The future of education is student-centered and empowers learners: NAIS AC 2018

Over the past two days, it’s been a pleasure to engage with educators from across the country discussing how education is evolving to serve our students and their future. Here are a few highlights.

Adam Grant says that successful givers:

  • Help other people while protecting their own goals. They say, “I care about other people and I also care about my own ambitions.”
  • Set boundaries on time. Chunking their giving all at once to create more fulfillment.
  • Are specialists, not generalists. Know what acts of giving you are best at and delegate the rest.
  • Praise the value of generosity. Thank others for being givers.

Data Has a Personality: I presented with don buckley, Saber Khan and Linda Vasu. We were lucky enough to have Jill Gough sketch the highlights:

by Jill Gough

Navi Radjou’s keynote: Beyond Smartness: Leading Wisely in a Conscious Society. Navi states that:

  • Wise leaders can modulate between functional and business smarts depending on the situation.
  • Make sure to have strategy (what) and purpose (why) in mind.
  • See the potential of others and amplify them!
  • Have an abundance mindset. Looking for fulfillment inside.

Sisonke Msimang then spoke about the power of language and storytelling.

  • Listening is as important as storytelling. Listening to stories requires you to be empathetic and learn from another person.
  • “May we all do stories and may that be the measure of our lives.” – Toni Morrison

Social Justice in the Student-Centered Classroom by John Bouton and John Daves, Ph.D.

  • What is student centered education? We discussed building skills and competencies that can be applied across contexts. They used an I Notice, I Think, I Wonder protocol to analyze a poem which challenged us to infer the gender and race of the author. This conversation kept us discussing race and identity, a critical conversation for all, but especially white Americans.

Luma Mufleh gave our closing keynote entitled, Changing the World One Game at a Time. A powerful story, of empowering refugees through Soccer, and then building a no tuition private school for these students. She described terrible racism and bias, as well as unbelievable challenges in keeping this school going. You should check out her TED Talk here.


NAIS Annual Conference 2017 Reflection

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

  1. I was challenged to think from different perspectives 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.
  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 and administrator 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?

Onaje X.O. Woodbine — Black Men, Sports, and School

This morning, Onaje X.O. Woodbine, a philosophy and religious studies teacher at Phillips Academy and the author of Black Gods of the Asphalt spoke about his experience of being a black basketball player at Yale and deciding to leave the team to concentrate on his studies. He read the letter his coach wrote to him after he left which accused him of ruining opportunities for other black athletes in the future. He described this type of generalizing one black man’s actions on all black men is racism at play.

Onaje then spoke about his study of basketball in the Boston neighborhood where he grew up.  He described the flow state and the safety that black men found when on the basketball court. He shared stories of how basketball tournaments were named after so many young men who were killed, and the impact of this trauma. He had two performers act out vignettes from his book.

He ended the talk with a few powerful quotes:

  • The pedagogical imperative of school: we must provide the most truthful portrait of reality
  • Black students are not muscle and flesh. They are stories and they want their stories to be told
  • ‘We got next’ to do the work of discovery and racial healing
  • ‘We got next’ to take down the artificial boundaries that prevent racial healing

Thanks NAIS for a great opening speaker who challenged the audience to feel the terror of black youth live with each day.

What did you take away from this talk?




NAIS AC 2017 Prep and Preview

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-3-03-37-pmThe NAIS Annual Conference 2017 is in Baltimore, MD and the theme is: Make Your Mission Matter: From Vision to Values. With 6000 participants, NAIS pulls big keynote speakers and great presenters from around the world. My recommendation is to attend all of the keynotes which include Onaje X.O. Woodbine, Susan Cain, Sir Ken Robinson and Brene Brown. There are so many sessions to choose from. I encourage you decide what your learning goals for the conference are and then take a look at the program.
Connecting with people: For me, one of the most important parts of conference going is to connect with old friends and make new ones. Here are a few ways to do that at the #NAISAC 2017:
  • Wednesday, 3/1 at 5:00pm: First time at the conference? Attend the First-Time Attendees Reception
  • Thursday, 3/2 from 4:30 – 6:00: Welcome Reception in the NAIS Expo
  • In the Expo Hall, stop by the NAIS Makerspace or the NAIS Learning Lab to find colleagues or take a break.
  • Twitter: Follow the hashtag: #NAISAC to see what people are saying.

How do you navigate the NAIS Annual Conference? Add your ideas in the comments below.

Looking forward to seeing you at NAIS AC 2017!

AltSchool East Village — Reinventing Education

I recently started as founding Head of School at AltSchool East Village. AltSchool has eight lab schools that are focused on personalized, whole-child education — building agency and independence in children through project based learning. AltSchool is a startup that has 50 educators and 50 engineers on staff. We are building technology to superpower teachers by connecting them with great teaching practices — leveraging the network effect.

Here’s a recent story in which I appeared:

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Summer 2015 Reading

It’s summer, and that means summer reading.  I have done much of my reading this summer through audio books, as I listen while doing chores — painting rooms, doing dishes, etc.  Two themes for this summer: Race and Adolescence.


Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.  Irving does a compelling job of describing her racial awakening. Her stories of growing up in a white household that didn’t speak about race resonate with me. The questions at the end of each chapter are great opportunities to reflect alone or with friends.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates describes his growing up and coming of age in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York City in this book written to his 15 year old son. A powerful perspective that I’ll write more about.

Takeaways:  We need to be be having conversations and race in the United States. We don’t have to engage in this conversation, but if I don’t, we’ll be leaving children a world that is worse off than it is now.


The Teenage Brain, A Neuroscientists Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt. A thorough description of current adolescent brain research and it’s implications for parents.

Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg. Sternberg similarly describes current adolescent brain research an adds a number of chapters with concrete recommendations for parents and educators, specifically targeting recommendations for adding physical activities and mindfulness activities to improve self-discipline for adolescents.

Takeaways: Adolescents is a period of great brain growth (brain plasticity). The more we provide positive reinforcements for intellectual pursuits, physical activities and self-discipline, along with clear boundaries in places where adolescents can get into trouble, the more positive development we will see in adolescents in society.

What are you reading?  Where are you stretching yourself?

Differentiated Instruction

In Educational Leadership this month, Carol Ann Tomlinson writes about  Differentiated Instruction as a way of giving students ownership of learning. She states:

Differentiation enables teachers to go beyond the question, How can I make sure a student masters a body of information? asking instead, How can I help create a real learner?

There are four elements of DI: trust; fit;voice; and awareness.  Here’s a description of developing awareness:

“Monica Harrold, a 1st grade teacher frequently led her students to analyze a piece of work they were about to begin with a partner or small group.  After she described the task, she’d say, “Now tell me what skills are necessary to do this work really well.” Gradually , her young students became proficient at naming the skills the assignment called for.  Next, she’d ask them to think about which of the necessary skills they had and which ones they’d need to be sure someone else in the group had.  In my observations of Monica’s classroom, it was common to hear a student say, “I can draw and I can write, but I’m not very good at finding information so I’ll need to work with someone else who can do that.”  At age 6, these students were already becoming metacognitively aware.  They were learning to position themselves as successful learners by controlling their working conditions.

In order to empower our students, we must engage them in these metacognitive tasks early and frequently.  As I start to collect the tools of the school of the future, DI is a critical part of that toolbox.

Image from Wes Fryer