May 2010

Good morning 8th grade students and families

Just this past Saturday, our 12th grade seniors graduated, and at their request, as they threw their caps in the air the stereo broadcast, quite loudly, the song Don’t’ Stop Believing.   (not, though, the Journey original, but rather the cover version performed by the cast of Glee).

Sentimental that song is, but I have a different request to make of you: Don’t Stop Asking Why?!

An interesting and important book was published last year by Andrea Batista Schlesinger, a woman still in her twenties, entitled The Death of Why?: The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy.     Parents, you might appreciate its dedication: For my parents, who have suffered the most from my love of questions.

In the book, she argues that “questions have always been power.”   We know that throughout the history of free societies, questioning has been both essential and provocative: Socrates is famous for saying that a life without questions is not worth living, and he is also famous for being put to death for his relentless and pestering inquiry.

Yet, our schools, Schlesinger says, and she is NOT speaking of St. Gregory, “send the message to children that the answer is all that counts.” (more…)

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There is a second climate crisis: we make very poor use of our talents.

Life is not linear, it is organic.   We create our lives symbiotically as we explore our talents in relationship to the circumstances they help to create for us.

Human communities depend on a diversity of talents.

I came across a statement: college begins in kindergarten.  No it doesn’t.   Kindergarten begins in Kindergarten.

Zagat guide restaurants are the opposite of standardized fast-food restaurants; they are customized into local circumstances.  We have sold ourselves to a fast-food model of education and it is impoverishing our spirit and energies. (more…)

Good Evening.

We are graced tonight by the presence of many educational leaders; it is an honor to welcome them.

Among them are

  • our speaker, former University of Arizona President Dr. John Schaefer;
  • former St. Gregory Head of School Bill Creeden;
  • both the former and current Heads of Green Fields Country Day School, Rick Belding and Matt Teller;
  • our own Board of Trustees, and our fine faculty;
  • and perhaps most importantly, a founder of three schools in three states, including St. Gregory, Mrs. Bazy Tankersely.

Leadership, like everything else, is fast changing in the 21st century.   The military is overhauling its philosophy and practice of leadership, as I have heard this year from my new Tucson friends who are Air Force officers; it realizes we must place a higher priority on flexibility, initiative, creativity than ever before, and that command has become more about influencing than directing others.

Author Dan Pink published this year Drive, a book demanding the complete reinvention of management; he calls upon us to place autonomy, mastery, and purpose at the paramount goals of each and every work-place and institution.

Similarly, in his recent book Tribes, the brilliant Seth Godin explains that

The power of this new era is simple: if you want to, or need to, or mus,  lead then you can.  Every leader I have met shares one thing and one thing only: the decision to lead.

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in.  Paint a picture of the future.  Go there.  People will follow.”

These developments in leadership have been anticipated for many years by educational leaders:  the best schools and universities have always been places where principals, headmasters, and presidents have chosen to lead in ways that honor and celebrate the individuality of their followers.

School leaders know our role is

  • to unleash, not constrain,  by respecting the value and significance of autonomy; (more…)

by Sloane Burns

All the new goings on at St. Gregory for the 2010-2011 School Year

Mr. Martin, headmaster at St. Gregory has decided to institute a couple changes for the upcoming school year. He has decided to put in, a 1:1 Laptop program, an advisory program and new late start days.

The new laptop program that is being incorporated is entitled W.IN.G.S which is short for (Wired for Innovation and Global Success).   Mr. Martin is really enthusiastic about this integration; it is something he has wanted to do for a long time. This enthusiasm transferred into his letter to become headmaster, he also mentioned in his interviews that he did this integration in his previous schools, so he was able to see it in action and he has some experience with it.

In the fall, Martin started talking to the technology people at St. Gregory about this plan of his. (more…)

Collaboration by Susan Heintz:

One of the take-aways I have from the time at New Tech is this:  each project that is given to students in class is first brought to a review session of the entire faculty.  The faculty of about 40 people is usually divided in two, so that two projects can be reviewed at once.  The reviewers are from various departments.  They hear about the project from those who wish to use it in their classrooms, giving feedback in the categories of “I like”, “I wonder”, and “Next steps”.

This struck me as incredibly valuable, rather than a teacher all on his/her own trying to imagine how a project would actually roll out in class.   Remember, in this model, all learning comes through the process of completing the project.  Other faculty members, in different departments with different strengths, would notice things and suggest ideas that might never occur to the actual teacher of the course.  It seems to me this would enhance the project before it is even introduced, as well as preventing some of the inevitable errors in judgment that occur the first time a teacher uses something new.

In  Critical Friends Groups here at St. Gregory  we are working together to improve not just our own teaching, but all teaching in the school.  Expanding on this commitment, I would hope we could adopt the above model for any project-based learning, as we have so much to learn from one another that can have a powerful impact on what we bring to our students.

Outside the Box by Linda Mount:

Our very quick trip to Dallas to observe New Tech High School had outcomes different from what I had expected.   Choosing to focus on Project Based Learning rather than 1:1 laptop use, Tabitha Branum, the principal, leader, and “artistic director” of the school, shared her knowledge of, enthusiasm for, and commitment to this new 21st century way of learning using “real world” problems to entice students into becoming more involved and engaged in the process.

What it demands of the teachers (facilitators) is that they become expert designers of problems, questions, tasks that the students collaboratively explore and solve using technology (at their fingertips), creativity, innovation, and partnership.  Interestingly, though it seems as if it would release teachers (facilitators) from their daily lesson plan preparations, in actuality, it requires teachers to become imaginative creators of interesting, authentic, and new problems and projects complete with entry documents, benchmarks, scaffolding, workshops, and outcomes.  As a predominantly 20th century educator, I found myself inspired, energized, and thinking about next year outside my 20th century box.  It was great fun!

From Dr. Michelle Berry:

The Advanced Placement United States Government class wrote their own textbook in the first semester using a wiki software known as PB Works.  The purpose of the e-text was to encourage students to collaborate on an intellectual and creative project that would be used by future students in the APGOV course at St. Gregory.  Students worked in groups of 3 on chapters traditionally found in AP Government textbooks.  The difference?  The e-text comes complete with a casual tone and accessible writing, Youtube videos, podcasts, and widget study breaks.  The interactivity of the e-text coupled with its in-depth explanation of the United States government make it a wonderful resource for future students.  Next year’s students will add to the e-text which ensures that it will be an evolving and current text — something traditional textbooks just can’t be quite as easily.

In a 7th grade science class:

Our MS digital natives, as opposed to those of us who are digital immigrants, are off and flying with their netbooks. In the first week of the seventh grade pilot of the 1:1 WINGS initiative students are pushing the envelope of learning with their netbooks. I observed one noteworthy application emerging in Ms. Faircloth’s science class. Her students were participating in a virtual heart anatomy lesson. (more…)

We are here today to pay tribute to Mrs. Cheryl Pickerell, upon her retirement after twenty years as a St. Gregory teacher.

She is a lover of wisdom, a lover of beauty, a lover of learning, but more than all that, she is a teacher whose students feel every day the quality of affection she has for each one of them as individuals.

Mrs. Pickerell and I share in common several inspirations to our work as educators, and I thought it’d be fun to imagine what they’d say if they were to see her teach in her St. Gregory classroom.

The Courage to Teach is a book which challenges us to teach from the deepest wellsprings of our inner selves, and if its author Parker Palmer were to visit us here and observe Mrs. Pickerell teach, I know he would say that her “authority as a teacher is the result of her students perceiving her as the author of her own words, her own actions, her own lives, rather than someone playing a scripted role at great remove from her heart.”   (more…)

Friday a dozen of us from St. Gregory flew to Dallas for a six hour visit to New Tech HS @Coppell, and had a great experience.    The Principal and her team were incredibly warm, welcoming, and hospitable.   The school, only in its second year and thoroughly renovated in Summer 2008, was an attractive, shiny, comfortable, tech-ie, environment, in a palette or mostly blacks and white with occasional splashes of red thrown in.   Our visit was composed of two lengthy, 90 minutes conversations with the principal and some of her teachers, bookended around an hour-long tour led  by a student.

Principal Tabitha Branum:  You have to change instruction when you put laptops in place, and you have to see the program change where kids are empowered to use laptops to inquire, you have to give them good projects and good hooks and good needs to knows, so they can then go and research and discover and learn.

If you don’t change the culture of the school and the classroom, if you don’t change the way kids are learning, laptops are more engaging than the lecturing teacher, and laptops then don’t help learning.  But if you use them in an environment where kids are challenged by needs to knows they go and do it.

Things that struck me (many of them tweets I posted during the visit):

1. There are no teachers and students here, only facilitators and learners.

2. New Tech HS 3 principles: small learning community; emphasis on technology use for learning; and project based learning

3. New Tech HS principal says she hates the school’s name. She says they are not for tech-centric kids, but for all kids, and tech is not what they are learning, rather, it serves learning. (more…)

As part of my continuing campaign on this blog for the value of the CWRA, the College &  Work Readiness Assessment, I am happy to share this map with readers; all blue dots represents high schools in the US using the CWRA; St. Gregory remains the only school in Arizona.

My goal is to see many more blue dots crowd this map in the years to come.

The full interactive map is available here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This is great.   We know that more than anything else, we want our students to be effective problem-solvers and creative thinkers; this project is a way for students to work with the simplest of materials, collaborate, innovate, and measure the results.   By its bare simplicity, then, it can be deployed again and again and results compared, so that we can learn, as this video demonstrates, what is, and what is not, effective group process for problem solving and innovation.

The full Marshmallow Challenge site is here, and I am eager to bring this to my students soon, and then again and again as a tool to both prod and measure their ongoing growth as innovative problem-solvers.