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Friends School of Baltimore Private School Blog

Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore

Matt Micciche, head of Friends School of Baltimore since 2005, has spent his professional career serving in Quaker schools. A graduate of Amherst College, Micciche has masters’ degrees from Tufts University and Middlebury College, Bread Loaf School of English. Prior to joining Friends School of Baltimore he was an assistant head of school for academics and taught high school English and humanities at Wilmington Friends, another co-ed pre-K–12 Quaker school. Helping Friends School of Baltimore to define and articulate educational outcomes has been a priority of Micciche’s throughout his term.
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Intellectual Humility: A Surprising Superpower

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Feb 19, 2019 2:29:19 PM

Who among us doesn’t enjoy having our long-held beliefs confirmed?  Especially if the source of such affirmation is a well-respected and impartial institution. You can imagine, then, the pleasure I felt in coming across a recent white paper produced by Stanford University, titled, “A Fit Over Rankings; Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity.”  

What’s your superpower? Beyond loosening up nervous or otherwise hesitant participants during professional and social gatherings this popular ice-breaker encourages us to reimagine our seemingly unremarkable traits, elevating them from the mundane to the extraordinary. One such undervalued quality that might give x-ray vision or the ability to fly a run for their money is intellectual humility; a virtue that Mark Leary, a social and personality psychologist at Duke University describes to Vox science reporter Brian Resnick in his recent article as “the recognition that the things you believe in might in fact be wrong.”

Resnick profiles Leary and several other bold social psychologists who are working to shift the field of psychology and the scientific community as a whole toward a culture in which it is safe to admit past mistakes. He explains that the obstacles to intellectual humility are both cognitive (we are, for the most part, profoundly unaware of the “blind spots” in our knowledge) and cultural (the professional and academic worlds do not reward – and often actually punish – the habit of admitting uncertainty or error).  He points out that intellectual humility is both a product of and a catalyst for other qualities, such as curiosity, critical thinking, reflection and information literacy. (These are also some of the skills and habits of mind referenced in Friends School’s Teaching and Learning Paradigm.)

By regularly asking our students to reflect on their knowledge, its sources, and its limitations, Friends School educators actively work to create an environment in which intellectual humility can thrive and mistakes are seen as an important step in the learning process. We’re helped along in this effort by the foundational Quaker tenet that “the truth is continually revealed.”  Embedded in this axiom is the acknowledgement that what we once believed to be true is often “revealed” to be imprecise, incomplete, or just plain wrong. While such a realization can be deeply unsettling, it is also an undeniable reality. (It is worth remembering that the heliocentric universe, for example, was an accepted scientific fact for much of human history.)

In an era when “the death of truth” is frequently proclaimed, the importance of teaching children that all of us, adults and children alike, are frequently wrong is essential. Ironically, as Resnick shows, it may well be the case that a more widespread embrace of the fallibility of human knowledge will ultimately be the key to ensuring that rigorous scientific thinking remains central to our decision-making process individually and collectively.

Though it seems unlikely that Marvel Comics will be introducing a “Captain Intellectual Humility” anytime soon, this surprising superpower may just be the hero we’ve been waiting for.

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Want Greatness? Create A Safe Zone For Admitting Mistakes -- Forbes (Jan. 23, 2019)

How to Help Your Kids Thrive -- Thrive Global (Feb. 15, 2019)

How ‘Intellectual Humility’ Can Make You a Better Person -- The Cut (Feb. 3, 2017)



 

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Topics: intellectual humility, growth mindset, admitting mistakes, leadership development

The trouble with college rankings

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Feb 7, 2019 10:39:39 AM

Who among us doesn’t enjoy having our long-held beliefs confirmed?  Especially if the source of such affirmation is a well-respected and impartial institution. You can imagine, then, the pleasure I felt in coming across a recent white paper produced by Stanford University, titled, “A Fit Over Rankings; Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity.”  

The major headings of this important document are: 1) Rankings Are Problematic; 2) College Selectivity is Not a Reliable Predictor of Student Learning, Job Satisfaction or Well-Being; and, my personal favorite, 3) Engagement in College Is More Important than Where You Attend.

In a perfect world, these common sense axioms would be self-evident and widely understood. In the frenzied dystopia that is the American college admission process – a situation exacerbated, if not sparked, by U.S. News & World Report’s relentless college ranking system  they should be shouted from the rooftops.

The idea that one could develop a ranking system to indicate the likelihood that a particular college will lead to happiness and fulfillment for an 18-year old borders on the absurd; How could such a system possibly account for the uniqueness of the individual student? The Stanford report highlights some of the many reasons why the U.S. News & World Report approach is so deeply flawed, noting, "We find that many of the metrics used in these rankings are weighted arbitrarily and are not accurate indicators of a college’s quality or positive outcomes for students.”   

The report goes on to correct some of the other harmful and persistent myths around college admissions, such as the dangerous belief that if only a young person can get into the “right” college (which all too often means the most highly-ranked one), their path through life will be assured and comfortable.

“We also find that individual student characteristics (such as background, major, ambition) may make more of a difference in terms of post-college outcomes than the institutions themselves.”  

The wisest words, though, come later in the article:

“Colleges that provide ample opportunities for students to deeply engage in learning and campus community may offer the key to positive outcomes after college…students who participate in internships that allow them to apply what they learn in the classroom to real life settings, students who have mentors in college who encourage them to pursue personal goals, and students who engage in multi-semester projects are more likely to thrive after college.”

These observations nicely encapsulate the qualities that are central to a Friends education – deep engagement, opportunities for the application of knowledge, and meaningful relationships. They also speak to the critical role a college counseling office can play in helping students and families find the right fit in terms of a college’s academic program, campus environment, values, and affordability. None of these criterion, it’s safe to say, are reflected in the shallow ranking systems that dominate the college search conversation in our country.

I have often shared with families my belief that the child you send to college is more important than the college to which you send your child. It’s reassuring to know that Stanford has my back on this one.

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How Much Attention Should You Pay To U.S. News' College Rankings? – Forbes (Sept. 10, 2018)

8 More Colleges Submitted Incorrect Data for Rankings – Inside Higher Ed (Aug. 27, 2018)

Why College Rankings are a Joke -- The New York Times (Sept. 17, 2016)

 

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Topics: college counseling, college guidance, college rankings, college admissions

From discomfort to connection, empathy grows

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Jan 21, 2019 4:51:45 PM

I enjoyed reading an opinion article in last week’s Baltimore Sun titled, “We could learn a lot from the Ravens.” The gist of the piece is that, despite their recent playoff loss to the LA Chargers, the team demonstrated Baltimore at its best, “gritty, perseverant, resilient, tough and never to be counted out.” It also highlighted the commendable commitment to Baltimore that the team has shown, drawing particular attention to the Ravens’ “watch parties” that they co-hosted with Thread, a local nonprofit that seeks to narrow the divides within our community.  At these events, “(m)ore than 500 people from different ZIP codes … age, race and class, came together to root on our team and find common ground while talking about issues that face Baltimore each and every day,” including the stark disparities in safety, education, and even life expectancy from one neighborhood to the next in our city.  The authors of the article recognize the fundamental truth that we need “deeper connections … (to) transcend our differences, perceived and real,” and that, “we must broaden our networks and our willingness to learn from one another in order to grow stronger.”

This desire for broader and deeper relationships to help bridge the chasms of economics, geography, and race that separate us is central to the vision of Friends Connects, our School’s strategic direction.  We know that the only way our students will be of real service to their communities is by experiencing these communities through the people, places, and history that comprise them. When we help them venture beyond their protective bubbles and provide them with authentic opportunities to connect with their fellow citizens, our students develop empathy, a critical mindset for the work that our city, our country and our world will require of them.

A key goal of Friends Connects is for us to live up to our name, Friends School of Baltimore, by being more truly and fully of Baltimore.  Doing so involves engaging with the totality of Baltimore; its assets, its challenges, its rich history, and its daunting legacy of inequality. It calls for us to go beyond our comfort zones in many ways; to look carefully and critically at familiar neighborhoods like Roland Park, and to come to know very different neighborhoods like Jonestown, where we have an exciting partnership with the McKim Center, a community organization that happens to be located in the very Meeting House where our School was founded in 1784.  It will also involve wading into conversations about controversial and contentious issues like the uneven distribution of resources, the racial tensions within our city, and the true meaning of equity. Connection, the ultimate goal of this venture, can only be realized when we are willing to look inward while engaging outward, and to question our assumptions while remaining true to our principles. In the end, we will be stronger as individuals, as a School community, and as a city for having chosen to follow this path.

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Why Empathy Is the Most Important Skill You'll Ever Need to Succeed - Inc. Magazine (Oct. 4, 2017)

Empathy is the Youth Power Skill of the 21st Century - Huffington Post (Dec. 5, 2017)

Is empathy the most critical skill of this century? - The Medium (July 4, 2018)

 

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Topics: Teaching empathy, empathy in elementary education, teaching empathy in middle school, empathy in the classroom

The promise of personalization

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Jan 10, 2019 2:54:37 PM

“Personalized education” is a trendy buzzword in education circles these days. (Indeed, it is one of the goals articulated in Friends Connects, the School’s strategic direction.) Yet, as a recent article in Education Week details, there is no clear consensus on what exactly it means.

The traditional school model was purposefully designed to avoid personalization at all costs.  The convergence in the late-19th century of the movement towards universal, free public schooling and the Industrial Revolution produced a system of education that was proudly based upon the factory model of mass production. Schools focused on standardization and efficiency, intent on making education a largely homogenous and impersonal transaction in which, as education expert Sir Ken Robinson has put it, we “educate children by batches: we put them through the system by age group” and we operate with a “production line mentality.”  Sadly, the vestiges of this mindset are all too evident in today’s high-stakes testing regimen in many schools and in the outsized importance of standardized exams as a measure of academic potential and achievement.

The work of moving away from standardization is an act of educational rebellion – one that raises the valid question of why an individual teacher, much less an entire school, would want to adopt such a direction in the first place. As my fellow Friends educators will attest, the answer lies in the experience of seeing students come alive with remarkable passion and excitement when they are given the chance to explore areas of particular interest to them, to read books that speak to their own life experiences, or to research topics that they have always been curious about.  As teachers, we want more and more of those moments for our students. We want them to take ownership of their learning and do the hard work of charting a course for their educations that will be unique to them. And we want this because of our shared conviction that doing so will offer them the most meaningful and enduring educational experience possible.

As we embark on this exciting and novel terrain to provide a “personalized and deeply meaningful education to all students,” we plan to visit a number of schools, including  High Tech High in California and Eagle Rock School in Colorado, that have made personalization their guiding star.  And we intend to work closely with our students to hear about their vision for the future of this kind of learning at Friends School.  We’re under no illusion about the difficulty of the task we’ve taken on, but we are motivated by our memories of those magical moments in our classrooms when personalization made all the difference for our students.  Stay tuned!

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What is Personalized Learning? --  The Medium (Jan. 18, 2017)

 The Power of Personalized Learning for School Improvement -- EdSurge (May 27, 2015)

 

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Topics: joy in learning, personalized education, student-led learning, personalized learning

Final exams: Are we having fun yet? Actually, yes.

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Dec 20, 2018 2:18:29 PM

Exam Week; hardly a phrase that conjures visions of innovation in pedagogy or laughter and collaboration among students. And yet, for 10th grade U.S. history students, all of these qualities were on display yesterday during a most-inventive final exam. Teacher Molly Smith ’82, in lieu of a standard multiple choice or blue book exam, had devised a pair of historical whodunits for students to solve and, in the process, demonstrate their knowledge of history.

In one room students playing the roles of various real-life individuals gathered information to solve the actual murder of a governor in colonial New York.  Meanwhile, in the next classroom over, another group worked their way through an escape room challenge that required them to research and analyze historical incidents from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Later when I asked one of the students engaged in cracking the escape room code how her exam went, she furrowed her brow and said, “I thought it was going to be easy, but actually it was really hard – and also fun!”

The stark contrast between Molly’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) exam and those we recall (often, in my case, in still-vivid nightmares) from our own school days demonstrates that, contrary to conventional wisdom, joy and rigor can - and I would argue should - be a common and seamless pairing.  As humans, we thrive on overcoming challenges, and, as we all know, the opportunity to master difficult tasks, particularly in collaboration with others, can be intensely rewarding. Brain research has also taught us* that “play is critical to the emotional and intellectual development of every child.  We must create appropriate opportunities for play at every grade level.”

There may well always be a place in schools for the kind of cumulative production of factual information that the exams of our childhood epitomized. Surely, the ability to summon discrete pieces of knowledge is valuable and necessary, even in the age of Google, when the sum of human knowledge is, quite literally, in the palm of our hands. But we must also make room for new ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned (content knowledge), what they can do with it (analysis, synthesis, and hypothesis), and how these learning experiences will shape their developing hearts and minds. And all educators need to obliterate the false dichotomy between joy and rigor, relegating that antiquated distinction to the ashes of educational history.

*  Mind, Brain, and Education Research Informed Strategies, from the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning

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Project-based learning is a new rage in education. Never mind that it’s a century old. Washington Post, December 12, 2018

8 Play-Based Strategies to Engage Youth in Learning Edutopia, October 16, 2014

 

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Topics: student assessment, final exam, project based learning, Importance of play, joy in learning

In assessing student growth are teachers uprooting the plant?

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Dec 13, 2018 12:17:50 PM

One of the blessings of teaching at Friends is the two hours we give ourselves on the first Wednesday of the month to collaborate across disciplines, divisions, and grades. Known as PLUSS, for Professional Learning to Uphold Student Success, these ongoing professional development sessions are generated by faculty for faculty and provide the space and time to explore emerging ideas in teaching and learning -- opportunities we would not normally have during the busy school week.

For the past six years one consistent component of these experiences has been a shared reading and consideration of a piece of writing on Quakerism, the philosophy upon which our 234-year old school was founded.  On this particular morning, we were discussing “Meeting for Learning; Education in a Quaker Context,” an essay by Parker Palmer, a prominent Quaker teacher and author.

In his essay, Parker makes the case for the Quaker practice of Meeting as a useful construct to envision what happens in our classrooms when we are at our best.  In a “Meeting for Learning,” as opposed to a traditional class, he writes, “the individual is always in relationship, and knowledge emerges in dialogue. It is not only what the student knows, but what the student says back that counts. Here learning happens between persons and not simply within the learner.”

He goes on to point out that, like Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Learning requires time: “We must also bring … a capacity for patient waiting and expectation … Authentic education is not necessarily quick in achieving results, nor are its results predictable in advance.  And education suffers when we keep uprooting the plant to see how well it’s growing. We must trust that growth is happening and have patience to wait it out.”

As we considered these points, my colleagues and I wrestled with just how often in our own classes we “uproot the plant to see how well it’s growing.” Several minutes passed as each of us reckoned with Palmer’s powerful analogy and our unwitting culpability.

Parker concludes his essay with a reminder that resonated with all of us:  “The most important consequence of any meeting is the nurture of community, of recentered and reconnected selves.  Education (as contrasted with training) comes from a community and creates community.” Walking back across campus, I was warmed by the invigorating experience of learning amidst the community of my colleagues, and I couldn’t help thinking about the importance of discussions like this one – and dozens of others during our PLUSS days – in allowing us to envision the environment we seek to create in our School.    



 

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Topics: Parker Palmer, student assessment, Quaker education, Quaker schools

Preparing Our Children for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”

Recently edsurge.com published a fascinatingarticle by Tony Wan that introduced me to a term with which I had been unfamiliar; “the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”  The gist of the article is that as we enter this next stage of human development (“a time when new technologies blur the physical, digital, and biological boundaries of our lives”), the skills most in demand will not merely be those focusing on the STEM fields and computer programming, but will include philosophy, ethics and morality as well.

To illustrate this point Wan cites the “Moral Machine” dilemma proposed by MIT professor Iyad Rahwan: “(A)n autonomous vehicle is in a situation where it must make one of two choices: kill its two passengers, or five pedestrians.” Wan then poses a critical question: “If we are leaving these choices in the hands of machine intelligence … (who)are the ones that are going to be setting up the frameworks for these machines?”

Wan would argue, and I concur, that this exciting and complex new age of smart machines demands heightened levels of the qualities that are most inherently human, and that the humanities are, therefore, more important and relevant than ever before; this despite what the plummeting rate of college humanities majors would suggest.  (See also Nicholas Kristof’s 2014 New York Timeseditorial on the continuing need for the humanities in the 21st Century, in which he points out that it is only in the marriage of "hard skills" like computer programming with "soft skills" such as philosophical discernment that civilizations flourish.)

Having spent many years hard at work with my colleagues crafting an environment that fosters such vital traits as reflection, resilience, critical thinking, empathy, curiosity, and creativity – key elements of Friends School’s Teaching and Learning Paradigm – it is thrilling to see how these softer skills are informing the way we prepare young people for the complexity and fluidity of this new era.  Bring on the (Fourth) Revolution!

 

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Topics: STEM, Humanities, 4th Industrial Revolution

What these times demand of our schools

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Jul 11, 2017 9:55:08 AM

These are interesting times for schools. Increasingly, and appropriately, parents are looking to us as educators to provide their children with the skills they need in order to navigate the noisy, fractious, and divisive culture we inhabit.  As with all skills, these can only be developed through disciplined and intentional practice in communities of learning, which makes finding the right school more important than it has ever been. And schools, in turn, must decide how we will respond to the challenges of our era: We can seek to shelter students from the contentions and controversies that have roiled our society, or we can harness the energy unleashed in these momentous times to deepen our children’s learning and prepare them to be the leaders we will need going forward.  Friends schools have, for more than 300 years in America, reliably chosen the latter course, helping to guide students and families through a revolution and a civil war, through astonishing accelerations of scientific and technological innovation, and through a host of other triumphs and tragedies, all with a clear-eyed willingness to frankly acknowledge and engage our struggles and a relentless determination to make the world a better place.

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