Thinking about What if instead of filling their heads we grabbed their hearts 60-60-60 #17 and reflecting…

Ross Peters’ most recent post, How Summer Camp Should Inform School,  is a beautiful unplanned “riff” on this 17th 60-60-60 post. It’s a piece that will serve as my contribution today. Take the time to read the full post, even though the final paragraph is referenced below.

It has long been a guiding thought for me that the best of summer camp should inform schools. The best of summer camp includes: flexibility in scheduling—a willingness to break the routine when good learning and fun benefits from it, ample chances to laugh with others, myriad chances to try something new, time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, time to take care of the shared environment of the camp community (such communities don’t wait for someone else to clean up behind them). Most importantly, the best of summer camp includes the space—literally and figuratively—for young people to become both more independent and more empathetic. At a good camp one finds not only that there are things greater than oneself, but that one is a vital part of those greater things.

The best schools create an environment that allows for the same discovery.

I love the hope for our schools found in his concluding sentence:  At a good *school* one finds not only that there are things greater than oneself, but that one is a vital part of those greater things.


edu180atl and the power of words, stories, voices

I find myself thinking of birdfeedingviewing, african dwarf frogs, neighbors, giant stairway pianos, and kairos quite often. A seemingly random list of topics…yes. But all five of these do actually relate to one another…and they do so in a unique way which has spurred my metacognitive thinking  this school year.

The edu180atl project is the vehicle which has introduced me to this fact: birds, frogs, neighbors, pianos, and kairos mean a lot to certain people. Separately, these items have had enough of an effect on one person’s day — these items were such a source of inspiration — that individuals chose to write a blog post about their own learning and share it with the world on the edu180atl site.

While part of the mission of this project is “to connect learners across disciplines,” I never expected that so many individual posts would have such a powerful impact on my own thinking. Certainly, some posts affect me more than others, yet there have been a very good number which have rattled my thinking and reverberated for a while, causing me to reflect and remember many voices and stories of learning in my daily work and life.

Take today, for example. I do not know Deb Ellis. I learned from her post that she is the mother of two boys who attend High Meadows School and coaches swimming to little kids through a company called Turtle Tots Swimming. Before today, I had never heard of High Meadows or Turtle Tots. Yet her edu180atl post is something that I’ll think about for a while.

I have a hard time with the word “amazing.” I find that it’s a word I use a lot more than I would like. My friend David Jakes is exactly right in his talking-writing-thinking about the fact that “words matter.” And, according to his post, *amazing* is a word that…matters.

So, as I read Deb’s edu180atl post today, I remembered David’s words and read in the spirit of David’s talking-writing-thinking. Words do matter. Stories do matter. Voices do matter.

Today, Deb’s story of learning is one that mattered to me.  She reminds me to be mindful of the impact of my words.

I Can Learn From…And I Am…

Today, it happened again. It was the thousandth occasion where I found myself justifying reiterating just how powerful a tool social media has been in my growth as an educator, both professionally and personally. Sure, there have been times when I have felt out of balance or that I was operating too much in Carr’s Shallows without deeply or fully engaging as I might have in the past. But on the whole, my use of and engagement with social media has been an incredible vehicle for my learning journey of the past two years.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with the problems that doors, walls, and gates produce not only in the school where I work but also within the greater Atlanta community of private and public schools. Sure, those doors, walls, and gates do provide security and protection, but they are also incredibly counterproductive as we seek to do the kind of innovative educational work that is required to move a school (or schools) into new 21st century territories.

So, in this world of social media (specifically blogging and micro-blogging via Twitter) devoid of doors, walls, and gates, I find that others are surprised (thus the thousand justifications and reiterations) about the impact of these online connections. Can this type of transparency be truly transformational? Yes, I believe it can, and…as I think about what I have learned (and how I have grown) even in the past month, I am acutely aware that I can learn from anyone, anywhere, and at any time. And I am better for it.

I can learn from John Burk, a high school physics teacher, even though I needed a tutor to successfully pass physics as a student. John’s blog post on why can’t physics class be more like the debate team has me wrestling with how to create similar “debate-type” experiences within the elementary setting where I work. And I am challenged.

I can learn from a blog post written by Melissa, a fifth grade student, who wrote about her dream of being an adventurist. This student’s words and aspirations (“I love my dream but I never talk about it because I’m afraid people will laugh. Not this time. I thought about it and I decided to speak what I was thinking and be my self around everyone. I hope you all do the same.”) relate, in a way, with a friend and colleague’s desire to deepen his dot connecting skills and be a synergist. From there, I am reminded of my visit and lunch last year with Robert Lang who showed Trinity students that he is so much more than just an origami artist. And then I read the comments on Melissa’s post from her current teacher, her former teacher, and an outside reader and educator (a Twitter connection of mine) who shares that “your writing makes me think of the types of writing people like Bear Grylls, Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, and others like them must have done when they were in 5th grade.” And I am inspired.

I can learn from the 184 project (modeled after Atlanta’s very own edu180atl project) and the plethora of student, teacher, and administrator reflections on learning shared by members of Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. Monday’s post, written by Alex who is a Grade 3 student at Forest Green School, forced me to think of the students at my school who are ready to be publishing their writing and sharing more openly. I reflect on how I might identify these students, collaborate with their teachers and parents, and allow them to be published writers at a young age…something I always yearned for at that age but wasn’t able to because of lack of technology. And I am motivated.

I can learn from my two friends who are teachers at a neighboring school who have taken on the challenge of redesigning a traditional English writing course for eighth grade students. Not only do I have the opportunity to read their students’ posts and thinking (and observe and comment upon any post if I so choose), but Peyten and Clark invite me into their thinking as teachers through the online spaces they maintain as educators (see here and here). As I have observed their approach to this class, I see how they are doing the difficult but important work (“Our role is not to teach them about environmental issues. It’s the (sometimes long, sometimes messy) process of writing and researching and thinking and discussing that will help them learn.”) of creating learners and thinkers and not just students and test takers. One of their student’s posts catches my eye in my oversubscribed Google Reader account (Marisa M’s post entitled GW…Still On the Wire), and I feel a sense of pride and appreciation for the students, the teachers, and the struggles that make this class an incredible example of 21st century teaching and learning. And I am encouraged in my own struggles.

And, finally, I can learn from a younger colleague who works just down the hall from me as an assistant teacher. Her first two posts on her blog, Sunday’s Story, give me insight into who she is as a person, educator, writer, and thinker. I now take extra time to engage her in conversation about things that matter to her, to me, to both of us. Her first two posts (Planting the Seeds and New Beginnings) are the catalyst for deeper collaboration and conversation. And I am reminded that it’s all about relationships.

In just a month, I am more acutely aware that I can learn from this world devoid of doors, walls, and gates. And I am a student again.

And I am better for it.

Character and Leadership Development

Next month, Thomas Lickona will speak at Trinity School. In preparation for his visit, I have been re-reading a book I read years ago by Lickona, Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility. The quote below opens Part I of the book which focuses on educating for both values and character:

As Aristotle taught, people do not naturally or spontaneously grow up to be morally excellent or practically wise. They become so, if at all, only as a result of a lifelong personal and community effort. -Jon Moline, “Classical Ideas about Moral Education” in Character Policy: An Emerging Issue

This morning, as I listened to two Trinity students speak to a large group of prospective parents at our first (of three) Open Houses, I was struck at how wise and confident these two students seemed to be. Their full speeches are below (and certainly worth watching). It seems like the constant refrain about “Trinity Kids” is that they are natural leaders…on their sports teams, in their churches, and once they graduate, at the schools they choose to attend. As I think about Trinity’s focus on developing leaders — both now and in the future — I was struck by Andrew and Matt’s words this morning:

Andrew, a Third Grader, made the connection between teamwork and leadership development. He certainly understands that the things he does at school are preparing him for his future and the world outside the school walls:

“At Trinity, we care for people, help each other, and work together.”

“I hope to be a good leader. I want to be responsible, open to suggestions, patient, persuavive, happy, and be able to make difficult decisions. That’s what I think makes a good leader.”

Matt, a member of Trinity’s Leadership Class, reflects on the fact that he is indeed a role model for the younger students, specifically those in his “Buddy Class.” He also talks about how his experiences at Trinity and his friendships have shaped him and will continue to affect him in the future:

“My education at Trinity has prepared me for this day, my next school, and for anything that will come my way.”

It’s pretty powerful to hear two students (whose combined age doesn’t quite equal that of a college graduate) express what Trinity School is all about:

The Creating Mind

“Each of us have a different mosaic of intelligences. Uniform schooling ignores these differences.” – Howard Gardner

Every year Trinity’s Sixth Grade students decorate pumpkins with their fathers (or special friends). Walking by these works of art each day (at least up until Halloween), I think of the great creative potential our students have. I think of the ways “school” often puts limits on imagination. I think of the rich mosaic of intelligences that walk through our classroom doors each day. How innovative could our students be if we honored the creating mind?

The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers. –Howard Gardner

What if you could check out a rabbit? #nxtchp2011

What if library was a verb? What if librarian was concierge or coach or therapist? What if second graders and seniors used the library to build a dinosaur…together? What if the library was made up of yurts or kitchen islands or secret passageways? What if the library was a social buzzing place? What if the library could be every child’s academic advisor? What if the library could be every person’s therapist? What if library was school lobby? What if library was school hallway? What if library was school?

What if you were asked to design an agile ecosystem of wonder, care, creation, and exchange for the modern learner – and for society – and call that ecosystem library…what would it be?

As I reflect on my weekend of what ifs and whys and hows and let’s, I am struck by how the simple design process (with inspiration from Abraham Lincoln and also from the art of improvisation) allowed for a group of librarians, teachers, students, administrators, designers, futurists, and architects to turn into true educational visionaries. I’m struck by our ability to listen, imagine, and create not only a vision for the future of the K-12 library but also the future of learning.

In the coming weeks and months, all of the work from the weekend will be posted in one way or another on the Reimagine: Ed – Next Chapter site and will also be tagged with the #nxtchp2011 hashtag on Twitter.  Things like this video by Brian, Rebecca and Bo on the Library as Kitchen Island “Flash Cart” prototype (a response to designing the unquiet library) as well as the presentation by the group who hacked this Starbucks cup and turned it into Library as Yurt prototype (a response to designing the library as the park of possibilities) will continue to spur this weekend’s RE:ED group and others toward unlocking the next chapter of the K-12 library.

But this week, today even, as I returned to my school and to my office which is (interestingly) housed in the central hub of Trinity which is the Media Center, I was certainly thinking of both process and product. Sure, the ideas from the three design challenges (especially the one I tinkered with all weekend: What must K-12 libraries do to spur continual innovation and to make libraries the places and spaces our learners crave going forward?) surfaced. Yeah, today I daydreamed about  prototypes and products that were imagined, discussed, debated, and sketched on whiteboard walls, post-it notes, and on the back of cocktail napkins.

But…what will most directly affect my work this week and in the months to come has so much more to do with process than product. And if  libraries = learning = life, then what I learned from this weekend’s process is applicable from today until way past the time when my school re-imagines library as both a noun and a verb.

If the words to the right are words that matter (and I believe they do),

I see how they could infuse my work (and my life)

and shape my outlook (or even my destination)…

So, what do I need to do to get there? How do I need to grow? What can I learn to do better? Well, to start…

#1: (Learn to) Say “Yes, and…” — I was challenged early in the weekend by Zac Chase who taught us a few rules of improv, all of which I need some practice with both as mindsets and as statements. Two of the mindsets we were encouraged to adopt during the weekend — “My idea is good, and I like your idea better” in addition to “Yes, and…” — certainly shaped the conversations and propelled our ideas to higher level of creativity and risk. Simply saying Yes+And and not Yes+But (or even Yes+Yet) was a challenge for me. And it’s something I need to work on. Sure, playing Devil’s Advocate has its time and place, but this weekend I learned how much that role can kill innovation. According to the RE:ED folks, the Yes+And mentality allows everyone to “embrace a growth mindset, build on each other’s ideas, and celebrate new viewpoints and roles.” Pretty important to not stifle those things by a silly three letter conjunction.

#2: (Learn to) Love Creative Abrasion — I have always appreciated Peter Senge’s idea of creative tension and this weekend I learned that the design process has the potential to turn that tension into something closer to creative abrasion…and that’s actually a good thing.  Something I learned from Jeff Sharpe, who truly was more of a sherpa than facilitator this weekend, has to do with failure. The thing about the cutting room floor, he described, is that there’s great stuff on the  floor. And usually that great stuff is a result of a lot of messy learning. There were moments on Saturday (many, in fact) where the process seemed stalled, backwards, and frustratingly counterproductive…and even if that wasn’t the goal, it was the point. Lots of us were trying and failing and there were a number of ideas left on the floor…and it was up to the forces of the collaborative group to move individuals (me being one) to try harder and fail better. At one moment late on Saturday afternoon, I was ready to check-out, to leave for a run, and return the next morning with energy and a rested mind. I’m thankful for the model of my friend and colleague who felt the same frustration and was committed to staying through the process. Late on Saturday afternoon, we didn’t know what we were doing but we knew we could do it. We knew it was possible and we just had to figure it out. Sitting in the backwater eddy of creative tension (according to Bo Adams) or the hydraulic of creative abrasion (according to yours truly) allowed for us as individuals and as a collective group to get to the high level of creative success for the remainder of the weekend. We certainly ended the weekend sprinting with reckless abandon, grinning ear to ear, as Christian Long so beautifully described in less than 140 characters.


#3: (Learn to) Think of Ideas as Currency — The push of the weekend, articulated by the RE:ED Leadership Team and Provocateurs time and time again, consistently centered on the value of ideas and ideation. On Sunday, one design group envisioned Library as Market/Bazaar and explicitly stated that ideas and curiosity were the currency in this place. Interestingly, throughout the weekend, this was certainly the case as ideas, both large and small, were most valuable and held in high regard. More and more, I saw that ideas beget ideas. I was challenged in my own thinking…in our schools, do we honor ideas as valuable currency? Do we give ideas time to marinate or even allow for the ideation process to take place — failure and all? As design groups, we were allowed to create the learning spaces where ideas flourished. We had freedom. Tables became idea walls, chairs became office supplies, and we could get up, eat, drink, and go to the bathroom at will. We did not have to wait a bell to tell us where to go and what to do and we were allowed to sit in the backwater eddy for as long as we wanted or needed. A phrase like “I have a really wacky idea,” was met with smiles and exclamations, “Awesome! Good! Let’s hear it!” Even a “What if you could check out a rabbit?” idea was met with wide smiles and an exclamation, “What IF you could check out a rabbit!”


This weekend was one that was full of YesAnds, Creative Abrasion, and Ideas. It was a weekend about library as both noun and verb. It was a weekend of what ifs and collective reimagining of the future.

It was a weekend about libraries…about learning….and about life. 

Thanks to the RE:ED team for the experience and for the inspiration.

What’s the next “What if?”

“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.