Bridging the ADHD Gap


According to the National Education Association, educational equity means that education should be accessible and fair to any child who wants it. In principle, it’s based on the 14th Amendment and the 1954 school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. The aim of that court decision was to fix the ills of an educational system based on segregation and inequity in the funding of schools as it pertained to minority students.

The decision did improve educational equity for children with disabilities. As a result of the decision, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (that includes IDEA, Section 504, and ADA), signed into law in 1975, paved the way for students with disabilities and made it easier to secure services.

DSM-5 defines attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a developmental disorder, and the Americans with Disabilities Act considers it a disability. But getting a 504 accommodation or special services based solely on an ADHD diagnosis is difficult. Rulings laid out by the U.S. Board of Education are stringent, and unless students manifest “one or more specified physical or mental impairments,” they won’t be eligible.

Without these accommodations, many students with ADHD don’t thrive in the classroom. Betrayed by their bodies, these kids struggle with peer relationships, feel like failures, and are stigmatized. In 2012, the CDC reported that 33 percent of all students with ADHD who didn’t have a comprehensive therapeutic/educational plan failed out of high school.

These kids are caught in the middle. Not necessarily minority, they’re not part of the educational equity debate. Not necessarily disabled, they’re ineligible for services.

As teachers, despite being a part of an embattled profession, we do hold tremendous power. We can help flailing learners believe in themselves. Even without a 504 accommodation, we can with some ingenuity create a more effective learning environment for children with ADHD. Here are five possible approaches.

1. Make learning child-centered.

Child- or student-centered learning presumes that students who are drivers in their own learning will be more invested and motivated. It’s a tenet of the Constructivist Learning Theory first proposed by Piaget, and it considers the learning styles, preferences, and interests of the student. It’s also a way to accommodate a child with ADHD. The teacher must map out goals and resources, and assumes the facilitator role. Gaming, MOOCs, hands-on activities, webquests, and mini-lessons can all be integrated as resources.

2. Differentiate learning and encourage mastery.

This is the basis of the Montessori Method. Assess each child’s learning style and design an individualized learning plan to accommodate that child. It’s student-centered learning at its best, facilitated by the teacher and encouraging mastery, confidence, and enthusiasm — and students with disabilities do well with this method. In What Works for Differentiating Instruction in Elementary Schools, Grace Rubenstein shows how this modification can be put into place.

3. Integrate movement breaks and mini-mindfulness meditation sessions.

Children with ADHD are statistically quite bright. Unfortunately, their symptoms of ADHD — distractibility, hyperactivity, clumsiness, impulsivity, nervousness, and poor focus and concentration — can undermine learning. To help them “blow off steam” and refocus, schedule some short movement sessions such as yoga, tai chi, Zumba, or a quick power walk. The exercise causes the brain to release endorphins, the “happy”” hormones.

Mindfulness meditation is another activity gaining in popularity. Scientific American, in a recent article, reports that after an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation, MRI scans showed the amygdala, the brain’s “fight-or-flight” center, shrank. It also showed that the prefrontal cortex, the area associated with executive function (concentration and decision-making) became thicker. A recent report in Clinical Neurophysiology concurs with the benefits of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of ADHD. In one study, adults with ADHD showed marked improvements in mental performance, a decrease in impulsivity, and greater self-awareness after participating in a series of mindfulness meditation sessions.

Video on treating ADHD with meditation

4. Create a positive, supportive learning environment.

There are common practices that teachers use to reduce classroom distractions. Seating the child in the front row, away from doors and windows, is just one approach. Jane Milrod, Director of Princeton C.H.A.D.D. and an ADHD/Executive Function coach, strongly recommends mentoring programs. Her approach is the “study buddy,” a fellow classmate who shows another classmate with ADHD “the ropes.” Knowing that one person is there to help him or her can empower a student with ADHD. School becomes a less hostile environment. Another program through Eye-to-Eye, a national mentoring organization, places high school and college students with similar labels into the schools to help students with ADHD develop their homework, study, communication, and peer interaction skills.

5. Document as much as possible.

District policies do change. With change, students with ADHD may be eligible for accommodation and special services. Document whenever possible, and involve the parents in your strategies. Note any modifications made in the classroom and their effectiveness, and make recommendations toward creating educational equity when strategies that don’t include special education are insufficient.

Most importantly, consider these strategies as fresh ideas. Teaching a child with ADHD is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting. New ideas can generate new energy. And that new energy can revitalize and bring hope to a child with ADHD. It can also help to bridge the gap between educational equity and the children without it.

7 cultural concepts we don’t have in the U.S.

Perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you to think differently in your day-to-day life.

Exploring other cultures helps us learn more about ourselves — and perhaps find a new celebration or concept that speaks to us. (Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock)

From the end of October through the New Year and onto Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to forget that the holidays we celebrate are simply cultural constructs that we can choose to engage in — or not. The concepts and ideas we celebrate — like our spiritual beliefs and daily habits — are a choice, though sometimes it feels like we “have” to celebrate them, even if we don’t feel like it.
Culture is ours to do with as we choose, and that means that we can add, subtract, or edit celebrations or holidays as we see fit — because you and me and everyone reading this makes up our culture, and it is defined by us, for us, after all.
If you want to add a new and different perspective to your life, there are plenty of other ways to recognize joy and beauty outside American traditions. From Scandinavia to Japan, India and Germany, the concepts below may strike a nerve with you and inspire your own personal or familial celebration or — as is the case with a couple of these for me — sound like an acknowledgement of something you have long felt, but didn’t have a word for.
Photo: Shutterstock
Friluftsliv translates directly from Norwegian as “free air life,” which doesn’t quite do it justice. Coined relatively recently, in 1859, it is the concept that being outside is good for human beings’ mind and spirit. “It is a term in Norway that is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature,” Anna Stoltenberg, culture coordinator for Sons of Norway, a U.S.-based Norwegian heritage group, told MNN. Other than that, it’s not a strict definition: it can include sleeping outside, hiking, taking photographs or meditating, playing or dancing outside, for adults or kids. It doesn’t require any special equipment, includes all four seasons, and needn’t cost much money. Practicing friluftsliv could be as simple as making a commitment to walking in a natural area five days a week, or doing a day-long hike once a month.
forest bathing
Photo: Semmick Photo/Shutterstock
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing” and unlike the Norwegian translation above, this one seems a perfect language fit (though a pretty similar idea). The idea being that spending time in the forest and natural areas is good preventative medicine, since it lowers stress, which causes or exacerbates some of our most intractable health issues. As MNN’s Catie Leary details, this isn’t just a nice idea — there’s science behind it: “The “magic” behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.”
hygge and cozy winters
Photo: Shutterstock
Hygge is the idea that helps Denmark regularly rate as one of the happiest countries in the world — Danes have regularly been some of the most joyful in the world for over 40 years that the U.S. has been studying them — despite long, dark winters. Loosely translated at “togetherness,” and “coziness,” though it’s not a physical state, it’s a mental one. According to VisitDenmark (the country’s official tourism site): “The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.” Hygge’s high season is winter, and Christmas lights, candles galore, and other manifestations of warmth and light, including warm alcoholic beverages, are key to the concept.
Still a little confused and wondering how you could cultivate hygge in your life? This DanishNPR commenter sums up some specifics: “Hygge is a deep sense of cosy that can originate from many different sources. Here is a good example from my life : a cloudy winter Sunday morning at the country house, fire in the stove and 20 candles lit to dispel the gloom. My husband, puppy and I curled up on our sheepskins wearing felt slippers, warm snuggly clothes and hands clasped around hot mugs of tea. A full day ahead with long walks on the cold beach, back for pancake lunch, reading, more snuggling, etc. This is a very hyggligt day.” Now that sounds do-able, doesn’t it?
patina and the concept of wabi sabi
Photo: markuliasz/Shutterstock
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese idea of embracing the imperfect, of celebrating the worn, the cracked, the patinaed, both as a decorative concept and a spiritual one — it’s an acceptance of the toll that life takes on us all. As I wrote about it earlier this year, “If we can learn to love the things that already exist, for all their chips and cracks, their patinas, their crooked lines or tactile evidence of being made by someone’s hands instead of a machine, from being made from natural materials that vary rather than perfect plastic, we wouldn’t need to make new stuff, reducing our consumption (and its concurrent energy use and inevitable waste), cutting our budgets, and saving some great stories for future generations.” We might also be less stressed, and more attentive to the details, which are the keys to mindfulness.
kaizen or continuous improvement
Photo: Santiago Cornejo/Shutterstock
Kaizen is another Japanese concept, one that means “continuous improvement,” and could be taken to mean the opposite of wabi-sabi (though as you’ll see, it depends on the interpretation). It’s a very new idea, only coined in 1986, and generally used in business circumstances. As this tutorial details, “Kaizen is a system that involves every employee, from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity. It is continuous. Japanese companies, such as Toyota and Canon, a total of 60 to 70 suggestions per employee per year are written down, shared and implemented.” These are regular, small improvements, not major changes. Applied to your own life, it could mean daily or weekly check-ins about goals, as opposed to making New Year’s resolutions, or a more organized path based on small changes toward weight loss, a personal project or a hobby.
Gemütlichkeit is a German word that means almost the same thing as hygge, and also has its peak usage during the winter. In fact, some linguists posit that the word (and concept) of hygge likely came from the German idea. Blogger Constanze’s entry on the German Language Blog for “Untranslatable German Words” describes how the word means more than just cozy: “A soft chair in a coffee shop might be considered ‘cosy’. But sit in that chair surrounded by close friends and a hot cup of tea, while soft music plays in the background, and that sort of scene is what you’d call gemütlich.”
jugaad or ingenuity
Photo: Michal Zieba/Shutterstock
Jugaad is a Hindi word that means “an innovative fix” or a “repair derived from ingenuity,” — think a jury-rigged sled for snowy fun, or a bicycle chain repaired with some duct tape. It’s a frequently used word in India where frugal fixes are revered. But the idea has further merit beyond figuring out solutions to get by with less. It also encapsulates the spirit of doing something innovative. As the authors of Jugaad Innovation write in Forbes, they see jugaad in many other places than the repair shop: “In Kenya, for instance, entrepreneurs have invented a device that enables bicycle riders to charge their cellphones while pedaling. In the Philippines, Illac Diaz has deployed A Litre of Light — a recycled plastic bottle containing bleach-processed water that refracts sunlight, producing the equivalent of a 55-watt light bulb — in thousands of makeshift houses in off-the-grid shantytowns. And in Lima, Peru (with high humidity and only 1 inch of rain per year), an engineering college has designed advertising billboards that can convert humid air into potable water.”
Jugaad’s idea of frugal innovation can definitely be applied in the individual life — what about setting aside a half a day twice a year where everyone in your family fixes something that needs repair? You’ll save money, spend time together, test problem-solving skills, and get a sense of accomplishment from repairing instead of buying new.
I’d like to integrate some of these ideas into my own life. Over the last few years I have dropped Christmas and Easter (I’ve been an atheist for over 25 years now) and replaced them with a Solstice celebrations; I have remade New Year’s into a quiet, reflective time (the antithesis of a party); and have incorporated an appreciation and gratefulness aspect into my almost-daily meditation routine. I’ve kept Thanksgiving, though mine is vegetarian, so the focus is on the harvest and thanks and not killing a turkey. And I celebrate Halloween some years, when I feel into it, and not if I don’t. And forget Valentine’s Day!
Because I don’t love some of our existing holidays, I’d like to add celebrations to my list — luckily I need not come up with them by myself, but can look to other cultures for inspiration. I actually started practicing hygge last winter and I felt it really helped me through the darkest days of the year. I may formalize it a bit by creating a “start” and “end” date to the practice. Wabi-sabi is also very appealing to me, as I tend towards perfectionism (which also tends to make me miserable), and it’s an idea that seems like it might become part of my seasonal cleaning and organizing time (along with Jugaad).
Have any of the above ideas inspired you to try something different or add a new celebration day to your life?

STEM 2015: Are We Losing Our Focus?

Middle Web

A MiddleWeb Blog

1 stem_design_logoMy fingers are crossed for 2015 as the best STEM year ever! I’ve been looking around to see what directions STEM programs seem to be taking this year. At first glance, it appears that deciding what a STEM programshould look like is an ongoing conundrum for the K-12 education world.

I decided to scrutinize what’s being described as “STEM” these days using resources from the National Academies and the American Society for Engineering Education, as well as my own work with the Engaging Youth through Engineering project.

stem integration coverIf you’d like to have a good look at some basic STEM principles, you might start with these three publications.  (Note that you can download the PDFs for free.)

Successful STEM Education Programs (National Research Council)

► Examination of Integrated STEM Curricula as a Means Toward Quality K-12 Engineering Education (Research to Practice)

► STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research (National Academies Press). [PDF]

According to studies and writings about the STEM “idea” at its onset, certain criteria and principles would be common to all STEM lessons and programs. I made a list of some of these criteria to help me weigh how well our various STEM programs today are meeting them:

✔︎ Criteria for STEM Programs

1. Focus on integrating science, technology, engineering – preferably all four, although true integration of even two would be an acceptable step toward STEM.
2. Focus on a real-world problem or engineering challenge.
3. Use Inquiry-based, student-centered learning approaches.
4. Engage students in using an engineering design process that leads to developing a product or process to solve the engineering challenge.
5. Emphasize teamwork and communication.
6. Build rich content knowledge of science and mathematics.

Note that these are not the only criteria, but according to the National Research Council, these elements should all be present in K-12 STEM curricula. Also keep in mind that technology in STEM involves creating devices to satisfy human wants and needs. It’s not a discipline in the strict sense of the word. Engineering includes a process for solving problems and integrates science and math content to devise technologies. 

STEM Schools, Plus and Minus

So what’s going on in the way of STEM in middle schools this year? I found some schools that do, indeed, have programs that meet the STEM criteria. The Engaging Youth through Engineeringprogram (right) provides integrated STEM curriculum modules to all middle schoolers in Mobile County, AL. And STEMWorks lists a group of other STEM initiatives that have meet some or all of thedesign principles developed by Change the Equation.

In reality, however, the schools implementing STEM programs with fidelity are few and far between. Most of the schools fall into one of two categories:

STEM Minus schools (STEM-). In these schools the STEM programs leave out one or more of the four STEM ingredients. Admittedly, the challenge of connecting the four (three disciplines + technology) is hard. If the job of teaching STEM falls to just one teacher, that person may lack in-depth content knowledge in both science and math to provide the necessary rigor and integration needed.

Note, however, that STEM lessons don’t necessarily teach the specific content in math and science – they may apply content that has already been taught. The key point is whether a STEM program applies math and science concepts to solve an engineering challenge and provide students with opportunities to integrate learning.

Here are examples of some STEM- schools I found.

Schools that focus only on digital technology and technical skills. Some schools are focusing on an engaging new initiative – coding – and yet claim to be teaching STEM. Those schools are actually teaching one STEM-friendly component that may be incorporated into STEM curriculum. These schools meet few if any of the Criteria for STEM programs.

anne boy surrounded by numbers► Schools focused only on offering advanced math and science coursework. Again, these schools are teaching a component of STEM – the “S” or the “M” – and not an integrated STEM curriculum. After all, schools have been teaching science and math for well over a century. Developing rigorous math and science knowledge is a goal of STEM; however, this approach scores a minus on five of the six Criteria for STEM programs.

► Schools focused on Maker Education initiatives. This worthwhile initiative involves kids in a great deal of personal exploration and innovation based on their interests. When correctly implemented, the Maker approach makes for highly engaged learners. Maker projects, however, are not intended to substitute as STEM programs. They frequently accomplish Criteria #2 and #3 and touch on other criteria to some degree. But their goals and focus differ from STEM.

► Schools focused on robotics. These schools may or may not offer true STEM programs, depending on whether or not the robotics program meets the STEM criteria. Some robotics classes are highly directive, with kids following a prescribed procedure for building robots. Some are a great deal like Maker projects, with students having freedom to create robots that interest them but without an intentional focus on math or science content. Students may work in teams or they may work alone. So to determine if your robotics program is a STEM program, or simply a good program through which students can create and invent, take a look at theCriteria for STEM programs.

STEM Plus schools (STEM+). A great many programs that can be identified as STEM+ involve other disciplines. Probably the best known example is STEAM, which adds the arts to the original four ingredients of STEM. (Not a bad idea, since understanding how to create attractive and appealing products is important in the engineering world. When included strategically, arts fit naturally.)

Then we have STREAM (+ reading and art), STEMM (STEM + Medicine), STEMSS (STEM + social studies), and even STREAMSS (STEM + just about everything.) It would be difficult to tell if these STEM+ programs meet STEM criteria because the program elements are scattered throughout the curriculum.

Remember, STEM as originally conceived is intended to get kids up to speed on science and math using an engineering design approach, emphasizing teamwork and real-world problems.


So Where Does STEM Stand?

A recent Education Week topic asks, Is STEM Too Broad a Category? I have that concern when we see  other coursework becoming part of STEM. Can juggling other coursework give short shrift to STEM subjects that were the initial focus of the initiative? And, we already have a perfectly fine initiative that does integrate all subjects –project based learning (PBL). Are we trying to reinvent PBL and call it STEM – possibly to the detriment of math, science, and the other subjects as well?

Goals for STEM 2015

If I had to develop a goal for STEM schools and programs in 2015, I’d recommend something like this:

Research, study, identify, and implement effective approaches for improving STEM teaching and learning in your school. Decide what STEM will be in your school and remain true to the basic criteria of STEM programs.

A lot of good STEM stuff is going on in schools. Share it, and let’s keep talking about what STEM should be and why it deserves its own place in our ever-expanding school curriculum.

A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom

The Atlantic

Kids who constantly use phones and computers tend to be more nervous in face-to-face conversations. What can teachers do to help?

Giuseppe Milo/Flickr

Stress about a meeting that is still a week away, handwringing before talking to the cashier in the grocery line, worrying about seeing an acquaintance on the street—for people with social anxiety disorder, even the simplest task can prove challenging. The symptoms of social anxiety often set in around adolescence, when people place a new emphasis on social interactions and their place in their peer groups. But some academics fear that greater access to technology could exacerbate social anxiety among teens, particularly as smartphones, tablets, and computers become omnipresent in and out of the classroom. And even though teachers are increasingly exploiting the devices as learning tools, they also play an integral role in stemming the tide of social anxiety.

“If we are glued to technology 24/7, it’s going to have an effect on social skills—it’s just natural,” said Tamyra Pierce, a journalism professor at California State University, Fresno. The clear link between technology and social behavior makes it all the more important that teachers who embrace these devices need to keep students’ social skills in mind.

An estimated 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and symptoms usually start around age 13. More than just shyness, social anxiety causes people to fear the judgment and scrutiny of those around them. People with social anxiety often have concurrent disorders like depression. The disorder can affect every aspect of a person’s life, from academic performance to self esteem; in severe cases, social anxiety can be debilitating, keeping sufferers in bed and out of public places to avoid confrontation. But almost everyone suffers from at least a little social anxiety, says Thomas Rodebaugh, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “We’d be worried about someone who never experiences any social anxiety,” he said.

Social anxiety differs between individuals, so it makes sense that the relationship between technology and social anxiety is murky and is often varies case to case. For some sufferers, technology can increase social interaction. One 2012 studyfound that people with low self-esteem who may be reluctant to talk about themselves with peers face-to-face feel more comfortable sharing personal information on Facebook. Researchers who conducted another 2006 studyconcluded that social media can “strengthen community engagement and attachment” in some people. Pierce recalls teens with disabilities that, in spite of their apprehension about talking with the opposite sex, were able to approach their crushes through technology. “Once they felt like they were doing okay [online], then they could continue the conversation face-to-face in a more comfortable state,” Pierce said. “The anxiety was lessened by using technology, but that’s more the exception than the rule.”

Pierce says it’s the exception because she has personally seen an increase in social anxiety among her plugged-in students over the years she has been teaching. “Now young people can’t look you in the eye, they get antsy talking to you in person,” she said.

So, in 2009, Pierce conducted a study to test the relationship between technology and social anxiety. She asked teenagers how often they use “socially interactive technologies,” like instant messages and texts, and then assessed how comfortable they felt talking to people face-to-face. Pierce found that the more the students spent using online communication methods, the more likely they were to show symptoms of anxiety about communicating face-to-face. What’s more, teenage girls showed much more anxiety than did their male peers.

These conclusions left Pierce with a chicken-and-egg problem: “Was it the use of technology that has created a heightened sense of anxiety about talking to someone face to face, or did it start with social anxiety that led to increased use of social media?” Either way, though, she hypothesizes that teens are using social media as a crutch, a replacement for the in-person interactions that help them develop socially. “It’s going to take a lot more research because, as I’ve seen in my other research about social media, due to excessive use of cell phones, teens and young people alike are not talking face to face. It’s hampering their social skills,” she said.

But Rodebaugh, the psychologist, is skeptical that technology is to blame for social anxiety among teens. “What we’ve seen from some of my students’ studies is, if you’re the sort of person who is going on Facebook to interact with people you expect to see sometime in the future, you’re going to interact with them in the real world,” he said. There’s no evidence that using technology that way has a negative effect, he added. But he agrees that adolescence is a pivotal time in a person’s social development and, as future studies probe the relationship between social anxiety and technology, “[adolescence] is a good place to look for it.”

In the years since Pierce’s study, digital communication has become even more common. Between 2011 and 2013, the percentage of teens who had smartphonesincreased from 23 percent to 37 percent. In 2012, 81 percent of teens used some form of social media.

Anecdotally, both Pierce and Rodebaugh have seen more laptops and cell phones in the classroom. Constant pings of texts and Facebook notifications can sometimes distract students, pulling them away from their face-to-face interactions and into the virtual world of digital communication. One 2013 studyfound that the average person unlocked his or her cell phone more than 100 times per day. “It’s much easier to look at a phone than to look someone in the eye,” said parenting blogger Vanessa Van Petten in a 2013 Washington Postarticle.

Technology is increasingly a primary means for socializing among teens. But it’s not clear whether this has had an effect on the number of people with social anxiety. “We don’t have data that is that intensive [about social anxiety] over the past five years,” Rodebaugh said. Even though social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders (about12 percent of adults will have it at some point in their lives), researchers aren’t yet able to determine how its prevalence has changed over time; there’s still little consensus on the causes of the disorder. So there’s no proof that an increased use of technology over the past five years has led to a greater prevalence of social anxiety. Pierce plans to conduct an updated version of her 2009 study in the near future, which may shed some light on the issue.

Regardless, even if the link between technology and social anxiety were clearer, banning it in the classroom seems increasingly unlikely. Teachers from kindergarten onward are embracing laptops, iPads, and video games as educational tools, using them to help students visualize complex topics in a whole new way, despite the distraction caused by texts and social media. “Unless there were some sort of attempt to ban technology from the classroom, [that technology] will be there when most people want it to,” Rodebaugh said. “I haven’t yet made a particular policy [restricting the use of technology in the classroom]. But I’ve considered it, and I assume at some point I’ll have to.”

Pierce doesn’t think that’s the solution, though. “It’s not a matter of use or no use, it’s what kind of use,” she said. “When we take away all face-to-face communication and our young people stay in their rooms and stare at their screens, we do them a disservice.” A good comparison, she says, is how people view tests—some prefer multiple-choice while others want only open-ended questions. Using technology in the right way means giving students a balance and options with their devices, both academically and socially. “We can’t lose the social skills, we can’t lose the technology—we have to have both. We have to go back to that balance,” Pierce said.

For teens that feel socially anxious, Pierce suggests that they use technology less at home (especially for those who let it disrupt their sleep). Rodebaugh added that there are a number of treatments for social anxiety, which involve medication or therapy. “People don’t have to continue to suffer if they don’t want to,” he said.

Empowering a Generation of Female Leaders

Chris Wilson, Head of School, Esperanza Academy, L+D Board Member

In March 2011, a Princeton University panel came out with a study showing that while women continued to enroll at the university in greater numbers, and to achieve at a high level academically, their involvement in leadership positions on campus was very different than that of men.

“The committee found that women, more than men, tend to hold behind-the-scenes positions or seek to make a difference outside of elected office in campus groups; that women do not assert themselves as often in class discussions, yet tend to outperform men academically; and that these and other patterns reflect the different ways in which undergraduate men and women view their college experience,” the committee reported.

The panel went on to recommend an overhaul of orientation, mentoring, and faculty awareness activities to overcome what the panel chairwoman deemed “a popular culture that simply has not been very supportive of women” taking leadership positions.

How can women, on the one hand, be excelling academically, enrolling in and graduating college and professional programs like medical school in record numbers (eclipsing their male peers in almost all measures) but remain unwilling or seemingly deterred from seeking top-level leadership positions despite excellent credentials? This phenomenon is not limited to the campus student government; more recent studies have show that women, despite having a strong presence in these fields, hold far fewer leadership positions than men in everything from medicine to law to finance. And we all know that the prevalence of women in corporate boardrooms and Executive Suites lags their representation in the broader workforce.

Could there be a role for us as educational leaders in preparing women to take the reins of leadership later in life?

At my school, Esperanza Academy, a tuition-free, independent

middle school for modest-income girls in Lawrence, Massachusetts, we aim to explicitly train our students to exercise habits of leadership.

But “leadership” for us means something deeper than “believing in yourself” and “building self-esteem,” and many of the other phrases one often hears along with the concept of leadership these days. We, of course, hope our students come to believe in themselves and have confidence. But we also teach our students that becoming leaders involves responsibility. It involves risk. “Leadership” is often about developing, harnessing, and deploying “power.” The power to be seen and influence others, the power to take the stage and make an argument, the power to “find a voice.”

Leadership means speaking for and acting on what one believes is right, even when those beliefs are unpopular. This is often countercultural for young women, who are taught by so many social forces to be “cute and likable.” What we ask our students to do – to take power, and to learn how to use it – is very “anti-Facebook.”

We also teach our students that privilege and leadership are not ends in and of themselves. Although my school exists to give a generation of low-income students an opportunity to make their own choices and set their own paths, we also believe strongly that the goal of an independent school education must be something deeper than simply the creation of privilege for our students. It must be to engender in our future graduates an orientation towards social justice and creating a better future – a future within which they and other women will have far more power.

As a girls school, we are keenly aware of the benefits of single-sex education for young women, in providing opportunities for leadership that would all-too-often be lacking in a coeducational environment. But it is not simply because we are single sex that our students have become such strong leaders – we believe it is because we hold young women’s leadership as a central goal of our educational curriculum.

One critical piece of creating our future leaders at Esperanza is developing public speaking and self-advocacy skills. This goes beyond simply reading a passage in front of a group. Our young women, beginning in fifth grade, are expected to address the whole student body and faculty regularly. They compete to address donors at fundraising functions, and have lobbied city government officials in person.

How do they develop such poise?

They practice, day in and day out. They greet each teacher everyday with a handshake and a “good morning.” They attend school in uniform and take pride in their environment with a daily all-school cleanup. Each morning, students address the school during morning assembly, and every two weeks in chapel. These opportunities are celebrated and sought after – nearly thirty students (half of the school) competed for the fifteen student ambassador spots. Any time we have a guest in the building, students stop in the hallways to introduce themselves and greet the visitor. And in classes, our teachers regularly have student debates and defend their intellectual positions.

All of this is just one part of our effort to build our students’ comfort with and ability to hold leadership positions. In many ways I regard this as important as our students’ academic achievements. After all, girls seem to be catching up to boys in making good grades, but they don’t seem to be catching up in seizing the reins of power in making the decisions that will impact the next generation the most, from the highest echelons of leadership. It is my hope that our Esperanza Academy graduates will help change that balance of power.

Why The Classes At Phillips Exeter Are Different Than At Any Other Private School

Business Insider

phillips exeter academy, russell weatherspoon, class, harnkess tableMelia Robinson/BIRussell Weatherspoon sits at the Harkness Table, the centerpiece of a Phillips Exeter Academy education.

Russell Weatherspoon, or “Spoon,” as his students call him, took a seat at the sand-colored table in the center of his classroom at Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Exeter, New Hampshire.

“Where do you want to start?” he asked the 11 upperclassmen enrolled in his social ethics course, signaling the start of class.

And that was the last we heard from Weatherspoon for a while.

“One of the parts that bothered me,” a student began as he fanned the pages of “Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues,” “is on page …”

For 70 minutes, the teenagers batted around text citations, asked open-ended questions, and led the discussion without interference. No one raised a hand. There were few lulls. And yet, no one talked over a peer.

This classroom experience is not unusual at Exeter, as I learned during my recent visit to the school.

In the 1930s, the academy established a model of teaching called the Harkness method, which calls for an oval table in every classroom, and places students in charge of their own learning. Schools around the world have studied and adapted its pedagogy, but Exeter remains the only private high school (that I know of) to use the system in every one of its courses.

phillips exeter academy, russell weatherspoon, class, harnkess tableMelia Robinson/BI“Exeter teaches you more than talking,” one student tells me. “It teaches you to listen.”

History Of Harkness

The story begins with Edward S. Harkness, an American philanthropist whose family was once the largest holder of Standard Oil stocks after the Rockefellers. He gave away an estimated $129 million before his death, including a $5.8 million contribution to Exeter.

edward harkness, phillips exeter academyPhillips Exeter AcademyEdward S. Harkness.

When he bestowed the gift in 1930, Harkness challenged the school to use the money to develop a new way of teaching and learning. He wanted to do away with students sitting in rows and teachers lecturing at the head of the classroom.

The school came back with this proposal:

  • Class size is limited to 12.
  • Students lead the discussion.
  • An oval-shaped table, named in the philanthropist’s honor, stands in the center of the room — making students and instructor equal. They sit at the same height, can see one another from any seat at the table, and have “no corners to hide behind,” as Harkness put it.

For more than 80 years, this system has served Exeter students in and outside the classroom. If standardized testing scores are any indication of the Harkness method’s success, it’s worth noting that Exeter students averaged an SAT score of 2107 out of 2400, a full 610 points higher than the national average.

phillips exeter academy, chorus, classMelia Robinson/BIThe Harkness table exists even in classrooms without tables, like this advanced music class.

Everyone Gets A Say At The Table

The Harkness method, with its small group setting, comes with an obligation to come to class prepared. Otherwise it will be pretty obvious who did and didn’t do their homework. Speaking up at the Harkness table, however, is just as important as drawing out others around you.

Remember that one kid in your high school class who never knew when to keep quiet?

“I used to be one of them,” one student told me during my recent visit to Exeter. “I was talking a lot. But Exeter teaches you more than talking. It teaches you to listen.”

The entire day I spent at Exeter, I don’t think I heard one student talk over another. Students allowed their peers to finish phrasing a question or developing an idea before jumping in, just as well as they remembered to cite the text. They are encouraged to wait three seconds before responding to what the last person said, and to begin their contribution by repeating part of what the previous person said.

phillips exeter academy, becky moore, class, harnkess tableMelia Robinson/BIStudents in Moore’s class play a warm-up before the start of class.

During my visit, I witnessed students’ “discussion etiquette training” in action, on even the most minute of scales.

English instructor Becky Moore, who has taught at Exeter for more than 24 years, began her 200-level English class with a warm-up: She challenged the students to recite the alphabet as a group. No one person could say two letters in a row, and if two people talked at the same time, the group had to start over. It began, “A,” “B,” “C,” and so on, at random.

Halfway through the alphabet, the students reached a standstill. No one spoke. Finally, a small girl wearing glasses piped in with the next letter.

Why the lull? A student later explained, “Hillary was the only one who hadn’t spoken yet, so I knew not to talk.”

harkness table, phillips exeter academyMelia Robinson/BIAn outdoor Harkness table.

Harkness Spreads Around The World

When Edward S. Harkness envisioned a student-centered teaching method, he hoped it would reach far beyond Exeter. Today, that dream is being realized.

Exeter offers seven on-campus conferences for teachers, allowing them to sit in on summer classes and learn best practices in implementing a discussion-based pedagogy. Last year, according to The Exeter Bulletin, 139 independent schools, 70 public schools, and 16 countries (as far as Australia, China, Paraguay, and Turkey) sent representatives to Exeter.

And at Exeter, the Harkness method continues to evolve. Each department adapts the system in a way that fits its curriculum. It was only in the last 20 years that the science department found a way to fit the Harkness method into a lab setting, and the math department is pioneering ways to present problems in a collaborative scaffolding.

The Harkness method is far from a “one size fits all” teaching system — just as every student’s needs are unique. But when it works, it sure works well.

Read more:

Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others


CreditOlimpia Zagnoli

ENDLESS meetings that do little but waste everyone’s time. Dysfunctional committees that take two steps back for every one forward. Project teams that engage in wishful groupthinking rather than honest analysis. Everyone who is part of an organization — a company, a nonprofit, a condo board — has experienced these and other pathologies that can occur when human beings try to work together in groups.

But does teamwork have to be a lost cause? Psychologists have been working on the problem for a long time. And for good reason: Nowadays, though we may still idolize the charismatic leader or creative genius, almost every decision of consequence is made by a group. When Facebook’s board of directors establishes a privacy policy, when the C.I.A.’s operatives strike a suspected terrorist hide-out or when a jury decides whether to convict a defendant, what matters is not just the intelligence and wisdom of the individual actors involved. Groups of smart people can make horrible decisions — or great ones.

Psychologists have known for a century that individuals vary in their cognitive ability. But are some groups, like some people, reliably smarter than others?

Working with several colleagues and students, we set out to answer that question. In our first two studies, which we published with Alex Pentland and Nada Hashmi of M.I.T. in 2010 in the journal Science, we grouped 697 volunteer participants into teams of two to five members. Each team worked together to complete a series of short tasks, which were selected to represent the varied kinds of problems that groups are called upon to solve in the real world. One task involved logical analysis, another brainstorming; others emphasized coordination, planning and moral reasoning.

Individual intelligence, as psychologists measure it, is defined by its generality: People with good vocabularies, for instance, also tend to have good math skills, even though we often think of those abilities as distinct. The results of our studies showed that this same kind of general intelligence also exists for teams. On average, the groups that did well on one task did well on the others, too. In other words, some teams were simply smarter than others.

We next tried to define what characteristics distinguished the smarter teams from the rest, and we were a bit surprised by the answers we got. We gave each volunteer an individual I.Q. test, but teams with higher average I.Q.s didn’t score much higher on our collective intelligence tasks than did teams with lower average I.Q.s. Nor did teams with more extroverted people, or teams whose members reported feeling more motivated to contribute to their group’s success.

Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

In a new study that we published with David Engel and Lisa X. Jing of M.I.T. last month in PLoS One, we replicated these earlier findings, but with a twist. We randomly assigned each of 68 teams to complete our collective intelligence test in one of two conditions. Half of the teams worked face to face, like the teams in our earlier studies. The other half worked online, with no ability to see any of their teammates. Online collaboration is on the rise, with tools like Skype, Google Drive and old-fashioned email enabling groups that never meet to execute complex projects. We wanted to see whether groups that worked online would still demonstrate collective intelligence, and whether social ability would matter as much when people communicated purely by typing messages into a browser.

And they did. Online and off, some teams consistently worked smarter than others. More surprisingly, the most important ingredients for a smart team remained constant regardless of its mode of interaction: members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills.

This last finding was another surprise. Emotion-reading mattered just as much for the online teams whose members could not see one another as for the teams that worked face to face. What makes teams smart must be not just the ability to read facial expressions, but a more general ability, known as “Theory of Mind,” to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe.

A new science of effective teamwork is vital not only because teams do so many important things in society, but also because so many teams operate over long periods of time, confronting an ever-widening array of tasks and problems that may be much different from the ones they were initially convened to solve. General intelligence, whether in individuals or teams, is especially crucial for explaining who will do best in novel situations or ones that require learning and adaptation to changing circumstances. We hope that understanding what makes groups smart will help organizations and leaders in all fields create and manage teams more effectively.