About Frank Tipton

Greetings! I am taking a journey in 21st century education and discovering intersections of experiential ed, connected learning, and the cultivation of student character and leadership. I am inspired by student diversity and authentic expression in our intentional communities. When I'm not on campus, you can often find me enjoying the New England seashore or the Rocky Mountains with my family.

Going Meta (as a learning goal)

Perhaps the most important reason for developing metacognition is that it can improve the application of knowledge, skills, and character qualities in realms beyond the immediate context in which they were learned…

Research has identified three levels of reporting on metacognitive processes:

1. Verbalization of knowledge that is already in a verbal state (such as recalling what happened in a story).

2. Verbalization of nonverbal knowledge (such as recalling how one solved a Rubik’s Cube).

3. Verbalization of explanations of verbal or nonverbal knowledge (such as explaining how one makes use of the rhetorical structures of a story as one reads).

Only this third level of metacognitive process has been linked to improved results in problem solving.

Silhouette of the child's head with gears surrounded by icons of

The Role of Metacognition in Learning and Achievement

A Call to be Seen

One of the joys of working at Gann Academy is the opportunity to share a reflection on the Torah portion of the week. We offer these reflections at our “town meeting” each Friday morning, and we also send them to parents via email. Here’s my contribution from this past Friday, March 5, 2019 (Leviticus 12:1-13:59).




From Cristina Madison Ebert’s Drash Designs


Once, when I was in graduate school, my friends and I were out walking at night. We passed a disheveled man who was stumbling and appeared either chemically dependent or mentally ill. He seemed to motion toward us, but we chose to walk by without acknowledging him. He began calling out specifically to us. Still we moved on, ignoring his entreaties. Then I heard a different noise and turned around. In an instant, he grabbed my collar with both hands and somehow swung us both off the sidewalk. We found ourselves in the middle of a city street, his white-knuckled hands clenched by my chin. Cars hit the brakes. We stood eye to eye, staring at each other, smelling each other’s breath. My friends were back on the sidewalk, frozen still.

I remember that moment when I read this week’s Torah portion, a parashah that at first glance is challenging to modern sensibilities. We learn about the ritual practices surrounding the impurity of a woman who has just given birth. We then segue to a detailed description of how those ill with skin diseases were isolated and sometimes expelled from the community until they healed – if ever. The requirement of the afflicted to cry “Impure!” while walking the streets seems to be a textbook example of public shaming.

But of course the Torah is much more nuanced. Upon closer review of this and other passages, we learn that all of us are, at one time or another in our lives, impure – releasing blood with childbirth, existing in some state of serious illness, or coming in close contact with a corpse. Impurity is, in that sense, a grey zone between life and death. Those who inhabit this state must follow prescribed rituals of isolation until time passes and/or they heal, at which time other practices bring them back to a state of cleanliness. Impurity itself was a value-neutral and (hopefully) temporary condition.

How, then, to understand the requirement that the metzora, the afflicted, must call out their impure state? Some biblical interpreters suggest that point of this behavior, rather than to distance, alienate, and shame, was instead to incur compassion and prayers. As Shai Held writes, “One who yearns to know that others care for him or her should ask for expressions of love and concern … [while] to be asked to pray for someone is to be charged with affirming their humanity totally and unconditionally and with cultivating empathy for them.”

The disheveled man held tight, for several long seconds, before he let go and stumbled away. I quickly rejoined my friends, and we went inside a building to allow my surge of adrenaline to subside. At the time, I thought he was simply crazed and confused. But now I think that this man rejected my rejection of him. He knew that he deserved to see and be seen, to hear and be heard. He demanded of me the sort of physical closeness that compassion must sometimes require. And his efforts paid off, for now I am now far more likely to recognize, pray for, and assist those like him whom I encounter. Decades later, I see him, and I remember him still.

Shabbat Shalom,

Frank Tipton
Assistant Head of School

Charting a New Path

Schools in the Mastery Collaborative have long been doing the heavy lifting required to achieve what the mayor and chancellor’s initiatives seek to promote: equity in both admissions and academic achievement. Without additional support, the question is whether an approach with a promising record of success can spread to schools with like-minded leadership, or whether the opportunity to attend diverse, high-performing schools will remain limited to a handful of the city’s children.



How Mastery-Based Learning Can Help Students of Every Background Succeed.


The Power of Pictures

People who study memory know that drawing a picture is one of the best ways to remember something. But how often do history teachers use this powerful memory tool with their students? Most of us don’t do it often enough. An intentional use of student-generated images can help students to remember important historical events much more effectively than more common techniques, such as study guides, review sheets, or organizers that list “key terms” or “identifications.” Drawing pictures can also be a lot of fun for teachers and students.

A recent New York Times article about memory explained that “the three-act technique of picturing something in your mind, putting pen to paper to draw it, then looking at your drawing is a powerful memory trick that outperforms other ‘strong’ mnemonic strategies.” In an earlier blog post I wrote about the website “Sketchy Medical,” which uses funny cartoon mnemonics to help medical students learn and remember the information they’ll need to pass their licensing exams. Clearly, a lot of smart people have discovered that drawing pictures helps us to remember important things.

4QM Teaching. The Power of Pictures.

The Empathetic Humanities

Does the lack of charity in public discourse – the quickness to judge, the aversion to context and intent – stem in part from what we might call the ‘adversarial’ humanities? These practices of interpretation are certainly on display in many classrooms, where students learn to exercise their moral and intellectual prowess by dismantling what they’ve read. For teachers, showing students how to take a text apart bestows authority; for students, learning to read like this can be electrifying.

Yet the study of history is different. History deals with the past – and the past is, as the British novelist L P Hartley wrote in 1953, ‘a foreign country’. By definition, historians deal with difference: with what is unlike the present, and with what rarely meets today’s moral standards.

The virtue of reading like a historian, then, is that critique or disavowal is not the primary goal. On the contrary, reading historically provides something more destabilising: it requires the historian to put her own values in parentheses.

Alexander Bevilacqua. Aeon. The Empathetic Humanities Have Much to teach Our Adversarial Culture.


A Memorial Service 34 Years in the Making

Written on Dec. 2, 2018

Dear Colleagues,

With reflection on Pres. Bush’s legacy appropriately in the news, I hope that we don’t miss the opportunity here in Massachusetts also to acknowledge, honor, and reflect on the passing of U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro. There’s a good appreciation of his career in the Boston Globe, for those who are unfamiliar with his story. There are also important connections between his legacy and our community here at Gann.

Those of us who have had a stake in the fight for gay marriage over the years may remember Judge Tauro as the first federal judge to strike down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, back in 2010. But Judge Tauro’s career was made primarily through his lengthy involvement with the care of those with disabilities who resided in institutions such as Fernald. By serendipity, Judge Tauro became a critical human connection across two civil rights movements, across two generations.

Judge Tauro famously paid announced and unannounced visits to places like Fernald in order to see for himself what a lawsuit alleged about mistreatment of residents under state care. What he saw he later described as gutwrenching and indefensible. In the Globe article, Judge Tauro described a particular moment:

In 1973, Judge Tauro first toured the Belchertown facility with Benjamin Ricci, a college professor whose son was at the school. Before letting the judge leave, Ricci brought him to a remote part of the grounds “where there was a graveyard that had no gravestones, just plugs on the ground with numbers on it,” Judge Tauro recalled in a 2006 Globe interview.

“And he said, ‘I know you can only do so much, but do you think you can make them give all these people gravestones?’ I came very close to crying when he made that request. I just nodded at him, and of course I had that burned in the back of my head,” Judge Tauro added. “And we, fortunately, did a lot more than that.”

That story takes me to the present. Some of you may know that thanks to the work of both faculty and students this year, we now have biographies of all roughly 300 people buried in the MetFern Cemetery, in poorly maintained graves with only numbered headstones. It’s the start of rectification and repair. More to come.

One buried soul is that of a 16 year old who passed away at Fernald and who was buried at MetFern in 1974. When we contacted her mother to inform her of the information students had uncovered about her child, we did not know what to expect. We could not have known that this mother, exhausted and bereft of resources to care for her child with disabilities, handed her child over to the care of the state in 1959 and then carried emotional pain for the next six decades.  We could not have known that this mother, upon being contacted, wanted to know as much as possible about her child’s life, and would feel such gratitude that others had taken notice of her child and were invested in her dignity.

And so it was that five Gann faculty members and six students were gathered this past Friday with this parent, her living children and grandchildren, and a few friends for the first-ever memorial service for her child. The ceremony had a Quaker style of speaking and discernment. Under a bare oak tree, we cleared leaves and dirt to lay a wreath on the sunken, unnamed gravestone. Standing in a circle, this mother described how she overcame her own emotional defenses to embrace the child she had left behind. Her children thanked her for liberating them from the pain and secrecy associated with their sibling’s journey. Three of our students spontaneously spoke so eloquently and thoughtfully that the family was moved to tears. All expressed copious thanks for the work of Gann students and faculty that had allowed them to heal.

One story out of hundreds.

As we quietly left the cemetery, one of our students turned to me and said “You know, I have a theory. I think that we all have a limited number of times when we can make a truly profound difference in the lives of others. I think this was one of those times.”

waltham graves_1544759899030.jpg_13988999_ver1.0_640_360

Students in Action

“Gann’s course on the US History of Disabilities has been getting a lot of press lately. Everyone from Fox-25 to WBUR to the New York Times is curious about the work that Gann students are doing work in the classroom and around the country. The course is classic Gann: students are working on a real-world project while also honing their skills of original research, public presentation, and political advocacy. And every step of the way they are embracing our Jewish value of k’vod habriyot (honoring all creation).”

Click here to read more about this work, with photos from a recent reception focused on the museum exhibit
Click here to see the news story on Boston 25 News
Click here for WBUR’s report
Click here to see the students’ editorial in the New York Times

On December 20, it was a gift to spend some time with Governor Dukakis — he brought some Gann students, faculty, and Waltham city councilmembers up to speed on the deinstitutionalization history of people with disabilities in the Commonwealth. Amazing, powerful stories.