All posts by drewfrank

Father, Husband, Learner, Teacher, and Child at heart.

Inspiring Message to the Graduates

Chan

Below are the beautiful words shared by Sarah Palay (Davis Academy Class of  2006) at our Class of 2014 graduation.

Hello Davis Academy Class of 2014!!! Congratulations.

You are now entering an amazing new juncture in your life: up until now, your path has been—more or less—dictated for you.  You have some freedom, but now is the time when you get a little bit more.  But of course with more freedom comes great responsibility, and that is both scary and incredibly exciting.

As you enter high school, you will all have very different experiences, but take comfort that as you begin to diverge down different paths, you all come from the same root: your Judaism and your education at the Alfred and Adele Davis Academy will always accompany you.  You will forever be tied to this place, these experiences, and these relationships because you are young students learning the significance of Judaism in the twenty-first century world.  And you have made lasting memories with people you care about.  Where you go from here is up to you, but no matter what you choose or where you go, Davis will always be a part of you.  I stand here today as an example of that.  I could not have imagined that I would be back here, standing behind this podium, speaking to a group of seventy-two magnificent graduating eighth graders.

I could stand up here and give you a speech about success.  I could tell you that Davis has prepared you well, and you will all succeed.  But you already know that…so I’m not going to talk about that.  Instead, I’m going to talk about the opposite of success.  Tonight, I want to speak about failure.

So often we perceive failure as a deterrent from success, pitted as success’s binary. Failure, in our society, is profoundly negative.  Look up “to fail” in the dictionary, and you’ll read that it means “to be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal.” I am, quite possibly, the dictionary’s biggest fan, but the dictionary is…wait for it…wrong.  I would like to argue tonight that this definition is very far from the truth.  My hope is that by the end of tonight, we will all write letters to the Oxford American Dictionary and demand that they amend the definition so that the entry reads: “to fail: a necessary step in the achievement of one’s goal.”

So here we are, in a world where failure is the exact antonym of success.  But what if it weren’t?  What if instead of beating ourselves up when we stray from the path towards success, we embrace our mistakes, lean into them, and learn from them?  Easier said than done, I know.  I am speaking to a room full of high achievers and their parents and the cold, hard truth is that no one here likes to mess up.  Especially me.  I am about to share with you a lesson that has had a huge impact on my life but that I have found very difficult to accept: the moment you stop embracing the possibility for failure is the moment you stop achieving.

This concept was brought to my attention two years ago by a very valued teacher and mentor of mine.  Fall of junior year at college, I received the honor of playing Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret.  We spent six weeks of rehearsals singing, dancing, and sweating our way through this huge show.  The rehearsal process was grueling.  It was both physically and emotionally exhausting, and I was in constant doubt of my ability to perform this role.  Finally, we opened the show and although I didn’t feel it was the “perfect performance,” I let myself off the hook and accepted it for what it was.  The following day, I received an email from the director, Anna, asking if we could meet a few hours before the next performance.  Anna and I met backstage, and she asked me how I felt the performance went.

The reality was that I was disappointed in myself: every time I performed the show, I felt like I wasn’t good enough.  Anna said, “You should be proud of what you’ve done,” and then added, “but I feel like you’re just going through the motions.”  I was completely taken aback…it’s one thing to criticize yourself, but it’s another to receive it from one of your mentors, the very person from whom you crave support and praise.  Maybe you can understand the feeling I’m talking about: the feeling of wanting something so badly, of reaching for it, of putting your heart and soul into it, but just feeling completely inadequate.  Anna looked at me and could tell I was upset, and she said, “Sarah, you are absolutely paralyzed by your fear of being wrong.  Give yourself permission to fail.”

At first, I was angry: it wasn’t fair for Anna to put me in this position a few hours before I was about to walk on stage; the theater house was packed with hundreds of people, and my director had just completely rattled me.  And I wasn’t really sure what her point was.  How could I give myself permission to fail?  Wouldn’t that derail the show?  I was frustrated, upset, and overwhelmed.  I just wanted to do it right.  Then suddenly, it dawned on me.  That was the problem—wanting to do it right.  I was so scared of doing something wrong that I was holding myself back.  I was playing it safe and so paralyzed by the fear of failure that I wasn’t taking any risks.  As soon as I gave myself permission to mess up, I suddenly reached a new level.  That night, I performed in a state of fear, but the fear was very different—it wasn’t the debilitating fear of messing up; it was the exhilarating fear of walking into something unknown, the fear of taking a risk. And it was through that fear, the exhilarating fear, that I found joy and solace.

We all have moments when we put limits on ourselves: when you kept quiet as you watched a friend start an untrue rumor about another friend because you were scared of being the next victim; when you threw out that creative writing assignment that would have received a high grade because you were too scared of potential criticism about your deepest thoughts; when you would have aced that algebra exam had you not been too embarrassed to ask for help; when you had something meaningful to add to the class discussion but you stayed quiet, afraid others around you would dismiss your comment.  These are all missed opportunities.

During your life, there will be pressure to produce answers, to solve problems, to achieve perfection, to do things the right way, the best way.  And strive for that.  Strive for that with everything you have.  But if you encounter fear or difficulty, embrace it; don’t push it away.  Like the fear of attending a new school or being in a new environment.  It can be scary entering a new place, but see it as an opportunity.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to discover new friendships, to speak up in class discussions, or to be yourself.  If you are too careful and too afraid to screw up, you will limit yourself.  As the great J.K. Rowling once said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.”

As I look around this room, I see the faces of the next generation of leaders.  I have no doubt that Davis Academy has prepared you to achieve greatness.  But as you go forth in your journey, Class of 2014, do not be paralyzed by the fear of failure, but instead allow yourself to take risks and plunge bravely into the unknown.  This is the threshold where you turn something mediocre into something good; something good into something great; and something great into something truly sublime.  Class of 2014, dare to fail.  Congratulations!

 

 

 

The Goal Should Be: Not To Finish

Twain

As another school year comes to a close, the May #blogamonth topic is about “how to finish strong?”.  As an ardent believer in the continuous nature of learning, and one who, though a principal, readily relates to Mark Twain’s quote, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education,” I feel the trick to a strong finish, is not to finish at all. I believe we must reframe the end of the school year as a part of the learning cycle that certainly represents a transition but does not equate to a gap in student learning.  I believe there should be high expectations for the learning and “homework” that should occur over the summer.

Each child should be tasked with embodying the learning that they achieved during the past 9 months and using these new skills or perspectives in the summer settings (be it at camp, by the swimming pool, at a summer job, or simply enjoying down time with family and friends) in that they will interface to learn something new about themselves, their environment and/or the world.  The more we are able to shift our teachers and our school’s role from dissemination of learning to that of facilitation and/or a laboratory for learning and exploration, the easier it will be to see the responsibility that each student has to continue their own learning over winter, summer, and weekend breaks.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

(Greg Anderson)

Let’s reclaim the joy in learning so that the end of May simply becomes the start of a long independent study unit, that when shared in August will benefit each child, each class and each school community.Let’s reclaim the joy in learning so that the end of May simply becomes the start of a long independent study unit, that when shared in August will benefit each child, each class and each school community.

 

4 Great posts with similar themes

We Had Fun by @edrethink

#EdFailFwd by @billselak

The joy of learning by @gcouros

You (Still) Matter by @LisaMeade23

 

 

 

April #blogamonth: Best Source of Ongoing PD

Gandhi

 

The best source of ongoing professional development and personal growth for me is connection.  It is in connected settings, be they a grade level meeting in my school, a virtual edcamp, or a twitter chat in which I feel my thinking is challenged, developed, and enhanced.  I have often told my team that if there were a way to download all of the knowledge, passion and skills of our teachers on to a shared drive and reload it on to each of our “roaming profiles” the need for PD would be virtually null.  I whole heartedly believe that my best source of continued learning lies in the perspective, passions, and knowledge of those with who I am connected to and engaged in growth with.

 

Is twitter one of my favorite sources of connection?

b

Absolutely. The amazingly diverse community of learners who connect on twitter to learn and grow with one another on a 24/7 basis is equally irreplaceable and overwhelming.  As I look at the incredible educators that I learn from on a weekly basis, of which I have actually met less than 10 percent in person, I am truly grateful for the potential this platform brings to my growth and the growth of the members of my PLN.

Are blogs/rss one of my favorite sources of connection?

1

Perhaps even more than twitter, blogs enable me to learn and share perspectives, ideas, and resources.  I feel constantly in touch with not only the major issues and current research in the field of education, but also incredible reflections about the short term and long term impact of some of these decisions.  Furthermore, I am empowered to share these thoughts and reflections with my team. “I feel is not enough to be connected, if I am not actively connecting others to people, resources and/or ideas that will benefit their own growth.  Moreover, in order to increase the likelihood of sustained connections, the sharing must represent a knowledge of the receiver’s personal interest and preparedness for the material being shared. (Moving from Insulated to Connected to Connecting)”

How do digital connections impact face to face connections?

Lehmann

I love being able to share an amazing gem from my rss feed with my entire team.

Recent full faculty shares:

  1. Kindness Is Something Students Learn By Feeling It via @teachthought  @RippleKindness
  2. Life’s Toughest Tests Don’t Require A Pencil via @Jonharper70bd
  3. Finding Twitter via @GustafsonBrad
  4. There’s No Copyright for Cookies: Why Educators Should Embrace Sharing via @amyburvall
  5. 12 Things Kids Want from Their Teachers via @AngelaMaiers

These are truly wonderful shares that our whole team has learned from and enjoyed. Furthermore, I have loved the ability to find resources and ideas that were more appropriate for targeted populations with in my school. Whether it be 50 Math Web Games for Young Kids (@mattbgomez) for my kindergarten, 42 Idiom Examples And Explanations (@teachthought) for my LA Team, Recess Of The Mind (@escott818) for my student service team, the ability to deliver content that can provide immediate impact and foster reflection and dialogue is incredible.

Going Forward

I am eagerly looking forward to attending the 2014 Martin Institute Conference and ISTE 2014 this summer.  The connections I have made through my online PLNs (#blogamonth & #pdposse) as well as the twitter and rss follows that I routinely engage and learn with leave me excited to meet these educators in person.  Moreover, I am thrilled to be taking a team of Davis Academy teachers with me to each conference.  I look forward to engaging in my own learning and connecting with each of them to share in theirs.

A Dozen Amazing Videos for Learning

Welles

The topic for this month’s #blogamonth challenge was to share 1-2 of your favorite videos for use in instruction, professional development, and/or throughout the school.  Unfortunately, I must have missed the “1-2” limit and thus, I offer 12 of my favorite videos for learning J.

As a lover of video, in particular video that provokes thought and/or emotion, the idea of incorporating powerful video into the student, teacher, and parent education at our school is an easy fit.

For the purpose of this blog, I have chosen to skip TED Talks.  This in no way should imply a lack of admiration and affection for the medium. In fact, one of my favorite annual school events is our “Faculty and Staff Afternoon at the Theatre” in which we set up a series of rooms with different TED Talks and discussion moderators.  (The TED Talks from our past few years appear on the sidebar of the home page of my blog under “Favorite TED Talks” (Link))

Below are a list of some great videos that I have used in faculty meetings and with parents.  There are also a few offerings from spoken word poets. I will highlight two videos in particular that I shared in powerful faculty meetings and parent workshops.

1. I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate by Suli Breaks  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-eVF_G_p-Y

“I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate” picks up on the education topic but takes a different stance and angle from “Why I Hate School But Love Education”. This poem talks about how we have been made to think about how education and getting university degrees can give us opportunities to have a better chance in making our dream careers a reality. It also touches on how as individuals we are judged and tested by how well we perform on exams, but not all people perform well in exams so why are they made out to feel like they’re dumb? The inconsistencies of the education system are really peeled open to reveal a deep problem that needs to be addressed and how society’s needs have changed to make this even more apparent. (Suli Breaks,Vanity Fair,2009)

2. Innovation of Loneliness http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6Bkr_udado

What is the connection between Social Networks and Being Lonely? Quoting the words of Sherry Turkle from her TED talk – Connected, But Alone. Also Based on Dr. Yair Amichai-Hamburgers hebrew article -The Invention of Loneliness. (Script, Design & Animation: Shimi Cohen)

Videos that I use as hooks for a specific topic

3. Impact of positive culture – Fun Theory http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw

4. Bravery and coaching – Girl’s first ski jump  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebtGRvP3ILg

5. Digital portfolios and taking time to contribute daily – Dear Sophie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4vkVHijdQk

6. Technology’s impact on education – How is Technology Transforming Education? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYk91jzv1jg

7. Brilliant and beautiful philosophical pondering  – Existential Bummer  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb-OYmHVchQ#t=160

8. Carpe Diem in candy – The Time You Have (In JellyBeans) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOksW_NabEk

9. The role of a teacher – Miracle Worker http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o53i0kL6-Jw&app=desktop

Spoken Word:

10. Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye “An Origin Story” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esgfG3BoAPc

11. Bronx Youth Poetry SLAM 2013, Ethan Metzger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isLtc5lFgf8#t=182

12. Rives (love all of his work, brilliant and funny) http://www.ted.com/search?cat=ss_all&q=rives (link to a bunch of his talks)

It All Begins With Trust

UKA5

The law of conservation of mass states that in any closed system, the mass is constant irrespective of its changes in form; the principle that matter cannot be created or destroyed.

So too are the cultures of the systems in which we work.  The power that exists in a school culture exists in whichever form it maintains.  Too often I have read and/or heard from friends about the negative cultures that are weighing down the instructional creativity and passion of educators resulting in the underserving of teachers, parents and students.  It is, therefore, incumbent upon all members of the school communities to maintain the school culture in a positively excitable state so as to harness this power for growth and learning.

Unless teachers and administrators act to change the culture of a school, all innovations, high standards, and high-stakes tests will have to fit in and around existing elements of the culture. They will remain superficial window dressing incapable of making much of a difference. -Roland Barth, 2001

It all begins with trust

I believe that the beginning of culture is trust.  I trust that my students come to school to learn.  I trust that my teachers come to school to teach and learn. I trust that my parents have aspirations for the learning their children will acquire, the growth their children will make to become moral and value driven young adults, and their own desires to learn.  I trust that I and all members of my community are committed to being better each tomorrow both for our own betterment and for future generations.  I trust that none of this will be flawless, and I wholeheartedly believe that there will be great learning in the places where it is not.

Trust implies respect

When we begin with a community where trust is afforded and offered in all directions, we display that we have both a respect for and responsibility to each member of the community.  As a respected teacher or a dedicated student we are empowered to embrace “first attempts in learning” (fail), feedback, reflection, and further attempts in learning.  Just as it is essential that we satiate Maslow physiological and safety need of our students in order for them to focus on growing and learning, we must make sure our environment satiates our teachers Maslow need for professional safety. If teachers feel safe in the culture to question, offer dissenting opinions, and try new strategies without the fear of “failure=inadequacy”, learning innovation occurs.

A proactive culture of honesty and transparency is not a culture of bliss.  It means progressing from all is good, to a non-stop process of making learning, environment and yourself better each tomorrow.  I welcome the challenges that tomorrow will bring as I know they will be lessons for my own learning, and I hope that my personal growth contributes to the team, school, and community. (Where Am I Leading?)

 

 

 

Student Reflections on Lessons from Birmingham

MLK

Last Thursday, the fifth graders took their study of the Civil Rights to Birmingham.  After learning about the girls who were killed in the 1963 church bombing (via viewing and discussion of Spike Lee’s “Four Little Girls”), the students visited the actual church and toured the Civil Rights Museum.  Their day also consisted of a visit to a synagogue and the McWane Science Center.  The reflections below are samples from the many great reflections shared by our fifth grade students, and they represent their thoughts and wisdom from this field trip.

D: Yesterday, the 5th grade traveled to the marvelous “Magic City.” Personally, the experience was one to remember. It is so amazing how education and fun can blend together so perfectly. My emotions were filtered with joy, sorrow, and hope. It is incredible to have the opportunity to embark on a journey to the Civil Rights Movement with other Davis Academy students, or “my other family.” Over the trip, I made many connections to how Jewish citizens, like me, were treated and how African Americans lived life in despair. I saw death threats to Jewish people that brought me a feeling I had never had before. Hearing this tightened my throat; I was crying, but my eyes could not produce any tears. On a lighter note, the Temple Emanuel made me feel comfortable, like I was at home. I learned new things on a deeper level that I then taught my parents and my brother. The remarkable architecture in the temple made my jaw drop down to the floor; it was truly astonishing. Also, the McWayne Science Center was one of those places that had me thinking “too much stuff, not enough time.” From cool rides to man-made tornadoes, there is only one way to describe the place: pure awesomeness. Overall, the trip was great, thought provoking, and made me look at life with a new, fresh view. Birmingham, Alabama, is certainly a place I would want to travel to again with my family to show them the Civil Rights Museum and all of freedom signs on the streets.

K: Imagine hearing an explosion noise and then everything turning pitch black. That is what many people experienced Sunday morning September 15, 1963, at the 16th Street Baptist Church. That day four little girls were killed. When I was in Birmingham, each step I took towards the 16th Street Baptist Church felt as if the girl’s spirits were still in there. Before we went to the church, we went to the Civil Rights Museum. I saw many things that changed my views on Civil Rights. For example, I saw a model of the freedom riders bus and how so many people risked their lives for others.  Also, Denise, one of the four little girls, was honored with the outfit she wore and the stone that was embedded in her skull. I thought that it was very kind of Denise’s family to donate some of her belongings. The museum should have lots of gratitude. The trip to Birmingham was a life changing experience.

G: Yesterday in Birmingham I felt a slap of reality.  I realized that I was extremely lucky; lucky to go to any school I want, to have all of my rights, and to be free to dream of whatever I want.  Going to Davis is awesome. We never face bullies or have anyone tell us that who we are is wrong.  This struck me when I was sitting in a pew at the 16th Street Baptist Church. After learning about the four little girls, I looked down at my seat and realized they could have sat where I was sitting. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of those beautiful, innocent little girls.  They lost their lives because they wanted their rights.  They dreamed of the day when nothing was separated.  I love my life and would never change anything, but I wish I had been there to help those four little girls.  It was truly befuddling to me to think about our “free” country as it was then.

F: The Thursday I went to Birmingham is a day I will definitely not forget. When we first arrived, our grade went to Temple Emanu-El. I felt that it was a spectacular way to have started the day. My favorite part about the temple was getting to speak at the bimah where Rabbi Graffman once stood. It was an honor for me because he was very involved in civil rights, and despite all the threats he received, he stayed strong. Going to the 16th Street Baptist Church was very emotional. To me sitting in the church where the four little girls were was sad. My favorite part of the Civil Rights Museum was the model of the black and white classrooms. To conclude the trip to Birmingham, we went to the Mcwane Science Center, which was very hands-on and a lot of fun. Overall, I had a splendid time on the trip to Birmingham.