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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Stretching, striving, failing, struggling...connecting, succeeding, growing!

Tonight I received the following email from DA 1st Grade Teacher Debbie Suggs, who (along with all her Lower School teaching colleagues) has been involved in learning "cohorts" this fall. Envisioned and led by the LS iTeam (Michele Gutierrez, Chris Mason and John Bacsik), the cohorts pull together small teams of teachers to incorporate new technological tools in their classrooms.  

Dear Michael and Carolyn,

I am emailing to thank Michele Gutierrez (we lovingly and respectfully call her Captain G.) for her guidance and leadership regarding our new Cohorts.  Just as I ask my little first graders every single day to step out of their comfort zone and take risks, struggle, fail, fall, get back up again, I am being asked to do the same thing.  As adults, we can dig our heels in and resist and refuse and not try.  Rarely is there someone who will encourage, gently nudge, guide, and if needed, drag us kicking and screaming to step out of our comfort zone and try something new…something that will improve our lives as educators.  Captain G is that rare someone.

I absolutely love technology and am fearless when trying new things…EXCEPT Twitter. I have avoided it like the plague!  I have piddled a little with it the past few years but have failed miserably UNTIL Cohorts. Yes, we have homework, and yes, there are expectations but as my mom and dad taught me and as I teach my first graders, "Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work" (Booker T. Washington).

The beauty of Cohorts is that I am not alone in my struggle to learn and use Twitter. We have only met twice but it feels like we have been connected for a much longer time. Just like my classroom, we feel safe to share failures and concerns.  We share in each other's success stories.  We inspire each other and support each other.  Yes, it's hard. Yes, I still feel like digging my heels in some times, BUT when those feelings start to well up, I remember that every day, I tell my students that we will strive, struggle, fail, work hard, have fun, grow, and learn TOGETHER….that's what Cohorts is all about.

Update on my Twitter striving…well, today my children and I were all set to watch the historic flight of Orion.  I took a picture of them watching the countdown…which stopped and started 3 times throughout the morning.  By the time I finally got around to tweeting the photo, the mission was scrubbed.  I haven't quite gotten the hang of "in the moment" tweeting.  My tweets are more like 3 hours later or a  few days later!  Also, I am learning how valuable it is to connect with educators all over the world. Twitter is a powerful resource. 

For her diligence in the face of what may feel like trying to move Mount Everest, I want to thank Michele. I may have been kicking and screaming at the start of this Twitter journey, but no longer! Long live Cohorts!

Fondly and with gratitude,

PS  When I read the first Cohort assignment, my face looked just like my FFGEs when I told them they had to log into their computer without any help.  They are extremely proud that they can now do this on their own.  I, too, am feeling a little proud of my baby steps with Twitter…all thanks to Captain G!!!!!!!
Posted by mulkus on Thursday December, 4, 2014 at 10:23PM


Debbie always makes me feel like a million bucks! Anyone who grants you the title of “Captain G” on your first day on the job has a way of bringing joy to any situation. While Debbie’s email fills my heart in ways I simply can’t describe, it also demonstrates what a wonderfully supportive community of learners I have the pleasure of working with at the Lower School. These cohorts are a huge step out of my own comfort zone, and are challenging me as a learner, as well as a leader. Along with the cohort members, I am taking a (huge and very public) risk, struggling, failing, falling and getting back up again (and it’s only the 2nd month). While I don’t have any definitive answers on the “right way” to organize cohorts, I do know that learning with a supportive community is an amazing experience and I am thankful to work with individuals who have made me feel safe enough to try this crazy idea of creating a community of learners who take control of their own learning and support each other along the way. 
from Michele Gutierrez on 12/05/14 at 12:31PM
Hat's off to Captain G & the wonderful Mrs. Suggs!!  I have a FFGE & when we took her ice skating for the first time this week, she repeatedly insisted that we text Mrs. Suggs a picture of her skating.  She wanted the text to include the message that she "kept trying even when she was falling... she wouldn't give up."  It is no mystery where she is hearing that inspirational advice.  Bravo to the lower school faculty!
from Virginia Hall on 12/05/14 at 12:36PM

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