September 2011

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

Dad, there’s your favorite word again,” my son calls out, a tad cynically, when we are driving to  school listening to NPR and a reporter uses the word  innovation.   I am aware that my son, and others, believe this word has become too much of a buzz-word and perhaps a fad,  too often so broadly defined that it becomes generic, empty in content, and devoid of true significance.


But, I refuse to be deterred.


Like Tom Friedman in the New York Times, President Obama, and many others, I think the word and the concept capture and describe something both wonderful and incredibly important in our world today– and in fact, more important than ever before in our fast-changing times.   Educational innovation, and, more importantly, educating students to be innovative, are the intertwined twin concepts I spend the most time trying to learn about more deeply, understand better, write about more often, and implement more effectively.


Looking back, I recognize now that the slogan change made in my first months (2009) at my school, St. Gregory, by the Board of Trustees and myself,  came too soon and too abruptly, without enough preparation and inclusion, and I regret the rushed process.  But, nevertheless,  I love the phrase which adorns our website, brochures,  and advertisements and which looms large on the walls of our major meeting areas: Creating Leaders and Innovators.


Creating Leaders and Innovators stood proudly tall in foot-large letters high up on our gymnasium wall in 2010 when Tony Wagner, Ph.D., visited our school and spoke beneath this banner to an audience of nearly 500 about the educational change our fast-changing world demands and how we can bring about this change.


So it should be no surprise that I am greatly enthusiastic about Dr. Wagner’s forthcoming book, (April, 2012),Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. I think every 21st century educator who seeks to strengthen our national and global future by teaching our students to be more creative and successful problem-solvers should put this book on the very top of their must-read list for 2012.


Last week, I had the good fortune to participate in a webinar organized by Edleader21, the fine “Professional Learning Community for 21st century educational leaders,” with Dr. Wagner, and I received his permission to share this “preview” of his forthcoming book’s exciting insights and lessons.  (These are my notes recapitulating his remarks, not a verbatim transcript.) (more…)

For two days at St. Gregory we are celebrating Mission days, a new way of organizing our out-of-class days.   In each of four quarters, we will take two days to focus on learning more deeply each of our mission’s four core values, character, scholarship, leadership and innovation.  For character, the first of these, we have a broad-based learning program, including a storytelling session in which we are sharing those inspirational tales oft-told in our families about ancestors or relatives who inspire us in the realm of character.

I was delighted to be invited, and delighted to share this story of my grandfather, Ambassador Edwin M. “Ed” Martin.  

Students, let me open by saying how happy I am that you are here to learn more about character by participating in storytelling and story-listening.   It has been said that the two most powerful words in the English language are “for example;”  in other words,  the two most important words in effective communication are “for example,” because there is no better way to understand something being explained– to better retain it, internalize it, apply it–  than to hear about the action in practice, particularly when that action is performed by characters we care about.   The characters we care about the most are often, of course, our own family members, which is why family stories can be so powerful.

Many of us revere our grandfathers and grandmothers; many of us think of them as our heroes.   For instance, I remember vividly being 6 years old, when my next door neighbor friend told me full of sincerity and certainty that his grandfather killed Hitler.   I believed it at first, but then over time I slowly realized he was exaggerating, but it speaks to how much he viewed his grandfather as a hero in his life.

I’m going to tell you now about the time when my grandfather saved the world—or at least saved the US & Russia from a major nuclear war— and I will understand that you may be skeptical about this  claim, as I should have been skeptical about my friend’s claim about his grandfather.  So be skeptical, and understand that perhaps in a few small ways I am exaggerating, but, nonetheless, I am serious too:  As you will see, my grandfather saved our nation, and Russia, from a devastating nuclear war. (more…)

This week marks the first annual International “No Office Day,” whereby principals and other administrators pledge (either absolutely or, as in my case, as best they can) to lock themselves out of their offices and spend the day in the classroom, observing and appreciating the learning that is happening there, (and then blogging about it).    The No Office Day Wiki is here; at present it appears about 30 of us have signed up to participate this week.   It was born last spring, when, as I understand it, David Truss first enacted it and wrote about it as his international school in China, and then three of, including Dwight Carter, Lyn Hilt, and I myself, followed suit.

Monday I spent the day mostly in our middle school, and what follows is a sort of “a day in the life” of St. Gregory through my eyes. I hope to get a high school parallel version completed soon. 

I write and speak often about the many uses and values of blogging by school administrators; one of the values I always highlight is the opportunity to celebrate and share the wonderful things happening at our schools with a wider audience, and it is in this spirit that this post is written.

My morning began visiting with the middle school faculty this morning as they spent our “late-start” time (classes begin Mondays and Fridays at 9am so that teachers have collaborative and professional learning sessions in these slots) preparing for Mission Days.  Thursday and Friday teachers and students will delve full-time into exploring the meaning and significance of “character,” and participating in activities meant to develop qualities of character.  Our faculty members were highly engaged in the planning, and had great thoughts about how to help students get the most out of the experience.  For more about the character days, visit here for an overview schedule and here for the elements used on the ropes courses.


My next stop was spent visiting our 6th grade skills class, an introduction to middle school co-taught by several of our fine faculty members; this session was led by our Librarian and Director of Information Literacy Laura Lee Calverley.   She was demonstrating ways to use Google other than straight search, including using it as a dictionary and as a calculator,  and having students follow her lead on their laptops,. (more…)

In the previous three posts, I shared the three digital citizenship workshops we presented our students in grades seven through twelve last week.  We decided it made more sense to separate our the sixth graders, many of whom are still ten, and presented them their own modified version, designed by Middle School Head Heather Faircloth, Librarian and Director of Information Literacy Laura Lee Calverley, and School Counselor Kim Peace-Steimer.

DAY 1: What is Digital Citizenship?

1)  On Board – What do we use technology for? How does it help? How does this hurt? (5 minutes)

2)  What is “Digital Citizenship?” (8 minutes): Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of behavior with regard to technology use.

* Brainstorm words that could be associated with Digital Citizenship

*  Have students help come up with a definition. Break into groups and work on for 3 minutes.

3)   REP = Reputation (more…)

In the previous post, I shared our three day program we are presenting this week to our students in Digital Citizenship.   This post shares our Managing Digital Distraction session, which I developed with the close collaboration of our Tech Director, Andrei Henriksen, and the advice of a group of students we convened.

Our goals for this session have included:

  • providing our students more information about the problems and issues of digital distraction and problematic “multi-tasking;”
  • developing in our students more self-awareness and metacognition about their own issues of digital distraction;
  • asking them to get closer to the emotional experience of disrespect digital distraction causes;
  • and providing tools and techniques for better management of digital distraction.

Our session, which is fully laid out in the slides, opened with my explanation about the challenges all of us, adults and kids, are facing in this day and age of digital tools and distractions.   I also acknowledged the issues  around multi-tasking are complex and hotly debated in many circles, but that we believe students should work hard to be more informed about the costs of multi-tasking and tools/techniques to alleviate those costs and be effective learners.

We began with a five minute session intended to help students experience the feeling of the effect of digital distraction.  Working with a partner, we asked them to take turns trying to talk to someone and get their support about an upsetting situation (“I’m so mad at my parents; they don’t understand me”) while their partner focuses attention exclusively on a digital device, texting, for instance.   (more…)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This session is one of three (see previous post) sessions delivered this week to all our students as part of our Digital Citizenship bootcamp.

This session was developed and presented by Dean of Students Fred Roberts and English Teacher (and St. Gregory graduate of the class of 2006) Corinne Bancroft;  Jeremy Sharpe, St. Gregory class of 2006, also contributed to its development.

Our session began by showing a Good Morning America video regarding death threats to Rebecca Black.  The reason for this is to show the extent to which social media can go viral, even out of control, and in such a negative way.  This also leads into a discussion of how each person who responded to the It’s Friday video create and leave a digital footprint.

What is the relationship between social media and one’s digital footprint?

On the Internet a digital footprint is used to describe the trail, traces or “footprints” that people leave online. This is information transmitted online, such as a forum registration, e-mails and attachments, uploading videos or digital images and any other form of transmission of information — all of which leaves traces of personal information about yourself available to others online.

Much of our digital footprint is left through the use of social media.  This is where many of us will spend a lot of our ‘digital time’ and may not be as aware of the ramifications of what we are engaged in.  In a more relaxed atmosphere, such as chatting via Facebook, users are more likely to say something they may regret later. The message with this is that regardless of turning in an English assignment of chatting on Facebook, users must be aware of what they are sharing.

Discussing students’ definition of social media. (more…)

This week we are staging at St. Gregory a three day Digital Citizenship bootcamp, (DCbc), for all our students.

[Interested?  Read this post and the following three posts which you can find clicking on the digital citizenship “tag” on the right.]

This project was launched at our end of the year faculty meetings last May, during which we reflected very thoroughly upon our first year of being a 1:1 laptop school.   As at so many other schools, our biggest concern was about the problem of digital distraction: students sometimes play games or check social media when they ought to be doing school work.

As the conversation proceeded, others said that they were just as concerned about the ways students were communicating on social media, and the problem of cyberbullying.   Someone pointed out that we hadn’t really taken a distinct and intentional effort to educate our students about our expectations and the issues involved in these three areas, and it was then that our digital citizenship bootcamp concept was born.

Some have confused this with a “digital skills” bootcamp– that we’d be teaching,  for instance, the use of Google apps.  Rather, this is about citizenship, not skills: it is  exclusively about how we all can be better digital citizens, using digital tools more responsibly and respectfully and in ways which strengthen our community.

Each day this week, our students are rotating through, as paired grades (7&8, 9&10, 11&12) each of our three sessions:

  1. Managing Digital Distractions,
  2. Cyberbullying and What You Can Do About it,
  3. and Social Media Responsibility and your Digital Footprint.  

Our sixth graders have had their own specially designed, developmentally appropriate sessions on these topics.

It is my intent to share, in a series of posts, each of these sessions.   Below (or after the “more” button)  is the program, including the powerpoint slides and the two videos, for our Cyberbullying presentation, (more…)

Remarks to Parents at Upper School Curriculum Night:

Good Evening and Welcome to Curriculum Night for the Upper School.

Education is a balancing act, and I think it is helpful  when thinking through our educational goals, principles, and values  to identify where the key tensions lie in that balancing act, and then consciously work to reconcile them as best as we can.

One of these critical tensions is student workload, and particularly homework:  How much is enough; how much is too much?

Last spring, we screened the popular documentary, Race to Nowhere.   That film has many messages, and they are not entirely consistent with each other.  At times, the film seems to say bluntly that there is far too much homework being assigned to students, and that this creates a huge pressure on our kids that is destructive to their social and emotional well being and unnecessary to their preparation.

At other times in the film, the message seemed rather that we should ask students to work hard, but take greater care that what we ask them to do is meaningful, rich in thoughtfulness and creativity, more relevant to real-world applications and allowing for more choice and more student-driven initiative.

For myself as an educator,  I much prefer the second message, and I think we at St. Gregory do a good job at fulfilling this second idea, that work should be meaningful, engaging, rich, inquisitive, and creative rather than exclusively rote, monotonous, and replete of memorization and regurgitation.   But that I think we do a good job doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to do a better job. (more…)