Thursday, October 20, 2016

LoMA Cares

Dear LoMA Family,

            One of the most strongly held values in American society is authenticity. Movies, books, friends and family often tell us to “be yourself.” Anything else is looked at as being dishonest, phony or fake. As Adam Grant, points out in a recent New York Times article, however, this can often be very poor advice. He combines the “be yourself” mantra with the idea of self-monitoring. People who self-monitor always consider the effects of their words and deeds before they act. Like everything else in life the ideal is somewhere between the two extremes, and as we grow up we learn to navigate those extremes to balance our self-monitoring with authenticity to live a balanced life.
            Even the most authentic people know to monitor their behavior in certain circumstances. They don’t talk to their grandmother like they speak to their friends and they know that they need to dress nicely for a job. When we self-monitor, we constantly scanning our environment for social cues and adjust accordingly. I do this when I go to parties where I don’t know many people. I consider more carefully what I will wear, what I say and even, subconsciously, my body language. I don’t act the same way at a party as I do when I’m clearing the halls at the end of the day.
            In his article, Grant summarizes some of the research on self-monitoring. In 136 studies of 20,000 employees, he found that people who self-monitor a lot are more likely to get promotions, understand and help their colleagues and be well-liked. They were also likely to experiment with different leadership styles and problem solve more creatively.
            I think the dilemma goes back to the idea of a fixed mindset. If I were to see my personality as just one thing, then I’m not likely to be capable of much change. In school, I can be loud and demanding. Most of the time, this serves the school well. With my family, especially my sick sibling, I need to be calm and patient. With my friends, I can actually be a little funny…really. Does this make me fake? As my favorite poet, Walt Whitman, wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
            I am so proud when I see students who can navigate this with sincerity. They can be scholars in the classroom, competitive athletes on the court and silly at lunchtime. Watching what we say and adjusting our actions to the situation doesn’t make us fake; it just makes us more caring.

Work hard,

John Wenk

October 27      4:00-800                     Halloween Party
November 3    5:45-8:00                    Parent Teacher Conferences
November 4    1:00-3:00                    Parent Teacher Conferences
November 8                                        Election Day – No classes
November 11                                      Veteran’s Day – No school

Friday, October 14, 2016

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." — Stephen R. Covey
                                                                                                                                     October 17, 2016
Dear LoMA Family,

            A friend recently sent me an interesting article from the website Early to Rise by Bob Bly called, “What Good Listeners Do Differently.” He cites research that suggests that most people know that they are not really good listeners, and the people that think they are are often proven wrong. They get into arguments about what people say, misunderstand what they were supposed to do and have difficulty learning. To understand this, he makes a distinction between hearing, which is very passive, and listening. Listening requires effort in order to interpret the vocabulary, make mental connections with what we already know and pick up on attitude and intent through body language and intonation. For instance, a speaker uses tone of voice, facial expressions, and mannerisms to help make the message clear to the listener. If we don’t watch the speaker, we miss out on a lot of what he or she is saying. Finally, we have to constantly be making judgements about what we are hearing: Is this really important? Can I trust that it is true? Why is she telling me this? There is a whole lot going on when we listen properly, and to help us, he has a series of strategies:
1.     Be Patient: Many of us are more interested in what we have to say next rather than actually listening and taking time to understand what is being said to us. Being New Yorkers certainly doesn’t help with this given our fast talking and reputation for impatience.  
2.     Don’t jump to conclusions: Too often, when we hear a little bit of something, we assume we know the rest of what the speaker is going to say and interrupt or lose interest. Instead, it pays to keep an open mind. Don’t just listen for statements that back up your own opinions and support your beliefs or for certain parts that interest you. The point of listening, after all, is to gain new information.
3.     Listen "between the lines:” Concentrate on what is not being said as well as what is being said. Remember, a lot of clues to meaning come from the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. People don't always say what they mean, but their body language is usually an important indication of their attitude and emotional state.
4.     Check for understanding: Rather than jumping in with your opinion on the topic, take time to make sure you understand what the person is saying by asking questions or summarizing their point.
5.     Don’t let yourself be distracted: This one is probably the hardest for many high school students, especially in our world of technology. Our friends, loud classmates, the speaker's appearance, accent or mannerisms are all often more interesting than what the teacher is actually saying. I certainly understand that a text from a friend can seem more important than the causes of imperialism, but it is less likely to help you succeed.
Ultimately, how well you listen will not simply determine how well you do in college; it will determine the kind of job you are qualified for, the quality of your relationships and your understanding of the world and your place in it.

Listen hard,

John Wenk

Friday, September 23, 2016

LoMA Cares

September 26, 2016

Dear LoMA Family,

Last year the New York Times published a survey of suggestions from college upperclassmen for new students about how to be successful and happy in college. Reviewing the list last week, I was struck by how similar their list was to letters of advice that my advisory last year had wrote for this year’s freshmen class. I guess whether we are talking about college or high school, the same general rules of success apply. Here’s the list; do you agree?

  1. Extend Yourself: School should not simply be about taking the required classes and doing what is the minimum. I made this mistake in high school and hated it. When I was at college I joined student government, wrote for the newspaper, took part in political protests and became an athlete. None of this was easy for me as I was shy (really) and thought I was too cool for extracurriculars. I was wrong which is why we don’t give our students a choice about participating. The extracurricular activities carousel is tomorrow and activities start Wednesday. Try something new to extend yourself!
  2. Do the work: Every one of my former students wrote about the importance of completing homework. I remember that a bunch of them learned this the hard way. They all started off strong in September, but as the work load got heavier, they began missing assignments which led to failure. It’s even worse in college where teachers assume that students should complete two hours of homework for every hour of class time. This is the biggest reason why about half of all freshmen never graduate college. LoMA’s students, on the other hand, have a high rate of college success because they have learned the importance of completing homework thoroughly and on time.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Teachers can’t always tell when students need help, but our entire staff is ready to do what they can when students come to them for support. The most obvious examples are tutoring and Credit Plus. Remember, you can just walk in the art room and work on your schoolwork while getting fed during lunch. Beyond this, our counselors are here to lend an ear when anyone is upset, the clinic offers confidential services and our clubs are designed to help you nurture healthy friendships. On Tuesday, you will also hear about the opportunity to work with a mentor.
4.     Be yourself: As one student wrote, “Don’t compare yourself to other students. It is easy to feel lost [but] remember that everyone has unique talents, and you have four years to cultivate yours.” Too many students feel pressure to be someone they are not to fit in. A very common theme in the letters was about making friends that you can trust. Friends who relentlessly gossip, rarely do anything productive or act mean towards other can bring you down. To a large degree, we adopt the values of our friends. Therefore, you need to consider whether your friends represent who you want to be in life.
I think this is a pretty good list. Is it the one you would come up with? High school and college offer so many opportunities, but it is easy to miss them if we don’t put in the effort and make wise decisions.

Work hard,

John Wenk
September 27              1:40                 Extracurricular Activities carrousel
September 28                                      Extracurricular Activities begin
October 3 and 4                                  Rosh Hashanah
October 21                                          End of first marking period

Friday, September 16, 2016

LoMA Cares

                        Anthony J. D'Angelo


September 19, 2016

Dear LoMA Family,

I got the idea of our school motto – LoMA Cares – from a book called Subtractive Schooling and the Politics of Caring by Angela Valenzuela. The main argument of this book is that “caring” means something very different for students than for teachers. When students think about whether or not their teachers care, they mean, "Do they care about me - my life outside of school? Do they care whether or not I learn in class?" When teachers think about caring, however, they usually think only in terms of their schoolwork "Are my students completing their homework and behaving in class?" Neither viewpoint is right or wrong. The question is can we create a school where our students care for their schoolwork as much as the teachers care for their students?

From what I see, the teachers at LoMA really do care a great deal about their students. They have told me how much they enjoy advisory because it gives them a chance to get to know their students. Our teachers give up their free time to tutor students and work late trying to come up with interesting ways to teach that will make learning fun. Also LoMA's faculty has lunch together nearly every day to discuss how to help individual students. At these “kid talk” meetings each teacher brings up the names of students and we all discuss ways to help that student succeed. Caring isn’t always what it seems. For instance, sometimes the best way a teacher (or principal) shows caring is by disciplining students for actions that can hurt their learning or the school community. That’s why we consider it a big deal when students come in late or unprepared, miss a homework assignment or lose focus in class. I’ve been in schools where teachers did not care about these things and too few students were successful.

At the same time, I've been impressed to see that most of the students at LoMA do seem to care about their school work based on how many come in for tutoring, complete their homework every night and put their all into their arts classes and PE. The results seem to be good for the most part, as students have learned that the more they study, the more thoughtful they are in answering questions, the more they pay attention in class, and the higher they will score. Unfortunately, some students take too long to learn just how much independent work high school requires in the form of homework and regular study. Because we care, LoMA holds our students to a higher standard, which makes it necessary to take school more seriously, especially since colleges will see everything our students do.

It is very rare in the city for the founders of a school to still be with it twelve years later, but nearly all of the people who wrote LoMA’s mission statement twelve years ago are still with the school today. Since then, a commitment to caring has been the most important factor in every hiring decision we have made. But a school is more than its founders and staff. It includes our entire family. Our students, parents and community partners are all vital to our mission. Our school is most successful when we are all unified in our caring for each other and our work. This year, let’s remember to be together in this.

Be Caring,

John Wenk
September 27              1:40                 Extracurricular Activities Carrousel
September 28                                      Extracurricular Activities begin
October 3 and 4                                  Rosh Hashanah
October 21                                          End of first marking period

Our Mission

LoMA is a school that cares.
It cares about the academic, social and artistic development of its family of learners.

LoMA’s staff cares that our students become life-long learners and responsible citizens of the world.

LoMA’s students care about academic success, creativity, community involvement and college success. Because they care, they work hard, support each other and will find success in life.