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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A View from the Trail

By Guest Blogger Kristen Klein
Assistant Head of School

New Eyes on Durham Academy

Since my arrival on July 2, my primary goal has been to listen and learn. Because much of my work happens with students, faculty and administrators, we are in constant communication about what I’m hearing and discovering about DA. I wanted a forum to share my observations with parents and community members as well, and Michael offered me the opportunity to share those as a guest blogger on Heads Up. My journey in education mirrors my many hiking adventures on trails from Pennsylvania to Arizona to Colorado and now to North Carolina. This post is titled A View from the Trail, because I hope to hike with you along the DA trail, to communicate updates about our academic program, to welcome…

Posted by Leslie King on Friday January 25
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Growth mindset, loving critics and a learning organization

As a community of learners (filled with and devoted to them), Durham Academy craves candid feedback and relies on open dialogue. Only by testing our assumptions and gathering opinions from the widest possible range of constituents can we know what we do well, what we can improve and what new ideas we ought to consider. Whether motivated by our understanding of growth mindset, our desire for continuous improvement or our fear of freezing the school in an echo-chamber, we need dissenting views, accurate mirrors and loving critics.

I have a particularly hearty appetite for feedback. Friends, colleagues and even the Chair of DA’s Board of Trustees have playfully teased me about this tendency. My hunger for feedback grows from a belief that each of us knows and perceives only a fraction …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday February 7, 2018 at 10:55PM
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This They Believe

This morning, three students stood before nearly 500 of their peers and teachers in Kenan Auditorium and delivered their personal mission statements.

I can’t imagine my teenage self having the courage to do such a thing – let alone the self-knowledge to create and hone a coherent statement of my core values and aspirations. For the 21 students in The Mission-Driven Life course, however, such demonstrations of bravery and wisdom have become commonplace.

Like my co-teacher Lee Hark, I wish I could take credit for guiding these students to their insights about morality, happiness and productivity. But the truth is clear: these sophomores, juniors and seniors have started to do for themselves what all adolescents yearn to do: figure out who they are, what matters most to them, …

Posted by mulkus on Monday January 29, 2018
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Citizenship, unmediated

For reasons that stretch back to the 1905 arrival of my immigrant grandparents in Pennsylvania to the peaceful, prosperous present in which I’ve been lucky to live and raise my children, I feel immense gratitude to be an American.

It’s easy to overlook the privilege of U.S. citizenship. However, thanks in large part to Anne McNamara, who taught AP U.S. History for many years and now serves as the Upper School’s director of community service, American citizenship will soon be squarely in front of our school.

The Upper School focuses on citizenship every November. In presidential election years, we concentrate on the privilege, responsibility and opportunity of voting. Every year, we mark Veterans Day by teaching American history through first-person accounts from those …

Posted by mulkus on Monday November 6, 2017 at 10:48PM
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Setting the bars

While the massive steel beams of our new Upper School STEM + Humanities Center are the most conspicuous things on campus these days, I’m grateful that our students, alumni and parents never forget what really makes DA strong.

Teachers remain the beating heart of our school and the #1 priority in each of our last several strategic plans. As we put it in Goal 1 of the most recent Plan:

We will strive to create a faculty full of “life-changers”: genuine, curious, passionate, striving, generous and accountable teachers/learners who nurture, inspire, engage and challenge students and model the path to moral, happy, productive lives.

A key part of that work: clarifying our Standards of Professional Excellence for faculty and harmonizing the teacher evaluation rubrics across …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday October 29, 2017 at 07:26PM
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Newcomers and welcomers

This morning my colleagues in the Preschool and Lower School hosted an Open House for families considering applications to Durham Academy. Similar events – in all divisions - will follow in the coming weeks.

Seeing crowds of curious, hesitant strangers on our sidewalks reminds me just how formidable a challenge it can be to join a new school community. Whether parents, kindergartners or teenagers, we all faced the same daunting questions on arrival: Is this place right for me? Can I be myself here? Might I find an even better self here?  

What follows are remarks delivered recently to our Upper School students and faculty by a DA 10th grader. A little more than a year ago, she was one of those curious, hesitant strangers.

As you read her thoughts, I hope you’ll think …

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday October 17, 2017
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All of this is all of us

Last Monday morning, as we launched our week of preparatory faculty and staff meetings, I began my presentation with the comments below.

Now, two days after demonstrations in Durham and on the eve of our student orientations, those comments seem even more relevant.

Here’s to all the idealistic, uncomfortable, consequential work we will do together this year!  

We have lots to accomplish this morning, but before we dive into it, I want to say a word about this weekend’s events in Charlottesville. What happened there was sickening, horrifying and tragic. The shock of domestic terrorism, the specter of the KKK and white supremacy, the presence of neo-nazis – it all seems so foreign to this community, so alien to our work in this school.

I am glad that we are back …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday August 20, 2017
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More summer reading, along with Chris Villani's “little things, big things, and stuff”

Last month I shared the list of books our faculty will read and discuss over the summer.

This month it’s time for the Upper School students, who are likely feeling the pressure of their looming deadlines (along, of course, with the anticipated joy of getting up early and seeing their teachers every day).

In July I also shared the advice offered by Kathy Cleaver (Co-Director of College Counseling) to the Class of 2017 as they prepared to launch toward colleges, universities and beyond.

This month I’ll share the words of that Senior Dinner’s other speaker, Chris Villani ’17. Chris is packing now for his move to Princeton University. I trust he’ll include a few whimsical items in his suitcase. Enjoy his remarks – and these last days of summer freedom…

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday August 8, 2017
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Summer reading and Mrs. Cleaver's Three C's

I love July.

While our campuses are still brimming with DA’s Summer Programs, Student U’s Summer Academy, and the construction of our STEM+Humanities Center, many of my hours have shifted away from meetings and emails and toward family adventures and luxurious learning. What bliss to be swimming in books, articles, podcasts . . . and pools too!

Along with my colleagues, I am reading a few of the following books this summer – nominated by faculty and selected to correspond with the goals of our Strategic Plan.

I’m also re-reading some of the great work of our own people. Below is one example: the remarks shared by Kathy Cleaver (Co-Director of College Counseling) to the parents and students of the class of 2017. Delivered at our annual Senior Dinner, Kathy&…

Posted by mulkus on Friday July 7, 2017 at 02:15PM
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Ties, Trust and Targeting What Matters

Brace yourself, as this long post represents either me making a mountain out of a molehill or us (faculty and administration) caring deeply about even minor matters in our community. You can decide . . . and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

After years of discussion, deliberation and debate, we are simplifying the faculty dress code at Durham Academy – removing from our male faculty the obligation of wearing a necktie to school every day.



Although classroom teaching has roots as a static “stand and deliver” profession, DA teachers are expected to be (and enjoy being!) active, mobile and amongst their students. Sitting on the floor and supervising recess outside are daily activities for Pre and Lower School teachers. Faculty …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday June 21, 2017 at 05:57PM
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