Wave Hill


Today I was up at Wave Hill.

I was late today meeting my group of girlfriends at the museum cafe, always a highlight. Museum cafes are a bit pricey but delicious and the ambiance is so chill.

Ten years or so, around Thanksgiving, the kids and I joined the family art workshop and made corn husk dolls, taught by young Native Americans. Another time we looked at pictures of Matisse’s cut outs and tried to cut our flowers likewise. Wave Hill always reminds me of art and nature.


When you arrive before noon on Saturdays, the gardens are free.

I visited the aquatic garden. So many gardens, so little time.

I rushed from the gardens to Riverdale Country School’s reunion/homecoming. Although I never attended Riverdale, I do feel a part of the community there — having taught Lower School Drama, parented my children when they were there, and met cohorts of my husband from his school days.

I’ve met so many alumni and educators at the school, the place has a special place in my heart. And with Wave Hill and Van Cortland Park right nearby, all of Riverdale is a magical place. Not that far from my Upper West Side.

Learning Is Not Easy

I found my kids’ classrooms and tried not to embarrass them by drawing attention to my enthusiasm for learning.

As reported in the Times magazine article (What if the Secret to Success is Failure? by Paul Tough), the head of school at Riverdale, Dominic Randolph, is passionate about developing character and resilience. On Parents’ Day, Randolph spoke about his passion for learning. Here are some of Randolph’s remarks and my responses:

1. Grammar, syntax — this skills are important. But more important is voice. Voice is mystical. “Finding voice and developing it is like tending to a campfire in the night; it is easily bulldozed.”

Love this. I can have skills but I need craft, which leads me to my unique voice. Craft only shows up when I write daily. Writing, like meditation, is a practice, not an achievement. Voice is difficult to attain and easily dismissed.

2. For skills and knowledge to stick — and our writing to be compelling, simple, elegant — we need emotion and story.

Humans are wired to love stories. There is something in our brain chemistry that begs for a beginning, middle and end. We are always in pursuit of closure and resolution to our stories, but we need and love the pursuit.

Love this picture of kids at Riverdale Country School. Getting out of the classroom and into the sunshine.

3. Learning is hard. We are all in it together. We need to coax and encourage one another to share our learning.

Yes, learning may seem to be a solitary endeavor, but humans are social animals. We need the camaraderie of a shared challenge or pursuit. Pursuing learning is innate, like hunting and gathering. 

4. Learning is experiential. So we move the science class to the bank of the Hudson River.

Get out of the dark interior of your thoughts, your classroom, your computer station; get into the realm of sunshine, river and mud. Invite your senses to partake in learning. Our minds will remember more when our bodies are engaged. 

 After hearing Randolph speak, I was inspired to unleash my enthusiasm for learning and creativity, even if this enthusiasm is a source of constant embarrassment to my kids.

Yesterday, I was inspired again at NYU alumni day, when I listened to John Sexton, president, talk about the city school, “in and of the city.” http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/nyus-john-sexton/

The Times article I referenced can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?pagewanted=all

Love of Learning at Riverdale Country School

I love that people are discussing the reasons and ways we educate children. The New York Times magazine on September 18 features Dominic Randolph whom I have loved listening to and talking to at Riverdale Country School about how children can become global citizens and good stewards of their gifts and passions.

I know one purpose of school is to develop a student’s thinking, but what about developing a student’s soul? Is school responsible for that? As we grow up, we all have to hit life’s curveballs. To do that, it’s more important to have resilience and relationships than high test scores and awards.

Don’t get me wrong — I love being an intellectual. But I don’t always love going through life with brainiacs. For example, I have one extended family member who delights in correcting others. He’s not the most fun to be around or the one I turn to when I need encouragement; and he’s not the one my kids run to when they’ve not seen him for a while.

The family member who gets the biggest hug is the one who is human, who listens well, who is quirky and artistic, who acknowledges mistakes, who shares a passion for learning, who lays on the grass and looks up at the sky, exhausted from a family soccer game. (And their grandmother — they love her too. Simply because they know she loves them.)

As a teacher and parent, I have to share with my kids what I consider important — compassion, a passion for learning, a global perspective, and a commitment to hard work.

I have to take the time even when I am busy. Like many New York parents, I am way too in love with the rush of achievement. And I probably convey this to my kids.

I also love being a good citizen, taking out my ear buds; listening to the breeze and shooting the breeze. I think education is about that too.

I’ve written about Dominic Randolph a few times on my blogs —

About what makes for community https://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/what-is-community/

And how I was blown away by Randolph’s advice to eighth graders:  http://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/good-advice/

I hate to admit it  — because then it would seem I am all about achievement and not simply about sharing my passion — but once again, I have scooped The New York Times. If you read my blogs, Dominic Randolph is old news to you, but if you read the New York Times magazine this weekend, you can discover even more about Randolph’s thinking about a Riverdale education, of which, I am a huge fan.

Check out the article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html

What Is Community?

Community is 3 things — hard work, passion and diversity.

Hard work. A ton of research shows you need 10,000 hours of practice to be a world class master. Malcolm Gladwell reported this in Outliers. Hard work, dogged effort and continual engagement are more important than talent, inclination and ability.

Hard work is probably more important than luck. Resilience – not giving up — is key.

Note to self: Remember this when exhausted by my writing load (much of it self-imposed). I am logging my hours towards mastery. I may be closing in on my 10,000 hours of writing. For five years, I have written probably for 3 hours every day, which equals about 5,000 hours. And then considering my writing life before the last five years, it’s possible I’ve nearly got 10,000 hours.  

Another note to self: When talking to my kids, I must praise their effort and not their fabulousity! (But then I’m so crazy in love with my kids that I tell them all the time, you are so wonderful. I guess I should say, your hard work is so wonderful!)

Passion. I’ve been reading Thomas Moore’s A Life at Work. The guy’s good. He talks about following your bliss and paying attention to the stories you tell about yourself – your archetypes and night dreams.

Note to self: Moore says it’s okay to have a whole lot of passions (or 4 blogs!) – for work and life. When I heard Moore speak at Marble Collegiate Church years ago, he said the one word he couldn’t advise as a guiding principle in life is “balance.” Moore said, “If you have to choose between two things — do both!”

The Hero's Journey & The Matrix

I’m with him. I’m up for following my passion and following my bliss. Remember Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey? Loved it way back when. Still love it today. The Matrix is based on the hero’s journey: http://www.mythsdreamssymbols.com/herojourney.html

Diversity. Diversity is not only having diverse classes, races, religions, ages, but points of view.

Note to self: Do not become so in love and so entrenched with my own point of view that I see the world solely through my own Matrix glasses. 

Thanks to Dominic A.A. Randolph, the head of school at Riverdale Country School who shared these 3 thoughts on what makes for community at a gathering last week.

Riverdale’s tag line is Mind, Character, Commitment, Community. His smart blog post is: http://blogs.riverdale.edu/headofschool/2010/09/25/ms-and-us-parents-day-speech-september-2010/#content.


Goofing around with Google Wave

I’ve been thinking about thinking… about





Especially I’ve been wondering What makes for community? When I was on my sabbatical I was often thrust into community – at Chautauqua, Alliance Francaise, Taize. At times, I had no choice. I had to go along and get along.

Yes, I am resilience, but I, like everyone, can be uncomfortable moving out of my comfort zone.

I just heard a lecture on critical thinking from the headmaster of Riverdale Country school. He is particularly brilliant. here’s his blog.


One point Dominic made was that schools are not there simply to have students regurgitate facts but to learn to be


service minded



I believe we are called to do this too in our work.

That rather than judging students or coworkers merely on academics, we could look at each other’s capacity for curiosity, zest, self control (delayed gratification), gratitude, hope/optimism, and social intelligence.

Perhaps then we could find the brilliance of one another.