February 2011

Back now from the stimulating, fascinating, and exhausting frenetic whirlwind that was three days at NAIS Annual Conference 2011.

Time for some observations and take-aways.

1.  As many have already written and said, the Gaylord National Harbor site, while clean and pleasant, was strikingly out of sync with the Conference theme of public purpose, and I don’t want to leave unstated that disappointment.   Our message should be one of lowering the barriers and connecting to the community rather than perpetuating isolation, and this setting was a strike against this message.

I heard from many that it was particularly awkward in regards to teaching candidate recruitment, which was compromised by a location so challenging to access without an automobile.

2. The outstanding highlight of the conference for me was the excellent Ted-style talk by Salman Khan about his extraordinaryKhan Academy.   No individual, by my lights, is going to more greatly transform how learning works in the next decade than Khan, and in person he was charming, energetic, and inspiring.   At the core of his message is his argument that if we use technology effectively, we don’t diminish the interpersonal, face-to-face, relational, human qualities of the classroom, we enhance it.   (more…)

Yesterday I was very fortunate to be joined by two terrific fellow school-leaders, Josie Holford and Michael Ebeling, to discuss blogging as Heads at the NAIS Annual Conference; our session was excellently moderated by Sarah Hanawald, Dean of Academics at Cannon School (NC).
Jason Ramsden was kind enough to live-blog the panel, which I provide below.
One additional valuable link for school-heads and principals interested in blogging: check out Connected Principals.
Friday February 25, 2011

Welcome to the start of day three here at NAIS’ 2011 Annual Conference. This morning we kick start the day in Blogging Heads: Three Heads Discuss Why and How They Blog.

Michael Ebeling, Peak Experience blog (Summit School, NC)
Josie Holford Compass Point blog (Poughkeepsie Day School, NY)
Jonathan Martin (St. Gregory College Prep, AZ)


We’re about 4 mins from the start of this session and the room is beginning to fill.


Just learned this week of a new forthcoming documentary film I am eager to see and support, The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System.

The film is a convergence of three particularly fascinating topics  & persons:

  • it profiles the remarkable story of Finland’s extraordinary educational success in international testing and the somewhat unexpected methodology by which it achieves this success;
  • it features Tony Wagner, my good friend and the author of the Global Achievement Gap, a book which regular readers of the blog here will immediately recognize as being an enormous influence on my educational vision;
  • and it is produced by Bob Compton, a film-maker best known for 2 million minutes and someone with whom some will remember I had a bit of debate with here on these pages in October 2009.

I should say how very happy I am that Bob Compton has taken this initiative to study Finnish schools and to work with Tony Wagner. Bob and I conducted a vigorous debate about our competing perceptions of best practices in 21st century learning, but I nobody can dispute his deeply held passion for improving education for all our students, and I respect and appreciate his open-minded effort to pursue, around the world, best practices in teaching and learning and to share them with his powerful film-making style.

It is not clear to me,  after the premier at the National Press Center March 24, when and how the film will be more widely available, but I know that we at St. Gregory would be thrilled to have the opportunity to screen it, and we certainly extend a warm welcome to Bob Compton to return to Tucson to share with us this new film.

My thanks to Sarah Hanawald for the following liveblog transcript of our session Friday at NAIS, where I was joined by CWRA administrator Chris Jackson and Lawrenceville Dean of Faculty (and Klingenstein Curriculum Instructor legend) Kevin Mattingly in presenting on the College Work Readiness Assessment.
At the end of the session, I mentioned my interest in forming a network of folks interested in working to develop a parallel, CWRA-Style assessment for middle school students, (as is being done in an interesting way in the Virginia Beach School District in a program there run by Jared Cotton).    If you are interested in being a part of this network, or being apprised of such activities, please let me know by entering your name and email here.
But first, the session slides:

CWRA Session is packed–folks are standing outside.
Chris Jackson: Opens with a book reference–Academically Adrift
Chris Jackson:

The mission, to help schools know how they are doing with what other tests don’t measure. Metrics for the schools.

Subscores on essential areas: critical thinking,  analytical reasoning, Effective writing, and problem-solving. (more…)

Thank you, all who attended our session today, and welcome all to a quick recap of our session.  The session was very well attended, and we had some terrific questions from the audience.

Some links and resources from the session:

As I noted in the session, I am building a list of school-heads and senior academic administrators who might be interested in being part of an NAIS network who wish to collaborate and communicate for the purpose of our schools in becoming true centers of 21st century learning, and Schools of the Future.  You are invited to share your interest by completing a line in this google doc spreadsheet: You can find it here. I will be following up in the next few weeks to those who sign up with ideas about next steps.

Day 1 is now at its end; it was a good day, with highlights including a strong 3 hour workshop this afternoon and a lovely evening spent with St. Gregory alumni at a charming pub in Dupont Circle.

All aspects of check-in were smooth; I thought it was terrific they had rooms for everyone, even before noon, checking in for tonight.  Very welcoming.  NAIS registration was easy and smooth, except for one ticket glitch for my wife.  Everything about the venue is warm, welcoming, clean, yet, perhaps, a little bit too clean.

It seems a bit funny to me that at a conference so emphatically and proudly dedicated to Public Purpose, we are so gated off and away from the public commons, from the city.  What a contrast to three years ago in NYC, two years ago in Chicago, one year ago in San Francisco, all of which were conferences situated smack in the city proper.

This Gaylord center, and I don’t mean to attack it, is a gated community, complete with a fenced in, all-too-clean,  village of shops safely secured within it.   It is a country club, an ivory tower:  it is in what it signifies by its setting and its interior exactly what private schools are negatively perceived to be, and it is exactly the image of private schools that this very conference strives to counteract and surmount.

Josie Holford writes with a similar skepticism in her post,

My first impression of National Harbor, Maryland is that it is an updated set for The Prisoner – that ground breaking TV series from the 1960’s…a tightly controlled and surreal holiday village where people ride penny farthing bicycles and no-one can be trusted. The perfect match of paradise and paranoia.

Nevertheless, I am happy to be here and it is a pleasant location. My session this afternoon was a three hour workshop, Schools of the Future, the Conversation Continues.   The session was ably overseen by Paul Miller, and was kicked off with presentations by the author and co-author of the new Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, Robert Witt and Jean Orvis.

Witt presented his case for the need for schools to reinvent themselves; he said bluntly, the verdict about most schools today is that we are doing a dismal job. (more…)

This is a five minute presentation I am making today as part of an NAIS 3 hour workshop, Becoming A School of the Future: The conversation continues.  The slides themselves are almost entirely image driven; my talking points for each slide are below.

Notes on slides:

Slide 2. What does reverse instruction reverse?  It reverses what is still the most conventional mode of teaching (but that it is conventional does not mean it is universal): in this mode, teachers lecture, using class-time for presenting and delivering content knowledge.

(NB: I love this particular photo of a lecturing teacher, but the teacher in question actually lectures rarely and is one of my school’s best practicioners of reverse instruction).

Slide 3. In the conventional mode, then, students having received “content delivery” in class during the school-day, work at home on their homework, applying what they have learned (or not) to the problems testing their acquired knowledge.   As they do, they are isolated in their work, potentially stymied by it, and do not have the teacher available to support or coach.

Slide 4. We have however fast-changing developments in the availability online of content delivery vehicles.   (more…)

PBL being a favorite topic here, I am always excited to learn new opportunities and applications for project based learning in our classroom.  NAIS,  in its own hard thinking about the future of education,  has identified high level, academically rigorous PBL as a centerpiece of the educational program of Schools of the Future.

Project-based learning, as an integral part of the school’s program, [should be] woven throughout all grade levels and disciplines.

My emphasis has been primarily on PBL with Web 2.0 technologies, as best demonstrated in the work of New Tech Network schools, which I have visited several times, and in the writings of Suzie Boss, which I have written about often.

But often it is great to set aside the computer (says the blogger who really ought to be packing right now for NAIS), and facilitate our students in making stuff from scratch with their own hands, knowing that this requires a thoughtful and thorough process of planning, preparation, design, collaboration, analysis, and action, and results.

I’m inspired by a both a short session I enjoyed recently at Educon by Laura Deisly (below) and a recent EdWeek article, Encouraging the Hand-Mind Connection in the Classroom.

One of the defining characteristics of our species: Our ability to construct the things we need to understand and function in our lives. How did we manage to get so far off course, to take something that is so quintessentially human and make it so alien? (more…)

NAIS is a three days away, and the anticipation is building.   Jason Ramsden wrote last week a nice post about his enthusiasm for the conference, and  I value his recognition of NAIS’s journey in the past few years toward a fuller embrace of 21st century learning and the initiatives the association is taking to facilitate its member schools in becoming Schools of the Future.

Peter Gow wrote in a parallel way about the NAIS evolution and advance brilliantly three years ago, in an EdWeek commentary entitled The New Progressivism is Here.

My Hopes:

1. That the WiFi works, and works well.  It was awful in San Francisco, and erratic in Chicago; it makes such a big difference to have fast-flying WiFi.

2. That the electrical outlets are in high supply (and that I remember to bring a power strip so as to better share outlets if they are not.)

3. That I keep it all in balance. Yes, it is my fault, but I stuff way too much into these 55-odd hours: Learning in sessions, blogging, tweeting, visiting with old friends, excitedly meeting and making new friends, enjoying time with my wife who attends with me, and this year presenting also in four separate sessions.  Too much. (more…)

It’s awkward to write about leadership as a leader.  I write this to share not my accomplishments but my strategy of the last 20 months leading my school, the success of which remains to be seen and is for others to evaluate.

Soon I will be presenting, along with two Head of School colleagues and Ken Kay, founder and longtime President of the Partnership for 21st century skills and now of EdLeader21, on the topic of  21st Century Learning at NAIS Schools: Leading and Networking for Progress.

As part of this session, each of us will speak of our vision of leadership for progress; in preparation, this preview.

Leadership is,  more than anything else, a project of managing change.   We are living in a time of accelerating societal, technological, and global change, but our schools, many of them, are struggling to adapt to these changing times in order to provide our students an education that will be compelling, meaningful, enriching and preparatory.  Leadership is required across the educational sector to lead our schools through this transformative era.

A suggested Seven Steps for Leading in 21st century learning.

1.  Develop the Vision (and Keep Developing it).   We can’t lead if we don’t have a sense of the direction we are headed; we can’t influence change if we don’t have clarity about what that change should be.  These visions should be grounded in research and knowledge about educational practices and the unique qualities of independent institutions. Our vision must be wise, bold, and inspiring to ourselves and others: it ought to give us and our constituents purpose and passion for the challenge of educating students in the 21st century.

In this fast-changing era, our visions must be dynamic, adapting themselves to new tools and techniques, new information and understandings. Leaders must be learners: (more…)

[As always, this post is available to all and all are always welcome, but this one is, like many of my posts will be in the next ten days, especially  intended for those attending the Annual Conference of the National Association of Independent Schools]

If you are new to Twitter, or contemplating taking the plunge, a conference like NAIS  is a great place to start (in every way but one).

To start, just go to Twitter.com and spend 3-5 minutes (at most) creating a profile.

The NAIS conference, or any big conference, is a great place to start Twitter because you immediately have a conversation to follow and a stimulating forum to join.  To enter the NAIS Annual Conference “feed,” simply type into the search box on top this: #naisac11, and hit return.   (this is called a “hashtag”, using a pound sign in front of a term in Twitter; another great hashtag for independent school educators is #isedchat).

That’s all; that’s all you need to do to experience powerfully and valuably Twitter for the three day NAIS conference.  By doing this, following the #naisac11 feed, you will be monitoring an ongoing flow of thoughts about the conference:  suggestions for good sessions, great takeaways from speakers, amazing quotes, links to websites related to the presentations,  and much more.    Often, for instance, when a speaker makes a reference to a great resource– a useful website, or a valuable book or article–  others in the session on Twitter will quickly shoot out the link, which is very helpful.  Click on the link to open it in a new tab, and then bookmark it for the future.

You don’t need to make any tweets yourself: many people begin as just observers, and many remain that way for a long time (or always).  That is fine.  (more…)

Delighted to be presenting tonight online for the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools Principal Training Institute.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can school-leaders use a focus upon assessment to influence improved, 21st century, learning?
  • What particular types of internal and authentic assessments, classroom-based and school-wide,  can best support learning in the 21st century?
  • What is the role of data collection, using external measurement tools, in instructional leadership?
  • What external measurement tools are particularly well suited to supporting 21st century learning?

Many links are embedded within the slides above, but for ease of reference, below are some particularly highlighted links.  (more…)

An academically demanding curriculum is an essential element of excellent schooling in every era, equally for the 19th and the 22nd centuries.

The new Schools of the Future guide from NAIS  lists as the first of its 8 “unifying themes” that schools be academically demanding.   They then offer in the elaboration six paragraphs, including some very valuable elements to define what they mean by academically demanding.

The difference is that they must go beyond the traditional passive capstone of a written examination to active application of knowledge in a new situation.

The model schools emphasize depth over breadth, adopting in spirit the motto of the Singapore Schools, “Teach Less. Learn More.” Like those who annually “purge” their closets of outdated, rarely worn garments,these schools systematically scour the curriculum to eliminate non-essential and redundant content. Although all of theschools have students who perform well on AP exams, most choose not to teach AP classes, or like Brimmer and May, selectivelyoffer only those AP classes that are what Anne Reenstierna calls “more than a mile wide and an inch deep.”

It  is terrific to read in  an official NAIS publication that the core principles for advancing academically demanding learning in our schools include active application of knowledge,  depth over breadth and less is more:  educational leaders now across our association have the national association’s official publication behind them as they move in these vital directions.

At St. Gregory,we are working to realign our curriculum in exactly these ways:

  • sustaining our commitment to block scheduling for depth over breadth in each course period;
  • thoroughly deploying PBL with tech.  for the vigorously active application of knowledge,
  • changing away from a pattern of year-long survey courses in upper grade levels toward topical, inquiry semester seminars which intentionally privilege a Singapore style less is more learning philosophy.

However, as I said in my previous post, it still disappoints me that they didn’t, (more…)

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