August 2011


Two of our junior students adopted this summer a passion for the cause, CharityWater.org, and brought to all-school meeting an inspirational video promoting its 5th Anniversary September campaign; immediately afterwards they sold water bottles with the Charity:Water logo to serve this cause.

As one of our teachers, Lorie Heald, who oversees community service and is working hard to integrate CS  in an exciting new way with our one year old faculty-study advisory program, transforming what had been isolated individual work into a new collaborative team initiative,

This morning Becca and Marion demonstrated EXACTLY what I would like each advisory to consider doing.  They identified a need in the world outside of school, they chose a charity to support, they took action, then they shared it with the whole school.  Community service will be much more meaningful if we follow their lead.
Awesome job girls!

The video is greatly engaging and moving, and the cause valuable and meaningful.  It was important to me to balance this effort with another approach, “thinking differently,” that brings ingenuity rather than heavy machinery to the cause.   It is not that one is better than the other altogether, but that they can complement each other valuably.   Accordingly, I shared the following Ted Talk, which created quite a buzz among students in the theater as the presenter first created a batch of disgusting water, and then drank it out of his water bottle.

But as I have thought more about it, both of these two approaches– one about heavy machinery from abroad, and the other about ingenuity from afar,  reflect something of a limited viewpoint: (more…)

Welcome to Middle School Curriculum Night—it is great to have you here, and I hope you enjoy a wonderful evening visiting classrooms .

As you change classes every ten minutes, and remember you need to follow the schedule, you might find yourself feeling two different emotions at once:  this is hard, keeping track of the schedule and staying on track and gathering all this information and processing all these new ideas and, at the very same time, you might feel, this is exhilarating and self-affirming; I am figuring out how to make this schedule work and how to manage this complexity.

For most of you, and for most of our students, this is an experience of stress that is more positive than negative.   We worry about stress, of course we do, for our kids, and we should.  We worry sometimes that they are overwhelmed, or too anxious or burdened, or that they are suffering deep disappointments.

We want to ensure students feel safe, and we know that when they feel deeply at risk of pain or humiliation, their reptile brains kick in and,  often, their learning opportunity narrows accordingly: they simply can’t and don’t learn as much.  That is why we want to work so hard through advisory and our kindness campaigns and our mission days, and many additional ways to ensure students feel safe.

But stress is not evil.  There is a form of stress called “eustress”, that is described as

the type of ‘positive’ stress that keeps us vital and excited about life.

The excitement of a roller-coaster ride, a scary movie, or a fun challenge are all examples of eustress.

Eustress is actually important for us to have in our lives.   Without it, we would become depressed and perhaps feel a lack of meaning in life.  Not striving for goals, not overcoming challenges, not having a reason to wake up in the morning would be damaging to us, so eustress is considered ‘good’ stress.  It keeps us healthy and happy.

But there’s more.  Eustress is positive, but we need to also remember that even distress has its value—in the right amount.  One of the best books on parenting in the past decade, is actually a pair of books by a Los Angeles psychologist named Wendy Mogel—have any of you read her books?-: The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, which is about raising younger children, and for raising teenagers, the Blessings of a B-(more…)

Spending some time in our library today, I saw framed on the wall this “word cloud” as a poster.  I was delighted to learn and then recognize that the word cloud is derived from the essay our new Librarian and Director of Information Literacy, Laura Lee Calverley, originally submitted as part of our application for the position.   Our search process asked candidates to submit an essay defining the 21st century library.  That essay can be found here.

This video clip is entirely outside of the norm for what I usually share here on the blog, but it doesn’t hurt to mix it up sometimes.   My brother directed me to this clip last month, and it continues to kill me with its sharp humor and irony.    We live in fast-changing times, and we can easily overlook how dramatically our world is changing, and how much we have to appreciate in our new technology.  The comedian Louis CK, in this four minute bit which I promise will bust you up in laughter, reminds us powerfully and hilariously to recognize the astounding nature of the era in which we live, and asks us to try harder to not take it for granted.

I suggested this be viewed in our St. Gregory advisory groups today, and I encouraged faculty advisers to follow it up with a reflective conversation: what are the amazing elements of our lives today, what are the things that are changing the fastest, and how can we better appreciate them?  I am not sure how many advisers took me up on the suggestion, but I heard from a few that it made for a very fun session.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Watch and enjoy.

We all are working to promote more innovative school cultures, and, more importantly, to facilitate our students’ development of more innovative mindsets.   But I fear that too often we see innovation as an extraordinarily complex or sophisticated concept.  In thinking this, we set the bar so high that we lose confidence in our ability to reach it, and hence, stop trying quite so hard.

Instead, we should continue to recognize how elemental and elementary innovation is: it is an art of copying, transforming, and combining, as Kirby Ferguson explains in this very charming, colorful, fun and informative video.    Innovation isn’t epiphany, it is effort, experiment, and practice.    It is copying with intentionally allowed mutations; it is experimenting with the possibilities mutations make available; it is refusing to stop at any limit or boundary but instead continuing to ask what next, what more, what else?

More about Kirby Ferguson’s fascinating project is available here.

I’m very pleased to have been “nominated,” (perhaps better understood as recommended for nomination) by a Head of School colleague in North Carolina for the National Association of Independent Schools Board of Trustees.

Some may recall that a year ago I campaigned, in a sense, for the election of an independent school technology director to the board, a campaign that sadly fell short.   Readers who are curious can read that post, Elect a Tech Director to the Board, here.

Were I to update that post I would add to that previous list of twenty candidates many more names, including Larry Kahn of Kincaid School (TX), Jason Kern of Oakridge School (TX), Basil Kolani of the Dwight School (NY), Karen Blumberg of The School at Columbia (NY), Jonathan Mergy of Lick Wilmerding (CA), Steve Taffee of Castilleja School (CA), Curt Lieneck of the University of Chicago Lab Schools (IL), Jamie Britto of Collegiate School (VA), Alex Inman of Sidwell Friends School (DC), and many more.   I still strongly believe that the NAIS board would be well served by the addition of an accomplished, far-seeing, innovative, and networked tech director.

There are many fine people within and around NAIS who would serve well the NAIS board, and I have no high expectation of being elected.   The call for nomination page suggests that NAIS is especially seeking “nominations of underrepresented groups (i.e. women and persons of color as well as candidates from the SW region of the US and those from different generations).” Readers should consider whether they wish to nominate a deserving candidate they know, (and, yes, I’d be delighted to have readers offer a “seconding” nomination– with apologies for my self-promotion); the process is fairly easy, and is available here.

Below I have shared my response to the application form’s request for an application essay.

The request:

  • Vision of how a national organization should function.
  • Interest and expertise in the challenges facing independent schools, commitment to the strategic priorities identified by the board, and a proclivity towards helping NAIS identify creative solutions to those challenges, especially in the arenas of trusteeship, law, higher ed, global education, technology, sustainability; curricular research and design, and finance.
  • Commitment to championing the values of NAIS: independence, interdependence, inclusivity, innovation.

The National Association of Independent Schools should always hold serving the interests of students, present and future, as its ultimate goal: they not only deserve the best we can offer them, but our nation and our planet require this of us.

NAIS should hold up the highest ideals and standards for our schools, insisting that they become ever more serious about their educational ambitions and intended learning outcomes and how they measure and demonstrate this progress.  At the same time, the national organization should continue to challenge our schools to innovate, experiment, and diversify: our schools can be more flexible than most, but often aren’t.  We should seize our opportunity to pioneer new strategies and share the results for the enhanced learning of all school-children. (more…)

Our Director of Technology, Andrei Henriksan, and I co-wrote and distributed the following message as an email (not a paper memo) to all St. Gregory employees.
Hello Everyone:
As you may have heard at the meeting this morning, we are really pleased to see that we have considerably reduced paper usage in the copiers in the past several years.
You can see the progress as follows:

2009 = 610,643 or 50,887 per month

2010 = 488,625 or 40,719 per month (down 19%)

2011 = 197,733 or 32,955 per month (down 19%)

This 19%, or 1,681 lbs, savings represents:

  • 14 trees
  • 13.7 barrels of oil
  • 5883.5 gallons of water
  • 50 lbs of air pollution prevented from being released
  • 2.8 cubic yards of landfill space
  • 3,446 kWh of electricity. That’s enough to power the average home for 118 days

On a school year basis, the numbers look like this:

2009-10= 534048, or 44,504 per month

2010-11=442487, or 36,873 per month (down 17%).

As you can see by looking at the 2011 rate to date, our paper reduction rate improved considerably over the course of last school year, 2010-11.

We very much hope, intend and expect that student and teacher use of laptops and netbooks, and google apps, schoology, and other “cloud” applications can assist us in moving ever closer to a nearly, though probably never entirely, paperless school environment.   This is great for the environment, and it saves money too.  It is also increasingly the way careers and colleges will work in the future, and it is useful preparation for our students (and ourselves).

To help celebrate and perpetuate this great progress (!) in paper reduction, we are introducing the St. Gregory Paper Use Challenge!

In December, and again in May, we will award the 2 teachers who have the lowest rates of paper usage, and the 2 teachers who reduce their paper usage the most from the previous calendar period, with a $25 gift card to the store of your choice.

Mini-tips for paper reduction:

  • Create, edit, communicate and store documents electronically.
  • Distribute assignments, homework, and other class handouts from your classroom site.
  • Convert printed materials in to digital handouts by scanning to PDF.  (THIS IS A GREAT WAY TO GO!)
  • Adjust your document margins: Using smaller margins means you can fit more on the page.
  • find more resources and suggestions here: http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/search/label/paperless%20classroom
Do you have a suggestion?  Take a moment to share a suggestion by using the comment box below, or emailing me at jmartin@stgregoryschool.org or Andrei at ahenriksan@stgregoryschool.org

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