Challenges, Shared Experience, & Becoming

 …..meaning can be found in every event. How meaningful depends on the manner in which people are involved and engaged. No matter how small, an event experience has the power to engage people, let them escape the ordinary, and build relationships.

A while back….some would say a long long time ago….okay, it was April 1989….I was enrolled in a course called Perspectives on the Principalship.  It was a weekly seminar for about 15 graduate students and it was held at the Principals Training Center at Harvard.  It was about leadership and the Principalship.  At least that’s what I generally remember. But, what I remember most from the course and, frankly, it’s one of my top 5 memories of my Masters program at the Ed School at Harvard was a Saturday expedition that our group made on a rainy/chilly Saturday in April.

The boat to Thompson Island in Boston Harbor left around 8:00 am.  The Outward Bound ropes course, and other team building, experiential education challenges, was to be our morning activity.  It was my first high ropes course. It was Outward Bound….it was cold, wet, and daunting!!   The highlight, however, was a specific rope challenge that you had to complete with a partner. My partner was my professor, Dr Sara Levine.  Truthfully, we didn’t really have much of a connection throughout the course up until that point.  It was absolutely necessary to cooperate with your partner to make it over the hurdle. I remember struggling together to get up and over, failing at first, then finishing the challenge. I remember the absolute relief, sense of accomplishment, and a very strong bond that was shared between the two of us following our success. As the day was processed – written about in journals, discussed in an on-site debrief and then again in our classroom, I remember the expression “power of shared experience” being used, emphasized, and truly felt by everyone involved. While intuitively I understood from past experiences that this was important, the experience on that day in April, 1989 was a truly formative one in deepening my understanding of the importance and opportunities that shared experiences, particularly around discomforting challenge, provide.  The depths of potential learnings were truly uncovered for me. It remains an important moment landmark memory.

“Shared experiences have the ability to fuse people together, sometimes people who wouldn’t have even made sense together outside of that context. Simply put, that’s powerful.”

Last week I travelled for 3 days / 2 nights on a trip with our Grade 9 students.  A goal of the trip, at the outset of the year, was “bonding” and building connections with classmates & teachers.   I was reminded at every turn of the value of such experiences.  The organized activities that each group of students participated in from zip lining to orienteering to solving various human puzzles through cooperative movements, challenged students to work together, interact productively, and manage stress and challenge.  The building of stress through challenge, pushing students out of their comfort levels in front of their peers, forcing students to take certain risks (albeit minimal).  This is the edge where opportunistic learning takes place.  It’s where comfort meets stress.  It got me thinking a bit about flow theory:

“Optimal experience, or flow, occurs when a person perceives the challenges in a certain situation and the skills brought to it as both balanced and above average.

In contrast, when challenges and skills are unbalanced, such as when challenges outpace skills, an activity could evoke anxiety. The various ratios of challenges and skills are predicted to be associated with different qualities of experience: flow with high challenges and skills, apathy with low challenges and low skills, anxiety with high challenges and low skills, and boredom or relaxation with low challenges and high skills”.

We need to provide such experiential challenges for students.  They are particularly powerful when the challenges are incorporated into a group process – either performing as a group or in front of a group.  Then the challenge becomes not only the task but the potential exposure to failure/success in front of peers. This is adds multiple layers. The trick is to provide just enough challenge so that skills can meet the challenge and excessive anxiety does not result!  It’s a great challenge in experiential education as well as the day to day classroom challenges.

Experiences outside of the classroom hold such power.  How we capitalize on that potential and help translate it to actions “back at the ranch” (aka the school or classroom) is another story.  Teenagers are skilled at separating their worlds – the field trip, the classroom, the lunch table, the dinner table, the hallway, the bus ride, FB, Instagram, WhatsApp, the sports team….etc etc.  “Code switching” between conversations and their multiple worlds is a highly developed skill for our multi-tasking population of teenagers. The layers are more complicated these days without doubt.  So, the challenge of translating the “bonding” shared experience back to the classroom is significant given the multiple layers of daily experiences kids shuffle through.

Having said that, our students are social beings and everyone, I’m convinced, craves the sharing of experiences, the connections that these build, and the memories that they create.  As well, learning from a collection of experiences over time and rolling that “snowball of experiences” into a snowman of memories truly shapes the character of a person.  And, as our students are on a constant path of “becoming”, any and all positive shared experience will continue building the persons they are becoming.



New Chapters and Challenges

At the end of my first full week in my new role, I decided to help chaperone the first student council event.  We (the high school) rented out a local ice skating rink for two hours of “Chaos on Ice” – every imaginable skill level on ice (200 students) moving in a clockwise, sort of, pattern with the Finnish hockey player and the Canadian speed skater darting in and out, zigging and zagging through the crowd.  The sporting person that I am, I decided to participate and lace up a pair of skates and slowly make my way around the ice for the first time in many years.  After a few ovals,  my confidence level grew.  In the meantime, the Finn and the Canuck continue to zag and zig so I, as the safety conscious mature adult quietly and politely ask them to slow down a bit as it would be a bummer if they took out a kid or an adult! Meanwhile, I’m feeling pretty good on the skates and challengesdemonstrating that Mr Smith, that new old man Principal, can skate alongside most of these kids.  I pick up a little more speed, feeling good, and sure enough, before I knew it a wall of people appeared …”I’m going down, oops, I can’t stop”. Indeed, Mr Smith, the new old man Principal, takes out a kid….oops.  My pride hurt, my wrist throbbing.  I retired to the sidelines.

I sat on those sidelines watching the 200 kids out on the ice having a great time, truly, they were really enjoying themselves on a Friday night with their friends at the ice skating rink!  But I was also watching the dynamics and interactions, the hand holding, the testosterone laced speed skaters, the laughter, the uncomfortable and insecure interactions and the general intensity of the exchanges that you only find in adolescence.  I was reminded how the challenge of finding your way as an adolescent is bumpy.    Navigating the ups and downs, stressors and celebrations, and layers upon layers of tricky relationships is daunting.

I was considering the “age unique” obstacles.  Grade 9 challenges aheadstudents challenged with fitting in, finding of friends, growing elements of risk taking, breaking away and establishing of independence.  It is huge.  At school they are challenged by the  establishment of new routines in  high school,  finding the place where they “belong” on a campus.  Academic challenges are stepped up with a growing set of responsibilities that need to be navigated.  It is a big jump from middle school to Grade 9.  It requires greater organizational routines, avoiding procrastination, managing time and developing true study habits.  They must manage the expanding rigor of a high school curriculum.  They are always challenged.

As I was thinking about this piece of writing, I recalled something I posted last year on my blog.  It was a response to a Grade 9 parent meeting and relates to the challenge of parenting a 9th grader. Here’s the link:

Similarly, Grade 10 students will find a bump up in responsibilities and challenges. Developmentally, they are pushing boundaries much more.  They are seeking greater independence, they continue to navigate a peer group, they are becoming a more unique individual but still crave approval.  It’s a confusing time. Bodies and minds are forever changing.  As the year progresses for Grade 10, they are expected to give significant consideration to their course selection for their final two years of high school.  While this happens towards the end of the school year, the consolidation of study habits, managing growing academic commitments, and setting personal goals relative to school are all part of expanded maturity in Grade 10.

I’ve always found the transition from Grade 10 to Grade 11 the most challenging from an academic standpoint. This makes sense developmentally as well. Many Grade 11 students begin their third year of high school with a new found sense of maturity, ready to accept responsibilities and challenges.  This is developmentally appropriate relative to brain research and neural growth.  The pre-frontal cortex (decision making) is more in control but still not fully developed.  They are feeling older (and they are!) but, let’s face it they are still just 16 years old at the start of grade 11.   IB classes raise the bar of challenge for kids in Grade 11.  When 11th graders return to school in august, they are always prepared with a stronger handshake and new found confidence in the early days.

Finally, our Grade 12 students are looking at a significant collection of responsibilities in the coming months.  Extended essays, CAS requirements, Internal Assessments, college applications, mock exams, and the progression towards exams in May 2016 imply layers upon layers of tasks.  Organizational skills are a must, time management is essential, and managing the stress is an important consideration for students, parents, and teachers. Students must truly practice independence and find their voice as a self-advocate.  In a matter of months they will be on their own and during Grade 12 the opportunity exists to safely grow their functional independence.  Simultaneously,while that independence is critical to establish and nurture, they are still vulnerable and can find themselves at risk relative to decision making.  Parental input, communication, guidance, support, and connections continue to be critical at this point in their lives.

So, the evening of ice skating, despite the embarrassing fall which, incidentally, did not result in a broken wrist as evidenced by the doctor’s visit and x-ray first thing on Saturday morning, was a fruitful evening.

I sat back, nursing my wrist with ice, and watching this collection of international school students who I have most recently met for the first time, while actually knowing a great deal about where they are at in their development and progress as young people and as students.  These kids are remarkably similar to my students of 10, 20, and 30 years ago.  In schools, kids change each year but it’s abundantly clear that the journey of adolescence remains similar year after year.   Kids change but the high school journey remains consistent over time.

Each grade level is beginning a new chapter. Frankly, as challenge up for iteducators, the more we embrace and understand this journey as we  work alongside teenagers, the stronger we become as guides, facilitators, supporters, and mentors.    Our job, as educators, is to provide a developmentally appropriate and rigorous framework of learning experiences in and out of the classroom and to truly know our students, understand their needs, and support their development.  Luckily we, as the adults, don’t have to truly experience the challenge of adolescence – we just have to watch it, empathize with it, and support it!!









Graduation Speeches – from cliches to sage advice…….

Each June for the past 25 years I’ve been coming to the Lake George region of New York.  Lake George is 3 ½ hours north of New York City and part of the Adirondack Mountains. It’s a gorgeous area with many small towns close by.  In June I follow an annual ritual of catching up on how the local schools have done in the state baseball and softball tournaments (Fort Ann girls softball are always a powerhouse in the Class D tournament!!).  I always look forward to the weekly free newspaper – The Chronicle for local highlights and schedules of events.  The Chronicle also covers local graduations from the 8 or so local high schools. They do a great write up on the top students and provide highlights of graduation speeches at each school. High School graduation in small towns around the country are a big deal for communities. Residents of the towns turn out for graduations even if they don’t have kids in school.  They are important events!  As are the speakers and speeches!   This class of 2015 onstagemorning, I plowed through the highlights of local graduations and extracted a few highlights from adults and kids who spoke during local ceremonies.   This was kind of a fun activity.  There are always cliché comments and sometimes it wasn’t clear whether it was a kid or an adult who was giving the advice!  Below these highlights are two other elements to this posting.  First, I couldn’t resist highlighting some commencement comments from “famous people” at various universities.  These were fun to read and extracted from a New York Times article from May 22, 2015. Second, I’ve included the faculty commencement speech at our recent Lincoln Community School graduation where Heather Duffy Stone was the speaker.  Her speech is definitely worth reading!

Here are some words of wisdom extracted from my local newspaper (from the Adirondack Journal – July 4 edition)

“don’t forget the integral role of luck in the achievement of goals” – HS Salutatorian

“follow your dreams…….change the world one little personal interaction at a time” – Superintendent

“commencement is not an end, but a beginning….life itself will complete your education, make it a great life, the choice is yours” HS Principal

“appreciate the people who made you who you are”  HS Salutatorian

“Set your sights on great things, never give up and above all be the best you can be – whatever you choose to pursue in life, make it happen.”  Superintendent

“Hunger for excellence, never take anything or anyone for granted.  You never know what life will throw at you”  HS Principal

“Never take the easy way out, have faith in yourself, be positive with everyone, and never make decisions shooting from the hip”  HS Principal

“We are lucky to have people in our lives that have helped and watch us grow in to young adults, ready to move on into the next chapter of our stories”   HS Valedictorian

“Use your talents and energy and knowledge to make the world a better place”  Superintendent

“Find your passions, and pour your soul into achieving them – success comes to those who never quit.” HS Principal

“One thing you have that nobody else has, is you – your voice, mind, vision, story – andy teye speakingso write and draw and build and create and study hard but play harder and live only as you can”   HS Valedictorian

“Pursue a path of integrity and do your best in every situation, because everything you do will make a difference to someone.”  HS Principal

The following were extracted from the NYT article on May 22, 2015

…. I have figured out how to never be around assholes at any time in my personal and professional life. That’s rich. And not being around assholes should be the goal of every graduate here today.” John Waters Artist/Film Director

The world is full of siren songs luring unwary sailors onto rocks; false promises, fool’s gold; foxes, cats and coachmen luring young people to gluttonous, over-indulging Pleasure Island where, as you’ll know if you’ve seen the movie Pinocchio, the kids make jackasses of themselves.   Do not make jackasses of yourselves.”  Salmon Rushdie

….work hard and don’t be lazy. And put away your damn iPhone once in a while – Maya Rudolph

It is into this disorienting and sometimes disappointing world that you now plummet …. unprotected from the shelter of family and school. Ken Burns

Resist that temptation to rationalize what others view is the right choice for you — instead of what you feel in your gut is the right choice — that’s your North Star. Trust it. Follow it.    Vice President Joe Biden

You will always regret taking a half swing.  You will never regret taking a full swing. If you’re going to strike out, you go down swinging — not by watching the pitch go by. There is something worse about failing that way. Cody Keenan – speechwriter for Obama


Commencement speeches must be difficult to conceive.  How many times can speakers say “pursue your dreams” or “the future lies in front of you and it’s yours to create” or other similar words of inspiration, encouragement, and open ended optimism.  Each year, at Lincoln Community School, students select a faculty member to speak to them at graduation. This year, they selected the College Counselor (Heather Duffy Stone – HDS) to speak.   I was impressed by her speech,

Heather Duffy Stone at the podium

Heather Duffy Stone at the podium

and I know others were as well.  I have posted it below and I think it’s worth reading.  I’ve thought a lot about the random moments we have as educators and adults with students and how a random experience may hold create unique significance.  I think she has done an excellent job of providing a dose of reality while delivering an important message.  Have a read… (I’ve highlighted parts of it that captured my limited attention!)

Hi. I am SO honored to be standing here. I’m a little nervous too. But the honour of being invited to speak to you today, is mostly calming. I think of these last few weeks, packed into my office with all of you—whether it was the cake or the cheeseburgers or hiding your bags or listening to you teach each other… I’m not lying when I say these last few weeks remind me why I do this job—even when the AC didn’t work, even when I couldn’t hear myself think. I have thought a lot about this speech, and the things I wish I could say to EACH of you in these few minutes here on stage– but there just isn’t the time to do it all. So I’m giving you each a card to say the one thing I wanted to say to each of YOU specifically in person, as a token of my gratitude for letting me learn from and with you these two years.

Honestly, I feel SO LUCKY to have been with you at this time in your life, when everything is in front of you and everything can happen. You might be feeling numb right now, or terrified or thrilled or ambivalent. But you are at the beginning and you are living it all for the first time and there is nothing more exhilarating than that. Some of you are about to embark on adventures, farewell trips together to islands and music festivals—these weeks will be embedded in your memory. The day after I graduated from high school my friends and I piled into a Toyota 4-Runner and drove around New England camping riverside, going to Grateful Dead shows, and selling hummus sandwiches in concert traffic jams to supplement our fast-disappearing graduation cash. That may not sound like your ideal vacation, its definitely not mine anymore! But it was ours then and the memory of those days is perfect. We were together. Those of us, like me, who choose to work in high schools do so because we want to the never lose sight of the energy and possibility you have at this moment. It is so true, whatever comes next, you are the architect.

But don’t get me wrong. I want to tell you the truth about something. It’s a truth I feel like no one ever told me. The message I want to give you is not YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. You can’t necessarily. And that’s OKAY. That is what no one ever told me. I worried at first about saying so- but it’s the truth. You can be an actress. But you may not win an Oscar. You can find the perfect first job. But it may not make you a millionaire. You can apply to Harvard for Business School. But you may not get in. It does not mean that you have not worked hard enough. It means the world will throw you curve balls. It means that nothing will look exactly like you imagine it will look.

Last month was my 20th high school reunion. I wasn’t at my reunion of course. I was here. But I poured over pictures and videos of the event. Who was there? Who had done what they said they were going to do? Well, Parker isn’t President, but she is Chief of Staff for U.S. Congress and Meghan isn’t a lawyer, though she went to law school. She runs a Sales department. She married her sister’s high school boyfriend- that was something she never said she’d do. Darcy isn’t an actress, she’s a nurse and she just bought a house in the town where she grew up, the one she said she’d never go back to. I’m not a writer- not like I thought I’d be. I wrote a book but it didn’t exactly rock the literary world. But I’m a lot of other things too. My life looks absolutely nothing like I thought it would. There are a lot of things I wanted and worked hard for that I don’t have. But the life I do have has been painted by celebrations and failures. It’s been real. It’s been unexpected.

Some of you know I have this tattoo on my back. And parents, I promise I waited a long time to get this tattoo. I was OLD when I got it. I knew I wanted some kind of text, and I thought long and hard about the text that I’d ink into my skin that would be there forever. Something I wouldn’t regret… the tattoo on my back says “how inevitable it is, we step into an ordinary moment and never come out again”. These moments are in front of us. And they will explode up out of nowhere. We won’t see them coming. And they will change everything. We’ve all had these moments—ask us about them—ask Mr. Smith about the canoe trip, ask Mr. A about his fight against corporate sponsorship, ask Ms. Welchman about being the family translator- these small moments that changed the course of our everything.

Your course has already changed in ways you didn’t imagine. I know it was not always easy for you this year. Some days you felt left behind. You had amazing mentors and teachers and coaches who have moved on—and I know it has been hard at times to celebrate this milestone without them—to make big decisions without them. You had pictured Mr. Craggs would be here dress-coding you even in your graduation robe and yet proudly handing you your diploma, or that Mr. Milton would be tough-loving you through exams and then even shedding a tear or two tonight despite that tough façade. But they are here with you—in the lessons they taught you, in the humour that echoes in your stories, in the memories you paint clearly, in the people you have become. You have new teachers too who have shaped you in unexpected ways who are here with you tonight in person. And you have friends and family members, here in the audience or here in their memory and influence, who have helped you become who you are. You of all people know that closeness does not have to mean geography or proximity, it means the impact someone leaves on you.

You all first began to make your impact on me in ToK classes last spring, when I was mostly new to you, when the reality of college was far from your minds, when you were busy testing my limits– would I let you leave class? Would I really make you hand something in? How strict was I about the term essay? As the reality of your futures loomed, we got to know each other better. I learned how you worked. I learned you were generous, you were scared, you didn’t want to leave your brother behind, you couldn’t wait to live under your own roof, you dreamed of building amusement parks and changing the world, of falling in love, of getting your heart broken just so you could feel. You became whole and real and alive and you surprised me at every turn. As we have moved through the past two years your dreams have been realized and they have been broken. Your dreams have come alive and they have yet to take shape. You’ll go to the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics– just like you’ve always imagined. You’ll go to Kalamazoo and Furman – schools you had never heard of at this time last year. You’ll take a gap year, you’ll live through your first winter in Ontario, some of you aren’t yet sure where you’ll be but as big as your imagination, as thorough as your research, you have no idea of what is to come. And here is what I ask of you. DIVE in with your eyes closed because even if you think you have an idea, even if you have a vision, I promise it will look nothing like that. You’ve seen more of the world than most people your age but even so, you can’t imagine what the future will look like. Don’t try. Because it will blow your mind. You will be disappointed, you will get your heart broken, you will meet people you never could have imagined to life, you will do things you always said you never would, you will do things you dreamed about, and they won’t look at all how you thought they would. You will pay bills and buy groceries and build families and it will seem simple and amazing. You will win awards and publish articles and meet with Presidents and it will feel natural and exhilarating. You will wake up, and you will look down at your hands and you will say– are these MY hands? where did all the years go? Remember that day, when I graduated from high school, I had no idea what was ahead of me… You leave here with the strength you’ve given each other, the sense of home, the way you take care of each other. I love to watch that. You protect each other and you celebrate each other—you fight and you compete and you gossip too, you have your moments but at the root of it all you take care of each other. The rarity that you have in that is extraordinary. And you won’t have it everywhere. You won’t have it next year, not right away. There will be hats in airstrangers and strange cities but you will have the foundation you have given each other. You have an idea of what is out there, you have a vision of what’s to come but… don’t try to control it. Let it underwhelm you and let it blow your mind. LET IT look nothing like you ever imagined. Your possibilities, they ARE infinite.

Thanks to Heather Duffy Stone for this inspirational commencement speech!

(PS.  Heather also has a couple of books that she authored available on Amazon!!)

Closing Out & Moving On

We closed out our 5 years in Ghana last week.  I knew Ghana would be a place that I would live in my lifetime.  It took me 25 years of overseas living before I got there but my childhood introduction to Ghana in 1965 (as a 10 year old) was influential in my life. My brother, a Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO) volunteer, spent two years teaching in Ghana in the mid-1960’s.  His letters, written on the iconic blue aerograms that folded into envelopes with writing along the edges to maximize the message, recalled his experiences in the tropics of West Africa. Ghana was destiny.

The end of our time was not unlike other partings. For international educators the rhythm of each June is similar.  Our wrapping up was, as expected, bittersweet. Multiple good-byes, emotions around farewells, the steeling of oneself to manage loss, and the consideration of the impact people have on one another all provided opportunities for careful thought and introspection.  As a school Principal whose work is by definition exercising leadership, it is natural to wonder about one’s impact.  How have I contributed to the improvement of the experiences for students, teachers, parents, and colleagues? What defines my “body of work” over 5 years and how do I measure influence or impact?

We all hope to “leave a mark” or, more importantly, help an organization, or a school community, or the people you work closely with become stronger and improve.   Feeling a sense of efficacy, a sense that you can positively impact others, is essential as an educator – teachers and administrators alike.  However, it’s tricky to discern and measure one’s impact.  It’s particularly tricky when one is in the midst of the drama, politics, and emotions of the day to day.  But, it’s interesting to take time at the end of a stretch to consider, to listen, to reflect, and to seek perspective.  It is natural to give such consideration when one has come to the end of one’s time in a school community.

The thoughtful written and spoken comments from colleagues, parents, and students in recent weeks were heartwarming and positive. (I admit, however, noone really wanted to “rain on my parade” as I was leaving so the naysayers and critics probably kept pretty quiet!!)  I am hugely grateful to so many for taking the time to communicate with me as I closed out the school year and my time at LCS.

We don’t remember days, we remember moments

What I found most interesting and revealing were references to specific moments, actions, conversations that were shared in the past several years which left an impression.  Our lives are, in so many ways, a series of unrelated moments with others and the potential of those moments to build impressions which create lifelong memories should never be underestimated. Parents referred to conversations in social settings, students referred to moments of interactions on the school walkway, teachers referred to moments of written feedback after visiting a classroom, and staff referred to a singular compliment, or act of kindness, offered in passing.  Moments that made impressions, perhaps it touched an emotion as memories are often solidified through emotions.  It is clear that I, and most likely others, regularly underestimate the power of words and the impressionable power of a singular moment.  As a way of understanding the elusive “body of work”, I can grab a hold of the tangible comments expressed and recognize that the collection of individual moments represent influence and leadership.

Ghana has been a rich experience.  I so enjoyed my time at LCS. The community, the students, the faculty, the staff were truly good to work with and to be around. I continue to be impressed and in awe of the commitment to, and importance of, person to person “respect” that rests in Ghanaian culture.  Respecting one another as equals, despite class differences, is an important element of Ghanaian culture.  It is a welcoming and friendly culture that is vibrant and embracing.  As I was exiting Ghana, I experienced a moment of my own that will remain with me forever. There was emotion in the air as I approached the immigration officer for my final passport stamp (as we know, immigration officers can be a surly lot).

“When are you returning?” She asked.

“I’m not returning, I’m leaving after 5 years”. I responded.

“I am sad, you are leaving and not returning to Ghana”. She said.

The friendly exchange went on and, yes, it is that kind of exchange that I have come to truly enjoy and respect with Ghanaians!  My moments in Ghana have impacted me without doubt.  I am hopeful, and confident, that my moments with so many in the LCS community have supported learning, growing, and maturing for the adults and students that I have worked with over the years.





What’s on Your “To Be” List for 2015?

A new calendar year  is around the corner.  Are new year’s resolutions on your radar screen?

I’ve never really been good at New Year’s resolutions.  They don’t fit with my life as an educator.  I live on the semester system with summer break in June/July and a vacation in December!  I live semester to semester to break….I’ve lived on the semester system all my life essentially – at least since Kindergarten and that was in 1961!  Wow 53 years of the semester system……The point is my resolutions are usually August resolutions – not New Years  resolutions.

Anyway, the point is, my thinking about resolutions has evolved…as I have, thankfully, over time.

Resolutions should NOT be about things you are going “to do”.  They should be about who you want “to be”

How do you want to be this year?    vs.    What do you want to do? “We are human beings, not human doings” – Deepak Chopra
“We are human beings, not human doings” – Deepak Chopra


Lance King ( talks at length about  helping students to think of themselves as human “beings” and not as human “doings”.  I have appreciated his words around this topic.  We become so caught up in the “doing” that we forget about our “being”.  When I think about the IB Learner Profile, it’s all about traits for “being”.  Of course, there are actions we must “do” in order “to be” a certain way.

For me, this type of thinking always resonates. It’s important to re-visit one’s “to be” statements and the beginning of a calendar year is a time ripe for re-visiting one’s mission (unless, of course, you are like me and you are so accustomed to life on the semester system that your list takes shape generally in August!)

When I consider my “to be” list the following comes to mind:  I continue to strive to be a good father, husband, friend and family member.  I continue to work hard to be a good listener, enquirer, learner, and an individual who operates with integrity, honesty, and compassion. I hope to be influential to those around me in my work in order to support adult learning, student learning, and overall school improvement.

What is on your “to be” list this for 2015?

Teaching Thinking (and Other Critical Skills)!

Teaching Thinking!  Is this an impossible task?

Clearly the work of teachers and parents is to help students become better thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators.  We want students to become more creative and critical in their thinking.  It is challenging work.  How do you support students in becoming true inquirers who are curious, interested, and capable of asking probing questions?  How do we support students as they engage with their own thinking?  How do we help students develop resilience?

True Resilience!

True Resilience!  (

Below is a “story” that I’ve held onto for years. I remember hearing this story when my own children were young boys.  I found a source of the story online as a letter to the editor to the New York Times.

The following letter to the editor appeared in the New York Times on January 18, 1988

‘Izzy, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?’

Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics who died Jan. 11 (1988), was once asked, ”Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?”

His answer has served as an inspiration for me as an educator, as a credo for my son during his schooling and should be framed on the walls of all the pedagogues, power brokers and politicians who purport to run our society.

The question was posed to Dr. Rabi by his friend and mine, Arthur Sackler, himself a multitalented genius, who, sadly, also passed away recently. Dr. Rabi’s answer, as reported by Dr. Sackler, was profound: ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn Continue reading

Motivation, Self Directed Learning & Resilience

In two weeks our Grade 12 students will participate in a special workshop led by Mr Lance King (  The title of the workshop is Building Exam Confidence. Mr King is known for his provocative thinking around teaching and learning.  He focuses an audience on supporting students in becoming lifelong learners who regulate their own learning and learn independently. In a workshop for teachers last year, he challenged educators to clarify the “real purpose, the overall aim of school”.   Is it about getting into a good college? Is it about finding a good job? Is it about producing life long learners?  How do we help students become intrinsically motivated for learning?  What’s the role of teachers in supporting students in becoming independent, self directed learners?

In his faculty presentation he highlighted three important areas for students to really develop.  These were self belief (also known as self-efficacy), strategies for learning how to learn (learning how to reflect on strengths and chart an individual learning path), and learning how to “fail well” (learning to be resilient and reflective).

How do you develop the self-belief that you are capable of achieving success?  For some it’s about seeing role models around them, someone who helps establish aspirations.  Supporting the development of self-confidence and self-worth in students is an essential part of the work of a parent and a teacher.

As an individual, how do you respond to learning challenges?  How do you learn best?  How do you respond to the challenge of learning something new?  How do you react to challenges?

  • What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
  • What is your strategy to do something hard?
  • How did you get yourself to do that hard thing?
  • Can you analyze your strategy and break it down?

Thinking about how you learn best is part of becoming an independent learner.

How motivated to learn are you? How do you respond when you aren’t successful?  Do you want to overcome obstacles? How resilient are you?  Do you  FAIL WELL when you don’t achieve the goal you set for yourself?  In his research, he found students who “fail well”:

  1. acknowledged they had some failure,
  2. looked back at their failure,
  3. analyzed results,
  4. analyzed strategy,
  5. put in place a new strategy and had another go.

They did not blame the school, or the system, or others.  They moved forward without getting caught up in the drama of failure.

In his upcoming workshop for students, the focus will be upon developing confidence, specific strategies for learning, and resilience in the face of challenges to cope with the academic workload and demands of the IB.  Challenging yourself and overcoming obstacles in your learning journey is important.  Schools must create safe places in order to allow students to accept challenge, fail with challenge, and recover to learn from setbacks.  Very few people find success in life without feeling “knocked back” at some point or other.

The timing of challenges for Grade 12 students is ripe for a focused workshop experience that will give students an opportunity to reflect and consider what lies ahead in the very near future!  The first semester of Grade 12 is a notorious time during which layers of challenge are placed upon already weighted shoulders.  How you respond and manage provides multiple opportunities for learning.




Mentors Matter

I’ve been thinking about mentors lately.   At the outset of every school year I stress the importance of building relationships around the school.  Relationships need to be nurtured with students, colleagues, parents, and so on.  In particular I stress the imperative that students must feel cared for and guided by their teachers, and valued by their classmates.  This is essential.  I want every student to feel that there is an adult in their world that they can seek out for a conversation, for advice, for a moment of listening.   I don’t often use the word mentor when I think about these relationships.

Building relationships and being a good listener are foundational to mentoring but mentorship is far more.

It’s not about friendship.  Mentors teach.  Whether it is through role modeling, offering advice, or challenging one’s beliefs and thinking it is about teaching and learning.  It is about being pushed to consider alternatives or future directions. From learning a specific skill to mapping out future choices, mentors engage in significant and potentially life changing experiences for their mentees.  While that sounds pretty “heady” and serious, it’s not something that happens overnight or without an amount of relationship building to begin with.

I’ve been thinking about mentors as I watch my two sons, both in their 20’s, navigate their worlds.  My oldest son graduated from college, took a low paying volunteer type job with AmericCorps and ended up working in an office surrounded by interesting people.  He ended up working closely with an individual who grew into his mentor.  Over the course of the year, he Continue reading

Ten Tasks of Adolescense

Over the years one collects various expressions, articles, and handouts that are timeless for their value.  The print may fade over the years but their place on my bulletin board above my desk remains.  One such article/handout has been with me for about 10 years, always on my bulletin board.  The “Ten Tasks of Adolescense” is a great reminder of the challenges middle and high school kids face on a daily basis.    Just as a parent watches the growth of their own child over the years, teachers gain levels of satisfaction in watching the development of their students over time.   When you think of the challenges that kids face in

Building Relationships over Lunch!!

Building Relationships over Lunch!!

navigating day to day, week to week, year to year experiences as their minds and bodies are changing so rapidly, the role of schools and of teachers becomes so special.  To be a great teacher, you must be tuned into these adolescent tasks.  To be a great teacher you must be focused upon the relationships you are nurturing with students.  Adolescent life is full of challenge and opportunity, great teachers maximize both.

Have a read of the 10 Tasks of Adolescents.  At the bottom is an interesting extract focusing upon the importance of relationships between adults and students in schools.

The Ten Tasks of Adolescence

From Raising Teens, A Synthesis of Research and a Foundation for Action, a. Rae Simpson, Harvard School of Public Health 

Adjust to sexually maturing bodies and feelings Teens are faced with adjusting to bodies that as much as double in size and that acquire sexual characteristics, as well as learning to manage the accompanying biological changes and sexual feelings and to engage in healthy sexual behaviors. Their task also includes establishing sexual identity and developing the skills for romantic relationships.
Develop and apply abstract thinking skills. Teens typically undergo profound changes in their way of thinking during adolescence, allowing them more effectively to understand and coordinate abstract ideas, to think about possibilities, to try out hypotheses, to think ahead, to think about thinking, and to construct philosophies.
Develop and apply a more complex level of perspective taking. Teens typically acquire a powerful new ability to understand human relationships in which, having learned to “put themselves in another person’s shoes, they learn to take into account both their perspective and another person’s at the same time, and to use this new ability in resolving problems and conflicts in relationships.
Develop and apply new coping skills in areas such as decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Related to all these dramatic shifts, teens are involved in acquiring new abilities to think about and plan for the future, to engage in more sophisticated strategies for decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution, and to moderate their risk taking to serve goals rather than jeopardize them.
Identify meaningful moral standards, values, and belief systems. Building on these changes and resulting skills, teens typically develop a more complex understanding of moral behavior and underlying principles of justice and care, questioning beliefs from childhood and adopting more personally meaningful values, religious views, and belief systems to guide their decisions and behavior.
Understand and express more complex emotional experiences. Also related to these changes are shifts for teens toward an ability to identify and communicate more complex emotions, to understand the emotions of others in more sophisticated ways, and to think about emotions in abstract ways.
Form friendships that are mutually close and supportive Although youngsters typically have friends throughout childhood, teens generally develop peer relationships that play much more powerful roles in providing support and connection in their lives. They tend to shift from friendships based largely on the sharing of interests and activities to those based on the sharing of ideas and feelings, with the development of mutual trust and understanding.
Establish key aspects of identity Identity formation is in a sense a lifelong process, but crucial aspects of identity are typically forged at adolescence, including developing an identity that reflects a sense of individuality as well as connection to valued people and groups. Another part of this task is developing a positive identity around gender, physical attributes, sexuality, and ethnicity, and as well sensitivity to the diversity of groups that make up society.
Meet the demands of increasingly mature roles and responsibilities Teens gradually take on the roles that will be expected of them in adulthood, learning to acquire the skills and manage the multiple demands that will allow them to move into the labor market, as well as to meet expectations regarding commitment to family, community, and citizenship.
Renegotiate relationships with adults in parenting  (and other) roles Although the tasks of adolescence has sometimes been described as “separating” from parents and other caregivers, it is more widely seen now as adults and teens working together to negotiate a change in the relationship that accommodates a balance of autonomy and ongoing connection, with the emphasis on each depending in part on the family’s ethnic background.

The Relationships Gap

Looking closer at students’ perspectives has shown us that strong relationships with teachers are crucial. The quality of teacher relationships seems to be correlated to how much effort students put forth in their school work, and indeed, research indicates that effort is more important than innate ability when it comes to achievement (Dweck, 2006). As both the number of standardized tests and the stakes related to passing them increase, student effort must keep pace.

Our survey results imply that building relationships with students help increase their effort, which is consistent with research showing that the relationships students have with teachers is one of the best predictors of hard work and engagement in school (Osterman, 2000). When comparing responses of students who agreed with the statement, “ I put forth my best effort at school” with those who did not, we saw dramatically different perspectives on student-teacher relationships. Students who said they put forth their best effort were twice as likely as students who said they did not to agree with the statement, “Teachers care about me as a individual.” Similarly, students who said they put forth their best effort were twice as likely to agree that “Teachers respect students.”

Another telling survey finding was that 56 percent of students who reported that they put forth their best effort also said they have a teacher they can talk with if they experience a problem, whereas only 32 percent of the students who did not put forth their best effort agreed with this statement.

Some survey results indicated that many students lack a solid, trusting relationship with a teacher. For example, only 45 percent of students surveyed agreed that “Teachers care if I am absent from school.” How is it that more than half of the almost 500,000 students surveyed do not believe teachers care if they show up? Teachers must work harder to develop relationships with students and change these kinds of perceptions. Doing so will foster students’ connectedness at school — an undeniable catalyst for increasing students’ investment in learning.

Schools can — and should — implement practices that lead to strong teacher-student relationships.

Excerpted from Got Opportunity?

Russell J. Quaglia, Kristine M. Fox and Michael J. Corso; Middleweb,

And We Are Off! – Day 1 has come and gone!

Welcome to Day 2

OK, another school year is officially starting.  Heaps of energy and enthusiasm as usual on day 1.  Excitement around the school.  New hair, new shirts, new shoes, new teachers, new students, new furniture, and some new changes around the buildings.  New books in the library, new laptops to borrow, and a few new food items for sale.  There is eager hopefulness in the air!  Fresh coats of

Seniors!  Enjoying their first lunch of Grade 12

Seniors! Enjoying their first lunch of Grade 12

paint on walls and tables that covers up some of the pencil and pen markings from last year’s crop of students.

So what!  What’s it matter?  The fresh coats of paint only matter for a little while;  paint wears thin.

I’m writing this note during the early morning hours of Day 2.  The only thing that really matters is how we decide to “Show Up” at school on Day 2, and Day 3, and Day 4….etc.  All the appearances of new beginnings don’t matter unless you decide to “Show Up” and make the most of what’s on offer.

As a student and a member of the LCS community, how will you carve out your path at LCS this year?  Will it be as an active, positive contributor?  What are the most fundamental goals that you have for the year?  Is it about friendship? Is it about academics? Is it about being positive? Is it about being kind? Is it about making the varsity soccer team? My favorite question when speaking individually to students is “What kind of student do you want to be?”  Over 20 years of asking that question to hundreds and hundreds of students the response 99% of the time is: “I want to be a good student”.   What does being a “good student” look like?  The common response is earning good grades.  But this falls short. It’s not about the grades.


How will you contribute to a positive school climate? How will you be a good friend and a good classmate? What will you try hard to avoid?  How will you “Step Up” and continue your growth as a teenager?

While Day 1 is a great way to start the year and you have begun to taxi down the runway, Day 2 is where you can truly rev your engines, release the powers within, and begin your flight through another school year.

Make sure you watch this video when you are done!!!  Have a great start!

Jelly Beans & Living Life to the Fullest