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.

“If We (Teachers) Can Be Replaced By A Computer Screen, …

…we should be.” Cathy Davidson

That was pretty much how the NAIS conference ended. It was the last slide for Cathy Davidson’s closing keynote. I couldn’t agree more with that statement.

For some teachers, it may seem a scary thought, but for most in attendance, it was validation that the we live in a very different world than we did even five years ago, and we need to adapt and prepare our kids for an unknown future.

Her most recent book is called, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century. I recommend you visit her website and check out some notes from her talk here.

I am a big fan of Davidson’s work, and Davidson’s ideas resonate with me a lot, but I feel she can sometimes back herself into a corner with her beliefs, and rather than present her ideas with a more balanced approach, her arguments often come across polemical.

Take her statement, for example:

Move from critical thinking to creative contribution.

Both are important. I agree with Davidson that students need to build, make, do, invent, and so on, but they must be able to discern, analyze and evaluate while doing so. I think I know what she’s trying to say in that statement, but it still evoked a reaction from me.  Prior to mentioning this, Davidson talked about a website that appeared to be a great kid friendly resource on farm animals. It turns out that this website was an ad. We need to instill a healthy dose of skepticism in our students, prepare them to think critically.

I liked one of the tasks she gave the audience which was to list the …

Three Most Important Things We Can Do To Help Prepare Students For Their Future (Not Our Past)

Here were mine:

1) Develop a sense of wonder, play, and inquiry.

2) Learn how to find and use the resources needed to grapple with the questions they encounter.

3) To empathize, listen, network, and collaborate with humility and be able to discern between what is useful or purposeful, and what is superfluous or meaningless.

I know, there are a lot of things going on in the last one, but it was hard to come up with just three. I also had another response: Though I’m not religious, the following three things come from a prayer I learned as a child.

Serenity – to accept the things we cannot change

Courage – to change the things we can.

Wisdom – to know the difference.

 

I think we can prepare students for the first two of those, but the last one is something we have to learn on your own. I know I’m still working on it.

One of the things I enjoyed both this year in Philly and at home last year in Seattle was that the featured speakers were accompanied by “graphic recording artists” who captured visually, in real time, what was being said. Here’s a pdf of Cathy Davidson’s closing keynote.

Click for larger view.

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.

Reflecting on Presenting at #NAISAC13

One of the things I love best about learning is sharing that experience with my students. After all, learning is what I ask them to do each day. I learned so much from presenting at the National Association of Independent School’s (NAIS) Annual Conference, and it’s great to share the process with my second graders.

Today, for example, two of my students had to present something to the class. One shared with the class the adventure of her Flat Stanley, and the other presented a book report. It was important to let them know that what I am asking of them isn’t arbitrary, but something their own teacher engaged in last week. I didn’t talk about the topic of the presentation as that wasn’t pertinent to them, but I did briefly talk about the process.

The session at the conference was called “Revolutionize Your Professional Development.”

Description of session from conference program.

Description of session from conference program.

I presented with Kim Sivick, Liz Davis, and Shannon Montague. We all teach in different states, met initially through social media, and all had different reasons for wanting to present on this topic. One thing that we all had in common, though, was that we were passionate about this model of professional development, and wanted others to bring it to their schools.

Kim is a founding member of edcamps and on the edcamp foundation. Liz was instrumental in getting edcampIS to happen and has been involved in many other unconferences. Shannon and I have both helped organize edcamps, and Shannon recently organized PD in her school using the unconference format.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of risk involved when collaborating with four educators from four different parts of the country, but we trusted each other and we trusted the topic.

I remember that we all had this grand idea that we’d run a mini un-conference in order to inform, persuade, and have participants experience the process itself. The beauty of unconferences is that people get to partake in the conversation, not just sit and listen. We wanted to model good teaching practices and move away from the ‘sit and get’ lecture format that large conferences and other professional development workshops tend to favor.

During our first google hangout, about halfway through the meeting, after we had talked about resources, chart paper, and getting people moving out of their seats, we realized that we were possibly headed in the wrong direction. We needed to think about who our main audience was, and what our space would be like.

We all worked on what we thought our strengths were and started there. Liz suggested the framework: “What, So What, Now What.” We worked on our parts and played with google presentation, so that we could collaborate on the same document. Then once we were more or less agreed on our slide deck, we transferred them to Power Point and shared it through our dropbox accounts.

I was happy to give the ‘So What’ part of the presentation as I am a person who will dive head first into anything if there is a clear and meaningful purpose. I can list many reasons why I believe in this format of professional development, but I’m not an expert, so I pulled experts where I could. Daniel Pink for motivation, Carol Dweck for mindset, Roland Barth for collegiality, and Sir Ken Robinson for teacher leadership and bottom-up approaches to things (in which he used the word ‘revolution’). We couldn’t be happier. Just for good measure, I threw in a quote by Albert Camus for people to reflect upon when they were leaving. I knew it might have been a little much, but there are those who love philosophy. Besides, the quote fit, which was what was important.

“Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in the name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and not of rebellion.”

I also agreed to try and go through our slide deck and try to give it a uniform look, while respecting the content of my colleagues. I’ll share my thoughts about Power Point in a later post, but all four of us came from the same place, so that was easy.

The four of us met several more times virtually, gave each other feedback, revised, edited, and finally met in person the day before to make our final tweaks.

I have to say, I was anxious. Public speaking is not my strength, but I believe strongly that I  have to push myself to do what I ask my students to do. I also believe that in order to get better at it, I have to do it.

Well, I’m glad I did it. To spread the word of something I believe in, to collaborate with such amazing educators, to push myself to try something new, to have my school recognized, and to learn, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m glad to be back in my classroom, but glad to know when I say to my students, “I know what I’m asking you to do is hard, but it’s rewarding,” I can say so truthfully.

Thanks to Kim and Shannon for uploading our slides.

Are Innovative Breakthroughs Accidental or Do They Require Hard Work?

What do you think of when you hear the term, “Slam Poetry.” My early experiences with slam poetry were not very memorable and usually consisted of overwrought and angry performances. The point they were trying to make was lost on me.

Then, last year, Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet, presented at TED. I was immediately captivated by the words she wrote, the way she organized them, and the way she delivered them. In an instant, my preconceptions about spoken poetry had changed.

Those attending the Thursday session of the NAIS conference were lucky enough to hear her as the closing speaker of the day. Speaking to educators she began with a poem about learning and growing up in New York (it was much more than that).

After her poem, she addressed school leaders about the theme of the conference: innovation. Innovation wasn’t simply bringing something new to the class each day. Innovation required breakthroughs. She described that there were basically two types of breakthroughs. The first kind is one that is accidental. They’re breakthroughs that happen in a moment, or occur when you have an epiphany. Something that fundementally changes they way you thought – a breakthrough that alters a paradigm you once held on to strongly. The other kind of breakthrough she talked about is the kind that requires an incredible amount of effort and time – something you work very hard towards before reaching that breakthrough. Once you get there, these breakthroughs can change your life. Sarah also talked about how children tend to have much of the first kind of breakthroughs, those aha moments. Adults, however, start to forget about accidental breakthroughs and begin to value only those breakthroughs that require hard work. We value that we’ve made on our own because we recognize the hard work to get there. We also tend to dismiss a lot of our own outside-the-box ideas or those that are brought to us by others. Though we embrace children who ask “What if…” questions, we are quick to discredit adults who ask the same or have differing ideas. Rather than be open to a potential breakthrough, adults tend to shut those ideas down and move on with the paradigm they are already comfortable with. Schools across the country are notorious for this, making education reform very difficult. I am not naive. I don’t believe that every new idea warrants merit. But a willingness to listen to them before dismissing them is extremely important.

Sarah Kay also talked about her very first teaching experiences, and how she began from stumbling, falling, and failing to realizing how to deconstruct something that was second nature to her into smaller bits. She claims that whether they are breakthroughs that come through rigorous work, or are accidental, we as educators need to find the balance. We need to

“equip our students  with the skills they will need to overcome obstacles and meet challenges – and we do that through innovation. Through teaching them new ways to approach old problems and old questions. But it’s incredibly important that in doing that, we also make sure to teach them to stay open to the idea of accidental breakthrough – things that they cannot prepare for – only keeping themselves open to the possibility. And so, to do that, we have to live that ourselves.”

She talked about being flexible and the learning that happens in-between. A teacher may have spent hours preparing the best lesson, but if a student steers the class down a meaningful “rabbit hole,” you just might want to go there. For the learning that occurs during those teachable moments are some of the best.

Sarah Kay then ended with a poem about the first person who taught her what it meant to be an educator: her elementary school principal. It’s an incredible 7 minute performance and I highly recommend viewing it.

It’s amazing how the culture of sharing is catching on. For those who were not available to attend the conference that day, so many of these resources are made available. By clicking on the image below, you can view her entire 25 minute keynote.

My Take-Aways from the Tiger Mom

The closing keynote at the NAIS conference was Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A year ago, the press used this book to paint a portrait of a villainous mother. The media generalized the differing parenting styles of Chinese and Americans making inflammatory statements in their headlines such as the Wall St. Journal’s “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”

I haven’t shared my thoughts on whether or not I found value to her talk, as my opinions about Ms. Chua’s memoire continue to vacillate. Though cynical about her keynote address, I wanted to approach it with an open mind. As she began speaking, she started with a great story about how the press storm caught her by surprise. I even started feeling for her when she described being on the Today Show and the first thing Meredith Viera asked was, “Are you a monster?”

Unfortunately she followed that story with one about a trip to DAVOS that seemed more about name dropping than it did about teaching or parenting. And so even though she may have ended up with more negative press than she initially bargained for, it certainly helped her sell her book and my sympathies began to wane. Interestingly, one of the names she dropped was Larry Summers who disagreed with her by saying,

“In a world where things that require discipline and steadiness can be done increasingly by computers, is the traditional educational emphasis on discipline, accuracy and successful performance and regularity really what we want?”

Mr. Summers went on to note two prominent Harvard ‘drop-outs’ Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg may not have had that much support from the kind of strict parenting to which Ms. Chua refers.

Ms. Chua said her book was meant to be a ‘funny’ memoir rather than a parenting guide and it was a way to reflect on how her strict parenting didn’t exactly work out when her second child turned thirteen.

Overall, while somewhat charming and engaging, I wasn’t too impressed by her talk. It was still validating to come away with these few thoughts.

1) Have high expectations for your children/students.

2) All children are different and we need to recognize this.

3) Self-Esteem must be earned.

One thing I enjoyed from the conference were the illustrators that were engaged in live visual note-taking for each of the main speakers. Below is an example of Ms. Chua’s.

Bill Gate’s Keynote at the 2012 NAISAC Annual Conference

Below is that video of Bill Gates’ Keynote Address at the NAIS Annual Conference on Thursday, March 1, 2012. You can read the transcript here.

Bill Gates talks about four main trends in his speech:

1) Creating engaging and interactive ways of learning rather than using the traditional text book.

2) Using the internet to find, use, and share resources among teachers. A new way to collaborate between and among teachers.

3) Using social networks in positive ways both to enhance the learning of teachers and students.

4) Using technology, game play, etc. to provide immediate feedback for teachers and students.

Bill Gates mentions that these are the things he hopes he’ll be seeing in 10 years across the country.However, according to Mr. Gates, it is already happening at leading schools. How much of a leader in these areas are your teachers and your schools?

Having a network and being connected can be a great thing. I was teaching on the day Bill Gates gave his keynote, but  was able to follow some of the conversation via twitter and recently alerted that the video and transcript of his speech were now available, something Mr. Gates had promised to share.

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.

What I Heard About Day 1 at the NAISAC conference

It’s amazing how much information flows in the back channels (if you know how to find them) at conferences. I wasn’t able to attend today’s portion of the NAISAC12 conference but was able to glean a lot of information through dedicated bloggers and tweeters. I was also able to speak to a few people tonight about their thoughts on the speakers.

There was a lot of chatter in anticipation of the keynote Bill Gates. There were also some comments about NAIS being behind the times by not publishing their official twitter hashtag in their program. By the way, it’s #NAISAC12. Even our regional PNAIS fall conference embraced the hashtag. Anway, on to Bill.

The crowd was big and expectations were high. The session kicked off with Northwest School’s choir which sang a moving a cappella song. (Note: A good friend at the Northwest School mentioned that NAIS did not permit those students to stay to listen to Mr. Gates’ address.)

After a flash of innovators across the screen, King County exec Dow Constantine took the stage followed by NAIS president Pat Bassett. He thanked bloggers and tweeters (I guess that’s me) and announced that there were 4100+ registrants. He said of the 30,000 schools, one of our local competitor schools was noted for its river that runs through its campus. Then Bill Gates was introduced by the head of Lakeside School, Bernie Noe.

Bill Gates talked about the flipped classroom – a disruption model, but the twitter feed mentioned that no sessions on flipped classrooms at the conference were being offered at the conference. He never really addresses how to fuel the teachers that are out there innovating, and in the end, it seemed the general consensus was, it’s nice to have Bill Gates as a keynote, it was well-organized, but there wasn’t as much new information as some hoped. I will have to read a little more to try and find some nuggets to take away.

The afternoon closing session was conducted as three separate 20 minute keynotes. And every tweet and blog I read tonight only had this to say about Sarah Kay: WOW!  Brilliant!  Heart wrenching, powerful. superb! I’m fairly jealous of those who got to see her, I’ve posted her TED talk before, but it’s definitely worth a listen again.

What is a Tweet-Up?

I just got back from a ‘tweet-up’ tonight at the Pike Pub & Brewery. It was an interesting concept of gathering folks who use twitter to share and learn from each other. Many thanks to Greg Bamford for organizing this event tonight. I still consider myself a neophyte when it comes to twitter, but in the year that I started, I’ve met incredible people, had new opportunities, and learned a lot.


When I say that I’ve met people – I mean physically. And tonight was another opportunity to turn my virtual learning network into a more personal one. Using twitter, you often see a small thumbnail of someone’s face, but meeting them in person is so much better.

The only downside is that they live in Illinois, Arizona, North Carolina, and other states.

Where is the school with educators that are this engaged in leading the change efforts? I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t it be great to have a school with all these educators working in the same place? I’m not ready to start my own school, but I’m ready to dream.

And if you think twitter is for the young, you are completely wrong. Twitter is for all ages and is simply a mindset. Sign up and try it for 21 days. I promise you, you will learn something.

What to Do in Seattle While Attending NAISAC12?

The National Independent School Annual Conference kicks off tomorrow at the Washington State Convention Center here in Seattle. Having been fortunate enough to attend a few conferences in other cities, I know that sight seeing isn’t really on the agenda as each day is completely filled. By the time each day is over, most sights are closed or one is usually exhausted from the conference itself. Nonetheless, I’m going to try and give a few tips for those visiting our splendid city this week. Here are my top 5 things to do this week while you’re here.

5. Have dinner with colleagues in the Westlake/South Lake Union District. The theme for the conference is innovation, and you couldn’t be in a better city for it. Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco are just a few of the innovative companies around here. Amazon has embraced the concept of an urban campus, and what used to be a rarely visited part of town is developing into quite a great spot – and that doesn’t include the 3 million square feet Amazon plans to build in the near future. It’s a short cab ride from downtown or you can ride the South Lake Union Trolley (only tourists do, so go ahead). Here are a few places.

4. Visit the Seattle Art Museum on Thursday night for free.

Every first Thursday of the month, Seattle has an art walk. I wouldn’t normally recommend walking at night in the Pioneer Square area, but all the galleries are open to the public until 8pm and its very safe on First Thursdays. You can check out this website for maps and galleries. In addition to the galleries, the Seattle Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of the month. It doesn’t include the current Gaugin exhibit, but there’s plenty of great art throughout the rest of the museum.

3. Visit the Seattle Public Library

Open til 8pm on Wednesday and Thursday, the central branch of the Seattle Public Library is quite an innovation in design and architecture. You might want to watch this TED talk first before your visit.

2. Come share what you’ve learned at edcampIS on Saturday, March 3.

Unwind after the big conference, and instead of listening to big keynotes, listen to other educators and share with each other what you’ve learned. Currently we have over 80 registrants from 16 states, DC, and Canada. To learn more visit edcampis. Also learn more about unconferences by reading an interview of one of the co-organizers, Liz Davis.

1. Go to the Pike Place Market BEFORE the conference. 

That is when the market is most alive with all the deliveries of fish, produce, and other colorful sights. Make sure to bring a camera!

I’m afraid if you haven’t been to Seattle before, it will live up to its reputation of being damp and cold. Just to prove that isn’t the case, I took a picture at school yesterday while the sun was shining. Even in the rain, I love this city, and I hope all visitors have a great conference.

What I’d Like to Ask Bill Gates Next Week

Next week, people from many places associated with independent schools will be in town for the National Independent Schools Annual Conference here in Seattle. I’m excited about this week for many reasons and hope to write about them in the coming days.

One of the things I’m interested in is what the featured keynote speaker, Bill Gates, has to say. I won’t be able to hear him speak directly on Thursday as I’ll be teaching. I will, however, be able to follow his address through many various channels.

I read his opinion piece in the NYTimes on Friday about his thoughts on New York making teacher performance assessments public. I agree with him on many points. One of these is that making teacher evaluation assessments publicly available isn’t going to do anything to help improve teaching. I also agree with Gates’ statement that “Teaching is multifaceted, complex work.” I also think that his push for robust teacher evaluations that help give direct feedback to teachers so they can improve their practice is a good thing. Mr. Gates calls for trained peers and supervisors to provide this feedback. I would love to invite a team from his foundation come visit me teach, so I can get that direct feedback on how to improve. In return, I’d love to be trained so I can pass it on and give this feedback to others. If there’s a way to sign up, let me know.

Effective teaching requires complicated measures, and I don’t believe that we’ve reliably figured out what combination of those metrics are. Unfortunately, the term ‘teacher accountability’ tends to scare people away from “creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve.” As reported in an article titled “Teacher Quality Widely Diffused, Ratings Indicate,” the actual publication of New York’s assessments show that high and low performing teachers exist in every school regardless of wealth, neighborhood, or population.

The theme of the NAISAC12 conference is Innovation. I am a big fan of the work the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation do and think its research into improving schools will benefit us all.

The Gates foundation recognizes the need to implement new ideas, and even if those attempts at education reform don’t work, analyzing and learning from the data is important. Microsoft, the company Gates founded some time ago took many risks and has been very successful, but along the way, it has also produced some things that didn’t work as well as they’d hope (remember the Kin anyone?). That didn’t stop them. In fact, I’m quite excited to see Microsoft trying to be a player in the mobile world. It promotes innovation from all its competitors.

In today’s op ed section of the NYTimes there’s an article titled “True Innovation” about Bell Labs. Last year I read two great books about innovation and risks: Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation and Tim Harford’s Why Success Always Starts with Failure: Adapt. Like so many things that end up being polarized, I think many things do not have to be either/or. The article and the books mention the need for both autonomy and collaboration. They are not exclusive of each other. The challenge is finding the balance, so that the continued cycle of improvement promotes both teacher accountability and innovative teaching.

If I had the chance, I’d like to ask Bill Gates this…

To fuel innovation, we often need to take risks. Risks come with many rewards, but they also come with failure. How do you balance teacher accountability while supporting and promoting innovative teaching?

If anyone gets a chance on Thursday to get behind a mic and ask this question, I’d love to hear his response. 


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!

 

Two Words I’d Like to See Disappear From Education Articles This Year

Finland & Singapore.

Both countries are on my list of places I’d like to visit one day. What I’m tired of reading is articles that keep trying to compare their education system to the US’s. I agree that it’s important to look for what’s working in education. Unfortunately, comparisons to student achievement and teacher quality in those countries to the US cannot be done easily. There are many challenges that face US education, both independent and public, but simply comparing them to Finland or Singapore is unfair. Finland, Singapore and the US are very different.

In the past few years, Finland has been one of the countries that has consistently placed first on international academic tests. It doesn’t surprise me then that many education reform leaders are trying to look at their practices. In a nytimes article last month, it even mentioned that the president of the National Association of Independent Schools, Pat F. Bassett has made the pilgrimage. The one thing I like about Finland’s education system is that most kids don’t start testing and homework until their teens!

Still, Finland or Singapore are small countries that value teaching. It can be harder to get into a school of education than into law or medicine (and the schooling is fully subsidized). they recognize that the quality of teaching matters and they support that from the beginning.

Apart from that, looking at what Finland or Singapore is doing right is not going to fix the challenges that exist today in the US. I agree with Linda Darling Hammond, that it might be a good model for a state like Kentucky, but both those countries have a much more homogenous society.

The US education system has to stop being reactionary. It cannot repair itself simply by learning from Finland. It has to innovate and lead. Education in this country has always been able to do that, and I am optimistic that it will continue to do so. There are many amazing schools with incredible teachers doing many things right. We should start to look at those as models first. Good teachers eventually find the schools that fuel and support their passion and purpose. It should be the other way around. Schools should be finding those qualified teachers.

Just think of all the people who learned Russian or Japanese not too long ago. I think it’s great that they learned a foreign language, but I wonder if those choices were based on what was going on in the world at that time. Finland and Singapore are both on my list of countries I’d like to visit, but somehow I don’t think the general population is going to be learning Finnish anytime soon.

hyvää yötä

What Is EdCamp IS?

Earlier this summer, I met with some educators from Boston, Philly, and Raleigh who had attended and organized EdCamps before. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of them until we met. Since this year’s National Association of Independent School’s Annual Conference was going to be in Seattle, they thought it would be great to have an edcamp with a focus on independent schools (IS) on the Saturday following the big national conference. Those I met, the ones who have done this before, were from out of town. They needed a few local people to help and organize the event. Once I learned what edcamps were about, I had to say yes.

So what is an edcamp? I learned that edcamps are ‘unconferences.’ Don’t worry, I also had to look up what the term ‘unconference’ meant. Basically, unconferences are free participant driven conferences where (in this case) educators come with the goal of sharing and presenting something they’ve learned. They also have the option to attend sessions and learn from others. There are no official keynotes. Teachers assemble in the morning and time is given so people can write down what they’d like to share (perhaps it’s an innovative way to use a tech tool in a meaningful way, a reflection on what is considered a best practice, a discussion led by many different teachers on a hot topic in education, perhaps a response to one of the featured speakers from the official conference). These are posted on a schedule. Then everyone moves to the sessions that interest them most.

One hope, is that by scheduling EdCampIS after the NAIS conference, we can get educators from across the country who are here for that to attend. How are these conferences free? Often they involve sponsors to provide space, lunch, t-shirts, etc., however, we are going to have participants lunch on their own as there are lots of great eateries and one of our association schools is providing the venue. We may just need to find a coffee sponsor for the morning gathering. It is in Seattle after all.

Save the date: Saturday, March 3, 2012 at The Northwest School in Seattle (a ten minute walk from the Washington State Convention Center). For more information go to our wiki page.

It’s too soon to tell how many people will attend, but hopefully word will start spreading. In the meantime, you can check out this video of EdCamp Philly. It’s a great overview of an EdCamp event.

You can also check out other EdCamps around the country at the official EdCamp Wiki.

Don’t forget to click on the NAIS conference link above. It’s an official conference, so there are some great topics covered, and a diverse array of featured speakers including: Bill Gates, Amy Chua (Tiger Mom),  and Sarah Kay (I didn’t know I liked poetry slam until I saw her TED talk). I haven’t had much time to post lately, so I’ll include it below. Hopefully both the NAIS conference and the EdCampIS ‘unconference’ will bring many of you to Seattle this winter.

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.

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?

 

 

Blogging Heads 15 Tips

Recently, my head of school suggested that he was almost ready to take a leap and start blogging. He just needed a little nudge. Hopefully this post will help.

Here are just a few tips:

1) Decide on purpose: to share what you’ve read both to teachers and parents, to share resources, to highlight your school, to be reflective and tell stories about the realities of school life, for personal professional development, to take a risk, to learn, etc.

2) Keep it related to education. – I’ve heard that nobody wants to read about what you had for lunch (unless of course it somehow relates to school).

3) Not everyone will like what you have to say (or care) – that’s okay, some will.

4) Keep it professional: don’t name anyone unless they don’t mind; I’ve learned that “transparency” is not the same thing as “say anything”; if you mention another school, do so because you like what they’re doing;

5) It’s okay to comment on issues and write your opinions: some issues are going to cause disagreement – that’s good, as long as the discourse is civil

6) First, read some other blogs written by Heads and Principals: Here are a few suggestions of Independent School Heads to start (there are other independent school blogging Heads and plenty of great public school ones that I’ll share another time):

21k12 (I like palindromes) – by Jonathan Martin: Head of School at St. Gregory’s in Tuscon
Peak Experiences – by Michael Ebling: Head of PK to 9th grade Summit School in Winston-Salem
Compass Point – by Josie Holford: Head of Poughkeepskie Day School

These three hosted a session called “Blogging Heads” at the last NAIS conference in DC, which I followed remotely. You can read a summary of their panel discussion here.

7) You don’t have to write every day.

8. It’s a way to responsibly model an authentic medium that many of our students will or already use.

9) You may reach people well beyond our own school community.

10) Think of it as a discipline that motivates you: for some that’s running, gardening, knitting, volunteering – do it because you want to

11) Like those other disciplines mentioned above, don’t do it for extrinsic rewards. The intrinsic rewards should be good enough.

12) Don’t always expect comments or replies.

13) Don’t expect all your teachers to blog. Do encourage them to be reflective about their practice – whatever form that may be. Blogging is not part of a teacher’s job. It’s just one of many ways to share.

14) Realize that sometimes, you have to stop, and even though you set out to write 15 tips, sometimes 14 will do.

A nudge was asked for. The  book Nudge is a book about the psychology of choices.

The philosophy called libertarian paternalism is what the authors of the book say works best in designing choice architecture.
I’m just a teacher who likes to think about education and share what I’m thinking: I’m not a philosopher, psychologist, or even a Head of School. To blog or not to blog? I’ll keep you posted.

Something I Wrote is in Independent Teacher’s Spring Issue

It was fun to see something I wrote appear on another website. Independent Teacher decided to publish an article I submitted about making homework meaningful. I would rather not give my second grade students homework, but since it’s a school policy, trying to make it meaningful rather than just busy work or eliminating it was my main objective. If the purpose of some homework is to honor kids who need a little more time to finish their work, why ask those who’ve done the work to do more of the same? Also, when you give kids their own choices about homework, you’d be astonished how many of my students, motivated purely by their own curiosity, go well beyond what one would expect.

Anyway, here’s a link to that article. It’s my first, so I’m a little excited.

Will I Pay for the Gray Lady?

This past week, the New York Times revealed its plan to charge consumers for its content. It’s continues to be an interesting time for newspaper organizations who cannot survive on advertising revenue alone. The quality of the content is what separates whether something is worth paying for or not – regardless what niche that is, be it news, education, or something else.

I  continue to have many thoughts about blogging. These thoughts or dilemas were summed up nicely in an article by Jonathan Martin, a head of school in AZ. Titled, “Dilemas and Tensions of Blogging: Learning From Montaigne“. He identifies the following as two dilemas that stand out:

  • “the tension of publishing “polished,” pretty, and beautifully composed pieces meant for wide public consumption vs. writing off the top of my head, providing transparent “think-out-loud” pieces sharing what is very much a thinking work in progress.
  • the competing values of modesty and humility in expression vs. the desire to take strong and vigorous positions on issues of educational best practice.”

I don’t get paid for blogging. I do it for many of the reasons Martin lists in his article: “Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 Reasons“. I don’t have editors, and sometimes when I go and re-read an older post I wrote, I wish  I did. If you want quality journalism, the reporters and writers who do it for a living, need to be paid. The reason why Wikipedia works, is because it is simply a collection (for the most part) of facts. It lacks analysis, evaluation, and quality writing – something I’d be willing to pay for.

The NYTimes metered pay-wall model is an interesting one, though. Can a digital subscription be shared in a household like a physical paper? Is the app version of the content going to be so superior to the website, that it’s worth $240 more a year to read it on my phone and tablet via an app? Then there’s the dilema of subscribing to the paper edition, which for new subscribers, is offered at 50% off the newsstand price for the first 12 weeks. The paper subscription will give you full access to any form of the digital content including the app versions. If you only subscribe to the M-F edition, it actually works out to just about $15 a month, same as the basic digital plan. You end up with the app versions for less, but you also end up with a lot of paper to recycle each week (at least for the first 12 weeks). I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m interested in how this will play out.

For those who read my blog, thanks for putting up with the flaws in my writing and opinions. I’m just happy you visited.

Tweachers

I am exceptionally lucky to work with very bright and capable colleagues who are willing to share what they know. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to learn elsewhere and a myriad of ways to do it. All the ed journals talk about growing your Personal Learning Network (PLN) and as a follow up to the NAIS conference, a few teachers in TX put out a webinar for free to teach teachers how to use twitter as a tool to do exactly that. It was a great workshop. I learned a whole lot. For example, you could follow tweets in foreign languages and have it translated instantly. Again, while there is no way to replace face to face interaction, if the online tools are dynamic and useful, one can learn a lot.

I’m fairly new to twitter, and finally got my feet wet to use it as tool to follow the NAIS conference. Social network sites are something I’ve dabbled with a few social network sites, but haven’t always found how they could be useful in my professional life. Besides, not everything about one’s personal life needs to be shared, nor do all the circles of people in my life cross.  Myspace was interesting, but it didn’t really stick for me and I’ve long since abandoned it. Facebook is good for sharing photos, keeping an up to date contact list, catching up with old friends and family you haven’t seen in a while, and is not really a professional tool for me.  Linked-in is really just a place to share your professional history, there’s some interactivity, but it’s limited. Yammer’s been working well as an in-house way of sharing at our school. Blogging is a nice way to communicate, but following all the blogs you enjoy reading for professional development, let alone the ones you read for pleasure, can sometimes be a daunting task.

Enter Twitter. Where you can ‘follow’ everyone from Bill Gates to Edutopia, or other teachers eager to share resources. You can follow a children’s book author or Daniel Pink. You can even search for tweets or follow certain terms that are of interest to you, like #edtech. Twitter’s been something I’ve been reluctant to get into, but sometimes getting ones feet wet,  is all it takes to see its value.

With just 140 characters, you can get through all the people or organizations you follow and only click on the links that interest you, if any. I spend a few minutes on it, click on a few articles I want to read and that’s it. Many of those articles are ones from ed journals that have crowded my inbox, and it’s been nice to unsubscribe and just follow them.

One thing someone mentioned in the webinar is to  follow people who have dissenting opinions. People naturally gravitate to like-minded folks, and it’s good to see things from multiple perspectives.

Anyway, I haven’t tweeted much apart from this blog tweeting each post. There’s much to learn and many resources which I’ll look at and share soon. And – I didn’t make up the word in my title.

The webinar was recorded, so if you’re inclined, you can view it here.

Leading From the Middle

Last year, after returning from the NAIS conference – a fire of optimism was lit. Change can happen and even though I teach at a wonderful school, we can all do better. But the pace of change is overwhelming for many, and for some too slow. Perhaps then, if we take the baby bear approach, change is happening at the right pace.

I wasn’t able to attend the conference this year in DC, and while there’s nothing like really being there, it’s amazing how one can get a flavor of it by reading blogs and tweets of those who attended. Yes, I finally jumped into this century and am using twitter. Like everything, once you find meaning and purpose for a tool, your motivation to learn will grow.

One session I was interested in was Pat Bassett’s “Leading from the Middle” as I have struggled with wanting to be more involved administratively, but would find it difficult to leave the classroom as that’s currently where my true passion lies. He gave this talk as a keynote to the NAIS Diversity Institute last year and included it in his blog.

So how does a leader make high stakes decisions under the gun? Bassett says this:

  • Insisting that the leader communicate clearly the vision and intent and that he or she has “created the conditions for success.”

  • Dealing with mavericks (so they don’t become renegades).

  • Knowing the importance of the “effect” of a leader and his or her strategy to change mutineers into soldiers.

  • Sensing the difference between what’s critical vs. what’s important.

  • Eschewing satisfaction with one great battle victory, in favor of pursuing to conclusion the next engagement to win the war.

  • Figuring out how strongly to challenge your leader, especially when he or she has never been wrong before.

    So how does one lead from the middle?

  • Informational/Expertise Power: Having the knowledge base and using it. (I know I wouldn’t be able to challenge myself and others in curricular decisions if I didn’t keep reading and learning)

  • Interpersonal/Relational Power: This is something I’m great with the kids I teach, but something I am slowly honing with some of the adults I work with. It’s still an area of growth for me.

  • Associative Power: [Great leaders have] a genius for social networking. [They are] connected — (you need to be the maven, connector, and salesperson all rolled into one) – well, I finally gave twitter a try this mid-winter break, and I have to say, if you’re selective in what you follow (for me it’s education related), those connections happen rapidly. Facebook is good for family and friends, but it isn’t as focused on education. I really don’t need everyone to know what I had for lunch today.

  • So, from Pat Bassett’s talk today, here are some things I took away from others attending:

  • It is important to nurture your followers – it’s about the movement, not you
  • Those in the middle must take risks to lead
  • From the middle you must push your leader to communicate clearly
  • “Be bold about what matters most” a quote from Rob Evans via Raventech who shared a lot of what took place at the conference this week. One of the many ways to attend (albeit virtually)
  • By the way, for someone like me, twitter is extremely useful at working on brevity. 140 characters is not a lot. One has to choose one’s words carefully.

     

     

    NAIS Conference Begins – Find the Bright Spots

    Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual conference put on by the National Association of Independent Schools and, along with a few books I had read prior to this conference, I was inspired and propelled to make some major changes in the way I taught and viewed education. The limits of this change, however, were something I wasn’t prepared for. Change is slow and I’m impatient. What I need to do is focus on the bright spots.

    The general climate for teachers in general is not a great one at the moment. Rather than focusing on bright spots, most education policy makers around the country seem to be focused on the dark spots. Could this be a consequence of No Child Left Behind, the recession, state budgets, teacher evaluations, or other factors?

    Last year’s conference provided each of its participants with the Heath Brothers’ new book at the time, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I read the book right away, wrote a post about it, and put it aside. Whether it be for personal change or institutional change, Switch is a good book to revisit and reflect upon.

    One of the authors, Dan Heath will be speaking at one of the general sessions of the NAIS conference tomorrow. I hope one of the four people from our school heading to the conference this year will attend his session. Why is change hard? Here’s a quick reminder of the book’s central ideas.

    1. Decisions are usually made by our overpowering emotional element – it is, however this emotional side that provides us with the energy to get the job done.

    2. While we like to think we are logical, this rational side almost always plays second fiddle to our emotional side.

    According to the authors, in order to direct our rational sides while still being able to use our emotional energy, we have to:

    1. Find the bright spots.

    2. Script the critical moves.

    3. Point to the destination.

    And we can ‘feed’ our emotional sides by:

    1. Finding the feeling.

    2. Shrinking the change.

    3. Growing your people.

     

    Change in education is hard, which is one of the many reasons education reform across this country is in the state that it is. Of course, when autocratic decisions are made that do the opposite of the above, for example, growing the change and shrinking the people while focusing on the dark spots with no clear destination in sight, it’s easy to see why there is a lot of tension among teachers. Michelle Rhee made a huge splash in the papers in the past year, but slowly, there are many stories highlighting the flaws in her own pursuit to change education (rather than looking at ways to grow teachers, she fired many that she deemed ineffective). Again, if you look at the headlines across the country, teachers have been made out to be the bad guys and there’s something wrong with this picture.

    Change is just one topic amid a myriad of others, but it covers many of the other topics in education: innovation, technology, motivation, citizenship, and so on.

    With my students, I know that finding the bright spots has been an excellent way to engage and help them learn. Rather than fixate on a child’s poor spelling, for example, looking at what makes them come alive and shine in sharing their stories with others has done wonders. By giving that child more opportunities to share their writing, they have self-identified the need for proper spelling in order to communicate more clearly.

    I’m interested to hear what my colleagues take away from this year’s conference. You can click on the ‘nais link’ on the sidebar to learn more about what’s going on, and who the other featured speakers are. Here’s a short video of Dan Heath speaking about finding those bright spots. According to the Heaths, focusing on the biggest problems is the wrong way to go about growing. It only fosters mediocrity.