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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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 example, I now think that I will go ahead and start 'flipping' my ECON course in order to reach more students more effectively.

Today is not tiring; it is a tonic.


Want to know what teaching and learning geeks like us do at conferences? Here’s a sampling of the more than 70 workshops offered today (about 20 of them by DA presenters):   

  • Developing Number Sense in K-2 Students to Increase Math Fluency
  • #Teenagers: What's "App" with Your Students and Social Media?  
  • Apps for Art/Art Journals Using the iPad
  • Bringing History to Life… Using Technology to Reach Kids with Primary Sources, Online Tools, and iPad Apps
  • Teaching the History of Science, Technology and Innovation
  • BioREX: A Biology Research Experience
  • Designing the Future of Learning: Personalized Prototypes
  • Infusing Emotional Intelligence on Campus
  • Who’s In Charge Here?: Building Responsible and Independent Technology Use in Teens
  • The Global Math Classroom
  • "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" Recognizing the Subtle Signs of Anxiety in Children
  • The William Klein Project: a Collaborative In-Class Art/Photography Assignment  

Today’s plenary speakers were particularly compelling. Below I’ve included brief bios of each. To sample some of the rich food tasted by our teachers today, click on a few of their links below, or check out the Twitter handle #NCAIS14.

  • Molly Barker, MSW, founded Girls on the Run in 1996 at Charlotte Country Day School. A four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, she used her background in social work, counseling and teaching, along with research on adolescent issues, to develop the program. Today, there are Girls on the Run councils in over 210 cities across North America serving over 250,000 girls and women each year. Click here to read Molly’s fuller – and sometimes surprising – self-description on her blog.

Wondering about the picture above? That’s Hill Center Head of School Bryan Brander, testing out an ergo-dynamic seat designed to strengthen the attention of young learners. Look for some samples in DA and Hill Center classrooms soon. 

Posted by mulkus on Friday October, 24, 2014


This is not a nugget of wisdom, per se, but rather an expression of the pride I felt yesterday in watching so many DA and Hill Center teachers sharing their knowledge and experience with colleagues from around the state.  It was challenging to find our footing as the first "virtual" NCAIS host schools, but we contributed significantly to the overall success of the conference regardless.  Also, while I know the early morning bus ride was tough, it made a strong statement to have everyone present.  Finally, it was great to see former colleague Dr. Joeseph Bord again.  My quote of the conference?  Joe: "Let's talk about clocks for a moment.  Clocks are amazing!"
from Lee Hark on 10/25/14 at 09:59AM
The most significant experience I gained from the conference was witnessing the collaborative and focused energy of the group as a whole. It is amazing what happens when you bring together 1,300 talented, motivated, and intelligent educators. What a great professional experience it was to be a part of this NCAIS planning team.
from A. Karol on 10/25/14 at 10:08AM
I was reminded of the importance of responding to the small voice that encourages us to try an idea, reach out to a student, or to encourage a colleague. Most of the time, people who are inspired (like Scott Barry Kaufman or Molly Barker) can remember one important moment or person that set the course of their lives in a significant direction. As educators, we have the profound opportunity to be life-changers. How amazing and humbling! I don't want to ever miss that opportunity.
from Carolyn Ronco on 10/25/14 at 12:39PM
I too felt a tremendous sense of pride being a member of the Durham Academy community.  I marveled at the professionalism of those who spearheaded and organized the program's schedule.  Hosting an NCAIS Conference is no easy task.  In addition, I was extremely impressed by my colleagues who exhibited their expertise and good-cheer throughout the day.  Being a history teacher and a strong proponent of using primary sources, I found a workshop I attended during Concurrent Session 4 quite purposeful.  The topic was "... Teaching with Primary Sources."  The nugget or tid-bit that I found most informative - when using primary sources, during the observation and reflection portions of the lesson, allow ample time for the students to WONDER.  This underscored sentiments I heard communicated earlier in the day about IMAGINATION.  This session reminded me that both are essential elements when examining primary source documents.  
from Mike Spatola on 10/25/14 at 12:44PM
As a former Girls on the Run coach at the LS, I was thrilled to hear Molly Barker speak yesterday. GOTR is a splendid program that reaches girls just before they enter MS and equips them with tools (or "programs their hard drives" as our pediatrician so wisely advised) to navigate the choppy waters ahead. Its tenants also partner well with the Responsive Classroom philosophy we've adopted in the LS. I'm thrilled Ms. Barker has launched a new venture-and gives me a reason to buy a pair of red cowboy boots!  Here's a link to her 11 steps https://theredbootrevolution.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/red-boot-11-steps.jpg
from Demetra Kontos on 10/25/14 at 01:47PM

Here is a quote that I took with me from Scott Barry Kaufman

"Many people who start out with seemingly insurmountable odds and eventually exceed all expectations literally changed their odds through long-term engagement in a domain and hence their actual potential".


from Constanza de Radcliffe on 10/25/14 at 03:14PM
Other than the pride I had in seeing our school pull off such an impressive job of hosting, and the joy and fun I had in spending time with collegues (especially the bus ride home!), the biggest take-away I had relates to remembering that we are the adults in our classrooms and our actions (or reactions!) have enormous implications.  
from Virginia Hall on 10/25/14 at 04:19PM

I’m an Upper School teacher but I ended up in a session about teaching third graders European culture and geography. I loved it! The teachers described how they take their students on virtual tours of England, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. When they go to a new country (in their classroom), the teachers draw the blinds, put the desks in rows, pretend to be flight attendants, and project a Youtube video of a plane takeoff as seen from the passenger rows. When they “arrive” the teachers stamp the kids’ “passports.” In each country they have all kinds of experiential lessons. During the unit on Italy, for instance, they put paper under each student’s desk and the kids then paint, laying on their backs, as Michelangelo did while working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This was as close as I’ve ever been to a discussion on elementary pedagogy and it left an impression. I don’t know how or if it will change how I teach European history, but since the session I’ve been thinking that I should reflect more on how I might similarly transport my Upper School students to historical places, societies, and mentalities.  

from Rob Policelli on 10/25/14 at 09:12PM

While I was totally swamped with tests to grade and progress reports to write, I was worried about getting it all done while spending a whole day away at this conference.  However, once there, I found the conference to be enilghtening in so many ways.

The Girls on the Run speaker, Molly Barker, was completely inspiring.  Her story of how she was put in a "girl box" as a young student and how she encourages girls through her programs really got me thinking about girls at our school.  I took away ideas as a mom to two girls, as a math teacher of young girls who often lose their passion for the subject, and as an advisor to seventh grade girls.  I would love to take some of her ideas and begin incorporating them at the Middle School.  Middle School is  a time when girls struggle with self confidence and often can lose their passion for things they once enjoyed so much in the Lower School.  I'm hoping to incorporate some of Molly Barker's programs or ideas into our advisory curriculum or maybe as one of our clubs.  Her talk certainly inspired me to get some more information and see how I can help our Middle School girls in the way she has helped so many girls across the nation.

from Kim Aitken on 10/27/14 at 09:15AM
The NCAIS conference reminded me of different facets of leadership. As part of the planning committee, I worked alongside fellow administrators to do both the "big-picture" thinking as well as carry out the nitty-gritty details. We spent hours brainstorming the theme of a conference and hours stuffing goody bags with pamphlets and granola bars - both necessary and both carried out with energy and good humor. I was also impressed with the leadership demonstrated by other colleagues at DA. The many insightful breakout sessions that were hosted by teachers from our school makes me proud of the great, diverse talent of our faculty.
from Jon Meredith on 10/27/14 at 11:00AM

I felt kind of like Jeff Biersach did-- swamped, mind on the dozens of things I needed to do-- until I got on the bus Friday morning.  Just having the extra time to chat with some of my colleagues was a joy.  I thoroughly enjoyed each session and am proud of DA for doing such a great job of hosting.  I was so inspired by Molly Barker that I have ordered my first pair of cowboy cowgirl boots - in red!  I hope that they will inspire me to be my best self and to help others do the same!

from Teresa Engebretsen on 10/27/14 at 02:31PM
Thank you to all the organizers of the NCAIS conference. From the planning, contacting, bag-packing, organizing, and cleaning, your work did not go unnoticed. I walked away with some great ideas and tools to implement immediately!
from Nataki McClain on 10/31/14 at 08:49PM

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