Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Way Education Should Be!

In July of this year I started a new job. I am now the Assistant Head of School for Synapse School in Menlo Park, CA. The past few months have been a whirlwind of getting to know the school, the administration, the faculty and the kids. Synapse is a very young school (it is in its 7th year) with a progressive approach to learning and a mission to educate change makers. I am so happy to finally be at a school that truly aligns with my educational philosophy. Alfie Kohn wrote a wonderful article defining progressive education, I am so happy to say, Synapse fits his definition to a T.

This week culminated in a "Portfolio Day" that showcased students' first trimester learning. Each child guided their parents through the many artifacts of their understandings, becoming the teacher and showing their family members evidence of what they had learned. As I went through the day both as an administrator and as a parent (my children are in 6th and 7th grade at Synapse), I was struck by the "rightness" of this school. This is how education should be, focused on the learner, not on the grade, experiential, constructivist and project based.

If you have been reading my blog over the years, I'm sure you can identify with my feelings. I have been looking for a school like this ever since I wrote my Common Principles for 21st Century Schools. I feel I have finally found my educational home.

If you are planning a visit to Northern California, please reach out if you would like to visit.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Beginning Again - Reflections on Edcamp San Jose

This weekend I helped to organize Edcamp San Jose, my first west-coast edcamp. Thanks to an amazing team of organizers, Travis Phelps, Diane Wharton, Mary Fran Lynch, Todd Feinberg and Matthew Cordesand a great group of participants it was a wonderful day.  At the end of the day I was fortunate enough to attend Elana Leoni's session on writing and reflecting. She gave us time to write about the day and encouraged us to be creative with our writing style. 

What follows is the writing I did that afternoon.

She had been to many EdCamps before, she helped organize EdCamps before they were called EdCamps (remember EdubloggerconEast). Back home in Boston everyone knew her. Her EdCampBoston team had been together since 2011. Over 300 people attended that conference and they all knew Liz. But since moving to California, she had had to re-establish herself, start over, begin again. It was a humbling experience. “Don’t you know who I am” she would often find herself thinking. Of course you can’t say things like that out loud. And she knew the answer, they had no idea who she was.

EdcampSanJose was a way for her to start again. To meet new people, to find her place. But it is hard to start again, especially when you feel you have come so far. She knew it was good for her, but still it was hard. The day was cloudy. It had actually rained that morning, an uncommon event in her new hometown. As she started setting up tables and putting out food, she wondered how it would go, who would show up, what sessions would be proposed.

As the attendees arrived, she held out her hand, introduced herself, invited them to fill out a name tag and propose a session. She asked, “Have you been to an edcamp before?” The answer from many was “No, this is my first time.” She could hear the nervousness in their voices and the excitement too. Flipping into her encouraging mode, she assured them that they would have a great day. Reassuring herself as she said the words.

As the room filled it was finally time to do the icebreaker. She thought back to all of the times she had run this ice breaker as she looked out into the room. Holding the microphone and introducing the activity felt familiar (those who know her, know how much she loves a microphone). As people began to introduce themselves to each other, the volume in the room began to rise. The other organizers filled the board with sessions and day was about to begin.

Moving 3,000 miles across the country has not been easy. It has been exciting at times, exhausting, entertaining and fun, but it hasn’t been easy. Beginning again never is. But it can only be your first time once, the least I can do is enjoy the newness and make the most of it. I have to trust that I will find my place eventually. And the journey is half the fun. Isn’t it?

Thank you to all of the people who have welcomed me along the way!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

We built it, but not many came... How do we reinvigorate Teachers Unplugged?

0170cd4fb6e7a3edb5790bf13b769ab060dff49002This is the fourth year that I have helped to organize the Teachers Unplugged session at NAISAC. This is a participant driven session in which the attendees propose and vote on topics for discussion and then we sit at round tables and have two 20 minute discussions about the most popular topics. It takes some explaining as people enter, but every year we have heard the same thing from people as they leave the session, "This is the best session I have attended at this conference."
I think this has to do with the fact that the sessions are interactive and participatory. The fact that NAISAC brings together independent school folks from all over the country who are grappling with the same questions, makes the unplugged session a unique opportunity to hear and learn from the other attendees at the conference (not just the experts). We even "sketchnoted" during the discussions - putting into direct practice the Doodling message we had heard from Sunni Brown's talk the day before. 
unpluggedroundtablewithsketchnotingThis year we had about 30 people attend the Teachers Unplugged session (about 50 people attended the Administrators Unplugged session the day before). Not only is this a valuable experience for the participants, but you can easily bring this back to your own faculty as an approach to Professional Development. My question is why so few? And how do we get more people to attend?  
I think part of the problem is our title - people don't "get" what an unplugged session is until they get to it. It is a hard concept to explain. How can we rebrand this session to better communicate its value and its benefits? I really don't want this session to die. NAIS has generously given us large rooms with big tables. I fear if we can't get the numbers, NAIS won't be able to justify the space they give us. 
Please help! What can we do to help reinvigorate the interest in this session? Do you have an idea for a new session title? Something that would attract more people to give it a chance? I welcome your suggestions!!

Friday, February 27, 2015

33 Great Ideas For Women In Leadership Positions

I attended a great session today at the NAIS Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) titled: Engendering Leadership: How Independent Schools Support Successful Female Leaders. 

Thank you to Lindsay Koss, Pearl Kane, Lucy Goldstein, Meera Ratnesar, Frances Fondren, Karen Whitaker and Katie Arjona for all of your sage advice!

Here is what I learned:

Leadership is a behavior
1. Leadership is about doing not about the title
2. If your passions don’t align with your institution you have to listen to that and move to a place that fits.
3. You need to know the stereotypes that are attached to you (whatever they may be) - use them for your benefit or debunk them. 
4. Be frank and clear in your communication even at the risk of not being perceived as nice.
5. Develop a capacity for solitude - as you move up you have a smaller peer group, develop your capacity to solve things alone or with a smaller group of people.
6. Retain your spirit of joy - It can be a joyful position. Need resiliency. Important you know how to bounce back and find the place of joy again. 

Developing yourself
7. Presenting at a conference as a way to develop yourself
8. Rent feedback before you own it - look at the reason for the feedback and who is giving it - before you own it.
9. Be aware of your weaknesses - find people who can help you in those areas

Developing others
10. Modeling the way - you are modeling how to be a leader
11. Encourage leadership in each other and in your students
12. Classroom teaching is great training for leadership
13. Cultivate other people in your school
14. New teacher mentoring is an opportunity to build leaders
15. Listen and allow people to tell you their stories
16. Open yourself up to the people around you
17. Develop a protocol for everyone to have a way to think about their career arc - where would you like to be in 5 years - express aspirations and opportunities for the school to help along the way

Blending work and life
18. Work brings joy - don’t apologize or be a martyr
19. Can’t build walls up between work and life
20. Spend less time worrying about the overlap
21Spend more time making sure both are bringing you joy
22. Model as a leader what it looks like to be off line - 
23. Eat a piece of chocolate and go for a run - what are your ways to indulge yourself
24. Embrace the glamour of being in a leadership position
25. Cultivate your mentors and your village
26. Times that are really hard can give you a lot to laugh about 

Taking initiative
27. You don't have to know everything in advance
28. Finance knowledge is attainable - 
29. Guidestar - Find out what salaries are and ask for money.
30. Don’t be afraid to talk about your value to the institution
31. Look in the mirror and say no to yourself 10 times - the mirror doesn’t break. Don’t back down.
32. If you don’t get the raise ask for feedback as to why
33. Negotiate for PD funds, for comp time not only for money

Friday, January 16, 2015

#MARCHON in remembrance of Martin Luther King

This week at our middle school we have done a number of things to celebrate and remember the upcoming MLK day on Monday. We started as a whole school learning a little about the history of both Martin Luther King and about non-violent protest in general. We watched the John Legend/Common music video (below) of their song Glory from the movie Selma.

At the end of the video, we are challenged to consider what we would march for and to share that with the hashtag #marchon.  Students created a small #marchon poster articulating what they would march for. We gathered together in our gym to share our posters.

And then students were invited to actually march for their beliefs. We simply walked a few blocks, crossed the street and then marched back, but it was a great experience. I don't know if these kids had ever had a reason to march before. Hopefully it left an impression. It definitely left an impression on me!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another Design Thinking PD Day for Faculty - Reimagining Creative Spaces at School

Just before Thanksgiving break I led another full day Design Thinking workshop with my faculty. Our goal was to look at our campus and consider what we could do with our physical space to inspire creativity in ourselves and in our students. Because we only had from 8:30 - 2:00pm, I decided to take my faculty through exactly the same processes that we used during our August PD day, which I described in my last blog post, but with a different topic. Since we had already been through all of the steps once, I was able to skip over a lot of the explanation of the how and why and move people right into action.

Because our PD was on the Middle School campus, I had students in 1st and 4th grade and faculty take videos of the Lower School campus from their own perspective and posted those to a website for people to look at. We used those along with a Pinterest page of creative learning spaces for the empathy portion of the design process. I also took people through a "Speed Dating" type interview process where they had a few minutes with a few different people to share what types of spaces they personally find inspirational.

We modified our "How might we" statements to focus more deeply on a particular question.

The day culminated in the making of prototypes. Faculty used a variety of materials to build their imagined spaces and then presented them to the faculty.

Overall, I think the PD day was a great success! I attribute that to a few things, a great facilitator (LOL), and a real problem to solve. Just as when we looked at Back to School Night, we are going to find ways to actually implement everyone's ideas. I think this is a key element for successful DT work. Otherwise it is just an exercise and doesn't have the same impact on the participants.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Using Design Thinking to Reimagine Back To School Night

I am very excited to share that I have started my new job as Director of Curriculum at Keys School in Palo Alto. Over the summer the faculty read the book Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelly. As a way to integrate their Design Thinking model into our teacher work week, we are going to use the model to reimagine our Back to School Night. 

We will have 3 hours on the first day and 1 hour two days later to complete the process. Here is our plan. (I would welcome your suggestions or ideas for improving upon it!) It is based on the Stanford Design Thinking model which is outlined in the book and which I have blogged about previously.

Groups Part One: We will create groups with as much diversity across grade levels, experience levels, points of view etc.

Empathize - Experience what the “user” experiences

Groups will break into pairs and interview each other about their BTSN experience as a teacher, as a parent, etc.
One pair will look at parent survey feedback.

Empathy Map:
After the interviews, participants will fill out an Empathy Map summarizing what they heard in the interview into four quadrants:
  • Say - What are some quotes and defining words your interviewee said?
  • Do - What actions and behaviors did you notice?
  • Think - What might the interviewee be thinking (that s/he didn’t say)?
  • Feel - What emotions might your interviewee be feeling?

We will post the Maps around the room - Everyone will do a gallery walk.
People will return to their groups and complete 1 Empathy map that summarizes everything you saw.

Groups Part 2:
We will reconfigure groups so that they are more homogeneous by school (The Lower School and Middle School are on separate campuses and have separate Back to School Nights).

Define - Come up with an ACTIONABLE problem statement

Give out a Point of View Statement Handout where faculty come up with adjectives to describe the user and verbs to describe what the user needs and insights into why based on this blog post.

Faculty write out a Problem Statement:  User + Need + Insight

Ideate - Focus on idea generation

Groups will stand up and try to generate 100 ideas in 10 minutes and write them out on Chart Paper.
We will post the lists around the room.

Post-it Voting 
Give 5 dots to each person. Have people walk around the room and put dots on their favorite ideas.
Participants look around the room at the ideas that have the most votes.

Participants return to their groups and choose one idea to prototype (the ideas does not have to be from their original list and more than one group can choose the same idea)

Prototype - Getting ideas out of your head and into the physical world.

Groups create a prototype of their idea. Prototypes can be anything that takes a physical form:
a schedule
a handout
a role-playing activity
a space
an object
a video

Test - Refine the solution and make it better

Groups share their prototypes with everyone.
Participants fill out a feedback grid for each idea.
We look at the feedback and determine what we are actually going to try at BTSN.
(We follow up BTSN with a survey to further test prototype and iterate for next year.)

So that's the plan so far. I have about two weeks before I put it into action. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or resources that might help me improve upon it.