Month: August 2014

First Day of School Welcome Message to Students

Carpool began at 7:25 a.m. and over 350 Lower School students bounced out of their cars and into newly redesigned learning spaces to start the 2014-2015 school year. It is my task to welcome each child, returning or new to this school year. The message I decided to share in this year’s Opening Assembly was, “You are a Genius!”

Each one of our students was born with the potential for genius. We may have the next Steve Jobs or William Shakespeare sitting among us and it is our job as teachers to help them know and understand their unique abilities early on. I reminded each child that the world has been changed by by ordinary people who were encouraged to be extraordinary.

Genius is the act of solving problems in ways no one else has solved it before. It’s about using human insight and initiative to find original solutions that matter. A genius is someone with the insight to find not-so-obvious solutions to a problem.

The only path to expertise, as far as we know, is practice. So this year in Lower School at Mount Vernon, we have turned our classrooms into laboratories of innovation and creativity. While the new furniture is fantastic, the paint is fresh, and even the potties are clean… the best part of these classroom spaces is that they are filled with our students, our little geniuses. Their class, our school, Atlanta, and our world needs their ideas and contributions. It is fun to think about:

  • Galileo making his first important scientific observation at 17.
  • Handel composing music when he was 11.
  • Marian Anderson beginning her singing career at gage six and taught herself to play the piano at age 8

The stage is set, the bar is raised high, but I hope each one of our Lower School geniuses left today’s assembly with a full bucket.



How Full is your Bucket

Lately I have read several pieces of work by Tom Rath including How Full is your Bucket, Eat, Move, Pray, and Strengths Based Leadership.  Dr. Jacobsen, my current Head of School has often commented, “Small deposits have a cumulative effect.” to remind us to focus on getting the little things right and to be intentional in everything.

Tom Rath and Don Clifton’s research share this idea.  Do we want increased productivity, engagement, commitment, satisfaction, and safety among our employees and students? If so, then we need to spread positive, sincere encouragement in small doses. Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Daniel Kahneman tells us that we have approximately 20,000 individual moments each day. 20,000! Experts tell us that the magic ratio of positive interactions for every negative is 5:1. So, we all need to get busy making some positivity spread.

I plan to take this advice and do a few things differently. We will celebrate what makes each child and teacher unique rather than what makes them “fit in” and summons students to the office (and call home to report) to commend them for doing the right thing. We will focus on “filling buckets” through individualized, specific, and deserved feedback. We will also regularly evaluate our implementation of The Five Strategies:

  1. Prevent Bucket Dipping
  2. Shine a Light on What is Right
  3. Make Best Friends
  4. Give Unexpectedly
  5. Reverse the Golden Rule

Finally, we will ask each teacher before the school year begins how he or she likes his or her bucket filled.



Each one of us has a “bucket” that is emptied or filled based on each of the 20,000 encounters we experience each day. When our bucket is full, we feel productive, passionate, and excited. However, when our bucket is empty, we feel angry, down, and disconnected.  Fortunately, we are not powerless over full and empty buckets. We all also have a “dipper” which empowers us to fill (or empty) others’ buckets.  Here are some quotes from Tom Rath and Donald Clifton’s How Full is your Bucket? to remind us to start filling buckets and to surround ourselves with other bucket fillers:

  • The #1 reason people leave their jobs: They don’t feel appreciated.
  • Bad bosses could increase the risk of stroke by 33%.
  • A study found that negative employees can scare off every customer (or family, in our case) they speak with – for good.
  • 65% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year.
  • 9 out of 10 people say they are more productive when they’re around positive people.
  • Increasing positive emotions could lengthen life span by 10 years.

Next week, when the Lower School teachers return for Preplanning, we are going to do some bucket filling (literally) that may or may not involve races. We are also going to do some bucket filling (figuratively) to create a healthy work culture.