Dawson Blog

List of 63 news stories.

  • Dawson School Community Commitments

    The Dawson Community

    At the heart of any great school are positive partnerships among all the adults in the community in support of students. These crucial relationships are characterized by clearly defined responsibilities, a shared commitment to collaboration, open lines of communication, mutual respect, and a clear understanding of the school's mission. By embracing Dawson's community commitments, we will successfully cultivate a school culture most conducive to healthy student growth and development.

    As a community, we will:
    * Seek to understand and support Dawson's mission, as well as all stated policies and procedures associated with the operation of the school.
    * Respect the school's responsibility and intention to do what is in the best interest of the entire community, while simultaneously recognizing the needs of individuals.
    * Be positive, encouraging, and respectful to all members of the Dawson community. This includes all forms of communication, from electronic to in-person.
    * Champion Dawson and its mission in the broader community.
    * Model for students Dawson's core virtues of respect, compassion, integrity, and courage.

    As parents/guardians, we will:
    * Communicate directly and respectfully with the adult at Dawson (teacher, coach, parent, administrator, etc.) who is closest to a situation when a concern or questions arises.
    * Support the school's efforts to promote health and wellness by preventing student use of nicotine, drugs, and alcohol.
    * Respect and embrace the importance of student attendance.
    * Provide a home environment that supports the development of positive learning attitudes and habits.
    * Communicate proactively and positively with other parents.

    As Dawson staff, we will:
    * Pursue excellence in our areas of responsibility.
    * Seek to understand and meet the unique needs of every child entrusted to our care.
    * Steward a physially and emotionally safe environment conducive to student growth.
    * Communicate proactively with families regarding student progress.
    * Make decisions with students' best interests in mind.
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  • The Learning Zone & The Performance Zone

    RuthAnne Schedler, MS/US Math Department Chair
    The Dawson math department would like to ask you to join us as we contemplate ways that math classrooms can become centers of lively mathematical thinking and learning. This week's Food For Thought comes to us through the ideas of Eduardo Briceño, a learner, leader, speaker, and writer devoted to enabling a more learning-oriented world.
    Eduardo Briceño leads Mindset Works, the leading provider of growth mindset training services and programs for schools and businesses. It helps organizations cultivate learning-oriented cultures and systems. He started it in 2007 with the foremost growth mindset researcher, Carol Dweck Ph.D., and education expert Lisa Blackwell Ph.D.
    Eduardo Briceño contends that we go through life alternating between two different zones - the learning zone and the performance zone. When we are operating in the learning zone, our goal is to improve. In the learning zone, we do activities designed for improvement, concentrating on what we haven't yet mastered. In the learning zone, we have to expect to make mistakes, knowing that we will learn from them. In the learning zone we are messy and deliberate; we make mistakes and get feedback; we trust that the consequences of our mistakes will not be catastrophic. Activities and expectations in the learning zone are very different from what we do when in the performance zone when our goal is to do something as best we can. In the performance zone we concentrate on what we have already mastered and we try to minimize mistakes. In this TedTalk, Eduardo Briceño asks the question: If we are working hard but not improving, could it be because we are always operating in the performance zone?
    If this Food For Thought gets you hungry for more, please email RuthAnne Schedler at rschedler@dawsonschool.org for more. Second helpings are available in the way of related articles, video links, and books. RuthAnne is also happy to just hear your thoughts.
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  • Real Life is Right Now

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Hi Everyone,
    Happy weekend! I hope you are having a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and are looking forward to a fantastic summer. This has been a week filled with emotions as I close out the year, look back on my time at Dawson, and look forward to new adventures over the summer and in the years ahead. The Middle School Moving Up Day ceremony and the Lower School Closing Ceremony were both filled with meaning for me as I say goodbye to students and faculty at Dawson. I was glad to get to put some of that into words during my speech for the eighth graders, and I thought I would share that with you today. I wish you all a wonderful summer!
    Take care,
    I’d like to thank all of you for being here today: parents, faculty, and, students. Most importantly, I want to honor the students sitting in front of me: the Class of 2022.
    This ceremony is particularly meaningful to me, and I’m going to just say up front that if I can make it through this morning without tearing up, it will be a minor miracle. My family loves to make fun of me because I cry at the drop of a hat when watching movies or tv – I’ve even been known to cry at cheesy commercials. So it is my mission today to not give them that satisfaction.
    In any case, the reason this is an especially poignant moment is twofold. First of all, your class, the Class of 2022, holds a special place in my heart. Some of you, I’ve known just for a year or two. Others of you came in fifth or sixth grade, and so I’ve been with you for your whole middle school experience. And many of you I have known since I first came to work at Dawson when you were in second grade. And one of you I’ve known for fourteen years and thirteen days, to be exact.
    I remember the spring day in 2011 when I brought my kids to Dawson for a shadow day. I was nervous about them starting a new school, and they weren’t particularly thrilled with the idea either. But when I picked them up at the end of the day, I saw that they had huge smiles on their faces and were clamoring to tell me everything about their day. Lily kept talking about a nice girl named “Chennedy,” (that would be Trinity), and she couldn’t wait until second grade began. I knew then that this was a special place, and I was so excited not just to come work here but to have my kids here, too.
    All this is to say that I really do feel a special bond with all of you. I have loved watching you grow and change over the years. Even those of you who came to Dawson as late as this year – when you look back at pictures from the start of the year, you all look so much younger! And when I think about who you have become, I’m blown away. Some of you have become expert programmers, creating 3D models of cars and planes or movie projectors. And some of you have become skilled debaters and writers, whether arguing the finer points of historic Supreme Court cases or crafting the perfect sestina. Some of you have become fierce athletes, committed to improving your game. And some of you have become accomplished artists, whether performing on the stage, designing a table, or drawing a portrait.
    During your time in Middle School, every single one of you has learned more about who you are and what you want to be. And every single one of you has come up against obstacles, failed miserably, and then gotten back up to try again. I know this because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen you frustrated, angry, upset, crying, and wanting to give up. But then, some small part of you remembers what you’ve learned about the growth mindset and the importance of failure, and you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and get back to work. If there’s one thing you retain and develop from your time in Middle School, I hope it is this resilience that I’ve seen in each of you.
    Mark Twain once said, “Good judgment is the result of experience, and experience the result of bad judgment.” In other words, you can only learn what’s best by first experiencing what’s worst. You have made many mistakes, and you will make many more. It’s what you do afterwards that matters.
    The other reason this ceremony is particularly meaningful to me is that it will be my final Moving Up Day speech. Just like you, I’m graduating from Dawson’s middle school and moving on to new challenges and experiences. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this wonderful school for the last seven years, and thinking about leaving is difficult. But I, too, have learned much in my time here, and I plan to take those lessons to my next job and to my life. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you, and as we embark on our new adventures, I hope this will come in handy.
    First, never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. You are so lucky to have amazing families who care so much about you and want to support you. And you have fantastic friends who would do anything for you. And you have a boatload of teachers who are looking out for you. Nobody expects you to get through life on your own. The strongest people show their strengths most when they recognize their weaknesses. So when you can’t figure out a math problem, or when you feel sad about something, or when you need to be driven around Colorado to find a benchmark, ask for help.
    Second, thank all of the people who help you, even when you don’t ask for help. Remind them how important they are to you and how much you care about them. Thank your teacher for taking extra time to read over your rough draft; thank your parent for staying up with you while you finished a project; thank your friend for just being there. Don’t underestimate the power of this small gesture.
    Finally, take the time to enjoy the smaller moments in your life. It is easy, especially as a student, to spend most of your time thinking about what comes next – you want to do well in Middle School to prepare for Upper School; you want to do well in Upper School to get into a good college. You want to do well in college to get into a good grad school; and so on. I often hear people talking about “real life” outside of school, as if your life in school, your life that you are living right now, weren’t real. I have news for you: your life is absolutely real – you’ve experienced real joys and real sorrows. You’ve let out real bursts of laughter, and you’ve cried real tears. It’s all real. So please, do work hard, and do prepare for the future, but don’t forget to live your life now – your very real life.
    I will take these lessons with me as well, starting right now. As I leave Dawson, I will ask all of you to help me by staying in touch and letting me know how you continue to grow. And I thank you for making my job the best job anyone could have – I’ve had so much fun with you and learned so much from you. And finally, I will relish the small moments I’ve shared with you – from playing Uno with the game club to singing Carl Poppa and other goofy songs to competing fiercely in a typing competition, these are moments that I will remember. I know that as you go on to the next chapter of your lives, you will have many more small moments to remember and enjoy, and you will invariably touch the hearts of many more people, just as you have touched mine. I will truly miss you. Thank you.
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  • Leaps and Bounds

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are enjoying the beautiful weekend. We kicked it off with a spectacular lower school concert, led by our extraordinary choir teacher, Donna Deininger. The theme of the concert involved gardens and growing, an apt theme for the lower school, where we see such tremendous growth in our students each day. The final song of the evening was “Let It Grow,” a song from the wonderful movie (based on the wonderful book), The Lorax. As I watched our students joyfully singing (one kindergartner told me afterwards, “I was screaming at the top of my lungs!”), I felt such warmth for all of them and for our amazing teachers who care so deeply for each of them. And, in line with the garden theme, I reflected on how much they have all grown over the course of the year.
    Looking back to the first week of school, I remember meeting the new kindergartners. As I sat with them early on, I could tell that they were cautiously checking out their surroundings, not quite sure what to make of their new environment. Many of them relied on their caregivers to walk them into class, still needing that extra boost of comfort before beginning their day. My, how things have changed! The other day when I stood out at drop off (on a rather rainy day, I might add), I was happy to see those same kindergartners popping out of their cars and zooming into school, backpacks on their backs and big smiles on their faces. Later in the week, when I sat and read with them, I saw that same confidence and independence again, as they engaged in the story and made connections of their own.
    With our first graders, I have been going in once a week to do personal reading, and I am blown away by the growth that our students have shown. I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to be in their regularly and thus see these leaps and bounds over time. And not only are they all active readers, they are interested and engaged in their learning.
    With the older students, it has been so fun to see their growth, not only over the course of this year but over the course of the time that I have known them. To see these students really come into their own, whether presenting on a passion project, giving a tour of the rainforest, or advocating for a volleyball net on the lower school playground, they are growing into thoughtful, kind, passionate citizens of the school and of the world. And our faculty are truly master gardeners, recognizing each “plant” for its strengths and challenges and devising just the right growth plan for each individual. 
    And so we return (if we ever left?) to the garden theme. Each year in the Middle School, we create a wall of appreciation, where every student and teacher has an appreciation written about them by other students. And each year, the wall has a theme. One year, it was a “School of Fish,” another year we were planets and stars. This year, the theme is a garden, and so the students and teachers are leaves and flowers. When we decided to create a similar wall in the Lower School, we thought it would be a good idea to continue the theme, and so the lower school students are seeds. 
    Last week, fourth grade students worked with kindergartners to help, and all students in the Lower School wrote appreciations for one another so that each student has a “seed” of appreciation. At first, the plan was to cut pieces of paper into the shapes of seeds, but then Lower School Assistant Director, Amy Criswell, had the ingenious idea to actually have students write the appreciations on seed paper. This way, when we create a new wall of appreciation next year and take this one down, we can give students their appreciation to read and then to plant. This way, the growth that they are experiencing at Dawson, and the connections they have created with other students and teachers, are symbolically represented in the plants that will grow from their seed paper.
    We will be putting up our garden wall of appreciation this week. Please take a moment to stop by and read what our students have said about each other. The love, care, and support that they give by appreciating one another help to grow our community of students and faculty into a wonderful garden of lifelong learners.
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  • The Meaningful Moments

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Blog 3/31/18
    Happy spring! I can’t believe we are almost finished with April – with the snow outside, it doesn’t quite feel like it. As we speed through the final quarter of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about some recent experiences. First, during Winterim I headed to Snow Mountain Ranch with Ms. Fisher and eleven middle schoolers. While our main activity and purpose was cross-country skiing and map-making, we shared many other moments while digging snow caves, preparing meals, stealing mascots (long story), and playing games. During vacation, my family went to New York, where I grew up. For this trip, our main purpose was to see a show (Mean Girls, which was fantastic!) and some other sites. The show was definitely a highlight, but some of the smaller moments will also stick in my memory – walking through Central Park, walking on the High Line Trail (lots of walking on this trip!), and introducing my kids to some old high school and college friends.
    The other day, my husband and I listened to a podcast from the Aspen Ideas Festival called “Living a Moral Life.” In it, a panel of writers and philosophers discuss what it means to live a moral life. One thing they all agreed upon was the importance of finding a larger purpose. Writer David Brooks, one of the panelists, described it as a figure sitting at the end of your bed that may show up anytime, asking “Why are you here?” He also talked about the idea that we all climb two mountains in our lives. The first is the mountain where we establish our career and our families. We typically find at least some measure of success in these areas at some point in our lives, but then we find ourselves unfulfilled (hence, the mid-life crisis). And so we discover this other mountain, the mountain where we discover our purpose and where we work on our character (Brooks calls this our “eulogy traits”, as opposed to our “resume traits”).
    I get the feeling that Brooks sees it as inevitable that we can’t fully get to the second mountain until we conquer the first, and this idea intrigues me. As I reflect on my life so far, I see his point and feel that the older I get, the more I realize how much I still have to learn. At the same time, I feel incredibly lucky that my chosen vocation has also been my avocation. I can’t imagine having a job or career that could be more fulfilling than working with students. And going back to the idea of purpose, I feel that one of my greatest charges is guiding students to discover their purposes as well. Of course, I don’t expect them to have it all figured out by the time they finish middle school (heck, I haven’t figured it all out yet!), but I do hope that our students have a strong sense of what they are good at, what they struggle with, and how they feel they can make a difference.
    My other hope, which circles back to how I began this blog, is that along the way, they will discover the multitude of smaller moments that make up their lives – the games they play on the bus with friends, the story they read with a parent before bed, the snuggle with a beloved pet at just the right time. Too often we focus so much on figuring out who we are and what we should do that we forget to relish these moments.
    I was recently at my 30th(!) high school reunion, and we held a gathering honoring one of our classmates who tragically passed away during our college years. We each shared a memory we had of our dear friend and speculated as to what she would be doing now were she still alive. As I shared a silly memory of a road trip she and I took together, I was reminded that she really did live with the idea that she never knew which moment would be our last. She always kept one eye on the future and worked hard so she could be in a position to make a difference, but she also took every opportunity to look at the world around her, enjoying it, but also figuring out how she could make a difference right then and there. I don’t think I’ve known anyone else who lived life so fiercely, filled with passion, sometimes anger, and mostly joy.
    When I think about the small moments in my life that have had meaning, I realize that so many of them actually led me to my purpose. The times I gathered my stuffed animals in a circle to teach a math lesson, the goofy skits I made up with my students on backpacking trips, the visits from students when my son was first born, the guitar playing and singing with teachers and students on the Moab trip. The moments I cherish connect together in a way that makes clear what I value. At a young age, my friend taught me the importance of these small moments, and I love her all the more for that lesson.
    And so in her honor, as I work on climbing these two mountains, I will always be filled with a sense of purpose and also with a mindfulness of the smaller moments of my life. And I hope to help our students do the same – while they may have to climb two mountains no matter what, hopefully I can help them enjoy the journey!
    Take care,
    p.s. If you’d like to hear the aforementioned podcast, here is a link.
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  • Are You a Hamilton or a Burr?

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Hi everyone,
    I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. I’ve just returned from a conference in Atlanta put on by the National Association of Independent Schools. It is a wonderful conference for many reasons. First, there are several interesting sessions to attend to learn about innovations in schools and best practices. Also it is a chance to connect with other independent school folks from around the country. It is always interesting to hear from my colleagues at other schools what they are up to.
    One of my colleagues, who is the head of a school in the Northeast, made a fantastic snow day video last year that was based on the musical Hamilton. As you likely know, I have been obsessed with Hamilton since I first learned about it a couple of years ago, so I loved this. I shared with him the video that we made at the end of the year last year for the eighth graders as well. And, I shared with them that I actually had the chance to see Hamilton just last week in Denver! This was definitely a huge highlight for me and was everything I had hoped it would be.
    In earlier speeches over the last couple of years, I have brought up Hamilton and the lessons I think it can teach us. And after seeing it live, I am more convinced than ever at the value of the musical. Alexander Hamilton is certainly an inspiration for us all. Living through a severe illness and then a hurricane, he somehow managed to impress the other people on his island enough to pay for him to go to New York and attend school. Against all odds, he took that trip, and the rest is history. In the musical, he sings, ”I am not throwing away my shot!”, and this ends up being a theme throughout the musical. Unlike his counterpart, Aaron Burr, who likes to wait and see “which way the wind will blow,” Hamilton jumps in and takes action.
    I have been listening to a podcast about Hamilton, and the hosts always ask their guests if they think they are more of a Hamilton or a Burr. Most people seem to think they are a little bit of both, and I would imagine that’s true for most of us. Certainly the take-action attitude of Hamilton is more effective and also more romantic, but it does get him into trouble now and then as well! That being said, I think it is our job as teachers to help students take their own shots and jump on opportunities when they arise.
    In middle school, it is often the easier path to take a step back and wait to see what our peers are up to before making a decision about what we want to do. However, this choice, the Aaron Burr choice, does not allow us to figure out who our best selves are and to blossom fully into the individuals that we are meant to be.
    Another aspect of Hamilton that I find interesting is the sheer amount of writing that he did. In the musical, his wife Eliza asks him, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” When he partnered with James Madison and John Jay to write the Federalist papers, they were only planning on writing 25. They ended up writing 85, and Hamilton himself wrote 51 of them. I have been thinking about this because in this day and age of smart phones and computers, it is easy for our kids to be only consumers of information rather than producers. While technology can be an amazing tool for both, we need to sure that there is a balance. While I’m not sure I expect our kids to write 51 essays on the value of the Constitution, I do you think it’s important for us to help our kids find their voices and use them to make a difference in the world. Whether this means having deeper conversations at dinner or when we put our kids to bed or, frankly, whenever we can find a free moment with them, the more we show our kids that their opinions matter, the more they will be willing to share.
    Towards the end of Hamilton, his mentor, George Washington, tells him that you have no control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” It is true that we cannot control what our legacy is and what people will say about us when we are not around. However, we can live our lives to be the best people that we can be. At Moving Up Day, one of my favorite traditions is that as each student is called up to receive his or her certificate, I read an accolade about them that distinguishes who they are and what they have contributed to the middle school community. These accolades are written with the help of all of the teachers and advisors in the middle school, and they make clear just how well our teachers know their students. When our eighth graders finish middle school, they know with certainty that they are known and loved, and that they have made a difference.
    Crazily enough, Moving Up Day will soon be upon us. As we enter the final quarter of the year, we will be working with students to not throw away their shot, to write like they’re running out of time, and to find their voices and discover their passions so that when they leave, they will have made their mark. Alexander Hamilton certainly did! Have a wonderful week!
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  • Appreciating Each Other

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Hi Everyone,
    I hope you are enjoying the snow – it’s perfect Olympic-watching weather! We are five weeks into the second semester, believe it or not, and sometimes the doldrums of the winter set in. Often, when we move through our busy lives, we become so wrapped up in our own woes that we forget that everyone around us is also going through something. This is the time to take a step back and remember that everyone has a story. Actually, not just one story; everyone has multiple stories.
    This week at Dawson, all of our students and faculty participated in an activity that helped remind us of this. Amy Troy, our amazing Director of Diversity, put together the activity as a way for us to think about and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. In preparation for the activity, we had assemblies with each division, talking about empathy and about how we can be more empathetic by listening to and understanding other people’s stories.
    We also listened as a group to a couple of different stories that were recorded through StoryCorps. StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” Starting in 2003 with one recording booth in New York city, they have now recorded over 75,000 interviews that are archived in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Exploring what StoryCorps does and creating our own archive of stories makes sense in the month of February, a month when we are focusing on our core virtue of compassion.
    At the introductory assembly, Ms. Troy pointed out that while we know and hear a great deal about what Dr. King did during the Civil Rights Movement, there are thousands of other people who made a difference in smaller ways, and it’s good for us to remember that small actions can make a big difference. She shared a story recorded by Dion Diamond, a man who peacefully protested during the Civil Rights Movement, sometimes all by himself, by sitting at an all-white lunch counter or cheerfully joining a picket line protesting integration at an amusement park with a sign of his own. Click here if you’d like to hear his story.
    We also had the chance to hear a couple of other stories before beginning the activity ourselves. The first involved a man who was robbed at knifepoint during his commute home from work. He reacted in a surprising way, and the story is quite moving. If I’ve piqued your interest and you would like to listen, click here. The final story we listened to involved a 9-year-old boy interviewing his father, asking him, among other things, “Why do you take me to protests so much?” The exchange is very sweet, especially when the father shares a proverb about babies entering the world with closed fists because “that’s where they keep all their gifts.” I encourage you to listen to that one.
    We then split up into smaller groups and then even smaller groups of two or three to record and archive our own stories. Students and faculty were given a variety of prompts to get them thinking, and once they had brainstormed and talked, they interviewed each other and made recordings, answering questions such as, “Talk about an important relative in your life,” “Tell about a time when you felt left out,” “Tell me about your first day of teaching.” Some students said they didn’t want to open up too much while others later said they found the activity freeing and found themselves opening up more than usual. Either way, we all got a chance to listen to one another and understand how complex and rich all of our lives are. And we were reminded just how much every one of us brings to our community each day.
    Another way we remind ourselves of this is through our Wall of Appreciation. Each year in the Middle School, we create a wall that is filled with individual appreciations for every student and teacher in the division. In preparation for creating the wall, we talk in our advisories about what makes an appreciation particularly thoughtful, and then students write them, sometimes working in pairs or small groups. We then put them all up on the wall for everyone to see. Every year, there is a theme. One year it was a school of fish, one year it was stars and planets, and this year is a garden – the students are flowers, and the faculty members are leaves.
    Given how much the students enjoy writing and reading these appreciations, we decided that lower school students should have their own wall of appreciation. And so yesterday, our eighth grade Dawson Ambassadors came to the Lower School and explained how the wall worked. To continue with the garden theme, students are going to be seeds getting ready to grow.
    We also read a wonderful book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, that talked about how doing and saying kind things fills other people’s buckets while being unkind led to bucket dipping. The book and the appreciation wall are reminders that small actions and words of kindness can have a tremendous impact. The book ended by reminding students to be bucket fillers, so hopefully you’ll notice them making a deliberate effort to do this (they do it pretty naturally anyway!). I, too, strive to always be a bucket filler, and reading the book to our students reaffirmed my commitment to doing this. The book asked us to begin each day asking ourselves how we will fill others’ buckets and to end each day reflecting on whether we did so. If we can all focus on filling each other’s buckets, we will get through the winter doldrums a happier and more connected community!
    Take care,
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  • The Danger of a Single Story

    Amy French-Troy, Directory of Diversity and Inclusion and K-5 Media SpecialistAmy French-Troy, Directory of Diversity and Inclusion and K-5 Media Specialist
    “First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1962)
    Each year, I ask the fourth and fifth grade students in my media literacy classes about the danger of a single story. They aren’t always sure what I mean, so I explain it to them like this:
                “Let’s say there is a disagreement at recess about the way a game of Four-Square is
                being played and I approach Student A, ask for their version of events, and accept it as
                fact. When other students try to offer their side of the story, or perspective, I tell them,
                ‘No thank you. I got all the information I need from Student A,’ and ignore their points-
                of-view. What is the danger in this single story?”
    Students will generally reply that I, as the teacher at recess, can’t possibly get a sense of the big picture if I haven’t gotten everyone’s perspective. Multiple perspectives, or lenses, help us to better understand a situation and help to create a richer, more comprehensive narrative. By asking our students to consider a variety of perspectives, they are more likely to not only better understand the big picture, but also build empathy and compassion for others in the process.
    One of the many ways that we do this at Dawson is by encouraging our faculty, administrators, and students to attend two remarkable conferences each year: The People of Color Conference (PoCC), for faculty, administrators, and other folks engaged in diversity work in independent schools and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) for independent school students in grades nine-12. The conferences, hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools and run simultaneously each December, provide a unique opportunity for students and adults to spend time discussing topics such as school climate and culture, civic engagement, and practicing civil discourse with folks of a variety of ages and from myriad backgrounds.
    The People of Color Conference (PoCC), which began in 1986, was founded by a small group of educators of color in independent schools. Comprising a very small percentage of most independent schools’ faculty, these educators wanted to come together and discuss their experiences teaching in mostly white schools. Over the years, the conference has evolved to include folks from a variety of races and ethnicities and has grown from a conference of thirty attendees to one of nearly 5,000 attendees.
    Early each morning of the conference, we say goodbye to our six Dawson representatives as they head off to their day at SDLC—a grueling 14-hours of learning with peers and faculty from around the country, followed by a late-night debrief with other Dawson faculty and students. While they meet students from all walks of life and from an array of independent schools (over 1600 total!), the faculty attend workshops and discussion groups centered around how we can best support all of our students and ensure that their stores are heard. For students and faculty of color, this often means being in a room full of independent school folks who look like them for the very first time. For our white students, it is often the first time they have been in the minority and gives them a chance to experience another perspective first-hand. Sharing perspectives with people very different from ourselves is hard work; but it is also illuminating, so we ask all attendees to lean into this discomfort. The best word to describe what happens to our first-time faculty and student attendees is “transformative.” They come back with their lenses refocused and able to look at the world, and its people, in a new way.
    When selecting faculty and students to attend these two conferences, we consider several criteria:
    • How will attending this conference impact the individual’s social-emotional well-being?
    • How will this individual’s perspectives be impacted by attending this conference?
    • How will attending the conference bolster and energize the individual’s leadership skills at Dawson?
    The attendees vary from year-to-year. We try to take faculty and students of color who can really benefit from being around other folks who share similar perspectives. While both of these conferences are designed specifically for people of color, it has been incredibly powerful for our white students and faculty, as well. It is through having these difficult conversations that we build understanding and empathy. Witnessing our young people, as well as veteran educators, adjust their lenses and look at the world through a new perspective is one of the highlights of my role as Dawson’s diversity practitioner. As a storyteller, I truly believe that in sharing each other’s stories and thinking about how are own lenses are formed, we are better able to make connections with each other and find commonalities. It reinforces the old belief that, as humans, we really do have more in common than we don’t.
    Perspective is a powerful thing—it has the capacity to open our heads and hearts to the plight of those around us, while helping us build our own knowledge of and compassion for others. Perspective builds community and shows all members that they are valuable, that their voices are heard, and that their opinions matter. While I am fortunate to teach in a community that values civil discourse and the exchange of differing opinions, I am especially honored to be able to spend time each year at PoCC and SDLC with faculty and students sharing stories and perspectives in an effort to build understanding. In sending faculty, staff, and students each year, we are investing in the Dawson community. Conference attendees bring back their unique experiences which bolster our advisory curricula, enrich classroom discussions, and promote a culture of inclusivity. As for those fourth and fifth grade media literacy students, I hope to be taking some of them to SDLC in a few years. In the meantime, I’ll be encouraging them to keep sharing their stories.
    *For a fantastic TedTalk about the danger of a single story, please watch “The Danger of a Single Story” by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
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  • 166 College Reps Visit Dawson

    Stefanie Esposito, Director of College Counseling
    Over the last 6 weeks,  the College Counseling Office hosted more than 165 college admissions officers on campus. These visits are such an important part of our college counseling program that we wanted to let you know a little more about them.

    What are rep visits?
    College admissions officers often hit the road during the fall to conduct high school visits and to recruit applicants at local college fairs. Dawson is fortunate to attract so many representatives to campus each year between September and early November.

    Why are they so important?
    These visits allow our students to learn about colleges from the people who will be reading their applications; they allow the College Counseling team to build relationships with the colleges to which our students apply; they allow college reps to get to know Dawson and the kind of students we produce.

    It’s not uncommon for a rep to walk out of a session and rave about the engagement and energy of Dawson students. They also frequently will tell us they remember meeting students the prior year.

    Over the years, we get to know the reps, and they get to know our team and the school. This rapport benefits all of our students when they go through the application process.

    What happens at a rep visit?
    We welcome the admissions officers with a goody bag that contains bottled water, some locally made snacks (Boulder Canyon chips, Celestial Seasonings tea, amazing chocolate bars from our own Miche Bacher), and information about Dawson. For folks who spend weeks on the road, these gifts are much appreciated. The admissions officers will present information about their school and answer questions from our students. Depending on the size of group and the style of the representative, these can be formal presentations or a conversation. Each representative also meets with a member of the College Counseling team so we can share information about Dawson and learn more about the college and new developments from the admissions offices.

    When do these visits happen?
    Juniors and seniors can attend the meetings. Dawson teachers are gracious enough to allow students to miss class to attend if they give advanced notice and take care of missing work. Visits begin in September but peak during the week of the large college fairs. During that mid-September week, we usually had more than a dozen reps visiting every day.

    Fun facts
    Ursinus College, in suburban Philadelphia, offers the J.D. Salinger Scholarship for Creative Writing. The winners not only receive a $33,000 annual scholarship, they also get to live in J.D. Salinger’s former dorm room during their first year.

    For students looking for a big-campus experience, the University of Alabama offer generous scholarships for students with high GPAs and test scores, and the University of Minnesota waives its application fee for out-of-state students.

    Large universities are often able to shrink the feel of their campus for top students through honors colleges. Honors colleges at the University of Oregon, University of Arizona, University of Vermont and many others offer preferential registration, research opportunities and capstone learning experiences that are not available to the school’s general population.

    We had more visits from international schools than in previous years. It is becoming increasingly easy for students who want more than just a semester abroad to get a global education. Many UK schools are now on the Common Application, and schools like NYU—with its Shanghai and Abu Dhabi campuses—are expanding into new regions.

    Business Analytics, which involves using data to make better decisions in business, seems to be the hot new major on many campuses.

    One unfortunate trend is the shrinking gap between in-state tuition at CU Boulder and supposedly more expensive out-of-state options. For example, tuition for a non-resident at Miami of Ohio’s Farmer School of Business is only about $3000/year more than the resident tuition at CU’s Leeds School of Business, which is $32,000/year. Out-of-state tuition at the Culverhouse College of Commerce at the University of Alabama is $4,000/year less than Leeds would be for a Colorado resident.

    Schools are placing new emphasis on students’ wellness. The University of Vermont, for example, has a Wellness Environment where students are mentored, rewarded for exercising and eating healthy, and taught mindfulness practices that help them manage stress.

    Campbell University has PGA Management Program and Homeland Security Major.

    We were visited by schools that offer a wide range of learning styles. Colorado College, Cornell College and Quest University—located in Squamish, British Columbia, “the outdoor recreation capital of Canada”—teach one class at a time in 3-week blocks. St. John’s College in Santa Fe and Annapolis teaches a Great Books curriculum. Evergreen State College and Hampshire College provide narrative evaluations of student work instead of grades.

    St. Lawrence University has an Adirondack semester where students live off the grid in a yurt village in the heart of the Adirondacks (http://www.stlawu.edu/adirondack-semester)

    Sewanee: The University of the South walked away with top honors from the Alumni Factor, a college ranking system that’s based on alumni feedback. Sewanee ranked first for Intellectual Development, first for Social Development and second for Friendship Development. Based on their time on the “Domain,” which is what they call their mountaintop campus, Sewanee alums are among the most likely graduates of any school in the country to recommend their college to prospective students today.

    Both Ms. Carson and Ms. Esposito were surprised to learn that their former students are now our college admissions representatives at Colby College and Wake Forest University.

    College Rep Visits by the numbers

    Colleges visiting Dawson this fall:  166
    Students who attended visits:  382 (100+ students averaging 3-4 visits each)
    Most miles traveled by a college representative: 8,327. Thanks for coming all this way, University of Sydney!
    Countries represented: 6
    States represented:  41
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  • Scaffolding Creativity

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Hi Everyone,
    I hope you are having a wonderful weekend and are enjoying this beautiful weather. More snow is on the way, apparently, and I have to admit, I am excited for the winter to come. It’s hard to believe we are more than a quarter of the way through the school year. We have had a wonderful fall, and life on campus continues to be busy as usual.
    My favorite part of each day at Dawson is the time I get to spend in the classrooms. I’ve been reading aloud with the kindergarten once a week and doing personal reading with the first grade as well. It’s so fun to see how much they grow in one short week. I also love slipping in to various classes in kindergarten through eighth grade to see what is going on. I am consistently blown away by the learning that is happening at every level.
    At the start of the year, we were lucky enough to welcome Denise Pope to our campus. Pope is the author of the book, Overloaded and Underprepared, which was one of our faculty summer reading choices (along with Julie Lythcott-Haims’s How to Raise an Adult, which I wrote about in my last blog). If you were here for Back to School Night, you heard me talk about the idea of SPACE, both in school and at home. Pope encouraged teachers to create more student-centered, project-based lessons, allowing kids to grapple with new ideas, think critically, and create solutions. It’s definitely messier than what we often think of as “learning” – memorizing a great deal of information, answering multiple choice or short answer questions on a test to show what we have “learned,” and then promptly forgetting most of the information within a week. Inquiry-based, student-centered lessons require students to think deeply, to try solutions and fail, and then to try again, thus encouraging deeper and longer-lasting understanding.
    One of the terms we educators hear a lot these days is “voice and choice.” The idea is that if students have a chance to show and tell their understanding, and if they are sometimes able to choose the method of showing their understanding, then they will engage more readily with the material, take more risks in their presentation, and ultimately gain a better understanding of the concepts and material. And providing students with voice and choice encourages creativity in a way that a more limited assignment cannot.
    I recently came across this article that provides tips for teachers and parents to encourage creativity in kids. The author talks about the mistaken notion that we just need to give our kids a blank canvas (or sheet of paper or computer screen) and let them have at it. Instead, he says, we need to provide some scaffolding that allows them to go for it. He mentions a cycle of creativity that starts with imagining, then goes to creating, playing, sharing, reflecting, and then back to imagining.
    In visiting some classes at Dawson recently, I saw this idea at play (no pun intended!) in multiple classrooms. In Jeff Ellenbogen’s Creating with Technology class, students begin projects by looking at projects done in the past, and then having a meeting where they share their ideas for what they want to do (the imagining phase – also a bit of the sharing phase). They talk about what materials and knowledge they will need, they work to acquire those things, and they get to work. The cycle happens over and over again multiple times in a given class period – they are constantly creating, playing, sharing, reflecting, imagining, and creating again. The name of the class has the word creating in it, after all!
    While that class is probably the most obvious place where we see this cycle in action, I’ve noticed it in other places as well. In Anna Vinson’s second grade class, students recently created a Westward Expansion Museum. They brainstormed what they wanted to explore and then what to create in order to show their understanding and share with each other and, ultimately, outside visitors, including family members and other students and teachers. The process of creating the museum entailed much imagination, creation, play, and reflection. And during the museum’s visiting hours, they had the chance to share their knowledge several times (unlike a presentation format where they would only get to share once), thus allowing them to think quickly about what presentation strategies worked well and what did not so they could make changes.
    Eighth grade students in math class, using the student-centered Exeter curriculum, imagine various solutions to the problems they are given, and they have the freedom to solve each problem with whatever strategy works best for them. They then share their strategies with each other and reflect on how each method worked and whether some methods are more efficient or effective than others.
    These are just a few of the examples I have seen of teachers creating time and space for students to think creatively and critically, to try new things and get a chance to play with their ideas, and to reflect on what worked and what didn’t so that they can try again. These students are gaining important skills, like divergent thinking, resilience, and positivity, that will help them as they move through school, in college, and, most importantly, beyond.
    Have a great week!
    Take care,
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  • Are You Overparenting?

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Hi Everyone,
    I hope you are enjoying the long weekend. The fall colors are out in full force, and I’m hoping to get a chance to get into the mountains to enjoy them in their full glory.
    As you know, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the book How to Raise an Adult, will be coming to Dawson on October 24 and 25, and we are looking forward to hearing what she has to say both to parents and to faculty. The event on the evening of October 24 is sold out, so if you are not able to make it, or if you are coming and want a preview, I’d highly recommend listening to a recent podcast put out by MindShift, a subsidiary of KQED. MindShift produces several wonderful and thoughtful articles regarding education, and they also produce a podcast through NPR that I love.
    In any case, this most recent podcast, which features is entitled “Stepping Back from Overparenting.” The podcast begins with a discussion with Lythcott-Haims, the former Freshman Dean at Stanford, noting three trends she saw during her tenure from 2002-2012. First, she found that students were arriving on campus as freshmen more accomplished than ever before, in terms of their grades and their extracurricular activities. These kids’ resumes far outshone those of teens from an earlier era. I can concur with this observation, having done alumni interviews for my own college almost every year since I graduated twenty-five years ago. The kids I interview these days have near perfect GPAs, have played multiple varsity sports, have traveled abroad extensively doing community service, and have help multiple internships. They are incredibly impressive in as far as what they have done in an effort to achieve success.
    But the two other trends that Lythcott-Haims has noticed are not so positive. The second trend is that parents are more involved than ever before in their children’s lives, and it seems completely normal to kids. She tells the story of a student casually mentioning that she had sent her paper home for her parents to edit, as if this was a normal thing to do. Another story involves a student who was having trouble getting along with her roommate. Rather than trying to work it out, she called her parents, who then called the school to ask for a roommate switch. In other words, parents are stepping in at the slightest sign of distress, and this is becoming the norm, so much so that kids feel like they can’t do anything without their parents’ help.
    The third trend, which is a result of the second, is that college students are not at all self-reliant. They lack the impulse to solve problems, or to know what to do when they don’t know what to do. Their first impulse is to call home and ask for help. Lythcott-Haims calls this behavior “existential impotence.”
    The reason she decided to write her book is that she feels it is crucial for parents to start working on self-efficacy with their kids long before they send them off to college. And she worries that, instead, parents are setting their kids up for failure early on. When we bring our kids’ forgotten homework to school for them, or “help” them with their projects by essentially doing them for them, or haggle with teachers for higher grades, we’re acting more like a concierge service than like parents. And, we’re depriving our kids of developing the self-efficacy that is so crucial for them to do in order to be productive adults. If we want our kids to initiate the change they want to see, we need to take a step back and let them learn how to manage life on their own.
    Lythcott-Haims talks about three things we can look out for as parents. If you find yourself doing any of these things, you are in over-parenting territory. The first is watching the language we use to talk about our kids. If you find yourself saying, “We’re on the travel soccer team,” you are too involved in your kids’ lives.
    Second, if you find yourself over-helping with homework (i.e. doing it for them), you may be achieving a short-term win (a higher grade for a class,), but you need to remember this is a long-term loss. Not only are you depriving your kids of the sense of accomplishment that they would get by doing it on their own, but you are also effectively telling your children that they are not capable of doing the work on their own, and this sense of inability to solve problems will follow them.
    Finally, she warns that if you find yourself frequently challenging authority figures in your kids’ lives (teachers, coaches, school administrators), you need to take a step back. Yes, authority should be questioned, but we should be teaching our kids the skills to do this on their own – not just to challenge authority, but to speak respectfully while doing so. If they head off to college and adulthood without being able to do this, they will most certainly feel lost without their parents.
    A friend of mine who is an executive in a financial institution told me an alarming story recently. He had given a review to an employee that had some unfavorable feedback. The goal, of course, was to help the employee learn from the feedback and make improvements based on this feedback. Instead, my friend got a phone call from the employee’s mother, complaining about the feedback. My friend calmly told the mother that she was putting her child’s job in jeopardy by making this call. She was trying to help her child, but all she did was demonstrate that the employee couldn’t advocate for herself (and also clearly couldn’t take constructive feedback).
    I certainly hope that story is an anomaly – most of us, I think, recognize that by the time we send our kids off to college and beyond, they should be able to fend for themselves, for the most part. But we can’t wait until we send them off at eighteen to let them go. We need to gradually give them responsibility to handle things on their own so that they believe in themselves and can handle the everyday challenges that the world will throw at them.
    And so, I ask you to work with me to rescue our kids by not rescuing our kids. The next time you see some homework on the kitchen counter after your child has already left for school, ignore that instinct to hop in the car and take it to them. It may be hard in the short term to feel like you are failing your kids, but you are actually doing them a huge favor in the long run.
    The podcast also talks about the bad rap that millennials get, quoting Simon Sinek (one of my favorite people!) and discusses the backlash that some parents receive when they try to give their kids more freedom and responsibility. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing! Here is the link if you would like to do that (it’s the second podcast in the list): http://www.npr.org/podcasts/464615685/mind-shift-podcast
    Have a wonderful week!
    Take care,
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  • Exploring S.P.A.C.E

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hi Everyone,
    We are back at it in full swing now, with Back to School Night behind us and in the midst of Spirit Week. I have spent a lot of time visiting classes, and it is great to see what teachers are doing with their kids – encouraging them to work together, to think critically, and to problem-solve.
    My speeches at both Middle School and Lower School Back to School Nights were essentially the same. Sorry to those of you who went to both, but I think the message is important enough for everyone to hear. In case you didn’t get a chance to go, I’m including the speech below. I am really looking forward to a fantastic year in which we all work to develop our students into independent, resilient, and compassionate young men and women.
    Take care,
    I am so excited for the year ahead in the MS for a variety of reasons. First, we are building a new building on Dawson’s campus – the first time in 20 years! We’ve done extensive research on spaces in school and know that our new dining hall and learning commons will provide myriad opportunities for students and faculty to gather, connect, and learn.
    Second, we have a fantastic program in place; we are in our second year of the block schedule, and teachers have found amazing ways to use this time effectively so that students come away from their classes with a deep, rich understanding of the material. We are also constantly reexamining and updating curriculum to make sure that our focus is on helping students develop the skills they will need to go out into the world and make a difference.
    But what really makes Dawson’s MS special is, of course, the people: the faculty, students, and families who are all a part of the Dawson community. And every day, I am heartened by the drive of our faculty, by the enthusiasm of our families, and, most importantly, by the joy and excitement of our students.
    We are, of course, here for the students, after all, and so our faculty work tirelessly to stay on top of best practices so they can meet all of our students where they are and help them reach their true potential as individuals and as members of a caring community.
    To that end, we have been fortunate enough both to send our faculty off to amazing professional development opportunities and to invite distinguished educators to campus who can share their findings with us.
    Denise Pope, a professor at Stanford’s graduate school of education and author of Overloaded and Underprepared was here during our opening meetings, and Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean at Stanford and author of the best-seller, How to Raise an Adult, will be here in October. Both women have done a tremendous amount of work looking at how to help our kids learn in authentic ways and how to foster resilience and independence in them. Pope’s focus is more on what schools can do, and Lythcott-Haims focuses more on the parenting side. Both women speak of the downside of overscheduling and overparenting our kids. Lythcott-Haims has more than a couple of amusing yet alarming stories of freshmen who arrived at Stanford – so obviously very intelligent young men and women – completely ill-prepared to handle the everyday aspects of life – sending packages, doing laundry, even finding where their first class was – she tells the story of a student who, in a panic, called her mother across the country to find out where she should go. It didn’t occur to her that there were plenty of people right there who would likely be much more useful!
    When Dr. Pope worked with our faculty a couple of weeks ago, she affirmed much of what we are already doing and encouraged us to continue on our path to develop independent, resilient, and compassionate students.
    She suggests that schools focus on five things, and she uses the acronym SPACE because all students need a space at their school.
    The S stands for schedule and use of time. Pope advocates for a schedule that allows time for authentic learning. At Dawson, we’ve changed our schedule to include longer class periods so that students can dig deep.
    P stands for project and problem-based learning. Research shows that students engage and learn significantly more when their learning focuses on interdisciplinary projects and problem-solving, rather than memorizing facts and algorithms. You’ll learn tonight about some of the amazing things teachers are doing here at Dawson.
    A is for alternative and authentic assessment. If we are going to teach our kids in different ways, then we also need to assess them in different ways, providing them choice and voice in their learning. Dawson faculty have found a variety of inventive ways to assess students beyond the more traditional methods of tests and papers.
    C stands for a climate of care. Probably more important than anything is creating a caring community. We do this through a focus on our core virtues, through multiple lessons and discussions around issues of ethics and character, and through making sure every student feels known.
    Finally, the E in SPACE is for Education. It’s the school’s responsibility to educate students, faculty, and parents about what research shows is the best way to teach because it doesn’t always look like when we were in middle school.
    So in my effort to do the E in SPACE, I stand before you. But, just like with our students, effective learning happens when we are engaged and active, not when we are passively listening. And so, I’d like to do a small activity.
    For this activity, I’d like you to think back to a moment in your childhood or adolescence that you really cherish; maybe you felt particularly independent or proud of yourself that you had accomplished something. I’m going to give you a minute to think.
    Now turn to someone nearby, introduce yourself, and share your story.
    Okay, now, raise your hand if you were with a parent during the moment you described. (A handful of people raised their hands in the Middle School presentation. None raised their hands in the Lower School.)
    The reality is, many of our formative experiences happen without our parents around, or without any adults around, and that’s how it should be. The adults in our lives helped create a foundation for us to grow. But much of our growing happened in those moments when we were on our own and had to figure things out.
    So how can we parent effectively, laying that important groundwork for our kids while still giving them the space to grow? To remind us to give our kids space, I’ve created a SPACE acronym for parents that overlaps with the SPACE acronym for.
    The S, like with teachers, is for schedule. Denise Pope, in her presentation for parents, had us add up the hours of all of our kids’ activities. What did many of us find? Our kids are expected to complete more than 24 hours’ worth of activities in a given day. Of course, this isn’t possible. We need to reconsider what our kids do each day and make sure they are not overscheduled.
    This leads me to P. Dr. Pope talked about three important things we do need to make time for, and she called it PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time. This is unstructured time that allows our kids to unwind, to connect with friends and family, and just to be. If our kids are shuttled from activity to activity each day, they are missing out on these important aspects of childhood.
    The A here stands for authentic experiences. It may seem difficult to create authentic experiences – if you’re contriving them, aren’t they inherently inauthentic? But what I mean is to help your kids find moments that mean something –where they realize they are part of something larger – whether that’s giving them chores to do so they can contribute to the household, doing community service as a family and taking the time to reflect on the experience, or simply engaging them in conversation about issues of the world.
    The C stands for climate of care here, just like in the other acronym. And for parents, what this means is simple: telling and showing our kids that we love them unconditionally. That’s it. Unfortunately, we parents can sometimes be misguided about the best ways to show our love, and that leads me to the final letter, E.
    The E is for empowering, not enabling, our kids. Let me give you a scenario and we’ll discuss two possible ways it could play out. Let’s say your child comes home from school and complains to you about a rough day. Maybe a classmate was unkind, or maybe the teacher gave too much homework and didn’t explain the parameters of the assignment. Whatever the problem, our immediate instinct is to get on the phone or to dash off a quick email, trying to solve the problem for our kid. This will show our kids that we love them, right?
    Wrong. What we actually show our kids is that we don’t believe they can solve their own problems; that they are helpless without us, their parental saviors, swooping in to rescue them. Let’s consider another scenario. What if, when our kids come home and complain about something, we instead just listen. And we say, “Hmmmm. Hmmmmm. Hmmmm.” And once we’ve really listened, we then say, “Wow, that sounds hard. Have you thought about what you might do? How can I help?”
    Let’s consider the trajectory of the kids from these two scenarios and look ahead to their first day of college. When they don’t know where their first class is, which one do you think will figure it out through finding a map or asking someone on campus, and which one will panic and call home immediately?
    We need to empower our kids to try things on their own. To make mistakes and realize that they can always try again. To advocate for themselves when things are tough. When school and family partner together to do this, we can help our students develop into strong, independent adults who are ready; no, not just ready; eager, to take on the challenges of the world.
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  • The Power of Why

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are having a wonderful end to your summer and are gearing up for the start of another fantastic year. Faculty have been back on campus for the last two weeks, connecting with each other, exchanging and learning new ideas, getting classrooms ready, and getting excited for our students to return!
    Every year during the opening faculty meetings, we go on division retreats. This is probably one of my favorite days of the year. There’s something wonderful about going off campus and spending the day as a group. First, it’s an opportunity for faculty to get to know one another better. When we are in full swing, there is just not much down time for a kindergarten teacher to talk with an eighth-grade teacher, for instance. Just taking this time at the retreat for connections to happen makes a big difference for our sense of community.
    During the retreat, we did an activity called the “Walk and Talk,” which is exactly what it sounds like. First, faculty lined up from east to west based on the geographic locations of where they were born. They then partnered with the person next to them (even with teachers, I try to do all grouping randomly to encourage different connections and to ease any social anxiety of finding a partner, which still happens with adults!). Each pair took a walk for ten minutes discussing what they had learned during the first week back (we had already had a lot of great meetings). These informal times to connect with one another are valuable for building community.
    Second, it’s a chance to think about and discuss how we will best work together to support our students. We do this through creating norms, which we all agree to live by during the year. Often, our norms center on communication, and so at the retreat, we did an activity called “Back to Back Drawing.” Again, it plays out pretty much how it sounds. In the same pairs from the earlier activity, faculty designated a speaker and a listener. I gave each speaker a piece of paper that had a drawing on it made up of geometric figures. To the listener, I gave a blank piece of paper and a pen. They then sat back-to-back while the speaker described their drawing and the listener attempted to replicate it. The listener was not allowed to ask any questions, nor could the speaker see what was being drawn in an attempt to then make corrections.
    After we finished the activity, we debriefed. We talked about what worked well, as well as what they found difficult. We also talked about how sometimes what one person is saying is not what the other person is hearing and how important it is to work on clear communication. Another interesting thing that came up was the importance of empathy when communicating. The more the speaker put themselves in the shoes of the listener, the more they understood what might be difficult, thus allowing them to be even more thoughtful about how they communicated.
    Of course, the purpose of activities such as this is not to determine who is a talented artist and who is not. It’s to experience certain feelings and develop understandings that can then be translated to the work we do each day. After doing this activity, we went back to the norms we had created earlier in the week and looked at them with fresh eyes. We committed as a group to live by these norms in order to cultivate an open, positive culture among faculty at the school.
    The third reason I love the retreat is that it is time for us to take a step back and consider why we do what we do. This has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Earlier this summer, I listened to a podcast from the Aspen Ideas Festival interviewing Simon Sinek, the author of several best-selling books that examine leadership and how companies work. This led me to re-watch a TED Talk he gave back in 2009, focusing on the power of why. In this talk, Sinek argues that successful companies and people communicate from a place that starts with the why, rather than the how or the what. Schools and educators tend to be the kind of places and people that do this organically. If we weren’t, we probably would have chosen a different occupation!
    Still, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day during the school year, which is why the start of the year is such a great time to step back and really think about the why. Why do we do what we do? What gets us excited each day? Why did we become teachers in the first place? During the retreat, teachers had time to think about and reflect upon these questions first on their own and then in small groups.
    As I sat in on some of the conversations, I was absolutely blown away. Our teachers are the most thoughtful, caring, intelligent, and compassionate people I have come across, and I feel so lucky to work with them. They come to Dawson each day not because it’s their job and that’s what they do. They come because they are passionate about our students. Some spoke of their own school experiences, both positive and negative, that led them to teaching. Some spoke of the thrill they get when they see the “aha” moment in a child’s eyes. And yet others spoke of their passion for their subject matter and the love of sharing that with students. All of the conversations and each of the teachers’ whys were unique. However, a thread emerged, and it’s that thread that ties us all together. Our teachers believe in the individual potential of every single student, and we feel it’s our job to help them discover their best selves. And because we do not live in isolation, we also believe in helping every student feel a sense of belonging to and responsibility for our community.
    What a pleasure to be part of such a wonderful community. As a parent, I am delighted that my children are connecting with and learning from this amazing faculty. I know our teachers are going into the year focusing on the why and that they are eager for students to return so they can help them develop their own whys. It’s going to be a fantastic year.
    If you would like to see the TED Talk referenced above, click here.
    Take care,
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  • Feeling Gratitude.

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are enjoying these dog days of summer – it is hot out there! But I am thankful to be in Colorado, where even on the hottest days, you can get some relief by finding shade, and by the evening, it’s invariably cooling down.
    Last night, I had a conversation with a woman from Georgia. This was her first time to Colorado, and she was commenting on how pleasant the weather was here. I noted that it had been particularly hot these last few days, and she countered with the pleasantness of the lack of humidity, especially as compared to Georgia, where it might still be over 100 degrees with 95% humidity at midnight. When you walk out of an air-conditioned building, even at night, you feel like you’re walking into a furnace.
    As she spoke, I realized that yes, indeed, I was grateful for living in a place where the climate is particularly pleasant. But as she told me more of her story, I remembered just how much I have to be grateful for.
    You see, I met this woman at the Ronald McDonald House in Denver. Every two or three weeks, my son and I head down to Denver for what began as a short-term English project (thank you, Ms. Fink!) and has developed into an ongoing relationship. On these evenings, we set up shop in the commons area, and he calls bingo for the guests. Some nights there are over twenty people, and others as few as five. But no matter what, each time we are greeted with such enthusiasm and gratitude that I am consistently humbled.
    In case you don’t know, the Ronald McDonald House is a place for families with hospitalized children to stay in order to be near the hospital. Sometimes they stay for a few days; sometimes a few months; sometimes even longer. The organization believes that you shouldn’t have to worry about anything else when you are supporting a sick child; and so, they provide a place to stay and home-cooked meals. They also like to provide opportunities for fun, and that’s where the bingo comes in.
    “B-8.” As my son calls the numbers, I look around the room and wonder about each person’s story. I certainly don’t want to pry, but some people seem eager to talk, and so I listen. I can’t imagine what they are going through. One woman tells me she is in a blended family with nine children, and she is there because her youngest was born premature and is in intensive care. A teenage girl tells us she’s living there while her brother is in the hospital. It’s their third visit to Denver for his treatments.
    As I hear their stories, I am struck by how calm and cheerful each person is. They have every reason to be frustrated with the world, and yet they are kind, thoughtful, and more than a little excited about playing some bingo on a Wednesday night. This is the power of gratitude.
    There has been a tremendous amount of research done on the benefits of practicing gratitude, benefits that are both physical and psychological. I’m not going to list them all here, but suffice it to say that research shows that practicing gratitude regularly can increase one’s happiness, one’s physical well-being, and one’s empathy and compassion towards others. It can be easy for us to focus more on all of the things going wrong in our lives; but if we take the time to put on different lenses, we can view the world differently, taking the time to relish the small, seemingly forgettable, moments in our lives.
    Gratitude has ties to mindfulness, and several teachers at Dawson have incorporated it into their mindfulness practices, both on their own and with their students. Small regular practices, such as gratitude journals or circles, can help students take time to reflect on what they are thankful for and eventually reap the myriad benefits of this practice.
    I encourage you to find ways at home to practice gratitude, both on your own and with your family. Some families develop a dinner-time ritual, where everyone goes around and says what they are grateful for that day. Most important, I believe, is modeling gratitude for our children. If they can see us taking a step back to appreciate small things, rather than getting worked up over anything remotely upsetting, they can learn how to handle disappointments themselves. If we can then guide them through recognizing what they are grateful for in their own lives, we will help them be more positive, thoughtful people moving forward.
    One night at the Ronald McDonald House, a young girl in a wheelchair joined us for bingo. I learned that she sometimes stayed there with her family between treatments at the hospital. She was more excited than anyone to play, and she masterfully handled four boards at once. Yet somehow, she never won – she would have one left on every board but then someone else would cry out, “Bingo!” She would screech in frustration, but it was clear she was having a blast. After she had come close multiple times, my son asked her if she might prefer to come help him call out the numbers. I hadn’t seen a smile that big in ages as she came to the front of the room. I was amazed by this girl who has had to face serious adversity in her young life. Consciously or not, she was practicing gratitude. She found great pleasure in small things and spread that feeling to others around her. As I watched her call out the numbers, I thought about all of the things I have to be grateful for. All of the usual things came to mind, of course: my family, my friends, my health. But at that moment, I was most grateful for getting to spend the evening with this girl and listening to her call bingo.
    Looking forward to seeing you all soon!
    Take care,
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  • A 'Thick' Education

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July and are enjoying your summer. It is certainly flying by. One of the things I really value about the summer is that the slower pace (it’s crazy how quiet it currently is at school!) allows me some time to take a few steps back and think about the big picture of our school. I usually have some more time to read books and articles, to connect with colleagues doing similar work at other institutions, and to ruminate on how best to support our faculty and kids.
    This week, it’s especially quiet for me because both of my kids are away from home. While my husband and I were looking forward to this week, we are finding ourselves at a bit of a loss without our kids around. But, I feel very strongly that these experiences away from home are crucial in our kids’ development. The amount I see them grow in their short time away each summer always amazes me. When they can’t call me the second something goes wrong, and when they have to work through issues on their own, they may find themselves uncomfortable, but this discomfort pushes them to work towards solutions. And when they successfully solve a problem, the reward is so much sweeter for having figured it out on their own.
    A recent article in Psychology Today talks about the value of summer camps for this very reason. I enjoyed the article tremendously, partly because it supports a value about which I feel strongly. But there was something else in the article that struck me and that I have now been thinking about a lot. The article references another article by David Brooks that was in the New York Times in April. In this article, Brooks talks about a summer camp where he worked years ago, and what a strong mark the camp left on him. He then goes on to say that there are two types of institutions: thick and thin. Thick institutions leave their mark, whereas you might pass through a thin institution with little memory of the experience.
    He goes on to talk about some of the things that make thick institutions thick. My favorite part of his description is when he says that a thick institution “engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul.” This is such a wonderful way to think about those institutions in our lives that have truly made their mark upon us. And it’s a wonderful way for me to think about how we do this at Dawson.
    The first part is the easiest. Because we are, first and foremost, an academic institution, students’ heads are always at the forefront of our minds as we plan. We ask ourselves how students learn best, and we create curriculum and assessments that we hope will engage our students’ minds in new and creative ways. Every time I visit classrooms, I am amazed at the high level of engagement I see. Whether I’m helping the second graders use their math skills to create a budget for a party, participating in kindergarten’s exploration of Japan, or watching an intense debate over civil rights in an 8th grade history class, I am always in for a treat and am continually impressed with the creative ways our teachers engage students.
    This leads to the next part of Brooks’ quote: the hands. We have known for many years that students learn more by doing, and the importance of hands-on learning has been clear for some time. Our K-6 math program, Math in Focus, emphasizes the value of students first showing their understanding using manipulatives, then demonstrating understanding pictorially, and finally using an algorithm. Students who are able to do this develop a much deeper understanding of how math works than those students who have simply memorized times tables and formulas. And this understanding becomes crucial as the math becomes more complicated.
    We see students doing hands-on work in all of their classes, of course. Last year, seventh graders worked together in teams during English class to come to a consensus on how to solve a problem. They did this during their reading of Twelve Angry Men to give them a deeper understanding of what it would be like to be on a jury. Our first graders raised money through a bake sale and then used the money they made to go shopping at King Sooper’s for food to donate to Sister Carmen. And our sixth graders worked on the ultimate hands-on project, designing Rube Goldberg machines. There are hundreds of other examples I could provide, but suffice it to say that when I visit classes, very rarely do a see I room where the teacher is standing or sitting in front and doing all of the talking while students sit idly by. No, our teachers are engaging our students’ minds by asking them to jump right in and get their hands dirty (metaphorically but sometimes literally as well!).
    Now we come to the next part of the quote: the heart. Frankly, this is why I went into teaching, and I think it’s almost impossible to engage students’ heads and hands without first engaging their hearts. When you think back to your own days as a student, what are the classes you remember? More likely than not, the classes that made a difference for you were taught by the teachers with whom you made a connection. And this is where the art of good teaching really comes into play. There is no one right way to connect with students, and yet great teachers figure it out. Whether it’s taking a moment after class to check in with someone who seems sad or cheering a team on during a game, our teachers find ways to reach out to students and show them that they care. Conversations in advisories and classes allow students the chance to explore their values and discuss what’s important to them. The final project in 8th grade is a “This I Believe” essay, an opportunity for students to demonstrate how they came to be where they are in terms of their beliefs and values.
    The final part of the quote talks about engaging souls. This, to me, is the thing that ties everything else together. When we focus on the whole child – not just academics, or athletics, or even social emotional learning – we work to know them and understand them. And this leads to connections that bind us all together and make us proud to be part of the same community. Brooks talks about how thin institutions think horizontally – people focus on what they can get out the relationship – whereas thick institutions think vertically – people focus on working together to “serve the same higher good.” Each year, as I sit with faculty at the Lower School Closing Ceremony, Middle School Moving Up Day, and Graduation, I am reminded of this feeling. As we see our students develop into strong, articulate, passionate individuals, we collectively beam, and we feel proud to be a part of our thick institution.
    If you’d like to read either of the articles mentioned, click here:
    Please enjoy the summer, and I’ll see you in August!
    Take care,
    Read More
  • Moving On Up

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hi Everyone,
    I hope you are enjoying your week and excited for the weeks ahead. I can’t believe the summer is already upon us. I am looking forward to the slower pace of the season. While I’ll still spend a good deal of time at Dawson, there is usually time and opportunity to take a step back, reflect, and make plans for making the school even greater than it already is – always a fun activity!
    As always, the end of the year brought the opportunity to celebrate our students, particularly those moving on from their divisions. In one day, we had the Eighth Grade Moving Up Ceremony, as well as the Fourth Grade Closing Ceremony. Both events provided opportunities to honor students in all grades for their hard work and citizenship. Most importantly, though, each “graduating” student had the chance to shine and be recognized.
    For the ceremony in the Lower School, fourth grade teachers helped prepare for the event by asking students about their memories from their time in Lower School. Each student stood at the microphone to share a memory. At the end of the ceremony, students continued the longstanding tradition of singing “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, something that easily brings a tear to many eyes!
    For the Moving Up Ceremony in Middle School, we gave out some individual awards for academics, citizenship, and leadership. But more importantly, as eighth graders were called up to receive their certificates, an accolade was read, reminding students of the individual contributions they have each made to our middle school community. This is my favorite part of the ceremony, and something I love doing in the weeks leading up to it. First, I cannot thank enough the middle school faculty, who take the time to write me notes about each student and what makes them unique. Learning how different student are viewed from multiple perspectives is always fun. And then I love taking those notes, along with my own observations, and putting them together into accolades. It’s a lovely experience to get to take the time to really think about how each student has made a difference, and it’s hard not to tear up when I read these at the Moving Up Day.
    I also enjoy figuring out what I want to say to our eighth graders as they embark on the next stage of their lives. This year, we had had quite a lot of conversation about both Hamilton and Moana, and so it only made sense that I went there for material. If you’d like to read what I said, the text of the speech is below.
    Finally, we have a tradition of honoring our eighth graders at the talent show which takes place the day before Moving Up Day. This year, we did a live performance, taking the song “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, and changing the lyrics to be about the eighth grade class. As a lead-in to the performance, we made a short movie that used songs from Hamilton and Moana. While I don’t have the live performance to show you, I thought you might enjoy seeing the video.
    I hope you have a fantastic summer!
    Take care,
    Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_I6KQu6U24&t=2s
    Text of Moving Up Day speech:
    I’d like to thank all of you for being here today: parents, faculty, and, students.  Most importantly, I want to honor the students sitting in front of me: the Class of 2021.
    Where to begin? I’ve been thinking a lot about the most appropriate way to honor you all and how best to prepare you to go off to the Upper School. And when I’m thinking, I like to listen to music. As many of you know, my musical choices of late involve a certain person named Lin-Manuel Miranda. For those of you who don’t know who that is, he is the writer of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, as well as the originator of the title role. While the show has been on Broadway for close to two years, securing tickets is next to impossible without laying down a tidy sum. But Miranda hasn’t sat on his laurels with the success of Hamilton. Somehow, while he was in the process of putting Hamilton on Broadway, he found the time to write the music and lyrics for the animated Disney film that came out in the fall, Moana. Meanwhile, I’ve somehow found the time in the last year to listen to Hamilton so frequently that I could probably sing the entire musical, start to finish, right here, right now.
    Okay, just kidding, I would never put you through that. But in listening to Hamilton and Moana while thinking about you eighth graders, I began to notice similarities between the title characters, and I realized that both the musical and the film are filled with multiple lessons that are really quite lovely, and, therefore, I plan to impart these upon you today.
    First of all, let’s look at how these characters are alike. Both Alexander Hamilton and Moana are born on tropical islands. And both of them know, in their heart of hearts, that in order to truly be their authentic selves, they need to leave their island behind. An orphan at age thirteen, Hamilton proved himself to be a talented writer, and this talent turned out to be his ticket out. For Moana, despite her father’s entreaties to remain on the island, she eventually listens to her heart (and to her grandmother) and takes to the seas in an effort to save her island from eventual destruction.
    And now here you all are, having spent the last few years on the island of Middle School. On this island, you have made great friends, developed effective study habits, made mistakes, learned from your mistakes (hopefully), and discovered a great deal about who you are and what you believe. It’s not a coincidence that the final assignment in your English class is the This I Believe essay. Your middle school years are a time to reflect on your experiences thus far and to formulate ideas and beliefs that come from these experiences. You are truly finding your voices, and while that journey is by no means finished (I don’t think it ever is, really), you have really come into your own. And so, you are ready to leave our Middle School world and go out into the world. Whether you are moving across the ocean, across the country, across town, or just across the walkway to Henderson Hall, you are poised to experience new adventures in the years ahead.
    There are many parts of Hamilton that resonate with me, but one that I’d like to focus on takes place when Hamilton moves to New York and meets his contemporaries. After hearing Aaron Burr talk about his plan to see which way the wind blows before taking a stand himself, Hamilton says, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?” Then, when his peers ask him who he is, he goes on to sing, “I am not throwing away my shot.” In this song, he explains who he is, why he’s great (Hamilton was not modest), and what he plans to do. He knows that he has been given an amazing opportunity by being sent to New York for an education, and he plans to take full advantage and make a difference in the world. Hamilton knew over two hundred years ago what psychologists have confirmed through extensive research: there is a direct link between living with purpose and leading a fulfilling, happy life. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but somehow we all still get wrapped up in the material aspects of our lives. If I only had that new pair of shoes, or if I could only go on that European vacation, I’d be happy. But we all know plenty of people who have lots of money and still seem very unhappy, and of course the inverse is true. My advice to you would be to figure out what it is you stand for, to find your purpose, to figure out how you can make a difference.
    Moana does just this by leaving the island where she’s grown up, despite her father’s warnings that their people are meant to stay on the island. Even though she is told that her purpose is to stay, she listens to the voice inside of her that calls her to the sea, for this is her true purpose. Just like Hamilton, Moana knows that this is her shot – her chance to make a difference not just for herself but for the world around her. And so, as I send you off to new adventures in the upper school and beyond, I ask you, please to not throw away your shot. Look at every new situation as an opportunity – a chance to grow, to learn more about yourself and to discover who you truly are. Like Alexander Hamilton, you, too, are “young, scrappy, and hungry,” and these qualities will empower you to go after your dreams.
    Those qualities – being “young, scrappy, and hungry” are what set Hamilton and Moana apart from their contemporaries, and they are what will set you apart as well. In our current society, it is very easy to spend the majority of our time consuming – whether that means consuming junk food, consuming through binge watching Netflix, or consuming social media. And this consumer culture encourages you to expect things from others and to point fingers when things don’t go your way. You may claim that you’re not good at math because your parents weren’t either, or that you made a mean comment to a classmate because they said something first. But, like Aaron Burr says, “I am the one thing in life I can control.” There is so much of your life that truly is out of your control – it might rain during a picnic, or someone might be unkind to you, or someone you love might get sick; you can’t control any of these curveballs that may come your way. But what you absolutely can control is how you respond. You can choose to complain and blame others for your troubles, or you can look at each pitfall as some sort of opportunity – a way to learn more about yourself or about the world around you. And you can choose to be the kind of person who, rather than complain about things going wrong, find a solution.
    In other words, you have the power to write your own story, and you shouldn’t let anyone else write it for you. It would be easy to look back at your life with “what if” questions: Moana could have stayed on the island and constantly wondered what if she had actually listened to the voice inside her. Or Alexander Hamilton could have remained a student rather than being a part of the American Revolution and wondered what if he had accepted the position as George Washington’s right hand man. Instead, they chose to follow their hearts, to forge their own paths, and to write their own stories.
    As you look ahead to the next chapter of your lives, I hope you will venture forth into uncharted waters with optimism and resilience. I hope you will not throw away your shot and will instead seek out your own purpose in life. And I hope, more than anything, that you will write your own stories. Knowing each of you, those are some stories that I can’t wait to read.  Thank you.
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  • Empathy & Compassion

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are having a great day. We are in the final weeks of school with many moving parts. This week, the seventh and eighth grade students are off on their class trips. The eighth grade is in Moab, Utah, and the seventh grade is at Camp Cheley, near Estes Park. Next week, the fourth graders will head up to Estes Park, and the third graders will go to the prairie. One of my favorite things about Dawson is the fact that our kids do these trips, beginning with the overnight at the zoo in second grade. As they get older, the trips get longer and/or farther away. Because of their earlier experiences, our students are ready for each new adventure. Eventually, several of them will travel to another country either during a Winterim trip or during an immersion program. These life experiences help our students develop resilience, confidence, and empathy.
    As educators, we work hard to instill empathy in our students, because empathy is key to one of our core virtues, compassion. In one of my all-time favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his children, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Interestingly, some evidence shows that empathy comes naturally to us and can be seen in humans even during their infancy. That being said, empathy is a skill that can be practiced and honed. And the more students take the time to reflect and put themselves in someone else’s shoes, the more they will value diversity, communicate effectively, and develop strong relationships.
    And, as mentioned above, there is a strong link between empathy and compassion, in that empathetic behavior inherently leads to compassionate behavior. If you’re not sure what the distinction is between the two terms, essentially empathy is the practice of feeling the emotions of someone else – not simply feeling sorry for them when they are going through something difficult (that would be sympathy). This then can lead to compassion, which implies taking some action. The only way we can truly practice compassion is to first practice empathy. And it really is something that can be improved with practice. If we can take time each day to truly place ourselves in others’ situations, we can develop a strong sense of understanding and a desire to help.
    There are many ways that faculty are doing this at Dawson. Each week I read with the kindergartners, and the teachers always choose books that help connect the students with the areas they are studying. As I read to them about a magic treehouse that travelled to ancient Japan, they signaled to me anytime they felt a personal connection with a character or situation. And this always leads to wonderful conversations about imagining what it would be like to be someone in the story. Literature is a fantastic way to help kids develop a sense of empathy.
    Our sixth graders are just embarking on an Ellis Island simulation, and this event, a consistent highlight when eighth graders look back on their time in middle school, allows them to become someone else and to understand more deeply what immigrants to the United States went through at the turn of the century (and what they go through today). Earlier this year, when they did their Celebration of World Cultures, the theme was empathy, and they each researched a problem in their countries and brainstormed possible solutions.
    Empathy is, in fact, a key component to the design thinking process. For those who haven’t heard of design thinking, it is a method of solving problems used by designers. It goes through various steps, and the first step is empathy. The argument is that you can’t solve a problem unless you can first understand how people are affected by it, and so you need to ask questions to get to that understanding. That understanding can allow you to define the problem more clearly, and this clarity allows for more creativity and innovation when coming up with possible solutions.
    I read a fascinating article recently that said that new research shows that a strong sense of empathy can actually prevent burnout in jobs that work with people in high distress. The study looked at police officers who work with victims of sexual assault. In the study, police officers reported on their levels of burnout, compassion fatigue, and PTSD. They were also given a questionnaire that measured their empathy levels. The researchers discovered a correlation between empathy levels and burnout: police officers with higher levels of empathy actually experienced burnout at a lower level than those who had lower empathy levels. This is interesting because common sense might dictate that by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you are actually experiencing what they’ve experienced, and this might be upsetting or even traumatizing. On the other hand, though, by truly empathizing with the people in distress, perhaps the police officers found their work more meaningful, thus fending up compassion fatigue.
    Either way, though, it’s a reminder of the importance of empathy. While it is not one of our core virtues, I feel it’s a necessary predecessor to compassion and thus is a key component in much of what our teachers work on each day.
    If you’d like to read the article I mentioned, click here.
    Thank you!
    Take care,
    Read More
  • The Importance of Live Arts

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hi Everyone,
    I hope you are having a wonderful week. It was fun to see many of you at the auction over the weekend. As always, finding opportunities to come together allows us to make connections with one another and build a strong sense of community.  Especially in this day of instant access to information and entertainment, the need to come together is stronger than ever.
    A couple of weeks ago, I was helping out in the second grade classroom while they were working on an upcoming performance of a selection of Aesop’s fables.  Students worked in groups of four or five acting out such favorites as “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Their teacher, Anna Vinson, gave them quite a bit of leeway in terms of staging their plays, and they worked diligently on their costumes and sets as well. The focus and energy the students displayed impressed me tremendously. And of course, it makes sense. When we are creating something to present to others, and when we have a real audience, we care about how we will do; and when we have some autonomy in how to present, we care even more.
    This time of year is a wonderful time to see this theory in action. Our sixth grade students recently put on a performance in which they sang songs and acted out scenes from a variety of musicals, including You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Annie. As with the second grade, the teacher, Luke Perkins, encouraged student leadership and empowered the students to come up with much of the choreography. Because they had the freedom to create the scenes, they were that much more invested, and this investment came across loud and clear during the performance.
    The live arts are incredibly important for students, both as performers and as audience members. I recently happened upon an interesting, though not necessarily surprising, study exploring the value of live theater. In this study, students who saw a live production of Hamlet or A Christmas Carol demonstrated an increased understanding of the plot, themes, and vocabulary of the plays over students who had simply read the plays or even seen movie versions. Interestingly, students who saw the live performances also scored significantly higher on a tolerance measure and were also better able to read and determine emotions of others. So not only are these experiences helping students understand the texts more deeply, but also they are helping students develop crucial social emotional skills that will benefit them in every aspect of their lives.
    In investigating this idea of the importance of the live arts, I found a wonderful Ted Talk that explores the issue as well. Ben Cameron, who runs the arts granting program at the Doris Duke Foundation, speaks eloquently about why live performance is more crucial now than ever before. We are all (most of us, anyway) guilty of binge-watching Netflix and Hulu, and we could be fooled into thinking we don’t ever need to leave the comfort of our homes for entertainment. But Cameron reminds us of the importance of coming together to share ideas and experiences because, after all, what brings us the most satisfaction is human connection.
    At Dawson, we are fortunate to be among faculty and families who believe deeply in the importance of human connection and, therefore, in the value of creating multiple opportunities for students and faculty to come together to create, to perform, to share, and to celebrate. This week alone, I’m excited to attend the fifth/sixth grade band and choir concert, the third grade play, the sixth grade Rube Goldberg showcase, and the third-fifth grade Battle of the Books competition. Dawson faculty consistently push students to rise to a challenge, to think critically and creatively, and to collaborate, all resulting in confident, knowledgeable, eloquent students. I was recently speaking with an incoming fifth grade parent, and she commented that one of the things she had been particularly struck by during her first visit to the school was the student tour guides. She spoke of their enthusiasm and of how much they knew about the school. She went on the say that it was largely the impression they made on her and her daughter that made them decide to apply and come to the school. Similarly, when our fifth graders were at Keystone during Winterim, one of the instructors there commented that they always loved when Dawson came because they knew the students would be positive, engaged, and enthusiastic.
    I’m thrilled that our students are making such positive impressions both on visitors to our campus and on folks hosting us. But I’m not surprised – from the beginning, they are working on these skills, and their confidence comes out in many ways. When I was working with the second grade on their plays, one student took his role very seriously and applied quite a bit of volume to his lines. Another student commented that he was being loud. His response? “It’s called acting!” How wonderful that he already recognizes the importance and value of live performance!
    If you’d like to read more about the study of the benefits of live theater, click here, and to watch the Ted Talk, click here.
    Have a wonderful week!
    Take care,
    Read More
  • Haiku Contest

    April is National Poetry Month, and in its honor we invited any member of the Dawson community – students, faculty, staff, families, -- to submit a haiku last week. (In case you’ve forgotten, that’s the poem in three lines, the 5/7/5 syllables.) The jumping off point was Dawson-themed, but all entries were considered. There were many wonderful entries, but TWO emerged tied for the overall win, and each will receive a prize: Katrine Larsen (3rd grade) and Summer Stone (5th grade).
    Thank you to everyone who tried their hand. We include all of the entries here for your reading pleasure!

    We will find each and  /  Every person here and help  /  Them find the pathway
      -  Katrine Larson (3rd grade)

    As I dream and Dream  /  That my goals will be conquered  /  The sun rises and sets
      -  Summer Stone (5th grade)
    The jay in the tree  /  Singing a love song of spring  /  From the dirt flowers grow spring
      -   Kalea Aratow (5th grade)                                                                      
    Rabbits frolic past  /  My present and former lives  /  Collide: gratitude
    -        Cathy Fink (US English)
    Blue like the free sky,  /  Bright white like  mustang’s mane  /  Unified with pride
      -  Breck Dunbar (8th grade)
    A Mother’s Poem (A Haiku for Che)
    A soul came to me  /  Full of love, magic and joy  /  A dream comes to life                                                                         
       -  Linda Asbury (Dawson parent)                       
    What’s inside matters / Look deeper than the surface  /  Beauty lies within
      -  Elle Pedersen (5th grade)                  
    Whirling frisbees fly  /  With crazy spins but one end  /  Just like the students                                                                   
    -         Erik Nickerson (US Science)     
    Tiny buds of green  /  Pushing through the loosened earth  /  Colors flashing – Spring!
      -  Cindy Knight  (MS/US Library, Community Service Coord.)
    Go Dawson Mustangs  /  We are together as one  /  We’ll fight ‘til we’re done                                                                                   
    -        Lily Sullivan & Charlie Budacz-Kauflin (3rd grade)  
    Jerry Henderson  /  Nihil Sine Labore  /  That was your motto
    Dawson graduates:  /  Achieving their potential  /  Since the ‘70s
    Respect, Compassion,  /  Courage, and Integrity:  /  Dawson’s four virtues
    Only seventeen  /  Syllables to praise Dawson?  /  It cannot be done!
      -  Cinnamon Lopez (MS English)
    Springtime at Dawson                                                                                  
    End is drawing near  /  Our friends soon traveling far  /  Dawson memories                                                                                        
    Dawson School Spring  /  Apples blossom, bunnies hop  /  Students counting days                                                         
    Springtime now has sprung  /  Counting, not many days left  /  Where are my blue shorts?                                        
             -  Charlie Romano (7th grade) & family
    The Mustangs are cool  /  Dawson doesn’t stop at all  /  Thank you Dawson School
      -  Banks Biffle (3rd grade)                                                                           
    As my birthday nears  /  Trees and blooms begin to sprout  /  Bring me joy and sun!
       -  Gus Lux Bryant  (5th grade)                                                                   
    The sweet gift is mine  /  catching babies in my hands      /  Though my heart receives
    Babes grow like rainbows  /  Blending joy and sadness too  /  Making us mothers                                        
    Breathe when crossing streams  /  Sometimes an end is the start  /  Of things not yet known
    Haikus make me think  /  Of second grade with tulips      /  When I first wrote one                                                                           
       -  Cosima Lux (Dawson parent)                                                               
    raindrop on small leaf  /  dances to the tip and grins  /  then, laughing, is gone
      -  Heather Ward (Asst. Teacher, 6th Grade)
    Dawson is great and  /  We are all nice and helpful  /  And we all work hard
      -  Ryker Leaneagh (3rd grade)
    Dawson is the best  /  Dawson does really fun stuff  /  Go Dawson Mustangs
      -  Nikhil Nijhawan (3rd grade)
    Creating designs  /  for problems that come forward  /  allows me to step back.                                                                                
    Design something good.  /  Make it better than before.  /  Best to iterate.
    -        Jeff Ellenbogen (Director of IT)       

    Exotic Orchids  /  tropical beautiful blooms  /  singing in the wind
    -  Bethany Spencer (5th)
    We are Dawson, woooo  /  We are Dawson white and blue  /  We are the Mustangs
      -  Sam Scott (3rd grade)                        
    We stand together  /  We are a community  /  We are white and blue
    -        Charlie Elliott & Bella Berger (3rd grade)                    
    Dawson is the best  /  It can be anything cool  /  It is the best school
       - Emmy Hostelley (3rd grade)
    Dawson, thank you for  /  our teachers and our  /  great education.
      -  Abrielle Huze (3rd grade)
    Dawson is the best  /  I came here two years ago  /  I love Dawson School                                                                        
    -         Teagan Slaton (3rd grade)                                                                 
    Dawson is a fun  /  school. You can learn a lot of  /  cool, awesome new things                                                                                  
    -        Isabelle Jacobsma (3rd grade)                                      
    The Mustangs will stand  /  Side by side and hand in hand  /  We’ll strive ‘til the end
      -  Ramona Chen & Delia Lyle (3rd grade)
    Dawson Spring Fever  /  Hectic, but savor friendships  /  Summer is close by…
    -        Anonymous
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  • Myths About Learning

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you had a restful spring vacation and are prepared for the craziness of the final leg of the year. Students are active in classes, on the athletic fields, and on stage, and it’s a wonderful time to see how much they have grown over the course of the year.
    One of my favorite things to do each spring is to have lunch with the eighth graders in small groups of about ten. We meet in the conference room, and our amazing dining hall staff prepares something a little more custom than the usual fare (last year it was calzones made to order). During these meetings, we talk about the students’ experiences during their time in middle school. Which projects and activities spoke to them, and which needed improvement; which trips were meaningful and rich, and which could use some tweaking. The final thing I do is to give each student a small piece of paper and ask them to write on it the teacher who has had the greatest positive impact on them during their time in middle school. I am always struck by how many teachers get named. There’s not just one charismatic teacher whom everyone clambers to be around; different teachers speak to different students in different ways; and this makes it possible for our students to feel connected to several different teachers and therefore supported.
    Thinking about this exercise, I realize that one conclusion that might come out of it is that, much like the way different students connect with different faculty, different students learn differently. One student might speak excitedly about the Keystone trip in fifth grade while another might rave about the Rube Goldberg project in sixth. While one student may have loved the “This I Believe” assignment in eighth grade, another may have instead found the Hunger Banquet in seventh grade more meaningful. Can we conclude from these conversations that students have different learning styles that allow them to learn better when content is delivered in those styles?
    When I was in graduate school, I would have answered this question with a resounding yes. Clearly, I believed, some people learned better by listening, whereas some learned visually and yet others kinesthetically. When we came up with lessons plans, we examined which learning styles would learn best from which types of lessons.
    As it turns out, though, the research shows that this assumption doesn’t really pan out. While certain people may be drawn to getting information in different ways, there is little to no evidence to show that they actually learn the material better than if it were delivered in a different way or better than someone who has a different learning style. In fact, the efficacy of the style of delivery has much more to do with the content being delivered. For instance, it would be really difficult to learn geometry purely aurally with no visual models; and it would be equally difficult to learn a song just by looking at the notes and not actually playing them.
    What research does show is that people learn better when exposed to material through a variety of methods and when they have the opportunity to engage with the material in meaningful ways. So while simply reading a textbook about the Revolutionary War may give someone a cursory understanding of the event, that person will develop a much clearer and deeper understanding by having class discussions about some of the major issues, or, even better, engaging in some kind of simulation where students are working together to create a government or develop a constitution (or both!). People learn better when exposed to material multiple times and in multiple ways. And, invariably, people learn better when they are engaged and interested, when they can make connections, and when they feel invested – in other words, when there are stakes and the stakes are real.
    I’ll never forget one of my first years teaching, I was also coaching volleyball, and I was demonstrating to a student how to do an overhand serve. After going over the movement step by step, I attempted to hand her the volleyball, and she pushed it away, saying, “Oh, I don’t learn by doing; I learn best by watching.” Even at the time, a time when the idea of learning styles was in vogue, I realized the absurdity of this statement – she would in fact have to serve multiple times over the course of the season, and to think that she would get better simply from watching her coach demonstrate a serve rather than getting in there and feeling it, trying over and over again until she got it right, was, of course, ridiculous. At Dawson, we try to create opportunities for our students to try and fail multiple times, for it is only through those experiences that they can learn and improve, and through those experiences, they will develop the grit and persistence that will carry them through difficulties to discover their passions and make a difference in the world.
    If you would like to take a quiz about myths around learning, click on the link below, and then let me know how you did!
    Have a wonderful spring!
    Take care,
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  • Making Our Values Visible

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are having a wonderful week. We are heading into Winterim and then will be in the final leg of the school year, which always flies by. At this time of year, we are already beginning to plan for next year. Students have been or soon will be making course selections in Upper and Middle School, and candidates for open positions are coming to campus.
    Last week, I was speaking to a candidate about what sets Dawson apart. He mentioned that in his time on campus, he had noticed that students and teachers had strong connections – much more so than in other schools he had worked. And he noted that there was a happy energy underlying the students and the campus in general. I was glad to see that this energy was noticeable to others since it’s something we work thoughtfully and deliberately to promote.
    Last week, I attended the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference, for which over 5,000 educators from independent school across the country gather to talk and learn from one another. There were impressive keynote speakers – Sir Ken Robinson and Brene Brown among them – and hundreds of presentations from school leaders about best practices. There were sessions about innovation, assessments, professional development, and every topic imaginable.
    This year, I, along with a former colleague, had the chance to present at the conference on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. We talked about making your school’s values visible. Through an interactive presentation that invited participants to share with each other and with us using a polling mechanism, we talked about ways to cultivate values in school and, when students make poor decisions, how to use those values to guide conversations.
    Each year, this process begins with the faculty. At the very first meeting of the year, when our K-8 faculty gather together, we develop a set of norms for the year based on the four core values of the school: respect, compassion, integrity, and courage. While the norms are similar from year to year, I feel strongly that the process of creating them each year is important to creating buy-in from the group. Also, rather than my simply telling them the norms I’d like us all to follow, we come up with them as a group. Once we have our set of norms, I put them in the header of every agenda that gets sent out over the course of the year as a reminder, and we refer back to them frequently. Our norms for the 2016-2017 year are as follows:
    • Bring your best and thoughtful self to everything.
    • Stay positive and assume best intentions with grace.
    • Approach each situation with a holistic mindset.
    • Listen respectfully with a “Yes, and…” attitude.
    • Take time to reflect.
    • Be positive, be on time, and be flexible. 
    Similarly, the beginning of the year in the Middle School involves a similar process.  We have our four core values, which aren’t going to change, but it’s simply not effective to just tell the kids the values and move on. And so, the first advisory of the year involves students discussing the four values and talking about how we can incorporate these values into our daily lives. They may note that it takes courage to stand up to a friend when you disagree or that it’s compassionate to reach out to new students to make them feel welcome. They brainstorm a list of how they can demonstrate these values, and from those brainstorming sessions, we create a Middle School Constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution is always the same, except for the year. It reads, “We, the 2016-2017 Dawson Middle School, in order to form a more perfect community, establish RESPECT, ensure INTEGRITY, foster COURAGE, provide for COMPASSION, promote for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.”  Underneath the Preamble are four articles: one for each core value. And underneath those are the examples that students came up with. So, even though the Preamble and values are the same each year, the Constitution is different based on the students’ contributions.
    Throughout the year, we come back to these values time and again in advisory, during community time, in classes, and in activities such as theater and sports. There are multiple opportunities for teachers to guide students to live by these values, and we try to create venues for this to occur organically. Of course, these are middle school students whose brains are still developing, and so they will make bad decisions along their journey towards adulthood. When that happens, we use the values to guide our conversations and their reflections on their actions. In helping students understand that the impact of their actions is likely more far-reaching than they realized, and in helping them see how some actions go against the values of the school, we can guide them to be thoughtful in their efforts to restore relationships and in making decisions in the future.
    At the conference, we began our session talking about our own kids and what we have found to work best with them and with our students. When we approach them with a list of don’ts (don’t run in the hall, don’t chew gum, don’t cheat), they often shut down; however, if we focus on the do’s (be kind, treat each other with respect, do the right thing), we set them up to focus on the big picture and to aim to live by the core values each day.
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  • What Inspires a Student?

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello everyone,
    I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend and getting some time to have fun with friends and family. We are right in the middle of February, which can be a difficult time of year. Clearly, this is a sentiment that has been in existence for years all over the world (or at least the Northern Hemisphere!). In The Pirates of Penzance, when describing the month, the Pirate King states, “for such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty.” I think we can all agree on that, but at least the Colorado sunshine pervades, even in the winter months!
    Because of this sentiment about February, in order to avoid falling into winter blues, we educators take some time to reflect professionally. Last Friday, we took a professional development day so we could look at the year so far, think about next year, and explore ways to make the Dawson experience even better for all of our students. On Friday, we watched the film Most Likely to Succeed (which I wrote about in the most recent blog) and discussed what we are already doing, as well as what more we can do to ensure that our students are engaging excitedly in their learning and are developing the skills that will help them succeed in their lives, as well as in college and beyond.
    In recent weeks, I’ve thought a great deal about what it means to motivate and inspire students. Yes, there are extrinsic motivations such as grades, but do these actually inspire our students? Probably not. This doesn’t mean that we plan to get rid of grades – they can serve other purposes as well, namely to convey level of mastery so that students have an idea of what they know and where they need work.  But we certainly can’t depend on grades to be the sole motivators for our kids’ learning. First of all, not everyone is motivated by grades, so you’re excluding a big chunk of students if this is your main focus. Second, when students are motivated solely by grades, they may “learn” the material for key assessments, but the likelihood of their holding onto that material is slim to none.
    Robert Marzano, an educational researcher based right here in Colorado, has done a good deal of work exploring what exactly motivates and inspires students. He discusses four different systems that are at play in our minds at any given time: knowledge, cognitive, metacognitive, and self.  When we think of traditional schooling, the focus is primarily (and sometimes solely) on the knowledge and possibly the cognitive.  If we teach this way, though, we are missing the boat. This assumes that students are vessels who should come to school prepared to receive our infinite knowledge and then should be able to regurgitate all that they have “learned.” If, instead, we can focus more on the latter two systems, we can truly awaken our students and engage them in their learning in much more meaningful and personal ways.
    So what does this look like in practice? It’s teachers doing a lot of backwards planning (rather than saying, I’m going to teach such-and-such a book, the teacher first thinks big picture about what the learning goals are), and it’s kids learning about learning in a variety of ways. It’s also teachers finding ways to give students choice – when they feel invested in their learning, they are engaged and inspired to do more.
    During a recent visit to the second grade, I had the chance to work with a small group on a math project involving long division. When I was in the classroom, I noticed a series of posters that said things like, “Instead of saying ‘I can’t do it,’ say, ‘I am currently struggling with it.’”  I knew this was related to the idea of the growth mindset, and so I asked second grade teacher Anna Vinson how they were addressing that topic. She told me that they had introduced growth mindset along with their science unit on simple machines and little bits. Throughout the unit students were asked to build, create and construct things using a variety of materials, along with solving real world problems. Before each activity they had a discussion with the students about how we can grow our brain by telling ourselves something different. When something is too hard, instead of saying, "This is impossible, " you can say, "This may take some time and effort." Throughout the lessons, they referred back to the growth mindset phrases which are on posters around the room. They also talked about failing forward and learning from our mistakes. 
    Exploring metacognition is something we often thing young students can’t handle, but in fact, this is a wonderful age to think and talk about growing our brains and finding ways to get back up when we get knocked down.
    I also recently visited the fourth grade classrooms when students were presenting their Passion Projects, and I asked the teachers to tell me more about the project and its goals. Here’s what Kim Haines told me:
    “Fourth grade students engage in three Passion Projects across the school year, each one building and extending skills to the next. We talk about individual interests and what a passion is. We also talk about how the project might allow them to discover a future passion by studying something new that engages their interest. The first project is also a chance to study the topic they’ve loved forever and may already know a lot about (horses, dinosaurs, and other obsessions). Once they’ve exhausted this topic, they have to move on and explore other topics for later passion projects.”
    The assignment does a wonderful job of engaging and inspiring students by allowing them the choice to explore something about which they are passionate. And then, after the first Passion Project, students spend a great deal of time reflecting, asking the following questions.
    What went well for you? 
    What was challenging? 
    How might the teachers support you better next time? 
    What was something interesting that you learned? 
    What might you do differently next time to do better? 
    And for later projects - How did this project compare to what you’ve done before?
    Too often, teachers assign projects or tests, grade them, and hand them back to students with little to no discussion.  In order to push our students to learn from their mistakes and really think about their learning, we need to be sure to ask them these types of questions. The more students understand how they learn best and what they can do differently to improve, the more they will get out of their learning.
    Students also have a chance to really dig deep into how they learn when they are in sixth grade, as one of the overarching themes of sixth grade is learning about our learning. Every person learns in different ways; one way is not better than another; it is discovering what works best for you. At the beginning of the year, they explore the idea of growth versus fixed mindset.  We move onto discovering and exploring the three phases of mindset and growth: the first is how we gather information, the second is how we process the information, and the third is how we access and use our knowledge.  Students discover new strategies and learn about different habits to grow as a learner.  They take a learning inventory to evaluate how they use the different learning styles. As a class, we discuss multi-tasking versus switch-tasking and how effort and motivation are connected. We summarize the unit with a discussion of metacognition and how to develop habits and practices that lead to stronger neural pathways.  At the end of the year, students present their findings to parents at student-led conferences.  
    All of these experiences allow our students to truly explore and understand how they learn. And, they allow our students to recognize that it is okay to fail. In fact, it’s not only okay, it’s necessary for growth. And when students can view their experiences with a growth mindset, understanding that their brains will continue to grow and change as they learn, then nothing can stop them!
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  • Are We "Most Likely To Succeed"?

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8, and Ann Carson, Upper School Director
    Hi all! This most recent two-part blog features thoughts from both Heather Mock and Ann Carson after attending the screening last week of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. We hope you enjoy!

    A. From Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director

    Hello Everyone,

    I hope you all are having a wonderful week. Because of my knee injury, I’m not able to move around as readily as I’d like, so that’s making me somewhat antsy; but I’m trying to find joy in other pursuits!

    Last Thursday night, we had the pleasure, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Mayer- Phillips Foundation, of hosting a screening of the documentary film "Most Likely to Succeed." Afterwards, Upper School Director Ann Carson facilitated a Q&A with Executive Director of Admissions at University of Colorado Boulder Kevin MacLennan and  Dawson parent and digital marketing consultant Tim Mayer regarding the future of our schools with regards to the changing landscape in the professional world and beyond.

    The movie offered up some sobering statistics about the amount of material that students retain when learning in a content-driven environment.  At Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, teachers did an experiment. In the fall, when students returned to the school after summer vacation, they were asked to take the final exams that they had taken just three months earlier.  Whereas the average grade in the spring was a B+, the average grade in the fall was an F.

    This is not particularly new information. You may remember that when I presented on the new schedule at Dawson, I talked about this very issue.  Research shows that when teachers’ classes focus on breadth and moving through content, students remember 10 percent of the material when tested on in just a few months later.  In contrast, when teachers scale back on the content but dive deep and encourage students to make connections to their own lives and across disciplines, students remember 60%. So, even if less content is being taught, overall students are retaining more.

    In addition, the movie reminds us that employers aren’t hiring people for their content knowledge but for their “soft skills” – the ability to communicate, collaborate, cooperate, and think critically and creatively.  These skills are far more valuable across all professions and, with the ability for computers to do so much, we need to focus on developing skills that are unique to people – things that a computer just won’t be able to duplicate.

    Watching the movie, I wanted to give Dawson a pat on the back because we are doing so much of this. The film focused primarily on High Tech High, a high school in San Diego that has completely adopted a model of skills-based, integrated learning. While Dawson still maintains several components of a more traditional college prep program, teachers are finding ways to make learning more meaningful for kids and are finding ways in all disciplines to help students develop their soft skills. (Though, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of that term since it seems to imply less import, and I would argue those skills are the most crucial for success in life.)

    As I’ve visited various classrooms (or spaces outside of the classroom) over the course of the year, I’ve loved seeing the ways teachers are using their block periods and their flex periods on Mustang Days. There is more collaboration happening across grades and across disciplines, and, as Most Likely to Succeed reminds us, when students make these connections, they engage more readily with the material, and they retain what they learn.

    Listing the myriad ways that this learning is occurring would take up many pages, but I’d like to highlight just a few, some planned meticulously and some that have occurred more organically.

    In Blake Fisher’s seventh grade science class, students are working on classifying organisms and analyzing connections between species. Rather than just reading about and memorizing this information, students are using virtual reality equipment and Google Expeditions to visit different museums and habitats around the world.

    Second graders in Anna Vinson’s class are discussing what it means to have a growth mindset as they embark on a science unit that involves a lot of hands-on experiments, including exploring friction through designing slides. By giving students the opportunity to try, fail, make a change, and try again, Anna creates a student-centered environment where the kids take charge of their learning and discover how having a growth mindset can benefit their experience and lead to deeper learning.

    Sixth grade students in Diane Yelvington’s social studies class are exercising their empathy-building skills by writing slave narratives.  Historically accurate information about topics related to slavery, ranging from auctions to passive resistance, are the backbone of each story.  Using historical details and primary sources as references, students are in the process of writing unique and impactful stories about an enslaved individual living in antebellum America. Once completed, the narratives will be shared with other students and parents in order to honor those who have been and still are enslaved.   

    One resource that is new to our campus this year is our challenge course, and many teachers and students are taking advantage of this. In seventh grade English, for instance, students engaged in a consensus-building activity as they started to read 12 Angry Men; they experienced firsthand the difficulties of making decisions without a lot of firsthand information, of persuading peers to change their minds; and of setting aside personal biases to serve a group goal.

    At the end of the semester, the seventh grade used a Mustang Day flex period to focus on The Call of the Wild, and the experience was designed to help students develop their teamwork as they took on the role of a human dog team as they raced each other in the “IditaDawson.” Physical coordination was important, but students realized that communication, thoughtful planning, and a positive attitude were even more significant.

    Eighth graders also had the chance to dive deep during a recent Mustang Day, when, in preparation for their culminating English project, the This I Believe essay, students took stands on different issues and discussed how personal experiences affected their beliefs. They also explored a variety of famous quotations and examined which ones resonated with them and why. Being able to communicate their beliefs and support where they came from are key components of the eighth grade theme of Finding Your Voice.

    And, in the third grade, teacher Amy Criswell felt that her students could benefit from some guidance on handling some sticky social situations, so she reached out to Middle School Dean Jess Mitchell, who promptly met with eighth grade peer leaders to come up with a series of skits to perform for the third graders. The performance led to some great discussions, and just having the opportunity to get together across grade levels creates strong connections among all of our students.

    If you didn’t have the chance to see the film, I highly recommend that you keep an eye out for upcoming screenings. It can be eye-opening and hopefully will help more folks understand why it’s imperative for schools to continue to look forward and educate students for the world they will inherit. I’m proud to be a part of Dawson, where we recognize this need and continue to revise our curriculum and schedule to create the richest learning experience possible for our kids.

    B. From Ann Carson, Upper School Director

    During the panel discussion after Most Likely to Succeed, I shared that it is an incredibly exciting time to be an educator.  With the wealth of brain research on how students learn, the vast array of available digital resources, and innovative educators and schools constantly adopting new pedagogies, it does feel like we are at the start of a major shift in how we “do school.”   Dawson’s new schedule, including longer block periods that facilitate deeper engagement with subject matter and more varied approaches that meet the needs of diverse leaders, is a big step in the right direction.  

    In the Upper School, teachers have enthusiastically embraced the longer periods and designed memorable and effective educational activities for their students.  For example, Social Studies Department Chair Craig Angus designed a creative activity for AP Human Geography students on our challenge course in which students took on the role of Syrian refugees making the journey from Aleppo to Denver, with different elements of the challenge course representing travel to countries enroute.  At each stop, they were forced to communicate with each other and make decisions about how to spend their limited cash and whether they were willing to take on the risk of the next leg of the journey (represented by fairly intimidating ropes course challenges!)   Rather than have students just read about the Syrian refugee crisis, Craig chose to have the students engage in an emotionally and physically intense experience that taught collaboration, communication and cross-cultural understanding.  

    Our Robotics team spends the winter months designing a robot that can navigate a complex pathway and shoot balls at a very creative (and whimsical!) target.  Students work in different small groups, focused on specific aspects of this large project, such as the design, the “build”, and the finances.  The lessons they learn about teamwork, creative problem solving, and communication are exactly the kinds of skills emphasized in Most Likely to Succeed.  

    Another creative lesson occurred in Mr. Lord’s  tenth grade English class, where students recently made graphic novels of their translation of a Middle English romance. This unusual approach to an ancient text required close reading of the text and visual interpretation of the details of the story.

    Each day Heather and I witness additional exciting ways that Dawson teachers are making their subjects more relevant to students and more long-lasting in their educational impact.  

    Enjoy the week!

    Take care,
    Heather and Ann

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  • Priming the Brain for Learning

    George P. Moore, Head of School
    A recent article (goo.gl/XSrh5d) in Edutopia by Butler Associate Professor Dr. Lori Desautels speaks to the importance of students’ feeling connected and safe at school. This may sound like common sense, yet without regular and consistent attention to these two dynamics, teachers will not be able to engage students in meaningful ways that maximize their learning. Fortunately, at Dawson we have long recognized the importance of social-emotional wellness in the success of all students.
    The author speaks to anxiety, depression, and other “traumas,” including hunger, rejection, isolation, etc., that can trigger a stress response and over time damage parts of the brain responsible for learning. Dr. Desautels describes three ways to prime the brain for learning once the most basic need for human connection has been met. They include movement, focused attention practices, and understanding the brain.
    At Dawson, we are working on all of these fronts to bring the best out of our students and faculty. First and foremost, we believe in the importance of human connection and that positive, professional student-teacher relationships are the foundation for learning. Small class sizes and low student-teacher ratios throughout all of our divisions enable teachers to know all of our students well and fosters in students an authentic connection to the adults in the community, thereby fostering the sense of safety necessary for risk-taking as well as deep and practical learning.
    What about the other three factors? These are priorities for us as well. Dawson has long understood the importance of movement and activity to the learning process. Not only do we provide significant opportunities for structured physical activity in PE classes and after-school athletic opportunities, we also believe in the importance of recess and other forms of unstructured play to focus the brain and stimulate learning. Throughout all grades, teachers understand the importance of keeping students moving through different activities both mentally and physically throughout a class period, lesson, and the school day.
    Focused attention practices have been a priority for Dawson since the publishing of our Strategic Plan (click here) in 2014. Beginning in the spring of that year, several teachers worked with students in our lower and upper schools to implement mindfulness practices to give students tools to increase self-awareness and focus their minds. In 2015-16 the school committed to daily mindfulness practice for all students, and we continue that practice this year. We also offer yoga as an after-school activity in grades 7-12. All of these initiatives have been well received and have provided students (and faculty) with a new skillset for improving wellness and enhancing performance. Research also continues to confirm the fact that mindfulness increases academic performance (goo.gl/H8ZoaE). We look forward to continuing to develop our efforts in this area.
    We also know the importance of helping our students understand how the brain works, as it gives students additional tools and knowledge to manage the emotions and responses to events in their lives. While mindfulness certainly helps students know how to calm their brains and focus their attention, knowing how their brains work and develop can help alleviate concern and frustration that might arise when things aren’t working well for us at school. This understanding also supports the growth mindset (goo.gl/66qiFS) we work hard to cultivate in all of our students.
    Students are at their best at school when they feel connected and safe. This is no different from our needs as adults, yet it is much more important for children whose brains and growth are still very much in development. It is our responsibility as adults (teachers and parents) to prioritize these objectives as a foundation for learning. Desautels’ article affirms our work at Dawson and is a useful reminder about how we can continue to meet these goals and provide the best possible learning community for our children.
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  • Dealing with Challenge

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful and rejuvenating break with your families and are excited for the new year.  I always find the second semester flies by and it is summer before we know it.  Keep that in mind when we hit freezing temperatures!
    I had an eventful break, traveling on two separate trips to spend the holidays with family, and closing out the year with a literal bang (or more like a pop) when I blew my knee out skiing on December 31.  I’ve never had an injury requiring crutches (the only broken bone I’ve had is a finger in sixth grade, and other injuries have never been much more than a strain or sprain).  So, getting used to wearing a huge brace and hobbling around on crutches has been interesting. Small things that I normally take for granted are now viewed as luxuries. 
    For instance, the other day I was able to make breakfast, hopping around my kitchen somewhat effectively, and I was feeling rather proud of myself.  But then once I had my plate of eggs and my mug of hot coffee, I realized I didn’t have any way to carry them to the table to eat. So I stood at the counter in my kitchen and wolfed down my food before carrying on with the rest of the day. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.
    I’ve come across multiple situations like this in just a few days.  Walking across campus in the snow, carrying my computer bag, opening classroom doors for a visit – all of these things that I normally don’t think about have now become challenges.
    I’ve been thinking about how frustrating it is to feel helpless in these situations, and I’ve also been thinking that our students often go through similar feelings at school – feeling helpless when they don’t understand a homework problem or when they encounter a difficult social situation.  Just being a kid trying to figure things out each day can be overwhelming and probably often feels frustrating in a similar way to how I have been feeling with this injury. I’ve ruminated on possible responses to how I’ve been feeling. I could get upset or angry, both with myself for not being more careful and with the situation in general (or perhaps with my older brother, who often seems to lead me into precarious situations like where I found myself on December 31!). However, the educator in me chooses instead to examine this experience and glean some newfound wisdom from it all.  In a short amount of time, I feel like I have learned some valuable lessons (and, given that I just discovered I will need surgery, I’m sure many more are to follow…).
    First, I truly recognize the value and importance of patience.  Everything takes longer when you are moving on crutches, and it’s easy to become upset, but if I remind myself that this is my new reality, at least for now, I can try to enjoy the more leisurely pace that I now need to use.  Having practiced mindfulness fairly regularly over the last couple of years has helped me tremendously with this notion of finding the benefits of taking time rather than rushing from one thing to the next.  This injury forces me to do that, and so I’m embracing it.
    Second, I’ve learned that strategizing is critical.  It’s much harder to fly by the seat of your pants when everything takes longer (see above) and is more complicated.  I find I really need to plan several steps ahead.  If I forget something, I can’t just run back to my house or across campus, so I find myself making more lists and planning ahead.
    Finally, the hardest thing to learn for me has been the importance of knowing when to ask for help.  While there’s definitely value in figuring out ways to solve problems on my own, there are times when the best way to solve the problem is to ask someone else for help.  We can be apprehensive about this for fear of appearing foolish, being a burden, or seeming weak.  But knowing how and when to advocate for yourself is actually a strength, not a weakness. When Dawson alumni come back from college, I hear time and again that they feel like they have an advantage over their fellow classmates because they have learned how and when to advocate for themselves.  Because they had such strong relationships with their teachers and knew their teachers cared for them, they felt comfortable seeking assistance when needed, and this comfort translated to new situations.
    In her book, How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims talks about her time as a Dean at Stanford, when students would arrive on campus ready for their classes but clueless about the real world.   So focused on academics and “rigor” were they that they had no idea how to find their way around campus, do their laundry, or make a basic meal.  And, even worse, they didn’t know where to go for help.  Typically, rather than reaching out to other members of the community, they called home.
    While it would be tempting still for me to call my mom for help at this time, she wouldn’t be much help from across the country, and the reality is I need to lean on those around me – my family, friends, and colleagues.  And I shouldn’t feel too proud to ask someone to carry my bag or my lunch so I can get on with my day. 
    The next few weeks and months will, I’m sure, prove to be interesting, and through it all, I’ll remind myself of these lessons and I’ll be patient, I’ll strategize, and, most importantly, I won’t be afraid to ask for help.
    Have a wonderful weekend!
    Take care,
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  • Connecting Through Empathy

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you had a wonderful break and enjoyed the time with family and friends.  We had the pleasure of having our college-age nephew stay with us during the break, and it was so fun having another kid in the house.  We played a lot of board games, as well as other games made up on the fly, such as “Keep the Balloon Up While Mom Tries to Knock It Down” and “2-Story Volleyball.”
    On Saturday night, as we played this crazy balloon game, I took a moment to “go to the balcony,” something Bill Ury talked about in his wonderful graduation speech last spring.  When he described this concept, he was speaking more of the need to do this when immersed in conflict.  In other words, remove yourself and view the situation as an observer, allowing you to think more clearly and objectively.  In my case, however, I was instead using the opportunity to take a mental photograph of the moment, to preserve it as a warm family memory.  And as I thought about what made the moment so special and why we were all laughing and smiling, I realized that at the heart of the moment was connection.  After spending some good quality time together over a few days, we were all giddy with the feeling of connection.  In fact, the game was created because I was about to go to bed, and my son declared that I couldn’t go to bed until I knocked the balloon to the ground while the rest of them tried to keep it up.  I thought I could make quick work of the game but was having so much fun that I kept playing.
    We recently had a three-part Counselor’s Corner series with a gentleman named Nick Thompson.  I wasn’t able to go, but my husband attended and took notes for me.  Nick provided a treasure trove of great information, and the part that really resonated with me was what he said about the importance of connecting.  He talked about how we parents all care incredibly deeply for our children, and that care often turns into concern and then fear.  When we look too far into the future we imagine worst case scenarios for our kids, and this fear leads us to seek control.  When our goal is to control, we end up driving our kids away.  Instead, he said, we need to seek to connect with our kids, and we can only do this if we seek to understand them.  In other words, we need empathy.
    Not surprisingly, this is a message we work on constantly with our students.  Yes, they need to know that there are expectations at school and that there are consequences for certain behaviors.  But the best way for us to guide them in making positive choices is by helping them develop empathy.  Arnie Lewis, our Upper School Dean of Students, shared a wonderful video created by Brene Brown, a research professor who has done a good deal of work with empathy and vulnerability.  The video is a recording of Brown speaking accompanied by a cartoon that clearly shows us a model for empathy.  Arnie showed the video at our recent presentation on digital citizenship, and I’ll include a link below.  It’s a nice message that, I believe, is at the root of connection, and connection is crucial in good parenting and good teaching.
    Also not surprisingly, our faculty often explore the importance of making connections with our students.  When people ask me what sets Dawson apart from other schools, I have myriad possible responses – small class sizes, excellent teachers, opportunities for experiential education, strong social emotional programming.  All of these are true, but what our students always come back to when asked what they love about the school is the connections they form with their teachers. And when students feel connected to their teachers, they engage more readily with the material and push themselves to new heights. There is a great body of research on relational teaching, which is, as it sounds, when teachers recognize the value of their relationships with students and use these relationships as a tool to engage students in deep learning.
    And what is the best way for us as teachers to strengthen these relationships?  It goes back, of course, to connecting and empathy.  When we seek to understand our students and meet them where they are, both emotionally and academically, they open up and let us into their world.  And this can make for extraordinary learning experiences. 
    So, as a teacher and as a mom, I am committing to finding those moments for connection with my students and with my children.  I’ll resist the urge to look too far into the future, wondering what my kids will do with their lives and worrying whether they’ll be living in my basement.  Instead, I’ll relish the small moments, and I’ll seek to create the space for these moments to happen.  Who knows what other fun games we might come up with? 
    If you’d like to read or see more about the value of teaching empathy (including the video I mentioned earlier), I’m providing some links below. 
    Have a wonderful week!
    Take care,
    Brene Brown piece on empathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
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  • Student Engagement through Choice

    Kim Haines, 4th Grade Teacher

    Following is a reprint of an article written by Dawson 4th Grade Teacher Kim Haines that appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Independent Teacher Magazine, published by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).

    As an elementary school teacher, I have observed an interesting relationship between school engagement and personal choice. Wherever I can give my students true ownership and satisfying personalization of their school experiences, I find learners who are more willing to engage in the persistence that deep learning requires. Adult-directed days have become more common for children as families move toward highly scheduled after-school and weekend time. I believe that school can and should be a place where students have some measure of control over their learning. 

    Working in an independent school often provides teachers with the flexibility to create personalized learning. My school has provided me with flexibility and trust as well as an opportunity to learn from University of Kansas researcher and professor Yong Zhao about student autonomy and voice as a component essential to the development of creative and entrepreneurial students.1 My passion for student-centered learning with a focus on relationships creates the foundation for student choice in our fourth-grade community; this passion is shared by my co-teachers and makes for an ideal teaching team. Student choice is manifested in our classroom environment, student voice and feedback, reading, writing, and even learning topics. 

    Classroom Environment 

    When students believe that a classroom belongs to them, they become engaged and care about what happens within its space. We invite our students to bring in a framed photograph to keep in their homeroom. Most students put their picture on the desk, but others choose to put it on a bookshelf or in another location. Visitors immediately notice the photographs and comment on the pleasure they must bring to the students. 

    We cover our reading journals in the fall with unique fabric prints chosen by the children. It is an opportunity for them to express their likes (chickens, stars, lions, colors, etc.) and to personalize the journals and make them immediately identifiable. Our students are generally free to work in the classroom wherever they would like, provided they are getting the work done and not distracting their neighbors. Very rarely do we need to intervene with an incompatible choice. Some learning activities allow students to choose which classmate to work with or even to work solo if they want to. We mix this up with teacher-chosen groups, and we also talk about how to choose productive partners. Some students have learned that their best friends are often not the best partners when they want to get serious work done. Additionally, we recognize that some students need to move their bodies to think, and so we have yoga balls, bungee chairs, wiggle seats, and standing desks to provide more avenues for student choices in the learning environment. 

    Student Voice and Feedback 

    Teacher relationships with our students assist learning — theirs and ours. We get to know our students well, and we share bits of our lives with them. They know that we care deeply about them as individuals, and, over the course of the year, trust grows. We survey the parents at the beginning of the year to discover more about their children. Students frequently assess themselves, particularly after math tests or large projects. A common question for them as they reflect on their progress is, “How can your teachers support you to learn more?” When I sit down with a student for an individual conference, I frequently ask, “How can I help you?” We have our students write letters to us midyear, telling us how things are going. We encourage them to tell us about the “warts” too, because that helps us become better teachers. Sometimes the feedback is that they wish we could change desk arrangements more often, or perhaps I am not calling on an individual student very much. More significant is when a student trusts us to hear that he is feeling a lot of pressure and yet is trying his best. Knowing what is important to our students helps us to be responsive to their needs. 

    Pernille Ripp’s work has been invaluable to me as I explore more ways to incorporate student voices and share responsibility for learning with our students. Ripp’s Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students has expanded my understanding of how to create community and elicit feedback from students.2 This winter I felt brave and, for the first time, I allowed students to choose their own groups for a science challenge. This experiment was a success and has influenced my grouping options. After reading about Ripp’s ideas on limiting homework, I am motivated to look closely at the research on homework and have conversations next August with my co-teachers and Lower School faculty about the goals and value of homework. We rarely use traditional grades in our Lower School, yet Ripp’s work has prompted me to think about how to improve the feedback I give students on their tests, projects, and writing.3


    Donalyn Miller and Nancie Atwell talk about the importance of student choice of independent reading material as a crucial element to engage students on a path toward lifelong reading or, as Miller likes to call it, “reading in the wild,” as opposed to required school reading.4 In the fall, our fourth-graders choose a personal level for our yearlong Reading Challenge. When a given class of learners might read between 10 and 100 books on its own, it is just wrong to have identical expectations for every child. We have three levels of challenge where students are required to read a variety of genres to expand their familiarity and comfort level. But students choose their own independent reading titles. Throughout the year, they track where each book fits on the genre requirements. If a student gets hooked on a series or an author and fills up the “slots” on the challenge, they can record their books on an additional reading chart to help track their total reading. 

    Other ways in which choice plays into reading instruction involve our comprehension strategy lessons. We model comprehension thinking with picture books and short readings and expect students to apply their learning to whatever books they are reading. When we have individual reading conferences, we can check in with their application of comprehension strategies for whatever book they have chosen. Our two fourth-grade classrooms share a common novel that we read aloud in our homerooms. We choose one novel each year as a platform to teach annotation skills and give students their own copies to follow along. We model different ways of marking up our books and stress that annotation is a way of making their thinking visible. In the way that an animal leaves tracks in the snow, we can leave the tracks of our thinking in the margins. Students have the choice as to what and how to annotate as we read together. 


    We build digital portfolios throughout the year using iBooks Author, and we see a marked change in the quality of student writing between September and May. These portfolios have immense student choice built in. We require students to include artifacts for designated sections of the portfolio, for example “Who Am I?” or “Language Arts,” but they can choose what is important to them. In building artifacts, we create an organized library of photographs accessible through Google Drive, and students simply drag and drop the images they would like. For example, for a recent science lab, we tried to get photographs of all students and materials in action. Some students might choose only one photograph for their page, while others will choose two to five photographs, depending on their engagement with the lab. They are welcome to include photographs of their friends. 

    In building their portfolios, students learn great word-processing skills as well as elements of visual design. As with any writing project, students work at different speeds. We have a group of artifact categories that are required, and those students who work more efficiently may choose options from a section called Above and Beyond. This allows teachers to differentiate writing expectations while also creating more opportunity for student choice. The icing on the cake? This ongoing writing project becomes the platform for student-led conferences in May when students celebrate and reflect with their parents on their full year of learning. 

    Learning Topics 

    Periodically, students have an opportunity to choose the focus of their learning. We have three Passion Projects across the year where students learn research skills while exploring topics they have chosen themselves. The projects increase in scope and responsibility as students develop and practice their skills. For example, last year one student decided to learn more about the brain and dyslexia and, as a result, has embraced her own learning difference. Another student who was fascinated by Buddhism decided to learn about the Dalai Lama and was thrilled to discover that he planned an upcoming visit to a nearby location. A student who is fascinated with geography may choose another country to study. Because the students chose their topics to explore, these students were fully engaged and motivated to dig deeper and learn more. 

    Once they have done their research, students have choice in how they present their learning within specified parameters, and we share this at a Passion Project Fair, inviting parents to attend. Of course, a student can exceed expectations and bring in a family member willing to wear a puffin costume while she entices visitors to her station with a board game to learn about puffins, their life cycle, their environment, and more! Or a student can present his or her learning in a classic trifold board or electronic slideshow. The presentation choice can play to a student’s strengths and be his or her best work. Within our relationships with students, we are able to provide individual feedback for them to stretch with each successive project cycle. 

    When I think about myself as a learner, I know that I do my best learning when I am invested and care about what I am doing. I am often able to have a level of choice and control over what I’m learning and how I’m applying it. My success and joy in learning lead me to continue to seek out even more opportunities. I owe it to my students to provide similar experiences as learners so that they are engaged and motivated. Offering choice and autonomy is an excellent path. 
    Kim Haines (khaines@dawsonschool.org) teaches fourth grade at Dawson School (Colorado) where she has been teaching since 2009.


    1Yong Zhao, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012).
    2Pernille Ripp, Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2016).
    4Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009); and Nancie Atwell, The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers (New York: Scholastic, 2007).
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  • What is Authentic Learning?

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Hello everyone,
    I hope that you are having a wonderful week.  It’s hard to believe that we are more than a quarter of the way through the school year.  The days are flying by, and given the warm weather, it does not feel like we are rapidly approaching winter.
    I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the word authentic and what it means with regards to education.  On our Dawson Facebook page, we mentioned something about authentic learning, and someone asked, “When is learning not authentic?”  Hmmm….great question, and it made me think hard about what we mean when we say we want our students to learn in authentic ways.
    One definition of authentic is quite simple: “not false or copied; genuine, real.” As in, “I purchased an authentic Warhol painting for my living room.” So what does that mean as far as education goes?  How can we make sure that learning is genuine or real?  If learning is occurring, isn’t just the fact of that learning happening authentic?  This is an interesting idea, and there is some truth to it.  If learning can be defined as “the act or process of acquiring knowledge,” how can we determine whether it’s authentic or not?  And frankly, why does it matter, if learning is happening either way?
    Well, here’s what I think.  Yes, learning can happen in inauthentic ways.  When students are asked to memorize a series of dates or a list of vocabulary words with no context, they may learn those dates and words well enough to perform on an assessment, but the likelihood of their remembering them beyond the assessment is small because there is no connection to their own lives or to other areas of study.  Similarly, a student may be able to do math computation based on having memorized an algorithm but then often cannot apply that math knowledge to a problem.  There is a famous video taken at MIT that asks recent graduates (still in their caps and gowns) if they can light a bulb with a battery and a wire.  Sadly, many of them don’t know how to solve this fairly simple problem despite the many hours they have spent in various math, science, and engineering classes.  They are obviously incredibly intelligent people who have acquired a great deal of knowledge.  But being able to apply that knowledge, to demonstrate a basic understanding of circuitry? Not so much.
    When my husband was in eighth grade, there were two different American history teachers teaching two very different classes.  One teacher, the one my husband was fortunate enough to have, engaged students daily in student-led inquiry projects.  In order to learn about what our Founding Fathers went through starting a new country, they created their own societies.  In order to learn about the Constitution, they held their own constitutional convention.  Their teacher empowered them to live the history, to really experience it so they could understand the intricacies of decisions that were made.
    In contrast, the other teacher spent the entire class writing notes on the board – notes that were essentially copied from the American history textbook, and students copied down the notes themselves.  No discussion, no questions, just straight-up dissemination of information.  Looking back at this experience, my husband still remembers much of what he learned because he had the chance to apply his understanding and to work together with his classmates to find solutions to problems.  But at the time, he remembers feeling like the other class was learning more, simply because their notebooks were filled with more information. While I haven’t met anyone who was in that other class to be able to ask them about their experience, I would wager that those students retained very little during that year that has stayed with them.  They may have “learned” a good deal of information at the time, but with nothing to connect it to or no way to apply the learning to a new situation, it undoubtedly did not stay with them.
    One definition of authentic that I really like is, “representing one’s true nature or beliefs.”  We talk often about how we can best encourage our students to discover their passions, to figure out what they love and then to figure out how to use this passion to make a difference. 
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  • Teaching Civil Discourse

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you have had a wonderful week and learned a lot about what our students do each day in their classes. It was extremely illuminating for me as a parent to get a better idea of how my own kids are doing in their classes, and it makes me ever more appreciative of the work our teachers do to truly know our kids.
    As you know this past Wednesday’s Mustang Day focused on civil discourse. Director of Diversity Amy Troy did a fantastic job putting together activities for all students in kindergarten through twelfth grade to facilitate their working on this important skill. While all students engaged in similar activities, Amy shifted the lessons appropriately to align with different age groups.
    In Lower School, after a quick homeroom check-in, students came together in the music room, where Amy led an assembly that introduced the idea of civil discourse. In the assembly, we went over the difference between facts and opinions and learned about Socrates and his methods for discussions. We also went over norms for how to interact with one another when discussing issues. The presentation provided an age-appropriate foundation for the next activity.
    After this, students broke up into groups by grade level. While most grades worked on their own, the first and third grades decided to join forces. In each classroom, students did some basic activities to introduce the idea of having different opinions. For instance, they did an activity in which they went to one side of the room or the other based on what they liked more between Batman and Spiderman or chocolate or vanilla ice cream. These activities allowed students to recognize that people may have differing opinions and that this is okay.
    Groups then decided on a topic to discuss more deeply. In some groups, they determined the topic together while in others the teachers had pre-determined the topic. Kindergarten students debated which playground was more enjoyable – the little one or the big one. First and third graders discussed which animal made the better pet – cats or dogs. In second grade, students debated whether books or movies were better. And the fourth grade students responded to the question, does treating people fairly mean treating them equally?
    In preparation for these discussions, students worked in small groups based on their opinions and came up with reasons to support their beliefs. This is a skill that comes up over and over again in school and in our daily lives. It’s difficult to make a persuasive argument without providing solid reasons for an opinion. It was wonderful to see students of all ages working on this important skill.
    I had the great fortune to float around the building and sit in on portions of each group’s discussion. In kindergarten, we talked at length about facts versus opinions and how you can prove facts. Dale Roberts, the kindergarten teacher, used as an example the sentence, The little playground is littler than the big playground. She talked with students about how you might prove that (for instance, through measuring the two playgrounds). Then, when talking about the discussion question regarding which was better between the two playgrounds, she talked about how, while you may not be able to prove your opinion, you can provide reasons to support your opinion, and those reasons may convince others to change their opinions. She also asked, “And, if they don’t change their opinion, is that okay?” reiterating the idea that having different perspectives is fine.
    After the small groups came up with their talking points, they came together to engage in discussions, sitting in a circle so that everyone could see one another. Teachers did a great job facilitating these discussions, consistently emphasizing the importance of listening respectfully and speaking respectfully.
    In Middle School, students similarly engaged in deep discussion on topics ranging from pesticides to water rights to social media. They delved deeper at this level, reading articles in advance of the discussions so as to use specific evidence to support their claims. I got to sit in on some of these discussions, and I was impressed with the level of discourse. I also heard extremely positive reports from teachers about how engaged students were and how some students who weren’t typically as talkative were speaking up frequently when given the space to do so.
    The topic of civil discourse is a timely one given that we are in the midst of a presidential election, a time when disagreement on issues is front and center in the media. And others feel the same way – Upper School Director Ann Carson shared an article in the New York Times from this week that talk about the value of teaching civil discourse and invites students to contribute to a student opinion forum on different issues each week (this week’s forum is on immigration). Ann shared the article with faculty, and I hope that many will encourage our students to contribute and that you encourage them as well. I know that, from their classes and from our recent Mustang Day, they are well prepared to put their voices out there, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.
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  • Comments from Back-To-School Nights

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    We are getting into the swing of things, having been in school for four weeks, now, and we are off to a great start! On Wednesday, we had our first plus day (A+ or B+), a day in which classes are only 50 minutes long to allow for advisory time, clubs, and community time. I heard many students comment that the periods seemed so short now that they are becoming accustomed to the longer periods. One student even said, “I can’t believe all of our classes used to be that short!”
    As I said in my speech at both Middle School and Lower School Back to School Night, it’s not that longer periods make for better teaching just by virtue of being longer. It’s that we know a lot about how the brain learns (so much more than even five years ago!), and teaching with the brain in mind simply takes longer.
    In case you weren’t able to come to Back to School Night, I’m including the text of my speech here. There was an interactive feature, so you won’t get the full effect, but hopefully you’ll get the idea. The actual speech included some introductions, but I have left those out as well and cut to the “meat” of the speech. Enjoy!
    As you know we have gone through some significant changes at Dawson this year, most notably the change to the daily schedule. Based on one of our goals from the Strategic Plan (Dawson will distinguish itself as a leader in innovation, collaboration, and current educational practices and will attract, develop, and retain exceptional faculty and staff), we went through a design thinking process, including the steps of empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing, to come up with a schedule that fosters deeper learning, collaboration, reflection, and student well-being.
    Some of the major implementations are advisory or homeroom time first thing each morning, longer class periods, and an occasional flex period that allows students to work together across disciplines and divisions. And it is so exciting to see it in action. A teacher told me just today that at least once at the end of each period, a student says, “Wait, class is already over?” amazed that 85 minutes have passed. Our first flex periods involved a school-wide design thinking project, and it was wonderful seeing students of all ages working together to make their school even better.
    In doing our research, we realized that It’s not that longer classes, by virtue of being longer, lead to better learning. However, much research has been done on how the brain learns, and teaching with the brain in mind just takes longer than what the traditional class length allows.
    So, how does the brain learn? How can we create an optimal environment that prepares our kids to succeed both in the academic realm and in the world outside? We know that students learn more effectively when they feel safe to take risks, when they make personal connections, and when they are encouraged to think critically, to ask questions, and to find solutions.
    We also know that people do not learn as effectively when they are listening to someone standing up in front of them talking at them. Hmmm. So what’s wrong with this scenario? Here I am doing exactly what I’ve just said is ineffective. Therefore, I’m going to mix it up a bit and make this presentation more interactive and, therefore, more meaningful. One way to encourage our students to take risks is to model that behavior, showing them that we are all learning and growing. And so I’ll take a risk by trying a new technology.
    You’ll see on the screen a list of values: family, friendship, riches, long life, peace, popularity, wisdom, beauty. There are many more values that I could list, of course, but consider these eight for a moment. If you could choose three of these values for your child to internalize forever, which would they be? Think about it for a moment, and then find someone near you whom you don’t know and share your thoughts. Finally, text your top choice to the number listed on the screen, and we’ll see what happens. The poll only allows for 100 entrants, so you may get a message saying it is full.
    Clearly, we are in agreement on what values are most important [both evenings, family was chosen the most by far, followed by friendship, peace, and wisdom]. And it’s not just because we want to raise kids of good character. It’s because social emotional education is a strong predictor of academic success. And this is because creating a positive, inclusive environment where kids feel safe means that they will be will to take risks in the classroom, on the stage, or on the athletic field. Your children, our students, need parents and educators to provide inspiration, imagination, joy, optimism, humor, love, support, firmness, safety, clear values, and -- perhaps most important -- respect. With our collective support, our children’s youthful aspirations can soar into adult accomplishment.
    Okay, moving to the next question. We’re going to play a little Name That Tune. I’m going to play the opening lines of a song, and I want you to text the name of the song or what it’s from. If you have no idea, take a guess.
    Those opening notes are from the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. I don’t know about you, but this soundtrack has been playing nonstop in our household, and my husband and I, much to our children’s chagrin, sing it constantly. Why has it become such a phenomenon?  
    Part of the appeal is that the musical takes the story of our Founding Fathers and tells it through contemporary music, such as R&B, hip-hop, and rap, and with a multiracial cast. As creator Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “It’s a story about America then, told by what America looks like now.” You may have heard the recent story on NPR about how students in New York City are researching primary documents related to our nation’s founding and coming up with their own creative responses. They then have the chance to perform their creations on the stage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (taking risks) before seeing a matinee of the musical.
    I guarantee that these kids will know and remember more about the inner workings of this time period in history through this experience than they would had they simply read the information in a textbook and listened to their teachers spout information. Why? Because they feel a connection to the material. The brain learns better when it makes connections. At Dawson, teachers are creating curriculum that allows for just this: students are finding connections across disciplines, across grade levels, and between their school world and the “real” world around them. And these connections help them to remember information, analyze information, understand problems, and develop solutions.
    My final activity is this: think back to your own experiences in school. Can you remember an assignment or a project that got you particularly excited? Think for a moment, then share with your same partner from before. Finally send a text using one word (one word only!) to describe what was so great about that particular project. How did it make you feel? What did you gain?
    I’m willing to bet that the things that stay with us from our school lives are not the facts that we memorized or the information that was simply told to us but the experiences where more was asked of us, where we had to dig deep to find understanding, where we had to assess resources for their reliability, where we had to grapple with issues and design possible solutions. That’s real learning, and that’s what teachers at Dawson do every day with your kids.
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  • Learning through collaboration and creativity

    SELECTING A SCHOOL: Five Steps to Finding the Right Fit

    Mark Saunders, Director of Admissions, Dawson School
    Each year, parents everywhere consider the question: What is the best school option for my child? For reasons ranging from crowded classrooms and standardized tests, to school safety and differentiated learning, parents may seek alternatives to their assigned neighborhood school. Embedded in the philosophy of school choice is the simple belief that one's neighborhood school may not meet the specific needs of a specific child. Take advantage of the resources out there to shepherd families through what can be an overwhelming process - the U.S. Department of Education, GreatSchools.org, and Education.com to name just a few - but in a nutshell, your five-step plan should be:

    1) Define for yourself your ideal school and your family's education needs and goals
    2) Consider all the options in your region
    3) Check stats, but don't let them dictate your decision
    4) Visit before you decide
    5) Ask questions/don't assume

    What school choice ultimately boils down to is one key thing: Fit. The correct fit for your student might hinge on academic, social, athletic, artistic, or culture needs - there is a wide spectrum - but once a student finds the school that "fits," success, by any measure, often follows. It is this idea of fit that drives independent schools and their missions of educating kids. Independent schools are able to determine their own priorities and curriculum, as they are not dictated to by state and federal education guidelines and testing structures. This allows them to devote extra time to their students' development, and to the school's mission and educational focus. For instance, Boulder County is fortunate to have dozens of independent schools with programs that serve virtually every child on the educational spectrum - traditional, gifted and talented, and those with learning differences to name a few*. Within these educational programs are, among others, very low student/teacher ratios, ability to handle differentiated learning, and positive and supportive learning environments. Each school has their own distinguishing factors - and this is true of public schools, as well.

    In the spirit of School Choice, consider independent schools as a viable option for your child. At my own school, Dawson, we are proud that our students experience a robust and balanced educational program where academic excellence and individual attention helps ensure our graduates are multi-dimensional and self-aware, ready for the next challenge. But whether public or independent, to truly see what a school is like - its students, teachers, and culture - I recommend spending an hour in person to visit and ask questions about each school. Much like the kids we searve, schools have different personalities and strengths, and a small investment of your time at the start can help ensure your child finds the fit that will set them on the road of personal success.

    *Go to BACIS.org for a complete list of independent schools in Boulder County.
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  • Reinforcing Experiential and Character Education

    Ann Carson, Director of Upper School
    The Senior Class Trip:  Reinforcing Dawson’s Emphases on Experiential and Character Education  (Photo from senior Carlton Moeller)
    “In one word, describe what it means to be a senior,” Charlotte Sutherland, Dawson’s Town Council President, confidently asked of her classmates as they circled up at a high elevation campsite during the opening senior class trip last week.  Words like “leadership,” “integrity,” “respect,” and “role model” came up frequently as students shared their thoughts with the larger group.  As a newcomer to this annual tradition, I was incredibly impressed by both the contributions of the seniors and the exercise itself, asking seniors, at the beginning of the school year, to reflect on what it means to be the leaders of the school.
    Dawson’s class trips, which occur during the opening four days of our school year, showcase our emphasis on place-based, experiential education as well as our focus on character growth, all of which have garnered significant national attention in recent years.  Each grade level focuses on one of Dawson’s four character virtues – respect (9th grade), compassion (10th grade), courage (11th grade), and integrity (12th grade) -  through the activities of the trip as well as intentional group discussions.  The ninth graders spend time in challenge activities, getting to know each other and Dawson’s culture on a local camping trip, while the tenth graders participate in service learning throughout Boulder County.  The juniors head out to the Colorado River for a canoe trip, and the seniors complete the most physically and mentally challenging class trip – backpacking in the high country just west of Boulder.
    As Dawson’s new director of upper school, I was eager to spend time with the seniors so that I could get to know this year’s student leaders.  In six small backpacking groups (two faculty and eight seniors per group), we headed out along different trails to a variety of locations within the beautiful Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, challenging ourselves to long days on the trail as well as unusually cold and rainy weather this year.  Students served as “leaders of the day,” hiking at the front of the group and keeping track of our route, and they assumed other leader designations, too, like cooking leaders and “water managers.”  Faculty intentionally stepped back in order to give these seniors authentic leadership roles, providing valuable practice in anticipation of their year leading the rest of the student body.  The challenging terrain and inclement weather, too, helped seniors practice the positive, “can-do” attitude that is so essential for those in leadership roles, as well as develop the qualities of “grit” and “resilience” that have frequently cropped up in recent educational journals and books.   Informal conversations inevitably arose between students and faculty while on the trail, as well, regarding individual and collective goals for the year and how best to achieve them.  And during our discussions about their integrity, seniors in our group made valuable connections between this character virtue and their essential role as mentors for younger students.
    After three days of hiking in our small groups, we convened at a centrally located lake in the wilderness area called Lost Lake, where friends swapped stories of their adventures, shared hugs and came together for the annual goal-setting tradition facilitated by the student body president.  As I reflect back on my first senior class trip at Dawson, I am so impressed by the design of this annual event, combining small group travel with a culminating large group event, as it allowed us to fulfill our goals for the trip.  Providing authentic challenges in Boulder’s dramatically beautiful Indian Peaks Wilderness Area helped our seniors gain confidence and appreciation for the natural world, become more bonded as a class, and gain more clarity and excitement about what it means to be a senior.  What a fantastic way to begin our school year together!
    For further reading, explore:
    McKenzie, Malcolm. "Rescuing Education: The Rise of Experiential Learning." Independent School Magazine. NAIS, Mar. 2013.
    Mierke, Sarah. “Extending the Classroom: Transforming a School Through Experiential Education.” Independent School Magazine. NAIS, Mar. 2013.
    Steiner-Adair, Catherine. "Got Grit?" Independent School Magazine. NAIS, Jan. 2013.
    Tough, Paul., and Dan John Miller. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
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  • Advantages of Block Teaching

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    August 29, 2016
    Hi everyone,
    Welcome to the new year!  We are off to a great start, and I love having students back in the classrooms, in the halls, and on the fields.  The energy is fantastic!  Especially exciting this year is the implementation of our new daily schedule.  I am already seeing the positive effects.
    On Wednesday, lower school faculty took advantage of the new flex period on Mustang Days by meeting together as a division, dividing into groups with students from every grade level, and doing a scavenger hunt around campus.  Second grade teacher Anna Vinson and I had a wonderful group of students, whom we got to know better as we wandered around campus visiting the various places students go each day.  Pairing the older students with the younger ones in our group allowed for everyone to feel comfortable and to begin to form strong connections across grade levels.  And, it helped new students feel more comfortable about their surroundings.
    The middle school students participated in a full-day orientation with all sorts of fun activities involving teambuilding, developing leadership, and, on the more practical side, figuring out where classes meet!  Then Thursday was a more typical day, with students heading to classes.  One new aspect of the schedule is having advisory time four days a week, first thing.  This gives everyone a chance to touch base and ease into the day, providing students with a place where they feel comfortable sharing.  And the longer class periods (85 minutes) are encouraging teachers to engage students in deeper ways.  IT Director Jeff Ellenbogen took his class on a field trip to an exhibit at the Longmont Museum.  The exhibit was called How People Make Things. Students got to explore a variety of methods that have been used to make things throughout history. They made paper boxes and horses using a die-cut machine and saw how steel molds are used to make basketballs. Students experimented with hand-cranked 3-axis mills to carve into a block of wax. It was a great start to the year to get students thinking about projects they’d like to make this year at Dawson.
    Other teachers commented that the time flew by and noted how nice it was to have time to dig deep and let kids explore their topics more meaningfully.  Students talked about their relief at not having to do homework for every subject each night.  And the built-in time for mindfulness allows teachers and students to pause and take a step back each day.
    The longer class periods, spread out homework assignments, and built-in time for mindfulness are all changes that we hope will allow our students to explore topics deeply, to work on important skills such as critical thinking and collaboration, and to develop self-awareness.  This self-awareness helps kids figure out their strengths and challenges so they can more effectively advocate for themselves.  Our other goal with these changes is to reduce stress in our kids’ lives.  Interestingly, a great article just came out in the Atlantic discussing this very issue.  As it turns out, teaching our kids self-control is much more effective than tutoring or advanced classes in terms of helping them be successful.  Too much emphasis on achievement can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.  You may have read the op-ed piece that a student from Palo Alto High School wrote so compellingly about this last year (http://www.almanacnews.com/news/2015/03/26/guest-opinion-on-school-stress-students-are-gasping-for-air).
    It can be hard for us as parents, though, because we worry that if we back down from this achievement arms race and others keep at it, our kids will be left behind.  But pushing our kids too hard often backfires, whereas providing them opportunities to discover and explore their passions can teach them self-control in a more personalized way.  The author of the Atlantic article defines self-control as “learning to control one’s impulses in order to achieve personal goals.”  She goes on to say that people get better at self-control with practice and so we need to let our kids explore what they love because their personal goals will then be just that: personal.
    At Dawson, it’s always been the case that teachers make a point of connecting with their students in deeply personal ways and taking the time to really know them.  With our new schedule, we are allowing this to happen more readily.  Through frequent advisory times, flex periods for cross-division collaboration, and longer class periods, our students will be explorers, ready to discover not only the world around them but also the world inside themselves.
    To read the article from the Atlantic, click here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/08/helping-students-succeed-without-the-stress/495956/?_cldee=YWhlY294QGRhd3NvbnNjaG9vbC5vcmc%3d&recipientid=contact-5e5690273df9e111892400505683000d-5c60e11de03a41379d0dac55c62b6b58
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  • Tweeting Classroom News

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    I read a book called Hacking Leadership that talks about some common issues that arise when leading educational institutions and how best to address them. One thing the authors recommended was to get into classrooms as frequently as possible and to use social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and others) to broadcast what is happening in classes. In the past, I have visited classes frequently – it’s probably my favorite part of the day. It allows me to get to know students well and to see what they are doing.  I’m fortunate to make connections across different classes. I am absolutely convinced that the more our students have the opportunity to make connections across disciplines, the more neurons are firing off in their brain, leading to deeper learning that stays with them.
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  • A More Kind, Thoughtful, and Safe Community

    George P. Moore, Head of School
    Dawson actively promotes and embraces the exchange of diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds through curricular design, community involvement, and the integration of our four virtues – respect, compassion, courage, and integrity – into every aspect of our community life. It is our responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for all members of our community, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, ability, or religion, as well as to cultivate in each student the ability to make empathetic, socially responsible decisions.
                                                                                                                                  -- Dawson Diversity Statement

    Dawson’s recently revised Diversity Statement provides the foundation for our work in developing a welcoming, inclusive, and safe community for all of our students and families. It is this statement that is the inspiration for my thoughts on safety and kindness. 
    Keeping children safe is our most important priority as a school, and I think when we consider safety, most of us think first about the physical safety of students, staff, and families as safe as possible on campus. Yet we also know that physical safety alone is not sufficient for young people to maximize their learning. Just as children cannot possibly be at their best if they feel physically threatened, they also cannot be at their best if they are feeling threats to their emotional and/or psychological well being. We work hard at Dawson to support our students in these areas. We have two counselors, a coordinator of academic support, a director of equity and inclusion, thoughtful administrators, and a caring faculty as well as students and student groups devoted to looking out for one another. 
    Despite all of these efforts, we must remain vigilant to create the kind of community that fully reflects our virtues of respect, compassion, courage, and integrity. In January we had an advisory discussion in Upper School around the concept of microaggressions. Microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership; they generally happen below the level of awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture. (Wikipedia) The reason for the conversation was that members of our upper school community, including students of color, LGBTQ students, students with learning differences, and others have experienced these exchanges here at Dawson. In fact this was a student-inspired discussion. Their goal was to educate our upper school community on what it can sometimes feel like not to be a member of the dominant culture: unwelcoming, frustrating, and in some cases unsafe. It is not a stretch to see how this might affect one’s ability to be their best in school or to be fully engaged in the community. 
    And there is myriad research that shows how perpetuation of stereotypes has a negative effect on the performance of those in a stereotyped group. Here is a recent article (https://goo.gl/RM5wMf) reviewing research that documents the effect of gender stereotypes on the perception of academic performance among college students. Few would argue that women are inherently less intelligent than men, yet this research demonstrates that these perceptions exist and have a real, detrimental effect on female students. Specifically, the research shows that male students assumed their male classmates knew more about course material than female students, even if the young women earned better grades. As the researcher, Dan Grunspan, states: reinforcement from faculty members and peers is enormously important to a young person’s education and career development. A simple ‘You can do this,’ for both men and women, could mean the difference between pushing through adversity or giving up.” This effect applies to other social groups and is likely more significant for middle and upper school students still discovering their passions and interests. Similarly, there is ample research demonstrating the idea of stereotype threat and how it affects academic performance of some groups. Here is a link to a discussion of this topic by Stanford University professor and author of Whistling Vivaldi, Claude Steele: (https://goo.gl/BDKicF).
    Perhaps not surprisingly, some members of the Dawson community did not feel this discussion was necessary. I understand. It is difficult to hear that one’s words might be unintentionally hurting someone else. It also is easy to say that these individuals simply need to toughen up. For me that argument is not convincing, particularly at Dawson. Stereotypes have real and often negative consequences, and we all have biases that affect those around us. Passing comments off as jokes or otherwise dismissing their impact because we do not intend to be hurtful is dishonest. We must work to increase our awareness, intend to do the right thing, and acknowledge when we fall short. We are committed as an educational institution to providing a safe, welcoming environment for all of our students and families. To that end, our faculty reading this summer is Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (http://goo.gl/pbjhOZ). We also are committed to educating our students on how to treat people with respect, compassion, and kindness. Even the most skeptical among us can acknowledge that in an increasingly global economy, our children inevitably will be working with people quite different from themselves; it is our responsibility to prepare them for that future because there are real consequences for a lack of awareness.
    Safety has many important aspects, and one of the most important is how we treat others in our community respectfully. Yes, there are many differences among us, but research confirms what our experience tells us: these differences ultimately strengthen our community. They may cause conflict and discomfort at times, yet this is when the deepest and most lasting learning happens. I am not interested in making people feel guilty or preventing any and all discomfort; this is about encouraging people to be thoughtful and kind. To those who feel discomfort talking about the negative effects of stereotyping or how their comments, while not meant to denigrate, are hurting their friends and classmates, I would suggest that this is a great opportunity to figure out why this makes you uncomfortable and to take advantage of a meaningful learning opportunity. I am grateful for some of the issues that have arisen this year because, while difficult, they keep me from being complacent about the community we are building. At the end of the day, these conversations are about working together to create a safe community where we treat one another with kindness and respect. If that makes us uncomfortable, then we must be doing something right. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
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  • How Important Is Self-Control?

    George P. Moore, Head of School
    If asked what qualities of an 11-year-old are most predictive of happiness or overall life satisfaction twenty years later, what would you suggest? What if you were choosing from the following list: IQ, GPA, openness to new ideas, self-control, or friendliness? The correct answer, as it turns out, is self-control. Self-control is a subset of a larger group of character traits called conscientiousness that also includes honesty, integrity, and perseverance. Dr. Leonard Sax (@unfragilekids) offers this question and summarizes a discussion of this correlation in his book, The Collapse of Parenting. The book provides many intriguing ideas worthy of conversation, but the ideas of self-control and willpower have always fascinated me and connect both to other reading I have done and to our character development work at Dawson.
    At Dawson, character is one of three points of emphasis in our Mission Statement, and our core virtues of respect, compassion, courage, and integrity reflect our priorities in this area. We are not anticipating an expansion of this list of virtues to include self-control, which in itself is not a personality trait that generates a great deal of excitement! That said, Dr. Sax shared research that showed the importance of self-control: students with low self-control were much more likely to have problems with substance abuse, more likely to be in poor physical health, and more likely to be in financial distress later in life. Keep in mind, we are not talking about how self-control predicts achievement or success, rather how it correlates with happiness and life satisfaction.  
    I read a book last summer called The Marshmallow Test, by Walter Mischel, who basically makes the same assertion, albeit in a more accessible manner. You may be familiar with the marshmallow test. In the 1960s at the Stanford University Bing Nursery School, Mischel and his students presented children with a simple dilemma. Students could have one marshmallow immediately, or they could have two marshmallows if they waited, alone in a room, for up to 20 minutes. Descriptions of these children’s efforts to earn that second marshmallow are great. Effectively this was a simple test of resisting temptation, of perseverance, and of delaying gratification, all manifestations of self-control.
    Researchers then followed these children through adolescence into adulthood. Perhaps not surprisingly, as teenagers, the children who were able to wait for two marshmallows as children “exhibited more self-control in frustrating situations; yielded less to temptation; were less distractible; were more intelligent, self-reliant, and confident; and trusted their own judgment.” (pp. 23-24) As adults, those who delayed longer reported “that they were more able to pursue and reach long-term goals, used risky drugs less, had reached higher educational levels, and had a significantly lower body mass index.” (p. 24)
    I could go on about the findings in each of these books, and I encourage parents and educators to read both of them: They are fascinating. Of course the importance of self-control begs the question, is self-control something that can be taught or developed in our children and in us? Fortunately, the answer from both authors is a resounding “Yes.” Perhaps this does not come as a surprise given what we continue to learn about the brain and how very little of what we used to consider fixed personality or intellectual traits is in fact fixed. We all start from unique points, yet we can all improve our abilities in different areas. If we know something like self-control is important for our children and in ourselves, we should consider how to support its healthy development. I look forward to writing in a future blog about how we as parents and teachers can cultivate this important trait.
    George P. Moore
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  • Making Values Visible

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are having a wonderful summer.  I feel like it is flying by.  I have been at school quite a bit this summer, but the slower pace, along with some beautiful hikes and trail runs, has made for a lovely summer thus far.  I am looking forward to seeing all of you and hearing about your wonderful adventures when we return in August – it is not very far away!
    One of the things I love about the summer is that it gives me the chance to take a step back and reflect on what we are doing well and where we can improve.  A consistent goal of mine is to make sure we are truly living our K-8 mission: to empower students to take risks, think deeply, embrace diversity, develop an emerging sense of self, and find joy in learning.  I love the word joy and think it is imperative that we include that in our mission.  We want our kids to be happy.
    But what does that look like?  As it turns out, what might make them happy in the short term will not necessarily help them grow into happy, confident adults.  For instance, it would probably make our kids happy if we let them eat ice cream sundaes for breakfast every day.  Instead, we strive to instill habits of the mind and heart that allow our children to make choices that will keep them healthy and, therefore, happy.
    Similarly, we should strive to instill in our kids the values that allow them to be empathetic and altruistic because, not surprisingly, doing good for others really does feel good – it’s a win-win.  I heard on NPR about an interesting experiment proving this fact.  Researchers surveyed a number of people on their level of happiness.  Those same people then received an envelope with a small amount of cash and a note inside.  Half of the people received a note that told them to spend the money on themselves before the end of the day.  The other half had a note that told them to spend the money on someone else or donate it to charity.  At the end of the day, participants were called and again asked how happy they were.  The folks who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who had spent money on themselves (there was no difference between the two groups in the morning when first asked the question).
    I love this experiment because it proves what we always tell our kids – it really does feel good to do good.  But somehow most of us view people as inherently selfish and in need of multiple rules in order to do good by each other.  David Brooks wrote about this phenomenon in the New York Times last Friday.  He challenges that notion with research that shows that babies form neural connections through love and care.  Think about the fact that the best way to help premature babies gain weight is simply to hold them – they physically thrive when forming a loving connection with another person.
    But if assume that view that people are inherently selfish, we can squash their natural sense of altruism.  One of the examples Brooks gives is of a daycare center that instituted a policy that required parents to pay a steep fee if they did not pick their children up on time at the end of the day.  The result: the amount of parents picking their children up late doubled.  People had made a point about being on time when they were considering others (the employees of the daycare center), but when it became a financial transaction, they did not feel that same moral obligation.  Similarly, if we reward our kids for doing good, they may lose sight of the intrinsic award that comes naturally from such action.
    At Dawson, as at many independent schools, we have a set of core virtues.  In our case, these virtues are respect, compassion, integrity, and courage.  But how do we make sure that we really are working to instill these values in our students?  Clearly, just putting them in the handbook isn’t going to suffice.  And quizzing students on knowing the virtues and then rewarding them for their knowledge clearly is not the way to go.  Still, we do need to talk about the virtues but not in an abstract, removed way.  Every year, the middle school students gather in their advisories to discuss the core virtues and what they look like in action.  What does it mean to show compassion?  What’s a concrete way to demonstrate integrity?  Students brainstorm lists of real-world actions that illustrate the virtues.  We then create a Middle School Constitution for the year.  Every year, the preamble is the same: “We the 2016-2017 [the year changes, of course!] Dawson Middle School in order to form a more perfect community establish RESPECT, ensure INTEGRITY, provide for COMPASSION promote COURAGE, and secure a fun and thriving middle school for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the Dawson Middle School.” But what comes next varies from year to year.  We always have four Articles, one for each virtue.  And what is listed under each article is the result of the brainstorming that our advisories did.  So one year, it might say, “Being a good listener,” under compassion (along with several other examples) or “Don’t be afraid to try new things” under courage.  This way, students have really had to think and talk about how these virtues are embodied in our everyday lives. 
    Once we reveal the Constitution, all members of the community sign it, and we hang it in the kiva so that it’s visible to all.  It’s something we refer back to repeatedly over the course of the year, whether in advisory, class, or individual conversations. 
    Most importantly, though, is the work of modeling these virtues on a daily basis.  I always tell our Peer Leaders at the start of the year that while their work in more official programming is important, it is the small acts that really make a difference: saying hello to a fifth grader when passing in the hallway.  And faculty, similarly, can make a big difference through small acts – taking the time to ask a student about their day or joining a group of students in a game of soccer during break.  The more we model these behaviors, the better we feel, and the more likely we are to pass them along to our students.
    If you’d like to read more about the experiment I mentioned earlier, click here:
    If you’d like to read the David Brooks article, click here:
    Enjoy the summer, and I will see you in August!
    Take care,
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  • Joy in Learning

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    I have been thinking a lot about the word joy.  It’s such a simple, lovely word that conveys positivity and warmth, and it’s a word I come back to over and over again in my work at Dawson.  When I think about why I do what I do, the word pops into my mind immediately.  Working with your children truly brings me joy.  There is something about their energy, their directness, and their lack of inhibitions that makes me smile and can turn my day around in a heartbeat.
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  • Honoring the Class of 2020

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Last week was a busy time with ceremonies in both the middle and lower schools, as well as the senior honoring and, of course, graduation.  Through it all, I saw multiple examples of how much students have grown and also of how connected they are to the faculty and to one another. I’m including my remarks below in case you were not able to make the Moving Up Day ceremony.  Hopefully, these words were meaningful to our eighth graders as they embark on new adventures in the upper school and beyond.  I know they will do amazing things!
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  • How To Raise An Adult

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Are you 'overparenting'? "Don’t get me wrong... really, there’s nothing wrong with being proud parents. What is unhelpful, however, is when we feel pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” in terms of parenting, focusing more on outward accomplishments than developing inner character. This pressure sometimes then causes us to overparent; that is, we do so much for our children that we are actually hindering their growth."
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  • Deep Diving Into Relevance

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    One of our goals is that “Dawson will be a school of student explorers who experience deep and practical learning that inspires them to bring their best to the world.” Learning occurs when students have the opportunity to make connections across disciplines, to their own lives, and to outside communities, or “the real world.”  
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  • From 'Tell Me' to 'Show Me' and 'Involve Me'

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    While travel can be an amazing experience, teachers have provided multiple opportunities for students to explore even while sitting within Dawson’s walls. One of these opportunities arose through a branch of Google called Google Expeditions. More than ever, with so much information available to us at the swipe of a finger, our role as educators has to be to help our students learn how to collaborate, how to think critically, how to communicate, and, finally, to create.
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  • Learning and the Brain

    Elizabeth Drozda-Freeman, Upper School Science and Garden Education Coord.
    In February I was given the opportunity to attend an amazing professional conference called Learning and the Brain. The three-day conference brings some of the leading researchers in the fields of neuroscience and educational psychology together to present cutting-edge ideas to educators in the field of brain-based education.
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  • The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning

    George P. Moore, Head of School
    How do students manage stress in their lives? How do they make responsible decisions? How do they navigate new and complex social situations? How do they navigate relationships? These are important questions for them, but also for us as parents and as educators. Insights from Head of School George Moore.
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  • From Peaceful Piggy to Mindful Monday: Mindfulness at Dawson

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Dawson has been working to make mindfulness a daily part of our lives this year: Teachers in K-12 share their practices, ideas, and what we're learning. 
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  • Freedom from Chemical Dependence

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Kids - and adults, too! - are often very misinformed about drug and alcohol use: Recap of presentation from Freedom From Chemical Dependence. 
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  • Dawson Community: The Answer to "Blue Mondays"

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Apparently, the third Monday in January is purported to be the most depressing day of the year.  It’s seemingly natural to feel down this time of year, so how can we combat that?  How can we work as a community to support and take care of one another?  
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  • The Return of Last Year's Alums

    Dawson College Counseling
    There are a few unofficial traditions common to most independent schools, but none are as much fun as the annual Return of Last Year’s Alums. 
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  • The Molecule Dance and More: Strategies for Learning

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/Director of K-8
    Over the past few years, guided by our Strategic Plan, teachers have worked hard to develop lessons that allow students to grapple with real-world issues and explore concepts that will help them gain solid problem-solving skills.  At all levels, teachers are finding ways to connect with one another and with the outside community to develop rich activities that inspire deep and practical learning.
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  • Taking Risks, Gaining Revelations

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Whether challenging ourselves in the wilderness or the classroom, how taking a risk can help us gain a revelation. 
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  • Kindergarten Helps Community Food Share

    Gratitude Makes Us Happy

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    How can we combat this materialism and promote empathy?  We can talk to our kids about gratitude.  A lot.  While it feels contrived at first, the more we get comfortable with expressing gratitude, the more genuine it is, and the better we feel.  As it turns out, the act of feeling and showing gratitude actually increases levels of oxytocin in our bodies.  Oxytocin is a powerful brain chemical that essentially makes us feel good.  And when we feel good when doing something, we want to do that thing again.
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  • Common Sense Media

    Heather Mock, Associate Head of School/K-8 Director
    Our children are using technology more than ever before, both in and out of school.  The majority of our students have some sort of device (and several have more than one) and are connected more than ever before. Common Sense Media recently published the results of a survey involving media use by tweens and teens.  The study shows that teenagers (aged 13-18) use media on average nine hours a day! How should parents and teachers be involved?
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  • The Importance of Media Literacy

    Heather Mock, Director of K-8
    November 2-9, is National Media Literacy week.  The Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy as “a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”  Given the media-saturated world our kids live in, media literacy is crucial in helping them make responsible choices and make a difference.
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  • Lessons Learned From my In-Flight Magazine

    Heather Mock, K-8 Director
    A positive attitude is a powerful thing, whether it leads us to create our own 'luck,' or causes us to be kinder to one another. Heather Mock found useful, timely lessons in an unexpected place: Her in-flight magazine.
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  • From College Fit to Failing Fast: Preparing Our Students

    Jason Mundy, Director of Upper School
    At Upper School Back-To-School Night, US Director Jason Mundy gave some perspective for the coming year: preparing students for their best college fit, including practicing mindfulness and encouraging students and teachers to take risks.
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  • Harlequin bugs

    No Fruit. Many Bugs!

    George P. Moore, Head of School
    Last year at this time, we were preparing for our first annual AppleFest at Dawson, a celebration of the many mature apple trees on campus as well as the newly planted fruit trees in our orchard south of Henderson Hall. This year many of us were looking forward to a second community educational experience with our apple trees. Regrettably, our gardening coordinator, Upper School Science teacher Elizabeth Drozda-Freeman, reports that there are no apples on our trees this year. Why?

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  • Encouraging a Growth Mindset in Your Student

    Heather Mock, K-8 Director
    Hello Everyone: We are a week in, and the halls and classrooms are abuzz with amazing energy. The start of the year is always exciting, and this year is no exception.

    As George mentioned in his letter home at the start of the year, we have been talking quite a bit about mindfulness, both among faculty and students. At the opening assemblies for both Middle and Lower School, we talked about what mindfulness means and how to practice it. Students were very insightful in their comments: one first grader even said, “It helps calm us so we make good choices”! It was lovely to see all of the students sitting calmly as I walked them through a short listening exercise. I am excited that they will continue to practice mindfulness in their classes.
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  • What's In A Mission?

    Heather Mock, K-8 Director
    Hello Everyone,
    I am really excited that we will be starting up next week.  Faculty members have been back on campus for the last two weeks, and we have had some wonderful meetings in preparation for the year.  Each year, I am amazed at the wealth of talent and enthusiasm in our faculty.  They are raring to go and eager to have your children in their classrooms!
    One of my favorite days of the opening faculty meetings is always the day of the division retreat.  In the past, I took the Middle School faculty to Eldorado Canyon State Park for some teambuilding, goal setting, and general fun.  This year with the larger K-8 group, I decided to mix it up, and we headed to a conference room in the Boulder Public Library.  It was a wonderful setting, and we took advantage of the location on Boulder Creek by doing some individual and paired activities that gave folks the freedom to explore.
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  • Space For Learning

    Heather Mock, Director of K-8
    The Importance of Space
    Hello everyone,
    I hope you are enjoying these last few weeks of summer before we get started again.  As you can imagine, there has been a lot of activity at school.  When you come back in a few weeks, you’ll notice some changes. 
    We have new carpets, new paint, and new wallpapers in many of the classrooms.  This has provided a bright, fresh look that will benefit students and teachers alike.  As you can imagine, color in our everyday lives can have a big effect on our emotions and thus our actions.  Combining soothing colors on the walls with brightly colored accents provides an optimal environment for retention of information and encourages participation. 
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  • How Much Choice Do We Give Our Kids?

    Heather Mock, Director of K-8
    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are having a lovely and relaxing summer.  Last night, my family went to a celebratory dinner after being off on different adventures.  We each shared our highlights of the summer thus far.  I loved hearing about my son’s experiences at camp in Michigan and my daughter’s time on stage with teachers who had performed on Broadway.  I feel so lucky that they have had such rich experiences this summer.

    When I talked to my daughter about my desire for her to follow her brother to camp next summer (there is a sister camp right next door), she groaned and said that camp was just “not her thing.”  Luckily, we have some time to think about it before we decide what to do, but it made me think about that balance that parents need to find between letting our children choose their own path and forcing certain experiences upon them. 
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  • Moment to Moment Mindfulness

    Heather Mock, K-8 Director
    Hello Everyone, 

    We are in the heart of summer, though I am currently looking out the window at a downpour, so I’m more in the mood to curl up with a good book!

    Speaking of books, each summer, the faculty at Dawson does some summer reading.  Sometimes we read books by division, sometimes by department, and sometimes the faculty members choose individually.  This year, though, we are all reading the same book: The Way of Mindful Education, by Daniel Rechtschaffen.  The book addresses why mindfulness matters, discusses the myriad physical and academic benefits that come from mindfulness, explores how to begin an individual mindfulness practice, and explains different ways to bring mindfulness into schools.
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  • Bubble-Wrapped Kids

    K-8 Director Heather Mock
    How do we engender self-reliance in our children?

    Hello Everyone,
    I hope you are having a restful summer and are getting the chance to spend some quality time with your families.  I can’t believe we are almost into July! 
    At the end of the week, we’ll be sending our older child to camp for three weeks in Michigan.  He attended the camp last year, and his experience was fantastic.  In the short time he was there, his confidence and sense of self grew tremendously.  But the value didn’t stop there – I think the experience was just as valuable for me.  To realize that my son can survive just fine without me (and, in fact, actually benefited from some time away from me) was heartening and enlightening.  As Michael Thompson mentions in his book Homesick and Happy, “Wonderful things can happen for children when they are away from their parents.” 
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  • Exploring two sides of mindfulness: Blog from George P. Moore

    West Meets East: Mindfulness, Part 2

    George P. Moore
    Today I am excited to follow up on my November blog about mindfulness and meditation. While looking for books for my children last fall, I happened to see the book Mindfulness by Harvard professor Ellen J. Langer; the bookstore was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the book’s publication. Since social-emotional wellbeing is integral to Dawson’s Strategic Plan, and since mindfulness is of particular interest to me, I decided to read it. I found especially interesting Langer’s Western interpretation of mindfulness as a complement to the Eastern practices more often associated with mindfulness: things like meditation, the quieting of the mind, and the relinquishing of thoughts. Though these tools are useful forms of supporting one’s overall sense of mindfulness, those less familiar with their numerous benefits sometimes dismiss them.
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