Intent. Design. Creative Process. Teachers as artists of school change. #ASI2012 #MICON12


Last week and the week before, I communed with artists and designers. They invited me into their galleries and studios. At the time, I thought I was attending educational conferences – first Lovett’s American Studies Institute and then The Martin Institute’s 2012 Summer Conference. However, after watching and studying “John Hockenberry: We are all designers,” and after listening to NPR’s TED Radio Hour on “The Creative Process,” I realize that I communed with artists and designers at these phantasmagoria .

In the large-group sessions, I explored galleries of thinking – both from the featured speaker who held stage at that moment and from the co-participants “thinking and designing out loud” on Twitter (#ASI2012 & #MICON12). Through tweets, we talked about art and artists…designs and designers. During the break-out sessions, I literally traversed the museum of art and design in education as I chose to saunter past some works of art so that I could stop and peruse in-depth a particular frame and painting – like Bob Dillon’s “Picture This: How Images Impact the Momentum of Change.”

Our INTENT as educators and teachers is to design moments and experiences, while capitalizing on relationship and curiosity, that light fires in learners’ hearts and minds. We INTEND to stir emotions and motivations, not by filling vessels, but by lighting passions. We paint and sculpt. “We who cut mere stone must always be envisioning cathedrals.” Our lesson plans are blue prints and schematics. Our classes unfolding are jazz riffs and improvisations that can never be experienced again as they were played that day and period.

We are artists and designers.

And we are crowd sourcing. We are gathering as tribes to share our designs and our sketches and our framed pieces. For we intend to change the world – one student at a time, if need be. Our INTENT is to compare palettes and prototypes and to borrow from the masters and apprentices who gather around our conference fires to tell stories and share tales.

Please don’t think me dramatic or histrionic. I believe what I have written above, especially upon re-reading. I am moved by the artists and designers with whom I co-designed and co-created at Lovett and Presbyterian Day School. I see our paints mixing and intermingling as we contemplate and prepare for Teaching for Tomorrow and Connecting Across Disciplines.

Such is why I fear the silo-ing of subjects, disciplines, and departments. What if we don’t design with INTENT so that the colors might mix and re-mix? For we do not teach subjects. We teach people. And our people deserve the richness of infinite colors – mixed and complex.

What do you see as the INTENT of schools and teaching in the next decade and century? “What is school for?” Are you designing and creating such that our works are beautiful pieces of art WHO can inspire the world in the years to come?

Discipline and creativity must synergize, and we should check our INTENT so that we know we are using our limitations to enlighten that which can be possible next (from Abigail Washburn in the TED Radio Hour linked above).

What do you do?

I teach.

Oh, what do you teach?

I teach children.

No, I mean what do you teach?

I teach the curious to paint and design in this world with grand INTENTIONS.

Oh, so you teach art?

Yes, and math, and history, and science, and English, and… I use all the paints because my canvas deserves the infinite possibilities, and I refuse to limit what could be possible. I teach children and adults and learners of all ages. I teach people, and I learn from them far more than I could ever teach them. For they, too, are artists and designers. And I will not steal their dreams.

And what do you do?

Cathedrals, Dr. Pajares, and Leonardo da Vinci

We who cut mere stone must always be envisioning cathedrals.

Dr. Frank Pajares, an educational psychologist and professor of education at Emory University, and my greatest adult mentor, used the quote above as one of his four foundations of teaching and learning. I wish he were still alive for many reasons. This week, I am re-reading Michael Michalko’s Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work, and I think Dr. P would have loved Michalko’s metaphor of the cathedral – I wish Dr. P and I could discuss it.

Before you go to school, your mind is like a cathedral with a long central hall where information enters and intermingles and combines with other information without distinction. Education changes that. Education changes the cathedral of your mind into a long hall with doors on the sides that lead to private rooms segregated from the main assembly.

When information enters the hall, it’s recognized, labeled, boxed, and then sent to one of the private rooms and trapped inside. One room is labeled “biology,” one room is labeled “electronics,” one room is labeled “business,” one room is for religion, one is for agriculture, one is for math, and so on. We’re taught that, when we need ideas or solutions, we should go to the appropriate room and find the appropriate box and search inside. (8-9)

We hear this segregated-room thinking when we hear someone ask, “What do you teach?” More often than not, people answer with a subject title, grade level, or discipline. What if we answered with a human-centered response? How would that eventually change how we see ourselves? It makes my hair on the back of my neck standup when I hear someone say, “Oh, I this is math class. We don’t write in here, and you’ll have to ask your English teacher that question.” And, I bristle even more at comments that dismiss we adults knowing something because of the subject on which we concentrate – “This next question is for all the history teachers…”

Michalko goes on later in the chapter to explain a piece of why Leonardo da Vinci is considered the greatest genius in all history. He did not overly segregate his thinking. Michalko’s attributes this partly to the fact that da Vinci was not allowed to attend university – his mind was allowed to remain in Cathedral state, rather than roomed and boxed. Children’s minds are often the same…until we school them into thinking, “Oh, that’s math… and that’s English… and that’s history.” Then, after formal schooling, we seem to begin the process of re-integrating our thinking – opening the doors of the roomed hallway to re-intermingle the ideas in a cathedral-like space (or coffeehouse-like space according to Steven Johnson).

Last week, Lovett’s American Studies Institute (#ASI2012) reminded us that “we who cut mere stone must always be envisioning cathedrals.” Dr. P would have loved the walk down that long, integrated, intermingling central hall. I think he would have loved considering that “the revolution” may return us to building cathedrals instead of apartment complexes…to thinking more like Leonardo.

Michalko, Michael. Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2011. Print.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Lovett’s 2012 American Studies Institute #ASI2012

Are we Americans currently living through revolutions in art, politics, music, journalism, economics, and education (just to name a few)? What is the nature of a revolution? Are there common characteristics and traits among revolutions? Are we teaching our students about the foundations and aspects of revolutions in American history and around the world?

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” breathed rhythmically as the theme of this year’s American Studies Institute at The Lovett School in Atlanta, GA. As participants gathered on Thursday morning, June 7, Gil Scott-Heron’s poetic stoker was playing on an audio loop (lyrics). Then, after brief opening remarks from conference organizers, a Lovett senior recited the piece in a beautiful and surprisingly personal reading.

Over the course of nearly two days, through hour-long lectures from a variety of speakers, we were exposed to select individual’s perceptions of what we have experienced, and are experiencing, in the way of revolutions in American art, music, politics, economics, journalism, and education. Normally, I am not too keen on “sit-n-get” instruction for an entire conference, and I have grown disenchanted with this pedagogy as a primary means of schooling. I find it ironic that progressive educators talk of revolutionizing education by subjecting conference attendees to quintessential, industrial-age methodology. Nevertheless, Lovett’s #ASI2012 organizers made this lecture format work, at least for me. I was drawn in, turned on, and engaged deeply.

To try to summarize all that I thought and learned would prove impossible and short-selling of the event. My recap would do as much justice to #ASI2012 as a family slide show would do of a week together exploring some European city. Snapshots often fall short of deep, meaningful experiences. However, a few interesting themes did emerge for me, and I want to open the door to exploring these more fully in future thinking and posting:

  1. As explained by Dr. Cobb in the opening lecture, revolutions are rarely instantaneous. Rather revolutions are incremental. Moreover, revolutions rarely, if ever, sweep away all that was there before. I am curious how this theory and view relates to Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point.
  2. People seem to believe that many current-day revolutions involve the democratization of previously elite-controlled activity and removal of gatekeepers. For instance, through technology now, individuals who used to be resigned to the role of “consumer” may now also contribute as “producers” – through music production, like on Garage Band; through journalistic contribution, like on Twitter or long-post blogs; through video creation, like on iMovie and YouTube. I am curious how this ties into thinking such as that exposed on NPR’s TED Radio Hour featuring the Power of Crowds.
  3. Related to #2, there was a theme of curiosity about revolutionary veracity and integrity when just about anyone can remix, touch-up, or enhance a recording, image, or piece or writing. Interestingly, I got the sense that folks did not question Cindy Sherman’s creativity as presented by Jordan Clark, but they did wonder about a musical artist remixing a set of tracks on a piece of music as teetering on the edges of honesty (as presented by Stutz Wimmer).
  4. As Dr. Cobb and Patrick Hastings and Jay Bonner expressed in separate talks in different ways, revolutions are often returns to things of the past. Jay Bonner expressed it with elegant articulation about the meaning of “revolution” as something turning, revolving, and cycling through phases. This built on earlier foundations laid by Hastings as he compared Outkast to Homer and demonstrated the historically appreciated literary forms of poetry in more modern rap, hip hop, and slam poetry. I am curious how all of this cyclical, incremental, return-to-the-past nature of revolution makes revolution different from and similar to evolution.
  5. As Mary Louise Kelly detailed in her case-study approach to revolutions in media and journalism, revolution often involves searching for truth, discovering where facts and opinions merge and diverge, and improving evolving iterations. And, of course, real-life truth seeking and iterative prototyping naturally involves failure and learning from mistakes – something we need to explore much more purposefully in school proper.

I am not yet the writer to do any necessary justice to the closing presentations, but I will try to shine a spotlight on the brilliance of how Lovett closed the #ASI2012. In the penultimate session, participants walked through an art installation by Lovett students who had completed the school’s American Studies program. Through a combination of visual-and-audio mixed media, the Lovett artists invited us into their expressions of American Studies that could not be captured by mere essays or stereotypical reports in English or history.

In the final session, Asheville School highlighted integrated studies as a revolution in education by showcasing the work of nine faculty and administrators, many of whom work in teaching pairs in such courses as American Studies, European Studies, and Ancient Studies. In a brilliant Prezi visualizing the cyclical, turning, RPMs nature of “revolution,” the major-league Asheville School team demonstrated how lines artificially erected between the disciplines need to be re-blurred, permeated, and blown up so that school might model the integrated nature of the real world in which we live. Like Lovett’s art installation, Asheville utilized dance, art, and music to create the threads that could weave together English, history, science, politics, economics, etc.

What genius for Lovett to save its own student installation and Asheville School for the finale – to migrate from hour-long lectures on possible content and current events in American Studies to the already-being-done examples of how these two schools are implementing revolution in the too-often siloed nature of American schooling. For any naysayers, they could see, “Oh, that’s what it could look like, sound like, smell like, and taste like.”

May more of us go and do likewise…may we “revolutionize” schooling by making it more like learning and education, in which content and skills are integrated and mixed in true-to-life human-ness of exploration, truth-seeking, discovery, artistic expression, and problem solving.

21C Learning…It’s ALL About Your Mindset! OR…What Kind of Boat Are You Building?!

Right now, I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on earth…amazing and healthy family, great health for myself and my loved ones, warm home and no worries about my next meal, exciting and purposeful job that focuses on growth of self and others, a spirituality of faith and significance in the world, a life in a country founded in freedom…and the list goes on! And for the proverbial “cherry on top,” I am serving a sabbatical to advance my work and interest on the topic of “The Future of Schools and Schools of the Future.” I imagine I am enough to make even the extreme optimists marginal. I am learning and I am growing. I am not yet the educational leader I will learn to be, but I have every advantage and the mindset I need to get there.

Since March 22, I have been in “phase II” of my sabbatical. Phase I involved a two-week internship at Unboundary, recent subject of a Huffington Post. [Search this blog for “Unboundary” to see related posts here.] Phase II is concentrated on school visits, a conference, and a few “random and invaluable” opportunities. Here is a snapshot of what phase II has involved:

  • March 22 – student-shadow visit and meeting with Laura Deisley (@Deacs84) at The Lovett School, Atlanta, GA. (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • [March 22 – attended Jeff Small’s (@jeffreysmalljr) launch of novel The Breath of God.] (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • [March 23 – Morris Brandon Primary, Kindergarten field trip to Yellow River Game Ranch.]
  • March 24 – sixth-grade visit to Trinity School, Atlanta, GA, and Megan Howard (@mmhoward). (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • March 25 – meeting with Gever Tulley (@Gever), co-founding Brightworks, a new school, San Francisco, CA. (a few tweets @boadams1, find date)
  • March 25-28 – ASCD Annual Conference 2011 (@ASCD and #ASCD11…many tweets at this hashtag)
  • March 26 – dinner with Jill Gough (@jgough) and Grant Lichtman (soon to be on Twitter!), author of The Falconer and C.O.O. of Francis Parker School, San Diego, CA.
  • At ASCD conference, numerous informal meals and great conversations with Jill Gough, Bob Ryshke (@centerteach), and Barbara Preuss (Drew Charter School).
  • March 27 – meeting with Jill, Bob, Grant, and Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) – The Tempered Radical, Solution Tree award-winning author, and NC teacher.
  • March 27 – dinner with Jill, Bob, and Grant.
  • March 28 – Solution Tree (@solutiontree) breakfast about PLCs (professional learning communities).
  • March 29 – visit to The Bay School, San Francisco, CA. (tweets at #bayviz)
  • March 30 – meetings with Jonathan Martin (@jonathanemartin) and visit to St. Gregory School, Tucson, AZ. (tweets at #gregviz)

From all of those bullet-points – mere place-holders-in-pixels for absolutely invaluable real-life experiences – I am building a mind-map. Here is the start, and it will undergo countless changes as I reflect and synthesize…evaluate and analyze…collaborate and amplify. What is here now is only a rough beginning…a starting place.

What I am realizing already is this:

The single-most important attribute in 21st century teaching and learning is THE GROWTH MINDSET!

  1. Carol Ann Tomlinson said it directly at the ASCD conference. She talked of Dweck specifically.
  2. Heidi Hayes Jacobs alluded to it as she talked about “upgrades.” You cannot upgrade if you don’t believe in growth or fear change.
  3. Chip Heath indicated that mindset is a fundamental thread in directing the rider, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path. He talked of Dweck’s game-changing work.
  4. Peter Reynolds demonstrated the critical nature of a growth mindset as he read The Dot and Ish, and as he showed He Was Me (video below). Creativity necessitates a mindset steeped in growth orientation.
  5. Linda Darling-Hammond mentioned it by name and all but demanded it for our national education policy.
  6. John Hattie, after years of a meta-analysis of 800 meta-analyses (200,000,000 subjects) made it clear – the growth mindset is THE most influential factor in student and teacher success.
  7. My individual sessions all touched on the growth mindset in one way or another. The session on the 3rd Rail: Grading emphasized the possibility that arcane and unexamined grading practices undermine learning and promote a fixed mindset.
  8. 10,000 educators were at ASCD to learn and grow, too.
  9. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot spoke about the third chapter of life, ages 50-75, and the need for renewed spirit aimed at growth and further development. Don’t stand still!
  10. The teachers at Lovett, Trinity, Bay, and St. Gregory who are striving to learn and grow are the teachers who are advancing the schools and earning the distinctions among the student learners.
  11. Gever Tulley is founding a school on the entire idea as represented in the philosophy and pedagogy of “learning arcs.”
  12. Grant Lichtman wrote a foundational work on the power of questioning and seeking growth as a learner and system understander of our world and thinking.
  13. Bill Ferriter promotes the connected life of Twitter and other social networking – not just to understand the iGeneration – but to share one’s resources and gain access to the resources of others for the benefit and possibility for growth and new learning.
  14. Jonathan Martin showcased Steve Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” RSA video to make the point that connectivity and coffee-housing create the opportunities for enriched thinking and enlightened growth as a collective efforts weave together for better ideas and a better world.

And then this morning, I read a blog post of someone I met on Twitter at ASCD. I have never met the person face-to-face, but I am learning immeasurably from adding Jeff Delp (@azjd) to my Google Reader. Here is one of the quotes he chose to begin a post:

Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic. – Author unknown.

21st century learning…it’s ALL about your mindset. The waters of educational change are rising. What kind of boat are you building? With whom are you building it?