December 2010


The edu-blog awards prompted a spirited debate on twitter in recent weeks, with many arguing that those of us in education who oppose awards in our schools should oppose the edu-blog awards.  One of my favorite tweets in that conversation argued that instead of awards, we in the blogging community should instead write a list of our favorite blogs.   I was inspired.

As an aside, I do not oppose supporting my students in seeking external awards: I love to see them compete and triumph outside my school community, and I like to celebrate their successes in doing so.   What I worry about, though, is that internal awards, where our students’ teachers select “favorites” among them, is potentially damaging to the strength of our school community. So with that as my standard, I don’t see such a conflict in bloggers who oppose in-school awards celebrating their edu-blogger award nominations.

The problem with any list is once you start it is hard to know how to stop.    There will inevitably be many fine blogs left off a list like this, so I offer my apologies to any potential exclusions in advance.  This list is is no particular order whatsoever.

1. Peter Papas is a former public school educator, now consultant, who blogs at Copy/Paste: Dedicated to Relinquishing Responsibility for Learning to the Students.   The sub-title alone represents its point of view compellingly; this is a great blog.  Peter seems to publish 5-10 times a month, and he is unafraid to write lengthy, thoughtful, academic posts which really inform as they inspire.   Copy-Paste has great themes which resonate closely with my own writing, but with sharper analysis and more thorough elucidation.     Some excellent recent posts include

2. David Truss is the independent school (international independent, in Dalian, China) administrator whose blog I currently most admire; he writes at Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts. He posts 2-5 times a month; he writes about his school-work and his educational philosophy interchangeably;  and he uses images powerfully.  He is also unafraid to write at length.     Some recent posts I admired include:

3. George Couros, a Canadian public school principal,  is a great inspiration to me, both for his work as architect and soul of Connected Principals and for his individual blog, The Principal of Change.   (more…)

False and mistaken binaries cloud our minds far too frequently.   We look at an impending dramatic transformation, such as what is happening with technology in education, and our minds often cannot help but create binary, zero-sum pairs: more technology must mean less face-to-face communication or less active, physical learning.

Mentally, we cannot help but stipulate the contemporary status quo as the normal and the effective, and so create anxiety about how change will do damage, often not confronting how ineffective, and often how abnormal, the current status quo really is.

These thoughts are stimulated by reading two short, excellent, paired pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s special issue (November 5) on Online Learning.   The two pieces, easy to overlook, near the back of the issue, deserve much more attention than they are likely to get: they set the stage and articulate the transformation that is coming brilliantly.

What they do is establish that online learning, blended into our current educational models, offer incredible opportunities to fix what isn’t working today (“YouSnooze U.” and lecture learning which under-serves the struggling and bores the accelerated) but also, even more valuably, they offer opportunities to return education to its roots, whether in the 18th century or in Socratic/Aristotleian learning, of conversational, activity based learning. (more…)

2010 has been a great year blogging for me; this is my third year blogging, and each year gets better.   Blogging is a craft that could be called asymptotatic, as Dan Pink describes in Drive; there is no ceiling to bump into, no limit, and provides a stimulating challenge for the ongoing pursuit of mastery. Pink: “You can approach it.  You can home in on it.  You can get really, really close to it.  But you can never touch it…. Mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.”

In 2010 I posted over 150 times here at 21k12; over at Connected Principals, which was launched in August by the terrific blogger George Couros, I posted over twenty times (in many cases, those posts were re-posted from here at 21k12).

Readers of my blog don’t have the same perspective about the “success” or relative significance of posts that I do, because they don’t see the stats the way I do about visits.  But once a year it seems wise to share the dozen or so posts which seemed to strike a chord with readers.

What is nice to me about this list is that it corresponds very closely to my own view of my favorite posts, the ones of which I am proudest.  Below this list I add another half dozen that I wish had received as much attention as this list.

1.  Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”.  190 views here, 2001 views at CP.   Over 2000 views in a period of less than two months is certainly a personal record for my blogging.  One of my favorite aspects of this successful post is that its content was entirely the result of my learning as a blogger.  I had previously posted about Khan Academy, and spoke about the concept of inverting instruction there, but then John Sowash commented on that post about reverse instruction, and this new post was born from that dialogue on Connected Principals.  I should also thank here the attention given to this post by Stephen Valentine in the November Klingbrief and Shelly Wright who blogged about it here.

2.  Engaging, not Distracting, the Digital Generation: Responding to the Times’ Wired piece.  327 here, 890 at CP.     Like many others in my corner of the blogosphere, I was inflamed by the Times piece, and spent Thanksgiving week furiously thinking how to respond, and then poured my passionate indignation into this post.  I am so happy it struck a chord for others too; it was my most “retweeted” post, 121 times at CP. (more…)

The Chronicle of Higher Ed recently ran a valuable piece containing many inspiring anecdotes of university successes entitled “How to Build a Perception of Greatness.”    In it, they “outline some principles of slowly and sustainably building a perception of greatness,” drawing upon examples at dozens of colleges and universities.   It bears to reason though that some of these principles might also apply to K-12 schools.    Four of these principles follow:

Playing to your Strengths. It may be an obvious one to begin with, but as the article notes, “many colleges have been reluctant to focus on just a few strengths.”   The reporting they collect at the Chronicle suggests though that as hard as it is, it is powerful: “identify unique or distinctive strengths and put resources into those, perhaps at the expense of others.”

Examples include Ball State’s immersive learning program, which requires students to complete projects for practice experience, and Northeastern’s required cooperative-education program.   “Even elite universities can end up diminishing and diluting the impact of their programs by refusing to highlight a few.”

This is old news, but still valuable: Know your school’s strengths, invest in them, develop them further, and become the best school you can be in those ways. (more…)

“If you are not a school of the future, you won’t be a school in the future.”

In NAIS President Pat Bassett’s presentation Monday, he called upon educators to frame their inquiry about becoming Schools of the Future around four Essential Questions:

  1. What should we teach?
  2. How should we teach?
  3. How should we assess?
  4. How do we embed the vision?

He then elaborated upon each; perhaps it was due to time running out, but his discussion of the fourth was most abstract and least pertinent, I thought.   But I offer some summary and thoughts about the first three:

What should we teach?

Pat urged schools emphasize the The Five C’s: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Character.  He argued that thought some schools may have done good work with articulating the language arts or science curriculum, K-12, via mapping, now it is incumbent upon us to map these skill and value curricular strands: “What is your PS through 12th grade leadership curriculum?”

But once schools have embraced the responsibility to ensure students can do, rather than just know, it is time to then grapple again with what is is students must know: “Is there a body of knowledge that is mandatory and universal for our students?”

This is the right place to start, and I appreciate Pat’s focus on this most essential of questions as the foundation for creating schools of the future.  (more…)

I enjoyed greatly a six hour session yesterday with NAIS President Pat Bassett; he spoke on critical trends facing our industry and on generative questions framing the “School of the Future.”

I have, for this post, picked out seven of the trends he discussed, summarizing his points and offering a small response to each.

1. Marketing and Communicating Value: Competition among school sectors (public, charter, private, independent, on-line, home schooling) will only continue to intensify.   To flourish, NAIS  schools will need to seek and gain a larger market share of a declining market: we must work harder to demonstrate value,  to make the case for quality education of our kind, and we must discover and distribute a sticky message.    PB suggests one possible message, to the many consumers who are struggling with the costs associated with quality, national caliber independent education:  You Can’t Afford Not To Afford an Independent School! Many, many high school graduates are attending college, PB points out, but far, far fewer succeed brilliantly in college, graduate, and go on to grad school successfully– but NAIS grads do, in high numbers.     The investment is worth it; independent school grads succeed in university in unparalleled proportions, Bassett argues.     (more…)

PBL, and particularly PBLT (with Technology), is a frequent topic on this blog, and I appreciate the value of video.   Kudos to BIE for recognizing the importance of video communications as a tool to promote the value of PBL, and engaging Commoncraft to produce this introduction.

Unfortunately, I think this intro falls too short.   It might be helpful to certain population segments who really have no idea what PBL is, but it doesn’t speak to most educators, who understand as much as this shows already, nor does it to the critical parent segment: the concerned or skeptical.    The weakest spot is the discussion of the flu-transmission presentation, where some students “get away” with a poster of kids sneezing into their elbows as their “product.”  Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it, and for those of us who are advocates, it is almost an embarrassment to us that it can be depicted as only that.   Overall, too, the video doesn’t demonstrate deep, rich, penetrating thinking and learning, leaving advocates vulnerable from those who rightfully fear PBL can lack rigor. (more…)

Former Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, together with Disrupting Class co-author Michael Horn (a multi-time commentator on this blog), have released a new call to arms for Digital Learning Now.    Organized by the Digital Learning Council, the project has its own website, and a list of ten elements of High Quality Digital education on which it says it will grade states annually.

While I respect that Bush and Wise probably oversaw the politics of the effort, I am going to draw the inference that Horn is the key author of the report, because it seems so aligned with what I have observed Horn writing about the past few years.     Horn’s analysis and insights are multifaceted, both an “is” and an “ought” : this digital revolution is happening whether we like it or not, and because it is, let’s try to steer this wave the way it best ought to happen. (more…)

Another Sputnik, it was called last week: the latest OECD results were released, and Shanghai schools topped the list, with the US far down the ladder.    This is disappointing, to say the least, and we in the US should indeed be deeply concerned.

But let’s be clear about what we should be concerned.   Readers of the New York Times article, for instance, (and probably that source is the most common source), might not have the opportunity to recognize and appreciate what is really being tested in the PISA until the very last sentence.

I fear NY Times readers might read carefully only through to the quote from Secretary Duncan: ““The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”  In doing so, they might think that PISA is a conventional bubble test of “basic skills,” and that what Duncan is suggesting we take from it is that we need more NCLB type teaching and basic skill development, because unfortunately that is what Duncan department of Education has become known for: NLCB on steroids.

(I don’t think this is an entirely fair characterization of Duncan’s leadership and vision, but it is what has become the connotative representation of his administration thus far.)

This would be wrong. In fact, the PISA results suggest quite the opposite: we need to break away from the curricular narrowing effects of conventional standardized testing, basic skills emphasis, and rote memorization, and unleash in our schools a revolution of applied problem-solving to real-world situations. (more…)


Remarks to students, 12.8.10, revised and expanded.

Exams are next week: how many of you are looking forward to taking exams?   I hope the answer is many of you, because I believe that when a well-prepared mind engages with a well designed test, fireworks can happen inside our minds.   I had many experiences of feeling more intellectually stimulated, engaged, creative and innovative, when taking a well-designed exam than during almost any other time.    My mind leapt to new insights and perceptions, made more connections and inferences, and discovered and constructed original solutions or approaches to vexing problems.   I love taking exams.

But you do need to be well prepared to be successful.    Some suggestions for you to be better prepared.

1.  When you study, don’t just read: write!   Too often we think we are studying when we let our eyes drift over the words in our notes, our textbooks, and our study guides.   That isn’t enough; we must write to remember and develop better understanding.    My freshman year of college I struggled with my midterms, and was quite disappointed with the results.   Come finals, I chose to do something I had never done before: I simply rewrote, word for word, every note I had taken during lecture– and when I went to take my exams I was flabbergasted with how much more I recalled and how much more confident and authoritative I was addressing the questions.    Recopy notes, or write about your notes and texts:  what are the most interesting, more original, most surprising, most confusing, most important, most controversial ideas or informational nuggets in the texts you are studying?  Write these out, and you will be better prepared.

2. Study in groups. When this works well, it is awesome; when it doesn’t work well, it can be a disaster.   The opportunity is great, but effective execution is essential.    When you do it well, the result will be better understanding and retention of key factual content and key interpretations , better anticipation of what will be on the test, and far more breadth of wisdom in how to answer those questions.

Here is my suggested strategy: (more…)

For me, teaching is joyful when you feel that you are both leading and participating in a collaborative problem-solving team tackling real-world problems.  This I tweeted recently in response to a twitter inquiry: what brings you joy in teaching.

I was taken by the parallels of my view and Wesch’s  when viewing this video and hearing his argument that the best way we can teach students “knowledge-ability” is to ask them to tackle real-world, challenging problems, problems we don’t know the answer to, and then lead and guide them as a collaborative team in addressing those problems, while facilitating their use of the best available tools to address these problems.

Knowledgeable is what we call people who have learned a lot of material, a lot of content; I don’t think Michael is saying that we no longer want knowledgeable students.  He is saying that they need to be more than that, they need to be knowledge-able: they need to be able to construct their own knowledge, to make their own meaning, and to have the tools and skills to effectively and compellingly critically think, communicate, create, and collaborate on-line.     He is also saying that this is no longer a TV watching generation: it is one which thrills to two-way participatory environments and is dulled senseless by one-way communication channels.    The knowledge they need to acquire they need to learn by working with content, not absorbing it.

In looking back over the past five years to identify the key handful of “moments” when I became energized and inspired to embrace and advocate a new vision of learning in our new fast-changing era, I know that watching Michael Wesch’s students’ famous, brilliant, and chill-inducing video, A View of Students Today, was one of the main ones.  Watch and see if you don’t shiver, and see if your own worldview of learning does not change.   (more…)


Independent School Management has a series running on the 21st century school, and I have commented on previous chapters in this series before.   In September, there was a piece on the 21st century faculty, (unavailable on-line).

ISM opens with a valuable and perceptive paragraph to establish contrast on the 20th century teacher:

the autonomous teacher who exists in an egalitarian culture and is rarely, often never, effectively evaluated for impact on student performance, enthusiasm and satisfaction.   At all levels of the school, teachers are organized into silos of teaching with little effective time within the silo to truly collaborate and professionally assess and grow, and equally little time to communicate outside the silo in and effective way.  Teachers spend most of their time teaching on their own and preparing to teach.

ISM cites approvingly a study which calls for “redefining teacher quality to redefine what a highly qualified teacher truly means.  The words highly qualified  should refer to a teacher whose work improves student learning.”   I like this: New Tech network schools, of which I am a fan, actually take this a step further; they simply no longer use the word teacher and have replaced it with the word “facilitator” to match their changing the word student to “learner.”

Teacher leadership is the 21st century answer to this… all teachers must become leaders,” ISM advocates.    Although it has the virtue of being succinct, this statement seems to me pretty abstract and pretty limited to be a valuable expression and articulation of a concept as important as “the 21st century teacher.” (more…)

Woke up this morning to find the international Edublog award shortlist.    As you can see by clicking here, 21k12 has been shortlisted for Best School Admin Blog.  I believe, after a quick review, that my blog is the only NAIS representative in this category.   Readers are invited to click over to the voting and enter your choice!

It is also great to see the six nominations for Connected Principals: one in Best School Admin Blog (which means I am “competing” against myself!) and others  in Best Group Blog, Best New Blog, and three others.

I am very excited and energized by my participation in Connected Principals.    I am one of about 30 principals contributing to CP, and the dynamic among the group of us is wonderfully supportive and illuminating.  I feel very good about what I have been able to contribute to CP, and I am pleased to have been able to raise my profile as a blogger by my contributions.   You can vote for Connected Principals as Best Group blog here.

My thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement; the positive feedback of my readers is highly motivating.

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