HWRSD All Day Professional Development – What are we doing all day?

Today’s speaker, Will Richardson, our opening day speaker, has returned to help us to continue the difficult conversations that we need to have as we develop our beliefs at the school and district levels.

Will talks about the “illogic of the system”…Why we do the things we do if we know them to be illogical. One example he gave is sleep deprivation of teens. Given the research about teens and their sleep cycles and the start time of school, why do we continue to ignore research?

The vibe for the day: “Today is different”, The story of school is changing, yes there are challenges and there has never been a better time to be a learner.” The tools we have to enhance our abilities to connect and communicate is unprecedented. People can learn anytime, anywhere. He challenges us by asking, “What have you learned without a teacher?”

Schools and teachers are needed more than ever because this world is so complex. Having kids come to school with adults who care about them, can inspire them and give them tools to make sense of the complexity is a big deal.

He discusses the Modern Learners Lens. It includes, beliefs, contexts, and practices with a strong supportive culture of learning.

Image result for modern learners lens

While discussing the beliefs, Will underscores the “excruciating difficulty” of the work. This work “takes time, commitment and a willingness to understand the current modern contexts.” As an example, he talks about new literacies. Helping students to analyze and understand all that is available on the Internet. Fake news is the best example. How do kids know?

So, what is important to know in school now? People are arguing that schools are pretty far off base because what we are teaching is “in case” we need to know. We should be teaching kids to stay curious and to maintain a love of learning. He says, “which one billionth of everything available on the Internet should we teach?” Who should decide?

Around the globe schools have already solidified their beliefs. They emulate these beliefs throughout their schools by making decisions and living their beliefs every day. They essentially walk the talk. Some examples include:

The big question for HWRSD? What do we believe?

Stay tuned!!


HWRSD School Committee leadership team joint workshop

On Wednesday evening, I was a participant in an interesting workshop that was designed to help the district leadership team and the school committee members to begin to discuss and explore, “What is the future we want to create?”

Here is the opening slide deck:

The night was designed using the World Cafe Model for participants to be in small groups made up of a mix of teachers, administrators, and school committee members who moved at 20 minute intervals between three tables that had different prompts/provocations:

Each of the participants was given a passport to track their thoughts and their discussions with other table members.

After each group visited each of the 3 tables, we asked people to recap their thoughts into 3 categories, Wows!, Wonders? and Worries… Here are the responses.

One thing to note is that each group was seated at different types of furniture that is considered to be modern school furniture so they could also understand and experience the changes that can also be made within the school and classroom environments with flexible furniture that can roll and be configured easily into collaboration stations.

This work is the first step for us to work towards the next workshop, Deeper Learning.

HWRHS up coming college visits

College visits begin on Monday 9/16.  Currently we have more than 111 colleges scheduled to visit HWRHS this year. Students should check their email for more details. Here is a list of those visiting next week:

Gordon CollegeM9/16/2019B8:33 AM
Keene State CollegeT9/17/2019A8:33 AM
Massachusetts Maritime Academy*T9/17/2019D11:17 AM
Johnson & Wales University RIT9/17/2019E12:37 PM
Assumption CollegeT9/17/2019F1:30 PM
Salve Regina UniversityW9/18/2019D9:47 AM
University of Oregon*W9/18/2019E11:00 AM
College of CharlestonTh9/19/2019A7:40 AM
Lasell CollegeTh9/19/2019B8:33 AM
Southern New Hampshire UnivTh9/19/2019F10:04 AM
Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTh9/19/2019G1:30 PM
Northeastern UniversityF9/20/2019A8:33 AM
Colby CollegeF9/20/2019G12:37 PM
Sierra Nevada College*F9/20/2019F1:30 PM

New School Resource Officer for the HWRSD

Today was the first day at school for our new School Resource Officer, Kent Richards of the Hamilton Police Department. Kent is a graduate of the HW school district and is a familiar face around our schools. He has been instrumental in his work with the ALICE program, training of school staff. During the last few years he could often be seen walking the halls at the HS/MS or even teaching a class.

Officer Kent Richards, Hamilton PD

Officer Richards has a very distinct and important role in the HWRSD. He is someone who

  • who will foster positive relationships with students, staff and the community
  • who is able to assist with educational or instructional activities
  • who will be involved in school emergency management planning
  • who will investigate and respond to criminal misconduct
  • who will be available when there is reasonable fear for safety of students or personnel

Visibility is important as he forges new relationships across the district. He will be in and out of all five schools making connections with students, staff, parents and members of the community. There may be days he is teaching a class at one school and reading to students at another.

We are excited for this new addition to our schools as we all work together to keep our schools safe and secure while enhancing strong community ties.

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.