A Conversation Among Friends

In late June I had the good fortune to be among the attendees at a memorial event for Ted Sizer, organized and attended by many of the people he taught and worked with and otherwise touched during his decade at Brown University. Held at the campus, “A CONVERSATION AMONG FRIENDS” welcomed more than one-hundred people to the campus center.

 

Theodore Sizer

Theodore Sizer

Special guests were the new Brown MAT’s, who had the chance to explore Ted’s work with three older generations of “Ted heads”. As part of the event, they received copies of Ted’s magnum opus, Horace’s Compromise, which I was asked to recall for the Coalition of Essential Schools “Year of Demonstration”. 

Speaker Jed Lippard, touched a nerve with many when he recalled a recent meeting of young educators, almost none of whom had read Sizer’s works. For that reason alone, it was great to have the face to face time with the MAT’s, along with back-up from seasoned Essential schoolers, many of us who considered Ted to be the Dewey of our time. The eagerness and intellect of those current graduate students was super refreshing to me. They identified with the book and they brought broad and astute perspectives on issues from Compromise - teachers’ beliefs and choices, collaborative practice, believing in young people and helping them to use their minds well. An additional theme was their recognition of the plight of educators on the front lines being asked to implement unhelpful policies and practices. It reminded me of Ted’s exhortation to policy makers – “provide the resources needed and get out of the way”, advice that remains unheeded. That these young professionals, all of them striving to know and learn more, could already see the need for those closest to the classroom to lead the changes needed was a near-perfect affirmation of Ted’s Common Principles. And right here on the campus where Ted made so much happen.  

Another striking reminder to me was the reach and gravitas of the many CES veterans who attended, friendly faces who had led a range of exciting, progressive efforts to the places they had chosen to dig in -school and district leaders, college professors and teacher developers, writers,  school coaches, teachers from across the K-12 spectrum. The degree to which Ted‘s ideas and convening magic had propelled so many of our careers is astounding, as were the many shared memories of what made Ted special –his gentle, courtly ways that belied his passion, his stunning grasp of the ecology of the schoolhouse (equaled only to me by Seymour Sarason), his clarity of thought and expression, the special attention he always gave to the youngest in the room, be they the children of staff, high-schoolers or new teachers.

 In closing, there was much talk of a fabulous Fall Forum in Providence this coming December.  There was also talk that fund-raising and the cooperation of the Brown Development Office will make “A CONVERSATION AMONG FRIENDS” an annual spring event and that wider notice and participation will follow. Bigger and better sounds great to me, although the size and enthusiasm of those in attendance this year was already a remarkable and uplifting way to enter the summer.  See you there next June! And thanks again, Ted.

 

Larry Myatt

Co-Founder

Education Resources Consortium

 

 

 

Gathering STEAM in New Hampshire

“Steam” was in the air in New Hampshire in early May as STEAM-Ahead NH held a spring summit for schools and collaborators to propel its state-wide STEM initiative. Held at the state-of-the-art Dyn facility in Manchester, the event welcomed over 100 educators and collaborator to explore the potential of STEAM programming to motivate students and help prepare them for careers in growing fields. And, as presenters suggested, as a way to help schools make changes in instructional programming, structure and culture.

Dyn is a cloud-based IPM provider that has been pivotal in revitalizing the Queen City. Its Co-founder, Jeremy Hitchcock, along with Silver Tech CEO Nick Soggu, has championed STEAM since its inception, and both work closely with Granite United Way to help provide a base of operations for STEAM-Ahead NH Executive Director Bob Baines.

Baines, who doggedly pursued industry partnerships and resources for STEAM-Ahead, opened the day with short videos and energetic remarks about the changing workplace and opportunities for young people. He gently challenged school people and partners alike to push past some traditional educational practices to help the STEAM work take root, and received a rousing endorsement and pledge of support from Commissioner of Education, Dr. Virginia Barry. Next, STEAM students from Manchester High School West and McLaughlin Middle School wowed the crowd with insightful remarks about their positive experience in STEAM classes, and then students and teachers from the West HS team seized the day with three hands-on STEAM projects that challenged the attendees to get their hands dirty, building and problem-solving in the fashion that distinguishes learning-by-doing.

The event wound down with a reflection from West HS Principal Christopher Motika and a professional development overview from Dr. Larry Myatt from ERC. Motika, widely respected for his turn-around efforts at the school, reprised the genesis of the STEAM effort at West, lessons learned in the past two years, and insights into the leadership decisions and dilemmas that came with trying to make changes to the traditional system. Myatt, who works with inquiry-based and project learning schools around the country, capped the event asserting that STEAM efforts cannot thrive without changes to beliefs about learning and major alterations to structures and practices. He shared his experience that project learning is often deeply constrained by the nature and design of conventional school and that STEAM, with its multi-sector partnerships and prominence, offers a unique opportunity to re-imagine a culture of learning, and to build educational communities that offer better possibilities for students and working educators alike.

Anyone have $50 million for a high school?

Friends-

Two weeks ago, an ERC TREK team and a few of our best friends submitted a lengthy vision to XQ: The Super School Project.

XQ’s goal, according to Laurene Powell Jobs, is to reinvent high schools in a way similar to how her late husband, Steve, reinvented how we listen to music. She’s willing to bankroll five brand new high schools up to $50 million (total) to make it happen.

What’s not to like? A funder familiar with audacious change. A nationwide search for new ideas. A significant pot of gold to give five of those ideas good footing. And a cooperative effort where applicants can talk to one another, even join multiple teams. All for the sake of, finally, possibly, bringing public education out of the 19th century.

A chance for us to explain our dreams
Though we’ve made it to the second round – out of five, we think – I don’t think any of the TREK crew is planning our lives around winning. But, we’ve enjoyed – if that’s the right word for a few hundred hours of discussion and writing – sitting down and sharing what each of us has learned about students, schools, communities, teachers, learning styles, families, and a few other subjects I must be leaving out.

Then, add to that our discussions about education philosophies that have come and gone, those that have stayed, those that should have gone but haven’t, and those that never arrived. One of the joys of our exploration is that our team ranges from the well-seasoned (meaning a bit older) to having a fresher outlook (meaning younger). The team includes public educators, nonprofit experts, university design chairs, community activists, and a couple of cynics, which every group should have. Frankly, if every school put together groups like that, and invited discussions like ours, much of our work would be done. (By the way, if I had had a chance to get Ms. Jobs’ ear, I would have suggested she start with middle schools first. But she didn’t ask my advice.)

What we agreed upon for “our” high school wasn’t particularly radical, given the lives our team members have led (but I suspect Bernie Sanders would say the same). We had questions about the XQ project’s underpinnings, but when all was said and done, we couldn’t say no to something that called out the need for action in a loud voice. ERC’s TREK program is better for us having met and labored together. (Perhaps Ms. Jobs can spare just a million or two to support TREK; we’re not greedy.)

A few highlights from our application
We’ll show you more of the application components over the coming year -guaranteed if you’ve signed on for TREK to work with us in redesigning your school(s)- but we do want to summarize five underlying fundamentals on which we agreed an ERC TREK high school would rest.

  • Education must prepare young people to face a world that will change rapidly throughout their entire lifetimes, requiring them to be flexible and able to solve complex problems.
  • Learning and youth development are inseparable if not indistinguishable. One cannot look at a young person as “merely” a student who arrives at school in the morning and leaves at the end of the day. A TREK school recognizes its responsibility to work deeply with youth to enable them to act in conscious, thoughtful, and responsible ways. 
  • The educational environment must be authentic on every level. Content and assignments must relate to students’ lives. Relationships with the educators must be honest, open, and fair. Activities must include an almost seamless relationship with the community and the institutions, businesses, and organizations that comprise it. 
  • We must incubate and elevate the “active inquiry” that is happening with us or without us. Guided, that “active inquiry” helps youth ask and answer meaningful questions: about themselves, their communities, and their worlds. Their answers can lead to authentic assessment: real-world products, presentations, and events.
  • A TREK learning environment will never again be about rows of students in chairs day after day listening to a teacher lecturing to them, penning all students of the same age together for years, studying the same subject in the same way for pre-allotted chunks of time. Dispatching the old “culture of teaching” in favor of a culture of learning is vital in an ERC TREK school.

Re-imagining high school scares the hell out of some people – we find it energizing and totally possible.

We’ll keep you posted on how the TREK team is doing. If you’d like us to visit your school, though, just give us a shout.

For ERC, and our ERC TREK team,
Larry Myatt

 

 

One of my votes for “Most Likely to Succeed” in 2016

Larry Myatt, ERC Co-Founder

 

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     ERC Co-Founder Dr. Larry Myatt opens the Panel Discussion at “Most Likely to Succeed” screening

ERC Co-Founder Dr. Larry Myatt opens the Panel Discussion at “Most Likely to Succeed” screening

No place makes ERC prouder of our contribution to better schools for kids than the Duke City – Albuquerque, NM. The excitement there continued to mount at year’s end with three key developments for the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, its Leadership Schools network and boards, and collaborating agencies and institutions. As mentioned in a TEDX-Albuq talk.

I was invited to present in that city earlier in the year, The NM Center and it’s cousins, the McCune Foundation schools cluster, have running room and energy and are making use of both.

I’ve been working over a decade in the city, watching the birth and development of a robust progressive education conversation that respects but resists the state’s policy moves towards standardization and constraining metrics. My colleague Katrina Kennett often joins me in work there as a resource for instructional planning and technology integration, and our post-visit debriefs always include some marveling at the room to innovate and local passion that we find refreshing.

In late November I was invited to moderate a panel following the Center’s screening of “Most Likely to Succeed”, a re-imagining school documentary, presented to a full house at the beautiful National Hispanic Cultural Center. The film, which won awards at Sundance and Tribeca, pushes hard on our failure to re-imagine new ideas of school, and was extremely well received, provoking a lively discussion among industry representatives, distinguished educators, and past and present students from the Leadership Schools Network.

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     The post-movie panel kicks into gear about what should be happening in local schools

The post-movie panel kicks into gear about what should be happening in local schools

As Center Founder Tony Monfiletto pointed out as he kicked off the event, the film provides some emerging details of what a high-quality 21st Century education will look like, and that similar dynamism is available locally in the city since Network Schools are on to the same scheme, but with even greater community involvement in design and programming.  Panelists took questions about the readiness of the teacher corps, demands from the community and work force trends, and the depth of the learning experiences of the students, making for a full evening and a lot of buzz.

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    NM Center Founder and Executive    Director, Tony Monfiletto in front of their new home at Fat Pipe in downtown Albuquerque.

NM Center Founder and Executive Director, Tony Monfiletto in front of their new home at Fat Pipe in downtown Albuquerque.

As the Center shifts into a higher gear it has also recently found a new home --at Fat Pipe, a unique community co-working space that brings start-ups, existing businesses and entrepreneurs together in the heart of Downtown Albuquerque. The Center has also added a Director of Networking, veteran progressive educator Justin Trager, and is building capacity with collaborations in the area of research, organizational and educator development, higher education partnering, and school networking. With support from the McCune Foundation, it is also convening the regional New Metrics initiative, which works to identify new and more powerful metrics for school evaluation that support and incentivize schools to provide students with the educational experiences and skills they need to become successful adults.

In a final bit of good news, the Albuquerque Public School Board approved its first charter high school in seven years last week --Siembra, the newest member of the Leadership HS Network. The new high school, planned for the South Valley, was chartered to address some of our city’s pressing economic and educational needs. Siembra Leadership High School, according to the press release, “adopts an innovative new model for education, focused on providing students with relevant and engaging project-based learning that responds to the needs of our city’s fast-growing entrepreneurial economy. Curricula at the Leadership High Schools are developed in partnership with Albuquerque’s leading businesses and organizations and this new high school will draw on the knowledge and needs of Albuquerque’s entrepreneurship sector to inform curriculum and ensure students receive an education that prepares them for the future.”

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Siembra Leadership High School will open in August 2016. Funding is provided by the State of New Mexico with startup support from private sources, including a four-acre plot of land off Rio Bravo and Coors, donated by NAI Maestas & Ward Commercial Real Estate as the permanent home for the school. ERC plans to support the Siembra Leadership as it identifies and brings in the talent to staff a state-of-the-art small high school with deep roots in the community, as well as supporting its new Board.

 

Why Is Getting Teacher Evaluation Right So Elusive?

By Wayne Ogden

 

Where did the furor over teacher evaluation go? Just five years ago it was the behemoth that overtook American schools. The only conversation in town. Now? It’s hardly on the radar screen. What happened?

 

In 2001 Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind Act” with great fanfare and desperation. Politicians and policy makers believed that something radical had to be done to improve our schools and save our economy from the ravages of a poorly educated workforce. When President Bush signed this act into law in early 2002 it became the most sweeping educational reform initiative since the days of President Lyndon Johnson. The law had bi-partisan support and promised radical changes in student performance and school accountability. But, by 2010 when student’s cognitive abilities, as measured by performance on paper and pencil standardized tests, proved to be resistant to improvement a “blame game” began in Washington and elsewhere.

 

At that juncture, the popular rationale regarding flat student performance became, “it must be the teacher’s fault”, and its cousin, “why aren’t those principals evaluating out those bad teachers?” Our national fixation on testing was supplemented by a new fixation on teacher evaluation and administrative management. Those of us in the business –teachers, building and district administrators, and trainers- remember the flurry well.

 

The Federal government dangled multi-million dollar carrots in front of states and school districts to encourage an overhaul of their teacher evaluation systems. The common wisdom was that if we could tie teacher evaluation, student performance, and merit pay together we would finally have the formula for success. Many of our nation’s most prominent funders and businesspeople jumped on the bandwagon. Private money followed public funds in support of this notion. Huge amounts were spent on the development of “new and improved evaluation programs” and hundreds of millions more on professional development to train educators on how these new teacher accountability systems were going to work.

 

Virtually all other professional development activities ground to a halt as training of administrators and teachers to use new evaluation instruments and management techniques swamped all other needs and plans. It was the singular focus of states, districts, schools and educational professionals for three years. Surely, this was going to do the trick! Finally our public schools were going to produce higher performing students.

 

So, what has all of this spending and fixation on accountability accomplished? As the studies and evidence roll in, not a great deal.

 

Let’s take a broader look. School districts have struggled with teacher evaluation for years, making limited progress in developing systems that actually result in instructional improvement and increased student learning. State Departments of Education have regularly developed new models of teacher evaluation only to replace them every few years, but not, as I see, it, for rational and helpful reasons. In some states, teacher unions have collaborated with their Departments of Education on new evaluation models, again, only to retreat from them within a few years. 

 

The way evaluations play out in far too many schools and districts is that an evaluator, whose real expertise has become the area of administrative management, data management and reporting, or student affairs, announces a date at which time she/he will come to observe a teacher at work with the class, usually for all or a good chunk of a class period. Depending on the labor agreements, the teacher may or may not have submitted a plan of what will occur in the class. This “formal observation” is usually supplemented by a few more “informal”, i.e. un-announced visits, that are shorter in duration, and which may or may not provide the opportunity for more data gathering on the teacher’s performance.

 

What it can feel like at the school level is inauthentic and inadequate, at best, and bad opera at its worst --a pretend panorama of the teacher’s daily routines and practices, mired in forms, dates for discussions about the findings, replies, claims and counter-claims, within which the essence of teacher performance and support thereof, diminishes substantially as the days go by. From the teacher standpoint, the process provides little insight into the real dilemmas of teaching, and little by way of getting at the nuanced formulas for sustaining growth and energetic teaching and learning in demanding settings, made even more stressful by the layers of testing and test prep.

 

To address these issues, the federal government used legislation, its bully pulpit and boatloads of cash to encourage “teacher accountability”. Most recently, the computer billionaire and amateur education policy wonk, Bill Gates seems to have become the most recent to fail at the teacher evaluation game. After an expenditure of more than 180 million dollars in Gates Foundation and other funds, and an estimated 50 million dollar per year cost to implement and maintain the initiative, The Washington Post recently headlined, “Another Gates-funded education reform project, starting with mountains of cash and sky-high promises, is crashing to Earth”. That project in Hillsborough, Florida Public Schools was one of many throughout our country that focused on teacher evaluation as the path to improved student performance and better schools. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/03/bill-gates-spent-a-fortune-to-build-it-now-a-florida-school-system-is-getting-rid-of-it/ )

 

I don’t want to demean philanthropy in education. We need all the help we can get (if its spent in the right places and the right ways). I just want to highlight that when a government or groups of well-intentioned individuals make knee-jerk, simplistic reactions to highly- complicated problems like the factors that will improve student learning, those initiatives are likely to fail.

 

It wasn’t that long ago that the big idea about how best to bring about better student achievement was to get away from compensation systems that reward teachers for years of service and academic credentials earned, and instead implement merit pay evaluation systems that would reward educators based on the performance of their students. Unfortunately, scholars have found little or no evidence to suggest that merit pay has worked anywhere to improve student or teacher performance. No one talks about that idea much anymore. We’ve also learned that our national testing and school choice initiatives don’t sustain school improvement either.

 

We’ve even tried to use public humiliation as a way to improve teacher performance. At least two of our nation’s largest school systems (Los Angeles and New York) and the media that served those metropolitan areas thought that publishing a ranking of teachers by their composite evaluation scores, politely called teacher data reports in NY, might do the trick.  As scholar and researcher Linda Darling-Hammond noted in a Phi Delta Kappan article, http://edsource.org/2012/pioneered-in-california-publishing-teacher-effectiveness-rankings-draws-more-criticism/6732 )  “a teacher’s effectiveness is determined by numerous school and non-school factors that a ‘value-added’ analysis typically doesn’t or can’t take into account. These might include variables such as the impact of peer culture, students’ prior teachers and schools, summer learning loss, access to tutors, and even the nature of the tests used to measure achievement.”

 

So, back to teacher evaluation. Those initiatives that were spawned a few years ago have focused on the development of complex educator evaluation systems, relying on explicitly-written teacher performance rubrics. These rubrics employ intricately-crafted instructional elements describing all possible teaching behaviors arrayed on a rating grid, similar to the old-fashioned teacher checklist evaluations, now on steroids. Where those old checklists simply referred to broad categories of instructional competence (e.g. classroom management, questioning techniques, use of higher order thinking skills, etc.) the new rubrics are intended to be both comprehensive and explicit in determining the “evidence” that will suggest a particular type of instructional strategy is “exemplary”, “proficient” or “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” (See, http://www.doe.mass.edu/edeval/model/ for a sample of a model of the rubric used for teacher evaluation in Massachusetts).

 

This type of educator evaluation system alleges that it draws upon the “science of teaching” to help inform and modernize efforts around instructional improvement. However, of significant note, the rubric model itself was originally designed (see Charlotte Danielson) to foster the professional development of teachers and instructional improvement in a collegial environment, not to “judge” or “rate” a teacher as “competent” or “incompetent” for the purposes of hiring, firing, retention or promotion. And as my ERC colleague, Larry Myatt often says, the effectiveness of what teachers do in the classroom can more easily be understood and examined if we watch the students, not the minutiae of teacher behavior. The idea of teachers-as-sole-and-dominant-actors is part of a century-old model –focused on a culture of teaching. What we need now is to understand the creation of a culture of learning and how the teacher’s role must change.

 

So, back to my initial question --why is getting teacher evaluation right so difficult and elusive? Why have so many different initiatives failed to achieve their desired result? I believe that it’s because we begin the conversations with the wrong question. If we start with questions about judging teachers and their teaching, we’re already on an impossible path. We need to re-frame, and to ask ourselves, what it is that will lead us on the path to the best teacher growth and improvement? And how does that contribute to the best kinds of student learning? What conditions and practices will result in the instructional excellence that we all desire for our kids?

 

Here’s a short list of things I think we should give a sustained try:

 

-Beginning teachers should be apprenticed for a complete school year to a master teacher in a co-teaching scenario (not as an understudy) for at least half of each school day. This would include collaborating with other teachers in the school and district.

-Compensate all master teachers at a higher level than their colleagues, but do not select them on the basis of seniority, but as a result of thoughtful process involving administrative, peer and student feedback.

-Master teachers should be part of the school’s leadership team.

-Schools must judiciously hire corollary staff to free teachers from operational duties that distract them from their essential function.

-School districts must support and engage administrators to differentiate instructional leadership from operational functions. Principals who spend their time on bus schedules, budgets and bullies will never have adequate time to devote to developing and supporting master teachers around issues of instructional excellence. Districts can and should hire sufficient staff that doesn’t need advanced degrees, licensure, and big salaries to perform routine, non-academic tasks.

-Summers should include at least 2-4 weeks of pertinent, differentiated professional growth activities for teachers and districts should put to rest the one-size-fits-all teacher PD that changes focus and content each year based on the flimsy trends we’ve named above -or that emanates from what the district currently thinks all teachers need.

-School leaders should be observing teachers at least one hour per week per teacher in all phases of their work (classrooms, student conferences, team meetings, etc.). No system of professional growth can work when someone is observed only a few times per year

-Administrators should engage with teachers and content areas to determine the kinds of routines, support, critique and provocation that are needed this year in this school. 

-Require teachers to solicit and use student and parent feedback on a regular basis, as part of a broader conversation about how learning is taking place.

-Take a page from the world of art, design and architecture and develop faculty cultures where critique and feedback are positive, frequent and earnestly solicited, not seen as negative and unwelcome. This is the instructional leader’s real work,

-Provide every first and second-year school leader with an external coach. (See coaching new leaders:

 

http://www.educationresourcesconsortium.org/news/2014/12/9/new-leader-support?rq=new%20leader%20support )

 

Strong support for and evaluation of teaching is possible. But it’s going to take an investment in helping schools become alive and responsive again. Policy-makers need to get out of the way if they can’t do better than what they’ve shown us for the past 10 years. And framing the issue as the need to support for learning and those responsible for learning is critical, as is involving all parties in a conversation about the changes we need to make in our schools on behalf of children and families.

 

Wayne Ogden is co-founder of ERC, and a former teacher, principal and superintendent. He specializes in coaching school leaders and was a contributing author to The Skillful Leader, a handbook for administrators in supporting improved teaching. To see his piece titled, "The Six Myths of Coaching New School Leaders" go here.

 

Change At the Roots Level: Anatomy of An Urban School Renewal

 

Larry Myatt, Co-Founder

 

In my school redesign and renewal coaching, I often talk about the needs of kids in terms of ZIP code. It’s a stark way to put things, but it’s also a simple, foundational orientation to working with students from poor families. By accident, kids born with the right ZIP code get a lot of good stuff. Not that they are without their own problems – a different set of problems- but they mostly get the role-modeling and cultural imprinting they need to more smoothly enter the worlds of college, employment and social standing. I explain to the adults that one of the best ways to invest our time in improving our schools is to mimic, even improve upon, those collateral but critically important activities that happen in certain ZIP codes, that help one to understand and make his/her way in the world. 

Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence, RI has many institutional challenges. You could probably guess what they are. Like many inner-city schools with inadequate resources, they do their best to serve a predominantly Latino, low-income community, and increasing numbers of non-English speaking immigrants and refugees. The school is in the third year of an attempt to re-build its capacity, restore programming and raise achievement levels, yet again in the face of shrinking budgets.

As usual, there are big struggles and blissful moments. This edition offers two examples that reveal the nature of roots work, the crucible of creating an intellectual, socially responsible culture under tough circumstances. 

 

Thoreau in the City

Team Carpe Diem is Alvarez’ frontal assault on the self- repeating drop-out phenomena, when over-age and off-track students linger in the school but fail to advance. It’s a state that I’ve termed “fragile stability” – young adults OK enough to come to school 3-4 days a week, but too often unable to engage, usually with big reading gaps, and frequently volatile or withdrawn. At Alvarez, students who are over-age and far under-credited can now opt for TCD, as its known – a small but hopeful program that does its best to build team, support social-emotional needs and offer the kinds of engaging, scaffolded academics that will draw students back into an academic life.

 

The day before their trip to one of Rhode Island’s most scenic and tranquil nature reserves, students in a Team Carpe Diem Town Meeting read about Thoreau’s life, then viewed a provocative YouTube video about man and nature, paving the way for intense small group discussions about big questions:  have humans moved too far from nature? Is Mother Nature really in control anymore? What price do we pay for being out of touch with the planet? Transcendental questions on Adelaide Ave. in Providence.  E.D. Hirsch would be proud.

The next morning they boarded a bus and on disembarking deep in the woods they each received a photocopied paragraph from Walden. With each student seeking out their own solitary spot in the forest, they sat with eyes closed for five minutes, looked at the sky for five more, then in a final pause, looked closely at the ground around them. For a half hour they sat silently, journaled and made their own sense of what Thoreau posed about the relationship between each of us and Mother Nature. Back at school, these would become essays and discussion topics. The insights were many and powerful, the kind of insights any of us would find memorable, self-revelatory.  Solitude, in a natural setting. ZIP code work.

 

A Big Second Wind

In early November, the Alvarez ninth grade team had their chance to jump into activities that, again, may or may not materialize depending on one’s ZIP code. Teacher, trainer, martial artist, philosopher Jeffrey Cohen brought his “Second Wind” master class for the whole student team and their staff. Cohen moved easily between leading body stretches and breathing exercises, personal planning and executive function tips, and the science of oxygenation and aerobics. Using only their chairs or simply standing tall, students got a full workout, the kind that can happen easily in any classroom.

Jeffrey Cohen brings  Second Wind  to Alvarez HS Freshmen

Jeffrey Cohen brings Second Wind to Alvarez HS Freshmen

Cohen brought a special eye to adolescent needs, sharing with them strategies for ID’ing and coping with stress, focusing on and visualizing success at the beginning of a class or test, stretching out big muscles in your chair to renew brain energy. Student volunteers who saw their chance to know and do more jumped into the fray to model different stations of more robust exercise-- lifting, deep squatting, running in place. Of note, said staff members, the enthusiastic volunteers were students who are often restless and fidgety in the 70-minute Alvarez classes.

There are dozens of studies that conclude clearly that increased amounts of physical activity increase learning, help curb behavioral issues, and foster healthy habits. Schools that embrace and add a regular menu of movement see less truancy and even more parental involvement. And it’s a simple fix. Veteran Alvarez science educator Jack Fair was one of many to observe the focus, attentiveness, and relaxation that overcame the group as the 90 minutes proceeded. Fair was hoping routines from Second Wind would soon work their way into daily routines at the school.

I was happy to play a hand in the team meetings and planning sessions that made these events possible.  This is the way I’ve learned that change happens. Against many odds and local history, the school administration and teacher leaders are buying into a hearts-and-minds approach to turn the school around. We’re doing it the old fashioned way, re-booting Judith Warren-Little: creating lessons together, sharing our teaching and learning, investing in each other and our kids. And we’re thinking for ourselves, looking for thrilling learning and exploring the marrow questions: How do you help kids really use their minds? What kind of intellectual work would we want for our own kids? Is the work good enough?

Policy-makers, district leaders, think-tank pundits and funders, this is what the work looks like. One school at a time, as frustrating as that is for some. You can tell a lot from this story about what’s needed and where to invest. This is how you rebuild a school and the hopes of its adults, how you rebuild students’ hunger to learn that’s mostly been drained from them, and how you rebuild a community. 

TREK returns. A new, better chance for our schools.

 

Hoping for more from our schools?

For your children?

For your community?

Are you searching for a better vision of education?

You’ve been waiting for TREK.

 

Our nation has been unwilling or unable to facilitate the entrance of new models
to replace the old public schools. 

—Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Schools, 2011

 

In the early days of the Coalition of Essential Schools, TREK spawned many of the great small schools that endure today. TREK also became shorthand for a thoughtful community journey to perform what Theodore Sizer called the most important educational task of our times:  to evolve the institutions and practices that assist  learning.

 

ERC is pledging to make the potential, excitement and power of education renewal available again, to families, communities and schools who believe that change is overdue --through TREK.

 

Why Now?

At ERC we think the timing is right. The limitations of the core architecture of schools, minted in the 1890’s, make our communities increasingly vulnerable. Look at the plan’s basic elements: all kids of the same age, all together, all day long, from kindergarten to twelfth grade; all students studying the same facts, at the same time, with the same methods. Students plucked from a contextual and larger world environment and confined to classrooms in 50-minute doses. None of the above ideas based on any learning science or good parental instincts.

 

Increasing numbers of smart, committed, hardworking people – like you – are frustrated by the continual retreat to unproductive ideas. In the face of bigger needs, our efforts are not improving a faulty system.

 

How far behind we’ve left Sizer’s challenge! Policy makers don’t tread there. They see little need to question the “arrangements”. What’s passing for innovation these days? Add an hour to the day, adopt literacy software or get more computers?

 

 

As soon as you start thinking of kids as data points, you’re in trouble.
—Sir Ken Robinson

 

Even good-hearted attempts to tackle the status quo end up with little to show. I was invited to be a project advisor to an I3 grant initiative a few years ago. Despite adequate money, convening and networking, the effort achieved very little and ultimately hung up on the same rocks as dozens of other such attempts I’ve seen.  Just think of such projects as the $500 million Annenberg Challenge or the more recent $100 million gift to Newark schools.  Now, Ms. Jobs want to lend her checkbook to a new effort. (Check out Jal Mehta’s Allure of Order, if you haven’t yet. He gives us some critical perspective. ) Even the latest big ideas like Common Core, PARCC, or blended learning don’t get at the outdated structures, culture and conditions which do not correlate with what we know about learning.

 

So, back to TREK. What we are hearing in diverse settings nationwide is that people are missing and wanting a chance to imagine more than the present arrangements offer.

 

If you’re still reading, you know what I’m talking about.

 

TREK addresses three inescapable criteria for school redesign and renewal.

People with the education “reins” underestimate the complex interplay among the three core aspects of school:

  1. Social/inter-personal— how do we treat each other?
  2. Cultural— what matters here that we pass on as valuable, without examination?
  3. Intellectual— do we learn to use our minds well? (Although this third aspect is often referred to as “academic” mission, its often more about who does well and who doesn’t, not to be confused with using one’s mind well.)

 

Each of these core aspects has associated with it deeply felt values, personal experiences, and generations of institutional practices – the 1998 state basketball champs, the drama club, National Honor Society, concerts, teacher open house  – all of which rally aunts, uncles and neighbors to the school and bind the cultural fabric tighter.  Other memories and feelings, the more social and intellectual reside in the shadow of the cultural. We tend to forget the divisions among those who felt smart and those who didn’t.  Somewhere in that shadow, too, are bus rides or car pools, the cafeteria, passing time; even if we experienced them anonymously, joyfully, or painfully, it was life, experienced at a vulnerable time. We carry forward trace images, some lasting and recognizable, most far less so, but all part of our “education”.  We know we can give our kids far better. Can we muster the will?

 

No room – or excuse – for nostalgia

People often resist change because they’re anxious about losing something.  Saying goodbye to a vague yet familiar notion of what school means is powerful stuff. Add to that, it’s uniquely human to want to pass down a replica of what we’ve experienced --to our kids, to the next generations.  Our instincts crave a common bond of experience, of ideas, of values. This is why we must work in particular ways, with the “whole village”, to envision something kinder at the least, a journey more humane, engaging, rewarding, and memorable.

 

Loss need not be part of renewal. We don’t need to throw away what works  for kids, we CAN keep a lot of what we treasure! That becomes uplifting and fuels the work of TREK. But success takes a team, a team with enough time, open-mindedness and self-discipline to tackle the toughest job in education: re-imagining it.

 

The first steps of the journey also require outside help --high-touch and high-skills. The vision and change leadership required to manage the feelings and ideas attached to the social, cultural and intellectual worlds of our schools is exacting. ERC has created and employs a “re-design spiral” that tracks and informs the arc of the change process required. Design, planning, and facilitation must be at once forensic and humanistic. 

 

TREK is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who want the kind of quick and easy fix we’re conditioned to accept as real change. TREK is not for those who believe deeply in the current model simply because it has benefitted them, or for those who think that the teachers and kids are what need improving.


If you want in, we’ll come to you. We’ll bring you the most skilled facilitators, technology, and leadership coaches, the highest quality public engagement support, the most creative change process designers, and the most experienced scenario and school redesign experts. The hard parts - building the will, assembling a team and doing the work of creating your vision to pursue – that’s up to you!


For more information or to begin a TREK yourself, email today: larry@educationresourcesconsortium.org today!   

Please note: CES schools— if you feel it’s time to re-invent yourselves, you’re especially welcomed! Please email us about our plans for supporting TREK in CES schools.


Thanks for reading.

Larry Myatt

Co-Founder, ERC

Response to Globe Magazine Education Segment

I appreciated the Globe magazine’s ten ideas for transforming K-12 education, (Oct. 1) but found nothing transformational, and that the ideas fail to address our fundamental problem- the core architecture of our schools, vintage 1890. All kids of the same age, all together, all day long, from kindergarten through 12th grade. All students taught the same material, in the same way, for the same allotted chunks of time. All learning done inside the building, divorced from community. All kids ranked from top to bottom, with “success” limited to a predictable percentage.  No learning science has ever supported these ideas! No wonder one of your recommendations is to reduce student stress. As Clayton Christensen said in his 2012 book, Disrupting Class, “our nation has been unable or unwilling to facilitate the entrance of new models to replace a failing public system”.

Not since Theodore Sizer has anyone been forceful and persistent in saying it’s not the people within the institution – the kids and teachers- that are the problem, it’s the school model itself. Policy makers and state departments of education have abetted the failure by continuing to lock in the current system and practices.  Philanthropies don’t press for smarter efforts or true innovation. Our MA business community, despite its brains and influence, only asks for more charter schools. Everyone seems happy with the present “arrangements”. Until we do more than tinker around the edges, we can expect the same results.

 

Dr. Larry M. Myatt

Founder, Fenway High School

Boston, MA

President, Co-Founder

Education Resources Consortium