Deborah Farmer Kris

Deborah Farmer Kris is Associate Director of the LifeCompass Institute for Character and Leadership.

Recent Posts

What Helps Young Women Thrive Professionally? Mentors

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on May 7, 2019 9:34:32 AM

In a recent report, the Lean In organization wrote that “mentorship is critical to the success of women across industries,” opening doors and providing vital training and support. According to one study, the majority of women in business view mentoring as “highly valuable” in advancing their careers, yet 63% report never having had a formal mentor.

Near the end of their senior year, as Montrose twelfth graders turn their sights to college and beyond, we wanted to address this opportunity and gap head-on in our first annual Senior Summit. The students traveled to the boardroom of The Bowdoin Group, an executive search firm, and engaged in mentoring conversations with women leaders who offered candid insights into the habits, experiences, and mindsets that have helped them flourish professionally.  

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Grit, Gratitude, & Growth: Helping Students Aim High and Finish Strong

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Apr 23, 2019 11:44:49 AM

As students head into the final two months of the year, they sometimes feel like sheer grit takes over: an inner strength that propels them forward through the “home stretch.” 

Grit is a wonderful trait, something that helps us persevere toward our goals in the face of ordinary and extraordinary challenges. Dr. Angela Duckworth, researcher and author of Grit, describes it this way:

Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. . . . [G]rit is about having what some researchers call an”ultimate concern”– a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.

In our middle school Habits of Mind classes this month, we are taking a look at this and the other strengths that can help students end the year on a high note. And like most of what we cover in the class, it’s a useful reflective exercise for adults, too.

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Let's Talk: How to Engage in Difficult Conversations

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Apr 9, 2019 10:12:59 AM

In our polarized political climate, how can we help students engage in constructive dialogue? To communicate without attacking? Even if two parties do not change their views, can they change the way they relate to one another? Do we reduce people to their opinions, or do we see their full humanity?

Each spring, Montrose faculty engage in a two-day intellectual retreat.  This year, we heard from Dr. Jenny Driver, who presented a workshop called “Dialoguing Across Divides.” Driver, a research physician and a professor at Harvard Medical School, is invested in helping doctors and patients communicate more effectively –  and in bringing these key skills to schools and families.

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Giving Students "Ownership Over Their Journey": Reflections from a UK Researcher

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Mar 28, 2019 1:37:14 PM

In February, Montrose School hosted visiting research fellows from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues in Birmingham, England. One of the researchers, Rachael Hunter, described what she learned about "What Can We Learn From Character Education in America?"  We reprint it her post here with permission. 

A thorough response to this question would take many more words, and hours, than a blog post. However, having just spent a few days in Boston with leading Character Education advocate Karen Bohlin, I wanted to briefly reflect on some of the more pertinent lessons that I took away from the experience. Karen is a senior scholar at Boston University and head of school at Montrose School, a private girls’ school, which seeks to embed character education into every element of school life.

At Montrose, character education is taught discretely, but it is also embedded across all subjects in the curriculum. This means that character education forms a consistent thread through the pupils’ educational experience, allowing them to see how their character development is happening in every moment of school life.

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Pay Attention! 3 Ways to Help Students Strengthen Their Focus Muscles

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Mar 12, 2019 9:52:54 AM

“How many of you have been told to ‘pay attention’ this week?’” I asked the middle school girls on the first day of our Habits of Mind class. Every hand shot up, accompanied by audible groans.

As adults, we want to teach our children how to pay attention because we know that focus is a vital intellectual habit. So how do we do it?

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The Power of Compassionate Self-Talk

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Mar 5, 2019 11:04:04 AM

Recently, I was talking to a former student about some of the struggles she had faced in high school -- painful insecurities, academic pressures, social missteps, and health and family concerns.   She’s nearly 30, and her journey has led her to a career that she loves and that enriches the lives of others.

It’s a familiar story -- who among us hasn’t faced and overcome challenges?  What struck me was the compassion in her voice when she talked about her teenage self. She expressed a longing to go back, give her young self a hug, and say, “I understand things feel tough right now. You will find your way through this.  You are stronger than you realize.” Her whole manner exuded empathy and kindness.

I recently spoke with Dr. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher on the topic of self-compassion, and I have had a chance to share some of what I have learned with several students here at Montrose. It’s a message worth sharing with you, too.

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Does Music Help Students Do Their Homework?

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Feb 6, 2019 1:35:39 PM

"Should I listen to music when I'm studying?"  

That’s one of the first questions middle school students asked me back in September.  Since then, I have given several parent presentations on learning and the brain, and this question has come up in every Q&A.

All of which tells me there are some active parent-child negotiations going on around homework and music!

So does music help us focus or does it distract us from learning? The short answer is this: It depends.

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Too Busy? How to Improve Your Relationship With Time

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Jan 15, 2019 10:21:23 AM

Let’s admit it: most of us have a bad relationship with time.  

That’s what I told the junior class during a recent discussion. We never have enough of it. It moves too fast or too slow. The weekend races by, but that meeting we don’t want to be in creeps along at an agonizing pace.

Changing our relationship with time is key to living the rich, meaningful life. Instead of time constantly driving us, we can take small steps to reclaim the steering wheel. And that means we have to make time for some reflection.

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Why I Want to be a "Good Enough" Parent

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Jan 8, 2019 1:59:07 PM

Over the winter break, illness ran through my house. It really took a toll on my ambitious make-the-holidays-magical-for-the-kids to-do list. No decorating sugar cookies or wrapping up homemade caramels in wax paper squares, no sending out cards or visiting Santa Claus.  

Christmas Eve dinner consisted of a pot of spaghetti that a friend lovingly delivered when she heard of my woes.  Rather than gathering around the piano for caroling, my kids danced around the kitchen to the Chipmunk Christmas Album. In our homebound state, my daughter spent hours making homemade presents while I caught up on laundry.

And it was magically, mercifully good enough.

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Why Your Brain Loves Exercise: A Guide for Parents and Students

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Dec 5, 2018 11:50:54 AM

In Habits of Mind -- a weekly class for all middle school students -- we explore how the brain works and how they can use that knowledge to become stronger students.

There are two foundational health habits that are necessary for optimal brain functioning: sleep and exercise. Without these, we compromise our brain’s ability to focus, attend, memorize, analyze, synthesize, persevere, and make sound decisions.

I recently wrote about the power of sleep for the Washington Post -- you can read it here. This week, we turned our attention to exercise.

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