Tuesday, December 6, 2011

There is more in you than you think: Kurt Hahn's legacy

While living in California, I went with a good friend to Yosemite Valley to run up to the top of Half Dome. It was a quick trip - stop at the grocery store for some cheese and bread, throw a sleeping bag and tent into the trunk, hit Starbucks and then go. When we reached the park late that Sunday evening, it was raining and dark. Realizing that we would be starting our 18 mile round trip journey very early in the morning, we decided to leave the tent in the trunk and simply sleep in the car. When we woke up in the morning, the rain had stopped, so we set a brisk pace out of the parking lot near. We made great time off the valley floor, leaving most of the mass of hikers behind. About half way up the trail, I was surprised to see a family of five a few switchbacks up the trail. I reminded myself to look up and say hello as we passed them by and to move with care as we tried to get around them. They were moving quick I thought but I also wondered why the three kids weren’t in school? It was a Wednesday after all, and I just happened to have off for a Jewish holiday.

Actually, they were from another hemisphere and they had taken much more time off than simply Yom Kippur. When Steve and I finally caught them, we found out they were on a month-long break from traditional school in Australia to tour the national parks of the West. The family came from SydneyAustralia to America not simply for a holiday, but also for a grand lesson in experiential education. And their school back Down Under wholeheartedly endorsed the voyage. It wasn't because the kids needed a unique way to learn. In fact, two of the three children had received prestigious scholarships to attend private schools, and were academically high achievers as well as accomplished musicians and athletes. The support came simply from the belief that education should not start or stop at the classroom door.

Believe it or not, the idea of formal learning out of the classroom started in open air sanatoriums that sprung up in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century. During that time, fresh air and sunshine as much as medicine were used to treat tuberculosis. The idea extended to Britain during the first half of the 20th century, with the focus on improving the health of children who were seen as sickly and susceptible to TB. The schools had no walls and purposefully harsh but healthy environmental conditions. By the 1940s, there were 155 open-air schools in Britain and their goal was to improve both health and academics.

These open-air schools shared much with the philosophy of a set of schools now thriving in the U.S. known as Outward Bound Schools. Outward Bound programs are based on a development-by-challenge philosophy, put in place by the school's founder Kurt Hahn, an eccentric and innovative turn of the century educator who believed in the need for real, hands-on, practical challenges for the development of character in adolescent boys. Hahn emphasized that Outward Bound was about training the mind through the body, and he attempted to provide youth with challenging experiences in an educational environment designed to help kids develop inner strength, character and resolve. Hahn also was responsible for being a leader in the creation of the International Baccalaureate, an intense, global academic diploma program now recognized around the world.

I studied Hahn intensely while in grad school and find a lot of merit in his ideals. A quick look around the educational landscape demonstrates that I'm not the only one. For example, there is an interesting movement called Round Square. It is a worldwide association of more than 50 member schools on five continents which share a commitment, beyond academic excellence, to personal development, taking responsibility and serving others. Round Square's website sums up their membership foundation in six pillars known as I.D.E.A.L.S:  International Understanding; Democracy; Environment; Adventure; Leadership; and Service. With these schools, there is a continuous process of self-evaluation which goes on after a school becomes a full member. So who are these schools? Most of the institutions are on other continents. However, the member schools in the United States are better known for their academic excellence than their commitment to adventure and global outreach.

As educators, we need to ask ourselves "are we forward thinkers like Hahn? What do we do to add the important pieces of service, understanding, adventure and challenge?" 

Schools have a greater purpose beyond preparing young people for college. We should allow kids to face life head on and experience it in ways that would demand courage, generosity, imagination and resolution. Kurt Hahn felt this way too. He wrote that these principles help young people become empowered to develop their innate abilities "to be the leaders and guardians of tomorrow's world." For today's students to one day lead in the world, they must first go out and experience it to realize as Hahn did that "there is more in you than you think."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Are you a 21st Century Principal?"

I read a blog post recently asking "Are you a 21st Century Principal?" This is an important question to ask, so I thought I would share with you the attributes I think are essential and need to happen right now, in all schools striving to become innovative and relevant:

"You are a 21st Century Principal if...

You know that PLN stands for Personal Learning Network…and you collaborate with yours daily.

You use Twitter to find and share resources, engage in international conversation about education, connect with other educators, and make announcements to teachers, parents and students that follow you.

You've replaced the filing cabinet in your office with Dropbox… and can access all of your important documents while out and about.

Your school has started paperless initiatives to help cut down the costs of printing and copying.

You have a school website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account and they are each updated regularly to keep parents, teachers, and students informed with the latest news, events, activities, and general announcements.

You not only allow but fully support and encourage the use of social media inside school.

You encourage your teachers to take advantage of all of the free resources available online, especially SimpleK12 eBooks and education webinars.

You watch webinars, read blogs, and tweet to keep current on the latest education trends and topics.

You encourage your staff to be involved in the selection of new media and technology.

You collaborate with faculty members regularly via free web tools such as Google Docs.

You collect classroom walkthrough and observation data via Google Forms."

Here is a link to the original blog: http://blog.simplek12.com/education/21-signs-you%E2%80%99re-a-21st-century-principal/.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What makes good teaching?

This year, the Middle School is taking a new look at teaching and learning. At the core of this work, lies a framework from well known educator Charlotte Danielson, who has taught at all levels from kindergarten through college, and has worked as an administrator, a curriculum director, and a staff developer. In her consulting work, Ms. Danielson specializes in teacher quality and evaluation and professional development. Her framework has four domains, which we adopted in the MS:

1. Planning and Preparation
2. Classroom Environment
3. Instruction
4. Professional Responsibilities

Our framework has many purposes, but its full value will be found in our conversations among faculty and administration as we quest further into the complex task of teaching. Our MSGE will be used as the foundation of the Middle School's coaching, professional development, and teacher evaluation process. I thought it might be useful for you to see the evaluation and growth plan yourself. Here is the link:


As always, let me know what you think.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

We should teach what David Freese learned to do

I tuned into NPR this morning to see if I could catch a cerebral take of the World Series – a historic series that many are saying, already, was the best ever. Jim Bouton, former NY Yankee pitcher and author of the legendary baseball memoir “Ball Four,” was being interviewed by Scott Simon. They talked baseball, about the managerial styles of the two managers, about fans carrying much more of the hurt with them through the off season than the players. And then Scott asked Jim about David Freese, the hometown kid who plays third base for the Cardinals, who talks like a surfer and plays liked a Hall of Famer. They talked about his path to success. Bouton stated clearly that this golden boy had troubled waters to paddle through along the way to catching this amazing post-season wave. Freese was both MVP of the Playoffs and the World Series this year and a regular fixture on sports high-light shows throughout the autumn.

So I looked up this remarkable David Freese to see what his path to success looked like. After a stunning high school career, Freese was offered a baseball scholarship to play with University of Missouri Tigers. However, during his senior season of high school, he quit. Simply put, he was burned out on baseball and opted not to take a scholarship. Instead, he enrolled at Missouri to study computer science. Just like that, he was done, emotionally spent, and only a teenager.

Following his freshman year at Missouri, Freese spent the summer working for his hometown school maintenance department, and had a chance to visit his alma mater. What did he realize? That he missed baseball. A lot. Only weeks before having to head back to college, he contacted St. Louis Community College-Meramec, to ask for a roster spot. He got one and took it. In one season, Freese was named an All-America. His coach recommended him to the head coach of the baseball team at the University of South Alabama. He transferred and was unstoppable. According to his manager, Freese was the best player he ever coached.

With a stellar college career in his pocket, Freese ascended to the pros and was well on his way to greatness when he hit a physical wall: a major ankle injury, requiring two surgeries and an extended time on the disabled list which cost him most of his entire first season. He rehabbed it back to health, stayed focus and became a starter this year. What happened next? He was hit by a pitch in his left hand, breaking it, causing him to miss two key months. He worked hard to recover, continued to refine his hitting with the help of his coaches, and was able to return to the lineup later this summer. If you watched any of the playoffs or World Series you saw the result – a performance which will now go down in history as one of the greatest ever.

Now let’s go back to Bouton and Simon’s conversation. When asked how Freese does it, Bouton said it was this: his ability to overcome adversity. Freeze had a number of key highs and lows, breaks both good and bad. Luckily, he didn’t have an easy road and was forced to find resolve and a course through the valleys in order to get back to higher ground. He has what all successful people have: grit. And lots of it. Sure, Freeze can hit. He can throw. And he sure can play. But if there is one attribute Mr. Freese has that is truly remarkable, it is his ability to overcome troubles, focus on a goal, get there, and then perform at the highest level on the most visible stage.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Parents, performance, protection and pressure: a view from a grandparent

I just read an interview done by Sewickley Academy of Pat Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), a membership organization of more than 1,400 independent schools and associations of schools in the U.S. and 250 affiliated schools and associations internationally. Pat was asked "you’re a grandparent, who we’re guessing, might have strong views on contemporary styles of parenting. What advice do you have for parents as they wind their way through the thickets of advice in a high stress world?" His reply? "Read both of Wendy Mogel’s books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and Blessing of a B-, and Richard Weissbourd’s book, The Parents We Mean To Be. Then attend the book club meetings your school and parents association should offer, moderated by a school administrator and a local child psychologist. Bottom line – parents are both over-protecting their kids on the one hand, and putting immense performance pressure on them on the other. Kids grow in loving, supportive home and school environments, at their own pace, with stops and starts and long detours, and only get derailed when well-meaning but misguided adults in their lives make a mess of it. The daily message from parents to their kids should not be “I just want you to be happy,” nor “I just want you to be successful,” but rather “I want you to be good.” It turns out our hyper-parenting and obsession with “happiness” and “success” produce kids who are unhappy and stress-riddled. It turns out kids who are “good” (meaning morally good kids with character traits such as virtue, resilience, and perseverance) turn out to be much more likely to be successful and happy adults than do kids who become adolescents and then adults obsessed with being happy all the time or being driven to distraction about some unobtainable, perfectionist definition of success. We have one shot, and it’s now, to redefine “the good life,” and we need parents in that conversation."


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hey, middle schoolers! How to survive day one.

I can't sleep. Why? School is about to start. On Monday, we open for the year and I am just too excited. And nervous. Are all the lockers assigned? Did each student receive their schedule? Are all the faculty ready to go? Are the halls appropriately decorated and looking spiffy? If I feel this way, I can only imagine what a student new to middle school must feel right now. Some may have a bit of trepidation, others feel excitement and it is likely even a few kids are laying in bed right now thinking about tomorrow morning with just a tiny bit of dread.

So, parents, this is really for the students: they may need a survival plan. If you look on page 12 of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Middle School by David Borgenicht, you will see what I mean. For those who don't have a copy in their pocket at all times like I do, here are the big five things to remember. And if you think about it, your kids are already well on their way to completing the plan, making them more than ready to go. Take a look:

1. "Conduct an investigation" - They already toured the school, came to MS orientation and likely know some kids in their class. They have checked out the MPH website, had you come in and meet with me and set up their locker. This all should help keep the pre-game jitters at bay.

2. "Look great, feel great" - They know the dress code, correct? As long as they stick to the code, they will be fine by us and will look super on the first day. Let them give their clothes a test drive and be sure to not impose too much of what you think. Unless you happen to be David and Victoria Beckham. I didn't think so.

3. "Buddy Up" - They have their schedule, right? Your son or daughter should find out who is in their language and math class rotation if they haven't already. They can check out in the MS office who is at their lunch table too. These kids are the kids they will walk and talk with and can help them get from point A to point B throughout the first week.

4. "Map Quest" - I gave new families a map this summer when we met. Students can use that map to make a route from gym to history class and spot where the bathroom and the water fountains are. Key stuff for all middle schoolers.

5. "Imagine Success" - This one is important. Visualize, visualize and visualize again being a success in the Middle School. People need to see themselves happy, with friends and feeling good. This is THE most important thing to do at the start of the school year. The more positive you are in your mind, the more likely things will go well for you that first day.

That's it. Keep it simple. Be positive. Have a plan. Be ready to adjust. Connect with people. And remember, there is always an adult right around the corner to help. Let's have a great start to the new year!

Mr. Eagen

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Go Team! How to start the school year right

This week, I rediscovered a great article by Joe Bruzzese, a leading expert for the middle school years. The piece is about how a team approach to reaching and teaching a child can "make the difference." I thought I would share it with you here:

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
— Henry Ford

According to the United States Census Bureau, today’s generation of school-age children spend the majority of their waking hours in the care of someone other than their parents. Given the influence that teachers, coaches, mentors, and extended family members have on a child’s development, the necessity for building a relationship with this group of people has never been greater. But, for parents, creating a team of focused and motivated individuals who will continually support the ongoing growth of your child requires a new set of skills.

The first skill is to be able to envision the sort of success you want for your child in the school year. Once you have this vision, you need to clearly identify the extended support team. Do you know who is on your team — and how you can work with them all in the interest of your child’s success in school?

Five Steps to Building Your Support Team
Create a roster. Who will impact your child’s life this year? Begin by creating a list of the adults who will connect with your child during the first month of school. Teachers, school administrators, coaches, mentors, and extended family members are common additions to most team rosters.

Position the players. With a completed roster in place, identify when and where your child will see these critical people. Teachers and school personnel typically fall within a specified seven-hour time block on a regular Monday-through-Friday schedule. However, the after-school hours are equally important. Identifying who will supervise your child beyond the conclusion of the school day creates an accurate picture of your child’s life and the role that each adult will play this year.

Connect. The beginning of a school year marks the start to many new and inspiring relationships. During the first few weeks of school, take two minutes to communicate with each person on your roster. Send a written note, e-mail message, or share a quick conversation in person. The message to convey is short yet sincere, “Hi, I just wanted you to know how excited I am to have you in my child’s life this year.” This quick introduction sends a powerful message to everyone on your team about the importance of each person’s role in your child’s life.

Check in. Don’t wait until a problem arises to initiate a conversation. Every two to three weeks, check in with each of the people on your roster. Start the conversation with, “How are you?” and then let the discussion flow from there. Beginning with an open-ended question that allows the conversation about your child to evolve naturally. Leading questions like, “How was her behavior today?” or “Were there any problems?” bring immediate focus to a potentially negative set of comments that result in creating greater distance between parents and key adults in their child’s life. The opportunity to share positive comments or questions is lost amidst the negativity.

Celebrate. Reaching milestones and achieving goals is cause for celebration. Placing a quick call to your child’s teacher after the conclusion of a long-term project or class play shows acknowledgement and appreciation — two characteristics of supportive teams. The more often team members celebrate together, the stronger the relationship grows. As a teacher and a mom, Dee Moran knows the importance of celebrating achievement. “Our six-year-old likes being recognized for his achievements,” she says. “The simplest words of praise and acknowledgment leave him proud for days. Julie, our 13-year-old, typically opts for a more subtle approach to celebration, preferring to spend a night out with friends at the movies after bringing a successful semester to a close. Celebrating achievements both small and large keeps everyone moving forward.”

Bringing the valued members of your team together, both at home and in the community, allows your vision to become a reality. Celebrating the fulfillment of a vision inspires motivation for continued success. Enjoy the year ahead with your family.

Joe Bruzzese, author of A Parent’s Guide to the Middle School Years and co-founder of Thinking-Forward.com, can be reached at joe@Thinking-ForwardTV.com.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chances are your kid isn't going to law school

Dig this: “If you have a child entering grade school this fall, file away just one number with all those back-to-school forms: 65 percent. Chances are just that good that, in spite of anything you do, little Oliver or Abigail won’t end up a doctor or lawyer — or, indeed, anything else you’ve ever heard of. According to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, fully 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.” *

Whoa! Wow! Yikes! Yowzaa! This isn’t Batman, Robin, this is the 21st Century. A technology tidal wave is upon us. Now remember, it’s just a tool - just like a pencil - but utilized during the teaching and learning process, it is a phenomenally complex tool for students to use to communicate, connect, and collaborate in new and even more meaningful ways. So much for the pencil analogy. Some feel schools will become immaterial unless they gravitate to these emerging technologies and employ them to better understand today’s learners. Many new educational leaders such as Eric Sheninger, a connected principal and the subject of a recent article in USA Today on social media in the classroom, think so. I tend to agree with him.

In the coming weeks, I am preparing to engage the Middle School in a conversation about becoming a school of the future - a 21st Century institution of teaching and learning. With a change in mindset and administrative support, as well as a host of digital tools, including social media, this can happen. In fact, it must. Yowzaa!

* From “Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade” By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN August 7, 2011, 5:30 PM

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Advice from Edward Abbey

I remembered reading this once and stumbled upon it once again. Sage advice for everyone...

"One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for awhile and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators."
- Edward Abbey

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Reading Assignment Grade 7

English 7 Summer Reading
Ms. Bentley Hoke and Mr. Eagen

Hello, seventh graders! We hope you’re all enjoying your summer vacation, and as you do so, we hope that you’re also enjoying some good books.

For your English 7 summer reading, you will choose one of these two books: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead or The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. You might look at each of these books at the library, at a bookstore or online and read the back cover and several pages of each to determine which one suits you.

Whichever you choose, we recommend that you read the book toward the end of the summer so that it will still be fresh in your mind when you arrive at school.

Once you have done the reading, you have two writing options. You may choose either option to go with either book. These will be due the second time your class meets in September (either Wednesday or Thursday of the first week of school).

1) Write a letter to one of the characters in your book. This may be the main character, but it does not have to be. Choose the character that interests you most. Try to refer to specific details and events in the story as you write. Also consider the best approach and tone for writing to this particular character. In your letter you may want to:
• explain to the character what you find so interesting, confusing, upsetting, exciting about him or her,
• ask questions about his or her actions and choices in the story,
• describe connections you feel you share with him or her.
You are not limited to these three lines of discussion, though. Use your experiences, both in reading this book and in your life, as you decide what to write about. Before you hand it in you should proofread carefully and make sure that the letter is created in the following form: word-processed, one page at least, double-spaced, 12 point font with one inch margins.

2) Write a book blog. For this option you will produce a series of “posts” reflecting your reactions to characters, events and descriptions in the novel you have chosen. You should plan to write at least five posts, and each one should be at least three good sentences long. In a blog post, typically the writer aims to express interesting ideas clearly and efficiently. Those who read blog posts tend to know the writer or to have a special interest in the general topic for the blog, so you might imagine your blog fans to be people who have read your book and found it interesting. You will not be publishing these posts to the web initially. Instead we would like you to type them into a document to print and turn in. We will be discussing blogs and other forms of e-communication in class in the fall.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact either of us pbentley@mph.net or jeagen@mph.net.

Enjoy your summer!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The iPad Revolution: are we skilled enough?

This summer the Middle School is getting a cart of iPads and as you can imagine, we are thrilled. But anyone who has ever been told by an admin to "use more technology in the classroom," knows you can't throw technology into schools without training and support for teachers. What is our plan for developing teachers that are skilled in using them? Honestly, I don't know...yet. And what does skilled mean? What about professional development? And who is in charge of all this? Yikes.

I recently stumbled upon a write up by Sam Gliksman called "Do iPads Have the Capacity to Change Education?" In his piece he mentions a study by Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff. She has identified two distinct phases in the way new tech tools are implemented, calling them "Automating and Informating." When Automating, new tools are used to "reinforce existing practices and processes." We see this all the time. Think of the way we use Smartboards - they are often just digital white boards with a teacher at the front of the class as the students take notes.

With Informating, instead of continuing to focus on a learning attribute that already exists in order to make it better (getting kids to be better note takers by sitting still and listening to a lecture) we start to look at brand new skills and outcomes (creating 21st century students who know how to work in collaborative teams). Many feel we are in the infancy of this phase. Perhaps we are. In any case, before the iPads arrive this summer, we intend to explore ways to make the essential plan for our faculty to do a lot less automating, and much more informating with our iPads.

Want to read Sam's writing on iPads and more?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The final push toward summer

I can't believe it, but - gulp - we only have a few more weeks left before summer. As all of you know, this school year has been a long one. This Syracuse winter left us dazed and confused with the difficult weather as well as the loss of our long standing Head of School. Many parents and students were stunned this winter and continue to feel the effects. Our faculty, though strong and talented, were the hardest hit. But they continue working, cherishing instructional time with students as well as daily conversations and laughs with each other. Nevertheless, I get the sense that we are all ready for summer break.

So I began to think about summer break. Where did it come from? I always had some idea about it's origins, but I wasn't really sure. So I looked it up. This is what I found:

In the 1840s, educational reformers such as Horace Mann moved for a summer recess, out of concern that rural schooling was "insufficient and overstimulating" our youth. They actually felt it could lead to "nervous disorders," believe it or not. Summer seemed like the obvious time for a break as it offered a "respite for teachers, meshed with the agrarian calendar and alleviated physicians' concerns that packing students into sweltering classrooms would promote the spread of disease." So there you have it, summer break. And though I for one love the fast paced, always changing, social animal that is the school environment, this year summer will be that welcome respite all of us need sometimes.

For more on summer: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1816501,00.html#ixzz1MSkwpmZI

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Essential attributes for student success - an independent school example

While following my Twitter feed today, I came across something profound from Richard Kassissieh, the IT Director at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, OR. He wrote a piece on what he and some faculty members call "student attributes for success." What I found most interesting was their focus on traits that would predict future success as students move through the divisions. As a MS Head, this is always on my mind. Take a look:

1) Internal Motivation: Student shows initiative and risk-taking in learning. This also includes the resiliency to persevere when things get tough and overcome failure. A hardworking ethic and willingness to use available resources at school to do his/her best.
2) Habits of Mind: This includes “executive function” traits such as organization, time and material management, and the ability to prioritize.
3) Learning Style Awareness: A self-awareness of his/her own learning strengths and weaknesses – at a developmentally appropriate level. As you know we start working on this in the Lower School in earnest.
4) Family Support: Parents who maintain a partnership with the school to help a student to do their best. This may involve a commitment to providing extra supports s/he may need. It also means being careful to project a positive attitude towards the teachers and school; if a child detects a parent disrespects the school, their learning is undermined.
5) Social Aptitude: This means the ability of a student to meet the social demands of a collaborative learning environment.
6) Academic Aptitude: Students need to be academically solid. If they are not, a plan for support is in place.
7) Affective Attributes: The student has affinities beyond the classroom or academic realm that help to create balance in his/her life. This helps to establish a sense of identity and a feeling of competence/passion.

Great work by Richard and his colleagues. For further thoughts from Richard follow his blog here: www.kassblog.com/2011/02/essential-attributes-for-student-success

Monday, February 28, 2011

21st Century Learning and Leadership

The following is from Jonathan Martin's "7 Steps for 21st Century Learning." Jonathan is Head of School at St. Gregory College Prep in Tuscon, AZ. I thought so much of of his post, I decided I would comment on two of his points here:

"Leadership is, more than anything else, a project of managing change." I have always felt that leading is often managing, and in independent schools managing the talent is a huge part of the process of change. I find leaders in our schools don't need to push and prod faculty as much as facilitate and clear the path for them to innovate and grow.

"Celebrate Success; Showcase What’s Working. We should always be proud of our schools and excited about our school’s successes. Accentuate the positive and celebrate every event which exemplifies the learning we seek for our students." I could not agree more with Martin here. Our families need to hear what we are doing and it is easier than ever to communicate what is happening with email, video and text. There is no excuse for leaders not to showcase the great things teachers and students are doing each day.

For more on Leadership in the 21st Century go to:http://21k12blog.net/2011/02/20/7-steps-for-leading-in-21st-c-learning/

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Independent Schools are not the real world

Yesterday, dozens of anxious students sat for MPH’s annual Scholarship Exam. It's an amazing scene, where hopes and fears are evident on almost all the faces in the room. The test is only part of a lengthy process which also involves interviews, teacher recs, writing submissions, and even a fine arts showcase. But the test is real and so is the pressure. Score well and you might get a chance at a merit based scholarship which is essentially a ticket to attend the only independent school in CNY. My wife thought it sounded similar to something out of Charlie and Chocolate Factory. I suppose there is an element of Wonka involved, but certainly, it isn't as easy as pulling a golden ticket from a candy wrapper.

During the morning while the students were taking the exam, I had the chance to talk to loads of parents, answering their questions and sometimes even countering their remarks. One gentleman came to me and stated clearly that he was a supporter of public schools. I stated with equal clarity, so was I! He then asked me if I thought private schools somehow shelter children from the "real" world. I said, half jokingly, “what is so great about the real world?" The American status quo is not so incredible. It’s a place where the dominant culture is full of cynicism, mediocrity and bad behavior. Do we really need to place our children there if we don’t have to?

I recalled reading a post from Pat Basset on this real world issue for our schools. I tracked it down on his blog and here it is:

"Myth #2: Independent Schools are "not the real world."

Fact: Of course they are not, thank God. The real world is, sad to say, unsafe, unstructured, and — worse than values-neutral — values bereft. The independent school culture is, ironically, counter-cultural in the sense of establishing a values matrix that runs counter to the child-toxic values of the popular culture and amorality and immorality that surrounds us.

While independent schools are "not the real world" themselves, they prepare students exceedingly well for the real world(s) of college, the workplace, and life in general, as the National Education Longitudinal Study from NCES demonstrates: independent school graduates in disproportionate numbers earn college and graduate degrees, report high career satisfaction, vote and engage in civic activities, exercise, and generally contribute to make the real world a better place."

I stated as much to the gentle man at the exam, though not quite as eloquently. Pat's words speak for themselves. I don’t have any problem with independent school’s giving families an option counter to what may be available in their neighborhood. Choice is good, particularly when the status quo is not.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Knowledge and Information in the 21st Century

There is a lot of talk about the 21st Century learner. I often use the phrase when talking with parents, knowing that it conjures up certain images and sometimes even fear. And there is also a lot of hype about what role technology can play in the role of education. And again, a lot of fear. The Social Life of Information is an attempt to clear some of the myths about the information age and to offer alternative ways of thinking about the future, as well as the future of education. Authors Paul Duguid and John Seely Brown write wonderfully on knowledge, and how it turns
attention toward knowers, which is a good thing for those who believe people still have a purpose in the learning process. They write, "increasingly, as the abundance of information overwhelms us all, we need not simply more information, but people to assimilate, understand, and make sense of it."

So, while the modern world often appears increasingly impersonal, in those areas where knowledge really counts, people count more than ever. The authors give a wonderful example of this need for learning to take place in a social context when they describe how students learn vocabulary. They draw their research by two educational psychologists who compared learning words in the everyday practice of conversation with trying to learn vocabulary from dictionaries. In the daily, social example, they found that learning "is startlingly fast and successful. By listening, talking, and reading, the average 17-year-old has learned vocabulary at a rate of 5,000 words per year(13 per day) for over 16 years. The children know both what these
words mean and how to use them."

By contrast, the researchers found that learning words from abstract definitions and sentences from dictionaries "is far slower and far less successful. Working this way, the children in the study acquired between 100 and 200 words per year. Moreover, much of what they learned turned out to be almost useless in practice. Despite their best efforts, looking up relate, careful, remedy and stir up in a dictionary led to sentences such as, "Me and my parents correlate, because without them I wouldn't be
here"; "I was meticulous about falling off the cliff"; "The redress for getting sick is staying in bed"; and "Mrs. Morrow stimulated the soup."

Most of us in education have seen this - the eager student with all the right information but none of the practical knowledge that make things work, in a lab, on a project or in a debate. Information is one thing. As most good teachers know, knowledge is something far more complex.