Tag Archives: reimagine school

Seeking Engagement

Are you one of the 33%?

If you are a working parent, I sure hope so.

3TypesEmployeesIn this instance, 33% represents the small number of employed Americans who see their work as “engaging.” Consider that for a moment: In any room of adults, roughly 7 out of 10 of them are not happy going to work each morning.

How depressing is that?

Since 2010, Gallup has collected data from millions of American workers in order to report on the state of the American Workplace (see the 2017 report here: “State of the American Workplace”). It was the 2017 report’s data that indicated only one in three Americans intellectually and emotionally connect with their work.
More disheartening, of course, is what the remaining 67% of American workers represent. According to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “16 percent of employees are actively disengaged – they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build,” while the “remaining 51 percent of employees are not engaged – they’re just there.”

Just there.

This is no way to spend one’s day, be it at work . . . or school.

Indeed, engagement is as critical an issue in the schoolhouse as it is in the workplace. Across the country too many of our older students are “just there” while at school. They experience the courses, lessons and tests associated with their education as merely another set of rungs to be climbed if they are to have “successful” lives. This phenomenon of a joyless school experience has been dubbed “doing school.”

Among those who have studied engagement in schools like Parish is Independent School Management (ISM), a Delaware-based research and consultancy firm. Their research involving more than 13,000 students in private and independent middle and upper schools demonstrates that “early middle school students (grades 5 and 6) reported significantly greater engagement” than upper school students. Late middle school students (grades 7 & 8), while more engaged than their older peers, “were more likely to be classified as merely ‘doing school’.” ISM’s research concluded that “something happens between grades 6 and 7 to change the engagement picture.” Students continue to “play the game” of school behaviorally (e.g. hand in assignments, study for tests, etc.) as they move into the upper grades (especially grade 9-12), but their cognitive and emotional investment in learning diminishes.

In addition to being a waste of the precious days that God has given to us, disengagement at work or school poses an even more harmful consequence:
anxiety and stress. Data abounds to illuminate the inverse correlation between engagement and stress. Anxiety declines when our hearts, minds and actions are engaged in the work before us. When we question the relevance of the work we are asked to do; find it too difficult or unstimulating; and/or do not feel we have an advocate (as a boss or teacher) who cares about developing us to be more effective at the task, stress and anxiety rise.

AtWhatCostIn previous First Monday’s and From My Angle podcasts (including this one with Dr. David Gleason, author of At What Cost?) I have shared statistics on the elevated levels of stress and anxiety now evident on high school and college campuses alike.

Why do I talk and write about this so frequently?

Because since I arrived at Parish in 2009, we have sought to reimagine how students experience and perceive school. Especially since the birth of the Reimagine strategic vision in 2014, we have been laser-focused on creating vibrant, powerful learning experiences. To do so, our curriculum has been evaluated and articulated with greater specificity; our use of time has been scrutinized and new models tested; and our instructional and assessment strategies have been increasingly personalized. These efforts will continue in the months and years to come, all in our quest to find solutions that promote deep learning, student engagement and – as a result – student well-being.

We believe our work is at the leading edge of what today’s most thoughtful, forward looking schools are doing. This perspective was affirmed in August, when we were fortunate to have on campus Dr. Denise Pope, senior lecturer at Stanford and co-founder of Challenge Success. Dr. Pope is one of the leading experts on student engagement and school reform. In my latest From My Angle podcast, Dr. Pope and I explore the topic of student engagement and the work she is doing with our teachers to support the ongoing evolution of our program. Please listen to it and share it with your friends in the community.

A Perspective on College Admissions with Christopher Gruber, Davidson College VP and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid

From My Angle - Chris Gruber Twitter.pngThe second season of the From My Angle podcast continues with this episode featuring Chris Gruber, who has been in higher education admissions for 33 years at the University of Richmond and Davidson College.  As I explore the theme of perspective this year in my writing and speaking within the community, this podcast features insights from Chris and me about the changes in the college admissions process over the last 15 years, the ways a college admissions team views applicants, and how perspectives on teaching and learning on colleges campuses are shifting. I am sure you will enjoy the conversation.  Please subscribe and share the podcast with friends and colleagues!

“At What Cost” with Dr. David Gleason

In my blog last month, I introduced the theme of “perspective” that will pervade much of my writing and speaking to the community this year. One forum through which I will seek to broaden your perspectives is the From My Angle podcast. I am most excited to launch my second season of interviews and discussions featuring innovative thinkers in and outside the world of education as well as talented faculty, students and alumni from Parish.

AtWhatCostThis first episode of season two features clinical psychiatrist Dr. David Gleason, the author of At What Cost? As we at Parish Reimagine together how to create the new independent school model – one that inarguably prepares our students for the “complex global society” but does so without compromising their well-being, engagement or love of learning – Dr. Gleason’s research on the perspective today’s students and parents have on the college preparatory learning experience will prove particularly compelling.

Listen to the full interview on Soundcloud


An Eventful April

Not all of my days are like the ones I experienced between Wednesday, April 4th and Thursday, April 12th. A Head of School’s life often features a wide variety of activities and a dose of the unexpected, but rarely does it pack the type of stimulating public events the Parish community and I had a chance to be enriched by this month.

_WLW9879On April 4th, we welcomed Barbara P. Bush to campus.  This social entrepreneur – who also happens be both the granddaughter and daughter of a President – was honored by Austin College with their Posey Leadership Award.  As part of the events associated with that recognition – and through our partnerships with both the Dallas Fort Worth World Affairs Council and Austin College – we were able to bring Ms. Bush to campus to talk about global leadership.  Though I had never done it before, I survived my initiation as a “talk show host!”  One special facet of the event, held in our new Gene E. Phillips Activity Center, was the presence of over 100 students and teachers from 11 public, charter, independent, and private schools – representatives of their respective schools’ Junior World Affairs Councils.  They were joined in the audience by our Upper School students and faculty.  Ms. Bush’s insights on the powerful influence of early global travel experiences; the fearlessness required to start something, as she did in helping found the Global Health Corps and her core value of love as the fuel for her global service left a deep impression on me and the other audience members.  You can watch excerpts from the interview with Ms. Bush here.

On April 5th, I was one of a handful of local educators asked to participate in “Big Ideas in Education Entrepreneurship” as part of Dallas Start Up Week.  I so enjoyed meeting the entrepreneurs who came to hear 5 minute presentations from me and my fellow educational leaders on our “Big Ideas” for education.  These individuals, many of whom were in the educational technology space, possessed the shining eyes resultant of doing creative work which challenged and inspired them.  These are just the kind of shining eyes I love to see on our students’ faces when I visit the classrooms at Parish!  I also admire the comfort with ambiguity these founders exhibit.  These entrepreneurs have a vision – an idea they believe needs to be brought to life and will serve the world well – but are not entirely certain of what their platform will look like in its final form.  As we explore advancements to our program at Parish –  a new model for independent school education which both prepares students for the complex world while preserving their well-being and love of learning – I recognize that we, too, as a school community, must remain full of wonder.  The “Big Idea” I shared that evening reflected much of what I wrote in my October 2017 blog post.

Finally, on April 12th, our community welcomed author and TED-talk star Julie Lythcott-Haims.  The former freshman dean at Stanford University and author of How to Raise An Adult, helped us launch CenterED, our partnership with The Grant Halliburton Foundation.  I blogged about this partnership in January and our intent through it to marry our school community’s commitment to build an even healthier preparatory academic experience for our students with the Foundation’s expertise in adolescent mental health and wellness.  “Dean Julie,” as she was affectionately known by her students at Stanford, affirmed Parish’s direction; commended the unique partnership between Parish and the Halliburton Foundation; and energized a large audience of parents in her evening keynote to stop trying to construct the path their children will follow.  You can hear the panel discussion between Dr. Lythcott-Haims, Halliburton co-Founder and Executive Chairman Vanita Halliburton, and me here.

Parish embraces our role as a thought leader in the education community – as an institution that contributes to stimulating conversation, discussion, and action around positive change in the learning experience for today’s students. In this context, the week between April 4th and April 12th was an amazing one in the history of our School.

Higher Ed Heroes in Our Own Backyard

Though I lead a PreK-12 school, I spend a lot of time reading about higher education. Be it issues related to governance, economic sustainability, leadership or innovative programming, I see trends and developments on college and university campuses that offer parallels to my experience leading an independent school.

In some areas – like economic sustainability – our challenges mirror one another. Colleges and universities are “canaries in the coalmine” for tuition-dependent schools like Parish when one looks at economic issues like tuition escalation, affordability and value proposition. In other areas, such as the pace of innovation, I have to look harder for points of favorable comparison to Parish. As we seek to amplify our amazing program by adapting our model to a rapidly changing world, I turn to higher education leaders like Presidents Mitch Daniel at Purdue, Michael Crow at Arizona State or Paul LeBlanc at Southern New Hampshire University, among others. I derive inspiration and affirmation from their efforts to shift their respective programs to meet the same demand.

In the fall, I shared podcasts from my visits to Northwestern and the Claremont Colleges, where I had the opportunity to speak with leaders in enrollment management (by the way, later this month I will be doing similar visits at Georgia Tech, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and Davidson). Today, though, I am excited to present conversations I recently held with two college presidents. Dr. Michael Sorrell and Dr. Gerald Turner are both distinguished higher educational leaders whom I have had the good fortune to know since my arrival in Dallas in 2009. Parish has benefitted immensely from our partnership with Paul Quinn College, where Dr. Sorrell has been president since 2007, and SMU, which has had Dr. Turner at the helm for an impressive 23 years.

Dr. Michael Sorrell
President, Paul Quinn College
Podcasts: Part 1; Part 2 or watch the full videos:
Part 1: Landscape of Education
Part 2: Innovator’s Disposition
Part 3: Community Leadership
Dr. Gerald Turner
President, SMU

I think you will enjoy these wide-ranging discussions about the future of higher education; the challenges and opportunities inherent in educational innovation; and exciting programmatic changes emerging on these campuses. Most of all, I hope you will note that these two institutions – one located in South Dallas and the other in Highland Park – are tremendous gifts to our city. Each lives fully into its unique mission and, in doing so, strives to build a better, more unified Dallas.

Why Not?

Everyone, it seems, has a podcast these days…

One not be at the top of their field, either, to assert their right to the digital airwaves.  Heck, Ricky Gervais and Snoop Dogg exemplify two entertainers with podcasts on Itunes!  While I understand cultural sports icons like Shaq O’Neal, I was surprised to see even an NBA player of modest accomplishment – JJ Reddick – has his own podcast.

There are, as you may already know, tremendous resources in the world of podcasts.  I regularly consume programs from Malcolm Gladwell (“Revisionist History”), Tim Ferris (“The Tim Ferris Podcast” & his new “Tribe of Mentors” podcast, and Tony Robbins (“The Tony Robbins Podcast”) for what they offer in personal development and intellectual stimulation.  I am thrilled that noted author and social scientist, Daniel Pink, has recently released his own podcast (the first two episodes of “1-3-20” – 1 book author, asked 3 questions, in 20 minutes – have been excellent!). For entertainment, I listen to ESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser (“The Tony Kornheiser Show”) or Dan LeBatard (“The Dan LeBatard Show”).

Indeed, our world today is choked with digital input options which we can consume whenever we wish. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming.

So, I hesitated to add to the noise. Who, I wondered, would make the space in our busy, overstimulated world to listen?

But, alas, I have taken the leap!  From My Angle now includes not only this blog but also a podcast.  Joining me to kick it off is special guest Lisa Clay, Director of Parish’s Center for College & Life Planning. You can watch the video below or listen to the Podcast.

In the end, I realize that the written word also has a lot of competition.  My letters to families, many of which find their way to this space in some form, are long.  In too many cases, I fear, they are too long to meet the eyes of the busy and distracted people I wish would read them. So, my podcast will be oriented to those in today’s on demand world who might wish to ruminate on what I have to say, or learn from those with whom I speak, when they wish, as they walk the dog, clean the garage, or get in a workout.

I hope you will subscribe, share the link with others in your network, and offer me your feedback as I embark on this latest adventure!

Here are the links to show all the episodes:

From My Angle on iTunes

From My Angle on SoundCloud



Why We Choose to Reimagine



To us at Parish, it deserves all the attention it receives.

In fact, the statement digs at the root of one of today’s “dirty little secrets” in the business of “college prep” education – be it of the public or private variety: the model commonly embraced to accomplish the task is broken. Not only is it ill-suited for preparing students for a seismically changing world, but in attempting to do so it undercuts their levels of engagement, passion and wellness.

ExcellentSheep_blogTo Reimagine School and create a framework more attuned to the modern learner is, of course, our present obsession at Parish. Undoing the broken school model – how curriculum is packaged and delivered; how time and space are used; how students demonstrate mastery – stands as the most audacious of tasks given how entrenched that model has become.

As I noted in August, quests begin with a call – a beckoning to journey toward an enhanced condition of world or self. In part, our Reimagine School: Parish at 50 vision emanates from the disturbing headline above. Of the many calls harkening us to Reimagine School, the threat to the well-being of our children blares most urgently.

Simply stated, the transactional, achievement-fixated texture of today’s school experience is creating a generation of stressed-out, anxious, and fragile young people.

Former Ivy League educators William Deresiewicz and Julia Lythcott-Haims are among those raising the clarion call. Lythcott-Haims’ take on “check-listed children” vaulted up the list of top TED Talks last spring.

More specifically, an extensive survey (14,000 upper school students from 44 independent schools like Parish) commissioned by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) puts data behind the anecdotal observations expressed in Deresiewicz’s book.



A learning culture or model that contributes to outcomes like these needs to be reconsidered (as do parenting styles and higher education’s admission processes, but these are topics for another day).

As advocates for our children, it is a moral imperative to answer this call.

And, so, at Parish, we have begun our journey fortified by the belief that learning should engage a student’s mind with meaningful, relevant problems to solve and inspired products to create, not just numb it with buckets of content to memorize. Learning should stoke a student’s desire and capacity to discover by offering guided opportunities to assume control of the learning journey (what gets learned; how it is learned; and how mastery is demonstrated), not dull it with repetitive, adult-directed exercises.

Indeed, learning does not have to hurt.