Mindfulness Defined Broadly

7am, Waptus Lake

The mindfulness movement is growing in schools. A number of articles in the popular press have described meditation activities that happen in classes or co-curricular programs. Mindfulness has been positioned as an antidote to technology, distractibility and stress. Through meditation, students may develop their capacity for self-control and attention in a society rich with distractions and performance pressure.

In recent years, we have studied mindfulness and organized meditation activities at U Prep. Two years ago, David Levy visited to share his research and perspectives with our faculty. Last year, a group of ten faculty and staff members organized an affinity group to generate program ideas. This year, we have included within the socio-emotional strand of strategic plan development. Each year, our mindfulness work becomes more nuanced and oriented toward action.

Can mindfulness become a mainstream practice in schools? About a dozen faculty/staff members and 40 students currently participate in meditation activities during advisory and after school. While the program is still young, we hear anecdotally that the idea of meditation may not resonate with a majority of the school population. While some schools have made it, I would expect that many schools would require a broader definition of mindfulness in order to build support for it schoolwide.

This August, I learned that one can frame mindfulness much more broadly than just meditation. This fall, ten of us completed an online course through Mindful Schools. Though the course is geared toward developing one’s own mindfulness practice, it also serves as a prelude to mindfulness instruction training and certification. Although it may have seemed ironic to study mindfulness online, the course featured readings, audio lessons, participant discussions, and individual practice.

While breath exercises featured throughout, the course also included various applications of mindfulness that one might not immediately associate with meditation. These include:

  • Movement
  • Emotions
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Communication
  • Eating

Although “study” and “discussion” are not in this list, it does not require a lot of imagination to make the connection. If one can intentionally direct sustained attention to compassion, communication, or eating, then one should be able to think mindfully about intellectual inquiry and project work.

The course also embraced perspective and refrained from dogma in general. Sometimes, the “wandering mind” inspires creativity and reflection. We may benefit from distraction by environmental stimuli. Situating mindfulness within human experience makes it a lot easier to integrate within whole child education.

Mindfulness enthusiasts are on to something. Whether through formal meditation or just sustained, thoughtful attention, training oneself to intentionally ride the rapids or find a quiet boulder is increasingly becoming an essential 21st century skill. We are likely to incorporate mindfulness into our school’s next strategic plan. It’s just a question of how strictly we will define mindfulness and correspondingly, how broadly we will adopt it.


Why It Takes More than Unplugging to Solve Modern Stress | Mediashift | PBS pbs.org

Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts teaches the value of immersive attention | Harvard Magazine Nov-Dec 2013

Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus | MindShift kqed.org

You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help. – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education chronicle.com

Mindful Schools mindfulschools.org

Driven to distraction: How to help wired students learn to focus | eCampus News ecampusnews.com

The Mindful Revolution | Kate Pickert | Time Magazine | Feb 03, 2014

3 Reasons You Should Let Yourself Get Distracted | FastCompany

When You Care About Everything, It’s Hard to Think About Nothing: Is the mindfulness movement due for a correction?​ by Taffy Brodesser-Akner | GOOD

Why Have an Academic Dean?


When I first arrived to Seattle, I thought I would find (or form) a network of academic deans. Given the number of independent schools in the area, I must find a few, right? The result? One. Why does only one other Seattle-area school have an administrator with primary responsibility for directing academic affairs?

The academic dean is more common in other cities, particularly in single-division high schools. The model has its origins in post Civil War development of administrative positions to assist in the supervision and management of student and faculty affairs. In both higher and secondary education, deans have multiplied and evolved. It is common for independent high schools to have three deans: a dean of faculty, academic dean, and dean of students.

Two division schools (K-8 and 6-12) are the norm among Seattle independent schools. Multi-division K-12s exist across the west coast. At these schools, divisions—not functions nor constituencies—dictate their administrative organization. When the work of division leadership is too broad for one director, multi-division schools typically create an assistant division director or divisional dean of students. The same is true for schoolwide leadership. The head of a multi-division school is much more likely to create one assistant head position than establish two or three deans.

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Every school works to coordinate and develop its curriculum and faculty programs. Who leads this work if not the academic dean? In Seattle, these responsibilities are typically distributed among assistant heads, division directors/assistant directors, and department heads. However, all of these individuals have many other responsibilities, such as hiring, supervision, student academic progress and socio-emotional well-being, and parent communication. Given the vital importance of student and parent support, these professionals can only devote a portion of their time to academic program coordination and development.

University Prep bucks the trend of spreading out leadership responsibilities for academic affairs. The school’s second academic dean, I serve as a single point of leadership for curriculum coordination, faculty professional development, and instructional program initiatives. We have the positions of director of the middle school, director and assistant director of the upper school. Yet, we still have an academic dean. Why?

Part of the answer lies within the school’s history. One may divide U Prep’s 40 years into roughly three phases: founding and construction, refinement of program, and leadership/innovation. During the second phase, the school made a strong push to develop the excellence of the academic program and professionalism of the faculty. The school developed its reputation for both academic challenge and student support. The academic dean position was created during this time to accelerate the development of the school curriculum. Responsibility for faculty professional development provided the support necessary for instructional change.


A dedicated academic dean focuses primarily on curriculum, teaching methods, faculty development, and instructional innovation. At U Prep, we run our unique Individualized Teaching Improvement Program, send collaborative teacher groups to conferences, and organize thematically-based full-faculty workshops. Our academic deans have led schoolwide program initiatives including formative and rubric assessment, differentiated instruction, student 1:1 computing, computer science curriculum, design thinking, project-based learning, Global Online Academy, electives development, and more. We cultivate teacher leadership and lead processes to design the future of teaching and learning at U Prep. We observe classroom instruction and provide teachers with actionable, research-informed feedback. We supervise the directors of library, academic technology, learning support, and global programs. In case you think it’s all glamor and magic, we also create class schedules and order textbooks!

The academic dean helps bridge the research-practice divide. Well-documented in (self-referential) academic research, the work of education scholars rarely reaches the classroom. Why? Education research may be out of touch with the practical realities of classroom instruction. Teachers may not have opportunities to access and make meaning of education research. Teaching practice may be as much of an art as a science. Jack Schneider’s recent book takes a close look at these factors.

The academic dean helps mediate all of these factors. Knowledgeable of education research, the dean helps monitor, comprehend, and explain current articles and books. The dean has perspective on the history of school reform and can position the school within the landscape of education philosophies. The dean helps teachers navigate the interplay between research findings and practical classroom matters. The dean can articulate the school’s mission and values in industry terms and design professional development to cultivate an intentional identity of teaching practice in the school. The dean may act as a school leader to identify strategic opportunities for program innovation and growth.

How does this work benefit students? Student experiences and performance underlies every class observation and program planning conversation. Student engagement, questions, performance, progress, and difficulties are all included in teacher feedback and strategic program changes. Students are included in conversations, committees, focus groups, and surveys when proposed program changes are considered. Our students even propose such changes directly, whether through student government or by simply walking into our offices!

Serving as academic dean has been an exciting experience—a thrilling intellectual, interpersonal challenge. I encourage more independent schools to identify a single person to champion and lead academics, and for academic deans and curriculum coordinators to build stronger networks and collaborations. You know where to find me!

EZproxy Off-Campus Library Database Access

Academic research databases have become the preferred way for students to access high-quality academic literature in a variety of subject areas. Since students conduct research both at school and at home, off-campus access is essential.

Historically, independent schools have provided off-campus access through either terminal services or individual user accounts for each research source. The first method is technically challenging for users to reliably access. The second requires library staff to keep multiple sets of student accounts up-to-date on an increasing number of external systems.
For a number of years, university libraries have used EZproxy to provide off-campus access to large student bodies. This week, we have launched this service at our school. As the name suggests, EZproxy provides alternate URLs to pages that load and display research database content to authenticated users. To the student, the result is seamless. They click on the research database link and access the resources. However, if you look at the URL at the top of the screen, you can see the work that is happening behind the scenes. In many ways, this is the ideal BYOD solution, infrastructure sophistication that simplifies the user experience. The service is further reduces barriers to already heavily used resources. 

EZproxy is a service of OCLC, “a global library cooperative that provides shared technology services, original research and community programs for its membership and the library community at large.”  



Library Leadership Summit

There’s a “new vibrancy” in information sciences today, stated Mike Eisenberg, dean emeritus of the UW Information School. Insights came aplenty at this weekend’s School Library Journal Leadership Summit. The portion I attended this morning included a keynote presentation by Marnie Webb and leadership panel facilitated by Eisenberg. The presentations spoke to librarian advocacy, “extreme” listening, and librarians as technology leaders. I am proud that our library staff do all of this and more, playing a central role in the life of the school. Here are some of my thoughts from this morning.

Lucky To Work In a School

Today has been one of those enriching days where I consider myself so fortunate to work at a school. On these days, I get to witness deep learning, student agency, social responsibility, and global citizenship. Students are engaging with the issues of our world, and there’s no question of how this knowledge applies to their lives.

8:00 AM: met with two seniors to hear their wishes and visions for service learning and internship programs.

9:00 AM: Skyped with a fellow member of Global Online Academy’s “Lab Experience” Global Learning Network.

10:00 AM: reviewed faculty reports on summer collaborative curriculum development.

11:00 AM: attended an assembly presentation by aid worker Carl Wilkens on Rwanda 21 years after the genocide.

Noon: sat in on middle school student input meeting for the school’s master facilities plan.

1:00 PM: sat in on the upper school master facilities plan input meeting.

2:00 PM: met with a group to check in on our progress developing new learning support programs.

3:00 PM: went for a run with the cross-country team.

6:00 PM: enjoyed dinner at the food trucks with middle school parents.

7:00 PM: attended middle school Back To School Night.


Complexity as a Response To Uncertainty

Lol_question_mark“There’s a man in our backyard. He’s carrying a leash and playing with our dog.” We felt unnerved. Our younger son was home alone, and now a stranger was in the backyard. We had been robbed before, and our parental instincts kicked in. Was the guy casing our house? Stealing the dog?

As the man left the house, we soon calmed down, and our minds ran through possible explanations. None seemed to fit. If the man was coming to case the house, why did he carry a leash? If he came with a leash, why didn’t he leave with the dog? Was he a pet lover? Isn’t it a little forward to enter a backyard? Why didn’t he ring the doorbell? The issue felt unresolved, and that felt uncomfortable. We wanted at least a reasonable theory, yet none of the possible explanations we came up with seemed to fit.

We arrived home, and everything seemed calm: happy kid, happy dog, lingering questions. We took the dog for a walk, and that’s when the neighbor across the street solved the mystery. “Did you son leave the gate open? Your dog came across the street to play with us, so I walked him back to your house. Your cars were gone, and it didn’t appear that anyone was home. The dog kept following me when I tried to walk out, so I played with the dog until she got tired!” Our son hadn’t recognized the neighbor from his view at the upstairs window and had kept quiet out of concern.

Why didn’t we think of this as a possible explanation? Too many factors were involved: the open gate, the wandering dog, the friendly neighbor, the empty driveway, the view from above. We had not considered this possibility, because too many different factors were involved. The situation was too complex for us to come up with this possible scenario, particularly when we were mindful of the safety of our child.

Being human, we seek to make meaning of the world around us. Since the world is very complex and our senses relatively limited, we tend toward simple explanations. Countless factors shape real-world phenomena such as climate change, crime, wars, immigration, health, and economics. Yet, oversimplification abounds. Politicians cast blame on single factors in search of votes. Companies appeal to simple explanations to sell products. Friends and colleagues cast regional issues as linear problems with single-variable causes. Social media speaks in sound bites.

Education is particularly prone to oversimplification. The “success” of Singapore and Finland. The “failure” of our educational system. “Good” and “bad” schools. In education, concrete evidence is scarce and armchair theories abound. Common sense and a good gut instinct are essential within an environment where scientific analysis produces far more questions than answers. Education’s research-practice divide exists in part because research explores far more variables than an educator could possibly incorporate into a class period with a roomful of students.

I often find myself playing the role of “complexifier.” When I hear an explanation framed in simple terms, I note the other factors potentially involved. We walk a delicate balance between action and inquiry. On the one hand, the events of each school day demand action. On the other hand, we must continue to ask questions and identify contributing factors.

Our neighbor’s good deed reminds us that responsible practice requires us to continue to function within uncertainty. While sometimes uncomfortable, we should neither oversimplify nor become paralyzed when we cannot explain what we observe. If we stay curious, use our senses, and speak with others, we may build a deeper understanding over time and improve our practice.

Image by WOLF LΔMBERT (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Summer Readings on School Change

The topic of school change is ever present and active. During this year’s opening faculty meetings, U Prep teachers discussed five books that describe the leading edge of school change. An overall theme emerged from the books. In the present era of rapid change in society and the failure of state standardized testing to improve education, educators are once again designing instruction with the student at the center of the learning experience. In this article, I highlight the related ideas from our five summer reading selections that most resonated with our teachers.


The group that read 5 Minds for the Future (Howard Gardner) expressed particular interest in multidisciplinary, thematic inquiry. Most real-world questions that speak to student experience require multiple disciplines to fully address. As an example, the group speculated that the fine arts would be a particularly good subject to integrate with other academic subjects. They then questioned the value of the academic departments that we currently have. Would students be better served by multidisciplinary, thematically-based departments that focus on the higher-order skills we desire for our students? One can imagine departments along different lines than our current academic subjects: logic and reasoning, ethics, data analysis, and so on.

Both the #EdJourney (Grant Lichtman) and 5 Minds discussion groups addressed the value of experiential education. Echoing Dewey, the groups upheld the value of direct engagement, questioning, analysis, and presentation for student learning. In an age of ubiquitous access to information, students most need to learn to ask good questions and identify patterns in the world. When we invited three students to make the culminating presentation of our opening meetings, they spoke to the great value of the experience-based, study away programs that they attended last year.

These same two faculty groups considered the need to restructure the school day and calendar year to support experiential education and deep learning. Running five to seven class periods in a day, while a rational compromise among different interests, ultimately undermines depth and continuity of study. What schedule might better serve students? The books included a number of possible alternatives from schools across the country.

The concepts of agency, risk, challenge, and failure generated much teacher interest. As one colleague has wryly noted, “failure is not an option” at high-performing independent schools. To avoid failure, young adults may take the less risky route, focusing on more on completion and compliance than on intellectual engagement. The student who stays quiet in class in an effort to identify the “right answer” misses the opportunity for personal growth and advancement. Both Loving Learning (Tom Little and Katherine Ellison) and How Children Succeed (Paul Tough) tell the stories of students who set ambitious goals, exhibited optimism, developed resilience, and overcame obstacles. Real learning requires meaningful challenge within a supportive environment.

Listen to enough great stories of student learning, and one thread is sure to emerge: student agency. When students are the primary actor in their own play, they shape meaningful parts of their own education, rather than having education done to them. Student choice, student leadership, project-based learning, and other examples from Loving Learning and other books explain how schools may design opportunities for student agency and passion.

How may teachers effectively lead classroom conversations about race if both they and students feel uncomfortable and ill-equipped to navigate such topics? Each chapter of Raising Race Questions (Ali Michael) discusses a concept or skill essential to teacher cultural competency. The two faculty groups that read this book expressed the conviction to engage with the tough questions that come up in class discussion, whether expected or not. They identified the elements required to make this journey: development of positive racial identity, identification of “hidden” race dynamics in subject matter, teacher growth mindset, intersectionality, and norms for courageous conversations.

In a recent article, Brian Hart exposed the flawed design of most faculty professional development in independent schools. At U Prep, we align professional development and planning days around central themes, so that a teacher may build understanding of key concepts, and design and test methods of practice, over time and in collaboration with colleagues. The summer faculty reads carry forward last year’s professional development theme of Teaching for Understanding into this year’s strategic planning work on Next Generation Learning.


My Professional Development This Year

Amidst planning full faculty professional development activities for this year, I have also lined up a few dates for myself. My activities this year focus on leadership, curriculum revision, and social justice in education.

School Library Journal Leadership Summit

September 26-27, Seattle

I have never been to a full-on library conference, and yet I supervise our library director. It’s time to check this out.

NWAIS Educators Conference

October 9, Seattle

I have helped organize this one. Our regional association’s annual conference will feature an outstanding lineup of national and regional speakers on topics of social and cultural diversity and social justice. I am proud of NWAIS for embracing this topic in a timely manner. It is quite likely that diversity and justice will remain at or near the tops of our schools’ agendas for years to come. Students get the day off, and our entire faculty will attend.

Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice

October 17, Seattle

I am looking forward to experiencing this annual conference. A colleague brought this to my attention, and a number of our teachers plan to attend.

Independent Curriculum Group Academic Leaders Retreat

November 4-6, Abiquiu, New Mexico

Peter Gow and Jonathan Martin have organized an agenda that balances learning sessions, unconference discussions, and social time. I am looking forward to my first academic leadership conference since turning to instruction full-time. I also plan to soak in the New Mexico landscape, not having visited since 1994. U Prep became an ICG Partner this year.

NAIS Annual Conference

February 24-26, San Francisco

The single most attended annual event among independent school administrators. There is no better opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and associates and learn the latest about their initiatives and challenges. The conference sessions themselves are a great way to understand what indy schools are focusing on. Last year, I resolved that it was not really possible to present a session, attend sessions, and recruit at the hiring fair. I resolve to do just two of these three this year.


What are you up to this year?

Improving Inside U Prep

One difference between being a tech director and academic dean is the much smaller amount of time that I have available for tech tasks. I don’t replace MacBook hard drives anymore, but I do still run at least one school website, Inside U Prep. This summer, I had the chance to have some fun and make a number of long-desired improvements to the website. Many of these simply bring it up to the standard I wished for when I first launched the site.

In the tradition of other internal school websites, Inside U Prep meets a couple of important school needs. Inside sites provide direct access to resources that students and faculty and staff members frequently use. While the main school website prioritizes outward-facing content, intranet websites give top billing to items of internal interest. Internal school websites are less bound by the the design constraints of a public audience, since they have less need to project specific aesthetics. Its audience comes to campus every day!


The improvements include changes to visual appearance, user interface, and custom module functionality. Let’s get started:

Responsive theme

mobileThe prior theme (Bartik) did not change appearance on mobile devices, a liability in the current, mobile era. Fortunately, someone modified Bartik to make it responsive and then posted it as a community theme (Responsive Bartik D7).

Child theme
Short on time, I originally configured Bartik with a custom logo and manually added a couple of graphic elements. These changes were overwritten each time that I installed an update to the theme. This time, I created a child theme of Responsive Bartik. This allowed me to make the prior customizations permanent and then make precise improvements to layout and appearance. The new sans-serif look is cleaner and better spaced.

Simplify menus

The two menus now appear in one column and have moved from the primary menu and right sidebar regions of the page to the more commonly used left sidebar. Usage stats indicate that the custom modules and outward links are used more frequently than the internal resources, another reason to enhance their visibility.

Views instead of custom code

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.53.22 PMSince site launch, the resources content type has accepted link URLs, uploaded files, and HTML content. The home page displays whatever content has been provided, with a priority order. Previously, I coded this custom, but this time I created a view block for each cell, with the help of Views Conditional so that it would be more standard for me or someone else to modify this configuration in the future.

ITIP module

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.51.07 PMOne of six custom modules I have authored to provide dynamic data collection and reporting services for specific school programs. ITIP is our faculty professional development and evaluation program. The system now shows multiple years and can accept multiple submissions per item. It will soon request and share an informal project title from each faculty member and then share these to all faculty members, to promote awareness and sharing.

Course resources module

A.k.a. “textbook list.” This module collects course textbook, ebook, app, and website subscription information from teachers in the spring and shares it with families in the fall. This year, the system will show a customized course resources list for each student, instead of requiring families to wade through the complete list to identify the items to purchase for their student.

Community service module

This module makes the submission of community service hours completely electronic. The prior version was pretty bare bones, just performing the basic functions of storing student hours, sending mail messages to supervisors for verification, and producing a dashboard and reports of student progress toward the service requirement. New features include: better structured data entry and storage, normalized organizations table to reduce duplication, faster approval interface for the service coordinator, and dashboard access for advisors. With this done, we will be able to share back to students the 300+ service organizations that they have entered into this database in the past two years. Time permitting, I am very excited to try Addressfield Autocomplete, which may be able to perform a live Google Maps lookup of organization address information. This would be both really slick as well as more convenient and accurate for the service coordinator. Again, the Drupal community has been actively improving the sophistication and usability of contributed modules while I have been gone!

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.54.15 PMTwitter feeds

Live feeds from three school Twitter accounts of interest to internal audiences.

Finally configured pathauto

Human-friendly URLs.

Maxlength module

Maxlength limits user input into textarea fields, previously a weakness of this site. Users would enter unexpectedly long content into certain fields (usually adding explanations), and database insert statements would break.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.55.19 PMDate picker module

Drupal finally created an easy way to attach popup calendar selectors to date fields. We use date selectors all the time, for example to record student community service. Date picker

I look forward to seeing how these improvements play this year and so appreciate having a few days this summer to make a brief return to my web development days.

Splendors of the Pacific Northwest

This July, our family continued to explore the beauty and majesty of the Pacific Northwest. Our travels included Vancouver Island, the San Juans, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and central Oregon. There is so much variety and life to experience that school programs can’t help but connect with them. In additional to the experiential outdoor programs that are a regular sight in our schools and youth organizations, other curricular-tie ins include resource management, Native American history, ecological diversity, multiculturalism, and more. This is an amazing part of the country in which to attend or work in a school. Here are a few shots from our recent summer travels.