“Feel Good” Fridays: Positivity Perseveres in Fenwick’s Classrooms

      Why not choose to be positive? That seemingly simple question is truly the guiding force for Fenwick Physics Department chair, David Kleinhans. He calls them Feel Good Fridays, but for those of us who were desperately yearning for a bit of positivity this year, Mr. Kleinhans’ personal stories, phone calls to parents, and encouragement inside and outside of the classroom mean so much more.

      To say that the past year has been difficult would be a gross understatement. The pandemic has touched the Fenwick community in heartbreaking ways, as Friars grapple with not only the loss of life, health and security, but of seemingly everything from family gatherings, to vacations, to school, to sports, and to performances. 

      As the school year progressed, the additional frenzied pitch of Juniors scrambling through all of their many commitments made Mr. Kleinhans’ Feel Good Fridays seem like a veritable lifeline, a few moments in our busy days dedicated to thinking about life in positive ways. Through stories about the Beautiful Mrs. Kleinhans (affectionately known as the “BMK”) and his sons, Mr. Kleinhans makes all of his students feel like they are a part of his family. Indeed, he credits his family with his influential upbringing and daily inspiration: “Growing up I had a very loving mom and an exceptional older sister. Today, the BMK is someone who inspires me to be positive and not a grumpy old man. She and I love watching our own adult children mature into their careers and relationships, and enjoy the pleasure of empty nesting.” Calling his students another “major catalyst for positivity in class,” Mr. Kleinhans notes that he loves, “the daily effort, response to speed bumps and adversity and wild intelligence I see everyday. A special year is when the students recognize that we are all on this journey together and lift each other up.”

      Indeed, it is with this sense of working together to make a positive impact and using those indelible life experiences that Mr. Kleinhans has developed his unique style of teaching.  Sometimes Mr. Kleinhans’s advice of the day is to not take things too seriously.  If he has said it once, he has repeated it many times—let a bad grade go and do not obsess over any one assignment.  Often, he focuses on making good decisions like encouraging students to choose the classes they want to take, not ones they think their parents, their teachers or their friends expect them to select.  At times, he draws from speakers from his private sector career, conveying such important lessons as “Good is the Enemy of Great.” But, perhaps most of all, it is his focus on setting aside petty worries that has brought us a much needed dose of perspective.  

      When asked about his unique teaching style, Mr. Kleinhans admits that he has always shared personal stories, proud phone calls to parents, and Feel Good Fridays with students, but with characteristic humbleness, acknowledges that, “I have to give the notorious Mr. Farran a lot of credit for the idea to share stories and Feel Good Fridays.” Mr. Farran taught across the hall from Mr. Kleinhans in one of his first semesters at Fenwick and he shared many of his highly effective student motivational techniques. According to Mr. Kleinhans, Mr. Farran was a great mentor who stood out for “his willingness and desire to connect on a personal level. Once that personal connection is established, both teachers, individual students and classes will alter how they see their collective relationship.” Mr. Kleinhans truly views his classroom as more of “a team on a journey together versus a taskmaster and apprentice” and his students unanimously appreciate that unique perspective.  

      Just as Mr. Kleinhans stands as an inspiration to the many students who either study Physics and Computer Science or who participate in WYSE/ACES with him, Mr. Kleinhans credits his many colleagues with encouraging him.  Of the many inspirations at         Fenwick, Mr. Kleinhans acknowledges that Mr. Arellano “really helped me understand the importance of being organized and having high expectations of daily student engagement,” Mrs. Esposito “is so innovative and also reminds me monthly that students learn best from teachers they think care about and love them,” and that Mr. Groom has “given me several motivational tips for sluggish performers or poor behaviour.”  Affectionately referring to his “very effective secret weapons,” Mr. Kleinhans stresses the importance of valuing others: family, colleagues, and students. This focus does not go unnoticed by students, as junior Grace Simmons so poignantly reflected, “It’s really amazing to have a teacher who cares so much about his students.” 

      In his own way, Mr. Kleinhans also brings forward various techniques he learned from the business community.  Rewarding hard work and recognizing achievements translates equally in educational and professional settings. By taking time for phone calls home to parents, Mr. Kleinhans proudly recognizes his students’ incredible perseverance and successes in his class. As Lilly Metz of the Class of 2022 says, “When Mr. Kleinhans calls home and tells your parents about your success, it feels so good to have a teacher brag about you. It is a much needed confidence boost!” Simply put, Mr. Kleinhans notes, “We all enjoy cheering on the ones we love and sharing in their joy!”

      When asked about the best piece of advice he has for his students as they finish the school year, Mr. Kleinhans recommends to students: “Be radical in your expression of appreciation and gratitude.”

       After experiencing a year full of unprecedented challenges, Mr. Kleinhans emphasizes that “we all need to recognize how blessed we are.”

       “This pandemic has given us a chance to reset and focus on the gifts we have been provided in terms of personal relationships, education and community,” he said.  

      “We need to all do a better job of recognizing the sacrifices others have made to help us achieve our individual goals” he continued. Not only will our experience this year put our blessings into perspective, but these challenges will usher in a new kind of radical gratitude for those Mr. Kleinhans calls “superhero parents and guardians, teachers, and others.” And just like all of us, he cannot wait for a time when we can “hug it out big time with those that may have carried” us for a few steps of our journeys.

      Reflecting on this strange year, it is easy to find numerous examples of the people Mr. Kleinhans identifies as superheroes. From Mr. Setum’s quirky daily discussions of sandwiches and his beautiful and albeit camera-shy cat, Jazzpurr, to Ms. Wang’s colorful attire and wacky birthday songs, to Ms. Gallinari’s weekly voyages with a whale, to Mr. Faille’s unwavering commitment to live performances, to Coach Thies’ determination to find a way for our athletes to play, and to Mr. Finnell’s relentless resolve that his Math Team would compete, our Friar teachers have devoted themselves to making this year engaging for all students. 

      Long after I have graduated from Fenwick, I am not sure if I will remember the principles of energy-mass equivalence, but I know that I will remember the life lessons I learned from Mr. Kleinhans.  We all need to find ways to positively connect with others, our families, employees and students and it will be this outlook and appreciation for others that will be integral to our success not only in our careers but our lives. You are right Mr. Kleinhans, “This is not a practice life. Get up and get going and have some fun.”

     After all, why not choose to be positive?