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Practicing Up

I played on the boys golf team in high school.  My first year was rough – I had no business being on the team. Luckily the coach knew my family and let me participate in spite of my lack of experience.  After my freshman year I got serious and actually began practicing on a regular basis.  I played from the white tees on the hardest course in town everyday.  It wasn’t easy. In addition, I played with the best boys I could find. Girls were too easy to beat – I needed to play with boys if I really wanted to push myself.  I won’t put myself in the same league as good athletes but I will say that this is a common story of athletes that excel.  They practice up.  They practice with people that are much better than they are. Although it is at times humiliating and at times frustrating, in the end it makes you a better player.

I have been thinking that teaching is really the same way.  You need to surround yourself with people that are “better” than you are. Collaborate with people who are passionate and surround yourself with greatness. Inevitably, this will improve your game.

I have spent the last twelve years practicing up. I have worked with some unbelievably talented educators. I am leaving my school a better teacher and administrator because it was easy to practice up everyday.

As I say goodbye to my colleagues tonight I am feeling grateful and hoping that I have helped others practice up as well.

Calling All Mentors

I would like to believe I am a lifelong learner.  Learning gets me excited… no – VERY excited. That being said, even I am surprised at how excited I am about my experience tonight at dinner. I intended on having  a quick dinner where I would sit at the bar and pretend to watch the t.v. while also surfing on my phone. The goal was food consumption and nothing more. 

With only one seat available I asked the woman next to the seat if it was taken and planted myself down. We began chatting and well… the rest is history.  The woman was friendly, inquisitive, and humble.  During the one hour dinner I learned an enormous amount from this woman. From interviewing skills to books to read – I am already a better leader because of my dinner geography and a lot of luck. And the best part is that she offered to keep teaching me.  She offered to be my mentor.  Maybe that is what all great teachers do for their students – get them excited about learning and then promise to stay by their side.

How to “Sell” Your School

Those of us in the independent school world know that admissions are the life blood of the school.  Without students there is no school.  Without admissions there are no students.  Yesterday I visited three schools for my son (yes in one day). After three very different experiences, I have a few words of advice for those working in admission offices.

1. The first thing after hello and welcome should be “Tell me about your child.”

2. “The Tour” is not the most important thing about the visit. Don’t lead with it – it sends the wrong message.

3. Tell me why I should give you my precious child – and with it – my money!

4. Be passionate.  There is nothing less impressive than a salesman who isn’t in love with their product. Tell me why this school is special – different – worth my consideration.

5. Make it personal. This decision is a huge one.  Tell my why THIS school might be the right one for MY child.

6. Include the teachers!  No one knows the program better than they do.  Let them explain to me why my child would thrive at their school.


After much discussion in the car drive home, my husband and I agreed that the school with the highest tuition and least impressive facilities was our favorite.  It was definitely not “the tour” that sold us.  It was the passion, compassion, warmth, and conviction that we heard from the admission officer and the teachers.

Tragedy and Reality

It is hard to write anything today that doesn’t relate to the tragedy that has occurred in CT. Is there anything worse than the death of a child?  It is simply too much for me to think about today. I am in denial I guess.

At the same time, we are all shocked because it was a “nice” town. Things like this shouldn’t happen in a place like _________.  Unfortunately, you can now fill in the blank with numerous examples, Columbine, Newtown, Virginia Tech.  Why does this happen? How can this happen? How will those communities cope?

I wish we weren’t here again. I worry this is a new reality.

Standardization for the purpose of Customization

As an independent school we work hard to deliver a customized or personalized education for each of our students. It is an exciting venture. The concept of not every student completing the exact same progression of science courses or focusing their English classes on topics that interest them like: Paranormal Literature and American Literature and Baseball are just some of the ways we are trying to make students excited about learning. Dare I say passionate?

But in order to deliver this customized education, we must standardize certain things. We must ensure that every English class covers the same skills, no matter what texts are read. We must verify that whether students study American History through the perspective of women or African Americans that the same skills are mastered. How will we do this? Through standardizing the skills instead of the content.

Think of it like a great restaurant… they will allow you to order the steak at the temperature of your choice and substitute the broccolini for cauliflower mash but the service, quality of food, and experience must remain constant. Standardized in order to customize.

The Job Description

It’s hard to be a great teacher. Lesson planning, grading, communication with parents plus lunch duty and taking attendance. It just never ends…

The responsibilities list for a teacher at my school is long. We expect so many things from them including continual professional growth and innovation. But I think the most important responsibility for any teacher is simple – modeling good character for the students.

It doesn’t matter to me how great your lessons are planned, if you don’t treat others with compassion, care, and respect you cannot be a good teacher. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how excited you are about solving equations, you cannot be a good teacher if students can overhear you gossiping about other teachers in the hallways.

In 2000 I read the book “The Teachers are Watching” by Ted and Nancy Sizer and it changed my life.  Students watch everything you do – not just your teaching.  So in addition to the laundry list of responsibilities on the job description, it is all of the things assumed and implied in the character of being a teacher that matter the most.

Never Forget

Following the anniversary of 9-11 we hear many voices repeating the mantra “let us not forget.”  For those of us that experienced that day as adults it is one that is hard to forget. Luckily, we have an anniversary to commemorate the day that will in the years to come help us to “never forget.”

Unfortunately, there are other tragedies going on daily in our society that don’t have an anniversary to help us “never forget.” One of these tragedies is the number of Americans and children that live in poverty everyday. Living in Fairfax County, VA (one of the wealthiest in America) it is easy to forget. I have the luxury of working in an expensive private school where all of the children live above the poverty line (and in most all cases – WELL above the line). I live in a house with electricity, air conditioning, and plenty of food. Unfortunately, for me… it is easy to forget.

Tonight I took the time to listen to an audio cast from The Poverty Tour 2.0 which is headlined by Cornell West and Tavis Smiley. A tweet by West about the event caught my eye due to the fact that it was recorded at nearby TC Williams HS, made famous by the movie Remember the Titans. I am so glad I took the time to listen and remember. Because for so many of us, the poverty in America is easy to forget.