What Makes a School Great?

Almost a month has past since the NAIS annual conference, and many of the ideas shared are still present in the back of my mind. The theme of the conference was “Think Big, Think Great,” and outgoing president Pat Bassett asked us to come up with our list of 25 factors that make schools great. His list is quite impressive, and it was hard to come up with 25 of my own. Instead, as I read each one, I began to see some commonalities among them all.

Relationships: Whether the focus is on students, teachers, families, administrators or the greater community, the things that make a great school on Mr. Bassett’s list all depend on forging strong relationships.

Communication: To achieve all those factors, a school needs to have excellent communication among all constituents.

Values: Whatever the values are for a particular school,  a school needs to be purposeful in its endeavors and have that work shaped by its values.

It’s hard to come up with a list of 25, but if you click on the link above and look at Mr. Bassett’s, I think you’ll see these three things woven throughout. Maybe you’ll see more.

How Can Kids Take Risks in a “Safe” Environment?

I’ve been guilty of telling parents of students in my class that we have a safe classroom environment where we encourage students to take risks. I’ve come to realize that risk and safety are are really oxymorons. What I mean to say when I use the word risk is that kids will try a lot of new things. They will get many of them wrong and fail, but when they succeed, the grit and resilience it took to get them there, will fuel them on to learn more.

In our traditional industrial age world, risk was not seen as something for the general public. Trying something new on an assembly line could mean getting fired. Many of these hierarchical structures exist, and schools are no exception. Because of this, teachers have to be fairly calculated when going out on a limb. Within our values statement at my school, we have the following:

Resourcefulness: We foster resilience and expect all to search and find, to fail and learn, to risk and succeed in a changing world.

It think it’s beautifully written, however, if we hold these values for our students, certainly we must hold these values for our teachers and other community members. Due to structures of schools (remnants of the 19th and 20th centuries), risks can be very costly.

Recently, Seattle teachers were suspended for boycotting a particular test. We teach our children to stand up, not to be bystanders, engage in politics and democracy, yet when teachers model these very things, the consequences can sometimes seem harsh. I guess it wouldn’t be that risky otherwise.

Before the NAIS conference, a colleague in California raised many questions about the NAIS’s boards decision on the new president-elect, John Chubb. While I am sure the board’s intentions are good, the announcement was a surprise. The letter, though written respectfully, asked hard and important questions. Yet, from what I heard at the conference, he was scolded for raising those questions.

Again I ask, don’t we want our students to be inquisitive, challenge the status quo, engage in the process (which can be amplified through social media), and think critically?

One of the reasons for academic tenure is so intellectuals can have debates and build support for those ideas publicly. They may end up being wrong, but at least they won’t be fired for it.

I’ve been known to ‘go rogue’  and ‘fight windmills’ but I’ve also been supported and guided as to how I might balance those things. Still, in a school with no tenure, challenging the status quo with a simple question, “why?” requires risk.

At the NAIS conference, there were calls to be revolutionaries, visionaries, rogues, vanguards, pioneers, mavericks, and change agents. Most of those kinds teachers were already at that conference. We were told to change paradigms and forge ahead.

Most other teachers, however, just want to love their kids and become excellent teachers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I met a first grade teacher who was only in her second year of teaching and was overwhelmed with the conference. “They’re asking me to be all those things, be culturally competent, employ project-based learning and design thinking, integrate sustainability in the classroom, use technology in ways I never thought possible, create a global teaching network, and that’s not even including just teaching 1st grade.

My advice to her, was that when I first started teaching almost two decades ago, all these things were foreign to me too. All she needed to do was think of her students first, know where to find support when she needed it, asked questions (lots of them), carry on when things don’t seem to be going well, and always be open to and willing to learn something. If she could do these things, she would find this career an incredibly rewarding one.

I’m not a big fan of words like revolutionary. They bring up different connotations depending on who you ask. George Washington was a revolutionary; so was Hugo Chavez.

All It Takes Is One Person

There were so many great ideas shared at the NAIS conference. Some were new, some validating, and some that challenged my own philosophy about education. While I need time to process and reflect, I also want to dive right in and push myself to try new things.

The theme of the conference was “Think Big, Think Great” and the main keynote was Jim Collins, known prominently for his work “Good to Great.” He left the audience with 12 questions to ponder which I hope to do in the coming months. Rather than summarize his entire talk, which you can find here, I want to highlight something that stuck with me. He said that a great enterprise, be it a business or school had to pass three tests:

  1. Superior performance relative to your mission.
  2. Makes a distinctive impact on the world it touches. (If your school went away, would it leave an unfillable hole? Who would miss you truly and why?)
  3. Achieves lasting endurance, which means it’s great beyond any one leader. (Your school is not great if it cannot be great without you.)

Throughout the conference, I was reminded about these three things several people I heard speak. Here are two examples:

One of the general session speakers was Tererai Trent who grew up in what is now Zimbabwe. Married at 11 and mother of three by 18, her biggest dream was to get an education. She earned a doctorate in interdisciplinary evaluation. With the strong belief that education is the way out of poverty and a way to stop the mistreatment of women, she wanted to start a school back in the village where she grew up. As of today, she has helped build 8 schools.

Another session I attended was led by Lee Hirsch who made the documentary “Bully.” You can see the positive impact the film has been making at CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 page here.

Both these speakers set examples that pass the three tests mentioned by Jim Collins. Whether their intention was to impact one life or hundreds of thousands, their mission remained focused. It was clear to me that they let their projects become bigger than themselves, big enough to endure without them.

Both speakers did not do it alone. Tererai Trent, for example, received help from Oprah. Their dreams of change, however, were their own, and their belief that this change was achievable never seemed to wane.

The kids we teach are all dreamers. For lack of a better analogy, those dreams are like seeds. Maybe we play a role in planting some of those seeds. Maybe we don’t. Whether those dreams impact one person or many, part of our jobs as educators is to nourish those seeds and help them grow.

Innovation and Change

In education, when the words ‘innovation’ and ‘change’ are mentioned, many teachers roll their eyes. These words are almost seen as ‘bad words.’  There are several reasons for this:

1) The words are over used (the way the word ‘epic’ is used these days to describe every summer blockbuster coming…even worse is ‘most epic’).

2) In education, it isn’t easy to change or innovate.

3) The words don’t mean the same thing to different people.

I recently read Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner.

Near the beginning of the book, Wagner writes about a group of leaders at Olin College who were asked to discuss how to create environments that support innovators. A senior executive from IBM said, “It’s a lot easier to name the things that stifle innovation like rigid bureaucratic structures, isolation, and a high-stress work environment.”

Well, that could describe most work environments, especially schools.

Wagner describes innovation as the place where motivation, expertise, and creative thinking skills come together. With motivation being far more important than skill or expertise. In his previous book, The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner lists essential skills that students are going to need to be successful in the world. While these aren’t new things, and the seem like common sense, they are definitely things that schools do not emphasize enough, if at all. In that book, the 7 survival skills listed were:

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

Collaboration by Networks and Leading by Influence

Agility and Adaptability

Initiative and Entrepreneurship

Effective Oral and Written Communication

Accessing and Analyzing Information

Curiosity and Imagination

Anyone looking at this list would say those are great things. They make perfect sense. But sadly, most students across the country are not getting opportunities to engage in learning that require them to use those skills. There’s still a lot of emphasis on getting the one right answer. As Wagner further explored innovation, he found that his list needed a few more skills:

perseverance

a willingness to experiment

take calculated risks and tolerate failure

have the capacity for ‘design thinking’

According to Wagner, these can all be learned. He makes a strong case about letting kids make mistakes so they can learn from them and develop resilience. He criticizes the “tiger mom” method that doesn’t allow play or have any room for failure, and he criticizes ‘helicopter’ parents that indulge and insulate their children from failure. “Neither kind is likely to produce innovators.”

So how can teachers create environments for innovation when their own working environment doesn’t promote that kind of independence? School change seems to happen at a glacial rate. Most don’t have the capacity for “design thinking.” That’s where you identify a problem, and you set about trying to solve it. First, you experiment. Consider this first experiment a prototype. It may fail at first, but the idea is to keep refining that solution, getting feedback, experimenting further with more trial and error, and eventually end up with something better, more efficient, and often more beautiful. Schools work on yearly calendars. Once the wheels on the bus get going in the fall, heaven forbid that one look at a problem during the school year and try to make it better. The time schools usually take to decide something new is at the end of each year. Why? Because changes during the school year can be too disruptive. But disruption is often the outcome of good innovation.

Innovation, in this sense isn’t simply about trying something new. It’s not about whimsy. Innovation should be purposeful. Being an Innovator requires one to challenge the status quo and constantly ask questions. Innovation is about looking at ways to simplify, make things more efficient, and make them more affordable.

Creating Innovators is a great book, with excellent stories and suggestions for parents and educators. There are many books about innovation, but this one appealed to me as it focused on how to foster these skills in our youth. Hopefully, I’ll write a little more about this book in the near future as Wagner provides ways to help foster innovation, and he also explores school change. Again, ‘change’ isn’t a bad word, if it is done with meaningful intent.

Speaking of change, I’ll leave with this quote:

“To know about change is to know about inertia, which is to say that sometimes the status quo needs a wakeup call. You can’t wait for success, you have to kick start it.”

(Fullan, 2009)

Are Disruptive Questions Necessary for Innovation?

“I don’t really see any innovative teaching around here.” That was something a parent said four years ago during a meeting regarding our school’s mission. Given that our school’s mission statement begins with, “Through innovative teaching…,” the comment made by that parent stuck with me, and innovation in education has been one of the areas that has become an interest of mine. I keep reading and hearing about the necessity of schools to change. Not just in terms big reform movements that we’re seeing across the nation, but in terms of fundamentally changing the way we teach to adapt to the way children learn today. Yet, the culture of schools is so deep – from the expectations of parents to the way we teach; from the way policies are set to the way schools are run – there is so much resistance to change. So often books are read and conferences are attended by teachers and school leaders, they come back excited and say, “…yeah I got some great nuggets out of that. I can’t wait to share them.” The new ideas are usually shared briefly if at all, and then everyone returns to the way things used to be done.

I just finished reading  The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Dyer, Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen (author of Disrupting Class). 

The book’s introduction claims that “a recent IBM poll of fifteen hundred CEOs identified creativity as the number-one ‘leadership competency’ of the future.”

The book emphasizes that to innovate, it requires courage. First, courage to challenge the status quo, and second, courage to take risks. It also states that innovators “have a passion for inquiry.” They are always asking questions. Asking why once isn’t enough. Continuing to probe until a novel (usually efficient and well-designed) solution emerges is what innovators do. Asking insightful ‘what if’ questions is just as important.

This book’s main claim is that innovation is not genetic. It can be developed. If so, how do we develop these in our students (challenging every child to be courageous and curious are part of my school’s mission). If most of the stakeholders in a child’s education aren’t developing these innovation skills themselves, then what chance do our students have? Without going into too much detail, the 5 skills according to this book are:

  1. Associating
  2. Questioning
  3. Observing
  4. Networking
  5. Experimenting

I’ve heard from educational leaders and teachers from schools of all shapes and sizes that school culture is deep, and those who have challenge the status quo continue face an uphill climb. Most prefer to do what they’ve always done. I’m glad I work with colleagues that continue to ask good questions and have the courage to ask why. In the end it’s best for our students.

My favorite quote comes from the chapter on experimenting.

” I haven’t failed…I’ve just found 10,000 ways that do not work.”

– Thomas Edison

I asked earlier in this post about how to develop these skills in students. In a couple of week’s, Tony Wagner has a new book that comes out: Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. I can’t wait.


Our All-School Service Learning Day

One of my favorite days of the school year is our all-school service learning day. For the past four years, our school has gone back to the same section of a park in Seattle (Seward Park) as stewards and spent the day pulling weeds, planting trees, learning about nature, and having fun.

Let me begin by saying: being in the cold unrelenting rain for four hours is not my idea of fun (some kids, though, had a blast!). Our service learning day is one of my favorite days because all the students work together with faculty, staff, and parents to make a small positive impact in our community. It requires hard work and team work. You only have to watch a second grade student trying to dig a hole with an adult-sized shovel to know whether or not effort was involved. Service learning is about connecting the learning that occurs in the classroom with real-world issues in the community.

My students define a community as a place where people live, work, play, and solve problems. In my class, we’ve explored a neighborhood community, colonial communities, scientific communities, and currently we’re looking at ancient Egyptian communities. Regardless of the structure or time period, that simple definition of a community holds true and what a great way to participate both as a school community and as members of our wonderful city.

There are a works of children’s fiction that are great for this day. The Lorax by Dr. Suess is an obvious one. Miss. Rumphius by Barbara Cooney is another. My favorite, though, and the one I chose today is called The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Inspired by those who advocated for the High Line in Manhattan to be reused as a park instead of demolition, the story tells of a little boy whose curiosity leads him to a little patch of garden on an elevated railroad track. He carefully tends to his garden realizing that his efforts inspire others to join him.

It’s always hard to know what kinds of learning spark passions in certain kids. If this school-wide project helps to ignite only one student to become a leader and make a positive impact on their community later in life, what’s a little cold rain? We live in Seattle after all.

Continuing to Learn

“When it feels like your brain hurts, you know you’re learning,” is something I say to my students from time to time.

I want to reflect and immediately share more on NAISAC12 and EdCampIS, but honestly, my brain is hurting a little bit. I have learned an immense amount and met so many incredibly passionate educators that I think I simply need some time to take it all in and process what I’ve learned.

For now, I couldn’t be happier with the success and energy of EdCampIS which wouldn’t have been possible with all of the participants, many of whom spent an extra day in Seattle to make this happen.

Thanks to one of my colleagues who helped organize the event, Jac de Haan, you can get a quick summary of the day through photos and quotes by checking out the main page of the edcampis website.

Moving from Congeniality to Collegiality

I recently read an article, “Getting to No: Building Collegiality in Schools,” by Rob Evans in the most recent issue of Independent School. It draws from his book, Seven Secrets of a Savvy School Leader,”  which I just started to read.

This article resonated with me because it’s the kind of collaboration, collegiality, and work with my fellow teachers that motivates me. For the most part, we do a great job of this at my school, but this article reminds me that we can always do more.

Evans mentions many obstacles including the structural ones, personal ones, and the culture so many schools have where they avoid conflict. From my experience, the culture he refers to in schools is very strong, and while it is changing, I wish it would change more rapidly. Teachers are getting better at conflict: respectfully dissenting and listening to opposing voices. What teachers need to get better at is finding the common ground, figuring out how it meets our school’s mission and strategic plan, taking action, and moving forward. Otherwise we return to the “culture of niceness” and nothing changes.

As Evans states in his article,

“[Students] will need to be self-motivated to keep learning and changing and will also need to be adept at working with people from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives. If educators are to help students develop these skills, the argument goes, they themselves must be able to model them both in their teaching and in the ways they think and talk about their work.”

Value of Teachers and the 1%

Last week, the nytimes listed several job markets where one would find the top 1% in this country. It also went on to list the degrees in which the top 1% graduated from. It was interesting that they were also running articles on the value of teachers based on the Harvard/Columbia study that came out recently:

Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain

Value of Teachers

And an interesting debate about value and measuring teacher effectiveness followed.

The 1% articles talked about the various professions. In the print version, teaching didn’t even make the graphic. On the online graphic, they were there, but a clear side note mentioned that teachers in 1% households were there because of marriage.

And here’s What the Top 1% Majored In. My undergrad degree is in biology, but after that I chose to pursue education (not listed). These two letters responding to those graphs, one by a teacher, and one by a father of two teachers say a lot.

There’s something amiss in the way teachers are compensated. I’m not pro- or anti- union, but see the benefits and challenges with both systems when it comes to teaching. There are districts, charter schools, and independent schools trying a number of schemes and some doing better than others. It be great to look at all the possibilities, find out which ones are working best, try and guess why, and start to try it out. That’s how innovation happens; You look at all the ideas out there, develop your own compensation prototype, take a risk (a calculated one, of course), analyze, modify, and keep looping back refining and revising the prototype. There’s a good chance it’s not going to work right away and will ruffle a few feathers, but I think it’s worth the risk. As long as one acknowledges and learns from mistakes, something good will eventually emerge. That’s part of what innovation is all about. School culture in general is invisible, deep, complex, and very conservative – it’s not an easy task.

How Can Like-Minded Teachers Network? Organize an EdCamp

Being a teacher means that, for the most part you spend most of your day in a classroom with students. The rest of the time, you’re planning, preparing, assessing, reflecting, writing student evaluations, communicating with parents, and so on. The only real time you have to collaborate with others are the few times you meet with certain teachers at your school that happen to be on the same committee or task force, same grade-level or subject area team, or meetings that involve the entire faculty. On the rare occasion, teachers may happen to have lunch together, but it’s usually for a mere 15 minutes. If teacher’s schedules are so convoluted that they can’t meet to collaborate as often as they want in their own schools, then how can teachers network with teachers outside their own school and share some of the things they are doing?

Conferences are one way. They are designed to gather like-minded professionals together in one place. Conferences, however, are expensive. Unlike some other professional conferences that may include a golf junket in the Caribbean, teacher conferences are usually held in large US cities that are easy to get to. In these lean times, though, the opportunities to attend conferences have diminished.

Even at conferences, you have to work hard at meeting teachers who are passionate about the same things. For an introvert like me, meeting others is very difficult. Over the past couple of years, though, networking has become easier. First, I have to thank my school for sending me to a number of conferences these past few years. I don’t get to attend everything. My school has to say no sometimes. Perhaps it’s because I ask to go to a lot. What can I say? I love to learn.

As a teacher, networking is something I’ve had to learn how to do, and it’s not easy. For good or bad, we now live in a connected world. That has made networking easier. You can interact asynchronously with others, and they don’t even have to be in the same city. Eventually you will be at a similar conference and exchange ideas face to face. I wasn’t sure what twitter was all about and decided to give it a whirl a little less than a year ago. After all, what could one learn in 140 characters. But it’s not about that. When I hit the publish button for this post, I will have also sent out a tweet. That tweet will only have the headline, but it will also include a url to this post. If you have the right twitter reader, you will automatically see a preview of this post as well.

Twitter has led to a great deal of things, and I’ve managed to meet a few teachers. One of them, Kim Sivick was listed as one of 2011′s National Association of Independent School’s “Teacher of the Future.” I’m not a teacher of the future but Kim was kind enough to ask to put my blog on her blogroll at Teachers of the Future. The current post on there, titled “Conferences of the Future,” is written by Liz Davis, someone else I met (first through twitter) who is one of the organizers of the ‘unconferenceedcampIS. It’s FREE! It’s also something that I’m really excited about helping to organize.

So even if your school budgets don’t allow you to attend everything you want to go to, there are teachers who recognize the need to network beyond tweets and blogs. If you’re going to be in Seattle for the NAISAC12 conference, you can spend around $500 to hear Bill Gates speak (actually I’d do it if I could afford it), or you can come to The Northwest School a couple of days after and listen to your passionate colleagues speak for free! Already registered are Teachers, Heads of Schools, Deans, Parents, Consultants, Educational non-profits, and more. We have 11 states, D.C., and one Canadian province represented. What are you waiting for? Register now at http://www.edcampis.org – It will be a great networking opportunity!

 

Hold Fast to Dreams

I was listening to Roland Barth, founder of the Principal’s Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Ed., Allison Gaines Pell, founding principal of The Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters, and Irvin Scott, deputy director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who were on a panel discussing the role of the principal today. While they all approached questions from different perspectives, there were many things they all felt strongly about.

Barth began with this quote from E. B. White: “A man must have something to cling to. Without that he is a pea vine sprawling in search of a trellis.”

That trellis, according to Bart is learning. A principal shouldn’t be one who is learned, but one who learns. One who takes risks in order to find out better ways to do things. In order to find out how to better instruct, principals must also keep engaged in instruction. “Teaching is at the center of a principal’s role,” said Barth. “Effective teachers need to be supported by effective principals.”

On knowing, Pell stated that every principal needed to know the new common core standards. She herself admitted to be very “anti-standards”, but she said they were good, because they were simple (in terms of knowing them) and, for the first time standards in Washington would be the same as standards in New York.

When asked what was hurting education, Barth replied, accountability. Both he and Scott believe accountability was a good thing, but the way it is currently framed in education is “corrosive.” Basically the message from all the policy makers is “Learn or we will hurt you.” This doesn’t matter if you are a student or a superintendent, the message is the same. It is pernicious and extinguishes life long learning. It is pervasive throughout our profession. Instead, accountability should be framed as, “Learn or you will hurt yourself.”

On Saturday, I sat through a two-and-a-half hour lecture by Richard Felmore who basically said that teaching in the US is NOT a profession. He gave various reasons including how we compensate our teachers, fail to actively recruit bright young minds into the field, and many others. One thing teachers need to do is to start engaging in what he calls, “Instructional Rounds.” Like in the medical field, teachers observe each other instruct, give feedback by describing to each other what they see, and look for ways to improve their instruction. It’s not punitive and the only reward is improving your craft. What is needed, however, is a) the culture to change so that being observed isn’t always equated with being evaluated, and b) the structures and time for this to occur.

I just finished reading Elmore’s book Instructional Rounds in Education and believe there are a few ways I can engage in this even though the culture, time, and structures don’t yet exist at my school. I just have to find those already willing to change the culture, be creative with the time, and figure out my own structure for doing this. It is not the easiest read, but if you’re interested in the concept it’s not unlike coaching. In fact, a great article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande appeared a few weeks ago and addresses this idea really well. I highly recommend reading it.

Irvin Scott closed the panel discussion saying that people enter education for a reason. A good one. And he ended the evening by  quoting Lanston Hughes’ poem Dreams:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

What Are Teacher Leadership Standards?

It was a marathon of a day with little time between to take in all that I was learning between sessions. One session that resonated with me was the call for identifying teacher leaders and giving them various responsibilities – not as add-ons, but by providing them the structures to take on these responsibilities. According to Kathryn Boles, we lose too many of our best teachers and attrition rates are too high. Many teachers do not want to become a principal/head of school, but they aren’t given the opportunities to be the change agents they want to be while still in the classroom. There are seven domains/standards for teacher leaders that have been identified.

Domain I: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning

Domain II: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning

Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

Domain IV: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning

Domain V: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement

Domain VI: Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community

Domain VII: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

You can get a lot more information about all these standards at this site (still under construction, but already very good). Every administrator should know about this site. Not only have standards for teacher leaders been developed, but the supporting strategies to support these have also been identified.

  • Increase the capcity to create staffing models that include differentiated career options for teachers. It’s shouldn’t solely be just teacher ==> assistant principal ==> principal ==> superintendent.
  • Develop new structures for licensing and/or credentialing teacher leaders.
  • Engage stakeholders in developing criteria-based models for the selection of teachers to serve in formalized leadership roles.
  • Develop systems for reward and recognition of the contributions of teachers in formal and informal leadership roles.
  • Establish compensation systems that recognize teacher leadership roles, knowledge, and skills.
  • Establish a performance management and evaluation system that is consistent with the identified and varied roles of teacher leaders.

I’ve a lot more to add on this one topic alone, but as I mentioned, the schedule is packed solid – Fantastic, but full. In fact, I’m getting ready for another 12-hour day of learning which starts in 15 minutes. Hopefully, I’ll be able to break some of the things I’m learning down into little chunks and how they apply to the classroom. In the meantime, check out that link above.

Are You a Life Long Learner?

If you ask any educator what one of their main objectives is for their students, you are more than likely going to hear the term “life-long learner.” In order to meet that objective, however, one also has to be a life-long learner.

So here I am in Massachusetts at a New and Aspiring School Leaders institute for four days, learning. It’s been a great start so far. There are many types of leadership styles ranging from the coercive to a coaching style. The important thing to note is having the wisdom to know which type to employ. According to research on these styles (Coleman, HBR March April 2000), the two most effective styles are authoritative (not to be confuse with authoritarian “do as I say” – this style represents “come with me”) and coaching (“Try this”). The first mobilizes everyone towards a common vision, the second develops people for the future.

The other styles are coercive (good only in crises), affiliative (a team builder), democratic (consensus builder), and pace setting (highly motivated, competent, and  results driven). Of course there are pros and cons to all the above and are context dependent. One has to realize though, that all styles have the intention of positive change. Unfortunately, if you choose the wrong style for a certain situation, things can go awry quickly. Of the two most effective styles they have one thing in common, they require you to have a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

Unlike IQ which is more or less genetic and fixed, EQ can be learned. Developing one’s EQ requires one to be self-aware, have self-regulation, be motivated, have empathy, and good social skills. As I learn to develop these myself, I also think about how I can develop these in the students I teach.

I know for me, I have all the above skills, but it varies with the context in which I’m placed. I have a lot of self-regulation with my students and peers, but not a lot with my administrators (it’s a growth area of mine). I am becoming more self-aware, but it takes time. Social skills are great in certain situations, horrible in others. I’m always motivated and my empathy for others deepens each day, but has a lot more room to grow.

Being this reflective as an adult is not an easy task, but an important one. If it’s not so easy for me, then how hard must it be for 7 and 8 year-olds. I always like watching the different leadership skills emerge from my students. Some are doers, others want to question and have a clear purpose, others want to make sure everyone is heard, and still others are interested in organizing all the details and having a well-thought-out plan.

Leadership is not easy, but the more aware you become of yourself (strengths and weaknesses), the more you become a better leader. There is a large amount one can learn from a book, but being able to adapt and inspire, those are the traits of our next leaders. If we as teachers can truly call ourselves life-long learners, hopefully we can inspire the next generation of true leaders.

A Few Things I Learned at the Fall PNAIS Conference

PNAIS11 Innovation and Change in the Classroom

This year’s PNAIS fall conference was an exciting one for me. As a member of the planning committee, a presenter, an attendee, and an exhibitor, it was quite the juggling act to wear all these hats. I did learn a lot and had a great time doing so. It was held at The Overlake School which has a beautiful campus in Redmond, WA.

There was a lot of discussion over the keynote: Sal Khan. His TED talk is at the bottom of this post. Some were intrigued, others inspired, some puzzled, and others were left shaking their heads.

  • I learned that when educators leave having to grapple with many questions, rich discussions often emerge.
  • I learned that I can continue to meet people face to face that I’ve only tweeted with before and make new virtual colleagues that I will no doubt meet in the near future.
  • I learned that many people have never heard of an edcamp or ‘unconference’ before which is going to make co-organizing it a lot of fun (I’ll post more on that in a few weeks).
  • I learned a lot about change.
  • Teachers were validated by the closing keynote, TJ Vasser, one of the first African Americans to attend the same high school Bill Gates attended, talk about social change – And that social change happens because of teachers.
  • I learned I could get over my fear of public speaking.
  • I learned I could adapt.
  • I started out preparing a presentation about using social media to network and learn, and instead realized that in order to learn one really has to embrace uncertainty.
  • I learned that in order to inspire ‘life long learners’ you have to be one yourself.
  • I learned that starting to serve on an accreditation team the Sunday after the fall conference on a week that ends with parent conferences may have been a bit ambitious.
Learning can be rejuvenating and inspiring. I am looking forward to more opportunities to learn this year.

More Principals Who Blog

I’m just about done putting together a presentation for one of the sessions in our regional annual conference at the end of this week. Topic: Sharing why I blog and why I am beginning to use social media to learn more about education, teaching, and myself.

One of the main reasons I blog is to learn more about social media. Whether twitter or wordpress will be around in 10 years is hard to say, but social media and blogging are not going to go away. Like it or not, kids are going to have to find ways to use it responsibly and avoid pitfalls like cyber-bullying, or being glued to a screen. How can we teach these things, if we’re not doing so ourselves,  and finding ways to use these tools productively?

As I was working on my presentation, I came across a great blog post by a superintendent in West Vancouver who talked about the need for more school leaders to use social media.

Here’s a quote from his post:

“We often talk about the many changes happening in education and how we, as leaders, need to model the change.  We want students to take the risks, own their learning, be ready to make mistakes but to learn from them as well,  and to create content for the digital world.  We can help by modelling all of this.”

He also highlights all the principals in his district embracing the idea of blogging with links to theirs. You can read more at his blog here.

I stumbled upon the above post while reading a blog I enjoy a lot called Connected Principals. It’s a group blog written by many principals (both independent and public) who reflect, tell stories, and try to model the changes happening in the world so they can learn alongside their community. The post had a very provocative title: The Power to Kill Innovation.

It was Canadian Thanksgiving last night, and after a decade of American Thanksgivings, it just seems so early. Nonetheless, I’m very grateful that I work in a school that has allowed me to take these risks, make mistakes, and celebrate successes in my pursuit to learn and model what I teach.

Are Paper Dictionary Skills Still Worth Teaching?

I was working with a small group in my class this week as they were working on new vocabulary words. I had the dictionaries all lined up, when one of my students asked, “may we use the ipad/ipod touch instead?” Why not? I thought. Then I changed my mind and told him he had to alternate between the paper edition and the electronic one. Here’s why:

Alphabetizing, and learning how to use the key words on dictionary pages may seem out of date. Especially nowadays, when even phonebooks (remember those) don’t alphabetize names the way they used to. Last names beginning with Mc or Mac used to come before all the other M’s, but not any more. Things change. They evolve and adapt. In fact, if you use iTunes, the default is to alphabetize by first name.

What’s not out of date is how one has to organize things. Alphabetizing is just one way of showing kids how things (like words can be organized). As children create more and more products that are digital, they won’t end up in a dusty basement. Instead, their product may be cached and live online indefinitely.

Being able to tag their content for easy retrieval, organize their bookmarks, documents, photos, music, video, etc. will be very important. I don’t think they’ll be alphabetizing all their products, but learning at an early age about different ways to sort things by various attributes is essential.

It’s the first year, my second graders initiated use of an electronic dictionary. I usually introduce them to it later on in the year.

Remember in 2003, when some of my students this year were born, there was no iphone or ipad. Iphones were not introduced until 2007. There was no facebook (2004) nor was there twitter (2006).

Whether it’s an online dictionary or one of the tools I mentioned, we know there are going to be more around the corner. Some will flourish, and others will fade, but we want our children to use it responsibly.  One way to do that is model it, and that modeling needs to start with our administrators.

Autonomy vs. Collaboration: Are they Exclusive of Each Other?

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of Daniel Pink, and his book Drive. If you haven’t read it yet, I repost a great animated summary at the end of this post. Using a lot of current research, Pink makes a case for autonomy being an integral part of motivation. The other two parts: mastery, and purpose.

I’m also a big fan of collaboration, and in todays world of sharing everything openly, its also really important. The summer issue of the Harvard Business Review is all about collaboration. In the book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Stephen Johnson, he makes a very clear point that great individual a-ha moments are rare and that it’s often the confluence of two or more ideas that lead to game changing innovations. There’s a great quick animation of this as well (posted below).

My personal answer to the question posed in the title of this post is, NO!

A large percentage of our faculty just finished a summer institute at our school that was organized by our school leaders. I can truly say, that I left feeling more excited, motivated, and inspired of the potential that our school has to continue growing. If the aim was to begin cultivating a community of professional learners with growth mindsets who are both autonomous AND collaborative, the institute was an incredible success. Another underlying principle is that everything we do promotes the same kind of purpose, relevance, and collaboration for students.

How was this done? By finding the strengths within each individual, yet creating a safe, trusting environment to share these. By making the purpose a clear and shared one. And by promoting mastery. It was hard work, but work everyone was so eager to do because it had meaning. It wasn’t busy work. Aside from that, the institute was run using a variety of effective models of instruction. That kind of modeling is key for inspiration and the transfer of effective teaching practices into the classroom.

If you’ve read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Things are Hard by the Heath Brothers, the way to do this is to find a way to motivate both our emotional and rational minds, and set a clear path for how this will be done. I sense the beginning of purposeful changes happening at our school this year, and I couldn’t be more excited.

A New Culture of Teaching

I recently finished a book called A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown. The book, was recommended by the independent schools Special Interest Group at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. It’s a fairly quick read that had several themes resonate with me.

As the title of the book suggests, the culture of learning is changing, and as teachers we have to think about teaching differently. Apple computers coined the term ‘Think Different.’ and over a decade later, teachers are starting to make those changes. Great teachers have always been those that teach kids to learn, but according to the authors, the context of in which learning takes place has changed due to technology. The authors use the ‘teach a man to fish’ phrase as an example of that shifting context: What if fishing is unsustainable and the supply of fish is depleted? What if the water’s polluted? We need to know how to ask those kinds of questions, grapple with them, share, collaborate, and try to come up with solutions.

Vinnie Vrotney, who hosted a book club twitter chat tonight of A New Culture of Learning has a great post on his blog reflecting about delving into blogs 5 years ago, and how five of his colleagues are now sharing their summer reflections via blogs.

I only began fooling around with twitter in February to try to follow a couple of colleagues and others attending the NAIS conference in D.C. I had no idea what hashtags were, or what @ signs meant. I had attended the conference the prior year, when I started this blog, and was eager to participate (albeit remotely), and was beginning to learn how twitter fit into all of this.

Did I take a class or read a manual about twitter? Nope. I’m still learning how to use it: I even failed tonight, forgetting to put #isedchat in one of my tweets. I also had to leave the chat early as I had other plans, but a transcript of the chat was posted afterwards. For those who want to reflect a little longer and deeper, each week, Vinnie Vrotney will post a prompt on the Independent School NING in order to continue the conversation asynchronously. The book talk will also include a synchronous web conference with one of the authors of the book: John Seely Brown.

What do some of those things in the previous paragraph mean? NING? #isedchat? I could explain in another post, or you could be resourceful and find out. I think one of my jobs as an educator is not only to inspire my students to be resourceful, but to encourage my colleagues to do the same. It’s a mindset.

This mindset is cultivated by learning through others, sharing, asking questions, knowing, making, playing, taking risks and learning to fail.

Some may wonder what kind of ‘deep learning’ can happen from an hour long chat where participants can only use 140 characters or less per tweet. Aren’t those just soundbites from like-minded people? Well remember, we did read a book, tonights tweets included polite counterpoints, and also led me to read an interesting blog post on Scientific America called, “The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience.” There will be further reflection each week on the book, a web conference with one of the authors, and one can read transcripts of interviews of the authors like one by Steve Denning from a Forbes column on leadership named ‘Rethink.’

I hope to post more thoughts on this book, but want to end with this: Vinnie Vrotney, the person I mentioned earlier who led the chat tonight is not just a random educator I follow, but an inspiring educator I’ve actually met face to face. That meeting wouldn’t likely have occurred if I didn’t have a twitter account.

Great Professional Development Resource

It’s been a couple of weeks since I was at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, and my head is still full of resources and information. Today, I got an email from them with a few statistics about this year’s conference.

“More than 17,850 educators and exhibit personnel attended ISTE 2011, held in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center June 26-29. Conference highlights included:

  • 13,336 registered attendees
  • 4,562 exhibit personnel
  • Dozens of workshops with more than 2,611 tickets sold
  • An exhibit hall the size of 5.5 football fields featuring 1,423 booths and 501 companies
  • 149 registered journalists from around the globe
  • 1,025 attendees sent more than 3,000 letters to the U.S. Congress
  • Among the attendees were 1,152 presenters and 940 international attendees from 63 countries”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was daunting. Also in that email though, was a link to their ‘white paper’ on Coaching. ISTE’s webpage summarizes the details of the paper like this:
    • Situation: Effective use of technology is essential for teaching and learning in a global, digital age.
    • Problem: Many teachers do not know how to design and support technology-rich learning environments.
    • Solution: Coaching, combined with communities of learning, is a highly effective job-embedded professional development model
    • Result: Teachers experience technology as an effective tool for professional learning and develop the skills to powerfully use technology to improve student learning.
The paper’s content highlights include:
    • Introduction to three coaching models that provide highly effective professional development
    • 10 tips for leveraging technology, coaching, and community
    • 5 key benefits that result from the integration of technology, coaching, and community
    • Introduction to the NETS×C
You can download the whole paper here. It’s really a great read for all teachers/administrators who are trying to make changes in tech to better enhance student learning.

Best PD for Teaching IS Teaching

It’s been a while since I’ve taught during the summer, but this one particular program I started at yesterday intrigued me. First, the objectives of the classes were not written the way  State Standards or Core Curricula are written. For example, one of the objectives in one of the classes I’m teaching is for the student to ‘explore the different ways to employ creativity techniques in the development of a new invention.’ Second the classes are 90 minutes long which really allow for project/problem-based learning activities. Third, these are all multi-aged classes, so I’m seeing kids from ages 5 to 12 throughout the day. Not having committees, faculty meetings, regular email communication with parents, homework to assign, and unbelievable amounts of autonomy to reach or adapt these objectives to the actual kids I’m teaching, I have had time to play with, use, and have kids use technology in the class already. Finally, the program is only three weeks long, so there’s a lot of interesting thought that goes into planning out the courses. There are a lot of books about regular classrooms and how important it is to set the tone and expectations for kids in the first 6 weeks. I’ve only got three!

One can read and see examples of project/problem-based learning, but until you have a solid 90 minute block and figure out how to utilize that time best to suit the needs of the kids, it’s just a theory. By nature of the schools I’ve worked in, I haven’t taught a multi-aged class in over a decade. It’s been a lot of fun (and it’s only been my second day on the job). I am also loving the objectives being so open-ended and relevant to kids’ lives. While objectives for basic skills can be and are appropriate, it is evident that these kids are getting basic skills instruction and practice as part of their project/problem-based objective. Just thinking about the ‘real-world’ product that kids will create as a final assessment has been fun for me. Making the material relevant to them now, not someday in the future increases their motivation incredibly.

Professional Development can happen in so many ways. We can have workshops, attend conferences, teach other teachers, or coach, but in my mind, I think the best way to become a better teacher is to keep trying new ways to teach and adapt to your students.

In our own schools, it is possible for us to develop professional development like this. According to Douglas B. Reeves in his book Transfroming Professional Development into Student Results, he notes that not only does a school have to have vision for this kind of PD, but also implementation. Without implementation, the vision “not only fails to achieve the intended objectives but also engenders cynicism and distrust.”

Reeves also criticizes most schools for what he calls “Institutional Multitasking,” and that we need to FOCUS: Focus on teaching, curriculum, assessment, and leadership. Darling-Hammond and Richardson (2009) stated that the largest effects in teacher improvement were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours over 6 to 12 months. We’d have to use all our faculty meetings and in-service days throughout the year just on one topic to reach that goal. So what is one of the biggest factors in supporting this kind of PD? The schedule. Marzano (2009) notes that school “leaders must be the architects of systems and schedules.”

Finally, Reeves talks about recognizing our biases and being willing to fail. “School leaders have a particular responsibility to respect research integrity, particularly when a teacher-researhcer expresses disappointment that a planned intervention was ineffective.” Teachers have to get over their fear of being wrong or making mistakes. It’s how we learn.

This summer job that I’ve got is a great one. Including the work I’m doing prepping for each class, I’m spending about 105 hours. That definitely puts me in Darling-Hammond’s range. Unfortunately, it’s not over 6 to 12 months. The systems and schedules for the next school year, may determine how effective our school’s PD is. I will have to build in my own to maintain what I’m currently learning.

We had a guest speaker talk about the campus's Green initiatives. These kids are examining native and invasive species on the campus's wetlands.

The Mutant Elephant in the Room

I just finished watching “X-Men: First Class,” and it was probably one of my favorite prequels. As with good back stories, audiences are often given a vehicle to empathize with villains. In the X-Men franchise, Marvel Comics has used the idea of mutants to show, as metaphor, the difficulties associated with diversity.

Dealing with diversity is tough in independent schools, and Pat Bassett, president of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) shares his current examination of the landscape of diversity in independent schools at the NAIS website. He gives strategies for change and “names the elephants in the room.” You can download the slide deck at the website.

First of all, the mixed emotions that are felt related to diversity are many. A few examples include, optimism and exasperation. The strongest emotions call into play Daniel Pink’s 3 forces in his book on motivation, Drive: Mastery, Purpose, and Autonomy.

According to Robert Keegan’s book Immunity to Change, Bassett mentions the following:

First, the well-intentioned goal of being a change agent is undermined by failing to align resources and incentives. The invisible competing factor is that keeping peace is more important than effecting change. And, the big, untested assumptions behind that are that no one wants to much to change too fast.

His second well-intentioned goal is to lead the change agenda.

With the case being made for the rider instead of the elephant undermining this goal. The invisible competing factor here is that the change won’t work, and that we are seen as failures. And, we assume that failure will be punished instead of trying to be rewarded.

Then Bassett goes on to name some elephants in the room regarding diversity in independent schools, including the following:

Diversity and inclusion is what we do least well at schools.

To hold self to same standard aw others in terms of becoming educated about diversity.

Diversity is messy, time-consuming, disquieting, destabilizing, and unpopular

We assume too much

Heads are unsure about taking risks.

When people of color fail (students, faculty, administrators, etc.) who really failed?

Bassett then pulls quotes from Howard Stevenson, UPenn:

  • Avoiding the conversation around race is malpractice.
  • Without engaging in the conversation, fear drives the narrative.
There’s plenty more in Bassett’s slide, but I’ll let you navigate your way there through the link above. In short, we have a lot of work to do, and we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. Unlike the X-Men, where the fear of the unknown creates an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality, diversity is about creating a culture where everyone is part of the us.  We still have a long way to go.
I can’t believe that I’ve reached post number 300. I thought I’d change the look of the blog just a little and leave you with the movie trailer to celebrate.

What Exactly is Culture?

I was very lucky years ago when I attended my first symphony. I was taught beforehand not to applaud between movements. It’s just not done. During the performance, however, a few poor souls clapped in between movements. Rather than use that opportunity to teach them something I had only learned earlier that day, I swear a hundred heads shot backwards and fired daggers out of their eyes. The first time I went to a jazz club, I had no idea what the expected culture would be, but the people I was with encouraged me to participate and interact where appropriate. There are many different cultures in this world. Many whose manners would seem opposite to what we were taught. I’ve noticed that there are cultures that are inclusive and those, usually originating from societies with class-systems built in, that are exclusive. What then, is the culture of your school?

Cover of the summer issue of Independent School

In the summer issue of Independent School, Hugh Jebson and Carlo Delito write in an article titled ‘Trust, Accountability, Autonomy: Building a Teacher Driven Professional Development Model’

“We believe the strongest and most effective models — those that promote professional growth and outstanding teaching and learning — are found in schools where there is a shared sense of ownership for student outcomes. The culture in these schools is one of trust among the various constituents, where accountability is embraced and autonomy supported.”

Another article from the same issue discusses the culture of collaboration. Alexis Wiggins writes,

“I think we can — and must — do better. Independent schools pride themselves on providing a top-notch education, but the dirty secret is that they often produce smart, interesting, capable students because they admit smart, interesting, capable students. It isn’t enough to be a passionate, knowledgeable teacher. There are very knowledgeable and passionate teachers who aren’t actually effective at helping students learn. We need to constantly think about the quality of education we’re providing overall, not just what we are each doing in our classrooms.”

So what’s the culture in my school? Is it an inclusive or exclusive one? Is it one that fosters collaboration? Our constituents include students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and the greater community. Can we define that culture and make everyone feel included? Do we teach someone how to eat rice with chopsticks or laugh at them trying?

 

 

Another 8 Things Learned at ISTE

The final day of ISTE came fast and furious. To squeeze in more sessions, the breaks were shorter and there was no shortage of information overload. The ending keynote was given by the principal of the Philadelphia Science Leadership Academy (a public school working in partnership with the Franklin Institute), Chris Lehmann. Before he was introduced on stage, we were given three bits of advice: 1) Get it out of your brain (write about it, blog or old-style journaling), but organize and put it all somewhere; 2) Don’t wait to get started (try some of those new tools, reflect on how you’d use it with your class/school, etc.); 3) Share! I plan to do more sharing, but for now, here are 8 things I learned today.

8) I’d love to come back to ISTE and have others from my school to share the experience. It’s in San Diego next year, which might make this more feasible. Perhaps partnerships with nearby public schools.

7) We should take no greater pleasure than seeing our students eclipse us. (Paraphrased from Lehmann’s keynote.

6) The great lie of education is to tell kids, “You might need it some day.” Make it relevant. If they need to know it now, they will be motivated to do it now.

5) I understand resources cost money, but some companies are selling devices that no smart teacher would use if they knew the much much cheaper alternatives out there. There are document cameras at our school that cost over $600 (I won’t say who this vendor was). I found one for $75 from the company iPevo. Apart from no light source it’s a great simple to use document camera. The company had a booth and the people there were extremely helpful. When I asked about light source when lights are off, they offered a couple of solutions – one) a cheap desk lamp; 2) a small flashlight and some zip ties; 3) the exposure mode in the software (something new I learned). They were more about, “How can this tool help your kids,” and less about “buy this version now. It’s improved.” I know, different sales tactics, but if you start your pitch with my students, I will be more inclined to take the time to listen.

image from ipevo site

4) Jobs that are facilitated by tech are growing. Design, architecture, engineering, science, and in fact most jobs of the future will depend on the creative class (current trends, Daniel Pink, Richard Florida). Technology facilitates creativity. Those that can be replaced by tech will and should be (i.e. online math tutors in India for fractions of the cost). You cannot compete with price. This includes teachers who don’t see themselves as creative and aren’t learning when to use tech to facilitate teaching/learning. A teacher needs to matter to a student. If you look at Dale’s Learning Cone from 1968 or Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), they still hold true for how we learn and how important it is to focus as in the case of Dale’s Cone (the bottom) and in the case of Bloom’s Taxonomy (the top). With Bloom’s you cannot do the top if you don’t have the skills below it.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Dale's Learning ConeModified Blooms Taxonmy

3) A cartoon I saw that I loved had a boss yelling at an employee, “Get back to the cubical and start thinking outside the box!”

2) More early literacy resources at Readilicious (again, thanks to all presenters for posting their links, resources, etc.)

1) Don’t give your kids the answers. Let them grapple with it, predict, apply, be resourceful. A good metaphor was the horror movie: If there is a real intense scene and someone tells you, “don’t worry, the cops will arrive just in the nick of time,” that experience is lost. That is the same for kids’ learning. If you TELL them rather than let them DISCOVER it, you have just spoiled their learning experience/opportunity.

What an incredible 3.5 days! I have never before been this overloaded with information. Still the bottom line is this: No matter how much tech is out there. No matter how extensive your PLN is, you have to remember it’s all about relationships. The response you received from a question you tweeted didn’t come from a google algorithm. It came from an actual person. What a great experience to have met some of the actual people in my extended PLN. It’d be great to find educators public and independent elementary teachers who tweet locally. I’ll leave you with this: I am smart. My colleagues, students, parents of students, are collectively much smarter. My PLN is brilliant!

I will continue to share bits and pieces review the resources I’ve learned about and talk about a great book I’m almost through called The New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the  Imagination for a World in Constant Change  by John Seely Brown. The independent school group at ISTE has chosen this book as a summer book club book, and they’ve got the author to agree to a web chat sometime between mid-August and early September depending on the author’s schedule. I’m more than half-way through. It’s quick easy and thought provoking. If you’re a twitter user, Vinnie Vrotney will be hosting an #isedchat on July 21st. More details to follow.

If you’re interested on Chris Lehmann’s talk, you can get an idea of his philosophy through his TEDxPhilly talk.

8 More Things I Learned at ISTE

I’ve only been to a couple of really large conferences. At these, it seems that keynotes are usually preceded by a local group of performers. Today’s keynote had a great local dance group, but that group was preceded by dancing robots. They even bowed at the end. Anyway, it was another fun filled day of learning. I’m exhausted and while I know my way around the convention center in Philadelphia now, it’s still overwhelming. Anyway, here are 8 more things I learned today.

Bring on the Dancing Robots

8 ) The keynote speaker today was Steven Covey author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People from a gazillion years ago. He was here to talk about leadership, especially in kids. On the website for his book The Leader in Me, Covey has the phrase – “Leadership is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” During the keynote, he defined leadership as the communication of other people’s worth and potential. He then started to incorporate his 7 steps and use the terms skill sets, tool sets, and mindsets (of which the first two lead to incremental changes and mindsets lead to quantum leaps). Perhaps I’m too cynical, but hasn’t Covey written about these “7 habits” over and over again. This time he just melds Dweck’s work (without giving her credit) and uses the term mindset as the underlying foundation of his 7 habits. Don’t get me wrong. I think his habits are really applicable and relevant to both teachers and students; it’s just not exactly new and innovative. Nonetheless, I left with some great quotes and a good reminder of these seven habits:

“The best way to change the future is to create it.”

“Live life in crecsendo.”

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

He also mentioned how test scores are the “worst form of identity theft we can give [kids].”

7) I met some great teachers (one who is an NAIS teacher of the future), who are planning on putting on an EdCamp in May in Seattle. I’m diving head first into volunteering to organize. I actually only learned what an EdCamp is today for the first time and look forward to being part of the team. The video below explains it. A very cool way for teachers to share.

6) I learned of a math fact fluency program that is adaptive and individualized, can be used anywhere (classroom, lab, home), is easy for teachers to monitor progress and will save countless hours of photocopying fact sheets, correcting, and keeping track of something that should be an automated mindless task these days freeing up the teacher to analyze where the gaps are in the students’ memory of math facts. Reflex is the name of that program.

5) I learned about a free QR code generator at qrcode.kaywa.com. QR codes are those square barcode like symbols seen on this sidebar, that can be read with your camera on your mobile device. That one just takes you to this blog. There are some very cool applications for this.

4) Hitachi has a product to help simulate an interactive white board on your pre-exsisting one. Unlike ebeam, however, you don’t need a stylus (just your finger will do), you can have three kids up there simultaneously, and the multi-fingured and whole hand gestures are pretty cool. Priced at $750 it’s a fraction of the cost of SMART boards.  I also saw some great portable systems that help lower the interactive whiteboards so kids can use it – both the white board and the projector is mounted onto the cart. The interactive whiteboard wars are starting to shape up and there aren’t just two major players anymore. That’s good for everyone as long as people don’t get to set on each company’s proprietary software. It’s funny how most of the whiteboard demos, elementary, middle, or high, were designed with the teacher standing in front of the class and the class sitting and responding. I get that teachers will use that tool frequently, but I hope students actually get up there and are the ones interacting with the board. Below is a page from Samsung’s brochure. Notice the desks in rows and the students all sitting passively?

3) I learned that I still don’t know how so many companies are selling single use devices for outrageous sums when a $9.99 app on an ipad will do the same thing.

2) I went to an incredible session on how to develop global empathy in children. Some examples: Grandparents in Ireland reading to the class via skype or podcast. Using twitter hashtags, a middle school teacher found a few adult directors who were tweeting about various scenes. The kids who were directing their version of the play tweeted their directions and got feedback from adult directors in England.

1) The steps Rocky ran up to the Philadelphia Art Museum aren’t that arduous but make for a great scene in a movie. By the way, why is it that almost all attractions shut down the same time each day the conference is over?

View of the city from the top of the steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum

Nearing the End

It’s that bitter-sweet time of year again, where I am so proud of my students’ accomplishments: their risk, failures, successes, and in all the ways they’ve learned and grown. No matter how exciting it is to see kids move on to the next grade, it’s also an incredibly emotional time. Next week, we have our fifth graders graduate and move on to various middle schools. Despite it being close to the end, it’s an amazingly busy time for everyone, including students. As teachers, we only have a certain amount of time with them, and then it’s over. We have to make each moment count. One thing a few of us do this time of year is have students reflect on their growth and create portfolios of some of the work they’ve done through the year and then share these with their parents. I like this for several reasons:

1) The kids take ownership of the evaluation process.

2) Both students and parents can see, through the actual work of their children, what they can and cannot do.

3) Through the students’ reflection of their work, parents can start a conversation about effort, motivation, future goals, etc.

4) Kids can convey so much when they talk about their work and we can learn so much from them.

5) It provides evidence of work and learning, that letter grades can’t. (Even written narratives have their limits)

6) It is rigorous work.

7) Students are highly motivated to show off their work.

Speaking of reflections, I haven’t been able to keep up with the Ralph Waldo Emerson inspired reflection per day. Instead, I’ll just copy the next 4 quotes below, not even mention the prompts, and write one reflection.

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would I say to the person I’m going to be five years from now? Wherever you end up, be it the same place because you love it, or  trying something new because you believe you can make a larger positive impact, stay true to yourself and your beliefs about education. Make sure, however, those beliefs are informed. Don’t base them solely on data you can neatly fit on a spreadsheet, nor simply because ‘it has always been done this way. ‘Don’t base those beliefs just because you have a ‘feeling’ about them. Use data, feelings, and even tradition as starting points, but use the evidence you see in front of you. Do what you think is right because you believe it is the right thing to do, not because you are told to do it. Always remember Emerson’s quote, “Imitation is Suicide.” Lead. Don’t follow.