CHANGEd: What if we used version software designation to signal purposeful growth? 60-60-60 #14

One of many reasons I feel drawn to Unboundary involves their intentional practice of using version software designation to signal purposeful growth in the company. As the world and surrounds change, Unboundary adapts and evolves. Currently, the team designates itself “Unboundary 6.5.” More than just the suffixing of a number, the process under-girding this practice promises attention to change – kaizen – as a constant. Culture is transformed when a community knows that the version number should change…will change. What if schools used version software designation to signal such purposeful change?

Related post: “JH 2.11

CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 Project Explained

Emerging from my principal gestation

Pop quiz: When does learning begin? Answer: Before we are born. Science writer Annie Murphy Paul talks through new research that shows how much we learn in the womb — from the lilt of our native language to our soon-to-be-favorite foods. (“About this talk” description at,

In her talk, Annie Murphy Paul discusses fetal origins and the idea that “our health and well-being throughout our lives is crucially affected by the nine months we spend in the womb” (Paul, near 1:45 in talk). She is not talking about the “Baby Einstein” movement. She is talking about gestation affecting our learning about the environment to which we are soon to be born.

At the literal surface, Paul’s TED talk is a powerful listen for educators, as we work to better understand the diversity of inputs responsible for any individual’s lifelong learning. As Paul spoke, I wondered quite a bit about the “nature vs. nurture” debates. But Paul’s TED talk has me wondering on an entirely different level, as well.

As I complete this, my ninth, year as principal, I am curious if a year of being principal is analogous to a month of gestation. If the metaphor works at all, then I am even more excited about what my next phase of life in education will be like, for I am soon to be born into a profound period of development as an educator. And I am eternally grateful for the care that Westminster’s womb has provided me. My gestation has provided deep learning about the educational environment into which I next will emerge, and learn, and grow. I wonder what that world will look like, smell like, sound like, and taste like. What an adventure.

Tear Down Walls and Grow an Open Garden

When we wisely tear down the walls that we can intentionally and unintentionally erect to surround our thinking and understanding, then we can grow our neural and cardio networks in ways that nourish our heads and our hearts. Axons, dendrites, and heartstrings flourish. When we make our mental garden wall-less, we can do amazing things with others…like construct a network of gardens that grow miraculously behind walls all over a city and a world.

What are we reaping and sowing today with our decisions? What walls are we tearing down? What open gardens are we growing? How might we spread our roots and our shoots?

Plant a seed. Provide water and open up to let the light in. Help grow those seeds planted by others. And let others in to fertilize the seeds that you are planting.

It’s about learning…it’s about growth!

Empowering and Guiding Students to Take Charge of Assessment – Synergy 8 Example

For many, many years, at school “marking periods,” I have written narrative comments regarding eighth-grade student progress. Typically, these comments have been summative and brief in nature. They generally covered work habits, class-participation trends, and performances on quizzes and tests. When I completed such a comment, I recorded my progress report in a school database, where it was reviewed and proofed by a grade-level administrator. Then, after about a week, the comments were sent – now emailed – home to parents.

When we (Jill Gough and Bo Adams) inaugurated Synergy 8 in 2010-11, we decided to use this non-departmentalized, non-graded, community-issues, problem-solving course to run some “pracademic” experiments in a number of areas, including assessment and student-progress reporting. Now, instead of an adult (teacher) writing a static comment to another adult (parent), the Synergy 8 students utilize moderated journaling to prepare their self-assessment reports. The student learners take primary responsibility for preparing their reflections about their own learning and growth. The student learners initiate the communication of this self-generated progress report to their parents, their teacher-facilitators, their grade chairs, and their director of studies. Before the published draft is sent, student learners peer review other team member’s reports, and they engage in a series of iterative prototypes, enhancements, and revisions.

The student learners “live” at various stages of maturity regarding their capacity to self-assess and initiate their own progress-report discussion with adults. BUT…they are practicing this incredibly vital, life-long skill of evaluating their own learning, performance, skill development, and growth. They are precipitating virtual, student-led conferences when they send their reports to the adults who serves as guides and coaches. Unlike the database-housed comments of the past, these student-based comments stir responses from their parents and the adults at school to whom they write. During the course, we see growth and progress in EVERY student’s capacity to engage in such self-assessment and progress reporting, and we believe this is a critical skill to develop at this middle-school age.

Obviously, because of the relatively private nature of such progress reporting, I cannot publish one of the student samples here. However, I am pasting below what now goes in the school database, so that you can see additional context about this student-centered way of reporting progress, learning, and growth.

From Midterm Marking Period (Friday, October 14, 2011):

Since we last wrote to you, the Synergy 8 Team has been hard at work, engaged in the KP Challenge. At the same time, we have been focused on communications, presentation, and design. Additionally, our team members have collected almost 300 community observations on a tool called Posterous. At this midterm, we will be transitioning from the KP Challenge alpha project to projects conceptualized and organized by the Synergy 8 student learners – projects that will be born from the Posterous observation journals. Expect more project news and updates as those projects get underway.

At the first-interim marking period, Mr. Adams and Ms. Gough concluded their comment this way:

“As we dig deeper into our projects and learning rubrics, you can expect more information coming to you. Much of the assessment will be relative to the “essential learnings” expressed on the course logo – the Synergy 8 Light Bulb and Gears ( At the midterm, you can expect more self-assessment from YOUR CHILD, and Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams will provide more feedback from their seats, as well.”

Working intensely and introspectively for the past two weeks, our Synergy 8 members have been preparing a “bright-spot” reflection regarding each person’s deepest learning. YOUR CHILD will be presenting that evidence-based, essential-learning story to you soon. You can view a short movie (, password: provided only to parents and school personnel due to new school policy) to see an overview of our approach, and you can access the originating rubric ( from which the stories emerged. As you receive an email summary from YOUR CHILD, Mr. Adams and Ms. Gough will respond to that communication so that all of us – student-learner, teacher-facilitator, and parents – can engage in a discussion about YOUR CHILD’s learning and growth.


From 1st Interim Marking Period (Friday, September 14, 2011):

When Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams conceptualized Synergy 8, we envisioned an interdisciplinary, problem-based course rooted in student-directed inquiry. Now that the course is underway, we increasingly desire to share responsibility from teacher to student, so that the eighth graders can practice being even more involved in their own learning – similar to the powerful, self-directed learning that children engage in before and after formal, traditional schooling. Synergy 8 possesses many elements of experimental design, and progress reporting in a non-graded course is one such element. Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams expect Synergy 8 students to take a more active role in the assessment and evaluation of their own learning and growth. Therefore, you can expect your child to send you more information about Synergy 8 and his/her experience thus far. At this marking period, you should have already received a progress report via email.

As we dig deeper into our projects and learning rubrics, you can expect more information coming to you. Much of the assessment will be relative to the “essential learnings” expressed on the course logo – the Synergy 8 Light Bulb and Gears ( At the midterm, you can expect more self-assessment from YOUR CHILD, and Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams will provide more feedback from their seats, as well.

[Cross-posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing]