November 2009

It is an exciting time of transition and progress for us here at St. Gregory, and while there are many examples of this change, no single item better encapsulates it better than our new slogan and tag line, Creating Leaders and Innovators for the 21st century.   Today I want to share some of the background, significance, and the future opportunities this new slogan offers us; this new “mantra” is intended as the successor to (building upon, retaining the value of, and enhancing) our school’s previous statement: Character, Scholarship, Leadership.

The current issue of Independent School magazine features a cover article about Missions, Mantras and Meaning. Author Peter Gow quotes Guy Kawasaki, a 2009 NAIS Annual Conference keynote speaker, on the value of a “three word mantra: a guiding idea that can both inform a school’s planning, and provide it with a sparkling marketplace identity.”  Gow then cites another NAIS speaker, Dan Heath, on the value of sticky messages: “potent expressions that drive and differentiate.”   I believe that our new statement, succinctly expressed as  Creating Leaders and Innovators, does meet Kawasaki and Heath’s mandates in exactly the ways they advocate.

Background: I began my headship here in June.   Immediately it was impressed upon me by board leaders and others the critical need for a clear and new strategic vision, one that would help organize our school’s future and offer a compelling value proposition to school families, present and prospective.    I was also urged by board members to have pieces in place by January, for enrollment season, of what we were adding and building into the school’s program and profile to enhance the school’s value for our students. (more…)

Ken Kay, President of the Partnership for 21st century skills, (hq’d right here in Tucson), offers this month a clarion call for “a social imperative” in the Southeast Education Network, SEEN.      It is a helpful primer and overview; it provides a history of the partnership and its research, and it underscores the importance of this change:

This blinding rate of change has, largely, pushed aside the 20th century social contract, under which possessing a great understanding of core subjects guaranteed ascent on the economic ladder. Now, the 21st century social contract states, in addition to deep content knowledge, all citizens need a broad range of skills to be productive and prosperous. Knowledge, while a cornerstone of success, is no longer enough — 21st century skills — which ensure people can adapt to circumstances, work in teams, innovate, and communicate — are a requisite of a successful life.

Important to note Kay’s recognition that knowledge is a cornerstone, and that we in this movement are not appropriately caricatured for dismissing the importance of knowledge.   But as this blog regularly argues, knowledge is best mastered in an educational environment that integrates a skills approach. P-21 recognizes this too, and I am especially appreciative of Kay not just arguing for skills, but for a pedagogical approach that is integrative:

A rigorous education in today’s world lies in the nexus of core subjects, 21st century themes, and 21st century skills — this combination redefines what a rigorous education must be. (more…)

Tom Vander Ark, always an important commentator, offered recently a short blog commentary on a formula proposed by Sir Michael Barber, an important educational reformer in the UK and for McKinsey.   Barber’s formula for what students should be able to do is E(K+T+L):  Ethical underpinnings wrap around the value of Knowledge, Thinking, and Leadership.     Nice.   I enjoy the little formula structures; just yesterday I was arguing for E2I as a valuable expression for capturing the importance of educating to innovate.    And as I seek an Aristotelian golden mean of thinking skills  and knowledge mastery, it is helpful to see this expression which works to unite them in the formula for the 21st century education elixir.

But regular readers, and St. Gregory followers, know I will want to offer one additional element to the recipe, creativity, ingenuity, or innovation.   My simple, and perhaps obvious amendment: E(K+T+L+I)

Vander Ark’s elaboration:

K is for knowledge.  Michael dismissed the ‘kids can just use a search engine’ argument against strong content standards, “Pupils need both theoretical and applied knowledge and the skills to go with it.” (more…)

Two cheers, or maybe only one and a half, for the Obama/Duncan education administration’s launch today of Educate to Innovate.   Clearly there are many things to like about the federal government’s decision to prioritize the skill of innovation as the highest of all priorities; this is what we too have decided is most important (or equally so, when paired with leadership) at St. Gregory.

I like the phrasing “educate to innovate”; I have found myself saying it regularly the last few months, and I think it creates a nice little abbreviation in E2I.    This statement, too, from President Obama is constructive and valuable: “Reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century,” though I wish he hadn’t needed to qualify the central word, innovation, with the limiting word “technological.”

I also appreciate some of the brand new program’s features, such as the national science fair in science, technology, and robotics to be held at the White House, and the initiatives to use interactive and immersive gaming to advance the cause: “Five public-private partnerships that harness the power of media, interactive games, hands-on learning, and 100,000 volunteers to reach more than 10 million students over the next four years, inspiring them to be the next generation of makers, discoverers, and innovators.”

Which brings me to the larger point, my great disappointment that the E2I initiative is configured in such a way as to be limited to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), rather than being more broadly, and more valuably, defined as  STEAM (with Arts added!). (more…)

Below is our new expanded reporting report card, to be used this semester at all grade levels in all subjects, as approved this week by our Academic Committee.  We believe that what gets measured gets done, and that by measuring and reporting these areas each semester, we will see our school evolve to ever better meet the needs of educating for the 21st century.  We are also pleased to be among the first NAIS schools to adopt a version (we amended it) of the NAIS Commission on Accreditation Schools of the Future Essential capacities for the 21st century. (I know this is not very legible; after the jump (“more”), I have provided the slideshow I presented to students this morning detailing each item of the Egg.)



Returning now with a second post challenging Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? In this post, I want to confront his claim in Chapter 6 that there is a “flawed assumption;” that students are not “cognitively capable of doing what scientists or historians do.”    This really cuts to my quick: it is my sustained argument here and elsewhere that we best engage, motivate, and train our young minds when we respect their capacity and challenge and support them to act like young professionals, to act in the mode of historians and scientists.

Again, Willingham makes some good points in this chapter, things I admire and appreciate and value.  But on the main point, on whether students can think as scientists,  and whether we should teach them to do so,  he comes across as a cranky curmudgeon: “Trying to get your students to think like them [experts, scientists, historians] is not a realistic goal.” (more…)

This is from a fascinating survey from Newsweek, jointly with Intel, looking at attitudes toward innovation in China and the US.   There are eight different charts in total; one key takeaway is that the Chinese believe the US to be more innovative, while Americans view Chinese as more innovative.  But for me, an educator and blogger seeking to place educating for innovation at the very top of my goals, it is this particular graphic which speaks volumes: which set of skills best drive innovation?   What should we be teaching in order to build a more innovative American future?

Chinese parents do not, contrary to what might be my uninformed expectation, view math and computer skills as most important– but Americans do.   Chinese parents value what I believe they lack in their educational program (and I cite Yong Zhao’s expertise as my source for claiming this); they value creative approaches in problem-solving.    They also view knowledge of world’s cultures as important, much more so than Americans do.

Now, I hate to pick sides: all four of these are important. (more…)

Innovation LeadershipSt. Gregory, we are creating leaders and innovators for the 21st century, and, as part of that, trying to be thoughtful and deliberative about what we mean by 21st century leadership.   One trustee, the esteemed former university president George Davis, suggested we merge the parallel tracks of leadership and innovation, and set a goal of creating innovative leaders and leading innovators.   For now, anyway, we have not adopted that path, but it certainly still intrigues me.    So, I was taken with this list that I encountered on a blog called Blogging Innovation, a list that does a charming job of identifying differences in leadership models and offers a twentyfirst century view of “innovative leadership” which I think we will do well to borrow from as a model for the type of leaders we seek to mold.    As I commonly do, I have put in bold the sections I particularly admire.  (And I think it is fair to say that this “innovative leadership” model is not just something I aspire to for our students as they become leaders, but also something I aspire to in my own role as St. Gregory’s leader.)

The command and control leader… The innovative leader…
Leads from the front. Leads from the side.
Directs. Inspires.
Checks and controls. Trusts and delegates.
Improves effectiveness and efficiency. (more…)

It is no secret, anywhere on our fast-shrinking planet, that innovation and creativity are the tools most important for success.   But knowing this, and doing something about it, are two different things?   How many schools have recognized and adopted this new wisdom, and how do we transform education such that it can provide these tools for our students?   Europe, now, (the E.U.) has stepped up with a new “manifesto” for creativity and innovation, and though it is short and mostly a piece of public relations, it is still an important expression.

The world is moving to a new rhythm. To be at the forefront of this new world, Europe needs to become more creative and innovative. To be creative means to imagine something that didn’t exist before and to look for new solutions and forms. To be innovative means to introduce change in society and in the economy. Design activities transform ideas into value and link creativity to innovation.

The manifesto, after its opening paragraphs, offers a seven point summary, the first two of which especially speak to me:   “1. Nurture creativity in a lifelong learning process where theory and practice go hand in hand.   (more…)

This blog’s view of 21st century education is one that entails a very strong embrace of the internet as  a tool to empower our kids to be better investigators, better collaborators, better creators, better publishers.   Our students blog beginning in sixth grade; our students are on-line regularly as a part and parcel of their role as learners in the year 2009 (and soon, 2010!).    Of course we want our students to be safe on-line, and of course we counsel them to be careful, but we view the internet as much more an opportunity and a rich, deep, and wonderful resource than we view it as a predatory danger.   So it is great to read this very interesting, and very important, article from San Jose Mercury News, an article which itself is reporting on a ” watershed moment in the 16-year history of online safety education. ”

Magid is a very reputable guy, with a doctorate of education and as a member of the board of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  He is the director of an agency called Connect Safely: Smart Socializing Starts Here.  What he has to report is that the annual meeting this year of the Family Online Safety Institute, in Washington DC, represented a dramatic and overdue transformation in the conversation about kids online.    The event’s  title alone conveyed this importation transition: “Building a Culture of Responsibility: From Online Safety to Digital Citizenship.”

I think this article speaks for itself, and powerfully, and so I am choosing to quote at length, with full acknowledgement to the Mercury News; I have identified particularly key messages in bold:

The event, which drew participants from 15 countries, was different from previous years in that young people were viewed less as potential victims of online crimes and more as participants in a global online community.  That’s not to say that participants didn’t worry aloud about youth safety, but instead of focusing on real and imagined dangers, we focused on how adults can work with young people to encourage both ethical and self-protective behavior. (more…)

Although I write only infrequently about Dan Pink, his book A Whole New Mind was a huge influence for me, and among his six “senses” is “Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.”   Pat Bassett, in his presentation on Pink’s important message, uses a charming, compelling youtube video to illustrate the development of the important sense Pink calls meaning.   There is also a wonderful website promoting this kind of thinking and writing:

One of our fine St. Gregory English teachers, Elizabeth Young,  had her 12th grade students participate in the project; below is one of our students’  excellent essays, from Sarah Tillery:

This I Believe

Of all the things in the world to believe in, Gods, leaders, philosophies, or galaxies far, far away, I believe in people. (more…)

“What we have now is a system shaped by historical forces that are now almost totally bankrupt as ideas for the 21st century, and I think they are betraying most of our children.”

“How is this helping our children in terms of what they will be as adults; how adaptable are they going to be, how versatile are they going to be, how confident are they going to be.”

“The very best we can do is prepare young people for the rapidly changing social, technological, economic environment.  They will need to be the most flexible, creative, collaborative resilient generation that really have ever been.”

This film doesn’t look like it offers a whole lot of very new ideas, but it does appear to be an important expression, in film, of the argument for 21st century education which this blog believes is so important.


Why Don't Students Like School? by Daniel T. WillinghamI have argued with Professor Willingham before, countering in a previous post his Ed. Leadership article which, I thought, mis-stated and underappreciated 21st century education.  Here I want to offer some criticisms and counterarguments to his book, published last spring, entitled Why Don’t Students Like School?

I am focusing this discussion on the first few chapters, and will return later to the later chapters.  I need to say, there are many good things in the book (though I wish it hadn’t been printed in such tiny, and lightly colored font).   I agree with many of his ideas and assertions, this one being a fine example:

When it comes to teaching, I think of it this way:  The material I want students to learn is actually the answer to a question.  On its own, the answer is almost never interesting.  But if you know the question, the answer may be quite interesting.  That’s why making the question clear is so important…. There is a conflict in almost any lesson plan, if you look for it.  This is another way of saying that the material we want students to know is the answer to a question– and the question is the conflict.

This is great stuff; I am a huge fan, for instance, of Gerald Graff, and he has influenced me greatly to recognize and appreciate the value of “teaching the argument,”  teaching the controversy, teaching to argue.  There are many other worthwhile points and discussions: I love his ideas about teaching via the power of stories; I too think mnemonics have a place in learning, and I certainly agree that kids need to read, and we need to vigorously support/promote/encourage/demand they read widely and deeply.

But, but, but!  (more…)

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