This week marks the first annual International “No Office Day,” whereby principals and other administrators pledge (either absolutely or, as in my case, as best they can) to lock themselves out of their offices and spend the day in the classroom, observing and appreciating the learning that is happening there, (and then blogging about it).    The No Office Day Wiki is here; at present it appears about 30 of us have signed up to participate this week.   It was born last spring, when, as I understand it, David Truss first enacted it and wrote about it as his international school in China, and then three of, including Dwight Carter, Lyn Hilt, and I myself, followed suit.

Monday I spent the day mostly in our middle school, and what follows is a sort of “a day in the life” of St. Gregory through my eyes. I hope to get a high school parallel version completed soon. 

I write and speak often about the many uses and values of blogging by school administrators; one of the values I always highlight is the opportunity to celebrate and share the wonderful things happening at our schools with a wider audience, and it is in this spirit that this post is written.

My morning began visiting with the middle school faculty this morning as they spent our “late-start” time (classes begin Mondays and Fridays at 9am so that teachers have collaborative and professional learning sessions in these slots) preparing for Mission Days.  Thursday and Friday teachers and students will delve full-time into exploring the meaning and significance of “character,” and participating in activities meant to develop qualities of character.  Our faculty members were highly engaged in the planning, and had great thoughts about how to help students get the most out of the experience.  For more about the character days, visit here for an overview schedule and here for the elements used on the ropes courses.


My next stop was spent visiting our 6th grade skills class, an introduction to middle school co-taught by several of our fine faculty members; this session was led by our Librarian and Director of Information Literacy Laura Lee Calverley.   She was demonstrating ways to use Google other than straight search, including using it as a dictionary and as a calculator,  and having students follow her lead on their laptops,.

She transitioned to having her students prepare a quick report on their English class “outside reading” by asking them to open a word or google docs document and use online resources to grab an image to adorn the report and to summarize the overall outline of the book or series in a few sentences.   She asked them to save the report in a MS word format, using .doc; she asked this be submitted to her via the class’s schoology account.

It wasn’t really an exercise in preparing a thoughtful report; instead it was a challenge to pull together a project which demonstrated understanding of a variety of of web-search, technical, and other computer skills, and by which she could identify where there might be gaps among her students.

I was curious about what students were reading, and there were interesting trends: three were reading books from the Lewis Narnia series; four from the Baum  Oz series; two from the Lord of the Rings; and three from the Riordan Lightning Thief series.

Pre-Algebra with Mr. Owens was next, and class began with a review of a recent quiz, in which students had to apply elementary algebra to complete a crossword puzzle.    In a very classic teacher-centric manner, at the board, Mr. Owens did a fine job facilitating student understanding of how to think through and use algebraic technique.   The puzzle came from a critical thinking resource workbook, and among the most critical elements of the task was identifying carefully what questions were, as he called them, “fluff,” unanswerable with the information provided, and how students must think through and evaluate what can and can’t be answered with the data at hand.

Gears then shifted with the arrival of the Technology Director, Mr. Henriksen,  who carefully walked students through the downloading and installation of both Rescue Time and Freedom.   Mr. Henriksen took quite some time to explain and reassure that these programs offered no ability for the school to monitor how laptops are used, but rather are intended to empower students to better monitor how they use their tools and the web, and give them tools and techniques to filter themselves for periods of time.

A quick duck into Spanish 1, 6th grade for the most part, followed:

 Mrs. Steninger was overseeing and coaching students as they participated in role playing a restaurant scene where students encounter one friend and are introduced to their friend’s friend.
 It was very cute, and certainly demonstrated a nice example of a classroom in which students are workers, and teachers coaches, in the eternal words of Ted Sizer.

In between visiting Pre-Algebra and Spanish, I was thrilled to take a moment to observe our sixth grade PE class prepare to go on their bicycle ride, in what has become an integral element of our Middle School PE program.   This is supported by a federal grant funded country bicycle education program, and our students are taught skills by trained experts.  This kind of PE program is so valuable, and we are so fortunate at St. Gregory to be situated alongside a fabulous trail for cycling and to be the beneficiaries of this grant.   Our students strengthen their cycling skills and are better prepared for a lifetime of healthy transit and fun fitness.

Exiting Spanish, I encountered 8th grade students in the courtyard working on an English assignment.  Groups of twos and threes were poring over pages of historical primary source documents related to the Cherokee Removal, and answering a series of tough questions about the writers, their goals and purposes, their biases and prejudices, and how they articulated their arguments.   Ms. Bancroft explained to me that this assignment was a part of the students’ study of the novel, An Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (Alexie).   In that analysis, the students are working to parse the multiple ways in which racism can occur, both overt and subtle, both traditional/explicit and organizational/implicit.    To carry this analysis  further, students are strengthening their critical thinking and evaluation skills by studying other texts to discern parallel issues.

From here it was a hurried walk to our theater for Upper School meeting.   I opened the meeting asking students to reflect on the significance  of the 9/11 anniversary, and to hold in their hearts and heads thoughts of those who had been lost, those who lost others, and those who sacrificed themselves to save others.   Mr. Mossman read a poem by Robert Creely:

Ground Zero

What’s after or before
seems a dull locus now
as if there ever could be more

or less of what there is,
a life lived just because
it is a life if nothing more.

The street goes by the door
just like it did before.
Years after I am dead,

there will be someone here instead
perhaps to open it,
look out to see what’s there —

even if nothing is,
or ever was,
or somehow all got lost.

Persist, go on, believe.
Dreams may be all we have,
whatever one believe

of worlds wherever they are —
with people waiting there
will know us when we come

when all the strife is over,
all the sad battles lost or won,
all turned to dust.

After an extended moment of silence, the meeting moved on to business, the most interesting of which was the report by a student about her summer experience with Amigos de las Americas, living in a Mexican village and running a project around better recycling and waste management.  She shared this video from Amigos:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Lunchtime I spent with all students new to St. Greg’s in grades 10-12, an annual tradition hosted by Susan Heinz and myself.   We asked each new student (there were nearly a score of them), to share what was working especially well, what was a happy surprise, what were they most pleased about at their new school.  Answers fell into one of several themes: first, how warmly welcomed they were by the current students:  “people came up to me and introduced themselves and invited me to sit with them at lunch.”   Second, how much they enjoyed the block schedule: “it allows us to go into much greater depth in our studies and have more time to discuss and ask questions.”  “It makes it easier to organize your homework and get it done.”   Third, that the teachers are so much more helpful than was the case previously, and fourth, that the sports program is so inclusive and the coaches so encouraging.

We also asked them, if they had a magic wand, what they would wave to change things at school.  “The food: I wish we had more Chinese and Asian food.”  “Less expensive lunches.”  “To overcome the athletic eligibility issues we are confronting.”   “Wish we had a buddy student to mentor us in the first few weeks of school.” “Shorter classes.”   “Better etiquette in the lunch-line.”  “More tennis opportunities.”  “Less of a dress code.”

Middle School Meeting came next, with a similar moment of silence for 9/11, and two poems read.  First, Mr. Mann read a poem chosen by Mrs. Faircloth:

September 11, 2001: The Day Our World Changed

Planes crashing into buildings
in pictures from a disaster film

before our actual eyes

On the small screen filling our homes

with scenes of terror so horrifying

they must be simulated

Unable to comprehend

how anyone willingly could commit

these brutal acts of terror

Yet these images of harsh reality

become etched into our memory

As we watch the destruction

of a way of life

The laughter of my young daughter
pulls me from the barrage of images

and back into the reality of our day

Too young to know what has happened

yet sensing the anxiety in the air

Focusing on the exploration of her world

with a simple request of “Out”

Her small hand placed trustingly in mine

to guide her on way

A little voice of hope for the future

A nation, a world in tears
united in grief and loss

A tragedy so large

the loss so pervasive

the depth of emotions so great

no words can truly convey the mood

The sacrifice of so many lives
from so many countries

As we struggle to make some sense of the senseless

and look to answer the question


Yet many others saved

by acts of kindness from strangers

and in the mission thwarted

by last heroic acts of sacrifice and bravery

The eagle like the mighty phoenix
emerges from the ashes

bruised, but not beaten

stronger than ever

Out of the rubble of destruction

Seeds of hope

Stories of courage

Heroes emerge

Our country unites

To learn and to change
so that it never happens again
To keep the memories of the events and the people alive
but to also keep living
If not for ourselves
for our way of life
for our freedom
for our children

Written by 2001 Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS

Second, Ms. Bancroft read a poem by Wendell Berry:

To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust
Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin
Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,
for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know
there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.
But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine
though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.
You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light.  It will be
the light of those who have suffered
for peace.  It will be
your light.

After meeting, I enjoyed a charming 30 minutes in 6th Grade Ancient History with Mr. Young.   He opened, as he often does, with an extended time dedicated to inquiring of students the best part of their weekends and, in doing so, learning so much more about their lives and their emotional well being, and developing a stronger bond of trust and safety between himself and them, and among them all.    It is silly too, these chats, and the kids love to laugh: they are all attentive and in high spirits by the end of these conversations, and it is time for learning.   From here he led class into a critical evaluation of the concept of “culture,” and guided students with a very intellectually stimulating Socratic manner into thinking harder, wider, and more deeply about culture in their own lives and the influence of culture on history.

What groups do you belong to?  How are these groups different as they grow larger?  What happens to the shared values as we go from family to nation? Why? Why? How so? What changes cultures?   How do tools change culture?  How does farming change culture?

Question, question, question: it was highly participatory, this conversation, and quite effective.

After history I ducked into our 7th grade Latin class, and enjoyed Mr. Clashman’s energetic (as always!) explanation of the perfect and imperfect verb tenses.    It was stimulating, but I wanted to cover more ground before my time was up, and so I hustled over to 8th grade art with the dynamite Mrs. Encila.   Art class observing is always so fascinating to me; I know I have written this before, so forgive me, but the format of class is such an inspiration.   The teacher explains briefly a technique, or shows an example or model,  and then directs students to work with this technique or in imitation of or variation upon this model, and then spends the rest of the period moving through the room, speaking to and coaching each student individually, both responding to individual student requests and initiating conversations with others.

Art classes are very often fine examples of the Sizerian principle, (referred to above already) of student as worker, teacher as coach.  Mrs. Encila, to my observation, never sits down in her 75 minute classes; she is always moving around the room, student to student to student to student, and they do such great work.   She provides students very clear assignments and very clear expectations and a rubric by which their work will be evaluated, and off they go.   In some cases students engaged in low key chatter as they worked, and there is room for that: it is ok for students to socialize some as they work, so long as they do, indeed, work and work hard.  The results matter, and in Mrs. Encila’s classes, the results, the student art that is created and produced, is wonderful.

All in all, another great #NoOfficeDay for me, and, as always, a wonderful way for me to be more in touch with the many great things happening at our school. Thanks for reading.