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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Seeking magnificent colleagues

Over the past several weeks, I have talked in person and via phone and Skype with a dozen semifinalist candidates for our Director of Communications and Preschool Director positions. In January and February we’ll welcome the finalists for full days of interviews, tours, and meetings.

For these and other faculty searches (all to be posted on DA’s employment webpage), it is a happy challenge to identify truly extraordinary candidates and discern the best matches for our community.

At my former school, I drafted a “Magnificent Seven” for faculty hiring – a bundle of characteristics I hope to identify in the paperwork, conversations, and references of our candidates. In the interest of transparency (and because I’d love to know what you think is misguided or missing), I’ll share my list. It is unpolished and unofficial (and it refers to a boarding school) but it did give me a chance to think about what matters most to me in the hiring process.

In the spring, our administrative team will consider this list with DA in mind – adding, subtracting, and improving as appropriate for our unique school. In the mean time, feel free to add a comment below or email me directly with your thoughts. What traits would you put in the top seven when seeking teachers to help students create moral, happy, productive lives? Here’s my list for my last school:

Ethical force of character – If our ultimate goal is to produce students who embody virtues like respect and responsibility, courage and compassion, integrity and grit, then the primary determinant of effective teaching, coaching, advising, and dorm parenting should be this magnetic moral charisma. Admittedly difficult to measure or define, this quality is potent, memorable, and unmistakable in the best teachers and mentors.

Intelligence – There is no substitute for mental acuity, cognitive agility, and raw neural connectivity. It can manifest as any of Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” and as subject-specific habits of mind, but I think of it here as a combination of processing speed, alert intuition, and good old common sense. Passionate,

in-depth subject knowledge – Whether directed toward biology, Beowulf or basketball, this animating spirit should pull students irresistibly toward a field of inquiry or activity and be backed with years of disciplined study, practice, and knowledge-building. This trait is often accompanied by eccentricity, or at least bold and unique personality. The best schools are, I think, full of strange individuals whose love of their fields radiates out to students and suggests that it is both cool and nourishing to care deeply about something other than the self.

Physical vigor –The inescapably grueling nature of boarding school work and the frenetic pace of our calendar make raw stamina count nearly as much as the traits above. Only with a hearty constitution can we give to our students class after class, late night after late night, weekend after weekend, year after year.

Humility – Can you take responsibility for and learn from mistakes? Can you see yourself not as the most important person in the room but rather one of 100 faculty and staff members and one of 700 community members? Can you take the perspective of others as you see your strengths and weaknesses? Can you use conflict productively, without blame, gossip, or grudge-holding? Can you tolerate or laugh at the limitations of others? Can you laugh at yourself?

Commitment to personal mastery – Most teachers fulfill their roles responsibly and professionally. Some do so with an animating enthusiasm and a striving desire to perfect their craft, their students, and every program in which they participate. These are the teachers who go above and beyond the requirements of the job, those who look for extra opportunities to help and new ways to improve the school.

Positive Team Play – Optimism, flexibility, sense of humor, listening skills, patience – all these distinguish great team players. Teaching is often a profession for lone wolves and solo performers. Especially as a community which has mapped out an ambitious plan of collective self-improvement, our school needs people who can work openly, intensely and joyfully with other adults.

Image from squarespace.
Posted by in Other on Tuesday December, 17, 2013


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