childhood cherished – btsn 2019


*Remarks from the 2019 Trinity School Back to School Night*

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The words of the late Mary Oliver look at me in my kitchen and beg me the question each day of how I will live my life to the fullest. I think in considering the work of Trinity we can adjust just one word to get to the heart of what we do. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious childhood.”

Childhood is at the center of all things Trinity. It is embedded in our mission and pillars and it is what makes us unique in greater Atlanta, the Southeast and among our independent school peers. We believe in the power of giving children an elongated childhood in a world that encourages them to grow up to fast. We empower our children to develop a deep foundation in character and academics while remaining steadfast in curiosity, creativity, and confidence. We believe this commitment to childhood will solidify these traits and skills as they transition into adolescence and beyond. 

In her book, The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey writes “The less we push our kids toward educational success, the more they will learn.  The less we use external or extrinsic rewards on our children, the more they will engage in their education for the sake and love of learning.” Of course, we want our children to achieve academic success as measured by the external world but we know that there is a marked difference between the grade on the page and deep conceptual understanding, active engagement, and a thirst for learning. We have the brilliant opportunity at this age to help our children develop autonomy and independence by fueling their wonder and fascination with learning new things, making connections, and exploring a broad array of interests. 

In the UED, we are working on taking the solid roots planted in the EED and nourishing them to flourish. The groundwork of confidence laid downstairs continues on upstairs. We give our students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, for we know that it is in these mistakes, both academic and social-emotional that their brains and hearts will stretch and grow. In his newest book, Range, journalist David Epstein reminds us: “The more confident a learner is of their wrong answer, the better the information sticks when they subsequently learn the right answer. Tolerating big mistakes can create the best learning opportunities.” We encourage you, our parents, to see these mistake making places as opportunities to grow and be stronger as academics, athletes, friends, and human beings. 

So how do we do it? How do prepare our children to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world while protecting their childhood? 

We begin with children’s literature: 

Most of our UED children and all of our UED faculty had the opportunity to see and hear the book, On the Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, during the first few days of school. This book provides the reminder that each of us has something within us that is fabulously not quite like anyone else and by using our brave strong voice to share our fabulous self-we can widen our world and the worlds of others. Peter H. Reynolds newest book, Say Something, encourages us to be confident and to use our voice, our paintbrush, our bodies, our minds, to be courageous and stand up for what we value. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld reminds us to be good friends, good listeners, and that practicing empathy makes us better humans. We learn that our big ideas, hard work, curiosity, and our gizmos, gadgets, and doohickeys are the best problem solvers, just like in Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. 

In the Upper Elementary Division, we intentionally and interdependently seek to honor the work of childhood through our vigorous academic program, vetted instructional resources, differentiated support, best practice-based teaching, commitment to play, and high expectations, all in spaces where children are known, loved, and respected. Our roots firmly planted, grow into the strong young trees of our Leadership Class and alumni. We look forward to a partnership with you as we begin anew here at Trinity School.


Currents: Listens & Reads


Brains On podcast-What is Dyslexia?: I just found this podcast today and am already in love! The format is a great interaction between a grown-up journalist and kid to dive into fun topics. Really enjoyed this episode on how we learn to read and how it might be challenging. I can’t wait to investigate the next episodes like All About Feelings-Happy, Sad, Angry, and Nervous.

But Why? A podcast for curious kids: Short podcasts to learn something new based on the big curious questions of kids like, “How Do Bears Sleep All Winter?” Fun for the car!

Dragons by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors: My favorite band drops an absolutely amazing new album.

The Science Pawdcast with Bunsen Berner: If you don’t follow @bunsenbernerbmd on Twitter, stop all things and do it now. This dog will warm your heart. His hooman-dad (twitter dog speak) is a Scientist who puts on a simply delightful “pawdcast” which gets five woofs from Toby and Atticus Thomas.


Brainchild on Netflix: I’ve only seen the first episode on Social Media, but I can envision this is a great co-watching series to introduce interesting topics. I would say that the first episode is great for 4th and 5th graders.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: This book is yet another masterpiece from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad. After hearing him speak intimately of the book and his process at The Atlanta History Center this summer, I was eager to dig into this harrowing tale of two boys imprisoned in a “reformatory” in Florida based on the real-life Dozier School which only closed in this decade. The prose is exquisite and the story is even that more troubling (maddening, even) given that it is based in truth.

Reading to Make a Difference by Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly: This teacher text is for every teacher who works with children, no matter their subject area. It provides real-life examples, context, calls to action, and resources for using children’s literature to engage in big, hard topics. I ate this book up and want to give a copy to every teacher I know.

Range (read and listened) by David Epstein: Chapter 4 is worth the price of owning both the audio and hard copy of this book. It completely validates all of our work as a school to promote deep conceptual understanding over procedural fluency! It dives deep into the need for a broad range of experiences versus hyper-specialization in order to develop creative and problem solver minds. It considers the 10k Rule in the context of deliberate practice, not just mindless repetition-for activities that can be best mastered this way like chess, golf, or playing the piano. In an era where we need creative, flexible thinkers, we need people with deep and wide experiences.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson: I have read this picture book to about half of our division as well as our faculty during our conversation on Social Emotional Learning. Oh, how we might all be brave and steady as steal to share our stories that are fabulously quite ourselves.


1619 Project: Both a prose piece in the New York Times and a subsequent podcast with supplementary materials coming from just about everywhere including The Pulitzer Center, the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans coming to the “new world” offers us a place to ask hard questions and re-think our truths. I have only just begun to dig it because it takes great reflection and deep thoughtfulness to dig into these topics. I’m currently starting to think about how, if, when, we relate these stories and thoughts to young learners.


Currents: Listens and Reads, Summer Part II


I’m Still Here-Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (audio) by Austin Channing Brown: I’m so glad I listened to this in the voice of the author. It is part memoir, part call to action, and for me as a white person working for peace, justice, and equity, very convicting. Chapter six was the perfect listen before attending a three day intensive in DEI. 

Forward by Abby Wambach (audio): After listening and reading the short manifesto, Wolfpack, I decided to listen to Abby’s full memoir. Her brutal and intense honesty surrounding her life and work and her addiction and brokenness was so powerful. My favorite quote: “I long for criticism and yet I’m reluctant to commit to what it asks of me.”

Failing Up by Leslie Odom, Jr. (audio): What a charming and inspiring memoir of Odom’s journey to Queens to Aaron Burr. I particularly enjoyed the vignette’s about his work with his father-in-law. Now, if only he’d sung a few bars in the audio.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult: Since reading my first JP book last year, I’ve immersed myself in her fiction. This was interesting to read as it was written before school shootings became an almost weekly occurrence. At the time of this, there were only three, so the perspective felt very historical. Oh, how much has changed in twelve years. I particularly enjoyed the way that characters crossed over from a previous book to this one.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis: Can CPC write anything that isn’t amazing? I so enjoyed following the adventures of the Mighty Miss Malone. For those that study Bud, Not Buddy, the corollaries are neat to point out.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris: This is on the list for my church book club in a few months. I bought it in the airport and read it in about four hours. It was riveting. Beautiful, horrible, and real. To think that this sort of love could flourish in the midst of the most gruesome horrors just proves its providential power.

Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan: Meh. I’m a student of Fullan, but this one felt like this was written for the sake of publishing a book. The precepts were reasonable and made sense, but the whole book took a weird turn in the last chapter. This one was fine, but I would suggest other options.

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile: I’m finally growing into my understanding of the enneagram. Based on a whole bunch of different measurements, I feel pretty compelled that I am 4w3. Not sure what that means? This book can really walk through each of the different characteristics within the enneagram as well as strengths and areas for growth within and around your type. I find this to be the most spot-on of the personality inventories I have taken, and I feel like I’ve taken them all. In terms of leadership, I find that knowing these might offer a window into strengthening communication and workflow, as well as tapping into the strengths of teammates.


Experts on Experts with Dax Shepard podcast-Todd Rose: I really enjoyed Rose’s book, The End of Average and it’s exploration of personalization. His new work, Dark Horse, explores profiles of people who have become unconventionally successful by following their passions and purpose. I’ve added it to my wish list.

Every Little Thing podcast-Baseball and Organ Music: I’ve listened to several episodes of the ELT podcast and it is such a hoot. 30 minutes of learning for sheer delight. In the spirit of baseball season, this episode was particularly delightful. (The Nats and the Royals play the Braves down the street this week, so I’ll be at the park at least twice!)

That Sounds Fun (Annie F. Downs) podcast-EnneaSummer 2019: I listen to this sweet podcast frequently and have enjoyed some of the Enneagram podcasts of this summer. This link is the primer. And of course, I listened to the episode on Fours. (See above.)

Gangster Capitalism podcast: This short series was recommended to me by a colleague at the National Diversity Practitioners Institute. It is an investigative series on the College Admissions Scandal (“Operation Varsity Blues”.) At times, it was very challenging to listen and think about the way that some uber-wealthy parents use their privilege to circumvent the system. And, in the process, hurt others. Oh, Aunt Becky, not only did you buy your daughter’s way into USC, you’ve raised a child that is so vapid, she doesn’t even want to go for learning.

What are you reading/watching/listening to these days??


Currents: Listens and Reads, Summer Part I.

It’s the SWEET summertime which means that even though we still work, our hours are adjusted which leaves lots and lots of time for reading! Also, since it is summer, I try to do a good mix of read/watch/listen for both professional growth and frivolity.

Reads (so far): 

Memoirs & Inspiration

Wolfpack by Abby Wambach: I listened to and read this short text about leadership, having a strong pack, and changing the world. I recommend this book to basically anyone in life transition and leadership.

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates: I read this on the recommendation of several friends. She lays out the work that the Gates Foundation has done across the world to empower communities of women and weaves her own journey for fighting for global equality.

The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey: In a series of quotes and vignettes, thought leaders from around the globe share their wisdom for the journey of life.

The Truths We Hold by Senator Kamala Harris: I didn’t know much about Senator Harris other than she had been the AG of California before becoming Senator. I was very curious to know more about her and enjoyed listening to her memoir. It gave me insight into her deep fight for housing equality and social justice reform.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown: I started this book last fall and finished it via audio but went back to finish annotating the hard copy over the last few weeks. It took me a long time to digest and I’m not entirely done reflecting on a lot of the questions that Sister Brené asks, particularly at the end of the book. Pair the reading of this book with watching her Netflix special, tell me which portion resonated with you the most and I’ll point you to one of her other books for a deeper dive into that particular thinking.

Nerdy Teacher Books

Developing Assessment Capable Visible Learners by John Hattie, Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher: This book provides such deep clarity for the pedagogical philosophy that is embedded in the work we do at Trinity. It has provided validation for what I truly believe about learning and students and the adults who facilitate learning. It has a perfect blend of research (effect size, anyone?) and practical approach.

Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson: I have preached for years against grammar instruction in isolation (oh and so has NCTE, since about 1936…) but this book provides both theoretical and practical approaches to integration grammar and mechanics into Writer’s Workshop models. Combine it with his Patterns of Power and what more could you need? (More time, yes, I know, more time.)

The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar: This book is so jam-packed with goodness, I don’t even know how to say thank you to Elena for such a great resource. While my job is to coach the leaders who work with the teams, this book offers powerful stories and scenarios that we all face as leaders of adults. Additionally, it has practical and tested protocols and strategies to build strong functioning teams focused on student learning. A must read for school administrators, instructional coaches, and team leads.

Books for My Students

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis: Parallelling Bud, Not Buddy, this beautifully told story of Deza Malone and her family. I simply love the relationships within this family and the deep love that they have for one another.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan: What a delightful book in the form of emails between to girls who grow from animosity to family. From two of my favorite authors, Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings) and Holly Goldberg Sloan (Counting by 7’s)

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: The follow-up to The War That Saved My Life, we return to our narrator, Ada, as she lives, loves, and learns in the heart of World War II.

Boys on the Boat-Young Readers Edition by Daniel James Brown: I have had the “real” version of this on my shelf for years, but was coaxed to pick this one up as we re-envision our Sixth Grade humanities curriculum to include a great deal of non-fiction for our students. I gobbled this story of the creation of the 1936 Olympic Men’s 8. My deep love for crew and history were fed in this adaptation for young (11-13ish) readers.


Dragons by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors featuring The Lone Bellow: I’ve heard this live but now I can finally hear it on repeat!

Sings His Sad Heart by Matt Nathanson: I heard him live a few weeks ago, opening for Indigo Girls, and was immediately smitten with his turn of phrase and folksy-pop melodies.


The Weekly from The New York Times: A deep dive docuseries. I found the episode on the TM Landry School corruption to be fascinating and heartbreaking.

Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable on Netflix: I was watching the David Letterman Netflix interview with Ellen and they mentioned this special so I paused it and watched it. I’m so glad I did; it was hilarious, beautiful, and a reminder that goodness exists in the world.

Dead to Me on Netflix: I wasn’t expecting the storyline of this from the start, but this short series was rich with character, twists, and emotional roller coasters. As a life-long fan of Christina Applegate, I highly recommend it. (If you are new to your grief process, you might consider waiting a little bit, but five years in, I felt it was just fine.)



currents: listens & reads


Estimation 180 podcast: A fresh new podcast from Andrew Stadel of the Estimation 180 fame. While this focuses on curiosity and mirroring in the mathematics classroom, some of the key strategies are easily transferred across the curricular spectrum.


I’ve had a blast with some middle grades literature lately. It is so fun to read what the kids read and to have video book clubs with the children of my friends.

Wish: A dear, sweet story of a girl placed with her unknown relatives who finds love, family, and herself through the love of a sweet pup.

The Breadwinner: Read by our kids in Fourth Grade as part of Historical Fiction book clubs, I found this story compelling with beautiful word painting.

Summer Read Starting Early

The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar: I have started this one and am about halfway through in considering how to teach others to lead teams, as well as leading my own. I am so impressed with the readability of this work. It is told through vignettes while offering practical protocols for working to build and coach strong teaching teams.

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor: I’m looking forward to digging into this one, which I’ve started on audible already, as part of our Trinity Summer Reading list. I adored Big Potential and have savored everything put out by Shawn Achor this year.

Sidebar: I have been deeply moved by the beautiful tributes and community that have emerged in the wake of the death of modern-day theologian, Rachel Held Evans. As an early follower of her work, I find her example of civil and challenging discourse in an age of rage to be inspiring, motivating, and the epitome of grace. If you are a person of faith or a questioner of faith, I highly commend to you her work, Searching for Sunday, of which I had the honor of serving on the publication launch team.


show them how.

*PS-this was started on Palm Sunday, but life gets in the way….*

Today is Palm Sunday. Across the globe, folks walk the way to Jesus in his triumphal entry to Jerusalem before entering into Holy Week and arriving on Sunday at Easter. In my tradition, The Episcopal Church, we begin with the blessing of palms and then enter our sanctuaries with joyful hymns. My favorite piece of this service is one of my family traditions, and one I bet is shared by many across the blog who are handed a long frond of palm; we make palm crosses. Not officially as part of the liturgy, but something we do with our idle hands as we hear the stories and celebrate this beginning of the holiest week of the church year.

I take great joy in shaping these palms into crosses which I share with friends or keep in the sun until they are dried for the year ahead. Part of the reason I love it so much is that I learned this skill from my mom. Who I assume learned from someone in her church at some point, somewhere. I didn’t learn through a workshop. I didn’t learn through a video or textbook or lecture. I learned by watching my mom, right next to me in the pew, year after year. She might gently guide my hand from time to time, but I learned by watching and mimicking. Now, I sit quietly each Palm Sunday and build three or four pieces of art while I hear the sermon and reflect after communion. Perhaps someone watches me and learns?


This is a metaphor for our learning environments for me. How are we modeling learning, not only with our words and materials but our actions? How are we considering the role of apprenticeship and guest experts within our context of learning? In an age of self-directed learning and tinkering, which I wholeheartedly appreciate and support, how might we not forget the valuable role of modeling?

And not only for contexts of academic work but also learning to be whole-hearted humans. “The students are watching” so say Theodore and Nancy Sizer and remind us of the moral imperative as educators to support the integration of modeling character throughout our educational settings. Character education in a silo is yet just another drill and practice act but rather the appropriate modeling of our expectations for treating one another and ourselves is critical.

The careful and meticulous handling as a long, thin palm is crafted into a short, slightly sideways cross in the silence around others remains a symbol not only of the religious event for Christians but also as a symbol of the need for careful and meticulous shaping of our children. May we model it well.

Disrupting Thinking, a book review

*cross post with SAIS Book Review*

With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the newest work by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst comes at the perfect time for a “World Turned Upside Down.” In an era of partisan news and standardized, high-stakes assessments, the authors suggest that our best chance of turning the tide is to build a generation of critical readers who not only probe text for accuracy but also make personal connections. We disrupt thinking when we encourage our readers to read text not only with fluency but also a heart bent toward personal reflection.

The book is laid out in three sections: The Readers We Want, The Framework We Use, and The Changes We Must Embrace. Each section provides a review of concepts found in their previous works, Notice and Note and Reading Non-Fiction, to consider how we might disrupt the way we think about the teaching of reading and guide our students think critically about a text. While much of the book targets schools facing state mandates for testing and ratings, there are takeaways for our independent school universe.


“When a right answer is most important, students come to believe their thoughts don’t matter.” (p. 19) This hits to the heart of exploring a text for meaning beyond comprehension and recall. In a world that requires flexible thinkers who can reach across a spectrum of perspectives, empowering learners with an array of strategies to build these skills is crucial. The authors suggest that opening student awareness of their own responses as well as the responses of others, based on individual life experience, is a learned skill. Responsible readers, who approach the text critically and beyond recall, are responsive readers.

Beers and Probst reiterate their Book, Head, Heart (BHH) framework as the centerpiece of disrupting thinking around reading. This strategy teaches readers to consider not only the context and contents of the text but also the intellectual and emotional responses to it. This strategy can be widely applied beyond the English/language arts classrooms as a way to engage critical thinking and self-reflection. This second section of the book also offers a quick rundown of highly-regarded strategies that open readers hearts and minds to explore deeply into text beyond the Lexile.

“To encourage and expect nothing more of students than unexamined statements of feelings is to encourage intellectual laziness.” (p. 32) It is apparent that these authors are on a mission to promote a wise, and critical thinking democracy. With a publishing date of 2017, it seems clear that much of the mission here is in response to the current state of dialogue and division that has risen around the country. Regardless of party or clique, this book does offer practical and theoretical applications to open students to perspectives other than their own while at the same time building a solid foundation.

Part of this strategy is to disrupt the status quo of instruction and embrace educational change. They make no bones about it: disruptions are necessary to drive change. While this particular book’s primary audience is teachers of reading, it has applicable lessons for all teacher-leaders who seek strategies and ideas to jumpstart critical thinking in their classrooms and schools.