Category Archives: Uncategorized

Check Out Incredible Curriculum Spiral via Ross School

Rhetorical question for all educators: do you have or wish you had a really well-scaffolded curriculum?

To be honest, I would have thought by now most schools could answer that integrated curriculum maps and tight alignment amongst subjects and grade levels were well in our rearview mirrors; that faculty who work in the same school but in different hallways had a good idea of what each were doing; that opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and cross-subject project work were as easy to find and pick as proverbial low-hanging fruit.

Unfortunately, that is still not the case at many schools, and even if your school has a good curriculum map, you REALLY might want to check out this mind-blowing tool I ran across yesterday. Thanks to a mention in Bold Moves for Schools (Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Marie Hubley Alcock), I found the Ross School and the Ross Learning System and “Spiral”, which you pretty much just have to play with to believe and understand.

The Spiral is the interactive visual manifestation of a preK-12 interdisciplinary curriculum “with a focus on sustainability and a systems thinking perspective…designed to prepare learners to address the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly complex, globally connected future.” The entire school curriculum integrates all subjects, aligned to their evolution through global and human history.

I have not even connected with Ross School yet, but I will, and will learn and share more, but I wanted to get this out there.

Great Job Posting for Innovation Leader

A you know I rarely advocate for one school, but you also know the high esteem I hold for the remarkable leadership of Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta.  So when they asked that I share a job opening opportunity, I am happy to do so.  If you think of yourself as an innovator, creator, designer, teacher, facilitator, risk-taker, and you want to work with some of the best, check out this job opening for Director of the iDiploma program at Mt. Vernon.

Teaching the Death of Compromise

The tempest that is Washington D.C. these days provides a puzzle for educators: is it an opportunity for learning, or just too fractious to even touch?  What is our role in helping our students to make sense of something, when much of it does not make sense from many traditional perspectives?  Are we, as educators and adults equipped to help our students understand and benefit from critical lessons that don’t fit standard templates?

The vote today to change the rules of the U.S. Senate requires teachers and parents to think about our roles as educators of the next generation, and it is not a question of party or political viewpoint.  We witnessed what is likely a significant tipping point in the history of our country, one we will look back on decades from now, not unlike the run-up to both the Great Depression and the Great Recession, the beating of peaceful protestors on a bridge in Selma, the dramatic erosion of the American middle class, or the shooting of students at Kent State and ask “how could they have let that happen?”

This week the Senate invoked the so-called nuclear option; the majority voted to change their own rules in order to win one vote.  The rules they changed have kept the Senate a place of relative civility for more than two centuries, because, in the words of several senators who voted for the change against their own principals, “we have had to reach out and work with those with whom we don’t always agree”.  The rules have forced at least some degree of compromise, a word that, perhaps more than any other describes the great strength of the American Experiment.  It is compromise, codified in our principles as far back as Magna Carta, that often separates democracy from dictators.

Who unilaterally changes the rules of the game when they don’t win? Most frequently it is bullies, spoiled children, autocrats, oligarchs, and dictators.  In school or at home we would never countenance such a solution amongst our children.  The idea that changing the rules to win because, at this moment, I can, and that somehow that is the right thing to do, runs contrary to everything mature adults know about how human social groups work best.

This is not a partisan issue.  The Republicans decry the moment when the Democrats changed the rules on lower court judicial nominations, pointing to it as precedent for invoking the nuclear option on Supreme Court nominees.  Both of these decisions are wrong for the same reason.  There are no innocents who have not been part of this slippery slope at the bottom of which we have now arrived.  Earlier this week, as Democrats, who were on the current losing end rightly railed against the rules change, a few of the more grown up Republicans said that this was a “dark day” in the senate, that every future member would come to regret this decision, that it was the wrong thing to do. And then they voted with the partisan majority to do something that they knew to be wrong.  Democrats did the same thing a few years ago.

This vote, like others of truly historic moment, did not come about just this week.  It is the result of more than two decades of increasingly partisan divides in our state and national governing bodies, where compromise has become first rare and then nearly extinct.  It will leave a bitter legacy, where accusations and feuds override discourse and reason.  It represents the triumph of the ends over the means in one of the great social systems to have evolved out of centuries of human enlightenment.

I have written and spoken extensively about how systems evolve, and about how the system of education is acting much more like a natural ecosystem than a system engineered for a specific, predictable purpose.  Natural ecosystems are subject to natural selection, a process which creates winners and losers. Some individuals and species are better adapted for the prevailing conditions and live; others are less so and they die.  We tend to place a positive value on this process; we tend to see evolution as “good”; that the “better” succeed.  This kind of value judgement is ridiculous; nature has no such system of values. This week, the evolution of our political system favored those with narrow, short-term, childish natures, and killed part of the system that has thrived in the past: compromise, collaboration, maturity, and respect for the long-term future.

How can we as educators—parents, teachers, coaches, mentors—make sense of this for our children?  What precedent do we have? Do we ignore it as inappropriate discussion for the classroom or the dinner table?  Can we have discussions about it as an opportunity for learning, or has the partisanship in our  system grown so cancerous that it has fatally infected our learning systems as well?

I have been thinking and researching a great deal about what educators, parents, students and community stakeholders can do to transform education in spite of, not with permission from, contrary forces of adult self-interest; it is the central theme of my new book, Moving the Rock. This unfortunate turn of American history gives us a chance to practice empowerment. We can either use this opportunity to teach our students how to make better decisions than the senate made this week, or we must own a piece of similar mistakes that those students might make in the future.

I know what I would do if I were a teacher, but I am not sure if that is what is right for others.  Each must decide.

Two Big Takeaways From Week Focusing on Innovation

I have two big takeaways from a fast-paced, roiling week of interaction with hundreds of education colleagues in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore this week.  The first is a powerful reinforcement of a paragraph early in the introduction for my upcoming book, Moving the Rock: Seven Levers That Will Revolutionize Education (Josey-Bass Education; coming out this summer):

My head hurts every time I see another article, vodcast, or TED talk preaching that education must change. That train has already left the station! All of the arguments about why education must change can be summarized in less than a sentence, a simple paraphrase of the godfather of modern education, John Dewey, more than a century ago: the world is changing at an ever-increasing rate and we have to prepare our students for that future, not for the past.  We desperately need to move beyond the discussion of “why” education must change.

I have a great deal of respect for Sir Ken Robinson, and what he has done over the last two decades to elevate awareness that schools must change. And he continues to be an entertaining and witty speaker. But it borders on tragic that an audience of 5,000 educators perches on a talk that is, or by rights should be, long in their rearview mirror.  Partly this is due to the turnover in teachers; young teachers are still being prepared by our colleges of education for an outdated learning model, so when they hear Sir Ken for the first time, their natural reaction is “Yes!”.  There is no such excuse for those of use longer in tooth.

About my second big takeaway I am far more salubrious.  Pushed in large part by true, transformational innovation in some public, charter, and independent schools, the National Association of Independent Schools dramatically elevated their focus this year on how schools can effectively transform…and those sessions were packed.  In my talk to 60 business officers on Tuesday night in D.C., I commented on the dramatic change in just a few years about how fluent those “non-academic” administrators are on the language and need for substantive change.  In my three-hour workshop on Wednesday with 90 edu-leaders from 30 states and six countries, there was a palpable recognition of the problem and thirst for getting to work.

In listening and speaking with dozens of educators from many schools, I came away with two big points that are driving success at successfully innovating schools:

  • They realize that innovation is not a thing, it is a process.  It is not the bits and pieces, the isolated good ideas being tried here and there in a school.  Those are great, but they will not lead to sustainable transformation.  Successful innovation is the glue that hold those pieces together.  Yes, schools are “people” places, but if you do not have an operating system in place that allows those people to reinvent their respective roles in service of their students, your school will not transform.
  • They are radically inclusive in the processes that create and nurture innovation culture.  Innovation is not something handed down from a board, principal, head of school, or superintendent.  It includes and is done by “we”.

There is tremendous agreement and understanding about the need to change that did not exist ten years ago.  There is a less-pervasive, but very rapidly spreading agreement about “how” schools can transform, the steps, activities, and relationships that lead through the messiness of change to a better place.  We have reason to be optimistic.  But to quote from the last paragraph of the introduction in my new book:

I can’t count the times over the last five years that I wished some smart marketing team had never suggested the slogan “Just Do It” to Nike, Inc.  It is the perfect call to action for all of us who have a stake in great education. But who wants to risk a copyright lawsuit from one of the biggest companies on the planet? So, alternately, and with complete respect, I remind us of that morning in September of 2001, after two planes had slammed into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon, that on a fourth plane, United Flight 93, passenger Todd Beamer courageously asked his seat mates “Are you ready?  OK. Let’s roll”.  The first entry in Wikipedia under the topic “let’s roll” says that it is a “colloquial catchphrase that has been used extensively as a command to move and start an activity, attack, mission, or project.”  Well, it is time to stop pushing the education rock back and forth, to stop inactive talk, to stop obsessing over the fine points of disagreement, and to stop pointing fingers of blame about why schools are failing to serve all of our students.  This is our responsibility, our critical mission, not someone else’s, and we can’t shrug it off.  It is time to roll.

 

Major Education Game Changer Launches: The Mastery Transcript Consortium

Two years ago, Scott Looney, head of the Hawken School in Cleveland, told me about an idea they had to dramatically enhance high school student assessment and how that might revolutionize the outdated drivers of college admissions.  He asked if I thought it would attract support from like-minded school leaders. I told him, simply, “get the first ten schools into your group and you will fundamentally change our system of education.”  Two short years later, with the official launch this week of the Mastery Transcript Consortium and 55 independent schools already on board, they are well on their way.  You REALLY need to know about this!

The MTC is “a collective of high schools organized around the development and dissemination of an alternative model of assessment, crediting and transcript generation. This model calls for students to demonstrate a mastery of skills, knowledge and habits of mind by presenting evidence that is then assessed against an institutionally specific standard of mastery.”

Simply, the MTC will design, test, construct, disseminate and help schools prepare for a new set of assessment options that measure what we actually value in student learning.  As I was granted some informal access to the genesis of the group, I was able to focus on the MTC in a chapter in my new book, Moving the Rock: Seven Levers That Will Revolutionize Education, coming out in September:

There is an enormous, rigid dam that stresses students, constrains and frustrates teachers, frightens parents, and kills innovation at most schools. At school after school, district after district, I hear a variation on the same anxious theme: “We can be innovative in elementary and middle schools, but our parents are afraid of changes in the high school because it might jeopardize their kids’ chances at college admissions.”  The twin blocks in this dam, how colleges admit students, and how college admissions in turn drive K-12 student assessment, particularly in high school, kill innovation in schools, even where entire communities want that innovation to explode.  We, the community of school stakeholders, have been complicit in erecting and preserving these blocks, and we have total control over them. We built the dam; we preserve the dam; and we can bust it wide open with no permission from anyone and no threat other than to our own fear of change. The dam is rotten to its core, needing just a stick or two of well-placed dynamite to breach it forever.  Why? Because just about everyone–educators, parents, students, college professors, university presidents and admissions officers, and employers—knows and agrees that the system is wrong and is only getting worse.

One of the most powerful elements of the MTC design to date is the input they received from colleges in advance of launching the initiative. In discussion with directors of admissions and college presidents, Scott and his team found a receptive audience “if you can give us something that we can initially scan in two minutes”.  It is also more than serendipitous that this effort was launched the same year that dozens of colleges and universities signed on to the “Turning the Tide” manifesto that refocuses college admissions on depth, interest, and passion, and away from multiple advanced placement courses, grade point average, and shallow community service experiences.

Another powerful argument for the MTC lies in what we know about the health and wellness trends amongst high school and college students. I go into some detail about this in my book, based both on data collated by the MTC team, and from a number of other research-based sources.  We know that current forms of assessment lead to elevated risks of an enormous range of negative lifestyle and health issues amongst our students and, as Scott emotionally put it to a group of school leaders last year: “We just have to stop doing this to our kids”.

“The mastery transcript is about acknowledging that we live in a changed world,” says Scott. “The MTC believes that the tools of the past may no longer work for students, teachers, colleges and our society at large. We believe it’s time for a change.”  With the overwhelming response to date, it appears that Scott’s timing could not have been better.  I predict that within a year or two school membership will be in the hundreds; this is a club that you absolutely want to join, and many of us eagerly await the day when a fully designed transcript of student mastery will be available to every public and private school in America.

 

New Post on TranscendEd.org: When Trajectories of Change Cross

A growing number of those I consider “leading edge” educators are joining an interesting new collaborative, Transcend Education, to share ideas and resources where appropriate on our work with specific schools and districts.  It gives all of us an extended set of muscles to help you, the transformational educator, achieve your goals.

I have agreed to periodically share some of my current thinking as a guest blogger on their site, so you might want to bookmark it. I think this is a very high-quality, growing group, and one to follow.  In my first post with Transcend today, I extended my previous comments on the ideas of trajectory.  I included some of my thinking that will be expanded upon in my new book, Moving the Rock, which is now in final editing stage:

Just think about this: in one generation, our elementary-level learning goals at some schools have shifted from typing on a keyboard to using computer-aided design software to program a 3D printing machine to build a prosthetic hand.  That is a very steep change curve—and it is the steepness of this curve that demands that we fundamentally change our concept of “school.”

The rate of change in much of our society has exceeded our ability to adapt in real time, which requires a new set of approaches to finding, sharing, filtering, and synthesizing information.  This is the bold new frontier of learning!

 

How to Assess School Progress Toward Deeper Learning

I work with schools and districts that are in the early stages of transforming to a range of deeper learning models.  My thinking on something has been a little bit stuck.  How might a school or district, early in the transformation from a traditional to a deeper learning model, self-assess their progress?  In those early years, what measures are helpful, for teachers to report to principals, principals to superintendents or heads of school, and then on to boards?  How do we know our organization is actually shifting, that we are getting closer to our North Star than we were before?

I reached out to the rapidly-growing Transcend Education “Yellow Hat” community that I have joined, and quickly was connected with Justin Ballou, a 12-year veteran of performance-based learning at Campbell High School in Litchfield, N.H.  In about five minutes, Justin helped crystallize my thinking with a simple reporting structure based around three pillars:

Character: a qualitative assessment of the internal growth of the organization towards achieving a new set of goals. Elements might include:

  • What is the level of buy-in from people in key positions of leadership?
  • How many pilot projects are running?
  • How many teachers attended professional development, shared with their peers, and demonstrated evidence of change in their classrooms?

Culture: a qualitative assessment of communication and buy-in from the broader community. Some elements might include:

  • What community events were created to showcase progress towards our goals?
  • How did feedback from these events change over time?
  • How many people (parents, grandparents, community members) attended a school-based event, clicked on an information item on the website, or responded with feedback?

Academics: quantitative assessment of student performance.  Some elements might include:

  • Graduation rates.
  • Performance on standardized tests.
  • College application or admission statistics.
  • Evidence of social and emotional growth.

What really clicked with me from talking with Justin was this: people often consider qualitative assessment to be “fuzzy”, when we know this is not the case.  Ultimately, of course, we want to see evidence of increased student performance, but in the first few years of a major transoformation we probably don’t have good metrics for what we think is most important to measure, and we likely don’t even know exactly what is most important to measure. Some measures of our progress and success can be benchmarked against other schools; others might be unique to our own school and are best measured against our own past performance.  As Justin said, we have to use the kind of assessments that a start-up company would use, not the kind that General Electric uses.  “If you rely on metrics too early”, said Justin, “you end up measuring things you might not really value”, which of course is what schools have been doing for years.  In the first few years, as we decide on long-term quantitative assessments, we should focus on the character and culture of the community, because those are indicators we are building a solid foundation of growth towards our deeper learning goals.

Feel free to reach out to Justin if you are interested in how these measures manifest, particularly at the classroom level. He speaks to, and consults with, other schools!

 

You Just Have to Visit Design 39 Campus to Fully “Get It”

imgresIf you work at a K-8 school and want to transform to a deeper learning experience for your students, I simply do not know of a better example to visit than Design 39 Campus in Poway Unified District, CA.  If you have read my posts in the past, you know I follow D39C closely; I tagged along on one of their very frequent tours today with friends from Hillbrook School in Los Gatos.  You can learn a lot from D39C by visiting their website, looking at the resources and videos they post, but every time I go on a tour with a group of teachers and administrators, they tell me that you cannot understand the breadth of what they have accomplished without visiting.

In a nutshell, D39C, a public school, in a union district, with no advantages other than being a new school (now three years old), has reinvented the school operating system around students and learning. Period. Anything that contributes to that gets amplified and anything that does not gets tossed out.  They have more time to collaborate, fewer silos, more engaged kids, more student ownership of learning, more design, and more passion-centrism than any other school I have visited.  And they do it with class sizes of 26-35, and with fewer financial resources than most other schools in the country.

Look, learn, and come visit if you want to see what “it” looks like!

 

A Few Paragraphs of the Inevitable

I may have the chance to keynote a major international conference later this year, and, sitting in my chair at home this morning, my opening to what will be a highly diverse group of attendees began to form itself. I thought I would share:

I’m not a techie, but I am going to talk about the rise of radical new educational technologies. I’m not a classroom teacher but I am going to talk about the pedagogy of deeper learning.  I’m not a college president but I am going to talk about the responsibility our colleges have in preparing teachers to teach, and in accepting students for admission based on what we actually value in civil society, which is not how well they do on a bubble test.  I’m not a marketing and advertising consultant, but I am going to talk about how every school in the world over the next 20 years will come to know what it means to promote a solid value proposition to consumers in a rapidly expanding marketplace.

I am a student, a learner who passionately understands how great learning transforms the individual.  I am a parent who deeply cares about how great education can lift our children, and how misguided education can deeply harm them.  I am a “getting older” member of a species that is struggling, and perhaps demonstrably failing, to adapt to the rate of change in the world around us. I am a member of my community, a piece in the puzzle of civil society rooted in a centuries-old tradition of liberal thought, discourse, and reason. 

At times, maybe even most of the time, the challenge of changing our system of education seems overly daunting, the urge to walk away or kick the can down the road to someone else the only real option.  Changing massive social institutions like education takes a force that is greater than the inertia that has frozen it in place, and that force does not come from one idea, one person, one group, one government.  It comes from a shifting set of environmental conditions and responses to those conditions, which is what is happening in education today, whether you, I, or we like it or not.

Human institutions have never withstood the pressure between what we have today and what we need to succeed tomorrow.  Change is inevitable, and dramatic change, revolutions like those of agriculture, industry, and information happen despite radical dislocations that leave many by the wayside of history.  A similar tsunami is forming in education. The trajectory will be close to vertical, if not beyond vertical, which can only be a quantum step function, something none of us have seen in our professional lifetimes.  The great news is that we see it coming and we do, in fact, know what the next genus of “education” will look like. We just have to paddle with the wave.

Not coincidentally, that aligns pretty well with the intro for my new book, which is on target to come out in September!

 

Super-fan Nerd Predicts Stanford Win

screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-8-47-28-amStanford Cardinal super-fan Cliff (am sure someone knows his last name, but I don’t) is a gnomish old guy who reportedly made a fortune in Silicon Valley, retired, and for years has shown up at Stanford sporting events all over the country. Last week before the national NCAA semi-final women’s volleyball match between the Cardinal and the University of Minnesota, Cliff came up to a couple of us and said “I know we are going to win the championship, and here is how I know”.

He held out his hand, on which was written in pen the number 71217. Cliff told us that before the men’s soccer final match (that Stanford won) the previous week, he had calculated the number of minutes and seconds that the soccer team had held opponents scoreless prior to the final, and then had added 90 minutes, with the sense that if Stanford could hold the other team scoreless for the match, they would win the national title.  That total time worked out to 712 minutes and 17 seconds.  He wrote the number on his hand…and Stanford went on to win that final by holding Wake Forest scoreless and winning on penalty kicks.

Cliff then said that he realized the number had special meaning for the women’s volleyball team as well, so he did not wash it off.  We looked and could not figure it out, which I guess is why some people make a fortune in Silicon Valley and others don’t.

Stanford won it’s 7th national volleyball title last Saturday, on 12/17.  71217.  Proud to be a member of Stanford’s Nerd Nation!