Monday, July 20, 2015

Care Enough To Be Uncomfortable

I'm not very good with conflict. It makes me really uncomfortable, I don't think I'm particularly good at achieving positive outcomes when it happens, and I do many things to avoid it. I think there are a lot of educators who feel the same way. I also think that's a big problem.

I've been involved in multiple conversations lately where we've been discussing changes that we believe would have a strong positive impact on our students, but then we hesitate because we are worried about causing conflict with some of the adults. Let's be clear, we feel strongly that these changes are best for students, so there are no qualms about the changes themselves, our concern is over how some of our colleagues will react. We're worried that some of them might be angry, others might be dismissive, or - perhaps the biggest concern - that some of them might have their feelings hurt.

This has primarily arisen in relation to two different but related concerns. First, that if one or more of us change what we do in our classrooms, other colleagues who will then have the student after us will be frustrated because the student is not adequately "prepared" for their class. This might be a colleague we know at our high school, or a more generic "colleague" who is a college professor should our students pursue higher education.

The second concern is a bit more personal in the sense that we're worried about hurting someone's feelings. We're concerned that they will take our proposal for change as a personal attack, or as criticism that they aren't performing their job well. We generally like our colleagues, we know they care about our students and our community, and we know they work hard. So we don't want to cause them emotional pain, and we don't want to criticize or undermine their commitment and the hard work they are putting in.

But here's the thing: we need to do it anyway. We are not here primarily to meet the needs of our colleagues, we are here to meet the needs of our students. That's why all of us - including our colleagues - are here. If we truly believe that an idea can make a positive impact on our students, we need to be willing to pursue it even if it does have the potential to frustrate some colleagues or even cause them to be emotionally hurt. Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't be empathetic about this, or that we shouldn't do our best to approach these colleagues with care, concern and compassion. Often their anger or their hurt has a legitimate basis, and arises out of legitimate concerns with the idea that we'll need to address. And we should always treat people kindly, even when we disagree.

But that's not the same as saying, "Go slow," or "Let's don't try to take on too much at one time." The students at my school only have four years of high school. They don't get a second chance at it. They don't get a "do over." If we take two or three (or more years) to make a change that would be beneficial to them, then that's too late for those students we have right now. We can't be more concerned about our colleagues' feelings than we are about the learning of our students. We can't hesitate to bring up new ideas that will positively impact 2150 students because one or two or even twenty of the adults in the building might not be comfortable with the idea.

There's an old saying in education, "Care enough to confront." It's usually brought up in the context of confronting students, of talking with them about some action they are taking that we don't feel is beneficial for them. But I think we need to apply this equally to ourselves. We need to care enough to confront each other and ourselves. Care enough not to shy away from conflict if conflict is what it's going to take to make the changes that are necessary for our students.

As I wrote about recently, we need to lead. Our goal shouldn't be, cannot be, to manage our students, to manage our colleagues, to manage our schools. Our goal cannot be to simply keep everyone happy, whether they be administrative or teacher colleagues, college professors, or parents. As I said in that previous post, it's hard to lead if you're not out in front. We need to be out in front. We need to not put our colleagues' needs ahead of our students' needs. We need to care enough not to avoid conflict when conflict is necessary. We need to care enough to be uncomfortable.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Err On The Side Of Open

My school district, like most I imagine, has a book approval policy in place. We need to get rid of it.

As has been said many times and in many ways, we live in a very different world than the one most of us grew up in. As a result, schools are dealing with a large number of legacy systems (and legacy ideas) that don't make much sense anymore. A book approval process is once of them. We are now dealing with the contradiction that as soon as I hit publish on this post, any teacher in my building can immediately assign it to their students to read. But if they want their students to read Drive, or Mindset, or Go Set a Watchman, or anything else that is relatively new, they have to go through a fairly lengthy and time-intensive process to get someone's approval. When we have the sum total of humankind's knowledge a click away, why would we require approval for knowledge that has been printed on paper?

I think the main reason for the book approval process (and the main reason we have restrictive Internet filters), is a fear of ideas. We are afraid of the unknown, and we are afraid of any ideas that might conflict with our closely held beliefs. But isn't that one of the main purposes of education, to examine and interrogate our ideas to either confirm them or determine that we need to modify them?

A second reason is trust; we don't trust our teachers to make good decisions. A book approval process is in place because we're worried that some teachers might choose "inappropriate" books. But I find that logic troubling in several ways. First, as soon as you set up a district approval process to determine what is "appropriate", you restrict the learning opportunities of your students. As a rule, organizations - and especially schools - shy away from controversy, shy away from conflict. Yet cognitive dissonance is the basis for how we learn and, in order to catalyze that cognitive dissonance, you have to be exposed to ideas that are different than your own.

Second, I think the logic breaks down because we're willing to trust our students physically with these teachers, but somehow we're worried they're going to ask them to read a dangerous book? We're more afraid of dangerous ideas than we are of dangerous people. And if a teacher was intellectually dangerous in some way, wouldn't you rather discover it because they assigned an outrageous book instead of them flying under the radar interacting with your student each and every day? Our district has a clear and easily invoked policy that students can opt-out of reading any assigned book, so why wouldn't we open up the process and allow teachers to make professional judgements about what is best for their students?

I believe that in many ways this is analogous to other rules we have in place at school. Rules that end up restricting the vast majority of students (and/or teachers) in order to protect against a very small number who might "take advantage" of those rules. Here's one example, although I'm sure you can come up with many others at your own school. We don't allow students to have their water bottles out in the classroom. As best as I can tell, we have two stated reasons for this: they might spill and they might have alcohol (specifically, vodka) in those water bottles.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being insignificant and 10 being major, where exactly would you put spilling water in the classroom as compared to all the other things that can occur in the classroom? For me, it's less than 1. Especially considering most of the water bottles our students have would limit any spill to a very small amount, and most of our classrooms have tile floors. This is not a reason to ban water in the classroom (especially considering all the health benefits of drinking water).

Whenever we are reminded of this rule, someone always mentions vodka. Because once every decade or so, a student will fill a water bottle with vodka (or some other clear alcohol) and bring it to school. So, lets review. We have 2150 students at my school, so we're going to ban all 2150 of them from drinking water in the classroom over a period of ten years, because one student might bring vodka on one day during that ten years. Keep in mind, students are allowed to have water bottles outside of the classroom, and at sports and activities, just not in the classroom. It makes no sense.

I think there may be one more unwritten reason why we have rules like this. I think some folks really like rules. Some folks really like being able to say, "I'm the teacher, I'm the adult, I can have water in the classroom. You're the student, you're the kid, you can't." It's about control, and it's about power. I think we need to do everything we can not to have any teachers who think they are more important simply because they've orbited around the sun a few more times.

I think that book approval processes are also about control, and about power. But in that case it's about controlling teachers and exercising power over (restricting) ideas. None of this is to say that teachers won't ever make mistakes in choosing a book to read (or in the hundreds of other decisions they make each and every day related to instruction). But I think if we're going to make a mistake, if we're going to err, we should err on the side of open.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Idea #9: Lead

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the ninth - and last for now - blog post that will explore some of those ideas.
  1. Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank
  2. Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It)
  3. Think Differently About Time
  4. Think Differently About Classes
  5. At Least They've Still Got Their Health
  6. Cultivate Curiosity
  7. The Meaning of Life
  8. Community Service

Name of Administrator,

When you and I were growing up there was an expression that went something like, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." The gist of it was that - in the corporate world - IBM was the status quo, the safe choice for your IT needs. They were a good, solid company, with tried and true solutions to your problems, and if you were tasked with purchasing something for your company nobody would ever criticize you if you chose IBM.

The downside of this philosophy, of course, is that it stifled innovation. IBM often was the best choice for a particular problem, but not always. Folks started trying to fit their problems into IBM's solutions, as opposed to IBM creating new solutions for evolving problems. Eventually IBM fell on hard times, and those that had relied on IBM often followed suit, and IBM had to reinvent itself a couple of times (to their credit, they did that really well).

What does this have to do with AHS? I think the essence of what you asked me to think about, the "big ideas" that you'd like to consider to make substantive changes to our school, is really looking at the question of how can we go from good to great. Arapahoe, by all traditional measures, is a good school. It has been for a long time, and likely will continue to be for a while, even if we don't make any substantive changes. But I think what we'd like to do, what we really need to do, is make that leap from good to great, and that requires us to move away from the status quo, move away from the safe choices that no one ever got fired for. I think we have to be willing to be fired; willing to make the choices that aren't easy or safe, but that we think are truly in the best interests of our students, that will take us from good to great.

In some ways, it's actually more difficult for a school like AHS because we are considered a good school. If we were a "failing" school (whatever that means), then people are willing to tear it all apart and start fresh, to try "radical" new approaches because it doesn't seem like it can get any worse. But when you are a "good" school, people are afraid. They are afraid to try anything new, they are afraid to innovate, they are afraid to do something that everyone else (or at least a lot of other "good" schools) isn't already doing.

Schools like AHS tend to talk about "incremental changes," let's just tweak something here and there to get a little bit better. We're already good, let's just keep making small improvements, fine tune around the edges and we'll maintain the status we've achieved over the last 50 years and everyone will stay happy. But here's the problem, you can't go from good to great by making incremental changes. You can't leap a 20-foot chasm in two 10-foot jumps.

We talk a lot with our students about taking risks, and we encourage them to take more risks. Not risks that are a threat to their well-being, but risks that take them out of their comfort zone. We tell them that unless they are willing to risk something, really risk something, to put themselves out there, they are limiting their chances to learn and grow. Yet we seem unwilling to model that for our students, unwilling to actually risk something in order to learn and grow ourselves, in order to make that leap from good to great.

Leadership is hard. It's hard to lead if you're not out in front.
  • It's hard to lead if you're not willing to risk something.
  • It's hard to lead if you're not willing to make some folks uncomfortable.
  • It's hard to lead if you're not willing to risk failing.
  • It's hard to lead if you're not willing to sometimes say "I don't know" or "I'm not sure."
  • It's hard to lead if you're not willing to try something no one has tried before.
When I get asked to speak to educators I frequently ask them if they were creating schools today, for the first time, given everything we know about learning, given modern technology, and given the modern world, would it look like how our schools look today. No one has ever said yes. No one.
I then ask them why we don't change what we're doing, why we don't make the changes necessary to create the school we would invent if we were inventing schools today. And there's usually silence.

We need to ask ourselves if AHS looks how we would want it to look if we were creating it for the first time today. We need to ask ourselves if are willing to reinvent ourselves, if we really want to go from good to great. If we are, and if we do, then we must be willing to step up and lead. I believe our administration is willing. I believe our staff is willing. I believe our students and our community are willing. Leadership is a choice, not a rank. Are we willing to make that choice? Are we willing to lead?

I look forward to finding out if we are.


Update 7-15-15: Sorry, I meant to include one more link in this. So imagine I had typed some profound sentence and linked to the Do Better Things post.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Idea #8: Community Service

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the eighth of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas.
  1. Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank
  2. Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It)
  3. Think Differently About Time
  4. Think Differently About Classes
  5. At Least They've Still Got Their Health
  6. Cultivate Curiosity
  7. The Meaning of Life

Name of Administrator,

When I started at Arapahoe in 1991, community service was a graduation requirement. That was quickly abolished by the newly elected "Back-to-Basics" School Board, but it's a component that I think is essential to our high school. But I think it needs to be more substantial and more meaningful than simply a "submit a certain number of hours of community service" type requirement.

As with all these ideas I've been writing about, there are many different ways we could implement something like this, but I'll again share one vision of what it could look like. I really see two main parts of community service at AHS, and they both need to focus on both "community" and "service." I see one part focusing on serving the community of AHS, and a second part focusing on serving the wider community outside of AHS.

For serving the community of AHS, I think back to an experience shared after visiting schools in Japan. He talked about one school in Japan where the Seniors were responsible for cleaning the school each day. Not a hired custodial staff, not the faculty, but the Seniors themselves. talked about the sense of pride and ownership those students had about their school, and also how the younger students took great care not to mess up the place or they would face rebuke from the Seniors. 

I envision doing something similar at AHS, although modeled a bit more on Link Crew. My thought was to have all AHS students on the "community crew," but with Senior leadership. We would pair up two (or perhaps three) Seniors with a crew of 6-8 underclassmen who would work together, along with other teams, to keep Arapahoe clean and in good shape. This wouldn't negate the need for a custodial staff, there would still be some things that we wouldn't have students do for safety or other reasons, but I also envision the custodial staff using some of the time freed up by the community crews to serve as mentors to the crews, helping teach the students proper technique as well as problem solving.

At the size I'm suggesting (which is just a suggestion), we would have around 200 crews, with perhaps 2-3 seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen on each crew (that way, by the time they are seniors, students would have had lots of experience to help them as leaders). I foresee developing a rotating schedule where a certain number of crews are on a week at a time (probably five or six crews each week) and they divide up (and rotate through) different parts of the building during that week. Throughout the course of the school year, all crews would serve for a week.

When crews aren't on duty for taking care of AHS, they would instead be serving the wider community. That wider community could be somewhat local (near to AHS), somewhat broader (say, within Colorado), or as broad as they'd like (anywhere in the world). Similar to "curiosity conversations", crews (along with faculty support - perhaps tied into the advisories that the Senior leaders are part of, or perhaps not) would identify needs in their various communities and develop ways to help meet those needs. Sometimes crews might work as a single crew, other times they might team up with other crews for a larger project. Sometimes the project might be of a relatively short duration (perhaps a day or a week), but sometimes they might be extended projects that could take several weeks or months (or even years). In all cases they would be focusing on both serving and on building community, both community within their crew and within the wider community they are serving.

Our mission statement says that we will "encourage students to participate actively in their local and global societies," and our vision statement goes on to reinforce that by saying we will "produce responsible and empowered participants who make meaningful contributions in the greater society." If we truly believe this, shouldn't we be actively doing this during our students' four years at AHS? It's not enough to say that we are laying the foundation for some future participation, our students are responsible enough, capable enough, and I believe willing enough to contribute now. What are we waiting for?

I look forward to "participating" in this discussion with the entire staff.


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Idea #7: The Meaning of Life

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the seventh of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank; Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It); Think Differently About Time; Think Differently About Classes; At Least They've Still Got Their Health; Cultivate Curiosity)

Name of Administrator,

Despite not wanting a long list of requirements for our students, I'm kind of on a roll with suggesting things we should perhaps require in some shape or form for all students, so I'm going to stick with it for a little bit longer. I've previously written about Health and Curiosity as being ideas I'd consider "core," today I'm going to add The Meaning of Life.

We currently spend a lot of our time with curriculum that we claim is preparing our students to live well, but we don't devote much time to helping them figure out how they want to live or how they define living "well." It seems like we believe that students will just automatically figure out what's important to them, what they value in life, how they will define "success," and how they want to live in order to achieve those things. Now, I'm not suggesting that we should tell them those things, or that their family doesn't have a big role to play here as well, but as they are creating their identities as teenagers I think we should devote some time where they intentionally think about these things and purposefully start developing their own philosophy of life.

As with everything I've been writing about, there are a variety of ways this could be done; I'm going to suggest one way it might look. First, as students enter AHS I think we need to do a better job of bringing them into the culture of AHS (especially if the culture is going to include some of the new things I've suggested, which are likely very different than what they are used to). Our LINK Crew does a nice job with an initial orientation for incoming freshmen, but after that it seems like we think students will just pick up various aspects of our culture by osmosis. I think we need to be more intentional and purposeful with this, which is why I would suggest an advisory class for each student for all four years at AHS.

Ideally these advisories would be 25 students or less with two staff members for each advisory. That would take about 170 staff members, which we don't quite have, but perhaps we could borrow a few from ESC to help with advisory time. These 25 students would stay together for all four years, with the same two faculty advisors. As they enter Arapahoe as freshmen, I would envision this class as partly an "Orientation to AHS" class, helping students figure out where things are, how things work, who to ask for what, and how to be successful at AHS. More importantly, however, it would begin the acculturation to our community of learners and begin the process of figuring out their own personal philosophies of life.

As the students get older, these advisories would continue operating in an advisory capacity, but would also spend time helping students begin to figure out some of the big questions of each student's life: how do they want to live, what does it mean to be successful, what's most important to them. This would include some exploration of some of the world's philosophical traditions, including the ancient Greek philosophies (my personal favorite: stoicism) and more modern ideas including rationalism, idealism and existentialism (among others). But perhaps unlike a traditional philosophy class that just explores others' philosophies and that we might offer as an elective, this would be offered to every student and be a chance for students to actively piece together their personal philosophy.

While they wouldn't "finish" this process by the time they graduate, they would be approaching adulthood with a much more informed perspective on how they want to proceed with their lives. Instead of the default being defining success as a college degree, a high-paying job, and a family with 2.4 kids, we would help students decide what is important to them and how to pursue their own definition of success. Many of us learn in school that Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and Thoreau said "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." If those are true, then shouldn't we help our students examine their life more closely, create and follow their dreams, and then help them live the life they've imagined?

The meaning of life is, quite literally, the meaning of our existence. Our students deserve the opportunity to explore their own meaning of life in a genuine, thoughtful, and thorough way as they are going through the identity-creation years of their lives. Shouldn't we help them do this in an intentional and purposeful way, instead of just "hope" they figure it out?

I look forward to having this discussion with the entire staff and am "curious" to see what results.


Idea #6: Cultivate Curiosity

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the sixth of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank; Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It); Think Differently About Time; Think Differently About Classes; At Least They've Still Got Their Health)

Name of Administrator,

I'm currently reading A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. It's an interested read, as it details the "curiosity conversations" that Grazer has scheduled weekly for the past few decades with interesting people. It also reminds me of one of the biggest concerns I hear when I've discussed eliminating curriculum with both teachers and students: students don't know what they don't know.

The concern is that if students aren't exposed to many different curricular areas they may not know that they might be passionate about one of them. Many folks report that they didn't think they'd be interested in course until they had to take it, then discovered that they actually liked it (and there's almost always a nod to the passionate teacher of that course). This is a legitimate concern, and one I agree with, although I would question whether our current system really does such a good job of achieving this objective.

I think there are probably many ways to address this concern in a more open-ended learning experience like I'm suggesting, but let me share just one to give you an idea of how it could look. In my last post I suggested that one core "class" that I would keep is one built around physical fitness and health. I would also suggest a second "core" experience for all students, one built around curiosity and current events, maybe even call it "Cultivating Curiosity" or "Curiosity Conversations" or something.

Arapahoe, like many schools, has a current events class, but it is an elective, so not all students take it, and it only meets two days a week for one semester, so students only get a small slice of current events. I would propose that all students take "Cultivating Curiosity" or "Curiosity Conversations" throughout their four years at Arapahoe. With the guidance of several teachers, students would be exposed each week to what's going on in the world at a fairly shallow level, but at a deeper level than you might get by watching the evening news (think NPR/Atlantic length of story, with follow-up, as opposed to Nightly News/Denver Post length of story.) Then perhaps every two weeks or so, each student (or a small group of students) would choose one (or more) events that particularly piqued their curiosity and delve into them more deeply. They would continue to get the "shallow" current events discussion each week, so they'd still get exposed to what's going on in the world, but they would also take time to dive deeper into an issue for a couple of weeks, then dive deeper into another issue for a couple of weeks, and so on.

Then, perhaps at the end of the first semester, after they've dived deep into 6-9 topics, they might choose one of those to focus on during second semester and do a really deep dive, spending a significant amount of time learning everything they can about it, immersing themselves in the issue and perhaps delving into ways they could get involved. (Or, if nothing has really jumped out at them, they could continue doing the two-week dives on new topics.) If done well, this gives students exposure to many different areas, and in a fashion that is both timely and much more likely to be relevant to their lives that a pre-digested curriculum.

I think this has great potential, although I think we would perhaps expand the definition of "current events" a bit from the way we currently define them. We would certainly still incorporate the "hot topics" in the news, but my vision of current events would also include many areas that might not be on the front page, but are still current. Here's a (non-comprehensive) list of some current events that I think would be likely candidates if I was teaching this class this week:
  • Economic Crisis in Greece (economics, politics, government, history, mathematics, geography)
  • Confederate Flag and #BlackLivesMatter (history, politics, philosophy, sociology, media)
  • Climate Change/Energy (science, mathematics, politics, government, history)
  • Retirement Security (government, economics, mathematics, politics)
  • Education Reform (government, economics, politics, science, philosophy)
  • Space/Rocket Launches (science, mathematics, government, economics, sociology)
  • Gender/USWNT (sports, politics, economics)
  • Iran Nuclear Deal (science, politics, government, geography)
  • 2016 Election (politics, government, philosophy, media)
  • Driverless Cars (economics, politics, government, science)
  • Mental Health (science, medicine, government)
  • Marriage (sociology, politics, government, science)
And many, many, many more. Teachers and students would have equal responsibility to suggest topics each week, and to search and research to find reliable information. Students would get an opportunity to present on their deeper dive topics, and these topics could lead to internships, mentorships, or job placements. Note that this "class" doesn't preclude or supersede the "pursuing your passions" piece from my earlier post, but just provides an additional opportunity for exposure to new topics and possible passions.

I think curiosity is "core" to learning, and should be front-and-center at Arapahoe. I look forward to having this discussion with the entire staff and am "curious" to see what results.


Monday, July 06, 2015

Idea #5: At Least They've Still Got Their Health

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the fifth of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank; Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It); Think Differently About Time; Think Differently About Classes)

Name of Administrator,

When I was younger I didn't really get the phrase, "at least you've still got your health." But as I've gotten older, and as I see folks deal with everything from relatively minor colds, to more chronic conditions, to serious illnesses, I get what a huge impact health has on everyone's lives. Our health not only impacts how we feel, but our ability to do what we want to do and, crucially, our ability to learn. That's why it's so curious to me that "physical" education seems to be such an afterthought in our school.

I don't mean to imply that our physical education teachers aren't thoughtful or don't do a great job, they are and they do. But physical education is clearly not an emphasis or a priority at AHS. We require 12 hours of physical education to graduate at AHS, including a required swimming class and 2 credits of health. That works out to an average of only 1.5 class periods per week over the course of our students' high school careers.

Yet what is more important to our students' present and future than health and physical education? This is one area where we can clearly answer the question of, "When are we ever going to have to use this?" Unlike, say, the quadratic formula or the periodic table, the first bank of the United States or Macbeth, the ability to conjugate aprender or to make a table in Microsoft Word 2013, we can guarantee that health will be important to each and every one of our students for the rest of their lives.

The healthcare system in the United States has lots of problems, but some of our biggest problems are self-induced. So-called "lifestyle diseases," such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease are threatening to actually lower the quality (and perhaps duration) of our students' lives. So why wouldn't wellness education be just as high a priority as subjects we deem as "core"?

In some of my previous posts I've questioned whether "classes" are the best way to approach learning, and whether a "one-size-fits-all" approach makes any sense. I still believe that, but this is one area which I think all students should learn every day, and perhaps in a form that looks somewhat like a traditional class with a regularly scheduled time. I still don't think it needs to be one-size-fits-all, it can be customized to meet the needs and interests of each student, but I do think that every student needs to participate in physical activity and health education every day.

I think every student (and staff member - we should do this together) should have at least 30 minutes of physical activity scheduled into each school day. We should also have regular, on-going education around wellness, including nutrition, exercise, sleep, emotional health, and brain and learning science. Our students cannot reach their potential, cannot learn and grow and contribute their best to society, if they aren't as healthy as they can be. This is truly a "core" subject and we should give it the emphasis it deserves.

I look forward to having this "healthy" discussion with the entire staff.


Friday, July 03, 2015

Idea #4: Think Differently About Classes

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the fourth of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (The first was Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank; the second was Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It); the third was Think Differently About Time.)

Name of Administrator,

In my last post I suggested we think differently about time, and I touched on the idea that the idea of "classes" was something we should think more deeply about. In this post I just want to briefly (really, it's going to be brief this time) explore that a bit more.

Modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years. Our current conception of education in the U.S., with comprehensive K-12 education for all students, with the goal of preparing them for at least four years of higher education, is really a post-World-War-II phenomenon, so has existed for about 60 years. That works out to 0.03% of the time that modern humans have been learning. To put that in perhaps a more understandable context, if we think of modern human history being a calendar year, January 1st through December 31st, the school system as we know it began at 9:22 pm on December 31st.

Here's the problem: we think it has to look this way. Because humans have evolved to view the world in a linear fashion, and because we have short lifespans, the perspective that you, I and all of our colleagues share is completely encompassed by the 60 years of our current system. So when we have conversations about what we might do differently, the anchor point for our discussion is the current system. And, because we are products of the system working in the system, our perspective is also the perspective of the system.

I'm suggesting that these perspectives are misguided. We should use those big brains that ushered in the era of the modern human to realize that just because a school system has existed for the last two hours and thirty-eight minutes of the calendar year, that's not the only way the system learning can look.

We currently view the concept of a "class" much the way that scientists used to view the concept of the atom. 'Atom" literally comes from the Greek word "atomos", which means  "that which cannot be split." Some scientists initially thought that atoms were the fundamental unit of the universe, that you couldn't get any smaller or more basic. We now know that isn't true, there are subatomic particles such as quarks, leptons and bosons. In schools, we often behave as though "classes" are the fundamental unit of learning, that they can't be split and that, in fact, they are the building blocks of learning. But that's making the fundamental mistake of viewing learning from the perspective of the system instead of the perspective of the learner. We can do better.

I'm not suggesting there is no place for the concept of classes, I still see some value in classes for certain needs and in certain situations. But they shouldn't be the default assumption, the fundamental building block of learning. While we don't typically think of it this way, our current goal for our students is to be successful in completing our classes. The class is the fundamental unit of our system, so we design and define everything in terms of the class. We can do better.

Instead of thinking in terms of learners completing classes, let's just think of learners. What do we want for our learners? Most importantly, what do they want for themselves? What is the best way to help our learners figure out what they want and then pursue that? We need to think differently about classes. If we focus on the learners, and not the system, we will do better. I look forward to having this discussion with the entire staff.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Idea #3: Think Differently About Time

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the third of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (The first was Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank; the second was Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It).) Warning - this will be extremely long, somewhat rambly, and very narrative/descriptive.

Name of Administrator,

In my previous two big ideas I suggested that there were three major areas that needed to be explored: our system/schedule, our curriculum, and our assessment/reporting system. I argued that assessment/reporting and curriculum were fundamental to everything we do, and drive so many of the decisions (and assumptions), and that both needed to be radically rethought. In this post I want to examine the schedule and, more specifically, how we think about time.

As we look at a school day at AHS, here is the typical way we think about time. Formal academic time starts at 7:21 am and lasts until 2:16 pm, with six class periods of 59 minutes each, passing periods of 5 minutes, and 30 minutes for lunch. Beginning at 2:16 pm and lasting until 5:00 pm or so is time for sports practices (and sometimes games) and other after school activities and clubs. Starting around 6:00 pm and lasting until about 10:00 pm is a combination of sporting activities (games), activities (concerts, performances, dances), personal time for students, and some informal academic time (homework, we expect two hours a night Sunday through Thursday). This is for Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday we don't expect any learning to occur, although we have lots of sports and activities on Saturday, and there are those two hours of homework they're supposed to do on Sunday night.

I think there's a huge problem with this view, and it all stems from a simple matter of perspective: we're viewing time from the perspective of the school, of the system, and not from the perspective of the learner. Even the basic concepts of the "school day, " the "school week" and the "school year" are so ingrained in our thinking that we can't see all the assumptions that are baked into those phrases. We are making an implicit assumption that the vast majority of learning happens (and should happen) when kids are at school in a formal academic setting (class), with some additional preparation and reinforcement that can happen in the evening (homework).

But students' lives - and their bodies and brains - are not limited to the artificial constraints of a system designed to mass educate a population to be successful in a factory-dominated society. There are twenty-four hours in a day for a student to learn, why do we keep insisting that the important learning can only happen between 7:21 and 2:16, and can only happen in formal classes? From simply a mathematical perspective, we've consciously decided to limit learning to less than 30% of the day. It gets even worse when you think about the "school week." This learning is expected to happen during just five of the seven days of the calendar week, so from a mathematical perspective we've now limited learning to less than 21% of the hours in a week. And, of course, there's the "school year" - we only expect students to learn during 180 days of the year - so about 14% of the time available to them in a year.

So what if we stopped looking at learning as being defined by the "school" anything? What if instead we looked at - and consciously designed - learning from the perspective of the learner? Each and every learner has twenty-four hours each day, 365 days a year. Why limit learning to 7:21 to 2:16, Monday through Friday, for about 36 weeks each year, and dividing up that time into formal classes where we have predetermined what those learners should learn? What if we designed learning around the needs of the learner instead of around the needs of the system?

Right about now you may be thinking that this all sounds great philosophically (or perhaps not so great), but the reason we have a system is because there's simply no way to efficiently accomplish what I've suggested. While I'll admit that's it's a complicated and most likely messy task, I'm not willing to concede that it's impossible. After all, if we'd been having this conversation a couple of hundred years ago and suggesting the school system we have today, most people would've said that was impossible as well.

And I would also strongly argue that our goal is not necessarily "efficiency", that's a word that only makes sense from a factory-model, system-oriented framework. Our goal is to help our students learn. Our goal is to help our students discover and pursue their passions. Our goal is to meet the needs of our students. If we truly do those three things, we will more "efficiently" meet the needs of society than any one-size-fits-all, standardization system designed to create identical widgets. After all, society only makes sense as a concept if it improves the lives of all the individuals that make up that society. We talk a lot in education about having high expectations for our students, isn't it about time we have some higher expectations for ourselves?

In my last post I talked about one possible vision of what transitioning toward such a viewpoint might look like. Clearly that post still approached the problem from mostly the system's perspective of time, not the learner's, although I think it at least took baby steps in the right direction. Let's try to take more of a birds-eye perspective (or perhaps satellites-camera perspective) of time, learning and scheduling and see what we can come up with.

Each learner has twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, 365 days in a year (and an increasing number of years - our current system presumes that learning "stops" at age 18 or perhaps 22). That's a blank canvas on which we can co-create a learning experience with our learners, without per-determining the dimensions of the canvas or whether we're using oils or watercolors. There's no reason that it has to start at 7:21 and end at 2:16, Monday through Friday only, for each learner. Let's design it with the goal of creating learners, of helping our students achieve their goals, not the system's goals. Instead of designing it with "the end in mind", with that standardized "end" defined by the system, let's design it with the journey in mind, and the journey is defined by the student (with the help of the community around her).

By this point I've either completely lost you, or you're still hanging in there but are thinking, "Okay, but give me some specifics. What does this look like?" I don't know what it looks like. There is no one way that it looks like, or even one hundred ways it looks like. That's what scares us so much. We think we have to have a detailed schedule planned out, that takes us from point A to point B, from start to finish. But we don't, and we have plenty of precedence to base this on. You're a parent - when your kids were born did you have a detailed plan of what their lives were going to look like, from Point A to Point B, from start to finish? Of course not, nor would we want their lives to be like that. So why should their learning look like that?

Now, there are a few semi-specifics that I could suggest as starting points for discussion.

First, and most obviously, is the start time for our "school" day. While I don't think there should be one time for all students, and I don't think formal classes are the only - or even the best - way to learn, I still see a role for some time-bound, scheduled learning activities (and some folks would clearly prefer this). If we are going to have something like this then we should start no earlier than 9 am. I imagine you're as familiar with the research as I am; starting at 7:21 for students aged 14 through 18 makes no sense at all. Starting later will not only improve "academic" performance, but will also cut down on car accidents, reduce suicides and other mental-health issues, and generally improve the well-being of our students. All the reasons that are typically given for why we can't change the start time are either bogus or can easily be addressed (I won't take the time in this post, but would be happy to discuss).

Second, don't think of the "school" day in terms of schedules and classes, but in terms of learning. And that learning shouldn't be divided up into artificial subject areas, with a bell ringing every 59 minutes so we can respond like Pavlov's dogs, conditioned to move to our next "feeding" when we hear the tone. In fact, it doesn't have to be "divided up" at all (although it could be if that made sense for some learners). Instead, we should design each learner's school day to meet their needs. For years we've been required by law to create IEP's for our Special Education students. I'm suggesting we create them for each and every student. Not IEP's as we typically know them, which are too often hoop-jumping paperwork nightmares, but true IEP's, focused on personal learning. I'm not sure how important the name is, but I'd perhaps suggest PLP's - Personal Learning Plans - although I'm still not completely convinced "plan" is the right word either, as that almost presumes a fixed, defined starting point and end goal, a Point A and Point B, but it's a place to start the discussion.

Third, we need to radically redefine the role of "teacher". Our current model presumes subject-matter experts who deliver a pre-defined curriculum to students. Instead, we need master learners, who still probably have some subject-area expertise, but whose focus is on helping learners achieve their goals, not master our subjects. If we redefine this role, it then allows us the freedom to think about "time" and "schedules' very differently.

Fourth, we need to discard the idea that "school" or "learning" only happens when students are at school, in formal learning activities, directed by adults, and only up to the age of 18 or 22. If we truly believe in "lifelong learners," then we need to design our learning experiences with that in mind. It's a continuum of learning, both in terms of what those learning experiences look like, and in terms of when they happen. With extended lifespans (serious researchers have suggested that the first person who will live to 150 has already been born, and that most newborns have a decent chance of living a healthy life to 120), shifting population demographics (by 2060 children will be barely more numerous than any other age group up to 65), and rapidly advancing technology that is changing the face of employment (automation has already dramatically altered the face of employment and is only going to increase in our students' lives), our students are going to have both an extended lifespan to learn and much more "free" time (not spent working for a paycheck) to do it in. We need to discard the idea that time is a scarce quantity - for our students over the evolving course of their lives, it's going to be abundant. What should "high school" look like if many of our students are going to live to 120 and work fewer hours each week?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to include our students when deciding when, how and where their time is spent. We need to fully educate them about what their lives are likely to look like (see the links in the previous paragraph), and have them help design their own path through life. It is no longer good enough (if it ever was), for the time we call "high school" to "prepare" students for the rest of their lives. It needs to be a time for helping students design how they are going to lead their lives. Shouldn't it be focused on helping them decide how they want to live, on defining what a "good life" is? Isn't that so much more important than all the requirements we think are so important in our current high school experience?

We need to think differently about time. We need to view time from the perspective of the learner, not the system, and from the perspective of a life-time of learning, not a school-time of learning. I look forward to having this discussion with the entire staff.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Idea #2: Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It)

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the second of hopefully several blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (The first was Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank.) Warning - this will be extremely long, somewhat rambly, and very narrative/descriptive.

Name of Administrator,

In my previous big idea I suggested that there were three major areas that needed to be explored: our system/schedule, our curriculum, and our assessment/reporting system. While I felt that assessment/reporting was fundamental to everything we do, and drives so many of the decisions (and assumptions) we make regarding what we do, curriculum is a close second.

For me, talking about curriculum with educators is analogous to trying to talk to a fish about water. If you ask a fish how the water is today (go with me on this), she's likely to say, "What water?" Water is so omnipresent for fish, such a "given", that it almost doesn't even register as a variable in their environment: it is their environment. Curriculum is the same for educators. We have spent a large majority of our lives immersed in school that has been defined by the curriculum.

First we attended 12 or 13 years of K-12 schools, then typically four years of college, and - for many of us - a year or two or three of grad school (not to mention numerous professional development opportunities that operated similarly). And as educators (particularly if you are a career educator) we have spent our adult lives in schools that have been defined by the curriculum. As a very specific example, I have spent 45 of my 51 years (not counting those professional development opportunities as additional time) in formal, traditional (for lack of a better word) educational settings. What water? What curriculum?

Over all those years in formal, traditional educational settings, we have lost track of some of the basic assumptions we have made (and continue to make) about what school is. One of the most basic assumptions we make is that a pre-defined, standardized curriculum is not only necessary, but is central to the basic idea of what school is. In many ways, it has become the de facto purpose of school. So, for this post, here is my basic assertion: When we create and "deliver" a pre-defined curriculum to our students, we are robbing them of the essence of what it means to learn.

Because we have been so immersed in "school" as we know it, because curriculum has both visibly and invisibly shaped most of our lives, we have trouble seeing the pitfalls inherent in a curriculum. Here's a basic truth about curriculum that I would hazard to say we rarely share with our students: it's a guess. Some folks would argue that it's a well-informed, educated guess, but it's a guess nonetheless, and it's a guess that's made using some very faulty assumptions.
  • The first assumption is that we know what is essential to be "educated." We don't.
  • The second assumption is that we know what is essential to be "successful" (which we really need to define) in the future. We don't.
  • The third assumption is that the future is going to be very similar to the past and present. It won't be.
  • The fourth assumption is that the only way to prepare students for their future is to have them learn a pre-determined, fixed set of knowledge and skills, in a certain order, at the same time, and within a certain time frame. I remember Will Richardson referring to in a presentation a long time ago as "just in case" education. But today's world - and so much of what we know about learning - requires a more "just in time" approach.
  • The fifth assumption is that all students need to know the same things, at the same level, and at the same age. They don't.
  • The sixth assumption is that, even if you agree with the previous five assumptions, our system as it is currently constructed is well-designed to accomplish those things. It isn't, and it doesn't.
What does it mean to be educated? I don't think we really know. If you ask most people this question, the response will typically include some or all of the following:
  • literate
  • numerate
  • critical thinker
  • knowledgeable
  • lifelong learner
  • problem solver
There are many more, of course, but those tend to be the top responses. I don't necessarily disagree with these, by the way, but I disagree with how people are typically defining them. Let's take "literate" as an example. What does it mean to be literate?

When I was growing up, being literate basically meant being able to read, at about the 8th or 9th grade level. Now we've done a ton of work in the last 40 years or so and have improved the definition of literacy tremendously. It's not "just" being able to read, but to be able to think critically about what we read, and write, and communicate, and it includes numeracy, and scientific literacy, and artistic literacy, and a long, long list of other "literacies", skills, and habits of mind. Even the National Council of Teachers of English has laid out a much broader and more nuanced definition of literacy:
Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Active, successful participants in this 21st century global society must be able to
  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology; 
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes; Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; 
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts; 
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.
Notice that it's not a single "literacy," literacy with a capital L; but multiple literacies. And those literacies are "dynamic and malleable." That means they are constantly changing, shifting, adapting, and are shaped by the learners themselves. What percentage of our staff do you think meets the above definition of literacy?

As another example, let's look briefly at "knowledgeable." What does it mean to be knowledgeable in 2015 (and beyond)? When nearly the sum total of humankind's knowledge is a click (or a voice request, or an automated computer request) away, what does it truly mean to be "knowledgeable"? How valuable is it to have a built-in, random-access storehouse of "knowledge" in a local repository we call our brain so that we can recall individual factoids on demand? To be clear, I'm not suggesting knowledge isn't important, it is. It's necessary, but not sufficient. But how important, and how much knowledge, and what kind of knowledge? I'm suggesting that our current emphasis on knowledge acquisition and retrieval is misguided. It's not (just) how much you know, but it's what can you do with it? Knowing isn't enough, being able to do something with that knowledge is what we want for our students. And, increasingly, it's not (just) what you know, it's who you know.

Lifelong learner. This is a buzzword that educators have been using my entire career. We love to give lip-service to it, but do we actually believe it? The irony is that the assumption of a fixed curriculum is antithetical to the concept of being a lifelong learner. Why do I have to know Algebra by the end of 9th grade if I'm a lifelong learner? Does everyone have to know Chemistry and, if so, do they have to know it by age 17? If I'm a lifelong learner, shouldn't I be continuously learning, and if I need to learn Algebra or Chemistry or whatever at the age of 24 (or 44, or 64), can't I do that? (And, by the way, while Algebra may not be changing so much, Chemistry certainly is, so a decent portion of the Chemistry they are "learning' in 2015 will be outdated when they are 44 or 64). If our goal is to create lifelong learners, why are we so fixated on making sure they are "learned"?

Okay, so I could go on about this for a long time (you probably think I already have), but I'll stop with this part for now and address the next logical question: so what should we do instead? Again, as I said in the previous post, this is something that needs to be a school-wide discussion and, to be perfectly clear, I do not think there is one right way to do this. But I have learned previously that sometimes it's helpful for folks to have at least one possible vision of what it could look like in order to get the conversation started. So here's my conversation starter.

While I personally think we should throw out the curriculum (as we know it) for all four years at AHS, I think that is probably too radical of a step to take all at once (and very unlikely to happen). So my suggestion is a bit of compromise, but one that I think still holds reasonably true to what our students need while simultaneously having at least a small chance of being adopted and being much easier to practically implement as we transition from our current system. I would propose a hybrid solution, with freshmen and sophomore years staying somewhat traditional, and junior and senior years being radically different.

I'll delve into the details a bit to sketch out the idea, but will try not to delve too deeply since this is just one possible vision of what it could look like. The basic idea is that freshmen and sophomore years would still look fairly "traditional," and by traditional I mean that students would have a schedule of classes with somewhat similar requirements (core, elective, hours, etc.) as we do now. This would help address concerns that ninth and tenth graders aren't ready for the radical changes I'm going to suggest for juniors and seniors, that they will need to transition from the schooling they've known to this new approach, and then we need a couple of years to bring them into this new culture of learning at AHS that we are trying to develop. It would also address some of the practical matters regarding graduation, state, and college requirements, as well as provide a place for existing staff that might not be quite as ready to jump into the radical innovation portion.

While this would resemble what AHS looks like currently for ninth and tenth graders, it would not exactly duplicate it. All of our "courses" would undergo some changes, some more subtle and some more radical, all designed to begin to transition and transform our students to be prepared to be successful, more independent learners in their junior and senior years. This would have to be part of a coherent vision of the four years at Arapahoe, and a coherent vision of what it means to be a learner today (and in the future). There would be a lot of heavy lifting involved in making these changes and I could foresee some significant changes in required courses in ninth and tenth grade given the radical changes I'm suggesting for 11th and 12th.

So what then does 11th and 12th grade look like? There are lots of possibilities here, and I think it's important to realize up front that it will not be one-size-fits-all. It will - and should - look different for different students. But I envision much more personal learning (not "individualized" or even "personalized", although I think personalized can be interpreted similarly to personal). In brief, "individualized" learning is something we do to kids; we try to deliver the existing curriculum in individualized ways to be more successful with each student. While I prefer that as compared to non-individualized learning, that's not what we're going for. We're going for "personal" learning, which is learning that kids do for themselves.

We want students to become (with our help) master learners. We want them to pursue their passions, to engage in relevant, meaningful and deep learning that matters both to them and to the world around them. We want them to have the ability to spend two months (or two years) pursuing an idea deeply if they so choose, and our job is to help them do that as successfully as possible. This could take many forms, from internships, to apprenticeships, to independent or small group studies. Or it could even look somewhat like traditional courses for those students who feel like that will best meet their needs at this time. The power of the approach, however, is there is no one fixed path, and - for most students - it's likely to include all of the above approaches (and more) put together in unique combinations.

If our goal is to help students become lifelong learners, who are literate, numerate, and knowledgeable critical thinkers and problems solvers, then we need to give students the opportunity to do those things right now, in high school (not at some unspecified "later" in the "real world"). We underestimate the ability and the passion of our students. To paraphrase Marianne Williamson,
Our greatest fear is not that our students are incapable, it's that they are capable beyond our expectations. It is the fear of what might go right, not the fear of what might go wrong, that most frightens us.
At this point you may be thinking that this sounds interesting (perhaps even "great"), but what about having students "college and career ready?" I would take issue with that phrase. Over the last few years this phrase has been developed with good intentions, but I think with three underlying, and faulty, assumptions.

The first faulty assumption is that we truly know, starting in Kindergarten - at least 13 years before students will enter college or a career - what they will need 13 years (or 17, or 37, or 57) years in the future. Even if you shift the start to ninth grade, it's the height of hubris to assume that we know what our students are really going to need in their career in 2050.

The second assumption I think is really a slightly disguised bias toward college. At least in my recollection and personal experience, the phrase "college and career ready" started out as "college ready," and then the "career" part was added on later when folks figured out both the elitist and impractical implications of saying all kids should be college ready. The bias, I believe, is that while they say "college and career ready", the strong belief is that college is better and, well, if you can't be college ready, then okay, you can be career ready. I also think the assumption is that if we design our schools to produce students who are college ready, they will also be career ready. I'm not sure I completely follow the logic of that.

The final assumption this phrase makes is that "college and career ready" should be our goal. I would strongly argue that, while I believe the approach I'm describing will actually make our students more "college and career ready" than our current approach, that really shouldn't be our goal. Again, I would reference the saying we have prominently displayed in our cafeteria, "Not for school, but for life, we learn." If we are "preparing" our students for anything, it's for life (although I'm not a huge fan of focusing too much on "preparing" vs. actually living). While "college" and/or "career" will likely be a sizable portion of many of our students' lives, it is not their entire life, and we should be "preparing" them for all of it. (And since "college" is really just "pre-career", this phrase really implies that we are preparing them solely for careers; for jobs, to be workers, which I also think is problematic.) If we believe that education is about more than simply preparing students to be good employees, than "college and career ready" cannot be our goal.

Again, I could go on for a long time, but let me close with one more issue that is likely to be prominent in any discussion regarding a plan that looks anything similar to what I've proposed. What will teachers do with those juniors and seniors? This is more than just a practical question, I think it actually is a fundamentally philosophical question about what it means to be a "teacher" in 2015.

If this idea were presented to staff I think it would engender many reactions, but I could perhaps envision dividing teacher reactions into four groups. A small, but not insignificant, number of our teachers would be ready to jump in with both feet. A small, but larger number of our teachers would be intrigued and ready to jump in with one foot, but would need some time to think through this and adapt. A similar-sized group of our teachers would be willing to dip a toe in. Finally, a small, but not insignificant group of our teachers would not want to even get near the water. I think all four groups, but especially the last two, would express something similar to, "But I"m a (fill in the blank) teacher. What would I teach?"

This reminds me of something I've heard Chris Lehmann say many times, "I don't teach "English" or "Math", I teach students English or I teach students Math.) I think another obvious, but perhaps unintended, consequence of defining school as delivering curriculum is forgetting the fact that we aren't here to teach subjects, we are here to teach students. I think I might even go a bit further than Chris's statement and suggest that even the phrasing "I teach students (fill in the blank)" is perhaps still not quite what we're going for at AHS in 2015 (and beyond). If our goal is to help them become lifelong learners, then even saying "I teach students mathematics" is too limiting.

I just finished reading Will Richardson's From Master Teacher to Master Learner, and I think Will does a much better job than I would in describing this shift. (I highly recommend you read it, in fact, I think it would make a great follow-up book study for the staff after Mindset.) But, briefly, let me try to convey my interpretation. The role of the teacher is no longer (and perhaps never should have been) to deliver a fixed body of knowledge to a student; rather, the role of the teacher is to be a master learner and to help students become master learners. We need to model learning for and alongside our students and, in the process, help them become the best learners they can be.

So instead of Chris's phrasing (which I still like), I would initially change it to "I help students learn (fill in the blank subject area)" and, then, one step further, "I help students learn," and, even further, "I help people learn." Limiting it to just "students" ignores the very concept of lifelong learners - we are all students, if we needlessly delineate students as a separate, and often by implication inferior, category, then we are limiting ourselves and everyone around us. This touches on my personal mission statement that I tried to compose a while back,
To help myself and those around me become better learners and discover and pursue their passions.
Maybe a little better, but it's awkward with the multiple 'ands', and I still don't quite like the phrase 'better learners.' So then I'm reminded of another post where I reference something David Jakes wrote talking about culture, and I wonder if somehow my mission statement should try to talk about a culture of learning.
To help myself and those around me develop a culture of learning; one where we help each other discover and then pursue our passions.
In my suggestion for how we transform AHS (particularly junior and senior year, but also transitioning to and developing the culture for it in freshmen and sophomore years), the role of the teacher really does shift from "teaching" in the traditional way we've defined that to "learning, helping others learn and become better learners, and developing a culture of learning." Some teachers (perhaps many) will not initially (or perhaps ever) be comfortable with that definition or role but, in the end, it is the role that our students need us to fill. We need to make a decision, are schools designed to meet the needs of our students? Or not?

Clearly, there are many more details I could go into, including a suggested timeline for this transition (initial thinking, between two and five years), but I think this is probably enough to lay out the general idea and to get the conversation started. I look forward to having this discussion with the entire staff.