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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Master teachers

Amidst a heavy week, lightness of being has been difficult to find.

Still, the sun keeps shining brightly – and reflecting back in a hundred rays of light. Here are two: shared by a pair of DA parents.  

Yesterday, Pre and Lower School parent Drue Moore told me about Vsauce, a YouTube education channel hosted by the kind of smart, quirky, passionate teacher that abounds at DA. Click here to read a profile of super-teacher Michael Stevens. Or just read the first few paragraphs below and save your time to watch one of his videos.

When I told my sons, ages 11 and 15, that I would be interviewing a series of unconventional and inspiring educators about their teaching methods, they insisted—nay, demanded—that I sit down with them and watch their favorite teacher, …

Posted by mulkus on Thursday October 30, 2014
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Worth the pre-dawn bus ride

As our students began a four-day weekend, our full faculty piled into buses at 5:15 this morning – en route to Concord for the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS) annual Educators Conference. Administrators from DA and the Hill Center planned the program – welcoming over 1,300 teachers and leaders from across the state.

A lunchtime email from Upper School English Teacher Jeff Biersach summed up the pain and pleasure of the experience:

I felt burned out and tired after a long end-of-quarter week, and I thought of NCAIS as just one more thing to do. Now that I am here, I am finding that I am refreshed, engaged, and re-energized. After a long week, today is just what I need. I have already heard three or four ideas that I can USE in my classrooms. For …

Posted by mulkus on Friday October 24, 2014
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Follow your bliss. Or Felicity. Or Alex. Or, better yet, your bliss.

Friday I attended a panel discussion with college admissions officers – Directors and Associate Directors from Stanford, Harvey Mudd, Loyola Marymount, and UC San Diego.

Among the most memorable nuggets of advice for the 50 school heads in the room: “Admission to our schools is never decided by a student’s slight advantage in the number of AP courses taken in high school. Remember that many of our schools don’t have enough room even for the Valedictorians in our applicant pool. We are looking for talented, accomplished, hard-working kids who have made some mistakes and demonstrated the courage to follow their interests to great lengths, whatever those interests might be.”

Their comments made me think of Felicity Walston and Alex Green.

On Saturday, …

Posted by Michael Ulku-Steiner on Tuesday October 21, 2014
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I am in California this week – soaking up the wisdom of our alumni and the positive peer pressure of our INDEX benchmarking group.

Yesterday I met DA alumnus Grace Stanat at his home in Palo Alto. I first met Grace in 2006, just before he talked with our students as DA’s Distinguished Alumnus. He dazzled me then with the path he had travelled  to Bay Area business success: from DA (where he was a soccer, track, and math star) to Pomona College (where he was Valedictorian) to Oxford (on a Marshall Scholarship). After earning Masters degrees in computer science and fine art, spending some time as a professional musician, and launching and leading a trailblazing San Francisco web design firm, Grace and his wife took a round-the-world sabbatical -- and chronicled it on their …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday October 15, 2014
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One True Hill

At the end of this month I’ll attend what promises to be a terrific party across the street.

Our partner The Hill Center is hosting an Open House to share its new self with old and new friends.

Did you know that The Hill Center helps 2,200 struggling learners across the state of North Carolina each year? Or that nearly 75% of students served by Hill attend public schools? Or that the Hill Center is developing an iPad learning system that could revolutionize early literacy interventions?

Among the speakers who will precede a casual cocktail party with demonstration stations:

  • Beth Anderson (pictured at right), Executive Director, The Hill Center - Joined Hill in July 2014 from Teach For America and Duke's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship
  • Dr. …
Posted by mulkus on Saturday October 11, 2014
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If we build it, they will come

Having heard from a former teacher about two of our alumni stars (see below) and as we move into the thickest month of our Strategic Planning process, I have been thinking about my predecessor Ed Costello’s faith that “if we build it,” [an expanded Kenan Auditorium and arts spaces in the early years of this century] they will come.”

Ed knew that bricks and mortar were less important than teachers and programs. But he also understood that our then second-rate Upper School arts facilities simply would not support the kind of excellent programming we wanted at DA.

Within a few years of that strategic plan and subsequent capital campaign, we had a larger auditorium, renovated dance studio, expanded arts and music spaces, and . . . the teachers and students to fill …

Posted by mulkus on Monday October 6, 2014
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How not to be ignorant about the world

This morning I wished I spoke Mandarin. 

This evening I was reminded how ignorant we all can be about the big world we inhabit.

In an eerie stroke of serendipity, two unrelated groups of Chinese visitors arrived at our Lower School this morning at 9:15.

The first was a delegation of elementary school principals from Jiangsu Province - here with UNC's Center for International Understanding to study American schools. A group of high school principals visited our Upper School last year. This morning's group asked dozens of perceptive questions and took hundreds of photos and video clips. Above: several principals capturing images of our math manipulatives. Click here to see a fuller story and more pictures of the visit.

We were also glad to welcome the co-founders of the 

Posted by Michael Ulku-Steiner on Friday October 3, 2014
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