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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The end of spring break and work worth doing

Amidst some delightful family adventures and plentiful sunshine, I tweeted the following a few days ago:

"The best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

(Theodore Roosevelt).

Also, spring break is nice.

Indeed it’s tough for students and teachers alike to leave the joys of vacation and recommence with regular school days. Luckily, we have work worth doing.

Which reminds me of the weekend missives of Upper School Dean of Students Lanis Wilson. Every Sunday, as our students feel the looming pressure of undone homework, Lanis emails to every student his YO LA TENGO – brief reflections on life and the week ahead. The tone and topics vary, but Lanis seems always to strike a happy, moral, productive balance.

Below is an example. And below that, Lanis’ rationale for choosing YO LA TENGO as his title.

Hello all,

In a week or so I will sit down with Mr. Hark and discuss my professional goals. This is part of DA’s evaluation program for faculty that every third year requires all your teachers to spend some time gathering feedback from peers and administrators and students so that we can examine and better understand our approach to teaching and advising and administrating.  This can be a scary process because it opens one up to criticism, that ego crushing blow that causes self-doubt and internal questioning. The judgment of the other can be scary. According to Jen-Paul Sartre, when others objectify my ego they are denying my existence as a subject. Feedback is tough because criticism can damage the very idea of how I see myself in the world. My favorite line from Sartre’s Huis Clos…“L’enfer, c’est les autres.” In a world where we rely solely on the opinions of others to shape our sense of self we will eternally be disappointed. The judgment of others is scary…you should know…we teachers do it to you students every day.

My approach is to take that feedback with a sense of perspective. I try to move beyond the initial defensiveness to examine the validity of the criticism. I try to balance the bad with the good, to sift the objective from the subjective, to discern the helpful from the fastidious. One of the reasons I love teaching is that I am constantly afforded the opportunity to see students master this skill that can be so difficult for adults. You learn from feedback and steadily grow into the persons you will someday be. I hope I am an example of this. Just ask Ms. Doyle [current DA math teacher and longtime Calculus teacher at Lanis’s alma mater, the North Carolina School of Science and Math] how stupid and objectionable I was as a high school student. Were I to encounter my high school self in my Dean’s office I imagine it would take all my patience to deal with the unfounded arrogance and imagined aggrievance that my former self exhibited. Fortunately I had teachers and friends who helped me emerge from that mire of self-absorption. I was not my best self in high school, but I learned and I grew because life is a process of becoming.

One of my proudest accomplishments at DA is the key addition to our Principles of Community of the word ”strive.” We are not always the person we want to be, but in a supportive environment that seeks to nurture our best selves we can learn from our mistakes and work towards the self we seek. So I will strive to be a better teacher.  I will strive to be a better dean. I will strive to be a better husband, dad, friend. And I will sometimes fail, but that failure will not define me. It will be the grain of sand around which I build my pearl. For I am the oyster…goo goo goo joob goo goo goo joob.


The story as reported by Philly Sports History:

One constant source of Keystone Cop mishaps [of the 1962 New York Mets] was the lack of communication between Richie “Whitey” Ashburn, playing center, and the Mets shortstop, a Venezuelan named Elio Chacon. Chacon didn’t speak English, so when Whitey would yell “I got it! I got it!” Chacon would keep chasing after the ball and the two would inevitably collide, allowing the ball to fall harmlessly to earth. Finally, the team’s right fielder Joe Christopher, who was bilingual, suggested that instead of yelling, “I got it!”, Whitey should yell “Yo La Tengo!” to ward off the shortstop. Ashburn and the young shortstop agreed on it, and sure enough a few games later, a pop fly went into left center, between Ashburn and Chacon. “Yo La Tengo! Yo La Tengo!” shouted Whitey. Chacon stopped in his tracks. Whitey reached his glove up to make the catch…and got plowed over by Mets left fielder Frank Thomas, who didn’t speak Spanish. Whitey and Frank fell to the ground, and the ball landed between them. As they got up to collect themselves, Howard turned to Ashburn and said, “What the heck is a yellow tango?”

I find this story apropos because it derives from the very miscommunication I hope to dispel with this memo.  We are all working toward the same goal as faculty, staff and students, but oftentimes a lack of communication or an unintentional miscommunication can create chaos and even some minor ill will.  Like Elio and Whitey, we can work together to clarify confusion and overcome communication barriers, but unless we also include Frank, not everyone is going to be on the same page. YO LA TENGO is my humble attempt to create a common page for everyone to reference. Please know that I am not creating the schedule you see; I merely collate information from various sources that are available to everyone.  Sometimes there will be mistakes and sometimes miscommunication will occur, but I would encourage everyone to give others the benefit of the doubt. Working together requires a lot of give and take, and as I said in last week's YO LA TENGO, listening and respect are the keys to any healthy relationship.

Posted by mulkus on Sunday March, 15, 2015


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