I’m recently returned from a quick trip to beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia.    Thursday I presented a five hour workshop on 21st century learning for the faculty of Tandem Friends School, and was pleased that nearly a third of the faculty volunteered to stay on for an additional 75 minutes for the material I hadn’t completed in the regular time.

Friday I spent the afternoon with Pam Moran, Superintendent of Schools in Albemarle County school district, a district of about 30 schools.   Regular readers here know that I am both friends with and a great admirer of Pam’s; last winter I wrote a piece about my belief that she exemplifies my model of Eight steps for leading in 21st century learning.

In my visit, we toured two of her district’s schools, and met many of her hard-working teachers.   Several themes emerged.

1. Open-ness and transparency.

“I think we have one of the most unfiltered internet service of any school district in the nation,” Pam told me, and this seemed to exemplify a larger spirit to open the world into her schools and  to bring her students out to the wider world, in every way possible.     When visiting a middle school, she explained to me that this was the most rural school in her district, and that that was why it was chosen as a pioneer school for a 1-1 laptop program: because these were the students who have otherwise the least access to the wider world of information.  This district is also proudly BYOD across all its high schools– students are all, always, welcome and encouraged to bring and use their own mobile devices and the educators there are striving to help students use them productively and wisely.

Pam herself is wide open, personally.   As we toured she never hesitated to go up to anyone in her path and introduce herself–sticking out her left arm for a shake and then reaching over with her right to be even warmer in a semi-embrace–  and then to ask them about their roles, their work, and to enthuse about it.    We went right into classrooms and engaged students and teachers,  gushing over what was happening.    Pam was simultaneously on her iphone, texting and tweeting as we went, determined to broadcast more widely the exciting things which were happening and to stay in touch with her network, both internal to her district and out in the wider world.

Learning spaces we observed, such as the libraries at both the middle and high school and in new cluster classroom areas of the big high school, similarly displayed this philosophy of transparency.  Regularly could be seen windows replacing walls, making spaces where everything happening became more visible to all school community members.   Lockers were being removed from the high school, Pam explained, (“most students don’t use them”) so as to create more open, central, common spaces, which soon will be furnished with comfortable furnishings and tables to create stronger spaces of civil society for the students.

I find this fascinating metaphorically, the replacement of private lockers, which take up valuable real estate so that students can store their individual stuff, by communal open spaces.  As more and more, student textbooks and notebooks are replaced by mobile technologies, which are nearly always carried on our persons, surely lockers will be ever less important for school-goers, and it is great to see the opportunities this change provides for more open space, more connection and community.

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