January Update-A Miscellany

[ January 30, 2010 ]

Some wonderful things have been going on during the month of January. I have compiled a list below. This is by no means comprehensive, for more information refer to the news page on the Riverdale Country School website, which you can subscribe to via an RSS feed.


Brainstorming boards from the IDEO Workshop

Brainstorming boards from the IDEO Workshop

We worked with IDEO, a leading design firm, on our second workshop this month with teachers from 2nd and 3rd grade on how to bring “design thinking” into schools. Essentially, we are asking the question of how we might broaden our approach to solving problems. This work has implications for how teachers problem solve together, but also for how students might work together collaboratively. We tackled the question with a team from IDEO led by Hailey Brewer and Sandy Speicher of how we might encourage more student discovery in our classroom spaces. We interviewed students in the inquiry phase, brought back our stories from interviews and observations, refined our problem, brainstormed around an issue or two, prototyped rapidly solutions and asked students form the High School to give us feedback. It was a great experience and has led to some recommendations to changing classroom spaces on the River Campus.

We have two other workshops scheduled for February and March where some of our faculty will facilitate a day of design thinking and then debrief with the IDEO team after that. We hope to design together a “Design Thinking Toolkit” for schools and educators that might have relevance to all sorts of educational institutions.


We have had a number of visitors to the school in the last few weeks who are here to help us think about curriculum change:

  • Tony Wagner, co-director of the the Harvard Change Leadership Group, came to talk to a number of us who had been with him at a conference in Cambridge, MA, in December. It was great to have Tony back to think collaboratively about handling some of the change ahead in our educational program.
  • Tony Schwartz, Riverdale alum and Director of The Energy Project, came back to work with our students on facing challenges effectively and how one sustains high energy in all that one does. This is linked to our pilot project, “The One Big Thing” that seeks to help students intentionally develop passions. Tony is coming out with a new book this spring, The Way We are Working Isn’t Working. This work is extremely exciting and the project has expanded from about 15 students engaging in this work last year to more than 40 this year.
  • Veronica Boix-Mansilla of Harvard Project Zero came to work with some of our administrators and faculty members on thinking about our expansion of interdisciplinary courses. Her work with Howard Gardner on interdisciplinary studies will be guiding some of our work in how we look at our interesting existing interdisciplinary classes such as Integrated Liberal Studies and Constructing America and on how we develop new courses, such as our course on Global Climate Change.
  • Bruce Hammond of the Independent Curriculum Group, a group seeking to join school in an effort to broaden the curriculum development and choices for students in high school came to talk about a conference we participated a week or so ago at Fieldston and to talk about our potential future work together.
  • Doug Foderman gave a great set of presentations to Lower and Middle School faculty, students and parents this last week. Doug is the Director of Technology at the Brookwood School and an expert on online safety for children.
  • Kelley Nicholson-Flynn, the Coordinator of Teaching and Learning at The Lawrenceville School and former chair of the Science department came to help our Science department with curriculum development.
  • Walter Isaacson, the Director of the Aspen Institute, will be talking to our High School students on February 10th on Leadership in America.


Milton Sipp, the Head of the Middle School and his team there organized an interesting set of program for his students that tangibly connects the students’ work in the classroom with real life. Below you will find an excerpt from his report on the week.

As many of you know, each of the grades last week were involved with different programs.  My public thanks to our three great Deans, Antoinette Quarshie, Beth Sholtes, and Mike Berical, and to our colleague,Carolyn Kaplan, for all of their efforts to ensure the success of the week for each grade.  Our 6th grade class had a wonderful trip to Camp Becket in the Berkshires, our 7th graders attended workshops, primarily run by our parents, and the 8th grade took mid-year exams in language, science, and math.  I want to also once again thank the parents who participated in the workshops on Tuesday:

  • Medicine – Double Jeopardy and Twins -Joanne Stone
  • Immigration Law and Reform – Lenni Benson
  • Story Starters: Creative Writing – Tania Moore-Barrett
  • Juggling – Max Dobens
  • It’s Not Easy Being Green – Nancy Orenstein
  • Animation Nation – Peter Simon (faculty)
  • Pictures, Fiction, and Lies – Peter Simon (faculty)
  • Legal Representation of Children – Julie Brail
  • Magazine Editing – Will Dana
  • Fun With Math – Mike Michelson (faculty)
  • CSI -Creative Scene Investigation – Laura Desmond (faculty)
  • Global Images of Beauty – Beth Sholtes (7th Grade Dean)
  • Intro to Marketing and Product Development – Laurie Lindenbaum
  • Cooking: Making Scones – Shelly Schoenfeld
  • Creative Advertising – Suzy and Dan O’Shea
  • Climate Change – Jeff Gracer

Wednesday involved morning theater workshops by our Drama Faculty and then a trip to Broadway to see “West Side Story” in the afternoon.

Thursday was a day devoted to politics and activism and included a distinguished group of business, political, and community leaders.  A big thanks to one of our parents, Marcia Sudolsky,  for her tremendous assistance and participation in the day and for bringing the panelists and Senator Schneiderman to campus!!!  A schedule of events, that took place that day, is listed below:

Thursday, January 21st – “Politics, Activism, and You”

  • Skype Video Conference – “Live From Capitol Hill” with Emily Katz (RCS ’01), Staffer for Senator Wyden of Oregon-Discussion on the Health Care Bill and her role as a lead Staffer/Writer for the Senator.
  • Panel Discussion with:Marcia Sudolsky – President of MDS Political Consulting Firm; Ken Jenkins, Chairman of the Westchester County of Board of Legislators;Chuck Lesnick, President of the Yonkers City Council; Heather Grossman, Political Blogger and Reporter. DNA.org.; Menashe Shapiro – Deputy Research Director for Mayor Bloomberg’s Campaign; Bill Weitz – Chief of Staff for US Congressman Eliot Engel
  • “Politics and the Campaign/Activism”-A session for entire grade with NY State Senator Eric Schneiderman
  • Two Break-Out Groups: “Politics and the Media and Politics and the First Amendment”-Donna Liberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) Will Dana, Managing Editor of Rolling Stone Magazine

OUR WORK ON CHARACTER STRENGTHS with the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center and the NYCKipp Schools

This week we had a number of meeting with the KIPP folk and Angela Duckworth of the Center for Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. I find this work amazing, and I think that it will lead to interesting discussions and work about the character development of our students in our schools. We have been working on several projects: a research study with our Pre-K students, a goal-setting exercise with our Middle and High School students, and work on character “right-side of the report card”. The report card work is moving along convincingly with us trying to create a feedback system on 7 of the 24 strengths defined by Marty Seligman and Chris Peterson, who have been helpful with moving this project along. The 7 strengths the KIPP and Riverdale teams are working on are: curiosity, zest, social intelligence, self-control, gratitude, hope/optimism and grit. We are hoping to pilot some various interventions in the late spring and broaden the pilots next year. We also hope to then be able to share some of this work with others on how to develop such strengths in intentional and positive ways in schools and families.


We are planning a trip to India in March in order to experience micro-finance and schools engaged in social change firsthand. We  are going with a group of students from the High School who have started to do some micro-finance work with KIVA, called Zawadi By Youth. We are looking to make social entrepreneurship a more active part of the Riverdale experience for all students. We already have the C.A.R.E in Action group in the Lower School starting to take the C.A.R.E ethics program and make it more active in the community. We are considering taking our Community Service work, our global studies and work on sustainability and reconfiguring it as a Center for Social Change. The class of 1959 that had their 50th reunion this year is leading the charge starting the Class of 1959 Fund for Social Change to help fund these efforts.

Our trip to India will help raise awareness about this shift of focus. In India we will be working with organizations such as Akanksha, visiting with a number of Social Entrepreneurs and visiting the Riverside School and its amazing leader, Kiran Bir Sethi (go to see her incredible speech at the recent TED conference in India). I think that this will be an amazing experience for the students and faculty going along, and I hope it leads to some interesting changes at the school in the future.


I am always on the look out for new books that will get us to think about schools in different ways. I recommend these three new books:


Our New "ThinkWall"

Our New "ThinkWall"

We have a great new wall painted with IdeaPaint in the Mow Building hallway allowing students and faculty to express themselves. This paint turns walls into a whiteboard surface. I have it in my office, and I thought that it would be interesting for people in the school community to express themselves in good ways. Dry erase markers are available in my office-come by and make a contribution. I hope that our “ThinkWall” will inspire more community dialogue, good questions and visual thinking at Riverdale.

As mentioned above, there is so much interesting work going on the school. We hope to continue this work in the years ahead so that we will continue to develop an amazing school experience for our students, but also develop as a global leader in education.

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5 Comments on “January Update-A Miscellany”

  1. headofschool

    I am interested in the RCS Blog. Please keep me in the loop.
    Also, I remain interested in Angela Duckworth’s studies on
    character development.
    Thank you,
    Paula Gadigian
    Mother of a 6th grader
    Sara F. Gadigian- Padgett

  2. headofschool

    Wow – what extraordinary things are going on at Riverdale. My firm owns 73 companies around the world and what clearly separates the great ones from the ok ones is leadership (and by this I mean Jim Collins level 5 leadership). I think focusing on the 7 strengths you have outlined will develop those kind of leaders and I am so happy to see this as a focus area. This morning I came upon the quotation below which really demonstrates the importance of developing character and leadership.
    “A scientist at the University of Michigan once listed what are considered the ten basic dangers to our society. First and most significant is the possibility of some kind of nuclear war or accident that would destroy the human race. The second is the possibility of a worldwide epidemic, disease, famine or depression. The third of this scientist’s key problems, that could bring about the destruction of society is the quality of the management and leadership of our institutions.” Thanks for helping develop stronger future leaders.

  3. headofschool

    Tania Moore-Barrett

    [ February 03, 2010 at 12:58 pm ]

    I am thrilled by all the excellent work going on, and particularly the emphasis on active, creative learning. Our children are extremely lucky to be going to a school that is not static, where the entire community, starting with the administration, is seeking and questioning, exploring and assessing. Whenever I have had the opportunity to work directly with the students at Riverdale, from the lower school on up, I have been delighted by the students’ genuine enthusiasm and courage in jumping in and trying new things. Throw all this into a pot and what a groovy stew!

  4. headofschool

    Stephanie Bell-Rose

    [ February 04, 2010 at 10:37 am ]

    I found this blog fascinating and really appreciate your doing it. By the way, the aunt of Jason Bell Rose (6th grade) is a Palo Alto-based teammember at Ideo (Melanie Bell-Mayeda). It is an incredible company and how inventive to bring it into the school.

    I find positive psychology intriguing. I’m excited that you are exploring its applications for the school and youth.

    KIPP is a great program/concept/movement and its terrific for RCS to link up with it.

    It’s amazing that Walter Isaacson is coming. What a writer, thinker and leader! The high schoolers are in for a treat.

    So onward and upward, and thanks for sharing all of this great information.

  5. headofschool

    I also found this blog very interesting! My 9th grade daughter Taina Quinones, is a former middle school student of KIPP Academy. She also participated in the UPENN study now underway at Riverdale. It would be interesting to find out any of the results they’ve gathered. I’m happy Riverdale is participating!

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