The three things I am most passionate about these days in my educational leadership (and blogging) are the following:

1. Empowering students to be more engaged, active, vigorous learners by providing them the digital tools to go, explore, research, collaborate, publish, create, and communicate in web 2.0, online learning environments.

2.  Grant Wiggins taught us the power of backward design, and we know that we can effectively transform learning by transforming assessment, by measuring what matters, and by using next-generation assessment tools for this purpose.

3.  The most important way for educators to confront and accept the challenge to educate effectively in this new era is to embrace both the responsibility and the opportunity to grow and learn, ourselves, each and every day, in collaboration with each other at schools which make serious commitments to this collaboration,  and via the power of social networks online.

For me, these three things are absolute hallmarks  and essential elements of the 21st century learning from which is so critical for our students to benefit.     They also align themselves very exactly with my major areas of educational leadership at St. Gregory:

  • bringing our new 1:1 laptop program, Wings, to our school along with a parallel commitment to project based learning, 21st c. skills, and web 2.0 interactivity;
  • implementing a new report card extension, the Egg, for evaluating and assessing students development of these skills, and implementing three new assessment/measurement tools: the HSSSE, the CWRA, and the MAP;
  • and establishing a dramatic increase in the amount of time we provide in the school-week for faculty collaboration, shared reflection upon practice, and professional development,  and supporting a faculty-lead and initiated new program of Critical Friends.

So, it is great (!) to read the new report from the US Department of Education: Tranforming American Education: The National Education Technology Plan 2010 (NETP), and see in the Executive Summary these three major objectives: (more…)

Good evening:

Thank you for attending this session, and thank you everyone at NYSAIS, especially arvind, Alex, and Barbara for inviting me.   I want to open with a quote:

In this day and age, many schools incorrectly view successful education as an extremely complex process, but
the formula for a really first rate education is relatively simple: put highly qualified, caring faculty, and eager, bright youth together in a personalized setting with a robust curriculum – and let things happen.

There are plenty of sentimental reasons to appreciate this quote.   Some truths about excellence in learning are timeless, and I think we can still learn enormously from Socrates and Aristotle.   But my suggestion is that if you accept this idea whole-heartedly, you are welcome to head over to the bar early– go ahead and get yourself a drink.

I believe the world is not just flat, the world is spinning: faster and faster, and that schooling can not rely on the simple formulas of the past:

  • because what our students need to learn is changing,
  • because our understanding of how learning works is changing,
  • because the technology which enhances learning is changing. (more…)


21 presentations, 2 minutes each: the Wings Smackdown this morning at St. Gregory, with teachers sharing tools and resources and techniques being used in their classrooms or at school regularly.

A partial list:

Sr. Rabinowitz:  Students in 6th and 7th grade Spanish maintain a blog (via wordpress) where they respond to assigned questions by speaking their answers, en espanol, into their webcam, recording them onto either youtube or, and posting to their wordpress blog for the teacher to review.

Ms. Heald:  Students in middle school drama prepare a “this I believe” statement by listening to those of others on this site, and submitting their own for inclusion (this is one of our students’ published essays.

Ms. Mulloy:   Student work is posted to web-pages which Ms. Mulloy organizes using delicious bookmarking; she also finds useful the bookmarks provided on delicious by the author of our summer reading book on Reinventing PBL.

Ms. Berry:  Students are using glogster edu to prepare digital posterboards to share and reflect upon their learning.

Ms. Kuluski: Students are completing their homework, and submitting it, online using

Ms. Bancroft: Students in sixth grade English are working in groups to create a wiki of their favorite recommended reading, edit each others work, and comment on these reviews, learning digital citizenship and collaborative editing techniques even as they write book reviews and articulate their ideas about literature, in groups.  They are also studying other online book review sites for modeling and inspiration.

Ms. Clashman: Students are learning French geography, culture, and vocabulary by househunting in France, selecting a dream home, and then furnishing it from French Ikea.

Mr. Herzog: Students are completing warmups as his class begins by completing answers on google forms, and he is able to monitor the results as they are posted and immediately identify the gaps.

Mr. Connor: Students are using a social network style, facebook-like, Ning site for their class communications and conversations.

Ms. Bodden: Students are using google docs in a myriad of ways in her class.

Dr. Morris:  Students can access podcasts of Chemistry lectures he has prepared to review or to cover topics they might have missed.

Ms. Faircloth:  Students love the virtual heart transplant surgeries they do on this site. (more…)

Advice to New Independent School Teachers (and all Teachers!)

Key resources from this talk:

Independent Schools—Reflecting on the difference

My own story, switching from a fine public school to an excellent independent school from 7th to 8th grade.

Qualities of the Independent School Environment:

  • Small Classes,
  • High Expectations,
  • Academic Rigor,
  • Relationships & Community,
  • Intellectual Curiosity and Engagement,
  • the Whole Child

Faculty members are absolutely at the heart of this—and your role is obviously and entirely essential to this. (more…)

St. Gregory is now in its second year of its Critical Friends Group (CFG) group project.   Each teacher and administrator is assigned to a group of about 8 or 9 colleagues, diversely representative of department, division, and domain.   The groups are continuing from last year, strengthening internally in their sense of connection, collegiality, and trust: they met last year once a month, and this year twice a month.   Each group is wholly facilitated by a faculty member, not an administrator.

Before each of our “regular” sessions, a member carefully prepares with the group facilitator a problem or topic to present, and then at the meeting presents it in a carefully formatted and managed protocol process.   A teacher might discuss a change of assessment she is trying, or a classroom management tactic, or a project-based learning initiative, or any number of other possibilities.  After the presentation, a healthy hour long conversation ensues, with much feedback provided.   The conversations in which I participate are lively, reflective, and inspiring;  nearly everyone leaves with ideas  to apply, or questions to consider, for their own teaching.

We’ve expanded this year our use of CFG time; we now hold sessions twice a month.   The second session is devoted to peer observation, a culture of which has not existed widely at our school (as is the case at many schools), but which we are gradually escalating.   In the most recent session, we processed two different observations. (more…)

21st century teaching and learning should reflect research based best practices, and must provide more time for faculty professional development and collaboration.   It is my belief that “late-starts” for students, beginning school at 8:45 or 9, one or more days a week, is a handy way to advance on both these fronts.  We provide more sleep time for students, and more collaboration time for teachers.

At St. Gregory we expanded upon this practice this year, moving to twice weekly “late-starts” at 9:00 am.   This article was published on the front page of our student newspaper, the Gregorian Chant, by sophomore Olivia Larsen.

As every St. Gregory student has invariably noted, the number of late starts per week this year has doubled from one to two. Whether you get up and run, sleep in that extra glorious hour, plan on taking that new Mandarin class, or go out to breakfast, classes this year start at 9:00 instead of 8:00. Susan Heintz, Upper School Head, says there were two reasons it was instituted. “We want to be able to work together, as a faculty. . . We need some quality professional development time when teachers are awake and focused. . .the best time for that is morning.”

The other reason is, “Sleeping in a little bit is better for your brains. There’s research on that. It’s an experiment, too. . . the heavy-duty academic stuff, sitting still first thing in the morning, that’s what’s really hard on the teenage brain.” (more…)

Global Achievemnent GapA colleague asked me recently to share the ways in which we are using Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap with our faculty this fall; this post is  my answer.    The book has been hugely valuable for us this year as a guide and foundation as we seek to further advance St. Gregory as a 21st century school and as a “School that Works” to teach the “new survival skills.”   I think that often schools assign faculty summer reading, and then do very little with it– maybe a meeting/discussion or two– but we have deliberately erred in the other direction: I am seeking to infuse the ideas of the book into many different arenas of the educational work we are doing at St. Gregory, even at the risk of overdoing it.

Some of the ways we are using it  include, with full explanations after the jump (more):

  1. Rich reading discussions
  2. Describing the St. Gregory Wagnerian Classroom.
  3. Respecting and applying the four principles of Schools that Work
  4. Implementing new Measurements of student learning: the Egg, CWRA, HSSSE, PISA, and dashboards. (more…)

Last Thursday, our faculty met in small groups to discuss Chapter 2, The Old World of School, in Wagner’s book.  This is an essential chapter, one in which he brings readers into the classroom.  Wagner reports on his observations  during his so-called “learning walks,”  for which he and a school superintendent (usually) visit, unannounced, 15-20 classrooms for about 5-10 minutes each.    What he reports in discouraging: “the teachers who use academic content as a means of teaching students how to communicate, reason, and solve problems are rare, fewer than one in twenty.”

As can be seen in the slide show below, the St. Gregory faculty discussed the chapter carefully and critically, responding to the effectiveness of the learning walk approach, identifying what Wagner likes and dislikes in classroom teaching, and then responding with their own opinion of Wagner’s judgements.  Enjoy.  {remember, if the font size is too small, you can click to make the presentation full-screen}

This morning our faculty spent a terrific hour discussing in small groups their reactions to the first chapter of Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap.   We used a professional learning community protocol (from the Critical Friends network) to guide us, identifying and discussing what in the text we wanted to argue with, what we agreed with, what we aspired to from the inspiration he gave us, and what the impact will be on student learning.  View the show to see what we discussed, what we learned, and some of our ideas for implementing Wagner’s ideas:

Cover ImageRegular readers here know of my appreciation for Tony Wagner’s book, The Global Achievement Gap.  Here at St. Gregory this year, we are having all teachers and administrators read it for their summer reading, and soon we will embark upon a year-long consideration of its implications and applications for our teaching here.  Wagner’s book concludes with a summary overview of the qualities of “Schools that Work:” those schools, such as High Tech High, that do work in successfully closing the global achievement gap, and it is certainly my intent to ensure that our school, St. Gregory, continue to be, and ever more, a School that Works.

In describing them, he provides several  different lists of their attributes, but here right now, I want to discuss and reflect upon the last such listing: the qualities of their schools that are “strikingly different from what we see in most schools today.”

1. They have a learning and assessment focus.   This is something we are putting at the center of our attention here; we are using the slogan “Focus on Teaching and Learning, with Kids at the Center,” and we are discontinuing any use of precious all-faculty time for “business as usual meetings.”  Instead, all such time is to be focused upon enhancing student learning.  As for assessment, the highest priority for our Academic Committee’s agenda this year is a wholesale revamping of our report cards and “reporting of student learning” in order to bring us up to 21st century standards of assessment and reporting (to guide us in this work, we are employing Guskey and Bailey’s Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning.” (More to come about this book, and this work, in future posts).

2. Motivation:  “Students are motivated to learn through a combination of three distinct, interrelated incentives.  First, the adults in their lives…have close relationships to students.   Students in all three schools are not only well known by their teachers, but are in advisory groups with a teacher… Second, opportunities for students to explore their questions and interests are a driving force for learning.  Third, learning is a hands-on in these schools.”    Motivation cannot be an afterthought, we have to raise it up to an essential focal point. (more…)