[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

Dad, there’s your favorite word again,” my son calls out, a tad cynically, when we are driving to  school listening to NPR and a reporter uses the word  innovation.   I am aware that my son, and others, believe this word has become too much of a buzz-word and perhaps a fad,  too often so broadly defined that it becomes generic, empty in content, and devoid of true significance.


But, I refuse to be deterred.


Like Tom Friedman in the New York Times, President Obama, and many others, I think the word and the concept capture and describe something both wonderful and incredibly important in our world today– and in fact, more important than ever before in our fast-changing times.   Educational innovation, and, more importantly, educating students to be innovative, are the intertwined twin concepts I spend the most time trying to learn about more deeply, understand better, write about more often, and implement more effectively.


Looking back, I recognize now that the slogan change made in my first months (2009) at my school, St. Gregory, by the Board of Trustees and myself,  came too soon and too abruptly, without enough preparation and inclusion, and I regret the rushed process.  But, nevertheless,  I love the phrase which adorns our website, brochures,  and advertisements and which looms large on the walls of our major meeting areas: Creating Leaders and Innovators.


Creating Leaders and Innovators stood proudly tall in foot-large letters high up on our gymnasium wall in 2010 when Tony Wagner, Ph.D., visited our school and spoke beneath this banner to an audience of nearly 500 about the educational change our fast-changing world demands and how we can bring about this change.


So it should be no surprise that I am greatly enthusiastic about Dr. Wagner’s forthcoming book, (April, 2012),Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. I think every 21st century educator who seeks to strengthen our national and global future by teaching our students to be more creative and successful problem-solvers should put this book on the very top of their must-read list for 2012.


Last week, I had the good fortune to participate in a webinar organized by Edleader21, the fine “Professional Learning Community for 21st century educational leaders,” with Dr. Wagner, and I received his permission to share this “preview” of his forthcoming book’s exciting insights and lessons.  (These are my notes recapitulating his remarks, not a verbatim transcript.) (more…)

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

Step aside Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere.   For an up-close and analytical film about building a world-class education which thoroughly prepares all students for careers and citizenship in the 21st century, take the 62 minutes to view the new film from Tony Wagner and Bob Compton: The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System.

Whether it will be “surprising” for all is something I question: indeed, the lessons learned from Finland align themselves so closely with the best educational thinking of the past several decades, and to my mind most particularly Ted Sizer and Tony Wagner himself, that it is legitimate to wonder whether this film finds too much of what it was looking for and projects itself too greatly upon its own subject.

One genuine surprise in this film is that it comes from Bob Compton, the film-maker of 2 Million Minutes and 2 Million Minutes, the 21st century solution.   (more…)

Just learned this week of a new forthcoming documentary film I am eager to see and support, The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System.

The film is a convergence of three particularly fascinating topics  & persons:

  • it profiles the remarkable story of Finland’s extraordinary educational success in international testing and the somewhat unexpected methodology by which it achieves this success;
  • it features Tony Wagner, my good friend and the author of the Global Achievement Gap, a book which regular readers of the blog here will immediately recognize as being an enormous influence on my educational vision;
  • and it is produced by Bob Compton, a film-maker best known for 2 million minutes and someone with whom some will remember I had a bit of debate with here on these pages in October 2009.

I should say how very happy I am that Bob Compton has taken this initiative to study Finnish schools and to work with Tony Wagner. Bob and I conducted a vigorous debate about our competing perceptions of best practices in 21st century learning, but I nobody can dispute his deeply held passion for improving education for all our students, and I respect and appreciate his open-minded effort to pursue, around the world, best practices in teaching and learning and to share them with his powerful film-making style.

It is not clear to me,  after the premier at the National Press Center March 24, when and how the film will be more widely available, but I know that we at St. Gregory would be thrilled to have the opportunity to screen it, and we certainly extend a warm welcome to Bob Compton to return to Tucson to share with us this new film.

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…)

This is now the fourth in a series of posts featuring St. Gregory classes which exemplify (imho) the type of teaching and learning Tony Wagner calls for in his book, The Global Achievement Gap.  In that book, he asks for schools to   uses academic core subjects to teach students to reason, communicate, and solve problems; here we present a Chemistry class that does exactly that.   Dr. Wagner will be here at St. Gregory in just a few days, and on the day he arrives we will present him and publish our new booklet: Bridging the Gap: Teaching Students to Communicate, Reason, and Solve Problems.

This is from Dr. Scott Morris, our Science Department chair.

Students know they will be doing a lab today. Their homework assignment was to download the procedure from the teacher’s website, read it, and prepare any data table(s) that they think will be useful.

The teacher begins by asking whether everyone has a copy of the procedure and then queries them along two lines: What are we doing and are there any hazards we should be aware of? They will have to write a lab report after the activity, so he asks them: “What is the purpose of this lab?” The students volunteer opinions and the class develops both a “scientific” purpose as well as a “technique” purpose. Often, the “hazard” discussion is blended into the pedagogical goals:

1) Are we using fire? Why? (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…)