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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Why do this?

Along with DA’s Associate Head of School Lee Hark, I recently completed teaching a first semester seminar for Upper Schoolers called “The Mission-Driven Life.” Though spring is on the horizon and the days growing longer, I have felt a distinct emptiness in recent weeks. The reasons are simple: I miss our students. I miss our conversations.

Durham Academy’s mission compels us to prepare young people for “moral, happy, productive lives.” For a number of intertwined reasons (see below), Lee and I decided last year to design and teach a course exploring the contributing factors, competing theories and necessary interdependence of morality, happiness and productivity.

Why do this?

  • We wanted to experiment with and model the kind of collaborative …
Posted by mulkus on Sunday January 29
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Remembering the wise and generous Dr. Brodie

Dear Durham Academy Community,

Today we were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. H. Keith H. Brodie, whose wise, compassionate, generous service to Duke University and Durham Academy helped form and elevate both institutions.  

A memorial service will be held at Duke Chapel at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5.

Brodie, a professor emeritus of psychiatry, served as Duke’s seventh president, succeeding Terry Sanford. “Keith Brodie’s term as president of Duke from 1985 to 1993 saw the beginning of Duke’s rise to national recognition and reputation,” President Richard Brodhead said in a message to the Duke community today. “The initiatives Keith championed became signature qualities of Duke and remain part of our university’s values today, …

Posted by mulkus on Friday December 2, 2016 at 09:38PM
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Using our electricity for private and public good

Life in a school community that celebrates all facets of diversity (including the fullest range of political opinion) can be challenging. Today we found ourselves in a swirl of emotions and a poignant teachable moment.  

Whether students felt joy and celebration or fear and frustration, our goal today was the same as always: to create safe spaces for all our students to learn from adults and peers and grow into their fullest selves.

This election, despite the divisiveness and negativity of its rhetoric, does not shake our bedrock commitment to interpersonal respect. The final paragraph of our Statement of Philosophy provides useful guidance:

Durham Academy believes that enhancing the spirit of community among faculty, students and parents is essential to the …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday November 9, 2016
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"Children believe in the power"

Two weeks ago, Duke Chapel hosted its annual Blessing of Animals. A few words from their website (the last line is priceless):

Duke Chapel has hosted a Blessing of Animals since 1989, a worship tradition made notable by the camels and other circus animals blessed each year at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Last year, Duke Chapel ministers blessed animals ranging from hamsters to horses. *Please consider the wisdom of bringing aggressive animals.*

Two years ago, my mom recommended that I listen to The Writers Almanac, a 5-minute daily podcast by Garrison Keillor. I was quickly hooked – in part by the history lessons that start each segment and in part by the occasional poetic gems that shorten my commute and enlarge my soul.

Below is such a poem – one …

Posted by mulkus on Monday October 17, 2016 at 09:40AM
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Three portraits and the long view

As our most recent Strategic Plan makes plain, ours is a community that isn’t afraid to dream big, to aim high, to bite off more than can apparently be chewed by one organization at one time. I am glad and grateful — not to mention challenged and energized — that we aspire to such lasting and meaningful work.

We have now begun the second school year of our five-year plan. It would be fair to ask:

  • What have we accomplished?
  • What remains on our to-do list?
  • Where will we spend our most focused time and energy this year?

Many of the answers to the first two questions can be found in the summer issue of the Durham Academy magazine.

This issue, with its cover art by DA alumnus Alex Isley '80, was designed as something of a collectors’ edition — more than …

Posted by mulkus on Thursday September 29, 2016 at 09:58AM
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Our labor, refreshed and refocused by parent opinions

 Happy Labor Day!

Our youngest students have nearly two weeks of classes under their belts. Their elders spent a few days in class before heading out to the North Carolina coast, the Appalachian mountains or the Civil Rights landmarks of Greensboro, Atlanta, Selma and Birmingham (click here to see our experiential education trips for grades 5-12).

After a deep (and blissfully cool!) breath this weekend, we now buckle down – and buckle up for a full, fast, fall semester.

Labor Day offers a clean slate for resolutions and reinventions. In “September is Your Second-Chance January,” Melissa Dahl writes of the findings of researchers from Penn’s Wharton School regarding “temporal landmarks” and the useful opportunities they provide for fresh starts …

Posted by mulkus on Saturday September 3, 2016
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Seeing well beyond 2020

On Monday I spent some time with Durham Academy’s Class of 2020, the 9th graders who are continuing their orientation week now at Green River Preserve. I opened with a simple question:

       Why are you here?

Their answers began with astute cheekiness (“It’s the law.” . . . “My parents made me come”) and moved gradually toward earnestness (“I want to know how the Upper School works.” . . . “I want to go to a good college.” . . . “I’d like to learn all I can.”).

Aiming to push them from external and short-term reasons toward more internal and lasting rationales, I asked each student to answer some questions on an index card – a small “letter to self” that I will return …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday August 31, 2016
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Dean Bitterman's manifesto for the new school year

Tomorrow we welcome back students of all ages with a series of orientations and open houses. The day is as full of hugs and squeals of delight (as students reunite with long-lost pals and drop in on last year’s teachers) as it is with nervous anticipation. Tuesday we begin our regular academic routines but tomorrow will be a busy, dizzy, happy, sweaty “Welcome Backapalooza.”

Today, on this last day of summer vacation, our new Upper School Director Lanis Wilson sent his YO LA TENGO message to all students in grades 9-12. As Dean of Students, Lanis has done this each Sunday for several years – sharing brief reflections on life and the school week ahead. Click here to see another example – including Lanis’ explanation (especially popular with New York Mets…

Posted by mulkus on Sunday August 21, 2016
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Our Elective: The Mission-Driven Life

DA’s mission compels us to prepare young people for “moral, happy, productive lives.” This fall Associate Head of School Lee Hark and I will team-teach a course that explores the contributing factors, competing theories and necessary interdependence of morality, happiness and productivity.

We will experiment with blended, interdisciplinary and distance learning. A series of guest speakers and field trips will blur the line between Durham and the Academy. We will connect our students – through a series of collaborations - with teenagers in China, Switzerland and Durham Public Schools. I am excited, and a little nervous, to get back into the classroom, see if I still have any pedagogical chops and remind myself daily of the most important function of our institution:…

Posted by Michael Ulku-Steiner on Tuesday August 16, 2016
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Disturbing, hilarious, inspiring; a true friend.

We laughed and cried quite a bit on Sunday afternoon – remembering and celebrating Dave Gould, who died on July 10 after an astoundingly adventurous and meaningful life.

Dave taught, coached, advised, chaired the history department and changed hundreds of lives during a 31-year career at Durham Academy. In 2012, he was the inaugural recipient of the DA Alumni Faculty Legacy Award (click here to see a few photographs of that award ceremony). 

Dave was a dear friend and key mentor of mine for 24 years. At Sunday’s service, I did my best to describe his impact on me and so many DA alumni and families. Click here to read my remarks, which include words from Chris Rosati ‘89, Kathy Cleaver, Emily Glick ‘05, Cristina Tomasi, Chris Rosati ‘89, Kathy Cleaver, …

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday August 2, 2016 at 10:57AM
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