To the Graduating Class of 2019 (Yearbook)

To the Graduating Class of 2019,

At the 2015 announcement of his Chicago presidential library, President Barack Obama reflected on the significance of the location: “The people there, the community, the lessons that I learned — they’re all based right in the few square miles where we’ll now be able to give something back and bring the world back home after this incredible journey.” In many ways, the close connection that President Obama described in relation to his local community parallels the small close-knit community that we have here in Dobbs Ferry.

As graduates of DFHS and members of our community, you are part of a legacy and history that goes well beyond any of us as individuals. This was on display in full force on the evening that our basketball team won the Gold Ball for the first time since 1967. That game was about so much more than basketball. It was about our community, past and present. The stands were filled with parents, community members, students, teachers, and alumni, some of whom were students at DFHS in 1967. That evening reminded us that we are a community that supports one another, and that Dobbs Ferry may be small in size but we are mighty in spirit.

At the center of our amazing community are our incredible schools. As graduates of an IB World School, you are prepared with the necessary skills and perspective to leave our small community so that you can truly tackle global issues while making a difference on a local level. Regardless of the path that you choose after high school, you will find opportunities to give beyond yourself and “to bring the world back home after an incredible journey.” I am truly confident that you are ready for these challenges, and that you are ready to make a positive and lasting impact that will make Dobbs Ferry proud.

Dobbs Ferry is the place that we call home, and the lessons that you have learned here will guide you as you move onto college, the workforce, and ultimately the rest of your lives. From your successes in the classroom, your tremendous talents in the arts and sciences, and your fortitude and perseverance on the field, there is nothing that a Dobbs Ferry graduate can’t do.

The legacy of this graduating class will be remembered for generations, and it has been an honor to serve as your Principal for the past four years. I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing all of the wonderful ways that you will continue to make our community proud.


John J. Falino, Ed.D.



IB for All: Inspiring Service at #DFHSIB20

The IB mission of developing citizens who are compelled to “think globally and act locally” has served as the fabric of DFHS for the twenty years that we have been authorized as an IB World School. As the IB celebrated its 50th anniversary and shared many examples of service learning from around the world via the commemorative hashtag #GenerationIB, our school celebrated its 20th anniversary by focusing on how service learning has further promoted our mission of “IB for All” at #DFHSIB20.

Our students have always engaged in community service that has made a positive difference in our local community. It is well documented on our school Facebook page, Twitter, and of course this blog. A quick scroll on our Facebook page will provide many examples, including our recent Thanksgiving luncheon for senior citizens as well as volunteer efforts at our elementary school and other local organizations. This year, our focus has shifted to service learning and, more specifically, how to best leverage what is already a robust IB MYP/DP curriculum to inspire students to go out and make a difference in our local community.

I wrote a piece earlier this year on service learning at DFHS and noted the importance of using our curriculum to “inspire service” among our students. Recently, our ninth and tenth grade English classes took the lead on these efforts by engaging in true service learning that now serves as a model for future work that we are planning as part of #GenerationIB and #DFHSIB20. Our teachers share their stories below:

Grade 9: Oedipus Rex (@CastellanoD1)

As high school English teachers, we are often discussing the motivations of the characters who we study in literature. Our students typically demonstrate empathy and sensitivity towards characters who struggle. This year, we decided to extend that empathy and sensitivity towards the Dobbs Ferry community.

We wanted the students to be involved with this service activity from start to finish, so we discussed our ideas with them from the very beginning. In addition, we wanted the process to organically connect to our curriculum, without feeling forced. Many themes found in literature document those who live in poverty or those who overcome adversity. Our goal was to tap into those themes while giving the students a tangible service opportunity that would allow them to give back to the community.

In English 9, our students read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and as a class, we discussed the importance of working collaboratively to serve the community. In Oedipus Rex, the Chorus works collaboratively as a community to help the people of Thebes who are struggling with a destructive plague that is ravaging the city, and its people. I contacted Molly Rodriguez, at the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry, to discuss how we, as a school, could work with their organization to serve the community. Molly was excited and eager to work collectively with us to make our vision a reality. She was most delighted to learn that we were committed to teaching the students about helping others in the community. With Molly’s help, we organized a list of food, and household items that were in high demand by those in need in the Dobbs Ferry community. In my classroom, Laura Cosgrove (@llcgrove), my co-teacher and I, set up three donations bins (one for each of my 9th grade classes) and over a month long span, we encouraged students to donate what they were able to contribute. We were overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness and generosity of the students, and their families.

The week before the holiday break, each one of our 9th grade classes walked from the school to the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry, located within the South Presbyterian Church, with our donation items. The students were proud of their contributions and passionate about giving back.Upon entering the food pantry, we were welcomed by the volunteers, who gave us a tour and graciously accepted the donation items. The students learned about the number of people who benefit from the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry and its many services. We left feeling uplifted by our service to the community, especially during the holiday season. We decided that we will be participating in another collection during the springtime.

Grade 10: Black Boy (@Mrs_Fahy)

While our 10th graders were reading Richard Wright’s memoir Black Boy, which chronicles his experiences growing up in a time of extreme poverty, hunger and racism in the Deep South, we discussed Richard’s hunger regularly in class. As Thanksgiving approached, the students came up with the idea that they would like to sponsor a Thanksgiving dinner for a local family in need. Other than selecting the recipients of the baskets, which was done anonymously through the guidance department, the students had ownership over the entire project from start to finish. We gave time in class for students to work in groups and collaboratively brainstorm items that the families may need. Unexpected contributions such as printing out word searches and coloring pages for children – things that don’t cost anything – helped ensure that all students could get involved.  From there, individual students brought in items from home, donated money, made signs and printed out the themed crossword puzzles, word searches and coloring pages. Our project culminated with a field trip to our local Stop & Shop to shop for the remaining items together as a class. As one student reflected: “I enjoyed working with my classmates to achieve a common goal. Everyone was focused on achieving a common goal to create a good experience for the family.”

The baskets looked wonderful were full of food and fun Thanksgiving treats. Both Ms. Cosgrove (@llcgrove) and I were very proud of the students’ efforts. A few days later, we asked students to write a reflection on the project and their experiences. One student said that “giving to a family in need made me feel like a really good person” and that the project we did together in class “brought everyone together and made people realize how lucky they are to be able to put food on the table and to spend time with family when others do not get the chance to do so.” Another student reflected that “the experience overall made me so happy” and that assignments such as these help us to “understand how our lives are very privileged compared to the lives of others.” Keeping these reflections in mind, we hope to incorporate and encourage more authentic Service Learning activities into future lessons.

Next Steps

Prior to winter break, our teachers met in grade level teams to brainstorm potential opportunities for service learning within our existing IB MYP/DP curriculum. Our grade level teams will reconvene next week to further develop those ideas while thinking about longer term interdisciplinary efforts that are aligned to the IB and our goals around service learning. The teachers at DFHS are a dynamic group of professionals who continue to push the instructional agenda at our school. It is through their effort, along with a school community that fully supports “IB for All,” that we find ourselves in the fortunate place of being able to focus our attention on an area such as service learning. The Dobbs Ferry “IB for All” story is one that continues to unfold, and service learning is simply a next step in our journey as we continue to develop compassionate and empathetic graduates who are prepared to make a positive difference in the world.

Recap from #IBORL2017: IB for All–A Special Educator’s Story

My name is Sarah Grosso and I am a special educator at Dobbs Ferry High School in New York. I am dual certified in Special Education and English. I co-teach both year 1 and 2 of the Standard Level Language A: Literature course. I am honored to be here and enthusiastic to share with you my amazing and unique experiences working within the IB curriculum.

I began teaching at Dobbs Ferry back in 2008. This was a time when the IB program was isolated and included only a small elite group of students. Being that my role was as a special educator, it was foreign to me. In 2010 there was an open opportunity for all teachers to become trained in the IB. Two of my close colleagues in the English Department encouraged me to go to a training with them. We traveled to Toronto for my first immersion into the world of IB. The training was eye-opening. Sitting through close-reading exercises and grappling with literature in a multitude of ways was so relevant to the non-IB classes that I taught at that time. This experience strengthened my ability to be a true co-teacher in the classroom and also showed me how to make all of my students better prepared to analyze literature.

Bringing Language A: Literature at the standard level was presented at an English department meeting in 2013 by Dr. Falino (@johnfalino1) and Ms. Halberg (@MegHalberg). The English teacher part of me was excited to have the opportunity to finally teach an IB course. The Special Education teacher part of me was apprehensive due to our model of full inclusion. Would my students be able to successfully navigate this rigorous curriculum? Would I now co-teach courses that were both fully inclusive and IB?

My co-teacher and I launched the first year of the Language A: Literature SL course in the fall of 2014. Dr. Falino granted us paid summer professional development days to work together and break down parts 1 and 4 of the course in a way that would be meaningful for all of our students. We spent time looking for common language between the 10th grade non-IB curriculum this group of students had received and the new curriculum. We created homework menus that asked students to analyze the literature through the IB guiding questions. We created mini-writing tasks that modeled the World Literature Paper, and we created templates and models using the assigned 10th grade texts to model new ways of collecting and analyzing evidence from the literature.

During the year we spent our planning periods creating differentiated activities to make the material both manageable and challenging. I spent a great deal of time building templates for students with special needs so that they could access the curriculum and successfully complete the assessments. We had the students complete mini-presentations to prepare for the Individual Oral Presentations at the end of Part 4 (Semester 2). What I came to learn so quickly in this endeavor is that IB fits with special education masterfully. At the midyear point we had 100% of our students complete the World Literature paper at the Standard Level. At the end of the year we had 100% of the students successfully complete an Individual Oral presentation. The summer planning time and common prep time for my co-teacher and me were essential ways the administration supported us in this endeavor.

My favorite moment during that year as a special educator was watching one of my students complete his Individual Oral Presentation. He chose to demonstrate his knowledge of The Great Gatsby in an analytical format. This boy had been dealing with significant speech and language deficits his entire life. He put so much effort into organizing his information and also practicing to ensure that he scored well on the presentation portion. This particular student’s presentation out-shined many of the general education students in the class. He was confident, funny, rehearsed, and knowledgeable. At the close of our first year I felt in my heart that this student truly and completely embodied the traits of an IB learner. I was ecstatic when I was scheduled to co-teach the second year and see these students through the second part of this curriculum.

Last year our IB Coordinator offered me the opportunity to attend a training on the IB Approaches to Learning. Here I gained a fresh way to go back and look at my current units and see how I could enhance them with 21st century skills.

This year I was asked to teach a section of Life Skills for students with significant cognitive needs. The Director of Special Education for the district encouraged me to include the IB style of teaching into this course in order to enhance our fully inclusive philosophy. I started the year teaching our students about the IB Learner traits. We created songs surrounding each trait and did posters of pictures that symbolized each trait. As we moved through units such as stress management, appropriate dress, and conversational skills, I asked the students to evaluate what type of trait they were currently demonstrating. My ATL training really came into play when planning lessons for this course. Thinking about these approaches as I designed a new course applied even to students with significant cognitive needs. When we started the year, no one in the class even knew what IB was. Now concluding our first year of this course, all of our students can tell you his and her strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to the IB Learner traits and are better equipped with 21st century skills due to lesson designs using Approaches to Learning.

One of my students from that class who is classified with Autism was also in my IB SL Language A: Literature Year 1 class. For his Individual Oral Presentation he chose to demonstrate his knowledge of Tennessee Williams’s playCat on a Hot Tin Roof in a creative format. He started off by singing Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way”. He then did a presentation where he compared quotations surrounding the character of Big Daddy to each stanza of Sinatra’s hit. The class cheered when he was finished and he dropped the mic.

This is our third cycle of running the fully inclusive standard level English and we still have not had one single student with special needs fail to complete any of the assessments.Taking this course as well as the IB Math studies course has given our students more confidence to embrace challenges and to feel less isolated from their peers. It has also encouraged some students with 504 plans and IEPs to demonstrate the risk-taker learner trait by enrolling in other IB courses, such as TOK. So my apprehensions in my role as special educator have quickly faded. I enjoy attending IB roundtables in my unique role and sharing my experiences to others who may be nervous about embarking on a similar journey.

Recap from #IBCHI2015: The 1:1 Chromebook Program at DFHS

I’ve written numerous posts on the 1:1 Chromebook program at Dobbs Ferry High School over the past two years while continuing to evaluate the program for the dissertation that I plan (hope!) to finally defend this fall. I am also looking forward to sharing our school’s 1:1 story at the upcoming IB Conference of the Americas (#IBCHI2015) along with @meghalberg and @careim2. In preparation for our upcoming presentation, I have combined some of the “big ideas” from my previous posts and have added some additional insight based on my recent research. Here are the highlights…

Why Chromebooks?

  1. Practical Considerations: At first glance, the Chromebook has the look of a standard laptop. It has a 12.1-inch screen, a traditional keyboard, and opens and closes in the same way. But that’s pretty much where the comparisons end. The “web-based” Chromebook is extraordinarily light due to the absence of a standard hard drive and is also sleek in nature. This is critical for high school students who are already overwhelmed with large over-sized textbooks and book bags that weigh more than they do. In addition, the Chromebook is inexpensive as compared to even the most modest laptops that are on the market.
  2. Academic Considerations: While many of our students noted the value and benefits of using iPads as a primary device, they also noted that there is a connotation of “play” that is associated with iPads due to the thousands of non-educational apps that are available. Conversely, the Chromebook provides easy access to Google Drive and the growing number of educational apps that teachers and students are now using on a daily basis. In addition, the traditional keyboard makes much better sense than a touchpad for high school students who use the device for note-taking, paper writing, and overall collaboration.
  3. Access to Google Drive: Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Chromebook is the ease in which students can access the internet and, more importantly, Google Drive. Though still in its early stages, Google Drive has already changed the way that we think about “sharing” and is now on the cusp of changing the way that we think about teaching and learning. Through the various Google Apps for Education that are available in Drive, teachers and students can collaborate in “real time” on various projects and classroom assignments. This feature not only challenges all traditional thinking of assessing student understanding, but also how we provide ongoing feedback to students beyond the “brick and mortar” classroom.
  4. “The Cloud”: This once seemingly abstract concept has now singlehandedly changed the way that we think about accessing, saving, and sharing information. In the old days, files and documents were saved to a hard drive on a local computer or a laptop. Transferring or sharing of these files would require that we email them to another person (or ourselves) or save them to an easy-to-lose flashdrive. No more. By saving all information to “the cloud,” all files can be easily accessed on any device wherever there is internet access. With this concept in mind, the Chromebook was designed to allow users to quickly and easily access the web and their important files. Essentially, the files are available wherever you go. This is a critical for students as they can now access all documents from home or in school (or anywhere) while enjoying a virtually limitless amount of storage space.
  5. The CCSS: All of the talk these days seems to be around the new CCSS and the degree to which schools across the nation have made “the shift.” Among the many “college and career readiness” targets that our outlined in the CCSS, there is a shared expectation that students will use technology to produce, publish, interact, collaborate, and evaluate different forms of digital media. To further this point, the NCTM remarked that “unless technology is woven throughout these standards, the credibility of any claim that they will better prepare students in the 21st century is diminished.” Given these demands and expectations, the Chromebook provides easy access to databases, journal abstracts/articles via the “research tool,” and a variety of additional educational apps that are designed to enhance understanding and overall capability.

What skills have students gained as a result of the 1:1 Chromebook program?

  1. Written Communication: Teachers in all disciplines noted writing as the skill that has been most directly impacted by the 1:1 Chromebook initiative. By sharing documents both with peers and their teachers, students are now able to engage in the writing process like never before. Through formal assignments like the humanities interdisciplinary research paper (@MikeMeagh) and informal assignments such as shared journal entries (@Mrs_Fahy), students collaborate with one or more co-writers in real time through each phase of the writing process. In addition, Chromebooks allow teachers to provide ongoing feedback and targeted instruction by using the revision history feature and identifying the specific strengths and weaknesses of each individual student. In that sense, Chromebooks provide teachers with a practical tool for differentiation so that they may best meet the needs of all students.
  2. Accessing and Analyzing Information: The ease at which our 1:1 initiative has enabled students to access an unlimited amount of information on any topic via the internet has completely transformed teaching and learning in all disciplines. Teachers now play the role of facilitator on a more frequent basis while students are being encouraged to take ownership of their learning as they decipher between credible and non-credible sources on the internet. As an example, @AdamoBiology regularly has his students use the “research tool” in Google Docs to compare, contrast, and analyze abstracts, journal articles, and research studies that are available in various databases. Activities of this nature are not only in-line with both the Common Core and IB Learning Standards, but also help students to develop skills in research, evaluation, critical thinking, reading, curiosity, and self-direction.
  3. Data Analysis: In addition to the analytical skills that are developed through the activities noted above, the Chromebooks have provided our students with a new way to analyze and graphically represent numerical data through applications such as Google Spreadsheet. For example, @ANewhouse6 requires that all students share their Google “Sheet” with all of the groups in the class so that they can analyze both the validity and reliability of the data collected as well as the process and procedure that the students used to conduct their investigations. Furthermore, this feature makes it possible for students to receive instant feedback on their lab results, graphs, charts, and data analysis from both the teacher and other members of the class. As an extension, students have the ability to present their data through applications such as Google Slides. Given that, additional skills that are directly connected to data analysis include communication, organization, collaboration, and critical thinking.
  4. Initiative & Self-Direction: @sarahhmstern noted that the increased level of access to the internet has shifted the mindset of some students from feelings of  “helplessness” that come as a result of the limitations of textbooks to an understanding that all information is in fact attainable if the the proper search is conducted. This realization is especially critical when students are working independently outside of school. Similarly, teachers such as @ms_sardinia, @MicheleIrvine1, and @MegHalberg provide access to a variety of apps and websites that allow students to take control of their learning based on their specific strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest. This includes websites such as Khan Academy and a library of Google Apps for Education.
  5. Digital Citizenship: While not a “skill” in the traditional sense, digital citizenship is critical for success in all academic classes as well as all “real world” endeavors. From an accountability perspective, students are responsible for taking care of their devices while having it in school with them each day. Furthermore, @addonam noted the importance of internet etiquette and digital citizenship with respect to searching for information and interacting with all people in a virtual setting. In that sense, the benefits for 9th graders go far beyond the classroom and indirectly connect to the development of other crucial skills, including organization, self-direction, and of course responsibility.

What are some of the issues that still need to be resolved?

  1. Instructional: Inconsistent use among teachers. While all teachers utilize Chromebooks, the degree to which they do so depends on the subject and the nature of the culminating final exam (state or local) that they are required to administer. In courses such as English, World Language, and ELL that do not end with a state exam, teachers feel a greater sense of freedom and take more risks with regard to integrating technology. Conversely, teachers in math emphasized that the end year NYS Regents exam requires “pen to paper skills” that cannot be developed via a Chromebook. Solution: Ongoing differentiated professional development that is subject specific needs to be provided. PD must always focus on the ways in which technology (and the 1:1) can enhance teaching and learning within the content areas while recognizing the specific obstacles that might exist.
  2. Instructional: Accommodating students who either forget their device at home or have a broken device. Solution: There is no perfect solution to this inevitable issue. The first and easiest solution is to have “extra” devices on hand for such situations (particularly students with broken devices). If this is not possible, teachers can find opportunities to either pair students or, if possible, allow students to access Google Drive via their phones.
  3. Instructional: Monitoring student use to ensure that all students are on task during class. Solution: In addition to the internal features in Google Drive that allow teachers to monitor student progress, our teachers noted that viewing student screens from afar is much easier with the HP Chromebook than it is with the Samsung device. We made the switch from Samsung to HP this year. There’s also a great deal to be said about the importance of teaching digital citizenship and responsible use. See “Why BYOD” (12/12/13).
  4. Infrastructure: As more students use their devices as a result of our one-to-one (grades 9-11) and/or BYOD (grade 12) initiatives, our WiFi has started to become overrun causing the internet (and downloading) to move much slower. Solution: Increase bandwidth and access points. In many ways this is still a work in progress for us as we determine the appropriate amount of bandwidth to support such a high level of activity. On our campus (MS/HS), we can have as many as 1300 devices connecting to the network at one time. Given that, we have moved from 40 MHz to 100 MHz and have installed 115 access points throughout the district. Despite these changes we still have instances when the internet moves slowly so it something that we continue to evaluate.
  5. Infrastructure: The battery often drains before the of the end of the day even if the devices are fully charged overnight. Solution: We are finding that some of the biggest battery “drains” occur during student “free” periods (lunch, etc.) when they access gaming and movie sites. Speaking to students about this issue is key and, if necessary, blocking sites as needed. In addition, charging stations need to be provided throughout the building and all student chargers should be labeled (name/grade level) so that students can use their chargers while at school.

For more information, we invite you to attend our session at 11:15 on Saturday, July 25 in the “Missouri” room!

117th DFHS Commencement: Finding Your Path

The following address was delivered at the 117th DFHS Commencement on June 16, 2018.

To the Board of Education, Superintendent Brady, Mr. Berry, Administration, Faculty members, Parents, Family members, Friends, Students, and Graduates: Good evening once again, and welcome to the Dobbs Ferry High School Commencement of 2018.

Tonight, we come together as a community for an event that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a member of Dobbs Ferry. The Village of Dobbs Ferry has a long and proud history dating back to the early 17th century. Named after Jeremiah Dobbs, whose family ran a ferry service along the Hudson River out of this very location, the hills that overlook this Waterfront were a site of prime strategic importance for General George Washington during the American Revolution. In 1861, at least 20 Dobbs Ferry residents enlisted to fight for the Union in the Civil War, and if you take a look at the flag pole in front of our high school, you will see the names of hundreds Dobbs Ferry residents who fought in the First World War. The residents of our village have always had great pride, and have looked to give back, just as Edwin Gould did in 1924 when he donated the land that is now Gould Park.

At the center of our amazing little village of course are our incredible schools. The first high school in Dobbs Ferry was formed in 1897, and the main campus of our current high school was built in 1934. Sitting before us today, we have the 117th graduating class of Dobbs Ferry High School. And this graduating class is now part of the long and proud history of this village. Many of the students sitting here attended all three of our schools since the age of five, and they had the opportunity to come full circle as they walked the halls of Springhurst for one last time earlier this week. In fact the grandfather Sal Giuliano, one of our graduating seniors, was a graduate of the DFHS Class of 1938, the first to attend our current school building for all four years. Our school and community have truly stood the test of time, and we are all part of a legacy of excellence that will continue long after all of us are gone.

117 classes of Dobbs Ferry graduates…and each was comprised of graduates who had hopes, dreams, and plans for a better tomorrow just as you do right now. And for some, the path that they had mapped out for themselves played out to the letter. For the majority, however, the path would ultimately need to be adjusted and modified time and again.

Your whole life you have been told that working hard, getting good grades, and getting into a good four year college will lead to success, happiness, and a fulfillment. That’s the way it was with so many past generations, and that thinking has been instilled into all of you. And while that path will certainly lead to success for some of you, the truth is that many of you will find yourselves on a path to success that is completely different from what you have in your mind right now.

A few months back I was scrolling through Facebook and I came across a video by Jay Shetty.  He launched his own YouTube channel in 2016, and has since produced hundreds of short videos clips that focus on finding fulfillment, success, balance, and perspective. He is also a perfect example of a person who is under the age of 30 and has already found himself featured in Forbes because of his out-of-the-box thinking and the non-traditional path that he has taken to achieve his personal goals. If you haven’t checked out his videos I definitely encourage you to do so.

In one of his videos, called “Before You Feel Pressure,” he provides the perfect message for all people, including high school graduates, to think about and to consider. As the video opens, we see a room full of eleventh grade students who are listening to their school principal speak about the very defined and certain path that they have before them. He explains that they will take their exams, will soon graduate from high school, and will then go on to study in universities all around the world. They will attend an advanced graduate school, get a job in one of the top institutions around the world, buy a house, get married, have children, and that their path and life will be forever set. Sound familiar? When he finishes, there is a quiet tension in the air as he says these last words, with a claustrophobic feeling among the students around the pressure of that one narrow path that is being set out for them. Then Jay Shetty steps up and says the following…

I’m sorry, but let me tell you why that approach may fail you. I know people who graduated college at 21 and didn’t get a job until they were 27. I know people who graduated college at 25 and they found work immediately. I know people who never went to college but found what they loved at 18. I know people who have found a job straight out of college making decent money but hate what they do. I know people who took gap years and found their purpose. I know people who are so sure about what they were going to do at 16 and changed their mind at 26. I know people who have children but are single, and I know people who are married but have had to wait 8 to 10 years to have children. I know people in relationships who love someone else. And I know people who love each other but aren’t together. So my point is that everything in life happens according to our time, our clock.

You may look at some of your friends and think that they’re ahead of you, or maybe you feel that some of them are behind, but everything happens at their own pace… they have their own time and clock, and so do you. Be patient. At age 25 Mark Cuban was a bartender in Dallas. It took until the age of 32 for JK Rowling to be published for Harry Potter after being rejected by 12 publishers.  Steve Carell only got his break after 40 years old. Morgan Freeman got his big break at the age of 52.

Getting your college degree after 25 is still an achievement. Not being married at 30 but still happy is beautiful. Starting a family after 35 is still possible. And buying a house after 40 is still great. Don’t let anyone rush you with their timelines because as Einstein said not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that’s counted truly counts.

I share this with you because it is important to remember that graduation is not an end. It is a beginning, and you are all just starting to forge a path in life that works for YOU. As a graduate of the Sewanhaka High School Class of 1992, I can distinctly remember sitting among my classmates, feeling directionless, and without a clear sense of what the future held for me. I had a class rank that was at the bottom third of the class, my only goal was to have a fun summer, and my plan was to make as much money as I could by working in the local deli, before starting at Nassau Community College in the fall. It took three years for me to find my way, transfer to Boston University, and begin my career as a middle school English teacher. And at the age of 43, I am still forging my path, and in some respects the future for me at this age is as wide open as it is for you right now.

In Dobbs, we have seen many others who have pursued alternative paths, We saw it with Eric Paschall, who we honored a few weeks back for his success on the national champion Villanova Wildcats, and we see it with this year’s valedictorian, who has courageously decided to take a gap year to gain real world experience before starting at Harvard University.  And in different ways, we will see it with all of you, as you search to find the path that is right for you.

And when you find that path, my best advice is to be tireless in the pursuit of your dreams, to commit yourself to a life of growth and improvement, and always seek to contribute beyond yourself. As graduates of Dobbs Ferry High School, I promise that you have the skills that you need to accomplish all that you set your mind to…so now the rest is left up to you. Always remember that you have a community who is behind you with family and friends who will always be there to support you. So go out there, find your path, and live a happy and fulfilled life. I wish you all the very best. Thank you.

Yearbook Caption: Class of 2018

To the Graduating Class of 2018,

During a 1958 speech at Loyola College, Senator John F. Kennedy stood before a group of alumni and spoke about the importance of remaining unified as a nation in order to bring positive change for future generations of Americans. In doing so, he urged “…not to seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past—let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

As graduates of an IB World School, your voice is more important than ever, and you have been prepared with the necessary skills to flourish in an unpredictable and ever-changing world. In doing so, it is important that you think critically, thoughtfully, and consider all viewpoints with respect to each issue. The political party that you might affiliate with should not cloud your thinking, and it is my hope that you will instead strive to be true independent thinkers who are prepared to change the world.

This year our nation faced another unspeakable tragedy at Parkland High School in Florida. As true IB students, each of you joined together to have your voice heard in a way that was unified and extraordinarily powerful. Our peaceful protest, which included a student led walkout, speeches, letter writing, fundraising, and the creation of a quilt that was displayed in Washington D.C. were non-partisan efforts that served to bring our student body together as one community. It is my hope that experiences like this one will remain with you as you work to promote togetherness in a divided world while striving to achieve the IB mission of “creating a better and more peaceful world.”

It has been an honor to be your Principal for the past four years. I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy, and prosperous future.


John J. Falino, Ed.D.


ASCD Empower18: A Time for Reflection and Learning

I attended my first annual ASCD annual conference in 2000. I was a second year middle school English teacher at the time and was passionate about anything that would expand my knowledge and thinking about all aspects of education. I paid my own way to attend that conference in New Orleans, and I remember feeling that it was a small price for what was truly a “who’s who in education” event. This was before Twitter, before social media actually, so the only way to connect with the “big names” was at a place like the ASCD conference.

I remember seeing Todd Whitaker present at that conference. His focus was on “dealing with difficult teachers,” and as I took notes on my yellow legal pad I thought about how I aspired to be just like this inspirational principal from Illinois. Fast forward a few years later and @ToddWhitaker has made a pretty big name for himself. I also remember seeing some of the “newer” voices in education speak at that conference. People like Carol Ann Tomlinson, the late Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, and Robert Marzano were changing the landscape of education. I remember being mailed a full ASCD conference catalog, and I spent hours in advance reading the descriptions of every workshop for every session while carefully mapping out my days. My “ticketed session” of choice was “Interviewing for the Principalship.” Pretty gutsy for a second year teacher, but that was the type of young teacher that I was.

Fast forward to 2018 and while much has changed for me professionally, many things are still the same. I’m still drawn to ASCD because it simply represents the very best in terms of publications, professional development, and of course regional and national conferences. Add Boston to the mix and attending this year’s conference became a “no-brainer” for me. The areas of focus for this year are also compelling, and directly speak to me in different ways as I move toward the end of of my seventh year as the principal of Dobbs Ferry High School in Westchester County, NY.

As a high school principal, I spend time each summer creating school-wide goals and professional goals that build off previous years’ work. As a school leader and English teacher, I truly believe that in the importance of reflecting and “taking stock. ” It is especially critical for teachers and school leaders who are in positions that are incredibly multi-faceted, fast moving, and ever-changing. The annual conference allows for a perfect opportunity for this type of reflection, and the areas of focus (below) provide a jumping off point to do just that.

  1. The Whole Child: Focusing on the “whole child” is certainly not a new concept though the importance of doing so is now more important than ever. It seems that more and more students are facing some form of emotional crisis by the time they reach high school. Despite this trend, and a now national call to focus on the mental well-being of students in light of tragedies like the one in Parkland, schools continue to put the majority of their focus on academic skills and preparing for admission to college.

Questions for Reflection: How are resources allocated in the school budget to support the whole child? What type of professional development do teachers receive to identify students who may be in crisis? Is empathy embedded into the fabric of the school? How can schools integrate mindfulness on a daily basis for teachers and students?

  1. Transformational Leadership: The misconception by many is that transformational leadership falls solely on the shoulders of the principal. Sure, the best schools have dynamic leaders who push the instructional agenda while creating a culture that promotes collaboration, professional learning, open-mindedness, risk taking, and a true belief that all students can succeed. But show me the best schools and I will show you a staff top-to-bottom that has individuals who possess these traits and beliefs.

Questions for Reflection: Are faculty and staff truly empowered to make decisions? Are teachers empowered to take risks in their teaching and professional learning? Who sets the vision and mission for the school? How is a sense of ownership achieved by all? Is the principal a lead learner or a building manager?

  1. Global Engagement: The world is more connected than ever before, and words like “interdependence” are quickly replacing “old school” words like independence. Social media has certainly played a role in facilitating this shift. For schools, the implications have been tremendous as students are now developing the skills needed for success in potential careers that don’t yet exist in places well beyond our borders. It is no wonder, then, that more and more schools are looking to programs like the International Baccalaureate (IB) because of its focus on international mindedness and “real world” application.

Questions for Reflection: How is international mindedness emphasized in all aspects of the curriculum? What opportunities are students given to think globally and act locally? How is diversity and culture promoted in the school? How is technology used as a vehicle for promoting connection and understanding? Are students being provided with a 20th century or a 21st century education? (think hard about this last one)

  1. Poverty and Equity: There is inequity in every school, including the highest performing schools in the most affluent suburban towns. All schools have students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, all schools have students with special needs, all schools have students who require ENL services, all schools have students who struggle to “fit in,” and all schools have students “in the middle” who are most likely to fall through the cracks. Despite these inequities, all students deserve an education that allows them to maximize their potential while providing opportunities for all students to connect to the school outside of the traditional day.

Questions for Reflection: What programs and organizations are in place to level the playing field for all students? Are all students challenged with the most appropriate academic program? How are resources allocated to ensure access and equity? What co-curricular programs are in place to further connect all students to the school? Does the school truly offer the very best education for every student? What systems are in place to ensure that no students fall through the cracks?     

  1. Redefining Student Success: It is inspiring to see so many workshops at this year’s conference focusing on topics such as authentic learning, real world application, performance-based assessments, and “soft” 21st century skills. How we define student success in 2018 has certainly shifted significantly from 18 years ago when I attended my first ASCD annual conference. Despite this, too many schools are still defining student success through a quarterly number on a report card while operating within the old school paradigm of memorization, content regurgitation, and hours of homework each night.

Questions for Reflection: How do administrators, teachers, parents, and students define success? How is student progress shared with parents and students? Do assessments focus on application of understanding or a retelling of facts? Are assessments varied and ongoing? Do students have opportunities to apply their learning outside of the school building? Does the school truly support teachers who introduce alternative forms of assessment? How is student success communicated to parents and colleges?

6. Teaching and Learning: How a school defines student success will (or at least should!) directly impact all aspects of teaching and learning. The last few years have seen massive shifts in teaching and learning as many schools have transitioned to full one-to-one environments, an emphasis on independent research across the disciplines, and at least an equal focus on the development of 21st century skills over memorization of content. The workshops at this year’s conference certainly reflect this shift, and there is great hope that a renewed focus on teaching and learning will positively impact all of the “areas of focus” discussed above.

Questions for Reflection: Is the principal a true instructional leader? How do students learn best? Are teachers differentiating to meet the needs of all students?  How do teachers learn best? Is professional development differentiated to meet the needs of all teachers? Is technology truly enhancing teaching and learning? Are students being prepared with the skills necessary for success in jobs that do not yet exist?

The Empower18 “areas of focus” provide a wide (yet specific) lens for all attendees to design a conference schedule that is truly differentiated based on individual need and interest. ASCD represents the very best in curriculum and leadership, and this year’s conference provide a perfect opportunity for all educators to learn, reflect, and enjoy!  

The Principalship: Focusing On What Is Most Important

I wrote a post a few years back on the Principalship and the most important aspects of the position. As I move toward the end of my seventh year, the position continues to be multi-faceted, fast moving, and ever-changing. In fact, no one day is ever the same. The busiest days are typically the ones when the calendar is clear and I walk into school thinking that it will be an “easy” day. I’ve learned by now that there’s no such thing. The information comes a mile a minute and I can literally find myself in ten different conversations over the course of twenty minutes on topics and issues that are dramatically different yet critically and equally important. That happens all of the time. It’s the nature of the position.

@DrSpikeCook wrote an excellent piece on the Principalship in response to a friend who asked what a principal does all day. Click on the following list to check out his list:

Pretty incredible, huh? And, amazingly enough, he probably got at about 50% of what a principal actually does. But rather than putting together a “Part II,” I instead discussed some of the most important aspects of being a principal. To use a baseball analogy, it was my “keeping your eye on the ball” list. I have since gone back to my original list and made some updates.

1) 21st Century Skills: Take a look at any school’s vision and mission and you can be sure that it will be rooted in the belief that schools must prepare all students with the necessary 21st century skills for success beyond high school. “Survival skills” (@DrTonyWagner) such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, adaptability, and initiative are a major focal point at DFHS and they serve as the foundation of what we value instructionally as an IB World School. For principals, it’s perhaps even more important that these same 21st century skills are applied each day. As noted in the introduction, there is no day in the life of a principal that is exactly the same. In fact, the only certainty is that tomorrow will undoubtedly include “a twist” that is either unexpected or unlike anything that has happened before. So either you love that about the job, or you hate it. For me, that’s what I love best because it’s on those days that the “principal instructional manual” gets pushed aside and the real world skills come into play.

2) Focusing on Students: Principals can become so easily bogged down with issues and minutiae that they can lose sight of why we are really here in the first place. Don’t let that happen! A general “self-check” for principals is to consider how each issue either impacts or furthers the education of the students in that respective school. If it doesn’t, then chances are it is time to turn the wheel and head in a different direction. In doing so, principals (much like guidance counselors) must have a big picture view of all students and advocate for the whole child accordingly. This includes success inside of the classroom, the social and emotional well-being of all students, and of course involvement in extracurricular activities that enhance the experiences of all students. The best principals attend concerts, sporting events, academic competitions, and much more while working constantly to differentiate the school’s offerings so that there is “something for everyone.”

3) Safety & Security: No matter how you look at it, student safety is by far the most important responsibility of any school leader. When parents send their children off to school each morning, they do so with an ingrained trust that their children will be “safe” and protected. From lockdown drills to debriefing with key security personnel as “real world” scenarios unfold both locally and nationally, it is the responsibility of principals to ensure that everyone is prepared for any and all emergencies in order to protect all students in the best possible way. In doing so, principals must not only know their building and campus both inside and out, but must have clear protocols in place to ensure efficiency and immediate response during any emergency. For us, that means strategically placed security cameras, protocols for entering and exiting the building, and clear roles and responsibilities for all members of our staff and security team. Unfortunately an emergency is only a day (or minute!) away, so it is imperative that all members of the organization can respond with little to no warning.

4) Building Management: Unfortunately, “old school” managerial skills are too often overlooked when schools are looking to select a principal. This has been particularly true in recent years as more and more attention is being place on both classroom instruction and the shift that is occurring in all schools as a result of increased testing and the common core. While I’m not suggesting that instruction should take a back seat in any school, I’ve seen schools flounder with leaders who possess great instructional minds but little in terms of organizational and managerial skills. It is critical that principals have clear routines, procedures, and protocols in place for all aspects of building operations and to ask “what if” to all potential scenarios and adjust accordingly. Central to this is the importance of having a strong assistant principal (@careim2) as well as a staff who both carries out these tasks and makes sound recommendations for ongoing improvement.

5) Instructional Leadership: There was once a time when a principal’s primary function was to serve in a managerial capacity. That time has long passed. In fact, the paradigm has shifted so dramatically that it is now a general expectation that principals possess a broad and deep understanding of curriculum and instruction and act as “lead learners” in schools. This of course begins by establishing and articulating a clear instructional vision and includes all aspects of curriculum design, the CCSS, assessment, educational technology, and differentiation. Principals also need to negotiate the top-down push for increased standardization with the importance of teaching for meaning and the development of the “real world” skills that are needed for life in the 21st century. Schools with leaders who lack this skill-set are likely to remain stagnate while hovering in the realm of “bad” or at best “good.”

6) Getting Inside the Classroom: Visiting classrooms and supporting teachers with practical feedback is perhaps the best form of instructional leadership and professional development that a principal can provide. It is also the best way to get the true pulse of the school and the needs of the students. Too often, principals pay “lip service” to the idea of getting inside of the classroom and then spend most days dealing with issues behind closed doors. Of course, getting out of the office is sometimes easier said than done, so it is important to build time into the schedule each day to make sure that it happens.

7) Empowering Others: Perhaps the best advice that I ever received about the Principalship was from my former principal in New York City. As an assistant principal, I took on everything, micromanaged all aspects of the building, and basically had a direct hand in all tasks that required completion. She warned me at the time that this approach would ultimately sink me as a principal. While the adjustment was difficult at first, I have seen our school and organization rise to new levels in recent years as more teachers and staff members are empowered in all areas, including professional development, building protocols, and academic programs and initiatives. At DFHS, this has been especially critical as our school completes year five of our 1:1 Chromebook program while moving into our second full year of being authorized as an IB MYP School.  I’ve written several posts over the past years on this topic, including two on “the power of empowering.” Check them out!

Please feel free to comment and share some ideas of your own!

Gearing Up For The Job Search: 10 Tips For Interviewing (Updated!)

It’s that season again. The calendar has turned, spring is upon us, and schools are once again beginning the process of hiring for next year. I was reminded of this last night by a former colleague who called me for some advice as he begins the process of interviewing for a new position. Similarly, my school is filled with wonderful teaching assistants and permanent substitute teachers who are now in the midst of searching and interviewing for teaching positions for September. I wrote a post about this about a year ago and thought that it was worth going back and updating it with some new thoughts. For some, there is perhaps nothing more stressful than the daunting task of interviewing for a teaching or administrative position. While school districts continue to make budgetary cuts and many cities remain in a hiring “freeze,” we are seeing thousands of certified teachers who are without a position and hundreds of resumes for a single position. It’s certainly a “buyer’s market,” so it is critical that candidates distinguish themselves from the rest in order to land a coveted position. Above all else, the place where this happens is in the interview.

Over the years, I’ve been on both sides of the table and have met hundreds (thousands?) of applicants as both an assistant principal in New York City and now a principal in Westchester County. I’ve seen candidates who have “knocked it out of the park” and many others who have struggled mightily. There’s certainly a fine line, but what I’ve found is that those who struggle to present themselves in the best possible way typically do so because they are either under prepared, overly anxious, or unfamiliar with how to effectively interview for a position.

So as you prepare for your next interview, don’t go in “cold” or feel defeated before you even enter the room. Instead, consider the following ten tips and you will hopefully be well on your way to a position that is right for you…

1) Understand the Process: When interviewing for a teaching or administrative position, it is rarely the case that the first interview is the last interview. In most instances, candidates will participate in a process that will include an initial screening interview, a committee interview (parents, students, teachers, administration), a demonstration lesson (for teachers), a performance task (for administrators) a writing sample, and a final interview with district administration and/or the Board of Education (administrators). Of course, there are no absolutes and the process (along with the length) will vary based on the time of year, the location (suburban vs. urban), the degree of urgency on the part of the school, and of course how well you are doing in the process.

2) Know Your Interviewers: It’s always a good idea to get a sense of who will be conducting the interview as opposed to going in blind. By finding out who you will meet with in advance, you will get a sense of the different constituencies that may be represented (parents, students, teachers, etc.) so that you can better anticipate the types of questions that you will receive. Visualization is key and will absolutely help to reduce anxiety both before and during the interview.

3) Know Your Resume: Simply stated, do not put something on your resume if you are not prepared to talk about it. When conducting initial screening interviews, I will always work off the resume as opposed to a list of pre-determined questions. I can still recall the candidate from a few years back who noted on his resume that he was a member of ASCD. Interested since I too am a member of ASCD, I asked him to tell me about a piece that he recently read in Educational Leadership that had informed his practice as a classroom teacher. Instead of a response that focused on the latest in research and practice, I unfortunately received only crickets and a blank stare.

4) Prepare for the Interview: The biggest mistake that a candidate can make is to walk into an interview unprepared and with a plan to simply “wing it.” If this is your plan, there is an increased likelihood that you will stumble on certain questions, your thoughts will be disorganized, and you will leave out important points that may distinguish you from the other candidates. When interviewing for a teaching position, for example, you are absolutely going to get questions that fall under one of the following headings: curriculum and instruction, assessment, classroom management, student support, special education, and parental communication. Embedded in these headings will be questions that are specific to your discipline, including content-based questions, the CCSS, differentiation, educational technology, and examples of best practice. The best way to prepare is to go online and search for typical interview questions (there is no shortage) and begin to practice responses to different questions that you may receive. The trick of course is to know the “big ideas” of what you want to convey so that you can adapt to variations of these questions while not sounding rehearsed and robotic.

5) First Impressions: While this feels like one of those “goes without saying” pieces of advice, the truth is that candidates often blow the interview before it starts by showing up dressed in casual attire. As an interviewer, I’m instantly thinking that if the candidate arrives casual to the interview, imagine how s/he will dress after a year on the job. My advice on this one is to keep it simple. Invest in a nice dark colored suit (or two).

6) Opening Question: Regardless of the position, one certainty is that your first question will sound something like this: “Tell us a little bit about yourself, your experiences, and why you think that you are a good fit for our school.” Now that you know it’s coming, think about what you are going to say. Too often, I have seen candidates stumble over this seemingly innocuous question and never recover.

7) Answering Questions: There is a bit of an “art” to answering questions in an interview since only a certain amount of time is allotted and it’s likely that the attention span of the interviewer will be somewhat limited given the long list of candidates waiting to be interviewed. The best advice that I can give is to avoid long-winded answers that circle around the question and ultimately leave the interviewer wondering if the question was in fact answered. Instead, concentrate on remaining concise while connecting your ideas and thinking to specific examples and/or experiences. This is where the preparation comes in. Furthermore, don’t panic if you get stumped with a question and don’t be afraid to admit that you are unsure about a certain aspect of a question. If you come in well prepared (see #4), chances are you will be relaxed, confident, and able to respond to unexpected questions in a fairly reasonable way.

8) Asking Questions: You will likely be given an opportunity to ask some questions at the end of the interview, so it’s a good idea to come prepared with a few. This is also a good way to show the interviewers that you have done some research on the school and that you are genuinely interested in the school and not the idea of getting a job in general. During this final phase of the interview, it is important to avoid peppering the interviewers with too many questions that are either irrelevant or inappropriate given the respective stage of the process (see #1). Also, avoid questions about money or what your schedule will look like if you get the position. Again, inappropriate. Instead, ask questions that reveal something about you and your work ethic. Here’s a good one: “Do you have a mentoring program for new teachers?” Here’s another: “What types of professional development opportunities are available for teachers in the district?”

9) Be Yourself: Despite the temptation, it is critical to refrain from providing answers that you think the interviewer wants to hear if those answers are contrary to what you believe. This is a sure fire way to come off as disingenuous and, if you are truly unlucky, with a position in a school where you are not a good fit. This is especially critical for administrators.

10) The Intangibles: There’s so much more to getting the job than looking good on paper and having all of the “right” answers. As a Principal, I am always on the lookout for teachers who are smart, cutting edge, flexible, student-centered, growth-oriented, empathetic, articulate, approachable, composed, confident (not arrogant!), collaborative, organized, independent, dependable, and always professional. That’s about it. Is that you?

Parting Words…

It goes without saying that finding a full-time job in education is a challenge. You need to know your stuff, have great timing, and be a little bit lucky. As you go through the process, you will likely send out a countless number of resumes, will go on many interviews (hopefully!), and will find that looking for a job can quickly become a full-time job. If you are a teacher and have in fact advanced to a demonstration (“demo”) lesson, here’s some additional tips:

Hopefully you will get the first job that you aim for and will be on your way to a long productive career. More likely, you will face some rejection despite your qualifications. That’s okay! Just stay positive, don’t give up, and proceed with the knowledge that your hard work will pay off and that you will ultimately land the job that is right for you. Good luck!

School Safety: Letter to Parents (#neveragain)

Dear Parents,

I met with our students and staff this morning to discuss school security and the national #neveragain movement that is now taking place to ensure student safety. The safety and well-being of our students has always been the first priority for us in Dobbs Ferry. To that end, we have implemented many security protocols and resources over the past several years and meet regularly to discuss additional measures that we may take as a school. Specific changes that have occurred include a full security plan that is re-evaluated on a regular basis, full-time security officers, security doors, reduced entry points, lock-down drills, a high school Dean, cameras throughout the campus, regular police presence in our schools, daily walk-throughs by the DFPD at various times each day, and much more.

This morning, I spoke with our students about the importance of having our voices heard with regard to the national discussion on school safety. As an IB World School, we strive to develop civic-minded citizens who “think globally and act locally.” This mindset is ingrained in the fabric of our school and puts us in a position of strength to make a real difference on both a local and national level. Our high school student-body president also spoke at this morning’s assembly and provided details of how all students can have their voices heard. The members of our student government (“Legislative Branch”) are now soliciting input from our students and will meet to generate ideas for how our school community can work to promote positive change both locally and nationally.

As a principal and parent of three children, I am fully aware that there is absolutely nothing that is more important than keeping our children safe. Please rest assured that our high school will always be dedicated to ensuring that this is our first priority. Dobbs Ferry is a small, close-knit town that can truly make a difference on a broader scale. It is my belief that our students are truly poised to lead the way in this endeavor.  


John Falino