Blend Empathy and Curiosity and See the Miracles #BCSLearns

covey empathy
We want to and must lead our live with empathy – our theme for the year.  Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – a powerful leadership trait in my experience.  In an article from Education Week, To Understand Your Students, Use ‘Compassionate Curiosity’,“‘Compassionate curiosity’ is medicinal. It helps build critical trust and connection with our students because it communicates to them that they matter. It is also illuminating. It can interrupt our potential biases and assumptions about our students’ thinking and abilities.”  I love the alliteration with the two C’s in Compassionate Currosity, though compassion is concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others whereas empathy is truly understanding and connect with others’ feelings.  It is the epitome of being others focused!  So, how about empathetic curiosity?  Nah, it just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way.  It matters not as the spirit of this notion of compassionate curiosity is noble indeed.  Redford is spot on when he shares that “Simply listening—really listening—without offering any silver-bullet solutions can work wonders. Demonstrating that I am paying attention and that I care can sometimes be enough to help a student feel seen and want to invest in learning.”  Stephen Covey would urge us all to use “empathic listening”.  Check out the article from Fast Company called Using Empathic Listening to Collaborate, which focuses on Covey’s Habit 5 – seek first to understand, then to be understood.  What I find incredibly interesting that, for me, cements the importance of Habit 5, is Covey’s levels of listening.  Here are his five levels of listening:
  • Ignoring. The lowest level of listening is called ignoring – not listening at all.
  • Pretend Listening
  • Selective Listening
  • Attentive Listening
  • The fifth level of listening is Empathic Listening. Empathic listening is the top level of listening.
With this compassionate curiosity or empathic listening, as Redford states, we can approach a student’s, a colleague’s, a friend’s or a family member’s “struggles like puzzles to solve, rather than problems to react to, makes our instruction more effective. It also makes teaching more rewarding and enjoyable.”  As it relates to our Culturally Competent Teaching training, this concept of using curiosity and compassion rather than judgement is powerful.  We all tend to judge people and situations too quickly – in an instant. Using compassionate curiosity to develop more care and understanding by exercising curiosity and compassion over judgement. It will make us more powerful solution finders and better human beings.  Let us lean into to seeking first to understand, then to be understood by empathically listening first.
Also, feel free to review two previous posts below where I mention this importance of empathetic listening:
Want more from the Genius of Covey?  View this 17 minute video of him storytelling around the importance of seeking first to understand through empathic listening.



Start the New Year with Empathy

The students are coming!  There is nothing quite like the eager anticipation of a new school year allowing us another opportunity to reconnect to our vision and inspire those students we serve “to lead in the global community through a passion for learning, innovating, and inquiry & design”.  A we embrace together this year’s theme of Empathy 2.0, I am proud to serve this wonderful community and look forward to our best year yet!  A year where we continue living into our vision through our focus in the areas of inquiry-based interdisciplinary learning, leveraging technology purposefully, and building global competencies.  Additionally, our BCS Interdisciplinary Themes (Cycle 2) for 2018-19 (3/4 Patterns; 5/6 Interdependence; 7/8 Diversity) will help us connect our daily learning across all disciplines and courses. Our curriculum will integrate these interdisciplinary themes, and as the weeks unfold, we will regularly reference and infuse Our Moral Compass and the 3 E’s (education, environment, and each other) with our overarching theme of empathy. Our students working together as leaders, learners, and collaborators with a positive attitude, honesty & integrity, respect & kindness, and responsibility & accountability is a critical foundation of BCS.  This type of work and self-discipline will continue to guide our students on the path to being global citizens who move forward with both intention and purpose. Check out our refrigerator-worthy Moral Compass poster and description.

We will nurture creativity through the design thinking model whose process begins with empathy.  I hope your family and you have had the opportunity to enjoy our community read, The One and Only Ivan, a heartfelt story that gives us a literary experience of seeing things differently through others’ perspectives.  We have much planned with this book and our theme beginning in September.  In fact, last year we focused each month on a different habit of empathy based on Michelle Borba’s 9 Habits of Empathy.  This year, we will focus more deeply on three habits that heighten our ability to be others focused and perfectly align with one of our 3E’s, Each Other: understanding the needs of others, practicing kindness, and thinking “us” not “them.”  Feel free to re-familiarize yourself with these habits.

As we think about this theme, I would like to share Three Lessons for Teachers from Grant Wiggins written by Jay McTighe published last month.  Wiggins’s third lesson is just that – empathy.  Below, I summarize the three lessons that McTighe’s article details.  It’s a must read!

Lesson #1 – Plan Backward from Authentic Performance.  Design curriculum “backwards” with the end in mind using the Understanding by Design® framework,
which he co-created.  Plan backward from worthy goals.

Lesson #2 – Feedback is Key to Successful Learning and Performance.

  • Feedback must be timely.
  • Feedback must be specific and descriptive. “Your speech was well-organized and
    interesting to the audience. However, you were speaking too fast in the
    beginning and did not make eye contact with the audience. These are areas
    for you to work on for your next presentation.”.
  • Feedback must be understandable to the receiver.

Further, Wiggins details four ways that students can give feedback to teachers to improve their practice.

  1. Ask students what’s working, how are they understanding, what could help you more, etc.
  2. Ask colleagues to observe you and give you feedback on what they see in your classroom. How about our BCS Teacher Labs?
  3. Use formative assessments and act on their results. Wiggins thinks of formative assessment much like tasting a meal while cooking it such that waiting until an end of unit test to discover that some students didn’t understand is too late.

Lesson #3 – Empathize with the learner.  How about shadowing a student for the day?  Wiggins encourages teachers to shadow a student for the day. Here are the key takeaways from one teacher who took on the challenge:

  1. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting
  2. High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes
  3. You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long

The below video is a “brief illustration of the backward design process for course design.” (5:54)

My Hopes for our 8th Graders #BCSLearns

streaks_8th grade

The theme for this year’s 8th grade Farewell Celebration for the BCS Class of 2018 (high school class of 2022) is “The Best Streaks of our Lives.”  Let’s look forward, into the future, with this theme in mind.  How might each of you make each phase of your life “The Best?”  What does it take to live a long successfully happy life?  How might you answer this question?  Many of the first things that initially come to mind revolve around taking care of your mental and physical health.  Exercise often. Eat healthy. Keep a positive attitude.  These are all easier said than done to be sure.  Or, how about read and learn daily keeping the mind sharp.  All important indeed!  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 [100+ year olds] 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? What’s the secret? 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, a positive attitude is not even on the list of top 10 from Pinker’s research (of course it can’t hurt).  Things involving physical health are on the list, but the two activities that top the list are Close Relationships (no. 2) and Social Integration/Social Connectedness (no. 1).  From her research, Pinker has determined that “social isolation is the public health risk of our time.”  On Sardinia, people “are never left to live solitary lives.”  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.  So, why do I bring this up to you 8th graders tonight?  Because I have serious hopes for each of you!  Five to be exact.

My hope is that your years at BCS (whether it was 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or all 6) gave you the opportunity for some close friendships and social integration. People who know me, know how important collaboration is to me, and now look what research here points to as it relates to social connectedness.

My hope for you in high school is broadening your friendships and social integration discovering even more deeply who you are and who you want to become.

My hope for you beyond high school, in college, is creating lasting close relationship and socially integrating with an array of interesting people both similar to and very different from yourself.

My hope for you in adulthood is you realize the importance of positive relationships and social connectedness that will feed your success by any measure and lead to a long and successful life. 8th graders, class of 2022, through your close relationships and social integration may you become a centenarian, like the islanders on Sardinia, who looks back on each phase of your life as “the best streaks of your life”, indeed the best life, because you have people with whom to spend it.

Let me close by sharing my final hope. I indeed look forward to seeing you in four years at the BCS Senior Alumni breakfast and hearing all about your next BESTs.  Congratulations on your recognition tonight – you should be proud; I know I am!  My final hope?  I hope your time at BCS was the best so far.

Congratulations on your special day and I wish you THE BEST! [certificates distributed]

[to close the evening I share the following]

I have mentioned the word “success” several times tonight, so let me close the evening leaving you with a quote on success that I feel perfectly embodies its meaning. It is a quote by American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson and is my ultimate hope for each of you in ensuring each phase of your life can be considered, in line with this year’s theme “the best.”  I wish for you…

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Congratulations BCS Class of 2018; You are the Best!

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.