The current issue of the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) magazine, Independent School, is entitled “Evolution or Revolution: The Pace of Change in our Schools.”   It is a terrific issue, and has many great pieces, several of which I intend to write about in future posts.    (read to bottom (more) to see the section of this issue highlighting our own work at St. Gregory). 

One especially interesting article, both in general and to us at St. Gregory, is by Ted Fish, calling for “Teaching Leadership to All: The Educational Challenge of our Times.

At no other point in our history have the choices we’ve made had the potential to create such a deep and lasting imprint upon so many others, or cause so much harm. In such a world, developing good leaders has never mattered more.

Ted has a stake in this enterprise, as he is the executive director of Gardner Carney Leadership Institute, which teaches teachers to teach leadership.   In the piece, he sets out a useful, interesting set of strands for guiding the development of leadership learning in K-12 learning.

These three strands define a simple map for how we can teach leadership in our schools:

  • Leadership is concerned with taking courageous action, so students need practice taking risks and making mistakes.
  • Leadership is tied to caring and the betterment of others, so students need practice understanding the emotions of others and developing empathy. (more…)

NOTE:  For 2011-2012 the goals deadline is November 1.

Last winter we began a conversation in our Academic Committee about revising the long-standing process of faculty evaluation at St. Gregory.   There was strong interest in this revision coming from our teachers and our department chairs, and in April we made a commitment as a Committee to revamp our process.

A subgroup of the Academic Committee met in May, including department chairs, administrators, and myself, and identified some of our key concerns about the then-current process, and goals for the revision.   It was an odd time of year to start the conversation, as school was concluding for the year and summer broke thereafter, but it did work to stimulate valuable mulling for all of us over the course of those several hot months.

Our shared perception about the then-in-place process was that it was too infrequent (only every four years) for feedback, support, growth or accountability, and that it was too bureaucratic, too paper-intensive, too much a matter of jumping through hoops or checking off a checklis of required syllabi, assignments, papers graded, etc.

Our goals then, as they emerged through our discussion, became increasingly clear: a more frequent and timely process that emphasized goal-setting and growth but still ensured accountability for teaching and learning effectiveness and desired outcomes, and which minimized paperwork and other bureaucratic elements while promoting greater connectedness, communication, and transparency. (more…)

In recent weeks I’ve observed a growing conversation about how best to advance both character education and the learning of 21st century skills.

What is increasingly widely recognized is the idea of backward design: that we can promote learning of our intended outcomes if we put greater emphasis on our assessment of these intentions.  Students know what to strive for, and teachers over time find themselves giving greater attention teaching and having students demonstrate the things upon which teachers know they’ll have to assess and report.

The recent New York Times Magazine cover story, What if the Secret of Success is Failure?, tells the story of two schools in New York City working to develop a clear set of intended character outcomes for their students.  At one school, KIPP, they embedded these outcomes in a formal report card element, highly quantified and if I understand correctly, a part of the permanent record.

[KIPP] started working to turn it into a specific, concise assessment that he could hand out to students and parents at KIPP’s New York City schools twice a year: the first-ever character report card.

At the other school, Riverdale Country School, the school was avoiding formalizing the character goals into a formal report card, in part because of concerns that students would “game the system” if it became high stakes, and so instead they were working to find ways to bring these character goals into the culture of the school.

“I have a philosophical issue with quantifying character,” [Riverdale Head of School Dominic Randolph] explained to me one afternoon. “With my school’s specific population, at least, as soon as you set up something like a report card, you’re going to have a bunch of people doing test prep for it. I don’t want to come up with a metric around character that could then be gamed. I would hate it if that’s where we ended up.”

We here at St. Gregory believe we are seeking and finding a middle ground between Riverdale and KIPP in our approach to a character and also 21st century skills report card supplement.    This has been a central thrust of our efforts in the past three years to elevate the importance of and the development of these skills in our program, and to better fulfill our mission to promote and cultivate in our students Character, Scholarship, Leadership and Innovation.    Our approach has been to develop a KIPP like report card for these qualities, but use it as a formative guide for students to self-assess, collect feedback from their teachers, and set goals with their advisers, rather than as a high stakes summative assessment which would then be “gamed.” (more…)

This week marks the first annual International “No Office Day,” whereby principals and other administrators pledge (either absolutely or, as in my case, as best they can) to lock themselves out of their offices and spend the day in the classroom, observing and appreciating the learning that is happening there, (and then blogging about it).    The No Office Day Wiki is here; at present it appears about 30 of us have signed up to participate this week.   It was born last spring, when, as I understand it, David Truss first enacted it and wrote about it as his international school in China, and then three of, including Dwight Carter, Lyn Hilt, and I myself, followed suit.

Monday I spent the day mostly in our middle school, and what follows is a sort of “a day in the life” of St. Gregory through my eyes. I hope to get a high school parallel version completed soon. 

I write and speak often about the many uses and values of blogging by school administrators; one of the values I always highlight is the opportunity to celebrate and share the wonderful things happening at our schools with a wider audience, and it is in this spirit that this post is written.

My morning began visiting with the middle school faculty this morning as they spent our “late-start” time (classes begin Mondays and Fridays at 9am so that teachers have collaborative and professional learning sessions in these slots) preparing for Mission Days.  Thursday and Friday teachers and students will delve full-time into exploring the meaning and significance of “character,” and participating in activities meant to develop qualities of character.  Our faculty members were highly engaged in the planning, and had great thoughts about how to help students get the most out of the experience.  For more about the character days, visit here for an overview schedule and here for the elements used on the ropes courses.

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My next stop was spent visiting our 6th grade skills class, an introduction to middle school co-taught by several of our fine faculty members; this session was led by our Librarian and Director of Information Literacy Laura Lee Calverley.   She was demonstrating ways to use Google other than straight search, including using it as a dictionary and as a calculator,  and having students follow her lead on their laptops,. (more…)

In the previous three posts, I shared the three digital citizenship workshops we presented our students in grades seven through twelve last week.  We decided it made more sense to separate our the sixth graders, many of whom are still ten, and presented them their own modified version, designed by Middle School Head Heather Faircloth, Librarian and Director of Information Literacy Laura Lee Calverley, and School Counselor Kim Peace-Steimer.

DAY 1: What is Digital Citizenship?

1)  On Board – What do we use technology for? How does it help? How does this hurt? (5 minutes)

2)  What is “Digital Citizenship?” (8 minutes): Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of behavior with regard to technology use.

* Brainstorm words that could be associated with Digital Citizenship

*  Have students help come up with a definition. Break into groups and work on for 3 minutes.

3)   REP = Reputation (more…)

In the previous post, I shared our three day program we are presenting this week to our students in Digital Citizenship.   This post shares our Managing Digital Distraction session, which I developed with the close collaboration of our Tech Director, Andrei Henriksen, and the advice of a group of students we convened.

Our goals for this session have included:

  • providing our students more information about the problems and issues of digital distraction and problematic “multi-tasking;”
  • developing in our students more self-awareness and metacognition about their own issues of digital distraction;
  • asking them to get closer to the emotional experience of disrespect digital distraction causes;
  • and providing tools and techniques for better management of digital distraction.

Our session, which is fully laid out in the slides, opened with my explanation about the challenges all of us, adults and kids, are facing in this day and age of digital tools and distractions.   I also acknowledged the issues  around multi-tasking are complex and hotly debated in many circles, but that we believe students should work hard to be more informed about the costs of multi-tasking and tools/techniques to alleviate those costs and be effective learners.

We began with a five minute session intended to help students experience the feeling of the effect of digital distraction.  Working with a partner, we asked them to take turns trying to talk to someone and get their support about an upsetting situation (“I’m so mad at my parents; they don’t understand me”) while their partner focuses attention exclusively on a digital device, texting, for instance.   (more…)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This session is one of three (see previous post) sessions delivered this week to all our students as part of our Digital Citizenship bootcamp.

This session was developed and presented by Dean of Students Fred Roberts and English Teacher (and St. Gregory graduate of the class of 2006) Corinne Bancroft;  Jeremy Sharpe, St. Gregory class of 2006, also contributed to its development.

Our session began by showing a Good Morning America video regarding death threats to Rebecca Black.  The reason for this is to show the extent to which social media can go viral, even out of control, and in such a negative way.  This also leads into a discussion of how each person who responded to the It’s Friday video create and leave a digital footprint.

What is the relationship between social media and one’s digital footprint?

On the Internet a digital footprint is used to describe the trail, traces or “footprints” that people leave online. This is information transmitted online, such as a forum registration, e-mails and attachments, uploading videos or digital images and any other form of transmission of information — all of which leaves traces of personal information about yourself available to others online.

Much of our digital footprint is left through the use of social media.  This is where many of us will spend a lot of our ‘digital time’ and may not be as aware of the ramifications of what we are engaged in.  In a more relaxed atmosphere, such as chatting via Facebook, users are more likely to say something they may regret later. The message with this is that regardless of turning in an English assignment of chatting on Facebook, users must be aware of what they are sharing.

Discussing students’ definition of social media. (more…)

This week we are staging at St. Gregory a three day Digital Citizenship bootcamp, (DCbc), for all our students.

[Interested?  Read this post and the following three posts which you can find clicking on the digital citizenship “tag” on the right.]

This project was launched at our end of the year faculty meetings last May, during which we reflected very thoroughly upon our first year of being a 1:1 laptop school.   As at so many other schools, our biggest concern was about the problem of digital distraction: students sometimes play games or check social media when they ought to be doing school work.

As the conversation proceeded, others said that they were just as concerned about the ways students were communicating on social media, and the problem of cyberbullying.   Someone pointed out that we hadn’t really taken a distinct and intentional effort to educate our students about our expectations and the issues involved in these three areas, and it was then that our digital citizenship bootcamp concept was born.

Some have confused this with a “digital skills” bootcamp– that we’d be teaching,  for instance, the use of Google apps.  Rather, this is about citizenship, not skills: it is  exclusively about how we all can be better digital citizens, using digital tools more responsibly and respectfully and in ways which strengthen our community.

Each day this week, our students are rotating through, as paired grades (7&8, 9&10, 11&12) each of our three sessions:

  1. Managing Digital Distractions,
  2. Cyberbullying and What You Can Do About it,
  3. and Social Media Responsibility and your Digital Footprint.  

Our sixth graders have had their own specially designed, developmentally appropriate sessions on these topics.

It is my intent to share, in a series of posts, each of these sessions.   Below (or after the “more” button)  is the program, including the powerpoint slides and the two videos, for our Cyberbullying presentation, (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.

At St. Gregory this year, about half a dozen of our teachers are piloting a new program called Schoology, which functions simultaneously as a learning management system for teachers and a social network platform for students and teachers.  Inside it, teachers can post their syllabus and assignments, and, if they choose, track student attendance, maintain a gradebook, and much more. On the site, teachers can provide students resources and links, and organize materials into folders for better organization.

As Peter Smith writes in a helpful overview at EdSocialmedia, teachers can also “Quick Post Lesson Assessments:  Schoology gives the ability to create quick online quizzes, which I plan to use as post lesson assessments. These quizzes will be less than four questions and will give me a quick snapshot of how many students understood the material that day and how well I did as a teacher.”   Furthermore, the analytics sections of Schoology offers teachers “a great analytics tool which allows the teacher to know when and how often students access virtually anything in my course. This is a great way to hold students accountable who need the extra help but are reluctant to access it.”

More importantly, Schoology provides students a better tool to manage their various courses, keep track of assignments, and benefit from the calendar functions, which they can use as a planner for all courses operating within schoology.  Now, certainly many other LMS (learning management systems) offer all this, but what schoology adds is a social network element with a look and feel very similar to facebook, making it more intuitive and natural for regular facebook users.   Students can use a vehicle they are so familiar with, facebook style posting, commenting, threading and linking, and do so with their classes to enhance their learning. (more…)

St. Gregory is in our second year as a 1:1 laptop school (grades six to twelve), and as Head I have avoided promulgating a single, school wide, technology use policy for every grade or classroom.  Instead, I have encouraged and urged teachers to work with their students to develop the appropriate plan and policy to their program and classroom culture.  
This is one among many exemplary such, teacher designed, classroom technology policies.  It might well not be right for every teacher and every classroom, and neither Dr. Berry, its author, nor I would suggest it could or should be.    
Dr. Michelle Berry:  The Vision for Empowering Use of Technology in (APGOV, APUSH, Advanced Seminars):
Dr. Berry believes ardently in the power of information and technology to empower student as citizens, people, and learners.  This means that as a member of Dr. Berry’s class, you will be expected to use technology in a variety of ways in and out of the classroom.   She also believes that History class is a learning community whose success rests solely on the collaborative energy and purpose of the group as a whole (much like communities beyond St. Gregory).  If all members of this community (as often as possible) put their highest intentions toward furthering not just their own personal intellectual and social growth but that of their colleagues as well, then this class will be an effective, successful, empowered, and empowering learning community.

Having said that, there are  a few principles that members of this learning community must agree to abide by:

1) Each student must use technology resources for the purposes for which they are intended. In the classroom, this means using technology resources for the purposes of conducting and fostering the  educational and research activities of the class.  Out of the classroom, this means using technology to further enhance your own intellectual, ethical, and academic growth. (more…)

The accompanying online article can be found here.

From that article, by Arizona Public Media reporter  Luis Carrión :

St. Gregory College Preparatory School will begin the new school year with an oversized addition: one of the largest solar arrays in any Tucson school, producing 140 kilowatts of energy. The project consists of more than 600 locally produced solar panels that will offset St. Gregory’s energy bill by a minimum of $1,000 a month.

Jonathan Martin, head of St. Gregory, says the project will not only offset dependency on the grid, it will also provide students with valuable opportunities to learn about an important sustainable energy source.

Young people care about the environment, Martin notes, and they are passionate about making changes that will benefit the planet and future generations. (more…)

I’m very pleased to report that our major solar panel installation is well underway (Click here for the press release with all the details).

This is a 140 Kw project, entailing more than 600 panels on six of our major buildings which we have undertaken in a partnership with a Tucson company, Solar H20.   This is an all-Tucson project: the partner utility company is Tucson Electric Power (TEP); the solar panels are manufactured not in China or overseas but right here in Tucson (though by a German company, Solon), and even the racks are manufactured here in town.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by KUAT, Arizona Public Media, for a television news report they are preparing for their weekly television “newsmagazine” show, Arizona Illustrated, about this project. It is my hope and intent to be able to share that news report here soon.

I was asked two main questions, and I thought I would do my best to share and replicate my answers here (in fairness, these written answers are a bit expanded).

Q: Why is St. Gregory undertaking this project? 

A: It has been a high priority of my leadership to embark on alternative energy support for our school, and to not go solar in this Southern Arizona sun seems foolish.   Rick Belding, our business manager, and I had been discussing and seeking opportunities to make this go, (including multiple conversations with Tucson’s Solar energy project manager, Bruce Tunze), when we were approached by a new company, Solar H20, which was ready to seize on certain incentives available from both our local utility, TEP, and the federal government.  After a very thorough review of the contract by Rick Belding, we were ready to commit.

This is a win-win-win project. (more…)