Dawson Blog

List of 20 news stories.

  • 7th Grade X Block Mission: Clean Water & Sanitation

    Mr. Gaffga
    Middle School just launched the 7th Grade X Block Mission:  Empowering the 25 students in the class to come up with ways to make a dent in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6: Clean Water & Sanitation.
    Here's the video we used as our mission reveal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs8HSjep_Gw
    On the evening of December 7, the students will showcase their creations- everything from inventions to podcasts, and documentaries, to social media campaigns, Ted Talks, and children's books- with the community. 

    We can't wait to see what our very own Dawson students come up with to change the world! 
  • Second Grade Fall Guest Speakers

    Mrs. Molina
    September 26-30th was a busy week in second grade.

    First, Mr. Leaf Running Rabbit, a local Native American, visited the class as an extension to their Westward Expansion unit. Mr. Leaf brought several artifacts the children could touch and pass around while he shared several Native customs, celebrations, traditions, and songs.

    Next, Dawson’s middle school math instructor, David Sutton, dropped in for a fun, interactive math lesson using helpful manipulatives he created and patented.

    On Wednesday, a representative from the city of Lafayette joined the class for an engaging lecture on sustainability and the importance of reducing waste and recycling.

    Lastly, on Thursday, local Astronomer and author Dr. Bennett provided the Lower School with a lesson on space. It was a full and fun week!
  • Dawson Named a No Place For Hate School

    Jackie Juarez
    The Anti-Defamation League let Dawson know that its efforts this year have earned the school an official designation as a No Place for Hate school for 2019-2020.

    During an Upper School meeting in September of 2019, the Anti-Defamation League and it's No Place for Hate program were presented to our community. It was at this time that the entire Upper School agreed and signed the No Place for Hate Pledge. As a community we agreed to the following:
    Soon thereafter, roughly 30 upper school students demonstrated their interest and desire to be a part of something transformative. During our bi-weekly meetings, we met and discussed how we could reach out into the community a little bit more. Through these conversations, our Coalition was able to do the following: Lead the MLK assembly, organize Advisory Curriculum around Identity and Compassion, attend the Cherry Creek Diversity Leadership Conference, and recently assembled our community during our remote learning by taking a moment to give thanks to our local heroes during times of COVID. 
    Students, Faculty and community members alike acknowledge the transformative effect the work the No Place for Hate Coalition has brought to Dawson. 
    Embedding the values of No Place for Hate lets our community know Dawson School upholds the rights of everyone to feel safe and respected at school. 
  • Support, Insights During Coronavirus

    Holly Smith, Upper School Counselor
    Wednesday, March 25, 2020

    Last week, I sent a letter to faculty to share with them my own experience of living through this strange time of the coronavirus. In addition to my own reflections, I’ve been interested to hear the advice of other mental health professionals. Recently I found a great article written by Dr. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist from Brown University, titled “A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle.

    Here’s what I found very helpful. Dr. Brewer very simply breaks down the aspects of anxiety that are born out of uncertainty, and we are definitely in a time of change and uncertainty.  I have found that at these times we, as parents, are in a place of processing our own anxiety, and it is difficult for us not to spill over to our kids. Most importantly, it is really okay and authentic to soothe your children’s fears and tell them what you do know, of course putting a lighter spin on it. I say this because when folks impart their own fear and anxiety to others there is a contagion that occurs. Uncertainty is something humans don’t do well. Some of us can go with the flow, but the majority of us seek answers, solutions, and anything that will bring a sense of calm, resolution, and control. This one is tough; in truth we don’t know the best way to navigate the uncertainty of the coronavirus. The bottom line is that fear helps us learn to avoid dangerous situations. Our primitive brain (the amygdala) is the part of our brain that senses danger. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for creativity, problem solving, and future planning.  When anxiety creeps in, Dr. Brewer defines it as a “feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” So right now, our prefrontal cortex does not have enough information to predict the future, especially with the coronavirus.

    Some of the things I suggest are to begin to bring some structure into your family with your children. If you have the opportunity to work at home, carve out a time and place to do your work every day so it becomes as routine and predictable as possible. Interruptions cause stress and tension. So have a plan for each day. Set your expectations the night before. And try to get everyone on the same page. It would be wonderful to set up a quiet area where your kids can do their school work that is separate, if possible, from an area in the house where they can relax, play and have time to chill. And while you should certainly practice social distancing, painful as it is, with people outside your household, take time to connect as a family. Make fun meals and eat together, relax, and read, watch movies together, etc, since this is your family, not a theater filled with people you don’t know.

    Embrace not being busy. We are always complaining that we do not have enough time to rest, cook healthy foods, exercise, etc.  Seize the present. This can be unsettling at first and might take some practice. I know for myself, I am always moving from one task to another. Everyday, I try to meditate or just sit quietly to separate myself from the news and my computer. Taking care of oneself might feel indulgent, but now is the time. Your self-care will help give you energy to care for your family.

    If you are feeling anxious, talk to your spouse or a friend or a therapist. And pay attention to how your kids are doing; it’s uncanny how anxiety rears its head in our kids: It can come out in the strangest ways - sometimes directly and sometimes sideways.  For additional guidance, we’ve collected a variety of resources to help families deal with the psychological impact of this crisis. You can access them on the Dawson's Coronavirus Information page; links on the Portal and on the website homepage.

    In closing, please don’t hesitate to call if you need to chat or need resources for you or your family. I can be reached at 720-556-2555.

    Warmly and with love-

    Holly Smith
    Upper School Counselor
  • Dawson Q&A With Author Mark Dunn

    Karen Hand, Upper School English Teacher
    Ninth grade English students had a choice of texts for a fall project, and one of the texts was a favorite novel of mine, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Students read and discussed the story in small groups, and when they shared questions they had at the end of the book and things they wish they could ask the author, I put on my detective hat and tracked down Mr. Dunn's email. He generously invited me to share my students' questions and detailed answers arrived, thrilling the students and me alike. Enjoy this insider look at the writing process of this special book. (SPOILER ALERT - Does include some plot point information.)
    Q. How long did it take you to write the book? 
    A. I actually wrote the first draft in a very intensive two weeks. It was important to keep all the bits and pieces of the book in my head as I was moving forward, in terms of what letters were disappearing and the various ways that people were dealing with everything.  Also, I was eager to find out what happened next myself!  Once I got the first draft down, I was able to rework later drafts.
    Q. How did you deal with losing letters and removing them from the book? Did you write it backwards?  
    A. I didn't write backwards but it's interesting that this is the only book or play I've written in which I had to know how it ended before I could finish the rest of it.  I needed to know how Ella would end up saving the day and if I would be able to convey this to the reader with so few letters left for me to use. The last thing I wanted to do was to step away from the epistolary construction of the book and insert myself as the author with the luxury of having all the 26 letters of the alphabet at my disposal -- that just seemed like cheating! Also this is the kind of book that can write itself off a cliff if you don't know a narrative way to pull it back from the brink.  

    Q. Did you ever have to start over because you realized you'd removed an important letter too early and couldn't get around certain things?  
    A. I did realize that I couldn't have the letters dropping in reverse order of their appearance in our language -- especially if we were all to believe that there was no rhyme or reason to their falling. That's why I decided to go for a big one -- the letter D -- in the fourth place. But that proved to be the biggest challenge of all, since it kept me from using the simple past tense for a lot of words.  And the days of the week ... and a lot of other things!
    Q. We loved that because it was an epistolary novel, you had to stop using certain letters and that's what made it a lipogram, but besides that, were there any limitations or challenges that resulted from choosing that style?  
    A. I realized that it was going to be very hard for my characters to keep communicating with each other, so that is why I came up with allowing them to use sound-alike letters and letter-combinations to take the place of the ones that were removed.
    Q. How did you imagine and create a total history for the fictional island of Nollop?  
    A. I have a reputation for creating different worlds for my characters to inhabit.  My novel UNDER THE HARROW takes place in a secluded valley where everyone talks like Dickens characters.  Also, when an author creates his own world, he gets to do far less research into the real world, and that lazy part of me really enjoys that!
    Q. Did you ever consider a sequel? How do you think Nollop & its residents are doing now? A few students felt like it ended a little abruptly, and wondered if we weren't meant to know much about the aftermath... 
    A. I've thought about it but can't come up with a plot line that would come anywhere near the lipogrammatic one. Don't you think they've learned their lesson and will try not to get themselves into trouble again?

    Q. What made you interested in pangrams? 
    A. I love having fun with language. For a while I thought about writing something based on all the infinite digits of pi.  Each word in sequence would have the same number of letters of the numerical sequence of pi. I played around with it for a couple of hours and then threw in the towel. That challenge is much too big for my brain.
    Q. Did you find all the pangrams and work them into the story, or did you make them yourself?  
    A. When I was working at the New York Public Library in Rare Books and Manuscripts, I found a little book in the stacks that was only pangrams, and so many of them I'd never seen before, so I decided to work them into my book. If I'd had to come up with all of them on my own, the book would have taken a lot longer to finish!
    Q. We liked a lot of the made up words that appear in the book - how did you come up with them? Were there some words you thought were just fun and used, or was it all a matter of what you really needed?  
    A. I wanted to show that even though the Nollopians wrote and spoke in English, theirs was a version of English which over the years had started to incorporate some of their own words. This skill the Nollopians had for coming up with new words came in very handy when they found the letters of their alphabet disappearing.

    Q. Who was your favorite character in the novel?  
    A. It's hard not to put Ella at the top.  How she hung in there was very inspiring!
    Q. How did you keep track of how to make the different characters sound and write their letters differently?  
    A. That's a basic for writers -- finding ways to make distinctions between how characters express themselves.  On the other hand, as the letters began to disappear I lost the ability to make a lot of those distinctions, but in my other work, I find things (favorite phrases, different syntactical ways of using language) that keep characters apart. It's one of the hardest things for new writers to do -- keep their characters from sounding alike, especially since when you're first starting out, all of your characters usually just sound like you!
    Q. Was it extra difficult to write as one particular voice?  
    A. At some point the circumstances of the story hijacked the book and I got to the point of struggling just to make what people were saying to each other make sense to the reader.  I didn't want anyone to read a letter and wonder what in the world the character was trying to say.
  • Dear Senior Parents

    Stefanie Esposito, Director of College Counseling
    Dear Senior Parents,

    If we were on an airplane, this would be the time when the captain tells us to fasten our seatbelts because we are about to encounter some turbulence. The next few weeks are big ones for students who applied to colleges through binding Early Decision plans, and many other students will be hearing back from schools they applied to through rolling and Early Action plans. Students are stressed, and some of you may be too, so we wanted to send some important reminders.

    Your children are amazing people with bright futures. They are deeply loved—by you, by their friends, and by us. This might be a good time to remind them that no college decision will change that. (We love the letter Frank Bruni describes at the end of this column).

    The college process can seem capricious at times, and in a small community where students know each other well and apply to some of the same schools, we sometimes hear about students or parents second-guessing a college’s decisions or playing the “If Only” game (If only that 89 was a 90, if only I’d volunteered here instead of there…) While it may be tough, we encourage you not to indulge this line of thinking. Colleges are balancing so many factors as they are trying to build their classes, and decisions may not always make sense. If you need help understanding an outcome or just need to vent, know that we are here. We believe that this process works even though it’s not always smooth sailing.

    Students will experience admissions decisions in different ways. Those who aren’t admitted may cry or mope, or they may stoically move on to the next set of applications. Those who are accepted may be elated and relieved, or they may have mixed feelings because the “admit” means that they really will be leaving home next year and heading to college. The one response we want to avoid is coasting through the rest of the semester and year. Colleges will expect students to keep performing at the same level they have through high school, so we will join with you in reminding seniors whose college plans are set that this is not the time to check out.

    We are here to meet with students and families if we need to regroup after early notifications, and we are available over break to help students who are submitting more applications. Let us know how we can support you during this time.

    Best wishes,
    Stefanie, Dave, and Denise, Dawson's College Counseling team
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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,
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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,
  • 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,
  • 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.
  • 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,
  • 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,