For a moment, I’ve pretended that my dream school exists. I pored over photos to find glimpses of it in my own school, in schools I’ve visited, and in the activities my children participate in. I didn’t capture everything of which I dream; in truth, this is a cursory look in draft form of my ideal school, but it’s a start.
I envision an education that inspires, challenges, and exposes students to the wonder of the world through experience.
The school is just the catalyst for a deeper kind of learning that often happens outside of its walls–it’s a building, but as with any great architecture, it inspires. Its learning spaces are amorphous–changeable depending on the needs of its inhabitants. The learning is not confined to this space, and instead encompasses the idea that education happens all the time, everywhere. We are always learning through our experiences. My vision includes opportunities for all students to travel and see the world–provoking the deep empathy only possible with first-hand experience.
The school name needs an upgrade, and this is just the beginning of an idea. Still, I would want to attend my dream school, so I can’t be that far off.
Thanks again to George Couros for the inspiration. 250 words–a different sort of challenge!
The amazing George Couros has offered up inspiration for this blog post by asking us to consider one of the elements of the Innovator’s Mindset, and I’d like to talk about risk takers.
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to receive a Rowland fellowship–an incredible opportunity for Vermont educators to transform learning in their schools. As part of this work, I formed a steering committee, which I deemed the “RFCC”–Rowland Foundation Cannonball Committee–a name which embodies the way I encourage its members to operate. Our mission is this:
to recapture the adventure in learning through the use of technology and game-based learning
and that requires a willingness to take risks–that is, to cannonball. Sometimes you just have to jump in, right? Sometimes the best way isn’t a toe wading in the water, or a scoop by the foot to test it out–sometimes, you have to plunge in with abandon, limbs wrapped tightly and maximum height employed, when you try something new.
I’m making an assumption about those who avoid risks: they fear failure and they fear change. I recognize and respect these fears, especially as someone who abhors disappointing people and who can get just as comfortable with the way things are as anyone. But I’ve been forced into change over the last five years, much of it against my will, and I remain as eager and inspired as ever to direct my energy into making positive change in our schools.
My steering committee is a group of teachers who bravely experiment with new approaches, recreate their lessons to incorporate new tools, and in general, iterate. By having them as models at our school, we begin to build a culture where cannonballing is revered–because it gets results.
Take Chris Bologna for example. He teaches social studies to 7th and 8th graders at our school, and recently created a Breakout game to help students explore our constitutional amendments. Check out the game launch–where he lines up the “prisoners” in short order– in this video:
Or take Ryan Farran, who decided this year to completely overhaul his approach to teaching math by incorporating Dreambox for practice and a flipped model using TES Blendspace, all hosted by Schoology. He takes you through his process here.
These are just a couple of teachers taking risks at our school to engage our students and try innovative ways to teach curriculum. As Couros says in The Innovator’s Mindset, “Risk is necessary to ensure that we are meeting the needs of each unique student. Some respond well to one way of learning, while others need a different method or format” (51). These teachers are taking risks–modeling failure when it happens, and more importantly, grit that develops when they model how they move through any failures. In truth, there have been far more successes, as demonstrated in the engaged looks on these student faces.
Couros, George. 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. Digital image. The Principal of Change. N.p., 14 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
If you started a school from scratch, what would you see as necessary, and what would you take out from what we currently do? Thanks to the inspiration from George Couros this week and his #IMMOOC blog challenges, I am going to delve into my ideal school.
I’ve been thinking about my own school for years now. It lives in my head and calls to me every time I ram my head against the proverbial wall of resistance at my current school. When I can’t understand how change can be so slow, I fantasize of this dream school’s inner workings. The thing is, my dream school already exists in bits and pieces around the globe.
Its beautifully designed flexible learning spaces live in schools like Iolani, Avenues, and the Blue School, where space and light invite creativity and learning.
Its Maker Space lives at NuVu, where students use the design thinking process to create things like this hand drive wheelchair attachment, clearly meeting the needs of their users through empathy.
Fostering global awareness through travel opportunities at my dream school exists at the Think Global School, where students immerse themselves in the cultures of the world. When students aren’t learning in another place, they might be using VR technology to likewise gain empathy and understanding.
Its sustainability focus lives at Crossett Brook Middle School, where Sarah Popowicz leads students to investigate our world’s most pressing environmental challenges.
I’ve left the most important part for last–the teachers. In truth, good teachers are hard to find. A shared vision, a commitment to student learning, and the right people are an ideal combination, and with this working space and conditions, well-rounded, engaged, and inspired graduates wouldn’t be far behind. Some of my favorite teachers inspire students daily, think deeply about how to be better, and constantly innovate: Marc Gilbertson and Whitney Kaulbach, Chris Bologna, Cori Rockwood, Pat LaClair, Katie Bryant, and Nick Allen.
In the design of a new school, a fierce desire to inspire a culture of learning in students is necessary, and my dream is to recapture the adventure in that learning. By creating experiences for students that enable them to learn while doing, to feel valued in their opinions and ideas, and to foster their natural curiosities while exposing them to new ones, my dream school encompasses what it truly means to be educated.
“An Avenues Education.” Avenues: New York. Avenues World Holdings LLC, 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
“Blue School.” P. A. Collins PE Consulting Engineering PLLC. P.A. Collins P.E., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
“Brightworks: An Extraordinary School.” Brightworks: An Extraordinary School. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
“Hand Drive Wheelchair Attachment – NuVu School & Autodesk Education.” YouTube. NuVu School & Autodesk Education, 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
Montgomery, Blake. “The Maker Movement’s Influence: Photos From San Francisco’s Brightworks School (EdSurge News).” EdSurge. EdSurgehttps://www.edsurge.com/, 10 July 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
Think about the last time you committed to changing something and it paid off–a time when you had to change habits, and although it was difficult, you did it because you believed in your end goal. The struggle was hard, but it was worth it, right? Now think about how much time you spend on social media–scrolling through recipes, fake news, and kids’ sports photos on Facebook or naming the filters on your Instagram feed. How do these two connect? Because committing to a new social media platform–namely Twitter–takes some commitment, but the end result is incredibly useful, and you’re much less likely to be subject to recipes or kids’ sports photos in your feed. (I can’t say the same for fake news, but that’s another post altogether.)
I joined Twitter in 2009, and like most new Twitter users, was immediately flabbergasted. My uncle told me I should check it out, and because I respected his tech savvy eye, I did. My Twitteracy was elementary, to be sure. I had no idea what a hashtag was, why there were so many @ symbols, or what on earth people were trying to say because everything was abbreviated. I scrolled, wondering how this could ever be useful to anyone. I spent some time lurking, following other Twitterers here and there, but feeling like I had really missed something. Instead of feeling connected, I felt left out. And stupid. I left it unattended for a few years. Yes, years.
And then one day, inspired by a desire to establish a better online presence and find other like-minded educators, I hopped back on and I found this:
posted by @Stephen_H, and I thought, well, maybe it IS useful. I was inspired, and that’s what it took to hook me. I retweeted his graphic, because that’s an easy way to get your first tweet out there, and Twitter began to reveal its brilliance to me.
Inspiration junkie by definition, Twitter is where I now go for my fix. I didn’t realize it then, but in order for Twitter to work well for you, you have to work at it a bit. After searching for and following people you already know, you have to dig around to find people who might inspire you, and reading through whatever pops up on your feed won’t necessarily help you in your first few weeks. Instead, spend time searching for hashtags to find people who interest you. You’ll know you’ve found someone worthwhile when you read their brief bio and it spurs you to read some of their tweets, which then inspire you. When you find someone of interest, check out who they follow. This can increase your network exponentially, where ten minutes of searching can suddenly fill your feed with the collective brilliance of a hundred more educators.
You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation? One of my favorite things about Twitter is that it becomes one degree so easily. I’ve exchanged tweets with @MsMagiera, @gcouros, and @Sugatam –all people for whom I have great respect in the world of education. I would never have directly communicated with them–and so easily–without Twitter.
With so many options to choose from in the world social media, it can be challenging to put in the time to learn another platform. The way I think of Twitter, however, is as my professional social media platform. The others have a bit of crossover, but I use Twitter to grow my PLN, garner inspiration from other educators, create connections for classroom games or lessons, and to learn. It’s worth the time. Do it.
If any of you have ideas about how best to share your successes around technology and its impact in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you! Our designers discussed a Tech Hub, a plan for creating time for staff innovation every school week, and some potential additions to two dynamite VT-based learning platforms: LiFT and Launch Pad (currently in beta in with limited availability). Feel free to share your successes on Twitter with #VTedtech. Let’s share all of the incredible tech happenings in our schools!
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about school change and how best to make it happen: hours in meetings talking about how to inspire, talking others down from the ledge as they became so easily mired in pessimism, sometimes finding myself marveling at the problem as opposed to seeking out solutions. It’s easier to say you can’t do anything because of X, Y, Z than to actually take steps to make change. And it’s true that sometimes even when you spend countless hours trying to make systemic change, it fails.
Michael Fullan, the Heath brothers, and Dan Pink have all written at length about change and its one primary, deciding factor: motivation. In “Change Theory: A force for school improvement,” Fullan writes, “If one’s theory of action does not motivate people to put in the effort–individually and collectively–that is necessary to get results, improvement is not possible” (8). Interesting that he draws attention to the fact that change cannot beget results if only accomplished individually. I have learned this lesson time and again as I carefully constructed the isolated island of a classroom teacher, head down, wading through the bull in an effort to create the best experiences for my students. By the time I met with my colleagues at the end of the day to talk about standards, common assessments, or whatever other initiative was coming down the pike, I was spent and ready to watch some ridiculous Jib Jabs, not so much do heavy thinking on how best to align ourselves for the betterment of our students.
This idea of a culture shift–noted by both the Heath brothers and Fullan–is one that the Rowland foundation has likewise esteemed, and I recognize that shift as the ultimate goal. So let’s talk about some small steps to get there, taking my call for empathy as the impetus. I will attempt to build capacity through students first–Fullan’s second premise of the change theory. Check out my Powtoon for my plan of action–one I hope will result in a move toward better understanding the world in which we live.
I will report out (share widely!) what our students propose, and how their ideas play out at our school. I’d love to hear your ideas as well, and if you’d like to partner with us in this venture. Authentic audiences, global connections around issues important to our students, and a lasting understanding of what technology can do to build empathy are all worthy goals for this venture. Please join us!
Fullan, Michael. Change Theory: A Force for School Improvement. Jolimont, Vic.: CSE Centre for Strategic Education, 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. London: Random House Business, 2011. Print.
Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2010. Print.
“Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy.” Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy. The Rowland Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
I come from a family of artists (case in point: my awesomely talented cousin), but my artistic prowess is best evidenced on stage. This drawing thing doesn’t come naturally to me. So I panicked a bit at the thought of creating sketch notes to visualize leadership. I procrastinated. I dreaded. I thought about the beautiful sketch notes I’ve seen take shape on Explain Everything as I sat behind Reshan Richards watching as he gave them life. And I realized that I needed clear thoughts in mind before moving forward. I know, I know–sketch notes are messy, and I am the first one to sing messy’s praises. When I finally started, I realized that sketch notes may just be the beautiful bridge between messy and clean…
I realized I had to go old school to try this, and when I did, I remembered why writing notes is so helpful to me as opposed to typing them. They settle in that way–they take root. Adding the element of visualization levels up the understanding, organizes the thinking, and leads to further insights.
Sketch notes felt like a natural fit in capturing the ideas expressed around leadership traits, styles, and theory. It did take me a while, but I think it was worth it. I might even be bold enough to try Explain Everything next time.
ASCD. “The Many Faces of Leadership.” Educational Leadership:Teachers as Leaders:The Many Faces of Leadership. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.