A riff on school thinking…inspired by “There are no mistakes on the bandstand.” Stefon Harris

Listening. Responding. Refusing to bully one’s ways. Pulling ideas. Improvising. Innovating. Working with the color and emotional palette. Collaborating in concert with one’s team and one’s band. Making beautiful music. [Watch the TED below, and more of those phrases may be put into greater context.]

I think a lot about what school could be like. I love school. I have always loved school. But I think school can be better.

This morning, I viewed the four TED talks that were awaiting me in my RSS reader:

I learned about “Captchas,” and I learned about spider-silk biomimicry. I learned about MRI-focused ultrasound for non-invasive surgery, and I learned about jazz improv. But I learned about so much more than just these things. As a whole, I learned about people working to make things better…to make things more beautiful. From the whole, I learned some meta-lessons about innovation and improvisation.

When will school reflect the ideas that Stefon Harris espouses in his talk? When might we see the only “mistakes” in school as those moments which reveal that we failed to respond as deep listeners? Where are these types of innovations and improvs happening in order to enhance schools in ways that we are working to enhance language translation, armor and connective fibers, medical procedures, and jazz music? Where is the real R&D? Where are the jam sessions? Rest assured, there are some! There must be more!

I believe teacher teams – PLCs (professional learning communities) – can function very much like that quartet that is playing with Stefon Harris. I have been blessed to be a part of such a team in the Junior High at Westminster for quite some time. But we might need to think of ourselves less as pianists, drummers, bassists, and vibraphone-ists – less like history teachers, math teachers, science teachers, and English teachers. We may need to think of ourselves more like a quartet…a band – more like teachers of children, problem-finders and problem-solvers, innovators and improvisationalists, and challenge-facers. Then, our efforts could begin to work more like pulling ideas and listening and responding. And we administrators should be making space and time for such work. We should not restrict with regulations. We should be more concerned with pedagogy and practice than with lawsuits and legal. We should facilitate – make easier to accomplish.

Schools that operated as such would not make mistakes on the bandstand – we would make music!

How would you listen and respond to this riff? What would you add to this palette of thinking? Will you play an E or an F#? How will I consequently listen and respond? Let’s make schools better…let’s tune them to create more beautiful music!

Can we play together? Wanna jam?

Completing the Square / Leading by Following

On Saturday, September 17, Jill Gough and I were privileged to provide the keynote address for the 2011 Regional T³/MCTM Annual Conference. Conference Director Jennifer Wilson facilitated a wonderfully effective learning opportunity for teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, college professors, and others.

From the beginning, the program cover-art fascinated Jill and me. The conference theme was “Completing the Square,” and the image pictured a puzzle with a missing piece in the center. To build our keynote address, Jill and I imagined what that missing puzzle piece might be that would truly complete the square. Additionally, we threaded our talk with the idea of Leading by Following.

Believing in the powerful nature of stories, Jill and I told four stories to illuminate some puzzling issues facing educators today:

Puzzle 1: Why do we talk so much of teaching when it’s about LEARNING? Or… “How could they not know this?” [Assessment for Learning]

Puzzle 2: How can we make learning experiences more meaningful? Or… “When are we gonna use this?” [Contextual Learning]

Puzzle 3: Why are teachers and admin “US and THEM” when we all want our students to learn? Or… “You are a fool!” [Learning Partners]

Puzzle 4: Why is teaching an “egg crate culture” when we know learning is social? Or… “WE are smarter than ME.” [Learning Communities]

What do you think the missing piece might be? What completes the square? The following slide deck will lead you on the path that we explored during the keynote. We loved being in this community of learners at Brandon Middle School. It is always a privilege and pleasure to spend time learning with committed and curious educators.

Cross-posted with Jill Gough on her blog, Experiments in Learning by Doing.

Synergy 8 Update – Week 3, Part II…Game Plans

Synergy 8 is an interdisciplinary, non-departmentalized, non-graded, community-issues, problem-solving course for 8th graders at The Westminster Schools. Jill Gough and I co-created the course, and we co-facilitate it, as well. This morning, I posted a summary of our engagement in the “KP Challenge.” Today, we initiated the process of Game Planning – creating game plans to frame and scaffold just about any project work. Ms. Gough and I captured the beginnings of the game plans in a short, one-minute video:

Interestingly, we are using the same “Game Plan” framework with our adult teacher-leaders in our Junior High School PLCs (professional learning communities).[See an example here.]

The Synergy team is utilizing tools that are employed by the pedagogical leaders in our middle school. I find that parallelism so exciting!

Sometimes, we just need to be asked!

Moments ago, I sent the following e-mail to the faculty with whom I have the privilege to work and learn everyday – the Junior High faculty at Westminster. I am genuinely excited to learn what they might suggest for faculty meetings and other professional-learning opportunities. Certainly, with their help, our opportunities will be better and more well-suited for us all!

Dear JH:

I need your input and contributions! Our entire JH needs your input and contributions! You are amazing professionals who are devoted to the career of teaching and learning. More than anyone, you have superb ideas about what you want to be learning professionally. You know what you need regarding “corporate professional learning” time – our faculty meetings and in-services. You are surely thinking about your goals…and you think, “If Bo would just do x at a faculty meeting, it would really help me accomplish my goal and better serve student learning!”

WE ARE SMARTER THAN ME! Rather than me individually thinking and planning for our learning time together in faculty meetings and in-services, I would like for many people to contribute to that thinking and planning. I have set up a Google Doc for us to use together to suggest meeting topics, particular content, specific pedagogies, what’s-worked-in-the-past, interesting professional questions you have, etc. [I am asking now in case I need to secure a speaker/facilitator, begin a set of action steps, etc.]

[I inserted Google Doc link here!]

If for some reason, you have any trouble on Google Docs, just email me your suggestions (I will paste them into the Google Doc). But PLEASE try the Google Doc first!

Together, our JH professional learning community can brainstorm, idea-exchange, and contribute to the form and function of JH faculty meetings and other corporate learning opportunities. You have a voice about how our meetings should be, and I hope you will exercise that voice.



#Learnopolis and INMAX

Today, Westminster is hosting INMAX – a Benchmark Research membership group of large, independent schools in the U.S. The topic of focus is leadership and innovation, and the agenda appears quite intriguing as a whole.

At 11:30 a.m., Jill Gough (@jgough) and I (@boadams1) will be sharing a story about tearing down walls and connecting dots. We will be sharing the story of our school’s multi-year journey to become a PLC – a professional learning community. The official title of our session is “Learnopolis: Tearing Down Walls with PLC.” We plan to use the Twitter hashtag #learnopolis for tweeters, and a PDF of our slide deck is embedded below (the iMovie in slide #9 is inserted below, too, as a YouTube video).

In short, we are trying to communicate the following:

  • “School” hasn’t changed very much in the last century – maybe longer. [We need to adapt and evolve!]
  • Schools exist in a bit of an “egg-crate culture” (Kathy Boles), as we have generally organized with individual teachers and rows and columns of students. For the most part, teachers are relatively isolated as professionals.
  • In the 21st c., we can capitalize on the notion of social networks by rethinking and rebuilding the critical infrastructure of schools – the human infrastructure. [New basic building block should be learning teams.]
  • While we cannot rebuild the physical plant, we can rebuild the way we work within the physical plant. We can build a learnopolis!
  • By shifting our central paradigm from “teaching” to “learning,” and by providing regular, job-embedded, structured time for teachers to collaborate, we can build the schools that 21st c. learners desire and deserve.

We are looking forward to learning together with our colleague schools at INMAX today! And we are looking forward to building a learnopolis! After all…it’s about learning!