News Archive

  • Ted Talks: School as a Jazz Band

    Ted Graf, Head of School


    "Jazz players look for and notice instability, disorder, novelty, emergence, and self-organization for their innovative potential rather than as something to be avoided, eliminated, or controlled. Indeed, jazz bands are very much human systems living at the edge of chaos. To understand their social complexity requires cultivating an aesthetic that values surrender and wonderment over certainty, appreciation over problem solving, listening and attunement over individual isolation."

    --Frank J. Barrett, Yes to the Mess

    As some of you know, my life outside of school is infused with music -- cello, drums, guitar, an occasional banjo, voice, electric bass, and my own erratic attempts at learning the clarinet. Our home life often echoes with prog rock, chamber music, classical, new wave, yacht rock, and, with deep gratitude to Mike Stavitz and Marshall Escamilla, jazz is played in our kitchen. A lot.

    Since my college years, I have been fascinated by jazz and jazz musicians -- their sounds, their stories, its history, their mythology. I am proud to say that I heard Miles Davis perform on the Boston Common, Count Basie in Burlington, VT; Pat Metheny in Chicago; Wynton Marsalis in a tiny backroom in Columbia, SC, and Archie Shepp in Paris. I'm a lucky guy.

    Part of my fascination with jazz has focused on improvisation because I have come to believe it is rooted in great teaching too. Whether it's in a classroom, on a field trip, out in the backcountry, on a stage, on a playing field, the most effective teachers/guides/coaches improvise. They make observations; they make adjustments; they look for what might be emerging in a class discussion or what may be surfacing in the habits of a student tackling a new Montessori work for the first time.

    This past summer I took my curiosity a little further and read a book about jazz and organizations called, Yes to the Mess. In it, the author, Frank Barrett (a skilled jazz pianist in his own right) describes the organization (or chaos and order) of jazz bands and applies it to institutions and businesses. I chose the book because, since joining Headwaters, I have been struck by our institutional attributes that are not common across all schools. Like some jazz musicians I admire, we're scrappy, inventive, and resilient; we solve problems on the fly; we are often willing to let others solo.

    More and more, students, teachers, and parents are drawn to how we approach school. We're dispersed and decentralized literally and figuratively--our campuses don't have a central gathering point and have multiple buildings (14 to be exact, some built in 1900 and some in 2015) with multiple entry and exit points. While we have a leadership structure that looks similar to many schools, it is decentralized, and decisions about program and the needs of the students are shared between Guide and Campus Head.

    In short, we're not "top down" and we're not a big box. In a way, we're a kind of an extended experiment, and as Barrett might say, we're more like a jazz band in that we're a "chaordic system," a blend of chaos and order. I'm sure there may be days when you or my colleagues wish for less chaos and more order, but, of course, life with curious children sometimes leads you in directions none of us ever imagined.

    What else makes us US? Feel free to email me with your ideas and observations
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  • Ted Talks: What Makes Us US

    Ted Graf, Head of School
    The publication of this month’s Current comes near the end of a painful and upsetting week and weekend -- first the pipe bombs sent to political leaders and supporters around the U.S., the shooting of two people in Louisville, and then the inexplicable and tragic deaths of eleven people worshiping at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Headwaters remains committed to our Purpose of bringing more peace to the world and to supporting and caring for each child and family, regardless of race, ethnicity, faith, or nationality. Here is a link from Facing History and Ourselves written for middle and high school educators that may be useful to parents as you process these events. We’ll continue to share other resources we might find.


    Last spring, as we looked ahead to this academic year and prepared for a year of self-study*,  I posed some questions for myself and for the entire Headwaters community:
    What makes us US?  What distinguishes us as a school?  How are we unique?
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  • Ted Talks: On Luis, AIM, and Belonging

    Ted Graf, Head of School
    "Fitting in is when you want to be a part of something. Belonging is when others want you."
    -- Brene Brown
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  • Ted Talks: Transition Back to School

    Ted Graf, Head of School
    Some back-to-school thoughts and reflections from Ted...
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  • Ted Talks: What are we talking about when we talk about student voice?

    Ted Graf, Head of School
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