Learning from a Legend

(This post is cross-posted on the Notes from the Leadership Team Blog on Trinity School’s Website.)

If you haven’t seen Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University, it’s worth watching. I find it interesting that Jobs, arguably one of the greatest innovators throughout history, spends very little time in his address talking about the products that made him famous. Instead, he reflects on process…specifically how personalized learning, failure, and perseverance were integral to his career and ultimately to the success of his company. In my mind, the legacy that Steve Jobs leaves for all of us is powerful: we must value and celebrate the process. We must try to relinquish our focus on product.

So what does this look like in education? In parenting? What might we all learn from Steve Jobs?

1. We can learn that personalizing learning matters.

“The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting…I loved it. And what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”

Jobs dropped out of Reed College after only six months and did so to pursue a personalized path to learning. Although he “dropped-out” of college, he spent his time “dropping-in” to classes like calligraphy. These classes, more aligned to his passions and strengths, allowed him to build a foundation for his future and even shaped the distinct typography that personal computers have today. What if Jobs didn’t possess the self-knowledge and confidence to chart his own path?

2. We can learn that failure shouldn’t be feared.

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me…It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Even though Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he started in his parents’ garage, he wasn’t deterred by failure. Instead, he saw failure as opportunity. He was able to reflect, connect-the-dots, and grow from what was a personally and professionally difficult time in his life. What if Jobs hadn’t possessed the ability to reflect and grow from seemingly insurmountable obstacles?

3. We can learn that perseverance is priceless.

“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”

Regardless of whether you are 5, 15, or 55, “sometimes life hits you on the head with a brick.” Jobs reminds us that it is our reaction to those setbacks which often determines our future. Jobs kept going, in part because he loved what he was doing, and also because he was used to overcoming setbacks. He learned perseverance by persevering and found many opportunities to practice. What if Jobs adopted a spirit of bitterness and resentment instead of a spirit of perseverance and optimism?

It’s tempting for all of us, as educators and as parents, to have a heightened focus on product. The B+ on the science test, the acceptances to secondary schools, the stickers on the behavior chart. However, at Trinity, our Mission Statement states that we aim “to create a community of learners in which each child can acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to achieve his or her unique potential.” That knowledge, the skills, and those attitudes are sometimes hard to quantify.

It’s certainly easier to display a math test with a 100% score on the refrigerator or reward children for finishing a certain number of chapter books, but how can we, just as Jobs reminded us in his Commencement Address, honor and celebrate our children’s processes of learning, of growing, and of becoming young people who will – at some point in the future – do great things? If we are always focused on the product or the “end-thing” (whatever that thing may be), we may overlook those very valuable moments of growth and development happening right before our eyes. These moments, all part of the learning process, often matter more than the end product. They are they moments which Jobs alluded to that shape character and more substantially impact a child’s life and journey toward realizing their unique potential.


What Do Students and Teachers Say about 21st Century Learning?

(This post is cross-posted on the Notes from the Leadership Team Blog on Trinity School’s Website.)

Last week, Heidi Hayes Jacobs spent two full days immersed in the learning community of Trinity School. She not only delivered presentations to faculty, staff, parents, and members of Trinity’s Board of Trustees, but she also facilitated book clubs and spent six hours examining the School’s social studies curriculum alongside a small group of faculty and administrators. Heidi’s book, Curriculum 21, focuses on upgrading curriculum to make schools places which prepare students for a changing world.

The last chapter of Curriculum 21, entitled “It Takes Some Getting Used To,” is appropriately named. Let the book’s final sentences sit with you for a while:

“If we accept that we need to prepare students for a vastly different future than we have known, then our understanding of the focus of education also needs to shift. This change will require a curriculum that provides individuals with the dispositions necessary to engage in lifelong learning. Simultaneously, our vision of the teacher’s role needs to shift from that of the information provider to one of a catalyst, model, coach, innovator, researcher, and collaborator with the learner throughout the learning process.”

So, how do we even define this new type of teaching and learning?

For me, I can walk through the halls of Trinity, popping into classrooms where rich, collaborative, thoughtful, and sometimes loud and messy learning is taking place and a definition begins to emerge. If all of us had the opportunity to take these “learning walks” through the ELD and ULD hallways, we’d certainly construct a variety of definitions.

After Heidi’s visit, I wondered what the children would say about this new type of learning and teaching. What would Trinity’s own faculty have to say? On Thursday and Friday of last week, I took my video camera each time I left my office in order to capture some student and teacher reflections on what makes a good 21st century teacher. What can we learn from the student and teacher responses?

Learning @ Lunch with Preschoolers

For the past three days, I have had the opportunity to eat my lunch with some of the preschoolers who stay at school after their normal 11:30 dismissal for “lunch bunch” and afternoon enrichment. Despite an occasional spilled juice or flying spaghetti noodle, it’s been pretty tame.

Today, I ate with a handful of boys and girls and asked a simple question: What did you learn today? With full mouths of food and drink Without hesitation, these kids in Trinity’s three-year-old program and pre-k, began sharing their stories of learning. I even had to get my iPad out to write down all of the things they learned!

Grace told me about “rhyme time” in class and the tongue-twisters she learned along with her classmates. She then recited one for me! I wonder if she’ll gain a greater interest in words as she grows…

David told me about all of the shapes he learned today. The circle, the square, and the diamond. When I asked if the diamond was a hard shape to learn, he quickly said that it wasn’t becuase it was just like a square but different. I wonder if he’ll have the ability to think differently about traditional objects and ideas as he grows…

John told me that he learned about being cooperative and polite in the classroom and on the playground. He told me that “cooperative and polite” were two of the most important words in his classroom. I wonder if he’ll grow into a compassionate leader one day…

Hart told me that he learned that he loved pirates today. When I asked him what he loved about pirates, he said that he loved them so much he couldn’t name just one thing! I wonder if Hart will catch the travel bug and explore the world around him…

The learning that these four children so freely shared (and the wondering that it initiated in my own mind) reminds me of the value of breaking away from typical daily patterns and routines at school. Had I not eaten lunch with these wide-eyed and energetic preschoolers, I would have missed out on hearing about their learning and doing some learning on my own.

What’s a routine you need to break? What learning and wondering are you missing out on that you don’t even realize?

“First Day” (Part II)

So, I’m lucky enough to work less than two miles from my good friend and fellow educator, @KPlomgren. We went to high school together (actually 7th – 12th) and she was always the one with the most glamorous job of divvy-ing up the bill at the end of a meal. She actually still gets that assignment when we go to dinner with a large group! Some would say that Katie displayed her strengths early in life…she did end up as a CPA and now she teaches kids math in a major way.

At some point today, I saw this tweet from Katie as a part of the #day1wms experiment:

Of course, I wondered what was going on. After speaking to Katie briefly this afternoon, I learned that her “tech mishap” was minor…and in fact, an incredible lesson for her students and to her colleagues as well. On this, the first day of school, her students learned that it’s okay to try, to fail, and to try (and maybe fail) again.

With our conversation still on my mind (and with all of my mistakes opportunities for learning from the day emerging), I came across @boadams1’s post (which includes a short video) about the first day of school. Imagine my surprise when I see my good friend and the excellent teacher @KPlomgren explaining the kind of learning environment that she wants to (co)create during the upcoming school year. Such good stuff. If you watch the video, you’ll hear from 2:16-2:33 that @KPlomgren wants to learn with her students…she wants to make sure they know that “it’s okay to try, to fail, and to try (and maybe fail) again.” What a lesson to impart to young learners on the first day of school. Both in words and in honest-real-life example.

Connecting Globally

If you haven’t bookmarked the “Great Quotes about Learning & Change” Flickr Group, then you should do so. Right now. It’s a great place to find provocative images and quotes to use in conversations, presentations, and in personal reflections as well.

The site really is that good. This image is one of 706 currently in the group. Cool, huh?

So, I ran across this image today which is a perfect representation of my thoughts and reflections this weekend. Thinking of my Trinity colleagues who will be welcoming children into their classrooms on Wednesday, I began to reflect on my three years of teaching sixth grade at Trinity.  What would I do differently if I were heading back to the sixth grade classroom this year? The short answer: I would make sure that my students realized that they were entering into a classroom situated in the year 2011. Not one from the past…not even one from 2010. Even when I had a 1:1 tablet computing environment, I’m not totally sure that my classroom was as 21st century-ized as it should have been. It’s that whole “technology must serve pedagogy not the other way around” thing. In fact, if I were trying to gain some inspiration about making my classrooms 2011 ready, I’d certainly spend some time reflecting on the five axioms of EduCon, the above quote being axiom #3.

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen.
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate.
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked.

So, with those reflections swirling, I decided that my first step would be to find a way to make my classroom a globally connected one. It’s something that fits with each axiom above. Without a classroom to directly influence, I decided to reach out to my Trinity colleagues with three projects which look incredibly promising for the elementary ages. Within a few hours, I had heard from a handful of teachers who were interested in jumping in. In fact, our entire first grade team will be taking part in the Global Read Aloud Project this fall.

I thought I’d share my email here (and yes, I was lazy about the links!):

Dear Teachers,

Are you interested in exploring how to further the Mission of Trinity School and assist your students in becoming responsible, compassionate, and productive members of the expanding global community? There are so many ways to open your classroom to classrooms all over the USA and the world….and there are a number of Trinity teachers who are already doing just that thing!

I wanted to let you know of a few projects that I have discovered that seem to be manageable, interesting, and connected to Trinity curriculum. If you are interested in finding another project, I’m happy to point you in the right direction. There are so many resources out there and so many great projects, engaged teachers, and cool classrooms! I have included the top three that I’ve seen recently. If you would like to talk in greater depth, please let me know! Also, Marsha and Kara would be more than happy to chat and assist as well! It’d be our dream that there are so many globally connected projects happening at Trinity that Kara, Marsha, and I had our hands full with supporting you and your classes!

To Connecting Globally!

1. The Global Read Aloud Project: This project begins on September 19 (and lasts until October 14) and is geared to students in 1st – 3rd Grade (who will be reading Flat Stanley books) OR to students in 4th – 6th (who will be reading Tuck Everlasting).

2. Teddy Bears Around the World: This project has no timeline or deadline…it is geared to students in the Threes, Pre-K, or K.

3. Community Connections Project: This project has a deadline of February 2012 but it seems like it will be ongoing throughout the 2011-12 school year. This project seems to fit students in K – 3rd grade.

Unlocking Unique Potential

As I reflect on the administrative work I do at Trinity, I realize how clear and potent the mission statement of my school actually is.  Yes, many statements of mission/vision sound similar (especially at independent schools) and from the outside, one may think that the Trinity School Mission Statement is like many others. However, I work on a team with members who actively screen each decision they make with the School’s statement of purpose. It’s an incredible model for me and for all of the members of our community.

As I formulate my goals for the 2011-12 school year, I am reminded how two major initiatives of which I am a part (World Languages and the Personal Learning Portfolio) require that our statement of mission is clear, potent, and alive. In fact, my Head of School often states that he is driven, inspired, and obsessed with Trinity’s Mission Statement. As I think of the work I do, the following twelve words especially resonate:

unique potential

responsible, productive, and compassionate member of the expanding global community

Trinity’s Mission Statement (in full) is below:

“The Mission of Trinity School is to create a community of learners in which each child can acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to achieve his or her unique potential and become a responsible, productive, and compassionate member of the expanding global community.”

I just finished a very full morning with all of the new faculty and staff at Trinity. As I listened to members of Trinity’s Academic Leadership Team speak about the School, I was reminded of Matt Damon’s speech at last weekend’s SOS March and National Call to Action. The text of his speech is below (to see the video of his speech, click here), but the word that kept coming to my mind this morning (and a word that Damon references during his speech) is the word empower.

As another school year begins, I realize how blessed I am to feel empowered in the job that I do.  Not all educators (and certainly not all administrators) feel empowered (and that is the crux of Damon’s speech) by the work that they do or, generally, by the vision/mission/direction of their school or school system.

What do I know for sure?

I know that as I embark on a new year, I know (for sure) that I am blessed to work in a school where “unlocking unique potential” is the status quo. I am blessed to work in a school with a leader who is known to operate and make decisions based on a mission which is a driving (both inspirational and obsessive) force in his daily work. I am blessed to be a part of a team which can so clearly and succinctly explain to a new group of faculty and staff that unlocking unique potential is why we are here. We must make Trinity’s Mission Statement come alive…we must be empowered and we must empower others.  It’s a big task.  And it’s about time to begin anew…


I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.

I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.

I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself: my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned, none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success, none of these qualities that make me who I am…can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep…this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, My kid aint taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous. That was in the 70s when you could talk like that.

I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called overpaid; the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.

It’s Late on a Tuesday…

It’s late on a Tuesday, and…

I’m thrilled that I’m exhausted. I’m thrilled that I’m emotional. I’m thrilled that I’m inspired.

I’m thrilled that I know I should reflect on the previous two days but I’m spending my limited time this summer evening connecting with Trinity teachers on Twitter. I’m thrilled that I’m answering emails about embedding videos into blogs. I’m thrilled that I’m reading through not one but two backchannels which show significant engagement in ideas related to learning, assessment, curriculum, and technology.

I’m thrilled that I grew as a learner and leader through my interactions with colleagues. I’m thrilled that my colleagues grew as learners and leaders through their interactions with one another. I’m thrilled that there was…

Interactions. Leading. Learning.

And, it wasn’t about the tools.

Thanks to a “let’s do something different” idea that came about in an Administrative meeting this Spring, Trinity School hosted an in-house conference on June 6 and 7 which sought to address the problem the opportunity of Teaching the iGeneration:

The students in our current three-year-old classes will graduate from high school in 2025. Like the Baby Boomers and Millennials are defined by the generation of which they are a part, our student body is part of the iGeneration. With Trinity’s focus on personalized learning, we must acknowledge that we live in a digital age which affects the way we teach because it already affects the way students learn.

What is the iGeneration? They are a generation of young learners who thrive on opportunities for choice, value independent exploration, and whose facile use of technology is a growing piece of their everyday routine. This conference, designed for all teachers at Trinity, will provide opportunities to stretch thinking, dialogue with peers at different grade levels and subject areas, and challenge you to rethink pedadogy as we shift toward greater personalization.

Participants in this two-day in-house conference will learn from presentations by George Couros (@gcouros), dialogue about new learning, and engage in independent study as it relates to upgrading Trinity curriculum.

*More reflections to follow…the word “thrilled” will no longer be mentioned.