Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Creating Original Thinkers

I think it is safe to say that most of us admire creativity?
Although I am not one to spend a lot of time at events such as craft fairs, when I do have a chance to meander through one, I can hardly believe how clever some people are. I am amazed at the things that some people think of.
Does it get me to thinking about originality and how we can create the conditions that support original ideas and independent thinking in schools? You bet.
In January, the Board of Education in my school district in Dobbs Ferry, New York, will be hosting a book chat with our parents and community to discuss Adam Grant’s new book, Originals - How Non-Conformists Move the World.
Grant wrote an interesting essay in the New York How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off In his Times Sunday Review last year, essay, he notes that  “Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn’t suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted — as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.
What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.”
To go back to the craft fair, it makes me wonder about  …… what if all kids ever learn or value  in school is how to “follow the directions” or “follow the recipe?”
Questions like …. Is this going to be on the test? Or …… “what do I need to do to get an “A”? These queries should disturb teachers and disturb parents. And for the record, parents need to stop asking these questions too.
A perspective shift is in order in our schools. Societally, non-conformists are the “thorn in our sides” …..  the people who ask the annoying questions …. the rule breakers …. those who are “piping to their own drum.”
In Dobbs Ferry, our vision is to create “independent thinkers prepared to change the world.”
Let’s understand the intersection of non-conformity with independent thinking so that we create and support more kids prepared to change the world.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

There is no such thing as a new normal

I am ruminating over a powerful blog post by my friend and colleague Will Richardson entitled Our Uncertain Moment

And because I have a propensity for living “in the moment,” this blog pokes at me and disturbs me. This is a good thing. I actually relish being disturbed. My favorite essay of all time is Margaret Wheatley’s piece, Willing to Be Disturbed

Will’s blog links to a post by Ziauddin Sardar who has been writing for the past six years about what he calls “postnormal times.” Sardar is the Director of the Centre of Postnormal Policy and Future Studies, East West Chicago and the editor of its journal East West Affairs. His work really captures the disconcerting nature of our current reality and should challenge school leaders everywhere.

He writes that all that was ‘normal’ has now evaporated; we have entered postnormal times, that in between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have not yet emerged, and nothing really seems to make sense. To have any notion of a viable future, we must grasp the significance of this period of transition which is characterized by three c’s: complexity, chaos and contradictions.”

We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. Ours is a transitional age, a time without the confidence that we can return to any past we have known and with no confidence in any path to a desirable, attainable or sustainable future.

Do you find this disturbing? Do you find it disturbing because we know this to be true but continue responding so impotently?

I feel responsible as a school leader to tackle this. To find others who share my urgency about creating the conditions for learning that will help our kids cross between where we are now and where we need to go.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Getting Off Course On Growth Mindset

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. (Carol Dweck)

I have read and re-read Carol Dweck’s seminal book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,  a number of times and read it again last year with our Board of Education.

In a Commentary Piece in Education Week, Dweck talks about what keeps her up at night.
It something that keeps me up at night too.

In her research, Dweck uncovered that how students perceive themselves and their abilities – mindset – affected their motivation and achievement. Students who believed that their intelligence and abilities could be developed – growth mindset – experienced greater success and increased achievement. Students who believed that intelligence was fixed – fixed mindset – performed more poorly in school. This is, of course, a thumbnail sketch of her research which culminated in her book published ten years ago.

But as is often the case  …. We have run off the rails.

So what keeps Dweck up at night?

It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.

The research about mindsets has the clear goal of increasing the capacity for learning. It’s about helping us to become smarter. And it applies to people of all ages and all walks of life.

A growth mindset needs to exist at all levels of a school organization. It needs to exist among school board members, superintendents, principals and teachers. We have absolutely no shot at transforming our schools without the will and the effort. But without getting smarter about teaching and learning – we will never be on the right track.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why We Can't Do The Wrong Thing Right

"So it’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. Almost every school problem that confronts us today is a consequence of trying to do the wrong things right. So instead of looking at the efficiency with which we are pursuing our objectives we need to re-examine our objectives.”

This is the theme that resonates with me most from our keynote speaker this morning in Dobbs Ferry. Will Richardson challenged us to think deeply and critically about our beliefs, context, and practices.  You can follow our Twitter feed at #DFHS2017 to see what teachers were thinking and saying during the morning session.

We were pushed to think about student agency and our core beliefs about how kids learn. About how we learn. The age of limitless learning is a huge challenge for schools. How do we understand the critical nature of digital footprints? Our own and our kids? Are we creating a maker culture instead of maker spaces?

It is breathtaking to think of the difference we can make when we choose to be bold and courageous in our schools.

Let’s do it!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hitting the Snooze Button on Sleepy Teens

Ask any parent who undertakes the daily battle of rousing a “sound asleep” teenager from bed at 6AM to catch a school bus, or get on the road to school, and I’ll show you an exhausted parent. In response to starting the school day at the crack of dawn and needing a jolt into “full academic mode,” younger and younger students are turning to caffeine and other forms of energy boosts to jar their adolescent brains awake. Just stop by any Starbucks in the morning.

The Dobbs Ferry Board of Education is currently considering the serious implications of adolescent sleep deprivation on student health and learning. Currently, Dobbs Ferry Middle School and High School have the earliest start times in Westchester County, as well as one of the longest school days. Although research is clear that changing circadian rhythms drive the delayed sleep-wake patterns of adolescents (sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty), school start times remain at the mercy of adult convenience, transportation, athletics and politics rather than the educational and health needs of kids. 

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx calling for later school start times for adolescents, stating that “a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.” The report also states that “studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems…and a decline in academic performance.”

But is sleep deprivation really an epidemic and is it a problem for schools to own? What responsibility do teens have in taking charge of their own health and how do parents play a role?

Concerns have been raised that teens will simply stay up even later if they think that they have a later start time for school. In the January 2015 edition of School Administrator dedicated to the topic of “Flexing School Start Times,” these concerns have not come to bear in districts that have tackled the school start time challenge.     http://www.pageturnpro.com/AASA/63026-School-Administrator-January-2015/index.html#1

There is no doubt that helping teens understand and accept responsibility for their health and wellness is a goal. We allocate resources and professional services in our efforts to keep adolescents healthy, both physically and emotionally. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have emerged as a serious health issue for not only teens, but adults as well.

Today’s teenagers are busier than ever with extracurricular activities, homework, after-school jobs and the proliferation of technology and 24/7 use of social media. I’m yawning just thinking about the lack of sleep that our students get during the weekday. Maybe we can’t control all of these factors, but even an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning might make all the difference.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Please Opt In

There. I have said it. And although it goes against every fiber of my deep-seated, rebellious, rabble-rousing nature, it needs to be said.

Last week, our Board of Education, parents, teachers and administrators, participated in a well-attended book chat to discuss National Public Radio’s Digital Education Reporter Anya Kamenetz’s The Test – Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing But You Don’t Have To Be.

We’ve heard over and over again from teachers who are working tirelessly to preserve their practice while they continue to create classrooms where children still love learning. The new requirements of the Common Core are hard, for teachers and kids. But they are doing it.

Is the bar high? You bet! Are the kids reaching for it? Like champs!

Dobbs Ferry is a unique, diverse village, and we value our small schools. Every kid counts. Every teacher counts. Our community is only as strong as the reputation of our schools. Rightly or wrongly, families moving from places near and far look at standardized testing scores and draw conclusions about our schools.

Students who are “opted out” of testing by their parents diminish the excellent work being done each and every day. It unfairly penalizes teachers whose end-of-year evaluations are weighted by the performance of their students. Students coming to school and “drawing pictures” with the bubble dots in a show of defiance only hurts them and their teachers. This past year, we have scrambled to provide support services to students who need them, but were deemed ineligible because we did not have standardized test scores due to their “opting out.”

Parents and educators must continue to put pressure on their legislators in Albany to abandon the current standardized testing “road to nowhere” and support the letter writing campaigns being promulgated by groups such as the New York Suburban Consortium for Public Education. Teacher evaluations tied to the performance of students on standardized tests, in their current form, must be halted by Governor Cuomo now.

In our discussion last week, our Board of Education and community made it clear that the results of student performance on standardized tests must be but one piece of information used by teachers for formative assessment purposes.

In Dobbs Ferry, it is important to remember that student success is ultimately measured by the number of pupils who successfully access the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in High School and exemplify the Learner Profile skills. These figures have increased dramatically in recent years and our IB Middle Years Program (MYP) will further impact this important measure. Our students successfully gain admission to the finest colleges and universities in the nation. Our graduates are among the most successful anywhere.

Let’s find our own way to “swim against the tide.” Support our schools, our teachers, and our students by “opting in” to the NY State tests this year.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bitter or Sweet? First Fruits of Teacher Evaluation in NY

Among many good things that took place for the Dobbs Ferry School District over this past year, the District was accepted as a member of the prestigious Tri-States Consortium. Founded in 1992, the Tri-States Consortium has developed an alternative assessment model designed to enhance student performance in high performing districts. In addition to providing extremely high quality professional development for teachers and administrators, the Tri-States Consortium offers site visit services to member districts as an alternative to Middle States Accreditation and other types of “monitoring.”

 This past spring, I had the pleasure of participating on a site visit team to the Bronxville Schools where our team was charged with looking for evidence of critical thinking skills across the curriculum. This was a new and unusual “take” on these types of school visits since the team was charged with corroborating evidence of 21st Century skills.

It was an enlightening experience. I know that I speak for all of us on the visiting team when I say that the learning goes in both directions whenever we have the opportunity to engage with a school system in such an intimate way. Bronxville allowed a “fearless look” at what is happening in their classrooms in an effort to support and sustain meaningful change.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Dobbs Ferry will begin to think about a Tri-States Consortium site visit for the 2014-2015 school year.  We will be sure to keep everyone informed as we move forward in this process.

Another advantage of our membership with Tri-States is our access to the consortium white papers and research documents. In the late spring, the group issued an extremely well articulated position on Teacher Evaluation.

As the new school year quickly approaches and the “first fruits” of the new teacher evaluation system in New York come to bear, gaining perspective and insight is critical.

And so I am hoping that you will find this Position Paper from the Tri-States Consortium helpful as we endeavor to make sense and meaning of this new “window” on teaching and learning.