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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Learning marches on

As cold rains wash the ice from our roads, we all look forward to beginning a regular week of school tomorrow. As one Lower School parent posted on Friday (next to the picture at right): " we have done it all and need school now."

Another DA Parent was pleasantly surprised on Friday. Below is his exchange with Lower School Director Carolyn Ronco. At the request of the humble teacher involved, I have redacted some names and identifying info. Thanks to parents and teachers alike for making the best of our icy week. 

Dear Carolyn and Michael,

This is certainly not something I thought I was going to be saying when I woke up, but I am so grateful for today's snow day. It gave me the chance to witness first hand all the reasons I feel so fortunate to have [my children] at Durham Academy. 

[My son’s] teacher and invited him and the rest of his class to join an online discussion session this morning, and I confess that I snooped. I was sufficiently impressed that the teacher was even trying such a feat, but I was completely blown away by how it came off.

I knew the class had been discussing the civil rights movement, but I sort of expected it to be a surface recitation of names and dates. I'm embarrassed now that my expectations were so low. Because what I saw this morning was a masterful unveiling of not just the who, what, when and where -- but the why. 

The teacher didn't just present the surface that is easily seen -- the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that separate was not equal in public education -- he prompted the students to wonder what they weren't seeing. Did the court say *when* schools had to integrate? And he gave them the chance to seek and find evidence that broadened the discussion beyond a single court ruling in a fancy building -- If you do a quick Google search of a school you know when did it actually integrate?

The students were equally impressive in their responses. Even amid sidebar chatter about the height of snowmen and the length of power outages, the students quickly made the connections that the teacher was prompting them to make. I wanted to bottle what I saw and spray it out of a crop duster!

I'm not writing because this is the first time I've been blown away by the experiences [my children] have been able to have at DA. The teachers and staff set my expectations higher each year, and each year they clear the bar with ease. I'm probably writing because this is the experience that's made me most envious -- of the amazing opportunities my kids have and of [this teacher’s] deft teaching.

So after what I saw on today's snow day, I will be flushing ice cubes and wearing my jammies inside out from now until June in hopes that I can get just one more little peak into the amazing things that are happening every day at Durham Academy.

Thanks again for all you do not just for [my children], but for the creation of a more curious, caring and creative world.


[A Lower School Dad]


Dear [Lower School Dad],

Thank you SO much for your email. There are so many times that teachers will have a great lesson or conversation with students, and they just want to look around the classroom and say, “Did anybody just see that?” Well this time, we did get to witness it, and what a pleasure to see our students think and collaborate with each other. I am blown away by our children every day by the questions they ask and the connections they make. 

Most of the time, parents judge teachers by what their children say, how a teacher runs a parent conference, or by the homework he/she assigns— all very important parts to a teacher’s job. However, this time we were able to see the preparation, the rapport, and the insight it takes for a teacher to design and implement a successful lesson for students. 

One of our main goals with our Social Studies curriculum is to present topics that build empathy with students. One of my favorite quotes from the book The Invention of Wings is, “History is not just facts and events. History is also the pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.” [This teacher] often takes the opportunity to build that empathy with students. Because they are our future leaders and decision-makers, this is crucial.



Posted by mulkus on Sunday March, 1, 2015 at 05:04PM


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