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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Why do this?

Along with DA’s Associate Head of School Lee Hark, I recently completed teaching a first semester seminar for Upper Schoolers called “The Mission-Driven Life.” Though spring is on the horizon and the days growing longer, I have felt a distinct emptiness in recent weeks. The reasons are simple: I miss our students. I miss our conversations.

Durham Academy’s mission compels us to prepare young people for “moral, happy, productive lives.” For a number of intertwined reasons (see below), Lee and I decided last year to design and teach a course exploring the contributing factors, competing theories and necessary interdependence of morality, happiness and productivity.

Why do this?

  • We wanted to experiment with and model the kind of collaborative curriculum-building we are encouraging for our faculty. Instructional teamwork, it turns out, is difficult, revealing and fun.
  • We hoped to experiment with new modes of learning (interdisciplinary, blended, student-driven, multi-age, off-campus, etc.). 
  • We wanted to deepen the dialectic about DA’s mission statement – pulling it off the website, out of the shadows, and into the daily lives of our students.  
  • I wanted to make sure I still knew how to teach. While Lee has taught English courses every semester, I had been out of the classroom for several years and wondered if I still had any pedagogical chops.  
  • Mostly, we knew that reading, discussing, debating, writing and reflecting on virtue would prove rewarding for our students and – if things went well – perhaps even useful as they moved forward with their lives.

Through a series of guest lectures, field trips, videoconferences and recorded speeches, we connected with a dozen local luminaries, as well as students from The American School in Switzerland and The Experimental High School Affiliated with Beijing Normal University in China.

Whether discussing Aristotle with the longtime Dean of Duke Chapel in the Divinity School, or reflecting on the moral perils of the college admissions process in the office of the Dean of Admissions at UNC, our students were remarkably absorbed. They talked about dishonesty with behavioral economist Dan Ariely. They explored happiness with tech entrepreneur Kimberly Jenkins. They heard about the meaning of life from DA alumnus Chris Rosati. Click here to see the full syllabus for the course.

Thanks to some remarkable texts, guests and experiences (and despite their occasionally ham-handed teachers), our students honed their own authentic value systems – adding, subtracting, revising and tinkering over the course of the fall with their semester exam: a “Personal Mission Statement.”

It is difficult to do justice to the variety, integrity, sincerity, and depth of these speeches. Instead, Lee and I (with the brave endorsement of our students), want to share them with you here.

Click below to remind yourself why our mission transcends the mere delivery of academic content, why our school aims far beyond admission to college, and why our world (tenuous as it sometimes feels) will be in capable hands. 

Thanks to Melody Guyton Butts for recording most of these speeches.

Posted by mulkus on Sunday January, 29, 2017


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