of a good deal of courage. To be successful, Emily needed time for this to happen. While it seemed as though she was not making any progress, she was actually getting closer each week. Finally, the timing of her success was impossible for me to predict. (In fact, just seconds before she jumped, I quietly assured another parent that she wasn’t going anywhere.) I simply had to wait for it to happen.

As they grow up, our children face many hurdles which demand persistence and (at times) courage. Whether it’s mastering the arts of organization and time management, learning how to study efficiently and effectively for a history test, understanding Shakespeare, developing as an essay writer, or having the guts to try something new, some boys do not succeed the first (or second or third) time that they try. Furthermore, it can be difficult to verify that a child is making progress, until it happens.

As parents, we need to have patience and remain supportive. I’m sure this is easier when it’s a 4-year old jumping off a diving board as opposed to a 13-year old trying to “get” algebra. We also need to recognize and celebrate the victories, even when they aren’t as obvious. Later that night, Emily reported that her hands and stomach hurt after each jump, probably because she entered the water at a 45-degree angle. I actually think that she kept going, at least in part, because I was so excited.

Lessons Learned Through Sports – May 7, 2015

On Tuesday evening, we held our Spring Sports Awards Banquet in the gym. This was an opportunity to acknowledge and applaud our student-athletes who participated on the soccer (girls), baseball (boys), golf (co-ed), and tennis (boys) teams during this past season. In addition, we recognized some eighth graders who played on a TDS team during every season of their Middle School years: Jacob Bowers, Cole Hinson, Chris Board, Felix Braun, Jeff Dellaero, Matt Eberst, and Alex Middleton. These are shining examples of students who have given so much to the athletic program at TDS.

As has become my custom, I offered some reflections on life lessons that our students have learned through sports. Successful athletes…

  • Understand that “practice makes…better.” In sports and in life, no one is perfect. It’s about improving, and effort is generally rewarded. As Mr. Forringer pointed out during the banquet, his golfers’ scores dropped significantly over the course of the season.
  • Focus on what they can control. Athletes don’t determine the level of competition. As a result, they have limited control over a game’s outcome. By contrast, they have complete control over their effort.
  • Let go of mistakes. As four of our Lower School teachers sang in the TDS Teachers Have Talent video, we all need to “shake it off.” Successful athletes acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and then put them in the past.
  • Keep learning. Even professional or Olympic athletes are constantly learning and working to get better.
  • Realize that being positive moves the team further. As a faculty, we talked at the start of the year about filling one another’s buckets, and we dedicated a bulletin board to writing compliments and thank-yous to each other this year. Similarly, the Positive Coaching Alliance advocates filling the emotional tanks of teammates.
  • Celebrate success. Stopping to smell the roses involves more than simply celebrating victories. Athletes are constantly attaining goals and setting new ones. In between, it’s important to step back and take note of one’s accomplishments.
  • Strive to become true team players. Playing a team sport, athletes learn that cooperation and collaboration help to bring out the best in one’s teammates.
  • Win and lose with dignity. Above all else, successful athletes respect themselves, their opponents, and the game itself.

Listening to our coaches reflect on their respective seasons, it became apparent that they care most about the personal growth of their student-athletes. Two years ago, I coached the 7th grade basketball team at my former school. Thirty-three boys tried out for the team, and during the first week of practice, I was forced to cut seventeen of them. With this experience etched in my memory, I am grateful that all Middle Schoolers have the opportunity to participate in athletics at TDS. In every sport we offered this year, some kids came out for the first time. These students improved their skills and athleticism, experienced the camaraderie associated with being part of a team, and learned some life lessons in the process.

The Marshmallow Effect – April 30, 2015

Forty-five years ago, Walter Mischel initiated a body of research that has become iconic in the field of psychology. What is known today as simply the “marshmallow experiment” began in 1970 at the Bing Nursery School on the campus of Stanford University. Mischel and his colleagues designed an experiment on delayed gratification, testing 600 children age 4-6. Subjects were brought into a room and offered one reward (typically a marshmallow or cookie) immediately. However, they were told that if they could wait for fifteen minutes until the researcher returned, they would get twice as much. Mischel observed that, for kids who attempted to wait, approximately one third were successful, and age was a determining factor.

Things got quite interesting twenty years later, when Mischel performed a follow-up study, tracking down many of his original subjects, then in their mid-twenties. He reported that the ability to wait as a 4-6 year old strongly correlated with a host of positive outcomes several years later, including: higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, and parent descriptions as “more competent” and “better able to deal with frustration and stress.” Apparently, not eating the marshmallow was a golden ticket to a life of success and happiness.

Perhaps because of its simplicity, and perhaps because people regard the outcome as so important, many have tried to replicate this experiment. In fact, I recommend this clip, if only because the kids are so cute in their attempts to avoid giving in to temptation.

Last year, Mischel himself returned to this subject, authoring a book entitled The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. In addition, articles have appeared in The Atlantic, the New Yorker, and the New York Times Magazine. To be sure, achieving success requires a disciplined effort and the ability to avoid distractions, and having the willpower to delay gratification seems like an integral component of this. Still, some authors have questioned the validity of both Mischel’s experimental design and his longitudinal data.

In 2012, researchers at the University of Rochester recreated Mischel’s experiment with an important twist. Before the main experiment, children in the “reliable” group were ushered into a room with a few art supplies. They were then promised better crayons and more stickers, and the researcher made good on these promises after a few minutes, delivering the additional supplies. By contrast, children in the “unreliable” group listened to the same promises and then waited a few minutes, only to then be told that no more supplies were available. The results? Children who experienced reliable interactions before the marshmallow task waited four times longer than kids in the unreliable group. Researchers concluded that children were influenced by rational decision making about the probability of a reward.

Mischel’s original study is still broadly viewed as a classic experimental measure of self-control. Perhaps the greatest danger in people’s oversimplified understanding of the marshmallow experiment is that it reveals a character trait that is somehow set in stone. If the “waiters” are headed down the path toward success, then what about the kids who simply ate the marshmallow? Even the title of Mischel’s book suggests that self-control can be improved, and current brain research pointing toward neural plasticity reinforces that “nurture” is probably more important than “nature” when it comes to many performance character traits.

As I see it, the Rochester study only serves to reinforce the point that self-control is influenced by life experiences and, as a result, is quite malleable. The Amazon review of Mischel’s book contends that “the ability to delay gratification is critical for a successful life.” While this sounds a bit overblown, we should nonetheless focus on how to best improve children’s willpower and self-control, both at school and at home. Even as we do this, let’s take a step back and acknowledge that: 1) “success” is open to multiple interpretations; 2) boys and girls arrive at self-discipline at different points; and 3) self-control is a complement to – not a surrogate for – curiosity, creativity, and compassion.

The TDS Strategic Plan – Thursday, April 23, 2015

In January, 2014, TDS initiated a strategic planning process. At that time, we formed a committee comprised of Trustees, faculty, and current parents. Committee members included Grettel Cousins (Co-Chair), John Board (Co-Chair), Jonathan Dowd, Amie Tedeschi, Joanne Dellaero, Kelley Keats, Lloyd Patillo, Purnima Valdez, and Doug Norry. Intensely focused on the future of TDS, this Committee has researched, surveyed, analyzed, listened, and debated over the past sixteen months. To jog your memory, here are some highlights:

  • Last spring, we administered a core values survey to all parents, faculty/staff, and Middle School students.
  • This fall, we administered two additional surveys to current parents, faculty/staff, and alumni parents. The first survey (from the Southern Association of Independent Schools) assessed levels of congruence between the importance placed on various aspects of the TDS experience and how well the school was/is faring in each aspect. The second survey (written by the Strategic Planning Committee) was designed to evaluate different programmatic initiatives at TDS, identifying areas of strength as well as those in need of improvement.
  • This winter, after a good deal of writing, we discussed a draft of the plan with faculty and current parents in focus group meetings.

After digesting a good deal of feedback, the Committee met multiple times to revise the plan. I am thrilled to report that, during a meeting earlier this week, the Board of Trustees formally approved all aspects of this plan, including: a revised mission statement, a set of core values, a set of guiding principles, a strategic plan with seven goals for TDS.

I have included the bulk of this information below. To read the plan in its entirety (including implementation steps for each goal), please visit the TDS website. I want to thank everyone – all parents, faculty/staff, Middle School students, Trustees, and Committee members – for their thoughtful participation in what was a truly inclusive process. At its core, this plan reaffirms our commitment to academic excellence within a welcoming community. It also helps reinforce a culture of continual refinement and improvement.

Mission Statement

As a warm and welcoming community devoted to academic excellence, Triangle Day School ignites intellectual curiosity, fosters compassion and integrity, and nurtures creativity, inspiring confidence in each student to lead a life of purpose.

Core Values

Respect, Integrity, Compassion, Resilience, Responsibility

Guiding Principles

An Ethical Community of Caring – We place a priority on the care and nurturing of the whole school community.  We honor and respect diversity in the broadest sense, maintaining an environment in which everyone has a voice and is valued.

An Educational Partnership – Family, faculty and staff communicate openly, working together to promote student growth and success.

A Comprehensive Curriculum – In our consistent pursuit of academic excellence, we expose students to the delights and demands of learning, providing them daily opportunities to engage and grow.

A Focus on the Individual – Our strong academics are focused on individual success within the context of our school culture.

A Safe Environment – Triangle Day School is a safe place to be, physically, emotionally and intellectually.

Strategic Plan

#1 – Academic ProgramGoal: Provide a comprehensive, holistic learning experience that ignites intellectual curiosity, builds character, and prepares students for purposeful lives of leadership and service in a global community.

#2 – Faculty & StaffGoal: Recruit, develop, and retain an exceptionally talented, creative faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds and experiences who are committed to the mission of the school.

#3 – Governance Goal: Preserve a talented, diverse, and engaged Board, committed to the mission and strategic priorities of the school.

#4 – Facilities and GrowthGoal: Develop, maintain, and implement a Campus Master Plan that supports the school’s programs and allows for managed growth in enrollment.

#5 – Admissions, Enrollment & MarketingGoal: Expand school visibility and brand recognition within the larger community to grow demand and support an increase in enrollment. Attract, enroll and retain highly qualified students with diverse talents and backgrounds whose families embrace the school’s mission.

#6 – CommunityGoal: Continue to be a warm, welcoming community for all in which students feel known, valued, and loved.

#7 – FinancesGoal: In order to more fully pursue the mission, strengthen the financial position of the school by practicing sound financial management, building an assertive fundraising program, and expanding alternative revenue sources.

Blast from the Past – Thursday, April 16, 2015

Last week, I underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL. My recovery is moving along, and I have enjoyed getting back to my familiar post during the mornings this week (albeit in a reclined position). Still, I haven’t yet summoned the energy to write something worth reading. As a result, I’m pulling a letter “from the vault.” I wrote this letter five years ago while leading a middle school. Kate is older now, and thankfully she has overcome this “hurdle,” but I believe that the underlying message is timeless.

*******************************************************************************

Mornings in the Norry household are designed to run like a Swiss watch. In theory, three kids wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, comb hair, brush teeth, pack bags, and buckle themselves in the mini-van, all within a span of thirty minutes. In reality, a misplaced shoe can derail the entire operation.

Two weeks ago, our youngest began violently objecting to the one component of the morning that is non-negotiable. Simply put, Kate refused to get dressed. Nothing fit. Nothing felt right.

We quickly diagnosed the source of the problem – her underwear. Apparently, her pants were scrunching her undergarments, and this was unacceptable to her. While only four years old, Kate is a problem solver. After three days of tantrums, stressful mornings, and late arrivals at school, she announced that she was no longer wearing underpants. Period. Before my wife and I could mobilize to object, we noted an immediate change for the positive. Tantrums evaporated. Aside from a lingering anxiety that she’ll be expelled from pre-school, our lives have returned to normal.

As parents, we are constantly being pushed and tested. Where do we draw the line? Which battles do we fight? How much energy do we invest in holding our ground? With each new developmental stage comes a new frontier of requests and demands. Middle School issues include owning a cell phone, having various social media account, establishing privacy in one’s electronic communications (by having a computer in one’s room, for example), playing “mature” video games, being allowed to roam around the mall in the evening, and many more.

When it comes to these questions, parents can only count on one thing for certain. The rules that parents set, and the tactics that they employ, span the entire spectrum. Contrary to what your son or daughter might tell you, there are middle schoolers who don’t own a cell phone. Some have accounts on Facebook; others are not permitted. Some parents read every word texted by their child. Some parents outlaw Call of Duty, while others allow their children access to this game.

In one sense, it’s nice to know what other parents are thinking and doing. Parent peer groups can provide a valuable source of information, ideas, and support, allowing parents to swap stories and share tactics. On the other hand, parents need to take full ownership of the rules in their household. If unfettered access to Instagram makes you uncomfortable, then learning that all of your daughter’s friends are connected should not change your mind.

As my own children accelerate toward adolescence, I’m starting to comprehend that these choices have seemingly profound social implications. No underwear is one thing, but no Wii during the week? When his friends visit our house, my 8-year old son navigates these waters quite carefully.

For the record, research suggests that permissive parenting does not equate with a deeper connection to one’s children. In NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman cite a study by two social scientists from Penn State University, Nancy Darling and Linda Caldwell, who trained undergraduates to conduct hundreds of in-depth interviews with local teens. These authors concluded that “the type of parents who are actually most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are warm and have the most conversations with their kids” (140). The key is to explain the rules while still finding a way to support a child’s autonomy. Easier said than done. Even the most rigid among us should search for small concessions, ones that stay within our comfort zones but let our kids know that we are listening. That, along with the reality of our mornings, is why Kate hasn’t worn underpants for two weeks.

The Butterfly Effect – Thursday, April 9, 2015

If you watch CBS Evening News or log many hours on Facebook, you have probably heard of Chris Rosati. Having grown up in Durham, Chris was diagnosed with ALS a few years ago. To state the obvious, this diagnosis changed his life in every imaginable way.

Delivering a speech at his alma mater last year, Chris shared one of his fantasies with a gym full of high schoolers. He wanted to steal a Krispy Kreme truck and drive all over town handling out free doughnuts to hundreds of unsuspecting people. Figuring that he needed to follow through with this plan, Chris set the wheels in motion, even posting his intent for the Robin Hood-esque heist on Facebook.  When word got to Krispy Kreme, the doughnut magnate preempted the high-jacking by providing Chris with a bus loaded with more than 1,000 doughnuts. He spent an entire day spreading sugar, and happiness, at local schools, parks, and even hospitals.

More recently, Chris made a small investment without expecting a return. He randomly gave $50 each to two young girls at a restaurant in Durham. His instructions were simple: “do something kind.” Several weeks later, Chris was shocked to receive a thank you video from a village in Sierra Leone. It turns out that the girls used their father’s Peace Corps connections to pay for a feast in this village.

This episode led Chris Rosati to contemplate The Butterfly Effect – a physics principle espousing that a butterfly flapping its wings could, in theory, cause a hurricane on the other side of the globe – and specifically how it might apply to kindness. Through his organization, Inspire Media Network, Chris initiated the BIGG Grant campaign, challenging K-12 students to dream up a BigIdea for the Greater Good. To apply, students submit a short video explaining how they would use $50 to make a positive impact. The site highlights eight examples (all videos), including high school students who dressed as super heroes and spent the afternoon entertaining children at a local hospital.

This initiative, inspiring students to think creatively about helping others, lies at the intersection of compassion and imagination. I hope you will show your children this siteand engage them in conversations about this topic. As we observe at TDS every day, your children are full of kindness, and perhaps they will be inspired to share their own big ideas for brightening someone’s day.

In Defense of Memorization (and Happy Pi Day!) – Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, is an irrational number. While most recognize pi as 3.14, the decimal goes on forever with no discernible pattern. In honor of Pi Day (this Saturday, 3/14), some students have met the challenge of memorizing as many digits as possible. During tomorrow afternoon’s assembly, winners from each grade level will recite what they know, and we will crown TDS Lower and Middle School Champions. Their significant accomplishment notwithstanding, Friday’s winners will no doubt pale in comparison to Alex Haraguchi, a retired Japanese engineer, who set the world record by reciting 100,000 digits of pi over the course of sixteen hours in 2006.

As educators focus on 21st century skills such as problem solving and creativity, memorizing has fallen out of favor in recent years. It’s likely that many of us had to commit to memory the words of Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Frost as we progressed through high school, and it’s equally likely that our children will escape this arduous task. The smart phone is the latest in a long line of inventions, perhaps beginning with the printing press, that allows us to outsource memory. Is this a good thing?

In a piece appearing in the New Yorker, Brad Leithauser pleads his case for memorization. A college professor who bemoans the fact that his students resist memorizing sonnets, Leithauser’s argument hinges on forming an emotional connection with literature. Memorizing allows you to “take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen.” Jim Holt echoes this sentiment in a New York Times article entitled Got Poetry?, concluding that, when it comes to deriving pleasure from literature, “the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within.”

Memorizing poetry is one thing, but what about numbers? Even if surpassing the one hundredth digit doesn’t enhance our emotional connection with pi, research suggests that memorization serves as important fitness training for the brain. As we memorize more and more, we improve our neural plasticity, and we stretch the capacity and duration of our working memories. Additionally, it’s widely accepted that factual knowledge (memorized) precedes skill development; that is, we can’t think well on a topic in the absence of factual knowledge about that topic. Put another way, we understand new things in the context of things we already know, so memorized material serves as a launching pad for novel learning.

Moonwalking With Einstein, a New York Times bestseller, is Joshua Foer’s fascinating account of his yearlong quest to improve his memory. Interviewing contestants at the 2005 U.S. Memory Championships, Foer learned that the participants were not savants, but rather men and women with average memories who spent hours perfecting techniques that worked for them. To test this theory, the author began his own memory training regimen. Twelve months later, he won the U.S. Memory Championship. Moonwalking With Einstein* weaves Foer’s journey with historical attitudes toward memory and the science behind memory creation. He concludes that we remember when we pay attention and are deeply engaged.

Tomorrow’s pi champions will have some work to do before they can memorize the order of thirty decks of cards in one hour, but Foer explains that this task is actually accessible to most of us. Furthermore, as memory and understanding go hand in hand, there’s much to be gained from the experience.

*Interested in this topic, but not sure that you want to read the book? I recommend starting with Joshua Foer’s TED Talk.

Essentialism – Thursday, March 5, 2015

A few weeks ago, while attending one of my daughter’s swim meets, I scanned the bleachers, looking for friendly faces and a place to squeeze in amongst the masses. My eyes were drawn to a man’s neon shirt that bore six seemingly absurd words: “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

I’ve seen this expression used before as a rather creative advertisement for coffee, but this shirt carried no such propaganda. Now, I realize that not every t-shirt maxim is intended to be taken literally, but the meaning troubles me to this day. Is the man simply too busy to sleep? Too many laps to swim? Too many e-mails to answer? If so, why wear it as a badge of honor?

In his bestselling book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown investigates questions of this nature. McKeown coins the term “The More Bubble” to describe our current preoccupation with having and doing it all. An imperfect storm of smart phones, social media, and extreme consumerism has made us more aware of what others are doing, and consequently, more fixated on what we should be doing. To be busy is to be successful and important. Perhaps in ultimate pursuit of college acceptance, we foist this value on our children as well – more homework, more sports, more extracurricular activities – all leading to more stress and less sleep.

Similar to the technology bubble of the late 1990s and the real estate bubble of six years ago, McKeown predicts that today’s obsession with busyness will burst as well. Then, “we will be left feeling that our precious time on Earth has been wasted doing things that had no value at all.” Overly dramatic? Perhaps, but as the texting acronym suggests, You Only Live Once.

Instead, McKeown offers what he calls Essentialism, getting more of what matters in life. Essentialists sleep more, take morning walks, enjoy (relatively) unscheduled weekends, and impose technology-free zones and times. By doing less and turning down some opportunities, we can regain control of important choices and make better contributions to our families, our work, and society.

To be sure, this concept is not new. One theme that I continually harp on in these missives is being truly present for our children, which certainly fits with McKeown’s plan. Still, I’d like to think that we are raising a generation of essentialists. To do this, both at home and at school, we need to help our children prioritize rather than overscheduling them, build in time for meaningful reflection, and model these behaviors as adults.

For those who are too busy to read this book, try this article by Greg McKeown which appeared in last June’s Harvard Business Review: Why We Humblebrag About Being Busy.

The Opposite of Spoiled – Thursday, February 19, 2015

When our children were younger, nighttime reading consisted of a steady diet of The Berenstain Bears. With Brother, Sister, and Baby Honey, the Bear family resembles the Norry clan, and titles such as Too Much Teasing and The Truth offer both enjoyable stories and thoughtful morals. In particular, I always enjoyed reading The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, a tale of Brother and Sister eventually learning the difference between wants and needs after Mama and Papa administer some tough love. Since my kids never pitched a fit in the candy aisle of the grocery store, I figured that they must have internalized the message. Case closed.

Fast forward several years. As with so much in life, the distinction between wants and needs gets more complicated when sugar cereals give way to Apple products. In an attempt to sort through these complications, I found myself drawn to The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, by Ron Lieber. The book clearly struck a chord with me; I finished it in less than 24 hours.

Lieber tackles a range of topics, including allowance, chores, materialism, spending, and philanthropy. The Opposite of Spoiled weaves together current research, creative suggestions from parents, and practical advice. Lieber begins by highlighting “an epidemic of silence around money that persists with many families” (8). He suggests breaking this silence with discussions and activities related to money, which can reinforce values such as generosity, patience, and perseverance.

Should children have chores, even if they are saddled with homework and extracurricular activities? Absolutely. Everyone contributes to the community at home. Lieber reasons that, if we don’t assign chores, we are essentially conveying the message: “we expect very little of you, and you’re living mostly for yourself” (155). He also suggests a weekly allowance, one that gets divided among three jars: spend, save, and give. With this system, kids not only learn about delayed gratification and philanthropy, they also gain experience with a budget. One mother even encouraged her children to estimate the “hours of fun per dollar” for any “want” that they considered purchasing (sounds like an early lesson on return on investment!). She reported that, as teenagers, they opted for Netflix over movie theaters and preferred the public library to Barnes & Noble.

Regarding generosity, Lieber cites studies showing that “if parents give, kids tend to as well” (119). Of course, to pass along these philanthropic tendencies, we need to bring our children into the discussion, and perhaps into the decision-making as well. Again, Lieber tells the story of a mother who presents her son with a blank check (for a modest amount!) each month. He must fill in the charity of his choice, and explain his reasoning to her.

Whether you’re searching for inspiration, looking for more practical advice, or simply interested in how to respond to your children’s never-ending curiosity (“How much money do you make? Why can’t I have it if I’m going to use my own money?”), I highly recommend The Opposite of Spoiled. Since reading this book five days ago, I have put into practice a number of Lieber’s suggestions, and it has been instructive – and helpful – to both me and my children.*

* To be fair, you should ask my kids to confirm this claim. That said, they did react positively to the concept of an allowance.

TDS Auction: Fund-A-Cause – Thursday, February 12, 2015

At our Valentines for Volunteers reception this morning, we had an opportunity to thank parents for volunteering at TDS. Your time, energy, and efforts make the experience here more rewarding for your children, and for everyone else’s children as well. Thank you for chaperoning field trips, organizing class parties, serving as mystery readers, sharing your careers, driving to athletic contests, volunteering on parent work days, and working to support several major events throughout the year.

Additionally, let me offer a special thanks to parents who have stepped into leadership roles:

  • Board of Trustees – Grettel Cousins, John Board, Joanne Dellaero, Stuart Smith, Purnima Valdez, Lloyd Patillo, Vaishali Mankad, Sabrina Schneider
  • Parents Association Officers – Jamie Baize-Smith, Melissa McDevitt, Deborah Sorin, Lori Von Alten
  • Teacher Appreciation Lunches – Kim Bowers
  • Dine-Outs – Hudson Fuller
  • School Pictures – Jamie Baize-Smith
  • Fall Carnival – Trudy Smith & Ashlie Schooler
  • Field Day – Philip Hansell
  • Back to School Picnic – Bobbi Stubbs
  • Talent Show – Kelley Keats
  • Twister Trot – Carrie Norry
  • Library – Ann Pettibone & Jenna Berezovytch
  • Book Fair – Sabrina Schneider
  • Arts Guild – Sherri Fulp
  • Grandparents Day – Margaret Dean
  • International Night – Franzie Rokoske
  • Auction – Kelley Keats and Deborah Sorin

It’s hard to imagine TDS without all of these wonderful events, traditions, and programs, so thanks for all you do to make them possible!

Five weeks ago, I shared details about this year’s Auction, Once Upon A Time in Carolina, which takes place next Saturday, February 21st at Bay 7 of the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. We hope that you will join us for a fun-filled evening to support Triangle Day School.

During last month’s letter, I announced that this year’s Fund-A-Cause would go toward improving the arts education and experience at TDS. In both surveys administered earlier this year, parents listed the arts as an area in need of improvement. Specifically, respondents identified the need for a performing arts space to accommodate our growing program.

Given this input, Barbara Gillespie (Lower School Music teacher), Kelley Keats (Auction Co-Chair), Sharon Myers (Business Manager) and I met to investigate different ideas. I’m thrilled to share our Fund-A-Cause for 2015 – the SICO Insta-Theatre. Complete with multiple curtains, a top canopy, a dramatic lighting system, and a sturdy stage, this full-size performance theatre folds against a wall when not in use. Our vision is to install this theatre in the TDS gymnasium, turning it into a truly multi-purpose space.

The Insta-Theatre will greatly enhance dramatic productions, musical performances, major events (think Grandparents Day and the Talent Show!), all-school assemblies, and even graduation. As our performing arts program grows, we will be able to showcase all of our students and provide a much better viewing experience for our audiences.

I hope that you will consider supporting the TDS performing arts program by raising a paddle for the Fund-A-Cause Insta-Theatre at the Auction. If you cannot attend next Saturday, please consider clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page to make a donation.

Click here to see a video clip of the Insta-Theatre.

ERB Testing – Thursday, February 5, 2015

Yesterday, we celebrated the hundredth day of school. Students in grades TK – 4 helped to decorate my car, each adding a TDS car magnet. Yes, I am driving around Durham with 100 TDS magnets on my car!

During the first half of next week, we will be administering the CTP 4 (Comprehensive Testing Program, 4th Edition – commonly referred to as the ERB) to students in 2nd through 8th grade. Testing will take place for one to two hours each morning on February 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th (Lower School only). Subject areas depend on grade level:

  • 2nd grade – Auditory Comprehension, Reading Comprehension, Word Analysis, Math
  • 3rd grade – 2nd grade tests + Writing Mechanics
  • 4th grade – Verbal Reasoning, Auditory Comprehension, Reading Comprehension, Writing Mechanics, Writing Concepts & Skills, Quantitative Reasoning, Math
  • 5th – 8th Grade – Verbal Reasoning, Vocabulary, Reading Comprehension, Writing Mechanics, Writing Concepts & Skills, Quantitative Reasoning, Math

It is common for independent schools to administer these tests. Since scores are normed against independent school populations, we feel that they provide us with relevant data. At TDS, we use ERB scores in a couple of different ways. First, while ERBs are not a substitute for the more authentic assessment that takes place in the classroom, we do look at your child’s results in an attempt to gain a more complete picture of her/his strengths and weaknesses as a learner. For example, is s/he significantly stronger in math than in verbal areas? Does s/he need additional help with any specific skill? We also pay attention to how scores change over time. In addition, we analyze the results in the aggregate in order to evaluate our own curriculum. Along these lines, ERB sends us very specific data about how our students fare on different types of questions, and we use this information as part of a continual effort to improve our academic program.

We will receive results from ERB later this spring. At that time, we will share the results with parents, along with information about how to interpret the scores.

It’s important to note that we do not take time to formally prepare students for this testing (other than explaining the format to our younger ones who might be experiencing it for the first time). For parents, we simply ask that you encourage your children to get enough sleep and eat a hearty breakfast on testing days.

As a final note, students who (a) have educational testing on file at TDS within the last three years or a report from a medical doctor within the last twelve months and (b) regularly receive accommodations on testing at school will receive similar accommodations on this standardized testing.

As always, please contact me with any questions.

Cousin Bob – Thursday, January 29, 2015

When it comes to raising children, the focus of our collective angst seems to shift roughly every decade. In the mid-1990s, when I first became a teacher, leading experts were squarely focused on girls. Specifically, girls endured a media-saturated, toxic culture that promoted unattainable, unhealthy views of beauty, and this resulted in crushingly low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. In 1994, Mary Pipher published Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, and the book vaulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list overnight. Pipher portrayed girls as “saplings in the storm,” and her work was regarded as a call to arms; it was time to confront the girl crisis.

Ten years later, our national anxiety switched genders. Researchers began pointing out that boys lagged behind girls on every educational measure, and that same toxic culture robbed boys of the opportunity to develop an emotional literacy. In Boys Adrift (2007), Leonard Sax blamed a host of factors, including schools and video games, for boys disengaging and dropping out. In The Trouble with Boys (2008), Peg Tyre drew similar conclusions that the deck was stacked against boys.

Today, we worry about both genders. Specifically, authors chastise parents for over-parenting, for raising a generation of over-programmed, fragile, risk-averse, self-absorbed children who care more about their college resumes than finding any deeper meaning, and who have been coddled to such an extent that they cannot handle setbacks. In The Blessing of a B Minus (2011), Wedny Mogel makes the case for this perceived epidemic before offering advice on how to raise confident, resilient children. Mogel’s work seems to have opened the floodgates, as scores of articles discuss how our preoccupation with safety and immediate success is harming our children.

As one who has been reading these books and articles for twenty years, I try to keep the current hysteria in perspective. Still, I’ll admit that, as the parent of a newly minted teenager, I am paying more attention today, grappling with whether I’m one of “those” parents. Last week, I had convinced myself that we had “succeeded” in protectively bubble wrapping our son Will, and I needed a solution. Seemingly out of nowhere, my cousin Bob came to the rescue.

As a bit of background, Bob grew up as the second of four children. As a kid, he moved from New Mexico to Wisconsin to Texas, so I only saw him once a year during our family reunion at the beach. Bob was, shall we say, an outside-the-box thinker and an adventurous spirit. I vividly remember him, at age seven, standing over his baby sister’s crib, repeating the same expletive over and over in hopes that she would utter it as her first word. (A recent conversation with my Aunt Jeanie confirmed that Bob was successful in this endeavor.)

Fast forward thirty years. Bob lives with his family in Las Vegas, handles rigging for many of the acrobatic shows at the various hotels, and serves as a professional mountain climbing guide and instructor. Last week, we heard from Bob on the eve of Will’s bar mitzvah. His card came with a wonderfully unusual gift, an invitation to a “climbing weekend” in Las Vegas.

Bob’s invitation included the following disclaimer:

“Rock climbing involves risks. By accepting this invitation, you take full responsibility for these risks. Climbing is essentially uncomfortable, and will include some or all of the following: being too hot or too cold, cramped footwear, harness chafing, hunger, thirst, fatigue, mortal terror, etc. Additionally, there are many factors that could affect climbing plans, such as: extreme weather events, plagues, acts of God, and weak coffee.”

At least for 48 hours, Will will live outside of any bubble, experiencing the elements, succeeding or failing depending on his own strength, technique, and determination. If we want our kids to be strong, responsible, independent, and engaged, at some point we will all need a cousin Bob. Let me know if you want his number.

The Dentist – Thursday, January 15, 2015

Earlier this week, I gathered all the courage I could muster and followed through with an appointment that I made months ago (and then proceeded to forget about). As I sat in the dentist’s chair, wincing and flinching as a hygienist mercilessly scraped away a year’s worth of plaque on my teeth and under my gums, I actually began to sweat.  My eyes were fixated on the high speed drill, and my heart skipped a beat each time her hand came close to that wicked device. No volume of music from my i-pod could drown out the piercing vibrations of one million fingernails dragging themselves across a chalkboard.

By all accounts, my dentist is a warm, engaging woman – someone whom I’d be delighted to spend time with, had she chosen a different profession.  Simply put, I’m petrified by the whole concept of “the dentist.”  When it comes to my mouth, no news is good news, so I ignore the polite reminders to make an appointment.  This week, I finally gave in for two reasons.  First, it has been a while, and guilt was beginning to replace fear. (Years ago, I gave up on trying to be a good role model for my children in this arena.) Second, and more importantly, I don’t follow my dentist’s advice on a day-to-day basis.  I brush too vigorously and rarely floss, and all of this has resulted in rather severe gum pain.

So, what’s the point?

Believe it or not, I think this story is applicable to school (although I’m not sure what that says about me).  Earlier this week, I spoke at length with a boy who is struggling academically.  We identified two reasons for his troubles.  First, the day-to-day – he races through his homework routine, often omitting details and rarely taking that extra five minutes to review the concepts or lesson from that day.  Second, the avoidance – he has repeatedly neglected to show up for extra help despite multiple invitations from teachers to come at recess, during study hall, etc.

Several philosophers – including David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, and even Plato – have written about how basic human nature drives us to seek pleasure and (more relevant to this story) avoid pain.  The field of evolutionary psychology attempts to explain this impulse in Darwin’s terms, while behavioral psychologists seek to understand its role in high risk activities like drug abuse.  Children are not immune to avoiding pain.  In the school setting, this might take the form of forgetting the difficult assignment, passing on the opportunity to correct a test, or shying away from working with a teacher outside of class.  One of our goals, then, must involve encouraging students to confront issues directly by speaking with the teachers.  Whether it’s Language Arts class or the dentist’s office, minor problems – if left unattended – grow into bigger (and more painful) problems.

TDS Auction – Thursday, January 8, 2015

In the fall of 1995, after what has been described as “several years of debate,” the TDS Board of Trustees decided to hold an auction. Patty McClendon and Sharon Myers chaired the first event, titled “Champions at the Speedway,” which took place at Croasdaile Country Club (see below for a complete list of themes and chairs). Generating a profit of $12,000 (which far surpassed the $5000 goal), the first auction was hailed as a smashing success.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the TDS Auction remains both a wonderful community event and the primary fundraising mechanism for the school (along with the Annual Fund). This year, Kelley Keats and Deborah Sorin are organizing a magical evening at Bay 7, American Tobacco Campus on February 21st. I hope you will join us for Once Upon A Time in Carolina. If you haven’t seen Be Our Guest, the invitation starring Amie Tedeschi and Dan Forringer, it’s worth four minutes of your time.

New this year is the TDS Online Auction, which opened earlier this week and runs through January 21st  You’ll find gift certificates to local restaurants, vouchers for a variety of summer camps, family experiences, and even a chance to play in the now famous Poker Party at our house in March (for a lot less than a weekend in Las Vegas).

Funds raised at the auction directly support the School’s operations this year. Specifically, auction proceeds allow us to attract and retain an outstanding faculty and staff, support athletics and the arts, continue to upgrade our facilities, provide professional development for our teachers, and much, much more.

In recent years, the Fund-A-Cause has become an integral component of the auction, with donors raising their paddles in support of a specific initiative. This year, I am thrilled to announce that Fund-A-Cause dollars will go toward improving the arts education and experience at TDS. This begins with equipment for the studio art, drama, and music classrooms. It also includes items – risers, a new sound system and wireless mikes, to name a few – that will enhance the quality of our performances. From now on, every parent will be able to see the smiling face of every performer. More details to come on February 21st.

The TDS Auction has generated many wonderful memories over the years. I sincerely thank all of you who have donated time and items thus far, and I encourage you to join us on February 21st. Come enjoy a delectable meal with friends, bid on a fabulous experience with your child’s teacher, and raise your paddle to support the arts at TDS.

 

Boredom – Thursday, December 18, 2014

Each day at 3:00 PM, I observe countless kindergartners and first graders make a beeline for their cars and immediately tell their parents all the exciting things that happened in school that day. These kids seem so eager to share that parents barely have to ask.

Contrast this scene with my own two middle schoolers, and the thousands more that I’ve been fortunate enough to teach and get to know over the past twenty years. The top two responses to the dreaded “how was school?” question: “Fine” and “Boring.”

In an article published many years ago in the American Journal of Education, Reed Larson and Maryse Richards tracked 392 middle schoolers throughout the day, attempting to determine whether boredom was a state (and therefore triggered by events at school) or a personality trait. The authors found that individual dispositions played a significant role, but also that schools could be structured differently to reduce boredom. They concluded with several suggestions for schools and teachers, including making assignments more creative, tying instruction to students’ lives, incorporating students’ interests into lessons, and playing games.

Over the years, many of these suggestions have become established components of “good teaching.” In fact, many Middle School teachers today go a step further, designing lessons that carve the period into three 15-minute chunks, and attempting to incorporate some type of movement during a class. While I view these developments as positive, I wonder if we have contributed to a dynamic where students, including my son, expect to be entertained.

Throughout history, boredom has not carried the most positive of connotations. In the 1800s, Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, referred to it as “the root of all evil.” One can also be “bored to death” or “bored to tears.” Yet lately, views on the subject are changing. In my research, I found several articles trumpeting positive consequences associated being bored.

First, many note that boredom can foster creativity. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Heady Thrill of Having Nothing To Do,” Scott Adams, author of the comic strip, Dilbert, credits the “soul-crushing boredom of [his] childhood for allowing his creativity to flourish.” Scientists point to imaging studies which illustrate that major areas of the brain are active during downtime. These studies suggest that problem solving might depend, at least to some extent, on boredom. In a Boston Globe article entitled “There are Benefits to Boredom,” Barbara Meltz spends time at Cambridge Friends, a school where nearly 300 students (K-8) sit in silence for thirty minutes each week. Teachers view this time as a chance to “think without interruptions.”

Perhaps the strongest defense of boredom is aligned with the growing concern that electronics of all shapes and sizes are impairing our ability to focus on one task for a period of time. Starting with infancy, kids are bombarded with noise, stimulation and immediate gratification. In a New York Times article, Matt Richtell warns that “developing brains can become easily habituated to constantly switching tasks – and less able to sustain attention.” Unplugging might be boring, but the dangers of over-stimulation seem quite clear.

Finally, psychologist Adam Cox offers an intriguing take on boredom in an article appearing in The New Atlantis. He writes, “It is only during moments of relative calm that young minds learn to bind empathy to action, and the development of thoughtful behaviors we associate with civility.” Being civil is not necessarily fun, and it requires us to reflect on our actions, taking time to consider how we treat others. This cannot be accomplished while texting.

Returning to my daily conversations with middle schoolers, while I hope they are not bored at school, my main concern is that for kids today, the threshold has been drastically lowered. Children might feel bored after a few minutes without anything specific, or entertaining, to do. Maintaining these moments of rest, or contemplation, is just as important as any class, lesson, travel practice, or electronic communication.

Creativity at TDS – Thursday, December 11, 2014

In A Whole New Mind (2005), Daniel Pink posits that the reign of the left-brained, logical thinkers is coming to an end. As our society and economy transition from the informational to the conceptual age, it is the creative, artistic, and empathetic right-brainers who will be wired for success.

In a TED Talk that has captured more than thirty million viewers, Ken Robinson challenges schools to capitalize on kids’ capacity for innovation by nurturing creativity. Sharing Pink’s view of the 21st century world, he contends that “creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Last year, a team of four TDS teachers performed a “creativity audit” at our school, assessing how well we teach this 21st century skill, and proposing suggestions for improvement. From Science Expo and Middle School Poetry Night to projects in individual classes, opportunities for creative expression at TDS extend well beyond the art studio. That said, the committee suggested more student choice in project presentations, more open-ended questions, and some additional programming. As a result, three Lower School classes are learning to creatively problem solve through robotics, and a Middle School club is deeply engaged with Odyssey of the Mind, meeting three times per week with Ms. Carnes to tackle a series of conceptual challenges.

In his remarks, Robinson advocates for beginning with children’s imaginations and allowing them to create something that truly belongs to them. In second grade this fall, Ms. Newman shared a brief example that highlighted some components of a successful story. Then she turned her students loose to follow their own imaginations. Even as they navigated their way through the various stages of the writing process, students kept their personal voices and eventually felt great ownership over their works.

On Tuesday, our second grade authors read their stories at The Regulator Bookshop on Ninth Street in Durham. These stories were full of plot twists and different themes, as well as mystery and suspense. As they ascended the two steps on the stool, leaned over the podium and grasped the microphone, our students beamed with pride. To be sure, they had the attention of a large, supportive audience, but perhaps more significantly, they were presenting their very own creative works.

As Robinson reminds his audience, and as Ms. Newman’s aspiring authors demonstrated so beautifully on Tuesday, children are born creative. At TDS, we recognize the necessity of giving our charges the time and space to exercise this capacity for invention and imagination, for reasons both practical and philosophical. To be sure, students who can solve problems for which there are no simple answers are better prepared to succeed in an increasingly dynamic and connected world. At the same time, we believe that nurturing a disposition for creativity not only produces accomplished students, but also helps our boys and girls in their journey to becoming full and flourishing adults.

Cross-Cultural Understanding & Flat Stanley – Thursday, December 4, 2014

As we prepare our students to be global citizens, we seek to cultivate cross-cultural understanding. By learning about different cultures, students become more open and lay a foundation for developing more meaningful, satisfying relationships with people throughout the world. As a faculty, we have discussed some initiatives – specific professional development, enhanced library and media resources, more assemblies and cultural exchanges – that will help us in this endeavor.

Activities that promote cross-cultural understanding take on different forms depending on the age of the student. In their study of geography and communities, Ms. Simpson’s third graders employ the services of the fictional character, Flat Stanley. Essentially, students send letters to friends and family around the country and world, and they ask them to reply with a journal entry and artifacts which highlight their particular communities. Two primary objectives of the Flat Stanley project include:

• Communicating with citizens in diverse areas of our country and the world
• Acquiring information from primary sources about a variety of communities in a more personal and meaningful method.

Flat Stanley is well-traveled, having already returned to Ms. Simpson’s class from 27 locations across the globe. In each case, he has brought postcards, maps, ticket stubs, historical information, pictures of local wildlife, and journal entries about religion, cultural norms, environmental problems, and a host of other community issues. Here’s a small sampling of Flat Stanley’s travels this year, as well as what our third graders have learned:

• Greece – The Parthenon was built in 432 BC to honor Athena.
• Austria – Vienna is home to the world’s oldest zoo as well as an imperial summer palace with 1441 rooms.
• Australia – Stanley visited a park outside of Sydney which contains giraffes and elephants.
• Canada – Montreal began as an Iriquois village.
• France – Stanley visited the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
• Germany – Stanley enjoyed the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg.
• China – Traveling with a third grade parent, Stanley flew the “great circle route” over Russia and the Arctic Circle to reach Hong Kong.

Most recently, Flat Stanley returned from Sri Lanka. Upon receiving the letter, a principal at the Asian International School turned the project over to her 75 third graders. Each student then visited a different part of the country and wrote a report complete with cultural and personal information. Mrs. Simpson received the package earlier this week, and the teachers are exploring the idea of creating a pen-pal exchange.

Our third graders keep track of Flat Stanley’s travels on a map in their classroom. Each return is met with great anticipation, as students are excited to learn about cultures and customs across the globe. This enthusiasm is well-founded, as expanding our cultural horizons is an exciting, fulfilling activity; indeed, there is real joy at discovering the things that we share with peoples across the world. This emotional engagement and this heightened intellectual empathy are not only the heart of successful global citizenship – they are fundamental to the meaningful education that TDS provides.

Technology at TDS – Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thanks again for completing the survey written by the TDS Strategic Planning Committee. One of the questions asked, “What are 1-2 features of TDS that are in greatest need of change?” 14% (17 out of 123) of responses mentioned technology. Given this interest, I want to share what steps we’ve taken over the past nine months.

Last March, TDS hired John Neiers, Director of Technology at The Dalton School in New York City, to perform an audit. Mr. Neiers spent three days at school meeting with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and Board members. He also cataloged our resources and made note of how technology was used, or not used, in various classes. The to-do list from his report offered an excellent roadmap that we have done our best to follow. Specific progress since last spring includes:

• Increasing our bandwidth from Time Warner
• Moving the computer lab to its own dedicated space
• Replacing twenty desktop machines using Windows XP with newer models running Windows 7
• Migrating our library collection (8000+ books) to a web-based circulation system, which allows teachers to search for resources at home
• Purchasing twenty laptops for teachers
• Providing our Middle School with a set of twenty Chromebooks (which allowed us to retire a set of laptops older than most of your children)
• Signing on with Google Apps for Education, and providing Google accounts and TDS e-mail addresses to all Middle School students
• Hiring a technology specialist

Far more important than any group of machines has been the addition of Julien Mansier as part-time Technology Coordinator. Even as Julien is assisting students and teachers during their time in the lab, he is also planning a day of programming in early December to coincide with the Hour of Code and coordinating an effort to develop a strategic vision for technology at TDS. To help craft this vision, we have also formed two groups: a Board Committee on Technology and a faculty work group co-chaired by Julien and Kelly Aguilar. Specifically, this faculty committee has been tasked with:

• Developing a comprehensive TK-8 curriculum for technology, including when certain skills should be taught
• Identifying what infrastructure investments are necessary to support increased technology on campus
• Investigating best resources for teachers – from i-pad apps to web-based programs
• Organizing professional development opportunities for the TDS faculty
• Considering whether to, at some point, move toward a 1-to-1 device program in MS

As we progress further into the digital age, our guiding principle endures: we will continue to prudently use technology as a means of reinforcing, enriching, and encouraging student learning. At the same time, we recognize that our boys and girls learn best in an environment mediated not primarily by machines, but by adults who know and care about their students. TDS remains committed to harmonizing these approaches, technological and relational, in a manner that both supports our mission and serves our children.

TDS Strategic Plan – Thursday, November 13, 2014

First of all, if you haven’t seen “the greatest invitation I’ve ever received,*” click here. Kudos to Kelley and Dave Keats, Amie Tedeschi, and Dan Forringer for sharing their creativity, production skills, and vocal talents. We hope you’ll join us at the TDS Auction on Saturday, February 21st.

I want to thank all of you who completed the SAIS and TDS surveys. In all, 157 parents took the surveys – along with 65 Middle School students, 28 faculty, 9 Trustees, and 44 alumni parents – providing us with a wealth of data about our school. TDS is currently engaged in a strategic planning process. The Strategic Planning Committee, formed last spring, has been charged with crafting a plan that will guide the school over the next 3-5 years. This committee consists of the following members:

• John Board, Co-Chair – Trustee, 8th grade parent
• Grettel Cousins, Co-Chair – Trustee, 5th & 8th grade parent
• Joanne Dellaero – Trustee, 8th grade parent
• Jonathan Dowd – Middle School Spanish teacher
• Kelley Keats – 2nd & 5th grade parent
• Doug Norry – Head of School, 3rd, 6th & 7th grade parent
• Lloyd Patillo – Trustee, 4th & 5th grade parent
• Amie Tedeschi – 4th grade teacher
• Purnima Valdez – Trustee, 1st grade parent

Having read the 100+ page report from SAIS as well as the data from our homegrown survey, the Committee met last night to discuss the results. In the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to sharing with you much of this data, as well as themes that emerged. To be successful, this planning process must involve as much feedback, and as many voices, as possible. To that end, the surveys were a good first step. Thank you for your investment in TDS.

On a final note, I spent Monday and Tuesday serving on an SAIS accreditation team, visiting St. Martin’s, a K-8 Episcopal school in Atlanta, GA. I enjoyed my time at St. Martin’s, learned a lot, and found the school to be impressive on any number of metrics. That said, it felt good to be shaking hands again yesterday morning at 7:45. Like so many of your children, I’ve come to feel quite at home at TDS.

*Quotation from Linda Sloan, my mother-in-law