Teachers Matter.

In this season of reflection and celebration, we want to take a minute to put our teachers front and center. We know. You’ve heard it all before.

We think our teachers are among the very best. We cannot say it enough.

inspire-teach-changeThis time out, though, we are going to defer to researchers from MIT, Columbia, Michigan, and Berkeley. A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times (“Schools that Work,” 11/6/16) summarized findings from comprehensive studies that measured the impact of Boston-area charter schools recognized as “high expectations, high support” schools. These schools are reported to have a couple of things in common—many of which should sound familiar:

  • They invest in teachers. All else in the budget comes in as a distant second.
  • They run longer school days, relative to the other schools around them, and in doing so leverage extended contact between teachers and kids (and not always in the traditional classroom).
  • They expect students to do well and back that expectation up with sufficient and differentiated instructional support, meeting kids where they are and making a path forward.
  • They position teachers themselves as learners who benefit from and respond to feedback offered by peers and administrators who are frequent visitors to the classroom.

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Moving from “Why” to “Will This Be on the Test?” – Keeping the Curiosity Alive

As CSD gets deeper and deeper into our five year accreditation renewal process, we have been spending significant time, both as an admin team and also as a school, reflecting on best practices in education, more specifically on how our current CSD practices impact the students we serve.  This type of deep reflection affords us the opportunity to revisit our school’s mission and vision and determine our strengths as well as our areas for growth.  It also begs us to answer the question, “Why are we doing what we are doing?”  This morning during a CSD Lottery Open House, we alluded to something Dr. Boyer once said in one of his very eloquent public speeches.  He was referring to the importance of intrinsic motivation and commented that sadly in our schools, students often shift from asking “Why?” to asking “Will this be on the test?” somewhere around the fourth grade.  The first time I heard this it stopped me in my tracks, partly because it made me so sad and partly because I knew from my own personal experiences as an educator that it was true.  So my response to Dr. Boyer’s observation is the most obvious one – “Why?” Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions: Establishing Good Habits

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about habits. Like many educators I use the summer to take stock and reset. Think of August 1 as our New Year’s Eve. img_8882Many of us head into the school year, determined to begin anew or recommit to habits that we know equip us better for learning and instruction. I’m sticking to a new routine that allows me to take 10,000 steps a day, both because the practice makes me healthier and because the quiet reflection makes me more effective as a leader. Internship and independent study students will meet several times this year with me as a class because learning flourishes in the spaces where we connect. I am finding ways to share poetry at the start of every week with students because a sustained commitment to the arts requires more than mere words.

Similarly, the Admin Team as a whole has undertaken some resolutions for the new school year. Each of us is setting aside time in the week to be at each other’s campuses–in classrooms with kids and teachers. We’re taking on direct instruction and mentoring responsibilities that allow us to build connections with students and walk the walk with our talented teaching staff. And we’re determined to find a way to engage our entire school community in experiences and conversations that broaden our sense of each other and the perspectives that we hold about the world around us. Continue reading

A Winning Strategy

horseraceOver the past school year, we five started to notice a curious thing. High school students bestowed by fiat the title of “Principal” on their Spanish teacher. They routinely referred to two teachers in particular as “admin” and started going to the two of them for issues about which they might previously have reached out to Connie or Joy. Staff and parents alike began noting and commenting upon the presence or absence of one or the other of us five on each of the two campuses. It all had a little bit the feel of a horserace.

We get it. It’s human nature to want to know what’s up. Is someone’s star rising? Is another person’s star falling? In the absence of clarity we perhaps should have been quicker to provide, we suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the reductive place all the speculation seemed to be headed was to laying odds. Is Joy leaving? What about the other four of us? Are we getting ready for some big reveal that recasts who’s in charge at either or both schools? Are there “promotions” in the works? Continue reading

Getting in Trouble.

img_0609Before you get started reading, let us try hard not to let the opening sentences chase you off this post! Please believe that we never, ever judge you or your kids by their missteps. We, too, are parents to two high schoolers. It’s a full time job helping kids navigate the very precarious waters in the safe harbor they’re getting ready to leave. It’s uncomfortable to see our kids run aground occasionally–even worse to think that others are watching from the safety of their own decks. We are all in this journey together and we know as well as anyone that all of our kids will make mistakes. They are supposed to!

We’ll be honest. Every year, we hit that place where it’s rough-going as leaders. We’re at it, so this break comes at exactly the right time to help us re-center.  We, like our students, need time to recharge and get ready for the sprint to the end of our school year so that we can end at our best!

We work every day to ensure that CSD is a safe place. Despite all that we do, we know we are not immune to the troubles and challenges of the world all around us. Our kids have good, true souls, and yet we stumble over the implied racism of casual language and popular culture. Their characters are sound, but we nonetheless confront age-old issues like underage drinking, academic dishonesty, and bullying. And while technology brings so many wonderful opportunities to our lives and our education, it also brings new challenges for us as educators and parents and certainly new opportunities for giant mistakes for our children.  Affluence and abundance surround us but nothing insulates our students from struggles with emotional well-being. Continue reading

Feel the Love

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a very special CSD tradition was born.  The year was 2001.  Picture a quaint little learning cottage (aka – trailer) at the Lake Norman Baptist Church filled with 18 bright-eyed little people.  As is the case for most of the elementary school years, sacred and secular holidays are cause for great excitement and celebration.  These small milestones mark the passage of time, and through their celebrations, we close out old chapters and begin new ones.  For teachers and students, Valentine’s Day is such a Holiday – a little bite of fun sandwiched in-between the post-Christmas/Hanukkah lag and the longing of a deeply desired Spring.  As Mrs. Tomko (formerly known as Miss Dearmin) began to ponder how she would celebrate this holiday with her students, she reflected on her own experiences as a child.  And the story goes like this…   Continue reading

Finding the Hope in Community

December 15, 2015

To Our CSD Community,

As we head into the Winter Break, we find that we have lots on our minds. All of those many thoughts and concerns begin and end with the children this school community is meant to serve. The world throws an awful lot at them in the relatively short time candlesthey walk it as kids, and the last few months have been no exception. It’s difficult for us as educators and parents not to feel a little battered by the violence and need that seems to crowd in, no matter how hard we work to shelter children from it.

And yet we must not let tragedy and fear overtake us even as we acknowledge it. As adults we owe it to our kids to respond in ways that carry us past fear and isolation. To do otherwise is to reject all that we know about the trust and security that comes from strong communities. Without it we labor under the mistaken conviction that we are best protected by hunkering down, fencing ourselves off, and seeing every person as the “other” who may harm us.

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Reflections on Gratitude in the Midst of Fear

As we read the newspapers and watch the news, we’re often asked to stare down events
so tragic that they can paralyze us with fear. I find myself searching for meaning and even looking for someone to blame for the dearth of good answers to the challenges we see all around us. I don’t know about you, but the emotional roller coaster wears me down. I find myself stumbling a bit as I try to ascribe purpose to the events around me.

When I see tragedy, I can’t help but view it through the lens of education. For every lost adult I see on thHopeless-Hopefule news, I see the face of a child failed by a system that too often puts the needs of the grown-ups in front those of the kids. That’s why the commitment we’ve made here at CSD to never, ever fail a child is both our sincerest hope and our most daunting task. The weight it carries can truly be staggering.

Rather than surrendering to this feeling of hopelessness, let me suggest another route as we approach this Thanksgiving holiday:

Reflect instead upon the goodness that surrounds us and celebrate with gratitude.

I’ll start: Continue reading

Rainy Days – Look on the Bright Side

By the time you’ll be reading this, the weekend’s dreariness will be long gone, but I decided to capitalize on this occurrence nonetheless. Rainy days, especially when they fall on the weekends, can certainly seem like a bummer at first, but upon second glance, they just might be a blessing in disguise. Last Saturday afternoon, as I was scooting around in the soggy mess running a few errands, I was able to catch an old NPR re-run of Sir Ken Robinson’s interview about creativity. In listening to him speak (in his charmingly eloquent British accent, I might add) I really began to think about the creative development of our children. If you haven’t heard Sir Ken’s Ted Talks, I highly recommend them. He is a very innovative, out-of-the-box thinker with progressive ideas on ways our outdated schools are no longer serving our current population of students. One of his most compelling arguments is that our schools’ overall “set up” tends to produce convergent thinkers as opposed to divergent thinkers. In convergent thinking, there is typically one right answer and a fairly mainstream way to arrive Continue reading

Finding Our Bearings.

This summer our school community lost a child.

compassTo say that the loss was devastating is to go far wide of the mark. The Admin Team, just as surely as many others among us, wrestled with raw grief, with blinding confusion, and with roiling concern for all of the friends and family that Tessa left behind. We all will miss her forever.

It’s easy to say that no one can be prepared for the loss of a child. Far harder is the effort to explain the aftermath. There are questions for which we will never have answers and, more pointedly, to which none of us can lay claim. What we can say for sure is that we are awed by the strength and resilience and wisdom of Tessa’s family in confronting their loss.

This piece is testament to all that they wished to honor and share in holding us all up at a time when we mistakenly thought we were holding them.

So, what are we to do in moving forward? Continue reading