NAIS Annual Conference 2017 Reflection

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-4-14-34-pmA few final thoughts from the NAIS Annual Conference.

  1. As a white man, I was challenged to think from the perspective of the other through Onaje X. O. Woodbine’s talk about race and Jennifer Bryan’s talk on Gender and Sexuality Diversity in Pre-K-12.
  2. Sir Ken Robinson provided a definition of a personalized, child centered education: At its core, education is about the relationship between teacher and student. This relationship is the core of empowering learners. I was also pushed on the personalized learning  and disruptive innovation front by Ryan Aldrich and Mark Kushner from Tahoe Expedition Academy (CA); Michael Horn from the Christensen Institute; and Colleen Broderick from AltSchool.
  3. Connections: NAIS is about connecting with old colleagues and meeting new ones. I was able to reconnect with a few mentors who taught me to be a better teacher, administrator, and parent and to thank them for their support and caring through the years. I also took time to make new connections with innovative educators to help push me as a leader and learner. Lastly, I worked on creating mentorship relationships with developing teachers and leaders in schools.

Pushing myself — Deepening my understanding of the other — And connecting to reflect on my past and where I’m going to challenge myself in the future. These were the themes of my learning during the NAIS Annual Conference.

What did you learn?

The Takeaway Book Club: ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I recently took part in a book club conversation on WNYC’s The Takeaway about ‘Between the World and Me‘ by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Here’s the audio:
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I have learned a great deal about the history of race in the United States over the past few years by participating in the CARLE Institute and Undoing Racism. I have also worked with colleagues and friends to speak more openly about race and how it negatively impacts both people of color and whites. Seeing the privilege I have as a white man and learning to work against oppressive racial systems has become an important part of me. ‘Between the World and Me’ provides a perspective that is difficult to read, but important for people who identify as white to hear.

I’m thankful to Abel Bartley and Anita Romero Warren for being so open and honest during this conversation and to The Takeaway for selecting me to participate on this panel.

What are you learning about your racial and cultural identity? How do you keep this critical topic at the forefront of the work you are doing?

Critical Friends Group Reflection

Trust, Deep Analysis, Positive Feedback, Constructive Criticism, Growth – These are some of the characteristics of a critical friends group. 

I recently completed a one week Critical Friends Group facilitator training.  I participated with thirteen other faculty and administrators from my school.  Eric Baylin and Monika Johnston from the Packer Collegiate Institute led our group.

At the National School Reform Faculty web site, CFGs are defined as:

… a professional learning community consisting of approximately 8-12 educators who come together voluntarily at least once a month for about 2 hours. Group members are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning.

We spent a week using protocols, or structured conversations to analyze readings, listen carefully, analyze pieces of student work, dig into dilemmas, and plan for the future.  These protocols (many found here)  allowed us to focus in and have deep conversations about the work we do in schools: teaching and learning.  It put us in a learner role and quickly helped us listen and provide critical feedback for our colleagues.  The week built trust between and among the participants and developed what McDonald et. al. describe at Facilitative Leadership in The Power of Protocols: An Educators Guide to Better Practice.  Leadership from within the faculty of a school, instead of top down. 

Towards the end of the week we created a plan for the Fall by scheduling dedicated times to continue to practice and build our facilitation skills.  By setting specific goals and scheduling dedicated time, we committed the group to continue to practice. 

Building CFGs into the culture of our schools will help us dive deeper and become better educators.  Helping our students become better learners and citizens.  I’m excited to see how we grow and develop in the fall. 

Have you used CFGs?  What practices do you consider critical for growth and development? 

Photo Credit: Rossap

 

 

Designing School More Like A Game

Breaks are my time of ideas.  I slow down, read, think, take walks, drive my car without the radio on.  Taking that time to recharge and let ideas percolate is so important for me.  Over winter break this year, my favorite WNYC program, On the Media, aired a show around gaming.  Their last piece, The Future of Gaming was an interview with journalist Tom Bissell which aired pieces of the two following videos:

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

Last year when I visited Al Doyle at Quest 2 Learn (Q2L), I saw the vision of Katie Salen who wrote Rules of Play and founded Q2L.  Kids using system design theory to learn History, English, Math and Science in a 21st Century way.  Kids creating their own games to teach their peers.

This leads me to Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  I’m only 56% of the way through, but her stories of real games being designed to make the world a better place is compelling.  Not that we have to solve all problems with games, but designing compelling experiences for our students so they are engaged in their learning seems a lot like designing games.

Here’s one example of how I’ve applied McGonigal’s work here at school.  A few weeks ago, I was running an exchange day between boys at my school and girls at one of our sister schools.  The boys and girls were doing some icebreaker activities and one of the activities was starting to get stale and we still had about 10 minutes to go in the period.  I added a new challenge (do the activity standing up instead of sitting down) and it allowed the activity to reengage the students.

I used the understanding that “all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.” (McGonigal, 2011) was important to this process.  A new rule refreshed the game that I described above.

So I’m finding myself more and more interested and engaged in thinking about game design and design challenges as centerpieces of student learning.  Solve big problems, figure out how to change the world, engage people around you. Dan Pink nailed it when he wrote about autonomy, motivation and purpose.  This all seems inter-related in critical ways.

What do you think?  What are your examples of using games to develop better learning environments?

Disrupting Class Primer

I have been having lots of conversations at school (the one where I work) about  Disrupting Class.  People keep saying, "I have to read the book." 

Obviously, reading the book is the best way to get this, but if you don’t have time to read the book right now and want a primer, here’s some audio/video/text to get you  up to speed:

Start here:

And if you’re still interested (this is what’s on my bookshelf at least):

There are tons of other good resources out there.  I’ve been watching Google Blog Search for Disrupting Class as well. 

arvind, Vinnie and I will also be interviewing Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson on 11/24 at noon EST and 12/4 at 2:15 EST respectively at EdTechTalk

What recommendations do you have? 

If You Started a School, What Would the Theme Be?

As I’ve been exploring the theme of Disruptive Innovation and its implications new-school for schools in the next 10-15 years, I have imagined that there will be opportunities for new schools to replace some of the schools that have not changed.  Over the weekend, I was thinking about what the theme of a school that I would like to work at would be.  I found this exercise surprisingly difficult so, in order to generate some brainstorming energy, I asked my twitter network.  Here are the replies:

  • gardenglen @alexragone My theme for a school “Digital environment promoting student inquiry and collaboration.”
  • ernestkoe @alexragone what a great question…the love of learning, as cheesy as that sounds
  • andrewjkatz @alexragone flexibility.
  • momcginn The theme would be Belonging.
  • agrill @alexragone collaborative spaces, good citizens and inquiry.
  • pgow @alexragone (1) Think it should be sustainability, although the word is getting a bit shop-worn. Maybe “dignity, equity, and continuity.”
  • pgow @alexragone (2) Lots of place-based teaching: thematic, interdisciplinary, skill-focused units; civic and social engagement as  possible.

As I was thinking about this topic, I thought about science, innovation, and invention.  I was not happy with any of those.  This is a difficult task, especially when thinking about changing a system that has been around for so long.  I  found myself thinking about the skills that students should have upon graduation, but those skills could fit into many of these themes.

So I ask you, if you could create a school, what would it’s theme be?

Phtoto from: http://flickr.com/photos/mirkogarufi/297698145/

Personalized Learning

Recently, Dean Shareski commented on my last post:

I’m just over halfway through the book. It’s amazing how tightly many of the concepts align with discussions and initiatives I’m currently involved with. In many ways, he articulates some key ideas that have been roaming around my brain for a while.

Dean is right on.  In Disrupting Class, Christensen, Horne and Johnson clarify the vocabulary of change.   They predict that education will move to online and be personalized for the learner.  To get to this ideal of a personalized education they say that there must be disruptive change in our education system.  Disruptive change happens outside traditional institutions.  It will begin in non-competitive sectors of education like home schooling, charter schools, and online schools.

What is critical about this personalized learning is the ability to assess student strengths and learning styles.  We can see this happening in schools now with the differentiated instruction movement. But to realize true personalized education, we need tutors or technology.

I feel that I have a better vision of where education is going.  I have a model of institutional change that works.  There are powerful ideas in Disrupting Class. 

So where is this happening?  Who is doing this? 

SLA, with Principal Chris Lehmann is a huge step in the right direction.   The MET seems to be doing the right thing.  And there’s High Tech High.   All of these are outside the traditional education mold. 

So where do you see these schools?  Who are their leaders? 

I’m reading the book Tribes right now, and they say that it’s you (or me) who have to lead.  Hmmm. 

 

Image 1 from: http://flickr.com/photos/churl/92463463/

Image 2 from: http://flickr.com/photos/leonardlow/1142365603/