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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Seeing well beyond 2020

On Monday I spent some time with Durham Academy’s Class of 2020, the 9th graders who are continuing their orientation week now at Green River Preserve. I opened with a simple question:

       Why are you here?

Their answers began with astute cheekiness (“It’s the law.” . . . “My parents made me come”) and moved gradually toward earnestness (“I want to know how the Upper School works.” . . . “I want to go to a good college.” . . . “I’d like to learn all I can.”).

Aiming to push them from external and short-term reasons toward more internal and lasting rationales, I asked each student to answer some questions on an index card – a small “letter to self” that I will return to them in May of 2020, just before they graduate from high school. I’ve enacted this ritual three times with DA students – and can’t wait to return the first set of index cards to our 2017 graduates in May. The first prompt for their index cards:

       Write the names of a few people you admire and aspire to be like as an adult.

Parents, grandparents and friends populated most of the cards – along with several DA Middle School teachers and names that reveal the delightful perspectives of adolescents: Gandhi, Jesus, Simone Biles, Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush, Malala. Though statistical analysis is not yet complete, the list below might be the most common:

  1. Mom
  2. Dad
  3. Lebron James
  4. Martin Luther King

The question for the back of the index cards:

       What kind of person do you want to be in fifteen years?

Among their answers:

  • Successful
  • Inspiring
  • With a loving family
  • Accomplished
  • Trustworthy
  • Energetic
  • Financially stable
  • Determined
  • Productive
  • Approachable
  • Pious
  • Hard working
  • Happy
  • A quality worker
  • Adventurous
  • Enjoyable
  • Selfless
  • Confident
  • Scholarly
  • Fun

I then shared with students Durham Academy’s answers to the question: “Who do we (the faculty) want you to be in fifteen years?” The first appears in our mission statement, where we proclaim our purpose to “prepare students for moral, happy, productive lives.” The second is our Upper School Principles of Community, the “Magnificent Seven” about which they’ll hear quite a bit in the coming days and years:

Durham Academy Upper School Principles of Community

As members of Durham Academy community, we strive to. . .

    • Respect the dignity of each individual,
    • Treat others with kindness,
    • Be honest,
    • Share with those in need,
    • Encourage intellectual curiosity,
    • Care for the environment and property,
    • Have the courage to do the right thing.

I am under no illusion that my short time with our fresh-folk was fundamentally life-changing. Nonetheless, I know that my questions, echoed in the days and years to come by the queries of my faculty colleagues and the experiences we throw at the Class of 2020, will help them see beyond the ephemera of quizzes, grades, and college admissions letters.

With the Principles of Community and DA mission statement ringing in their ears, our students should be every day more able to answer for themselves these fundamental questions:

  • Who am I? 
  • Why am I here?
  • Who do I want to be?
  • How do I get from here to there? 
Posted by mulkus on Wednesday August, 31, 2016


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