It was a dynamite four days in Philly last week at the NAIS annual conference: although I was unsure how it would feel to be attending in a different capacity, not as a Head but in my new role of writer/consultant/presenter, it ended up very fun and engaging.   As always, the best parts are outside the formal conference in the camaraderie and fellowship found there with so many pursuing with parallel passion the meaningful and rewarding work of remaking learning for our fast-changing times.

The slides above come from a most fascinating session sharing what I’d argue is genuinely breakthrough work from the folks at the Index group on what they call their new Mission Skills Assessment, MSA, for Middle School Students.

(It was a big team presenting, including Lisa Pullman from Index, Tim Bazemore from New Canaan Country School (CT), Jennifer Phillips from Far Hills Country Day (NJ), and Rich Roberts from ETS; see the last slide for all their names and contact info)

As they explained, and as I often try my best to pursue here at 21k12, we have long as educators believed and proclaimed that character development, defined broadly, is of importance equal to that of intellectual and academic development, and yet truly, outside of the not-always-deeply successful advisory programming and a few assemblies here and there, how far do we usually go with this character education?

And, when students know that grades are the coin of the realm and that nearly all of the grades they earn and the feedback they get is on the academic-intellectual side, how well are we signaling to them the importance we place or guiding them with the feedback which is so important on the non-cognitive side of the equation?

Here with the MSA, the group has identified, after review of both the research of what makes for success out there, and of what our schools state in our missions we do in here, six key traits, and I love this list:

Teamwork, Creativity, Ethics, Resilience, Curiosity, Time Management. 

As the slides demonstrate, this has been an investigation carried out in the most serious of ways, spread out over five years and drawing upon the expert resources of and collaboration with ETS.  Their ETS partner, Rich Roberts, explained that as surprising as it might seem, ETS has been working on Noncog for over a decade, and indeed, the pursuit of noncog assessment which can match the quality of cognitive assessment goes back more than 60 years.

Roberts argued that the consensus view after decades of study is that noncog is not, no it is NOT, twice as important as cognitive skills and attributes for success in life– but it is EQUAL.

But assessing it has never been easy– this is the rub.  But, the research here conducted finds strong validity and reliability for a tripartite approach, as described in the image below, of student self-report, teacher evaluation, and a third tool for “triangulation.” NAIS and the Mission Skills Assessment from the Index Group   21k12

These third tools are discussed in slides 36-38, and include Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs), which were similarly touted at the Boalt Hall Law School study I described here, biographical studies, and Creativity Performance Tests.

For those that are skeptical that even with this triangulation we get to an effective measurement, check out the discussion of reliability and validity on slides 48-55, where reliability is found to be just a tad less than on the SAT and validity in prediction better than standardized test scores and GPA for student quality ratings and student well being and just a little less well than standardized test scores for GPA.

As for the inevitable question– whether and when this tool will become more broadly available, beyond the membership of the Index group, it appears as I view it that these questions have yet to be answered.   As soon as they are, I’ll do my best to report that news here.

But, there is no reason for schools outside of Index to not use these ideas and resources to advance their own work in assessing student development of these essential qualities.

Although the hour went by much too swiftly, Suzie Boss, Brett Jacobsen, and I had a great time sharing our thoughts on the topic of Bringing Innovation to School today at NAIS AC 13

The slides are above.  If you are interested, you can click over to read Mike Gwaltney’s notes from the session.

In my remarks, I made reference to my presentation a year ago at NAIS on Innovative Schools, Innovative Students, which you can find here. 

My remarks also drew heavily upon a post I wrote last fall on about the power of peer networking and Steven Johnson’s new book, Future Perfect, which can be found here. 

boss book cover

Highly recommended for our attendees and everyone else interested in this topic is Suzie’s book,  Bringing Innovation to School.

As a part of our session, we invited attendees to answer themselves on sticky notes questions about how they are, or how they would, bring innovation to school– and as promised, I’m happy to share them here:

How might we innovate around…

Learning assessment?

  • Group/self evaluation of public speaking, collaboration, using rubrics and feedback
  • Have students design the assessments and rubrics
  • Build more assessments for learning
  • Include multiple assessors (members of community, parents, etc.)
  • Use of rubrics with the 4 C’s
  • Listen more
  • Project-based assessment
  • Always think about what type of human you’re attempting to graduate first. Then match assessment (and learning) to those desired transformative outcomes

Learning space?

  • Flexible
  • Make every classroom a makerspace
  • Cover walls with Idea Paint
  • Ask: If we had a blank space to create a new middle school, what would it look like?
  • Collaborate with other subject areas and other classrooms in different schools
  • Flexible space with flexible, comfortable furniture
  • Spaces for: 1 student, 3 students to work together, 5-8 as a group, 15-25 as a class, 30+ for group experiments
  • Think “outside” the box. Different types of learning require different spaces
  • Involve students in designing their school spaces; visit as many other schools as possible (from both your and other school “genres”) (more…)

Suzie Boss, Mike Gwaltney, and I had the great pleasure to present, share, and discuss this topic with about 50 workshop attendees here at NAIS AC 13.

In addition to the slides, we have built out (thanks to Mike) a full website of materials and resources for our presentation, which you can find here.    It’s shortened ULR is   Below is a screengrab of the front page.

Leadership for PBLThis is a topic about which we are all very passionate, of course, and eager to support in the future.  We’ve created a user group inside isenet here, which we invite all to join us in.    We intend to do things with this group in the future to continue to support this important work.

Thanks to all who came and participated– let’s go forward with this important work.

A student’s eye view, narrated, of the open computer test experience, talking one’s way through a sample problem with the resources of the internet.

A teacher’s eye view of an open computer testing experience:

For much more about Open Computer Testing, including links to several sample tests, perceptions of students, and links to other resources, click here.

Back now from the stimulating, fascinating, and exhausting frenetic whirlwind that was three days at NAIS Annual Conference 2011.

Time for some observations and take-aways.

1.  As many have already written and said, the Gaylord National Harbor site, while clean and pleasant, was strikingly out of sync with the Conference theme of public purpose, and I don’t want to leave unstated that disappointment.   Our message should be one of lowering the barriers and connecting to the community rather than perpetuating isolation, and this setting was a strike against this message.

I heard from many that it was particularly awkward in regards to teaching candidate recruitment, which was compromised by a location so challenging to access without an automobile.

2. The outstanding highlight of the conference for me was the excellent Ted-style talk by Salman Khan about his extraordinaryKhan Academy.   No individual, by my lights, is going to more greatly transform how learning works in the next decade than Khan, and in person he was charming, energetic, and inspiring.   At the core of his message is his argument that if we use technology effectively, we don’t diminish the interpersonal, face-to-face, relational, human qualities of the classroom, we enhance it.   (more…)

Yesterday I was very fortunate to be joined by two terrific fellow school-leaders, Josie Holford and Michael Ebeling, to discuss blogging as Heads at the NAIS Annual Conference; our session was excellently moderated by Sarah Hanawald, Dean of Academics at Cannon School (NC).
Jason Ramsden was kind enough to live-blog the panel, which I provide below.
One additional valuable link for school-heads and principals interested in blogging: check out Connected Principals.
Friday February 25, 2011

Welcome to the start of day three here at NAIS’ 2011 Annual Conference. This morning we kick start the day in Blogging Heads: Three Heads Discuss Why and How They Blog.

Michael Ebeling, Peak Experience blog (Summit School, NC)
Josie Holford Compass Point blog (Poughkeepsie Day School, NY)
Jonathan Martin (St. Gregory College Prep, AZ)


We’re about 4 mins from the start of this session and the room is beginning to fill.


My thanks to Sarah Hanawald for the following liveblog transcript of our session Friday at NAIS, where I was joined by CWRA administrator Chris Jackson and Lawrenceville Dean of Faculty (and Klingenstein Curriculum Instructor legend) Kevin Mattingly in presenting on the College Work Readiness Assessment.
At the end of the session, I mentioned my interest in forming a network of folks interested in working to develop a parallel, CWRA-Style assessment for middle school students, (as is being done in an interesting way in the Virginia Beach School District in a program there run by Jared Cotton).    If you are interested in being a part of this network, or being apprised of such activities, please let me know by entering your name and email here.
But first, the session slides:

CWRA Session is packed–folks are standing outside.
Chris Jackson: Opens with a book reference–Academically Adrift
Chris Jackson:

The mission, to help schools know how they are doing with what other tests don’t measure. Metrics for the schools.

Subscores on essential areas: critical thinking,  analytical reasoning, Effective writing, and problem-solving. (more…)

Thank you, all who attended our session today, and welcome all to a quick recap of our session.  The session was very well attended, and we had some terrific questions from the audience.

Some links and resources from the session:

As I noted in the session, I am building a list of school-heads and senior academic administrators who might be interested in being part of an NAIS network who wish to collaborate and communicate for the purpose of our schools in becoming true centers of 21st century learning, and Schools of the Future.  You are invited to share your interest by completing a line in this google doc spreadsheet: You can find it here. I will be following up in the next few weeks to those who sign up with ideas about next steps.

Day 1 is now at its end; it was a good day, with highlights including a strong 3 hour workshop this afternoon and a lovely evening spent with St. Gregory alumni at a charming pub in Dupont Circle.

All aspects of check-in were smooth; I thought it was terrific they had rooms for everyone, even before noon, checking in for tonight.  Very welcoming.  NAIS registration was easy and smooth, except for one ticket glitch for my wife.  Everything about the venue is warm, welcoming, clean, yet, perhaps, a little bit too clean.

It seems a bit funny to me that at a conference so emphatically and proudly dedicated to Public Purpose, we are so gated off and away from the public commons, from the city.  What a contrast to three years ago in NYC, two years ago in Chicago, one year ago in San Francisco, all of which were conferences situated smack in the city proper.

This Gaylord center, and I don’t mean to attack it, is a gated community, complete with a fenced in, all-too-clean,  village of shops safely secured within it.   It is a country club, an ivory tower:  it is in what it signifies by its setting and its interior exactly what private schools are negatively perceived to be, and it is exactly the image of private schools that this very conference strives to counteract and surmount.

Josie Holford writes with a similar skepticism in her post,

My first impression of National Harbor, Maryland is that it is an updated set for The Prisoner – that ground breaking TV series from the 1960’s…a tightly controlled and surreal holiday village where people ride penny farthing bicycles and no-one can be trusted. The perfect match of paradise and paranoia.

Nevertheless, I am happy to be here and it is a pleasant location. My session this afternoon was a three hour workshop, Schools of the Future, the Conversation Continues.   The session was ably overseen by Paul Miller, and was kicked off with presentations by the author and co-author of the new Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, Robert Witt and Jean Orvis.

Witt presented his case for the need for schools to reinvent themselves; he said bluntly, the verdict about most schools today is that we are doing a dismal job. (more…)

NAIS is a three days away, and the anticipation is building.   Jason Ramsden wrote last week a nice post about his enthusiasm for the conference, and  I value his recognition of NAIS’s journey in the past few years toward a fuller embrace of 21st century learning and the initiatives the association is taking to facilitate its member schools in becoming Schools of the Future.

Peter Gow wrote in a parallel way about the NAIS evolution and advance brilliantly three years ago, in an EdWeek commentary entitled The New Progressivism is Here.

My Hopes:

1. That the WiFi works, and works well.  It was awful in San Francisco, and erratic in Chicago; it makes such a big difference to have fast-flying WiFi.

2. That the electrical outlets are in high supply (and that I remember to bring a power strip so as to better share outlets if they are not.)

3. That I keep it all in balance. Yes, it is my fault, but I stuff way too much into these 55-odd hours: Learning in sessions, blogging, tweeting, visiting with old friends, excitedly meeting and making new friends, enjoying time with my wife who attends with me, and this year presenting also in four separate sessions.  Too much. (more…)

[As always, this post is available to all and all are always welcome, but this one is, like many of my posts will be in the next ten days, especially  intended for those attending the Annual Conference of the National Association of Independent Schools]

If you are new to Twitter, or contemplating taking the plunge, a conference like NAIS  is a great place to start (in every way but one).

To start, just go to and spend 3-5 minutes (at most) creating a profile.

The NAIS conference, or any big conference, is a great place to start Twitter because you immediately have a conversation to follow and a stimulating forum to join.  To enter the NAIS Annual Conference “feed,” simply type into the search box on top this: #naisac11, and hit return.   (this is called a “hashtag”, using a pound sign in front of a term in Twitter; another great hashtag for independent school educators is #isedchat).

That’s all; that’s all you need to do to experience powerfully and valuably Twitter for the three day NAIS conference.  By doing this, following the #naisac11 feed, you will be monitoring an ongoing flow of thoughts about the conference:  suggestions for good sessions, great takeaways from speakers, amazing quotes, links to websites related to the presentations,  and much more.    Often, for instance, when a speaker makes a reference to a great resource– a useful website, or a valuable book or article–  others in the session on Twitter will quickly shoot out the link, which is very helpful.  Click on the link to open it in a new tab, and then bookmark it for the future.

You don’t need to make any tweets yourself: many people begin as just observers, and many remain that way for a long time (or always).  That is fine.  (more…)

An academically demanding curriculum is an essential element of excellent schooling in every era, equally for the 19th and the 22nd centuries.

The new Schools of the Future guide from NAIS  lists as the first of its 8 “unifying themes” that schools be academically demanding.   They then offer in the elaboration six paragraphs, including some very valuable elements to define what they mean by academically demanding.

The difference is that they must go beyond the traditional passive capstone of a written examination to active application of knowledge in a new situation.

The model schools emphasize depth over breadth, adopting in spirit the motto of the Singapore Schools, “Teach Less. Learn More.” Like those who annually “purge” their closets of outdated, rarely worn garments,these schools systematically scour the curriculum to eliminate non-essential and redundant content. Although all of theschools have students who perform well on AP exams, most choose not to teach AP classes, or like Brimmer and May, selectivelyoffer only those AP classes that are what Anne Reenstierna calls “more than a mile wide and an inch deep.”

It  is terrific to read in  an official NAIS publication that the core principles for advancing academically demanding learning in our schools include active application of knowledge,  depth over breadth and less is more:  educational leaders now across our association have the national association’s official publication behind them as they move in these vital directions.

At St. Gregory,we are working to realign our curriculum in exactly these ways:

  • sustaining our commitment to block scheduling for depth over breadth in each course period;
  • thoroughly deploying PBL with tech.  for the vigorously active application of knowledge,
  • changing away from a pattern of year-long survey courses in upper grade levels toward topical, inquiry semester seminars which intentionally privilege a Singapore style less is more learning philosophy.

However, as I said in my previous post, it still disappoints me that they didn’t, (more…)

Congratulations and Kudos to the National Association of Independent Schools, its Commission on Accreditation, and its Schools of the Future Committee for their publication this winter of the new A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future.   The 60 page document, prepared by Robert Witt and Jean Orvis as lead authors, is an attractive, appealing guide and deserves reading by every independent school board and faculty.

I’m enthusiastic about the guide’s Unifying Themes: “eight commonalities exist among the schools that are successfully delivering a 21st century education.”

  • The schools are academically demanding.
  • Project-based learning, as an integral part of the school’s program, is woven throughout all grade levels and disciplines.
  • Classrooms extend beyond the school walls, actively engaging students in the world around them.
  • Digital technologies and a global perspective infuse all aspects of the curriculum.
  • Vibrant arts programs help promote creativity, self-expression, self-discipline, and flexibility.
  • The adults are actively engaged with one another and with the students in a process of continuous learning.
  • A culture of engagement and support invites participation, innovation, and a“growth mindset” on the part of teachers and students.
  • Transformational leadership challenges the status quo, draws out the issues, navigates through conflict, and mobilizes people and resources to do the adaptive work necessary to create and sustain effective change.

I provided bolded underlines for the items that leap out at me, but it was hard to resist highlighting every word. Comments on each of the highlighted terms above follow:

Academically demanding comes first, as it came first in my previous post, 15 Ways for Schools to Be Relevant in 2015 and Beyond.   What I worry about as I read the guide’s first bullet is that this wording, “academically demanding,” is a bit generic, and leaves me hanging– well how do you know?  I would have written,  Schools are academically demanding as demonstrated in widely varying quantitative and qualitative ways.   (more…)