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-Steiner, Head of School
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:
Q. Where and how has Durham Academy best served you as a student and a person? What do we do best as a school?
A. You can always find a friendly face. I belong in so many circles. I'm an only child but I feel like I have a few dozen siblings who have grown up with me. They are all part of the same community. These are my lifelong friends.
A. My relationships with teachers. I can go to them at any point to ask for help. They haven't let me fall through the cracks. I love going down to the Preschool and reconnecting with my old teachers, remembering how they have shaped me as a person. All the teachers want to see you succeed and grow. And they know me well enough to actually help me succeed and grow.
Whether between old friends or new students and teachers, relationships will be job one in these opening days. Those relationships will be cemented, expanded, and enriched by experiential education trips that follow next week.
The value of this essential work and play hit me yesterday, when I read an editorial from The New York Times. In "Teaching is Not a Business," David Kirp critiques the levers of many contemporary school reformers: "the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology." Kirp puts his faith in interpersonal relationships. Two excerpts:
- Every successful educational initiative of which I'm aware aims at strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools. The best preschools create intimate worlds where students become explorers and attentive adults are close at hand.
- While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn't worked in reforming the schools - there is simply no substitute for the personal element.
As usual, Michael, I couldn't agree more. It is indeed the personal relationships students form with their teachers and administrators that make the difference, assuming of course a modicum of infrastructure and resources, which DA is blessed with in abundance. But those material resources wouldn't matter much if the educators at DA didn't want to employ them on behalf of their students. Jack is already working hard on his nightly homework, but instead of complaining about it, he's embracing it (okay, we're only into the first week, but still).
I tell everyone that I became a professor (and indeed am blessed to have a job and career I love) because of the mentors and advocates I had in secondary school, college, and graduate school. Each of them had decent and even terrific resources, but it was the teachers and professors who made me who I am.
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