Gratitude

With apologies to my parents, I shared a story from my childhood during Upper School Morning Meeting while wearing my vintage Boston Celtics jacket. Ever since I can remember, I have loved the Boston Celtics. The images of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish running out of the tunnel onto the court and the sound bites of Johnny Most are etched in my memory.

As a child, I had talked to my parents about how much I wanted a Celtics jacket. I desperately wanted one of those hooded Starter jackets that everyone, at least it felt that way, was wearing. So when I opened up my birthday present that year and saw a satin green Celtics jacket instead of that hooded Starter, my heart was deflated. Of course, I feigned appreciation, wore it around the house, but remembered feeling embarrassed to wear it. It lived in my closet for a long time, until my parents were moving out of my childhood house. When I opened the closet and found the jacket, I immediately felt embarrassed about my lack of gratitude.

There, right in front of me, was the most incredible Celtics jacket one could own. This vintage jacket represented the 1980s Celtics and the magic, no pun intended, that Bird brought to the parquet. It was reminiscent of the fans cheering on the team with Red Auerbach sitting in the stands with a smile. I was filled with the disappointment of not recognizing at the time the incredible gift I had been given by my parents and that this gem had been buried in a closet for the better part of two decades.

Appreciation and gratitude are not always as straightforward as we think. Often, we are distracted by the moment and do not fully understand the meaning of our interactions. We get wrapped up in our hustle and bustle of our daily lives and take for granted that which has been right in front of us. While keeping in mind how hard it can be to be authentically gracious, it is important to think about ways to express appreciation to family and friends. We should take a moment to pause and express gratitude and appreciation for those around us.

As our 12th grade begins to close out their academic careers at Brimmer, I want to take a moment to share an appreciation. Each member of the Class of 2018 has uniquely made an indelible mark on our School. Whether they have been at the School for two years or thirteen years, they have contributed in ways that have defined us and moved us forward, each person leaving their prints on our School. Leading class discussions, mentoring other students, giving tours to prospective students, volunteering for countless hours in their free time, performing on stage, competing on our sports teams, and being a representative of School are just a few of the ways they have led our community.

Thank you.

We appreciate all that they have given to the School. We will miss them, and we wish them all the best as they begin their next journey.

I hope that the path they forge challenges them to grow, while also achieving all the success they each deserve.

 

Getting One Percent Better

tom v time

Like most of New England, I have been mesmerized by Tom Brady’s ongoing DocuSeries Tom vs. Time. At first I was intrigued to see the inner workings of the person who has been at the center of one of the most successful runs in sports, but as I watched I began reflecting on the ideas that were shared during the videos.

As I watched the second episode, I was struck by a comment made by Tom Brady’s quarterback coach Tom House. During the video, House refers to the preparation and work Brady does and his focus on improving in even the smallest areas. He says, in reference to Brady working to make a small adjustment to his throw, “You realize this is like nothing[the adjustment], but it’s big to him. Tom and some of these other elite quarterbacks, they don’t come to get five percent better. They come to get one percent better.”

Working to get one percent better struck me and has been on my mind since I watched the video. As fans, we see the results of a daily work regiment that is based on a growth mindset. Yes, the ultimate goal for someone like Tom Brady is winning the Super Bowl, however that’s not an actionable goal. Instead, the focus is on the small thing you can do each day to improve. Whether it’s throwing more touchdown passes, organizing your work more effectively, being a more active participant in class, or writing a stronger paper, you need to find ways to make small improvements. Students need to focus on getting better by one percent each day.

For students this means working to help them break down their big goals into smaller attainable goals or action steps. Brimmer teachers have shifted to writing their goals as questions, so that we can focus on the answers, or the actions, to get us to the goals. One goal I set this year was “How can we further improve the transition from middle school to high school for our ninth grade students?” Some of the action items were– survey ninth and tenth grade teachers to develop a list of key student skills; develop a ninth grade team approach for teachers; and improve the experience of eighth grade families and students at Curriculum Night. Truthfully, most of these action items had their own set of action items to create the one percent improvements needed to reach the goal.

While we do not want to lose track of where we are trying to go, we need to focus students on the small steps they can take to improve. The only way any of us can get better is to continuously improve. And, I do not know about you, but feeling like I only need to be one percent better each day feels much less overwhelming. Imagine the confidence we build in students when we empower them to improve incrementally instead of needing to make instantaneous leaps. We cannot expect them to turn a B- into an A or write a stronger paper without helping them define the one percent improvements. Every journey starts with a single step. I believe this is what Carol Dweck is trying to communicate with her growth mindset work, and the documented practice habits of Tom Brady may just be in one of her next books.

MLK Resources

This past Friday during dinner we asked our Kindergartner the same question we do every night, “What is something you learned today at school?” Usually he hems and haws on the question, but he quickly told us that he learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks. We did not hesitate and told him we would love to hear what he learned about them.

Our son then took the next ten minutes to tell us the stories he learned about King and Parks, sharing stories about their childhood, what inspired them, what they did, and how they wanted everyone to be treated equal. I have to admit, we were proud parents. The conversation then shifted to why. He wanted to know why people would not treat everyone nicely or why some people are not treated the same as others. Our five year old was clearly upset by some of the ideas.

We left our dinner feeling inspired that our child had the opportunity to learn about King and Parks, bus boycotts, and Freedom Riders and the importance of the their stories.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day, I wanted to share a few resources that may be helpful for children of different ages:

Grades PK-5

I am Martin Luther King, Jr by Brad Meltzer

I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr by Doreen Rappaport

Grades 6-8

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Generation Fix: Young Ideas for a Better World by Elizabeth Rusch

We are Immigrants: Voices of The Immigrant Experience by Thomas Hoobler

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Elspeth Leacock

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Grades 9-12

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr by Coretta Scott King

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault

 

 

 

Morning Meeting Reflection on NYC Attack

The following thoughts were shared with Upper School students on 11/1/17.

Yesterday afternoon, while our school was ending the academic day and students were transitioning to sports, play rehearsal, and after-school activities, people’s lives were upended in New York City when a man drove a pick-up truck down a bike lane in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and physically injuring at least twelve others—forever changing the lives of the victims, their family and friends, those that witnessed the attack, and causing those who have faced trauma to revisit their past experiences.

We have seen these types of tragedies in London, Paris, and throughout the world, but seeing it in New York feels closer to home. Many of us have strong connections to N.Y.C. through families, visits, and alumni who have moved there. Our empathy is even stronger having experienced the Boston Marathon bombing not too long ago.

Each of you are going to have your own personal feelings, responses, and emotions around these events. I want to share a few thoughts with you and ask you to think about them.

First, it is important during the times after terrorist attacks, while facts are still being collected, that we not jump to conclusions. As Ms. Christian shared, we should not make assumptions about the suspect or all people that look like the suspect. It is important to remember that when people choose to perform acts of terror, they are making individual choices and are not representative of all the people with similar identities.

The other idea I want to leave you with is how you respond to these seemingly random acts of violence. A natural response would be avoidance—taking extra precautions to stay away from “high risk” areas. By doing this, you will feel like you are helping yourself remain safe.

At the same time, though, it can feel counter-intuitive and is difficult to carry on with your normal day while keeping the events in mind. In many ways, continuing with your day can be a way to fight against acts of terror. By choosing to still visit N.Y.C. you are not allowing fear to rule your life. This does not mean you should not be cautious. Instead, it symbolizes something stronger and defeats the ideals of a terrorist. We still run the Boston Marathon each year for these reasons, and the N.Y.C. Marathon will still be run three days from today, for these reasons.

As we move into our moment of silence, I ask that you think about those that have been impacted by yesterday’s attack in New York City, the terrorist attacks that we may not hear about as easily, and all those that have been victims of terror.

The Power of Disagreement Revisited

Get-Someone-to-Stop-Ignoring-You-Step-9

Recently, many people have created preset rules for social gatherings in order to try and minimize conflict–with the number one rule being “No talking about politics.” Family members and friends dance around the major issues facing our communities and try to focus conversation on topics that will not create conflict.  

“Wow, Uncle Al, this apple pie is delicious! What type of apples did you use? Did you make the crust from scratch?”

“Mom, you really outdid yourself with this chicken soup. It tastes like you added something different…really? I never would have guessed you used the pearled onions”

“How was your trip to Charleston? Did you have nice weather? I cannot believe the weather we had here while you were away.”

While these niceties show gratitude and are polite, they are not exactly “soup questions.”

Last year I wrote a blog post, The Power of Disagreement, and I could not help but reflect on these ideas over the past few weeks, especially after reading a pair of articles in the NY Times, The Dying Art of Disagreement and How to Find Common GroundWhy do we need to avoid conversations where we may disagree? What does it mean to live in a free society that is absent of debate?

The concept of debate goes back to Ancient Greece, the first democratic society. The Greeks believed that engaging in conversations over controversial topics is what pushed society forward and led to a greater understanding of the world. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle — these philosophers’ debates became some of our great literary works. 

Fast forward to the founding of the United States of America. The Founding Fathers did not agree on how to shape the country and build a government. As a matter of fact, they got it wrong the first time around. Without the ability to come together, argue their ideas, and find compromise it is unlikely that the American experiment would have been as successful. We got a glimpse of this in 1861 when our country broke out in Civil War. 

So why are we talking about pie and weather instead of the great problems of our time? At Brimmer, we do not want our students shying away from the hard conversations. In history class, students are asked to take positions, research the opposition’s side, and develop meticulously crafted arguments that often leads to disagreement. Eleventh and twelfth grade English classes use the Harkness Method to create student lead class discussions where they argue for and against each other’s points of view. Science students discuss the validity of data and its meaning.

Our students are the future leaders of their communities and our country and they are learning the skills necessary to disagree. It has become far too common on college campuses for students to boo or walk out on speakers they disagree with. We do not want our students to tune out those with different ideas. Instead, we want them to use the skills they learn in class so they can enter into productive debate — actively listening to the people around them, striving to understand another person’s ideas, and being able to speak passionately and respectfully when they find themselves in disagreement. If they can resist the temptation to talk about pie, then our future will be brighter.

From Sparks to Flames of Action

At graduation this past June, I ended my remarks to the Class of 2017 by quoting Golda Meir. She said, “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” These words are a perfect bridge from last year’s theme of Building the Future to this year’s theme: Inspiring Thinkers and Doers. What are those inner sparks of possibility? How do they become flames of achievement? 

To help us understand, I want to share two stories with you today: 

A number of years ago, I had an advisee named Wyatt who was also in my Chemistry class. As his advisor, I had known that Wyatt suffered from debilitating migraines—the kind of migraines that can make it difficult for you to get out of bed. At the end of the semester, as part of his final project, Wyatt chose to research the brain chemistry of migraines, why they occur, and how they are treated. Over the course of a couple of months, Wyatt learned from texts and journals, met with his doctor, and spoke with other people that suffered migraines. He finished his Chemistry project and turned it in at the end of the year. For many students that would mark the end; not for Wyatt. The next fall, Wyatt returned and petitioned to do an independent study. He wanted to learn how to create apps in iOS in order to put what he had learned into use. He went on to learn how to code for iOS and created an app to help people track the potential triggers of their migraines. Wyatt released the app just a few years ago. His doctor now regularly recommends patients to use it, and he has already made a difference for people suffering from migraines. 

The second story is about two students that helped raise the consciousness of the Brimmer community just a couple of years ago. While the story does not begin then, it was spurred forward when Alexis Ifill, Class of 2017, and Katheryn Maynard, Class of 2018, went to the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference. At the PoCC they listened, shared, and learned with other high school students from around the country. They listened to the struggles and successes around diversity at other schools and shared the work that has been done at Brimmer. What they learned and brought back has had a profound impact on our School and will help shape the experiences of everyone in this room and future students.  

After the conference, they wanted to share what they learned with the Brimmer community. They were eventually invited to present at a Board of Trustees meeting. Their message was that, at Brimmer, we are grateful to have such a diverse and accepting community. AND, at Brimmer, we should be proud of the work that has been done to raise awareness of issues of equality and inclusion. Katheryn then explained, however, we cannot just give ourselves a pat on the back and be content with where we stand and the success we achieved. Being a diverse community is hard work and you cannot rest on your laurels. You need to continue to think about what our community is capable of accomplishing and then work towards those new goals. Seeing the need, theyall gender focused improving in areas of gender and identity. The message from Katheryn and Alexis left a lasting impact on the School leadership and has helped lead to an updated dress code that strives to be inclusive and does not talk about bodies as a distraction, the removal of gender specific pronouns in the Student/Family Handbook, the formation of affinity groups for our students of color, and the reassignment of single-use bathrooms in the school as all-gender restrooms. 

What does being a Thinker and Doer mean to you? Perhaps it is building something new to help people. Maybe it is creating a new club for the school or designing a way to help limit food waste. It could be organizing a fundraiser for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Or it might be simply performing a small act of kindness or finding a way to make the experiences of your classmates more positive. No matter what the idea is, or how big or small it may be, we are all capable of being thinkers and doers.  

Each one of you has the potential to transform the sparks of your ideas into actions; Actions that will lead to the flames of achievement that emanate from our community this year. 

Hurricane Harvey and Lessons from Katrina

In February of 2006 I boarded a plane, unsure of what I was getting myself into, and headed down south six months after Hurricane Katrina. That ten day trip with a group of other young professionals led to five more years of week-long visits and an additional five years of organizing volunteer trips for other student groups. I can still recall the images, faces, and the stories I heard during my trip to Mississippi and New Orleans.

As I hear the stories of the people impacted by Hurricane Harvey, see the eerily similar images, and listen to updates of friends that live in the path of Harvey’s destruction I cannot help but think about the lessons I learned from those trips about volunteerism, our capacity to help those in need, and hallowing stories that were shared by people that were waiting on roof tops, took refuge in the Super Dome, and had evacuated to another area.

Lesson 1: Don’t make assumptions about how best to help

During my first trip I had the great opportunity to travel with a highly committed group that wanted to make a positive impact. During this trip we would split our time between two locations. We began our rebuilding effort by helping the small town put a tin roof Katrina Relief-Mississippi 2over the top of a building that was their community center. The building housed all their after school programs, church dinners, and was a safe place for kids to play. So what happened?

As we learned more about the town members of the group started developing new ideas on how to help the town and the children that would use the center. These were truly great ideas. While the solutions were fantastic, they created new problems. The energy of some members of the group moved towards these new projects. This meant there were less people working on installing the new roof. In addition members of the town did not feel comfortable saying no to the volunteers because they were being gracious hosts and were so grateful for all the help. The last concern was that many of the ideas required a lot of supplies that the town would not be able to afford long term.

On our last night we worked late into the night and we were able to finish the main building’s roof, but never were able to start the second building. What I learned and tryKatrina Relief-Mississippi 1 to pass down to my students is this: Remember that you are just passing through the lives of residents. Stick with what they believe is needed to help them move forward. Even if the task seems crazy or counter productive, you do it. Why? Because at the end of your week, you are going home to your house and you want to be sure that you have helped the resident take a few steps closer to returning to their home.

Lesson 2: Listen to what the experts say is needed

In many ways lesson two builds on the first lesson. People’s needs are different and organizations help in a variety of ways. Yes, many families may need school supplies, but immediately after the water recedes school supplies are not what they need most. Organizations mostly need money in order to buy supplies to gut houses, perform mold remediation, and purchase construction materials. If you find yourself heading down to volunteer, you can also bring Home Depot or Lowes gift cards. If you happen to be a skilled tradesman, electrician or plumber, consider donating your time, as these can be very expensive parts of a rebuild. Just remember- they know better than you when it comes to what is most helpful.

Find an organization that you trust and look for what they are requesting. Personally, I am drawn to the St Bernard Project. They have created a system that utilizes volunteers, leverages the AmeriCorps to help, and have a proven system of rebuilding neighborhoods.

Lesson 3: The recovery effort will continue long after it fades from our mind

As Americans we are first rate at responding to emergencies and major tragedies. People show up to help and offer financial assistance. Social media has taken a role by organize fundraisers through their platforms. However in a few weeks most people will move on. How did I end up organizing trips to New Orleans for a decade? Because not every person has been able to come home yet and neighborhoods are still recovering. The type of destruction we saw with Katrina and now with Harvey is not the type of damage that can be fixed easily. It can require rebuilding the infrastructure of neighborhoods, like the municipal water and sewage lines, it requires families to have the money needed to rebuild, and so many more details. We are twelve years post Katrina and there is still a lot of work to do. Many other major natural disasters and national tragedies have occurred that deserve our attention, but we also need to remember that just because we moved on does not mean those impacted have also moved on. If you are interested in continuing to help Harvey victims don’t forget to check in six months, a year, and even a few years from now.

Lesson 4: Urban, suburban, and rural communities all get impacted by the hurricane

Often times the big cities get most of the imagery displayed because they have a higher population density. Don’t forget that all the neighboring towns and counties that were in Hurricane Harvey’s path have tremendous amounts of damage as well. In many cases in rural areas, the hurricane can actually lead to tornado development as well.

 Lesson 5: Get your community involved

When a community commits to helping solve a problem they can do incredible things. This is why many communities still send a group to New Orleans annually or raise funds to help the victims of tsunamis. Imagine the impact a community can have over a few years!

At Brimmer our faculty and staff will be collaborating with students to come up with a response for our community. I am proud to be a part of a community that saw a problem and immediately began organizing themselves to help those in need. Be sure to pay attention to details that come out about our effort support those in need due to Hurricane Harvey’s destruction.

Building Space for Innovation

In 2011 President Barak Obama issued a challenge to the nation in his State of the Union Address to train and hire one hundred thousand new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) teachers. Over the next five years President Obama continued to usher in this generation’s Sputnik Challenge. During this time there was a message that continued to develop about the needs of the nation’s workforce and the need for studentsSTEAM LAB to adapt to the demands of our modern society. Over this time the rate of change has increased exponentially forcing institutions and companies to reevaluate the skills employees need for their institutions to be successful.

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to visit non-profits, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies. These visits allowed me to discuss with them what they are looking for when hiring interns and employees, as well as how they are redesigning their spaces to meet the needs of collaboration and work flow. Each conversation affirmed that today’s students need to be strong problem solvers, collaborators, critical thinkers, and adaptable. In addition our spaces need to be flexible, as well as promote collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

As an educational institution Brimmer and May was identified by the National Association of Independent Schools for its progressive thinking and its leadership in developing skills that are necessary to prepare students for a 21st Century workforce. While we have been successful in creating programs in our current space to prepare students for what lies ahead, our Chase Addition is a critical next step for the school to continue developing students that are prepared for our rapidly changing world.

The new space will enable Brimmer to be an incubator of innovation and social entrepreneurship. No longer will space be an obstacle for student success. Equipped with a 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, CNC mill, and other fabrication tools, Brimmer’s creators, innovators, developers, and makers will have the space to develop and build their ideas. It will enable classes such as Problem Solving Through Design, STEAM Lab, and Media Production to work at a more sophisticated level and for the creation of new classes such as 8th Grade Innovation Hour and the Upper School elective TechShop. However this space is not just for physical creations and developing technical skills.

Instead it is about providing more opportunities for students to further develop the essential skills identified by employers. In addition, the continued incorporation of Design Thinking into our Lower, Middle, and Upper School curriculum plays a key role. We have learned from design firms like IDEO that this way of thinking is not solely about building products. This was evident during the Boston Winterim program this past March.

Students used the design thinking process to engage in social innovation. During the weeks leading up to, week of, and weeks after Winterim students worked to make an impact on the Newton Community. They identified an issue in nearby Hammond Pond Reservation and Webster Woods and prototyped different solutions. During this process they communicated with the City of Newton, local representatives, State Legislature Representatives, and State Senators. Their work even was presented to a design firm that was retained by the Commonwealth to address issues with this area.

It is projects like the Boston Winterim program and classes which balance skill development with content mastery that will ensure that Brimmer students develop the essential skills needed to be successful in the stage of life and to be the architects of our future.

Article published in the Summer 2017 Brimmer and May Ambassador magazine

Remembering Elie Wiesel

Recently, I have been reflecting on some of my encounters with Elie Wiesel. Though none of them were personal, they still left a lasting impact. It is hard to imagine that it has been a year since his passing last July. Over the past week, I could not help but think about his work and his commitment to speaking up for the voiceless- how he made it his mission to fight for equality.

As an undergraduate student at Boston University I was able to attend lectures given by Elie Wiesel. Each year Wiesel would offer a 3 part lecture and then would host a more private meeting. I had the opportunity to attend the private meetings all four years at Boston University. At the time I knew it was important to listen to his words and hear his perspective on the world, but the full depth of their meaning was not evident to my 18 year old self.

I remember rushing from the lecture to the more intimate setting to get a good seat before it filled up. The room would be abuzz with people discussing what they heard during the lecture and the question they hoped to ask him. During these meetings many people came angry over how different people in the world were mistreated. They were confused that he did not display bitterness or share their visible outrage. Instead, Wiesel would humbly respond to the questions with answers that were deeply layered. He challenged students to stand up for what they believed in and to not let any injustice go unchecked. He reminded us that we could not settle for simply feeling frustrated, but needed to allow those feelings to drive us to action, to stand up for those in need. This sentiment comes from one of Wiesel’s most well-known quotes from his 1986 Nobel Lecture, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” 

There is something coincidental about the anniversary of Wiesel’s death falling two days before United States’ Independence Day, a day that symbolizes the result of protest and a country built on the precept of protecting the right to assemble peacefully (Bill of Rights, Amendment 1). What can we learn from Wiesel? How would Wiesel react to the divisiveness we have seen growing in our country over the past year? My guess is that he would urge us all to stand up for the voiceless and to embrace those that need help. Lastly, he would remind us to never forget. To never forget what happens when we stop seeing the humanity in each other. To never forget the Jews that were killed in the Holocaust. To never forget the genocides that occurred in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, Armenia, and in every other country where these atrocities took place. While Elie Wiesel is no longer here to act as a conscience for the world, he has left us a legacy. He taught us how to use our own voices to stand up for those that have been silenced.

How do we approach this work as a school? How do help make sure our students stand up for the voiceless? It means building on our relationship with Facing History and Ourselves, continuing to empower students to speak out when they see inequality and supporting them to work towards solutions, and ensuring that we do not take our community and values for granted. And remember Wiesel’s words “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”