Edith Ackerman on the ways in which our kids are transformed by our times #nysaisahdh
Edith Ackerman on the ways in which our kids are transformed by our times #nysaisahdh
NYSAIS Division Heads Conference
When to Learn: Time
Leaders: Grant Lichtman & Bo Adams
Can we actually create more usable time during the day? Participants will consider the systemic daily and annual use of time at their schools and how it does, or does not, align with essential learning objectives. Participants will use examples from their own schools to ideate alternatives and opportunities for school schedule.
My dilemma …
How do we balance a collective agreed on desire to move to a transdiciplianry curriculum centered around a topic/issue where the disciplines are lenses for inquiry with the tension that certain grade level focused subject specific skills and content will not fold into the inquiry? In creating a more open-ended less time bound structure where do the other pieces of the curriculum live.
So imagine a structure focused on inquiry where students come together in flexible groupings for certain agreed upon amounts of time with the teacher who us most relevant to the direction of their inquiry at that moment. The teacher may also convene a group to explore an idea, concept or skill relevant to the inquiry. Where and how do the other parts fit?
Last weekend, I was fortunate to be able to attend EduCon2.5. Educon is a conference and a conversation hosted by Science Leadership Academy (SLA) a progressive public high school in Philadelphia. The guiding principles behind EduCon, which resonate with many of our core LREI values, include the following:
On Sunday, I attended a conversation hosted by SLA’s principal Chris Lehmann that aimed to dig deeply into the value of inquiry as an organizing principle for our work in schools and beyond. The conversation mined a rich vein of thought some of which is captured here in the #educoninquiry twitter hashtag. In reflecting on the various conversations that I had with a number of participants, the following are a few ideas that continue to resonate with me and that I hope will continue to inform the evolution of our program and learning community.
As I wander through classrooms and engage in conversations with students and teachers, I am always struck by the depth of engagement in our learning spaces when dialog is being driven by an assortment of “why,” “what if,” “could we” and “how about” questions. These questions move us past single nodes of understanding towards a web of interconnected ideas and possibilities. They are generative and force us to challenge assumptions; they move us into areas where we are not always so comfortable. At the same time, they also allow us a freedom to move towards learning that has personal and collective relevance As Grant Lichtman notes in the Falconer:
Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom. each question leads to one or more new questions or answers. Sometimes answers are dead ends; they don’t lead anywhere. Questions are never dead ends. Every question has the inherent potential to lead to a new level of discovery, understanding, or creation, levels that can range from the trivial to the sublime.
One of our tasks then is helping students and ourselves to not only recognize the trivial from the sublime, but to use inquiry as a pathway towards the sublime and the significant.
Inquiry calls on us to be engaged with and in the world. It is not simply a pathway to knowledge acquisition; it is rather a pathway to experience from which real and lasting knowledge can be derived. Absent the authentic experience, what often gets called inquiry is really no more than the following of a set of pre-determined routines. These are routines that often leave little room for exploration and for bumping into the unexpected. As a faculty, we spend considerable time thinking about how to move beyond engagement that is grounded simply in activity. The goal is to develop engagement that is grounded first in a meaningful question or problem for which there may be multiple avenues for exploration and a variety of ways in which understanding can be demonstrated. A additional goal for us is to continue to find ways for this work and the related demonstrations of understanding to be shared beyond the walls of the classroom with a wider and more authentic audience so that the work of school becomes something more than just schoolwork.
As Ken Robinson observes:
What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way.We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems wheremistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this — he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.
Through inquiry, students are regularly challenged to be curious and to see beyond the artificial distinctions that separate subject matter. They work to identify connections within and between subjects, between individuals and their varied experiences and across time. Inquiry also makes the same demands on teachers as they work individually and collaboratively to structure the optimal conditions for learning.
An orientation to inquiry demands and develops an ethic of hard work and values the disposition of resilience. It does this through the teacher’s purposeful structuring and scaffolding of the learning experience. The inquiry classroom is an intentional place; it is one where the student encounters a level of challenge that is just comfortably out of reach. It is as the psychologist Lev Vygotsky defined it in the zone of proximal development, which is:
The inquiry classroom’s essential character is iterative. Students move forward by navigating through, over and around obstacles that are both concrete and abstract. They fall down along the way, pick themselves up and/or are helped up by others, examine the causes of their stumble, chart new paths and try again. Sometimes the going forward is slow and in other moments the learner takes larger leaps forward, but always they are reflecting on how they got to where they are and where they need/want to be. All of this takes place alongside other learners so that insights, observations and understanding can be shared and woven together to create a richer and more detailed map of the learning journey.
When we open ourselves to inquiry in our schools, it’s impact is not limited just to the classroom. It works it’s way into the very culture of the place. It changes how we relate to each other and what we value as a community. A community that moves forward on the basis of asking questions is one that seeks to understand the diverse set of perspectives that its members represent. Itis no surprise then that is a key goal of our advisory program, which seeks to foster caring and advocacy through inquiry. Last week, we held our annual MLK Assembly and were joined by teacher and diversity trainer Rosetta Lee. Rosetta led us through a series of interactive experiences that challenged us to claim our various identities, learn about others, and commit to the inclusion of everyone, no matter who they are. She also invited us to explore how the middle school world mirrors the larger world and what students can do now to train ourselves to be the adults they want to become. For the adults in the room, it was also a chance for us to explore the same questions related to our only slightly longer journeys towards an understanding of ourselves and others.
I left Educon feeling energized about much of what we do at LREI, but also excited to explore how we can push this work ahead even further and with a clearer sense of purpose connected to our school’s longstanding vision for learning. What kinds of inquiry are you engaged in and how is it moving you forward as a learner?
As we ask students to do all the time, the members of the middle school faculty regularly engage in reflection and inquiry related to their practice. We also meet together as learners to explore how best to realize our progressive mission and best meet the needs of our middle school students. These conversations touch on many topics including curriculum, assessment, advisory, diversity, program design and implementation and our own individual and collective professional growth. As we move through this innovation cycle, we regularly examine how our ideas evolve into specific actions and we then make little or large adjustments based on the feedback we gather as we are implementing them.
It is exciting and demanding work, but also helps us to understand what the learning experience is like for our students. As we enter into a new innovation cycle and explore a variety of ideas and possibility, I wanted to share with you a framework for thinking that guided our most recent conversation. The image below, which captures a process developed by the folks at SYP Partners who do interesting work connected to teamwork, business transformation and leadership development, is a compelling one. I also think that it is resonant with many of our core values.
As part of our initial brainstorming activities at this week’s divisional faculty meeting, we also used an iPad tool that SYP Partners have developed called Unstuck. While primarily intended for individual problem solving, we used it to frame some small group work. We think that it may also have some interesting uses with our seventh and eighth graders to support goal setting activities in advisory. If you’re an iPad user, check it out and let me know what you think. Below are some quotes from the app that we used to frame our initial work about engaging in change efforts. What change efforts are you currently undertaking? Maybe these quotes will provide some inspiration.
On other fronts, the return from Winter Break signals the return of the National Geographic Society Geography Bee. Our Geography Bee, which began before the break with preliminary competitions in each homeroom, culminated with the School Championship that took place last week in Middle School Meeting. Representing their respective homerooms were fifth graders Aditya and Maisy, sixth graders Beckett and Monica, seventh graders Lauren and Lola and eighth graders Davis and Halle. After several rounds of competition, the group of eight was reduced to three. Beckett emerged as our third place winner and Maisy and Monica moved on to the championship round, which was ultimately settled after several tiebreaker rounds with Maisy answering the fifth tiebreaker question correctly. Maisy will now move on to take the state-level qualifying exam. Well done and congratulations to all of our participants!
It has been an exciting week in the middle school with the Winter Concert, the Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop concerts for 5th and 6th graders where close to 80 new pieces were premiered by the Metropolis Ensemble and our Seventh Grade Colonial Museum. All of these events and the associated work that led up to them provide clear evidence of the rich and intellectually demanding life of our middle school students. No where has this commitment to purpose been more clear than in the efforts of one of our eighth grade social justice groups that has chosen to focus on gun control issues.
Please support this effort and let others know about it as well. Tomorrow, we will convene as a preK-twelfth grade community for our annual Winter Assembly and buddy group will eat lunch together. I hope that you have a restful winter break and I look forward to the exciting work that lies ahead in the new year.
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
At our recent Thanksgiving assembly I talked about the meaning of Thanksgiving in the context of privilege and the need for us to develop a more empathic connection to others and to the world around us. We talked about wants and needs and how for those struggling to meet their basic needs, finding thanks on Thanksgiving can be complicated. We talked about the famous line from To Kill A Mocking Bird that our eighth graders read, ”You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” So how do we move towards this state of empathy in our lives and in our school?
As writer and education activist Sam Chaltain observes in commenting on the work of Emotional Intelligence author Dan Goleman and behavioral scientist Paul Ekman:
As it turns out, there’s a formula we can use to explain how people master empathy, even if no one’s ever described it that way before. And best of all, it’s got a familiar ring to it:
E = EC².What Goleman and Ekman mapped out — in a little-read blog post from 2007 — was three different ways a person can convey empathy. The first is “cognitive empathy,” or the act of knowing how another person feels. This is the first stage of becoming empathetic, and while it may be helpful in motivating people or running for elective office, it also has a dark side if it exists in isolation: narcissism and sociopathic behavior, to name a few.The second is “emotional empathy,” or the capacity to physically feel the emotions of another. As with cognitive empathy, however, emotional empathy can have troublesome consequences if applied in isolation. As Goleman writes, “One downside of emotional empathy occurs when people lack the ability to manage their own distressing emotions can be seen in the psychological exhaustion that leads to burnout. The purposeful detachment cultivated by those in medicine offers one way to inoculate against burnout. But the danger arises when detachment leads to indifference, rather than to well-calibrated caring.”That leads to the third and final part of the formula — “compassionate empathy”, which is what occurs when we combine the previous two in the name of acting upon what we think and feel.
This is a powerful idea and one that is closely aligned with the core elements of the LREI experience. However, we can be more intentional in the various ways that we cultivate this habit is our students and in ourselves. In thinking about empathy, gratitude and the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m compelled to offer thanks to the members of the middle school faculty for their dedicated, passionate and purposeful commitment to our program, your children and to each other as colleagues.
At our opening faculty meeting in September, I asked faculty members to consider the following questions posed in a blog post by Erin Paynter:
Their responses, which follow below, are grounded in profound sense of empathy and affirm Vonnegut’s notion that true meaning can be found in “the knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
I’m fortunate to be able to spend Wednesday through Friday of this week at the annual New York Association of Indepenedent Schools (NYSAIS) Division Heads Conference. It is a chance to connect, reflect and learn with colleagues representing a wide cross-section of independent schools. The theme of this year’s confeence is “Global Engagement.” This morning, I presented a workshop about our eighth grade Social Justice Project:
Click on the image below to view slides from the presentation:
The keynote speaker for the conference was educator John Hunter who developed the fascinating “World Peace Game.” The following, which was used to introduce John, gets at the key theme’s John addressed:
I’ll have more to say about John’s inspiring words and their relevance to the LREI expereince in a future post after I’ve had more time to process and reflect on what I learned. For now, please enjoy John’s deeply engaging TEDtalk:
Well said, Matt! I look forward to sharing in the unfolding of these musical stories.
Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children’s lives today. In the real world few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution; that’s why creativity is crucial to success in the real world. But more and more we are subjecting children to an educational system that assumes one right answer to every question and one correct solution to every problem, a system that punishes children (and their teachers too) for daring to try different routes. We are also, as I documented in a previous essay, increasingly depriving children of free time outside of school to play, explore, be bored, overcome boredom, fail, overcome failure—that is, to do all that they must do in order to develop their full creative potential.
My classroom is ‘ungraded.’ Want to know one of the biggest mis-perceptions out there? That grades equal learning. I didn’t realize it until someone blatantly insinuated that my students were just “doing stuff” and not really learning, because I don’t “give grades.” That conversation has caused me to evaluate and re-evaluate every single thing I do in my classroom. I’ve taught in a traditional classroom, I’ve given hundreds, probably thousands, of grades. I cringe at the thought of what I used to assign points for. Crossword puzzles. Vocabulary definitions. Doing stuff. The way I assess students now? It’s far more accurate than any grade I ever assigned. When we focus on filling our grade books with points and assigning letters to define what our students know, we miss out on something. When we discuss, give powerful feedback, listen carefully, observe, interview, give them room to create, reflect, and revise, we know more. When we have a record of where they began and where they ended up in our classroom, we know more. Far more. We know them. We know their learning. Real learning? It’s a messy, non-linear process. It cannot simplified into a letter or even points.
Know Their Learning, Know Them – Krissy Venosdale
My view is that we are teaching EVERY child way too much stuff, that EVERY child does not need nearly as much math or science or literature or history as we seem to think, and I believe that EVERY child loses a fair amount of creativity and curiosity in our zeal to deliver and test the all encompassing curriculum. And we do this because we think school is the only place to easily learn all that stuff, or because that’s what “college readiness” is. And in our subject-based world, everyone will fight to the death against eliminating any of it.But at what cost?
What is the “Sound Foundation”? - Will Richardson
“Don’t” messages are utilized quite often in the work environment. Workplace “don’t” messages include statements such as “Don’t be late” (for meetings or deadlines), “Don’t be a jerk” (don’t yell or be rude), “Don’t promise what you can’t deliver” and the like. By stating these messages in positive terms and describing desired behavior, better alignment to that behavior occurs. By stating, “Be on time,” “Be kind” or “Be of service,” these messages become much more actionable.
Build your desired culture with “do” messages – Chris Edmonds