Latest Head of School Blog Posts
“It is solved by walking.”
There is an ancient paradox credited to the philosopher Zeno called the “Paradox of Place.” One way to illustrate this paradox is to think about taking a trip. You could measure when you were halfway to your destination, and halfway again, and again, and again. We could say there is an infinite number of halfway points, leaving you stuck traveling to your destination, never to arrive. The answer: Solvitur ambulando. “It is solved by walking.” (there are, of course, more scientific answers).
I’ve always enjoyed this paradox and it’s solution, because it illustrates the importance of observation and doing as a part of learning. It helps us avoid accumulating what Alfred North Whitehead referred to as “inert knowledge”, that is, learning that lies dormant in our memories or fails to transfer to novel contexts.
Our recent strategic plan outlines four major areas of focus: academic programs, school community, teaching and learning, and upper school program. One of the objectives for our academic programs states:
“Create engaging learning environments that result in lifelong learners. Engaging learning environments spark curiosity and provide the necessary tools to pursue knowledge beyond the formal education system.”
At CIS, we aspire to educate students who know not only how to answer difficult questions, but also how to formulate those questions. Research shows that possessing the quality of curiosity is a success factor in education, along with grit, a growth mindset, and self-control... » read more
In sixth grade, I built an elevator for the middle school science fair. Not a real elevator, of course. It was small and made out of balsa wood, wire, and some motors from my Capsela set. In the process, I learned about how elevators work, tuning a motor to provide the correct gear ratio for lifting items of various mass, and the safety mechanisms protecting the passengers. (Original elevators had no safety brake. It wasn’t until Elisha Otis famously demonstrated his braking mechanism by being hoisted in an elevator and cutting the cables with a sword, engaging the brakes, that people saw elevators as safe.)
I often ask people to share their stories about their science fair projects. Although many people have a hard time recalling the books they read in middle school, or the content of history and science lessons, most of us can recall our science fair projects (if you were asked to do one).
The reason, I believe, relates to the three components of motivation that Daniel Pink identifies in his book ... » read more
A few years ago as my family and I were driving in town, the driver in front of me made an erratic and sudden lane change. It was as if he hadn’t been paying attention and suddenly “woke up”. I made my usual assessment of the situation, which I gladly shared with my family, “Probably texting and driving.”
When we pulled up alongside the driver at the stop light, I smugly acknowledged that I had indeed correctly judged what had happened. As I settled back into my seat, taking-in another victorious moment of being right, our youngest child sagely commented, “It seems like everyone else doesn’t drive very well, but our family does.” Although my first thought was to affirm the correctness of this statement, I knew that the truth would eventually out. Clearly, the message I was sending to my son (and everyone else in my family) was that rushing to judgement and pointing out how others are wrong should be our highest duty.
I wish I could say that my son’s comment completely cured me of jumping to conclusions about other drivers, and that I now always act out of a spirit of kindness and generosity. It didn’t. Nevertheless, I’m more mindful of the power of my words and the self-righteous judgement they can convey. And though I still find myself annoyed with distracted driving, I’m also much more aware of my tendency for distracted parenting. How often do we, as parents, ask whether our words align with our actions? Do our words even align with our stated values? If not, what is distracting us from making this happen, and how can we change?
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“My favorite part of today was at the end of class when each one of [the students] said ‘goodbye,’ ‘thank you,’ or ‘have a nice day’ as they left class.”
This is the message one of our teachers shared with me earlier this week, and it reminded me how our school is built upon connection and community, which rely on the qualities of caring, kindness, and generosity.
In 2014, a study conducted by the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education noted an alarming disparity in the messages that parents believe they are sending to their children and the messages children are actually internalizing through what we say, do, or sometimes leave unsaid. In the study, 96% of parents stated that their greatest wish was for their children to be caring, yet 81% of children believe their parents valued academic achievement and personal happiness above caring.
And the trickle-down effect of this belief is significant. Children were asked to rank which one of the following choices was most important to them: achieving at a high level, happiness (feeling good most of the time), or caring for others. Given these three choices, only 20% of children ranked caring for others as more important than achievement or feeling good most of the time.
While success is important and personal well-being should also be valued, a world in which caring for others takes a back seat to self-focused measures of success is a world that lacks connection. And connection relies upon caring, kindness, and generosity. As researcher and author Adam Grant writes, “If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the... » read more
In the age of “big data” and the “internet of things,” we have more ways to measure and quantify the success (or failure) of a school and its students than we have ever possessed at any previous time in history. Since the 1983 report A Nation at Risk by President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, the statistics demonstrating the erosion of our country’s competitive ability in education have gone steadily in one direction. In an increasingly global society, it’s important to note these statistics and consider their long-term implications.
Because of the availability and access to data, I am often asked how CIS students perform on measures of academic achievement. Last year, I gave a presentation on this topic in which I cited some of the relevant statistics for our school. Here are just a few:
- Over the past five years, CIS students have an average ACT score of 29 (National Average: 21 ; Missouri Average: 21.7);
- Over the past five years, CIS students have taken 306 AP exams (all upper school students complete AP courses prior to graduation) with 84% of exams receiving a score of “3” or higher (Missouri Average: 64%);
- Nine seniors have been recognized by the National Merit Scholarship program over the past four years as finalists, semi-finalists, and commended scholars;
- On the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which students in grades 3-5 take every fall and spring at CIS, our students’ average rank is the 89th percentile nationally (i.e. for every 100 students who take the test, our students score better than 89 of them).
These statistics represent quantifiable ways in which... » read more
The other day as I drove to school, I noticed a grasshopper sitting on my side view mirror. Expecting him to jump off as soon as the car got moving, I was surprised to see him still perched on top when I reached the end of my block. So I watched him to see how long he would remain in place. As my speed picked up, he did something unexpected. Instead of retreating from the strong headwind, he lowered his body and inched his way forward. The stronger the wind pushed him backwards, the further forward he moved.
Over the past several years, there has been increased interest in students’ affective development. And this new focus is a good thing. Researchers like Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth have shown us that a student’s mindset can have profound effects on a child’s self-perception and the academic challenges and opportunities he might take-on. The ability to be resilient in the face of challenges, setbacks, and even failure (a word schools have unwittingly demonized through the use of a letter grade), is a measure of a child’s grit. Most of us are now familiar with Walter Mischel’s famous “Marshmallow Test” and the predictive outcomes of a child’s ability to delay gratification from a young age. These researchers have shown us that mindset, grit, delayed gratification, and many other skills can have a profound effect on a child’s ability to be successful as a student and an individual; however, the research isn’t about the presence or absence of these skills per se; the key take-away from the research is not simply the benefit that possessing these skills can convey, but that these skills can and should be actively cultivated by teachers and parents.
At Columbia Independent School, we believe deeply in cultivating these skills and others such as: empathy, cooperation, self-regulation, and self-reflection. Through regular conversations about our monthly... » read more