The Child & The Curriculum – Everything Old is New Again, Again

“Extreme depreciations of the child morally and intellectually, and sentimental idealizations of him, have their root in a common fallacy. Both spring from taking stages of a growth or movement as something cut off and fixed. The first fails to see the promise contained in feelings and deeds which, taken by themselves, are uncompromising and repellent; the second fails to see that even the most pleasing and beautiful exhibitions are but signs, and that they begin to spoil and rot the moment they are treated as achievements. What we need is something which will enable us to interpret, to appraise, the elements in the child’s present puttings forth and fallings away, his exhibitions of power and weakness, in the light of some larger growth-process in which they have their place. Only in this way can we discriminate.” John Dewey, The Child and the Curriculum, p 13-14

So in my latest reminder that nothing is new, reading John Dewey’s 1902 The Child and the Curriculum exposed that Dewey defined fixed and growth mindsets in educators more than a century before these concepts exploded into TED talks and Twitter. Dewey begins the text by examining the “old education,” which views children as unformed adults in need of improvement, and the “new education,” which views children as complete beings capable of revealing the world to themselves through open, unstructured inquiry. This, distressingly, sounds familiar, as well.

As Dweck’s growth mindset gets battered about in the social sciences research wars, I’ve been considering what makes growth vs. fixed/entity mindset so powerful for me as an educator. As a social constructivist, I am sure that we learn from one another, and that the deeply implicit belief that others around me are learning and can learn, even if it’s not what I wish them to be learning, creates the conditions for growth. By believing in growth as a process, adults can “get rid of the prejudicial notion that there is some gap in kind (as distinct from degree) between the child’s experience and the various forms of subject-matter that make up the course of study” (Dewey 11).

Degree presents a key concept for the educator in this regard. In the top quote, Dewey emphasizes discrimination of the child’s progress toward an end, a place on a continuum between novice and expert, not-knowing and knowing, a near infinite series of degrees of capacity. Discrimination places an onus on the educator to at once know what mastery of a given subject looks like and to know the child’s mind. Understanding mastery allows the teacher “to know in what direction the present experience is moving, provided it move normally and soundly… defining a present direction of movement” (Dewey 13). Again, Dewey anticipates Understanding by Design and contemporary curriculum methodology, probably because those authors, brilliant as they are, read Dewey closely.

In this light, Dewey defines teaching as “continuous reconstruction” between the present state of the child and expertise in a subject area (11). The curriculum sets a frame for defining mastery, especially when teachers are asked to serve as a “More Knowledgeable Other” across multiple disciplines daily. Believing in growth as a natural process and the experience of the child as “fluid” exposes for Dewey that “the child and the curriculum are simply two limits which define a single process” (11).

The process, of course, is growth. The adult guides the growth; however, Dewey, in characteristic prose, points out that “Guidance is not external imposition. It is freeing the life-process for its own most adequate fulfilment” (17). Dewey defines three levels of a child’s fluid experiences as they dabble in and explore their world: “waning tendencies, ” “prophetic” experiences that suggest future courses of growth, and “signs of a culminating power and interest” which “selected, utilized, emphasized, they may mark a turning-point for good in the child’s whole career; neglected, an opportunity goes, never to be recalled” (14). That’s a great parsing of the teachable moment.

Dewey cautions the educator not to overvalue or celebrate the waning tendency, lest a child become stuck, or to ignore the prophetic in favor of conforming to a different task, lest a child start a million short journeys, always tasting and never eating. Character education, all the rage, suffers from periodicity in this manner – not so much a framework for addressing teachable moments on character in light of a school’s stated values, but more often a means for either judging developmentally appropriate behaviors too harshly as they might wane, thereby fixing them, or dabbling in brief lessons, apropos of nothing, and suggesting that the entire concept of character is mutable and lame.

Clearly, within subject area study, skill and knowledge outcomes, core concepts, and areas for examination must be deeply understood by teachers to allow them to react. Dewey writes that “What new experiences are desirable, and thus what stimuli are needed, it is impossible to tell except as there is some comprehension of the development which is aimed at” (19). Reflective, engaged practices connect the teachable moments to a chain of inquiry leading to more and more growth for the child.

The same is true for adults honing their craft. Without a vision for and models of exceptional teaching practice, how can anyone be expected to improve? Some will reach out in the absence of vision or models, particularly with socially networked PLCs or in professional coursework, but left to our own devices or applauded for minor victories, “nothing can be developed from nothing,” Dewey warns us (18). We need a framework.

So here’s my thing: so many of the outcomes of a modern curriculum point to externally examined courses as culminating events – those minor achievements that Dewey warns about in the top quote – or “college & career readiness,” which smacks of dispositional or personality tracking. Often, well-meaning educators fall into prediction and judgement based on some narrow evidence of performance from a subject area in a given time frame. As Dewey writes:

“The child’s present experience is in no way self-explanatory. It is not final, but transitional. It is nothing complete in itself, but just a sign or index of certain growth tendencies. As long as we confine our gaze to what the child here and now puts forth, we are confused and misled. We cannot read its meaning.” (13)

A growth mindset requires that we hold one another, adults and children alike, as works-in-progress in our learning communities, which demands a tremendous amount of grace on the parts of us all. Ours is not to narrow a child’s experience or to communicate limiting judgments to the child, locking her into what Jo Boaler terms “psychological imprisonment.

Growth mindset at once asks the educator to believe in growth, to recognize degrees, and to remain fluid oneself, not fixating on a single moment in the child’s development as a way to understand, once and for all, who the child is, now and forever. A living curriculum creates a framework for learning in which the teacher can make meaning of performances and behavior to suggest and guide future growth toward ever more useful, powerful knowledge and expertise. In this sense, a curriculum provides an epistemological framework for teachers to build a knowledge of learning founded on growth.

Maybe One Reason Guns Make Americans Crazy

In The Tempest, Prospero sends the spirit Ariel to wreak havoc on the king’s ship to drive his enemies to land on the island. When Ariel reports back, they have the following conversation:

PROSPERO

My brave spirit!
Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil
Would not infect his reason?

ARIEL

Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad and play’d
Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
Then all afire with me: the king’s son, Ferdinand,
With hair up-staring,–then like reeds, not hair,–
Was the first man that leap’d; cried, ‘Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.’

This coil has infected our reason. Our response? “Hell is empty/And all the devils are here.” Evil, people say, causes massacres. Hell is empty. The devils, all of them, are here.

To me, evil lets us off easily as people. Evil sounds like a curse, or a motivation from beyond the human. Violence is very human, and it is, of course, everywhere. Reason is overrated these days, and maybe the history of violence suggests why; violence responds to violence with its own kind of logic, which is a sort of reason.

Arm teachers, say people like the President. Of course, as the first author points out, the state of school funding and the general zeitgeist about teachers is not one of deep respect for competence in any other realm, but to some, the logic of violence says prepare for more violence. After all, evil – Trump’s “sickos” – lurk. These people are, of course, deeply wrong.

And now that the children who survived the horrific attack on their school, on themselves, arise and speak they are, almost unbelievably, again attacked by fearful mariners whose reason loops tightly, fearing devils at every turn. Hell is empty.

#Neveragain seems like another conspiracy for everyone on the king’s ship – this is evil, nobody can stop it. Conspiracy addled and propaganda poisoned, these citizens don’t believe in the power of possibility or change, but only fear. Guns make fear. Guns break people. To stand and speak after guns is to be aglow with St. Elmo’s fire, possessed.

But the kids don’t care. Cameron Kasky, my new hero, “told CNN that anyone who had seen him in the school’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ knows that ‘nobody would pay me to act for anything.'”

Humor might help. Bless that kid.

The terrified are humorless, as the terrified always are. They are beset by devils. Hell has emptied.

Of course armaments are worthless as protection against devils. Instead, guns make the imagination real, devils corporeal. This is the madness. Hell is only an idea we make real.

Context Matters

Educating the whole child means, in our 21st century, creating the conditions for social-emotional learning (SEL). Often, in my experience, out of a love of children and a desire to build resilient, compassionate learners, SEL is moved out of the classroom context into pastoral care environments, especially in independent or international schools. Private schools seeking to prove a value addition may lean on advisory or pastoral care programs within the school day from this desire to serve each child’s need and to most easily package their whole child approach.

In fact, I wonder if schools that chose to promote their SEL within the classroom approaches might spur a revolt among their community by a perceived dilution of academic rigor or contact time? Seems possible. If we love educating for “The Big Five” personality traits (or the positive factors while mitigating those which may form obstacles to success, like “neuroticism”, through “grit” activities, etc.), we may change our minds quickly if we catch a whiff of time away from math instruction.

Here lie some of the inherent tensions and contradictions within schools – the tension between doing something important well and searching for a place to do a little of something important because it seems important to do or the contradictions between what we do and how we do it.

Trusting relationships provide the foundation for learning. One of my past professors described Vygotsky’s concept of the “More Knowledgeable Other” (MKO) guiding a learner through the Zone of Proximal Development as the definition of care in education. Many online guides to Vygotsky quickly point out that the MKO need not be a person, but could be an electronic tutor or the like. That’s true, but the student needs to trust the source – its knowledge and its raison d’être to aid the learner. In my opinion, research by another former professor, Dr. Anastasiya Lipnevich, that shows college students improved faster when rubric feedback was perceived as coming from a computer than from a professor suggests how distrust or the perception of disinterested or cursory grading renders feedback worthless more than it suggests electronic grading has value.

In short, we learn from one another in rich, safe contexts when we do real things – or do tasks in academic environments in which we trust each other and care about the outcome. The same is true of SEL. We learn positive behaviors from models who we trust and care about, and the only people from whom we can receive and integrate feedback on our bad behaviors are those we care about and trust.

The key point is that all behaviors must arise in an authentic context if we are to learn from them. School and classrooms may be arbitrary, but like fiat currencies, they are the coin of the realm. What are we to do? The gold standard should be real, authentic, meaningful environments in which we engage together in shared journeys of learning and discovery, but sometimes, paper money has value, too. It’s easier to carry. It scales.

SEL in arbitrary environments, like an advisory in which no authentic or contextually meaningful tasks are engaged in together, proves a hollow enterprise, often something like an online activity to uncover our strengths or a team building activity to highlight “grit”. These context-free activities demand an exceptionally talented teacher to maintain student interest and focus, or at least an exceptionally agreeable teacher (#BigFive).

I can’t do it. And I question any claims that building a marshmallow tower together once per year provides sticky learning on the nature of one’s own character. Relationship building and social emotional learning stand as essential pillars of a complete education, but should occur in the context of nothing less arbitrary as a classroom, to say nothing of other domains of school, like sports fields or service work. This learning is too important to fake.

Silly Adults, Assessment is for Kids!

Sometimes, we just want to know, objectively, how things are – their current state of being, general direction, gist, and so on. My kid won’t mix red and tan foods. Every time Junior misses a basket, he screams an obscenity. Can Suzy divide fractions? Stuff is complex. Confusing.

What makes everything clearer is a number; ideally, a number associated with a ranking against peers. A score. A percentile. Normed. Benchmarked. Clear.

And so, there are numerous providers willing to sell us objective measurement and ranking for a fee (and an investment of time). Often, these assessments come bundled with instructional materials to address trouble spots highlighted by the assessment (for an additional fee).

These tests will tell us something, and it is easy to imagine that that something is an objective truth. What is instead true is that the testing industry (and its “personalized” online instruction twin sister) provides nothing of real-time value to teachers that they can’t learn themselves from examining evidence of student learning with colleagues. Add-on tests from outside the learning context dilute instructional program coherence. Which is bad.

So, why do it? Oh, right. We want to know something. We need feedback on learning. We want accountability. And we, for sure, are the adults. 

But assessment is not FOR adults. If assessment is for any adults, it is for the adults doing the instructing, planning, and assessment. Few of those adults are asking for more standardized testing.

So, which adults? Probably politicians, parents, and administrators, in that order.

In a recent (and otherwise blase & forgettable) article in IB World magazine entitled “Big Data, Big Problems?”, Bettina Berendt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Leuven argued that “a normalization of surveillance” is going on “that will ultimately weaken democratic learning and consciousness.” Data of the sort produced by these spurious tests serve economic interests first (of the companies themselves, to start), as Berendt points out, and this reality is frightening both for its implications for society and its effect on kids and teachers.

Berendt argues that big data and algorithms “cause labelling which can negatively effect development,” which is spot-on. Why? “They create an atmosphere where students and teachers feel under surveillance, where they feel under pressure to perform all the time. Traditionally, learning environments have a protected and safe nature. This absence of fear and competitive pressure, at least in phases, is really crucial for learning.”

Yes.

Assessment for adults creates a false sense of security, of managing learning and the learning environment, or perhaps comfort in the selection of a school that works. Instead, especially when wed to an ecosystem of online gradebooks and invasive “learning management systems” that report to parents on a daily (or immediate) basis like Google Classroom, schools erect a surveillance system that produces social pressure and stress that runs counter to the mindset and culture demanded for optimal learning.

Then the educators probably tweet something pithy about the value of failure. Guilty as charged right here.

Assessment for kids provides feedback on learning – holistically or against specific benchmarks – and prioritizes growth. Assessment for adults seeks to control somebody. Educator should reject totalitarian education, no matter how well intended it seems.

As schools seek answers in the complex world, adopting easy tools that fill a need to know, or to appear good, or to measure what is knowable through far more valid means, we should, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer, spare a moment’s thought for the suffering of children which we spare ourselves the sight in the process.

 

Rethinking Passion Projects, Genius Hour

At some grade levels in our school, students are offered time to pursue passion projects in “genius hour” flexible time, often quite generous chunks of time over a number of weeks. Often, this time is presented as preparing kids for self-guided inquiry or the like. Several years ago, at ASB Unplugged, students gave inspiring TED-ish talks about the fruits of genius hour labor in a high school math class, including a smart trash can that separated recyclables from garbage, as I remember. The creativity and service embodied by such projects were awe-inspiring.

By the same token, I once heard a description from a parent of her student’s passion project focused on perfecting the bacon weave. When I delivered the graduation address for my cohort at Western New Mexico University’s Gallup Graduate Studies Center, I spoke eloquently (gorgeously, even?) about my drive to perfect an omelette, so far be it for me to critique this student’s passion. My speech about making an omelette made the point that it doesn’t really matter what we learn to do (within reason), but that we keep learning. In this vein, weave your bacon.

In another vein, school provides a time and place for more focused learning, and decisions are made, ideally by children and adults, about what to learn, when, and for how long. Passion projects implicitly teach that following our passions is a highest purpose, but that feels pretty wrong, fairly narcissistic. Maybe, we should teach something else instead. In fact, one needn’t search long before finding quite strong evidence that perceived success and well-being arises from a sense of being needed and useful to others. Indeed, the folks at 80,000 Hours suggest “you can develop passion by doing work that you find enjoyable and meaningful. The key is to get good at something that helps other people.”

That’s been my impulse for decades, and it’s nice to see it spelled out so succinctly. My confirmation bias is assuaged.

What, then, might a genius hour look like with young kids who, for the most part, have yet to develop professional-level competency in any areas from which others might benefit? How about a “Strengths for Service” hour? Kids could consider what they do well, thinking liberally and creatively about their strengths. Next, a crash course in design thinking like this one from Stanford University’s d.school could equip students with tools they can use to learn something real about people, places, or situations.

If kids used their Strengths for Service time to engage intentionally with their world, they may well find passions beyond football or creative meats that could begin making a difference today. The minor tweak to genius hour here is an outward focus, seeking to do well for others in a way the others need or want. Serving the needs or desires of others is as much altruism as entrepreneurialism, so this seems like a way to develop skills for life.

On Innovation vs. Regeneration

Innovation – we want some. Let’s do the new stuff, re-envisioning the old to make something better! I saw a graphical version of this blog post recently, an argument centered on torquing Dweck’s “growth” vs. “fixed” or (my preference) “entity” mindset concepts past their core purpose in order to “go beyond” to an innovator’s mindset. This argument means well, but sort of misses Dweck (imo) and focuses on an implicit value in new! shiny! that has some flaws.

From Juicero’s failed $400 juicer (expensive juice packets not included) to this little gem that popped up this week in my feed – Teamosa (#innovationnamingconventions) – a $399 tea kettle (early bird just $239!!!) that uses “ultrasonic extraction” to amp up antioxidant… oh, never mind, you get it: Innovation is often underwhelming and focused on selling us something we already have at a new, improved, higher price.

Recently, I worked with a colleague to refine an existing rubric for an essay to include specifics about the modes of exposition and rhetorical strategies that students would be expected to use. I realized that this process of reworking the rubric, refining for specificity and clarity of outcomes, was an inquiry for the teacher himself. We were digging into what good looks like on this sort of essay in response to a specific unit of inquiry into text and personal beliefs. We discussed lining up exemplars, as well, to really nail down the rubric and expose the expectations for the assessment.

None of this was new, really. But it was better. Better for student learning, better for teacher learning, so therefore better for instruction, better for assessment. By engaging in a process of regeneration, we built together on the good that existed in this rubric and this unit of study, standing on the shoulder of giants like Grant Wiggins in the process. I don’t think this is innovation, because we’ve got nothing to sell to anyone at the end of the process, and we aren’t done at the end of the process. We reflect, refine, and start again at the beginning of the process, which is a lousy product and a precious learning experience.

Regeneration guides authentic teacher learning by doing and, ideally, inquiry into learning evidence. Just as schools teach content – so out of fashion – like texts or mitosis or Reconstruction, schools teach teachers how to best guide learning through working on the work, regenerating and refining what is already good to be better. Just as students can’t think deeply without rich, relevant facts and content to dig into, neither can teachers build ever more effective skills, practices, strategies, approaches, skills, or theories on what’s best in all of the above without something real to work on and improve.

Innovation can look like anything, really, and can certainly be good, at least for a while. One of my mentors, the inimitable Julie Horowitz, told me once that kids are not experiments, which is right. We needn’t be stuck repeating the follies of old to play it safe, though, but should lean on expert teachers and well-founded evidence of what works. Teachers, like students, need the “more knowledgeable other” of Vygostky to guide their continued growth as practitioners across the multiple axes of good teaching. Happily, that can be anyone with expertise and care enough to share – that degree of “more” knowledge or skill in a given area.

Regeneration honors what is good and old – Dewey, dialogue, Duvel – by re-conceptualizing, reinvigorating what works in order to know and be able to do it. Students coming to a deep conceptual understanding of how and why the quadratic equation works aren’t inventing anything, but are at once learning real content and becoming experts in the process of gaining expertise itself – the learning process. Teachers inquiring into their work and refining it to become demonstrably more useful for students in the process of learning themselves are learning by regenerating.

 

Classroom Routines – For Whom?

In the early days of a new school year, I’ve found myself reflecting on and talking a lot about classroom routines for all sorts of management and learning needs. Optimism abounds – setting routines at the beginning of the school year is an investment of time that can turbo charge learning experiences later in the year.

But how? Routines for thinking, like the simple (yet profound!) examples shared by Project Zero, can build the toolbox of thinking strategies students employ during different stages of learning. “Connect-Extend-Challenge” is one I recently shared with a colleague during unit planning. He asked how often kids should use this routine, and we spoke about perhaps leaning on this initially as early research happened and as kids inquired into a variety of journalistic articles on a given topic, then offering an alternative or two, and perhaps a “free choice” of routine to use as a way of engaging with and beginning to process a complex text or set of ideas. Repetition with coaching-style formative feedback lets kids gain expertise and confidence in thinking routines, but they shouldn’t become the one hammer we use every time we encounter a nail (or a Jello mold for that matter, but that’s for another post, perhaps).

Structures for discussion, like Text Rendering, for example, can also become routines that keep the action of learning student centered, which are one domain of classroom routines.

Another domain of classroom routines are those that belong to the teacher. These teacher-focused or driven routines can’t really be handed over to kids, but rather serve a need of the teacher. An example from our Upper School right now is that classrooms school-wide have instituted a routine of storing student cell phones in a pocket organizer at the beginning of every class. This routine serves a legitimate classroom management issue, but isn’t likely to become a routine students engage in independently. Bell-ringers or other warm-up routines to begin class might fall into the teacher-driven domain of routines, but with an aim pointed at student learning and classroom management, to ease the transition between classes and to begin focusing students on learning in this classroom context for the given time period.

What I’m realizing is that student-centered routines that serve as transferable learning strategies should take priority in the early days of the middle and high school year because they are an investment in time, intensity, and engagement for students. Such routines also place the teacher’s planning focus on what kids are doing during classroom time, how kids might manage themselves and their learning between the bells. Teacher-centered routines are perfectly appropriate, and planning these thoughtfully gets us out of the realm of habitual practice, which is always good.

So who are your classroom routines for? Is the balance of the scales tipping in the student or teacher-centered direction? Will a second wave, third wave, fourth wave of routines build upon these routines, instilling learning strategies in students as they become ever more independent learners? Or, do routines get locked in during the first weeks, or, alternatively, set, and then progressively ignored as other concerns take priority? Is it time to mix it up? If so, follow a link above, choose one that might fit, and give it a go!

 

Teacher Leadership – Empowerment & Distraction

Teacher leadership is on my mind, as a powerful professional development path and a simultaneous potential distraction from the core driver of student learning. I am transitioning from 16 years of teaching and serving as a teacher leader for much of that time to a full-time teacher leader role with responsibility for curriculum development and instructional coaching, among other areas. The constant tension between various teacher leadership hats and full-time teaching is one I am certain many other teacher leaders have felt and negotiated, as well, between pride in adult leadership well-done and dedication to student learning. Such tensions stress us out; people start talking about work-life balance, managing stress. Is there a tipping point between empowering teacher leadership and distracting teachers from the daily business of learning? I think so.

At their core, schools exist to guide each member of their community, in the words of John Dewey, “to be fully and adequately what one is capable of becoming through association with others in all the offices of life,” whether adult or child (1985, p. 368). Teacher leadership in a distributive model offers an egalitarian model for schooling that can break authoritarian impulses deeply embedded in the traditional culture of education. “Egalitarianism implies a democratic workplace where employees participate in decision making” as “a matter of style and climate” (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 155). Investing in and empowering teachers to lead and make decisions may reflect down into the teaching and learning, as well, creating an impetus to welcoming student voice and choice into the classroom, for example.

Additionally, teachers teach daily. As such, teacher leadership might keep a school’s focus on learning more so than if all the decisions flow down from the office alone. The vision of high-quality, authentic learning for every child every day may be realized by empowering teachers who hold this aspiration at the heart of their practice to lead. Vision through action, if you will.

But what if the tipping point between empowering teacher leaders and distracting them (or just plain stressing them out) lies in vision and culture? What are the teacher leaders empowered to do? When teachers are empowered to pursue a passion and lead on it – say, mindfulness in schools, they can get pretty deep into the topic, become engrossed, and find a strong voice to share practices. Pursuing passions with single-mindedness is engrossing and fulfilling, and I feel very lucky to have made one of my passions my life’s work. The downside? Passion turns to frustration pretty quickly when their passion and new leadership work can’t find an avenue into application. Likewise, when teachers are empowered to lead on aspects of school life that aren’t teaching and learning, like a class dean with disciplinary responsibilities or a part-time athletic director, those responsibilities can start to take over and obscure the primacy of student learning. There are lots of reasons why, I think, from the personal to the professional, teacher leaders chase the leadership rabbit and lose sight of the core work, but a culture and vision relentlessly focused on student learning can mitigate the distraction.

Hopefully, teachers and administrators are familiar with the science on divided attention, but I love Dewey on this, too, who defines “single-mindedness” (in teaching method) as “Completeness of interest, unity of purpose,” which he equates with “mental integrity.” Single-mindedness is fostered by “Absorption, engrossment, full concern with subject matter for it’s own sake,” which sounds a lot like the flow states described in the Times article linked above (and here) about needing a little less balance in our lives (183). Heresy! More Dewey on this, because it’s so good (and suggestive of contemporaneous political/social battles, but…):

“Obvious is the loss of energy of thought immediately available when one is consciously trying (or seeming to try) to attend to one matter, while unconsciously one’s imagination is spontaneously going out to more congenial affairs. More subtle and more permanently crippling to efficiency of intellectual activity is a fostering of habitual self-deception, with the confused sense of reality which accompanies it. A double standard of reality, one for our own private and more or less concealed interests, and another for public and acknowledged concerns, hampers, in most of us, integrity and completeness of mental action.”(184)

That’s a pretty deep parsing of the mental effects of divided attention, and I see it as the battle of competing priorities for the teacher leader between what she must do and what she really wants to do. The task for the administrator is to keep the must and the want to laser focused on advancing student learning, always. Otherwise, the distributive leadership model forces teacher leaders into what Parker Palmer terms a “divided,” not authentic, life, assuming their reasons for teaching are learning focused. Yikes.

Philosophical, maybe, but also practical. School leaders need to be fully engaged in the goal of learning, authentically. As Shamir & Eilam claim, authentic leaders are “motivated by goals that represent their actual passions as well as their central values and beliefs” and “internal commitment” (2005, p. 398). Of course, the buses still need to run, but if the vision and culture are embodied by leaders and flow down to teacher leaders, there will be a clear reason why the buses need to run. As roles are developed or imagined for teacher leaders, the core purpose of improving student learning should drive decision making – mindfulness? What’s the relationship to learning? How does it fit? How will leadership support the teacher with money and minutes to lead on this initiative if it indeed supports student learning? If the answers to those questions aren’t clear, wait to empower the teacher to lead until the answers become clear.

Often, but not always, our most competent teachers get rewarded with ever more responsibility that isn’t teaching. Don’t let competence become a curse; stay focused on learning.

Unlinked Works Cited

Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2008) Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 4th Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 4th edition.

Dewey, J. (1985). Democracy and education, 1916. J. A. Boydston, & P. Baysinger (Eds.). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Shamir, B., Eilam, G., (2005). “What’s your story?” A life-stories approach to authentic leadership development. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 395-417

Redesigning PBL Curriculum for Collaboration & Service

After five years of successful, exciting work with my Digital Journalism 1 -3 curricula, I was ready to take on some challenges to improve learning and engage with more opportunities for authentic learning. Many years ago over a beer in Prague, my friend Suzie Boss challenged me to include meaningful service opportunities for students through this course. Additionally, last year my students were more diverse than ever, and in individualizing the course to best meet their needs, I lost track of collaboration as a core driver of the course. Time to revise!

Over the past year, I had focused on crafting inquiry-based, ideally project-based curriculum for my AP Literature & Composition and IB Language & Literature Standard Level courses both alone and with a team of colleagues respectively. PBL to address external standards clarified for me – more and more, I found ways to craft narrow skill and content outcomes through broad, rich project-based units of study. It was a great year of professional learning.

This summer, I redesigned Digital Journalism with a central focus on teamwork. I am 75% happy with the current product in this respect. Teams work together to plan coverage, help each other reach deadlines, workshop each other’s media and writing, and celebrate each other’s successes. Additionally, both teams and the class as a whole are working together to create all of our rubrics based on news examples from all over the English-speaking world, a practice I’ve leaned on since my first Masters research, and which leads to co-constructed understanding of task demands. I presented this new curriculum at my CFG last week, and got solid feedback that should lead to further improvements, especially in terms of offering authentic, inclusive teamwork for a very diverse group of learners from 9-12.

Suggestions after our Issaquah protocol were:

  • Find a truly authentic goal for each team to share in. This is a bedeviler, as our student newspaper is a club project, and because of our schedule, IBDP students cannot take the course (which means most of the editorial board are out). I am pursuing other publishing opportunities and perhaps subeditor structures to pump up the authenticity.
  • Add roles to the teamwork, especially those that occur in journalism. Hopefully, this can marry with the above and be a win.
  • Connect with professionals through the lens of teamwork – what roles are necessary, and how do they contribute toward producing quality journalism?
  • Ask students clearly what they hope to get from the course and use this information to organize teams. Just a simple, great idea. Not sure why I haven’t done this!

But wait, there’s more!

The second part of the redesign involves service opportunities, built into our investigation unit and final exam. Last year, I got multiple points of feedback that stated there was too much time to work on assignments – surprise! So, students will either complete two investigations in the final unit or one investigation followed by a service project to address or ameliorate a problem uncovered in the first investigation. Alternatively, this project can serve as the basis for the final exam which is a choice menu of smaller projects. I’m excited about the possibilities, but time will tell how this pans out.

Between my new AP Seminar course co-taught with my excellent colleague Rob Friesen, continuing work on expanding and embedding the Global Citizen Diploma at our Upper School, promoting inquiry- and project based learning and curricula school wide, supporting professional development among my colleagues in giving feedback amongst other skills, working with my CFG as an empowering PLC, providing invigorating outdoor education with a great team in our Whitewater Kayaking Club, and rocking some solid teaching five days a week, there’s not much time for other focuses. However, my first goal this year is improving my classbuilding and teambuilding approach in every class, every day. As Rob says, “Iron sharpens iron.” To maximize learning, kids need to work together effectively and to leverage each others’ strengths. If you see that in my new Digital Journalism curriculum, please leave a comment and let me know!

FOMO – New Media are Designed for the Fear of Missing Out

As I’ve been participating in Infomagical, an attempt to MOOC-up a week-long learning experience in information literacy on the part of the fine podcast Note to Self, their recent episode on FOMO has sprung back into my consciousness. Infomagical has been fairly cool, but a few comments – gems in a podcast that otherwise wavers between interesting and so hipster-navel gazing as to be maddening – are worth sharing.

First, FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, is a phenomenon that self-replicates and feeds on the impulses woven into social media – to shape our public personas into fabulous brands, to feel anxiety over some lack that can only be pursued, purchased, photographed, shared. FOMO is an echo of instant nostalgia.

Caterina Fake claims in the course of this podcast that we need media literacy to remember how to be human in the face of technology. The tech has a bias – she worries about us “productizing” ourselves as we “peacock” through social media. I couldn’t agree more. Media literacy is an essential piece of education, but it isn’t really in style (so sadly – this was a GREAT organization). As a former student told me last year, “now that I am literate, I just can’t stop seeing.”

Media literacy prepares us to recognize persuasion, to examine subtext and purpose, to expect untold stories and describe them, to become creators ourselves. As we engage in dialogues (multilogues?) through social media, guarding our humanity against the relentless “desire” of design requires the active engagement of a media literate public.