In “conversation” yesterday at educon about the CWRA and the data it generates, Pam Moran and I spoke about how important it is we all develop our skills in interpreting data– and even more than that, and I have to say, this has previously been a bridge just beyond my full focus– using data to conduct our own research as teachers and administrators.

Pam emphasized this is a critical project: we need to support teachers, offering education, resources, and time, to undertake their own action research projects and generate their own findings.

I began, belatedly, this conversation as a Head of School last year, and it is a big project, to be sure, to help busy, often over-loaded, teachers to get to this place.

And so it is with great respect and admiration I share with readers here this very interesting report, generated by teachers and administrators, on their research and findings.    The folks at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School (MD), particularly Glenn Whitman, were kind enough to send me their recent publication, Think Deeply and Differently:  The Transformational Classroom:How Research in Educational Neuroscience Enhances Teaching and Learning at St. Andrew’s.

Too often, I fear, and certainly I’ve been very much guilty of this, professional learning in schools lacks focus, coherence, continuity and a sense of accomplishment and completion, and part of the reason it lacks focus is because it doesn’t have a finish line and any type of finished product around which its efforts can be centered.

But, it would see here in this example from St. Andrew’s, they’ve tackled exactly this problem by organizing themselves, their professional learning, and their action research toward the end of a publication that speaks from and to their organizational mission and their pedagogical initiatives and next steps.   That is great.

To quote the preface,

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and its Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning is a sterling example of how educators are informing the teaching and learning process through research-based practices.

These practices encompass every aspect of the educational experience including how we approach the learning environment, how we plan instruction to promote mastery of skills and concepts, how we assure that students are engaged in higher-order thinking and creative problem-solving, and how we use the arts and technol-ogy to maximize each child’s learning potential.

St. Andrew’s is on the forefront of not only practicing but also advancing this knowledge by engaging in research and discovery that has the potential to inform their own teaching practice as well as the entire field of education. 

Be sure to read page 7 also, as the director of this program, Glen Whitman, explains the mission of  his Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and the energetic efforts at his school ( which produced this report.

The authors of the snapshots are St. Andrew’s teachers or coaches and in each case, they are leaders and constant learners in their individual area of focus. The snapshots also show how deeply St. Andrew’s faculty thinks about curriculum and programming to prepare students for every step of their academic journey.  Connecting the science of learning to the classroom has informed and transformed teaching at St. Andrew’s.   The growth-mindset of a St. Andrew’s teacher is second to none.

Regular readers here know too how deeply I am committed to sharing and making our schools’ educational initiatives, reflections, and findings public and widely available for others to use/borrow/tweak/test.   So I offer kudos to the St. Andrew’s team for sharing.

As to the content rather than the form, three sections stand out to my eyes, and let me share some of their key points.

On pages 34-35, Whitman writes about Rigor and Assessment in the 21st century classroom.

If you really want to see how innovative a school is, inquire about its thinking and practices regarding assessments.

Whitman tells that review of the school’s curriculum map reveals more than 100 different assessment strategies, and then goes on to challenge some sacred, or if not sacred, then nonetheless often praised cows in learning and assessment, and he is right on the mark: MI, Learning styles, right vs. left brain thinking do seem to me also to be largely what Whitman calls “nueromyths: an imaginary or unverifiable claim about the brain.”

Like my own advocacy, Whitman avoids any either/dualism about assessment.  I worry sometimes I am the oddball in the conversation around progressive and project-based learning who still likes a good test now and then, but Whitman seems to be in my oddball camp.   He says he uses old fashioned multiple choice testing and research papers, but also knows how essential it is for students to be assessed with projects.

Projects enhance student engagement.We also know that when students can own their learning choices, and make an emotional connection to the material, then learning is enhanced. Moreover, when students are challenged to demonstrate their learning in a more authentic, purposeful way, such as performance-based exams in languages or the nationally  recognized American Century Oral History Project, they become more engaged and actually learn more.

A great list is provided about how teachers are changing their practice:
  • Teachers use more formative assessment.
  • Teachers make returning assessments at a faster rate a priority
  • Teachers provide students a range of assessments.
  • Teachers provide student test correction opportunities. (thank goodness)
  • and more– it’s a good list worth checking out.

On pages 32-34, Karen Kaufman writes on “Why Effort Matters Most,” and it is a great piece.  She opens with a quote that “the new effort grade rubric shows me how to be a student,” and I am so pleased to learn about their initiatives in this direction.

Dweck inspired, (as nearly all of us who have read and heard Dweck are), she tells of developing the growth mindset though their program.

Focusing on effort allows students to own their learning.  It allows students to be resilient and forward looking, even in the face of setbacks.

And hence the Effort Grade Rubric was born.  Clearly it is just getting started, but I’m eager to see its progress.   It reminds me, of course, with our work at St. Gregory to develop a student report card extension called the Egg.

This meta-cognitive tool is based on eight learning standards that focus on making each student an active learner: Participation, Note-Taking, Materials Management, Self-advocacy, Day-to-day learning,Collaborative work, Promptness and readiness to work, and Absences.

It provides students, in collaboration with their teachers, opportunity and direction to set specific, attainable learning goals.  This tool also encourages regular, open dialogue between teachers and students about a student’s progress and growth as a learner. Teachers use this rubric at interim and trimester grading periods throughout the year, with the students to help them reflect on and develop learning strategies.

As we did at St. Gregory, rather than making this new report card a high stakes high pressure piece, it is a tool for student self-reflection and goal setting.

Each standard is helpfully fleshed out: find that here.

The third section I’d recommend for busy readers is “The iSchool– Smart Technology for Every Student” by Anne MacDonell.  She and I share an enthusiasm for how technology is used to support a more student-centered environment where, and I love this phrase, “teachers are allowing students an equal footing to share their expertise with technology tools and skills in a learning partnership.”

She continues:  “Technology is fueling this transformation where teachers are allowing students the responsibility to be co-creators of their own learning.”

Like McDonell, I am fascinated with the work of Cathy Davidson and find it eye-opening and thought-provoking.    But, for me, Davidson’s arguments and claims that we not be concerned about the downsides of multi-tasking are far from firmly established; I can’t find myself agreeing altogether with the flat assertion of McDonell’s second sentence below.

Davidson maintains that the many items clamoring for our attention represent opportunities for the brain to form new and more efficient patterns, which do not accumulate on top of previously learned routines but replace them.  This new theory has replaced the previously accepted educational theory that knowledge accumulates in a linear fashion.

I’ve written about Davidson and these issues here.
I do love the way in which McDonell recognizes the opportunity embracing new technologies creates for teachers to rediscover the learners within, to be on a learning journey parallel to that of our students.
In recent years, as a result of training, we have moved well out of our comfort zone as the ‘sage on the stage’ to assume new roles facilitating discovery,creation, critical and independent thinking.

Teaching at St. Andrew’s is a process of continuous renewal in a community of lifelong learners. With the arrival of our one-to-one laptop program in 2012,our teachers are collaborating tore-examine, expand and update their approach in the classroom. They are blending new digital tools into a curriculum that supports the latest in what we know about how the brain learns best.

Great stuff.   My hat’s off to Glenn Whitman and his St. Andrew’s team.  Contact Glenn at

Read Grant Lichtman’s visit to St. Andrew’s here, and his take on the report here.