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.

Another PD Gem Mined from My PLN




This past weekend I listened and participated live in my first Techlandia podcast:

Techlandia Podcast is amazing hour of sharing, discussion and humor led by Jon Samuelson (@ipadsammy), Alison Anderson (@tedrosececi), and Curt Rees (@CurtRees). Each week they are joined by a guest to highlight apps, twitter users, and educational ideas that “Can make an immediate impact in your classroom,” (from http://about.me/techlandiacast).

The guest for this past podcast was Karl Lindgren-Streicher (@ls_karl) who shared his recent experiences at EdcampSac and EdcampHOME.  One of the sessions he spoke of was the “Things That Suck” session that Bill Selak (@billselak) was introduced to via Dan Callahan (@dancallahan)

“Things That Suck is a staple session at most EdCamps (an EdCamp is a participant-driven professional development gathering). I was introduced to Things That Suck at EdCampOC by Dan Callahan. I was in a different session, but read so many tweets about Things That Suck, that I ran over to that room. It turns out, Things That Suck is a debate, a discussion, a conversation. Dan announced a controversial educational topic, and people moved to one side of the room if that topic sucks or to the other side of the room if that topic rocks,” Things That Suck: an Epic #EdCamp Session.

I was quickly intrigued by the idea and decided to run a “Things That Suck” session at our middle school faculty meeting.

Faculty Meeting

All of our faculty meetings begin with faculty members offering “kudos” (usually in the form of a toast, roast, and/or poem format) to fellow colleagues as a token of appreciation for their kindness, support, and dedication.  After our “kudos” session, is our “21st Century Learning, Teaching, and Sharing” in which faculty members share apps, web resources, instructional strategies, and/or ideas that they are currently using and/or exploring in their classroom.  This week teachers shared PowToon (@PowToon), PhET Interactive Sims, and Gone Google Story Builder. All three of these applications were well received and could be integrated in a myriad of ways to enhance student learning.

At the completion of Kudos and Sharing (there are certain months, often surrounding conferences, that kudos and sharing last the whole hour and are therefore the content of our meeting), we move on to specified content.  I was anxious and excited to share a brief history of the Edcamp movement and talk about my own experiences with EdcampHOME (@edcamphome) and EdcampOnline.  Next I explained the “Things That Suck” session and we dove in.

Over the course of 30 minutes we declared our “Suck” or “Rock” opinion of homework, BYOD, midterms, and twitter.  Each topic segregated our faculty which facilitated some fabulous discussion.  While none of these discussions produced resolution (this is not the goal of these sessions and I would caution use of this protocol if that is your aim) the safe space created for dissenting opinions, sharing one’s own perspective, and accessing and hopefully understanding a perspective different than your own contributed to great learning and a great shared experience.

A few great thought provocations that came out of our session:

  1. (Midterms) At what point does the focus on preparing students for what they will encounter the following year or years impede our focus on teaching the student what they are developmentally appropriate for and need to know in the current year?
  2. (BYOD) Does a BYOD policy in a middle school further foster social concerns of the haves and have nots based on the brand, capabilities, and newness of each student’s devices?
  3. (Homework) Does the inability to provide all the learning that is necessary for students to engage in during an 8 hour period, represent a failure or problem on the schools part?
  4. (Twitter) How do we model for our students the appropriate balance of living in the present, while understanding and respecting the power and potential of connection through social media?



Forever Learning


Twain’s quote is unfortunately not only speaking to the students in our schools, but also for many teachers. It speaks to the professional development programs that are not yielding deep and meaningful growth?  For many years I have shared my belief with my team:

I believe amongst my team there is immense expertise in a myriad of topics that we all could benefit from.  We have faculty that are gifted in collaborative project facilitation, classroom management, parent communication, enrichment activities, classroom culture building…etc. If there we some way to down load all of this expertise on to a “shared drive” so that all of us had access to both our own areas of strength and our areas of growth, there would be almost no need for PD.

At Davis

Perhaps it is this belief that has shaped the professional development program at Davis which is all faculty initiated (teachers come to me with topics they are interested in learning about), faculty facilitated (all of our strands are led by teachers who work with me to decide on content {texts, articles, blogs…} and delivery model {cohorts, Edmodo, text & message board}, and faculty selected (teachers choose which of the offerings they would like to participate in).   Perhaps more important than the content strands that we are running (link) is the opportunity for shared learning, growth, and discussion.  I believe that is in these discussions and connections that we share pieces of ourselves and our own perspectives which emulate the “shared drive.”


I am admittedly novice to the world of Edcamps, having only attended two virtual sessions (EdcampOnline and Edcamphome 2.0). That being said, I immediately felt the immense transformative power that this model offered as a tool for learning.  Gathering diverse educators together to engage in meaningful discussions and sharing in groups that are formed based on common areas of interest has amazing implications for improving student learning.  In the two experiences I have had, I have been fortunate to learn with and from passionate educators who shared their challenges, successes, resources, and perhaps must exciting, the opportunity for further connection and learning after the experiences. If you have not attend an Edcamp, I would certainly encourage it (If you are interested in finding one near you, check out http://edcamp.wikispaces.com/).

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi



PLN Blogging Challenge


I am honored to have received the recognition to participate in the PLN blogging challenge.  This challenge, similar to the sunshine award and homework club, highlights the incredible learning network of amazing educators that are eager to collaborate, learn, and grow from and with each other.  It has been a great pleasure to dive in to this connected world in 21013 and I look forward to greater learning and connections in 2014. I was nominated for the PLN challenge by Chris Hubbuch (@ChrisHubbuch) who like many of my PLN I have never met in person.  That being said, in addition to being a Middle School Principal, Chris is an avid tweeter who shares his own thoughts as well as great resources routinely.  If you are not already following him, I would certainly suggest it.

The PLN blogging Challenge:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts about me…

  1. I love playing video games with my kids (or without them)
  2. I love playing any game with cards, die or tiles.
  3. I am a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan.
  4. I am an insatiable reader who loves reading pedagogy, leadership, philosophy, and humor books.
  5. I enjoy fiction novels that are a part of series so as to allow a longer investment. (a few of my favorites are The Courtney Series by Wilbur Smith, W.E.B. Griffin’s The Corp Series, and unashamedly a huge fan of the Potter and Artemis Fowl Series).
  6. I am a huge fan of George Carlin’s humor and books.
  7. I am a compulsive computationalist.
  8. I have great admiration for the power and impact of inspirational videos and I love to find and share these with friends, parents and colleagues.
  9. I love improv and musical theatre.
  10. Cowboy boots are my greatest vanity.
  11. I believe Sriracha sauce is a great condiment for everything from breakfast through desert.

Questions from Chris

1. What is one skill that you acquired in 2013?

Mutli-chatting: As if learning to engage in twitter chats was not enough of a test of one’s ability to wade the stream, engaging in multiple chats at one time is a challenge but allows for even greater learning, sharing and connecting,

2. If you weren’t in education, what would you do instead?

Wow, tough one.  I was originally an actuary, but did not like the cubical.  Then a bartender, but did not like the industry.  Finding a place where I could engage with math and be with people…I may give professional card player a try.

3. Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why? How did they inspire you?

I had a number of wonderful teachers who shaped the educator and person that I am today, but I believe Dr. Alice Terry, impacted me most. In addition to opening my eyes to service learning, gifted education, and divergent thinking, she challenged me to be better each tomorrow.

4. What do you see as the most pressing issue for educators in 2014?

I think we need to be continually reflecting on the systems we have in place to assess whether we are preparing students to be successful in the world they will inherit or the one we are currently in.

5. What characteristic do you value most in a team member or colleague?

Another great question as there are many key traits I look for, but I value most a colleague’s passion.  I believe passionate educators connect with their students, strive to continue to grow both for themselves and for their professional effectiveness, and are advocates for students and causes tat they believe in.

6. What is the best book that you’ve read lately?

I love to read and have enjoyed a great year of reading.  I am therefore going to go with my most current read that I enjoyed.  I am currently sharing Great Ways to Sabotage a Good Conversation by Paul W. Schenk with my teacher and admin team.

7. What is one thing you tried last year that you learned about from your PLN?

Way too many to detail.  My PLN has shared so many amazing tools this year.  Biblionasium, TodaysMeet, Socrative, GHOs…etc are all regular tools at our school that came from the amazing educators I am connected with.

8. What is your best piece of advice for educators at the start of the second semester?

After 5 months of active participation on twitter, my first piece of advice would be to get a twitter account and begin connecting.  I truly believe that I have learned more in the past 5 months than in many year of PD and independent reading.

9. What is your favorite TV show or movie?

I love Field of Dreams for many reasons (sports, history, father-son relationship, having faith, determination).

10. Are you planning to attend any conferences or Edcamps before summer?

Always looking to learn and attend conferences.  I am planning on attending the RAVSAK conference in January and Martin Institute and ISTE this summer.

11. What is your proudest moment as a professional?

I think I am most proud of the culture of learning and growing that I see amongst all members of my school community.

My turn to nominate…

Now it’s time for me to nominate 11 bloggers who deserve the recognition.  I read and appreciate so many great bloggers, but I am going to bend the rules on this a little.  I have been joined by a host of great bloggers who are committing to the #blogamonth challenge where we commit to blogging and commenting at least once a month.  It has been dubbed by one of the participants as “some quality edu-couragement to blog.” Here are there names of the current participants, and we would love for you to look and join our learning community here http://blogamonth.weebly.com/



Twitter Handel

Blog Address

Allison Petersen @alcp


Barry Saude @barrykid1


Brian Hunter @BHunterMusic


Doug Leisenring @eskyprincipal


Heather Theijsmeijer @HTheijsmeijer


Jason Reinecke @reinecke20


Jasper Fox Sr. @jsprfox


Jeannette Lee @jeannettemelee


Jim Cordery @jcordery


Joe Devine @JosephADevine


Katie Farr @katiefarr5


Kirsten Wilson @teachkiwi


Lisa Kincer @KincerLisa


Lisa Pagano @edu_ms_pagano


Matt Renwick @readbyexample


Matt Wachel @mattwachel


Megan Stamer @MeganStamer


Mike Lubelfeld @mikelubelfeld


Nathan Cameron @BestSubEver17


Rik Rowe @WHSRowe


Scott Jones @escott818


Shawn Davids @sdavids51


Shawn McCusker @shawnmccusker


Sue Fitzgerald @sue_fitz


Tristan P @mmehibou


Finally, according to the rules, it’s my turn to ask 11 questions of my nominees:

  1. What is your favorite movie of all time?
  2. If you could go to have attended any concert anytime in history, what would it have been?
  3. What do you do for fun?  Hobby?
  4. What two guests would make the best comedic pair as co-hosts for the Oscars?
  5. Cat, Dog or Goldfish? Why…
  6. How do you caffeinate?
  7. Favorite twitter chat?
  8. Best place you ever vacationed?
  9. Best book you’ve read in 2013?
  10. Favorite television shows?
  11. What is one thing you never/rarely share that you are exceptionally proud of?

Moving from Insulated to Connected to Connecting

a CC Licensed Flickr Photo Shared by reynermedia


2013 was amazing year of change for me as an educator. Having always been driven to continue learning and growing, I eagerly consumed new publications, watched new and old TEDs, and followed a few education related blogs.  I felt it was my job to share pieces of the learning I gleamed from these sources by facilitating faculty learning session that were aimed at producing thoughtful discussion, reflection and questions as opposed to answers.   This has been the way I learned and led for the past 5 years.  I do not want to disparage this is as our students, teachers, school, and I were learning, growing, and exceling.  That being said there was room for more…

One of the first and still one of my favorite post that got me thinking this was Amy Burvall “There’s No Copyright for Cookies: Why Educators Should Embrace Sharing.” Amy presents a compelling argument that instructional ideas, student work, and resources, much like homemade cookies, are indeed enhanced through sharing their “sweetness” with others.


As an educator, I learn more each day from the educators that I’m connected to via Twitter, global Facebook groups, and the Partners in Learning network than anywhere else. While I have sat in many traditional professional development workshops and gained many valuable insights from them that I have changed my way of thinking about teaching and learning, I still hold on to the value that global networks provide me. I need a place to ask for help, explore opportunities for discussing latest research and trends, and a place to just chat with educators that are experiencing some of the same issues that I face each and every day in education.  For me, professional development is ongoing. It’s the opportunities for just in time learning that challenge me to be a better educator, learner, and leader (Learning, Leading, and Connecting via @RobynHrivnatz).

This summer I was fortunate to attend both The Martin Institute and Building Learning Communities Educational Conference.  It was at these gatherings of passionate and dedicated learners that I truly began to understand the learning potential for myself and fro my team that connection provided.  This revelation was both the result of the immensely skilled presenters as well as the audience of educators attending the sessions I was in, sessions in other locations and even those not in attendance who were engaging in shared learning via twitter and other tools.  Having spent the past two years using twitter as a communication tool between school and parents to document and share highlights of our school field trips, this repurposing left me excited and eager to dive in. And we did…(A compilation of the Why, How to Get Started, and How to Get Connected with Twitter)

  1. All teachers created handles (those already on twitter, creating a new handle for professional use)
  2. We designated grade level hashtags for all of our teachers to use (#Davisme, #Davisk, #Davis1, #Davis2, #Davis3, #Davis4, #Davis5, #Davisms ) to connect our parents and classrooms on a more regular basis
  3. We used special hashtags for all school initiatives to build excitement for the announcement of our annual musical and ruach (spirit) week
  4. We shared some suggested PLN/follows for each teacher based on their own area of interest and/or assignment
  5. We had multiple sessions with parents on Social Media and your Child discussing the importance of digital literacy and sharing how we are engaging our students as digital citizens.
  6. …and so much more



Connected educators may be the worst advocates for getting other educators to connect. Too often they are so enthusiastic at how, as well as how much they are learning through being connected, that they tend to overwhelm the uninitiated, inexperienced, and unconnected educator with a deluge of information that both intimidates and literally scares them to death (Patience for the Unconnected via @tomwhitby).

Both Julie Smith’s tweet and Tom’s quote (a piece of a fabulous post) completely resonated with me. The flow of information is overwhelming, the learning potential is even more so, and the enthusiasm of those who have tapped in to the power of connectedness may be more all-encompassing then both.

Realizing and understanding the implications of this, I feel like this is my role…


CC Licensed Flickr Photo Shared by ImipolexG

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.

The last 5 months I have spent far greater time engaged in the following activities:

  1. Reading tweets and blogs and sharing these with the teachers on my team.
  2. Retweeting and connecting the questions of my teachers to other teachers and thinkers around the globe.
  3. Creating and sharing Great Twitter Classroom Connections (a list of over 300 active classrooms that are using twitter to engage students in global learning)
  4. Researching and helping my teachers begin to engage in connected learning (#mathstory #mlap, #grammar911, #vocabaz, #gloablgarden…etc)
  5. Helping my team build their own PLN (this is both an altruistic desire to build the capacity of all the educators on my team and a selfish desire to have an ever growing circle of learning for myself)

Though my team and I have only been truly engaged in getting connected and connecting for the first half of the school year, the payoffs are already tangible and exciting.  Students are engages with other students around the country and globe; teachers are both getting there questions and idea-searches answered by practicing teachers and sharing their own answers to the question and searches of others; lastly, I get to stand on shoulders of giants (colleagues, PLN & anyone willing to share knowledge or insight).

Thank You

Thank you to all who have contributed to my learning in 2013 and I look forward to the learning, sharing and growing that are ahead for us all in 2014.

Life, Learning, and Laughter Enthusiast

Skip to toolbar