Generals Summer Reading – Important information

This year our students were able to choose a book to read during the summer from over 50. Most of our staff members sponsored a book and students were able to choose the one they best connected with or wanted to read. On the second day of school, book groups will meet to discuss the books and to develop a visual of the message/theme of each book.

The summer reading book discussions will take place on Thursday, 8/29 from 1:10-2:20. In order for students to join their book group, they are expected to complete a simple entry ticket. The entry ticket should be given to the book facilitator at the beginning of Thursday’s discussion. During the discussion, students will be rated by their facilitator who will be using this holistic rubric. Also, during the book discussion groups, there will be a challenge for each group. Each group will discuss and agree upon the most powerful message/theme from your book and express it in no more than 10 words.

I hope everyone enjoyed their summer reading book choice. Feel free to read any of the others just for fun!


Summer Learning Series #5 – What is the role of school?

How often do we think about why we actually go to school? Do we attend to improve our math, reading, writing, and analytical skills? Do we attend to help us learn to socialize? Do we attend to help us get into college? Do we attend to learn to become good citizens? Is anyone really sure why we attend school?

After pondering this for a few weeks, I thought it may make sense to think about why I sent my own kids to school. I wanted them to learn more, to be more skilled readers, writers, calculators and to learn more about the world around them. I also wanted them to become independent and get into a “good” college so they could get a “good” job and become “good”, contributing citizens.

I also discussed this with fellow administrator, Cutler Principal, Jennifer Clifford.  She gave me her perspective:

As a parent of school-age children and an educator for over twenty years, imagine my surprise when I realized that most of my own children’s learning is happening outside of school. After all, isn’t learning the reason why we are in schools? Why I have spent over two decades working in public schools? 

My oldest loved kindergarten for the first three months. He delighted in learning correct letter formation (and was delighted that I knew the Fundations sequence…the only perk he’s realized so far from having a parent as a principal). But by the middle of the year? He still loved his teachers and friends, but was disinterested in school. He was given appropriate work, but he was bored. And bored five year olds don’t sit and comply quietly. They are challenging. For everyone. But his personal challenge? To stay interested in his daily hours of traditional schoolwork. 

As I drove to work one day fretting over his lack of interest in school–he’s my kid, shouldn’t I make sure he (of all people) loves school? I started thinking that maybe I didn’t learn much at school and maybe he wasn’t going to either. I grew up nextdoor to my grandmother, a second grade teacher, who made sure we all knew the basics. I devoured books outside of school in subjects that interested me. I completed my schoolwork quietly and endured group projects, but looking back, I’m not sure how much I actually learned in those years beyond how to “do school”. This realization as a parent and as a career educator made me stop in my tracks. Why do I sent my children to school if it’s not where they are learning? What have I been doing for the last twenty years?! These questions led me to explore the concepts of learning vs. schooling and to work, study, and think with the Modern Learners Community in starting in the summer of 2018.

In the Educational Leadership article, What kind of citizens do we need?, Joel Westheimer opens with the following:

Democracies make special demands on their citizens. Schools must prepare young people to meet those demands.

Do schools actually prepare students to meet the demands of (assuming US) democracy? Do our parents send their kids to school with that in mind? I’m not so sure. In my 28 years in education, I don’t ever remember a conversation specifically related to helping our students to meet the demands of democracy. 

The HWRSD’s Mission is “to educate our children to become young adults who are of good character and demonstrate mastery of the knowledge and skills needed to be successful members of our global economy and engaged citizens of the 21st Century.”  We have also developed a set of districtwide transfer goals that help to inform our work:

  • Demonstrate Character – Build positive personal relationships and make responsible choices that are physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually sound.  
  • Exhibit Resilience – Persevere in facing the challenges and taking the risks integral to owning one’s learning process.
  • Communicate and Collaborate – Utilize effective and varied methods of communication and collaboration for different purposes and audiences.
  • Problem Solve and Think Critically – Demonstrate critical and creative thinking in order to make informed decisions, draw conclusions, and solve problems.  
  • Lead Locally and Globally – Consider and evaluate multiple historical and cultural perspectives to lead empathetically, respectfully, and responsibly in the local and global community.

Are these the reasons our parents send their children to our school?  Are there other motives that we may not fully understand? Jenn Clifford writes, “For me, the purpose of school is to prepare my children for their future. Not specifically for work, but for whatever lies ahead for them. I agree with Ted Dintersmith, author of What School Could be when he says that “School should be about finding out what you’re good at—preparing for lives of purpose, lives of contribution.”

In a recent Forbes article, Tom Vander Ark writes about Four Emerging Trends in Learning.  In the first trend, contribution, he highlights a noticeable move away from standardized testing to the idea that “education that is driven by a sense of purpose” and further states,”making the world a better place is catching on.” We are beginning to see an increasing number of schools that are moving towards a more student-centered, project-based learning environment with the goal to solve real-world problems.  Will this be the newest role of school?

The role of school is really a moving target; it truly depends on the  individual perspective, the school, and more realistically, socioeconomics.  Ask a high school senior at Hamilton-Wenham and they are likely to say that school should prepare them for college.  While this may be the prevailing thought of most of our students, it may not be the perspective of students in other schools around the country.  Generally, I believe, the prevailing thought would be preparation for future.

Businessman and author Peter Senge believes, “The purpose of education is for me to become me in the context of the society in which I live, so I can truly contribute to my society.”  Thomas Jefferson is known for his thoughts on education and one of his more famous quotes is “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”  

So what is the role of school in 2020 and beyond?  I believe experience in school should prepare students to engage their futures by offering a broad range of skills that can be transferred to real-world problem solving and life development.  These skills are developed from the earliest ages in a continuous growth cycle that allows for a balance of foundational skills, projects, personal investigation, inquiry, writing, calculating, communicating in various ways while integrating technology as needed. Schools must help students to develop the skills to adaptably learn and re-learn so that they can continue to manage their lives in a world that moves at an ever increasing pace.  School should also include opportunities for students to develop passions by enabling opportunities for them to experiment, take healthy risks and experience failure in a supportive environment so they can learn to understand themselves, their beliefs and to meet the expectations of a global economy. 

I’m curious, what is your idea of the role of school?  Chime in here.

Summer Learning Series #4 – What does deep and powerful learning look like?

This is another big question in my Summer Learning Series that most educators would answer differently. If you had to memorize some dates, a list of words, famous battles, scientific facts, etc. for a test, then you took the test and got a 91, did you learn anything? I would say, no. Two months later, with no further study, the same assessment would yield dramatically different results and more than likely worse; therefore, no clear evidence of deep and powerful learning.

In my last post, I noted Seymour Sarason’s definition of learning:

“Productive learning is where the process engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more. Absent wanting to learn, the learning context is unproductive or counterproductive.”

We see this process of “wanting to learn” more mostly occurring outside of school. One process many educators would identify with is the student who independently learns to play the guitar outside of school with little formal instruction other than the support of Youtube, friends, and listening to music. A conversation with said student would yield an individual with a treasure trove of knowledge about guitars, music, musicians, and a desire to want to learn more.

I have also witnessed “wanting to learn” more in our school with our HWRHS Robotics Club. This is group of students who meet to research, design, and build a robot that will complete against robots from other schools. On a visit to one of their meetings, I noticed higher order thinking, questioning, failure, reflection, and students teaching others about circuits and electricity. These students were genuinely interested in a real-world opportunity that gave them the power to continue to learn more and more as they delved into the depths of the unknown. Most importantly, they successfully built a competitive, fully-functioning robot.

So my question is, “How can schools consistently reflect this level of learning?”

Initially, students need a safe environment — one that is free from fear and bias and one that supports failure as an option. This environment should support student centered-learning that is interest-based, around real-world themes that span multiple content areas. Students can explore, discuss, and reflect with peers, adults and other professionals about their learning process. Technology would be available (not restricted) as needed to research, write, communicate, and publish. The environment is inquiry based so that students can ask deep questions, explore different options and opinions, and experience a level of failure so that they can rethink and redeploy resources to support their acquisition of knowledge. Ultimately, students should be expected to communicate clearly, both in writing and verbally, about their journey while building in opportunities to teach others about what they are learning. In reality, this learning doesn’t need to happen within the walls of a classroom or school building.

Notice I didn’t mention anything related to the current school situation:

  • Bells
  • Schedules
  • Sitting in rows
  • Teacher in charge
  • One subject focus
  • Mid-year/Final Exams
  • Standardized assessments
  • Pre-determined curriculum

And the list goes on of all of the things none of us enjoyed about school.

While I know this post doesn’t cover all that I am thinking about deep and powerful learning in school, it is a start down a road of possibilities that helps us to think about and discuss ways to improve actual learning or knowledge acquisition. This, in turn, supports the development of learning to learn, our ultimate goal as the global environment continues to move faster than ever.

Summer Learning Series #3 – What is Learning?

Today I am grappling with the biggest question that most educators can not answer well, including me. What is learning? It seems weird to state that educators can’t define what learning is, after all, isn’t it our business? Inherently we know what learning is, because we are learners, but what how do we define it?

My time with the Modern Learners Team and Change School has really given me the opportunity to ponder this question (and many, many others) that, I believe, is central to our craft as educators. When I first heard it out loud, it just sort of floated in the air for a few minutes until I made a feeble attempt to define it. Very feeble. Then, I thought about it, but never answered the question out loud.

When you were in school, what was the most powerful learning experience you had? Why do you remember it? Was it the teacher? The type of experience? The environment? Mine was always a hands-on, authentic activity where I could be physically involved to probe, push, write, examine, analyze, and even break (or take apart) with few boundaries.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about how many of us learned something new that we were interested in knowing more about. Take baseball. I was one of many kids in the neighborhood who got together and started to learn about baseball. How? We played. We wanted to play and aspired to be like some of our famous baseball heroes. Mine was Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox. Some rules were known and others were not, but the full experience from being involved in unorganized baseball through to organized baseball, helped me to learn so about the game, pushed me to want to learn and know more about players, teams and all of their associated stats. Each time I played as a kid, I gained more knowledge about the game.

Last summer, in an online discussion, I wrote down this quote from Will Richardson, “At the end of the day, if you really want to learn something, you have to care about it.” Makes sense, right? During a second online opportunity, school leader Chris Lehmann said, “The work of a kid’s head, heart and hands has the most value”. As I dig further, professor Seymour Papert is known for his theory that “people build knowledge most effectively when they are actively engaged in constructing things in the world.” And finally Seymour Sarason cleanly states in his book, And What Do You Mean About Learning, “that the learning process is one which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more. Absent wanting to learn, the learning context is unproductive or counterproductive.”

Let’s get back to the original question, What is learning? Here’s my shot at defining it: Learning is an active, social process where people gain new knowledge and skills by participating in authentic experiences, having the opportunity to teach others,  while developing the desire to learn more.  So what does this mean for schools? I believe we are not supporting and creating the best learning environments possible for our students and teachers.

As we think about schools, we must look more deeply into how people actually learn. We must come to have a collective understanding of the definition of learning and how that can support the decisions we make. We must talk about and create environments that support deep and powerful learning. Mostly, we need to trust our teachers and students to co-design opportunities for learning that really steer towards what I have defined above. Sitting in rows, waiting for the bell to ring hardly seems like the ideal learning environment, but we continue to do it every day.

Summer Learning Series – Contexts of Modern Learning part 2 – Literacy

A Google search yields a simple definition of literacy as “the ability to read and write.” While appropriate, this may not fit the definition of literacy in modern contexts outlined in this post by Will Richardson. He writes, “literacy” is now much more than reading, writing, and being able to do basic math.” The most recent US Presidential election clearly demonstrated that our new literacies must include so much more. Remember Fake News?

Each day, as we scroll through our phones and the various social media sites we choose to follow, we are inundated by all sorts of media, text, video and audible stories. Some we choose and some we don’t. I wonder, though, how many people can discern fact from fiction? Do most people believe that everything they are exposed to is the absolute truth? What skills do they have to help them to decide? Did they learn those skills in school? Probably not.

My school is a 1-1 environment that started out as an iPad for everyone. The iPad was chosen for a number of reasons including the possibility of opening the doors to modern literacies by enabling the portable ability to video, text, create, design, organize, record, listen to and communicate in various ways. Over the last few years, we have noticed that the older students — juniors and seniors — have moved to using laptops instead. Why? After a lot of thought, I feel like I now realize that there may not be a clear understanding of the modern contexts of literacy within my school.

A bold statement, but I feel confident that the “academic” and “college ready” environment at my school pushes the students to the laptop so they can research and type papers while preparing for life in college. While it may not necessarily be about the device, it is clear to me that the current contexts and beliefs at my school drive the choice of device.

Conversely, there are many examples in my school of students and teachers learning about and using a tablet or even a phone to record video and audio and to create dynamic presentations and blog posts that are loaded with links to various up-to-date resources, videos, podcasts, etc. to support their work. They can share it locally and globally while having the ability to consistently update it and transform their work as it evolves.

So what does this all mean? There is an URGENT need for schools to redefine literacy as it pertains to modern contexts. According to a position paper by NCTE, “Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable.

The paper goes on to outline 6 facets of 21st Century Literacies:

  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.”

To take it even further, the 21st century schools website lists eight essential literacies:

  • Arts/Creativity
  • Ecoliteracy
  • Cyberliteracy
  • Physical Fitness and Health Literacies
  • Global Competencies & Multi-cultural literacies
  • Social Emotional Literacies
  • Media Literacies
  • Financial Literacies

So where does this leave schools? A huge question with a complex answer. Schools need to agree upon and decide what they believe about preparing students for their ever evolving futures. We must look forward and discuss the future possibilities that our children may encounter, then help them to interpret and understand the ways these literacies can be tools that they can draw upon as part of their own personal life-long learning journey. Since technology has been the driver of many of these new literacies, it is clear that we must continue to learn about and understand the ways that these literacies will intersect and morph into even newer literacies so that we can keep with the rapid pace of the modern contexts of learning.

Summer of Learning Series #2 – What are the Contexts of Modern Learning?

In June I gave a graduation speech that briefly outlined some of the changes that are happening, related to the 4th Industrial Revolution, that our students may experience as they travel through their lives.

In the speech I wrote:

I believe it is a time that is destined to make your future lives dramatically different because of the accelerated integration of Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, The Internet of Things, Robotics, Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, and even Quantum Computing.  As these new innovations work in unison to make our lives easier, our homes smarter, our currency digital, our cars driverless, and our data more accessible I urge you to remember that these technologies can also widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

I wonder how often educators think of these modern contexts and the ways that we can prepare our students to live within them? This morning, I read a fascinating report, “The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Learning, Teaching and Education” that I would guess most educators would never read. According to the author, ” Many current learning practices address the needs of an industrial society that is currently being transformed”. (Tuomi, p. 29) Are schools and school personnel having conversations about this transformation? Who would start the conversation and how would the results be synthesized into current learning opportunities? Who will be the first to integrate AI fully into their classroom? School? Can AI negate the need for a classroom? a school?

As I explore these technical contexts, I wonder what other contexts should be included in my thinking. Surely there are rapidly changing social-emotional contexts. Today, our students come to us with a plethora of issues that fall within the social emotional spectrum while also often interfering with school.

According to the website,

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Teachers, students, parents and administrators need to commit to working within these social contexts to help students to navigate the sometimes seemingly impossible, so they can function at acceptable levels while at school.

At our school, we have integrated our guidance team within our wellness classes. A guidance counselor and a wellness teacher work together to help students to navigate current social emotional issues as they relate to the lives, including ways learning can be impacted.

I’m sure I am missing some of the modern contexts as they apply to learning. Please feel free to let me know what your thoughts are and if you think I missed anything, zip me an email.

Summer of Learning Series #1 – Learning about Learning

Today is the Summer Solstice and I thought it was as good a day as any to start my summer learning. This summer I will be participating in a number of learning opportunities that are directly connected to the strategic work we are doing within the district.

Over the next 8 weeks, several administrators will be running book groups for our teachers. Each of the books was chosen based on our discussions at the leadership team meetings about reimagining education. Ultimately we are working towards our why, meeting the needs of all learners by reimagining schools. It is exciting to note that more that half of the district staff is taking part in these book groups. The books are:

  1. What School Could Be – Ted Dintersmith
  2. Building School 2.0 – How to create the schools we need – Chris Lehmann & Zac Chase
  3. Timeless Learning: How imagination, Observation and zero based thinking changed schools – Ira Socol, Pam Moran, Chad Ratcliff
  4. In Search of Deeper Learning – The Quest to Remake the American High School. – Jal Mehta, Sarah Fine

I have read the Timeless Learning book and encourage anyone interested in education to read it. I, along with my colleague, Jen Clifford (Principal of the Culter Elementary), will be running the What School Could Be book group with over 50 educators form our district. We will begin exploring 3 questions with our group:

  1. What holds your school back from innovating?
  2. Are these factors simply obstacles, or absolute barriers?
  3. How can you mitigate these factors?

Along with the book groups, many of our Leadership Team members are enrolled in the Modern Learners Change School. This is an 8 week online course designed to provoke and open your mind to what is possible in education. The course begins by setting the contexts for modern learning , helping you to think about what you believe about learning and ultimately bringing you to develop your own answer to the big question: What is Learning?

I hope to be able to let everyone in on my explorations and ultimately the shaping of my own beliefs about learning in our school. I invite you to come along for the journey and hope that this public space will keep me consistently sharing all that I will be engaged with throughout the summer!