Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Videos I'd Like My Future Principal to Watch: PBL at HTH

Let me start by freely admitting I don't know how to do this. Let me also admit that at the high school I think I'd like to create I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't hire myself as a teacher. Nevertheless, I'd like my future principal to watch the following video (yes, it's 15 minutes, but it's important to watch all of it).

I'd like my future principal to consider the ideas contained in this video and compare them to the more traditional view of what high school looks like that many of us have. I'd like them to lead a discussion around these two quotes from the video:
12:14 - We need to be evocative, we need to be midwives with teachers and find out how they learned in high school, what was their most memorable learning experiences. Draw that out of them and ask them to write it down on a piece of paper. It was a project, it had a mentor, it involved community, there was risk of failure, there was recognition of success, there was a public exhibition.

13:25 - I would argue that rigor is being in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously pursuing inquiry in the area of their subject matter and is inviting students along as peers in that adult discourse. That's rigor.


  1. I must say, based on your writings here I would love to be a principal in your school! I would also love to work at HTH - or be part of the creation of a high school like it!

  2. In August, my family and I moved to Cleveland from Massachusetts, so I could become Principal of Design Lab High School. Design Lab is an inner city public high school where today, we use the most traditional teaching practices to try to engage mostly disengaged students. I came to Cleveland to imagine a new school. In the midst of incredible poverty and this struggling school system, we have an opportunity to create an amazing new school.

    I showed our staff this HTH video and we discussed the quotes you referenced at our professional learning day in October. I showed this video to frame the kind of school we can become if we embrace project based learning and build a school culture where we empower students as learners and thinkers.

    You started your post by saying you don't know how to do this. Who does? I don't have any expectation that any teacher who joins our team knows how to do this. I'm building a team of teacher/leaders who teach kids not content. I'm searching for teammates who are open to learn and willing to try.

    Today Design Lab looks nothing like HTH. We have so far to go. I spend most of my time teaching teachers about PBL, and about engaging students differently with real work that matters. This week, my very traditional math teacher successfully completed her first PBL unit with her 9th grade Algebra class. It wasn't perfect. In fact it was messy, and terrible, and scary, and wonderful and amazing all at the same time. I'm so proud of her and of our kids. She'd be the first to tell you great it was, how tired she is, and how ready she is to try it again.

    No school starts where HTH is today. I don't think the High Tech High folks knew where they'd end up when they got started. We're at the beginning of an incredibly long road at Design Lab. If you ever have the urge to move to Cleveland to work at the school you imagine, you're welcome to join us. We'd love to have you figure out how do this with us.

    Eric Juli

  3. I completely agree with your definition of rigor with regard to high school students. Could you help me out with a definition I could provide to parents of my 7 & 8 year old third graders?

  4. For third graders - and other ES kids - how about:

    "Rigor is being in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously pursuing transdisciplinary inquiry and is inviting students along as peers in that discourse. That's rigor."

    Philosophically, I just had to get rid of the reference to "subject area" and its focus on artificial disciplinarity, especially as the video so beautifully demonstrates what interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work can achieve.

    Eric, I take up my first principalship in August, in japan, and have been looking for something to kick off my work with a new team: this might well be the one for me too.

  5. Hey Mr. Fisch,
    My name is Susie Salter, and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I want to start off by saying that I love how humble you are. Not many people would admit that they would not hire themselves to teach in the dream school. Also, I love the way you write. It is very open and easy to understand.
    When I first watched the video, I was completely surprised. The school was not what I expected. I think it is so great that they are teaching students real life skills. These things will help the children in the future. I also like the fact that the teachers treat the students as adults. I was always irritated in high school because teachers would not treat me as an adult. I felt like I was capable of making my own decisions, but my independence usually just got me into trouble.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog posts. You can visit our class blog at
    Susie Salter

  6. Eric- I would love to hear more about the PBL unit the Algebra teacher just completed - do you have a link to anything that describes it, or could you (or she) email me some info?

    Yes, I know we're all trying to figure this out. I just felt like I needed to include a disclaimer at the beginning because I didn't want folks to think that my classroom looks at all like this.

  7. Mark- I agree about de-emphasizing the "subject area", although I think there is room for some specialization and going deep in an area of passion.

  8. ljhalvorsen- For third graders, I think perhaps something like: "Rigor means that you are so excited and involved in what you are learning that you want to share it with the world - and you don't even realize that recess was supposed to start five minutes ago."

  9. Susie - Thanks for the comment. If you get the impression that I'm humble, then I must be a terrible writer . . . :-)