Heads Up

Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to: 

  • connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
  • share ideas about learning and human development;
  • spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy. 

Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing. 

Michael Ulku-SteinerHead of School 

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Labor pains and pleasures

Teaching at DA is both more demanding and more satisfying than teaching in many other environments. A perfect encapsulation of those satisfying demands: the past week of outdoor education trips

Ours is certainly a family-friendly workplace for teachers (click here to see our recent recognition as one of the 50 family-friendliest organizations in North Carolina). But once a year we ask nearly all our teachers in Grades 4-12 to leave their homes and families for 2-6 days to travel with our students. The trips are varied, fun and critically important in our program. Still, they require real sacrifices from our teachers. As Labor Day approaches, I am grateful for the creativity, flexibility, and care offered by our traveling faculty. 

Labor of love indeed. 

Posted by mulkus on Saturday August 30, 2014
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Tiptoeing on the tech tightrope

This week I feel pulled between the exciting promise of technology integration and the trusted glories of machine-free, human interaction. 

Today I watched Lower School Teacher Chris Mason share with our 4th Graders the school's expectations for their new school-issued iPads. Our LS iPad learning program takes its cues from the Middle School Technology Program that has learned far-reaching lessons in recent years from a similar one-to-one initiative. Excitement is high in 4th Grade - both among the "digital natives" and the older learners who teach them. 

Most of our older students have spent this week far from their devices - on outdoor education trips to the North Carolina mountains or coast. Curricular goals vary for these trips, but …

Posted by mulkus on Thursday August 28, 2014
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Sweat, suffering, beauty, happiness

Yesterday our 12th Graders departed for Senior Challenge, a six-day Outward Bound-style adventure that has been stretching the comfort zones of our students for nearly four decades. Seniors climb mountains, rappel from rocky cliffs, cook all their own food, lose and find their way with topographical maps, sleep under tarps through rainy nights, and carry 40-pound backpacks the whole way. For many students, the trip is scary, uncomfortable, and life-changing. More than 90% of our graduates point to it as the single most significant experience of their Upper School careers. 

This morning the News and Observer named DA alumnus Chris Rosati '89 its "Tar Heel of the Week." Other than the "Tar Heel" part (Chris is a proud NCSU grad), this surely comes as gratifying news …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday August 24, 2014
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We can learn anything

As our students move from first-day-of-school elation to second-day-of-school realities such as homework and the struggle to learn concepts and skills that may not come naturally, they ought to watch this video - published this week by Khan Academy to remind us about the power of the growth mindset

In fact we all ought to watch the video: one and a half minutes of inspiring wisdom about the frailty and the power of being a human learner

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday August 19, 2014
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I can't wait to see everyone

School starts tomorrow. 

Our cross country runners and volleyball, field hockey, tennis and soccer players have been on campus for a couple of weeks now, but anticipation is high for the real beginning: today's orientations and open houses and tomorrow's first day of classes. 

"I'm not too psyched for homework," one student told me last week, "but I can't wait to see everyone." 

Such sentiments are common this season, as summer-scattered friends reunite at schools across the country. At DA, relationships (whether teacher-student, student-student, or teacher-teacher) are particularly authentic and rewarding. 

In my exit interviews last spring, our graduating Seniors spoke most often and most convincingly about their friendships with teachers and each other. Two examples:&…

Posted by mulkus on Monday August 18, 2014
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TV stars shine spotlight on others

Tonight DA alumnus Chris Rosati '89 was featured on CBS News' On the Road for the fourth time. Like On the Road's Steve Hartman, Chris has succeeded in drawing public attention for private acts of kindness - the little things that make the biggest difference in our lives. 

Even if he chooses not to accept our ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (see the video from my last post), Steve Hartman remains a key ally and friend for the Rosatis and an inspiration for anyone wanting to find, share, and celebrate human goodness. 

Click here to see tonight's segment - or watch it again on CBS's Sunday Morning 

Posted by mulkus on Friday August 15, 2014
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Ice, Ice, Maybe

Tuesday night my favorite student emailed me to issue a personal challenge.  

In fact "favorite student" is a title claimed not by me but rather by him - the sufficiently confident Sophomore Quade Lukes.  

Longtime Heads Up readers may enjoy knowing that Quade was the "vulnerable, delicate, and fragile" Freshman whose older brother begged for a snow day last January. Click here to read that episode of Lukes family chutzpah. 

Quade's challenge arrived in the form of a 19-second video. Here it is. 


Yesterday I was joined by a few friends to film the riposte. Here it is - dedicated to our friend and frequent hero Chris Rosati (DA class of 1989). Now we wait and see if those we challenged will rise to the occasion. 

Click here to read more about Chris's …

Posted by Michael Ulku-Steiner on Wednesday August 13, 2014
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What really sticks

More than half of the teachers at Durham Academy are also DA parents (of current students or alumni). This experience as parents - whether with wide-eyed preschoolers or glaring adolescents - adds profound insight to our craft. 

This week Middle School Math Teacher Kim Aitken returned to work after her maternity leave last winter and spring. As she leaps back into the maelstrom of faculty meetings, syllabus planning, and classroom decoration, she sent me a timely reminder of what really matters to our charges. Click here to see the full article. Below, an excerpt: 

Because we want our students to think we’re the very best at what we do and we believe that this status of excellence is achieved merely by doing. But we forget- and often. Excellence is more readily attained …

Posted by Michael Ulku-Steiner on Wednesday August 13, 2014
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Liking, loving, hating, and using Facebook

With a heap of ambivalence, I scan through my Facebook news feed every day or two. 

Part of me rues the wasted time, the passive observation of others' adventures, the lurker's guilt of reading and rarely posting in return. 

The other part of me (evidently larger, as I keep up this habit) enjoys a daily tasting of the spicy jambalaya of high school and college buddies, neighbors, former students and colleagues, and friends as they plant themselves and wander across the planet - documenting, bragging, updating, arguing, remarking, and connecting to stories - quite often worth hearing. 

This week two friends fed my ambivalence - linking me to articles worth your time, I think. 

The first is onion-flavored irony, sent by my friend, …

Posted by mulkus on Saturday August 9, 2014
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Are we raising kind kids?

Several friends and colleagues forwarded a useful article from the Washington Post, one of many published last week about the research of Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd, who runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind.

Weissbourd and his colleagues surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students in 33 schools across the nation about what they thought their parents cared about most: the achievement, happiness, or kindness of their children. An excerpt from the article: 

About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in…

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday August 6, 2014
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