Head of School’s Blog

Survey Responses – Thursday, December 9, 2016

Thank you for completing the four-question survey about your children’s experience at TDS. With greater than 80% of families responding, it’s fair to say that the data – both quantitative and qualitative – offer a reliable indication of parent attitudes toward our school. Members of the school’s leadership team have pored over all 211 narrative responses, and we will soon review these data as an entire faculty. As one might expect, certain themes emerged in response to both of the final questions.

Here are the top seven answers to Question 3: Why did you give this rating?, beginning with the most frequent:

  • The outstanding educational / academic experience that our children encounter each day.
  • The superb quality, dedication and commitment of the TDS faculty.
  • The warm, welcoming school culture, coupled with a strong sense of community.
  • The daily emphasis on character education and the TDS core values.
  • The fact that our children enjoy school and are excited to attend each day.
  • The personal attention that our children receive, and the close relationships between teachers and students.
  • The significant progress that our children are making as students and as people.

Many parents cited multiple items from this list, and your responses were gratifying to read. In particular, they align closely with goals 1, 2 and 6 from the TDS Strategic Plan, adopted by the Board of Trustees in April, 2015.

In response to the question: What changes would TDS need to make to earn a higher rating?, I’m pleased to report that the #1 answer was simply ‘Keep it up.’ That said, many parents offered constructive feedback. Again, the top seven responses are listed below, along with some thoughts (in italics) about ‘where we are’ in these areas:

  • Increase the diversity of the student body and faculty; enhance cultural awareness at school. This fall, the TDS Board of Trustees created a Diversity Committee to investigate and enhance diversity and inclusion at TDS. This group, chaired by Purnima Valdez (Trustee and current parent), consists of Board members, faculty/administration, and parents. Please contact Purnima if you’d like to join this committee or to learn more, and look to hear more from this group in the months ahead. TDS is also partnering with other local independent schools to host a Diversity Hiring Fair in February.
  • Grow the school to include two sections in Lower School and larger classes in Middle School. Goal #4 from the Strategic Plan calls for incremental growth, which has begun in earnest this year with our Kindergarten. As you know, to support this growth, we are contracting with CT Wilson to construct a new classroom building. Please continue to recommend TDS to families that you know.
  • Add a high school. While TDS does not currently have plans to grow past 8th grade, this has been discussed over the years, and it will remain on our radar in the future.
  • Provide training for teachers to ensure a consistently excellent program across all grade levels. Funds spent on professional development have increased over each of the past three years, and this should continue, particularly with a strong Annual Fund. Recent initiatives have included training from Responsive Classroom, a workshop on Emotional Intelligence, and summer work grants.
  • Increase performing arts and extracurricular options. With a healthy Middle School Chorus, two chimes groups, and record-breaking numbers in Lower School Chorus, more students are making music at TDS than ever before. As we grow, we will look to add other ensembles. While extracurriculars and Middle School electives have also expanded over the past twelve months, we welcome specific suggestions in this area. Please let us know what options you’d like to see.
  • Adopt a year-round schedule. I suspect that this might spark a fierce debate, but I will devise a short survey as we turn our attention to the 2018-19 school calendar.
  • Provide larger classrooms and better facilities. One benefit of the new building is that it will allow us to spread out, particularly in Middle School.

If you don’t see your responses on this list, please understand that only the seven most frequent appear above, and please know that all responses have been read and discussed. As we continue to strive for excellence within a culture of improvement, I’d be delighted to discuss any ideas or concerns that you might have. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

TDS & “Stop Hunger Now” – Thursday, December 1, 2016

As part of our commitment to combating hunger locally and globally, TDS has entered into a partnership with Stop Hunger Now. Based in Raleigh, Stop Hunger Now’s mission is to “end hunger in our lifetime by providing food and life-changing aid to the world’s most vulnerable.” Since its founding in 1998, Stop Hunger Now has provided hundreds of millions of meals, and other forms of emergency aid, to people in 74 different countries.

On Tuesday, Darrin Stover from SHN spoke to students in 2nd – 8th grades. He began with a sobering statistic: on a typical day, it is estimated that one in nine people in the world go without a single bite of food. Mr. Stover explained that Stop Hunger Now distributes meals through schools, orphanages, and health clinics. He stressed the importance of education, and the education of girls in particular, when it comes to the war on hunger and poverty. Finally, Mr. Stover shared SHN’s recent activity: this week, hundreds of thousands of meals are being shipped from Raleigh to Haiti, Zambi, and Uganda.

This partnership will culminate with a meal packaging event on Friday, March 3rd in the TDS Gymnasium. Working together in teams, students will measure amounts, then package and box 10,000+ meals consisting of rice, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables, and a vitamin packet. Representatives from Stop Hunger Now will bring the supplies and lead the initiative, and they will let us know where these meals are headed.

As part of our partnership with Stop Hunger Now, TDS is responsible for raising funds to cover the cost of these meals. As Darrin Stover explained on Tuesday, with each meal costing 29 cents, avoiding one trip to McDonalds and instead contributing that $5 would make quite a difference. Tomorrow, we have scheduled two fundraising events to support this initiative. In the Middle School, students and teachers may contribute $1 (or more!) to wear a hat of their choosing. In the afternoon, Middle Schoolers will host a series of “Quarter Games” for our Lower Schoolers. Students in grades TK – 5 should bring up to twelve quarters (additional contributions welcome!); they will engage in a variety of Minute-to-Win-It challenges and games. It should be a fun afternoon!

We are all looking forward to rolling up our sleeves, donning hair nets, and doing our part to combat hunger on March 3rd. Thanks in advance for your support of this effort.

Election Reflection – Thursday, November 17, 2016

With more than one week having passed since our presidential election, it has taken me longer than usual to collect and process my thoughts. As I alluded to several weeks ago, with the intense, negative, divisive rhetoric, this election simply felt different. Last Wednesday, I reminded our Middle Schoolers that all voices – those expressing joy in the results as well as those filled with anxiety and despair – deserved to be heard. Equally as important, dialogue needed to be civil and respectful. I also explained that TDS is guided by the same principles today as it was last week. Namely: 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. Furthermore, TDS is a safe place to be, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. No matter your feelings about the candidates, it’s undeniable that many people woke up feeling less safe last Wednesday morning. I want to reassure everyone that nothing can or will change our steadfast commitment in these areas at TDS.

At this point, it’s appropriate to ask: what’s next? This election shined a spotlight on the deep rifts that exist within our nation. Americans are divided along racial, socioeconomic, and geographic lines, just to name a few. One could certainly argue that these divisions are not new. No presidential candidate has won the popular vote by a double-digit margin in the past thirty years (Ronald Reagan soundly defeated Walter Mondale in 1984); results from the last several elections have revealed a relatively even split between the two major candidates. But again, based on what we heard in the months leading up to last Tuesday, and what we’ve seen play out across the country over the past nine days, this election is different.

For this to improve, and for the sake of our democracy, we must follow the advice that we frequently offer to our Middle Schoolers. We must step out of our comfort zones. We can no longer simply digest our news from Fox or MSNBC, and we need to look beyond our current Facebook feeds from like-minded friends. As Margaret J. Wheatley so eloquently expressed in her book, Turning to One Another:

“I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. I still believe this. I still believe that if we turn to one another, if we begin talking with each other — especially with those we call stranger or enemy —then this world can reverse its darkening direction and change for the good. And I know with all my heart that the only way the world will change is if many more of us step forward, let go of our judgments, become curious about each other, and take the risk to begin a conversation.”

Even as we continue to stand up for our ideals and beliefs, to move forward as a nation, we must summon the courage, patience and empathy to seek to understand those who do not share our sentiments about last Tuesday’s outcome. This is especially important because our children are watching. Visit the TDS playground at recess, and you’ll see kids playing a variety of games. When conflicts arise, teachers help the children to resolve them peacefully and productively. An important part of this involves understanding the other child’s thoughts and emotions. As kids get older, they learn to do this with less adult intervention. Raising a generation of empathetic citizens and leaders is our best hope for bridging the divides that currently exist in our nation.

Fall Sports Highlights – Thursday, November 10, 2016

We enjoyed a couple of opportunities to come together as a community over the past week. On Saturday, runners and walkers alike wound their way through American Village in the 2016 Twister Trot. With more than 325 people registered, this year’s race once again set a record for attendance. Congratulations to the second grade, who earned an ice cream party by achieving the highest level of participation. Thank you for taking part in this wonderful event, for honoring Marcy Speer and the many others in our community who have battled cancer with courage and strength.

In particular, I’d like to thank Casey Speer (TDS ’10, Riverside HS ’14, and Georgetown University ’18) for returning from college (with cohorts of friends in tow!) to speak about her mom, and what this race means to her. Thanks as well to the many volunteers who made this event possible, to the Lower School Chorus for singing the National Anthem, and to the TDS Cheerleaders for providing the post-race entertainment.

Please see below for some 5K race results:

Overall Winners

  • Male – Rich Offield
  • Female – Chelsea Lefebvre
  • MS Boy – Philip Patillo (7th)
  • MS Girl – Jaimie Legg-Bell (7th)
  • LS Boy – Wil Schneider (4th)
  • LS Girl – Avery Keats (4th)

Students Crossing the Finish Line Ahead of Mr. Norry (boys) or Ms. Vera (girls) – These students enjoyed an all-you-can-eat lunch from Cookout yesterday:

  • Lower School – Wil Schneider (4th)
  • Middle School – Ethan Benware (8th), Jaimie Legg-Bell (7th), Kate Patillo (6th), Philip Patillo(7th), and Ethan Smith (8th)

Two days later, several MS families reconvened for the Fall Sports Banquet, an opportunity to recognize and honor our student-athletes. Our high level of participation – 76% of Middle Schoolers joined a fall team, and several fifth graders ran cross country or played tennis as well – made for a full gym. Following a wonderful meal provided by Al Myers, Maria Morrison shared her favorite moments from the fall. After this, coaches spoke about their seasons, their players, their 8th graders in particular, and the progress that these boys and girls have made. In some cases, they also gave out some awards. Congratulations to the following student-athletes:

Boys Soccer (Coach – Jonathan Dowd): DiveshAnchaliya, Caleb Bowers, Isaac Bretherton, Nate Constantine, Jacob Dye, Georg Erdmann, Devan Govindji, Owen Jennings, Jordan Kalisher, Keyvin Cena-Agama, Noah Lipkus, Jerrod Meltzer, Will Meyers, Joey Miller, Trey Orantes, Philip Patillo, Joey Sizemore, Owen Smith, Matt Summerson, Tovi Varlashkin, Jack Wainio


  • Defensive MVP – Trey Orantes
  • Offensive MVP – Caleb Bowers
  • Coach’s Award – Matt Summerson

Girls Volleyball (Coaches – Chloe Smith, Kayla Long, Alexandra Gray): Bethany Allen, Briana Ballentine, Addison Dombcik, Maya Dulli-Ray, Kayla Hawkins, Karrington Johnson, Sophia Jones, Caroline Makanui, Emily Norry, Wren Stubbs


  • MVP – Kayla Hawkins
  • Coach’s Award – Briana Ballentine
  • Team Leadership – Emily Norry

Cross Country (Coach – Rachel Hirshey): Ben Ballentine, Ethan Benware, Graham Hairston, Halcyon Hall, Jaimie Legg-Bell, Kate Patillo, Xavier Rogers, Noah Rokoske, Otto Schonwalder, Ethan Smith, Xavier Walker


  • Rookie of the Year – Otto Schonwalder
  • Most Improved – Noah Rokoske
  • Coach’s Award – Ethan Benware

Girls Tennis (Coach – Brianna Smith): Elise Benware, Lulu Burnside, Fiona Clancy, Claire Collier, Ally Fox, Kylie Hansell, Rachel Jiang, Easha Kuber, Evie Taylor


  • MVP – Ally Fox
  • Most Improved – Kylie Hansell
  • Coach’s Award – Easha Kuber

While I enjoyed all aspects of the evening, including the slide show highlighting our athletes in motion, perhaps my favorite moment was watching our eighth graders take the microphone to thank their coaches. Their remarks were heartfelt and well-delivered. Thanks to everyone – coaches, athletes, and parents – who came together to make the fall season a huge success.

Report Cards: Praise the “good” – Thursday, November 3, 2016

With the conclusion of the first quarter, teachers generate report cards for each student. These will be accessible on-line tomorrow after 3:00 PM.

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

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

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

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

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

  • 1 – Exceeds expectations in demonstrating core values
  • 2 – Consistently demonstrates core values
  • 3 – Inconsistently demonstrates core values
  • 4 – Needs support to demonstrate core values

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

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

Along these lines, please pay close attention to the descriptions listed above. Whether it’s a seventh grader with an 83%, a fourth grader with a B, or a second grader who earns a “3,” these are all defined as “good” marks, which students have earned within a challenging academic program. Even amidst our zeal to pinpoint how our children can achieve more and score higher, let’s be sure to celebrate all that they have accomplished and ‘gotten right.’

My passion for coaching basketball – Thursday, October 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let your child lose? – Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dr. Carrie Palmquist, professor of psychology at Amherst College, runs a Child Learning and Development Lab on campus. In the lab, Palmquist and her undergraduate assistants investigate how children learn about the world around them through interactions with others. One recent study, co-authored with Dr. Vikram Jaswall at the University of Virginia and published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, caught my attention. The title: “Success Inhibits Preschoolers’ Ability to Establish Selective Trust.”

In this experiment, four and five-year-olds played a game in which objects were hidden from them. In all cases, one adult offered accurate clues, and another communicated inaccurate, unhelpful information about the objects. In half the cases, the experimenters manipulated the game so that, no matter where the children looked, they found the objects. For the other half, the children’s success was left to chance; obviously, kids were more likely to find the objects if they focused on the helpful clues.

The results? When asked which adult they’d like help from in order to find additional objects, those in the manipulated, ‘win every time’ group showed no preference. By contrast, those in the unrigged game asked for the helpful person.

Palmquist concludes that, when children experience illusory success, “they may become less aware of important information that they could use to learn about the world, because they see it as less relevant to their future success.” Taking a slightly different tack, allowing kids to win 100% of the time could stifle their ability to assess their own performance and adjust accordingly. Consider the game of tic-tac-toe. A child who loses repeatedly will tweak his/her strategy. For one who always wins, this development might take much longer. Palmquist sums up her conclusion in three words: “let them lose.”

Of course, issues of cognitive development are not the only factors weighing on parents’ decisions about whether to throw the game, and this certainly doesn’t end at age five. My wife excels at speed solitaire (an old family game – I’m sure she’d delight in teaching you!), and her take-no-prisoners approach doesn’t always sit well with our eighth grade daughter.

After reading about this experiment, I was eager to interview this cohort at TDS. Yesterday, I asked students in TK, Kindergarten, and first grade about playing games with their parents. Many of you are quite the gamers! Students reported enjoying games of Uno, chess, war, checkers, Sorry, Zingo, Go Fish, and Monopoly, just to name a few. I then asked the kids which statement best applied to them:

•    I always win when I play games with my parents.
•    I sometimes win when I play games with my
•    I never win when I play games with my parents.

Here are the results:

•    Always – 10
•    Sometimes – 18
•    Never – 4

When asked why their parents might let them win, two students offered these responses: “They just want to be nice,” and “Because they love you so much, they don’t want you to be a loser.” Fair enough. Unpacking that statement will require another letter!

Fundamental Myths about Manhood – Thursday, October 13, 2016

In my twenty-three years as a teacher and administrator in independent schools, and in my twelve years of writing weekly newsletters, I have always kept my distance from the world of politics and encouraged teachers to do so as well. Of course, this becomes more challenging every four years, as presidential elections pit candidates with different values, views, and visions for America. I hope you will regard my commentary below in the spirit that it is intended – calling attention to a societal problem as opposed to tossing my weight behind a particular candidate.

Like many Americans, I was taken aback by the comments Donald Trump made on a bus before taping a segment of Access Hollywood in 2005. Even as I settled in Sunday night to watch the presidential debate with my three children – hoping to hear competing plans for the economy, education, and foreign policy – I was worried about where the conversation might go. After hearing the comments explained as “locker room talk,” I knew that I needed to revisit this issue with my kids.

Democrats and Republicans alike were quick to react to Mr. Trump’s comments, but few focused on the conception of manhood in our society, and why a phrase like “locker room talk” would even exist. By contrast, one man who has provoked audiences to consider this topic for more than a decade is Joe Ehrmann. A former two-sport All-American in college, Ehrmann broke into the NFL as a first-round draft choice in the mid 1970s. As a young adult, he carried a warped sense of manhood and, owing to a dysfunctional relationship with his own father, a profound sense of shame. The turning point in his life came at age 28, when his younger brother was diagnosed with cancer and died months later. After sleeping by his brother’s side in the hospital for five months, Ehrmann pondered the purpose and meaning of life. He was ordained as a minister a few years later, and he has spent the past thirty years as a coach, mentor, and civic leader. His work in different communities has earned him various accolades, including being coined “The Most Important Coach in America” by Parade Magazine.

Ehrmann’s core message is that three fundamental myths about manhood are propagated in today’s society, and these myths have created a crisis of masculinity. The first is that manhood depends on athletic ability, size, and strength. Young boys begin to internalize this on the playground. Ehrmann asks his audience to consider the message sent to those eight-year-olds who do not measure up. The second lie is that masculinity is somehow equated with sexual conquest. In high school, boys come to believe that ‘getting a girl’ makes one into a man. The final lie: masculinity is tied to economic success. Manhood can be achieved by means of a big salary.

These myths are exacerbated by the fact that men are taught to disconnect their hearts from their heads. As a result, many men suffer from alexithymia, or the inability to put their feelings into words. Failure to measure up to these false ideals, combined with this repression of emotions, can lead to isolation, substance abuse and violence.

To contradict these myths, Ehrmann offers two criteria for determining masculinity. The first focuses on relationships – maintaining the capacity to love and be loved, to feel, and to care truly for others. In teaching boys, and girls, to be independent and autonomous, we need to take care not to weaken their powers of empathy. The second criterion is quite simple: real men (or women) have repeatedly tried to make the world a better place. They have gone through life committed to a cause, with concerns deeper than just their own. Or, to borrow words from the TDS mission, they have lived a life of purpose.

While the myths that Ehrmann describes are powerful forces, I do not believe that they have taken significant hold at TDS. Instead, parents and teachers work in concert to promote our core values as well as an ethos of kindness.

Joe Ehrmann remains the most inspiring, thought-provoking speaker that I have ever heard. I strongly encourage you to watch his TED Talk, as my children did yesterday. You might also consider reading Season of Life: A Football Star, A Boy, A Journey to Manhood by Jeffrey Marx, which chronicles Ehrmann’s transformation from professional football player to minister, as well as from son to father.

EQ + IQ = Success – Thursday, October 7, 2016

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

Over the past twenty years, schools have slowly come to recognize the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) while at the same time struggling to settle on best practices for teaching it. This is chronicled in a New York Times Magazine article by Jennifer Kahn, who describes the goal of SEL as instilling “a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.” As Goleman posited nearly twenty years ago, many studies suggest that developing these non-cognitive skills lead to several positive outcomes in children, including higher grades, better decision making, reduced anxiety, greater resilience, and increased leadership roles.

In her article, Kahn concludes that canned programs in schools have mixed results. This is not surprising, given that the term “social-emotional learning” encompasses a wide range of behaviors and traits. Rather than following a specific program, at TDS this past summer, we spent time as a faculty exploring emotional intelligence on two levels – educational and personal. To begin, each of us took the EQ-i, a 133-question assessment designed to measure fifteen distinct aspects of emotional intelligence.*

After the inventories were scored by professionals at Developmental Associates, we were provided with 20-page personalized reports. Faced with areas of strength, challenges, and blind spots, each of us began a personal journey. With this knowledge in hand, we came together for a workshop with Korrel Kanoy, a trainer at Developmental Associates. After presenting the case for the importance of EI skills – both in the workplace and in the classroom – Dr. Kanoy helped us interpret our results and patiently answered our questions. She closed with ideas about how to incorporate EI skills into the daily journeys that we take with our students.

The title of this Forbes magazine article says it all: Forget Business School: Why an Emotional Education is Indispensible. Stressing the importance of EI skills, Avid Larizadeh concludes that “none of these attributes are taught in school.” Respectfully, I’d invite Ms. Larizadeh to spend a day at TDS. Here, she would witness Mrs. Durham promoting the development of self-knowledge and insight into others’ feelings by asking students to reflect on themselves and their interactions with others; Mr. Straus teaching mindfulness to several Lower School classes; Mrs. Logan leading a discussion of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens during which 8th graders express personal thoughts and emotions with ease, confidence, and insight; and all teachers leading by example as we explore different aspects of emotional intelligence in meaningful ways.

*The 15 EI traits: self-awareness, self-regard, self-actualization, emotional self-expression, independence, assertiveness, interpersonal relationships, empathy, social responsibility, reality testing, problem solving, impulse control, stress tolerance, flexibility, and optimism.

Raising a moral child in a digital world – Thursday, September 22, 2016

In an article appearing in Time Magazine last month, Joel Stein shined a light on the hateful culture of internet trolling. Even as he shared story after story of outlandish comments and threats that push past the boundaries of free speech, he made a point to insist that trolling is headed toward the mainstream. His thesis focused on the disinhibition effect: “factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority, and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it’s seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives.”

So what can we, as parents and educators, do to combat this trend? To start, we can teach our kids the rules of the electronic road. At TDS, the 6th grade Technology course focuses on digital citizenship. Students explore life in the digital world, learning about cyber-bullying, internet safety, and the role that media plays in our lives. These classes with Ms. Cabrera help orient our Middle Schoolers to the opportunities and dangers that lie ahead.

Children today are certainly growing up in a different world than we did. Should parenting reflect this, or does the answer to my earlier question rest with time-tested techniques? Reviewing a study from Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project, Maz Ali summarizes that “beneath the madness of modernity, the basics of raising a moral child really haven’t changed.” The study’s authors suggest a handful of ideas. Here are three, along with a bit of commentary.

  1. If it matters, say it out loud. For several years, I organized an evening for 8th graders and their parents with Community of Concern, a non-profit group focused on healthy decisions surrounding alcohol and drugs. One statistic from those presentations has stuck with me. In a national survey, parents were asked about the number of conversations they’d had with their children about drinking. The average of all responses was close to seven. Then their kids were asked the same question. Their average was less than one. Particularly if it’s important, don’t assume that children internalize the message the first time.
  2. Make helpfulness and gratitude routine. During morning meetings each day, Kindergartners at TDS take turns sharing what they feel grateful for. New responses are written on the wall of gratitude, which Ms. Morgan and Ms. Cowan read aloud from time to time.
  3. Show your kids the bigger picture. At TDS, one goal of our service program is to expand our students’ circles of concern. Brining in cans of food is important, but learning about hunger locally and globally, delivering food and possibly even serving a meal, these experiences are designed to increase our collective empathy.


Faculty Culture – Thursday, September 2, 2017

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, eleven teachers received Summer Work Grants to develop various aspects of their curriculum. Below, you’ll find first person accounts of their work.

Bethany Bassler – Adding More Movement to Music
I spent a week studying the techniques and methods of Emile-Jaques Dalcroze, a Swiss musicologist. The Dalcroze approach studies music through movement. My week was spent developing activities that will help students experience music in a variety of ways. Dalcroze’s principles are highly engaging and ask students to delve into imaginative play, as well as actively demonstrating their knowledge. These activities will benefit music students of all ages.

Amy Cowan and Candace Morgan – Social-Emotional Learning in Kindergarten
We collaborated to enhance the Kindergarten curriculum, as well as to ensure that we have common grade-wide experiences and expectations. We found ways to integrate more of the Responsive Classroom approach into our curriculum; this research-based methodology focuses on the strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning. For example, we will be cultivating an “Attitude of Gratitude” whereby students will be given the opportunity to share something they are grateful for during our morning meetings. We also participated in online courses with Mindful Schools so that we can integrate mindfulness lessons into our Social Studies curriculum in an effort to help our students with attention and self-control. As a result, we now have a strong social-emotional curriculum that will engage students throughout the year.

Kate Newman – Community Service at TDS
I worked to explore new service and service-learning opportunities for our students. Based on teacher input and curricular objectives, I identified potential community partners and worked alongside the organizations to determine the best ways for TDS to support our community. This year several Lower School classes will visit TABLE, a Chapel Hill based nonprofit dedicated to providing healthy, emergency food aid every week to children in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Other classes will visit Senior CommUnity Center that cares for low-income, elderly members of the Durham community. Students will brighten the center’s walls with their artwork, bring joy to elders with their performances and help make the holidays special by decorating the center and assisting at holiday parties. TDS will also host a Stop Hunger Now meal packaging event, sending meals to undernourished communities around the globe.

Tamara Simpson – Writing in Third Grade
First, I researched and compared several writing programs, eventually focusing on Lucy Calkins’ “Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing.” This consists of four units: Crafting True Stories; The Art of Information Writing; Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials; and Once Upon a Time: Adapting and Writing Fairy Tales. Studying the manuals, I mapped out a plan for the year. I also worked with Grace Bell in the Library to develop a list of mentor texts that I hope to use to enhance our writing instruction.

Stewart Bankhead – Lower School Spanish
Searching for more effective programs and methodologies for teaching Lower School Spanish, I researched several possibilities, focusing on the five areas of second language acquisition (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and culture). TDS has acquired a new curriculum, Calico Spanish, which incorporates all of these areas, using music and a variety of popular books as well. Additionally, I am introducing a puppet which only speaks Spanish and to which the students must obviously speak Spanish. I now have a variety of activities that should appeal to all types of preferred learning styles, be that visual, rote, reading, repeating, creating, etc. I am excited to put what I have learned into action and am confident that the Lower School Spanish program will be greatly improved.

Jason Straus – Teaching Mindfulness
I developed an age appropriate, year-long mindfulness curriculum for 2nd graders and a 12-week mindfulness curriculum for 6th graders. I also created an optional mindfulness group for faculty while deepening my personal practice. Mindfulness is a secular practice in which one directs all attention to the experience of the present moment and explores each moment and feeling non-judgmentally and with curiosity. Studies indicate that mindfulness for children helps improve two key areas: concentration and self regulation, specifically impulse control and emotion regulation. I began the summer completing an on-line Mindful Educator Essentials course. Later, I shadowed Bart Van Melik, a certified Insight Dialogue teacher who teaches mindfulness in juvenile detention centers and inner city schools in New York City. Then I deepened my personal practice by attending a week-long silent meditation retreat taught by John Travis, a senior teacher at Spirit Rock.

Morgan Schweller – Putting the Lab in Lab Science
I worked on two projects: developing a new forensic science curriculum and creating labs that will incorporate the use of more technology, specifically Vernier probes, for all my science courses (life science, physical science, & forensic science).

In Forensics, a new elective for 7th and 8th graders, students will develop observation and critical thinking skills as they explore forensic science and criminology topics, including biometrics, crime scene investigations, and analyzing various types of evidence, all through hands-on lab activities.

I also worked on incorporating more technology into our science courses. Students will now collect data in real time using various Vernier probes for chemistry, physics, and biology labs. For instance, during our chemical reactions unit, 8th graders will measure temperature every second before, during and after endothermic and exothermic reactions using the Vernier temperature probe. Vernier probes can interface directly with the chromebooks, allowing students to collect and analyze data, and create graphs in Google sheets.

Additionally, I went to the Durham Soil and Water Environmental Educators Workshop, where I received great hands-on activities related to the water cycle, ecology and wetlands.

Finally, I worked on incorporating more of Google technology into my curricula, setting up Google classrooms to facilitate more discussion of science outside of class.

Erin Nelson – The Scientific Method
I concentrated on creating and integrating activities and labs that focus on the scientific method at each grade level of Lower School. The traditional scientific method involves: asking a question, forming a hypothesis, performing an experiment, recording data, analyzing data, and reporting data/drawing conclusions. Our program will guide our students from TK through 5th grade, starting them on a path to scientific method success. For example, students in TK will follow these steps on a path toward discovery: I wonder, I think, I see, I discover, I know. At the other end of the Lower School spectrum, 5thgraders will write short lab reports highlighting the scientific method.

Emily McAllister – Flipping the Classroom
I had the opportunity to work on restructuring the 6thgrade Language Arts and Social Studies programs to facilitate more student-centered classes. In Language Arts, I worked on fully flipping my classroom. In a flipped classroom, students watch short video lessons for homework, so we can focus on more practice in class with me as a facilitator. In Social Studies, I incorporated more project-based learning into the curriculum and researched different ways to have students learn about and investigate the past.

Steve Butera – Computer Science in Middle School
I created a sequence of lessons and activities for a semester-long, elective course in computer science. Students will be introduced to coding using the programming language Python. Students will explore each of the fundamentals of coding, including variables, strings, input and output, conditional statements, and loops. Having mastered these basics, our young programmers will put their new skills to use in a graphics environment using Python’s built-in drawing module, called turtle. Click here to see an example of the type of program that students will create.

TDS Values & The Olympics – Thursday, August 25, 2016

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 our five core values. Below are some excerpts from my remarks:

The TDS veterans in the room are familiar with our five core values which, while technically new last year, have actually helped to define our school since we opened our doors in 1991. And, believe it or not, they are equally important outside of TDS as well.

Did any of you watch the Olympics?

More than simply watching thousands of athletes from nations across the globe compete, and cheering on Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and other Americans as they won gold medal after gold medal, I was fascinated with some of this year’s storylines. Here are five that caught my eye:

The International Olympic Committee originally banned hundreds of Russian athletes from competing in the Games, after evidence surfaced that these athletes had broken rules surrounding performance enhancing drugs. Then, the Committee changed its mind and let most of the athletes compete. As a result, many countries, and many athletes, criticized the IOC for lacking INTEGRITY. This was perhaps the biggest issue leading up to the Olympics.

Did you see the Team of Refugees? No doubt plenty of athletes demonstrated RESILIENCE, including American distance runner Galen Rupp, who followed a disappointing 5th place performance in the 10,000 meter run with a bronze medal in the Marathon, only his second time running this event. But how about the Team of Refugees? These ten athletes from Syria, Congo, Ethiopia, and South Sudan set the standard for overcoming adversity. They had to flee their homes, their countries, and in many cases abandon their families to escape war and persecution. Athletes like Rami Anis, age 25, who traveled from Syria, to Turkey, to Greece, and eventually to Belgium before competing in the 100 meter butterfly. Now that is RESILIENCE.

You might not have been watching the women’s semi-final of the 5000 meter race live, but I’m sure you saw the recap. When New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin tripped and the U.S.’s Abbey D’Agostino fell over her, D’Agostino reacted with unbelievable COMPASSION. She stopped to comfort Hamblin and help her up. Later in the race, when D’Agostino was finding it impossible to continue – in fact she had torn her ACL in her knee – Hamblin returned the favor. These two women shared a moment that they’ll never forget, and the world was inspired by theirCOMPASSION.

Of course, there were literally thousands of examples ofRESPECT throughout these two weeks, as athletes shook hands and even embraced after competing, demonstrating a healthy RESPECT for one another and the games themselves. But pole vaulter Sam Kendrickstook this to another level. A second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve, Kendricks was sprinting toward the bar, pole in hand, when he heard our National Anthem. He immediately dropped the pole, stopped on a dime, turned toward the flag, and stood at attention.

Now, I’ll admit that RESPONSIBILITY is a bit more of a challenge to highlight. Of course, we can only imagine theRESPONSIBILITY that these athletes demonstrate by training for hours each day while juggling other parts of their lives. You might not have seen the women’s archery competition; the United States does not usually enjoy much success in this event. In fact, South Korea had won gold in seven out of the past eight Olympics in archery. Some thought that streak was in danger when their top two archers faltered, but then first-time Olympian Chang Hyejin stepped up and won the gold for her country. Afterward, she told reporters: “I felt a lot of responsibility to win gold.” In other words, South Koreans expect gold medals in archery. I imagine the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams felt this same sense of RESPONSIBILITY.

My hope for this year is that you follow in the footsteps of these Olympians, and these values – integrity, respect, compassion, resilience, and responsibility – become even more a part of who you are, and who we are as a school.

This summer “do nothing” – Thursday, June 2, 2016

Regardless of your barometer – passage of overnight field trips, frequency of assemblies and class celebrations, purple v. gold Field Day competitions, or even Middle School exams, 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. Since starting Kindergarten with Mrs. Beecher thirty-eight years ago, I have been living and measuring my life in nine-month chapters. Some of you have heard me say that nothing should last longer than nine months. That was the length of my engagement, and, having delivered our oldest child two weeks late, I know my wife would agree about the duration of a pregnancy.

This past Monday, the Norry clan hooked up with some extended family to hike along the Eno River. Our destination was Bobbitt’s Hole, a popular spot for wading into waist-deep water. The “Hole” is home to areas of calm water as well as miniature rapids, as the Eno wends its way through rocks of all sizes.

As soon as we shed our gear, Will and his cousin ventured upstream in search of whitewater. They spent the next 90 minutes hauling rocks in an attempt to construct a dam. As you might imagine, it was challenging work. While they didn’t bring the Eno to a halt, they did manage to divert streams of water, and they took pride in this accomplishment.

I share this story because, when I suggest that you preserve time this summer for your children to “do nothing,” this is exactly what I envision. Whether it’s 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, or creating a sidewalk mural, summer is an opportune time for over-programmed, over-scheduled kids to develop their powers of imagination and creativity, and to learn how to amuse themselves.

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

In A Fine Fine School by Sharon Creech, Mr. Keene, the overzealous principal, is so enamored with how much the children are learning that he decides to have school every day of the year. Eventually, a brave young girl named Tillie reports to him that – with all this school – her dog has not learned to sit, her little brother has not learned to skip, and she has not learned how to climb a tree. This argument resonates with Mr. Keene, who dismisses the boys and girls for the summer. I agree with Tillie. Class dismissed. May your summers be filled with new experiences and memorable family moments.

Outliers – Thursday, May 26, 2016

Four weeks ago, I highlighted Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, a book which analyzes our interactions and decision making. Judging by the number of e-mail responses I received, this post generated a fair bit of interest. With this in mind, I’d like to share some thoughts about another book by the same author.

Outliers investigates the stories behind the successes of certain people and cultures. Gladwell analyzes the importance of various factors including personality, intelligence, special talents, lifestyle, and opportunity. His findings highlight the hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities that some people enjoy, as well as some cultural legacies which figure prominently in the achievement of certain groups.

Gladwell begins with a remarkable example from the world of youth sports. In the 1980s, psychologist Roger Barnsley studied several elite hockey teams in Canada. As you might imagine, the most talented boys from the peewee leagues are filtered into more competitive teams that practice more often. Eventually, the elite among these teams are selected for regional and then national squads. Barnsley discovered that, for these elite teams, 40% of the players were born in January – March, while only 10% had October – December birthdays. Obviously, the January 1 cutoff is critical. In the youngest divisions, boys lucky enough to be born in January enjoy a clear advantage over those born later in the year. The older boys make the better teams, skate more, and are locked into a pattern of success. This effect extends well beyond hockey.  Consider the roster of the 2007 Czechoslovakian National Junior Soccer Team. Of the 21 players, 15 were born in January – March, while none were born in the last three months of the year. Gladwell argues that, under this system, the talents of (at least) a quarter of the population are being squandered.

The author refers to another story to highlight the importance of hard work and practice. In the 1990s, K. Anders Ericsson focused on violinists at Berlin’s Academy of Music. The faculty was asked to rate the musicians as “stars,” “good” or “unlikely to play professionally.” Students were then asked to calculate how many hours they had practiced throughout their careers. While all of them began playing around age five, their routines diverged from that point. On average, the “stars” had practiced for 10,000 hours, the “good” players for 8000 hours, and the others for 4000 hours. What’s more, Ericsson found no “naturals” and no “grinds;” the practice time predicted the level in all cases. Gladwell concluded that, once a musician has a certain level of ability, “the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it” (39). He generalizes from this example to introduce the concept of being “smart enough” – beyond a threshold level of IQ, additional intelligence matters less than practice, hard work, timing, and opportunity.

While Gladwell focuses on Bill Gates, the Beatles, and other “outliers,” much of his message applies to life at TDS. First, opportunity. Students have the opportunity to learn from teachers who are creative and passionate about their crafts. Equally as important, students have the opportunity to work alongside peers who are bright, motivated, and focused on achievement.  Second, hard work. As children move through the TDS program, academic success becomes increasingly tied to sound nightly preparation. In providing effort marks, teachers assess a student’s level of commitment to this daily work.

For the past fourteen years, I’ve taught math, a subject where conventional wisdom dictates that ‘you either know it or you don’t.’ This leads many adults to conclude: “I’m just not good at math.” Regardless of how you might feel about the discipline, please never utter these words to your children. Miles Kimball and Noah Smith cite plenty of research when concluding that, “for high school math, inborn talent is just much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.” Regarding this last trait, Carol Dweck and others have shown us that, when students believe that they have some control over their math ability, their scores rise. Click here for an interesting article on how to turn every child into a “math person.”

At TDS, we work closely with your children to unlock and develop their perseverance. As Malcolm Gladwell and others suggest, this work ethic is critical to achieving success in any endeavor.

GFGA Recap – Thursday, May, 19, 2016

Fourth graders ruled the roost last week, as our older students arose early Wednesday morning and boarded buses headed in different directions. Fifth graders headed to Gatlinburg, TN, the city researched and presented by Kate Patillo and Theo Reeves for the Great Fifth Grade Adventure. Day one highlights included Wonderworks, which featured a high ropes course, rock wall, and plenty of fun, interactive exhibits; the Space Needle, which offered a beautiful view of the city; and the Aquarium, where students played Ocean Jeopardy, visited the touch tanks, fish-printed t-shirts, and participated in a great scavenger hunt before calling it a night and laying their sleeping bags under the shark tunnel. Day two consisted of a mountain coaster in the morning, followed by a guided tour of the Smokey Mountains, including a brief stop at Clingman’s Dome to eat lunch and take in the views! On the final day, students visited the Cherokee Village for a guided tour of Native American houses and culture. The trip home included a stop at nearby Mingo Falls, where students took pictures of the waterfall and waded in the stream at the bottom. Thanks to Mr. Forringer, Ms. DeLaTorre, and the parents who chaperoned this trip.

The sixth grade bus was an hour behind their Lower School peers, also traveling West across the state. Their destination was the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where they spent three days challenging themselves and practicing teamwork in the great outdoors. Students especially enjoyed whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River and ziplining to a high ropes course. They also had fun competing in an obstacle course and mud race, and learning survival skills such as building a fire and making rope, as well as bonding over s’mores and campfire stories. Thanks to Mr. Butera, Ms. McAllister, and Mr. Straus for accompanying our sixth graders on this trip.

Finally, as I mentioned in last week’s letter, I accompanied our 7th and 8th graders to Washington, DC. After rooting the Nationals to victory Wednesday night, we created our own walking tour on Thursday, touring the Capitol, learning about the history of news and journalism at the Newseum, exploring a Smithsonian Museum, and finally visiting seven monuments and memorials at night.Friday’s trip home included a six-hour stop at King’s Dominion! At each stop, students offered presentations on the events and people who have helped shape our nation’s history. For example, did you know that: Martin Luther King, Jr. skipped 9th and 11th grades before attending Morehouse College at age 15; Robert F. Kennedy and his wife Ethel had 11 children; 3% of the world’s population died in World War II? I certainly learned a lot last week. Thanks to Ms. Bassler, Ms. Carnes, Ms. Hopkins, and Dr. Schweller for joining the expedition.

At TDS, we believe that some of the best learning opportunities take place outside the walls of the classroom. Each grade has taken multiple trips this year, within Durham and beyond, and (as you’ll read below), some are still on the horizon.

Greetings from our Nation’s Capital – Thursday, May 12, 2016

Greetings from the Nation’s Capital. I’m enjoying the opportunity to spend three days with our 7th and 8th graders as we explore the DC area. Yesterday we toured George Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon, visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and rooted the Washington Nationals to a thrilling 3-2 victory behind a record-setting 20 strikeout performance by pitcher Max Scherzer.

Thanks to the organization of Ms. Hopkins, each student was assigned a particular aspect, or highlight, of the trip on which to report. I look forward to sharing some of these tidbits with you next week.

“Epidemic of Kindness” – Thursday, May 5, 2016

Since being diagnosed with ALS in 2010, Chris Rosati has maintained a singular mission – to spread an “epidemic of kindness” by inspiring others to perform acts of kindness and generosity. After posting on Facebook his plan to commandeer a Krispy Kreme truckand randomly give away thousands of donuts throughout Durham, the donut shop beat him to the punch, offering him a truck full of donuts. And this spreading of happiness was simply the beginning.

More recently, Chris founded Inspire Media Network, an organization designed to live out his mission by supporting Big Ideas for the Greater Good. Locally, Inspire Media chose to support BIGG clubs in some area schools, including TDS, this year. Ms. Tedeschi has been working with several students in 4th and 5th grades on developing projects that further Chris Rosati’s mission. Lately, we have sprung, and are springing, into action with the following initiatives:

Grace Healthcare of Durham – The kids wanted to reach out to people in nursing/retirement homes, so we brought the 13 Colonies play to Grace Healthcare. We also made cards for the residents and will follow up with some thoughtful treat bags.

Camp Royall After School Program – The students also expressed a desire to do something kind for children with autism. Camp Royall has both a summer camp and an afterschool program for children with autism. We will bring them art supplies and games to keep them entertained for the last month of school. We also plan to make cards for the children. Ms. Tedeschi and some of her charges will deliver these materials soon.

Ronald McDonald House – The club members were also interested in spreading happiness to children and their families at the Ronald McDonald House. As a result, we are scheduling times to bake cookies for these families, and possibly take a trip to RMH to play board games with the children.

We have been excited to be included in the network of BIGG schools this year. Thanks to Ms. Tedeschi for volunteering to work with our 4th and 5th graders as they have come together to determine how best to spread happiness and kindness to many of our neighbors. These students, like so many of their peers, have learned firsthand what it means to lead a life of purpose.

Leading Respectful and Impactful Lives – Thursday, April 28, 2016

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores the split-second, unconscious decisions we make, arguing that they can be more accurate and valuable than those made after extensive rational analysis. In the end, Gladwell encourages all of us (in most cases) to trust our judgments.

Gladwell provides several examples of situations in which researchers record conversations and are then able to make accurate predictions after listening to only snippets of dialogue. The author asserts that this technique, which he refers to as “thin slicing,” is a power that all of us possess. One of his more interesting examples involves doctors and malpractice lawsuits. Apparently, the distinguishing feature of many malpractice cases is not shoddy medical care, but rather a feeling by the patient that s/he was ignored or treated poorly. Alice Burkin, a malpractice lawyer, explains that “people just don’t sue doctors they like” (40).

Building on this story, Wendy Levinson, a medical researcher, recorded hundreds of conversations between doctors and patients; half of the doctors had never been sued, while the other half had been sued at least twice. She found that those never sued spent, on average, 20% longer with each patient, and they were significantly more likely to listen actively. While she found no differences in the quality of information, the groups did differ when it came to how the information was delivered. Going one step further, psychologist Nalini Ambady took the same conversations and reduced them to short snippets of the doctors talking. After listening to only four 10-second clips of each doctor, she was able to accurately predict which doctors were sued and which were not. She accomplished this by analyzing the doctor’s intonation for qualities such as warmth, hostility, and dominance.

Gladwell concludes, “In the end it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice” (43). Based on this example, Gladwell advises us to trust our initial instincts. If you feel like your doctor is talking down to you, listen to that feeling.  What I took from this chapter was the significance of RESPECT, the ‘first among equals’ when it comes to the TDS Core Values. Whether in school or the workplace, we all engage in thousands of human interactions each day, and while some only last for a few seconds, the other person is taking notes and using these thin slices to form judgments. If respect is a deciding factor in whether or not a doctor is sued, its importance in our interactions – and in our lives – cannot be overstated.

In 2005, the Norry family moved from Baltimore, MD to Bethesda, MD. One year later, my wife was set to deliver our third (and final!) child. While there were many fine medical facilities in our area, Carrie insisted on returning to Baltimore to deliver Kate. She simply refused to leave her obstetrician. She would tell you that, above all else, he excelled at listening. While this meant that he rarely kept to his daily schedule of appointments, the respect that he afforded his patients clearly made a lasting impact.

Our hope, of course, is that our students will lead similarly impactful lives—lives which merit the trust, loyalty, and gratitude of friends, colleagues, and family. We want them, in short, to be respected, and the surest way of earning such esteem is to first make a habit of offering respect to others.

Bored and Brilliant – Friday, April 22, 2016

The NBA Playoffs kicked off this week, with sixteen teams vying for supremacy in the world of professional basketball. If you’ve ever wondered what transpires in the locker rooms during halftime of these games, read today’s front page New York Times article by Andrew Keh. Apparently, it’s not all motivational speeches and X’s and O’s. Instead, much to the dismay of coaches, many players are compulsively checking their phones. I had previously thought that professional locker rooms might be among the last remaining technology-free sanctuaries. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked to learn that Lebron James and company share our country’s obsession with social media.

In a not-so-scientific study by New Tech City, illustrated in this two-minute video, a researcher parked herself on a busy New York City street and recorded the number of people who were using their phones as they passed by. The results? 315 out of 1000 adults (or almost one third) were engaged with their screens.

Frankly, that number seems low to me. Earlier this week, I attended a conference for school heads in Asheville. Breaks between sessions provided a rich opportunity to connect with school leaders from different cities and states. Had you popped into the room during a break, however, you would have seen close to 100% of us staring at our screens.

Bringing the matter closer to home, let’s consider carpool at TDS. Without calling out anyone in particular, I can assure you that plenty of parents are engaged with their phones or have them in plain view, ready for that next text. Of course, there are instances when we simply must take that call, but on most occasions, we reach for our phones out of habit. Constantly checking texts, e-mail, tweets, and various social media sites has become a compulsion, and we have a tough time letting go.

Our children are watching. In many cases, they are engaged with their own screens. This worries me for a number of reasons. Most notably, we seem to have lost the capacity to be bored.

Some of you have already heard various versions of my defense of boredom. 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 and other studies led Chris Bailey, author of the blog, A Life of Productivity, to conclude: “When you’re bored, you unconsciously organize your life, connect dots, step back and come up with creative solutions to problems, and ultimately become more productive.”

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. Teaching has rightfully become much more student-centered over the years, but I wonder if frequent technology use has led to more children arriving to the classroom expecting to be entertained. 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.

Why do we hand our children i-pads in the car? Because they ask for the devices? Because the screens keep them entertained and quiet? Perhaps a better question is, what are they not doing while engaged with their screens? Sure, they aren’t squabbling with their siblings, but they also aren’t daydreaming, processing their thoughts and anxieties, and sharing important thoughts and feelings with us. As we strive to give our children everything that we think they will need to be successful in life, let’s remember to give them, at least occasionally, the gift of boredom.

Note – If this missive has resonated with you (or, at the very least, not “bored you to tears”), consider taking the challenges explained on NPR’s Bored and Brilliant podcasts.

If The World Were 100 People – Thursday, February 18, 2016

As I trudge through my forties, I revel in regaling my children with stories from ‘back in the day.’ In my case, these tales rarely involve athletic triumphs. Instead, they focus on absurd (and yes, typically harmless) antics from high school and college. One example resurfaces time and again as we battle over the thermostat at home; my children have heard the story of two of my roommates who, for no discernible reason, opted for a “No Heat December” while living in Boston directly after college. I can still remember seeing my breath in their living room during my visit over winter break that year.

Not to be outdone, my kids proposed a “No Power February” earlier this year. Seemingly emboldened by their parents’ dismissal of the idea, Will and Emily have unplugged all devices in their rooms and refused to turn on a light for the past eighteen days. While they appear more than willing to sponge off of our community power (pulling items from the refrigerator, for example), I still have come to admire their perseverance.

Perennially in search of teachable moments, Carrie and I attempted to draw parallels between their self-imposed situation and how much of the world is forced to live. This didactic approach fell on deaf ears until Emily watched this three-minute video in Global Studies entitled “If the World Were 100 People.” A few highlights:

If the World Were 100 People:

  • 61 would be from Asia
  • 33 would be Christian, 22 Muslim, 14 Hindu, 7 Buddhist, and 12 would believe in other religions
  • 50 would be malnourished
  • 48 would live on less than $2 US per day
  • 22 would not have electricity, and many of those who do have access would only use it at night
  • 22 would own or share a computer
  • 33 would not have access to a safe water supply

In 7th grade Global Studies, Ms. Hopkins and her students “travel” around the world, studying specific cultures in depth from past to present. Reading newspaper articles and investigating a variety of sources, students come to understand that these communities do not exist solely in the past, but also that much of what has occurred in the past influences the present landscape. Ms. Hopkins used this video to help students understand how big and diverse the world is, and, more importantly, how narrow our lenses tend to be most of the time. She reported that students seemed particularly struck by the education data – only one in the world of 100 would have a college education.

As our world changes – as it becomes smaller, “flatter,” or more interconnected – we must acknowledge our place in a larger community. Our children cannot hope to lead lives of consequence without cultivating a sense of empathy for once-distant others. This capacity will allow them to appreciate both the opportunities and responsibilities of global citizenship, and developing this capacity is thus a necessary aim of our program at TDS. “If the World Were 100 People” made an impression on my daughter; indeed, as she lies in the dark, I believe she’s thinking about the 22% with no access to electricity. My hope is that this heightened awareness, born in Ms. Hopkins’ class, will grow into sense of compassion and concern that extends far beyond 7th grade Global Studies.

TDS Science Expo – Thursday, February 11, 2016

Seventeen years ago, I taught 8th grade Physical Science at a school in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the time, I had mixed emotions about the annual Science Fair. Students certainly learned about the scientific method, and many grew more independent as they tackled projects over the course of a marking period. On the flip side, preparation ate up a sizeable chunk of class time, and more importantly, judging the students was a stressful, imperfect process. I still remember a father formally challenging his son’s scores, probably because he had a bit too much ownership of the project.

I wish that, those many years ago, someone had introduced me to the TDS Science Expo. With more than sixty experiments, demonstrations, and research projects on display, and just as many budding scientists proudly displaying their hypotheses, results and conclusions, last night’s Science Expo was a stunning success. During the first hour, students took turns standing by their projects and visiting those created by their peers. As I made my way around the gym, I learned: that flat Legos built in the shape of a pyramid are structurally sound; what happens when certain ingredients are left out of a cake recipe; that reaction time varies by gender; and that I need to cut down on my orange juice consumption. I also saw some excellent demonstrations, including: an exploding watermelon, crushed by the weight of 430 rubber bands; a homemade lava lamp; bouncing eggs; and yeast-powered exploding toothpaste.

During the second hour, students and parents migrated to the main building, where students from Duke University led a wide variety of engaging, hands-on activities. Our students used liquid nitrogen to make their own dippin’ dots, extracted DNA from strawberries, and investigated the properties of magnets by bending streams of water. In the Commons, some of our 5th and 8th graders helped their younger peers to program our EV3 robots.

It was wonderful to see so many of you supporting your children, and all of their peers, last night. In particular, I’d like to thank Dan Forringer, Karen Fisher, Erin Nelson, Morgan Schweller, and Steve Butera for their hours of planning, organizing, and working with our young scientists. Our students chose a topic of personal interest, performed research, designed and carried out experiments, and displayed and explained their results. February is Career Month at TDS, and many of our students are well on their way to prolific careers in the sciences.

Nine Words – Thursday, February 4, 2016

Less is more. This phrase dates back to a poem, “The Faultless Painter,” written by Robert Browning in 1855. More recently, it has described styles in art, architecture/design, and writing, as well as a life philosophy (minimalism). Whether applied to the design of a building or an essay, it encapsulates the idea that less complicated works are better understood and more appreciated. But what about speaking to our children after they have behaved in an inappropriate or disappointing manner? Does “less is more” still apply?

September, 1983. The first day of my second year as a student at Landon School, an all-boys school in Bethesda, MD. I had spent the summer hoping to land in the homeroom of Mr. Williams, a mild-mannered hippy-turned-teacher who, as the story was told, regaled students with tales of being expelled from Yale and often broke out the guitar in class. Instead, I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair toward the back of Mr. Murray’s sixth grade classroom. Standing 6’2”, Sandy Murray was a no-excuses, strict disciplinarian, fond of requiring boys to take laps around the building, and rumored to have quite a temper. Far from the trouble-making sort, I nonetheless winced as Mr. Murray raised his voice when boys stepped out of line.

Even good kids do dumb things. Before P.E. class one fall afternoon, Gordon Vapp and I found ourselves alone on a rocky field. Before long, we were lobbing golf ball-sized stones at one another from twenty-five yards away. It was easy enough to dodge the meteors falling from the sky, until it wasn’t. Gordon fired a direct hit, cutting me above the eye. Minutes later, Mr. Murray bounded into the nurse’s office.

“What happened?,” he wanted to know.

“Gordon hit me in the head with a rock.” Technically true, but miles away from the full story.

I’m sure I was hoping for the final bell to ring before Mr. Murray uncovered the truth – one has to admire the optimism of Middle Schoolers – but my bubble burst when he returned to the nurse’s office. Expecting a thundering tirade, my palms began to sweat. Instead, Mr. Murray uttered nine simple words: “Well, that wasn’t the full story, now was it?”

I never determined what accounted for Mr. Murray’s brevity that afternoon. Was he sympathetic to the fact that, with a gash on my forehead, I had suffered a natural consequence? Perhaps he was too drained, or had too many balls in the air, by the day’s end? Or perhaps it was a calculated move on his part? Could he have possibly known that I would remember these nine words 32 years later, and that this moment would figure prominently in my development as a responsible, ethical human being?

A few years ago, Betsy Braun authored a piece entitled: 13 Ways To Deal With Kids Who Misbehave. This blog is but one example of a plethora of advice for parents: tell them you love them; explain the situation; reinforce that no one is perfect; take away a privilege; the list goes on, and all are valid. That said, #4 on Braun’s list caught my eye: “Say as little as possible.” I’m not sure I would have recalled much had Mr. Murray launched into an extended diatribe about the dangers of rock throwing and the importance of telling the truth, but I will always remember those nine words. Sometimes, nine words are enough; sometimes, less is more.

Common Sense Media – January 21, 2016

Winter, 2002. I was teaching 7th grade science at an all-girls school in Baltimore, MD. Meeting twice a week with my eight advisees, I had a thick binder full of “advisory discussions” to slog through. Knowing this, the girls took every opportunity to change the subject, often asking me about my son Will, who was approaching his first birthday. I’ll never forget our conversation one cold December morning:

Girls:    Mr. Norry, what’s Will’s favorite TV show?

Me:      We don’t really let him watch TV.

Girls:    What?! What about all those educational videos? You should love those.

Me:      Nope. You know, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends no TV before age two.

Girls:    [Sixteen eyes rolling in synchrony] Well, you have to let him watch when he gets older.

Me:      Maybe. We haven’t really talked about it.

Girls:    You have to. Aren’t you going to let him watch Friends? He won’t know what everyone is talking about. That would be, like, child abuse.

The girls were right about one thing. Even as I have become more convinced that various technologies – cable television, violent video games, social media, the internet – can exert profound and often negative effects on society’s next generation, it has become less and less plausible to keep Will away from screens. Given the amount of media that our children consume, we need to take an active role in regulating content. If this seems like a daunting task, I highly recommend Common Sense Media, a non-profit dedicated to providing information and resources to promote safe, healthy media use for children.

First, some data based on a comprehensive survey of media use among more than 2600 American children (age 8-18).

  • Teens (13-18) use an average of 9 hours of media daily, not including for school or homework. Given that kids spend approximately one third of their time in school and another third sleeping, this is a mind-boggling statistic. Reading and listening to music account for some of this time, but a full six hours and forty minutes each day is devoted to screen media.
  • Tweens (8-12) consume six hours worth of entertainment media each day, with four hours and thirty-six minutes coming from a screen.
  • There are significant gender differences when it comes to specific types of media use. Among teens, boys devote fifty-six minutes per day to video games, while the average for girls is seven minutes.
  • Perhaps kids are using these devices to create, thereby building their powers of imagination? Think again. Only 3% of digital media time is spent on content creation.

These statistics might leave you wanting to toss out the i-pad, but Common Sense Media (CSM) has a different message. Understanding that screen media are here to stay, CSM offers a variety of features that help parents navigate this digital world. Here are three of my favorites:

  1. Reviews – Are you wondering about a movie, TV show, game, app, or web site that has captivated your child’s attention? CSM’s comprehensive ratings include scores for violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking/drugs/smoking, positive messages, positive role models, and more. My daughter Kate loves Disney’s “The Suite Life on Deck,” an inane show for tweens. According to CSM, the show is “filled with content that’s bound to entertain tweens but might leave parents rolling their eyes.” Bingo!

2. Family Guides – Looking for a new suggestion for family movie night? CSM features top picks for movies, shows, and apps, organized by age. Next on my list is Fame (1980s), with plenty of positive role models but “much tamer than the R-rated 1980 movie it’s based on.”

3. Parent Concerns – If you have a question about anything media-related, CSM has answered it, including relevant research. Some examples:

Is watching TV really bad for kids?

How can I get my kids to put down their phones?

As we do our best to stay one step ahead – or even one step behind – our children in the Wild West of screen media, Common Sense Media has much to offer.

TDS Auction – January 14, 2016

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. Generating a profit of $12,000 (which far surpassed the $5000 goal), the first auction was hailed as a smashing success.

Now celebrating its 21st anniversary, the TDS Auction remains both a wonderful community event and, along with the Annual Fund, the primary fundraising mechanism for the school. This year, Tammy Fox and her team of volunteers are turning back the clock in order to transport us to the greatest decade of all time, the decade that gave us Harrison Ford and Eddie Murphy, Madonna and Whitney Houston, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and so many other icons. I hope you will join us at Bay 7, American Tobacco Campus on February 20th for 80s Prom Night. To assess your knowledge of the 80s, please see below.

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 STEM education at TDS. Specifically, by investing in a 3-D printer, additional computers, improved infrastructure, and professional development for teachers, we aim to revolutionize the way that children learn and use technology at TDS.

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 20th. Come enjoy a delectable meal with friends, bid on a fabulous experience with your child’s teacher, and raise your paddle to support STEM at TDS. Click here to learn more about the auction, and here to buy your tickets now!

1980s Trivia Quiz

Match each pair of events with the correct year (1980 through 1989). [Each year is used only once.] See far below for the answers.

  1. Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee win five gold medals in Seoul, South Korea. Gas costs 91 cents per gallon.
  2. MASH ends after 251 episodes. President Reagan proposes the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). NC State upsets Houston for the NCAA crown on a dunk by Lorenzo Charles.
  3. The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take-off. Mike Tyson becomes the youngest heavyweight boxing champion at age twenty.
  4. Still a teenager, Brooke Shields stars in the steamy Blue Lagoon. Bjjorn Borg defeats John McEnroe to win his fifth straight Wimbledon title.
  5. East and West Germany re-unite as the Berlin Wall crumbles. Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal entertain us in When Harry Met Sally.
  6. Michael J. Fox stars in Back to the Future, which grosses more than 300 million dollars. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes General Secretary of the U.S.S.R.
  7. Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Luke marries Laura on General Hospital, sending ratings through the roof.
  8. The world’s population tops 5 billion people. Glenn Close cooks a bunny in Fatal Attraction.
  9. Bishop Desmond Tutu wins the Nobel Peace Prize. “Ahnold” Schwarzenegger stars in The Terminator.
  10. Michael Jackson releases Thriller, the biggest selling record of all time at 35 million copies. Michael Jordan hits the game-winning shot against Georgetown in the NCAA Championship.

Answers (at bottom of letter)

  1. 1988
  2. 1983
  3. 1986
  4. 1980
  5. 1989
  6. 1985
  7. 1981
  8. 1987
  9. 1984
  10. 1982

How Did You Do?

  • 8 – 10 correct – Well done. Clearly you peaked in the 80s. Come to the Auction to relive what Bruce called the “Glory Days.”
  • 4 – 7 correct – Not bad, though room to improve. As Chevy Chase suggests in Fletch, “Maybe you need a refresher course.” Come to the Auction for that and more.
  • 0 – 3 correct – Yikes! Are you a TK parent? Were you even alive in the 80s? [Don’t answer that.] Come to the Auction for a history lesson. A far better alternative than Mr. Hand’s U.S. History class at Ridgemont High.

Resolutions – Thursday, January 7, 2016

For many years, January 1 corresponded with the removal of a less than healthy food from my diet in an attempt to improve how and what I eat. This resolution yielded some positive results. It has been more than nine years since I’ve tasted a donut and nearly that long since I’ve enjoyed a soda. More recently, at my wife’s urging, I’ve attempted to augment my teenage diet with some healthier foods. For example, and nothing against the doctors out there, I’m trying to consume an apple each day this year.

To be sure, I am not alone in making resolutions to start the year. This year’s top ten most common New Year’s resolutions are as follows:

  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Learn something new
  • Exercise
  • Spend more time with friends and family
  • Enjoy life more
  • Drink less
  • Get organized
  • Help others
  • Get out of debt

Of these ten, only 1-2 focus on people other than ourselves. Likewise, www.statisticbrain.com  groups people’s resolutions into categories. The top four are self-improvement, weight-related, money-related, and relationship-related. Only in this last category can one find (some) less self-concerned resolutions.

Yesterday, Middle School advisors asked their advisees to write down their resolutions for the new year. Not surprisingly, the top vote-getters focused on personal improvement: make better grades (14); improve and/or realize a particular achievement in the athletic realm (14); and employ a more diligent work ethic (9). Other responses, however, suggest that some students are looking beyond themselves. In fourth place, eight respondents mentioned being kinder or more helpful. Examples included: “Be willing to help others;” “Think about others’ feelings before talking;” and “Treat people with respect.”

Resolutions are personal, and perhaps it is nonsensical or even paradoxical to associate personal growth with thinking of others. Still, the responses of several Middle Schoolers suggest that they are doing just that. A key component of our mission at TDS is to raise socially responsible young men and women who possess a genuine concern for others, and who are committed to leading lives of purpose. We want our kids to do well, but we also want them to do good, whether or not this is reflected in their thoughts surrounding the new year.

Next week, I plan to share these results with the entire Middle School, highlighting those resolutions which focused on others, as well as a few others that I found interesting (“Read 40 books this year;” “Do my chores.”) I also have encouraged students to share what they wrote. Studies have shown that, in addition to setting specific goals, having a friend, teacher or family member as an accountability partner, someone who can offer friendly reminders, greatly increases the chance that people follow through with their resolutions.

The Marble Motion Machine – Thursday, December 17, 2015

In the fall of 1994, three months removed from college, I began my teaching career at Mary Institute & Country Day School in St. Louis, MO. Five times each day for forty-five minutes, I walked into a room full of eager seventh graders and attempted to impart as much knowledge as possible about the five kingdoms of life, how they evolved over time, and how they interact today.

Right up a set of stairs, Don Esbenshade taught Physical Science to our oldest Middle Schoolers. One day, Don invited me in as class was beginning. The directions on the board were as follows: “Design and build a machine to keep a marble in motion for exactly thirty seconds.”

No elaborate procedures to follow. In fact, just fifteen words. Of course, Mr. Esbenshade provided several criteria – must be free standing, no larger than a cubic meter, no game pieces, no power sources – as well as a rubric. Students earned credit for using simple machines (levers, pulleys, inclined planes, etc) while points were deducted if the marble’s journey took more or less than the target time. After assigning groups, Mr. Esbenshade faded into the background for the rest of the week. While he consulted on designs, lent out supplies, and answered questions, the students were essentially on their own.

I watched in awe as students followed a variety of circuitous paths to complete the task over the next several days, and it got me thinking about my own teaching. My students had completed several seemingly interesting labs – investigating temperature’s effect on the rate of diffusion, even dissecting a fish and frog – but in all cases they had simply followed a procedure, made observations, and answered questions.

Fast forward twenty-one years. Called into the 8th grade science classroom for a brief stint (which ends tomorrow), I taught a few lessons on simple machines and then presented Mr. Esbenshade’s project. At first, students jumped at the chance to put away their textbooks and calculators in favor of a truly hands-on experience, and they were relieved not to have homework. By day two, reality set in. The project proved exponentially more challenging than originally anticipated, and most spent every free moment – recess, lunch, study hall, even after school – in the science lab.

To be sure, this project fostered “21st century skills.” Teammates had quite different ideas during the initial phase, and they had to incorporate many of these into a creative design. More than anything, students spent hours problem solving – changing weights to balance a pulley, adjusting the angle of an inclined plane to ensure the marble kept its momentum, adding speed bumps, higher friction surfaces, or even viscous liquids to slow the marble down.

Don Esbenshade recently retired from MICDS, but his model endures; indeed, his project has helped our school further its own educational cause.  As they enter the working world, our children will be called upon to solve problems that have existed for years (curing diseases), problem they will inherit from us (climate change), and problems that aren’t yet on our collective radar screens. They will need to think, collaborate, design, create, test, tweak, and even start over at times. These skills and habits of mind are fundamental to meeting challenges, both present and unforeseen, and the teaching and learning at TDS remains deeply committed to awakening these capacities in our girls and boys.

TDS and the Hour of Code – Thursday, December 10, 2015

We live in a world surrounded by technology. Furthermore, we know that whatever fields our children choose to enter into as adults, their ability to succeed will increasingly hinge on their understanding how technology works. While kids and adults spend several hours per day in front of a screen, only a tiny fraction of us are learning computer science.

This past week, students and teachers at TDS joined the largest learning event in history: The Hour of Code. During Computer Science Education Week (December 7th to 13th), more than 100 million students worldwide completed an Hour of Code, and we at TDS were proud to be a part of it.

Melissa Cabrera, our talented Technology Coordinator at TDS, teamed up with Melissa Fritcher, a computer science graduate student at Duke (and wonderful volunteer), to teach multi-pronged lessons to students in nearly every grade. Beginning in Lower School classrooms, students learned a description of coding, how coding is used in a variety of professions, and where they see the products of coding (movies and games, just to name a few). After watching an inspirational video featuring athletes and celebrities who code, students migrated to the computer lab to work at their own pace on a variety of coding challenges.

Our youngest students learned and practiced what it takes to make characters move with command and programming basics. Some of our more advanced students began using javascript, while others practiced foundations of coding and programming by creating different levels and worlds in various games, including Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen. Mr. Butera navigated many of these activities with his 6th graders, and 7th and 8th graders will work their way through these lessons before winter break.

With a bit of coaching, many of these activities are self-directed, and we encourage extending this practice and knowledge at home. There are many apps and programs that your children can use at home on a tablet, smartphone, laptop, or PC/Mac. Follow this link to access tutorials and games. You might even find that you want to play as well!

Thanks to Melissa Cabrera and Melissa Fritcher for all of their work on this project, and thank you for your support in encouraging our budding computer scientists!

Grandparents Day – Thursday, December 3, 2015

It was wonderful to have so many grandparents and special friends join us on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Our students were fantastic hosts, and our guests were treated to a morning full of learning, fun and memorable moments. Here’s a sampling of some Lower School activities from the morning:

  • TK – Students graphed the number of grandmothers v. grandfathers. There was also an Estimation Jar, and one grandmother walked away with LOTS of animal crackers!
  • Kindergarten – Everyone enjoyed a fruit feast and made turkeys to celebrate the holiday.
  • First Grade – Students and grandparents worked together on stories about the nighttime sky, and they made wax-paper stars to create a lasting memory.
  • Second Grade – In order to imagine what meals were like on the Mayflower, students and guests tried a snack of beef jerky and crackers.
  • Third Grade – Students and guests made acrostic poems, expressing thanks for many things in their lives.
  • Fourth Grade – Students shared many projects (risk takers, stock market) with grandparents and friends.
  • Fifth Grade – Students shared GFGA projects, and they delivered letters of appreciation that they had written to their grandparents.

Middle School students and guests were busy as well – using data from grandparents about the cost of various items many years ago for a linear interpolation project in math, and doing pushups and step-ups to calculate muscle power in science.

We hope that last Tuesday was full of inter-generational, unforgettable family moments.

In Defense of the Introvert – Thursday, November 19, 2015

If you can remember your elementary of middle school experience, you probably recall lines of desks neatly organized into rows. By contrast, in schools today kids most often sit at tables or in pods of desks. Why? Educators believe that these arrangements help facilitate learning 21st century skills such as communication and collaboration. Today’s schools are noisier places, and many teachers rightfully take pride in artfully balancing ‘organized chaos,’ as students pursue purposeful work and creative projects in groups.

These changes, along with a heightened emphasis on class participation, all seem logical enough, but how do they work for the introverts among us? In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain argues that today’s culture is biased toward extraverts. While introverts comprise between one third and one half of the population, they receive subtle messages that this trait is somehow lacking. As a teacher who regularly wrote on students that “Johnnny needs to participate more in class,” Cain’s point resonated with me. While not wanting to squelch collaboration, Cain reminds us that creativity and productivity can also flow from solitude. This seemed to work for Charles Darwin, Dr. Seuss, and Steve Wozniak (who rarely left his garage before joining forces with Steve Jobs). Cain cautions that, for adults and kids alike, there’s no guarantee that the loudest talker has the best ideas, and she wonders if we allow students enough opportunity to generate their own ideas “free from the distortion of group dynamics.”

Cain refers to work of Adam Grant, a Wharton professor whose research has challenged the assumption that extraverts make better leaders. After administering qualitative surveys and analyzing profits at hundreds of franchises of a national pizza delivery chain, Grant concluded that proactive employees do better with introverted leaders. Why? These leaders empower employees by listening carefully to their suggestions.

With “listening” on my mind, I listened to this memorable TED Talk delivered by John Francis. After witnessing two oil tankers collide and spill a half million gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay, Francis gave up driving and riding in motorized vehicles. Shortly thereafter, he grew so tired of explaining himself to people, that he gave up speaking for one day. Some aspect of the silence must have resonated with him, because Francis did not utter a word for the next 17 years. During this time, he earned two advanced degrees and walked all across the United States.

What intrigued me most about Francis’ story was his commentary on listening. Freed from the heavy burden of figuring out what he would say next, he began truly listening to people. Subsequently, he realized that, in his first 27 years of life, he rarely listened intently. Or, to use the Seven Habits language that we teach at TDS, Francis began to “seek to understand” while worrying less about “being understood.”

Three summers ago, the Norry family began our own journey in San Francisco. Far from walking, we guzzled gas at an alarming rate as we headed North in our rented RV. Personal space and quiet are at a premium in five-person oversized mini-vans, and it didn’t take long for our most introverted child to reach the end of her rope. To keep the peace, we gave her an hour each day to herself in the “bedroom” (6’ by 6’ space behind a curtain). It worked, and we enjoyed the rest of the trip. In the RV or at TDS, we strive to know our children – as introverts, as extraverts, and in between – not only to better understand how they relate to the world around them, but also to supply them what they as individuals need to be successful.

TDS Twister Trot – Thursday, November 12, 2015

Rain did not dampen spirits this past Saturday, as runners and walkers alike wound their way through American Village in the 2015 Twister Trot. With more than 300 people registered, this year’s race set a record for attendance. Thank you for taking part in this wonderful event, for honoring Marcy Speer and the many others in our community who have battled cancer with courage and strength.

In particular, I’d like to thank Casey and Kira Speer (TDS Classes of ’10 and ’08) for returning from college (with cohorts of friends in tow!) to speak about their mom, and what this race means to them. Thanks as well to the many volunteers who made this event possible, and to the TDS Cheerleaders for providing the post-race entertainment.

Please see below for some 5K race results:

Overall Winners

  • Male – Bryan Brander
  • Female – Ellen Walker
  • Male, TDS Middle School – Jeff Lindsay (8th)
  • Female, TDS Middle School – Jaimie Legg-Bell (6th)
  • Male, TDS Lower School – Nate Constantine (5th)
  • Female, TDS Lower School – Avery Keats (3rd)

TDS Students Who Crossed the Finish Line Ahead of Mr. Norry – These students earned themselves a milkshake from Cookout:

  • Lower School – Peter, Wil, Nate
  • Middle School – Jaimie Legg-Bell, Ethan Smith, Emmett Makarushka, Beni Garcia, Jeff Lindsay, Akshay Mankad, Will Norry

Fall Sports Banquet – Thursday, November 5, 2015

Monday’s Sports Banquet presented us with an opportunity to recognize and honor our Middle School student-athletes this fall. Our high level of participation – 73% of Middle Schoolers joined a fall team, and several fifth graders ran cross country as well – made for a full gym. After a wonderful meal provided by Al Myers, Maria Morrison articulated the three goals of the athletic program at TDS:

  • To build sport specific skills and general athletic fitness through hard work at daily practices, learning from knowledgeable and caring coaches.
  • To learn the importance of teamwork and experience camaraderie associated with being part of a team.
  • To learn and practice sportsmanship while representing TDS in competition against other schools.

After this, coaches spoke about their seasons, their players, their 8th graders in particular, and the progress that these boys and girls made toward the goals listed above. In some cases, they also gave out some awards. Congratulations to the following student-athletes:

TDS Boys Soccer (Coach – Jonathan Dowd)

Awards: E’manuel McIntosh – Offensive Player of the Year, Wyatt Hopkins – Outstanding Sportsmanship, Will Norry – Most Valuable Player

TDS Girls Volleyball (Coaches – Maria Morrison, Nicole Barkley, Doug Norry)

Awards: Katie Service, Morgan Rogers, & Gabby Meltzer – Team Leadership Award

TDS Cross Country (Coaches – Alex Snodgrass, VeQuain Joyner)


Awards: Coaches Award– Graham Hairston – Coaches Award, Jeff Lindsay & Rory Smith – Most Valuable Runners

TDS Girls Tennis (Coach – Brianna Smith)

While I enjoyed all aspects of the evening, including the slide show highlighting our athletes in motion, perhaps my favorite moment was watching our eighth graders take the microphone to thank their coaches. Their remarks were heartfelt and well-delivered. Thanks to everyone – coaches, athletes, and parents – who came together to make the fall season a huge success.