Opening Doors

Garner Flowers Trees

“Megan, you can be you. It’s okay.”

I probably don’t remember the first time I heard those words. But I do remember the first time I remember hearing those words. I had just arrived home from ballet practice and was with my father, wearing a pink tutu and soccer cleats, practicing kicking a football through imaginary goal posts in the front yard of my childhood home. At some point mid-practice, a few neighborhood friends passed by on their bikes and I immediately felt self-conscious. My father, who undoubtedly recognized my discomfort, uttered those words and not only reassured me that it was okay, but in those seven simple words, he carefully honored my strengths, my passions, and my uniqueness.

Yesterday, I was reminded of this moment, a distant memory buried deep within the vast amount of childhood memories, while reading Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. In what I suspect is a major turning point in Verghese’s novel, the narrator (Marion) gives voice to an important moment in his childhood — a moment which was certainly formative in terms of his strengths, his passions, and his uniqueness.

Looking back I realize Ghosh saved me when he called me to feel Demisse’s pulse. My mother was dead, and my father a ghost; increasingly I felt disconnected from Shiva and Helma, and guilty for feeling that way. Ghosh, in giving me the stethoscope, was saying, “Marion, you can be you. It’s okay.” He invited me to a world that wasn’t secret, but it was well hidden. You needed a guide. You had to know what to look for, but also how to look. You had to exert yourself to see this world. But if you did, if you had that kind of curiosity, if you had an innate interest in the welfare of your fellow human beings, and if you went through that open door, a strange thing happened: you left your petty troubles on the threshold. It could be addictive.

As educators, what can we learn from Marion’s words in Cutting for Stone?

First,  we must be able to convey to students that “you can be you…it’s okay.” Even though I am on vacation, I have loved reading the tweets and blog posts coming from Klingenstein’s Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers (#klingsi11). From the blog of Peyten Dobbs (@epdobbs), Superfluous Thoughts, you’d never guess that she was an early career teacher. In a recent post about honoring the uniqueness of every individual, she writes:

Irrespective of what I or others feel about homosexuality, gay marriage, or LGBT in general, the guiding principal of teaching is that I must validate all of my students. I must foster a safe place for them to learn in my classroom and in my school. This is true whether they are LGBT, straight, black, white, asian, female, male, atheist or religious, rich or poor.  My job is to help students foster their own identities, to know that they are respected, and to learn to respect others. (you can read the full post here)

Her post and tweets related to this issue caught the attention of a student from her school (who is also on summer vacation), who responded with a powerful comment conveyed in (impressively!) less than 140 characters:

Love Learning Tweet

It is essential that we establish an ethic of care in schools. Nel Noddings conveys in a bit more detail what @TaraWestminster’s tweet suggested. Noddings writes, “As we build an ethic on caring and as we examine education under its guidance, we shall see that the greatest obligation of educators, inside and outside formal schooling, is to nurture the ethical ideals of those with whom they come in contact.”

As educators, I firmly believe that we must provide the time and space to convey to students that “you can be you…it’s okay.”

A second takeaway from Marion’s words in Cutting for Stone is that we, as educators, must create a culture within our schools which honors transparency and collaboration in the learning process. We must be models. And we must recognize that for some (both adults and children), the need/importance for transparency and collaboration is not always so evident. After Marion is given the stethoscope, he remarks that Ghosh “invited me to a world that wasn’t secret, but it was well hidden. You needed a guide. You had to know what to look for, but also how to look. You had to exert yourself to see this world.” In my personal growth as a learner over the past two years, I have seen first-hand that the tools for learning are abundant (and those tools can be as technological as Twitter or as basic as those face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues). Sometimes introduction to the tool is sufficient for furthering my learning. Sometimes I need more than an introduction. Sometimes I need an attentive and well-versed guide to take me through various steps of the learning process.

For Marion, the tool was the stethoscope. Ghosh was the guide who was willing to open the door to further learning opportunities (and for Marion, those learning opportunities were addictive). Certainly, both (the tools and the guiding process) are important, but we must always keep in mind the balance that Gardner references in the image at the top of this post. If it is true that “much of education today is monumentally ineffective.” And that “all too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” Then how do we, as educators, strike a healthy balance?

For the adult learners, I believe that the first step is that we need to be as transparent and collaborative as we possibly can. Then, we need to inspire the learners in our care. I love what my @PrototypeCamp friends have to say:

learning advocates

First, let us open the door to allow students to understand that “it’s okay…you can be you.” Then, let us help them embrace learning (because their life does depend on it) by helping them become their own unapologetic learning advocates who will ultimately open doors for others and become addicted to opportunities for learning even if the absence of the tool or the guide.

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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.

Learning Spaces: My Ten Picture Tour (#10PIXTR)

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning spaces recently. With Trinity’s World Languages Program, I have the opportunity to tour a number of people around our school and every time I walk through the halls, I see things that inspire, challenge, and excite me. I needed a break from today’s routine and found a few extra minutes on my Outlook Calendar. I decided to wander, with my camera, and thanks to Brian Barry (@Nunavut_Teacher), Katie Hellerman (@theteachinggame), and Cale Birk (@birklearns), I decided to post my ten picture tour. Here is my #10PIXTR from Wednesday, April 6th.

Personalize: A key phrase of Trinity's mission is "to achieve his or her unique potential," and much of the work I do is centered on personalizing learning at the elementary level.

Personalizing Learning: A key phrase of Trinity's mission is "to achieve his or her unique potential," and much of the work I do is centered on personalizing learning at the elementary level.

Integrity: The 6th Grade Leadership Class decides the school theme for each school year. This year, it's integrity.

Integrity: The 6th Grade Leadership Class decides the school theme for each school year. This year, it's integrity and the 6th Grade students must model and teach the importance of this word throughout the school year.

Design Thinking: First graders build an igloo out of milkjugs. They must work together to brainstorm, plan, and build an igloo that can fit at least ten students.

Design Thinking: First graders build an igloo out of milk jugs. They must work together to brainstorm, plan, and build a structure that can fit at least ten students.

Curiosity: These three students are peering in the window of the lower school gym, trying to figure out what they'll be doing when they go to PE class later in the day.

Curiosity: These three students are peering in the window of the lower school gym, trying to figure out what they'll be doing when they go to PE class later in the day.

Technology: At Trinity, technology must serve pedagogy...not the other way around. This is especially true in our 6th grade 1:1 tablet program.

Technology: At Trinity, technology must serve pedagogy...not the other way around. This is especially true in our 6th Grade 1:1 tablet program.

Play: These Kindergarten "drivers" experience both structured and unstructured play as they navigate the rules of the road on their trike bikes.

Play: These Kindergarten "drivers" experience both structured and unstructured play as they navigate the rules of the road on their trike bikes.

Metacognition: Students learn how to learn at Trinity. In World Languages at Trinity, goal-setting and self-reflection are essential in this personalized course. Students use Rosetta Stone for language acquision and can take any language out of 23 offered.

Metacognition: Students learn how to learn at Trinity. In World Languages class, goal-setting and self-reflection are essential in this personalized course. Students in K-6th grade use Rosetta Stone for language acquisition and can take any language out of the 23 offered.This first grader's journal displays her learning target for the day.

Cooperative Learning: Learners collaborate. These teachers (one music teacher, a second grade lead, and a second grade assistant) are working together to create a song about Earth Day to the tune of Katy Perry's song, Fireworks.

Cooperative Learning: Learners collaborate with one another. These teachers (one music teacher, a second grade lead, and a second grade assistant) are working together to create a song about Earth Day to the tune of Katy Perry's song, Fireworks.

Cross-Curricular Work: Fifth grade student's study of Ancient Greece is combined with art, architecture, and math, as groups of students (this team: Corinth) work to draw Greek architecture to scale.

Cross-Curricular Work: Fifth grade students' intensive study of the history Ancient Greece is combined with a study of Greek art, architecture/math, sports, and literature. Groups of students (this team's name is Corinth) work to draw Greek architecture to scale. The study culminates with Greek Olympics of the Body and Mind.

Imagination: Trinity's Storywell is a beautiful space where students can curl up with a book and be transported to places beyond their wildest dreams!

Imagination: Trinity's Storywell is a beautiful space where students can curl up with a book and be transported to places beyond their wildest dreams!

Five Easy Steps: How to make a “Ten Picture Tour”

  1. Use a cellphone camera, then you won’t have to pack/find another electronic gizmo.
  2. Take 10 minutes. That’s it.  Then you won’t find a reason not to do it.  And it won’t be too “staged.”
  3. Take pictures around your school that you think showcase some pretty cool things.  They don’t just have to be of kids learning, we believe you when you say they are…
  4. Put them into a blog post with basic captions so we know what we are looking at.
  5. Put it as a link on your blog page, so that when we come and visit, we know that when we see a link called “10 Picture Tour” we will learn a little bit about what your learning environment looks like.

(These Five Easy Steps are revised from the #10PIXTR post by Cale Birk (@birklearns) on The Learning Nation.)

Emergent Relationships

In an effort to get my Google Reader account to a reasonable number after a month of workshops, epic snow/ice in Atlanta, birthday celebrations, and life in general, I came across a post on The LIFT blog, “How to Introduce Yourself: The Value of Emergent Relationships.” On the heels of a trip to Philadelphia for Educon 2.3 and after spending over an hour this afternoon watching the livestream Prototype Camp presentations coming from Columbus, Ohio, I was intrigued by this sentence:

Complexity theory tells us that when an element of a system changes in quality and the linkages between the elements change in quality, it is possible for a new system to emerge that has collective capacities found in none of the parts. — Ryan Quinn (@ryanwquinn)

Three days at Educon and today’s #prototypecamp presentations are, in a way, helping me realize that it may be  “possible for a new system to emerge that has collective capacities found in none of the parts.” We must understand the power of networked learning and create drastically different learning spaces if this is to happen, but I believe that a new system is possible, and we — and the students whom we serve — will be better for it.

As I followed the twitter stream from #prototypecamp, the following exchange between two good friends who were actually attending the live presentations caught my eye:

See another theme? These groups are leveraging value of places that matter to them (Facebook) to effect change. #prototypecampWed Feb 02 18:35:56 via TweetDeck

@deacs84 yep. they are leveraging virtual (facebook), physical (school space), as well as emotional (empathy). #prototypecampWed Feb 02 18:37:50 via HootSuite

In their quest “to use design thinking to solve real world problems about the future of learning,” these high school students  were leveraging the spaces that meant most to them to find solutions to actual problems. As I think about the spaces that mean the most to educators, what are they? If they are only the individual classrooms where they teach (or offices where they work), I worry about our capacity for change. How do we get educators to emerge from the egg-crate culture of teaching and learning? How do we get educators to experiment with personalized and networked learning? How can we help to create paths which lead to new, diverse learning spaces — and ultimately — change?

The Age of the Unthinkable (Part I)

I have a goal of reading at least one non-educational (and non-fiction) book every couple of months and thanks to the SAIS’s Book Club on December 1st, I am currently reading The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo.

To be honest, as I started reading Ramo’s first chapter I was disappointed when I saw the following: “We are entering, in short, a revolutionary age. And we are doing so with ideas, leaders, and institutions that are better suited for a world now several centuries behind us.”

Here We Go Again, I Thought.

Interestingly though, Ramo’s words take a turn…

“On one hand, this revolution is creating unprecedented disruption and dislocation. But it is also creating new fortunes, new power, fresh hope, and a new global order. Revolutions, after all, don’t produce only losers. They also – and this is the heart of the story I want to tell here – produce a whole new case of historical champions.”

A new global order. A new case of historical champions. The Age of the Unthinkable is about both. I wonder, though… What are we doing in education to create fertile ground to not only grow these historical champions but to help them navigate, learn, and engage in this new order?Are we providing our young learners with the language, creativity, and revolutionary spirit that Ramo argues many of our current leaders lack?

When I think of the learning that I have done in the past year, I am equally thankful for my Klingenstein cohort as I am for my growing network of online colleagues. Through Twitter and RSS and the many face-to-face conversations that happen as a result of my virtual learning, I have shifted my mindset about what it means to learn in the 21st Century. I understand more fully what George Kennan meant when he said, “Today you cannot even do good unless you are prepared to exert your share of power, take your share of responsibility, make your share of mistakes, and assume your share of risks.” I am able to do those things because of the people in my expanding network – many of whom I consider close friends and many of whom I have never met – who model this type of “doing good.”

What communities are we creating for our students – at all ages but especially at the elementary level? How are we to create “responsible, productive, and compassionate members of the expanding global community” (the last 10 words of Trinity School’s Mission Statement) if we continue to stay isolated in our classrooms, our grade levels, our schools?

I hope to push teachers at Trinity to consider these questions as we continue to engage in conversations about making learning relevant for kids. Ramo offers an interesting starting point for the conversation:

“The future demands a different resume. Today the ideal candidates for foreign-policy power should be able to speak and think in revolutionary terms. They should have expertise in some area of the world – be it China or the Internet or bioengineering – where fast change and unpredictability are the dominant facts of life. They should have experienced the unforgiving demands for precision and care that characterize real negotiation – as well as the magical effect of risk-taking at the right moments. They should have mastered the essential skill of the next fifty years: crisis management. And they should be inclined toward action, even action at times without too much reflection, since at certain moments instinct and speed are more important than lovely perfection of academic models.”

How do we develop revolutionaries, risk-takers, experts, negotiators, crisis-managers, and innovators?

In this ever flattening and increasingly global world, aren’t all of our students going to be engaged in some sort of foreign policy? Doesn’t every student have the potential to be a historical champion?

Small Steps Toward Transparency

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot more talking and listening than reading and writing. It’s felt good. Two particularly strong Klingenstein marketing classes with Mark Neustadt initiated incredible conversation around the role of social media in education. As a cohort, we’ve had very little conversation around “the future” of education. While I’ve been disappointed – we are enrolled in one of the best leadership programs in the country – I’ve noticed a change in the past few weeks and there’s a certain energy in the air. In fact, I’ve had three members of the cohort  ask about RSS and enlist my help in setting up a reader account. And two have joined Twitter! It’s okay to be (very) excited about these five conversations, right?!

In light of these small steps in the right direction, I’m even more encouraged by the “weightier” conversations around transparency that have been taking place. Will Richardson wrote a post almost a year ago entitled Transparency = Leadership where he ends with the following question (from Dov Seidman’s book, How)…

The question before us as we consider what we need to thrive in the inter-networked world is: How do we conquer our fear of exposure and turn these new realities into new abilities and behaviors? How can we become proactive about transparency?

As my PLN continues to grow, I am more and more impressed with the hundreds (thousands?) of educators who “get” the power of transparency. Many of them work in incredibly traditional schools and are modeling what our kids need to see: examples of self-directed, passionate learning  not confined by school walls. While I’m impressed with the individual efforts, I’ve been thinking a lot about how schools can stop being so fearful about transparency and instead, lead by example and actually display what’s happening in the classrooms and in the minds of the students.

Emily McCarren’s reflections after our marketing class and her comments about UMBC’s College.Be portal are insightful. She connects Pink’s ideas about motivation with website design and writes:

The creation of the Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose trifecta is how you must engage people to communicate, particularly on a school website. Come up with clear expectations, a shared purpose, the opportunity to grow and improve and then provide autonomy.

What an idea, huh? While I’m still trying to wrap my head around these notions of transparency, I could imagine the tweet by brandon w., archived under “most popular” on the College.Be portal, would send most teachers and school leaders running for the hills. But that’s the power of transparency. The folks at UMBC understand networks and community…they’re willing to accept the good, the bad, the ugly, and a few f-bombs in exchange for a dynamic space that’s very different than most (all?) college websites.

While the portal at UMBC will inevitably make many squirm, Northfield Mount Hermon provides another example of the power of social media. If you scroll down to the bottom of the school’s website (I wonder about the purpose behind the placement of the link), you’ll see something that says: Visit us on NMH BOOK.  While NMH BOOK is much more controlled than UMBC’s College.Be, it speaks to the potential of being proactive about transparency. UMBC seems to have conquered the fear of exposure pretty easily, however NMH is still holding on the reigns. The Facebook posts are pretty traditional for an independent school and the NMH blogs page provides lots of examples of class blogs. I’d love to see more student voices – specifically their personal blogs – linked to the site. After all, wouldn’t that provide a bit more texture and transparency?

So, as I think about “thriving in this inter-connected world,” I’m a bit more encouraged than I have been in the past. I’m also a bit more challenged to work on the transparency piece in my own personal/professional life. As individuals and schools continue to experiment and harness the power of social networks for learning and innovation, there’s real hope, I hope. Small steps forward…small steps.

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