A Parent's View

The Challenge and Benefits of Educating for Intellectual Virtues


By Steve Porter, Board Member

Did you ever read your kids the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books? In each chapter, a parent has a behavior problem with her child (e.g., cleaning up his room, taking a bath, talking back) and the parent calls around the neighborhood to ask if any of the other parents have the same problem. The response from the other parents is always the same: “Oh, goodness no, my Jenny loves taking baths. I am so sorry your child isn’t like my Jenny.” Whatever the problem is, the other parents’ kids are golden. Finally, someone will suggest that the parent call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle because she has a reputation for remedying childhood disobedience. When the parent calls Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, she is always sympathetic and always has a guaranteed cure. While Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle does much better in her response than the earlier parents’ counsel, even Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cures are a bit quick and easy. I found myself hoping that merely reading the stories to my kids would solve the often familiar problems! If only getting our kids to do what we know would be good for them was so easy. It’s not, but why?

While the reasons kids don’t do what we want can be complex, often it’s quite simple. Children do not do what we want them to do for the same reason we often don’t do what other people want us to do. Put simply: we want to do something else. Humans have these things called wills and our wills are guided by our desires and our desires become ingrained in us such that we are predisposed to act in certain ways and not in others. If you put a chocolate chip cookie in front of me, chances are I am going to eat it. That’s because I desire as many chocolate chip cookies as I can get. Indeed, I desire them above every other food group and my will doesn’t stand much of a chance of resisting. The basic psychology is fairly straightforward. The end result is: it is challenging to get persons to do something other than what they want to do.

Of course, one tempting solution is to develop a countervailing desire that ends up trumping the previously dominant desire. In other words, if I desired to look good at the pool more than the gratification of eating too many cookies, my will could resist eating the cookies due to the stronger desire to look good at the pool. This is called a diet! A diet is usually tied to something you want more (weight loss) than the oily, sugary, salty, high-calorie foods. But the problem with diets is that they often fail to deal with our desires for oily, sugary, salty, high-calorie foods. Once the countervailing desire diminishes (for example, we lose the weight), we go back to eating what we ate before (and we gain the weight back). If we really want to change when it comes to what we eat, we are going to have to deal with the roots of these deeply entrenched desires when it comes to food. In other words, we will have to retrain our appetite. But that is a long and challenging journey for most us.

Same thing holds for education. The easiest way to get your child to study math when she doesn’t want to study math is to give her something else she desires more (a good grade, money for good grades, candy!). She can then use her desire for a good grade or the money or candy to motivate her to study math. She’d rather do something else instead, but as long as there is this countervailing desire for a good grade or money or candy that trumps her desire to quit studying math, she will keep studying.

But this method of motivating learning has the same problem as diets. Once the countervailing desire diminishes (she doesn’t care about good grades or money or candy), the motivation to study is gone and we go back to our dominant desires. In fact, this way of motivating education often results in the same pattern as dieting: students (and dieters) work really, really hard for two weeks to reach their goal and then go back to normal.

So, if we want lasting change in our children’s learning habits, what do we do? It’s called an intellectual virtues education. I’m serious. An intellectual virtues education takes seriously our students’ desires to learn. Why do they want to learn? Why don’t they want to learn? How can we help them see the goodness of learning? What are their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning (e.g., open-mindedness, humility, courage, etc.)? The point of an intellectual virtues education is not to give them some other good (grades, money, candy!) and use that to motivate their attempts to learn. The point of an intellectual virtues education is to help train their intellectual appetites. But that will be a long and difficult journey for most of our children.  

Here is a take-home point: an intellectual virtues education is a long game; it takes time. If you want an educational model that helps your child learn short-term strategies to do well on tests (akin to losing weight fast), an intellectual virtues education is not for you. But if you want an educational model that helps your child develop an appetite for thinking well and learning about important areas of human thought, then an intellectual virtues education is for you. It’s a challenging road, but it truly is a better way to learn.  


See, Think, Wonder


By Stephanie Pullman (IVA parent) and Chloe Pullman (IVA 6th grader)

From Stephanie ... 

My daughter, Chloe is currently in sixth grade at IVA. One of the many great things about her being at IVA is that it has opened up a whole new way for us to communicate with each other. We talk about the virtues, about advisory and all the activities that she is engaged in. I also help her with some of her home-thinking assignments, which also provide us with many topics to ponder together.

I am a teacher in an Upper Elementary Montessori classroom. I asked Chloe if she wanted to come to work with me on the most recent Faculty Academy day. She loves coming back to see her classmates from pre-school and kindergarten. She expressed interest in what I was going to do that day and if she could help me. I told her that I teach art on Fridays and we were going to begin studying the artist, Jackson Pollock. I asked her how she thought I should introduce him to the students. She suggested the thinking routine See-Think-Wonder. I was familiar with the routine because Ms. Denis demonstrated it at one of the parent nights. Before the lesson, I consulted Ms. Denis and the book Making Thinking Visible. Chloe wrote up some notes cards to tell my students where she goes to school now, about the virtues and how thinking routines are used to help guide students through the learning process.

My students were so intrigued by the process and extremely engaged. My teaching partner kept looking at me in disbelief at the inspired observations the children shared. Chloe told us that it was really important to not mix up the ideas of seeing and thinking. It was such a great tip and showed me how much she has internalized the process.

Thank you IVA for showing me how to create deeper thinking in my classroom and bringing me closer to my daughter!

From Chloe ...

See-Think-Wonder is one of my favorite thinking routines! This routine requires autonomy, open mindedness, tenacity and curiosity. All the virtues are incorporated in every thinking routine. When I heard that my mom was teaching her class about Jackson Pollock I thought of this routine right away because we do it all the time in art when we are looking at paintings. My mom was very happy with the idea that I had in mind and the results turned out very well. This routine got the students thinking about the paintings in a whole new way. One student had the idea that she saw a kitchen and one thought they saw a cat! I saw how many different ways you can see things and hearing what they all had to say was very interesting. I was so impressed by the effort that all the students put in to thinking and seeing and wondering about the paintings. There was a sort of pattern that I saw in these students. When one student had an idea that the others had not thought of, they would look at the painting very closely until they saw it themselves. I think that is very important because seeing and thinking and wondering about other people’s ideas is what really got me happy!


The Moment I Realized I Knew Nothing


By Amy Callan Miller

I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. My sister and I would often play “pretend” which meant that I, the naturally bossy, big sister, was the mother and she was the child. She usually went along with my plan, but she has never stopped mentioning my bossiness. As it turns out, she became a mother first, and I remember being awestruck by her first-born son. He thought I had my own train since I lived right next to, practically under, a railroad trestle. It was an event every time the train came by. I loved the wonderment in his young eyes. It was several years later before I found my husband. Soon after, our first child was on the way and we specifically chose not to find out whether it was a boy or a girl. My husband said it this way, “There are so few ‘good’ surprises in the world, can we let this be one of them?”

When our son showed up I was elated but also overwhelmed. Although I had waited my whole life for this moment, I somehow felt completely alone, even depressed at times. I was empty, which may have been compounded by the fact that my son and I shared a physical residence for nine months. My husband is a supportive and fun partner but his life quickly returned to normal, other than the interrupted sleep sessions at night. My son and I meanwhile, spent our days eating and pooping and walking and napping. I thought, “This is it?” Yes, he was cute, adorable and genuinely happy, but I still felt a sense of loneliness wrapped in despair. We didn’t have many friends since we had just moved to town, but we had each other. I remember accidentally bumping his forehead into our coffee table one afternoon and though it was not a significant injury, he didn’t even cry, I sobbed. It was in that moment that I realized I knew nothing. I had grown up, gone to college, even lived overseas for a period of time. I had loved my career and had taken a new job and moved across country, on my own. All of that seemed so important at the time, but then in an instant, none of it mattered. I knew nothing. I sat looking at my infant son and wondered how in the world I had gotten the job of being his guardian and his protector. How did I earn the privilege of being his mother? Was I even qualified for this assignment? I felt like my physical being melted away, into a puddle of humility, but at the same time I felt an immense sense of relief.

Eventually I came to see that in that moment I accepted my son as my teacher. It took the pressure off. Two and a half years later our daughter arrived and together the two of them immediately joined forces to show me the way. They have tested every corner of my brain and heart. In their natural delight they taught me how to be present. They taught me how to stop listening to the inner-dialogue that did not serve us. They gave me permission to explore the wonders of childhood all over again. I realized I had missed some things along the way. Now I had a chance to dive in, head first. I started witnessing their reflections as a part of me. Even the ugly ones, where I was driven to act out a less than a desirable behavior…raising my voice when unnecessary, coming from a place of fear, not being the grown up. I learned to forgive myself. The biggest lesson has been about unconditional love. The kids have taught me how to not only love them fully and wholly, but also to love myself, with compassion, unconditionally.

The early days of my kids’ lives did not include the specific and direct language of the virtues, but now I realize that is exactly the example they were setting. Curiosity, Intellectual Humility, Intellectual Autonomy, Attentiveness, Intellectual Carefulness, Intellectual Thoroughness, Open-mindedness, Intellectual Courage, Intellectual Tenacity…literal examples come to mind to do with these virtues. Watching the caterpillar cross the sidewalk, trying to walk and falling down, saying “no”, placing a soggy cheerio in my hand, figuring out which shoe goes on which foot, starting over to get dressed when you forget underwear and socks, loving every person they see, attempting to speak and read while fumbling with the words, and trying to climb the tree, the steps, the hill, again and again.  

Of course they have not mastered the virtues yet, but they freely explore their depths, continually. They authentically work towards having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset because they are committed to learning. Now that we are experiencing IVA, through our 7th grade daughter’s vantage point, we can see how simply she connects the dots. We are acquiring the language to support a deeper learning about ourselves and each other and the world around us. It is challenging but it is so rewarding. I shared with her one day after a virtues ceremony how when I was a kid I was afraid to raise my hand and ask a question in class unless I was pretty sure that I was correct. She immediately replied by saying, “You were not practicing Intellectual Autonomy, Mom. That is sad.” Of course, as I revisited the sadness I was also able to relish and appreciate the fact that my twelve year old daughter understands what autonomy is, and values it. May she always honor and respect her ability to think and reason for herself.        

Moving Through Fear and Beyond Stuck



















"Moving Through Fear and Beyond Stuck"

By Rebecca Irwin (an IVA parent)

When you don’t know where to begin.
When you don’t even know the questions to ask.
When you don’t want to admit you don’t know.
When you feel like you should be better.
When you thought you knew the solution and it turns out you don’t.
When you’re afraid to take the risk.
When you have a hard time asking for help.
When you see others do it with ease and you struggle.
When you compare yourself to others.
When you feel embarrassed about where you are.
When you expect the end result without working through the process.

There are so many ways to get stuck. It can feel just like a tire that is stuck in the mud, the more we spin, the more stuck we get. And then there’s the energy of our fears keeping us there.

Fear of judgment
Fear of shame
Fear of embarrassment
Fear of failure
Fear of being wrong
Fear of not knowing
Fear of expectations
Fear of disappointment
Fear of losing popularity
Fear of success
Fear of rejection

All of these fears play into getting and staying stuck! Panic and anxiety are outcomes and the process is circumvented just to get through it.

Today I discovered that one of the beautiful gifts of the Intellectual Virtues is that they help us to slow down. They allow process. They give us permission to say, I am not good at this YET. Before today, I was under the impression that a student must approach each subject with curiosity to think well about it. But I have learned that if a student stretches their Intellectual Attentiveness with a readiness to stay focused on the task and to notice important details, their curiosity can grow. I find this so hopeful!

When my student or I exercise a virtue and invest in the process, we can actually begin to care more deeply about a subject. We can let go of our fear to get the correct answer and free ourselves to take more risk. Oh yes, this is Intellectual Courage - "a readiness to persist in thinking or communicating in the face of fear, including fear of embarrassment or failure”! Although this is hard for me to practice myself and model for my student, I think risk is where the reward is! Isn’t it delightful to discover new ideas? Isn’t it exhilarating to realize you can do something you never thought you were capable of? Isn’t it awesome to move forward?

For reals? You say. This sounds idealistic and dreamy but when the rubber meets the road (er, mud), will it have any traction? This is a question I have asked myself. A person can’t very well get themselves unstuck alone, can they? But when a teacher, a principal, a parent, or a friend cares about the process and is interested in the student as a thinker and learner, they can offer leverage to help get them unstuck. No more spinning...your kiddo can start to gain traction as they move toward growth. In truth, this is requiring me to grow with my student, but I think I would prefer the journey and discoveries that lie ahead more than staying in the mires of stuck, cuz we’re not there … yet.

"No Waste" Lunch Resources


Our Evergreens (IVA's Green Team) have challenged us to be the solution and help reduce waste that ends up in our oceans or landfills. They are encouraging students to bring a lunch that includes as many items as possible that can be eaten, reused, recycled and as few items as possible that must be thrown away. Parents can help by including only what your child can eat, using reusable containers or bags, or buying non-perishable foods in bulk. This is not a requirement, simply a helpful list of ideas for sourcing a trash free lunch.  

If you purchase reusable lunch-ware from www.MightyNest.com, they will donate money back to IVA!

• Ziploc Divided Lunch Containers are inexpensive, leak-proof, and easy-to-use with only one lid to open.
• Rubbermaid Lunch Blox 
• Lunch Bots are a stainless steel option, also available on mightynest.com
• Thermos Bottles are insulated, leak-proof, durable, and they don’t sweat on the outside.
• Thermos Containers are great for sending warm lunches when you need a break from sandwiches …think oatmeal, soups or leftovers.
• Gladware Mini Round Containers are the perfect size for a single muffin and it also keeps them from getting mushed.
• Rubbermaid Blue Ice Flexible Ice Blankets can be cut to any size.
• Soft Sided Lunch Bags (like these) fit ziplock containers well.
• Neoprene Lunch Bags are easy to clean, compact when not in use and do a great job insulting food.
• Smoothie Pop Molds (a.k.a. Ice Pop Makers) are a great way to freeze smoothies, yogurt and applesauce. Then wedge them into the Ziplock divided containers where they partially defrost by lunchtime.
• Reusable Napkins can also be found on Amazon, or homemade…
• Reusable Flatware - another option is to buy a stainless set at Target, 99 cents only!, etc. and designating it for lunches only.
• Silicone Cups/Muffin Liners make great dividers for inside one piece containers. 

Another great resource is www.100daysofrealfood.com - Search “Lunch Supplies” for a good list with images and links to purchase. Also a great blog for lunch ideas and recipes!

There are many similar options at stores like Marshalls, Target, Walmart, Kmart, 99 Cents Only!, Costco, Etsy.com or Amazon.com that might be more cost effective. Thank you for exploring trash-free lunch options with us! 

If You'd Just Practice Everyday


By Steve Porter, IVA Board Member

I am amazed by how often my parenting consists of exhortations of the following sort: “if you’d just try harder”; “if you’d just do your homework right when you come home”; “if you’d just pay more attention in class”; “if you’d just clean your room a little bit each day”; “if you’d just not get so upset”; and so on. While these sorts of directives are well meaning, they rarely bring about change. To see why, perhaps it would be helpful to think about how these sorts of exhortations fail to bring change in our own lives. For instance, one time I heard the following dieting advice: “if you’d just eat less calories than you burn each day, you would lose weight.” Of course, that is true. But, at least for many of us, it is extremely hard to just do. In many cases, knowing what we just need to do is an important part of change, but knowing that alone is insufficient to bring about the change.

Recently my son, Luke, finished a three-year music education program that teaches piano and music theory in a small group setting. Over the last three years I have repeatedly said: “if you’d just practice piano a little bit each day, you’ll do great in this class.” But about 99.99% of the time, Luke would cram a whole week’s worth of practice into the hour or two before his class. This made learning piano stressful, frustrating, and upsetting. When Luke would angrily give up on a song that simply could not be learned in an hour, I was there with my well-timed exhortation: “if you’d just…” That always went over real well.

Luke had his final recital last Saturday. Two weeks before the recital he started practicing every day. I didn’t have to exhort him, cajole him, or even bribe him. He simply started—seemingly out of the blue—practicing every day. And he did great in his recital. But what changed? Did my exhortation finally sink in? I don’t think so. As I paid attention to the onset of Luke’s newfound motivation in practicing piano, I noted three ingredients—the same three ingredients that I regularly see at IVA. 

First, Luke was rightly challenged. His piano teacher challenged him to work hard, the music itself was challenging for him, and having to perform in front of others was a challenge. The challenge wasn’t too much or too little; it was just right.

Second, he enjoyed learning. He didn’t like all of the songs and he didn’t like any of them at first, but eventually he enjoyed the music.

Third, he experienced positive momentum. In other words, he was more encouraged than discouraged in his learning. Sometimes I had to intervene to help him get this sort of traction. For instance, helping him learn a difficult section or suggesting he take a break from a difficult song.

I see these same three ingredients regularly at IVA. Our teachers and school culture rightly challenge our students to be attentive, to be autonomous, to be courageous. The students regularly enjoy the learning process and this gets positive momentum going whereby they are more encouraged than discouraged by their learning. Of course, sometimes one or the other of these ingredients does not materialize. But what is wonderful about IVA is that you don’t hear people saying: “if you’d just…”

As the school year comes to a close and we move into summer, be thinking about how you might rightly challenge your child with enjoyable learning opportunities that would help her or him keep building on the positive momentum of the nine master virtues. 

Have you ever called your child smart?


 By Eric Churchill, Ph.D., IVA Board Chairman

Have you ever told your child he is smart? When your daughter could recognize words, at a seemingly early age, did you call her gifted? Or how about when your son showed an early musical aptitude, did you say he was a natural? I did all of these things. And why not? Our kids are our pride and joy. But have you ever thought that this might be doing more damage than good? Perhaps we do our kids a disadvantage by telling them they are talented, gifted and smart. When we lavish on this type of praise at an early age, we might be giving kids the message that they have permanent traits and these are what we value!

This is what Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, calls fostering a fixed mindset. By praising qualities like intelligence, skill and ability we tell our children this is how they are defined and, perhaps, this is how they are expected to behave. It results in children feeling the need to prove themselves over and over again and results in our kids shying away from taking intellectual risks.

Read More & Comment


b_200_200_16777215_00_images_blogimages_20130910-083609.jpgWhen “Project Runway” was new to TV, I was a fan. I found the challenges intriguing, I loved their shopping sprees through Mood in New York, and I was in constant admiration of the contestants' tenacity to bring their ideas from a sketches to wearable works of art. I also grew to love Tim Gunn’s parting words to “make it work!” I later told my husband that sometimes I feel like I need Tim to check in with me during my day, review my plan (be it for meals, writing, housekeeping, or volunteering), and then gently tell me to “make it work!”

That kind of coaching or nudge of encouragement is something I sense so many good teachers desire to give their students. The tension is with the lack of time to do it, and perhaps the lack of a common learning language in which to express it.

Last Friday, I was witness to 10 minutes that caused me to really see the gift of an intellectual virtues model for middle school education. Principal Bryant began by sharing a time during the week when Mr. McCurry displayed intellectual curiosity by asking a good question during one of their conversations. Rather than offering applause, or saying “good job,” she invited the students to say “good thinking” or “way to think!” In turn, the four teachers each shared a story of when a student had notably exercised an intellectual virtue and their peers offered a similar encouragement: “good thinking!” I LOVE that! It is not emphasizing accomplishments, but it celebrates growth.

As a new week begins, I have found I have a new wish – I no longer want Tim to show up and prod me on. Instead, I want to go back to middle school! What !?!? OK, that IS a bit extreme. But I do want my family to begin recognizing each other’s virtues and exclaiming “way to think!”

Be Courageous

Courageous-185x185.jpgRegret has been on my mind over the past month. I don’t fear having regret for choosing Intellectual Virtues Academy for my son – first year kinks and all. I feel sadness for families who do not choose IVA and, after the school year begins, regret that decision. To me, this would be a difficult loss to experience.

Curious about what causes the feeling of regret, I conducted a quick search and discovered this explanation on Psychology Today: “… the easier it is to envisage a different outcome, the more likely we are to regret the lost opportunity.” Which led me to wonder, if we do not wish to experience regret, how might we avoid it in our decision-making?

My wonder took me to an article by Martha Beck where she wrote, “So the ultimate lesson of regret, the one that will help guide you into a rich and satisfying future, is this: Every time life brings you to a crossroads, from the tiniest to the most immense, go toward love, not away from fear. Think of every choice in terms of 'What would thrill and delight me?' rather than 'What will keep my fear—or the events, people, and things I fear—at bay?'”

When it comes to a decision about our children’s education, what might we fear? Risk? Discomfort? Change? Imperfections? New vs. known? Breaking tradition? Perceived limitations? Martha Beck affirms this. “Sometimes the choice will be utterly clear. Love steers you forward, and no fear arises. But on many occasions, things will seem trickier. The path toward what you love may be fraught with uneasiness, anxiety, outright terror.”

Tricky decisions require us to be intellectually courageous. Dr. Jason Baehr defines Intellectual Courage as a disposition to persist in thinking, inquiring, discussion, and similar activities, despite the presence of some threat or fear, including fear of embarrassment or failure. When I reflect on “inquiring and discussion,” it implies more than one person is there to help me process the decision I am wrestling with. A community that can affirm I am not alone in my fear can help me be courageous in my decisions. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

The Why

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_if-you-stand.jpgFive days left of 5th grade, and then the class of 2013 graduates on the 13th day of June. In the whirl of busyness and celebration, my husband Jesse and I sat down one recent evening to reorient ourselves to why we are choosing Intellectual Virtues Academy over Hughes, our neighborhood school (where Jesse and his father attended).

Why does a virtues-based education matter more than a track team ... or a band ... or a science lab ... or honors classes ... or comfortable convenience?

We listed the pros for Jess, me, and our student:
It is an opportunity to rediscover (or fully embrace) learning ...
It is a holistic view of education and the pursuit of knowledge ...
It is the toolbox or operating system to engage in learning, to engage in relationship, to engage in community ...
It is delving deeper ...
It is not surface-level thinking, but soul formation ...
It is the expanded capacity to think, engage, respond, to be open to new ideas, and stir up passions ...
It is the opportunity to be more thoughtful in whatever task or job he engages in ...
It is knowing that, even in crisis (personal or otherwise), he will have a platform to start from ...
It is the difference between reaction and mindful action.

In truth, it is the mission to foster the habits of mind necessary for lifelong learning that is so alluring. It is bigger than middle school.

It is investing in their personal character for a lifetime of choices.


b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_Jr.High_.jpgAs the school year comes to an end for my fifth-grader (with only 21 school days left!), I find myself reflecting on my own journey to middle school. My best friend in elementary school lived just two doors down from me. We had the same purple pin-stripped pants. I loved helping myself to the lemon drops her mom kept in a candy dish on the pass-through. And one time, her house caught on fire and I snuck into the backyard with her as she ran inside to save her favorite stuffed animals. She was my BFF.

Then my family moved, and I now lived just around the corner from our Junior High. I was disappointed when we discovered our lockers were nowhere near each other. We didn’t have any classes together. I chose to take wood shop as an elective. And I liked playing basketball in the morning with the boys. My friend had different interests. With only one middle school in our small town, some kids became “popular” and some girls started to “like-like” some boys. Eventually, we found ourselves eating lunch on the courtyard with different circles of friends.

It has caused me to be mindful as my son makes the journey to middle school that it is always nice to have a familiar friend by your side as you navigate this new venture. But I am confident he will also find new friends at Intellectual Virtues Academy. It is an age where he will discover new interests and like-minded students will share this discovery with him. And maybe they’ll play basketball together before school starts, just like I did.

As the school year comes to an end for my fifth-grader (with only 21 school days left!), I find myself reflecting on my own journey to middle school. My best friend in elementary school lived just two doors down from me. We had the same purple pin-stripped pants. I loved helping myself to the lemon drops her mom kept in a candy dish on the pass-through. And one time, her house caught on fire and I snuck into the backyard with her as she ran inside to save her favorite stuffed animals. She was my BFF.

Then my family moved, and I now lived just around the corner from our Junior High. I was disappointed when we discovered our lockers were nowhere near each other. We didn’t have any classes together. I chose to take wood shop as an elective. And I liked playing basketball in the morning with the boys. My friend had different interests. With only one middle school in our small town, some kids became “popular” and some girls started to “like-like” some boys. Eventually, we found ourselves eating lunch on the courtyard with different circles of friends.

It has caused me to be mindful as my son makes the journey to middle school that it is always nice to have a familiar friend by your side as you navigate this new venture. But I am confident he will also find new friends at Intellectual Virtues Academy. It is an age where he will discover new interests and like-minded students will share this discovery with him. And maybe they’ll play basketball together before school starts, just like I did.


b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_important.jpgI have been struck with a serious case of Wanderlust.  After traveling to Bozeman, Montana for five days with a one-day stopover in Long Beach, followed by a week on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, I find I am dreaming about where I can travel to next (and yes, I totally recognize that the later part of that sentence is enviable – we owe it all to Papa!).  I have been reminded that there is an unparalleled excitement to experiencing new places, people, foods and history!

Which leads me to the reason why yesterday afternoon was so memorable!  Two other moms of fifth-graders initiated a brainstorm.  We collected our band of kiddos and invited them to think about activities they have enjoyed, games they like to play, foods they like to eat and field trips they would love to take.  The students came up with some great ideas!  It was so exciting to imagine that their own curiosities might be engaged in activities and field trips!

Can you imagine a school where the inaugural class is 50 and they have the autonomy to explore their curiosities?  A love of learning is spurred by awakening curiosity.  I am eager to see my kiddo develop his own quest for new places, people and occupations!

Paper Planes

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_JB-no-bkgd-cropped.jpgMy email read, “I might need you to fold paper airplanes.”  On March 1st, at IVA’s First Friday event, I was running behind when Jacquie arrived. I handed her a stack of neon paper and did a quick demonstration of the basic fold and she set to work.  After folding dozens of paper planes and forming them into a garland we strung it across the front window and prepared to welcome our guests.

As the evening unfolded I observed Jacquie handing out paper plane flyers, getting pulled into conversations and lingering with parents as she asked thoughtful questions about their student’s education and shared her passion for sparking a student’s curiosity and love for learning.

The next time I encountered Jacquie I relayed to her that my son noticed her lightning bolt earrings were sort of signature earrings for her and he thought they were pretty cool.  She smiled and said they were her power earrings.  Several weeks later, when she came for an interview with the IVA board, the pointed to her earrings and quietly said, “I wore these for Jack.”

Jacquie’s can-do attitude and approachable demeanor, her willing work ethic and connection to students and her infectious passion for learning are just a few reasons I can’t wait for you to meet Intellectual Virtues Academy’s newly appointed Founding Principal.

You are invited and welcome to attend our next information night and meet Jacquie Bryant on Tuesday, April 16th at Bayshore Community Congregational Church, 5100 The Toledo.  She may even be wearing her lightning bolt earrings….

Love of Learning

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_yes-exclamation-point.tumblr.com_.jpgI am not a candidate for home schooling. I love the idea of creating our own schedule and making the world our classroom. I love spring break and striking out on adventures. And I’m already counting down the school days until summer vacation begins (see earlier blog post!). But all it takes is one morning of trying to instruct my boys on how to fold an origami paper crane to remember how much I appreciate one who can actually teach (and maintain patience in the process).

The ability for a teacher to show students how to solve a geometry problem is magic to a math-phobe like me. But for a teacher to look at a student and wish to gain a deeper understanding of how they learn, for them to have a passion for igniting a love for learning and turn their phobia into an action, now that is worthy of the term awesome.

As Intellectual Virtues Academy continues to take shape, I continue to be awe-struck by the passionate people that are excited by the vision and want to be a part of it. Our students will be better for it, our community will be better for it, and our city will be better for it! Imagine what could happen with this band of students who are not just learning the formulas for geometry but who are learning intellectual virtues that will equip them to learn and live well! I can hardly wait…

April 1st

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_20130328-232332.jpgApril first. You may hear that date and start plotting a practical joke to play for April Fools. Dodger fans are watching the countdown until April 1 when opening day kicks off in the newly remodeled stadium. Students in Long Beach Unified are jumping for joy over the start of spring break. But me, I’m anticipating one more event on April first. It’s the inaugural date for registration at Intellectual Virtues Academy.

The excitement is really building as more and more people hear about this new charter middle school and want to be a part of it. Additionally, so many significant things are happening “behind the scenes”. Creative agency Akins Parker is working on a logo and identity for our school. We’re planning and preparing for our third information night on April 16th at 7:30 at Bayshore Community Church. And, we are preparing to post a job description for our teaching positions on EdJoin.org.

This all leaves me with a sense of awe that this middle school started very simply as a shared idea over a cup of coffee. Dr. Steve Porter heard an NPR radio feature on charter schools and called Dr. Jason Baehr to ask “have you ever thought about a charter school?” From that seed of an idea, it has grown to where we are today.

It’s happening!

A Sign

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_a-sign.jpgSometimes we need a gentle nudge or a reassuring smile to step in a different direction. Sometimes, it takes more than that to muster the boldness to try something new. When a decision is more weight bearing, we want solid evidence that the foundation won’t give beneath us.

This week we held our second Intellectual Virtues Academy information night. I was really thrilled to see parents grasp the vision of how transformative the intellectual virtues model of education could be. I realize, in its inaugural year we are asking parents to imagine what this kind of education, oriented around fostering the personal traits of a good thinker and learner, will actually look like for their child.

At the same time, I feel a growing excitement about the parents and learning community that will be in on something big from year one. Together we will be shaping a middle school that will impact the students in the city of Long Beach for years to come. I genuinely don’t want anyone who has had interest in Intellectual Virtues Academy to miss out on this significant opportunity.

So… if you are waiting for a sign, or need a gentle nudge, or want to be reassured that your kid will be alright… then maybe this is it.

How a Haircut Started the Summer Countdown

I had my hair done today.  You’ll know it’s quite a ritual if you’ve ever seen my head of hair.  I always stop in at the Starbucks on Main and get a grande white mocha and a breakfast sandwich to prepare for the two hour hair-a-thon. It’s such a process my beautician can’t just “fit me in” so I schedule three months ahead of time.   Which leads me to the title of this post – as I looked at the calendar, I realized I had to squeeze my next appointment in before school gets out!

Then there was the random coincidence that my boys had their hair appointments on the same day after school.  My fifth-grader and I began talking about summer and swimming, which prompted me to count down the actual school days left until summer begins.  Not including spring break, there are only 61 school days until summer vacation begins. For some mamas, that might elicit some anxiety as they feel the need to make plans for those summer days.  For me, the countdown brings excitement along with a wince of sadness as my oldest finishes out his last trimester of elementary school.

We are so fortunate to have choices here in Southern California.  My encouragement to parents of fifth graders is to take advantage of this opportunity to consider a new option for middle school.  You have likely already applied for your first choice for middle school –and that’s encouraged!  You can still apply to Intellectual Virtues Academy and simply withdraw your name from the other middle school once your child’s enrollment is confirmed.  I would guess, that if you have read this far, you are a careful and thoughtful parent and you have good questions.  Please come to our information night where your questions can be heard.


b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_1st-Friday-Open-House.jpgI love a good party.  I love it from the moment I receive an invitation, until the parting words are said.  I love it when the music provides a soundtrack for the evening.  I love it when the host or hostess pays special attention to the details.  But most of all, whether it’s a simple gathering for a friend’s birthday at a local restaurant, or an extravagant event, I love the connectivity of good conversation.

So, what does this have to do with learning?  Intellectual Virtues Academy (IVA) held its first public event, an informal information night, on Friday March 1st.  It was so great to meet inquisitive parents and their students!  As I have been reflecting on our time, I cannot help but get excited about the vision at IVA to be a “small, intellectual virtues-based learning community that is uniquely personal, relational, reflective, active, and academically rigorous. This community will equip all students to think carefully, critically, and creatively.”

What a fantastic gift that would be for my children to learn in an environment that invites good conversation and connectivity.  This school will be a place where curiosity is valued and inquisition is prized.  I imagine the result is a sense of vitality and life that comes from an exchange of meaning in shared conversation like I feel after a fun gathering.  Naturally, middle school isn’t going to be one big party!  But I believe this will be a life-giving way to learn.

Two paths

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_freedom-5-9-12.jpgAre you going to take the path of least resistance, or are you going to choose something different, an opportunity for something extraordinary for your child?

This compelling question came out of a conversation I was a part of this week.  I’ll be honest, the path of least resistance can feel safe, and easy, and familiar – that’s what makes it hard to redirect myself onto a different path.   But as I’m stepping out to follow this new direction, I see there is something here that is not so clear on the well-worn path – vitality!

Not long ago, my husband and I traveled to San Francisco.  The first day there, we set out from our hotel with no plan or agenda and simply walked.  Through neighborhoods and parks we meandered.  All told, we walked 8 miles that day and had the most wonderful time.  What it awakened in us was the delight in discovery, the intrigue of exploring new places, and the pace a conversation takes when we give it room to unfold.  I felt alive that day.

Imagine what kind of curiosity and engagement could awaken in your family if you were to choose a different path.


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

— Robert Frost

What To Do When The Sky Is Falling

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_russia-meteor-contrails-sky_original.jpgMy ability to control my circumstances got a reality check on Friday when I watched video clips of the sky falling over Siberia as a meteor broke through the earth’s atmosphere.

As a parent living in Southern California I get wrapped up in the wealth of options my children have access to. What sport should my son pursue and how much do we invest in it? What instrument should he play and how do we make time to practice? What creative activity should he pursue – art classes or theatre? What troop should he be a part of? There is this underlying notion that if I schedule my boy’s time right; it will carve out a path to success.

The truth is, my well-laid plans could experience the sky falling on the future I had envisioned. What if he burns out on his chosen sport? What if he’s injured and can no longer play? What happens when nagging him to practice becomes a bitter battle every weekday? What about when the sports schedule edges out his creative pursuits? What do I do when my kiddo no longer wants to spend time with the troop and asks to quit? When change comes, does it punch holes in our carefully constructed path, or can he, and I redirect?

As I reflected on this, it really hit me that it would be far better to concern myself with the investments I am making into the character of my child, than just his external activities. Certainly, I do not mean to say that playing a team sport for example, does not have inherent benefits in developing his character. But, what about his ability to think for himself, to have tenacity in his pursuit of solving a problem, or to maintain a curiosity that will make him a life-long learner? It seems to me if a student possesses the intellectual virtues, any redirection will not shake him but simply become a different path.  I guess, I don’t just want him to learn well in school, in sports, in extra-cirricular activities…I want him to live well.

As you ponder your child’s education – what do you value in his or her middle school experience?

Happy Birthday Dear Lincoln!

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_photo.jpgYesterday we observed Lincoln’s birthday and today is his day. I decided to look up quotations by our 16th U.S. President and, as one might suspect, he is very quotable with pages of wit and wisdom. Here are just a few of my favorites:

“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
― Abraham Lincoln

As simple as this may sound, a student must think critically about this so they don’t default to believing what they’re told – like a tail is a leg!

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Now that’s stick-to-itiveness!

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln

That sounds to me like an attentive man.

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”
― Abraham Lincoln

And this perhaps is autonomy?

“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.”
― Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln is revered for his great courage to commit to what was right.


Should you want to read more quotes by Lincoln – click here and share one of your favorites!

Middle School Already? | A Welcome to the IVA Blog

b_200_0_16777215_00_images_blogimages_20130328-232332.jpgThe first year can be scary.  This transition from primary colors, simple shapes, and “D is for duck” above the bulletin board to writing rubrics, student planners and dry erase boards with math problems I can no longer solve.  This transition I’m describing is that big one – to middle school.  Our oldest son is only (maybe not quite) half way through his fifth grade year and we are wound up in school of choice applications and extrapolating his future into his 20s and beyond.

A dear friend of mine answered my desperate text to grab lunch a few weeks ago.  How do we choose a Boy Scout troop? How do I foster good friendships? And how do we survive middle school? I asked very sincerely.  Her good word, “He’s gonna be OK.”  Right.  My shoulders dropped and I took a deep breath.  She’s right – my kiddo, he’s gonna be OK. He’s resilient, he’s pretty sharp and he lives in a city with options.

The option we’re going with is the Intellectual Virtues Academy.  Why? Well…a number of reasons, not the least of which is the small class size.  I’m in no hurry to grow my boy up fast or give up the community we enjoyed on his elementary school campus.  But the more I travel through this stuff called life, the more I have come to value the people who ask good questions, who are not settled with who they are, but choose to grow and stretch and never stop learning, and who have stick-to-itiveness.  More than perfect test scores, or 4s or check-pluses, those are qualities I want my son to have.

Yeah…the first year of anything can be scary but because I believe in the people behind Intellectual Virtues Academy, I believe the risk is going to be well worth the reward.  That’s why we are choosing a middle school where our boys can learn and live well.

Over the next 15 weeks, you’ll hear from me on Tuesdays – about the charter school, and about our thoughts and conversations as parents of a fifth grader.  On Fridays, you’ll hear from Dr. Jason Baehr – one of Intellectual Virtues Academy’s founders and the recipient of a John Templeton Grant to train teachers in the Intellectual Virtues model of education.  We hope you’ll visit again to learn more about this important movement in learning.