Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays

I'm sitting here at my desk as the students are finishing up their final exams. The snowflakes are falling, there is a chill in the air, and you can almost feel the excitement amongst the faculty & students. The front desk and mailroom (and probably other places all over campus, too) look like a candy store or bakery, and I've had more than my fair share of all of the tasty treats. Days like today make you appreciate just how wonderful our community is, and how special it is to be a part of a K-12 campus. My hope is that everyone in our Providence Day community has a restful holiday break and a very happy new year. Thank you to everyone who has helped make my first few months in middle school such a wonderful experience.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Inspiration Found

I had every intention of writing a column this week about some of the things that I believe need to be improved in our middle school. Specifically, I planned on writing about some of daily challenges in the dining hall like trays & trash being left on tables and countless utensils being throw in the garbage. I'm a strong believer that there is always room for improvement even in a school as good as PDS, so I'll return to this discussion another time. The reason that I decided to switch topics at the last minute was what happened on Saturday. I had the good fortune of watching 3 of our middle school basketball teams complete in the Golden Corral Middle School Holiday Tournament (I didn't get to see the 7th grade girls). I was immediately inspired by the level of play in each of the games. I was impressed with how the teams played together, how the coaches brought out the best in their players, and how all involved represented our school with integrity.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm biased. Because sports have played such an important role in my life, I'm convinced that athletics are a powerful way for young people to develop character and a strong work ethic. I think that watching 5 boys or girls working together on the court and 10 boys or girls cheering from the bench is a beautiful thing. I think that seeing a team with only 6 players persevere through fatigue is inspiring. I think that watching players dive for loose balls or sink crucial free throws is evidence of character. I'll be just as inspired tonight watching our winter concert. I look forward to seeing our middle schoolers work together and share their musical talents.

I'm convinced that what I saw on Saturday (and will see tonight), paired with what I was planning on writing about, is really a microcosm of middle school students. Our middle schoolers are young adults who have the maturity to work effectively in the most stressful of circumstances. They can work together, solve problems, and follow directions. On the other hand, they still sometimes struggle with very basic responsibilities like cleaning up after themselves, and returning plates, silverware, and cups to the correct place. They are, as mother always liked to say, "a work in progress."

I'm sure that all of us who know and love the middle school students here at PDS will see them express the gamut of emotions over the next weeks. It is a time filled with stress about exams/tests, and excitement for the holidays and winter break. As always, I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks for reading,

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love that its uniquely American, and that everyone in the United States (with a few small exceptions) celebrates the holiday. As someone who loves history, I can even look past the fact that the story of the "first Thanksgiving" has very little historical support, and, most likely, didn't happen in the way that its ingrained in our minds.
I have so many Thanksgiving-related memories, that I could bore everyone for hours on end with personal stories about my favorite Thanksgiving I'll spare you the details. The biggest reason that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday is because it exemplifies the FFF philosophy that I live by...Family, Food, and Football. Until my family situation evolved, I spent Thanksgiving at the same place for 26 of 27 years, my Aunt & Uncle's house in Hatfield, PA (Thanksgiving 2002 was spent in London, but we still enjoyed a turkey & all the fixings). I also spent the morning watching my high school (Pottsgrove) take on the local parochial school, arch-rival St. Pius X. The 40-minute drive to my Aunt & Uncle's house was always filled with anticipation of seeing whether or not we'd be dressing up as Pilgrims or Native Americans. YES, my Aunt created hand-made outfits for all 20+ guests, and, more importantly, individualized names (unfortunately, I cannot remember and/or cannot repeat most of the these names). Upon arrival, the day was spent catching up with family, watching lots of football, and eating way too much food (with Nana's pumpkin pie being a personal favorite).
While I always have fond memories of Thanksgiving & the three F's, I've chosen this topic because I think its important to stop and focus on the things for which I am truly thankful. On a personal level, I'm happy to have a truly wonderful family. My wife and children make every day special, always bring a smile to my face, and help me stay focused on the important things in life. In her daily e-mails, my mother often reminds me that "I'm a lucky man" or "I'm truly blessed" and she couldn't be more correct. I will always give thanks to having a stable & loving family my entire life. Thank you Mom & Dad, Sam, Zachary, Michael, Rylee...and the rest of the family.
On a professional level, I am truly thankful for the opportunity to have a career that doesn't feel like work. I get to spend my days in the company of children who are optimistic about the future, colleagues that are committed to helping young people reach their potential, and a school community that makes me feel like I'm part of a family. PDS is not perfect, but its about as close as you get in a educational environment. And, more importantly, this is a community that is driven to make it better.
Our middle school teachers and families do an excellent job of helping our middle school students develop a sense of thankfulness and community involvement. The relationship with JH Gunn Elementary and the CANstation project are two examples of ways that our students are encouraged to contribute to causes greater than themselves, and, directly and indirectly, develop empathy towards others who face daily challenges that the average PDS does not face.
I hope that all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Thank you for helping make PDS special, and for raising children and students that are destined for greatness in the future.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What Does the Survey Say??

Its hard to fathom how quickly this year is going by. Can you believe that Thanksgiving vacation begins in a little more than two weeks? Quite honestly, August 19th feels like yesterday to me. The 6th graders move around like grizzled veterans, the 7th graders seem to grow taller every single day, and the 8th graders mature by the minute. I often wondered growing up how my father taught for so many years (this year is his 37th and final), but I realize now just how quickly the years go by when you are teaching. Because things move so quickly, and we have so little time to stop and think about "how things are going" until holiday breaks and summer, I decided to survey some advisee groups. As all of us know, one of the great things about middle school students is that they will tell you how they feel about things. Its refreshing and sometimes humbling (i.e. a student asked me last week "if I forgot to shave today...guess they do notice those things:)...), so I was confident that I'd get some candid answers from the surveys.

The "survey" that I had the advisee groups complete was simple and completely unscientific in nature. I gave the students two boxes, one asking the "thing(s) they like the most about middle school at PDS" and the other asking the "thing(s) they like the least about middle school at PDS." 31 students ended up completing the survey anonymously, and, surprisingly, the answers were very similar.

The two things most often cited in the "like the most" category were the length of lunches, and the caring nature of their teachers. This is not surprising because the 8th graders take great pride in having the annex as their "private" dining area, and they truly make the most of the extra time to socialize, hang out, and play. Since this is my first year in middle school I have nothing as a basis for comparison, but this 8th grade class seems like a tight-knit bunch who enjoy hanging out with each other, and who, for the most part, treat each other with dignity and respect. Its amazing how this changes when they move into upper school where the 9th and 10th grade classes always struggle with identity issues and 11th graders are overloaded with stress. Its not until 12th grade where each class regains its respective identity.

The "caring nature of their teachers" shouldn't surprise anyone who knows and loves PDS. This is a SPECIAL group of teachers who are committed to supporting our middle school students through the emotional roller coaster know as middle school. Because of the "in between" nature of middle school, I'm convinced that middle school teachers never get the amount of credit they deserve for leading young people from lower school to upper school. When I asked a teacher over the summer to describe middle school, they said it was "the bridge between lower school and upper school...but keep in mind that its a SUSPENSION bridge...that isn't very sturdy most of the time:)" I'm happy to hear that our middle school students appreciate the professional staff that supports them.

The two things cited consistently in the "like the least" category are the dress code and the amount of homework each night. I can honestly say that I've learned a lot about the many subtle, yet important, differences in women's dress, and I've spent a significant amount of time discussing the dress code with girls. The biggest "problem" that many girls have with the dress code is that they cannot wear t-shirts or blouses that look like t-shirts. The challenge with any dress code is that the "line" needs to be drawn somewhere, and this is where the line is at PDS. The point I've made to the young ladies who've asked is that "allowing girls to wear t-shirts would create an additional challenge to the boys' dress code, because the boys are required to wear a collared shirt." The girls' dress code has more "freedom" as it stands, and adding t-shirts to the list of approved dress for girls might provide proof to the boys who say "girls can wear whatever they want..."

As for homework, I'm not surprised that it makes the top of most lists. I can't think of anyone who ENJOYS homework, but that doesn't mean that there isn't real value to doing work after the "official" school day ends. Some subjects (i.e. Math, World Language) greatly benefit from nightly practice, and I can't see a positive scenario that doesn't include homework in these areas. The challenge is that many of our middle schoolers have jam-packed schedules where they are literally doing something for 14 hours a day. I wish that there was a way to support the large percentage of our students who are talented in so many ways and committed in so many productive areas. As we all know in all areas of life, its very easy to add something new, but its hard to take something away. There is no better example than our different levels of government. It doesn't matter where you stand on the political spectrum, but we can all agree that government spending is constantly increasing regardless of what political party is in charge.

Thanks again for reading. I'd love to hear what you think about the "best" and "worst" things about middle school at PDS. Feel free to e-mail me or put a note in my mailbox if you don't feel comfortable posting a response. Have a fantastic week,

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Motivates Middle School Students?

One of the things that all of us as parents and teachers of 11-15 year-olds ALWAYS think about are ways to successfully motivate young people. We want them to become driven and self-motivated, and we want them to develop positive habits that will provide beneficial in upper school, college, and life. The million dollar question is HOW. I'd love to say that I'm going to provide the answer in this blog, but, unfortunately, there is not a "one size fits all" motivational model.

I've always been one of those people with a great appreciation for motivational speakers, thoughtful quotes, and inspiring stories. So, when I saw the advertisement in the Charlotte Observer for the Get Motivated seminar in Charlotte, I jumped at the opportunity to see Rudy Giuliani, General Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw, and former First Lady Laura Bush speak (and it was a pretty darn good deal for $4.95!). All of the speakers in the day-long seminar were fantastic, but I was especially moved by the leader and co-creator of seminar, Tamara Lowe. Ms. Lowe spoke about the concept of Motivational D.N.A. In her mind, every person's motivation is based upon their Drives (internal forces that mobilize a person to act), Needs (core requirements that a person must have in order to feel fulfilled), and Awards (preferred compensation that a person desires for achievement). Within these categories, there are two main types of people.
Here are the examples for each D.N.A. segment:
*Drives: Most people are either Producers (competitive, task-driven and assertive) or Connectors (cooperative and people-oriented). Here's the motivation piece: Producers are motivated by results and Connectors are motivated by relationships.

*Needs: Most people are motivated by either Stability (like structure, facts and routine) or Variety (value change, new experiences, and freedom of expression). Stabilizers are motivated by facts and those who fall under the Variety label value fun.

*Awards: Most people are motivated by Internal (outcome, sense of accomplishment, private recognition) or External (tangible benefits, public acknowledgement, opportunity for advancement) factors. Those motivated internally are motivated by contribution and those motivated externally are motivated by opportunity.

There is a point to sharing the Motivational D.N.A. framework. Tamara Lowe pointed out her own challenges with motivating her two children. One of her children was "easily motivated" and the other was "impossible to motivate." She realized that her system of motivation (praise, tangible awards, etc.) didn't work with her son who was "wired" differently. When she & her husband changed their motivational tactics to fit his needs, they saw a significant increase in motivation.
As a result of this epiphany, Tamara decided to create a Motivational DNA test that anyone can take: I would strongly encourage all middle school parents and their children to give this test a try. If we can unlock the motivational DNA of each child, we can better motivate them.

Here's what I think about what (in general) motivates our middle schoolers at PDS:

1. I think that our students appreciate praise and positive reinforcement.

2. I think that most of our students possess a great deal of internal motivation. They want to do well in school and don't necessarily want public recognition.

3. I think that middle schoolers value structure and stability. At ages when so much about them is changing on a daily basis, stability and structure are valued.
4. I think that our middle school students are very aware of what their peers think, and peer pressure is a source of motivation. One of the best things about PDS is that fact that its a college preparatory environment. New students have commented that "everyone does school work here and cares about their grades."
I'd love to hear about your thoughts on motivation. Please let me know what has worked for you, and what you think might work for the entire middle school. Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Let us Play!!

It was a VERY enjoyable week. I had the good fortune this week to interact with our students in all different venues, and it made me think critically about teaching and learning. Dr. Creeden is fond of saying "curriculum is all that we do with intention," and that rings so true when you consider all the different ways our students are able to develop their unique talents outside of the "traditional" classroom. In my opinion, outside of the classroom activities are vital to good middle schools. Quite frankly, middle school kids NEED to play because it supports their physical, emotional, and academic development. I'm happy to report that a large number of our middle school students are involved in extracurricular activities, and we are blessed to have teachers who give additional hours to provide support. Here are some examples:
-132 students played a sport this fall
-120 students play in the Band, work on the stage crew, sing in an a capella group, or perform in a play
-94 students are members of the Jr. National Honor Society and are working on a CANstation project
-50 students attend FCA meetings on a bi-weekly basis
-25 advisee groups are playing in the Brick/Fish Bowls
-30 students are working on the Middle School News Sheet
-Nearly every middle school student and faculty member will complete community service with JH Gunn Elementary this year

My point in providing all of these numbers is that we should never lose sight of the fact that our middle school children are always learning, and the non-traditional environments are just as important as the traditional ones. To be quite honest with you, I remember very little of the information I learned in class when I was in middle school. The things I do remember, the truly formative experiences, are the things that happened outside of the classroom. I remember trying out for 6th grade Chorus and the chorus teacher telling me that "she heard I was a pretty good baseball player, but there probably wasn't room for my voice in the chorus." If you've ever heard me sing, Mrs. Faust wasn't lying. I remember playing organized football for the first time in 7th grade and struggling with the hardest thing about football...putting on the uniform properly. I remember the D.A.R.E. program, and getting to keep the D.A.R.E. bear for the entire day because my name was picked out of a hat. I remember my first dance in 6th grade, and standing in the corner until I got one of my friends to ask a girl to slow dance with me. Happily she said yes...but she was a good 6 inches taller than me, so the dance was a little awkward. I remember trying to act cool by kicking Ryan Brooks' chair out from under him...only to see him hit his head on the floor and have to go to the nurse's office. I remember being so excited to get into one of the 8th grade basketball games as a 7th grader and immediately shooting at the other team's basket. I guess that I was wide open for a reason:)

I could go on and on providing details about my experiences outside of the traditional classroom, and I think that's the point. Don't get me wrong, traditional learning is very important, but its important that we always encourage our middle school students to try new things and get involved with school activities. In 20 years, I'd be willing to bet that our current middle school students will be able to recall what they wear on Halloween dress up this Friday...and not what they learned in class that day.

Thanks for reading. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dr. Brockmeier, the epitome of PDS

Like all members of the PDS community, I feel a great sense of loss today. We learned that Dr. Kristina Brockmeier, our friend, colleague, leader, cheerleader, etc., etc., etc, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer.

Its safe to say that no one has impacted my PDS experience more than Dr. Brockmeier. I remember visiting the campus for the first time during the interview process and being greeted by the smile and enthusiasm of Dr. Brockmeier...who proceeded to make me feel like the most interesting person in the world and make PDS come alive. I remember my first interaction with PDS students as a member of the faculty. Dr. Brockmeier enthusiastically combined her advisee with my advisee and answered all of the questions that my precocious 9th graders had...questions that I most certainly couldn't have answered on my own. I remember my first year as 9th grade advisor and having Dr. Brockmeier as my assistant. She single-handedly made sure that 9th graders would have a skit for Homecoming, and, with her leadership, they actually finished 3rd in the voting instead of the customary 4th place. I remember Dr. Brockmeier's card when my daughter was born and her words about the joys and challenges of parenthood. Most of all, I remember Dr. Brockmeier's daily words of encouragement. Her beautiful smile and kindness could bring happiness to any situation.

Dr. Brockmeier truly represented the epitome of what makes PDS special. It is a community rooted in kindness and generosity, that is people-centered and people-driven, and that allows everyone involved to establish meaningful relationships with others. My thoughts and prayers go out to Lance, Nick, Scott, and to the Brockmeier family. Kristina Brockmeier will always be remembered by me as one of those rare people that you meet in life that impacts everyone around them in a positive way, and it was a such an honor and a blessing to work with her.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

21st Century Skills in Education

As members of the PDS community, we are continually looking for ways to prepare our students for the future. As we all know, however, this is much easier said than done. How do you actually prepare students for the future when they'll be using technology that hasn't been created and doing jobs that do not currently exist? Saying that its a challenge would be the understatement OF the 21st century.

Some of the words that always come to mind to describe the needs of the 21st Century world are as follows: synthesis, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, creativity, curiosity, global awareness, and media fluency. To what extent does the middle school at PDS help students develop these important skills? What do we do well, and what do we need to work on? I'd LOVE to hear your comments.

I definitely have some vivid memories of my middle school experience at Pottsgrove Intermediate School (grades 6-8...with an absolutely horrible acronym used by students on a consistent basis). When I arrived in August 1990, each grade was divided into pods, and the four main classes (English, Science, Social Studies, Math) were taught in one VERY large room divided into classes of 20 by large partitions that looked like the curtains at a theater production. As a means to preparing for this distracting environment, we actually spent time in 5th grade where the entire class would read aloud at once. Did this environment prepare me for the 21st century? When the school closed in 1999 and was replaced by a more "traditional" middle school set-up, does that mean the concept was flawed (the school opened in 1971)? These memories lead me to think about our middle school at PDS. If we were to reopen the middle school at PDS tomorrow and literally start from scratch, what should be different and what should be the same? I'd LOVE to hear your comments. Here are a few of mine:

1. Technology advances at a much faster pace than changes in school curriculum. As a result, schools are slow to take advantage of using technological tools for educational purposes. When we do start using a particular technological tools, students have already moved on to new ones:)

2. Our middle schoolers are "digital natives" where use of technology is second nature. They don't remember a world without cell phones, the Internet, and social networking sites.
3. Our middle schoolers have access to more information in a few seconds than most of us had in all of the pre-Internet years combined. As teachers we no longer "own" the information.
4. In comparison to other areas of society, its amazing how little education has changed. If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in a classroom 100 years ago and woke up in a modern classroom, he'd have a pretty good idea of what was happening.
5. Great schools adapt to fit the needs, interests, and strengths of its students...not the other way around.
6. Using technology in the classroom doesn't always equal innovative teaching, and innovative teaching is always possible regardless of the amount of technology available (thank you Matt Scully and the innovative team at today's professional day for this point).
Thank you again for reading. Today's experience talking about innovative teaching and the availability of technology to enhance teaching reinforced the pride I feel to be a member of the PDS community. It is a special place filled with educators who are willing to take risks and push themselves outside of their teaching "comfort zones" to enhance the educational experience for each and every PDS student. I look forward to your comments,

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harassment & Bullying

I woke up this morning thinking that I'd write another entry focused on all the positive things happening in the Middle School here at PDS. After reading my previous posts, however, I realized that I haven't written anything about the disciplinary challenges that exist in middle schools throughout the United States. Its easy to talk about all of the wonderful things about middle school kids and teachers at PDS, but, as Dr. Creeden has said on numerous occasions, its much harder to talk about the difficult challenges that exist.

Ms. Coleman & I had the good fortune of talking to all 7th and 8th grade students about the 5 types of harassment (Physical, Verbal, Sexual, Verbal, Cyber), and we spoke with the 6th graders last week. We also answered questions, and provided students with information about confronting a situation of harassment or bullying, and the consequences for those who bully others. The 20 minutes went by in the blink of an eye, and the students probably could have asked more relevant questions for another 30 minutes.

In my opinion, the engagement of the students is due in large part to the fact that we've all been on the receiving end of harassment and/or bullying at some point in our lives. I truly believe that PDS is a special community where people are made to feel welcome on a daily basis, but I think it would be naive to say that harassment and bullying doesn't take place at our school. I'm driven to believe that 99% of the time the intention isn't malicious, but intent doesn't matter when it comes to harassment...its how that joke, name, laugh, rolled eyes, etc. is taken by the other person/people involved. If you are reading this, you can probably bring these types of situations to mind in an instant, even if it took place 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast a few hours ago, but being called "Big Butt Boyer" in 6th grade [almost 20 years ago] is something that I'll always remember:) I can laugh about it now, but, quite honestly, it wasn't funny then. In fact, according to researchers at the Journal of Clinical Psychology, bullied children "are much more likely than their peers to be depressed, lonely, and anxious; have low self-esteem, feel unwell...and think about suicide..."

I'm a very optimistic person, but my non-statistic or research-driven gut feeling about bullying is that its more prevalent than its ever been. I hope that I'm wrong. I've arrived at this decision because I think technology continually provides powerful tools for young people to bully/harass each other in seconds. For those of us who know 11-15 year-old kids, you'll often hear "impulsive" and "act before thinking," as key descriptors of their behavior. Its so easy to send a mean text message, say something provocative during an IM session, or to post demeaning information on Facebook or Myspace.

I don't want to sound so "gloom and doom," but this is a serious issue that requires consistent vigilance. At the same time, it leads us back to one of the things that makes PDS special. Schools with small classes where students are known personally by faculty & staff, and have a parent community that plays a proactive role in their child's life stand a much better chance of preventing harassment and bullying. We can and will continually encourage students to make good decisions and think about the consequences of bad decisions. Harassment & bullying is a serious and complex issue, but, as we pointed out in the presentation to students, two of the golden rules from Kindergarten put 99% of these problems to rest: "Keep your hands to yourself" and "Treat others as you would like to be treated." We CAN create a bully-free zone at PDS.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment,


Friday, September 25, 2009

26 thoughts from 26 days

It was another great week in middle school at Providence Day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching student council candidates put up signs, campaign, and give speeches. I enjoyed talking with the 6th graders about harassment, and I loved watching the kids enjoy themselves at our first dance. The school year is already flying by, and I thought that a good way to share my experiences was to highlight 26 small tidbits about my first 26 days in middle school. Here goes:

1. Middle school students possess boundless energy...and it somehow gets lost when they are juniors & seniors (at least in my teaching experience).

2. Middle school students enthusiastically say hello to you when you say hello to them...sometimes they even say hi first.

3. 6th graders are very literal. When you tell someone that you "need a pass to leave school," they won't leave without the pass (even if you know that their parents are picking them up for an appointment).

4. Middle school students ask LOTS of questions in class.

5. Middle school teachers at PDS are gifted teachers and special people...and have a considerable amount of patience.

6. The most popular food selections for middle school students are as follows: pizza, whatever is on the grill, and ice cream. Last on the list would be vegetables.

7. Middle school students are great with technology...age clearly doesn't give you any advantage in this area.

8. I love how middle school students "dream big" when it comes to careers (i.e. "i'm going to be an orthopedic surgeon OR a botanist" and "I'm going to be an interior designer if I don't make it as an actress."

9. I love how many of the 6th graders have no idea what their parents do in their careers. When asked, I got answers like "I don't know, but my dad wears a suit and my mom doesn't." It makes me realize as a parent what really matters to my kids.

10. I love how middle schoolers decorate lockers for birthday celebrations, and shower each other with cupcakes, donuts, and gifts.
11. Axe is very popular amongst the middle school boys. I don't remember having so many great options for deodorant and cologne...this stuff sure beats my dad's Old Spice.
12. Middle school kids can dance, and there are far less "wallflowers" during dances than I expected.
13. Middle school kids still "go out" with other classmates. I find myself saying the same annoying thing to the students that my own parents said to me: "where are you going?"
14. Songs that were popular when I was in middle school are still popular now (loved watching kids dance to "Don't Stop Believing" and "Bohemian Rhapsody," and doing the Electric Slide last night).
15. I noticed that middle school kids text a lot...even when they are standing next to each other:)
16. I don't know of another time in school when students so close in age are so developmentally different than with 6th and 8th graders...its one of the many things that make middle school special.
17. Many middle school kids manage to eat lunch in 10 minutes and play for the other 35 minutes.
18. Contrary to popular belief, middle school students do like to read...jut ask them about Twilight or the Last Olympians.
19. Although they might not admit it at home, middle school students are proud of their siblings and their families...and love to talk about them.
20. Middle school students are capable of higher level thinking.
21. The flu preparation assembly has clearly worked for middle school students. I stopped counting the number of times that students have reminded me to "gel in and gel out. "
22. Staying organized appears to be a consistent challenge for many middle school students, especially the boys.
23. Being a K-12 campus is beneficial to middle school students. It provides them with a daily example of not only where they've been, but where they are going.
24. You need a strong sense of humor to work with middle school students. There is no way that you can make it through a day without laughing...or you'll go insane.
Well, I didn't make it to 26, but I hope the 24 I've provided give you an idea of how exciting my middle school experience has been thus far. The picture is from Max Patch, a beautiful mountain near Hot Springs, NC. It has absolutely nothing to do with PDS or middle school life, but I love the picture of the setting sun (my wife, Samantha, took it). Have a great week and thanks for reading,

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Camp Cheerio

I just returned from a fantastic trip to Camp Cheerio with our 6th graders. The beautiful setting in Roaring Gap, NC provided the backdrop for three days of fun!! I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I'm confident that the kids did, too.

I'm quickly realizing that middle school students possess the wonderful quality to find enjoyment in the most challenging situations, and in completing tasks that the typical adult (or older student) might find boring or totally "uncool."
I was thoroughly impressed when my group of 31 students and 5 chaperones completed a 4.5 mile hike near Stone Mountain in a downpour and not one student complained. Instead, they sang along as we hiked, stopped for a good 5 minutes to admire a small turtle, and waded in the cold water beneath the waterfall.
I was thoroughly impressed with the energy students displayed when asked to complete dance routines ranging from "ice cream and cake" to "Istanbul." Next Friday's dance will surely be a a fun and exciting experience:)
I was thoroughly impressed when students (girls AND boys) continued to practice their stomping routines long after they were taught on Wednesday evening.
I was thoroughly impressed when my Choctaw cabin dwellers vowed to complete their dinner cleanup responsibilities as quickly and efficiently as possible...and did a fantastic job.
I was thoroughly impressed when most of the students decided to try the mudslide even though it was cold and caused to you get very wet and muddy.
In my opinion, this trip is a prime example of benefits of a class trip even in the time of financial distress. Ann Parker & the 6th grade team put together a special trip that was superbly planned, and well-executed by our chaperones and the professional staff at Camp Cheerio. I am convinced that there is so much to be learned when students are asked to leave their comfort zones and experience something new. It might be hard to quantify, but if our goal is to prepare our middle school children for the challenges of the future, then the Camp Cheerio trip is a resounding success.
Thanks again for reading, and for your support of our middle school students at PDS. It is such a pleasure working with your child. Have a great week,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Little Bit About Me

Thanks for reading my Blog. I thought it would be appropriate for my first official post to share some information about my family. I'll apologize in advance, because I've been known to talk in great detail about my wife and children. I guess that I can't hide how much joy they bring to my life, and I always find myself sharing the fun stories associated with a life that includes 10, 5, and 2 year-old children. Parenthood is the best "job" in the world. Where else can you work 24/7/365? Where else do you combine moments of pure elation with those of serious frustration? All kidding aside, one of the biggest gifts of parenthood is that I'm confident its made me a better person and a better educator.
On to Middle School life here at PDS. It would be an understatement to say that middle school kids are energetic because they clearly possess something more than simply energy...maybe boundless energy would be a better description. I have always enjoyed my time here at PDS working primarily 9th graders in the upper school, but there is something truly special about middle school children here. Over and over, I find myself commenting to colleagues and family (my entire family is involved in education) about how nice middle school kids are, and how they really do combine the best of both worlds...the enthusiasm and ability to dream big like lower schoolers and the thoughtfulness and independence of upper schoolers. This is not to say that there aren't "bumps in the road," but its to be expected given the emotional and physical changes that they are undergoing. This leads me to my 2nd point...the teachers and staff here at PDS who work with our middle school students.
This is truly a special group...just ask the middle school kids. ALL of the conversations I've had with students about middle school teachers and advisers include statements like "I love my teachers, " or "my advisor is really nice." They provide our young people with the perfect combination of love, consistency, and structure leaving the students feeling safe and appreciated at all times.
Thanks again for reading. Please feel free to leave comments and call (704-887-6097) or e-mail ( if you have any questions or concerns about middle school life at PDS.


Thanks so much for visiting my newest Blog.  My other Blog ( provided me with a way to capture my thoughts while on a 12-day, 11-night trip across the South to investigate the Civil Rights Movement.  I view this Blog as an opportunity to reflect upon some of the wonderful things that are happening here in Middle School at PDS.  Thanks for your comments,