I spent a good deal of time this summer in two of our “new” states –New Hampshire and New Mexico. (More on NH in an upcoming post)
I’ve had the good fortune to work in schools over recent years in The Land of Enchantment. New Mexico faces some stiff economic challenges and a department of education that has not been friendly to new ideas and diverse approaches, but I continue to find schools and networks that studiously embrace all learners, reach out into the community and strive to learn from each other.
One of my first summer stops was Amy Biehl HS in Albuquerque, a school I had collaborated with in its early years. The school is located in the city’s old Federal Court House in a gorgeously restored setting. Humanities teacher Frank McCullough is now the school’s leader, and along with Dean of Students, Mark O’Gawa, I had a chance to work with their very skilled Student Support Team. Over a decade ago, the Amy Biehl SST offered an early model of how to bring social-emotional support out from behind the counseling curtain and share ideas and practices school-wide. We spent a full day taking stock of the team’s role in a very mature school, sorting through challenges and assets, and identifying milestones through some appreciative inquiry.
Next, my travels took me to Santa Fe to facilitate a leadership retreat for the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (ASLA), an innovative, dual-language school open tuition-free to the community and region. ASLA is a great story, “the little school that could”. Sensing a lack of non-residential educational options for deaf and hard-of-hearing young people and their families, the school was created by parents, educators and collaborators less than a decade ago. The school now offers grades K-10, and approximately 60% of students qualify for special education services and 85% of students have a link to the deaf community. Under Rafe Martinez, ASLA’s Director, two partnerships have increased the school’s capacity and raised its profile --one with the University of New Mexico which welcomes new and practicing educators to learn and study at the school, and a second with the PEAR Institute which will guide wellness programming.
The school’s own increase in student enrollment (a waiting list has grown), inquiries from other schools in the region, and their own ambition to provide state-of-the-art services to the community, signaled the need for the executive administrative team to look ahead to new leadership strategies and key upcoming milestones. I joined local consultant Everette Hill of the Social Innovation Strategies Group in guiding the team through a set of activities that will provide a road map for the upcoming year as they grow programs and partnerships and lead the faculty in concert. Facilities options, board development, developing a revised professional development calendar, and identifying key benchmarks and support required to get there all surfaced in the intense three-day retreat.
Early August brought me back to Albuquerque for on-going collaboration with the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. It’s “Leadership High Schools” network includes a focus on re-engaging older students who had left school but now wish to return and need an environment specifically designed for them. Based in part on the design of the New York City Young Adult Borough Centers, the Network’s Re-Engagement Schools provide an afternoon-early evening schedule, social workers and counselors, connections to growth industries and employers and hands-on learning in the areas they require to meet state graduation standards. Key to the mission is shaping the community’s understanding that different types of students require a diverse and substantial portfolio of educational options, and then designing forward.
School leaders and wellness pillar administrators from the network schools came together to assess the efficacy of current efforts and to begin a more intensive study of the needs of older students, implications for design and gathering promising practices. The Center’s doctoral Intern, Rachel White, presented the findings of her research in the current state of the network’s evening Re-Engagement programs. A new partnership with local youth development agency NMCAN will assist the Center and the schools in leveraging resources in support of re-engagement programming.
That same week the Leadership HS Network administrators and boards joined forces for a retreat to focus on policy development, good internal board practices, and support for school leaders. Held at the new Siembra Leadership High School, nearly thirty people from three schools gained some big picture take-away’s and promising practices before going into school-based teams to assess current efforts and upcoming opportunities for focus and growth.
My final NM summer outing was a day-long retreat with, and for, new amigos at the Media Arts Collaborative secondary school. The school seeks to prepare students for an education in the media arts at the university and community college level, as well helping students and families to understand the global role of media arts and how people’s lives are shaped by them. I was fortunate to meet Glenna Voight, the retiring Media Arts principal, at a CES conference last fall, and now count new leader Jonathan Dooley as a friend and colleague. I’ve also quickly grown fond of the school’s diverse, open-minded and accomplished staff.
Working with Media Arts’ middle and high school staff, the day was a mixed bag . We began by exploring concepts from learning science (most at odds with today’s linear learning, standards and testing regimen), exploring the not-so-hidden effects of industrial age schooling, and reviewing current national achievement data for context. We transitioned to hands-on project design through visual provocations of the kind I do in STEM schools, some re-imagining of teacher roles in that kind of inquiry-based learning motif, and finally, sharing personal milestones for the upcoming school year. An intense and rewarding day.
New Mexico has a number of small progressive schools proudly peeking out from under a layer of bureaucracy that has not resulted in achievement gains or social-emotional improvement over the past eight years. They’re holding their own conversations and moving forward smartly. They’re worth a visit, your interest and your support. Adelante, New Mexico.
I’ve been working with Superintendent Ken Facin and his Hoosick Falls NY team for several years now. We featured Ken in one of our ERC e-newsletters a few years ago as one of a small band of heroes seriously committed to wellness and social emotional development in schools, despite more than a decade of underfunding and relative de-emphasis in most school districts.
I first met Ken and his team in our home base of Cambridge when they were in town to attend a Harvard School of Education conference on instructional improvement. I walked into their hotel conference room to find test score charts and graphs taped up on 3 walls from floor to above my head. Despite the intense two days their team had experienced at the conference, focused on the minutiae of standards, progress monitoring, feedback on pacing outcomes, etc., we had an instant energy re-set when we began to talk about young people and how best to support their readiness to learn. Ken was quick to embrace the idea of social-emotional support as a prime achievement strategy and since then has been off and running. His district has steadily advanced in state and regional rankings, but more importantly there is a tangible sense of kindness and concern in the schools. He has put his mind to influencing both inside and beyond the schools to create a community that sees readiness to learn as the lever for almost everything else.
Hoosick Falls is a small rural district northeast of Albany, rich in tradition, but also experiencing many of the mental health and family challenges that come with low-income demographics. Add to that the academic pressures and myriad top-down mandates and policies that come with New York state’s heavy testing and teacher rating schema (one that seems to have shown little benefit, I must add) and one wonders at how Facin has so successfully nurtured the growth of a top-flight wellness team that has developed a high level of expertise and works seamlessly with school administrators. Over the past three years a focus on mindfulness has paved the way for a daily meditation session for everyone in the school and just ahead, planning with teachers for a restorative morning meeting for all students and staff in the middle and high school. It was this planning that brought me out to Hoosick Falls for a recent day-long session.
I was the presenter for the first of the day’s four phases, organized by Facin along with Dean of Students Mario Torres. I focused my time on the foundations of building a culture of authentic relationships. I shared with the K-12 team of administrators, counselors and mental health professionals my contention that this kind of work, by its very nature, changes the “atomic structure” of schools, the fundamental relationships and “psychological contracts” between and among students and adults. I reminded the team that every day, each and every student is making a number of calculations about how much their teachers know and care for them, assessing how interested each adult is in their learning and well-being. When you strip away the academics, and along with them the power of the gradebook, the veneer of control, the compliance and teacher-pleasing orientation, it can be an unsettling, even raw experience for many teachers. Kids know right away when things are for real, as we know, and teachers are often already under the gun to cover far too much content and address test items.
I do a good deal of work helping schools tackle “classroom management” challenges and trying to salvage moribund or downright failing advisories. I learned as a school leader that when we attempt to introduce such ideas as advisory, mindfulness, or restorative practices, the success of those initiatives rests squarely on authentic relationships between adults and young people. Schools must provide the structures, opportunities for practice, language and modeling for students in order to learn that all good discipline is self-discipline. This is the “atomic level” work I talk about. Simply using a manual to learn a few group routines or convening kids in a circle does not go deep enough into exploring what adults and young people have a right to expect from each other. Adults must revisit, in supportive, collaborative settings, their personal commitments to the work and the impressions they convey each day, be they intentional or not. I left them with some big ideas to ponder, a number of readings, tools and activities to begin work with the teaching staff, who will also be invited into the planning of what the next steps will be.
I was followed by a presentation from Caitlin McCormack from the PEAR Institute, the Harvard School of Medicine and McLean Hospital initiative that supports schools and community organizations in understanding human developmental needs and employing a common language to communicate the strengths and challenges of children and youth. I was pleased to be the matchmaker between the Hoosick Falls schools and PEAR, and over the past two years the collaboration has grown and provided a centerpiece for the work of the school’s leadership and wellness staffs. Caitlin is a Lead Facilitator for PEAR training and professional development programs and provides super helpful interpretation sessions for PEAR’s landmark Holistic Student Assessment. She shared group development theories and strategies with the Hoosick Falls team, walking them through one of the PEAR group approaches linked to HSA results in a fun, informative and inter-active session.
The last element of the morning was a Skype conference for the participants with Dr. Gil Noam, founder and director of The PEAR Institute and former editor-in-chief of the journal New Directions in Youth Development: Theory, Practice and Research. Dr. Noam has become well-known to the school’s team, hosting them in Boston and communicating regularly as their partnership grows. For nearly an hour, Dr. Noam fielded questions about theory and implementation and shared thoughts about the on-going roll-out of social-emotional programming in the schools.
True to form, Facin had yet another novel activity for the afternoon, a recent added expansion of the restorative programming which has helped the school to raise achievement levels, make the schools safer and more supportive environments for students and staff, and raise its profile in the region as a district on the move. The team adjourned at midday to travel to the Higher Ground Farm where equine specialist Janet Botaish led the group through a version of the Hoosick Equine Connections Program. Janet’s program is affiliated with the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) a leading international nonprofit association for professionals incorporating horses to address mental health and personal development needs.
Through their new partnership, the Hoosick Falls schools are developing a program that brings young people to the farm for activities designed to provide a peaceful, purposeful and therapeutic setting in which clients can experience change and growth, often more effectively and quickly than in traditional clinical and psycho-educational approaches. As Janet shared with us, the notion of working with horses is engaging, real time and hands-on. The experience is immediate and fully felt and I can testify that I was thinking of the activities and encounters with my new equine pals for several days.
Next up in Hoosick Falls is a 3-day Summer Retreat this coming July to advance the ideas of authentic relationship, a daily restorative ritual, and continued merging of the skill sets and perspectives of the wellness staff and the academic community. I’m looking forward to working with teachers and staff as we continue to restore to schools the idea that attending the whole child matters at each step along the upward path through the grades. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the next big ideas are from Ken!
Dr. Larry Myatt, Co-Founder
Larry Myatt, ERC Co-Founder
The first time I heard mention of McLaughlin Middle School STEAM, I was part of a series of keynote remarks at a STEAM-Ahead event organized by Bob Baines, founder and Executive Director of STEAM-Ahead NH. It was held at Dyn, Corp. in Manchester, an early and passionate support of STEAM-Ahead. Here we were, assembled on the very cool work-floor meeting space of a major high-technology firm –community leaders, educators, policy makers and business and corporate representatives—easily a crowd of over a hundred.
As part of the event, two McLaughlin students were asked to speak briefly about their learning on the school’s brand new STEAM team. Not only were these two 13-year olds poised and confident, they were able to speak in detailed, mature ways about their intellectual growth in a way I seldom hear (sadly) from middle-schoolers.
After the audience rewarded them warmly I went over and listened in as the students reconnected with their waiting teachers. I was impressed right away with the relationships among the small group and the very STEM-like debrief of form and content they conducted right away, informal but structured. “Something is going on over there”, I noted.
At that same event, the next group of students, from a STEAM team at Manchester’s West High School, not only talked about their project activities, they tasked the audience to engage on the spot in some table-based hands-on design challenges. Another home run with the crowd.
The kids I met there that day were not all the typical “best-and-the-brightest”, pre-screened into the programs, but, I was told, a very mixed ability groups of kids. Yet each one I met was capable of a level of “meta” thinking that told me these are capable, growing young people. I would have loved to have had my own kids in this kind of school setting.
Much to my delight, I got an email not too much later from Bob Baines, asking if I could accompany him to meet McLaughlin teachers and Principal Bill Krantz on my next visit to STEAM at West. The meeting was great. We exchanged perspectives and ideas on where we thought things stood and how they could develop. I could tell right away these teachers were game, had an appetite to grow and learn, and inquiry teaching and projects had rejuvenated and inspired them.
Baines brought key ingredients, a vision of connected programming in the city and incentive funding from the NH Department of Education grant and the local Bean Foundation, for release time and the needed high-touch coaching and professional development as the school planned for growing the STEAM program. The meeting resulted in a commitment for me to begin work there this past winter.
I’ve just finished a recent couple days there on an arc of deep conversation that the teachers engaged in quickly and intensely. As usual, we talk about the constraints of traditional school structure and flaws in the design, and how they mitigate against deep learning. We move on to productive practices, sharing what they notice about their students’ learning, what things feed them as teachers to endure the relentless pace, and milestone achievements they hope they can pursue. Wherever I travel, sharing ideas is most often cited as one of the highlights for teachers when we do our debriefs. So many teachers are hungry for a chance at serious, meaningful conversation that they don’t get often enough.
McLaughlin founding STEAM-er’s Callahan Goulet and Christina Stavenger brought a thoughtful and research-based DIY approach to early STEAM. They traveled and visited people doing similar work in and beyond STEAM-Ahead NH. They began to use their energy, collaboration and commitment to work differently with kids.
They opened up their classroom dividing walls; students sit in small teams facing each other, Chromebooks at the ready, orderly yet buzzing on the days I visit. Things are often hands-on here, connected to important issues in the world, and pursued in a team fashion that closely mimics the “21st century workplace environment we espouse but seldom replicate in most schools.
In our sessions we’ve worked to grow cognitive dissonance (and put it to best use), conducted charrettes to plan projects, mapped out big ideas and questions from their standards, created and unpacked Learning Murals via our Visual Provocation Protocol. We created an early draft of a year-long array of projects and activities, smartly blended with direct instruction, drill and practice, lecture burst, etc., hallmarks of more traditional teaching. It’s a nice mix of pedagogy that invites different learning styles. Much of what they do is really good for learning, but to many it’s different and unfamiliar. It’s different for some students, and to teacher peers, and for some parents who want to see “teaching” that they recognize and consider good instruction from their school days. The STEAM teachers understand the reasons behind this range of opinions as accept it as part of trying to do business differently. Their job is to help more kids grow and be successful without putting traditional learners at risk, something far better done through inquiry teaching than by other means I find, and research suggests.
Our adult work is scholarly. I push. We talk a lot about the need to erase lines –the lines between subject matter and big ideas, the schedule and the pacing that move things along in a way that makes it hard for many kids to thrive as thinkers, as growing adolescents finding out what they may capable of. The STEAM teachers respond with thoughtful ideas and questions. To me, it’s what “PLC’s” (I dislike acronyms) could really be like. It’s the kind of intellectual work I recognize from being a teaching principal at Fenway High School, and the kind of intellectual work that experience, research and neuroscientists tell us is good for our brains and is the way more schools are going to do business.
I add here that I don’t like the acronym “PBL” either. Too easy to see it as an idea grafted loosely on to conventional teaching, as “dessert”. Instead, I like wrapping all these ideas up as inquiry learning, part of the overdue yet irresistible shift from the culture of teaching to a culture of learning. I see inquiry learning as an effort to get beyond the persistent mental model that one gains knowledge by “the presentation of established facts” -a mental model that portrays a false but appealingly smooth path to knowledge. Whether it’s posing big questions, building and making, pursuing problems or wrestling down real-life scenarios, I see these as kindred brands of inquiry learning. These are the ways in which learning opportunities surface in the “real world”, quite different from those that are briefly granted on the academic conveyor belt, a set of sorting processes within a setting that remain intentionally apart from people and daily life.
But programs like STEAM need different conditions, more like the “real-world”. The track record of support for these efforts is poor in many districts and schools. Work of this kind can happen more routinely in affluent, independent settings, but in public schools it often bumps up against the predictable obstacles –history, culture, systems clash. (*For a great primer on these issues, see Charles Percy’s acute “So Much Reform”). Programming like STEAM is routinely unable to grow and thrive inside the traditional architecture of our secondary schools, sooner or later being sucked back into the traditional schedule, contract, instructional motif, culture and belief system. Add to that budget cuts, larger class sizes, and a teach-to-the-test mind-set and calendar that constrain deeper learning, and it’s not easy going for a seedling to emerge and plant itself firmly, be it Manchester or elsewhere.
I’m rooting for everyone at the McLaughlin. I see the STEAM program as good stuff for kids and teachers, connected to practices and perspectives that we sorely need given the poor results of our last 15 years of policies and mandates. If standards and testing was the right recipe, the private schools would have joined in long ago, right? The STEAM brand of teaching, just like that at their sister school, West High, can be a good fit for the high-achiever, but not only him/her, but also for the newly-emerging thinker who wants to take school more seriously than it takes him/her, for the student who likes to build and tinker rather than listen, and for the curious kids who like to ask what it all means. That’s why colleges and employers are after students who have some STEAM experience in their education. And it’s good for the teachers I see and work with--they get to plan, to grow, to take each other seriously as people and professionals. Here’s hoping the McLaughlin program can grow and prosper.
If you have more questions about what inquiry learning can look like , projects and achievement, etc. you can go to these Web links:
Positive brain development from hands-on learning:
Inquiry and projects in the private school world: https://www.hudsonlabschool.com/blog/2017/4/1/studies-demonstrating-the-benefits-of-project-based-learning
Inquiry learning with high-challenge schools and students: http://www.educationresourcesconsortium.org/news/2015/11/15/change-at-the-roots-level-anatomy-of-an-urban-school-renewal?rq=urban%20
Math in the middle years:
STEAM Ahead NH: http://www.steamaheadnh.com/
Ellwood Cubberley (1868-1941)
Applying industrial management theory to school leadership was the signature idea of Ellwood Cubberley, giving rise to what we experience as modern school administration.
Cubberley was born in Andrews, Indiana, and was educated at the University of Indiana and Columbia University. After brief stints as a classroom teacher, college instructor and president of Vincennes University, Cubberley became superintendent of schools in San Diego-a position that influenced his long career as professor and dean of the School of Education at Stanford University.
At the outset of Cubberley's career, school administration had little or no theoretical or scientific basis. There were no formal textbooks from which to teach educational administration. Administrators were expected to learn solely from experience. Indeed, educational administration posts were routinely political plums, requiring little, if any, formal training in education.
Relying on new industrial management science theories, Cubberley designed an “administrative” system for schools, led by a professional class of superintendents and principals. His hierarchical model professionalized school leadership at that time and became the standard.As head of the Department of Education at Stanford, Cubberley trained cohorts of administrators in the “science of school management”.
To some, Cubberly is a controversial figure in the history of education. He has been criticized for his emphasis on efficiency and bureaucracy to solve complex educational problems. For example, Cubberley wrote: “We should give up the exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal and that our society is devoid of classes. The employee tends to remain an employee; the wage earner tends to remain a wage earner.”
In the 1934 edition of Ellwood P. Cubberley’s Public Education in the United States he is explicit - a statement occurs in a section of Public Education called "A New Lengthening of the Period of Dependence," in which he explains that the coming of the factory system, which has deprived children of the training and education that farm and village life once gave, has made extended childhood necessary. With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor, an army of workers has arisen who have little or no knowledge.Furthermore, modern industry needs such workers.”
According to Cubberley, with "much ridicule from the public press" the old book-subject curriculum was set aside, replaced by a change in purpose and "a new psychology of instruction which came to us from abroad." That reference to a new psychology refers to collectively-developing practices of European schooling particularly common to England, Germany, and France, three other major world coal-powers investing heavily in military and industrial science.
His influence extended far beyond the nature of training and certification of administrators. His writing was powerful and influential concerning what constituted the best situations and arrangements for learning from childhood into adulthood. Communities across the nation strived for decades, as a matter of public pride, to adopt the practices and systems that he espoused.
For better or for worse, Cubberley’s influence on American schools has been deep and lasting. He is the father of professionalized school administration, and his beliefs regarding the acquired knowledge of the times and the ways to apply it to America’s citizenry influenced learners, parents, teachers and administrators through the Second World War and beyond.
Thanks to PBS School & the Odysseus Group
Mike Berry is a man with a plan.
Although he has some constraints ---he’s pretty far from a lot of places, he’s limited in his pay scale, and other schools like to “borrow” his staff— he has shared a vision that is catching on. “More success for more kids” is his simple driver.
With support from his district administration, and with smart convening of local business and community members to explain and gain support for his ideas, Berry is bringing his North Country school to prominence and setting up to transform its design from the 19th to the 21st century.
White Mountains Regional High School is an exciting place to work. You can come here to grow as an educator. For me, it’s a return to my roots – I grew up in Concord NH --and it’s great to see this kind of work flourishing in the Granite State. We’ve had a decade-long run of master planning, testing and conventional thinking. Some people are betting on performance assessment, blended technology approaches, competency-based grading, or yet another (!) revival of mastery learning. None of these change the fundamental arrangements of school, arrangements that no longer serve us. As someone who plies her trade helping schools to plan super-thoughtfully and involve students in deep ways, it’s exciting to find this kind of work.
STEM as one launching pad
Among other things, Berry caught on to the promise of STEAM Ahead-NH and has invested in a new vertical STEM initiative coordinated by Mellissa Jellison. Next year, they will add a new grade cohort and, with the addition of an arts/design component, become STEAM. Central to Jellison and her colleagues’ work is inquiry teaching and putting the “thrill” back into students’ daily experiences. Mike is totally on board with that shift as a lever to achieve his mission of more success for more kids, and is using ERC tools to move it forward, flattening out leadership, and inviting others who are excited to help grow and contribute.
I made my way back to NH from Illinois when Mike Berry was looking for STEM professional development and connected with my colleague and ERC Co-Founder Larry Myatt. Berry says that potential vendors for STEM p.d. came out of the woodwork, but in a conference call he and his people recognized Larry’s breadth of experience and proof points, and his “DIY” approach to renewing schools resonated with them. By DIY, we mean that we believe that schools don’t need the pre-packaged, highly prescriptive “how-to” manuals to be great, but that school people can believe in themselves, marshal their resources, and grow their own capacity to improve and flourish.
Upon arriving, Larry connected right away with staff, brought in some new “big ideas” and framing that resonated with Berry’s own philosophy. Larry also helps to coach the administrative team on moving the changes forward. Says Berry, “The mantra that we’ve taken from ERC is the need for shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning, and all that goes with that. We believe we can build it right here, and do what’s been almost impossible for high schools to do up to now – take a traditional model and transform it for students who’ll take over a world we adults can’t even understand.”
Teachers as Learners
My work with Berry has been in supporting his staff as they learn about technology and integrate it to support inquiry practices in their classrooms. In interactive, large-group workshops (in-person and remotely), I invite teachers to have fun being learners with new tools and platforms, even when it’s frustrating or confusing, as new technology can be. This means they do all the things we want students doing – working hands -on, discovering, struggling, and reflecting, then applying their experience and knowledge to their own ongoing work.
In my conversations with teachers as they learn with new tools, I keep bringing them back to three critical questions: What do you want your students to walk away knowing? What kinds of questions would you like your students to be asking? What’s the “so what,’ and why is it important?
Not a ‘one-and-done’ version of learning with technology, our sessions provide devoted time to look at a variety of tools for curating and archiving student work. And, I use research-based instructional strategies that bring together teachers’ learning over time. One of my favorite strategies is the use of EdCafes, (See link) which almost always raise the levels of energy and creativity in a collegial setting that transfers directly to work with students.
However, direct support of teachers isn’t enough to sustain meaningful school-wide change. My sessions need to be part of a larger, overall story of change within a culture of learning – instructional, cultural, intellectual (for both students and teachers), and developmental.
It’s big and it’s challenging, but that’s what it takes and that’s why I love this work. To help the instructional leaders work both on-the-ground and at the 10,000 foot level, I coach them to keep their sights on those three core questions as they work with faculty. This coaching involves assessing ongoing school PD rhythms and routines, helping folks to keep an eye on outcomes, and continuing to create authentic situations for teachers to present their ongoing practice. I see it as solid and intentional instructional design. White Mountains’ administrators and coaches have joined me in “thinking like a teacher” as they support the intellectual and creative growth of their staff.
Down the Road
There are other moving parts to the White Mountains DIY plan. Ron Danault, a veteran computer instructor is thriving in an on-going MIT-designed coding seminar that helps him to teach programming by becoming a coder himself. That work is part of “TeachCode Academy”, a partnership among the Governor’s STEM task force, STEAM-Ahead NH, the Manchester School District, UNH-Manchester, and Dyn Corporation. To me, Ron is a great example of a sharp teacher taking on new challenges. Berry has also invited CTE people from culinary arts, horticulture, and pre-veterinary studies, among others, to join STEAM professional development activities delving into inquiry-teaching and being a part of project design and tuning. Myatt recently worked with the entire high school staff for a big picture exploration of instructional design of their own making and flavor, using an inquiry approach to build teacher and student curiosity and capacity.
In early December, Berry presented a portion of his plan at a national Coalition of Essential Schools conference in Providence, RI. Joining him there for an intense three days of workshops, networking and progressive education history were Jellison, Ryan Patterson, science teacher with the STEAM team, and Jeanine LaBounty, who now supports teachers at the school in addition to her teaching. I was there to see Mike’s pitch and it reminded me why I’m excited about my work with WMRHS. They believe in themselves! They are invested in developing their own capacity to decide what and how to teach, how to turn more over to the students, and in each other. It’s a great story at a time when other schools think they have to buy blended learning platforms and color-coded diagnostics to make their schools better.
In the near future, Berry envisions more External Learning Opportunities (ELO’s) to connect students with their passions and with resources beyond the confines of the school. He sees opportunities for more plentiful and robust internships, coordinated by teacher Patsy Ainsworth. Part of the big idea is to be intentional about bringing community members into the high school to work directly with students. He is also interested in networking with other ERC schools that are committed to projects and inquiry, becoming a regional “center of activity” – a place where people recognize that they can learn from the thoughtful things that are happening. Under consideration is hosting a summertime school development and re-design institute with instructional, technology, and leadership strands. I’m counting on being a part of that!
I’m rooting for these proud and independent educators and am pleased and proud of their commitment to Mike Berry’s words, making school a place of more success for more kids.
For more on this story – contact email@example.com
All signs point to 2017 being an interesting year.
We’ve been asking our colleagues and friends in different parts of the nation about the mood in their communities and schools. Some of the concerns we heard weren’t surprising: anxiety over what we can expect from the incoming administration, and from the Congress; more debate on charter schools; how to meet the demand for services to struggling children and families. We also heard about trying to find more helpful, and more worthy, accountability approaches than school report cards (that’s been a refrain for a while now); how to honor the demand for personalization in standardized school environments; how to keep the excitement of learning in a time of standards and testing, etc.
In the face of these many issues some school people, good soldiers they are, will gear up for yet another proscribed run at success, likely guided by a master plan that emanated from a state department of education, a well-intentioned philanthropy with its own pet framework and money to lend , or a think tank associated with someone’s agenda. Or some hybrid of all three. However, as we urged last fall, (see link) other folks are beginning to coalesce around a “DIY” mentality, feeling that this is a good time to break from the cycle of the last 15 years, to think more transformationally, to believe in their own capacity and skills.
In keeping with our belief that there is no time like now for school folks to take matters into our own hands in 2017, we will be featuring stories of schools on the move, and adding some cogent topics as a part of EdHistory 101 Project – a new effort to revisit some key historical events and perspectives that continue to shape schooling in this country. We believe that knowing our history – the issues, beliefs, and language of other times- presents opportunities for us to reframe and reimagine.
To accompany our EdHistory 101 Project we continue to offer coaching, expertise, strategies, speakers and facilitators and TREK (see link) resources for schools wanting to look at serious redesign.
If you’re curious and want to connect with us and others who want to have a different kind of conversation about the future of schools in your community, please contact us.
We wish you an energetic and rewarding New Year in your work with schools, communities, partners, parents and students.
See Wayne's New Year's resolution link here.
Larry Myatt and Wayne Ogden
I know what you’re thinking, New Year’s resolutions are ridiculous and unattainable! But, that can’t keep me for wishing for things that would make the lives of students, teachers and principals better.
So, here they are—MY seven wishes for 2017—for every overworked and under-resourced school principal on the planet.
Supply every school principal with a budget he/she deems worthy of the kids they serve.
Grant each and every school an instructional coach for every eight classroom teachers. These coaches are to focus exclusively on working with teachers to improve learning and teaching.
Provide each school with sufficient professional staff to promote the social, physical and emotional health of every student since we know that “intact”, healthy and resilient kids learn better.
Lengthen the school day to ensure that there is time for students to study the fine and applied arts , as well as participate in “extra curricular” activities.
Provide a full year moratorium from unfunded (or lightly-funded) state and federal mandates related to education.
Provide an additional one year moratorium on the high-stakes testing of kids and let’s see if anyone suffers.
Provide every student with a facility that’s as nice as a room in one of our President Elect’s 6 star hotels.
What would you add if this was your New Year’s Resolution and you were dreaming big for our children?
ERC became a central part of an exciting school initiative, when Co-Founder Larry Myatt was invited to co-plan and facilitate the September 2016 retreat of the Leadership High School Network in Albuquerque, NewMexico. Hosted at the Tamaya Resort and Conference Center north of the city, staff members, administrators and board members from the four network schools –ACE Leadership (architecture, construction and engineering), Health Leadership (allied community health care), Technology Leadership, and Siembra (entrepreneurism)- had a chance for a deep look at the promise and practices of their network .
The LHS Network was a recent recipient of a major grant from the ECMC Foundation to advance the work of its schools in tight coordination with its corporate and community partners. See link. Myatt, with more than a decade of experience working in Albuquerque, was a part of the original design team for the network schools and has assisted Tony Monfiletto, Executive Director of the NM Center for School Leadership, and Justin Trager, Director of Networks for the Center, with thought partnership in innovation, redesign, and systems building. He was featured last year in a TED talk addressing the city’s readiness to move in dynamic ways with its schools. See link. “What’s exciting for me about working with the Center in Albuquerque”, said Myatt, “is the willingness to adopt new structures and think differently about time and learning. There is no reliance on the industrial age notions of school. And, of course a model that is super responsive to students and families and treats partners as just that, co-decision-makers with a valued perspective. A grant of this size and nature reflects the potential of this network and the NM Center to break important new ground, especially for students and families who have not yet been well-served in traditional settings.”
Part of the retreat was a review by Dr. Myatt of the history and research of the Youth Transition Funders Group across a number of urban centers, including their focus on supporting vulnerable youth at risk of dropping out of school and re-engaging many that have left. The LHS Network has made a singular commitment to serving those students in its schools. For information on developing a multiple pathways approach to support a wider range of students, go here.
Also planning and facilitating the Network event was Everette Hill, Managing Director of Albuquerque’s Social Innovation Strategies Group, another long-time friend of the network and former executive director for the NM Forum for Youth in Community. The retreat offered participants a chance to re-examine and recommit to school and network principles and to identify key practices and distinguishers. Over the course of the two days, affinity groups gave board members from the four schools a chance to connect with other governance and strategy partners, as well as connecting in cross-role groups with executive directors, pillar leaders in student support, community engagement and project learning to broaden the understanding of how each school as well as the network could gain from best practices, public engagement and action research.
People in my professional world are heading back to school these days. I know, because I’ve been getting calls to plan projects and activities, conduct trainings, coach leaders and even give the occasional rousing speech.
Here’s what I say when I’m asked, and even when I’m not: 2016 is the year to grab the educational reins back. Right now. Starting this month. This is your classroom, your school, your school district. It’s your DIY moment.
Why am I so convinced?
We’ve already lost a generation to NCLB and other such b.s.
Paraphrasing the Beatles, it was 20 years ago today, or thereabouts, that we educators gave ourselves up to top-down standards and the allure of master planning. Consider this: this year’s high school seniors have lived their entire scholastic lives under No Child Left Behind.
And so have educators. We weren’t capable of choosing methods and materials, we were told; the details needed to come from a higher perch, far “above” the school and classroom. With luck, the bureaucrats thought they could teacher-proof methods and materials. Jal Mehta’s The Allure of Order, the title of which pretty much says it all, is essential reading. It will help you understand the folly of this policy as well as the essentials of our educational history.
How have we done after 20 years under the thumb? Results of recent NAEP scores, the nation’s “report card”, are some of the least hopeful since the early 1990s, particularly given the massive expenditures and smothering effects on schools, especially those who serve largely poor students. 2015 high school reading scores are lower than 1992, as one example. The Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust, supported by the major foundations one would guess, and which bills itself as a “fierce advocate for high achievement”, called the NAEP results “sobering”, and “another wake-up call”. Does that language sound familiar? The fact that this comment comes from a group staffed and led by a board of academics that have been “promoting and supporting federal and state policies” for the past generation brings with it no small irony. For added interest, check out Marion Brady’s essay.
Some want to believe that our schools just haven’t squeezed hard enough, or that we just haven’t put all the plan’s ingredients in order. I reply, “Hardly.” Strategies and policies cannot and do not “correct” for real, live people and the idiosyncrasies of individual learning.
Further, I say, time and energy spent pursuing fantasy targets such as SLOs or parsing DIBELs is largely wasted. Such notions are contrived and artificial, and although organizing them may make us feel productive, they are routinely trumped by values and culture, and have shown little enduring impact in meeting the social and intellectual needs of young people.
When we bother to ask, kids are responding in almost every survey, that the longer they are in school, the less interesting and meaningful it becomes. Even those who do well academically – gaining status, honors and scholarships -- say school is boring and largely irrelevant to their lives.
Many teachers and principals with whom I work are hesitant and uncertain. The top-down standards and testing slog has left many with a spent feeling. It’s hard to muster enthusiasm to do more of the same. Those are breeding grounds that threaten to de-energize us or, worse, to incubate cynicism.
There’s one remaining element of why we need to own our schools again, starting today. The students in our classroom have changed. How? Social scientists and observers conclude that notions of “family” have changed. Marital and parenting bonds are looser, incomes are down, and adults are working more for the same or less money. Family time has become a scarcer commodity. Kids absorb the results and they bring them to school.
And twenty-five years ago, kids more likely sat around the TV in the living room, where Mom or Dad controlled the programming. The present generation may be spending 20 to 30 hours or more a week (especially if you include smartphones) on recreational screen time. The brand of direct parenting of yesteryear has largely been replaced by a new, more diffuse environment where kids are in their rooms, wrestling with Facebook. They’re outdoors less, and far less involved in neighborhood, multi-age group play. The brain’s quest for novelty and stimuli contribute to making school, with its list of standards, and its five-paragraph essays on topics unrelated to their lives and interests, a disconnecting yawner. We can hardly compete for real interest and enthusiasm. As B.B. King said, “the thrill is gone”.
It’s up to us….
So, I’m telling school people that in 2016, the only promising way forward is muster the will to do it ourselves. To renew our profession and our communities by building skills and capacity, improving culture and systems, in the way we know that work needs doing. That’s our advantage – we know the work at the granular level.
On the upbeat side, we educators understand that, despite the external forces, young people still come to school every day wanting to do well, to use their minds, to connect. They ask themselves, “Does this teacher know me?”, “Is she interested in my future?” They’re making an overarching daily calculation, “Can I work with and learn from these adults?” School folks have to account for, and own, that calculus.
What does ownership look like? First things first. The adults “in the room” must determine the fabric of the school, in reference to their own bonds with the institution and with each other. We’re asking our own questions about our situation: “How committed are we to each other’s success and to this fragile institution?” “Do we have the time, freedom and support to work deeply with each other with the right menu?” and, perhaps most important, at the individual level, “How much am I willing to invest?” If school administrators and teacher leaders commit to creating a culture where the answers to these questions are the right ones, the odds are largely in our favor.
There is no way around these issues. No policy advice survives this rarified air. These are the real questions that move people, and schools, forward. That’s why this fall I’m telling educators that the only promising way forward is to do it ourselves. To renew our profession and our communities by finding the will, by building skills and capacity, refreshing culture and systems, in the ways we know it needs to be done.
In the 1980’s, Judith Warren-Little gave us the elements of a simple and elegant recipe for making a school great: teachers planning lessons together; teachers talking about their students’ learning; teachers watching each other teach and making improvements; and teachers rooting for each other and their students. There they are – the conditions we need to restore our faith in each other, in the young people and their families-- the conditions to do it ourselves.
If you'd like to take action in your school, consider TREK" go to this link.
Dr. Larry Myatt
Education Resources Consortium