Step 0: Preparation @GrantLichtman #EdJourney Episode 4, 9.28.12

In “Step 0: Preparation,” the second chapter of Grant Lichtman’s book The Falconer: What We Wished We Had Learned In School, Grant offered a number of thoughts that keep me coming back to this chapter, and they seem to be relevant to this third week of Grant’s three-month, 60-school, cross-country tour exploring innovation in an interesting collection of our nation’s schools.

  • “Before we solve a problem or overcome a challenge or invent an invention or come to a personal point of realization, we have to be prepared to encounter a problem or challenge or a quest worthy of our assault. The excitement of learning, the compelling personal drive to take one more step on the path towards wisdom, comes when we try to solve a problem we want to solve, when we see a challenge and say, yes, I can meet it. Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can see a challenge for ourselves. They provide us with just enough insight so we can work toward a solution that makes us, makes me want to jump up and shout out the solution to the world, makes me want to step up to the next higher level.” (pp. 19-20)
  • “If they don’t care about what I want to teach, I will teach what they care about. (p. 21)
  • “‘Here’s your homework. For next class, each one of you will write down something that you don’t understand, something that interests you that you’d like to know. Anything at all…as long as it’s somehow connected to the physical universe, and you care about the answers.'” (p. 21)
  • “In the end, we’d covered most of the major points of my original syllabus.” (p. 23)
  • “Great teachers create opportunities for students to ask questions that excite them to self-discovery.” (p. 23)
  • The first task of preparation is to create or take advantage of, the opportunity to explore, learn, lead, or challenge.” (p. 24)
  • “Happiness and success depend, in many ways, on one’s ability to calmly overcome challenges, to successfully solve problems, and to creatively take advantage of opportunities.” (p. 26)
  • “Solutions are often found by testing many different assumptions and ideas to see what works, creating options that look at the problem in new ways.” (p. 28)

The schools that Grant is visiting are “testing many different assumptions and ideas to see what works, creating options that look at the problems in new ways.” Those of us immersed in and devoted to educational enhancement, during these times of learning and school transformation, owe a great deal to the schools opening themselves to Grant so that we can see some of what they are testing and creating. And, of course, we owe a great deal to Grant for taking this #EdJourney in order to explore and examine the approaches that schools are taking as they face this educational crossroads…and for sharing his reflections and keeping us all connected so that we can learn with and from each other.

Highlight quotes and links from Grant’s visits this week – Week 3 of #EdJourney:

“But there is another, very critical layer to innovation, and that is what this post is about.  That layer is what I call the time of heavy lifting, of building the solid foundation upon which a relatively higher frequency of change and innovation becomes comfortable and a good overall fit for the organization.”

“Here are my major takeaways from Hawken, and I think they are important for any school, but most importantly for those where leaders are being really cautious about making changes for fear of upsetting faculty or parents.  First, with clarity, inclusion, and adequate preparation, our organizations can withstand a lot more change than we think. As Scott left me with, “if you are going to make some changes, go big”.  Second, taking on an issue like time and taming it to your needs instead of the other way around will change mindsets at your school.  People will get comfortable with change where once they feared it; they will embrace evolution where once they were stuck in the familiar.  These are critical traits for surviving in a changing world.  It takes courage to do these, but examples like Hawken prove what is possible, and the possible is what we should be all about.”

“We walked across the street, left the block walls and tired halls and visited two classes that Eric has arranged with Community College.  One is a beginning robotics class, students bent over benches putting together their first remote-controlled cars, fiddling with pieces and asking questions.  Eric said it is just like turning a switch when the students leave that place they associate with tedious, normal school life and come over here.  The fights and harsh words disappear.  They focus on the teacher. They engage.  They are actively participating in learning, and much of it is because they have inadvertently discarded their image of what school is.”

“As the Center concept grew, Bill feels they recognized deeper layers, that discovery is the true key to learning, and discovery does not happen in a class where the students are always the recipients of knowledge….

Busting the rigid silos of department was not without a bit of pain, but Koyen feels it was a modest level of pain, and well worth it.  It sometimes is messy to know who must be included in what decisions as the interest of the Centers intersect with the interests of the academic departments, but the faculty works it out and have grown stronger in the process. Koyen says “It is pretty obvious that there is conflict between traditional teaching and the way the world works”.

“SLA is a public magnet school and a partnership with The Franklin Institute, a major museum and science center in Philadelphia.  They have a rigorous college prep program, though devoid of AP’s. All of their classes are taught in a project-based environment and as a community they embrace the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection. ”

#NAISac12 Helping me clarify thinking about EduInnovation

In terms of transforming schools, there are obviously degrees of transformation. How far we educators are willing to travel along that spectrum of possible transformation will determine a number of things, including: 1) if we will transform schools, 2) when we will transform schools, and 3) how fast we will transform schools.

While attending the 2012 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference: Innovation (Twitter hashtag #naisac12), I believe I have clarified my own thinking about EduInnovation. To an even greater amplitude than I previously felt, I think we should be pushing harder and farther and faster down the spectrum of transformational innovation in schools and of schools.

In the keynote this morning, Bill Gates advocated for four primary means to leverage technology to transform schools:

  1. Reimagine textbooks
  2. Scale our best teachers
  3. Connect through social networks
  4. Personalize learning

While I certainly agree with these tactics for improving school, I don’t think Gates pushed hard enough for the kind of deep innovation that would truly transform schools for our learners. To me, the issue rests in the fact that Gates seemed to imply that adults would continue to be the producers and students would continue to be the consumers of school. Yet Gates said himself that school eventually got in his way as a learner and as a doer and as an innovator. When Bernie Noe, Head of Lakeside School, introduced Gates, Noe told a story of asking Gates and Paul Allen what Lakeside did to help them be so innovative at such an early age. Gates and Allen both answered something to the effect that, for awhile, school got out of their way and let them pursue their passions and interests. My interpretation: school, for awhile, permitted Gates and Allen to “study” that which interested them and fulfilled them most – building computer systems. By permitting Gates and Allen to be producers, not mere consumers, Gates and Allen created some amazing innovations at school age. Of course, Gates later dropped out of undergraduate school…because it was getting in the way of his learning and producing.

Later in the day, I was treated to two new views of school. In one after-lunch session, I listened to a team from Hathaway Brown (OH) describe their Centers for Learning and the Institute for 21st Century Education.

In addition to studying the core, in what I interpreted to be the more “traditional” component to HB, the girls choose to engage in the Centers for Learning. They can spend one day in a center, or they can spend four years in a center…or they can enjoy any amount of time in between. The girls are not graded, and they pursue deep learning and engagement in these areas of knowledge and understanding. In all cases, the girls are engaging in “real-world” issues and matters through these centers for learning. Like Kiran Bir Sethi indicates in her TED talk that I reference ad infinitum, learning in this age should blur the boundaries between school and life. By doing so, young learners are much more likely to catch and spread the positive contagion known as the “I CAN” bug. [see this HB video about student space scientists]

According to one of the shared quotes of an HB graduate, she is sincerely grateful for what her experience provided her…

Just after the Hathaway Brown session, I learned with CEO (Chief Excitement Officer) Saeed Arida from NuVu studio and Head of Beaver Country Day School (MA) Peter Hutton. While I was blown away by the concept and design of the partnership between these learning entities, I was also reminded of my friend Gever Tulley’s Brightworks School in San Francisco. NuVu is putting student learners in the driver’s seat as producers of knowledge, design, and understanding. The adults are serving as guides on a fun course of scenic exploration and iterative prototyping.

In similar fashion to Hathaway Brown, Beaver Country Day School has a traditional component to its schooling, but it also offers a school within a school via its NuVu partnership. During a trimester, students can spend time in two-week iterative cycles of creative design and product development. How I wish I could be a student at Beaver Country Day and/or Hathaway Brown.

Despite being a presenter on Wednesday (with Jamie Baker, Grant Lichtman, and Lee Burns) on the topic of moving from “why innovate” to “how to innovate” (see our resources at, I remain deeply curious about the notion of whether an existing school can completely and wholly innovate. Does an existing school practically have to create a school within a school to seed innovation and grow a tree of fresh design within its existing forest of trees? Could this explain why so many new start ups seem to be emerging on the school landscape? Are those innovators at existing schools essentially creating micro start ups within their current cultures?

What interesting times these are for schools and educators and parents and students. How thankful I am for Hathaway Brown, NuVu, Beaver Country Day, Brightworks, Presbyterian Day School, and the many others who are pushing harder and farther and faster down the transformational and innovative spectrum of school change.

View the story “Contemplating EduInnovation” on Storify

[Note: I look forward to continuing to develop these unfinished and emerging thoughts and ideas with my colleagues and peers at #NAISAC12.]