Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chasing Beautiful Questions

     In a recent address to Howard County Public School Principals, Dr Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, spoke of the need to develop our student’s curiosity as one of our most important missions.  This same sentiment has been expressed in works by some of the biggest thinkers out there (Tony Wagner in Creating Innovators, Amanda Ripley in The Smartest Kids in the World, Yong Zhao in Catching Up or Leading the Way, and one of the smartest people I know, Stephanie Harvey in Strategies that Work).  Steph also says “Smart isn’t something you are. Smart is something you get.” 
     We need to ensure those kids who enter our school brimming with questions and curiosity, leave our school even more curious and asking even greater, or more beautiful questions.  Unfortunately, too many schools today are not set up to foster this kind of inquiry.  By the time kids leave school, we have retrained their naturally curious brains, requiring them to answer our questions much more frequently than they are encouraged to ask their own questions.  The future will require so much more of our current students.   Information is no longer king, as it can be accessed instantly as needed.  Curiosity is, and will continue to be the new currency.
     The motivation behind this post, besides the years of trying to change the system?  Well oddly enough, it was an article I read in the Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine on one of my recent trips to Charleston.  The article entitled, Chasing Beautiful Questions was written by Warren Berger.  Mr. Berger also published a book entitled, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.   You can check out the Spirit article below.  Be curious.  Check it out.  Ask some beautiful questions.   Go ahead, you can do it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Charter Schools – Good or Bad for Public Education?

     Being in public education for over 30 years, I had always viewed charter schools as the public school enemy #1, a threat to those of us working hard to be all things to all children regardless of the plethora of challenges they brought with them when they walked through our doors.  If you had asked me if charter schools were good or bad for public education, my answer would have been a definitive - bad!  What I have come to realize is that I was asking the wrong question.  The right question is, Charter schools – good or bad for our children?   Framed that way, the answer is a definitive - good!
     In public education, we have got to get past the notion that charter schools are somehow a threat to public education.  In fact, they may be one of the only ways to save it.  How, you ask? 
     While we have been talking about transforming education since the earth cooled, for the most part, schools still look and function pretty much like they have for decades.  Sure, we’ve gone from rows to table groups and blackboards to white boards, but the basic structure of schools remains unchanged.  That might be fine if the world weren’t changing so quickly.  The uncertainty of what our current students will need to know in the future makes an even stronger case to examine our current (or should I say past) practices and come to the realization that we need to do things differently.
     Change in institutions has been historically slow, painfully so at most times.  Generally speaking, the larger the organization, the greater the resistance and the slower the process when trying to do things differently.  Implementing even relatively minor changes in a public school setting can take years, mindful of involving all constituents in the planning cycle through the use of forums such as focus groups.  After months (or years) of iterations, compromises, pilots, feedback, data reviews, etc., we find the change had little impact on student achievement, as it really wasn’t that big of a “change” to begin with.  So can anyone transform schooling, as we have known it?

     Charter schools present a structure and a culture where innovation is embraced and where significant change can be more rapidly implemented.  As such, charter schools can be an incubator for innovation, a lab school if you will, where real changes can be implemented, quickly evaluated, and disseminated widely not only to their sponsoring districts, but across the globe.  Charters can be the risk takers, the outside the box thinkers, the “we can figure this thing out folks” without the constraints of going through the laborious, and sometimes painful process of implementing change in school systems.  Do we really want to transform education?  Look to charters.  They should be viewed as the best friends of public education, not the enemy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What If You Ran the Zoo?

What if you had the chance to start a brand new school?  What if you could implement all of those innovative ideas and practices, those things you know you should be doing with and for kids to prepare them not only for the assessment du jour, but more importantly for their lives?  What if in addition to academics, you could focus on those critical social emotional competencies that will ensure your students are able to meet the demands of the uncertain future that lies ahead? What if you were bound to the Common Core, but you were able to decide how you would get the kids to where they needed to be?  What if every child in every classroom had access to a variety of technologies and rich digital content, not only in school, but also at home?  What if you could hire your own staff from scratch, ensuring they shared your vision and passion for innovation?

Would you do it?  

I said, "I'm all in!"  I would like to introduce you to the Founding School Leader of the Carolina Voyager Charter School in Charleston, South Carolina - ME!  CVCS will be an amazing place for our children.  (You can Google us or see an earlier blog post for the link.) Building this school from the ground presents incredible possibilities, as well as daunting challenges.  In the coming months, I will be sharing my experiences through this blog as we operationalize our vision for CVCS.  You may want to follow this process in case you are ever in the enviable position that I find myself in this year.  After 34 years in public education, I am completely re-energized at the opportunity to finally not only think outside the box, but implement outside the box as well.  Stay tuned for the next posting - Are Charter Schools Good or Bad for Public Education?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Phone Books? Really?

     So I arrived home this afternoon to a brand new phone book in a plastic bag dropped on my front porch.  I could see if I had ordered it, or if someone had called from the phone company and asked if I was in need of one, but there it was, unsolicited and definitely unwanted.  Okay, now I admit to be a bit over the hill.  I even remember pulling the yellow pages out of the kitchen junk drawer to find a plumber, but why are they still printing phone books today? Or at the very least, why are the printing them and distributing them to everyone?  So maybe today's kids' alphabetizing skills are not as developed as mine and most probably couldn't tell you what a guide words is, but so what?  Obsolete is as obsolete does (a twist on Forrest Gump). 
     Now don't get me wrong, I wouldn't classify myself as a tree hugger or environmentalist (although I faithfully recycle), but what a waste of natural resources!  I've got myself on no call lists.  How do I get on the no phone book list?

Are you a 21st Century Teacher?

You first reaction is likely, "Why of course I am!"  I read about the latest innovations in teaching, learning, and technology.  I follow a number of bloggers, collaborating on promising practices.  I own and iPad and an iPhone and I have an iTunes account.  In order to ensure you are setting the bar high enough, check out this post from Lisa on the blog, I Love EdTech.  I thought I was pretty savvy, but I have a lot of room for growth.  How about you? 

Technology Underutilized?

    So I'm sitting in an airport on my third weather delay (one delay was because we had to wait to swap out our airplane for a different one because the windshield wiper was broken -seriously) and I am sitting across from four elderly ladies (yes much older than even me), each of which have their own iPhones in their respective zebra, mirror, bejeweled, and one understated plain case, and I'm thinking to myself, how cool is that?  Are they surfing the internet for up to the minute weather reports to calculate when we might be able to take off, checking the markets to see how their annuities are faring after a third day of world-wide declines, getting the latest from CNN to see if those pings might really be from the lost Malaysian flight? Uh, no.  They are sharing YouTube files as Facebook friends of a dog dancing to Pharrell William's Cause I'm Happy.  At first I was aghast.  What a glaring under utilization of technology! How could the amazing power of this innovative technology wind up in the hands of old folks content that would use it solely for promoting a good belly laugh while watching a dancing dog?  
     I asked myself, "Would Steve Jobs be rolling over in his grave if he were to view this spectacle?"  I'm going to go out on a limb here, not personally knowing the man, but I think he would be smiling.  Shouldn't the value of technology be determined by the user?  Who am I to sit in judgement of what is a worthy use of technology?  Technology is a tool to be used to support the needs of the user.  For me, it's about accessing information and collaborating with like-minded people across the world.  So what?  Technology is transforming so many aspects of our lives.  From how we access our favorite shows and movies, to how we bank, to how we do our shopping.  In addition to shaping how we communicate with family and friends, social media has sparked and supported uprisings and revolutions around the world.  Maybe instead of poo-pooing these ladies watching dog videos, I should be celebrating they (1) have way cool devices, (2) know how to use them, and (3) are social networkers, which I might add appears to be working quite well for them.   You go Grandma and your Facebook friends!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Carolina Voyager Charter School Link

Ooops!  Forgot to provide you with the link to the school mentioned in my last post...  Carolina Voyager Charter School. 

Check them out and keep an eye out.....  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Carolina Voyager Charter School

Have you heard about the new charter school opening this fall in Charleston, SC?  This new school, Carolina Voyager Charter School, is one you will want to keep your eye on.  Blended learning, project-based learning, a focus on social emotional intelligence.  This school will change the landscape of education, not only in Charleston, but well beyond.  Stay tuned.....