This book has been withdrawn from publication due to issues of integrity, and is no longer available.  I was sorry to hear about the book’s problems, and certainly condemn the errors.   Nevertheless, I think the particular points shared below are still relevant, and I leave them here on the blog. 

I’ve already twice posted appreciations for Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine, but I want to add a short third post here appreciating his thoughts about the book’s lessons for educators.   In the last chapter, he profiles the excellence of NOCCA: the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

What’s interesting is what does not happen [at the school.]  The students don’t sit in chair and listen to a long lecture.  Many rooms don’t even have chairs.  They don’t retrieve textbooks or being a series of exercises designed to raise their test scores on standardized tests…  Instead, students spend their time creating: they walk over to their instruments and sketchbooks and costumes and get to work.

Lehrer quotes the school’s CEO, Kyle Wedberg, with an emphasis which resonates loudly with the thinking on this blog: we need to advance learning by returning to learning by doing, by creating learning environments where the greater emphasis on students doing the work of the subject under study, and using the best tools available to do so.  Wedberg:

We’re 120 years behind the times in all the right ways.  At some point, vocational education became a dirty word. It became unfashionable to teach kids by having them do stuff, by having them make stuff.  Instead, school became all about giving kids facts and tests.  Now, I’ve got nothing against facts and tests, but memorization is not the only kind of thinking we should be encouraging.    When we obsess over tests, when we teach the way we’re teaching now, we send the wrong message to students.   We’re basically telling them creativity is a bad idea. (more…)

(At the risk of seeming overly flattering and favoring a friend, for which I offer full disclosure and my apologies, I share the following post about an outstanding educational leader.)

Last week in Virginia, speaking to the Commonwealth’s fine independent school heads, I suggested they had a great model of educational leadership in their home state,   Albemarle County Superintendent Pam Moran.   I was asked, entirely reasonably, why I described her this way, and, caught off guard, I stuttered a bit in my answer, and disappointed myself in not providing a fuller explanation.

Curiously, that very same day, only a few hours later, I turned to chapter 7 of the book I was reading on my airplane home, a chapter devoted to the leadership qualities of the none other than Pam Moran.  In his book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works, author and former school principal Bill Sterrett writes “Moran and other tech savvy leaders believe it vital to help our students and staffs use technology effectively– not for technology’s sake but for learning’s sake.”

Drawing upon that book and other sources, including a recent issue of the New Yorker, I now aim to better answer the question: what makes Pam Moran such a fine educational leader?  She offers, I think, excellent exemplification of what in my presentation last week I explained are the 8 Steps of Leading Learning Forward.

  1. Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners
  2. Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship
  3. Collaboratively determining our intended learning outcomes
  4. Measuring what matters most, using technology.
  5. Strengthening our faculty professional learning cultures
  6. Promoting Aligned Teaching & Learning
  7. Putting in place the necessary tools
  8. Documenting & Sharing.

Step One: Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners

Sterrett’s chapter on Moran opens with an epigraph from her, which by its placement and its emphasis conveys that she too believes that leading learning begins always with a focus upon our own learning.

I’m convinced that we administrative leaders have an obligation to initiate new learning [and] become skillful in the use of tools that accelerate and advance our learning work.

Sterrett goes on to write that

She believes the onus is on the educational leader…to be aware of new technologies.  “I know that if I can’t stay current than I will not be able to get my colleagues to do the same.”

Social media is also, for Moran, a vehicle for reflection and intellectual growth.

Moran finds that contributing to blogs is a good way to reflect on her practice.  By articulating her thoughts in posts that draw on her experiences and refer to her vision, she is able to model the importance of reflection and meaningful conversation for the greater professional community…. “The ‘hurried child’ has become the ‘hurried adult’– I fear– to the detriment of deep learning.

Step Two Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship.   Leadership always contains as a key element strong communication with all constituencies, and sharing a vision of the future toward which one is leading.   Pam does so in many ways, including using powerful social media tools such as youtube, blogging and twitter.

One example can be seen in this compelling, snazzy, and effective video, articulating her district’s “continuing  journey toward quality learning:”


Regular readers here know of my fondness for Steven Johnson, and my enthusiasm particularly for his 2010 book (the book of the year, I think), Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation.

Now comes his next book,  the Innovator’s Cookbook.   I am eager to read the book and will certainly share more here soon, but the video above is a taste and a teaser.    It asks us as educators who seek to cultivate innovative mindsets among our students to think about what we are doing to help them “get a little lost,” “get out of their normal environments,” and have “show and tell sessions,” when they share with each other eclectic arrays of what they are learning about in the wider world.

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…)

Welcome to Middle School Curriculum Night—it is great to have you here, and I hope you enjoy a wonderful evening visiting classrooms .

As you change classes every ten minutes, and remember you need to follow the schedule, you might find yourself feeling two different emotions at once:  this is hard, keeping track of the schedule and staying on track and gathering all this information and processing all these new ideas and, at the very same time, you might feel, this is exhilarating and self-affirming; I am figuring out how to make this schedule work and how to manage this complexity.

For most of you, and for most of our students, this is an experience of stress that is more positive than negative.   We worry about stress, of course we do, for our kids, and we should.  We worry sometimes that they are overwhelmed, or too anxious or burdened, or that they are suffering deep disappointments.

We want to ensure students feel safe, and we know that when they feel deeply at risk of pain or humiliation, their reptile brains kick in and,  often, their learning opportunity narrows accordingly: they simply can’t and don’t learn as much.  That is why we want to work so hard through advisory and our kindness campaigns and our mission days, and many additional ways to ensure students feel safe.

But stress is not evil.  There is a form of stress called “eustress”, that is described as

the type of ‘positive’ stress that keeps us vital and excited about life.

The excitement of a roller-coaster ride, a scary movie, or a fun challenge are all examples of eustress.

Eustress is actually important for us to have in our lives.   Without it, we would become depressed and perhaps feel a lack of meaning in life.  Not striving for goals, not overcoming challenges, not having a reason to wake up in the morning would be damaging to us, so eustress is considered ‘good’ stress.  It keeps us healthy and happy.

But there’s more.  Eustress is positive, but we need to also remember that even distress has its value—in the right amount.  One of the best books on parenting in the past decade, is actually a pair of books by a Los Angeles psychologist named Wendy Mogel—have any of you read her books?-: The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, which is about raising younger children, and for raising teenagers, the Blessings of a B-(more…)

At this morning’s Family Association meeting, which was our annual “sign up to volunteer” event, I had the opportunity to make a short presentation, and I chose to read the following passage from this fine 2009 book by Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist.   At the meeting I was asked by several parents if I could make the quote and book information more available.  (Click on the image to see more about the book).

My children attended a public elementary school that brought both parents and children into a kind of moral community.   Interactions with teachers, school events, posters on walls, and communications from our principal worked to connect parents both to one another and to the school.

The communications expressed a set of moral commitments– that both parents and children are members of a community and have responsibility for all members of that community; that every student has intellectual and personal contributions to make to the learning of the whole community and that the school has responsibilities to recognize and support those contributions; that school is preparation not only for a career but for many facets of citizenship; that diversity is a high value and that diverse opinions will be engaged and tested; that students should be taught to identify and address social inequalities and injustice.

Often homework was connected to issues of equity and fairness, and sometimes children were asked to engage parents in this homework.

Teachers felt responsibility for all children in the building– not just children in their classroom.

Because there are trusting, caring relationships between teachers and students at this school, children are also more likely to value what teachers value, including classic virtues such as honesty and courage.  At the same time, as the principal observes “Many parents challenge the larger community to believe in and value each of our students and families.  This initiative by families reinforces and sometimes leads the school to live up to its values.”

If there is interest, we may try to start and facilitate a book discussion group in the Family Association about this book.   St. Gregory parents should let me know if they are interested, either by conversation “on the curb,” email, or by leaving a comment below.

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

Jen ratio: the total positive interactions among people in a shared environment divided by the negative interactions; a measurement of the social well being of any shared environment.  (Dacher Keltner, What’s your Jen ratio?).

Promoting positive and supportive school cultures and environments is among the very highest of our priorities as principals and school leaders.  We all believe strongly that a happy and safe school is a prerequisite for learning, and we recognize that this is characterized by positive social interactions that lift our moods and enhance our joy and motivation for learning.

Jane McGonigal‘s excellent and inspiring new book, Reality is Broken,  delves into the intersection of positive psychology (the happiness movement) and gaming, and offers many ways we can consider bring gaming into reality and improve it.

In one of the book’s many sections I know will be fascinating and compelling for educators and “connected principals,” a chapter entitled  Happiness Hacking,”  she writes about “transitory public sociality,” and for this reader it spoke directly to our goal for our schools to be positive places of support, encouragement, and good will.

We experience it in all kinds of public places: sidewalks, parks, trains, restaurants, for example.  These transitory social interactions, when they happen, are usually brief and anonymous: we catch another’s eyes, we smile, we make room for someone else, we pick up something someone has dropped, we go on our own way.  But these brief encounters, taken cumulatively, have an aggregate impact on our mood over time. (more…)

An annual tradition in our household, like in many of yours I am sure, is summer reading.  So enticing is summer reading that some years it seems I spend more minutes planning what books I will read than I spend actually reading them.

I love reading summer reading suggestion lists; two I have encountered and admired in recent days are NAIS President Pat Bassett’s and Cool-Cat Teacher Vicki Davis’.    Check them out.

Here is a stab at offering my suggestions, the favorites of what I have read in the past twelve months. I hope you find it helpful to planning your summer reading.


Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson.  This is the best, hands down, among the books I have read in the past year, in helping me think more clearly about what environmental/cultural features support the emergence of good ideas and informing us on how we can better advance this.  It is is also a classic “general nonfiction” read, completely accessible and a genuine pleasure to read.


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.  Innovation again, but from entirely the opposite perspective of Steve Johnson, from the ground up this time.   A great story and a great inspiration.

Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education by David Perkins. I write often about Project based learning, but this book pulls back the focus and articulates a holistic philosophy of schooling where pbl units are not isolated but embedded into an entire classroom and school-house culture where everything connects and all our learning is related and relevant to students and teachers.   Using an extended metaphor of baseball, Perkins writes brilliantly about both concepts and practices that will engage, enrich and inspire our students.


A New Culture of Learning by John Seely Brown and Doug Brown.  I have written already about this book; it is a lovely and lively exploration of the ways we all, child and adult, are learning and can learn in rich and meaningful ways never before available.    Succinct and chock-full of anecdotes and examples, this is the rare non-fiction treasure that can be genuinely enjoyed on the beach, airplane, cafe and library equally.

The World is Open by Curtis Bonk.  I didn’t love this book at all– there are many aspects of the narrative and the writing style that just plain irked me, and I didn’t even finish it altogether: so how can I recommend it?   Because it is a valiant effort to contain within its covers a vast breadth of information and ideas about the way the world of learning is changing, and it does so with an admirable ideological agenda: open information and open source will serve us all, and serve our learning and our individuation phenomenally in the coming years if we let it.

presentation zen by Garr Reynolds is less current than others on this list, but I only discovered zen this past year, and I am eagerly trying to internalize its lessons about how better to communicate orally and with images.  Such a lovely design, this book and its sequel display, that you want to just hold them and turn the pages slowly to absorb the beauty with the hope that some of the aesthetic will then rub off onto you and into your bloodstream, vision, and worldview.

 Communicating and Connecting with Social Media by Jason Ramsden, Bill Ferriter and Eric Sheninger.   Perhaps it is unfair to recommend this book, because it is written by three now-friends, face to face friends, but in fairness, all three only became my friends via social media, the subject of the book, and so my friendship with them is testimony itself to the importance of the book’s subject and the power of social media.   There are many of us who lead schools who wish to advance further in our effective use of SM, both internally and externally, to strengthen our schools’ community, communications, and regional recognition, and this is a great guide.

Brain Rules by John Medina.   Better than most others, this book combines strong and deep brain research and knowledge with a very high accessibility for the general reader, and offers great suggestions and insights that you can really apply in your daily life, and in your classroom.  For more on applications of the book, see this post: Medina’s Brain Rules: Informing Teachers as Researchers.


Blessings of a B-Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers by Wendy Mogel.  Like her previous, and also terrific book, the Blessings of a Skinned Knee, this book is very valuable in reassuring and advising us as parents and educators that we need have both high expectations and high forgiveness for our kids as they journey through childhood and adolescence.  We want them to learn and grow, and so we have to want them to make mistakes, as incredibly frustrating as that may be for us.   We want them to have experiences and to immerse themselves in their world, and we need to strive to let them do so even as we appropriately protect them– no easy balancing act.   One quibble: I think student experiences of international community service, such as in Kenya, can be and usually are incredible growth experiences, and are not to be dismissed in the way she chooses to do.

Poke the Box by Seth Godin.  I read everything Godin writes– and this is again succinct, informed, and insightful into our fast-changing world and the way it is demanding differently from us today than in the past if we seek to be successful.   It also inspires us to act, to move, to do something, and to poke the darn box already.

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky.  Shirky is a rock star: upbeat, energetic, optimistic, and evangelistic.   Think  Bono, without sunglasses and with an iphone.   Since reading this book last August, I have found myself often, perhaps too often, retelling the anecdote from the book’s conclusion, about the four year old girl who gets up from her grandparents couch to examine the large-screen TV.  Grandma, observing her scanning the back of the TV, begins to try to explain to the child that no, the characters she has been watching are not real people back behind a window, but the prekindergarten hero of the story cuts her off– No, no grandma, that is not what I am thinking, I am looking for the mouse.   None of us, and kids especially, are content any longer just watching: we demand interactivity with our media.


Literary, or Semi-Literary Fiction

Solar by Ian McEwan.  I will always be devoted to McEwan: he is undeniably Nobel-worthy and enormously readable.  I enjoyed Solar, laughed, saw compelling insights into our world and satire of our times, and yet, this is not among his finest.   Solar is a bit of an artifice, a bit too much of a parable, and never brings us as deeply into the souls of the characters as Saturday and Atonement did.  That said, it is still an important and interesting work about our ambitions, our hubris, and our limitations.

The Heights by Peter Hedges.  This is a very engaging slice of contemporary life novel set in Brooklyn, and featuring as the central character a history teacher at a prominent independent-private school, a connection to my own world and experience I especially enjoyed.  The novel is very much an insiders view of marriage, with a Tom Perotta-like sensibility, one that any married person will enjoy having the perspective of for comparison.   It is funny, sad, and ultimately reconciling in its view of relationships and love.

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross.  This is a postmodern, mobius strip style novel that will keep you scratching your head as you manage the twisty narrative and keep you laughing out loud, sympathizing intensely,  and perhaps crying in angst as you experience the emotional roller coaster its characters ride.


[excerpted from a longer post, 8 Suggestions for Graduation Remarks by Principals, published at Connected Principals]

School-leaders and educators preparing remarks for upcoming graduations do well, I think, to draw inspiration from and take quotations from recently published and current books which speak to the way the world is changing and how we all can better be effective in these fast-changing times.   This is not to say that we shouldn’t also draw from ancient “wisdom” writings: I do often, especially from the Greeks.

Below is a list of ten titles published in the last 12 months that are well suited, I think, for inspiration and quotation in class of 2011 graduation talks.

1. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas.  This title is short, wonderfully readable, and entirely inspiring: there is a world of learning available to us who choose to pursue it.

  • Learning in an Age of Constant Change simply never stops.  In the new culture of learning, the bad news it that we rarely reach any final answers.  But the good news is that we get to play again, and we may find even more satisfaction in continuing the search.”

2. Poke the Box by Seth Godin.  This is his most recent, (I think; he is so prolific that maybe I missed one), but you would do fine if you chose one of his other recent works, such as Linchpin or Tribes.  I spoke last year at our school graduation about Tribes, and it was very successful.    Godin is enormously quotable, and wonderfully provocative.

  • Please stop waiting for a map.  We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.”

 3.  Do the Work by Steven Pressfield.  See Patrick Larkin’s recent post about this book.

  • A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers…A crash means we are on the threshold of something new.”

4.  DIYU: Edupunks, edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamentz.  The title speaks for itself. (more…)

At a conference recently, I was approached and asked for advice about resources for using skype in the classroom to connect with schools in other countries.   I started to answer the question with a specific suggestion (the Cool Cat Teacher’s Flat Classroom) when I stopped myself and took another tack in my advice-giving.

Instead, I suggested, I encouraged him to join the online community of educators, to join the network, and to be empowered to learn continuously rather than in discrete lumps.

Teach a man to fish and feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and feed him as long as the fish supply holds out.  But create a collective, and every man will learn how to feed himself for a lifetime.

I am quoting from a brilliant new book, A New Culture of Learning, by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas.

Learning in an age of constant change simply never stops. In the new culture of learning, the bad news is that we rarely reach any final answers, but the good news is that we to play again, and we may find even more satisfaction in continuing the search. (more…)