August 2011

Two of our junior students adopted this summer a passion for the cause,, 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:
Do you have a suggestion?  Take a moment to share a suggestion by using the comment box below, or emailing me at or Andrei at

At this morning’s Family Association meeting, which was our annual “sign up to volunteer” event, I had the opportunity to make a short presentation, and I chose to read the following passage from this fine 2009 book by Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist.   At the meeting I was asked by several parents if I could make the quote and book information more available.  (Click on the image to see more about the book).

My children attended a public elementary school that brought both parents and children into a kind of moral community.   Interactions with teachers, school events, posters on walls, and communications from our principal worked to connect parents both to one another and to the school.

The communications expressed a set of moral commitments– that both parents and children are members of a community and have responsibility for all members of that community; that every student has intellectual and personal contributions to make to the learning of the whole community and that the school has responsibilities to recognize and support those contributions; that school is preparation not only for a career but for many facets of citizenship; that diversity is a high value and that diverse opinions will be engaged and tested; that students should be taught to identify and address social inequalities and injustice.

Often homework was connected to issues of equity and fairness, and sometimes children were asked to engage parents in this homework.

Teachers felt responsibility for all children in the building– not just children in their classroom.

Because there are trusting, caring relationships between teachers and students at this school, children are also more likely to value what teachers value, including classic virtues such as honesty and courage.  At the same time, as the principal observes “Many parents challenge the larger community to believe in and value each of our students and families.  This initiative by families reinforces and sometimes leads the school to live up to its values.”

If there is interest, we may try to start and facilitate a book discussion group in the Family Association about this book.   St. Gregory parents should let me know if they are interested, either by conversation “on the curb,” email, or by leaving a comment below.

Yesterday’s New York Times brought a disappointingly poor and ill-informed take on the world of ideas in a piece by Neal Gabler entitled “The Elusive Big Idea.”

Gabler finds himself, and let me reiterate that, finds himself in,  “an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.”

Without a doubt I agree with his wish to live in an age rich in ideas: one, as he says, where

we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us.

But I entirely disagree that we are living in a sterile time.  Gabler is welcome to speak for himself when he writes that ” We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn’t have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don’t want to,” but how dare he speak for the rest of us, who, to the contrary, are exhilarated by the richness of available information, the stimulation sharing is providing us, and the inspiration it gives us to be, all of us now and not only some select elite, idea generators and sharers ourselves. (more…)

At St. Gregory this year, about half a dozen of our teachers are piloting a new program called Schoology, which functions simultaneously as a learning management system for teachers and a social network platform for students and teachers.  Inside it, teachers can post their syllabus and assignments, and, if they choose, track student attendance, maintain a gradebook, and much more. On the site, teachers can provide students resources and links, and organize materials into folders for better organization.

As Peter Smith writes in a helpful overview at EdSocialmedia, teachers can also “Quick Post Lesson Assessments:  Schoology gives the ability to create quick online quizzes, which I plan to use as post lesson assessments. These quizzes will be less than four questions and will give me a quick snapshot of how many students understood the material that day and how well I did as a teacher.”   Furthermore, the analytics sections of Schoology offers teachers “a great analytics tool which allows the teacher to know when and how often students access virtually anything in my course. This is a great way to hold students accountable who need the extra help but are reluctant to access it.”

More importantly, Schoology provides students a better tool to manage their various courses, keep track of assignments, and benefit from the calendar functions, which they can use as a planner for all courses operating within schoology.  Now, certainly many other LMS (learning management systems) offer all this, but what schoology adds is a social network element with a look and feel very similar to facebook, making it more intuitive and natural for regular facebook users.   Students can use a vehicle they are so familiar with, facebook style posting, commenting, threading and linking, and do so with their classes to enhance their learning. (more…)

St. Gregory is in our second year as a 1:1 laptop school (grades six to twelve), and as Head I have avoided promulgating a single, school wide, technology use policy for every grade or classroom.  Instead, I have encouraged and urged teachers to work with their students to develop the appropriate plan and policy to their program and classroom culture.  
This is one among many exemplary such, teacher designed, classroom technology policies.  It might well not be right for every teacher and every classroom, and neither Dr. Berry, its author, nor I would suggest it could or should be.    
Dr. Michelle Berry:  The Vision for Empowering Use of Technology in (APGOV, APUSH, Advanced Seminars):
Dr. Berry believes ardently in the power of information and technology to empower student as citizens, people, and learners.  This means that as a member of Dr. Berry’s class, you will be expected to use technology in a variety of ways in and out of the classroom.   She also believes that History class is a learning community whose success rests solely on the collaborative energy and purpose of the group as a whole (much like communities beyond St. Gregory).  If all members of this community (as often as possible) put their highest intentions toward furthering not just their own personal intellectual and social growth but that of their colleagues as well, then this class will be an effective, successful, empowered, and empowering learning community.

Having said that, there are  a few principles that members of this learning community must agree to abide by:

1) Each student must use technology resources for the purposes for which they are intended. In the classroom, this means using technology resources for the purposes of conducting and fostering the  educational and research activities of the class.  Out of the classroom, this means using technology to further enhance your own intellectual, ethical, and academic growth. (more…)

2011-12 School Year opening assembly:

Good morning, and welcome to School year 2011-12, St. Gregory’s 32nd year!  It is great to see you all here, and may I say, you look terrific today– such great looking style– and I want to especially welcome our new students, including those from China,  Germany, and Alaska.   They came all this way to come to St. Gregory.   OUr student body is again over 300 students, and it feels great to have you all here.

Screening the following clip:

I loved this film, particularly its treatment of the students working together to create their film.   I realize that for me this movie, Super 8, had particular resonance, as it was about a group of 13 year olds in 1979, and I myself was 13 in 1979.

Super 8 the movie has great lessons and inspiration for us as learners, and I want to share with you my Super 8 takeaways, or Super 8 inspirations for a great school year of learning and growth:

  1. These students identified and followed their passion.  The main character did not want to go away to sports camp for the summer: his passion then was film and he pursued it vigorously!
  2. They used the best available contemporary technology to create and communicate.  They regularly went down to the camera store to see what was new, and they wanted to be informed and to use the best contemporary tools to accomplish their mission. (more…)

Click here to read 9 Suggestions for Educators’ Back to School Letter.  

August 8, 2011

Dear St. Gregory Families:

Welcome to the 2011-12 school year: St. Gregory’s 32nd year.

This is what I call my annual “too-long” letter.  I know it is too long, and everyone always tells me it is too long, and yet here it is, too long once again.

We are very happy to have confirmed enrollment of 301 students for the coming year as of today, which represents a 5% growth over last year and an 8% growth over two years ago.  This year’s growth is the largest in the past ten years, and it is the first time in more than ten years that the school has experienced two successive years of enrollment growth.   One contributing factor to this growth is our strong re-enrollment rate, which has also been much higher than in recent previous years.   To all of you who are new, I want to extend a very special warm welcome, and please know we are very grateful you are here and that we will work hard so to ensure you will want to keep coming back each year.

Four new students will be Chinese students, (compared to two last year), and we are very happy to be welcoming them.   (more…)

Next Page »