#ILoveMySchool

Last year we adopted a Manifesto which describes our purpose and will soon guide our strategic plan. As an educator who strives to transform education, I find it to be inspirational. The Mount Vernon Presbyterian School Manifesto states:

Education is changing.

We live amidst a fundamental reordering of how we think about school: from the centuries-old belief that content knowledge is its central currency, to the nascent understanding that what you know matters less than who you are, and what you are uniquely capable of impacting.

Across the country, communities and schools are beginning to test this shift in myriad ways. But overall, educators, parents and community leaders are still in search of a well-lighted path that can illuminate what the future of education will actually need to look like — and require.

A way forward has already been envisioned: the Mount Vernon Continuum. More than perhaps any other school, Mount Vernon understands what the chemistry of a great school requires:

  • A clear and compelling organizational mission.
  • Cultural norms that invite people to step outside of their comfort zone.
  • People-centered design principles that guide teaching and learning.
  • And six timeless, significant habits of mind.

Continuum

To continue to set the conditions for learners to excel in college, career, and citizenship, there is still much work to be done. As a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact, we see three key essential questions guiding our future work:

How might we make school more reflective of real life?

We choose to engage and explore all scales of community. We welcome the chance to live at the edges where disciplines mingle in search of maximum impact. We want our school to be a destination for anyone who wishes to design a better world. We want our school to create intermingling rivers of connection between people, ideas, and sectors. We want our school to embody a new notion of what “school” is and does.

How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?

We choose to wander and to wonder. We seek to create a learning environment that invites all people to follow the sparks of motivation, interest and curiosity as far as they can take them. We seek to provide paths of faith and curiosity. We seek to nurture experiences of deep purpose and joyful play. We seek to model living, learning mindsets that constantly adapt and expand.

How might we inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake together?

We choose to make our thinking visible and actionable. We envision learning in which children are seen and heard. We envision transparency in the learning journey — process, product, and progress. We welcome the chance to wrestle with voices and perspectives that challenge our assumptions. We envision learning in which our trust for each other strengthens our sense of individual freedom, autonomy, and interdependence.

We choose to graduate learners and leaders who are “impact-ready.”

We choose to experiment with extraordinary ideas that might one day become the norm. We will not just build a roadmap for future generations of MVPS students and families; Mount Vernon will continue to carve a path for the future of learning itself.

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Amazing Summer of Learning

This summer I have had three amazing learning experiences that were each very different, yet they connect to our mission at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. Here is my first pass at a brief overview of the takeaways.

Traverse Conference at the Watershed School in Boulder, CO

MVPS Team at Traverse16
The MVPS Team (minus Bo Adams) at Traverse 16

Storify from Traverse

Using the local environment for learning – Right from the start we were working with John Weiss from Human Design to consult on their Social Action Machine Project. Starting out on a non-educational project was the perfect way to get the creative juices flowing. This was also a reminder that we need to search for projects for our students that are outside the realm of our walls.

Baking human into everything you do. John Weiss

Project-based learningNicole Martin and I joined the Integrating Disciplines Through Real-World Learning session. We were immediately put on a bus and traveled to visit the site of a 6th grade project that involved ecology, economics, government, sociology and many other disciplines. After the group listed their community problems Nicole and I latched on to transportation and traffic in our area. More to come later on our ideas for a schoolwide project on this problem.

Disciplines legitimize each other.

Entrepreneurship – We learned about Startup Weekend, a program for teenagers that is held in cities around the country. Our task was to study the organic food market and pitch a start up. The highlight was our visit to a Whole Foods. We observed and interviewed shoppers in the store. We got a taste of immersing ourselves in the research and empathy process.

Consultivations – Our students are so much more capable than what we typically give them credit for and Meghan Cureton presented how our Innovation Diploma students consulted with an organization on the design of a pocket park. Here’s an article from a local newspaper explaining what the students accomplished.

fuse 16 at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Refuge Coffee fuse16
fuse16 work with Refuge Coffee

The goals for participants were:

  • Make an impact in an issue alongside several Atlanta nonprofits
  • Learn design thinking as a practitioner, rather than in a “classroom” setting
  • Model the possibilities and opportunities for doing school differently

Storify

The best part of the entire experience was learning the DEEPDT process while working with Refuge Coffee. Refuge is an amazing social business that strives to create community for Clarkston residents. In doing so the company also allows for newly immigrated refugees to earn a living wage and develop skills, including English language. Clarkston has the reputation for being the most diverse square mile in the world. The learning was fantastic and the relationships that we built with the Refuge team were moving.

Pioneer Lab with Education Reimagined in Washington D.C.

PioneerLab Text
Pioneer Lab in Washington D.C.

Imagine a network of educators and organizations that is focused on transforming education by creating a new paradigm. This is what Education Reimagined is trying to do by organizing educators from around the country to participate in their Pioneer Labs. I was invited to attend the second session of training to prepare for a September gathering. The learning was two fold:

Education Reimagined has created a vision, a new paradigm, for the for the future of education that is Learner Centered and the five elements are listed below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.36.50 PM

The second piece of learning was around the change process. It’s fascinating to understand how extremely difficult it is for people to move from one paradigm to another. The most telling example was how medical professionals believed, for 2000 years, that bloodletting was the only way to cure diseases. It took new scientific knowledge and extensive research for medical professionals to shift this paradigm.

Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental
process that you are hardly aware of its
existence, until you try to communicate with
someone with a different paradigm.
—DONELLA MEADOWS, THE GLOBAL CITIZEN
What does this new paradigm mean?
The learner-centered paradigm changes our very view of learners themselves.
Learners are seen and known as wondrous, curious individuals with vast capabilities and limitless potential. This paradigm recognizes that learning is a lifelong
pursuit and that our natural excitement and eagerness to discover and learn
should be fostered throughout our lives, particularly in our earliest years. Thus,
in this paradigm, learners are active participants in their learning as they gradu-
ally become owners of it, and learning itself is seen as an engaging and exciting
process. Each child’s interests, passions, dreams, skills, and needs shape his or
her learning experience and drive the commitments and actions of the adults and
communities supporting him or her. (“A Transformational Vision for Education in
the US.” Education Reimagined, 2015. Page 5.)
Learner-centered education isn’t the newest way to “do” education. Nor is it a new
“to do” list or set of activities to add onto your work. Because it is a paradigm shift, it
actually offers a new worldview and demands a mindset shift. It becomes a new way
to…well, be. And, that changes everything.
I look forward to participating in this important work.
WOW! These were all inspiring experiences and they have helped me grow as an educator.

Searching for Flexible Learning Spaces to Study

In my last post New Learning Spaces = New Flow of Learning, I shared the plans for a new Upper School building at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.  I have been fascinated by what this new campus will mean for learning at our school and am fixated on finding comparable spaces. Earlier in the year, I had the opportunities to visit the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library and North Carolina State University and the G. Wayne Clough Learning Commons at Georgia Tech. Both places provide learners with flexible and open spaces.

While these amazing facilities help me to study how learners use the space, I keep asking myself, “Is the type of use in these libraries different than how are teachers and students will use our new building?” (What I’m about to write actually makes me chuckle.) In general, it appears that students determine how the space will be used. They can work individually or in groups. They can play video games when they want. They can get assistance from librarians or writing tutors on demand or they can use the technology when needed. These spaces don’t seem to be teacher driven or collaboratively driven by teachers and students.

So, if we took over Georgia Tech’s Learning Commons for a week, how would we organize the space? Where would the teachers and students go and how would the space be used? What would the flow of learning by like? These are the questions that I am wrestling with now.

We are planning to convert current classroom space to make it more flexible next year and we are searching for schools who are already experiencing teaching and learning in these flexible spaces. If you’re one of these schools, let’s talk.

#IMAMUSTANG – Highlights from My New School

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS
So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

As many of you know I joined the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School community this year serving as the Head of the Upper School. Mount Vernon is a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” and we are redesigning the school experience for our students. So far, the experiences and challenges seem to be just what I was seeking.

Take a look at what I’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. This laundry list will provide you with a taste of what life is like at Mount Vernon.

On September 22 and October 6 Trung Le, Christian Long and the rest of their team from Wonder by Design held Curiosity Conversations around the current prototype of the proposed Upper School building with members of our community.

The current model is nothing like your traditional school building. “Flexibility” was the number one word used by those who participated in the conversation. There are “Inquiry Zones”, “Inquiry Accelerators”, “The Plex”, “The Mobile Action Lab”, and STEM areas. This building represents the school that we want to be and our efforts to create a program that fits the space are continuous.

Our students are working on their iProjects and those students who are seeking to find the topic that hooks them have had access to mini-field trips around town (The Beltline, CNN, College Football Hall of Fame, Historical Sweet Auburn Market), entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs like Corbin Klett (you have to see his 3 min speech at the Georgia Tech Commencement Ceremony), Ted Wright, from Fizz, Chantel Adams from Forever We and designer Jenn Graham of Atlanta Streets Alive.

I, along with colleagues and students attended the Creative Mornings – Atlanta meeting where Aarron Walter spoke about Empathy and designing for emotion at MailChimp. Our students then visited the Museum of Design Atlanta and had lunch at Atlanta Tech Village.

While the MVAllstars provided our community with a powerful drama around Armenian immigrants to the US, our World History students were conducting interviews of local Armenians to learn more about the their knowledge of the genocide that occurred 100 years ago. Our photography students prepared an exhibit that set the tone as viewers entered the theater and one of our teachers shared his family’s immigration story. This was an excellent example of teams working together to craft the entire experience for theater goers.

Oh, and it’s been so long ago that I almost forgot about having the honor to attend Plywood Presents where we heard from many inspirational problem solvers.

To provide our students with opportunities to travel abroad and within the US we kicked off sign up for our interim trips. Students can chose from trips to Australia, London, Greece, Costa Rica, Seattle, New Orleans, Crystal River, FL, local internships and other local experiences. Plus, our Innovation Diploma students will be visiting the Stanford d.School to work with graduate students on a Future of Food challenge.

More later on our work on improving assessment practices and designing a MVPS Upper School Humanities program.

Join us at Graded for Innovate 2015 in March

We are looking for forward-thinking, dynamic and passionate educators who want to lead the learning at Innovate 2015.  Submit a proposal to workshop, present and lead learning at Innovate 2015!

Innovate Proposal

 

 

Innovate Page

Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

fishbowl jump

“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Inspired by Passionate Students

Presenting with Two Young Visionaries
Me with Two Young Visionaries

For the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with Gabi Campos and Nik Hildebrandt, two Graded students who are passionate about what the future of education can look like. So passionate that they took the initiative yesterday to present at the 2014 School Leadership Summit.

Gabi and Nik are currently 11th graders who have developed bold ideas on education that are based on their experiences and research.  Several weeks ago they presented these ideas to their IB English teacher with a proposal to present at the AASSA Conference that Graded hosted. While it was too late to present at AASSA they were determined to share their message with a wider audience. The School Leadership Summit now provides them with a global audience.

Gabi and Nik shared a story about “Caroline” a high school student who is very good at “doing school”. Their ideas for the perfect school include:

  • Promoting Creativity and Real-life Projects
  • Abolishing Grades
  • Providing Opportunities for Failure
  • Focus on the Future
  • Developing Life Skills

They have even bought into Tony Wagner’s model of learning environments that cultivate innovators that include Play, Passion and Purpose. Gabi and Nik were so excited after the presentation that the first words out of the mouths were, “What’s next?” I encourage you to spend 45 minutes listening to their presentation. The recording is available here.

Whether you agree with their ideas or not you have to admire their enthusiasm and desire to make a difference. I know that I have truly enjoyed partnering with them and I look forward to supporting their work in the coming months. There may be a new club on campus for student innovators that needs an advisor.