Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Narrative We Need for Strategic Change

Yesterday I found myself in a discussion with a head of school who was decrying the ways in which—in his opinion—the tradition of teacher autonomy has limited the development of new and improved practice in independent schools. Taking the long view, I have to say that I think he is spot on in his analysis, although I see increasing signs that many schools and teachers are approaching a kind of springtime in our thinking around this issue; I hear people in schools where change is coming slowly, in fits and starts and with some pain, talking about the need to approach teacher development, and curriculum and assessment, from a more institutional perspective. 

What has been missing, I think, is language to describe this shift toward what I call strategic change, a narrative that makes talking about it easier—easier both to understand and to experience. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Grand Unifying Theory" reblogged at ASCD Whole Child Blog

I am delighted to let readers know that the previous post here, "A Whole-Child Education for Every Child: The Grand Unifying Theory of Education," has been reblogged by ASCD at its Whole Child Blog.

For those who support the idea of whole-child education and who believe that this should be the goal for every child at every school, it is heartening to know that ASCD (formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), perhaps the most influential and well known body operating to support all teachers in all schools, believes strongly enough in the concept to devote a wing of its operations to our shared aspiration.

I am honored to have had this piece selected for re-publication on the Whole Child Blog.

Readers are urged to bookmark the Whole Child Blog and the ASCD Whole Child website and to follow @ASCDWholeChild on Twitter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Whole-Child Education for Every Child: The Grand Unifying Theory of Education


I am not a huge fan of posts that start with a number and proceed to a command: “83 Things You Must Do To Be The Teacher You Want to Be”; “Thirteen C’s Your School Can’t Survive Without.” In general I find these overwhelming, dispiriting, and ultimately pointless; add them all together and you wind up with an infinitude of impossibility and a guilt-trip headache. I have used this pitch a few times, and I’m rather sorry I did.

I find my thinking on education and learning fragmented enough without reducing its elements to lists. When I’ve actually tried to do this, I wind up with a mental construct that looks like the Strategic Directions to Hell, a road paved in bullet-points of noble intention.

A whole bunch of things in the world of education interest me, interest me deeply these days, and I’ve written about them all here—in scattershot ways, no doubt, bringing me up against a stricture laid out the other day by blogger Rebekah Radice: “a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ blogger is someone that has lost their way… .” As a writer whose work is explicitly connected with my need to earn a living, I don’t want to think I’ve lost my way.

Rather, I believe that the way has not yet coalesced into a clearly defined path. But I need to push this process forward, if only to explain myself more coherently.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is the New SAT Worth Cheering About?


I want to believe that there are reasons to cheer on the new SAT as much as the next person, but I keep coming up with more questions than reasons to stand on my school roof and dance.

I know that David Coleman, in all sincerity, sees his 700-million dollar organization’s testing programs as being about access, in particular access to college for disadvantaged students. I understand why the College Board gets the media all excited with its annual announcements that more students of color and more students on free and reduced lunch are taking SATs and Advanced Placement exams (although the media reports tend to bury what might be the real lead: that the performance of disadvantaged students hasn’t always risen in proportion to the number of takers).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Whatever Our Passions, There Is a Time to Be Still and Listen

Every now and then I am overcome by guilt over my own role in this echo chamber of the blogosphere. I’m as guilty as the next guy of (un?-)helpfully providing lists of “11 Things Your School Has to Be Thinking About”; it’s a bit about arrogance (I’ll own it), a bit of grandstanding (I’ll confess to that, too). In my case it is also a simple wish, for deeply felt reasons, that all schools might live up to their ideals and provide experiences precisely consonant with the promises they imply by their missions.

What are these reasons? Here goes.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Umbridging: Outsourcing and the Threat to the Heart of Schools

The other day I wrote here about outsourcing, the tendency in schools these days to hand over responsibility for a myriad of institutional tasks to third-party vendors whose efficiencies and expertise ostensibly make it easier, and maybe cheaper, for schools to let someone else do it.

In the previous post I purposely avoided the elephant in the faculty common room, online learning. Plenty of excellent schools are outsourcing some of their instruction these days, a handful through experienced independent-school-created organizations like the Online School for Girls and Global Online Academy. These providers, in particular, appeal because their credentials, and their people, are pretty well known within the independent school community; if you will, we can validate the quality of their offerings based on our own experience. (As can I with regard to the professional development offerings of O.S.G. and of Powerful Learning Practice, with which I have personal experience.) 

A raft of other vendors of online learning, however, are out there, and it’s going to be a matter of trial and error to vet the ones to which we’re most confidently going to send our students for that advanced math or language course that our school cannot offer.