Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Withitness in Teaching

"A teacher's communicating to the children by her actual behavior (rather than by her verbally announcing [instructions]) is educational researcher Jacob Kounin's definition of "withitness" that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his New Yorker article "Most Likely to Succeed."

Gladwell draws upon the techniques used in identifying college quarterbacks who would be good in the NFL to assess teachers who can find success in today's classroom.  

Bottom line in the article for me - "Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a 'bad' school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Getting a Handel on Classical Music & Kids

Water Music and Concerto in B Flat for Harp are two of George Friderick Handel’s (1685-1759) most famous compositions that have garnered my attention, pleasure, and musical appreciation. During the holiday season, my wife and I attended – for the first time – Carnegie Hall to hear Handel’s Messiah performed by The Masterworks Chorus and Orchestra.

The $25, third row tickets I bought through
tdf (Theater Development Fund) were an added surprise treat.  tdf is the non-profit organization that operates the tkts booths in Times Square, Brooklyn, and South Street Seaport.

As I prepared myself to listen to this renowned score, I scanned the packed house to see how many spectators were, say, below the age of 30. . . not many. . . certainly, no one under 10. My initial reaction was, “Too bad.” Even after hearing the chorus sing the familiar
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” and “Hallelujah” I realized a three-hour performance is too long for any child to develop an appreciation for this great music.

As a lover of classical music, which by the way, I did not begin to fully appreciate until half way through college, I have always believed that children should be exposed to it from birth and in appropriate doses. Also, children will let you know their listening pleasure. It’s always good to listen to music with your children/students, be it classical, rock, international, musicals, etc. together.

Monday, December 22, 2008

He's 7?

Ethan Bortnick has been playing the piano since he was three years old.  Well, now he is seven, and you should hear him play.

You can also listen to a charming interview on NPR's Weekend Edition.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jon Scieszka

I first met Jon Scieszka (pronounced SHEH-ska) when I discovered The True Story of the Three Little Pigs; how I enjoyed reading it aloud with a tough Brooklyn accent . . . and that was before I moved to the outer borough. I can remember reading it to a New Heads of School cohort in 1992. This Simpsonesque story is witty, lovable, and perfect for reading to children and adults.

Just about every Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. I am tuned to NPR’s Weekend Edition, hosted by Scott Simon. And on one recent Saturday, I was captured by
a delightful interview with Jon, talking about his new memoir Knucklehead. (Click on the recent review of Knucklehead.)  During the interview, the 54-year old author and the nation’s Ambassador to Children’s Literature stated that the key to getting children to read is letting children read what they like - comic books, magazines, graphic novels, etc.

Here's a 
YouTube interview about this wonderful guy who began teaching in a Manhattan school. You may know Jon from some of his other popular books - The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, Math Curse, The Frog Prince, and Science Verse.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In Context

Helping a child understand the use and importance of contextual clues when reading has always been a fascination of mine. Knowing whether the word “wind” refers to what you do to a watch (old-fashioned, that is) or what keeps a kite aloft on a blustery spring day can only be understood by looking at the words around “wind.” For this concept a lesson presented itself when I least expected it . . .

. . . my office is situated on a hall that leads the two-year olds to the rooftop play area. Each day in the fall and while at my desk, I would wave to them as they sheepishly walked past, heads focused straight ahead never venturing the thought of exchanging a wave. By December, one or two would walk by, look in and timidly lift a hand in an attempt to acknowledge my flapping gestures.

Well, by February, the teachers cannot move them past my office because they all have to stop, wave vigorously, and say “Hi Dane.”

The other day I was standing outside of my office and the twos were making their way back from their daily venture to the rooftop. I was excited; now I could be close by and exchange a happy hello instead of the behind-the-desk wave. Hovering close to the hall wall, anticipating my office, three children prepared themselves to crane their necks around the door jamb to offer their daily greeting when they looked up at me and quickly shied away as if to say, “Hey, who are you and what are doing here?” They wanted nothing to do with me. Then it dawned on me that I was out of context. I immediately said, “Oh. Wait a minute. I’ll fix this.” I ran to my desk and began waving. Without a hitch, their faces beamed, hands started flapping and the “Hi Danes” took over as if I were always there.

By the way, it isn’t only children that need contextual clues. Last weekend, my wife and I were at the green grocer and a parent gave a hearty “Hello Dane.” I smiled and wondered who that was. A minute later, when it was too late, I realized that it was a parent . . . but without his child and not walking through the front door of the school. Like the twos, I, too, needed contextual clues.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


In the November 16 issue of The New Yorker magazine,  Joan Acocella's article "The Child Trap" reviews four books on parenting.  I think that you will find the piece interesting, balanced, and helpful in understanding books on the market regarding today's parenting versus the previous generation's styles.  See what you think.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


What does it take to succeed?  Of course, that depends on how you choose to define success.  

So, how do we keep our own baggage from interfering with our children?  Do we have the discipline to let our children discover what success means to them?

Here are some resources for perspective:

1) Malcolm Gladwell's November 10 New Yorker article "The Uses of Adversity" opens with the rags-to-riches review of Sidney Weinberg who - as Gladwell states - was Goldman Sachs.  

2) Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick and Fame and Fortune.  If you have not discovered the Alger experience, take a weekend and grab on to one of his  wonderful, turn-of-the-century novels.

3) Frank Loesser's famous "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play from the same bootstraps vintage.  Remember how actor Robert Morse plays J. Pierrepont Finch and works his way from window cleaner to the top of the company?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seeing What You Heard

On two separate occasions, I stumbled upon instances where people were initially assessed by their voice, and when the voice did not match the imagined person, rejection followed.

The first instance was when I read a New York Times article "Princeton Honors Ex-Judge Once Turned Away for Race" by Karen W. Arenson. The reporter tells the story of New York Supreme Court Judge Bruce M. Wright who applied and was accepted to Princeton in 1939, but when the young black man arrived on campus to begin school, he was turned away.

The second instance came as I listened to a "Studio 360" interview with the talented Sarah Jones in "Sounding Black." I witnessed, again, a story of a black person being turned away because the voice that was initially heard did not match the person. This fascinating piece is actually an interview between Jones and author John McWhorter discussing his recent book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English.  Click here to read the NYTimes Review of the book.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

“. . . thoughtful responsible . . .”

Whenever I hear Susan Stamberg, guest commentator/host for Morning Edition and Weekend Edition on NPR, my ears perk up and I take note. Her matriarchal voice and grandmotherly commentary inevitably catch me listening with intent often while hanging out in my car or in a room longer than I would otherwise choose. Listening to her, captured in idyll thought, I must frustrate those people 90 degrees from me at an intersection as they wonder why I gave up a green light.

I can still remember. . . several years ago, while driving in my car she was doing a piece, which was a follow-up on a recent appeal that was made to listeners where they were asked to write in their own experiences with random acts of kindness. Touching and extremely thoughtful with story after story, I found my eyes welling up listening to these various kind gestures on the part of anonymous people. One story was of a woman who clearly remembered when she was 13 years old and her parents had just divorced and the upcoming holidays were looking pretty grim. On Christmas morning there was a knock at the back door and upon inspection there was no one there but there were ten huge bags of presents and food. To this day she does not know who did such a kind deed.

A California woman spoke of the time when her family was on a picnic and they were about to dig into mom’s famous potato salad when mom excused herself with her heaping plate and walked 20 feet toward a man who was picking through the trash. She handed the man her plate and walked back to our family. Years later, I asked my mother if she remembered the incident and she replied, “Not at all.” The daughter went on to say, “My mother’s act was a touchstone of what good deeds became in my life.”

These stories never fail to restore my faith in people and inspire me to do something good for another person. No matter how young or old, everyone appreciates kind acts whether received or given. Imagine how powerful a kind act given to a child is. You not only help the child with the deed, but you also model for him/her to pass on the kindness to another person. Not a particularly popular movie but a personal favorite, "Pay it Forward" staring Haley Joel Osment, as a seventh grader, Helen Hunt, as his mother, and Kevin Spacey, as a social studies teacher, speaks to this idea eloquently.

If you happen to be in front of a computer looking for something to do, go to the NPR site and listen to Susan Stamberg’s piece, “Stories of Good Deeds.” I assure you that it will be well worth the seven minutes and seven seconds it takes to listen to the piece, and while you are there, give thought to our very own mission statement where it says “Our children learn to be thoughtful responsible citizens of the School and the world around them.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Earliest Years of Life

When I first read Dr. Montessori's book, The Secret of Childhood, I was awed by how she described the absorbent mind of the child — infant through age three.  I agreed with her analysis based only on my experience as a parent and an educator's intuition.

Now, having read Chapter 6 "The Impact of the Earliest Years on Students' Success" in Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class (see November 13 and 19 posts below), research confirms Dr. Montessori's theories and work. Essentially, the book states "[Todd Risley's and Betty Hart's] particular strand of research is teaching us that a significant portion of a person's intellectual capacity is determined in his or her first 36 months." Their research presents "extra talk" and "business talk" in "language dancing" as being instrumental in a child's language acquisition.

Further, Christensen goes on to state "There is a strong connection between what neuroscientists are learning about how the physical brain functions and the observations that extra talk, or language dancing, leads to keen auditory skills, which in turn leads to improved learning capacity."

Reading this chapter alone is worth buying the book. There is much much more that you will learn beyond this one chapter.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


by Ray A. Lingenfelter

I dreamed I stood in a studio
and watched two sculptors there.
The clay they used was a young child's mind,
and they fashioned it with care.

One was a teacher; the tools she used
were books and music and art;
One was a parent with a guiding hand, 
and a gentle, loving heart.

And when at last their task was done,
they were proud of what they had wrought.
For the things they had worked into the child
could never be sold or bought.

And each agreed she would have failed
if she had worked alone.
For behind the parent stood the school
and behind the teacher, the home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Disrupting Class to Improve Education

While reading Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, I could not help but draw a number of similarities to what he writes about innovation and education today to the Eight Principles of Montessori Education.

Several Christensen points:
  • schools may be able to switch to a student-centric learning mode
  • teachers must help individual students progress by being a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage
  • project-based learning is a highly motivating way for many students to synthesize what they are learning
Here are the eight Montessori principles:
  1. Movement and cognition are closely intertwined; movement can enhance thinking and learning.
  2. Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.
  3. People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.
  4. Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.
  5. Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.
  6. Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.
  7. Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.
  8. Order in the environment is beneficial to children.
Here is a clip of brief comments from Christensen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The List Goes On

At last week's NYSAIS Heads' Conference, I heard Shawn Achor (Check him out by seeing the post before this one. He was excellent.), and I am in the middle of reading Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen (see next post for more on the book). It dawned on me that I am hearing, seeing, and reading the same names in education over and over.

Carol Dweck

Robert Sternberg

Ted Sizer

Howard Gardner

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

and there are also Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, and Malcolm Gladwell.

Christensen and the above educational innovators keep talking about moving away from the usual "mindset" of people having a fixed, two-dimensional intelligence and away from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side" education. I am convinced that changes have to occur in teaching if we are going to have any hope of moving forward. It would seem to me that the timing for this to happen is prime with a new President in the White House. His background, education, and family are perfect for this kind of change to take place.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Positive Psychology & Happiness

I had the good fortune to attend the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Annual Heads' Conference this past week. One of the speakers - new to me - was Shawn Achor. He teaches the most popular course at Harvard, "Positive Psychology," and is the winner of more than a dozen distinguished teaching awards at that university. From the very beginning, the entire room was enthralled with his smile, delivery, and what he had to say. For example, he cited the following findings gathered from his research:

  • 50% of Harvard students are below average.
  • Grade point average does not correlate with happiness.
  • Only 25% of job success is based on IQ.
  • The ratio of negative to positive research is 17 to 1.
  • Happiness is a precursor to success not the result of it.
See for yourself. Click on this video and listen to him for nine minutes, and if you get the chance see him deliver his important, uplifting message in person, be sure to attend.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

With Help From My Little Friends

I’m on to you closet subway map-readers and so are my school children.

It dawned on me one day as I was riding on the number 2 subway train that I was a bit reluctant to perform a surreptitious quarter-head turn and check the glass-enclosed map to see if the train I was riding on would stop where I intended to go. I have never seen a veteran subway rider check a subway map; I have only witnessed obvious tourists gawking at a map in public view.

I notice onlookers with their faces crinkled and eyes rolling up displaying a message, “Sheesh, tourists, they’re so obvious.” But when I catch the eye of children riders, I inevitably see them with a look that says, “Hey, I can help you, I ride this train all the time.” That’s one of the beautiful characteristics of a child - no hang-ups, no pretense, always a willingness to engage, help, or interact unconditionally.

I know you’re out there – those long-time riders who study the map at home, never in public view. It stands to reason that if you have to travel to Sutfin Boulevard in Queens from school, you have to use a map to navigate the G, to the A, to the J; heaven forbid you should look at a map along the way to check your progress. If you were a child (with parent in tow), you would just get to a subway, get on the train in the right direction, and then navigate to your destination using maps along the way. Why not?

To prove my point, the other day I saw what looked to be a 20 year resident of the City (I could just tell) saunter past a map – back and forth, back and forth – in the station catching glimpses of the map. After three passes by the map, he still looked perplexed. A nearby eight year old said, “Need help, sir?” He looked at the child, curled his lip in a way that said, “I know New York and I don’t need help using the subway.” I was proud of my little friend when she offered advice, saying “Be careful ‘cause even though this is a local Six track, the Two stops here on weekends while repairs are being made.” I could see the look of relief on the traveler’s face while he mumbled a reluctant “Thang ew.”

I wanted to give my little friend a “High Five” but thought better of it. Anyway, I couldn’t because I was fumbling with my overused subway map, trying to figure out if I was even at the right station!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sarah Jones

I first saw Sarah Jones in 2004 when her one-woman show "Bridge and Tunnel" was performed in a small theater in the Village. At that time, I knew she would make it big. Her show made it to Broadway two years later.

Jones is a very talented woman with a clear message in what she believes.

Here is a UNICEF excerpt of Sarah Jones's presentation on violence against children.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Building School Budgets

While I know that we all come from different communities from around the country, take a minute to click on "What it Costs" by  Alexandra Lebenthal and read her article.  I must admit that I initially dismissed the piece because it comes from "New York Social Diary," but quickly became engrossed when I read it and realized that the article represents our school communities from our best benefactors (and their unfortunate investment debacles) to the nannies, service providers, etc.

Admittedly, the financial crisis is all relative to our diverse school communities.  I believe the article does provide a perspective that we may not be grasping at this point and how it all is impacting fundraising, tuition, enrollment, etc.

As our schools build our 2009-10 budgets, I believe we have to keep an open mind and prepare accordingly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What is Your Parenting Style?

Are you permissive, authoritative, authoritarian, or neglecting in your parenting style?

This past week we hosted Dr. Angeline Lillard, author of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, who spoke to faculty, parents, and friends. Of the many topics she discussed regarding child development, I was most taken when she referred to Diana Baumrind's work on parenting styles. In the matrix above you can see the combinations of control and warmth that can lead toward four types of parenting styles.

If you review Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, 7th Edition (1998), in the discipline section (page 428) you will find similar parenting style categorizations and predictable child behavior outcomes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

High Touch

Listening to bright, funny speakers like Daniel Pink is helpful and entertaining. Pink has a good outlook on society and what it wants from a product or service (See my March 30 post below). In his book A Whole New Mind he talks about "high concept" and "high touch."

By chance I came across Michael Vickers, a Pink-like speaker who talks about "high task" and "high touch." What he has to say about this topic is practical and can help in running businesses and schools and in relationships with customers and parents. I have not read his book yet, but see what you think about what he has to say by listening to his 15 minute video clip where he talks about his "Creating High Touch." While you are there, click on his other video, "Value Price Relationship"; it, too, is very entertaining and informative.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Urban Kids

On a beautiful fall day, we rode the Number 2 subway to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with our Lower Elementary children (grades 1, 2, and 3). After exploring the lily pads, exotic fauna, and majestic trees, we gathered for lunch at nearby Prospect Park. Once we finished our park bench lunch, the children scattered to play in the open field.

As I made my way in and around the children, snapping pictures of their play, I found one first grade girl frolicking with several children. She eventually flopped onto her back and began to flail her arms and legs wildly. I pointed my camera directly over her and said, "You remind me of a fish out of water," to which she instantly replied, "No, I'm a cockroach on its back."

Gotta love kids - their quick wit and imaginations!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

At What Reading Level Do Politicians Speak?

When is speaking on a lower reading level better?  Politics, where else.

Click over to "The Takeaway" and the October 16 clip "A linguist's take on the final presidential debate between McCain and Obama" (5:43) to hear this fascinating report.   "Guest Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst, The Global Language Monitor. Payack has analyzed language patterns of all the presidential and vice presidential debates."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spring Awakening

I recently watched the 8-Tony Award winning play "Spring Awakening." Originally written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind, the two-act play captures all of the fragile innocence, disruptive exuberance, angst, and sometimes disturbing realities that come with adolescence. Listening to the music and watching the dancing and acting left no doubt as to why the play has lasted 100 years and won so many awards.

Similar to the adolescent confusion portrayed in Curtis Sittenfeld's bestselling book, Prep, the dialogue, music, and acting you feel and see in "Spring Awakening" are in 3D.

By watching this video, you will get an impression of what you can expect if you see this landmark play. The music amplifies the acting, and the words portray adolescent revolution - something we all experienced individually and through our children and students.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Clear Love in a Fog

Expressions of love between a parent and child always catch my eye, inspire me, and give me strength to help other parents find that kind of love when it proves elusive in their lives. I witnessed an especially beautiful demonstration of love one morning . . .

After I finished greeting children and parents at the front door, I remembered that my wife had asked me to bring the laundry to the cleaners. Upon fetching six shirts and a vest from my office and heading up the block, I noticed a dad who had dropped off his child just a few minutes earlier and was now looking into the child’s classroom window from the street. With his nose poking through the white window bars and practically touching the glass, the dad was breathing on it to create a fog. He apparently got the attention of his child and was using his pointer finger to write into the fog "I love you," mouthing the words at the same time.

How often do we say the words "I love you" to our children? I would guess not nearly enough. An emotion that should be crystal clear to our children needs to be expressed frequently, in as many ways that we can think of. Too often we become swept away in our daily lives, take love for granted, and never express it to our children . . . and to one another. Today (and tomorrow) let someone know that you love her/him.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Book to Consider

The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on our Sons, Their Problems, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre is catching the eye of many parents and educators. I noticed that it is #16 on today's NYTimes Bestseller List. As a father of two sons and having taught in a junior boys boarding school, I am particularly interested in the education of boys and the impact it has on parents, classrooms, and the differences between girl and boy education.

After watching an msnbc interview with Tyre and reading her Newsweek article, "Struggling School-Age Boys," I am even more intrigued to pick up the book, make it a part of my gender education collection, and have it sit right next to Dr. Michael Thompson's Raising Caine: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Flow in Learning

Ever since I read one of his first books, Being Adolescent, in 1984, I have always been a huge fan of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick sent me high). I rediscovered his research and work when I read about his "flow" theory. The chart at the right will give you an idea of "flow." When the challenge is high and the skills are high you enter "flow." For an interesting, in-depth explanation of "flow" click here.

Not unlike Dr. C's "flow" theory, "Can You Become a Creature of New Habits," a NYTimes article, discusses three zones of existence - comfort, stretch, and stress.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Children, Fairness, Hard Work, and Altruism

Recently I enjoyed one of my favorite treats, reading to preschool children.  In a Montessori school, a preschool classroom consists of three-, four- and five-year old children.  What made this read so special was looking into the faces of the children when I reached the end of the book and the hen decides to eat the cake all by herself.

                               The Little Red Hen

The Little Red Hen, a folk tale illustrated by Paul Galdone, provides a great opportunity for parents to engage their children in the concepts of fairness, work ethic, and altruism.  Click above on the YouTube reading of the book, or better yet, go out and buy the book and read it with your child.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Young Adult or Adult Reading?

At the end of the summer, our school librarian — knowing how much I enjoy reading young adult literature — came to me with a must-read recommendation. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt was in her hand and extended toward me as she said, “You’ll love it.”

Well, she was right. This Simpsonsesque novel, like the popular television series, guides the reader back and forth from young adult readers identifying with seventh grader Holling Hoodhood to adult readers enjoying the life of his family, Shakespeare, the Cold War, and the New York Yankees. A month a chapter, Holling grows up quickly in one year — 1967. I will read pages 75 to 81 to our middle school students to give them a taste of this wonderful book.

What I loved was how Schmidt wove works of the Bard with teaching, family life in the 60s, and the life of middle school students. He really captures it all. Read the NYTimes review if you want, but if you are a parent of a preadolescent, or teach middle school, or love the Simpsons, grab The Wednesday Wars. You’ll love it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Class Bias - The Real Enemy

This article first appeared in the winter 1999 issue of Independent School magazine.

Good literature and life experiences suggest that biases among people are often rooted in class — more so than in race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, or gender.

My own awareness of class differences heightened as I moved from my public school education to the military, where people were slotted into one of three classes — enlisted, non-commissioned officers, or officers — to teaching in a boarding school, to teaching in a day school on the North Shore of Long Island, and finally to my current position as head of a school in Connecticut. But it was while my wife and I were living and teaching on Long Island that class distinction — the invidiousness of it — was most dramatic. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby accurately describes the class-conscious segment of society in which my family and I were immersed. Independent schools are often seen as institutions that perpetuate class distinction. For me, however, the sharp contrast in class separation inspired me to fully appreciate and embrace the value of independent education.

As faculty members at a Long Island independent school in which our children were enrolled, we found ourselves in a world divided into two classes. Our parenting skills were often tested as our children straddled both of these worlds — living in a family of teachers, on one hand, and having wealthy classmates and friends, on the other. This was made clearest during holiday breaks when our choice for vacation was markedly different (read “less exotic”) from the choices of their classmates’ families. As we witnessed our own children comparing material differences, we realized they had difficulty understanding and accepting their own social status. And why shouldn’t they in a broader culture that too often equates success with wealth, with having it all?

It has been a great challenge for us as parents to help our children realize that who they are is so much more important that what they are — that material wealth is not the goal of life, not the pot at the end of the rainbow. This is the same challenge that many of today’s independent schools face. Some families are affluent while others invest their life savings in their children’s education, and others are grateful for scholarship or financial aid that allows the opportunity for a quality education. The good news is that the class structure that challenges independent schools evolves from the diversity of families our schools now enjoy serving, and that underlying everything is a unity of purpose among families: their appreciation of high-quality education and care given to children. It is the combination of this unity of purpose and our newly found dedication to embracing differences that validates my belief in independent education.

Keeping issues of diversity in the forefront reminds our schools of the constant need to move forward. Ultimately, each school must be sensitive to individual differences and promote a parenting style that embraces unified yet diverse school communities. At the same time, our similarities — those traits that bind humanity — need also to be emphasized. I am informed inspired by the work, writing, and life of Robert Coles, which transcends class distinctions and represents a valid map with routes to the essence of people understanding each other. Cole’s The Call of Stories is one of the most eloquent books on the subject. Whether a family enjoys eating at Pizza Hut, Denny’s, or at a gourmet restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan; or whether the color of its skin is not in the majority; or its children’s education is supported by financial aid, the subtleties of class should never dull a family’s sense of its humanity, of its connectedness to others.

I understand that the independent school system is not above perpetuating its own class system. The "old-boy network" subtly pushes against gender diversity and tacitly yields to class distinctions and legacies within school communities; it can unconsciously nudge teachers, heads of school, children, and families away from our schools. By the nature of a school’s many diverse constituencies, there is inextricably woven within the fabric a class thread which can unravel the prevailing mission to educate children. But I believe the combination of dedication to high quality education, embracing of differences, and emphasis on shared values is leading us toward becoming truly inclusive schools that reach beyond class. The blueprint is drawn; people can envision the structure; now it is a matter of finding the raw materials — courage and perseverance — to complete the construction phase.

The human migration from England to America provided much to compare and think about regarding biases among people; oddly enough, it was class oppression which many of our relatives fled in the seventeenth century. But with all of America’s class struggles, I am grounded by how John Steinbeck set a common denominator and described America’s people in Travels with Charley. “If I were to prepare one immaculately inspected generality it would be this: For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Class Bias

I have always believed that issues of bias and prejudice are rooted in class. I was able to articulate my thoughts in an article published in the 1999 winter issue of Independent School magazine. (The next post will present that article.)

My 1999 thoughts were confirmed when I read the book Class Matters (Times Books, 2005), which looked at wealth, job, education, and income as class qualifiers. Click over to the Class Matters interactive graphic "How Class Works" to view "Components of Class," "How Class Breaks Down," "Income Mobility," and "A Nationwide Poll." This graphic will give you a better understanding of how class works in our society.

Read "The Next Kind of Integration" in the July 20 NYTimes Sunday Magazine. You will see that our education system is beginning to get to the root of equal education for all children by looking at class instead of race.

Lastly, in the book Three Cups of Tea, the author opens chapter 4 with "Greatness is always built on this foundation: the ability to appear, speak, and act as the most common man." -Shams-ud-din Muhammed Hafiz. Give some thought to what this quote is saying.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How to Inspire 20,000 Teachers

A recent posting on the Montessori Heads' listserve was a clip of Dalton Sherman addressing 20,000 employees of the Dallas school system. Take five minutes to hear what he has to say about the importance of teachers.

While you are at YouTube, you may want to click on his award winning speech honoring Dr. Maya Angelou, quoting from Dr. Martin Luther King's "The Drum Major."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Different Kind of Romance

Having spent 30 years in school communities, 17 of those years as head of school, I have become acutely aware of the relationship of a head of school and a board of trustees. I tried to capture my thoughts in a short piece, which was published a year ago. "A romance: school and head" describes the courtship and life of a special kind of romance.

Friday, September 5, 2008

America Diverse?

Reading a Thomas Freidman Op-Ed piece the other day, "Melting Pot Meets Great Wall," caused me to think about the state of diversity in America. I quote from his piece:

"Let’s start with us. Walking through the Olympic Village the other day, here’s what struck me most: the Russian team all looks Russian; the African team all looks African; the Chinese team all looks Chinese; and the American team looks like all of them."

Actually, whenever I hear people getting down on America and what it represents, I reflect on what it is. Let's consider a few of the cultural identifiers and what is happening in America today:
• race - a presidential candidate is a person of color
• agism - a presidential candidate is in his 70s
• gender - a vice presidential candidate is a woman

America isn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe Freidman's melting pot point is well taken.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Newbery Medal = Good Young Adult Reading

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is a beautifully written book which places the reader in a medieval town. It is a perfect introduction to that time in history for young people (and adults, too).

This year's Newbery Medal Winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies, is one of many young adult books published each year, and while others receive Honor Medals, only one is the Newbery Medal Winner. Go to the site, read about the Newbery Medal awards, and note the list of winners that goes back to 1922.

As an aside, GMSL prompted me to read Ken Follett's World Without End, which is set in the 14th Century and is the sequel to his Pillars of the Earth . I can't put it down! All 1,024 (that's exactly a kilobyte of) pages have been a good friend as summer vacation comes to a close.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Developing Resilient Children

A recent article in Montessori Life looks at the work of Dr. Robert Brooks, Harvard Medical School professor. The article, "Developing Resilient Children," by Meg Drake, lists his "10 guideposts that form the foundation of a resilient mindset."
  1. Teaching Empathy
  2. Effectively communicating
  3. Believing in the worth of a child
  4. Creating opportunities for ownership/developing a sense of community
  5. Setting realistic goals/orchestration of success
  6. Teaching children to learn from mistakes
  7. Developing responsibility, compassion for others, and social conscience
  8. Teaching children to make decisions and solve problems
  9. Disciplining in ways that promote self-discipline and self-worth
  10. Creating a close alliance between home and school
Beyond Dr. Brook's work, Howard Gardner (Montessori Life Winter 2003), Jane Healy (Your Child's Growing Mind), Alfie Kohn (Independent School Spring 2008), and Jonathan Kozol (keynote speaker at 2007 AMS Annual Conference), to name a few, are today's education leaders . What strikes me most is that their work, research, and prominence, which guide our world, education, and ideas, eloquently capture much of Dr. Montessori's work that was developed over 100 years ago.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What is it You Want?

There are times when one has to think "out of the box" with a 12-month-old child, or a 12-year-old child, or for that matter, an adult, in order to figure out what it is he/she wants.

A while ago I had occasion to walk past the Parents Room when a delightful little girl, of the 12-month-old variety, caught my eye. I made my way into the room, sprawled myself on the floor within googling distance of her, and attempted to be recognized. She was intent on completing one of those bulky wooden puzzles with mom coaching her from the side, and it took a little time for her to pay me heed. Once we locked in eye contact, however, she made my day with a beautiful smile. This invited me to begin some animated conversation.

Not long (maybe 20 seconds) into our chatter, my little friend’s face crinkled into fear and she began to cry and withdraw from my presence. Flummoxed, I backed off and said to her mother, "I guess she doesn’t like bow ties." I was about to make my exit when I noticed that the girl’s left hand was tucked under a puzzle piece, her leg was pushing down on the piece, and her tiny fingers were being pinched. Ouch! Once I repositioned her leg and freed her captured hand, she smiled, we reconnected, and I decided I would continue to wear bow ties. She wanted her hand to be free from pain.

It is a perpetual challenge to figure out what children want. This can be especially so with the 12-year-old, emerging adolescent. There are several books that I have relied upon when I am attempting to understand young teens, and I recommend them highly to you. Anthony E. Wolf’s Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?, and Laura Sessions Steppe’s Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence are both must-reads. For reading matter pertaining to children of other ages, I suggest you talk to your child's program/division head.

Unfortunately, I have no books or methods to recommend for adult conundrums. . . in that area, I discover new challenges every day!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Respect and Caring for One Another = Keys to Diversity

If you are a parent or teacher of young children, you must read Patricia G. Ramsey’s Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World, 3rd Edition (Teachers College Press, 2004). 

Early intervention in helping the human mind grow thoughtfully with compassion and understanding is essential in today’s world.  Ramsey states “In short, caring is a powerful emotion that energizes concern for oneself and others and our willingness to confront and change inequities. Thus, it is an essential component of multicultural education.”

Ramsey looks at the context of learning diversity in the life of preschoolers and early elementary children through race, social class, consumerism, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and abilities and disabilities.

Drawing on the work and sensibilities of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Robert Coles, Ramsey states “To develop connections with each other and with the social and natural world, children must learn to be caring and respectful. They need to make room in [their] mind[s] for others’ — a space for others’ ideas, wishes, and perspectives — and develop a willingness to learn from people with experiences and backgrounds dissimilar to theirs.”

Monday, August 18, 2008


This is one of those non-fiction books that keeps you turning page after page. Better by Atul Gwande emphasizes three elements required to make things better - diligence, doing right, and ingenuity.

At a lecture given to medical students, the author gave five suggestions for how one might make a worthy difference:
  • Ask an unscripted question
  • Don't complain
  • Count something
  • Write something
  • Change
Listen to this NPR interview or watch a YouTube interview to catch a glimpse of this brilliant and articulate doctor, author, and humanitarian.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Music Moving

Even now as I write this post, I am listening to Pandora. Try it. The site streams music without interruption, and you can create your own "stations" by selecting a favorite artist or song.

Music has always been an inspiration to my work. Be it classical, jazz, reggae, rock, easy-listening, or movie/play sound tracks, I am often moved by lyrics and melodies. From time to time, I will pass on music through YouTube that has held my attention when I am listening to the radio, iPod, or computer stream. As an example, here is a favorite, Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin; the lyrics are powerfully prophetic.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Robins and Crows - Flying Beyond Labels and Groups

A long, long time ago in a land of brick school buildings with desks lined up in rows and teachers wagging yardsticks for attention, I was one of many students at East School, a kindergarten through eighth grade grammar school. Sitting in a straight-backed chair, which was attached to my desk, I was in a reading group with six other students. I propped up my red Open Highways book, a basal reader that was a staple of many reading programs in the 50s . . . or was that the 60s?

I distinctly remember wishing I were in the other basal reader - the green one that the robins reading group used. I wasn’t even a blue jay, the name of the second reading group; I was a crow; that was the name of my reading group, the third reading group.

I knew I was in the slowest reading group. The name of the group was a dead give-away, and it was pretty obvious, one could tell by the slow speed and cumbersome pronunciation with which members of my group read. I was pretty self-conscious, heck I still remember it 44 years later. Maybe this experience is what caused me to be a proponent of heterogeneous grouping. Now, working in a school where children are sectioned in multi-aged groupings is my idea of a safe, sane, and sound educational practice. It makes sense to have children of differing ages, abilities, and skills in the same classroom because children grow at different speeds – fast and slow – at different stages of their lives.

I have grown to rely on Dr. Montessori’s philosophy and pedagogy that look at children in three-year developmental stages. Children need that time for freedom of growth without fear of not meeting a rigid predetermined standard. Too often we confine our children to single years as we ask them to perform intellectually, emotionally, and physically. “Not reading by the end of first grade?” “Didn’t make the travel soccer squad?” “She would rather go to the movies with mom and dad instead of the middle school dance?” Children have many years in which to grow, learn, and develop. It is up to us as parents and teachers to give them ample encouragement and time.

There are no crows here, only birds feathering their own nests, in their own fashion, at their own pace.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Cute 8s Conversation

Take 68 seconds to listen to the opening of this morning's "The Takeaway" show on NPR. Sixty-eight seconds, that's all. When you get there, click on the August 8 Stream.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Stuart, Charlotte, E. B. White, and Anne Carroll Moore

I'm sure you know of Stuart, the mild mannered mouse in Stuart Little, and Charlotte, the spider in Charlotte's Web, and E. B. White, the wonderful author of those books and more. But, who is Anne Carroll Moore? To find out - and it is well worth the read - click to a recent, delightful New Yorker article, "The Lion and the Mouse", by Jill Lepore.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I must confess . . .

. . . while navigating to the ten o'clock news, I clicked on "Super Nanny," you know, the show where a British nanny transforms a dysfunctional group of parents and children living in the same house into a repaired, warm, and loving family. Along with reminding me why I don't watch network TV with its four minutes of programming for every seven minutes of commercials, I was taken by the common sense advice from the nanny. For the episode and family I watched, it came down to the parents - especially the father - modeling good behavior to help their son and daughter interact with each other respectfully and thoughtfully.

Under no circumstances am I recommending that you watch the program; I only pass the experience on to parents (and teachers) to say how important our behavior is to the children we serve. I will recommend Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World (Third Edition, Teachers College Press, 2004) by Patricia G. Ramsey to get a fuller understanding of how our adult behavior impacts our children, particularly as it pertains to understanding the lives of those around us.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Better Clean Hands

Stephen Dubner, author of Freakonomics, was interviewed on "The Takeaway," a morning talk-show. BTW, if you have not listened to it yet, give it a try. It airs the same time as NPR's "Morning Edition." A study of doctors at an Australian hospital using self-reported data on hand-washing rate at 73%. After hiring nurses to spy on the doctors, the study revealed an astounding hand-washing rate of 9%. If you want to listen to this interview (6:20 long - 5:30 into the piece), click on "The Takeaway" link.

Better, a book by Atul Gawande, that has as its first chapter "On Washing Hands," gives an alarming inside look at how critical this easy yet complicated procedure is for the medical profession. More on Better later.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Internet Impact on Learning

What are the long-term implications of students working from the Internet? Do they get as much from reading from the Internet as opposed to reading a book? I remember growing up in the 1950s and 60s and the big debate about the value of reading comic books. Some would damn the picture magazines as useless, others said, "The kids are reading, what difference does it make what they read, so long as they read?"

Capture the same 2008 debate brewing by reading Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" and Motoko Rich's NYTimes article "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Blame Game© - Part 2

How can we avoid blame as we work to raise and educate children? To begin, I recommend reading Dr. Michael Thompson’s insightful Independent School article “The Fear Equation” (Spring 1996). It will give you a good view into communication between parents and teachers and how adults are the engineers in the special project of raising/educating children.

Whether we are dealing with homework responsibilities, apportioning screen time, analyzing grades, assessing athletic playing time, or setting curfews, here are some strategies to employ when you suspect that a child (your son or daughter or your student) has not met certain expectations or agreed upon goals:

• Ask the other invested adults first rather than assume neglect or mistake on the other adult’s part.
• Approach other interested adults, asking how can we help the child move forward.
• Always temper urges to bring relief to one’s own frustration or ego by immediately resorting to blame.
• Reflect on a viable solution and present it to the other adult(s), asking for their thoughts and ideas.
• By all means solicit information from the child on why he/she has not met expectations. Be ready to (re)adjust expectations to meet the child’s abilities.
• Make goals, objectives, or conditions concrete for the child by using paper and pencil, constantly referring back to the written word well before completion dates.
• Strip away the emotion when dealing with the child, parent or teacher and envisioned expectations. Move forward on (re)adjusting goals and expectations and always work in support of the child.

In our world of parenting and education, blame lurks everywhere and begs to be used. Let us as parents and educators work together on behalf of our children, avoiding The Blame Game©—a game that invariably cripples, distorts and interferes with our ability to work for our children, supporting them as they grow and mature. Avoiding blame with one adult will multiply to others . . . and others . . . to a whole generation. I vividly remember the prophetic song, The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. It was on the Top 10 chart in 1989, and if you listen to an easy-listen radio station, you will inevitable hear it. The song’s lyrics begin

Every generation Blames the one before And all of their frustrations Come beating on your door

Let us agree to leave The Blame Game© in a box on the shelf.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Blame Game© - Part 1

This article first appeared in the summer 2004 Independent School magazine.

Game Instructions

Players: At least two adults and one child.

Equipment: A pointer finger on each adult. Note: A board is not necessary, but the game becomes more intense when the child claims boredom at school or the adults are bored with their own lives.

Game Play: The adults establish goals and expectations for the child. As soon as the child does not meet the goals, adults begin to point fingers at one another, attempt to shift responsibility, and blame the other adult, asking what he/she did to interfere with the child not achieving the set goals and expectations.

Time Limit: The appeal to The Blame Game © is that the Game can be played forever — all throughout life. So long as there is a child and the adults who care for the child are willing to set goals and expectations for the child, blame will always hover.

Winning: When one adult backs down and accepts the blame or when the child accomplishes the established goals on his or her own.

Variations: Insert a grandparent as one of the adults or introduce one or more of the following: divorce, job change, or move to a new school. Then watch The Blame Game© accelerate. Also, the Game can take on an interesting flavor when two educators gang up on a parent or two parents corner a new teacher.

* * * *

Maybe if we look at blame, not as a game but try to analyze it without expectations set,
we can circumvent the inevitable emotional strife, work in the best interest of the child, and create an environment that is productive and supportive of the child.

Blame defined:
blame vt
1. to consider somebody to be responsible for something wrong or unfortunate that has happened

2. to find fault with somebody (used in negative statements and questions)
blame n responsibility for something wrong or unfortunate that has happened *

How often do we find ourselves as parents and teachers mired in blame, losing sight of support for the child? Throughout my years as a parent and educator, I cannot count the times I have listened to parents and teachers blaming the other for a child’s perceived failure. Too much time is spent on assigning blame to the other parent (especially in dysfunctional families), or to the teacher, or from the teacher to the parent, or from the teacher to the administration or vice versa. Somehow, we inevitably lose sight of the objectives by reverting to blame, which often is the catharsis of choice in dealing with our own frustrations.

Blame can be found in all forms and in most cultures, and never fails to touch our lives. I distinctly remember reading Rising Sun a novel by Michael Crichton where the author carefully differentiates between American and Japanese cultures, analyzing responses and approaches to a problem. The story was clear about how Americans perseverate on the need to assign blame for the problem or mistake and the Japanese tend to side-step blame and go directly to correcting the problem.

* Encarta World English Dictionary, 1999 Microsoft Corporation

To be continued . . .

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's a Boy

Dr. Michael Thompson hit the big time with Raising Caine: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys when it became a NYTimes bestseller; it's no wonder that he has been on the education scene for over 30 years. When I first heard him talk at a conference 25 years ago, I knew he would be influencing parents and educators for years to come. Click over to his webpage to see and hear several short audio and video clips of his work. I think you will be impressed. In the meantime, be on the lookout for a review of It's a Boy in a future issue of Independent School magazine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An American Educating Children Abroad

"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die . . ."

This inspirational book written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin about Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber who establishes schools in and around Pakistan, is in its 74th week on the NYTimes paperback bestseller list, often at the #1 slot. Coincidentally, he has worked tirelessly to established 74 schools. His primary objective is to educate girls. Here is a slideshow that will give an idea of the joy and pride Mortenson takes in his work with children.

My favorite quote in the book is where he opens chapter 4 with "Greatness is always built on this foundation: the ability to appear, speak, and act as the most common man." -Shams-ud-din Muhammed Hafiz. I believe this is the route to crippling classism.

Read Nicholas Kristof's recent op-ed piece, "It Takes a School, Not Missils," to gain an interesting insight on how to establish America's presence in a foreign country.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell

I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. If you have read any of his articles in The New Yorker or his books, The Tipping Point or Blink, you know how fascinating his research and take on life are.

Click over to his TED Talk and hear him talk about "What we can learn from spaghetti sauce" (17:42). Much like the theories of Daniel Pink, Gladwell uses the research of Howard Moscowitz in analyzing what people like and what sells.