Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bricks and Mortar: Teachable Moments

The last piece of our Honor House at Calvert are the bricks and the mortar: teachable moments. Each day, our students make mistakes, push the envelope, say things they don't really understand (or things they do), treat each other poorly, and generally act like pre-adolescents act.

Hopefully, we who are working with these students are excited about the great gifts they bring to a school and our classrooms and, frankly, should enjoy being around them. As middle level educators we understand this age is not easy to deal with - there will be moments of frustration - but we see what kind of influence we have and take it very seriously.

Despite their outward appearance, these students are watching us closely - our reactions, body language, voice level and tone, collegial interactions, and overall demeanor are all under a micrscope. As such, we have a huge responsibility to model appropriate behavior and take every measure to "seize" moments when our students step out of the bounds of the Honor Code - big or small.

In her article, "Teachable Moments for Social Justice" (Independent School Magazine, Spring 2008), Mara Sapon-Shevin outlines a way for teachers to sieze opportunities for character education and social justice as they arise. Sapon-Shevin outlines four ways to seize these moments:

  • Build up knowledge in order to "improve our sensitivity to the occurrence of the teaching occasion"

  • Develop a "classroom community" that allows for productive responses

  • Develop responses for both reactive and proactive situations

  • Personally commit to maintaining a "democratic, inclusive school"

During our discussions on the Honor Code last year and the application to our students we used these ideas to develop a Toolbox for confronting sticky issues at Calvert. Within each realm described above we came up with a number of ideas of how to seize the moments in our classrooms at Calvert. That Toolbox can also be found to the left of this post under Useful Dean Links.

You can find some highlights below:

  1. Know the kids - social issues, surroundings

  2. Basic knowledge of world events - be prepared to answer tough questions

  3. Use Diversity Director as resource


  1. Advisories - provide a safe atmosphere to discuss

  2. Addressing it - quick is good, but know the answer and don't be afraid to bring in help

  3. Strategize for confronting issues arising outside classroom but seeping into it

  4. Take time to determine real issue - meanness vs. in/exclusion

  5. Pose issues back as questions - restate the issue

  6. Set ground rules for the classroom

  7. Extrapolate an ethical question from each lesson to build trust in discussion


First, make sure all responses are age appropriate. a reaction to a 5th grade is going to be different than a reaction to an 8th grader.


  1. Restate the statement as a question

  2. Code words to let them know you don't like it

  3. Conversation about acceptable situations


  1. Advisory time to expand definition of diversity

  2. Come back to Code word and discuss what caused it to prevent a reoccurence

  3. Rules in classroom cover a large amount of the things that come up

  4. Give them the tools to maintain beliefs and opinions, while still providing content on quiz/paper/etc.

  5. Find a list of famous people for particular situations: various religions, learning disabilities, diversity, etc.

  6. Role play and case studies

  7. Guest speakers


  1. Important to be human: we make mistakes and own up; acknowledge it - students want fairness and justice

  2. Put yourself out there, share personal experiences

  3. Bring it to students to talk and listen to their ideas - validate their insightfulness

  4. Model respect and team building

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Ponderance: Exams - Pressure, Preparation, and Reflection

Where We Are: Pressure

Let’s be honest: right now you are all feeling pressure. You’re worried about your exams coming this week and it makes you uncomfortable. I wanted today’s Monday Ponderance to address this feeling, and hopefully, shine a light towards the end of the “exam week” tunnel.

I’ve found a few quotes from various people which address your feelings of pressure, what you can do about it, and what you can look forward to when the tests are over.

“Pressure is a word that is misused in our vocabulary. When you start thinking of pressure, it's because you've started to think of failure.”

Tommy Lasorda, MLB manager

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure”

Peter Marshall, TV Host

In summary: You feel pressure - own it. So what can we do with it? Use it to your advantage and channel it into preparation.

What We Can Do: Prepare

“No man ever reached to excellence in any one art or profession without having passed through the slow and painful process of study and preparation”

Horace, Roman Poet

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”

Confucius, Ancient Chinese philosopher and political theorist

You seek success on your exams. Success does not come without hard work and maximum effort. Channel the pressure into preparation – proper preparation – and the results you seek will come and when they do, think about what you’ve done – celebrate and reflect.

What We Look Forward To: Reflection

“Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.”

John Locke, English philosopher and famous political theorist

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

Peter F. Drucker, American Educator

Reflection on your actions, your feelings, and reactions will be key. Make mental and written notes about what worked this time around, what didn’t, and why. Isolate the positive, shed the negative, and move on.

Good luck.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reflecting on Outreach at Calvert

On Wednesday, December 9, the middle school fall outreach programs culminated with an outreach fair. Ten outreach groups created a variety of multi-media presentations to inform their peers about what they were doing in their outreach groups. Students were able to discuss with their classmates,

o The outreach partner they were helping
o The goal of the group
o Pictures of the group at work
o Quotes from students or people they worked with
o Any next steps to come out of their project.

At the end of the fair the students left feeling excited about what they had accomplished and energized to reach out during the holiday season. I wish I could include the names of the students who were working each of the tables and talking outreach amongst themselves, but policy dictates against it. Instead here is a list of the outreach projects and the faculty members who led them.

1. RPP/Keswick: Sra. Sachar, Mme. Bofil-Polsky, and Mr. Hardesty presented samples of their correspondence with the residents, as well as pictures of their visit in November.

2. Calvert in Action Ambassadors: Ms. Webster and Ms. Wareheim presented a PowerPoint on the responsibilities of a CIA ambassador and even began recruiting future representatives!

3. Student Government Association: Our SGA officers and representatives presented a slide show on the accomplishments of the SGA including the November menu, helping the 5th grade in their elections, and the Paul’s Place Mitten Mountain.

4. Library Outreach: Ms. Stone presented a multi-media project promoting library use and it benefits.

5. Book Bonanza: Mrs. Babb presented examples of the children’s books their group had made for Hampstead Hill Elementary School.

6. Empty Bowls: Ms. Kamp and Mr. Rossi presented their bowls and a video describing their purpose in helping visitors to Beans & Bread and Sarah’s Place.

7. Tree Planting: Mr. Ewen filled in the details to a slide show about the trees they planted for the Herring Run Watershed.

8. Komen Race for the Cure: Mrs. Nessler, Mrs. Lears, and Ms. Summers presented a summary of the money raised for cancer research and pictures of the actual race attended by a number of Calvert students, faculty, and families.

9. Placement: Ms. Yapsuga and the 8th graders presented the nuts and bolts of Placement at Calvert and the students held some mock interviews for the 5th, 6th, and 7th graders.

10. Outreach Preview: Students were able to watch a presentation previewing the upcoming outreach opportunities beginning in January.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Ponderance: Perfection

I chose this ponderance from Coach John Wooden because our students tend to get very anxious and stressed about perfection this time of year. We will have exams next week in the middle school and we work during this week to enourage our students to prepare well. I think Coach Wooden summarizes the real lesson in perfection - that the act of pursuing is key, not attaining it.

Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an
impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts.

Our teams at UCLA had four perfect seasons, but we never played a perfect game, never played as well as we could. That's perfection. We didn't reach perfection, but we constantly strove toward it.

I believe there is nothing wrong with the other fellow being better than you are if you've prepared and are functioning in the way you tried to prepare. That's all you can do.

But there is something wrong if you've failed to measure up to your ability because you haven't prepared.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Scaffolding: The Six E's

Earlier, we discussed the foundation of honor education at Calvert: Ethic integration into the curriculum. It is the cornerstone of our approach to character. Additionally, we have our physical space, tradition, and the Dean's Office which contribute to the foundation of our Honor House at Calvert.

The next step is to set up scaffolding in order to build the walls of our Honor House. These provide the framework for how we will apply the life skills that come with Honor. In the article, "Talking About Ethics and Character Education" by Rushworth Kidder, the author describes the Six E's that make a great character education program possible:

  • Embedded - ethics is in every class. This is a manifestation of the Foundation we have set in place

  • Empowered - Teachers are allowed to do this. In fact, in recent surveys of independent schools, parents indicated that a primary reason for choosing independent schools instead of public schools is character education

  • Effective - Despite what it may look like, the deliberate infusion of a character education program shows results. It helps to develop moral compasses in our students.

  • Extended - Students need opportunities to demonstrate their ethical "chops" outside of the Calvert walls. Outreach is a great way to do it.

  • Engaged - Approach the issues that matter to the community. The new honor code was developed from a year long conversation about the issues that matter to us: respect, responsibility, honesty, effort, and outreach.

  • Evaluative - Find a way to evaluate the program. At Calvert we use data - there is a referral system and we track a number of variables from time of year to location to grade. This allows to see the issues as they arise - almost in real time - and come together to address them. Also, we have a points system to reward students and create opportunities to celebrate them. We are able to see those students who are being "caught" doing great things - again, almost in real time.

Kidder also includes an epistemological point which discusses a conceptual framework, or way to talk about ethics. We have developed that in the Honor Code, during advisory, in class, and the points system.

We have used these Six E's to develop a program on top of the Honor House's foundation which we believe will allow is to approach the students in a way that will allow us to seize teachable moments with a common language. This scaffolding prepares us to apply the bricks and mortar of character education.

Next week we will discuss the what comprises those bricks and mortars and toolbox we need in order to work with them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is it Initiative, Really?

I've been presenting a Monday Ponderance at assemblies since the beginning of last school year. Every once in awhile a student has quoted it or commented that they've remembered it in some similiar situation. Yesterday, though, I began an e-mail exchange with a 7th grade student who took the initiative to delve deeper into the meaning of the story. Below you'll see our exchange and I think you'll agree that this is the point of it all - the Honor Code, the discussions, the case studies, all of it - for conversations and thinking like this.

(Editor's Note: The story has been edited for text-speak, informal speech, and mechanical errors only)

Student: Dear Mr. Skeen, What does iniative (sic) mean?


Student: It does not have your annoyingly big word in the dictionary.

Skeen: You spelled it incorrectly: initiative. Now,

Student: Oh .... Personally, I don't think that initiative works with the story.

Skeen: An introductory act or step; leading action. The man wanted a job digging ditches. The job description said he needed experience, and he didn't have any. So, on his own, as "an introductory step," he began to dig trenches to practice and gain experience. You know, if you formalized your insight into an analysis of the story and the application of initiative, you could comment on my blog... (Editor's Note: This student would be the second to do so in two years...hint, hint)

Student: But isn't experience very different from an introductory step? Experience is more like a particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something ( because I cite my sources ALL the time?)that fits the story. But it's not really a synonym of initiative so that doesn't work with the story.

Skeen: You're right, experience is not a synonym for initiative. The goal of the man was to gain experience. He couldn't gain experience in trench digging without doing it. So he took the initiative, the first step, to start a trench to gain that experience.

Student: But you are saying that he took initiative, which he did but he did not get experience so wouldn't it really be a waste? The man knows when they say experience, they mean real experience, not digging a trench in the woods. So, wouldn't it all be for nothing?

Skeen: The job was for a trench digger, so he went to dig a ditch in a tough plot of land. What better experience than choosing to dig a long ditch in a tough land? Why is this not appropriate experience for the job he was seeking?

Student: It doesn't work because when they asked for experience, they meant REAL experience, like already having a job in trench digging, not what he was doing. The man would sorta be lying to the people if he said he had experience, and if they gave him the job, that would be cheating.

Skeen: So you mean the act of digging a trench is insufficient experience? Is there more to the job of trench digger? If so, what skills does he need to be able to check off the experience box? I don't think he has cheated anyone by saying he has experience. He could be explicit in how he gained that experience, but I don't think that is lying.

Student: So, the thing that you said that you didn't think he was cheating, well that's an opinion and has no real content in an argument like this one. I think that real experience would be someone who was actually hired for a job as a trench digger. Trench diggers would need other qualifications, like getting along with people (since he probably wouldn't be digging a whole trench alone) and being able to work machinery that the company had (since he was using only a shovel). Because, if he couldn't work the machinery he could break it, or hurt himself and others. If he couldn't get along with people than digging the trench would take longer than it needed to.

Skeen: First, my statement is not an opinion but a fact based on the principle that to lie means not providing the truth to someone who is entitled to know it. The trench-business owner wanted experience. He was not explicit in what kind of experience. he is entitled to know if the man has experience and the man provided the truth that he does. OK, if we set aside the argument about whether going out and digging a trench is SUFFICIENT experience (you have to concede that digging a ditch is, in fact, experience even if it is not enough in your opinion) and get back to considering the point of whether his going out on his own and idgging a trench can be considered initiative. I believe it does decause it is an act he took on his own to better himself.

Student: But, you say that to lie means not to provide the truth to someone who is entitled to it. But the man who is hiring is completely entitled to the entire truth or else he may hire the man under false assumptions. Yes, the act he does may better himself, but it is not the BEST way to take initiative to get the job because it may not get him the job. Therefore, a better form of initiative would be to get a job at a trench digging site, perhaps not digging it but at least seeing how it was done.

Skeen: And we find ourselves back to the type of experience argument. However, in your original e-mail you were not satisfied the act of trench digging was initiative at all. Now you concede that it is, yet not the best. I think this is a different point and could be debated for a long time.....I hope you had fun with this exercise, because I did.

Student: It could be debated forever because there is no final answer, really. I do agree trench digging would give him experience, but not enough to apply for the job. This exercise is fun, we should have debates in actual classes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Ponderance: The Trench Digger

An elderly couple retired to the countryside - to a small isolated cottage overlooking some rugged and rocky heathland.

One early morning the woman saw from her window a young man dressed in working clothes walking on the heath, about a hundred yards away. He was carrying a spade and a small case, and he disappeared from view behind a copse of trees.

The woman thought no more about it but around the same time the next day she saw the man again, carrying his spade and a small case, and again he disappeared behind the copse.

The woman mentioned this to her husband, who said he was probably a farmer or gamekeeper setting traps, or performing some other country practice that would be perfectly normal, and so not to worry.

However after several more sightings of the young man with the spade over the next two weeks the woman persuaded her husband to take a stroll - early, before the man tended to arrive - to the copse of trees to investigate what he was doing.

There they found a surprisingly long and deep trench, rough and uneven at one end, becoming much neater and tidier towards the other end.

"How strange," the old lady said, "Why dig a trench here - and in such difficult rocky ground?" and her husband agreed.

Just then the young man appeared - earlier than his usual time.

"You're early," said the old woman, making light of their obvious curiosity, "We wondered what you were doing - and we also wondered what was in the case."

"I'm digging a trench," said the man, who continued, realising a bigger explanation was appropriate, "I'm actually learning how to dig a good trench, because the job I'm being interviewed for later today says that experience is essential - so I'm getting the experience. And the case - it's got my lunch in it."

He got the job.


We ask our students to take initiative each day. Today we asked them to ponder where they can take an extra step to make their own path. The more our students feel responsible for their own success, the more succesful they will be.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Integration of Ethics as the Foundation of Character Education

In an earlier post I presented the Honor House metaphor. That is, Honor at Calvert can be understood in terms of building a house. A solid foundation must be laid, scaffolding must be set up for the walls, and then bricks and mortar create the structure. At Calvert, the foundation is ethics education, the six "E's" providing support to faculty is the scaffolding, and seizing the teachable moments are the bricks and mortars of the Honor House.

Today, I'd like to delve into the conceptual foundation of Honor at Calvert: ethic integration. Typically, a cornerstone is the symbolic starting point of any "monumental building." In this case there is one cornerstone, curriculum integration, which is the figurative starting point, but our Honor House has three other cornerstones which are essential to our foundation: physical space, tradition, and the Dean's office.

The gold standard of character education is to have ethics interwoven into the curriculum of the school. This means having concrete and pointed application of ethic discussion in the lesson/unit plans. This could manifest itself in history as a paper on the ethics of historical decisions or prevailing philosophy, in English as a discussion of characters' motivation in literature, in science as a debate on the ethics of a scientific breakthrough and the ramifications for society, and in math as a project on the manipulation of data to serve some purpose.

These lesson plans, and this integration as a whole, will (and should) always be a work in progress. Educators should strive to link their curriculum to ethics because our students' future will necessitate a solid understanding of honor in their flat, global, and constantly shifting world.

Along with curriculum integration, we integrate honor into the lives of our students in three other ways. First, we have adapted the physical space of the school to reflect the values of the honor code: selfless servants, moral courage, and commitment. The beams in the hallways have the phrases painted across them to remind our students that honor does not end when they walk out of the classroom. Additionally, we post the Honor Code in every classroom.

Second, we have started various traditions attached to the Honor Code meant to ingrain the ideas of the code in our students. Every student must write the Honor Contract ( I have acted honorably) to any quiz or test. This physical act of giving one's word is another physical reminder that the Honor Code is real and meaningful: the student's word means something. We also have a Monday Ponderance during assembly each week to highlight some aspect of the Honor Code. Advisories often discuss these thoughts in their meetings each week. Finally, we created a community outreach curriculum which allows the students to put the Honor Code into practice.

Third, the Dean's office is charged with creating and maintaining a community program which accounts for all the "other" times (transition time, lunch/recess, study hall, after school, athletics). The key is to work with all the constituencies on creating a common language and keeping that message on point. The Dean's office is also responsible for setting a path for the community. A hugely important part of the Dean's role is leading reflection of the Honor Code and its application, so that our foundation can be the best possible for all involved.

The integration of ethics is ongoing at Calvert. While our work will never end, we can see the results in the type of students we send off to high school. They are confident, capable, and caring and a part of that is the result of developing the core values of the Honor Code at Calvert, which began with the foundation of ethic integration.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Internet and the Honor Code

Shannon Frederick, our Middle School Technology Coordinator, and I put this piece together for the middle school newsletter.

Children start using the Internet very early these days. The debate between pros and cons of Internet usage could be argued all day long, but the truth is preteens and teens can’t get enough. In fact, at any given minute during a normal day, over one billion people can be on the Internet. So, how can we be aware of what our children are doing, help them navigate the internet with honor and integrity, and keep them safe?

Students are using the Internet in a myriad of ways. They post photos of themselves and friends, along with information about themselves, such as hobbies, afterschool activities, and likes/dislikes on social networking sites. Students complete research for everything from class assignments and projects to volunteer opportunities to “cheats” for a video game to help them reach the next level. They are instant messaging each other, playing online games, sending emails, watching videos, exploring a “cyberworld,” listening to music, taking part in chat rooms, and utilizing their cell phones for texting, picture taking, or internet access. The Internet is part of their educational and personal world.

As parents and educators, we have to decide how much time is spent and where that time is spent depending on their developmental stage. An article and handout is on the Calvert’s Technology blog to help parents make the decisions that are best for them. However, whether students are accessing the Internet at Calvert or at home, we try to encourage them to keep a few pieces of information in mind to make healthy and educated choices while “surfing the net.”

All of the new information media, social networking, and electronic communication of our world necessitates that we as a school teach our students how to navigate through the temptations of the Internet. Three questions will help safely guide them:

o Is it safe?

o Is it honest?

o Is it kind?

If the answer to any of these three questions is “no,” students need to reexamine their decision to interact with, use, or pass on that information. Honest, safe, and kind are different ways of phrasing the ideas in our Honor Code: Honesty, Respect (kind), and Responsibility (safe). We want to make sure our students are asking these questions within the context of the Honor Code at school, but they are great questions for you to ask at home as well.

We hope you will take some time at home to determine your family’s guidelines for the Internet and what role the three important questions above can play at home to help children navigate the web.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The What and The How: From What is a House? To the Last Brick

Over the last few weeks, I have been dedicating posts to an explanation of the paths to the Honor Code: responsibility, respect, honesty, effort, and outreach. If we can combine these characteristics together we become selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment.

These posts have been the WHAT of the Honor Code. I plan on dedicating the next few weeks to posts which deal with the HOW we work with our students to ingrain these five honor characteristics into their core.

The imagery of paths to Honor is good, but other metaphors can capture the essence of honor at Calvert as well. If we think of character education in terms of building a house, we have covered the basic facts of what a house this case our House of Honor, which is made up of the responsibility room, honesty room, respect room, commitment room, and effort room. The next step is how do we build our House of Honor?

I will begin with a summary of a number of faculty meetings which, when distilled and codified, have provided the foundation, scaffolding, and brick and mortar to build our House of Honor at Calvert.

Curriculum integration is the conceptual foundation for our school-wide approach to character education.

The six E's (taken from the article: "Talking About Ethics and Character Education"),

  • Embedded - in every class

  • Empowered - we can do this!

  • Effective - it works

  • Extended - beyond our halls

  • Engaged - topics are relevant

  • Evaluative - is the program working?
provide the scaffolding which supports and prepares faculty when working to build a House of Honor in each of our students.

Finally, as faculty we work to seize moments and teach to our honor code. This seizing of the moment provides the brick and mortar of the House of Honor at Calvert. We work each day to seize the moments through (paraphrased from the article "Teachable Moments for Social Justice")

  • Building up knowledge in order to be more aware of when teachable moments pop up

  • Developing a 'classroom community' that allows for productive responses

  • Developing responses for both reactive and proactive situations

  • Personally committing to maintain a 'democratic, inclusive school'

The work we do each day with our students related to character education is hugely important. The development of honor is an integral part of our mission. As such, it is important that we, as an institution, have a clear idea of WHAT honor is and HOW we can help our students learn it.

Over the next few weeks, posts will flesh out the basic tenets put forth above with concrete examples and strategies.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Ponderance: Responsibility

"I must do something" always solves more problems than "Something must be done." ~Author Unknown

In our Honor Code we talk about taking responsibility for ourselves and others. This necessitates an action, therefore, when we find ourselves at a crossroads where action is hard and inaction is easy.

As the quote says, doing something always solves more problems than commenting that something must be done. By taking this responsibility we build our moral courage and elevate each other to the ideals of the Honor Code: Being Selfless servants demonstrating Moral Courage and commitment to the community.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Responsibility: A Key Path to Honor

The final path to Honor, to becoming a selfless servant demonstrating moral courage and commitment, is to work on being responsible to one's self and others. This is a difficult path to stick to for many of our middle schoolers, because it is one they must travel alone.

A definition will help again to provide context for the rest of the discussion. provides two definitions which are applicable at Calvert:

1. answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management (often fol. by to or for)

2. having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action

We ask that students be accountable for their actions, and use their capacity for moral decision to work to keep their friends on the path of responsibility. The former is difficult because it can be easier to cast blame away from one's self thank take it on themselves, and the latter is even trickier because middle schoolers struggle to stand up to a group.

We don't expect that our students will be perfect on this path. We don't even expect that they will only move forward on this path - there will be some times when it is one step forward, five steps back. But we do expect that our students begin to understand the meaning behind taking responsibility for their actions and each other.

I come back to Coach Wooden and his reflections on life (He turned 99 years old yesterday, by the way...). Two of his reflections sum up responsibility to self and responsibility to others.

Responsibility for One's Self:

You can make mistakes, but you aren't a failure until you start blaming others for those mistakes. When you blame others you are trying to excuse yourself. When you make excuses you can't properly evaluate yourself. Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.

Responsibility for Others:

Like it or not, we have influence of many different kinds in many different places and conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner. This verse is correct:

More often than we e'er suspect,
The lives of others we do affect.

[People] who don't want the responsibility that comes with [being part of a community] don't have that choice. They are role models whether they like it or not; they cannot simply announce that they intend to shirk their responsibility. They are role models, either good or bad.

So are you. So am I. I believe we have an obligation to make that model a positive one.

As we are role models to our students, so are they to each other. In order to provide a community which our students and families, we must all be accountable for our actions and those around us. Doing this each day takes us farther down the path of responsibility and closer to attaining our goal of being an honorable person.

This is the last description of the five paths to the pillars of the Honor Code. Each has been described as a path. Each path converges on the "roundabout" of honor and cycle back to one's self, each other, and the community at large. Stay tuned for further development on the code and how the paths work with and within each other to develop honor in our students.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Ponderance: The Emperor's Seed

Today's Monday Ponderance is a story about Honesty & Integrity from

The Emperor's Seed

Author Unknown, Source Unknown

Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, "It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you." The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!"

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn't have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn't say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, "Hey nice try."

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the emperor. "Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!"

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. "The emperor knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!"

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. "My name is Ling," he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, "Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!" Ling couldn't believe it. Ling couldn't even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grown, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Honesty: The First Step

"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."

- Thomas Jefferson

Our Honor Code states in part, "we will be honest with ourselves and others." Jefferson has answered why we want to be honest very clearly and succinctly. We do it because it is the first step to wisdom. Well, what is wisdom? I'm going to go to go back to my dictionary for a definition:

wisdom: n. knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action

Obviously, middle schoolers will not be wise. In fact, their developmental timeline dictates that they will be anything but. They may have knowledge of what is true or right, but may miss wildly on just judgment as to action, or vice versa. A typical manifestation of this is the art of excuse-making.

However, as with all education, we must begin somewhere and as Jefferson has told us, we should start with honesty. Honesty is a core component of the Honor Code at Calvert and the reason we included the phrase "ourselves and others" is so we remember honesty begins within ourselves and is projected outward. Once we accept the path of honesty, excuses fall away and wisdom can start to grow. As Spencer Johnson said, "Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people."

We want our students to be honest with themselves and others about their assignments - Is my work my own? Will my work be completed on time if I watch this show or play this video game? or Will I own up to missing work?

We want our students to be honest with themselves and others about their relationships in school - Should I really say that mean thing? Should I turn a student away from a "saved" seat? Or should I really speak to my teachers/parents/siblings/friends in a way that will hurt them or disrespect them?

We want our students to be honest with themselves and others about their responsibility as members of the Calvert community - Should I be in the side stairwells when I know we are not allowed? Should I sneak past the head of school to avoid shaking hands? Should I decide not to sign into study hall?

Often in middle school, the natural inclination is to create excuses to answer these questions, but the honest answers are small notations in the first chapter of wisdom. Taken together they build the habit of honesty (perhaps another definition of Integrity). A habit of accepting and owning what is right and true. Once they make honesty a habit, the next step of just judgment as to action can be taken:

My work is my own. I'll do my work, and record that show for later. I missed the assignment and will complete it as soon as possible.

I will defend my friend. I will offer that seat to my peer. I will speak with respect to my teacher/parents/siblings/friends.

I will take the center stairwell. I will shake the head of school's hand. I will sign into study hall.

No excuses, no stories. Just being Honest with ourselves and others.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Effort: A Mandatory Ingredient for Success

I'll start with a definition again. Merriam-Webster defines effort as,

a conscious exertion of power: hard work.

This is one of five definitions that appear in the dictionary. (These Honor Code words are popular, aren't they?!) We ask our students to put forth maximum effort in all they do. It is difficult to describe what we expect in terms of effort except to cite examples.

The person trying a marathon for the first time spending weeks training, or the basketball player who spends hours before and after practice taking shots, or the computer programmer who spends hours mastering code, or the pianist who spends every moment practicing a challenging piece of music - these are all common examples we can understand.

The goal of these hours is success. The goal for our students is success. In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success, the author elaborates on the role of effort in the development of experts. Specifically, he discusses the 10,000 hour rule: in order for a person to be expert, they put 10,000 hours (or approximately 10 years) of practice into their chosen craft/sport/field. Bill Gates, Bill Joy, Mozart are all 10,000 hour experts.

As Joseph K. Hasenstab says in the Foreward of Tapping Student Effort: Increasing Student Achievement,

Effort is exerted in the classroom when there are successful skill and performance patterns defined ... which are modeled, practiced, and coached. Effort to learn skill and performance patterns will be exerted by students if we create “compelling whys” for them – give them reasons for learning.

Our job as teachers is to provide the environment for the "whys." My job as Dean of Students is to provide the "whys" for maximum effort as it pertains to character development. Case studies are an excellent way to do this. Again, it is easier for the students (and the adults, frankly) to grasp the meaning and worthiness of maximum effort when confronted with a situation where it is lacking or present.

Calvert believes we have a recipe for success and one of its integral ingredients is effort. Our mission statement reads, in part, "Calvert seeks to develop students of high academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, and strong moral character...." Our time-tested, yet innovative curriculum provides for the academic achievement, our excellent teachers and various academic programs provides for the intellectual curiosity, and our sports program and Honor Code provide for the strong moral character.

In order for the three aspects of the Calvert Graduate to "stick," maximum effort must be present to bind them together for a lifetime. It is one of the best lessons we can teach our students.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Outreach: The Fifth Path to the Honor Code

Our revised honor code says we aim to accomplish our goal of becoming selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment by reaching out to the community. We are very lucky in the middle school to have a dedicated class period for community outreach. This year we developed a new middle school outreach curriculum based on feedback from faculty and students. Below is a brief introduction to the outreach program that will appear in the Middle School newsletter. The Middle School Outreach Catalog can also be found on this blog to the left of this post.

Community outreach at Calvert has come a long way. From a few sporadic drives a few years ago to a dedicated period each week, outreach is now an integral part of a Calvert student’s education. Two years ago the Community Outreach Committee created our outreach mission: Through preparation, action, and reflection, Calvert’s Outreach Program seeks to promote a lifelong awareness of and commitment to community. Since that time, we have implemented a number of structures to accomplish that mission.

First, we have streamlined and focused on three all-school drives: UNICEF from October 26 – 30, Paul’s Place Toy Drive from December 7-11, and Paul’s Place Clothing Drive from March 29-April 1. Second, we have added two optional family opportunities for outreach: MLK Day of Service and Spring Cleaning Day (more details on both to follow). Third, in order to deepen the experience and develop meaningful relationships with our outreach partners, we have created an Outreach Theme and Partner List.

Using the Partner List, the middle school outreach program has created an Outreach Calendar and Catalog that provides choices for activities throughout the year. Our faculty has offered numerous opportunities for short term and long term projects. Students are working with their advisor to tailor their outreach interests to the options available in the Catalog. The benefits of this method are numerous. Students learn to work within an elective system, have choice in their outreach opportunities, work on long term projects and short term projects throughout the year, and will create meaningful relationships with their chosen outreach partners.

We are excited about this program and hope you will check it out. The Outreach Calendar and Catalog, as well our Theme and Partner List can be found on the Community Outreach Blog:

Friday, September 25, 2009

In 100 years....

A student was asked to answer the following question in her journal: Imagine telling a student 100 years from now about her life and school. This student wrote that Calvert will "teach you to be a selfless servant, to have moral courage, and commitment.”

It's sinking in....

Tragedy, Redemption, and Class

I found this story on Yahoo! and thought it was a great real-life example of people caring for each other, honoring each other and their sport, and how mistakes can make people stronger.

Check it out:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Path to Respect

"Respect yourself"

"Respect the process"

"Respect your elders/teachers/parents"

"Respect the power of nature"

"With all due respect..."

"I get no respect"

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me..."

At the word respect has sixteen definitions, eight as a noun, four as a verb, and four uses as an idiom. Almost every one of those definitions has multiple synonyms. According to the word originated between 1300-1350. Obviously, it is a hugely important word in the world and even more important concept. We could use it in almost any context we wish, and often do, as we see from the phrases above.

However with common usage comes overusage which is followed quickly by meaningless. Has the idea of respect become meaningless? Has commonality of usage led to a commonality of practice? Perhaps not.

We can look at the headlines and see pop stars disrespecting each other or football players complaining about a lack of respect because the quarterback only threw to them once. It is unfortunate these are the images many of our middle schoolers see each day when they go home because they distort the meaning of respect.

I think my favorite definition of the sixteen possible is this one:

esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.

So, in order to respect someone, we must identify a personal quality or ability of that person. If we teach our students to search for the worth of a person, we are teaching them how to respect a person. With the action of identification, we breathe meaning back into word respect.

We teach our students to always find the excellence in a person. This, I think, is a much more positive notion of respect. In situations where disrespect is shown, we can now have discussions searching for worth and excellence of the offended person. Teachers help students develop strategies and tactics for seeking quality or ability in a person. Most importantly we teach our students to find excellence within themselves.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Ponderance: The Three Pillars in Action

As I was searching for something to say during today's Monday Ponderance, I found the video below at The Responsibility Project from Liberty Mutual Insurance. The video is based on true events from a college softball game in 2008. I think it perfectly demonstrates the traits we work to instill in our students. Please check it out:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Parents' Night Comments on Honor 2009

Below are my comments for Middle School Parents' Night:


My name is David Skeen and this is my third year as Dean of Students at Calvert. I’d like to thank you in advance for your time tonight as I lay out the foundation of character development in the middle school.

Calvert believes that character development is an integral part of a student’s education. We dedicate significant time and resources to the development of a robust ethics program. Last year at this meeting I laid out the three levels of character education at Calvert: the Calvert Canon, the schedule, and the Dean’s Office.

Each of these areas is interconnected and includes multifaceted approaches to character.

The Calvert Canon, or those writings at Calvert which elucidate our core values, sets the context for character development. Our mission statement, philosophy, and various faculty- and student-derived documents are all products of discussions about our core values.

The schedule is the structure (or framework) through which we employ our most valuable resource, time, to character education. We have opportunities every day to meet in advisories, small groups, or as a middle school to touch on honor.

Finally, the Dean’s office oversees the implementation of the character development programs such as teachable moments, Points’ raffles and auctions, Monday Ponderances, discipline, outreach, and communicating a clear vision of the Honor Code at Calvert.

Last year, I introduced the Honor Code, which had three pillars: Selfless Servants, Moral Courage, and Commitment. I challenged (and continue to challenge) the students each day to live up to these ideas.

We’ve made progress. In fact, just the other day a student came to the Middle School office to return a key a fellow student had borrowed. After this student had returned the key to Mrs. Conkling, he hovered around her desk, like a bell hop awaiting a tip.

Mrs. Conkling asked, “Are you waiting for a reward or Points?”

The boy responded, “Absolutely not, Mrs. Conkling. I was merely being a civil servant.”

So, while the words are seeping into the subconscious (partly!) there is still work to be done to clarify the meaning of Selfless Servant, Moral Courage, and Commitment.

These first steps established our goal, but we need to know how to get there. I mentioned last year that we would be having conversations throughout the year with the goal being to outline what it would take to be selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment.

The result of our conversations is our updated Honor Code, which includes the three pillars plus five characteristics meant to explain the meaning of the three pillars. The Honor Code now reads:

We strive each day to be selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment.

We aim to accomplish this by respecting all people and things, being honest with ourselves and others, taking responsibility for ourselves and others, putting forth maximum effort at all times, and seeking ways to reach out to the community.

While we continue to challenge our students to live up to the Honor Code, we have now given them a road map to help them navigate their way through the windy roads of middle school life. We know students strive to meet the code but will fall short during their time with us. However, we believe this is the place to learn from the journey.

As Coach John Wooden said,

I am not what I ought to be,
Not what I want to be,
Not what I am going to be,
But I am thankful thatI am better than I used to be.

The constant and vigilant pursuit of the Honor Code is a lifetime goal we hope our Calvert students will take with them to their next school and beyond.

Thank you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Ponderance 9.14.2009

The Monday Ponderance has returned. Each Monday, at the morning assembly, I will present a quote or a story that I hope the community will take a moment to ponder and try to apply to their daily life. Below is today's Ponderance:

A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.

- John Burroughs

The idea of owning our mistakes is an integral part of the Honor Code. As we heard the other day, we expect that we will all

“…respect all people and things, be honest with ourselves and others, [and] take responsibility for ourselves and others…”

When we make mistakes or slip up: get a bad grade, miss a shot, lose a game at recess, forget a homework, find ourselves in a place we shouldn’t be or leave a laptop unattended, (which WILL happen because we all make mistakes), we aren’t failures until we shirk accountability. We can all control how we react to failure, and the most successful people embrace it as an opportunity to learn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strive to Thrive

Coach John Wooden thought of himself like the man who said:

I am not what I ought to be,
Not what I want to be,
Not what I am going to be,
But I am thankful that
I am better than I used to be.

Our Honor Code begins, "We strive each day to selfless servants, demonstrating moral courage, and commitment...." At Calvert, we know striving for what we should be and should do may not make us what we ought to be, but at least we will be better than we used to be.

We work to instill Coach Wooden's ethic into our students. We want them to feel that the journey is the best lesson when it comes to honor and character. The triumphs and failures of life build who we are. We hope the Honor Code will guide our students when they encounter a fork in the road of right and wrong.

We hope our students feel they have become better people by the time they graduate from Calvert. They are responsible for themselves and others. They respect all people and things. Honesty is vital in all their interactions. The seek ways to reach out to their community.

Will our students do all these things all the time? I'll answer that with another question: do we? The constant and vigilant pursuit (striving for) of the Honor Code is a lifetime goal we hope our Calvert students will take with them to their next school and beyond.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Four Horsemen of Calumny

It's an interesting word: calumny. I'll admit I didn't have any idea what it meant when I read it. Here it is:

calumny: (n) a false and malicious statement designed to injure the reputation of someone or something.

I came across this word when I read the text of Senator Margaret Chase Smith's (R-Maine) speech to the U.S. Senate on June 1, 1950. She was speaking on behalf of seven other senators who had written a declaration rejecting the strategies of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, that had created a frenzy of fear of "subversives" in the country. The result was a society gripped by fear and suspicion.

Think of the courage to speak out - Smith was the only woman in the Senate at the time (and the first ever elected to the prestigious body). It was June of 1950 (McCarthy gave his "communist spy ring in the State Department" speech in February) and she is speaking against a fellow Republican. Finally, Smith took her fellow senators to task for hiding behind their immunity and creating an atmosphere where there was "trial by accusation instead of trial by jury."

Smith ended her speech urging a change in leadership, but did "not want to see the Republican party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny - fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear."

It is obvious Senator Smith had a well tuned moral compass and conscience. She had learned to speak out against wrong, even when it was hard. She was smart enough to see McCarthy for what he really was - a demagogue who bred division in the country.

At Calvert we are working with our students to develop their moral compasses, their conscience, and their courage to act. Our Honor Code, in part, states that we strive to be selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment. Margaret Chase Smith, in her speech to the Senate, WAS the Honor Code.

What more selfless act than to be a representative of your state? What better example of moral courage than speaking out against the tidal wave of derision enveloping the U.S. Senate and the country? What better example of commitment to principles than decrying the smear and fear tactics of many of her fellow senators?

May all our students strive each day to live up to Senator Smith's example.

The full text of Senator Smith's speech:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Honor Code and Student Handbook

The beginning of another school year is upon us. The teachers are back in the building preparing their rooms and lesson plans, the facilities are in unbelieveable shape after a summer of hard work by the maintenance department, and we are all waiting for the students to arrive.

After a number of meetings last school year, the faculty came up with some additions to the Honor Code that will help the students clarify what the three pillars of the Honor Code mean in practice.

The Honor Code states:

We strive each day to be selfless servants demonstrating moral courage and commitment. We aim to accomplish this by respecting all people and things, being honest with ourselves and others, taking responsibility for ourselves and others, putting forth maximum effort at all times, and seeking ways to reach out to the community.

Respect, honesty, responsibility, effort, and outreach are the five qualities we work to develop in each one of our students. Calvert's goal is our students will leave Calvert understanding that the pursuit of these characteristics is a life-long endeavor making their (as well as their family, friends, school, and community) lives all the more rich and meaningful.

The Honor Code is now the first page in their planners, so they will see it each day. The three pillars of the Honor Code are still printed on the beams of the middle school hallways. It is becoming a part of the school culture and it is all our jobs to continue to work towards its complete integration.

The policies and procedures included in last year's document have been moved to a Student Handbook. This handbook has been sent to all advisors, posted to an internal student server, and can be found on this blog. It should be reviewed by students, advisors, and parents for all policies and procedures regarding conduct and uniform.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Space vs. Facebook: Highlighting Social Divides

I just read a speech by Danah Boyd to the Personal Democracy Forum entitled, "The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online." It challenges us to view online social networks and the like not as equalizers, but as a means to "bake in class/race/socio-economic divisions." She uses the My Space vs. Facebook to present her theories in a concrete way.

I think it is worth the 10 minutes it takes to read the speech, since so many of our students are users of these social network sites.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Uniform Town Hall

During the Monday Assembly, the middle school participated in a Town Hall meeting on the topic of the uniform.

Prior to this meeting, a panel of faculty and students was selected to shape the conversation, listen to all suggestions, and create a proposal for the appropriate decision-makers. This panel created a list of questions to help students shape their opinions on two fronts: the uniform itself and the enforcement of the uniform code. This document was sent to the advisories, where the ensuing conversations allowed students and faculty to coalesce their thoughts.

During the Town Hall, the panel took notes and asked clarifying questions of students and faculty who presented their opinions, suggestions, and arguments regarding the uniform.

Over the next week, the panel will meet to create a proposal for submission to the administration and review by the Parents' Association.

The Town Hall proved to be a lesson in civics, as well as an opportunity for the community to express their thoughts on a major aspect of school life. Our hope is that we may be able to use the town hall structure to discuss other aspects, such as the Points system and laptop issues.

A special thanks to Mrs. Radway, who brought the idea to me and was a major organizer of the event.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Boomer Generation, Generation X/Y, and the New Face of Character Development

This article appeared in the New York Times:

The article above describes the growing number of Boomer Teachers who are getting ready to retire over the next ten years and how it is affecting the landscape of the teachig profession. With the attrition rate for new teachers seemingly rising at the same time, many predict a crisis on the way.

It also makes me wonder about the character education and development aspects of a school. As younger generations filter into the teaching profession, how is character development thought of? What are the values these people hope to instill and, maybe more importantly, how do they intend to instill them?

Some characteristics of Generation Y in the workforce are they demand more benefits for less work, want a role in institutional decision-making almost immediately upon being hired, and will have held five to six different jobs by the time they turn 35. It is also a generation shaped by experiences of exponential change, creativity, and brought up on open-source content and collaboration. If this is the generation set to take over the teaching profession, what values will they pass on?

I can't say I have the answers. One thing I do know is there is something to be said for a healthy mix of old and new perspectives. As a student and teacher of history, I've learned that not taking the time to look back upon moving forward often means mistakes are repeated. The same may go for how we hope to develop honor and character in our students.

Note: The characteristics of Generation Y discussed above were gleaned from a talk by Ron Goldblatt, Executive Director of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Power Down - Are We Missing Out by Limiting Technology

An interesting article came out today from Education Week regarding missed opportunities to capitalize on Generation Y's technological learning skills. Essentially, the article laments the fact that most middle and high school students are asked to "power-down" their various technologies when upon entering the school building and classrooms.

The article offers up an interesting (and complex) question of the balance between the new social emphasis of the Internet and other "web 2.0" tools and the classical classroom-based educational system. The entire text of the article is below:

Schools Seen as Inhibiting Student Tech. Use
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Premium article access courtesy of
Read more FREE content!
Email Article
Comments (2)
addthis_url = story.getEncryptedURI(false);
addthis_title = story.getTitle(false);
addthis_pub = 'edweek';

Students are using personal technology tools more readily to study subject matter, collaborate with classmates, and complete assigments than they were several years ago, but they are generally asked to “power down” at school and abandon the electronic resources they rely on for learning outside of class, according to a survey of educators, parents, and teenagers.

Teachers, for the most part, are not taking advantage of the tools that middle and high school students have widely adopted for home and school purposes, according to the sixth annual report of the Speak Up National Research Project. Those students should be given a more formal role in determining how new technology—particularly mobile devices, such as smartphones, and Web 2.0 tools, like social-networking sites–can be tapped to improve schooling, a report on the survey findings suggests.

“Our nation’s students are in fact a ‘Digital Advance Team’ illuminating the path for how to leverage emerging technologies effectively for teaching and learning,” the report says.
Students, the report argues, are trendsetters in using technology in their personal lives and, more recently, to organize and complete schoolwork.

“Today’s students are early adopters and adapters of new technologies, creating new uses for a myriad of technology products to meet their sophisticated needs,” it says. “They can be predictors or at least harbingers of how technology could be used to transform education.”

Of course, many educators and learning experts warn against adopting new technologies in schools simply because students are adept at using those technologies. They say the primary goal of technology adoption for K-12 classrooms should be to enhance learning.

Selected findings from the extensive survey project were released March 24 by Project Tomorrow. More than 280,000 K-12 students across the country took part in the 2008 online poll, along with 28,000 teachers, 21,000 parents, and 3,000 administrators. The group will issue several follow-up reports later this year on specific topics, such as online learning. The reports will summarize survey findings related to those topics as well as information drawn from case studies and interviews.

“We’ve been polling students ... on how they are using technology for school work, but that’s not necessarily in school or directed by the teacher,” said Julie Evans, the chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow, the Irvine, Calif.-based organization that sponsors the annual survey “We see how creatively and innovatively students are taking the technology tools available for them and leveraging them for learning.”

Students Suggest Changes

Between the 2007 and the current survey, for example, there was a 150 percent jump in the proportion of students using Facebook and other social-networking sites to work with their peers on group projects for school.

Most of the high school students surveyed, however, do not believe that they are being well prepared for the technology demands of the marketplace. Large proportions of the middle and high school respondents say they are inhibited from using technology effectively in school, because of restrictions on computer time, blocks on access to Web sites, or a prohibition against mobile devices.

The findings may be particularly useful this year, Ms. Evans said, given that schools and districts will be looking for effective ways to use federal stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand the use of technology in schools.

The report outlines some of the suggestions student participants have offered for improving the use of educational technology in their schools, including: greater access to Web tools and lessons in electronic formats, such as PowerPoint presentations and podcasts; use of educational games and simulations; and links to videoconferences from subject-area experts.

“For most students,” the report concludes, “technology is an integral part of their toolkit for participating in the world.”

Vol. 28, Issue 27

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wooden's Puzzlers and The Spring Season

The great basketball coach John Wooden asked in his book, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, the following questions:

1. Why is it so much easier to be negative than positive?

2. Why do we dread adversity when we know that facing it is the only way to become stronger, smarter, better?

Wooden calls these "puzzlers" and the format in which he presents them suggests these questions may never be answered to everyone's satisfaction. For many middle school aged children sports and other extra-curricular activities offer a concrete experience that begins their journey towards answers to these questions.

In sports, plenty of opportunities arise to be negative instead of positive as well as avoid adversity. What we hope at Calvert is the Honor Code (encompassed in Moral Courage, Selfless Service, and Commitment) provides a framework within which players and coaches can beginn to untangle the complexity of these questions.

Whether it be the selfless act of helping an opponent off the court after a charge, the courageous act of penalizing yourself a stroke in golf because of an infraction that noone saw but you, or the commitment of a player to constant practice, sports is often the clearest way for a student to see honor in action.

As the spring season gears up, and coaches begin to implement game plans and strategies, we believe the Honor Code will be an integral part of the team's season. Onlookers will see handshakes after games, a helping hand on the field, and smiles resulting from the expression of honor in one of its most visible ways: athletic endeavor.

Please come see our athletes this spring. Schedules can be found on the web at:

Please also check out the link to John Wooden's webpage on the left hand side of this blog.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Information Literacy Resources

In preparation for the Internet Safety Night tonight, as well as our long term projects in 5th-8th grade, Mr. Ewen found this site on website evaluation. It is a great way to introduce your child (or yourself) to the variety of ways to validate the information they glean from the web. Check it out:

Monday, February 2, 2009

2007-2008 vs. 2008-2009 Referral Comparison

As Dean of Students, I think it is important to track the progress of the student body over the course of a year in order to determine trends in behavior. It also benefits the teachers and students to see a variety of data that provides an opportunity for reflection and discussion. Last week, I quickly ran some numbers comparing last year's referral statistics to this years. I found the total number of referrals (excluding uniform referrals - a neverending battle with middle school aged children) dropped 40%.

It is a testament to the students and teachers for striving each day to make Calvert a place for selfless servants, moral courage, and commitment to community.

Total Referrals Through January 2008: 196
Total Referrals Through January 2009: 117

Represents a 40% reduction

Friday, January 30, 2009

"Weather Wimps"

Since we are in the midst of a nasty winter weather month, I was interested to see this article from Cleveland about how they have created "weather winps" compared to other 'cold' cities. Check out Minneapolis, which sent their children to school in 22 below zero temperatures...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Technology and Critical Thinking

Technology has been touted by some as a cure-all for learners across all spectrums of society. However, recent studies have shown that technology can actually hurt critical thinking skills. As you know, Calvert is heavily invested in the integration of technology into the middle school curriculum. One of the benefits of Calvert is that the students are able to leverage their fundamentals from lower school with the technology of the middle school. The article link below, from Science Daily, discusses recent research that questions the value of technology in a learning environment.

An important adjunct to any technology discussion are the ethical implications that come with increased use of technology. At Calvert, we hope to infuse the principles of the Honor Code into all aspects of a student's life, including technology. To that end, I have been working with the technology department to develop year long lesson plans, messages, and activities concerning the ethical use of technology. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.