kindness and the playground

We have begun a new school year! I’m so thrilled to enter year 3 at my school. There are fewer unknowns and more opportunities to grow our community. This year, we are implementing a twice monthly Community Time. We will gather as a full middle school and engage in time with one another. What that time looks like is still evolutionary but every time will include a message our character value of the month (also new) and a reflection for our kids.

Our first CTA focused on kindness. Following our community summer read of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, we all have a common story understanding of kindness. For our opening CTA, I chose to do a reader’s theatre of rulers of the playground by Joseph Kuefler. We don’t have recess in our middle school (:-() or a playground on the 6-12 campus BUT we can draw so many lessons from this simple children’s story of power and bossiness. We used the reflection to wonder about times we had chosen to be a King Jonah or Queen Lennox in our lives (declare ourselves leader but treating everyone poorly) or whether we’d been ruled by one.


This is such an important reminder as we begin anew with the routines of school, the locker halls, the carpools, the break time between classes. How are we using these unstructured times (like the metaphorical playground) to build up kindness and friendship? To lead with compassion, empathy, and respect? These are tumultuous times both in our world and just as an average middle school life–it is essential that we emphasize the good, the kind, the strong, the positive, in any way we can. And it starts on the “playground.”



Book Review-Start. Right. Now.

There is so much wisdom packed into the 212 pages of Start.Right.Now Teach and Lead for Excellence that it is hard to summarize it all or to capture it in a few short paragraphs. Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas share their perspective of what it means to be an excellent teacher and leader. It is broken down into four parts: Know the Way, Show the Way, Go the Way, and Grow Each Day. Teachers and Leaders (they are used interchangeably here) pursue excellence by demonstrating each of these four characteristics in all elements of their daily life and work.

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Excellent teachers and leaders Know the Way by becoming masters of their craft. They regularly answer the question of “why do we exist as a school” as they demonstrate their prowess of effective teaching and leadership skills, content material, identifying plans for growth, developing priorities, and showing show confidence as they teach and lead in the classroom, building, or district. They know what is best for kids and establish a vision and mission to lead every person to success. Excellent teachers and leaders know themselves and build practices and habits that provide for their ultimate efficiency and effectiveness. They seek feedback from their constituencies, including students, and learn broadly to improve in all areas of practice. The best educators put people first, realizing they teach children not subjects, and encourage innovation and creativity in their own practice as well as that of others.

Excellent teachers and leaders Show the Way by serving as the visionaries-in-chief for the outcomes they desire in their classroom or school. They help build a common language of values, model collaboration, and celebrate successes with their teams. These teachers and leaders do not wait for excellence to come to them, they pursue it proactively with with measured steps to learn and grow. They are consistent life-long learners

Excellent Teachers and leaders Go the Way and model what they expect from their students and faculty. They realize that what they do is far more important than what they say and they set high expectations for themselves and others. These teachers and leaders work diligently to communicate their vision effectively and build strong, trusting relationships with their followers. They move beyond congenial relationships within the schoolhouse and focus on collegial relationships. Within this context, they have courageous conversations to address issues of poor performance.

Excellent teachers and leaders Grow Each Day and regularly participate in both personal and professional development. They use a variety of mechanisms, including social media to develop a P2LN (Personal and Professional Learning Network) where they learn and contribute to the learning within a global set of peers. They possess a growth mindset for themselves and others and encourage growth and innovative learning practices. They honor that sometimes this means shifting perspective based on new knowledge.

Excellent teachers and leaders keep children at the center of all they do. They realize that we are in the business of changing lives through education. These adults feel as Dr. King said, “a fierce urgency of now” to be outstanding models to teaching, learning, communication, collaboration, and character.

What are the implications of Knowing the Way, Showing the Way, Going the Way and Growing Each Day within our current contexts? We are independent schools in constant pursuit of excellence. We as school leaders, both of the campus and within the classroom, set the tone for high expectations. We must work together both on campus, in community, and across the globe to hold one another accountable to this pursuit.

At The Montgomery Academy, we live our mission statement through our daily interactions within the community, our commitment to excellence in the classroom, stage, and field, and in our dedication to professional development. As we prepare leaders, we model the way in all aspects of life. We cannot wait to know, show, go, and grow, we simply must start right now.

**So pleased to have taken another turn as a guest reviewer for SAIS-publication sometime this school year.**

applying conditional statements to our mindset

I have enjoyed working on a javascript tutorial this morning using to learn how to write conditional statements. I’m sort of nerding out in the joy that comes from writing the precise code to create pop ups and changes the title when I run the code. The gratification of a small task completed successfully. I know, however, that not all statements have one easy answer. The concept of if-then-else can lead us down an array of outcomes.

What if we thought about our mindsets as if-then-else statements? What is we were to open up our thinking about education to allow for multiple paths? What is there could be an “else” model in the way we approach each student?

I think by evolving our mindset this way, we open ourselves to deeper relationships with students and personalization. We break our children out of the box on “one way.” What an amazing thing if we allowed our children to take the “else” path in their learning!

This takes much greater effort. It takes time. It takes trial and error. And each of our children are absolutely worth it.

How are you allowing your students to take the fork in the road that works for them?





Addressing 13 Reasons Why

*I sent this home to our parent body today. I dwelled on whether or not to send it and then a mom asked me about it. I don’t normally make such hay over Netflix but this is too important.*

As many of you have likely seen in the news and on social media, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has become wildly popular with a wide ranging audience. Many of our students have expressed to their peers that they have watched this program. I was able to watch the entire series when it first premiered a few weeks ago.
The series, based on the book of the same title by Jay Asher, deals with very raw themes of suicide, sexual assault, bullying, and children/adults in crisis. These themes are portrayed very openly and graphically. While I wouldn’t recommend this series for anyone under grade 8, I encourage any family who has considered watching this to make sure that it is done together and with conversation. I’m attaching some resources that have been published in the last few weeks to assist with these conversations and decisions about viewing. As with all media consumption for our adolescents, I recommend open communication with your child about what they choices they make in viewing and listening.

We will continue to address issues of character, kindness, respect, good decision-making, and safety in a proactive manner with our students. Mrs. Wright and I maintain an open door for any of our students in need, as do all of our Middle School teachers. Please feel free to reach out to us if we can be of assistance to you.
Common Sense Media 13 Reasons Why Resource

 JED Foundation Talking Points


learning from Auggie.

*I shared these thoughts in my Monthly Newsletter, Middle Eagles Nest, this month.*

Several years ago, I joined the legion of readers who immersed themselves in the life of Auggie Pullman through the incredible R.J. Palacio book, Wonder. If you have not read it, I commend it to you and your family to enjoy both a wonderful story and share incredible lessons of kindness, empathy, and compassion. Schools across the globe have embraced the “Choose Kind” movement to increase these positive character traits in their community. (I won’t give you spoilers because it is a powerful read for all ages.)
Before break, we experienced an uptick in unkind language across our Middle School. Middle School is a time of rapid growth for our children. Their intellectual brains and their bodies grow at a much faster rate than their decision-making and social-emotional brains. This is what frequently leads to missteps in character, including unkind speech. We, as intentional Middle School educators, see these moments as times for growth. We had many conversations between students and teachers about the golden rule in our language and what our core values as a school mean when it comes to the way we treat one another. I had the opportunity to build community with students, stretch our use of language to articulate emotions, and grow inclusive friendships. I’m constantly reminded of why I love being a Middle School Director when I work with students in this situations.
We have a quote of the week in our community and I frequently pull these quotes from the follow-up to Wonder entitled 365 Days of Wonder, which offers daily quotations on kindness and character. Many of our teachers use this book or the parallel iPhone app to explore topics of character with our students. My dear friends use the quotations as catalysts for discussion during family time. As you have conversations  with your children in the car  or at the dinner table, I highly recommend this strategy for opening discussions of kindness, empathy, respect, compassion, integrity, patience, and beyond.

We know that our school is a community. We work together to help our children fly the nest not only with strong minds but with strong character. We truly love partnering with you as we develop leaders of character in The Montgomery Academy family.

yes, chef.

I am currently obsessed with the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. While I am not an avant-garde food eater, I’m mesmerized by the stories and spectacles that unfold in each hour long episode. I watched two episodes to unwind last night and found myself grappling with thoughts on schooling/learning in the process. The two episodes from last night featured Magnus Nilsson (Season 1, Episode 6) and Grant Achatz (Season 2, Episode 1) two incredibly creative and envelope-pushing artists. As I became entranced by their stories and their food magic, I wondered:

  • Where does one develop a capacity for this level of creativity?
  • How does one develop the resilience to try and fail consistently?
  • Where do we build complex problem solving skills?
  • Are we providing experiences in teaching-learning that focus on these major skill sets and character habits?

I see these skills, traits, and habits as crucial to success in any field in our modern era. The work these masters are doing in the kitchen are just one example of how they are critical to success.

Case in point, for six months of the year, nothing grows in the area of Sweden where Magnus Nilsson has his restaurant, Fäviken. He has taken old world root cellar concepts (preservation, pickling, fermenting, harvesting and storing) and transformed them into inventive culinary creations I couldn’t ever imagine. He went to France after culinary school with no ability to speak French and, after being turned down by every 1-3 Michelin starred restaurant in Paris, he continually hounded Alain Passard at L’Arpège until he was given a place in the kitchen and then years of on-the-job training. Where did he learn to be so inventive? Where did he learn his tenacity?

In Grant’s case, he takes so many risks not only in his work but also with his life. When he was diagnosed with Stage Four Mouth Cancer, he took the risk of experimental treatment rather than losing part of his tongue and jaw. What was resulted was not only a body cured and his body preserved, but also the experience of slowly regaining each of his taste bud areas. This allowed him to rebuild his palate and gain a deeper, more savored appreciation of individual tastes. Where did his ability to take on life-or-death risk come from?

If I were to draw my own conclusion as to where these skills and habits came from, it would not be from traditional learning. It would come from a wide range of learning in and out of the classroom. A deep and wide reading of literature, the study of art and music, experimenting with science and playing with numbers, and being outdoors. And play; so much play. Growth mindset and consistent messages that trial and error are the best way to learn are critical in this development. We need to allow kids to construct their own learning, to risk and fail, to get dirty, and see the whole view of the world. It is in this, they shall begin on paths that can lead them anywhere they want-perhaps even to the kitchen of Alinea, the courtroom, the operating room, or lab.

Chef’s Table


pause. breathe. love.

It’s no secret. This is a crazy world we are living in. We can so easily get caught up in the noise around us that we are left impatient with change, personalities, and even those we love the most. Well, here comes KP to the rescue with his list of How to Disagree with People:

We watched this in 7th grade leadership and discussed how important some of these steps are to keeping civility and humanity in our community. We are politically divided, like many communities, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our sense of compassion and empathy. Frankly, it means we have to dig deeper into our character to keep our community unified and strong.

For me, the most important element from his list is: Pause. Breathe. Love. As this applies to our current national turmoil, it also applies to so many of our human interactions. (And, if you’re a dog-mama to a high energy mutt like me, to our canine ones, as well.) We need to take MORE time to pause, breathe, and love and less time to react, judge, and discard. We simply must listen openly to other points of view even if they are diametrically oppositional to our own. For this is our greatest gift as humans, the ability to listen–to empathize–to love.

Be of good courage friends. The work we do is sacred and matters not only in the short term for for generations to come. Press on.