CNN Coverage of #RTNATL

A few of us at Trinity School spent most of the past month (or two) planning what-turned-out-to-be a very successful event on March 15th. It was so successful, in fact, that CNN decided to do a segment on the event during Fredricka Whitfield’s “Fix Our Schools” Segment. My favorite quote from the report (which you can watch below) is from Stephen Kennedy, Trinity’s Head of School (and my boss):

“We’re hopeful that this kind of documentary and the dialogue that it creates will end up providing a lot of conversation about alternatives so that kids can have both deep learning and deep thinking and also a healthy lifestyle.”

Smart, huh?

At some point this week, I plan to review the video of the panel discussion and hope to share some (all?) of the footage here. In the meantime, here’s the CNN coverage:


Race to Nowhere: A Screening and Panel Discussion

ParentRTNOn Tuesday, March 15th, Trinity School (in conjunction with fifteen other schools in the Atlanta area) will be hosting a screening of Race to Nowhere and a panel discussion following the film. With 1,400 registered guests and a highly distinguished panel, this event will only serve to continue the conversation about the issues raised in the film. There’s certainly a dynamic tension that exists — and one that educators, parents, and students feel on almost a daily basis. Trinity’s Head of School, Stephen Kennedy, highlights this tension thoughtfully in a letter that is included in tomorrow night’s program: “On one hand, we want our children and young adults to be resilient, to deal with life’s challenges, and to become thoughtful leaders. On the other hand, we do not want them to be depressed, overly stressed, or unhealthy in an effort to achieve these goals.”

Having seen Race to Nowhere twice (once in October and again on February 28th at an event designed for Atlanta area educators), I am impressed with Jonathan Martin’s words in his blog post “Race to Nowhere: A Response” and encourage you to spend some time reading his reflections. Martin writes:

The film asks and addresses what are for this parent and educator some of the most central and essential questions about K-12 education and child-raising; it does so in ways stimulating, provocative, compelling, redundant, one-sided, and emotionally manipulative.

The essential questions, then, to my observation, in the film include the following:

  • What is K-12 education’s  ultimate purpose?
  • What is the role of happiness and self-fulfillment (or self-actualization as our panelist Dr. Davis asked) in the priorities of K-12 education?
  • Are we educating effectively if our education is constituted primarily of test-taking, test-preparation, and memorization/regurgitation of information?
  • How do we promote balance in the lives of our students, and what is the role of homework in this equation?

We have asked our panelists (listed below) to consider the question — Should success be redefined? — and I suspect that they will also address many of the  questions above. I look forward to tomorrow night’s event and hope to post a personal reflection with my ever-evolving thoughts about the film in the coming days.


  • Dr. Mark Crawford: Clinical Psychologist (Moderator)
  • Vicki Abeles: Producer and Co-Director of “Race to Nowhere”
  • Dr. Pearl R. Kane: Klingenstein Family Chair Professor of Education, Department of Organization and Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Alfie Kohn: Writer and Speaker
  • Dr. James W. Wagner: President of Emory University

The RX for Education?

Interactive learning outside of the classroom? Putting play back into the university? An overhaul of a century-old educational approach?

Just last night, I opened the most recent UVA Magazine (“A History of Women at UVA”) to find three articles that will serve to enhance the conversations we’re having about education at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In my opinion, all three are “must share” pieces…all serve as evidence that things are shifting and that young people are taking learning into the own hands.

1. Impromptu Learning: Flash Seminars Catch On

“Now U.Va. students, faculty and community members are gathering for “flash seminars”—one-time, informal mini-classes organized via e-mail. Flash seminars tend to be on “exciting topics that react and respond to the world around us,” according to the student group that plans them.”

To learn more about flash seminars (and see a list of the most recent impromptu learning opportunities), click here. If we release a bit of control and let our students and teachers organize similar experiences, what would happen to the culture of learning, the perceptions about the role of the teacher and student, and the understanding of learning spaces at our schools?

2. Play Time: Students take Love of Games to a New Level

“There are so many interesting aspects of the games,” says Lobaton. “It’s great, and more rewarding, to enjoy them with people.” Club members have a diverse range of interests and individual preferences for their mode of playing, but students willingly share knowledge and amusement with one another. Indoors or outdoors, students keep in mind that the games are just that—a welcome pause from academics and work that keeps a playful mentality alive on Grounds. “They’re a way to come together,” Lobaton says.”

Play is all about the human connection. Students are finding ways to re-introduce play into their normal routine. In my opinion, it’s easy to make time for play at the elementary level. Is this a way to make play/recess a reality in secondary schools?

3. Adjusting the Prescription: The School of Medicine Overhauls its Century-Old Educational Approach

“When the Claude Moore Medical Education Building emerged from the construction rubble in 2010, it was apparent that the rules were changing. Set among all the square profiles and institutional red brick of the U.Va. Health System complex, its round structure of glinting glass looked, from the outside, less like a building than some futuristic beehive.

It signifies a huge culture change within the School of Medicine. After the ritual white-coat ceremony at the start of the fall semester, the Class of 2014 entered a brave new world: They would be the first group to try a different curriculum, test the facility’s innovative educational technology and undergo a learning experience unlike that of previous generations. After four years, they are expected to graduate with the habits of mind—curiosity, skepticism, compassion, wonder—that will prepare them to be better physicians.”

Exactly. A HUGE culture change. The picture below is evidence that we can no longer be comfortable with our traditional approach. If UVA Medical School can make the shift (in curriculum, in schedule, and in learning spaces), what are we waiting for?

Learning Space_UVa

The article is a must-read. It hits on so many important themes: essential 21st century competencies, learner-centered classrooms and curricula, individualized learning processes, synthesizing curricular topics, self-assessment, problem-solving in teams, case studies,  metacognition and reflection. A few of my favorite quotes are below:

“On this December morning, the low rumble of conversation in the “learning studio” gives an illusion that class hasn’t started; after all, there’s no sign of a professor at the lectern. In a 4,500-square-foot circular room, 155 first-year medical students sit at round tables arrayed with their laptops…This week’s theme, “Tolerance and Immunization,” is part of a semester-long course in molecular and cellular medicine. Instead of separate classes in four or more different disciplines, the curriculum is synthesized, interweaving clinical issues with the basic sciences.”

“The skills are more immediately applicable. In adult learning theory, this is the goal: to apply your knowledge right away.”

“In this “flattened classroom,” as it’s been described, the traditional top-down educational approach is reconfigured and the responsibility for learning shifts to the student.”

“Debriefing, to me, is a fascinating area,” says Mark Kirk, an associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics and co-director of the simulation center. “You facilitate the discussion, but really you’re trying to get the group to talk. The questions I ask are: ‘What were you thinking? What information were you trying to gather?”When students see themselves on video, they have a much better understanding of who they are and what they appear to be. Sometimes there’s an uncomfortable disconnect between the two.”

“We have the sense that education should be standardized and everyone should have the same experience, but that’s not really the case for us,” says Littlewood. “The new Carnegie report talks about having standardized outcomes for individualized experiences, and I think there’s no better example than over here.”

The previous quotes send a pretty powerful message: the time to change is now.

What are we waiting for?

RX for Ed_UVa

All images courtesy of The University of Virginia Magazine, Spring 2011. This magazine is published by the UVA Alumni Association.

My “Mr Curry”

In the past month, I’ve shifted the way I start my day. Normally, I’d start each day with my David Gray station on Pandora and email (after frantically hurrying through the school doors), but recently my office has been quiet and I’ve been doing a bit more reading. A bit more writing. A bit more reflecting. I find myself looking forward to reading the most recent post from the3six5 project and Zac Chase’s newest musing on “Things I Know” on his blog. I’m wondering what kind of effect it has on my day, my interactions with others, and my approach to the work I seek to accomplish in my role at Trinity…

It was only fitting that I read Zac’s post “Things I Know 59/365: I want to be Mr. Chase” on Tuesday following my second viewing of the film, Race to Nowhere. My thoughts about Race to Nowhere are similar to those of my good friend, Peyten Dobbs in almost every sense with the exception of my love of extracurricular sports both in high school and during my years at UVA. Interestingly, Peyten and I attended the same school from age 2 until 22, and I account my continued love of sports (even though they consumed the majority of my afternoons and evenings) to one person. My “Mr. Curry” is Coach Marcia Ward.

All day yesterday, I thought about these two quotes from Zac’s post:

If, on my best days, I am half the teacher Mr. Curry was, I have made something of myself.

Mr. Curry made me care about math because he showed he cared about me.

Replace Mr. Curry with Coach Ward and math with leadership, and that’s the short version of my story. The longer version is below, and it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about since yesterday. Unfortunately, I’ll never be able to share my thoughts with Coach Ward as she passed away a number of years ago. However, she still plays an integral role in who I am today and in who I want to be in the future: not only as a leader, but as a woman who tries pursue “excellence with integrity” as Coach did every day.

So, here’s my “Things I Know: My Mr. Curry” —

As an only child, I have always felt unconditionally loved, supported and cherished by my parents. From an early age, their desire for me to mature and succeed was evident. I was enrolled in ballet classes and numerous sports teams. I had a private piano coach and took art classes with a close neighborhood friend. I was sent to camps in the summer for various activities – art, basketball, dance, outdoor adventures. I was tutored in chemistry when I was less than confident in my abilities. My parents provided so much to help me succeed in all areas of my life – socially, academically, athletically, and spiritually. They set high standards and did their best to ensure that I was confident and successful.

When I was in junior high, I decided to try out for the volleyball team. I had never played the sport, I didn’t know the rules, and I definitely lacked the equipment necessary to “look the part.” After a three-day effort, I learned that did not make the team. The next fall, when I was a ninth grader, I decided to try again. I had a better idea of what to expect, I borrowed special volleyball shoes and kneepads from a neighbor, and I spent the week before tryouts practicing in my back yard with anyone who offered to help. I stayed up late, woke up early, and did my best to master the game of volleyball in seven days. Although I hadn’t put forth much effort over the course of year, I had improved and was determined to make the team. After three days of try-outs, I missed the cut for the second time.

There was something about the sport of volleyball that was contagious. Although I had failed to make the team the two previous years, I was determined to try out one more time. Over my ninth grade year, I spent countless hours in my backyard working on my passing, setting, and hitting. I went to junior varsity and varsity volleyball games. I made appointments with the varsity coach and talked to her about summer camps. I registered for two volleyball camps and gave full effort at both. As I tenth grader, I walked into try-outs with only one thing on my mind. I was going to make the team. And I did.

Due to my parents unwavering support in my early years, I had rarely known the sting of failure. They had provided so much for my maturation that I rarely needed to make sacrifices to get what I wanted. In many aspects, they were the ones who had made the major sacrifices. The experience of making the volleyball team after two rejections is an essential piece of my story. I learned about the importance of hard work and focused effort and began to develop a spirit of perseverance. Before making the team, I had viewed failure as a negative thing (my parents had done all that they could to ensure that I succeeded), but through this experience, I gained a deeper perspective concerning trials, struggles, and failures. After three years playing varsity volleyball under the guidance of Coach Marcia Ward, I had been profoundly impacted. While she instilled the drive to pursue excellence with integrity, she also insisted that I make sacrifices and set high standards for myself and others.

Similar to my parents, Marcia had the unique ability to provide unconditional love and support, but she did so in a tough and demanding way. Not only did she expect the best from others and herself, but she also helped her players pursue high standards of excellence with a focus on integrity. With unwavering expectations, Marcia was passionate about doing the work necessary for success, whether that was defined as winning the match or leaving every ounce of effort on the court. She was a coach who helped me define the type of leader I would become in my adult years – someone who possesses elevated expectations, a strong work-ethic, and the ability to lead a diverse group of people toward a common goal. Marcia played an integral role in helping me work through failure to realize that nothing is worth achieving unless it is pursued with excellence and integrity.

If, on my best days, I am half the teacher and coach Marcia Ward was, I have made something of myself.

Bring on the Learning Revolution!

Screen shot 2011-02-23 at 10.37.41 PMIn a perfect world, I would have invited Sir Ken Robinson to Trinity School on Monday evening for the screening of the acclaimed documentary, Race to Nowhere. Had Robinson been in attendance, he would have witnessed an impressive gathering of teachers and administrators from the Atlanta area. He would have experienced the overwhelming energy as groups of passionate, intelligent educators viewed the film and then discussed various issues related to the academic, social, and emotional pressures that many children face from as early as elementary school and into higher education.

Of all people, why Sir Ken Robinson? Well, he, more than many people I think, truly understands the value of creativity, the importance of a strengths-based approach to education, and the need to innovate fundamentally in schools to create environments where children flourish. His most recent TED Talk, delivered exactly one year ago this month, “Bring on the Learning Revolution,” is a must see, as is the film Race to Nowhere. Both point to the fact that our children are living in (and will inherit) a world that looks very different than the world we knew when we were students (whether we graduated in 20o3 or in 1953). As adults, it is our responsibility to acknowledge this truth and prepare these children for their future.

After last night’s event, what I know for sure is that acknowledgment and preparation cannot happen in isolation. If we are to begin to make the necessary shifts for which both Sir Ken Robinson and Vicki Abeles (Director of Race to Nowhere) advocate, we must work together. Educators must partner with parents. Secondary schools must partner with colleges and universities. Elementary, middle, and high schools–even in the competitive Atlanta market– must work with one another. We must give our children a voice as well. Our children must see that we care enough to gather in conversation and in community, to resist the pull of the status-quo, and to act in ways which increase meaningful learning in schools and decrease meaningless stress.

So, on the heels of an incredibly successful Race to Nowhere event, what’s next? Three things are giving me great hope and enthusiasm that the conversation will continue and that action will quickly follow.

TEDEDThere are “ideas worth spreading” in education. It’s time to add those to ideas to the script that’s dominated by Race to the Top and Waiting for Superman. To learn more about TED_ED, visit this site. You’ll find a brief (but powerful) video and information about the TED_ED Brain Trust.

ParentRTNTrinity School is hosting an additional screening of Race to Nowhere on Tuesday, March 15th. A panel discussion will follow and panelists will be asked to consider the question: Should success be redefined? Just as so many educators gathered on Monday to discuss the issues raised in the film, it is my hope that we will not allow the inertia of our own busy lives to distract us from engaging in this important dialogue. If you would like to register for the event on March 15, register through the Race to Nowhere Screenings Website.

Screen shot 2011-03-01 at 10.44.11 PMAfter a productive breakfast with a solid group of educators from three schools in the Atlanta area, I’m excited to announce that we’ve made progress on an idea that was born on January 9th. It has its roots in the3six5 project but there’s a focus on education with a few purposes in mind. We even have a mission statement and hope to launch a beta run in a few weeks.

So, I say, bring on the learning revolution! With TED, RTN, and EDU180ATL, let’s start that transformation that is so desperately needed in our communities, in our schools, and in our homes.