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.