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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Leaning into new learning with Rob Evans

Durham Academy and Hill Center faculty joined forces today to learn from and with Dr. Rob Evans, who has worked with more than 1,700 schools over his career as teacher, psychologist, consultant, and Executive Director of The Human Relations Service in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Click here for more information about Rob and his work.

This summer, all Durham Academy teachers read one of Dr. Evans’ books:

  • The Human Side of School Change: Reform, Resistance, and the Real-Life Problems of Innovation
  • Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope with the Crisis in Childrearing
  • Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader

Today’s conversations focused on building from our strongly congenial faculty culture toward a culture of more candid and purposeful collegiality. What exactly does that mean? See below for comments, notes, quotes, and reflections from our faculty.

Teachers: have at it!

Posted by mulkus on Thursday August, 20, 2015


For me, one of the most succinct but meaningful ideas shared by Dr. Evans about teaching: "Be willing to do it."  Reminds me of the adage attributed to Teddy Roosevelt:  "Far better is it to dare mighty things ..., even though checkered by failure ... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."  Dr. Evans challenged me and my colleagues to take risks and not be afraid to fail.
from Mike Spatola on 08/20/15 at 02:24PM

Hi DA and Hill Center, I spoke up about Learning differences and probed Rob about his feelings about how different people communicate best. I think it is important to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses as communicators and as such am posing a video about Working Memory. Some people do not enjoy or thrive with being put on the spot and I want us all to be aware of differences within our community so that we can best relate and respect each other. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5vTQJv1s2M

My other reaction today was the feeling that we all love what we do, but do we love it enough to take risks and step outside congeniality and into deeper collegiality?Looking forward to building a safer place that balances personal with business!

from Sarah Hudspeth on 08/20/15 at 02:25PM
As a younger faculty member, it was wonderful to see the number of veteran teachers interested in strengthening and multiplying the bonds amongst the faculty.  I think this will make it easier in the future to make the first step in the future when it comes to approaching these teachers about their pedagogical practices.
from M. Harms on 08/20/15 at 02:28PM

I am grateful we have taken time to reflect on the process of change in schools. I am challenging myself to be mindful of the ideas below.

  • As a community of learners we must be willing to disagree in the interest of growth.
  • Change/learning/schooling is a journey, not a destination.
  • The more that is asked of us, the more we need to support each other.
from Michele Gutierrez on 08/20/15 at 02:37PM
A big take-away from today was that we should find ways to get to know each other more ... whether that means visiting each other's classrooms or finding enriching ways to share experiences (several of us commented on a favorite professional development day from years ago when we had choices to participate in activities such as bowling, knitting, hiking, kayaking, etc - and we interacted with our colleagues in a fun and meaningful way!).  We also had a powerful experience at the end of today's session when we were given the opportunity to thank someone who we "owed" gratitude to as a result of something he/she had done for us professionally.  What a great scene to see educators climbing over chairs and scanning the auditorium to find someone to connect with to offer thanks for a job well done!  Not taking things for granted and being open to change (growth) were big themes.  Another key reminder was that in everything we do we are coming from a place where we love the students and we are driven by what is going to make the school better.  It was a good day!
from Virginia Hall on 08/20/15 at 03:00PM
A couple of things stuck out for me from today. I appreciate the note Dr. Evans closed on, the one reminding us to remember that teaching is incredibly difficult and important and that we need to take time to remember our successes (rather than obsessing over our mistakes or failures). Also, the idea of agreeing/understanding that all teachers have a shared committment to the school and its students and remembering that even when--not if, when--we disagree seemed helpful to me.
from Harry Thomas on 08/20/15 at 03:33PM

Here are a few things that resonate strongly with me after having some time to reflect on what Dr. Evans had to share with us today: 

  • to remember that none of us is perfect. This is something I remind my students of all the time, and it's something that we ourselves need to remember, too. We all want to set the bar high but we also must remember that the greatest successes are often the products of risks and failures
  • to remind ourselves that none of us is alone and that we are all on the same journey when it comes to our profession--as Dr. Evans suggested, more often than not our feelings, our doubts, our insecurities. . .are pretty much shared by all of us, especially when big changes are on the horizon  
  • to communicate openly and constructively with one another, and to realize that there's a lot we can learn from each other, even when we disagree 
  • to realize how fortunate we are to be surrounded by hardworking, talented, caring colleagues, and perhaps most importantly, not to take them for granted! 

from David Glass on 08/20/15 at 06:14PM
I enjoyed greatly both the training today, and the follow-up conversations spurred by it. Dr. Evans brought up so many thought-provoking issues upon which we all need to reflect. We are privileged to work in an environment with so many focused, committed, and intelligent faculty members. Remembering that we all have the same goal of student success and growth should serve to make our conversations more productive and meaningful. I have been all too guilty in the past of avoiding conflict, and I plan to use "appropriate candor" more effectively to challenge myself and my colleagues. I also hope to have the opportunity to observe my colleagues with the intention of developing trust and sparking productive conversations. 
from Stephanie Pollard on 08/20/15 at 06:47PM
I enjoyed various aspects of today's discussions, but upon reflection of my own experiences along with points raised, the main takeaway for me is balance: congeniality v collegiality, personal v business, problem solving v dilemma exploration, discussion v action, areas to improve v celebrate successes, progressive v traditional, change v exploration, perfectionism v realism, extrovert v introvert and more. I value everyone at DA and feel grateful to be here- thank you all, and have terrific year!
from Ashu Saxena on 08/20/15 at 07:28PM

Two parts really resonated with me from the talk with Dr. Evans. First was the idea of really getting to know and make connections with other faculty and staff members. This is something that we automatically do with our students and advisees, but there is definite value in taking the time and energy to do so with colleagues as well. The second idea was that of giving gratitude to other members in the community. Many people help us and impact our lives professionally and it is wonderful to take a few moments to let someone else know that they made a difference in our lives. 

from Julie Morris on 08/20/15 at 08:47PM

We gained some valuable perspectives on the dynamics of implementing change in schools—perfect for our yearlong strategic planning moment. And yet my “ah-ha” moment came when one of my colleagues (sitting down front—I couldn’t see who you were—sorry!) pointed out that what we were really talking about wasn’t how to navigate through a singular period of change, but rather a way of being all the time: a teaching community that is conspicuously supportive, open to experimentation, and willing to stab and be stabbed in the front.

from Rob Policelli on 08/20/15 at 08:54PM
It was a lot to take in. It was provocative in many different ways, towards so many different facets of what we do. There were ideals to consider which for me often amplified the chasm between where we all are (or, at least where I was left to feel we are after recognizing so many of his descriptions of the shortcomings in teacher communities) and where we could be once given these new paradigms to guide us. But I have a tendency to fall prey to a binary outlook, so I'm comforted by Ashu's take away: that some kind of dance between the poles is the key. In terms of Mr. Evans' words, I was struck by the strengths/weaknesses list excercise. I liked the image of turning the list of faults upsidedown, putting it away. I'd like to approach this year with a sense that we each have incredible strengths and that becoming more articulately familar with those things in each other will allow us to move forward together as a whole, rather than indvidually. Let's definitely watch each other teach more. OK, goodnight. 
from Harrison Haynes on 08/20/15 at 09:33PM

Many of the ideas Dr. Evans resonated with me today.  Two of them seem to rise above the others.  First, that speaking candidly and honestly is not only important, but imperative for a school community to be able to embrace change and to find continued success.  I felt empowered after today’s session in a way that I have not felt before--- a new responsibility to be a more active and vocal member of the community.  Second, he talked about the idea that we need to go beyond simply asking ourselves “Are we doing well?” and move towards asking ourselves “Are we doing as well as we should be doing?”.  Michael alluded to this idea on Monday in his opening remarks when he implored us to not “rest on our laurels” so to speak.  It is true that we can grow complacent at DA---we can revel in our high retention rate, the demand for seats in our classrooms, the success of our seniors in their college admissions, etc.  However, we need to remind ourselves that we got to this point because of the work, energy, and willingness of those before us to “push the envelope”; we need to continue to carry that torch. 

from Tara Eppinger on 08/20/15 at 09:44PM

For me, a few highlights include:

  • exploring the idea of change and that this change is usually EVOLUTIONARY, but at the time it feels REVOLUTIONARY, and reminding myself of this when confronted with change in the future,
  • “If you’re going to speak, be willing to listen back.”
  • “avoiding excessive avoidance,”
  • talking to my colleagues from the same division and learning some valuable nuggets about their teaching in just a few minutes – something I sincerely hope that we continue!
  • And, reading all these comments from my colleagues.

Thank you to the Professional Development Committee!

from Jennifer Garci on 08/20/15 at 09:52PM
Don't talk sideways. Expect resistance. Stand up for what you believe in. 
Dr. Evans was inspirational in laying a common ground for us to grow as a community.  For this I am truly #GratefultoDAy
from Caroline Petrow on 08/20/15 at 10:19PM

We had a great session today. As a new faculty member, I am impressed and thankful for DA's commitment to professional development. Several things stood out to me about today's presentation, but here are my top two:

  • The idea of change as substitution instead of addition. If teachers continue adding to their repertoire in the classroom without taking something else away, it can become overwhelming and impractical. Recognizing we can't do everything forces us to take a hard look at what is essential and truly best practice. 
  • Dr. Evans had good insights about teachers and their "high vulnerability to guilt"—a tendency to over-focus on what we could do better or how we haven't done enough.  We were encouraged to take time to give ourselves credit for what we have done and credit for trying those things that didn't work out so well. As Dr. Evans said, "If you're going to stay in this line of work, you've got to lighten up!" Good advice for a room full of dedicated and driven educators.
from Karen Richardson on 08/20/15 at 11:13PM
We spent the day talking about change and how we react to it. It made me think about how to talk about this with my students. Although students rarely deal with actual coins anymore, my mind went here. Let's say there is wisdom for sale. It costs 98 cents. You give them a dollar bill. With that you are given your opportunity for change. What's it worth to you? What do you do with it? Tuck it away? Drop it? Save it for later by investing it? Or do you pass it on and give it to someone else? Well, that's my two cents.
from Patti Donnelly on 08/21/15 at 12:07AM
I have been priviledged to be a member of the Durham Academy community and faculty for over 25 years.  During that time, Durham Academy has instituted many changes, some highly significant and other mere tweaks to the system/approach to student learning.  All of those changes have been made in the pursuit of excellence and with the best interest of our students in mind.  It was refreshing to hear that faculty need to be "selfish" at times and take into consideration the "best interest" of the adults who are charged with helping students develop the skills necessary for a moral, productive, and happy life, one infused with life long learning.  While change is inevitable and unstoppable, it is also redundant as many "new" approaches are simply prior standards that have been tweaked, couched in newer language, and supported with greater amounts of actual research data.  The key to remaining a highly successful school is continual self examination and evaluation - it takes years to establish a reputation of excellence, but only the blink of an eye to destroy that same reputation through complacency and inertia.  In order to foster excellence in our students, we need to foster excellence in ourselves, the adults who model how we want our students to act.  As adults, we must be willing to be honest with each other, to offer both praise and concerns;  in short to be "selfish" on occasion knowing that it is also in the best interest of our students.
from Trish Whiting on 08/21/15 at 07:15AM

Thanks to everyone for yesterday.

I appreciated how engaged and lively and responsive you were, and how thoughtful your questions and comments were. I appreciate, too, the comments posted on Michael's blog. I’m moved to add my own because as I was boarding my plane home late in the afternoon I suddenly realized that I had unaccountably omitted one recommendation for follow up.

A number of schools have found it helpful to have each person think of one step the school could take this year to improve collegial candor and one step that he/she could take this year to do the same. Some schools have solicited these anonymously and published the two lists, others have had people share the items in division or department meetings. The key is to commit to concrete actions, even small ones, that can strengthen appropriate candor in the service of growth.
I hope it’s a great year.
Thanks again and very best wishes,

from Rob Evans on 08/21/15 at 09:32AM

I like how he pushed us to constantly strive to get better, and fully embrace that failure is part of the growth process.

from Costen Irons on 08/21/15 at 10:06AM

I found messages from Rob that resonated in both my professional and personal life. As others have said, we are all humans with our own mix of "issues" that shape our view of the world along with our value in it. While I did not take the route of a clergy, I considered social work before landing on teaching. I, too, have the "helper gene." 

I have a couple of sayings that reasonate with me. The first is what I am trying to do professionally with respect to the educational revolution taking place.

"It's more important to fail at something that matters than to succeed at something that doesn't." Regina Dugan.

The second is something I am trying to do both personally and professionally and is best said with this image.

Here is to a year of a voice that matters and shakes sometimes.


from Karl Schaefer on 08/21/15 at 10:09AM
I loved the idea that Rob proposed regarding observing teachers from other divisions.  There are several faculty members in other divisions who I know well enough to have a conversation with, yet I could tell you very little about their teaching. Rob made a valid point that while observing teachers within our own division may be helpful, we may tend to focus simply on the content vs. the delivery and the overall teaching practices of someone outside our division.  I think finding a way to implement this process would go a long way towards making us not only more congenial, but ultimately more collegial as a faculty.
from J. Bacsik on 08/21/15 at 10:20AM
Rob Evans' talk yesterday made me value the colleagueality that we have at the Middle School.  But, it also made me more aware of ways in which we can continue to build colleagueality through open, direct and, at times, uncomfortable conversations.  Change is difficult and can be hard, but is necessary.  We need to have the courage to speak honestly and directly and to listen, with an open mind, to new ideas and perspectives, even if those are ideas of change.
from Tim Dahlgren on 08/21/15 at 11:12AM
I enjoyed the professional development opportunity, and I am truly grateful that we had the pleasure of spending the day with Dr. Evans. We were challenged to strive for excellence, and for me, I will personally aim to enhance the relationships with my fellow educators. 
from Tyrone Gould on 08/21/15 at 11:50AM
Our faculty had the great fortune of downloading the PD today at a faculty meeting. I would like to first say that I am extremely encouraged by our professional dialogue and eagerness for improvement and growth, which is a testament to the folks I work with daily. We walked away this morning with salient next steps, check-in dates, and goals. Most importantly, we didn’t simply agree to add more to our plates, but to explore simplification.
from Bryan Brander on 08/21/15 at 12:06PM
I'm looking forward to an opportunity to observe different teachers in other divisions and share what we do in Extended Day with them as well.  I also look forward to receiving a "Golden Plunger" award in the near future.  Our success in ED and Summer Programs is a direct result of taking risks and trying new ideas that don't always work out.  Understanding my failures not only helps me to avoid similar ones in the future but enhances my understanding of the successes we've achieved and why certain things work so well.
from Dan Gilson on 08/21/15 at 12:18PM

The idea that resonated with me was striving to achieve a "shared commitment to appropriate candor in the service of growth." It can be difficult to communicate disagreement or suggestions for improvement directly to a colleague, especially for the conflict-averse among us. But it's critically important to the health of our school that we have the courage to do that.  I feel like Rob gave us permission and encouragement to engage in that type of communication.  In our meetings this morning we discussed this idea, and I've already benefited from several examples of improved communication as a result.  

from Gib Fitzpatrick on 08/21/15 at 02:37PM
I think the biggest thing that resonated with me was that we are All here for the kids and doing the best that we possibly can.  We are not always successful, but that does not mean that our goal was to do less than our best.  To be given advice on how to do something a little be better...from the heart... perhaps putting our pride aside for the moment, has got to be a good thing.  I was glad to hear that resistance to change is natural and I hope that changes can be explained in ways that make sense to the majority.  For me, that makes things much easier to accept and conquer.  I love the idea of visiting across divisions in areas that perhaps we do not teach.  Finally, we need to continue to have those moments when we take a minute to compliment another member of our faculty and staff.  Once again, we are all in this profession for the same reason and do not need to compete with each other, we need to "compliment" each other.
from Judy Chandler on 08/21/15 at 02:58PM

My take away for working in community is, "Honest, caring, and direct conversations are the way to build relationships."

My take away for the classroom is, "You won’t ever arrive at the destination of your high expectations. Therefore, keep your dreams, but keep your eyes on where your students are and the movement they make. That is the measure of utmost importance."

from Jeff Burch on 08/23/15 at 11:14AM

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