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From the Headmaster's Desk

Choice and Learning Part 1: First, the Easy Stuff

St. Timothy’s is a preparatory school. But what, exactly, are we preparing students for? For high school? For life? I say yes to both, of course… but, more specifically, I’d say we’re preparing our students to make the best choices in high school and in life.

The end game in education is equipping students with the knowledge, skills, habits, and values to make the best possible choices, now and—especially—as independent adults. They may be practical academic choices (Are you choosing to start a new paragraph when you want to write about a new idea?). They may be choices beyond academics (Do you choose to pass the ball or do you take the shot when the defenders are in a particular position?). Regardless, in all of the experiences that our education offers, it all comes down to students learning how to make the best choices in everything they do.

We also know that the best way to prepare them isn’t simply through lecturing or reading about hypothetical future choices. We can repeatedly tell everyone exactly what they ought to do in the event of a fire and write out very detailed directions to review if one occurs. However, if we really want to ensure people are the safest and best prepared for a fire, we ought to do regular fire drills. We ought to make them not simply listen or read about “what they ought to do if…” but instead actually have them “practice doing when…” Nothing beats learning by doing.

So, as part of their education with us, we give our students more and more opportunities to actually practice making choices. After they do, we try to reaffirm the good choices so they become permanent, and help them recognize incorrect choices so they make different ones in the future. More often than not, learning the right choices requires them first to make incorrect choices... sometimes repeatedly. We give students lots of opportunities to make mistakes.

One caveat on giving opportunities to make mistakes… we know that developmentally, there are different expectations we ought to place on children at different times. Four year-olds don’t get a steak knife with their dinner; we don’t hand 12 year-olds the keys to the car when they want to go to a friend’s house, etc. We must first be reasonably confident that their brain is developmentally ready to handle the choices we are offering them, assured that if they make the inevitable poor choice as part of the learning process, they won’t cause permanent harm to themselves or others. This is one of many reasons why we don’t actually light the building on fire when we do a fire drill.

This all probably seems reasonable, logical, and uncontroversial. However, if everything was simple, my job as headmaster would be a lot easier! One of the most difficult aspects of my job involves how we navigate this intersection choice and learning, applying all of the uncontroversial theoreticals above to the reality of real children, with real emotions, real families, and real consequences.

How many incorrect choices do we allow a student before the consequences for those choices become more substantial? What happens when our pointing out their mistakes makes a child feel hopeless, defeated, or humiliated? What do we do when we disagree with a parent about the amount of independent choice we ought to offer? How do we teach the best lessons if someone makes the wrong choice for the right reasons… or the right choice for the wrong reasons? What happens in the “this-is-not-a-drill” moments when negative impact—maybe even some kind of harm—is involved in allowing an incorrect choice… if it’s not permanent harm, might it be okay? What if that negative impact is on others, and not on the person learning the lesson?

In my next few blogs, I’ll offer my thoughts on some of these topics. The intersection of choice and learning and the “power of yet” that motivates us at STS might make perfect sense in a blog, but they can sometimes feel very complicated “in real life,” particularly for children and parents…and headmasters! Stay tuned!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Wednesday December 12, 2018
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The Work of Choosing

I admit it: I suffer from road rage.

Last weekend, on a family road trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, I had several moments in my 13 hours of driving when I gripped the steering wheel, growled under my breath, or even outright yelled from the driver’s seat. Several times, it was because some car ahead of me was cruising too slowly in the left lane, often with the driver talking on their cell phone, refusing to get to the right. Another time, my ire was directed at a car driving way too fast, zig-zagging from one lane to the next, causing multiple vehicles to slam on their brakes as it cut them off. Once, even though I was driving about 10 mph over the limit as I passed a large truck, someone else was tailgating me so closely that if I had just tapped on my brakes, they almost certainly would have rear-ended me.

I was angry, no, I was furious about the thoughtlessness and selfishness of these drivers. The slow left-lane drivers were either unaware that there were others behind them, or they were aware and simply didn’t care. The reckless, zig-zagging driver and the tailgating driver could have easily caused an accident that wrecked my car, ruined our vacation, maybe even injured someone in my family. Over my wife’s attempts to calm and redirect me from the passenger seat, I repeatedly explained how my anger at these drivers was entirely justified.

After our return, though, I began to think about a video and speech I’d discovered several years ago: "This is Water" contains selections from a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005. (Warning: There is some mild coarse language in the speech, but I’d highly commend it to any adolescent or adult.)

Re-watching that video, I started to reconsider. Yet again in a countless line of moments in our 16 years of marriage, I realized that my wife was right. I might have felt righteous in my fury from the driver’s seat of our Toyota minivan. But I was missing something.

What if the woman driving that slow car in the left lane was momentarily preoccupied on the phone by a doctor who was giving her the worst-case cancer diagnosis she had been dreading? What if that man driving too slowly was distracted because he had a sick child he was trying to comfort in the back seat? What if that speeding, zig-zagging, tailgating car was a father who was desperately trying to get to his wife in labor at the hospital? Or a heart surgeon rushing to perform a transplant while the family of the critically ill recipient was anxiously waiting and praying with all their might? Maybe it was I who was in their way. Maybe these people were facing real hardships, major crises, or life-altering, urgent challenges while my three healthy, happy children were playing their video games in the back seat and my family headed to go ride roller coasters for a day. Of course, none of this is likely. But it’s not impossible, either.

I had allowed myself to operate out of what Wallace calls my “natural default” setting—an unconsciously self-assured, self-centered perspective where without even thinking about it, I assumed I knew everything I needed to know about everyone and everything around me. And these people annoyed and infuriated me with their insensitivity to my needs and to my perspective. Without giving it any thought, I had certainty it was all about me. Without what Wallace calls “the work of choosing,” I’ll operate at that default setting all day, every day.

Thinking beyond that YouTube video and speech, I’ve also started to recognize a second problem with my road rage: what good was accomplished by my anger? Righteous anger can be a force for good—but it must coincide with, or at least immediately precede, selfless, loving action.

I worry that too often we find ourselves shouting at each other without doing the work of choosing, without genuinely trying to understand whether others might have nobler motives and more complicated circumstances than we give them credit for. I worry that we justify our shouting by convincing ourselves that those people are deserving of our righteous anger, but we totally forget that second important part of the equation: the action-oriented love we ought to simultaneously offer, as well.

Particularly in the context of what we aspire to do at St. Timothy’s School every day, Wallace’s words offer me hope: “The real value of a real education has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness…” Awareness of our own “default” settings. Awareness of the needs, value, dignity, and hopes of others. Awareness that we rarely know everything there is to know about everyone and everything around us. Awareness of our obligation not necessarily to avoid righteous anger, but to be sure that when we do experience it, it ought to be selfless and not selfish, and drive us toward positive, loving action, and not simply clenching our fist and shouting in fury to somehow make ourselves feel better.

As evidenced on my recent road trip, I certainly have a lot left to learn in this regard. However, I do benefit from going to work each day in a community where we’re committed to the kind of “real education” that helps us raise our awareness and reminds us of the work of choosing, at least a bit more every day.

It’s a great day to be a Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Thursday September 13, 2018 at 12:55PM
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The Most Hopeful Word I Know

Most people in any field of education, coaching, psychology, and the like, are familiar with Carol Dweck’s work that focuses on mindsets. I blogged about it, myself, a few years ago. I’ve been inspired by many ideas Dr. Dweck has shared over the years, but one of the most significant to me was about what she calls “the power of yet." That “power of yet,” has been a primary force shaping nearly everything I do, and everything that we do, at St. Timothy’s School.

That single word, “yet,” carries a great deal of power that we sometimes forget. Imagine you’re a child receiving back your graded math test, and you didn’t do well. Consider these two possible statements the teacher might say to you:

“You don’t know this material,” vs. “You don’t yet know this material.

Or imagine being a parent hearing a concern from a teacher about your child’s behavior:

“Your son does not consistently follow directions,” vs. “Your son does not yet consistently follow directions.”

Or forget about school for a moment. Imagine being in a difficult conversation with a colleague at work, or a peer, or a friend. Imagine these sentences being said in the conversation.

“I don’t really understand your concerns,” vs. “I don’t yet really understand your concerns.”

“We don’t agree,” vs. “We don’t yet agree.”

“Things haven’t improved,” vs. “Things haven’t improved, yet.”

I’ve come to believe that people we’d recognize as “eternal optimists” (or those Dr. Dweck might identify with a strong “growth mindset”) instinctually hear “yet” even in statements where it’s never actually said. For the rest of us, though, it’s important to remember the power of saying and hearing that word.

Yet. One word… just three little letters… can transform the meaning of failure. It’s a core principle of the best teaching and learning. And I can think of no more genuinely hopeful word that I know.

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Friday August 17, 2018 at 12:21PM
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Why We Teach: Our Hopes for Our Children

A few weeks ago, I asked our teachers to anonymously complete an “exit ticket” at the end of a faculty meeting. Everyone was asked to write on a slip of paper their answer to one question:

What is your fundamental hope for the lives our children will someday lead as adults?

After teachers turned in their slips, I shared mine:

I hope that someday they will joyfully, independently, resiliently, and courageously lead meaningful lives of purpose and lasting positive impact in this world.

I was so glad to read the responses of our teachers to this question. It only reaffirmed to me how grateful I am for my own three children to be surrounded by such outstanding, committed educators each day. I’ve now shared the responses with all of our faculty, and we’ve had some wonderful reflection and conversation about how their hopes and vision ought to inform our goals for a St. Timothy’s School education for every student. Indeed, our teachers’ responses show what our “life-ready” brand really means in the hearts and minds of the adults who educate and care for our children every day. They also help us remember that our STS curriculum is not simply what we do at school each day, but rather how we're helping our students achieve all that we might hope for them.

All of the faculty responses are available here. I also took those responses and put them into a “word cloud” (above) that I hoped would graphically capture the themes that emerged. (For those not familiar with word clouds: the more often a word appears in teachers’ responses, the larger and more noticeable it will be in the word cloud.) Clearly, our children are in very good hands!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Friday April 27, 2018 at 02:10PM
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Survey and Reaccreditation Results 2017

It’s been a wonderful year, and a lot of good has happened at STS—but just not all the headmaster blogs for this page that I anticipated back in August! The blogs like those mentioned in “Words Matter” are still coming, but in the meantime, I have two other very important, more “administrative” items to share with our community. They’ve served both to evaluate the state of our school, and to help us set goals as we look ahead.

The first item I’d like to share is our Reaccrediting Team Report (click the link to view the document). In Fall 2017, we completed a ten-month process required for reaccreditation every five years by the Southern Association of Independent Schools and AdvancED. The culmination was a three-day visit by a team of independent school leaders from Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The Reaccrediting Team Report pages 6-7 provide a brief snapshot of the history and current state of STS, while pages 7-10 document the school’s goal-setting process and four focus areas for improvement, and pages 11-20 offer the team’s unedited commendations and recommendations for St. Timothy’s School now and in the future. I’m happy for everyone to see this valuable report, and to please let me know if you have any questions.

The second item (below) is an executive summary of our October 2017 Parent Survey results. Here they are:

We had 217 total responses. 48 families had children in our Early Childhood (PK-K) program, 89 families had children in grades 1-4, and 126 had children in grades 5-8.

42 families identified as first-year families at STS and evaluated 20 items:

Admission Interview, Campus Facilities and Setting, Cost of Attending, Emphasis on Character Development, Financial Aid Process, Impressions of Teaching Methods, Integration of Technology, Interactions with the Admission Office, Interactions with Current Families, Interactions with Current Students, Interactions with Faculty/Staff, Interactions with School Leadership, Marketing Materials, Mission/Educational Philosophy in Practice, Open House, School Atmosphere, School Safety/Security, Shadow Day, Tour, Website

Each of these items had an average score above 4.00 on a 5-point scale. At least 75% of first-year families rated each item as a “4” or “5.” The highest average was 4.92 (100% of responses at a “4” or “5”), for “School Atmosphere.”

Next, all 217 families were asked to rate the following 33 items on a 1-5 scale for Early Childhood (PK/K), Grades 1-4, and Grades 5-8:

Academic Program, After-School Program, Art, Average Number of Students per Classroom, Character Development, Co-Curricular Programs, Degree of Protection from Harm or Negative Influences, Development of Age-Appropriate Life Skills, Development of Fine Motor Skills, Development of Leadership Skills, Development of Social-Emotional Skills, Facilities, Faculty Care and Concern, Head of Lower School or Head of Middle School, Integration of Technology, Math, Music, Opportunities for Play, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Personalized Instruction/Differentiation, Physical Education/Movement, Quality of Faculty, Quality of Written Comments from Teachers on Progress Reports, Reading, Relations with Peers, Religion, Responsiveness of Teachers to Your Suggestions/Concerns, Science, Social Studies, Spanish, Teacher-Initiated Communication, Technology/Computer Instruction, Writing

Every one of these items had above a 4.0 average score on a 5-point scale from families with children in our Early Childhood program. Each item had at least 95% of responses at a “4” or “5.” For several items, 100% of the item’s responses were a “4” or a “5.” 11 items had an average score of 4.8 or higher. The highest-scored item was “Faculty Care and Concern,” with an average score of 4.93 and 100% of respondents rating it a “4” or “5.”

Every one of these items had above a 4.0 average score on a 5-point scale from families with children in grades 1-4. Each item had at least 75% of responses at a “4” or “5.” The highest-scored items included “Writing,” “Reading,” “Art,” “Science,” and “Faculty Care and Concern”—all of which were just a few hundredths of a point between them at the top end of the scale and had 97%+ 4-and 5-rated responses.

For families with children in the middle school, 30 out of 33 items averaged above a 4.0 on a 5-point scale. The three items that did not were “Religion” (3.85 average; 67% rating it a “4” or “5”), “Personalized Instruction/Differentiation” (3.9 average; 67% rating it a “4” or “5”), and “Teacher-Initiated Communication” (3.93 average; 69% rating it a “4” or “5”). The highest-scored items included “Faculty Care and Concern,” "Head of Middle School," “Average Number of Students per Class,” and “Academic Program.” Each of these top items had 90% or more parents rating it as a “4” or “5.”

Next, all parents were asked to rate school administrative items on a 1-5 scale. These items included:

Frequency of Fundraising Brochures/Solicitations, Frequency of Communication from School Leadership, Openness of Leadership to Your Suggestions/Concerns, Quality of Communication from School Leadership, Quality of Fundraising Brochures/Solicitations, School Newsletters, School Website, Social Media

Each of these items averaged above a 4.0 on a 5-point scale. “Frequency of Communication from School Leadership” was the highest-rated item, with a 4.56 average and 92% of its responses at a “4” or “5.”

Additionally, 90% of responses rated St. Timothy’s a “good” or “excellent” value.

89% said they were likely or extremely likely to recommend St. Timothy’s School to others.

84% said they will stay or probably will stay at St. Timothy’s School through the eighth grade.

We also review any historical trends in survey responses over the years. This year, one item stood out... “Integration of Technology.”

In Fall of 2014, 92% of Early Childhood families, 78% of Grade 1-4 families, and 73% of Grade 5-8 families rated “Integration of Technology” at a “4” or “5.”

In Fall of 2017, 95% of Early Childhood families, 91% of Grade 1-4 families, and 91% of Grade 5-8 families rated “Integration of Technology” at a “4” or “5.”

These survey results and our Reaccrediting Team Report are both incredibly valuable tools to help us as we validate and affirm all that we do so well at St. Timothy’s School while also seeking those always-present areas where we can strive to get even better. We’ve carefully reviewed these documents among faculty and staff, as well as with our Board of Trustees. I’m glad to share them now with you, and I always welcome questions, feedback, or further discussion.

It’s a great day to be a Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Friday March 2, 2018 at 04:47PM
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Words Matter

I once gave a speech at my own high school graduation for about 500 graduates and about a thousand guests. Four years later, I gave another speech at my college graduation, with about three thousand graduates and about six thousand more guests. Nobody comes to graduation to hear the speeches, but they can still have an impact--bad or controversial ones, especially, can forever taint the memory of a special day for thousands of people.

This is why it surprises me that administrators at both of my graduations allowed me to address thousands of people without any discussion/review of what I was going to say. I didn’t have a written speech for either graduation—just a broad idea of what I hoped to say and some key phrases and bullet points jotted down on a piece of scratch paper. I resisted too much preparation or thoughtful deliberation on word choice, aiming instead to be genuine, to “speak from the heart.” (Fortunately, both speeches turned out fine, though I’m certain the only person who remembers what was said is me.)

Now, twenty years later, I have far more mixed emotions about offering unprepared, unscripted “speaking from the heart” remarks. With age comes wisdom, they say… which I think is true because with age come years of mistakes. And I’ve made lots of them. I’ve made spur-of-the-moment jokes that were funny to me but offensive to others. More than once, I’ve gone off on impromptu rhetorical tangents and then completely missed the most important points I needed to share. As a school leader, I’ve used ill-considered language that demoralized colleagues, and in parent meetings I’ve said thoughtless things that were understandably considered hurtful, condescending, or judgmental. The vast majority of these times, my “from the heart” words didn’t accurately reflect what was truly in my heart at all. Other times, they did—moments of personal failure when I was unkind, ungenerous, unsympathetic… and then, unfortunately, unfiltered.

Words matter. I think this is why our elected leaders often stick to the talking points and avoid straying from poll-tested platitudes in the era of 24/7 news, weaponized outrage, viral videos, and social media that can reach millions in seconds. A single moment of unguarded candor—either clumsily misstating true feelings, or accidentally revealing them—could instantly derail any good that a leader hopes to accomplish. The irony is that as a result of their over-corrections, we then distrust what they tell us—skepticism escalates into cynicism and a belief that leaders’ words are always meaningless and actually don’t matter after all. We yearn for “straight talk,” vilify “political correctness,” and are tempted to tolerate (or even to celebrate) language that is inflammatory, disrespectful, or offensive because, well, at least it’s genuine.

Since those graduation speeches all those years ago, I’ve come to now believe that we don’t have to choose between being respectful and being candid, between being thoughtful and being genuine. The solution isn’t to stick to timid, insincere, or non-controversial talking points any more than it is to be recklessly unfiltered and inconsiderate in the name of “telling it like it is.” We can be respectfully candid and thoughtfully genuine, even (and especially) during our most profound disagreements. While I’m very far from perfect in this regard, I want to acknowledge my earnest commitment to this type of communication in our St. Timothy’s community, even (and especially) during our rare moments of disagreement. Our children are in the absolutely crucial stages right now where what they experience in our community--what they see and hear from their families and their teachers each day--will shape a worldview they’ll hold for the rest of their lives. We owe it to them to model how to be respectfully candid and thoughtfully genuine, with no trade-offs necessary.

I’ve got a few blogs I hope to offer this year that I’m mentally composing at the moment. They’re about potentially controversial topics—like bullying, where I have been in conflict with parents perhaps more often than on any other topic in my decade-plus as a school administrator. My hope with these blogs is not one-sided preaching, but to offer a (hopefully) respectfully candid and thoughtfully genuine context for why we do what we do and say what we say, and encourage discussion on those terms. Hey, maybe we can go viral… stay tuned!

It’s a great day to be a (thoughtfully candid and respectfully genuine) Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Thursday August 24, 2017
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How We'll Spend Our Summer Vacation

Periodically, I’m asked whether we take our summers off like our students. And while I personally will take a nice two-week vacation/”Griswold family road trip” through Arizona, Utah and Colorado this summer, there is still a lot of work to be done at STS even in the summer months. Here’s a sampling of what we expect in Summer 2017:

Just before they depart for the summer, our Academic Council of teacher-leaders meet with me to debrief on the past year and to recommend any policy/handbook changes for the upcoming year.

On the first day after teachers leave, our Administration Team gathers at my home for our year-end Administrators’ Retreat. All morning long, and into the afternoon, we review the previous year and discuss what went well and what we might improve upon—helping us set our goals for the summer and next year.

Then, about a dozen of us who are year-long employees go to work for the rest of the summer finalizing class schedules and course offerings for the new year. We complete all hiring, budgeting, and ordering supplies and furniture as our enrollment numbers become more certain. We make updates to the handbooks, and prepare for our June and July summer mailings to families. We plan meetings and professional development goals for the new year.

Our development office will be very busy as we make significant alumni outreach efforts, organize a Grandparents’ Council, and recruit chairs and retain consultants to help us move ahead with a capital campaign for a new field and play space as soon as possible.

Summer is always the busiest time of the year for Facilities Director Frank Morey and Custodian Bill Jones. It’s a time for locker maintenance, desk repair, carpet and floor cleaning, painting, and more. Just one small example from our facilities “to-do” list each summer: cleaning every light fixture in each classroom, hallway and office. Additionally, this summer—thanks to Founders’ Day funds and additional support from Friends of St. Timothy’s—we’re excited to install air conditioning in the gymnasium. And, thanks to great Annual Fund support, we’ll be replacing all of the floors in our first and second grade rooms and making some big upgrades to the Ham Playground.

Mr. Cobb, Mr. Bogumil and a “tech crew” of many STS alumni will do annual computer maintenance and Chromebook replenishment. Thanks to a generous gift from Friends of St. Timothy’s School, this crew will also be installing printers for each classroom in grades 1-8 this summer. We’ll also be installing a new phone and intercom system—our first in over 10 years.

Cathy Clement keeps busy in our Admissions Office all summer, as we welcome and work closely with new and prospective families. Last summer, we admitted over 20 new students... we’re excited to see what 2017 holds! Our Finance Office stays busy as we close out the fiscal year that ends June 30 and begin processing the first July tuition payments for 2016-17.

And let’s not forget our summer camps! Several hundred children participate in our camps on campus offered all summer long.

In late summer, we finalize plans for all of our back-to-school activities of mid-to-late August... new teacher orientation, new student orientation, PK/K playdates, new family breakfast, “Meet the Teacher” nights, first day Convocation, and more. Our 15 administrators that began the summer looking back at the year that was ends the summer with another off-campus retreat looking ahead and outlining each of our goals for the new year.

As you can see, a lot of valuable work happens over the summer. There is never a day when we don’t have at least a few items on our “to-do” lists! That hard summer work is always rewarded on the first day of school when we get our students back—smiling, happy, and energized for another exciting year ahead. It’ll be here before we know it, I’m sure!

It’s a great summer to be a Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Wednesday May 31, 2017 at 12:36PM
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Blame vs. Responsibility: When "Me-First" is a Good Thing

Traffic slows to a crawl on the highway because of construction blocking the right lane, and I dutifully merge left. But then I see one car speeding down the right lane to zip in front of everyone at the last second. All of us are trying to get to work… to family… to the next exit because our child in the back seat just announced he needs to visit a restroom ASAP… and yet this guy zooming past me on the right thinks he’s special. He thinks he should be first in line. This is one of those “me-first” moments that really frustrates me (as my children in the back seat can confirm).

But there’s another, subtler kind of “me-first” (or “I-first,” technically) behavior that I’ve been thinking about lately… and I think it’s a good thing. It can start with a simple choice of how we phrase a sentence. Consider these examples:

“That test was confusing.” vs. “I was confused on that test.”

“My computer isn’t working.” vs. “I can’t get my computer to work correctly.”

Each of those pairs of sentences basically conveys the same fact, but how we choose to phrase it—what comes first in the sentence—can have a big impact on whether we’re inclined towards blame or responsibility.

“That test was confusing” can pretty quickly lead to “My teacher doesn’t know how to make tests,” or “The study guide didn’t prepare me well,” or “My teacher never taught me that material.” It’s about blame. Sometimes blame can feel reassuring. “It’s not MY fault.”

If I'm honest, I have to admit that I'm often instinctively drawn towards blame in difficult moments. Blame is easy. When we blame, we don’t bear responsibility ourselves. And because responsibility normally involves hard work, blame means less work for us.

The problem with blame is that it’s a dead-end road. If our goal is for things to get better, then we need responsibility, not blame. Someone needs to step up, roll up their sleeves, and commit to the work required to make things better. But saying “someone else ought to do something” doesn’t get us much farther than blame does.

I was confused on that test… so I ought to do something about it.” What can I do? Maybe I can go see my teacher to explain my confusion and seek help. Maybe I can study more or differently next time. Putting myself first in this sentence opens me up to more work, yes, but it also empowers me and reminds me that I have the ability to make things better. I’m not helpless in this situation. There are lots of possibilities before me that I can control.

With this in mind, I’m going to recommit to paying close attention to how I phrase my sentences in difficult moments… those times when I’m frustrated, hurt or disappointed. And I’m going to try to help my children be more attentive to what they say and how they respond in their own similar moments. The difference between whether circumstances improve or not could be the difference between whether we pursue the path of blame or the path of responsibility… and that could all be set in motion by the very first word of our sentence.

It's a great day to be a (responsible) Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Tuesday March 28, 2017 at 04:31PM
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Survey Says...

Anecdotes are important. Many of the meetings, email, and phone calls I handle on a daily basis are anecdote-related. A student has a good experience, and a parent sends me a message of gratitude and praise. A student has a bad experience, and we receive constructive criticism. A couple of parents may have a discussion about something they’ve seen or heard and want to bring it to my attention. These are all anecdotal—stories about particular experiences that merit careful consideration and thoughtful response.

While anecdotes are important, it’s vital to reflect on them in the context of broader, more comprehensive data. We spend a lot of time at St. Timothy’s School collecting and analyzing data—student performance data, enrollment and inquiry data, financial and fundraising data, and separate surveys every year of alumni, faculty, students, and parents.

In the annual STS Parent Survey, each October/November, we ask families over one hundred questions about their current St. Timothy’s experience. The full results, including every open-ended response, are reviewed by senior administrators and shared with our St. Timothy’s Board of Trustees. Detailed responses are also sent to all teachers and discussed at a faculty meeting. These parent survey results help us identify (and thereby support/protect) the areas our families like best about STS, as well as focus on areas where we can get better. What follows is an executive summary of our (very strong) annual STS Parent Survey results from October/November 2016:

Of the over 300 survey participants…
  • 56 have a child in our Early Childhood Program (Pre-K and Kindergarten)
  • 139 have a child in Lower School Grades 1-4
  • 179 have a child in Middle School (Grades 5-8)

We asked parents to rate each of the following items on a 1 (Very Poor) to 5 (Excellent) Scale:

Academic Program
After-School Program
Average Number of Students per Classroom
Character Development
Co-Curricular Programs (clubs, etc.)
Degree of Protection from Harm or Negative Influences
Development of Age-Appropriate Life Skills
Development of Fine Motor Skills (Early Childhood Only)
Development of Leadership Skills
Development of Social-Emotional Skills
Faculty Care and Concern
Head of [Lower or Middle] School
Integration of Technology
Opportunities for Play
Parent-Teacher Conferences
Personalized Instruction/Differentiation
Physical Education/Movement
Quality of Faculty
Quality of Written Comments from Teachers on Progress Reports
Relations with Peers
Responsiveness of Teachers to Your Suggestions/Concerns
Service Learning/Community Service Programs
Teacher-Initiated Communication
Technology/Computer Instruction

  • Our top survey result among Early Childhood parents was Faculty Care and Concern, which earned a 4.81 average, with over 96% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5. Other top scores were Head of Lower School (4.8 average), and Opportunities for Play/Development of Social-Emotional Skills/Development of Age-Appropriate Life Skills (each at a 4.78 average).
  • Every one of the 29 items in the Early Childhood survey averaged at least a 4.47 or higher. Areas of notable concern were not immediately apparent in the Early Childhood survey results.
  • For grades 1-4, Faculty Care and Concern was the top result, averaging 4.76, with 98% of parents rating it a 4 or 5. Other top scores were Average Number of Students per Classroom (4.69 average), Quality of Faculty (4.67 Average), and Responsiveness of Teachers (4.60 average).
  • Every one of the 34 different items in the Grades 1-4 survey averaged at least a 4.17 or higher. (“Facilities” was our lowest average, at 4.17, with 79% of parents rating it at a 4 or 5.)
  • In the Middle School, Middle School Head was the top result, with a 4.57 average and 92% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5. Other top scores were Academic Program (4.51 average), Faculty Care and Concern, Integration of Technology, and Quality of Faculty (4.46 average each).
  • Middle School parents rated 40 different items, and 38 averaged a 4.0 or higher. The two items below a 4.0 average were Personalized Instruction/Differentiation (3.94 average, 75% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5) and Religion (3.95 average, 71% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5).
  • We also asked parents what was most important to them in selecting St. Timothy’s and choosing to remain enrolled. They rated items on a 1 (Not at All Important) to 5 (Extremely Important) scale. Faculty Care and Concern (4.87 average; 100% of parents rating it a 4 or 5) is the most important item to STS families. Also very important are Quality of Faculty (4.86 average; 98% rating it a 4 or 5) and School Atmosphere/Culture (4.82 average; 99% rating it a 4 or 5).
  • On a series of communication questions, our highest averages were on Frequency of Communication from School Leadership (4.57 average; 93% rating it a 4 or 5), School Newsletters (4.54 average), and Quality of Communication from School Leadership (4.43 average). All items averaged at least a 4.09 score, with Frequency of Fundraising Solicitations averaging a 4.09 and 78% rating it a 4 or 5.
  • 96% of survey participants said that they were Extremely Likely or Likely to recommend St. Timothy’s School to another family.

Overall, when over 300 parents complete an optional survey and nearly every item averages over 4 out of a possible 5 points, we know that what we offer resonates with and is valued by our STS families. These strong survey results are in line with the consistently positive feedback we receive each spring when students and faculty are surveyed, and the 90%-95% of families who re-enroll at STS year after year. However, we know we’re not perfect; we’re always trying to get better, and survey data helps us find opportunities for improvement. But when the areas for improvement are identified because “only” 7 out of 10 or three-quarters of parents rate it as a high score, we know we’re at a wonderful starting point!

It’s a great day to be a Titan!
Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Monday January 30, 2017
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Gratitude and Giving

During this season of giving and gratitude, I want to share my gratitude for the incredible community of giving we have at St. Timothy’s School. We know the importance of outstanding preparatory academics in equipping our students with skills for success. I think equally (and maybe even more) important in preparing our students for a lifetime of meaning and impact is helping them to regularly think beyond themselves.

St. Timothy's School is a place where we help our children not just to be smart, hard-working, well-rounded students, but also to be good people. I’m grateful for all of the hard work of so many in the St. Timothy’s community that inspire our students (including my own three sons) to have a lifetime commitment to making a positive impact on others.

Here are just a few highlights of our students’ service over the last year:

  • Middle schoolers packed 10,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now.
  • Students of all ages and their families provided two truckloads of Christmas gifts for five local families through the Salvation Army.
  • Student Council raised money for hurricane relief in eastern North Carolina.
  • Our spring 2016 “Social Entrepreneurship” class made and marketed dog toys to raise money for the SPCA.
  • Students gave up their break time to pack hundreds of lunches for the Raleigh Rescue Mission.
  • Eighth graders did a day of service at the Salvation Army in Durham and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina to commemorate September 11.
  • Sixth grade classes read poetry and sang with Alzheimer’s patients at Brookdale Memory Care.
  • One of our students launched a winter clothing drive for a Title I school in Connecticut where many children didn’t have warm winter coats.
  • Fifth graders made Thanksgiving cards for home-bound seniors receiving Meals on Wheels.
  • After a class discussion about Thanksgiving and gratitude, second grade students organized an impromptu food drive for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
  • Writer’s Workshop students corresponded with veterans who are in the Harnett County Veteran’s Court system for minor offenses, often related to post-traumatic stress disorder. The coordinator for the program visited with us on Veterans Day this year and told our students their words of gratitude and encouragement have been transformational for veterans who are trying to get their lives in order.
  • After two different trips to Haiti in 2016, STS faculty and staff brought back stories and experiences that have inspired our students. As a result, Friends of St. Timothy's outfitted St. Timothee’s in Boucan-Carre with new pews and school benches, and we provided over 200 children there with three days of school lunches. Our fourth and sixth grade students partnered to send friendship bracelets and alphabet books along with our teachers this October, and they were received with profound joy and gratitude.

I’ve likely neglected to mention a dozen or more additional ways our students have “thought beyond themselves” this year to serve others in our community. However, I hope the point has been made: St. Timothy’s students are making an extraordinary contribution in this world. And, in turn, I sincerely hope these experiences at STS will leave a profound and lasting impact on our own students’ lives, too. As a parent and as a headmaster, I continue to be grateful for St. Timothy's School!

It’s a great day to be a Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Tuesday November 29, 2016 at 09:06PM
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STS 2016: What changes, and what never will?

All of the talk about the upcoming presidential election has me reflecting on President Reagan’s iconic question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Regarding STS, here are some thoughts:

  • In 2012, our opening day enrollment was 427. Opening day 2016 enrollment was 503.
  • In 2012, we raised $85,000 in the Annual Fund, with about 40% parent participation. Last year, we raised over $215,000, with almost 70% parent participation.
  • In 2012, we identified instructional technology as a critical need in our school. In 2016, every middle schooler has a Chromebook, and iPads, laptops, and Chromebooks are available for every Lower School class, in addition to our exciting new Imagination Lab.
  • In 2012, parents were requesting that the school “bring back Spanish” after its absence for a few years. In 2016, we now employ two full-time Spanish teachers to promote language acquisition in Lower School and offer Spanish to complement the outstanding Latin program in the Middle School.
  • Fine Arts participation and distinction has exponentially increased in the last four years. In 2016, we have more bands than ever (like the wind ensemble, who earned their first “Superior” distinction in 2016), thriving choral programs (who earned another consecutive “Superior” distinction in 2016), new drama classes and exceptional new productions, and a record number of Scholastic Art gold/silver key awards that have distinguished STS as a regional leader in visual arts.
  • With the addition of our softball team, several new junior varsity teams and development teams, the explosion of our cross country program, the creation of lower school running club, the new strength club and the addition of our training room, in 2016 we are engaging more student-athletes, and in more ways, than ever before.
  • Thanks to visionary new funding in the last three years by the Dr. Albert Joseph Diab Foundation, St. Timothy’s has sent teachers to fossil studies in Colorado, culture and language classes in Spain and Costa Rica, poetry programs at Oxford, writing courses at Columbia University, NASA’s Space Camp, and so much more.
  • Thinking globally… this fall, we’ll welcome our fifth group of Guatemalan exchange students since the program’s inception in 2012, and 2016 kicked off with a new partnership with St. Timothee’s School in Haiti (with a second STS delegation visiting Haiti this fall).

I could go on, but I’m afraid it may appear self-congratulatory, since many will recognize that my arrival at STS also occurred in 2012. However, this is not about me; I didn’t accomplish anything on this list—our entire community did. Yes, St. Timothy’s is better off than it was four years ago, and I’m so grateful to have witnessed and participated in this wonderful growth and continuing excellence of our school.

But as we rightfully celebrate some incredible successes in 2016, it’s important to point out two crucial facts:

(1) St. Timothy’s School was already an outstanding, exceptional place in 2012… and in 2008… and 2004… and for decades before that. The “Hale years”, the “Evans years”, the “Bailey years”…. our STS community worked hard and experienced wonderful successes and incredible accomplishments during those times, as well. The successes of 2016 are their legacies, too, and wouldn’t be possible without the work and dedication of those communities in previous times. Unlike in elections, we don’t need to introduce distinctions to try to make one “term” look better than a previous one. All of us—students, parents, teachers, administrators—are caretakers of a legacy of excellence at STS that predated our arrival, and, God willing, we can only hope to maintain and contribute positively to that legacy in our time together so that it may be enjoyed by those who follow us as they celebrate even greater successes.

(2) Over the last four years, there have been a lot of changes at St. Timothy’s School. But I worry sometimes that those who celebrate these changes, as well as those who lament them, might forget that there were lots of changes at St. Timothy’s School over the four years before that, and the four years before that, etc. St. Timothy’s has always been changing. Education is changing. The workforce is changing. The world is changing.

The Chromebooks or the “Imagination Lab” we add this year are just extensions of the changes that happened years ago when STS added computer labs for the first time and “new” Technology and Keyboarding classes were introduced. We offer Spanish and Latin now… there was once a time when “Madame Lord” (now second grade teacher Mrs. Lord) was our French teacher. As we look at a new master plan with fields and beautiful new buildings, don’t forget there was a time when our main classroom building that I’m sitting in now was also just an illustration being shared with families while their children attended classes in Sharp, Tracy and Stuart Halls. There was once a time when St. Timothy’s only offered kindergarten, and no other grade levels (because kindergarten wasn’t available in Wake County Public Schools). St. Timothy’s history is a history of change.

At its core, though, St. Timothy’s identity has never changed, and will never change. Carolyn Hale, who founded STS along with her husband in 1958, says that STS was “based on the ideas of love of God, the highest level of scholarship, discipline in the daily school life, good manners, and fun … a wonderful school where learning and fun go hand in hand!” Reflecting on Mrs. Hale’s vision, I’d say St. Timothy’s of 2016 is the exact same school it’s always been, and that’s a very good thing for us all.

It’s a great day to be a Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Thursday September 8, 2016 at 04:04PM
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Happy Summer! And a Health and Wellness Update

It’s been another great year at St. Timothy’s School! We head into summer with Lower School math classes ranked among the top in the state in “First in Math”, with music and art programs earning awards that put them among the best in our region, with national distinction for our Latin students, and with an STS student earning a top spot in the state science fair for the sixth time since 2010. Our athletic programs' student participation is stronger than ever—nearly 85%—with more teams offered this year than ever before, and we were recognized among the top 3 winningest overall programs in our conference for the fourth consecutive year. We had unprecedented parent support in our Annual Fund—with two out of every three families participating, supporting our school with a record-breaking $210,000. Enrollment continues to strengthen—with 480 students already enrolled for 2016-17—approaching our all-time enrollment record set in 2008. And we’re taking our first steps forward on an exciting, visionary, and ambitious campus master plan that will ensure we offer our students an unsurpassed learning environment for generations to come. It’s a GREAT day to be a Titan!

With so many great things happening, it’s tough to keep track of them all. One item that I haven’t spoken about recently—but that continues to be very important—is the effort that has gone into health and wellness initiatives at STS this year. My first blog of 2015-16 shared our rationale and aspirations for offering a healthy community for our students. The result was a dozen “working groups” of mostly parent, but also several staff, volunteers who examined our lunch offerings, our snacks/treats policies, our good behavior rewards, the Learning Garden use/curriculum, health resources we make available to faculty, students and families, and more. I’m so grateful to the many people who gave of their time to research best health and wellness practices at other schools and prepare reports with recommendations for me.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Our health and wellness initiatives and focus are not something that confine themselves simply to the 2015-16 school year. Thanks to one working group, we’ve been connected to experts at the Poe Center who will speak with our faculty next year about connections between wellness and academic performance. Another working group collected many curricular resources from award-winning learning gardens at other schools that I’ve been able to share with our division heads to explore here at STS. Another group connected us to three alternative lunch vendors/programs used in peer schools around the state. Discussions with them—and with Campus Cuisine—will continue next year as we evaluate our lunch options for ensuring affordable, convenient, healthy choices for students. One group’s work on assessing our overall health and wellness and compiling resources for families was so impressive that I’ve asked for permission to share it--available by clicking here.

Another important outcome of our efforts this year was a school-wide survey on health and wellness. We had as much parent participation in this survey as in any survey we’ve administered in my time at St. Timothy’s School. The results are available here, and they offer us all a valuable context in which we make policy decisions about our children’s health and wellness, now and in the future. Fundamentally, it tells me that our STS philosophy I shared back in the fall is appropriate—we’re a community of moderation, not extremes, and maximizing each parent’s ability to shape his/her own child’s nutritional choices is very important. I very much look forward to taking thoughtful steps to continue to offer a healthy environment for our children in the context of this broader STS philosophy.

As we head off for summer, please know that lots of work will continue to be done at STS even with our students’ absence. We’ll meet, we’ll plan, and make all necessary preparations to ensure 2016-17 is the best year yet for St. Timothy’s School. Enjoy your summer! Let the countdown to August 17 begin! It’s been another great year to be a Titan!

Posted by Tim Tinnesz on Thursday June 9, 2016 at 10:54AM
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