Category Archives: Education

What’s the Secret to a Long Life? #BCSLearns

What does it take to live 100 and beyond?  How would you answer this question?  Many of the first things that come to mind revolve around taking care of your mental and physical health.  Exercise often. Eat healthy. Keep a positive attitude (easier said then done).  But, what if I shared with you research that suggests that the top 2 secrets to a long life have nothing to do with these seemingly obvious beneficial activities.  Researcher Susan Pinker shares that “The Italian island of Sardinia has more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America.” It is also the only place on earth she can find where men live as long as women.  But, Why? According to Pinker, “it’s not a sunny disposition or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders alive so long .  It is their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions” that make the difference.   If fact, you can even be “grumpy” or a “sourpuss” – a positive attitude is not on the list of top 10 from Pinker’s reasearch.

  • 10 – Clean Air
  • 9   – Hytertension Rx
  • 8   – Lean vs. Overweight
  • 7   – Exercise
  • 6   – Cardiac Rehab
  • 5   – Flu Vaccine
  • 4   – Quit Boozing
  • 3   – Quit Smoking
  • 2   – Close Relationships
  • 1   – Social Integration

From her research, Pinker has determined that “social isolation is the public health risk of our time.”  On Sardinia, “They are never left to live solitary lives.”  As people age, members of their community are always dropping by to interact with each other making social isolation impossible and improving their close relationships and social integration.

Pinker explains what it takes to live to 100 and beyond in 2 videos I share below – both well worth the time.  The first video is a 2-minute snippet of the TED Talk and summary of her research.  The second video is the full 16 minute version.  View them both to help you understand what she means by “close relationships” and “social interaction.”  Give them a watch!


Truly Altruistic #BCSLearns

9 habits of empathy

With June, the final month of the school year, upon us, we focus at BCS on our next habit of empathy from Michelle Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Success in Our All-About-Me World.  June’ s focus is that empathetic people Want to Make a Difference.  Indeed, this focus can carry the students and you through the summer months, not just the month of June.  In her book and in the brief video I included below, Borba encourages us to cultivate altruistic leadership abilities in order to motivate children to make a difference for others, no matter how small it may be, and boost their chances of becoming “Social Changemakers.”  But, from this robust challenge to adults who nurture the development of children, how do we do this?  Borba suggests the following:  understand the obstacles, cultivate a changemaking mindset, help students become a changemaker, and things to know about raising a changemaker.

So, what are the obstacles for kids to becoming altruistic leaders?

  • Fame-Driven Heroes
  • A Materialistic World
  • An “Overhelping” Parenting Style
  • Anything else?

How can we truly cultivate a changemaking mindset?

  1. Teach the Growth Mindset Model (see a previous post Growth Mindset – Fixin’ to See Its Implication for Adults & Kids Alike)
  2. Emphasize Effort
  3. Encourage Practice
  4. Recap the Impact

So, where should we start?  Borba suggests the acronym F.A.C.E.

  • F = feelings -to read the person’s feelings
  • A = analyze the situation
  • C = care
  • E = empathize – let the person know you are concerned

What steps can I help students through to become a changemaker?

  1. Find a cause that concerns your child
  2. Think of Possibilities
  3. Plan it
  4. Start Locally
  5. Encourage “Direct Contact”
  6. Keep Going!

Borba closes this chapter of her book with “5 Things to Know about Raising Changemakers”: 

  1. Stretching your kid’s helping muscles must be ongoing so make helping others a routine part of their childhood.
  2. A child who sees herself as altruistic is more likely to help others because children act in ways that match their self image. Help your child to see herself as a helper.
  3. Kids who are given regular opportunities to help and comfort others tend to become more helpful and compassionate.
  4. People who believe that empathy has the potential to grow are more likely to exert effort to empathize when it is needed most. Help your child to recognize that empathy can be improved with practice and help him develop an empathetic growth mindset so that he knows that traits like empathy, caring, kindness and courage can be developed.
  5. Kids tend to empathize with people they are close to, so expand your child’s circle of familiarity to include those of different backgrounds and experiences.

In an article from Psychology Today called Empathy and Altruism: Are They Selfish?,  Neel Burton sets out to answer that question and how one leads to the other.  He states that “Empathy leads to compassion, which is one of the main motivators of altruism.”   But, Burton wonders, are altruistic acts selfish?  He concluded by arguing that “there can be no such thing as an ‘altruistic’ act that does not involve some element of self-interest…that does not lead to some degree, no matter how small, of pride or satisfaction. Therefore, an act should not be written off as selfish or self-motivated simply because it includes some unavoidable element of self-interest. The act can still be counted as altruistic if the ‘selfish’ element is accidental; or, if not accidental, then secondary; or, if neither accidental nor secondary, then undetermining.  Only one question remains: how many so-called altruistic acts meet these criteria for true altruism?

So, I feel compelled to note that, even altruism seems to have a scale from “selfish altruism” “to selfless altruism”; though can altruism ever be truly selfless when you’re empathetically involved?  Take a peak at this brief advertisement with the power that “when the best of us steps up, our nation stands a little taller.”  While watching the video, keep Borba’s notes above in the forefront of your mind.  Let’s grow altruistic leaders who step up AND let’s use this summer as a great launching pad!

Below is a brief video with Michelle Borba with strategies on how parents can “raise an altruistic kid”.

You Matter so Make it Matter #BCSLearns

Last year, our staff was involved in a professional learning experience focusing on oral and written communication as it relates to claim, evidence, reasoning and synthesis – a school wide goal of ours.  Toward the end of the session, we began to think about alternative assessment and we used this “Inner Net” video by David Bowden to capture its potential power.  In the below video called “Start Something that Matters,” Bowden, once again, through his powerful prose, gets us thinking about finding our “spark, light your fuse and start something the world can truly use.” He advocates that each of us matters, and, without us finding our passion, we will be missed – the world will miss us.  “What they’re missing is me.  What they’re missing is you.”  (If you want, you can check out the full set of Bowden’s lyrics.)

As I think about how we can go about finding our passion, these key ingredients come to mind:

  • discover what your care about and keep it in the center of your life
  • take calculated risks (just don’t over-calculate them and be stifled)
  • create new experiences
  • try new things
  • surround yourself with people you value and value you
  • find a life from which you do not need a vacation

Or, if you want to be tested, Take the Passion Profile Quiz from Clarity on Fire and get a sense of what you are passionate about.  You matter, so make it matter.  View Bowden’s short video to get inspired.

BCS Named 2018 National School of Character #BCSLearns

school_of_character_logo_rectangle Designates 73 schools as 2018 National Schools of Character and 5 districts as 2018 National Districts of Character.  Program developed in 1998 has positively impacted the lives of close to 2 million students

Washington, D.C. (May 18, 2018)—, the nonprofit organization that validates character initiatives in schools and communities around the world, today designated 73 schools and 5 districts from 17 states as 2018 National Schools and Districts of Character.

Birmingham Covington School (MI) is one of the designated schools.  BCS offers a choice in educational structure and philosophy for BPS residents seeking a rigorous academic challenge. Its science and technology emphasis is based in Science for All Americans: Project 2061. In multi age classrooms (grades 3/4, 5/6 and 7/8) and in two-year academic cycles, students learn in an interactive atmosphere where they are challenged to apply and integrate their knowledge. Through interdisciplinary projects, students incorporate and demonstrate their understanding of skills and concepts where character is authentically integrated throughout lessons and activities.  Mark Morawski, principal, states: “This is a wonderful recognition indeed, and earning this honor through’s rigorous identification process including a site visit is something of which we are enormously proud.  We all celebrate indeed, students, parents, alumni and staff!  Though, we know that this is not the finish line; rather, it is another starting point as we work toward continuous improvement.  BCS is a great place to be!”

Since the inception of’s Schools of Character program in 1998, 547 schools and 35 districts have been designated as National Schools or Districts of Character, impacting more than 3 million people’s lives (A complete list of the 2018 National Schools and Districts of Character is included on the website).

Each year, and its state affiliates certify schools and districts that demonstrate a dedicated focus on character development with a positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior, school climate and their communities. evaluates schools and districts selected in January as State Schools of Character (along with those schools who reapplied within their 3-year designation) for consideration for national certification as National Schools of Character.

Through an in-depth and rigorous evaluation process, these schools were found to be exemplary models in character development. Of the schools named today, 17 schools are former National Schools of Character that have re-applied for the national designation. Criteria for selection are based on’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, a framework to assist schools in providing students with opportunities for moral action, fostering shared leadership and engaging families and communities as partners in the character-building effort.

“At, we are extremely proud of this year’s National Schools of Character as well as our district recipients. Their dedication to character development is reducing the skills gap by equipping the future workforce with transferable relationship skills needed to meet tomorrow’s challenges,” said Doug Karr,’s President & CEO. “Validating character initiatives is at the core of what we do, because they create fertile conditions for multi-generational character growth in communities of character. This year as we celebrate our Silver Anniversary, we are excited to also recognize 20 years of incredible National Schools of Character.” will honor the designated schools and districts at its 25th National Forum on Character  to be held October 4-7, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Visit to learn more about the National Forum, the Schools of Character Certification (State & National) and the 2018 national honorees.

Awe not Aww! #BCSLearns

Aww is a word used to describe what people may think of things that are cute, sweet, sad, good or bad. As in, “Aww, that baby is so cute!” or “Aww, that must’ve really hurt.” Awe, on the other hand, is a feeling of unmitigated wonder.  As in, “Wow!” or “Unbelievable!” or “Incredible!” When it comes to learning, let’s not make it cute, sweet, sad, good or bad; rather, let’s build a feeling among our learners of an enormous sense of wonder whether it be unmitigated joy or deep consternation. we have a “responsibility to awe” (see short video below).  But, how can we get there? Tom Murray, director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, offers 10 Steps to Developing a Powerful Learning Culture, as we work to create awe in learning for our students.

  1. Clearly define and articulate the vision. Take our BCS Vision, Mission, Values and Beliefs and align it with your classroom constitution or norms, etc.
  2. Model: Practice what you preach. Model how awe finds its way into your own life.  Say what you do and do what you say.
  3. Learning should be anytime, anywhere. This is where our service learning and project-based learning efforts take learning outside of our school wall either physically or digitally.
  4. Balance districtwide initiatives with the need for learning that’s personal. We can, and must maintain a laser focus on our vision while also meeting the personal needs of each other and the students we serve.
  5. Move from hours-based to outcome-based accountability. This is easy to say, though, perhaps, hard to do.  It does not matter how much time we spend on any given task, the whether learning occurred.  Regardless of time spent, were the outcomes reached?  Did the learning occur?
  6. Shift the culture of professional learning.  I can honestly say, that the professional learning and collaboration among our awesome BCS staff is a high level unlike I have ever experienced in a school or business setting.  I am humbled by the culture of learning we have among the educators and support staff at BCS!
  7. Empower staff to design their own learning. I hope the time and space I work to provide for teachers allow each of the to design their own, as well as their team’s, learning.
  8. Solicit teacher feedback. Am I, as an administrator, providing teachers what they want and need regarding professional learning?  I know I can do better with this, though, as with number 7, I will continue to provide time and space for teachers to design and manage their learning.
  9. Break down silos. This is where we not only learn from each other at BCS, but also others educators across our district, county, state, nation and even internationally.
  10. Grow your network. With social media, there is no excuse of us to isolate ourselves.  With these powerful tools, we can learn literally from anyone, anywhere, anytime.  What a luxury!

In the below video, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey shares his perspective briefly between “disengagement and radiant ecstasy.” The moments of awe exist, and Humphrey asks the question, how do we get there?  As he ends stating, “We have a responsibility to awe.”

Do You Have the Right Instincts? #BCSLearns

We all have instinctual thoughts, but are the the right ones? When I heard about this book from a weekly email I receive from the Marshall Memo, I was excited to find out. In the book called Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, author Hans Rosling “describes ten ways we tend to misinterpret the world around us.” So, what can we do about this?  Rosling offers some thought-provoking advice on avoiding the following common human instincts.  Take a look at these instincts, and my take on them (with some key quotes of his mixed in), and his video at the end of this post.

  1. The gap instinct – this is the instinct where we, as humans, want to divide things, any number of things, into distinct groups.  Race, for example, is a social construct created by societies (aka: humans) to divide people into groups.  We know the rest of the story here, and the dangerous outcomes that this type of gap instinct can create. 
  2. The negativity instinct –  This instinct needs little explanation.  There is always a tendency to want to slip into this downward spiral, a systems thinking term, where we head down the rabbit whole of negativity.  There is a reason our staff at BCS would share that my mantra is “promote the positive” and “presume positive intent” versus the alternative to these habits of mind.  Why else is “Positive Attitude” on top of the life skills listed on our BCS Moral Compass
  3. The straight line instinct – patterns among humans are often observed, though be careful not to assume the pattern will continue in perpetuity.  Trends are not always forever!
  4. The fear instinct – In thinking of this instinct, “If it bleeds, it leads” comes to mind as it relates to news stories. Rosling warns, that “Paying too much attention to what is frightening rather than what is dangerous – that is, paying too much attention to fear – creates a tragic drainage of energy in the wrong direction.” As with the negativity instinct, let’s look for the positive uplifting news stories that, I feel, can put us on the path to productivity and solid decision-making versus the poor decision making we may make when we are living in fear.  That said, Rosling reminds us not to neglect the “mega dangers”.  I can’t help but think of critical education dangers like the achievement gap and the social-emotional well-being of many students today.
  5. The size instinct – In keeping with the concept of “If it bleeds, it leads,” as it related to the size instinct, Rosling contends that “The media is this instinct’s friend.  It is pretty much a journalist’s professional duty to make any given event, fact, or number sound more important than it is.  What I take from this instinct, we have to be sure to keep others’ and our own exaggerations in check.
  6. The generalization instinct – This instinct is similar to the “us vs. them” gap instinct, though, to go further, it seems to me, that the generalization instinct can result in stereotyping, which, without question, can be dangerous and demonstrate ignorance.  While generalizing can help us look for patterns and help us in our thought processes, it the danger of this instinct of which we need to be mindful.
  7. The destiny instinct – this is the notion that each of our futures will be the result of our innate characteristics.  This instinct reminds me of the fixed mindset rather than the growth mindset.  While our innate characteristics are important to who each of us is, it is that, accompanied with our effort and technique, that will determine our destiny.  This reminds me of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” So, we may want to be careful of them, yes?
  8. The single perspective instinct – this instincts confines us to the notion that there is only one way or only one right answer.  A dangerous, close-minded instinct indeed.  This instinct flies in the face of innovative learning, completely limiting creativity and the process of Design Thinking.  Think Stephen Covey’s abundance mentality, not single perspective!
  9. The blame instinct – For me, this is the finger-pointing instinct, which will rarely point at yourself.  We have to be sure not to get personal and remember, according to Gosling, “that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future.”  In other words, like so many of the other instincts noted here, this instinct will block creative thought, innovation, and solution-finding
  10. The urgency instinct – As a  principal for nearly 20 years, there has rarely been a critical decision that I have had to make “right now” instead of allowing myself to pause, reflect, and seek input through collaboration before rendering a decision.  In fact, Rosling would agree with this in his statement, “It’s almost never that urgent, and it’s almost never an either/or.”  I have learned that, outside of a true crisis, decision-making can be prodding, reflective, and thoughtful taking our time to make the right one. 

As I reflect on these ten human instincts, I am reminded of the importance of open-mindedness, humility, collaboration, creativity and diversity.  With that and related to Rosling’s ten human instincts, take some time to watch the below video that asks the question:  “How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates [in this TEDTalk video] that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.”

Stand Up and Upstand #BCSLearns

With May upon us, we focus at BCS on our next habit of empathy from Michelle Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Success in Our All-About-Me World.  This month’s focus is that empathetic people Stick their Necks Out.  In her book, Borba says that empathetic people have the “moral courage” to stick their necks out and become “active bystanders, better known as “upstanders”.  Bystanders stand by and passively observe or witness any acts of unkindness to others.  We need to teach our students, even ourselves, strategies to stand up actively.  In her book, Borba shares some strategies to positively S.T.A.N.D. U.P.:

  • S – seek support
  • T – tell a trusted adult
  • A – assist the victim
  • N – negate with positivity
  • D – detour
  • U – use a distraction
  • P – pause and rethink

In helping students nurture this habit of sticking their necks out, we need to explicitly teach what each of these strategies look like and sound like.  For many middle school and high school students telling an adult is taboo.  We have to help students realized they have a moral obligation to help create a safe environment for each of us who have the privilege to be part of the community in which we find ourselves.  Telling a trusted adult is not “ratting out” a classmate; rather, it is getting help to further support the safety and well-being of those in our community.  If a student just won’t report, there are still other strategies to demonstrate this moral courage.  A student can be an upstander with another strategy such as assisting the victim, detouring or simply using a distraction.  These do not require reporting; the taboo for many older students.

So what happens when we become upstanders?  Here are the research-based outcomes.  Upstanding…

  • reduces the audience that a bully craves
  • mobilizes the compassion of witnesses to step in and stop the bullying
  • supports the victim and reduces the trauma
  • is a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode
  • encourages other students to support a school climate of caring
  • encourages reporting a bullying incident since 85 percent of time bullying occurs an adult is not present. Students are usually the witnesses.

In short, “When bystanders intervene correctly, studies find they can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds (Pepler and Craig, 2005).

If that is not enough to demonstrate the benefits. “Sticking your neck out and nurturing this habit, as Borba contends, helps our students find their “inner hero.”  What can we do to help nurture the inner hero of our children?

  • Expect social responsibility
  • Set the example: model it.
  • Offer Heros: Harrry Potter, Huck Finn, Nelson Mandella, Little Engine that could.
  • Stop Rescuing : We do not build confidence when we rescue.
  • Try small scale courage.

Above all, always encourage, and help children live the mantra of Muhatma Ghandi, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Be the Change – It is done everyday, let’s just make it larger scale!  Show this below video to your students and children to help them find their inner hero.  “Kindness begins with you!”