Clean Slate

So I am part of our scheduling committee. We have so many courses and conflicts and we try to do it all for everyone. We do good job creating a high quality educating for students, but there is so much pressure on kids to perform in multiple classes. Maybe too much pressure and stress. So we are looking at the schedule to try to create reform and lower pressure. But change is scary because if you change things, then there is a chance that things will go wrong and then you can’t go back. So we stay the same, or tweak the schedule. We are mostly paralyzed.

I think this can be scaled to the lack of change in our national educational system. As Alan November says, “Adults are driven by hopes and fears.” And we have a lot of scared people, for good reason, as our kids lives are at stake. The schools you see the most change are the places that are failing so miserably that it’s ok to flip them upside down and challenge the common notion of school.

I wish I could get together with some of my colleagues, and step out of our school and our habits — Redesign a K-12 from the ground up. If I could do this, I would start with skills matrix for developmentally appropriate skills K-12. Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Foreign Language, Media Literacy, Information Literacy, Research Skills, Study Skills, etc. The whole nine yards. What skills do we think our kids need by the time they leave 12th grade. Then build curriculum on top of these skills so that every teacher in each grade or module teaches kids with those skills in mind.

All of this comes from a gut feeling lately — I don’t remember much of the content I was taught in school. I had a few of those amazing experiences that I will never forget — third grade independent reading or 11th grade history. Those teachers made emotional connections with me and knew how to motivate me. But the reality is that I don’t remember much the content of school. Do you?

Then there was my first year teaching. One of the classes I taught was an eight grade technology skills class. I did not have a faculty mentor, followed the syllabus from the last year, and taught the kids how I had been taught. Pop quizzes — lecturing — skills tests. Stand alone technology units. Luckily I was in graduate school at night and quickly learned to teach project based modules with authentic assessments. At the end of my first year, one of the veteran eight grade teachers said to me, “Middle School is about teaching the kids skills to survive in high school, they are never going to remember what we teach them.” Boy did that resonate with me.

So I guess that I believe that we need to teach kids the skills they need to be analytical, reflective, ethical, empathetic and creative (add your characteristics here) adults. To learn how to use the tools to format and present their learning. To teach others and to connect with people around the world in ways we could not have imagined 20 years ago. The content is there, but the skills will stay with them forever.

A clean slate to begin this discussion would be nice.

What would your slate include?


2 thoughts on “Clean Slate

  1. Hmmmm… I think it’d look a lot like the school I’m planning. That’s the scariest piece of all of this… it *is* a clean slate (mostly) — so what do we do with it. How many of our underlying assumptions do we have to challenge? (all of them) How much research do we have to do to feel like we’re making the right choices? (until our eyes bleed) And how do we know we’re making the right choices? (give up the idea of “right” and replace it with “good” — and then do the best you can.)

  2. Chris,

    Thanks — as I read your response to this I was rocking my four month old daughter who woke up this morning at 12:15 am coughing. As I walked with her, I tried to remember what I had written in this post and what motivated me. SLA was definitely in my mind. I was also thinking of other innovative school models that I have found:

    Cristo Rey (
    Big Picture Company (

    As I thought of you at SLA, I felt scared — as I have three young children and the thought of starting a school and the time involved is totally overwhelming. I have great respect for you and your job. I hope that some day soon I will be part of a new start up school.

    For now, my school has a new Head of School and Director of Finance and Operations starting in July, and I look forward to working with them to change our school for the better. I am at a point in my career where I feel as though I can really begin working with faculty about curriculum, instruction, and evaluation. I’m trying to figure out how that fits with my role as Director of Technology. What I love about small Independent Schools is that because they are small, people like me can shift into different roles as they grow — even in their current positions – hopefully that will be the case.

    I’m running a professional development day in April on blogging, wikis, and podcasting and I’m trying to figure out how to walk the tight rope of technology integration vs. curriculum reform. We’ll see how it goes. I’m looking for great stories of blogging, wikis, and podcasting — I feel like there are so many. Any great suggestions?

    I look forward to learning more about SLA and you “doing the best you can.” You are certainly modeling that on your blog.

    – Alex

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