You never connect the dots in advance

My former boss, Brett Jacobsen always said that we don’t connect the dots until afterwards. When we are planning for the future we can’t know exactly what the final product will look like. We can’t predict the future. It is hard to believe that just over two years ago I stepped into the role of the Head of Upper School at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. As a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” it was a match made in heaven. For years I had been chasing the dream of transforming education for our students and Mount Vernon was just what I was searching for. Each and every day I had the opportunity to work with a talented team of educators to push boundaries to constructively answer these three questions. How might we …

  • make school more reflective of real life.
  • empower all learners to be seekers and explorers.
  • inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake.

I had the pleasure of continuing work where students could explore their passions with iProjects, developing interdisciplinary courses, watching students partner with outside organizations to develop ideas and create was inspiring, creating meaningful project based learning was fun,  using design thinking to develop creative solutions made sense, and where studying assessment for the future was beyond the trees.

The work was challenging and rewarding.

So, no one would have predicted that by July 2017 I would be on safari for new teacher orientation in Mikumi National Park. I never would have predicted that path back in 2015.

Elephants 2
Taking a Drink
Hippo Heart
Sunset at the Hippo Pool
Sailing
Sailing in Msasani Bay

I never would have guessed that my family and I would move to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where I would be the Secondary Principal at the International School of Tanganyika. IST is another amazing school but very different than MVPS. We strive to “challenge, inspire and support all students to fulfill their potential and improve the world.” At IST our curriculum is based on the International Baccalaureate Primary, Middle Years and Diploma Programs. There are 60 different nationalities represented in the student body and the faculty hails from 20 different countries. Like MVPS, I anticipate that the work will be challenging and rewarding.

After spending 14 years working at three different international schools outside the United States it feels like we’ve found our niche. While our time in Atlanta was an adventure, our life here in Dar will be an uber-adventure. Now that the transition is over I’m ready to share my learning again.

Karibu Nyumbani!

 

 

 

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New Learning Spaces = New Flow of Learning

For over a year now Mount Vernon Presbyterian School has been working with Trung Le, Christian Long, and Sam Chaltain of   Wonder by Design to develop a state of the art Upper School building. It’s been fascinating to watch them in action capture the spirit of our school and how they have translated that spirit into a design for our new building. While the design is still undergoing iterations, there is no doubt that this new facility will require us to reconsider our approach to curriculum and teaching and learning. The Wonder Team introduced us to the design drivers and our community settled on these three.

  • How might we make school more reflective of real life?
  • How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?
  • How might we inspire one another–and the larger world–through the work that we undertake?

The building includes:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10.18.19 PM

Below are several photos of the model that was presented to community members in the fall.

Exterior 1
Front of Building
Exterior 2
Side of Building
Inquiry Zone
Inquiry Zone Layout
Inquiry Accelerator
Inquiry Accelerator
Cafe
Cafe

During the curiosity conversations with community members people kept asking, how will our current academic program fit into this building? They also asked, how are you going to prepare faculty for this shift? Along the same lines we keep trying to image what the schedule will be like for teachers and students. What will Mr. Jimenez’s class be doing at 10:00 am on Monday? Will Mr. Jimenez have a class like we know it today? Will Mr. Jimenez and his students be assigned a specific space?

These are all fascinating questions that we are exploring now. Robert Rhodes from Horace Greeley High School, said of their renovation project, “It’s a space, but it’s really a curriculum project.”

 

 

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

Never quite satisfied…

Photo from Affordable Housing Institute: US, http://affordablehousinginstitute.org/blogs/us/

This post is in celebration of Scott Mcleod’s Leadership Day 2012 (even though it’s several months late)

This post is all about Peter Senge’s concept of creative tension. The concept that I chose to base this blog on.

“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.”

In February 2008, I attended the Unplugged Conference at the American School of Bombay. I remember it well since it was a life changing experience for me. After watching the ASB teachers and students seamlessly use technology for teaching and learning I knew that I had to be working in a 1 to 1 laptop environment. At the time I was the middle/high school principal at Mont’Kiara International School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By the 2009 school year, when I realized that we weren’t going to transition to a 1:1 environment, I decided to quit my job. My desire to lead in that setting was that strong. By 2010 I signed on as the high school principal at Graded in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the middle school was in the process of going 1:1. This was exactly the type of opportunity that I was looking for.

Fortunately I work with some amazing educators who were open to the idea of moving in this direction. We created a high school task force that included teachers, administrators, students and parents and the group was charged with leading the learning and planning for the August 2012 roll out. We were fortunate to be able to work closely with Shabbi Luthra from ASB and Scott Mcleod even joined us virtually for one of our meetings. There were certainly times when we questioned what we were doing but we were committed to changing our learning culture.

Over time we developed actions plans that included developing our capacity by embedding professional development into our normal work and learning, attending conferences and networking with other educators. The plans also led to a responsible use policy, identifying our digital toolkit, adding additional power outlets and making sure that there was sufficient power and increased bandwidth. On August 2nd, almost 4 years after my visit to ASB, I can finally state that I am the principal of a 1:1 high school.  For some reason August 2nd was anti-climatic. It certainly was not what I had expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy that teachers and students have 24/7 access to technology and that the classroom learning environment is evolving. Our new focus is integrating our ICT standards into current units. It’s now about working with students to use technology to develop these skills and knowledge.

As you can imagine, there have been ups and downs this first semester and we’re all doing our best to to become “master” 21st century educators. For some reason we’re just not satisfied. While we may not realize it, changes are happening in the classroom and that this is all part of our journey.  We also have to use this healthy tension as a source of energy to move toward our vision. After all, it’s all about creative tension.

What I learned during the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar Relay

On Sunday, September 16th eighty six members of the Graded community participated in the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar. It was a phenomenal community event despite the temperature reaching 33 degrees Celsius. The relay format meant that teams of either 8, 4 or 2 completed a full marathon. I’m happy to report that all fourteen teams finished the race. One of our teachers, single handedly recruited teachers, students, parents, staff members and administrators to participate in the race. With so much happening at Graded this year the timing for the event was perfect. All 86 of us were able to go out successfully complete a physically challenging task and then celebrate our accomplishment.

During my portion of the race I started thinking about how this event compares to the year that we are having at school. At Graded, like all other schools, we work extremely hard every year, but for some reason this year seems to be supercharged. Our continuous improvement efforts on curriculum development and implementation, assessment practices, implementing a 1 to 1 laptop program in the high school, completing our AdvancED self study and the IB Diploma Program 5-year review, plus hosting the Global Issues Network Conference of the Americas, Innovate 2013, and all of the other normal day to day stuff is wearing us out (OK, just looking at the list is enough to make anyone hyperventilate).

Here is what I came up with.

1. Each one of us wants to do our best to support the team effort – The marathon format is interesting because you are running for yourself and for you team. This means that you want to do your best so that the team can succeed. While a few people considered pulling out before the race due to injuries, lack of training, other conflicts, in doing so, the team would have been let down. On the flip side, others trained extensively so that they would contribute to the team’s success. In true team spirit, everyone followed through to ensure that the team would be succeed. Each person took the responsibility seriously and was committed to the team.

The same holds true for our day to day work at Graded. As professionals we understand our responsibilities to the team of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. We know that it’s not just about what we do as individuals. It’s about our work with the entire community. There is pressure on us, as educators, to provide students with the best learning experiences possible. This means not only doing so in the classroom but also in the many extracurricular, athletic, and community service activities. Unlike the race, our work just isn’t one Sunday out of the year, which means that we’re striving to be on top of our games from August through June.

2. Every individual’s level of preparation varied – First, when people signed up for the race in August, everyone was at a different level of readiness.  The training approaches and the amount of time that individuals devoted to preparation varied greatly. Many of the students who are on athletic teams relied on the practices with their teams. I think that these students found that the practices and training were sufficient for the 5k race, but not enough for the 10k distance. Some individuals dedicated a significant amount of time preparing for the race, while others did very little and then gutted it out to the finish. As far as I know, group training did not happen due to our busy schedules. This meant that the overall majority of the training happened individually. Those who set goals for individual or team times had to tailor their training accordingly.

With the work that we, as educators are doing this year the same holds true for preparation. We’re all at different levels of expertise in our knowledge of the curriculum, assessment practices, and the integration of technology to enhance learning and there are a variety of plans in play.  As a school, we have tried to embed as much professional development related to these areas into our work. But, just as the athletes learned, we’re learning that there is a  need for some of us to seek additional learning opportunities to take us to another level. We also struggle with finding time to get groups together for collaborative planning and learning. This is where technology can really help us through the connections that we can make with our Graded colleagues and educators from around the world. We’re all working diligently to grow as educators and we’ve set our goals with steps that we are planning to take throughout the year.

3. During the race, people took different approaches – It was fun to watch different personalities come out during the race. Some runners were vocal about cheering the teams on while others were quiet and focused. Many were quiet because they were nervous. I remember seeing one colleagues twice on the course and he was in his own world with his headphones and music on. There were others who were loud and vocal whenever a Graded runner passed by. It didn’t really matter which type of person you were, we all knew that we were in this together. We certainly did not take silence to mean that you weren’t being supportive of the other members in the group. It’s just the state of mind that the individual was in at the time.

The same holds true for our work this year. Personalities come out naturally when working together and with over a 140 faculty members, we find that each person handles things differently. We have our cheerleaders, our work horses, our shy types and the middle of the road ones. The key is making sure that we all are respectful of our differences and to find ways to let each other know that we support each others work.

4. The race was tough – It’s safe to say that just about everyone was challenged by the event. Even the fittest runners had to deal with the heat, the crowd and the desire to run a fast pace. The work was hard and there were some who weren’t sure that they would finish. All of us had to cut back on our pace and some had to walk. Even our best runner had a slower than normal time and was wiped out by the end of his leg.

This is true with our work this year as well. The work is certainly difficult for all of us. We are working to grow and change our practices which is never easy. Recently I referred to this EDS commercial where the airplane builders are building the plane while flying. We’re trying to keep up with the normal day to day things while planning ahead for the future. We all feel stretched to thin and we’re not doing our job well. Some of us even question why we are trying to do so much in a short amount of time. Just about all of us have to walk occasionally to catch our breath and even those who are at the top of their profession realize that the work is not easy.

5. The post race celebration was important – After the race we met for brunch at a nearby restaurant. Forget the fact that we were really hungry, the importance of this was that we were able to celebrate our accomplishments. The medals were proudly worn and the stories were flowing. Everyone was smiling, laughing and enjoying that post race high. It was a wonderful way to end the event.

We realize that we need to find more time to celebrate our successes through stories.  This should be done even though the race isn’t over yet. I envision us celebrating after the visiting team comes for our self-study accreditation visit in April. It may not feel like it now, but we will certainly have much to celebrate at that time. We may not be wearing medals but there will be special stories to share and laughs to be had.

Saddened by the Ugg Boot Ban

Ugg BootsBTW
Photo on Flickr by UggBoy/UggGirl

As I was running on the Schuylkill River trail last week,  I could not help but think how sad the recent ruling to ban Ugg boots by the Pottstown Middle School in PA was.  I just don’t understand it. What do the Ugg boots have to do with a cell phone policy at school?

BTW – While running I was using my phone to to track my pace and time, listen to music and to take  pictures of the rowers on the river.
We have worked through the cell phone debate at Graded and we understand that, as a mobile device, cell phones have a place in the classroom. Our policy states, “Cellular phones may be used as educational tools with the permission of a classroom teacher. Otherwise, the use of cellular phones on campus is prohibited except for in the student center, cafeteria and hallways during breaks. Unauthorized use of cellular phones will result in the confiscation of the phone and the phone will be delivered to the Assistant Principal.”
Once we realized that the teacher has control and that he/she can work with the students to determine how they can be used educationally, we were heading in the right direction.
Case in point, in our 10th grade physical education classes there is a huge emphasis placed on fitness and our students have created online portfolios to help them with their learning. They track their cardio vascular workouts by recording distance, time and heart rate, they record their strength workouts by recording reps and weight. They set personal goals and all of this information is recorded in Google Docs and they periodically write reflections and get feedback from their teachers. One of our teachers, Sueli Valades (sueli.valades@graded.br) has been having the students use their cell phones during their workouts. So, how are these tools used?
  • Students record their data during the workout in their portfolio.
  • Students take photos and/or video of their workout and then they are able to look at their technique. The feedback is immediate and they can make corrections right there on the spot.
  • Students listen to music while they are working out. Pretty important since studies have shown that music can lead to better workouts.
This has been an excellent learning experience for the students and we feel that this will set the stage for lifelong fitness. I really feel sorry for those students and teachers in Pottstown Middle School who are talking about the Ugg boot ban instead of teaching and learning in today’s world.