Happy Friday from Principal Chris

  • November 22, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 11/25/2019

    Happy Friday,

    The harvest season is an important time for us. These are the months when we reap the fruits of our labors with an eye on ensuring we are safe and cared for during the winter months. Our skies darken early and cold winds sweep down from the North East. It can be a time of quiet and reflection. Mostly, it is a season for being thankful. 

    I am thankful for our families, who believe in their children and the promise of education. Talking with parents at school events and around town, I am awed by their commitment to education as a means for realizing vocation. Our kids thrive because of the support they receive each day from their families.

    I am thankful for our teachers, who believe every student is capable of growing each day. Sitting in on classes and talking with teachers, I am grateful for their commitment to understanding what each student needs to find success. Each day I watch teachers take time with their students, and I am reminded of what a gift it is to have a teacher who cares by seeing you for who you are becoming.

    I am thankful for our students and their capacity to fill us all with the hope that comes from looking towards the future. Watching our students in and out of classes as they support each other and live out our “just be nice” ideal provides a hopeful glimpse of the world they will shape for their generation. I am thankful to be able to spend each day with such a committed group of kind, young people who appreciate their educational opportunities.

    I am thankful for our staff who are always ready to help others. I see the time and effort each member of the staff puts into their work: a kind response to a phone call, attention to the details in planning an event, taking the extra time to do things well, reaching out to support whoever is near, laughing together with colleagues. I am reminded each day of how fortunate we are to be surrounded by people who care so deeply about their school.

    I am thankful for those who care for our space - our common home away from home. Each day as I walk around the campus I am reminded of the tremendous effort that is required to keep our aged systems working, the details that are tended to each day and night, and the time it takes to keep everything running without notice. Mostly though, I am thankful for the friendly smiles throughout our busy days.

    I hope that during the Thanksgiving break from school you have the opportunity to spend time simply being with family. There is a certain art to “doing nothing” by centering yourself in the moment and being able to be fully present with others. Finding that still space that feels like the quiet of falling snow. I encourage you all to make it to the beach for a walk with a loved one. The combined beauty and power of the ocean meeting the colored sky in the later afternoon is always a reminder to me of how fortunate we are to call such a beautiful place our home.

    Peace,
    Chris

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  • November 15, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 11/15/2019

    11-15-19 

    Happy Friday, 

    Wednesday was World Kindness Day, which exists to advance the idea of making kindness the norm in our daily lives. The idea is not to call for us to make a grand effort like creating world peace or dedicating ourselves to a cause. The concept is much simpler: be kind on purpose each day as part of your routine. Compliment a friend; smile; intentionally plan to do one kind thing in your daily routine; make someone smile; contact a distant friend; be kind to yourself. The idea that rings through for me is this: plan to be kind to one person each day. It is the intentionality of the kindness and the idea of planning it out as part of my day that gives me pause. 

    It is our individual actions that collectively shape the quality of life in our community. We plan so much of our lives so that we can get things done and take care of the business that falls to us. For our kids that business is largely school. For us that business is work and caring for our families. We all work so hard and take on so much responsibility that we can be left feeling exhausted at the end of a day. 

    I wonder what would happen if we intentionally added one act of kindness to our daily routine. I know adding to our to do list seems counter-intuitive to decrease the stress in our lives. However, I also know that when someone makes the extra effort to be kind to me I feel lighter and carry a smile on my face through the day. Kindness is energizing: like good food for our soul. Maybe daily kindness is what we all need most as both giver and receiver. 

    I hope this weekend you have the opportunity to try this idea of planning to be kind to someone, and that the kindness from another brings a smile to your face. 

    Peace,

    Chris 

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  • November 8, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 11/8/2019

    Happy Friday,

    Formal education, schooling, is a human invention with the capacity to advance civilization. Imagine where we would be as a species without literacy, numeracy, philosophy, and art. Formal, disciplined education has enabled us to combat disease, establish laws, negotiate peace, be responsible stewards of the planet, produce symphonies, learn from our history, and invent our way beyond an existence limited to basic survival.

    We thrive intellectually, emotionally, and socially because we invented schooling.

    At this time of year when we close out a marking period, one aspect of our schooling invention stands out: grades.  Why do we have grades? What role does grading have in the grand design of schooling? How should we use grades?

    I would like to suggest that grades enable three essential elements of any learning process. One, grades represent agreed upon standards so we can progress. Two, grades can facilitate conversations for students so they can reflect and feel ownership of their learning. Three, grades can help students identify their strengths and strategize for improving. 

    In order for grades to impact learning they must be discussed. What does a grade say about our performance? What does a grade show us about what is working well? What does a grade show us about what is not working well? If questions like these are not addressed, then grades cannot impact learning, and are reduced to symbols used for sorting students. Like any human invention the value of the tool is determined by how it is used. A hammer is not a good screwdriver, but a hammer is an excellent tool for driving in a nail. Grades are not a measure of a person’s worth, but they can be a means for productive and constructive dialogue about how to progress as a learner.

    I hope  - on this weekend when we celebrate our veterans for their extraordinary service and commitment to our democratic way of life - you can find time to talk with your kids about the progress they are making in school as they work toward understanding the contribution they will make to our collective efforts to advance.

    Peace,
    Chris

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  • November 1, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 11/1/2019

    Happy Friday 11/01/19

    Yesterday was a reminder of the masks we sometimes wear. While Halloween marks an extreme for mask wearing, we all put on faces each day as we make our way. The brave smile for that yearly flushot. The stoic face as we try to make sense of something troubling. That smile that breaks over your face when a child smiles at you. The tears that fall when we cannot hold back the sadness.
    Sometimes our faces are representative, sometimes we use them to hide, sometimes to protect ourselves, and sometimes to comfort those who depend on us to be brave.

    Our kids are searching for their identities. They try on many masks during their four years of high school. Sometimes they are trying to fit in. Sometimes they are trying to stand out. Sometimes they are trying to be invisible. They change so much from ninth grade to graduation. This process of searching for an identity is often described as adding layers. I would like to suggest that the search for identity is largely about stripping away false selves to get to the core of who we have the capacity to become.

    Young people thrive when they are able to be true to themselves in the face of societal pressure, peer pressure, and other influences that can cast them astray of their true path: their vocation. As families we know our kids better than themselves sometimes. We have watched them grow; we have seen patterns develop over time; we have an acute sense of who they are becoming. The challenge is knowing when to step in and when to let them find their way. How much do we intervene before we are enabling? How much do we protect them before we are sheltering? How much do we support them before they become dependent? These are the dilemmas that keep us up at night, that make us worry if we are doing the right thing.

    School should be a place where young people can find themselves through exploration, questioning, and listening to their inner voice. This is why as teachers we work so hard to see and hear our students each day. We are witnesses to their evolution. We hope they come to us with their questions. We hope they know how much we care for them. We hope they know how much we believe in them.

    Young people surrounded by adults who show an active interest in who they are struggling to become are more likely to embrace their identity, to share what they have to offer, and to pursue their unique talents. They respond to our attention in this way because we are sending the message that we need them to be themselves so they can make their unique contribution. With this acknowledgment of their uniqueness comes the responsibility to engage, and with full engagement comes the reward of them knowing that they matter, that others need them, and that they need
    others.


    I wish everyone a wonderful weekend with some time for a conversation about how we know when we are being true to ourselves.

    Peace,
    Chris

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  • October 25, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 10/25/2019

    Oct 25, 2019 

    Happy Friday Everyone, 

    Our world seems to get more complicated by the minute. The problems we face have so many layers and call for a combination of expertise in order to be addressed. The work our students do in school has also become more complex. The days of learning in isolation and tackling one dimensional problems are in our rear-view mirror. This progress has made it even more important for our kids to think of asking for help as a sign of strength. 

    There was a time when raising your hand in class to ask a question or going to a teacher because you were stuck was seen as a sign of weakness. Students felt they were supposed to only provide answers and get things right on the first try. Now we live in an age where asking for help is a sign of strength, a sign that you are challenging yourself. Our society is filled with adult experts who work with coaches of all sorts to ensure continuous growth. 

    Unfortunately, young people can still feel like they are expected to get everything right: that they are being measured against perfection. How can we help our kids orient themselves to school as a place where making mistakes and asking for support are understood as essential steps in any worthwhile learning process? How can we help them become more comfortable with the discomfort that comes from learning something new? How can we reframe diversity to be understood as a necessary condition for the advancement of understanding? It is difficult to earn if you only engage with others who are like you and share your ideas. Engaging with others who think differently or who have a different lived experience is a way to call into question assumptions and provides the opportunity to consider the familiar in unfamiliar ways. 

    One way we can help our kids is by starting with ourselves and the degree to which we engage in new learning. The very experience of trying something new can remind us of what our kids feel like each day. The paradoxes we must navigate when learning the new are humbling: excitement and fear, apprehension and enthusiasm, exhilaration and disappointment, celebration and frustration. Each day our kids wade through these conflicting feelings because their job is to do what they have not done before: study new problems, read new ideas, practice new skills. When we break from our routines and our expertise, then we can be reminded of how hard it is to learn and we can start to see our kids more clearly. 

    I hope this weekend presents an opportunity for you to learn something new and to talk with your family what it feels like to struggle through the learning curve. Lean into something that is a bit beyond you. Share how you find the will to persevere. Explain how you respond to setbacks. Describe how you were resourceful. Show how you were able to seek out help. 

    A community of learners is a community in a constant state of growth filled with hope for the future. What better way to show you kids you understand and appreciate their efforts to learn than to join with them in the wonderful and perplexing act of learning something new. 

    Peace, Chris 

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  • October 18, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 10/18/2019

    Oct 18, 2019 

    Happy Friday, 

    I had the opportunity to speak with some students this week about stress. I asked them several questions: Did they feel it was true that they were a generation under great stress? Was there anything their school and teachers could do to help? Was there anything they could do to help themselves? Did they have any ideas about what could be done to change their current condition? What did they see as the primary causes of their stress? Were they getting enough sleep? 

    As they always do, they leaned into the questions and spoke honestly. At the end of the conversation they had found their way to the conclusion that the stress was coming from what they described as a society with a core value of always doing and getting more. They explained the guilt and the anxiety that comes from taking a break. It seems they experience a cycle that goes something like this: feeling too busy - needing a break - taking a break - feeling like they are falling behind because of their break - feeling guilt and worry- returning to their busyness with the wish they had not taken a break. Factor in their 24/7 social media driven life and you get some sense of how overwhelming life can feel for them. 

    This never ending need to be busy/racing that has been described as a Race to Nowhere (a 2009 documentary directed by Vicki Abeles and Jessica Congdon) seems to have become the new normal for our students. My conversation with our kids and their identification of our society as the cause of their stress was both overwhelming and grounding. Society is made by people and the choices they make. A human society is not something nature imposes upon us like the weather. This suggests we each have the capacity to influence society. Collective action can feel overwhelming and individual action can seem inadequate. What can be done? 

    Mahatma Gandhi is often misquoted as having said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” 

    While these words are a hopeful response to the question of what can be done by individuals to impact society. What he actually said provides even more direction ( I have edited the gender specific personal pronouns from the original for inclusion) : 

    We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a person changes their own nature, so does the attitude of the world change that person. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do. - Mahatma Gandhi 

    I hope our kids believe societal change is possible through the changes they make for themselves. I hope we - the adults - believe in the difference we can each make by our daily choices: smiling to a passerby, holding the door open for someone, asking a friend how they are feeling, stepping away from a task to help another. I hope the acts of kindness we choose each day can shape a culture of caring. I hope making small choices that run counter to what the students described as a value placed on “doing and getting more” will change the tide and move us all to a place where we do not feel compelled to join the race to nowhere. 

    I hope this weekend provides some down time that you and your kids can enjoy and feels like the right thing to do for everyone. 

    Peace, 

    Chris 

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  • October 11, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 10/11/2019

    Oct 11 2019 Nauset Regional High School 

    Happy Friday, 

    At times we can all feel like life is happening to us. Young people often feel this way about school. Their days can feel like a list of things they have to do. Consider this list of "I have to ... I have to take a test on Thursday; I have to turn my essay in on Friday; I have to finish my lab on Tuesday. How do we help our kids re-frame what they "have to do" into things they want to do out of interest? 

    Imagine this alternative list: I get to show what I know about graphing a point in math class on Thursday; I get to share my understanding of the causes of imperialism with my history teacher on Friday; I am get to discover the impact caffeine has on concentration during science class on Tuesday. 

    As adults we constantly adjust our reality by re-framing. A rainy day gets re-framed as a good day to sit with a book and read. A last minute appointment cancellation becomes an opportunity to get to that thing on your "to do" list that keeps slipping to the bottom. We learn to use our minds to adjust our relationship to the things we do not have the power to change. 

    For students this re-framing exercise happens when they are able to find interest in the thing they are learning. A frustrating word problem becomes an interesting puzzle. A research paper becomes a way to answer an interesting question. A lab becomes a method for proving an interesting hypothesis. The key to any learning experience is finding authentic interest in the thing being learned. 

    As teachers we are always asking our students this question: How can you make what we are doing interesting to you? When we consider the idea that all things are connected, then it stands to reason that the things we find interesting can be connected to the things we do not find interesting. Some refer to this as the "six degrees of separation." A student might not find the details associated with a particular Civil War battle interesting, but the thought of brothers fighting against brothers might resonate and cast a very different light on a history research essay. 

    The next time one of your kids expresses frustration about a particular lesson or subject, you might want to respond by asking them to think about what they can do to re-frame, to change the mindset they have established. Our minds have the capacity to change our reality, but such changes do not happen unless we make the choice to rethink how we are choosing to experience that reality. 

    I hope the long weekend (an event that likely needs no re-framing) provides your family with the opportunity to rest and spend some quality time together. 

    Peace, Chris 

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  • October 4, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 10/4/2019

    Oct 11 2019

    Happy Friday, 

    At times we can all feel like life is happening to us. Young people often feel this way about school. Their days can feel like a list of things they have to do. Consider this list of "I have to ... I have to take a test on Thursday; I have to turn my essay in on Friday; I have to finish my lab on Tuesday. How do we help our kids re-frame what they "have to do" into things they want to do out of interest? 

    Imagine this alternative list: I get to show what I know about graphing a point in math class on Thursday; I get to share my understanding of the causes of imperialism with my history teacher on Friday; I am get to discover the impact caffeine has on concentration during science class on Tuesday. 

    As adults we constantly adjust our reality by re-framing. A rainy day gets re-framed as a good day to sit with a book and read. A last minute appointment cancellation becomes an opportunity to get to that thing on your "to do" list that keeps slipping to the bottom. We learn to use our minds to adjust our relationship to the things we do not have the power to change. 

    For students this re-framing exercise happens when they are able to find interest in the thing they are learning. A frustrating word problem becomes an interesting puzzle. A research paper becomes a way to answer an interesting question. A lab becomes a method for proving an interesting hypothesis. The key to any learning experience is finding authentic interest in the thing being learned. 

    As teachers we are always asking our students this question: How can you make what we are doing interesting to you? When we consider the idea that all things are connected, then it stands to reason that the things we find interesting can be connected to the things we do not find interesting. Some refer to this as the "six degrees of separation." A student might not find the details associated with a particular Civil War battle interesting, but the thought of brothers fighting against brothers might resonate and cast a very different light on a history research essay. 

    The next time one of your kids expresses frustration about a particular lesson or subject, you might want to respond by asking them to think about what they can do to re-frame, to change the mindset they have established. Our minds have the capacity to change our reality, but such changes do not happen unless we make the choice to rethink how we are choosing to experience that reality. 

    I hope the long weekend (an event that likely needs no re-framing) provides your family with the opportunity to rest and spend some quality time together. 

    Peace, Chris 

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  • September 27, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 9/27/2019

    Sep 27, 2019 

    Happy Friday, 

    High school is more than academics, arts and athletics. While formal academic education is our priority, the work students do takes place in a social context that informs their social and emotional development, which impacts their capacity to take full advantage of educational opportunities. 

    Today's schools are complex ecosystems. When we pay attention to and care for our social and emotional condition, then we thrive as individuals. One important aspect of this ecosystem is the concept of community: the idea that as a member of the Nauset High School Community we each belong to something larger than ourselves: a commitment to education. When we have opportunities to care for each other and for our environment, then we feel like we make a difference: like we are making a necessary and unique contribution through our shared commitment to education.. 

    Next week is Homecoming Week, which provide us with an opportunity to celebrate with each other. Carnival is an essential part of any culture. As human beings we need to come together regularly to celebrate each other as a way of saying thank you for the community we have made together. Wearing Hawaiian shirts, team hats, the colors black and gold, and participating in contests by advisory groups may seem "extra," but if we reframe the events as opportunities to celebrate our community, then the week takes on a different role and can be seen as a time to be inspired and motivated to commit to the beliefs and practices we share with the other members of our school community. 

    I hope the start of fall provides each of you and your families with the opportunity to pause and consider the traditions that shape you family, the ways that you mark time together, and in the ways that you pause from the daily routine and give thanks to each other. 

    Peace,

    Chris 

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  • September 20, 2019

    Posted by Chris Ellsasser on 9/20/2019

    Nauset Regional High School 

    Sep 20, 2019 

    Happy Friday Everyone, 

    A teacher's "apprenticeship of observation" (being a student in school and observing teaching from the student perspective), can lead us in our early years of teaching to believe that teaching is only something we deliver to students. An important paradigm shift in any teacher's career is the morning you wake up and find yourself looking forward to what you will learn from your students. The pressure to deliver is replaced by curiosity, anxious moments of planning are replaced by exciting moments of discovery, your world flips, and you begin to be fully present with your students each day - learning alongside them. 

    A little over a decade into fatherhood, it occurs to me that the same is true of parenting. There comes a moment when we see our kids as people with the capacity to teach us, to care for us, and to enrich our understanding of the world. Young people surrounded by teachers and families who ask them genuine questions and listen carefully, come to see themselves differently. They develop the confidence to lean into challenges, and they willingly seek support when they are stuck. I was reminded of this during my advisory meeting this week when the students in my group helped me understand their relationship with their phones. Their lived experience helped me think about how I might address phones with my own boys. I now have twelve technology-use consultants to help me navigate an approaching chapter of my life. 

    It looks like one of those perfect Cape Cod Septembers - the water is still warm enough for swimming, the crowds are gone, and we have our home to ourselves. I hope this weekend presents a moment when you are able to learn alongside your kids. 

    Peace,

    Chris 

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