How We Prepare Students To Live, Learn, And Thrive

first graders creating their 3D community modelby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Educators are infamous for creating esoteric terms and anachronyms to describe different approaches to teaching and learning. Project-based learning, or PBL, is one such term but should not be confused with problem-based learning, also PBL. Both PBLs are similar, yet different. Debate exists within educational circles as to whether Design Thinking is a more inclusive term for both PBLs. To further complicate matters, some educators prefer the term “inquiry-based learning”. Confused? Ambivalent? Let me try to translate.

Whether described as project, problem, or inquiry-based learning, this form of learning has roots in what John Dewey (American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer who is often referred to as one of the “fathers of American education”) called “progressive education.” Contemporary educational theorists refer to it as a pedagogy (another educational esoteric term that designates an educational method) that “engages students in creating, questioning, and revising knowledge, while developing their skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, reasoning, synthesis, and resilience” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008). Read More

Essential Planning For 2021-22

upper school and fourth grade chemistry doing a lab togetherby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Growing up, I loved the summer vacations of our family. They were wonderful cross-country car trips that my mom and dad would spend months planning, engaging my sister, brother, and me in the process. (We still laugh that my little brother sat on a cushion between the two bucket front seats on the entire ride out to Boston and back.) Those road trips never quite worked out the way they were intended, but were, nonetheless, spectacular and we always had a marvelous time.

President Dwight Eisenhower is famous for saying, “Plans are worthless but planning is everything.” Like our summer road trips, a plan is essential, but what is most important is the planning. As we look forward to the 2021-22 school year, we are building upon the successes we’ve enjoyed this year as well as the lessons we have learned. A year ago, we began with a core set of values drawn from our school’s mission statement. Given the uncertainty, we knew that we needed a plan that was flexible and agile so that we could pivot quickly if necessary. Tying ourselves to a set of values enabled us to successfully adapt as the circumstances warranted. Read More

What Google’s Discovery Means For An MPA Student

Kindergarten student working in the Makerspaceby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Not long ago, Google decided to do some self-reflection. Cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page set out to determine the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees. As a company that mostly hired top computer scientists, I imagine they were more than a bit surprised to find that of these eight qualities, expertise in STEM was not first nor second, but eighth! The top seven were: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward, and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

What can we learn from Google about the future of creating smart, successful, in-demand graduates? The skills that students learn from the humanities and liberal arts are in high demand. In addition to the skills listed above, Google’s follow up research identified having curiosity toward teammates’ ideas, harboring emotional intelligence, valuing equality, being generous, and cultivating emotional safety as additional key skills for their employees. Read More

We Are In Good Hands

Kindergartners gifting Dr. Hudson a scarf by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

I was pleasantly surprised Tuesday by a visit from Ms. Petersen’s kindergartners who presented me with a very nice MPA blue scarf. As we sat on the floor together in the hallway outside my office (six feet apart, of course!), they shared that they are spreading kindness throughout the school this month. The scarf was an act of kindness to thank me for my efforts to safely open school this year. As one of them put it, “You were a great leader and protector,” in the classroom.

For many, the future looks grim. Some people have lost faith in our society and feel hopeless and helpless. However, when so much seems to be outside of our control, I believe we must seek aspects of our lives we can control. Taking action now on something that will have a positive impact in years ahead can help us move through those feelings of hopelessness. In the midst of uncertainty, for instance, investing in the education of our children is essentially an act of hope and kindness.

Over the years, many MPA families and alumni have expressed their faith and confidence in the future by making a planned or estate gift to the school. These types of gifts might include making MPA the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement plan, creating a charitable gift annuity, or most simply, by making a bequest through your will. There are many ways you can designate a future gift through your estate planning. Contact the Development Office to learn more about what options might work best for you. Read More

As We Look To Next Year

middle school student doing a science labby Dr. Bill Hudson, head of school

On Sunday, we hosted a rather large number of prospective families for a virtual MPA Preview. During a panel discussion, I was asked by moderator Nate Bander, “How do you see the mission statement of MPA playing out every day?”

Truthfully, it was a difficult question to answer because I see the mission in action each day in a multitude of ways. Most of you know that I stand at the south entrance of the school every day to greet students as they enter the building. Admittedly, it is the best part of my day and I often joke that my day goes downhill from there. The joyfulness of students as they enter the building is infectious. They are excited about the day ahead, to connect with their classmates, and see their teachers. At most schools, students are excited to exit the school, for their day to be over.

After my door duty is over, I make the trek to my office at the other end of the building and I see the mission come to life in so many ways:

  • As I pass by the Makerspace, I may see a Lower School class joyfully problem-solving using manipulatives.
  • Crossing through the new Family Commons, I might encounter a Middle School science class sprawled across the space excitedly engaged in testing the laws of motion with wind-up cars they built.
  • I may stop in my tracks along the way to take in the beauty of new art gracing our hallways and stand in awe of the accomplishments of our students.
  • Sometimes I pause outside the band or orchestra rooms to take in and feel the beautiful music and close my eyes, wishing I had that opportunity when I was young.
  • I may have to watch where I am walking in the Upper School Commons to avoid interrupting a world history class that is sitting in a circle on the floor in the midst of an intense discussion of Jim Crow laws.
  • As I finally approach my office, I often hear peals of laughter coming from the Lansing Sports Center of children engaging in some creative, crazy named activity dreamed up to teach important lessons about wellbeing and teamwork. Read More

Strategic Planning In A VUCA World

Upper School discussion in classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

One of the highpoints of the fall for me is spending time with our senior class talking about leadership. In a series of four seminars, I walk with them through various leadership theories as well as several definitions and metaphors. One of my favorite leadership metaphors is one I learned from a mentor many years ago.

“Leadership is being in the middle of the herd moving it roughly westward.”

I share it with them at the end of the second session and ask them to think about what it means, how it applies to leadership, and come prepared to our next meeting to discuss. The ensuing conversation is often rather lively and as we unpack the metaphor and it yields many very different interpretations:

  • Leaders who are too far out in front of the herd may realize too late that they are alone, having forgotten to bring others along with them.
  • Sometimes a leader needs to be out front to chart a bold and new path.
  • If a leader is at the tail end, the herd lacks direction. On the other hand, sometimes a leader needs to step back in order to consider lay of the land and craft a broader vision.
  • Those who lead from the middle are often better in touch with other members of the herd and can nudge them forward in a common direction.
  • Leaders in the middle can push and pull from within, depending on what is needed. They help others feel valued as a part of the solution as the team moves ahead.
  • When consensus and buy-in are required for the success of the project, leading from the middle may be best.
  • From time to time, a leader does need to pull back, trust in the team, in order to consider the whole to refine a vision, and allow others a chance to take the lead.

Read More

The Strength Of MPA Is In Our People

Mr. Peterson Teaching Middle School mathby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

“Welcome back to campus!” I said this morning as I greeted a Middle School student on their way into school. “What are you more excited about, being back together with your friends or seeing your teachers in person?” I asked. He paused for quite a while, pondering the rather unfair choice I was asking him to make. However, his response was emphatic, “Both!” Asking such a question of a Middle School student can be rather risky, but I wasn’t surprised with his response. The strong, personal relationships students have with their teachers is a hallmark of MPA.

MPA is incredibly fortunate to have an exceptional faculty who are genuinely dedicated to their students and truly committed to the school. Most teachers remain at MPA for their entire career and we all benefit from their experience and wisdom. At the same time, we’ve had teachers who experienced life transitions that took them in different directions, whether a move to a new city or sometimes experiencing a change in career. Enrollment, program changes, and external factors may also impact our faculty workforce. For instance, our COVID-19 health and safety plan led us to hire several additional teachers and teaching assistants to reduce classroom density. Read More

Net Promoter Score At An All-Time High

middle school student in math classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

We begin a new year with new hopes and resolutions and with optimism that the end of the pandemic is in sight. We begin a new year complete with new understandings of ourselves, our family, our society, and our values after an extremely challenging year. Our task will be to take what we have learned, put it to good use, and work for lasting change.

You may remember that in December, parents were invited to participate in our annual Net Promoter Survey. I was more than pleased with the incredibly high level of participation—a whopping 78% of our parent community completed the survey. If you are familiar with the Net Promoter Survey, you know that is commonly used in business to measure customer service. Similarly, MPA uses the Net Promoter Survey to measure parent satisfaction and solicit feedback for use in continuous improvement in order to make data-driven decisions. The survey and score is also important because word of mouth referrals are the greatest source of admission inquiries and the best predictor of new enrollment. Read More

Peacefully Working Through Our Differences

Katie Murr's US History Classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

As I was putting the final touches on my original Panther Post message yesterday afternoon, news broke of the violent protest in Washington DC and the storming of the United States Capitol. The peaceful transfer of power is a cornerstone of our democracy. In the days, months and even years ahead, our nation must engage in serious reflection of who we are as a democratic society. How long can we say, with any sense of integrity, that this is “not who we are” before we must admit that this is who we are.

However, I am an eternal optimist and believe that American democracy is resilient. To me, it makes the case that education is important more than ever. Critical thinking, nurturing student voice and agency, character development, and civic engagement and responsibility are all antidotes to discord, division, and violence. These are important attributes of an MPA education. For instance, quite organically, 40 Upper School students joined a Zoom call last night under the guidance of several Upper School teachers who provided a context for students to think critically about the unfolding events in the context of civic responsibility. Read More

Finding Light, Warmth, Joy, And Growth

Fourth grader sewing annual mitten projectby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

In a few short days, the winter solstice will be upon us. Literally and figuratively—a few short days. Monday will be the shortest day of the year, the longest night, and the first official day of winter. The increasing darkness over the last several months has resulted in six additional hours of nighttime. Darkness seems to have also crept into our psyche as we experience the impact and uncertainty of the pandemic, the economy, and the social and political discord. A long winter break is needed now more than ever.

The heaviness of the dark is coupled with what seems to be more anxiety, more stress, more work, and less time to unwind. It has been proven that we have more time for leisure than we did 50 years ago, and it doesn’t seem to be any more relaxing, in part because of the pandemic, the fuzzy line between home and work, and the disintermediating effects of our screens. According to behavioral scientist Ashley Whillans, emails, texts, and social media aren’t just eating 10% of our free time—they’re fragmenting it into tiny pieces of “confetti” that we can’t enjoy. Whillans recommends blocking out uninterrupted time for leisure, just as we do for deep work. (You might enjoy Whillans’ article “Time Confetti and the Broken Promise of Leisure.”) Read More