1. Hello everyone. Sorry to be offline for a few days, longer than ever, but I am just back from three great days in Tucson, visiting, as a Head of School candidate, St. Gregory College Prep. Wish me luck; it is a great school! Next week might have to be a slow week too for the blog, as I have more interview visits to Boston and Seattle. And the numbers are growing for the blog; October 16 saw a new record 92 visitors in a day, and the overall number of unique visitors is now 687. A little shout-out to the students at Stockton’s Franklin High School, four of whom posted really great responses, and, it would seem, some several dozen of whom visited the site.
2. Although the topic of this blog is 21st century schooling, it is obviously an exercise in form as well as content, and if you are interested, as I am, in the blog form, I strongly direct you to Andrew Sullivan’s article on blogging in the current Atlantic Monthly. It is brilliant; to quote: “Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.” I love this.
And this, in which Andrew (whom I knew a tiny bit during college) explains the intimacy of the blog: “And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you are experiencing, and share the moment. When readers of my blog bump into me in person, they invariably address me as Andrew.” Here’s hoping my blog readers will address me as Jonathan!
3. The new issue of the Atlantic also has an awesome article about DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee. There is so much to admire about Michelle, (and for this fellow educational leader, so much to envy!). I admire and aspire to her fast paced vigor, and have mixed feelings but find myself attracted to her multi-blackberrying style (it is an iphone for me): always on the move, but always electronically plugged into communications from all directions. Clearly she is not perfect, and I think she has been brusque with her public constituents that independent schools could not tolerate. But her “relentless pursuit” approach to excellence is really great. (Did everyone catch McCain and Obama arguing, in the third debate, about which of their educational plans was more favored by Rhee? When have you ever seen Presidential candidates battling for the favor of a school superintendent?)
4. Love the article this week in the Wall Street Journal: Get Rid of the Performance Review! Seriously, when does the process of performance review really add a lot of value, and how often are we all engaged in it pro-forma just to say we have done it, or because we know we have to? Does it really build trust and collaboration between supervisors and subordinates? The author, a UCLA management professor, calls for a switch to“Performance previews instead of reviews. In contrast to one-side-accountable reviews, performance previews are reciprocally accountable discussions about how boss and employee are going to work together even more effectively than they did in the past. Previews weld fates together. The boss’s skin is now in the game.” Bring it on.
4. Still excited about the CWRA, the College and Work Readiness Assessment, and I was delighted to receive an email from a director there, Chris Jackson, who tells me he has been reading this blog. In Tucson this week I found myself touting it again and again: boards and other constituents have every right to demand we become more accountable and more transparent in schools, that we employ in greater data-driven decisionmaking. See the Rhee article above for one example of this. But that said, we have to be choosy about what data we collect: we know that what gets measured gets done, so let’s make sure we measure what we want to do. I don’t want kids to DO multiple choice choosing for the rest of their lives, so I am not sure I want to measure that with too great a significance. I do know I want kids solving complex problems for the rest of their lives, (god knows there are plenty of complex problems to be solved!), and this is what CWRA measures! For another take on CWRA, read this piece written by my friend Mark Desjardins, the head at a CWRA flagship school, Holland Hall. Chris is looking for advice on how to spread the good word about CWRA more widely; if you have suggestions, let me know and I will pass them along.
5. Very nice entry in the excellent dialogue blog between Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitz ; this one from Diane, who nicely addresses two important topics. First, she brings those of who are enthusiasts for hands-on learning back to earth a bit, appropriately, reminding us there is still a whole lot of important knowledge to be gained from books and traditional study. She is right– there is much we cannot learn by hands-on activities about literature, history, and science! But, I will still insist, that we can teach this “book-learning” more effectively than we are doing so in most cases. We can borrow from Wiggins, Graff, and others to insist that we frame the learning students pursue from books with the essential questions and the key problems in the field which we are studying. This will guide their reading in a far more effective way, and though not literally hands-0n, will mimic physically active learning by engaging students in active minds-on learning.
Ravitch goes on to confront educational initiatives that are business-model driven, such as paying teachers for student test scores, concluding on this note: “Now that our economy has been plunged into crisis by bad economic and business decisions, we must recognize that education is a distinct profession, like medicine and the law. It has its own ideals and values. It cannot, should not, be run “like a business.” Or it will fail “like a business.”” (And remember, Diane Ravitch is the conservative in the running dialogue of this blog entitled Bridging Differences).
6. Nice, succinct, teacher-friendly piece here from the Creative Educator on 8 principles for effective project design. We all know, some of all too well, that well-intentioned project based learning can sprawl out from under our control into a time-sucking mess. Indeed, many teachers I think try it, and then back away. These tips will help. My favorites: be very focused on giving students clear timelines for the project, and ensure students embark with a clear and meaningful problem on which to focus.
7. Some great things at the Angela Maiers blog, which rightfully is a Bloggers Choice nominee in the Best of Educational Blogs category (maybe next year for this blog!). She has here a helpful summary of a recent Alan November presentation, including his succinct three key 21st century skills: ability to do quality research on-line; effective global communication skills; and the ability to be self-directed. And listen to his recommendations for doing so: they are great. 1. Turn every classroom into a global communication center, connecting children to authentic audiences worldwide; 2. Build student independence rather than dependence; and 3. Stop blocking and teach students digital literacy.