Driving towards a better model

Many schools today consider a move towards new learning methods as they seek to improve on traditional school design. A program in which I am participating, called Change.School, consistently stretches my brain to consider ways in which I lead my school and why I have chosen to do so. Some questions presented by a colleague in a recent post had me thinking particularly hard, so I will share my thoughts with you.

1.  What is the role of direct teaching in an inquiry based classroom driven by student questions?

I have researched the National Paideia Center and later had this organization come to train our faculty on a component of their framework: the Paideia seminar. Their stance is that a typical classroom should see about ten to fifteen percent didactic learning (with the vast majority of the remaining time be saved for practical application of knowledge and discussion via the aforementioned seminar). I’m a math guy, so these numbers speak to me as proper guidelines for leaders who want to give learning ownership to the students in the classroom.

2. Is there a role for teacher developed provocations?

I strongly believe in modeling how we expect our students to engage in their learning. Trevor MacKenzie has written Dive into Inquiry, a text that focuses on a gradual release of ownership to students when building an inquiry-based classroom. From phrasing the essential question which guides the inquiry to choosing research methods and the eventual medium to demonstrate learning, MacKenzie explores how to gradually shift each of these pieces to eventually reach “Free Inquiry.” Food for thought (and a good, quick read).

3. Once we determine the exit skills for a variety of stages in the educational development of children, can we give ownership of the standards to the children and allow them to determine how they will demonstrate their proficiency?

I think this is a brilliant idea. But as a senior thesis paper must be “defended,” so too should a student have to defend how and why the chosen demonstration accurately displays proficiency. Perhaps a better question is: “How can a student show learning as opposed to proficiency?” It seems to me that we need to measure progress and development towards mastery and not the snapshot, quantitative value on where a student is at any given moment. Learning is linear and follows its own time…but we can objectively measure that development given the proper rubric to follow.

4. How do we ensure a visibility to the teaching and learning going on in schools and how do we ensure parents are integral partners in the process.

Parents must have a strong level of engagement in the learning process. In the demonstration of proficiency you mentioned in the previous question, I would think that parents should be able to observe and appreciate the level of learning that has transpired. A fun activity would be to build a sort of “passport” for parents or visitors to use as a roadmap to see the different displays of learning to a) build a community that celebrates learning, and b) see the comparative progress made from one student to the next.

5. Should we be co-creating assessment criteria with students and then give them full partnership in assessing their peers and themselves? What does the role of the teacher look like in this environment?

This question brings to mind a slide that my headmaster uses in his presentation on assessment. It looks something like this:

There are 3 types of assessment in today’s classroom:

  1. Assessment FOR learning – enables teachers to use information about students’ knowledge to inform their teaching while providing feedback to students about their learning and how to improve
  2. Assessment AS learning – involves students in the learning process where they monitor their own progress/skill development through self-assessment and teacher feedback. Students can ask questions about their progress as a reflection of their learning and to re-set goals for the future.
  3. Assessment OF learning – the most typical type of assessment in today’s schools; this type of assessment measures student achievement against learning goals and standards.

6. Should attention still be paid to building community and ensuring we are building citizenship skills as well as facilitating student driven inquiry?

In my mind, a student is never going to remember what he learned in 6th grade science; however, she is NEVER going to forget the way that teacher made her FEEL. If you haven’t yet seen Mrs. Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk on relationships, then take some time to do so right now. Why am I a teacher/school leader? To ensure that I am building inquisitive CITIZENS who understand that character builds reputation (not knowledge or skill).

7.  Is there a time when a topic is so compelling a teacher should/must draw it to the attention of students and invite them to investigate?

I think this question goes into my answer for question 2. However, when something like the World Trade Center attacks occurs, we MUST stop and investigate how this changes the world in which we live. Granted, I believe this disruption is both the most difficult and most impactful “teachable moment” an educator has the opportunity to share with his students.


As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these topics. Thanks for reading!

My “What” and My “Why”

I’m on my way back from Santa Fe, NM, after attending a Division Heads conference for area private school leaders. As I sit in the back of the airplane, I find myself surprised to find a unique opportunity to reflect on my practice. For inspiration in this effort, I turn to the May 2017 issue of Educational Leadership Magazine, particularly to an article entitled, “Is Your School Better Because You Lead It?” by Bondi K. Kafele. Within the article, Kafele asks two questions for the reader to ponder: “What is your work about?” and “Why do you do it?

These are perfect reflection questions for any professional. I will take a slab in building my own answers here.

What is your work about?

There’s nothing like a 30,000 foot question to get me thinking. My work is all about the privileged child and how that young person can better understand the opportunities afforded to him or her because of various, unique environments available either at home or in our school. Facing reality, my 250 students enjoy an elevated classroom experience free of outside, standardized influence when compared to the typical experience which manifests in thousands of public school learning environments because requirements which exist outside of their control often tie their hands behind their backs. It is therefore my role to guide our teachers and students in the conversation that explores how this special opportunity to teach in a private educational environment reveals an obligation to lead others to success. That success manifests in various professional and personal avenues to be appreciated and celebrated.

Why do you do it?

I love kids, plain and simple. I recognize that, as a product of private school learning, I have so much to give to my community with regard to academic knowledge and how to use it as a way to improve the world around us. This gift includes and is most consumed (for me, anyway) by lessons I have learned, good and bad, about the life in a privileged environment. I love how young people see the world, the naivete that their varied experiences bring, and the way that exposures to life outside their “bubble” broaden their scope to reveal passion and identity. I also love the educational environment; I feel comfortable in private education because I am surrounded by like-minded individuals. The various perspectives of my colleagues may not always align with my own, but the beauty inherent inside the ”hows” of education (ie, pedagogy, technology, relationships, etc.) are better shared with those who start from a place of love and responsibility to serving today’s youth in some way, shape, or form.

So, there you have it. What has developed into more of a manifesto than a reflection, I have put to paper my reason for being in education and, specifically, in educational leadership. I hope you have the chance to reflect on your craft as I have today. It’s a refreshing and energizing activity. Please share your thoughts when you do!

if you got a problem…yo, I’ll solve it.

Ice, Ice, Baby

This is a great article, and one worth considering as applicable to students and to the adults in the room. I just returned from a conference with other Division Heads during which Dr. Rob Evans, educational psychologist and author, spoke in the closing session about the “tough conversation” between schools and families. One major connection to this article Kate shared and his talk occurred when he stated,
“We live in a time when opportunities for our children continue to increase exponentially, while predictability of future options has been decreasing just as quickly.” 
It sounds like the coping mechanism for anxiety is often medically prescribed, when, in truth, what we all need is more time; however, I don’t think any remedy outside of a magic wand can provide us more hours in our day. Yet we crave a time to think and reflect on our daily lives, our school schedule, etc. From the very youngest to the CEO, time to think would do us all a world of good and lead to better choices. Dr. Evans goes a bit further to discuss a very poignant fact:

Problems can be fixed; dilemmas can be managed. 

Often times, looking at the way we handle issues in our lives can determine how much anxiety we bring upon ourselves. We cannot control everything, yet our instant life via mobile devices makes us think we can. But true problems are in need of solutions that disrupt the issue and provide a new road to travel. A dilemma is more on the level of inconvenience; perhaps, dilemmas can be serviced better with a bit of white-out rather than trashing the blueprints altogether.
The summer provides me an incredible opportunity, even in the midst of shuttling my boys to and from activities to keep them occupied while I’m at work, to reflect on my practice. I can slow down, think about priorities and (for instance) write about my thoughts in a venue such as this blog. I can think about how I do school; my expectations and reasonings behind various events and actions throughout the year. Most of all, I need to consider what problems I can cut out, and what dilemmas I am capable of fixing.
I hope and pray that your anxiety levels drop with the coming of a slower, or perhaps an alternative schedule this summer. I invite you to view the future weeks with hope and possibility.

Weekly Reflection: Change.School

How will I lead the effort to identify, articulate, and share what my school community believes about how kids learn most powerfully and deeply?

An interesting and difficult question for any sort of community, the question posed above is one that may take an initial look followed by considerable re-visiting. So here goes iteration one:

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I believe that an institution must commit to a principal identity so that it can sustain its mission…and change its directions in order to maintain that identity. But to build that principal identity, a school will need a captain – not to make all the decisions, necessarily, but to pilot the conversation towards the destination. As the journey twists and turns, this captain will need to navigate the obstacles while never losing sight on the destination. In this vein, I am blessed to be a part of an institution with a strong identity. We know who we are in our market, and we embrace the culture we invite wholeheartedly.

This confidence does not arrive without consistent reflection and communication among faculty and parents. Here is how we currently invite the tough conversations to occur throughout the school year:

  1. Every Monday, teachers have a professional learning committee, division, or content area meeting to attend. These meetings each have specific goals to attain. Some of them are tangible, others are quite abstract. In any regard, the conversations are designed with the endgame being a common language or thought process. We want everyone to be on the same page, and we mix up the individuals in the conversation (and the questions asked, for that matter) so that the individual is responsible both for what he/she thinks, and what the group in the previous meeting has brought to light.
  2. Parents of our students are invited to numerous “Parent Ed” programs that focus on both the conversations that occur inside our faculty and administrative meetings. Additionally, these meetings allow for time that parents use to ask directed questions about program design and expectations. It is a great time to galvanize trust while still empowering voices to share.
  3. Finally, I personally encourage faculty members to invest in  “innovation days,” or days in which someone may cover their classroom while they pursue ideas that would improve our community. These ideas are vetted and given a framework (by me, together with that faculty member) so that teachers have a voice on sending us in the right direction.

With these three pieces, I believe we create a community that is transparent and trusting of the program we provide our students. I am thrilled at each opportunity to connect and learn!

Barbie Bungee Blowout: An Innovative Design Project

Keeping things simple (but crisp), our eighth grade students are meeting the “wonder and wander” time of the year head-on during their Integrated Physics and Chemistry class. Students had to predict the number of connected rubber bands needed to grant a Barbie doll the ability “bungie jump” from our balcony to the base level floor. Barbie had to drop safely, but also to arrive as closely as possible to the ground. One partner dropped the doll while the other measured the minimum distance from the ground.

An iPad recorded this attempt in super slow-motion. Enjoy!

 

Wonder and Wander: A Middle School Story

The time of year has arrived: Spring Break has come and gone; Easter weekend appears as a dream of places far, far away. The struggle for daily focus is very real for teacher and student alike, and so the collective mind of all parties begins to wonder and wander.

Typically, the wandering starts first.

“I can’t believe they are making us work so hard on a Friday.”

“Did my mom pack cheddar bunnies for snack? I love cheddar bunnies.”

“I’m just not sure that my students are ready to move on, yet.”

“Facebook is really calling me right now. It’s so-and-so’s birthday…I’ll just dive in real quick to wish him a happy day.”

For various reasons, our minds are tired and the ability to focus on the present is challenged by the potential for the alternative.

Teachers and students start to separate the lives that they hope to live from the reality and effort that exists in the classroom. Perhaps it’s the warmer weather (at least, in Houston), or the realization that the amount of effort needed to “move the needle” is incredibly daunting. For various reasons, our minds are tired and the ability to focus on the present is challenged by the potential for the alternative. The wandering is natural and should be appreciated for what it is: a need for something different and disruptive to the normal flow.

So, as a challenge to my staff, I encourage them to focus on the wonder that they can harness within their remaining programming. If the average child needs to dive down a rabbit hole, then be that great guide on the side and encourage the journey. Allow other students to travel together. This journey could be in the way of a project, or a designed disruption to the norm. The challenge to the staff is two-fold:

  1. Students gain the opportunity to engage in their curiosity. This in turn create a classroom where learning can remain at the center, not content.
  2. Teachers engage in disruptive, innovative thought. This thought translates into energizing work as they find ways to bring the fun out of what would otherwise be a time doldrums and waiting.

So enjoy these weeks in the gap. Hopefully, you and your teaching teammates can embrace the wonder and wander through some fun, exciting moments in your classes.

Making an Impact #IMMOOCBB

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I (Kirsten) shared this quote with my awesome #IMMOOC blogging buddy (Charlie) and even though it is not from The Innovator’s Mindset, we felt like it directly correlates to our work and mission. Here is our buddy blog experiment sharing the wonderings about leadership, empowerment and impact.

 

Most of my (Charlie) teaching strategies have developed from my time coaching sports. While I began my career in education as both a teacher and coach, I recognized that my gift for working with young people existed on the playing field long before I figured out how to lead a classroom. My love for sports (namely, lacrosse) and my ability to inspire players to give their best effort and elevate their strategic thinking galvanized my career choice years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.

Along the way, I worked with many inspirational student athletes. They found their role models in athletics and built their “game” as inspired copies of their favorite television sports heroes. Names like LeBron James or Tom Brady come to mind as people who motivated my young athletes. These superstars demonstrate leadership within their “field” that elevates others every day.

LeBron’s teammates gain confidence when he is present; they come together to play better as a team. The ball feeds through LeBron at the exact right time to give teammates the best chance to score. Lebron has vision two or three passes beyond the current one, carrying an oil can in one hand and a wrench in the other as he tweaks and tightens the basketball machine.

When Tom Brady walks up to the line of scrimmage and barks out the play, calls an audible, or makes a hand signal towards his receivers, everyone listen.G including his opponents). Tom recognizes something that is about to happen based on the moving pieces in front of him. No one else sees the game like he can, so the other players on the field follow his lead, orchestrating a masterful charge down the field.

While these examples are a bit sensational, the framework for them equals that which is required for classroom leadership: the opportunity for our students to make an impact in their current and future lives depends on the teacher elevating his or her own game within the learning space. We model the way so that others will recognize the value in giving one’s best effort and in setting challenging standards.

My (Kirsten) journey at TEPSA is about to come to a close as I move to a new adventure working with school system leaders in the coming weeks. The thought of what my legacy will be is at the forefront. I’m no LeBron or Tom Brady, but hope there is a legacy of good work that will last in my absence.

I am not the kind of leader that comes in and makes sweeping changes from the start. I told our Executive Director that right from the start. You want major changes, I’m more of a slow and steady kind of girl. The African Proverb says it best: “If you want to go fast, go alone – If you want to go far, go together.” I’m in it for the long haul with the crew on board. Along the way with little changes here and there, conversations, shifts, additions, and deletions you look up and find what was there several years ago has transformed into something new and different (and hopefully better). In reflecting on what builds sustainable change over time, I think it boils down to these qualities. Feel free to add your own in the comments of what we did not include!

Build Something Meaningful

No one wants to sustain a practice that is irrelevant or not adding value to the organization after the originator leaves. To know what is meaningful for staff, students and parents, you must know them! Meaningful work comes from connecting with others and we all know relationships are key. Ensure what you create and implement resonates with the learning community and is something worth keeping over time.

Empower Others

The experiences discovered in our learning spaces should instill self-confidence and a desire to know more. But these two characteristics prove empty without the skills and ability that drive them. That is what empowering others means:. a person who has filled his or her learning toolbelt can tackle any topic and pursue any passion. It’s our job to demonstrate these tools and the innovative uses for them.

Share, share, share

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.
-Margaret Fuller

Knowledge has no value when kept in secret. As we push for more innovation in our learning spaces, collaborative effort remains the only skeleton key. Knowledge should not be kept as power, it needs to be shared to create powerful learning throughout the organization. Teaching students skills to know and be able to do things independently is so rewarding. Do not forget we need to do that for the adults as well. The #IMMOOC experience is a great model for this! George, Katie and all the other gracious learning collaborators are sharing their time and talents so we can learn with them. It is wonderful to find such a smart and fun group of educators to connect with and stretch my thinking. I look forward to continuing this learning journey even after the experience is over and sharing what I’ve learned to hopefully help others.

Check out the blog developed by my good friend, Kirsten: Leadershift. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, please share in the comments. What are you doing to improve others and make a lasting impact?

Leading from our Strengths #IMMOOC

As I complete another chapter in The Innovator’s Mindset, I reflect on the value that is added to our community by utilizing Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinder program. Yesterday, our headmaster took a moment to recognize the obvious impact that the Strengthsfinder program has made on our collaborative mindset and interpersonal understanding in our school. February was a tough month for us programmatically, a stressful one filled with admissions decisions, and a long one as there were a lot of school days between President’s Day and Spring Break. Students, teachers, and administrators were exhausted and stretched thin. The long break was a welcomed gift as we turn the final corner of the school year. Yesterday’s meeting was the first leadership meeting we have had in some time, so it was nice to see the faces of our colleagues, united in the mission to sprint through the finish line. In order to do this effectively, we took a fresh look at our collective strengths and how we plan on using them in the coming weeks.

Making a Positive Impact

As if it is our calling card, our strengths are visible representations of how we can add to solutions-based effort at an institutional level.

We lead with from our strengths while recognizing and addressing those of our colleagues. It is a methodology that creates honesty and validity to our discussions, be they minor or major ones. While we focus on the positive impact each member of this team has with students, we recognize that our strengths, as identified by the Strengthsfinder platform, provide others the skills set that we offer as individuals. As if it is our calling card, our strengths are visible representations of how we can add to solutions-based effort at an institutional level. The strengths of each faculty and staff member are available in a shared document for all to see and reference, and most of our faculty discussions exist in the an environment where our strengths are printed or projected. This intentional component of professional conversation provides clarity regarding “who we are dealing with” in a meeting while giving us researched ways to relate to colleagues.

The initial Strengthsfinder test provides a peek into our best talents and then discusses these way these talents relate to each other. I cannot begin to describe the revelation that comes from learning your “top five” talents (mine are individualization, learner, belief responsibility, and connectedness) and how you fit into your institution. My five talents have provided much clarity in my daily work, and those of my colleagues as revolutionized the way I handle one-on-one meetings.

I highly suggest taking a look at this program for your institution. But be warned: this program opens a LOT of revealing doors. Once the data is out there, someone needs to help the community process that which is learned. Focusing on the positive and how your talents can enhance school culture – that is the endgame.

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