Inaugural Middle School Leadership Training Institute


What is Leadership?

The adage that we are currently raising tomorrow’s leaders is not a phrase whose implications are lost on those of us that that teach or work with young people.  One of the interesting challenges, however, in this goal of leadership development is one of vocabulary.  What does Leadership mean?  Ask two (reflective or thoughtful) people, and you are likely to get different responses.  Ask a room full of reflective and thoughtful educators, and you are likely to get a myriad of responses describing personal characteristics, visionary thinking, intra and inter-personal skills, communication strengths…etc.  While the collective of these definitions are all aspirationally beautiful, they present a number of challenges.

  1. If leadership is such a grand concept that it is only attainable by an individual that has perfect balance (life-balance, not gymnastics) and communication ability and is able to perseverate on grand causes to impact all humanity, then the task of leadership is unattainable for most (if not all) reflective individuals.
  2. If the facilitators for children’s journey to leadership all hold different definitions of what leadership is, how can students progress toward this goal.

With the goal of fostering leadership development, we have created the Middle School Leadership Training Institute (MSLTI).

What is MSLTI?

Everything we know about adolescents points to the fact that if they aren’t involved, empowered, and in leadership roles then they are much less likely to “buy in.” MSLTI will support the 3 leadership organizations (SGA, JL, and SA) in  leadership development and securing leadership opportunities for these students to put the training in to motion.

Student Government Association

Members of the Student Government Association (SGA), selected by peers and faculty through an application process, will play a leadership role in the middle school by providing a voice for the student body and a means of disseminating information from school personnel back to the student body.

Jewish Ritual and Student Life Leadership

Involvement and empowerment is a critical realization when it comes to Jewish activities such as holidays, t’filah, and other Jewish experiences including social action projects. The Jewish Ritual and Student Life Leadership cohort will work with the school rabbi as well as members of the Jewish Studies faculty to help shape these school experiences. They will be seen leading t’filah, sharing Divrei Torah at various functions, and helping to inspire their peers to engage with these special school activities.


Student Ambassadors will play a crucial role in supporting school events and promoting positive public relations. Students will accompany prospective families on school tours, assist at school events or meetings, and participate in other public relations opportunities.

Inaugural Middle School Leadership Training Institute

MSLTIOver twenty 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students joined members of our administration for the first annual Middle School Leadership Training Institute.  The students first were treated to a talk about leadership from Brian Mand, a Davis Academy parent and community leader, who had them participate in a number of exercises to demonstrate the role of communication, vision, and feedback play in effective leadership.  Next the students explored their own definitions of leadership and reflected on whether they saw themselves as meeting the requirements of leadership under their own definition.  We then watched Drew Dudley’s fabulous TED talk on Everyday Leadership (Link):

“We have all changed someone’s life — usually without even realizing it. In this funny talk, Drew Dudley calls on all of us to celebrate leadership as the everyday act of improving each other’s lives. (Filmed at TEDxToronto.)”

With his powerful words as back drop we broke in to groups to try and come up with a common language for both “what is leadership?” and “Am I a leader?”  The students’ openness and reflection was powerful both for each other and for the facilitators.

The participants then separated into their own leadership area cohorts to further explore SGA, Jewish Life leadership, and Ambassadors training.  Each cohort’s activities further affirmed the importance of their engagement in both facilitating the tasks needed of their position and in shaping the ways they can participate and grow.


It was an amazing start to a year of shared learning and growth.  The students and facilitators all left energized by the shared experience and the tasks ahead.

Back To School Message – Be Brave



Be Brave Video

Welcome.  Though it seems like only a few days ago that we gathered together to celebrate our 20th anniversary together, it has been a busy a few months getting prepared to welcome you and your children for an amazing 2013-14.  This past summer I had the pleasure of attending a number of inspirational conferences including the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston.  Whenever I attend a conference, my goal is to come away with a new idea and maybe, if I am lucky, identify an educator that I can invite to Davis to share with our student, faculty, or parent community.  For this BLC conference I would have needed to charter a plain to bring back all the inspirational and innovative educators who are impacting their students, schools, and communities.

As I sat down to write this message to you for back to school night I instantly thought of one of these passionate teachers that I have recently connected with, Matt Gomez.  Matt is a kindergarten teacher and runs a one rule classroom. The one rule is “be brave.”

I wish I could put into words how powerful this rule has been in my class but really there is no way to for me to articulate it. Be brave is the perfect theme, motto or “rule” for any class. It helps with friendships, tying shoes, monkey bars, missing Mom, touching worms, tasting new food, etc. Be brave is exactly the type of attitude needed for young kids. Every day they are faced with challenges as they grow up into this big world. If the only thing I teach them is that they can “be brave,” I have succeeded.

Though Matt likely does not have Kehilla, Kavod, Ruach, Chochma or Tzedek displayed on his classroom walls or integrated into his lessons in his public school in Texas, I feel like his one rule and the environment it helps facilitate, embodies the core values that both describe who we are and who we are striving to be.  The message of “be brave” is one that also resonates for us adults.

  • Be brave on the first day of school as you drop your child off for the first day of mechina and kindergarten.
  • Be brave as your child makes mistakes that you hoped they would not make but realize that these mistakes are where meaningful and resonate learning occur.
  • Be brave as your child rapidly progresses to accede your own knowledge in Hebrew, math and/or Shakespeare.
  • Be brave and trust that your child’s teacher is a professional who has your child’s best interests at heart
  • And be brave an be an active participant and partner in the exciting journey that will be the 2013-14 school year.

Christopher Robin may have said it best when he told is honey loving friend: “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”

I look forward to sharing many more pieces of my learning from this conference with you through your children’s classroom experience as well as some parent sessions that I will be leading later in the school year.


My Math Rant

Often I have experienced parents who have decided the mathematical fate of their children by the age of 7 or 8.  Most of the comments are based on their success or lack thereof on mad minutes and other rapid recall fact assessments.  The particular import placed on the results of a mad minute (a math facts skill assessor and developer) which occupies less the 5% of the instructional time is troubling.  Equally so, the lack of the role of developmental readiness in engagement with the complexity and variability of more advanced math is alarming.  I believe it is important for kids to learn their facts.

(A rant within a rant)

I know of schools which are beginning to remove fact education as they feel this occupies too much time to learn and most children and adults have devices at the ready should they need to perform a calculation.  While I have admiration for the time this frees up to do more advanced application and problem solving, I am concerned by reliance on outside devices and forgoing the personal training and brain development.  I also see the math fact discussion akin to the cursive writing and analog clock discussion.  While I feel that a can argue intelligently on both sides, I feel that we cannot ignore the loss that will occur when these pieces of the curriculum that were core when we were educated, become extinct in our classrooms.

Furthermore I believe that being able to quickly access your facts allows students more time for the more complex operations or thinking that it requires to solve ever more challenging problems.  But I do not believe faster is smarter is more successful in math.  I think there is one catch to this may be a problem of a faulty attribution.  I think that with this as with any endeavor, early success breads confidence, and confidence breads an attitude of facing challenges by “leaning in” as opposed to seeing obstacles to which we “shy away.”

With the preceding math brain dropping complete, I was very excited to open my RSS feed this morning and the see the great post by Mrs. Bright, “How Does Speed and Performance Relate to Being Good at Math?” (Click the link for the full article, but here are a few of the lines that resonated with me)

  • Americans are pretty convinced that if you are fast at math and don’t make mistakes then you are “good” at math.
  • How does speed and performance relate to being good at math? It doesn’t.
  • The speed at which you can do math relates to your math fluency, not how “good” you are at math.

I quickly shared this post with my 3rd-8th grade math team and my PLN on twitter.  The response has been immediate and positive.  If we all know this intellectually, it is essential that we start modeling and discussing it with our students.  Is being fast and accurate and admirable condition, sure.  Is the same as being successful, no way.

Lean into the Learning



While we can tell students again and again and again and again to protect their online identity, to make wise decisions, and to present oneself online as they would in person, often these are lessons that are only capable of being learned through experience.

Just this week a wonderful example of this presented itself, and while others would shy away due to the use of and fear of their children/students being exposed to certain language particularly in schools, I an adamant that we need to lean in to the learning, not shy away of the fear.  These opportunities may present far greater lifetime learning payoffs than the risks and should be harnessed for this greater good (I am in no ways saying that this can or should be done without supervision or adult discretion).

In our fourth grade 21st century learning class, @21ststacy presented a great lesson using to engage students in a discussion about whit is means to be brave during the first week of school (  The students were engaged in and enjoyed the lesson, and they were excited when Stacy shared it with our school families as well as her followers on twitter. A person who follows Stacy saw the lesson and decided to comment.

“What an amazing lesson.  I wish our school did cool shit like this”

We use the “Think Chart” above with students to help them reflect before we post anything on any social network site (but this could and should also translate to reflection before emailing, texting or speaking).

T is it true?

H is it helpful?

I is it inspiring?

N is it necessary?

K is it kind?

Certainly reflecting on the “Think Chart” in response to the comment, one could raise whether the use of profanity is necessary and whether profanity in a response to a school or anyone is kind. The real lessons here are in opportunity lost and opportunities presented.

From an opportunity lost prospective:  If the commenter had said the same comment without the profanity: “What an amazing lesson.  I wish our school did cool stuff like this,” it would have been an opening or a chance for us to connect with the commenter and maybe set up a classroom connection or a Skype chat.  Furthermore, had the presenters said “What an amazing lesson.  Our schools does similar lessons with (padlet, edmodo…etc),” it would have been an opportunity for us to build on our CLN (classroom learning network) by adding a new source four us to learn from.

From an opportunity gained perspective: The use of the single word of profanity in his comment has changed it from a post that creates connection and allows our students to meet other communities to a powerful learning tool.  We learn by doing and experiencing. Though we would love for our student and children to learn from things we say and the warnings and guidance we offer them, it is unfortunately in the mistakes that we make or experience that the most meaningful and long term learn occur.  As the students joy for the activity and the sharing of this activity have created investment for them, the comment can present disappointment at the “sullying” of their effort.  We can and must now share with them that this comment and harness the learning opportunity to discuss our, their, and this commenter’s digital footprint.  We must let them know that employers, colleges, and organizations search for an applicant’s digital footprint and look for the ways in which the model their online self vs. their in-person self.  This commenter has now created an entry in their digital portfolio in which they respond to elementary classes and teachers with profanity. We must ask them to reflect about whether it matters that the intentions of the commenter would good, as he was clearly giving credit to the work that the class had done, or whether the single error in judgment would be the impact of this contribution to his digital footprint.

No one wants their kids exposed to some of the profanity that they see regularly in the movies, news, and on the web.  As teachers, however, we have to lean into these learning opportunities. Yes, it is our primary job and want to keep our kids safe, but safety is not achieved not preparing them and making sure that they themselves are making decisions on social networks and across digital platforms that represent their best self.  They must have exposure, training, and the modeling to use these tools in a positive way to harness their benefit and to contribute always with the idea in mind, “is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary is, and most importantly is it kind?”



Building on Excitement and Working on Endurance

An amazingly joyful and smooth start to the school year has brought us to day 3.

Day 1 and 2 were highlighted by the incredible spirit and enthusiasm from student, teacher, and parents alike to “dive in” in to the new year and meet their new classroom communities.

In two short days, the students have progressed from “newbies” to the school and/or grade level to fully immersed “vets” confident and comfortable in their schedules and classes.

One of the key tasks ahead now turns to endurance building.  Day 3 comes without the training that October and November provide for us, and thus we feel like mile marker 18 of marathon.  Early mornings, engaging days, as well as mental and physical activities leave us hungry for more time asleep.

Alas, the first Kabbalat Shabbat is only two days away. This Shabbat of rest will be welcomed in with open arms.  I look forward to a great completion of week 1, celebrating with you at Kabbalat Shabbat, and the endurance training ahead.

Reflections on a Great Day of Learning

For the 2nd straight year, John D’Auria of Teachers21 shared his insight, experience, and humor with our faculty team.  This full day of learning centered on the important ideas of how to enhance student outcomes through “Developing a Shared Understanding of Effective Teaching & Teaming.”  As always John has a keen ability to make both the discourse and the methods used in discourse educational for all in attendance.


Connection between adult and student environment

John put forth the idea that a school system is the same as a fractal (A curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole) in that what is occurring in the classroom mimics what is occurring with the faculty.  As such it is vital for the social, emotional, and learning needs of the teachers to be met and developed in order to ensure that same care is happening with our students.  This idea ties perfectly with our core value of Kehilla – (community)

“kehillah is more than just a group of people who share a common space. It is a group of people who share a common vision, common values, common hopes, common language, and common expectations of one another. We don’t sacrifice our individuality to be part of a kehillah. Instead we understand that our diverse and unique qualities and attributes make our kehillah vibrant (Rabbi Lapidus @rabbispen).”

And is supported by John Hattie’s Research which is detailed in his incredible book Visible Learning for Teachers.

“School leaders and teachers need to create schools, staffrooms, and classroom environments in which error is welcomed as a learning opportunity, in which discarding incorrect knowledge and understanding is welcomed, and in which teachers can feel safe to learn, re-learn, and explore knowledge and understanding (John Hattie, 2012).”

If all parties in a school community are not expected to learn and grow, how can we be modeling this for students?

7 behaviors that demonstrate effective learning

John then posed to each team (we were grouped in cross divisional random groupings) to list the behaviors that we would see inside the classroom of an effective teacher.  After much discussion and pairing down our lists to a final 7, groups shared their results (a few tweeted lists below:)


The opportunity to engage in this discussion about what each of us feel are the essential qualities of good teaching and learning continues to build on both a common vocabulary as well as trust amongst the entire team.

A lens for looking at effective learning

John next put forth a lens for all of us to look at and discuss learning with and important shift:


Effective learning has to be measured through student’s investment and the degree to which the learning is relevant to the student as opposed to the actions of the teacher.  It is our job and goal to facilitate lessons on learning outcomes that are relevant and important to the students that garner their investment.  We then watched a series of clips of teacher’s lessons and discussed the student engagement and relevance.

How do the core values of the school align with this lens?

The method for assessing evidence of learning is the same tool that can and should be applied to assessing the permeation and realization of our values.

Davis Academy Core Values

kehillah – community

Tzedek – righteousness

Chochmah – wisdom

Kavod – Respect

Ruach – spirit


How are student invested in these values and how are they relevant to them not only inside the classroom but also in the lunch room, on the ball field, at home, and throughout their lives?  John challenged us to come up with pieces of evidence that we could share to support that these are more than words and actualized by our students.  The list of activities and traits that were quickly generated were wonderful to hear and left us excited to begin further implementation and lessons surrounding these ideas.

In Closing

In the end a wonderful day of mutual sharing learning was concluded and summed up best by our middle school math teacher, Cam Heyen, when he shared:


Life, Learning, and Laughter Enthusiast

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