Sunday, August 26, 2012

Learning about Fracking

I've been spending some time learning about fracking. The video below is certainly not the most unbiased documentary, but it does outline some of the concerns in which I would like more answers. It seems like using these types of video could launch student interest into topics of future importance, and we should be viewing more engaging intellectual video in the classroom, but I know as an adult it is easy to get sucked into the emotional pitch of these works, and it is even easier for our students. How can we best show these engaging pieces that hook our students without charging to the left or the right on a topic or issue? We have a great responsibility to hook on the left or right, drag to the middle and allow students to drift to a new place based on their growth.

THE SKY IS PINK by Josh Fox and the GASLAND Team from JFOX on Vimeo.

PDK Survey- The Other Questions

I really enjoy reading the PDK Annual Survey about education. It is an insight survey that provides the starting point for many conversations that should be happening on a local and national level. It provides schools an opportunity to see if their perceptions about schools match the perceptions of the larger public. So often, these perceptions between community and school vary greatly causing miscommunication, a false sense of success, and the idea that your school's level of engagement is high enough. As the year progresses, I will be fortunate enough to work with the folks at PDK, and I'm excited to learn, grow, and collaborate with such an excellent organization.

This year, though, I was left wondering about what the results would have been for a few other questions. They are based on topics that many believe will form the foundation of the best innovative public schools in the country over the next twenty years. It may be time for PDK to add a set of future trends questions to their survey. Here are the questions in which I would have liked to see the results.

To what extend should schools be building the skills of sustainability in students including social justice, economic justice, and environmental justice?

To what level of satisfaction are you with the infusion of technology into the learning and understanding in schools?

To what degree do you believe that student involvement with the arts (instrumental music, vocal music, drama, and art classes) plays in their school achievement? Would you be willing to pay more taxes to provide these opportunities?

Are schools doing enough to combat the growing obesity epidemic in schools through health and physical education classes and/or providing healthy breakfast and lunch opportunities?

What is the optimal amount of per pupil spending for schools to reach our educational goals as a country?

How Will We Know?

I've been listening to a lot of people in coffee shops, state fairs, and restaurants talk about how taxes are too high, regulation is too high, and if people would get out of the way, their personal economy would be better. I've been a quiet listener without voicing my thoughts on this topic for a long time, and I continue to be on a quest for truth to the answers of these questions. (I think that more of us should be on the quest for greater truth in a number of our economic, social, and political views. It would make for better discourse.)

My thinking in this area has brought me to a couple of questions that I think are key for us to explore in schools, community, and our larger global marketplace. "How will we know when we have too few limits?" and "What will the initial negative impacts be when we fall below the health bottom limit? Truly, what will is look like, feel like, sound like? I have to imagine that there is a bottom limit to removing the "limits" of our society. Often times, I struggle to have meaningful conversations with those that can't talk about the bottom limits of rules, taxes, and regulations in a free and productive society. The social contract of our democracy does mean that we will have some rules, laws, and regulations, but the important question is how many?

Schools should be thinking about this same issue. Do we have too many rules, structures, and systems? It seems like most schools have rules that could be eliminated with no negative impact. Often these structures are historical legacies from leaders past, times past or cultures past, and no one has taken the time to remove them. Certainly, there is a bottom limit for schools to have a healthy culture and program, but it seems like schools are well above their health limits of structures, rules, and systems. Should we be asking our teams, staff, and community about their common desires around finding the sweet spot on rules, systems, and structures in a school?

Only through this type of work can we really create time and space for our teachers to be more innovative, more creativity as unneeded rules, systems, and structures gum up our work to bring excellence to our students.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Five for Friday Night- Links and Ideas

Schools are only Part of the Answer... How do we impact our entire community to get the growth in kids that we really want?

Talk less about reacting to bullying and more about how to be proactive in building EMPATHY

How many of our students fit into the ABCs of at-risk for dropping out? 

Would it be possible to use this digital citizenship curriculum in advisory or asynchronously with our students. 

Do we have time for current events? CNN Student News is really good. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

State of School Thoughts

These were some of my written thoughts to staff to open the year. I didn't know if any or all of it was worth sharing, but trapped ideas and thoughts do none of us any good, so I side with maximize transparency. 

I'm incredibly excited to start this school year. Now more than ever, we have the energy and know-how to do something great for kids. It isn't everywhere where teachers are growing all summer long to prepare for the marathon of the new school year. I'm proud to be a part of this awesome team. 

The work that we did in late May and early June as a team was incredible. The new mission statement, cornerstones with overarching EUs and EQs, and building norms are incredible pieces of working that will take time to truly soak into the culture. 

Two years ago, I challenged us as a team to seek out educators in your field that do your job better than you and learn from them. So many of us have taken that challenge and have seen the power of connecting with educators from through the country about best and next practices. Last year, I mentioned that we are in a time and space where we can no longer just be satisfied with helping our school and students to be excellent, but we must reach across school boundaries to support education as a whole. I hope that we continue to hold this close to our mission. This year, I'm asking that we continue to be creative and innovative in how we find success for all students. Also, that we unleash the creativity and innovation in all of our students. 

We have been looking at five areas of best practice that hold the some of the greatest leverage to our system for growth and excellence, and this year, there is no change to that focus. Some of these we worked at length to develop, and some simmered on the side, but each of these are very important elements of our work. 

1. Producing Excellent Student Work for an Authentic Audience 
2. Daily Lesson Targets 
3. Cooperative Learning . 
4. Excellent Grading Practices 
5. High-level Technology Integration 

Looking ahead, I wanted to update on some work that we have started or talked about starting as we roll into the new year. 

Last year, we talked about the need to push our grading practices to a new level, so that grading could be a way to motivate learning as opposed to create barriers for kids to learn longer. We started on this journey talking about grading that were fair and accurate, and we realized that we needed a new report cards to truly support our work as teachers to grade learning instead of behavior. The district responded positively to our request, and this year, we will be working on a new document that will support our philosophical realization that grading, when done well, can buoying learning in the classroom. I look forward to working with each of you to make your grading practices as optimal as possible. 

Last year, we introduced all of our students to the electronic portfolio. Each of the students in the district should have their own e-portfolio that can be used as a showplace for the learning in the classroom. We were able to help students begin to learn how to add items into the e-portfolio last year as well as begin the conversation about the purpose of the e-portfolio. This year, we will want students to begin having a complete e-portfolio at the end of the year which is added to throughout the the year and used for student-led conferences along with other tools to show learning and understanding. Please begin early with having students place excellent work as well as reflections into this document. Students can add attachment as well as images of their work to make this a robust place for reflection and celebration. 

Two years ago, we made the shift to student-led conference as folks believed in the positive impact this could have on the system. I think that it has been helpful in many ways, and I hope that we continue to support this structure. In addition, many of us talked with Ron Berger about the possibility of creating a capstone to student learning either at the end of the 8th grade year or at the end of the 7th grade and 8th grade years that would be a Presentation of Learning. This would be an opportunity for each student to talk about how they have grown during the school year. It would be 10 or so minutes, and it would be in front of a panel (possibly a teacher, a community member, and a high school student). Successfully completing these presentations would be an essential element for students to obtain promotion to the next level. I hope that many of you are as excited about this concept as I continue to be. I look forward to talking in more depth about this in the future. 

We will be faced with a number of new opportunities and potential partnerships this year. It is the natural extension of working at a place that is innovative and willing to try new things. It is important that we communicate about each of these opportunities in terms of balance, opportunity, and missional focus. Please continue to bring me these fresh ideas for kids. It is essential that we provide our kids with experiences and opportunities to help them level the playing field with those with many more of these things during the hours when they aren't at school. This is one of the reasons that I have always loved the work of our school as expedition, and I'm excited about the voyage ahead. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What If...The Beginning of Innovation

After reading some recent blog posts about innovation and pushing the thinking to the next horizon of possible, we took time as a staff to have a "What-If" session. I loved the ideas. Some of them will blossom, some will fade, and one might be the next big thing. Here is the raw data from the teachers responding to "What if MRH had..."

  • open classrooms
  • a boarding school
  • a money tree
  • BioGas golf carts
  • a working farm
  • no schedules
  • outside Smartboards
  • an unlimited budget
  • two teachers per class
  • an industrial arts program
  • iPads for all
  • a mute button for 7th graders :)
  • a climbing tower
  • whatever, whenever
  • a pottery wheel
  • individual bathrooms
  • better restrooms
  • potions class
  • camels
  • a slide from the 4th floor
  • a Go-Cart track
  • a roof golf tree
  • archery range
  • segways
  • a new teacher's lounge
  • a short bus
  • free coffee
  • teacher could make big messes and not have to clean them up.
  • bat houses all over
  • went year around
  • had a separate building from high school
  • one hour a day for student-driven passion learning
  • added sixth grade
  • hosted the the beekeepers association
  • got too big
  • stopped using technology
  • went to single gender classes
  • adopted an international school partner
  • received a 10 million dollar grant
  • went broke
  • lost its diversity
  • grew all its own food
  • eliminated all paper and pencil use
  • students were the teachers
  • did no standardized tests
  • got rid of tables, chairs, and desks
  • had classic languages
  • more water fountains
  • had a rehabbed Steinway Grand
  • sinks
  • had publishing abilities
  • did summer school differently
  • a mentorship program with kids
  • hugged more
  • more dog time
  • robots
  • started at 9 a.m.
  • all afternoon electives
  • school swaps with the city
  • popcorn machine
  • mandatory service hours
  • collaborated more with lower grades
  • endless dry erase markers
  • endless tissues
  • a bell system
  • skipped Fridays
Do you wish that any of these were a part of your school?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I Ran Out Of Time

Classes start in just a few minutes for the 2012-13 school year, and I realized this morning that I haven't figured it all out yet. I worked hard in the summer to figure out how the mission, vision of our school connected with best practices new and old, but even with my studious summer, I'm not sure that I'm anywhere closer to the right answers. I've been staring at some images all summer, trying to figure out how they fit into the truth. I was hoping that on this #leadershipday12 that the wisdom of the crowd could help me make sense of it all. Thanks to everyone in my learning network for making me a better person. Here is to a start year of learning with leadership humble enough to realize that we don't have all or most of the answers.

I want to be a third horizon leader that pushes the educational community into a future with a huge upside, but it takes courage, risk, and a waltz that I'm not sure that I'm ready for. Can we do this together?

10,000 ft view...
I vow to work harder than ever to not get caught in the weeds of managing a school, so that it is possible to see the distant future. I'm looking for allies of teacher leaders and school leaders to join me in this cause. 


Is there anyone left that doesn't believe that engaging a student's passion for learning isn't paramount? It is so hard to believe that turning a truth into a day-to-day reality is so hard. I'm battling old mental models, for-profit swoops on education, and the momentum of the past. Please help. 
The most innovative companies are using design thinking, but it remains in its infancy in schools. I want to learn more. I want to take classes at the d school at Stanford. Is Design Thinking one of the keys to our future?

Thanks to Bo Adams for stretching my thinking about PBL. He has been working to help teachers and schools shift to this highly engaging way for kids to do deep learning that helps kids have an authentic audience for their real-world, community-focus work. I want to push past that model, so that my kids can inspire change in the world. 
10,000 HOURS...
How do we help our teachers get to 10,000 hours as quickly as possible?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Redefining Math

I have the opportunity to work with an incredible group of math teachers this year as the administrator to the 6-12 Curriculum Action Team for math. I'm very excited about this opportunity, and I have been working on my ideas to circulate among the group as those informal moments of conversation arise. The new Common Core assessment are going to as students to apply math to real-world situation at a greater intensity than ever before, and it is going to require a true disruptive vision of mathematics to prepare kids for this reality. I have been asking a number of folks on Twitter (@ideaguy42) whether it would make sense for our kids to take a sequence of classes on data analysis, engineering design, and economics instead of Algebra, Geometry and Calculus. There are others asking the same questions. Check out this TED talk.

Creativity and Innovation

Today was the staff retreat for the middle school staff at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School. We had the event in an art space, the Craft Alliance on Grand Avenue. They were incredible hosts, and it was great to talk about innovation and creativity in a place that embraces that spirit. The staff had an opportunity to listen to and discuss the video that are embedded below as well as report on their summer learning. We were practicing releasing our trapped wisdom into a larger audience. The teachers also had an opportunity to work for an hour with the artists-in-residence on a metals or fiber project. I left feeling blessed about the incredibly talented staff that we have, and I'm ready to work harder than ever for the kids in my middle school. Have the guts to think really big, silence the conformity, and drive the innovative spirit in your building and community every day.

iste-presentation from Will Richardson on Vimeo.

Why Bad Moments Have a Enormous Impacts

I've wondered for a while about how to combat that one piece of evidence that changes the persuasiveness of a compelling story and argument. In schools, this happens in almost every community. There is a series of incredible reasons to celebrate that are downplayed and possibly not noticed that should be shaping the perception, trust and culture within a system, but they have a slow or insignificant overall effect. Then something unfortunate happens inside of the complex, dynamic system that rocks the entire system in terms of community perception. How as leaders can we inoculate ourselves from this moment that turns momentum on its head for a system on the rise? It reminds me of our work to have a productive conversation surrounding climate change. One moment has derailed years of narrative. The video below sparked my thinking in this area.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

De-Silo-ing Our Work

On the heels of a two-day conference about the changes that are on the horizon surrounding the Common Core State Standards, I've had the opportunity to be a part of a five-day institute on Education for Sustainability. These worlds dance and collide in an awkward dance. Both know that they need to play together, but neither is willing to sell its soul to the other. These five days have given me an opportunity to look for a unifying theory to the work that we are doing at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School. In an era of just giving in, and doing it like everyone else, we are resisting the urge to conform because we believe our longview on education contains the elements that we hold tight to as they are essential for successful and happy kids. Our mission, "MRH Middle School provides academic and real life experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, that promote social, personal and intellectual growth in all individuals. The curriculum and opportunities at MRH Middle School create well-rounded students prepared to make thoughtful decisions and successfully participate in the future." provides a drive for our staff and students that promotes a progressive brand of learning that both fosters scholarship as well as fights against the ills of poverty that impact our community and more closely about 50% of our students. To do this, we see it as essential to have some tools and critical thinking skills that give our students an opportunity to examine our work from a 10,000 feet level. For us, this means growing our teacher and student capacity surrounding Systems Thinking. Systems thinking gives students the ability to see patterns, understand the limits of a system, develop connections, examine change over time, and discuss unintended consequences. This new lens for examining all learning elevates the thinking and understanding of students to the levels of analysis and synthesis that is called for in the Common Core. In addition, we are starting to also look at the tools that come from Design Thinking that can supplement this lens. Through this enhanced lens that gives our students better than 20/20 vision, we are able to begin relevant and rigorous studies surrounding the concepts of justice and empathy that tie the study of sustainability together. In science, the focus is around environmental justice and how we conserve, share, and innovate around the issues surrounding water, food, and energy. In social studies, we are growing our thinking and discussion surrounding economic justice. This includes learning the essence of small business development, making microloans to those in need, and examining the economic causes of conflict, legislation, and decision making. In English Language Arts, the concepts of social justice and sustainable communities take center stage. This includes reflecting on ideas like embracing diversity, growing empathy, leaning together peacefully, and providing voice when others are muted. All of this work around justice continues to bring us space to grow across disciplines and "de-silo" our learning. To approach these concepts, it is essential to bring a fresh set of instructional goals to the classroom that blend the art and science of teaching. Our schools focuses on reshaping our daily learning by pushing three things into the center of the instructional model. They are place-based learning or expeditionary learning that give students the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom for 20% of their learning time, project-based learning that connects students to real-world problems that give them opportunities advocate, innovate, and take on a solution mind frame, and excellent student work that provides students the time and space to create, refine, and present their thinking over time about topics and ideas that they are passionate about to authentic audience. What outcomes does this bring for our students? It is becoming clear that our expanded definition of success which values building leaders, citizens, stewards, and scholars is being reached. Students are showcasing their skills in all of these areas through local presentations, e-portfolio entries, video creation skills, and results on state testing. In addition, we are gaining ground in leaps and bounds in the areas of creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and passion for learning. Without the complexity of our work that values a unique approach to bringing students to the end of the beginning of the journey, the incredible outcomes that are desired by schools around the country and by the founders of the Common Core State Standards would never be possible. Many schools that take a simple approach moving forward will plateau, and without fresh and innovative models to learning to grow and collaborate with, these schools will struggle to create new leaders, sustainable communities and provide for those students with the greatest needs.