April #blogamonth: Best Source of Ongoing PD



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?


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?


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?


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


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


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


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.

A Special Friday Message


Dear Davis Academy Community:

On Tuesday morning The Davis Academy 8th grade joined with their counterparts at The Marist School for the culmination of a series of meetings focused on interfaith dialogue, understanding, and community service. Blissfully unaware of what Tuesday afternoon would bring to the greater Atlanta area, students from the two schools spent the morning volunteering at Books for Africa, The Atlanta Community Food Bank, Medshare, as well as at The Davis Academy. In a few short hours they processed more than 6,000 pounds of food, 16,000 pounds of books, and 2,500 pounds of medical supplies. They prepared more than 700 sandwiches for Project Open Hand, wrote more than 500 get well, holiday, and birthday cards for area nursing homes, and jointly painted a prayer canvas with both schools’ logos that will help line the route of the upcoming Boston Marathon. It was a typically atypical morning at Davis. A day that engaged students in the kind of learning that, to paraphrase Haim Ginott, makes us ‘more human.’ Or as we put it at Davis, a day of menschlichkeit.

As students and teachers boarded their busses to return from their various service project locations, the first flurries of snow were falling. Regarding the subsequent hours, each of us has a story. To the best of our knowledge all members of The Davis Academy community found safe haven by Tuesday evening, even if they weren’t in their own homes. Over the last couple of days, members of The Davis Academy administration have been privileged to hear some of the many stories of our community members. We have heard about students helping to warm stranded motorists with cups of tea. Families opening their homes to strangers who simply needed to make a phone call or use the restroom. Alumni who provided emergency medical services to individuals who were cut off from emergency vehicles. Teachers who spent the evening pushing cars up hills. From every corner of our community we have heard tales of selflessness, compassion, and bravery. We have been sacred witnesses to indescribable acts of menschlichkeit.

To be sure Davis Academy students, families, alumni, and teachers weren’t the only heroes on the streets in recent days. But upon reflection, it cannot be denied that our kehilah instinctively knew that action was required and responded in kind. We knew that the extraordinary circumstances required us to think not only of ourselves, but also of others. We answered Rabbi Hillel’s two thousand year old question, “If I am only for myself, what I am?”

A recent survey of Davis Academy alumni confirms something we are very proud of here at Davis—that our graduates thrive at the high school of their choice and that they leave Davis ready for the next step. The stories you’ve shared, and the stories we hope that you will share in response to this note, help us understand what the “Davis Journey” is all about. We are helping children become mensches. It’s not just smart people, not just well-prepared people, not just well-rounded people, all of which might lead us to say ‘dayeinu’ . We are helping our children become more fully human, to become mensches. We are helping them to become leaders and mensches who see in their fellow human beings an ethical obligation—to care, to help, and to honor.

Help us understand the story of The Davis Academy in response to this week’s snowstorm by hitting reply and sharing your story. Please let us know if we have your permission to use your name in subsequent communications.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Lapidus

Impact of Mindset on Teaching and Learning


Guest post via Rebecca Cater (@caterclass). Rebecca is a teacher, student, knitter, gardener, bird watcher, and science lover. She is the Coordinator of Curriculum and Innovative Learning at The Davis Academy


I LOVE teaching math.  I’m honored that I teach an accelerated third grade math class.  I think math is simple and fun and I believe with hard work and practice anyone can become a successful math student.

Some would describe me as a strict teacher.  Kids worry before they meet me that I’m too hard. That’s ok, because I am a tough teacher.  I insist upon excellent handwriting. I want students to communicate clearly.  I take off full points when work is partially complete.  The work is challenging as I push my students in ways they have not experienced before. Secretly, however, I’m a big softy, and I’m always willing to negotiate. Once kids meet me, they realize they don’t have to worry too much.  I’m there to talk through their issues. However, every year, I have students who can’t manage their frustration.  They break down and cry.

Last year was particularly difficult with one student  who struggled at every turn.  Her mother and I supported her throughout the year to help her manage her frustration.  We helped her realize this feeling she was having, while new, was perfectly normal.  She successfully finished third grade and is confident and highly successful in fourth grade.

I spent the summer reflecting on how this child experienced my class.  After reading and meditating on Carol Dweck’s Mindset  and Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed,  I knew I needed to make a change.  I had to explicitly present a safe, but frustrating experience.  Then teach how to identify that feeling of frustration and how to manage it.  I turned to Tangrams.

The first week of school I decided to SLOW DOWN.  I didn’t need to dive into my curriculum right away, I needed to give my kids some resiliency.  I presented a Tangrams puzzle over multiple lessons.  We explored the shapes and began to solve some puzzles.  With the seven Tangram pieces you can makes squares of different sizes.  You can use one piece, two pieces, three pieces, all the way to seven pieces to make The Big Square.  I told my class to use one piece to make a square.  Easy, they hold up a square.  Use two pieces.  Easy-ish, use two triangles.  Three pieces.  Huh? What? Now the frustration began.  Students started looking around to see what their peers were doing.

“Don’t peek,” I said, “try it on your own.”

You could hear the excitement in the air as students discovered the solution on their own.  I checked in with the kids by asking how it felt to solve the puzzle.  They loved the feeling of personal accomplishment! It didn’t take long for the students to solve the three piece square, but the four piece square was more of a challenge.

The next day we repeated the one, two, and three piece square to have immediate success.  I stopped the class and asked how it felt to have success.  Again, they LOVED the feeling of accomplishment.  They felt happy and good about themselves.  Then came the four piece square.

“Impossible,” they commented.

“You can do it,” I said, “try something else.”

The minutes that passed felt like hours. I talked while they worked.  I defined the feeling of frustration and asked them to keep working, they would figure it out.  Finally, a student shouted, “I got it!”

Most of the kids jumped up to see the answer but some diverted their eyes and said, “Don’t tell me, I want to do it on my own.”  I covered up the answer and asked the students to continue to work on their own.  The student who solved it first moved on to solve five piece puzzle.  The class worked through a frustrating five minutes or so. Those that couldn’t stand the wait caved and got the answer from someone else.  I asked that everyone get the answer for the four piece puzzle to see how to solve.

Then, it was time to bring the kids together to reflect on the Tangrams activity.  We sat together on the carpet.  I asked them how it felt to solve the puzzles on their own.  Their answers varied from good to great.  Students said they felt proud of themselves.  Students reported feeling happy.  Then I asked, “How did it feel to solve the puzzle after someone told you the answer.” One student stood out when he said, “It felt good, but not as good as solving it on my own.”


I explained that this year they would have moments where the work was easy and they would have immediate and satisfying success.  There would also be moments where they felt extreme frustration, but that feeling! That frustration! THAT is learning.  I wanted them to remember this feeling and use it over the course of the year.

Did that change my class?  It’s January.  We are in the throes of multiplication by 2-digit numbers and long division.  We’ve learned order of operations and exponents.  Problem solving boggles their minds.  How do they handle their frustration?  They come to me before and after class to ask for help, they ask me to slow down, they ask me to reteach.  They share their mistakes with the class and laugh at themselves for making the same mistakes over and over.

And how’s the crying this year?

Zero crying.

Life, Learning, and Laughter Enthusiast

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