As Jamie Reverb and Lee Burns write in this fine and valuable piece, among the most important in NAIS Independent School magazine in recent years, it is not enough any longer to discuss what might be aspects of 21st century learning, it is time to “actually start being 21st century schools.”

There’s a tendency to continue to do school as usual — tweaking things, rather than embracing serious and necessary innovation.

The authors organize their article, and their work at Lee’s school, Presbyterian Day School (PDS), around Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation.

Ideas Come from Everywhere.

At PDS, they are cracking open the walls of their campus to engage with and study cool developments happening all over the world.   For me, the most important suggestion here is what they are doing with faculty meetings:

At PDS, we have restructured faculty meetings and retreats so that the focus is far less on logistics and far more on provocative questions that engage all of us in discussions.

We are working to reinvent faculty meetings too, at St. Gregory, in these same ways– both in full sessions, and in our incredibly valuable Critical Friends Groups, where there are many “provocative questions” being pursued.

Share everything you can

The argument here is for transparency in schools, and that we find every way we can to put ideas and actions out into the ether to be seen and considered.

Schools are siloed geographically with their egg-carton designs and siloed psychologically with their role-specific emphasis.

Knock down the opaque walls, I frequently call for, literally and metaphorically.   I adore our series of classrooms with glass walls along the walkways because of the signal that they send that learning is visible at St. Gregory.   (more…)

This video displays the kind of real ed. reform we so desperately need: use digital tools in learning to make it more practical, more preparatory for the workplace, more conceptual, more challenging, and more authentically rooted in the real world.

Here at 21k12, my passion is for recognizing how dramatically the world has changed and the way digital technology changes everything, and for how learning should change with it: to become more challenging, more authentically connected to the real world, more relevant,  and more digitally empowered and empowering for students.

In a very recent post, I wrote about open-computer testing, an idea exactly aligned with what Conrad Wolfram is calling for: give students difficult problems which require creative, critical, and analytic thinking, and welcome them to use computers for the “machinery” of that problem-solving, the computation (just as, let’s face it, every single “professional” mathematic problem-solver– engineer, physicist, chemist, architect–  does).

Wolfram’s TED talk hits all of these marks.  Let’s realize math education is often dull and demeaning not because it doesn’t have passionate and brilliant teachers (it often does) but because it is reduced and simplified to artificially-tooled problems disconnected from the real world.   Let’s recognize that math need no longer be about computation: it should be about identifying problems in the real world, using real brain power to think through how to render these problems into mathematical terms, using computers to do the computations of these “hairy” real world problems, and then about applying the answers out back into the real world to see if they work. (more…)

Very excited about Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation: it offers great stimulation about the nature of contemporary innovation, and inspires us to think further about how our schools can be sites for innovation in our teaching and in our student learning.  (The book is released next week; I am quoting the reviewer’s advance copy)

Johnson’s book, I think, belongs right next to another recent favorite, Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, in its enthusiastic embrace of the value and power of the internet to unleash and unite creative and productive energies from around the world as forces for good, for reform, and for innovation.   Johnson argues persuasively that the web, (and Twitter particularly) is our new coral reef where diversity of life is phenomenally abundant, and is our large metropolitan cultural crossroads, where good ideas meet, merge, and reinvent themselves. (more…)

Jim Collins justifiably is renowned for his book, Good to Great; his book previous to that, Built to Last, is also terrific.  In it, he explains that the most successful and lasting companies reconcile two competing values:  they preserve eternally the core of their organization’s core purposes while still also stimulating progress by adjusting, updating, and refreshing their mission.   This becomes then one of the book’s strongest principles: Preserve the Core, Stimulate Progress.

This I think we have done; last week the St. Gregory Board of Trustees updated its mission of the past four years with a revised statement that most certainly preserves the core, promoting excellence in student development of character, scholarship, and leadership, while stimulating progress in the critically important area of 21st century innovation, and also by adding in the importance of our being a diverse learning community.

(I have put in at the very bottom of the post the previous, for those who wish to compare).

We did one other thing: we sought, admittedly in very general terms, to answer the question to what end?   Yes, it is our mission to challenge (and now also to support!) our students to excellence, but for what greater purpose?  So that they can make a positive impact in the world by pursuing their passions, appreciating and creating beauty, and, in what may be my favorite, by solving problems!


St. Gregory College Preparatory School, as a diverse learning community,

challenges and supports students to achieve excellence in character, scholarship, leadership, and innovation

and prepares them to make a positive impact in the world through pursuing their passions, appreciating and creating beauty, and solving problems.


St. Gregory honors the development of student character built on personal integrity, compassion, and respect.   (more…)

My remarks at New Parent Night

Welcome to St. Gregory; we are so glad you are joining our school community.    You have come at a very exciting time, both in the history of our school and in an important moment in our national conversation about K-12 education.   This is a time of great change and energy in thinking about what and how our students need to learn in our fast-changing world.

A great example of how our school is changing and aligning itself with contemporary best practices is our new Wings program: 1:1 laptops at St. Gregory, by which every student has a laptop (netbook) and uses it every day.   This is a key step in the development of our educational program where our students exploit the power of digital technology to collaborate, communicate, and create on-line– and develop exactly the critical skills necessary for success in our new global economy.

Our teachers are fully embracing, with good enthusiasm and great attitudes, these developments and this new era in learning.    What is more, they are learning too.  One of the most exciting aspects of this new era of technology integration in learning is the way our teachers are, each and every day, learning in their classrooms and growing in their skills.  (more…)

The following is a paste-in of a posting I made to the ISED-Ning, contributing there to an on-line discussion about the significance of this new book, authored by Harvard Business School innovation guru Clayton Christensen (co-authors Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson). The book’s subtitle is “How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,” and the thesis is that within 10 years, 50% of all credit coursework in public high schools will occur via on-line coursework, and within 15 years, 80% will.

The book provides a compelling case for why, and how, this will come about, and sometimes seems to be as much (or more) about the mechanics of this process, (“disruptive innovation”) as about the content of the change. The mechanics are important, as is the warning that it is very difficult, nearing on impossible he would seem to say, for industry leaders to themselves adopt and effectively implement disruptive innovations– they have to come from upstarts.

Entirely aligned with much of the ideas under discussion in this blog, the book advocates for “student-centric classrooms,” and believes, and makes the case for, how technology in general, and on-line learning software in particular, will better serve the cause of student-centric learning.

Below is my response, from the ISED Ning discussion:

1. Loved the short reference in Christensen to the other best book of the year, Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap– glad that these two important works are in some sync with each other. (page 70, ch. 2, footnote 25)

2. I think most all of us on this site appreciate the underlying emphasis in Christensen that we continue to accelerate toward student-centric learning, and seek to employ technology always in this way– center learning with students first, deploy technology to serve that purpose second.

3. As much as I appreciate the significance of the argument that disruptive innovation cannot occur from within the industry, I refuse to accept this as insurmountable: we nonetheless need to seek to square this circle. I read the book to say that Cisco, for instance, has found ways to create within their own company this kind of disruptive innovation, partly because the did so consciously, embracing Christensen’s wisdom. And even if you told me he says it has only happened from outside, I am unwilling to surrender and say we, the industry leader, shouldn’t even try.

4. I think it would be fascinating to convene an envisioning panel– independent schools in a Christensen 2018- what do they look like? What does a day, a week, a year look like at an NAIS school ten and fifteen years from now? And then, having begun to fill out that picture, we need to ask and determine what is the value proposition to this school?

5. I’d guess that in this picture, most of the learning that happens now in teacher-monolithic learning, anything that kids learn now by lecture or textbook or workbook, (which is maybe, let’s say, 70% of time-on-task) currently– most or all of this will happen via sophisticated on-line learning. And that will be a very good thing– it will occur better that way than how it happens now. And among our our value propositions in this new Christensen learning environment will be that we have the best physical environments, best teacher-facilitators, best student peer-group collaborators, best technology, and the highest expectations for this kind of learning. (It may be too we will reap value from larger student-teacher ratios, in that we no longer need hire teachers for the 4 student AP Arabic section that we do currently).

6. These preceding, however, will not be enough. I would suggest that the most significant value proposition for us will be in how effectively we orchestrate learning in the areas that don’t happen now in lecture, textbook, or workbook, and won’t and to a large extent can’t happen in 2018 or 2023 via on-line lessons. It is the stuff of the other thirty percent of current time-on-task student learning, and what we ought to move to become 50%+ of student learning time in this new era. It is rich hands-on experiential learning, it is science labs writ large, where students design their own experiments to solve authentic real-world problems. It is art and architecture studios where students create and design to real-world specs. It is publishing student on-line literary journals and investigative journalism. It is “authentically doing” learning. It is the oral history project at Urban School (CA), and the construct an airplane project at Athenian. It is student drama productions that are presented to the wider region as “real theater.” I think we all recognize that a huge proportion of true and lasting student learning happen in these ways, and I just think that few of these, little of the substance here, is really replicable in on-line learning.

7. How do we get there? Very quickly, every NAIS high school needs to dedicate staff time to on-line learning support for our students, and we should do what I think it is Michigan is doing and actually require for graduation that every student earn at least one course credit via an on-line class. (This makes so much sense anyway– if we are teaching students to become life-long learners, and we had better be, and we know that a huge proportion of their post-collegiate learning will be via on-line course work, then we should “teach” them now to learn on-line). As students get in the habit of taking on-line courses, their demand will increase– and they will ask for them more and more in two areas: the areas that we cannot staff due to our small size, and the in the areas where our teachers are teaching in monolithic manners. We will “have” to accommodate their demand (and reap some savings in the process), and our teachers will quickly recognize that to keep students in their classes, they will need to re-structure learning in ways that students recognize and appreciate are unattainable on-line. It will have to be active, engaged, creative learning; learning by doing; learning by solving real-world problems; learning in rich, real-time, interpersonal collaboration. It will be great.

Call me too optimistic, but I think this is win-win in just about every way. It does demand that we get better, quickly, at delivering this kind of student learning– which is happening currently most successfully at charter schools like New Technology HS and High Tech HS. But we can.

8. One more recommendation– I think there is good work happening at, and that it will swiftly become a strong addition to this picture. The “chief learning officer” there seems really smart, and has a blog that might be worth following: