All School Meeting Address: Sexuality and Healthy Relationships

The text below is of an All School Meeting address of September 22, 2015.  Warning: I use graphic language below.

Good morning, Andover.

Yes, you did hear right: this morning, we are going to talk about sex in this chapel. I realize that might sound awkward to some of you, but I ask for your close attention in this All School Meeting all the same. What I have to say involves every person here. That includes our faculty, who are with us this morning to underscore the importance of this topic to our community. This issue is universal.

What I am about to say may be more than awkward for some of you; it may be downright upsetting. At the end of my remarks, we will introduce members of the community who are specially trained to talk with you on these matters, and I encourage you to do so.

Before we get to the matter of sexual development and healthy relationships, let’s start by stepping back a bit: Why are you here? Why are we all here? I don’t mean it as an existential question – why are we on this planet – but rather, why did you choose to come to Andover? What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

Most people say, one way or another, that you came to Andover for the “excellence.” That excellence might mean a fabulous learning experience in physics, English, music, or the arts. Maybe you came to Andover to pursue great academics as well as excellence in lacrosse or drama or in playing the flute; maybe seeing Eight Bells in the Addison blew you away on your revisit (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please go find out before you graduate). These are all good reasons to come to Andover and to be at Andover. I’m proud of what all of us – faculty and students alike – can and do accomplish when it comes to these kinds of excellence.

Today, let’s focus on an equally important form of excellence: how we relate to one another in this community. I mean in particular how you as students relate to one another when you make the decision to have an intimate relationship with another person, whenever that time might come, and whatever that might mean to you.

While I suppose it has not been often that heads of school have talked about sex in this chapel in the history of this school, it is a topic fully in step with our mission as a place of teaching and learning. As you know by now, more or less everything we do is grounded in our founding principles. In this case, the principle in question is the idea of knowledge with goodness. In our Charter, Samuel Phillips and the other founders told us that:

[… A]bove all, it is expected, that the Master’s attention to the disposition of the minds and morals of the youth under his charge, will exceed every other care; well considering that, though goodness without knowledge – as it respects others – is weak and feeble; yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous; and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.

In modern-day terms: “knowledge with goodness” has to do with how you treat one another – how you care for one another.

We often talk about how Andover is the most diverse community in which most of us will ever live. We are proud of that fact and we seek to build upon that diversity all the time. One important skill that we want you to learn is how to get along with one another in an extremely diverse community. We come from different faith traditions and different family backgrounds, among many other forms of difference. Being excellent as a student here means caring, respecting one another, being in partnership with one another – not despite our diversity, but in keeping with it.   This diversity means that you will come to any relationship with potentially very different beliefs about what is morally right.

Let me pause here – on this topic of moral perspective – to address one possible concern about sexual education, lest my message this morning be misconstrued. Some adults worry that more talk about sex with kids means an encouragement to be sexually active sooner than you otherwise would. I don’t believe that any of you would hear me that way, but let me make it plain: regardless of your gender or your age, you have every right to abstain from sexual activity. We, as adults in this community, strongly support that decision. No one is obligated to participate in a hook-up culture; no one is obligated to make a choice about your sexual development that is out of keeping with what you believe is morally right. As you leave this chapel today, I trust that each one of you will feel that we, as adults, are here to support you as you work through what is a especially challenging part of teenage development – including supporting your sound decisions not to engage in intimate relationships during your time here.

Just as we emphasize academic integrity with your pursuits in the classroom and personal integrity with regard to following Blue Book rules, this topic too is about integrity.  We want you to make decisions and engage in activities while you are at PA that honor your integrity—in line with your personal values and ethics. You need to support one another as you make these important choices in your life, whether here at Andover or once you are in college.

Put another way: we do not encourage sexual activity at Andover, but we do acknowledge that some of you choose to engage in sexual intimacy while you are here. It is our job as adults in your life to help you make safe choices and to ensure that you know where to turn for support.

I want to share with you today, in terms as clear as I can make them, our community expectations when it comes to healthy relationships and sexual activity. Some aspects of this topic are clear and obvious; others are a bit more complex.

First, a crystal-clear statement: we cannot and do not tolerate sexual assault of any kind at Andover. If you are worried that what you are engaged in is sexual assault, then stop. If you have experienced something that you wonder was sexual assault, seek help – more on that from Mrs. Elliott shortly.   If you don’t know what I mean when I say we cannot tolerate sexual assault on campus, please come talk to me or any of us up on the stage today.

Also in the category of “clear:” the law in Massachusetts says that you cannot consent to sexual activity if you are under 16 years old. If and when we learn of sexual intimacy between students where one or both student is under 16, we are required to report it to the police and to the state of Massachusetts; we also discuss it with your parents. This requirement is not theoretical. For those who might be wondering: oral sex counts as sexual activity for these purposes. This is not my opinion; this is the law in our state.

Third: consent to any degree of physical intimacy on this campus must take the form of an affirmative “yes.” The Blue Book spells it out clearly: we are a “yes means yes” school. That’s new and that can be awkward. But it is very important. It is a shifting of a burden from one person to say “no” to both people to say “yes.” If you are not sure, at the start or at any point during an intimate encounter, you must ask and you must hear a “yes” from your partner before you continue. If you hear a “no” or see or feel anything that resembles a “no” (or anything less than an enthusiastic, unambiguous “yes”), it’s on you to stop.

There’s a rule of thumb that might help in respect to consent. You no doubt have heard of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have done unto you. Consider instead a Platinum Rule in the context of intimacy: do unto others as they would choose to have done unto them. That said, I’d also urge you not to think of sexual relationships as being about what you do “to” someone else – which makes it sound adversarial – but rather “with” someone else. These are distinctions that can make a big difference in changing a culture.

One point that is more subtle: Gender and sexual orientation are unmistakably a part of any discussion about sexual health, but the conversation should not be thought of as exclusively heteronormative.  OK – there were a lot of big words in that sentence.  Let me unpack.  By that, I mean that a discussion of sex is not only about a dynamic that exists between boys and girls. It is hard to have a conversation about sexual health, and especially about differences in expectations and power dynamics, without talking about differences in gender. I’d urge you, at the same time, not to let stereotypes dominate these conversations. On our campus, we have community members who are boys; we have those who are girls; and we have those who do not self-identify as either or who are in transition. (My PGP is: he/him/his.) And we have a range of sexual orientation at Andover. Every student is learning about their sexuality during this period of life, but not everyone is experiencing the same thing. That diversity is important. We respect everyone equally at Andover.

The bottom line is that everyone has a right to feel safe and respected on this campus – regardless of your age, your gender, your sexual orientation, your moral perspective, your faith. As many of you have pointed out, too many students, here at Andover as elsewhere in the world, have suffered from unwanted sexual encounters. The New York Times reports this morning that 1 in 4 young women have experienced sexual assault at some of our most prestigious colleges. As a community, we shouldn’t stand for that. In fact, we must stand for something very different – respect for one another, support for one another, caring for one another. At this high school, we should all be part of the solution.

What I call upon us today to do – adults and students alike – is to step up. Andover, it’s on us. We need to be courageous in talking about sexual intimacy and sexuality. This dialogue must honor each one of you during your time at Andover and set you on a course of healthy relationships for your entire life – much in the way that our academic excellence at Andover education always has set up students for productive lives of work and service.

Andover, we can do this. I know it’s awkward. We can make our community better and healthier, day by day, Saturday night by Saturday night, relationship by relationship. We owe it to one another to do just that. Everyone has a role in defining this type of excellence at Andover and in building a positive culture of healthy relationships. We can show that we care about one another and respect one another. This kind of learning – this essential kind of character development – is, in fact, why we are all here.

To close this morning, Mrs. Elliott will share with you some thoughts about those people on campus who are special resources on this topic. She will also give you a sense of what you can expect in terms of discussions in your dorms, and in classrooms, in the weeks to come on this topic.

Mrs. Elliott: over to you, and thank you for your very strong leadership on this important topic, building on the work of many others who have been committed to these issues for a long time here at Andover.

An unfortunate incident, a teachable moment

Below is a letter I sent to students and parents of Phillips Academy in response to an unfortunate incident involving a group of our recent graduates.

On Sunday, we celebrated Commencement in our 237th year under blue skies. We graduated 328 exceptional students, capping a fine year at Andover across the board—in the arts, athletics, community service, and academics. These students and their families as well as our faculty and staff have every reason to be proud of the community’s accomplishments this year.

A few hours later, 74 of our new graduates found themselves in protective custody in Sunapee, New Hampshire, for alleged acts at a party in a rented home. According to police reports, 51 of our graduates passed a breathalyzer test; 23 of our graduates did not and, as a result, face a court date in August for underage consumption of alcohol. Fortunately none of our graduates was hurt. All were released to responsible parents and guardians.

Continue reading

Head of School Bookshelf: The Teaching, Talent and Testing Edition, Spring 2015

The long flights to and from East Asia this Spring Break afforded time to catch up on a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while.  For this Spring’s Head of School bookshelf, I’ve selected a series of titles focused on psychology and policy relevant to the secondary school field in education.  There’s a lot of great work that’s been done in the recent past and some new books highly worth reading.

Spring 2015 List: Teaching, Talent, and Testing

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (Bantam, 2009).  Published a few years ago, this book examines the question of how to develop talent.  Coyle considers the question that has probably occurred to most everyone at some point: how is it that some communities, at some moments of time, produce a disproportionate number of geniuses or other types of extremely high performers?  Coyle examines the conditions necessary to produce “greatness” at a collective level (or “hotbeds”, including in schools, as he calls them).  He also considers the specific commitments of individuals necessary to reach high potential and to help others reach high potential.  This book considers academic success of the ordinary sort, but also athletic, musical, and artistic prowess, among other areas of growth.  Coyle also keeps up a website with lots of good examples — such as the practice routine of Odell Beckham Jr. — that illustrate his point.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2014).  Along similar lines to Coyle’s book, Duhigg takes up the question of how habits are formed, broken, and reformed.  Though perhaps more geared toward a business audience than toward educators per se, the premise is highly relevant to us at teachers.  How do students (or adults) learn to learn?  What is the cycle by which habits are formed, which lead to effective learning?  There’s a good section on Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (chapter 8), which leads to a discussion of how movements come about (relevant to the section of US History I am teaching this year!).

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine, 2007).  Prof. Dweck’s crucial book on the growth mindset is not new, but it is as good and relevant as ever.  At Andover, many of our faculty are focused on how we can promote and develop a growth mindset among our students.  Prof. Dweck is joining us in early May, 2015, as a guest of the new Tang Institute and to speak to our faculty.  Prof. Dweck also posts more information on mindsets on a helpful website.  The book and the website are both very clear and well-written, with loads of specific examples for how to understand and deploy her findings.

Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession (Doubleday, 2014).  This book, which came out last year, is a terrific history of 175 years of the teaching profession.  (If we do not learn our history, we are bound to repeat it, right?)  Journalist and author Goldstein gives a strong sense of who has gone into the teaching profession, especially in America, and why; what has happened to teachers and the teaching profession during several key periods in American history; and how we might empower teachers in the future.  (Side-note: Goldstein includes some interesting observations of the role of faith and gender in education, both of which are important, much-debated topics on our campus today.)

Anya Kamenetz, The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have To Be (Public Affairs, 2015).  Everyone is talking about testing these days. It’s a great blessing at Andover not to worry about “teaching to the test,” but our society at large seems testing-obsessed — and our students, of course, take plenty of standardized tests along the way.  This account, by NPR journalist and author Anya Kamenetz, takes both an historical view and one that points us to a future that doesn’t have to be all about high-stakes testing.  It’s a very timely and interesting book, and we have an invitation out to the author to encourage her to come to campus soon, too.

Special Mentions: Other Fascinating New Books — not all exactly on the topic of the list, but included as recommendations:

Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (Norton, 2015).  Prof. Foner, of Columbia University, is a truly great US historian of Reconstruction and other 19th century themes.  I’ve been teaching from his college-level textbook (“Give Me Liberty!”) for my section of US history at Andover this year; it’s very good.  This new history of the Underground Railroad includes several stories never before told in a major book, and draws on archival material that was certainly new to me, and will be to virtually all readers.

Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Basic Books, 2015).  Written by a computer software developer, this book examines the question of the effect of Moore’s Law (the premise that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months) on the labor market.  What kinds of jobs might our kids expect to have during their lifetimes?  How much skill will be required for various tasks in a world where artificial intelligence has continued to increase at an exponential rate each year?  As educators, it is worth our giving these hard questions some thought.

Susan Greenfield: Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains (Random House, 2015).  A renowed UK neuroscientist, Dr. Greenfield explores whether our “minds” (not our “brains”, as she stresses at the start of chapter 12) are changing as a result of our vast social media usage and other digital stimuli. The answer is surely “yes,” but with an important call to all of us to define what we want out of the digital revolution and to aim ourselves toward it.  I like her “balanced and comprehensive overview of the scientific research” (Preface, XV) into this important area.

Carrie James, Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap (MIT Press, 2014).  From Carrie James, the Good Play Project, and the excellent Digital Media and Learning series at MIT Press comes this new book on kids and their development with respect to ethics in the digital world.  James draws on her deep research experience as well as new conversations with kids aged 10 to 25 to bring us up to speed on their thinking about privacy, property, and participation online.  She covers important well-known cases (e.g., Tyler Clementi) as well as examples of the “ethics gap” that have been less extensively covered.

Ron Lieber, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money (Harper Collins, 2015).  I loved this book: it’s filled with super-practical, serious advice for how to raise our kids with respect to their relationship with money.  My own kids have already started the system that Lieber recommends (jars for “Give,” “Save,” and “Spend”) and the advice from him and other parents on his Facebook page is terrific.  Lieber is a journalist with the New York Times who covers personal finance.  He’s agreed to join us in the fall at Andover as a guest speaker.

Please consider buying each of these titles at your local independent bookstore.  I bought the copies for the Head of School bookshelf, (in my office, where faculty can come get them anytime), from the Andover Bookstore in Andover, MA.

P.S.: Pointers to previous Head of School bookshelves: Adolescence, Technology and Sexuality; a set geared toward Secondary School Teachers interested in Learning and Technology; and The Innovation Edition.

End of Tuition Day: The Importance of Gratitude and of Paying It Forward

Today marks a special day in our academic calendar: it is End of Tuition Day.  From this day forward in the school year, everything is free for every student.

What exactly do I mean by “free”?  And what do I mean for “every” student?

DSC_4097-edit As a need-blind school, we are enormously fortunate that we are able to read every admissions application without regard to whether the student’s family can afford the tuition that our school charges.  This hallmark, in one form or another, dates back to the founding of our school in 1778, when Samuel Phillips and his family and friends decided to open an academy for “Youth from Every Quarter.”  We ensure that no family has to take out loans to send a student to high school.  And we are able to admit the most extraordinary, diverse, nice, talented group of 1,100 students we can find.  And once we are all here, we work very hard to honor everyone equally, regardless of whether one’s family happens to pay the full tuition, a part of the tuition, or none of the tuition.  It is our privilege to have every one of you here, absolutely regardless.

At this point in the year — March 25, this year — something magical happens.  From this point out, we rely not at all on anyone’s tuition.  For everyone, the rest of the school year is free.  The full cost, you see, of educating an Andover student is more than $80,000.  (That doesn’t even count some of the amazing benefits that you can take advantage of, like the Addison and the Peabody museums.)  The full tuition price for a day student is $38,000 and for boarding, $50,000.  So from here on out, every meal: free.  Every class: free.  Every sports practice and game: free.  Every community service trip to a neighboring town: free.

DSC_4108-editWhere does it come from?  Two crucial sources.  One is the school’s endowment, which means all the money contributed to the school in perpetuity over hundreds of years.  We have a very large endowment for a high school, and we rely on income from it to make Andover as special today as we possibly can.  The other source is our Annual Fund.  Each year, our alumni, parents, faculty, and staff contribute about $10 million per year to make “End of Tuition Day” possible.  We are enormously proud of and grateful for this Annual Fund.  It makes an enormous number of great things possible in the lives of our students.

So today, I urge you to join me in giving thanks to all those who have been generous to this school, over so many generations — this year, and in years past.  Just as we look to the future at Andover — your future — we ought to honor and thank those who have gotten us here.  We give thanks for all those who have make philanthropy a big part of their lives — and acknowledge how important they have been to making Andover what it is today.

And soon it will be your turn.  I trust that each of you will be as generous as your forebears have, when the time comes.  The reason we can celebrate End of Tuition Day is because others have given back to their school.  In fact, the Class of 2013 had a 98% participation rate for the senior class gift.  This year, the Class of 2015 is already at a 50% level — the highest ever on record as of this date.  I challenge you all to meet or exceed the participation rate of your preceding class — and make “End of Tuition Day” come earlier and earlier with every passing year.  Thank you!cake

All School Meeting Address: Winter Welcome 2014 and Discussions in the Wake of Ferguson

Good morning, Andover!

Over the Thanksgiving break, I wrote to you all an email, asking that you take some time to understand what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri.  A few members of the community — a student and a parent, in particular — wrote me back, respectfully, with deep concerns about what I had written, along with Dean Murphy [our Dean of Students] and LCG [Dean Linda Carter Griffith, our Dean of Community and Multicultural Development].  I wanted to respond to those concerns and also to explain why I think this attention and this discourse are so important.  [The original email is here.]

I asked you to pay attention to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, not because I want you to think something in particular. In fact, while I do have a point of view on this issue, and I’m happy to share that view with any of you anytime, I very much do not want for 1129 young people to think what I think – what a disaster that would be!  In fact, let’s agree to start from a perspective of valuing intellectual freedom and the importance of being open to hear every voice in our academic community.

I asked you to pay attention for two reasons. One is that, despite the common phrase, we do not live in a “bubble” in Andover. We live in a community that is deeply connected to the world outside our beautiful campus. We live in a world where students are required to go off-campus – whether home or elsewhere – during breaks. We live in a world in which all students have friends and family who live outside of our little world here. And we live in a world that is increasingly complex – more global, more interconnected, more diverse, and moving ever more quickly.

The other reason I asked you to pay attention to what happened in Ferguson is because I think it matters a great deal in an historic sense. It matters to every single one of us – Latino/a, Asian, Black, White, regardless of the race, or races, or ethnicity or ethnicities, that you claim. It matters to each person, perhaps in a different way. But it matters to all of us because it stands for a few important things. It stands for the difficulty we continue to have in talking about race and difference in the world. I know, in what I will say to you today, I will offend one or more of you; or perhaps I will stumble badly over my words.  We must each run that risk — of offending one another, of saying the wrong thing, on the way to the truth and to productive dialogue.  This issue also stands for the very real challenge of effective law enforcement and global security — which we must accomplish with real effectiveness — and to do so in a world in which it is not possible to ignore the inequities between people in our society.

I would not have wanted for the world to be in the position that faced the policeman, Darren Wilson that night. I would not have wanted for the world to be in the position that faced Michael Brown that night — and I know, because of the color of my skin and other factors, that I am highly unlikely ever to be. I would not wish on anyone the job of being on that Grand Jury. My heart breaks for every one of their families and friends. Ditto for what happened in Staten Island, in the death of Eric Garner. Ditto for hundreds, if not thousands, of similar cases in recent years. This is hard, and this is heart-breaking. These events happen all too often in this country and in countries around the world.

We need to be better – and it starts here, in this august high school. We need to do better – and we can. We can prove that we can be empathetic toward one another. We can prove that such a diverse community can work, that we can listen and learn from one another, and that we can work toward a more just and sustainable world.

More broadly, these matters speak to more than race. These matters call the question: What does it mean to be a citizen in a republic? What it means to me is that you must have a point of view. There is a cost of freedom; there is a cost to having a say in who governs and how they do it. That cost is that you must engage. You must learn. You must listen. You must come to have a point of view on issues that matter; we cannot govern ourselves if we do not. And you must act upon it. You have no choice.  That might mean that you start a new journal, as some of your colleagues have recently done, on matters of fiscal policy; it might mean that you organize a forum and a candlelight vigil; it might mean that you put yourself into the public arena with a point of view on something else that matters to you.  But to make democracy work, you must find your path toward being a true citizen.

It may be that one of us in this room will be in the position of Darren Wilson one day; maybe one of us will be in Michael Brown’s shoes; in America, we will all be on that Grand Jury; we will all be their friends and family. Not in exactly the same way, and – we pray – not with the same outcome. But when we sign up for life in a republic, we sign up to do the work of being a citizen — to being on that jury, to making those hard decisions, to figuring out how we can have effective law enforcement and global security in a way that is consonant with the Constitution and with international norms of human rights. That work is hard; it matters; and it is all of our work.

I could not be more proud to live in this country; I could not be more proud to be an American.  I could not be more proud to live and work at Andover; I could not be more proud to be your head of school.  Neither America nor Andover is perfect. Neither one is completely exceptional. But on their best days, they are both completely wonderful.  We can and must make both of them better – and with them, the world at large. Andover, it starts here – it starts with each of us and with our community.  We can show that democracy works in the context of free, open, orderly discussion on topics that matter — whether they relate to what is right in front of us or what is occurring in the world at large.

I will end with a quote that I love.  I know that there are valid critiques of this quote, but I love it – for its spirit and for what it calls on each of us to do. It is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States. He almost certainly did not have in mind as inclusive a community as I do today, but he got the call to engaged citizenship just right.  Where I say “man”, you can choose to hear “person.”  Otherwise, please just listen to it for the spirit and the challenge it presents:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

All School Meeting dismissed.

Learning in the World: Global, Community-Based, and Experiential Opportunities

As the Phillips Academy trustees are arriving for a spring weekend, we’ve been talking with a few alums and parents about our plans for the Andover Institute.  One of the three areas of focus involves expanding the global learning opportunities we offer to our students, coming together as ideas here:

Learning in the World: Global, Community-Based, and Experiential Opportunities.

The overall Institute plan is shaping up here.  We are targeting a launch likely in November, 2014.  Stay tuned!

Concussion: Returning the Student Athlete Back to Life, with Dr. Gerard Gioia

Tonight at the Phillips Academy faculty meeting, we are talking with Dr. Gerard Gioia of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. The purpose of this discussion is to ensure that we are adopting best practices to protect our students from traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussions, and that we have sound policies and practices in place to help ensure that students get treatment and care for injuries they do sustain.  Dr. Gioia is a very clear and effective speaker with access to a great deal of relevant data and practical guidance for schools.

We are talking about the concussions that are most commonly seen in residential academic settings.  Research shows that about half of all concussions in these environments occur in the context of sports (hockey, lacrosse, football, and soccer are among the most common) and about half in everyday life.  After a student has a concussion, we, like many schools, have adopted accommodations for them on a case-by-case basis.

According to Dr. Gioia, the definition of traumatic brain injury, or concussion for short, is an injury to the brain due to a blow to the head or body that jerks the head forward and backward.  The damage is a “software” problem: that the brain’s electrochemical function changes as a result of the trauma.  Put a slightly different way by Dr. Gioia, it’s less of a “hardware” problem than a “software” problem.  Kids experience physical, psychological, cognitive, and socially-related symptoms that can last for hours, days, and much longer.  Concussions happen much more than we realize, among both kids and adults.  Injuries are one-off; there’s no one-size-fits-all in terms of the way to treat it and how quickly to bring kids back into their ordinary pattern of life.

The primary effect of TBI is to damage the working memory.  Students can experience slower reaction times, have trouble paying attention, or struggle with concentration.  Students can also experience greater irritability as a result of the injury.  Recovery time tends to be between 1 day to 140 days.  Our understanding and treatment modalities need to take into account this range and the variation within it.

Dr. Gioia suggests that best practices include ensuring that kids experience no additional forces to the head during recovery, by keeping them out of sports and other activities that might lead to re-injury.  Running, jumping, jogging the head; working too hard on homework; and emotional stress all can harm the brain further during the recovery period.  Students who have experienced a concussion especially need to rest their brain and get good sleep.  We need to help facilitate their physiological recovery.  The cognitive demands of school can slow recovery or exacerbate the negative impact of the injury.  (Studies show that math, it seems, is the hardest thing for students to do, by far, after a concussion.)  Dr. Gioia recommends a moderated approach to bringing kids back into their regular activities after a concussion.  The rest right after the injury is most important, with only a gradual increase in activity thereafter.  Dr. Gioia suggests setting up a team on campus that works with students after concussions, which is the approach that we’re taking at Phillips Academy.

Dr. Gioia ends with a positive message: these kids who get concussions will get better.

Mimi Ito Comes to Andover

This morning, Prof. Mizuko (Mimi) Ito is at Phillips Academy, Andover, to lead us, as a faculty, in a community conversation to start off the year.  Mimi is setting forth the core data and arguments behind Connected Learning, which is our professional development theme at Andover for the year.  She has us all on an Etherpad page hosted by Mozilla (a “mopad”) as a back-channel, which is leading to lots of discussion about whether we can pay attention to her lecture as well as our own chat session (not to mention Twitter stream and live-blogs, like this one that I’m writing contemporaneously).

The Connected Learning model is built around encouraging kids to tie together their learning in three areas: their Interests (diverse, self-directed), their Peer Culture (the social, peer-driven), their Achievements (academic and otherwise), in ways that are both online and offline.  Mimi also talked some about the desired outcomes for Connected Learning, the 21st century skills and deeper learning.  She stressed that it is very early days in terms of how digital media and education are evolving, and that assessment and evaluation are major areas for future focus and collaboration.  For more on the theory of Connected Learning, see a seminal blog post from Mimi (which includes a seven-minute embedded video) and many other posts from the DMLCentral community.

Mimi stresses, and I completely agree, that a technology-centered approach to education isn’t ever going to work.  There are many experiences that we can draw on to show that this is true: TV and education is just one example.  Our approach needs to be grounded in clear and compelling pedagogical goals, figuring out where technology can help and where it cannot.  Our use of technology can help us to transform teaching and learning in fabulous ways, but the technology will not do all that on its own.

Ways to follow along: our hashtag today is #connectedandover.  Mimi Ito can be followed @mizuko.  And Andover’s Twitter handle is @PhillipsAcademy.  And for other schools: I highly recommend a professional development day focused on Connected Learning — it’s both provocative and a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, Andover students are trickling in all around us, with many more to arrive in the days to come.  Some are back for sports, others for community service, others who are international students coming from around the world.  It’s our goal to connect the learning happening in these many domains, in the service of our students’ overall education and growth.