Being Human

I am supposed to be at the #move talks for FUSE 16 right now. Instead, I’m holed up in an Atlanta hotel with a wretched stomach bug that began at the start of deep dive and included a glorious-yet-in-an-outdoor-trash bin, vomit. (Sorry witnesses!) Everyone has been genuinely gracious and kind. Yet, I am so frustrated. I loathe being sick. Like most humans, I can power through the sinusy stuff with a zpack, mucinex, and some whining. But when the amazing human digestive system, and mine is pretty hearty, has other plans, you have to accept the humanity.

As a division leader and a teacher, I encourage teachers and kids to stay home when they are sick; to take the time they need to be at their best. So why don’t I allow that same grace for myself? Guilt? (This is an expensive conference.) Sadness. (This  is an amazing conference.) Frustration! (Of all the days in the summer! I’m supposed to work with Refuge Coffee, darn it!) Some desire to be super-human? 

One of the MA teachers here said, “sometimes you have to accept it and give in.” So I’m sipping the gingerale and hoping the saltines might come next. (Thank you dear Richard, for making the run for your sicko-boss.) I’ll end my pity party here and head to prayer and perhaps, the stages of grief.

Sometimes, we just have to be human.
*here are some pix I took before it got bad.*

My playbook.My super awesome keyboard cleaner.Motto.The new bike my empathy partner made for me complete with a buggy for Toby and an air-conditioned cover for bike commutes in the AL heat.

year one, part one.

How do you even begin to reflect an entire year in a few short paragraphs? (Spoiler alert: you don’t.) Instead, I’ll start with my Middle School Closing Ceremony text and get back to you when my brain has had a few days to process…

Dear Class of 2020. Our journey together is swiftly closing and we will officially send you down the portico to the Upper School, in just a few short days. However, we hold dear to the fact that this time you have spent on the wild ride known as middle school will have a lasting effect on your lives to come.

You are scholars, artists, athletes, hunters, scouts, singers, actors, readers, writers, servers, pray-ers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, and friends. You have walked four of the most challenging years of your life. You began this journey as children and leave as young men and women poised to run towards your future. You have a world of choices at your hands and today, for a brief moment, I want to impart to you my encouragement and challenge.

Your teachers know that I am a fan of quotations. Each week, I send them one in my weekly newsletter and I have searched in my journals of quotes for just the right one for you, for this day. I’ve chosen one that I think fully encompasses my hopes for you as a member of this community.

From George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.”

You have an incredible opportunity. You are students at The Montgomery Academy where we believe that YOU are a valued member of our community just by your very existence. You bring your own unique qualities that weave the fabric of this community. And as a member of this community, you are burdened with responsibility to move us forward. To serve this community. To work as hard as you can to become the best human you can, so that you may pass on your legacy to those who come after you.

Your success as a member of this community can be measured in so many different ways. I implore you to test the waters of as many things as you can to determine who you are and what you love. Look to the intrinsic rewards of hard work. Look to the altruistic rewards of service. Look toward the humble satisfaction of success. And be willing to recalibrate your gauge for that success. Our community has proven time and time again that we are successful in academics, athletics, and the arts. And these measures are certainly worthy of praise. AND they are not the only measures.

As I said at the beginning of this ceremony, each day hundreds of choices are made that demonstrate who you are as a person, or who you are choosing to be—the words you say, the actions you take, the people you with whom you connect, the way you show kindness and respect, and the way you bounce back from mis-steps or failure. As you go through this next phase of your life, I encourage you to focus on developing your character with the same ferocity that you will develop your athletic, artistic, and academic strength.

Julie Lythcott-Haims  served as the freshman dean at Stanford University and last fall published an incredible, bestselling book titled, “How to Raise an Adult”. She uses her experience with college freshman to articulate what separated successful students from unsuccessful. While her book is primarily directed toward parents, I encourage you to consider these qualities to develop your character as you spend the next four years of high school, preparing to soar onto college, service, and full adulthood:

  1. How to talk to strangers: No, I don’t mean stranger danger type of strangers, but how to engage unknown adults in both conversation and information gathering. Asking for directions, listening to stories of others to build empathy, maintaining pleasant conversation with those who aren’t your close friends or family.
  2. How to find your way around: We have our little GPS units in our pockets everywhere we go, but maintaining a sense of direction—knowing how to find your way around with or without your phone, is so important. When you get to a new city, explore it—allow yourself to get a little lost and learn to retrace your steps. I’ll never forget last month when I skirted some bad traffic without my GPS and felt like that meant Montgomery was really home!
  3. How to independently manage assignments, work, deadlines—if you haven’t yet figured out a system for your own time management, now is the time. It is up to you to build schedules to manage your homework, your outside interests, and balance that time. Mom and Dad can’t check the portal for you—it’s all you!
  4. How to contribute to running a household: Hopefully by now in life you know how to load a dishwasher, run the vacuum, make a bed, do you own laundry, and make a few basic recipes. If you don’t, now is the time. It is also time to ask your parents how you can contribute to your household without the hope of reward-you are a member of your family community and you can be entrusted with certain tasks.
  5. How to handle ups and downs—In my opinion as an adult and educator, this is the most important of all of the qualities—many of you have faced momenumental challenges in health, loss, family changes, and academic challenge in your short lives. These challenges and failures provide you with a resilience that cannot be built on a smooth comfortable life. By living through and thriving through challenges, physical—emotional—spiritual—you will become a stronger human and therefore better equipped to serve others and work hard for success.
  6. How to handle interpersonal problems—you will face difficulty with peers and with adults for the rest of your life. You will work with, play with, worship with, and live with/near other humans for the rest of your life. It is vital you learn how to use language of respect and empathy to handle conflict. Learn how to find common ground, advocate for your opinions, and at the end of the day, always focus on kind and doing what is right, rather than just being right.
  7. How to earn and manage money—it does not grow on trees and hopefully you’re already learning how important it is to save and spend wisely. As you grow in age and wealth, your community and family will depend on you for support, learning these skills early is critical to success. Plus, you parents will thank you when you provide them with an amazing retirement home.
  8. How to take risks—this harkens back to my first quote with you—how will you choose to be thoroughly used up? Will you try new things, expand your horizons, be willing to risk failure knowing that the long term gain is better? Will you hear another person’s point of view and consider it before making up your own mind? Will you take a risk to reach out to someone in need, even if they aren’t a friend or stand up to one who is, if they are making poor choices?

As you make the jump into the next four years of Upper School, we wish you all the very best—take advantage of everything you can, work hard, and be kind. Come down the hall and visit us now and again knowing that this MA community is behind you, guiding you forward in the pursuit of excellence.

setting the intention

After reading a wonderful reflection blog from the brilliant Bo Adams, I am looking into undertaking intentional practices for reflection. While I consider myself a daily practitioner of reflection, writing these weekly or daily reflections will allow me to grow my practice of learning and leadership in a more concrete method. There is one tool for intention setting that I have enjoyed this year and that is use of the Momentum Dashboard extension for Chrome. I don’t even know where I found it but each time I open a tab on Chrome (and I’m a tab-o-holic), I am presented with a moment of zen via a gorgeous photo AND my daily set intention. I choose a focus that keeps me going throughout the day.

Screenshot 2016-05-12 08.40.35

This sort of intention reminds me that I do not have to solve all the problems of the world in one fell swoop. It can be concrete–“Visit 5 Classrooms today” or abstract–“Be open to hearing constructive feedback” or simple–“Drink Water!” Either way it is based on a need that I set first thing in the morning and provides one point of reflection at the end of each day. I love it and encourage it!

What are your favorite tools for setting intention or reflection?

reading list 5.10.16

Every week, I share “good reads” with our awesome Middle School faculty. Here is a smattering of what I’ve shared with them recently.

Grit Means Letting Her Quit (Dr. Duckworth’s book just released last week!)

To Help Students Learn, Engage the Emotions

The Inverse Between GPA and Creativity

The Best Books for MS Students, According to MS Students

Putting Grit in Its Place

On my shelves for summer reading (so far):

Untangled by Lisa Damour, Ph.D

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Quiet Power: The Secret Strength of Introverts (a youth edition of Quiet) by Susan Cain

Breaking into the Heart of Character by David Streight (I can’t WAIT to read this book again as our MA Faculty Read.)

The Road to Character by David Brooks

Most Likely to Succeed by Tony Wagner

What is on your Reading List? What is your faculty doing/reading this summer to learn and grow?

reading list. 2.4/16

I’ve been a busy bee these last few weeks but I’m never too busy to read and share fantastic articles with my PLN buddies. Here are a few that have stuck out in recent weeks:

When a Child’s Friend is in Crisis, NYTIMES

Becoming a Math Person, HGSE

Rethinking College Admissions, NYTIMES

The Math Class Paradox, The Atlantic

Why Identity and Emotion are Central to Motivating the Teen Brain, KQED-Mindshift

Harnessing the Incredible Learning Potential of the Adolescent Brain, KQED-Mindshift

How to Raise a Creative Child, Step One, Back Off., NYTIMES

On my book list is Jo Boaler’s amazing new book, Mathematical Mindsets. I recommend it to all teachers and administrators to help us reconsider the power of mindset for learning.

What is on your reading list these days?


modeling kindness 101

“It’s not polite to talk about politics, religion, or money”, so the adage goes. However, I can’t miss this opportunity in our anger-ridden political cycle to consider the message being sent to the youth of our country. A few weeks ago, during a press conference, Donald Trump was asked about the example he was setting for children by calling people, among other things, “loser.” His response was “the kids love me.” I have been mulling over this and can sit idly no more. He is repeatedly disrespectful, dare I say hateful, to large swaths of humanity all in an effort to raise the stakes and dumb down the level of discourse in our election cycle. No matter your personal political beliefs, I just can’t abide the example that Mr. Trump is setting for our nation’s youth.

We teach our children from the earliest ages to use their (kind) words, to talk through their problems, to think before they speak….these tenets have seemingly lost their place for one (or more) of our loudest voices. It doesn’t help that the 24 news cycle ramps it up and provides a microphone for such things but that shouldn’t make a difference. Name calling-even in the interest of plain speech-is not ok. Discrimination has no place in our political process.


We face an uphill battle every day in teaching our children, both at home and school, to be kind. We place quotes on the wall, use teachable moments, and read books like Wonder, all in efforts to build a society of thoughtful, intelligent, dare I say, peacemaking, citizens of the world. This battle has become more difficult and we must fight against it.

In his op-ed in the NY Times this weekend, Frank Bruni, writes “Obnoxious Is The New Charisma.

“IN a typical presidential campaign, the most successful candidates lay claim to leadership with their high-mindedness. They reach for poetry. They focus on lifting people up, not tearing them down. They beseech voters to be their biggest, best selves.”
(Frank Bruni, New York Times, January 10, 2016)

Oh, to go back to this place. Where our (potential) world leaders use intellect, thoughtfulness, and challenging discourse to move our country forward. Rather than sinking to immature name-calling and unrealistic promises that not only model inappropriate behavior for children but belittle our position in the world as a leading nation.

So take heart, dear teachers and parents, press on towards kindness and continue to model what we know is right. Hopefully, the mic will turn off soon.

faulkner quote.jpg



Happy Anniversary Edcamp. You have made a tremendous impact on my professional career and personal life. From my first Edcamp Philly in 2011, I knew that this kind of professional development was going to be different. Four years, thirteen edcamps, four organizing teams, and hundreds of tweets later, I know this for sure. Edcamp is a magical form of connecting educators to each other in a way that honors their passion for learning and growing around the topic of education. Kids are always at the center of our conversations. Collegiality emerges but so does friendship.

During the worst week of my personal life, after the death of my fiance last year, my Edcamp family was with me. My edu-sisters, Chris and Shannon, were some of the first to arrive as I greeted visitors in a grief-induced haze. My edu-friend, Kristina, found her way from a conference in town to show her love and support. These aren’t just edu-friends, they are true friends–the ones who show up. Tweets, messages, and love were poured out over social media and, upon my next Edcamp “after” I was embraced by the deep hugs of these incredible humans.

Edcamp is more than education. It is a powerful force for connecting humans in a world that has so many ways to connect, but does not always does so in a way that is deep and authentic. I am passionate about the power of Edcamp for PD, but even more for the power it has to bring intelligent, driven, and enthusiastic humans together for the greater good.

This is why I chose to give to the #edcamp5challenge today and I encourage YOU to do so. And if you haven’t yet “Edcamped”–don’t wait, find one near you and jump in with two feet. (,