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. In this he cited Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap, a book he deemed the single most significant articulation of today’s failing schools and what needs to be done to confront the failings.

Witt declaimed too against any narrow definition of what our schools are to do for our students’ future: it is not just college prep, and it is not just career prep: it is to prepare them for a life confronting and resolving our great challenges; it is to instill in them a mission of social and enviornmental justice.  Our kids have great responsibilities, and we need to prepare them with these new Essential capacities to do something.

Jean Orvis, the former head of Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, spoke very compellingly about the value of PBL for learning 21st century skills and the essential capacities.   “There is considerable momentum and consensus; we have to do something different, we have to change what we are doing.”  She showed some very impressive work from her students; I was taken with the books written and published by her sixth graders, including titles like Seattle goes to war and Seattle Works on the Water.  Full length, research, edited, books: this is PBL with high standards outcomes!

Several others did their five minute presentations too:

  • Katherine Dinh, who heads Prospect Sierra School,  told of its Carrotmob student driven initiative, and it was fascinating– I am very intrigued;
  • Paul Chapman spoke of his new, post-Head Royce School headship career “mapping” environmental education initiatives at schools nationally, based on his website at Inverness Associates, which is and seems like it will increasingly become a very valuable site for this work; Paul also strongly recommended the work of the Center for EcoLiteracy ;
  • There was a fascinating presentation about project based learning at the NuVu MIT Program and Beaver Country Day.
  • Clayton Lewis, Head of Washington International School, offered a terrific bit showcasing the excellence of the Student News Action Network, which is so great: students contributing genuine journalism from all over the world.
  • I was pleased to be able to share my enthusiasm for Reverse Instruction and Flipping Classrooms.

The session shifted then to a series of in-the-round conversations in which all participants offered comments and contributions about the their school’s initiatives.   Some of the following particularly struck me:

One school in Southern California has much more demand than its campus can accommodate, and has economic challenges too: they are moving to a blended model of learning where students will be in school one week, taking regular classes; then out of school the next, doing internships and online learning; groups alternate, and, all of a sudden, the school can enroll twice the number of students.

Lou Salza spoke very compellingly: Our schools are ridden with artifacts and vestigial organs of the 19th century, things that made plenty of sense then, which don’t anymore: he named four, High Stakes Testing, Grading, Useless memorization, and excessive homework.   We need to clear away these outmoded structures with a bulldozer, he said.  But at the same time, “While we go hurtling toward the future, we have to identify and grab what is best about the past, about how we have been doing things, and bring them with us.

Another participant described a kind of “pay it forward” activity, in which teachers first identify a middle school student exhibiting outstanding leadership initiative, and commends that student in a public meeting with a special card, and then, subsequently, that student is asked and expected to pay it forward, identifying from among his or her peers a students similarly exhibiting these qualities, and at a public meeting commends that student and passes the card along.   Interesting.

Another contributor discussed the new buildings under construction on their campus, and how much they are realizing they don’t walls and they don’t need any static, defined, rigid elements; they are becoming much more conscious of space and its need to be modular and responsive to changing learning needs.

In a discussion about professional development, someone said that professional development for teachers doesn’t usually resemble the learning environments we are trying to advance and advocate for in our schools, and we ought to try harder to model via professional development the learning environments we seek for our students.

There were some interesting conversations about intern programs; one school said they try very hard to shape internships around passion and urge students to seek internships reflecting their passions; another said they had a model of 12th grader initiating 9th graders into the internship setting they had developed familiarity with since their own ninth grade– a passing of a torch, a seemless continuity, and a mentoring project.  Might be hard to pull off, but a great concept.

I had a great and extended conversation with someone I have been thinking about making a phone call to for the past year or so, (and there he was this afternoon sitting right next to me), Dr. Loren Fauchier, of Providence Day School and its Global Studies Diploma Program.   I have been working to borrow from this diploma concept and apply it to a parallel in  form “innovation diploma,” and our project has hit some rough sledding along the way.  He gave a lot of good insight into some of the difficult logistics of the program, and offered some helpful advice.

Looking forward to another great day tomorrow at NAIS!