Saturday, February 23, 2013

Conversations That Change The Course

This morning I discovered a great new resource or @BAMRadioNetwork on Twitter when I was invited to do an Internet radio show with my long time colleague Will Richardson, author of the best selling book Why School? and Pam Moran, Superintendent of the Albemarle County Schools in Charlottesville, VA. Pam is a nationally recognized educational leader who is paving the way by modeling empowered leadership and innovative ideas about teaching and learning.

Here are some of the questions we discussed and my thoughts as I was preparing for the conversation.

How do we have to reframe the idea of a school in a world where school can be everywhere?

I think that it is critical that we engage in face to face conversations with teachers, STUDENTS, parents, Board members and others in our community. School leaders on every level need to share a new vision for teaching and learning that is dynamic, collaborative and where everyone who contributes is an equal participant in the process. People need time to think about this and school leadership needs to be able to “paint the picture” and create some learning spaces within existing structures where this kind of learning can be “seen in action.” Schools can start with a few classrooms and teachers who are early adopters but we have to support them with resources and encouragement for taking risks in their classrooms.

Another way to stimulate exciting and productive conversations is through sharing reading and information that evokes the kinds of necessary provocative discussions which need to take place. Books such as:

                     Why School? – Will Richardson
                     The Global Achievement Gap – Tony Wagner
                     Creating Innovators – Tony Wagner
                     Switch – Chip and Dan Heath
                     Change or Die – Alan Deutschman
                     One Size Does Not Fit All – Nikhil Goyal

What are the new roles of educators, and how do we prepare for them?

Educators must begin to reimagine their work and embrace their role as facilitators and “meaning makers.” We need to prepare by helping everyone associated with our schools to understand that they are part of “thinking and learning organizations.” We have to model that “no one person owns the learning.” This is hard for some superintendents and administrators who still feel that their job is to somehow know everything and have all the answers. I think that teachers are relieved and empowered when they hear superintendents and other administrators say that we all own the responsibility to figure things out and that we cannot do this without their help. We should also be modeling this inquiring, curiosity and persistence to uncover new ideas and innovations for our kids. The more that kids see us being willing to manage rapid change; the more adept they will be at doing the same thing. 

What steps are you taking to initiate and stimulate conversations around change?

I am using a lot of book chats/coffees with parents in their homes where they seem more comfortable having these conversations with their friends and people whom they trust. Parents realize that other parents are trying to figure things out too. Inviting Board members, parents, teachers, students and community members and others to explore new and emerging technologies like Twitter and social networks where they can get a sense of just how many other people are discussing and trying to figure out these same things is important. Also what some of the solutions can be. There has to be expanded conversations and professional learning that engages everyone. 
In public schools, a lot of this professional learning time is contractual so it is REALLY important that we are taking time as school leaders to create understanding among Board members, parents and the community about why professional learning time is necessary for teachers and why it is so critical at this particular moment in time. Inviting as many people as possible to be part of these conversations and even part of the professional development is key. Time is money ….taxpayer money in public schools ….so this is critical if we are going to create a climate that supports change.

What do you think are the most uncertain aspects of the future when it comes to your students? How do we prepare them in the face of that uncertainty?

There is no question that everything is uncertain -  except that we have a pretty good idea of the skills that kids will need to successfully navigate most any future. These are the skills that we have to share will ALL students. If we look at something like the IB (International Baccalaureate) Learner Profile, we can embrace curriculum that empowers and enlightens students. We can mold students into confident young adults who are prepared to tackle the complex problems in their world. Our goal is to create good citizens and good thinkers and learners. Lovers of learning who are curious about life and the world. Students who embrace differences and understand that they are part of a global solution to the challenges in their world. These are the people who will successfully hold the future - theirs and ours - in their capable hands.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Education They Need

I am really excited that the Dobbs Ferry Board of Education decided last week to support the exploration of an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program for our students in Grades 6 through 10. In 1998, Dobbs Ferry High School became the first International Baccalaureate (IB) World School in Westchester County, New York. So extending the IB philosophy back through the grades leading into the 11th and 12th grade Diploma Program makes sense from many perspectives.
The IB Middle Years Program begins to emphasize and incorporate the all-important skills of the IB Learner Profile. The IB Learner Profile essentially identifies the outcomes that we want for ALL of our students. Through the IB focus on international mindedness, global perspectives, multiple languages and collaborative process, we aim to foster learners who strive to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.
Right now - today - we have a chance to make meaningful change in our schools. Perhaps now, more than ever before - we can make this happen. But we have to want it. We have to want our kids to have the education they need in order to become successful learners prepared to change their lives and their world.
We are at an exciting precipice in education with the implementation of the Common Core and the resulting necessary curriculum work that accompanies this intensive change. In Dobbs Ferry we have decided that although the Common Core poses many excellent opportunities for learning experiences that incorporate cross-disciplinary connections, performance-based assessments and clear learning targets; it is also a chance to explore a deeper dive into a much larger pool of ideas about teaching and learning.
The IB Middle Years Program insists upon the thorough study of various disciplines and encourages students to:
  • see the interrelatedness of disciplines
  • appreciate other cultures, as well as understand one's own history and traditions
  • develop admiration for the elegance and richness of human expression
  • learn to communicate effectively in one's own language as well as in a second language
  • become competent in the use of information technology
  • acquire a genuine love of learning  and disciplined habits of mind and body that will guide their young adulthood
Seizing opportunities and being willing to be flexible with our thinking and our ideas about the quality of education in our schools - that’s what the Dobbs Ferry Board of Education, our teachers, parents, schools and community are all about. 
We are boldly embracing the changes in the education landscape uncovering new horizons ahead. We are committed and determined to give EVERY student the education they need.