Friday, November 13, 2015

The Gift of Failure: A Reading List for You

I've just completed chapter 2 in The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey. Throughout this chapter she summarizes the argument against overparenting and I found myself creating a mental reading list as I read. Then I realized, as every middle schooler at Canterbury already knows, that this list would, of course appear in her bibliography!

Some of these are well known, others less well known, but all worth the read. However, I will provide a list here on her references in the second chapter that I think will help provide color and context to her argument. Enjoy:

  1. Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward Deci, 1995
  2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, 2006
  3. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, 2009
  4. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel, 2014
Lahey also references studies by Elizabeth and Robert Bjork on "desirable difficulties" and Anne Sobel out of Northwester University in Qatar. 

PS I find it interesting that Deci's work was published 20 years ago and we are still struggling to manage our parental instincts and work towards developing our children's intrinsic motivation and autonomy....

Monday, November 9, 2015

BIG Question: What is the Power in a Name?

Each year in the middle school we embark on a series of BIG Questions around our community and what it means to be a part of it. Today we launched our first BIG Question to coincide with the national No Name Calling Week.

The question we posed to our middle schoolers was, "What is the Power in a Name?" This week and into next we will be undertaking a series of activities and reflection activities in our advisories that incorporate the expectations of kindness and inclusiveness we espouse at Canterbury. As part of this week we are encouraging students to wear crazy socks on Thursday, November 12. This is a small way to express our individuality and to see the individuality of others while continuing to think about our Big Question: What's the power in a name?

On Wednesday, November 18, Father Finnin will wrap up the BIG Question with a Middle School Chapel at 11:35 in Phillips Chapel.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Gift of Failure: First Impressions

Good morning,

I've just completed the Introduction and Chapter 1 of The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey and my first impressions of what is to come are favorable. First and foremost, the author is not a lecturing, "How-could-you?" voice of condemnation. To the contrary, she employs a reassuring, "I'm-with-you" voice as she offers her own parenting approach up for us to understand the journey to raising self-sufficient children.

Ms. Lahey does a particularly masterful job of outlining the history of parenting in America from colonization through the present day in a manageable and entertaining 14 page first chapter. As a father of three, four and under (and a daughter who is 4 going on 16...), I was particularly drawn to her John Locke quotations. Here is one of those gems:

"Locke advises, 'crying is very often a striving for mastery and an open declaration of their insolence or obstinacy: when they have not the power to obtain their desire, they will by their clamor and sobbing maintain their title and right to it' (emphasis Locke's, and I can almost hear the derision dripping from those horrid, emotional words)."

Lahey goes on to outline the progression from parenting as a matter of survival to the helicopter/interventionist approach of today: "Today, parenting is less oxytocin-soaked rosy glow, more adrenaline-fueled oncoming headlight glare."

I recommend it heartily and if the above quotation offers anything, it should be an indication of the sensibility and humor with which Ms. Lahey approaches her subject matter.

Please enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

All MS Faculty Read: The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

I hope you are enjoying the fall weather and are excited for the upcoming fall festivities. One of the best things about fall in North Carolina is that you can actually be outside to experience it! Meanwhile, back in the classroom we are coming to the close of the first trimester, fall sports have ended, homework is becoming more routine and big projects and assessments are waiting in the wings. It is the natural rhythm of the school year, but nonetheless, it can cause anxiety for teachers, parents, and students alike.

In middle school most of what we do is help students to learn to manage these anxieties in a way that develops productive, self aware, and confident learners. While it may seem counterintuitive, it is often the failures during students’ middle school years that prepare them best for the rigors and higher stakes of high school and beyond.

This is the thesis of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey. The middle school faculty has just begun reading this book together in an effort to curate common understandings and language around our learning environment and how best to work with our students around the struggle of learning - especially as it relates to middle school. As the title of Chapter 8 connotes, middle school is a prime time for failure and the relief comes in accepting that fact and using it as an opportunity for growth in a relatively low-stakes setting.

I invite you to join us in our reading. Our goal is to complete the book by Jan. 4, 2016 and to shortly thereafter host a book club-style discussion among faculty and parents about how we can partner together to help support our children through these times of growth. Over the course of the next few months, I will be writing some reflections on the reading through my blog, Life in Grey and I welcome your comments.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Christmas Sermon

The following is a guest post from one of our 8th graders, Clare. She gave her sermon this morning in Phillips Chapel in front of 400 or so of her closest friends and relatives. Each year, almost all of our 8th graders give a sermon offering their thoughts on life, spirituality, family, or school. A hallmark of the school, the 8th grade sermons have flourished under the leadership of Fr. Finnin, our school chaplain who has provided a more refined spiritual focus. 

Clare's sermon discussed how a Christmas Tree is a representation of life and that each and every one is an ornament that deserves a spot on that tree. Check it out: 

Good Morning.

For those who know me, know that I love Christmas. This is my favorite time of the year for so many different reasons. When I started thinking about my sermon, I knew that this would be the perfect time of the year. As I was remembering previous Christmas’, a certain story came to my mind.

A few years ago my family and I were decorating our Christmas tree. Everyone in my family had a particular job when decorating the tree. I was in charge of the red ornaments. As I was unloading the ornaments and placing them on the tree, I noticed one without a top and hook. Because there wasn’t a top and hook, I put it back into the box. After I was done with the rest of the ornaments, I looked back at what was left. The same red ornament was sitting alone at the bottom of it’s box. I realized that all I needed to do was to find a top and a hook, and that red ball could be on the tree like all the others. So I found a top, and I found a hook, and eventually that red ball fit perfectly on the Christmas tree.

You might be wondering how this has to do with…and just life. Well it has a lot. Imagine life as a big Christmas tree. A Christmas tree is big, green, fragrant, but there is something missing… the ornaments. And we are the ornaments of our Christmas tree. We come in different shapes, sizes, and color. And when we are on our Christmas tree, it is amazing!

As Perrin just read, "If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?" Imagine a Chtmas tree with just green ornaments, or all circle shaped ornaments. That would be sort of boring wouldn't it? This also goes along with real life situations. It would be boring if there were only 8th graders on the planet, or only people who can sing, or only people who are really good at math. We all have our special talents and we need each other's help and gods help finding them.

Unfortunately, there are many people who don't think they belong on the tree. For whatever reason, they feel like they have lost their top or lost their hook, and don't belong with others on the Christmas tree of life. They don’t realize that they aren't alone. These people don’t know that God made the Christmas tree big enough for everyone. People shouldn’t make fun of someone’s scratch when they might be hiding a dent. Like what Matthew 7:1-5 states, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" This is talking about someone judging another person for a flaw, when that very same person has an even bigger flaw. This relates to my story because some people are not helping people find their hooks or their tops. Many people make fun of other people who have a difficulty or a clear difference, even though those same people have difficulties and struggles themselves.

Take a minute and think about a time that you felt like you didn't belong or someone made you feel like you were missing something or that you weren't like the other people. have probably felt this sometime in your life if you have ever been to a new school and didn't know anyone, or you have been bullied for something you couldn't help. I have personal experience thinking that I didn’t have a hook or top and that I didn't exactly belong. I have had people insult me for being different or just because of having difficulties with different things. I used to think they were right and they might have been, but I didn't realize that they had differences too. I have always complained to my parents about myself having issues, but not other families or some of my friends. They always told me that you may not see their difficulties, but they have them.

I challenge you over this Christmas break, to see your differences in a good way and not to only see your differences, but to see your talents. And to make sure all your ornaments make it onto your Christmas tree. And remember, everyone has a top, a hook, and most of all, a place on God’s tree. Amen.

Friday, December 5, 2014

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

This book review originally appeared as part of the December 4 SAIS eNewsletter

If you were to put the major influences on how our brains developed in terms of shaping the way we learn onto a timeline, the first million-or-so years would consist of two main contributors: the search for food and the unending desire to survive. It is only in the last few thousand years that more ephemeral influences have begun to impact the way our brains adapt for learning. It is only in the last few hundred years that we as a species have put an edifice of education of our own creation around what we perceive to be the way we learn. 

The problem with this, says Benedict Carey, a New York Times science reporter and author of the book, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, is that this artifice of education often ignores all of the ways the brain really learns. What we’ve been taught about studying, practicing, and solving limits our ability to make learning last. Carey offers concrete strategies to capitalize on the first million years of brain development - that which made us hyper-aware of our surroundings, intent on finishing a project because of the need to accomplish a goal, or perceiving multiple factors at once to inform our next move. He accomplishes this by offering up a plethora of meta-research, experiments, personal anecdotes, and even puzzles to bring his points home. In fact, this is one of the more appealing aspects of the book - if you are looking for a relatively concise compilation of major research on the brain, memory, forgetting, and learning, How We Learn is an excellent resource. 

How We Learn, through Carey’s organization of the research, provides for the layperson an accessible and comprehensive account of the science behind learning. He divides his narrative into four main parts. In part one, he brings everyone up to speed on the biology of learning and the role that forgetting plays in how we learn. A little forgetting is good because it means you work the memory muscle when you need to recall something. Part two focuses on the retention of knowledge and builds on the memory theme by delving into the relationship of learning in different contexts to aid in retrieval of information, spaced learning or knowing when to start studying, and self examination as an active means of study. Part three discusses the best way to solve more complex problems and it is in this section of the book, where Carey’s best work lies. He does a masterful job of articulating the steps involved in the “Insight Experience” (p. 114), the power of percolation around a problem, and “interleaving” or mixed-up practice (p. 171). Finally, part four introduces the intriguing realm of perceptual learning modules as a means to “supplement experience” (p. 186) and dutifully outlines the importance of sleep in consolidating learning across modes, physical and/or mental. 

While Carey does an excellent job compiling interesting studies and organizing research on learning into categories that make sense, the outcomes of that research and how he proposes we use them practically are not really new news. For example, Carey’s insight about spacing study sessions over multiple days to make your mind work harder to recall information is, essentially, our teachers’ admonition to study a little at a time. His advice about taking a break and distracting yourself when stumped on a problem in order to capture that a-ha! moment when you return to work is essentially like taking a coffee break in the faculty room. His point about using multiple choice testing to force the brain to eliminate bad choices and “tune it” towards the right one is essentially every high school junior’s primary strategy going into the SAT. This is not to say these are not important points to keep in mind and understand as teachers, because they are. But for the most part, educators who are focused on best practices, research, and influential trends on education will not find any groundbreaking ideas in this book. However, it could be a great resource for new teachers, inquisitive and committed parents, and students who, in Carey’s words, may need to “broaden the margins” (p. xi) and give themselves a break every once in a while.