NWAIS Educators Conference Focuses on Social Justice and Equity

Tomorrow, over one thousand independent school educators will gather at Lakeside School in Seattle to study topics of educational equity and social justice. Our regional association has assembled an outstanding lineup of keynote and featured speakers, as well as breakout sessions led by independent school teachers and program specialists.


Fall Educators Conference

Transformative Moments:
The Journey to Inclusive, Welcoming Schools


Keynote Speakers

MK Asante

Best-selling author, award-winning filmmaker, rapper, professor, and independent school grad, who CNN calls “a master storyteller and major creative force” presenting:
“How a Blank Page Saved My Life”


Steven Jones, Ph.D

One of the country’s top cultural competency experts presenting:
Manage or be Managed by our Unconscious Bias

Featured Speakers Include

Janice Toben
and Elizabeth McLeod of the Institute for Social Emotional Learning presenting:
The SEL Toolbox

Michael Gurian, New York Times Best Selling Author, presenting:
Teaching Boys Effectively and Teaching Girls Effectively

Thomas Hoerr
, Head of The New City School (St. Louis, MO) presenting:
Teaching Ferguson

Jennifer Bryan
, Ph.D. presenting:
Gender and Sexuality Diversity

Heather Clark
, Rainier Scholars and University of Washington presenting:
Navigating Culture

Rosetta Lee
, Seattle Girl’s School, presenting:
Inclusion in the Early Years and Navigating Ouch Moments

Alison Park
, Blink Consulting presenting:
Facilitating Inclusive Conversations About Diversity and Social Justice and Talking About Socioeconomic Status and Class

Maketa Wilborn
will be offering Graphic Facilitation and Facilitating World Café Networking Opportunity

Cindy Goldrich
, Ed. M., ACAC, is a Mental Health Counselor, Certified ADHD Coach and Teacher Trainer presenting:
The Impacts of ADHD and Executive Function Deficits On Your Students Learning and Behavior


Additional breakout sessions presented by your colleagues and peers.


More information at NWAIS.org

Student-Led Study Skills Workshops

Today, Upper School students led a series of discussions about study skills. The student-inspired topics addressed areas of work that students most consider when figuring out paths to academic success. As I sat in on the science discussion, I got to observe students share their understandings of course learning objectives, discipline-specific types of thinking, memory techniques, and stories of success and failure.

Topics included:IMG_4478

Overcommitment, Busy Schedule, Prioritizing
Balancing Expectations
Stress Management
Long Term Project Management
Dealing with Tech Distractions
Good Tech Habits/Computer Hygiene
How to Improve Focus
Using Music to Help You Work
How to Write Formal Emails
Foreign Language Study Skills
English Specific Study Techniques
History Specific Study Techniques
Math Specific Study Techniques
Science Specific Study Techniques

100 Reasons To Not Offer APs

Creative Writing
Critical Reading and Effective Writing
Environmental Ethics
Masculine and Feminine: Ways of Seeing in the West
States United? Nonfiction Texts and American Identity
The Narrator and the Nature of Story Telling
The Big Novel: Moby Dick
The End: Literature of the Apocalypse
The Haunted Terrain of Gothic Literature
Science Fiction: More than a Genre
Art and Social Change
Drawing I
Drawing and Painting II
Filmmaking II
Graphic Design
Mixed Media
Painting I
Photography I
Photography II
The Singer’s Showcase
Orchestra & Band
Chamber Orchestra
Intermediate Jazz Ensemble
Advanced Jazz Ensemble
Songwriting and the Language of Music
Acting or Reacting
The Humanities of the Theater
Modern American Plays
Play Production – Musical
Play Production – Dramatic Play
Stagecraft – Musical
Stagecraft – Dramatic Play
Student-Produced Works Seminar
Computer Science I
Computer Science II
Digital Leadership
Global Leadership
Introduction to Psychology
Literary Magazine
Big Data and Analytics
Art and Social Change
Brazilian History
First Peoples: Native American History
Topics in United States History
Francophone Literature and Contemporary Authors
Literature and Film from Spain and Latin America
Introduction to Statistics
Advanced Statistics
Advanced Topics in Mathematics
Big Data
Individualized Program in Mathematics
Individualized PE
Lifetime Activities
Racquet Sports
Weight Training
Advanced Topics in Chemistry
Current Topics in Biotechnology
Special Relativity
Beyond Photoshop: The Art of Code, The Code of Art
Digital Photography
Fiction Writing
Music Theory and Digital Composition
Poetry Writing
Creative Non-Fiction
Abnormal Psychology
Global Health
Medical Problem Solving I
Medical Problem Solving II
Organic Chemistry in Modern Life
Arabic 1: Language through Culture
Gender Studies
Genocide & Human Rights
Japanese 1: Language through Culture
This We Believe: Comparative Religions
Computer Programming II: Analyzing Data with Python
Contest Mathematics
Game Theory
iOS App Design
Linear Algebra I through Modern Applications
Multivariable Calculus
9/11 in a Global Context
Applying Philosophy to Modern Global Issues
Comparative Politics

These 100 elective courses are available to U Prep students, because we design our entire curriculum. Subjects are determine by teacher expertise, student interest and based on contemporary topics and pressing social issues.

University Prep Upper School Course of Study

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.