Monday, December 29, 2014

High Schools Need True Community And Happy Students

     Lately I have been asking school leaders, staff members and education aficionados what I consider to be a universal question now for all high schools:
    Since any or all high school students could choose to leave your school tomorrow for on-line or independent study programs, what are you doing to keep them coming to your school today?
     High school students have more choices than ever before and rightly so.  They can choose charter programs, independent study, on-line schools, blended programs and more. So again, with all of these choices, are our schools thinking how to keep them coming to their schools today?
     This is a somewhat new or even foreign idea to many educators.  Historically, students, primarily from our neighborhoods or attendance boundaries, just showed up and made up the enrollment or student body. More recently, with more choice type situations being created, we might have seen situations where students are transferring from one school to another.
     Either way, educators have not been in the mindset of competing for students. Indeed, most of us have not connected our positions or jobs with the numbers of students enrolling in our classes, programs or schools. If we taught electives, we might have experienced the practice of recruiting enough students in order to make a class actually exist or not. However, we have not approached students as customers, but rather as passive attendees.
   First we need to accept that students now have choices with presumably more on the way. Comprehensive high schools have a strong foundation of tradition. But with each passing year, that will mean less and less to students who are struggling, disconnected, disengaged and dissatisfied. They will continue to gradually opt for other options and more will follow as more options are developed. 
     So, for those whose jobs are connected to any comprehensive public high school, they will have to consider a couple of things:

1)                    Our students have choices and we will want to make sure that they realize that their existing school, or school that they are expected to attend in the traditional sense, is a good one for them.
2)            Our jobs depend on enrollment.  If we lose students, for any of the above reasons, someone’s job is connected and will go away. 
3)            Since our students have options, they need to be valued as customers who have buying power and will desire a unique, powerful and positive educational experience from their high school program.

     Once we make this leap in our thinking, then we can begin to examine our programs. This includes our school culture, unique programs and offerings, our instructional practices and more.
     We need to develop and enhance any of the reasons or rationales here.  We need to think of our schools as unique communities. It seems that it will be community that will keep students coming. And a lack thereof will send them away. 
     In other words, what can your school community offer them that they will not be able to experience or replicate on their own on-line or independent study?  Here are some ideas:

1)    Students need to have access to professional gear, tools and resources.  They have Internet access and other tech resources often at home or elsewhere.  But they probably won’t have access to 3-D printers, recording studios, multiple types of media/music production and editing software/devices, commercial kitchens, fitness centers, performance spaces, hand tools, servers, recreational equipment, design centers, makers’ labs, robotics, studio space, ropes courses, gardens, greenhouses, solar farms, etc.  You get the idea.  Students need professional environments with the best technology and resources.

2)    Positive School Culture and Powerful Peer Relationships.  As everyone knows, we are social creatures.  And high schoolers are social junkies.  Sure they can find a social life on-line or in their community, but their most powerful and impactful one can still be at school.  However, it needs to be supportive, friendly, safe and available to all.  Schools will have to redesign or recreate their systems and practices in order to create school cultures where all students feel safe and part of the school.  This means valuing their opinions and individual learning paths, but also focusing on an environment that is truly accepting, positive, friendly, participatory, collaborative and accessible for all. 

3)    Powerful Support Systems.  I don’t want to use the cliché about the village, but you know it’s true.  Students can enjoy a high level or mastery and career readiness if they have access to and programs for mentoring, community partners, project leaders, advisors, coaches and more.  Each student needs positive, long-term relationships with adult mentors on and off campus that are invested in their long-term success through project and performance advising.

4)    Performance Opportunities.  Every student needs a stage or multiple stages in order to share their talents, interests and work.  Traditionally, things like athletics and performing arts have been afforded these opportunities.  First, these programs need to keep evolving to create more choices and opportunities for all students.  Can schools offer more ways for more students to be involved in athletics and performing arts beyond the traditional program? Additionally, and maybe even more importantly, schools need to create public venues – both FTF and digitally – for all students to show and share their individual passions and pursuits. These include, but are not limited to the following: media, art, makers’ programs, robotics, engineering, rock music, song recording/production, writing/publishing/blogging, presentations, entrepreneurship and more.

            No offense regarding the common discourse at schools, but much of it is dominated by continuous work on better assessments, policies and the like.  School leaders and staffs will have to re-examine what their focus is.  It seems safe to say that new assessments and new policies, as a couple of examples, will not address the larger issue of whether students see their comprehensive high school as the best choice for them.  Will our schools work to create more satisfied and successful customers or continue to chase them away?  That is today’s big money question. 

(images courtesy of Minarets High School, Foter) 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The 8 P's Of Education

     I believe in and have used the Four C’s as foundational elements for much of my professional work for years. I love that some educators have added their versions of a fifth or sixth C as well. Whether it’s four, five or six C’s, they are relevant and important. My intent here with the 8 P’s is not to be cute or coy.  Rather, it is to pick up where the Four C’s leave off and work towards more specificity and application. So, here we go with the 8 P’s of education:

If educational success is going to be based on in-depth thinking, producing quality work and having an impact on one’s career opportunities, we need to focus on students’ passions. Passion is somewhat innate, as well as sometimes hard to identify or apply to all educational environments. But that’s why we need to make it a focus. If we read about, write about, speak about and interact with information and experiences related to our passion(s), there is great likelihood for individual buy-in, ownership and engagement. It’s not as important what we read, write and speak about, but rather that we do it at high levels and see skill-based impact. Our students’ long-term success and self-actualization will be directly based on how we challenge them and facilitate for them the opportunities to tap into their passions and then apply them to their working lives. There are the educational critics who are saying that passion is being over-emphasized. However, our inner desire to pursuit our life’s work is something that all students and adults alike will have to continue to tap into and re-discover their entire lives in order to guide their daily direction. We’re not training for jobs, but for professional lives right?

Most educational and career experts agree that collaboration is a skill that is more important than ever in the 21st century professional environments. But in addition to partnering with one’s peers, students need to experience partnerships at all levels. All students need school-based and community-based mentors. All students need experience working on things that have larger implications and impact beyond their school environments. This personalized and necessary experiences will come from their collaboration and partnering with non-profit organizations, local businesses, corporations and government agencies. We have known for years that students benefit greatly from being on teams, performance groups and student organizations. This is good, but we need to take it to the next level for all students. All students need community-based experiences related to their interests and skill areas where they can see true collaboration come to life with mentors and leaders in a variety of professional arenas. Partners and partnerships need to include all: peers, teachers, administrators, professionals, community leaders and any PLN partners.

We are hearing this word a lot and for many good reasons. Truly high levels of learning and mastery come from personal investment and relevance.  These come from ownership.  And ownership comes from passion and purpose.  The more we can provide students voice and choice – personalization if you will – the more they will reach true mastery. Educators can build choice and options into every educational endeavor and we need to do so. Additionally, we need to expand our definitions of what is ‘academic’ or ‘educational’. There is not a question, topic or individual interest area that cannot be investigated, researched, developed, pursued and expanded upon – but we need to let go our teacher-driven interests and embrace those of our students.  This will take time, as our students have not been trained this way. They will need to learn that their own areas of interest are the most relevant.

There may not be a performance task for real world assessment more important for our students to master than that of the presentation. Most interviews are now essentially presentations. The ability to synthesize information, prepare it in a visual manner and then deliver effectively to audience will be something that all young professionals benefit from regardless of any industry or career sector.  If they can sell their ideas along with themselves, they will always have professional opportunities. This is the 21st century version of public speaking.  Professional Presentation Skills, or lack thereof, may be one of the most common professional gaps or divisions for many years to come.  Presenting is teaching and teaching is the highest form of demonstrating learning. All of our students need to extend themselves in becoming experts of select content and ideas and then deliver that publicly and effectively to various audiences.  Schools will have to watch a lot of TED videos among others.

Problem Solving
This is not just for math class, but math will be a great place to start.  This is not the traditional version of solving problems.  Rather, this is about students having more open-ended projects, challenges and tasks that require them to go through several iterations in order to see improvement. Like many have written before, there will be opportunities to practice, fail and improve.  We can’t give them the answers to complex situations that require their critical thinking.  We can provide the time, the trust, the support, the technology, the networks and much more.  But they need to go through the process of experimenting and taking risks in order to advance through a process.  This is one of the most foundational life and professional skills that they will need.  And they have to practice this skill repeatedly.

If we want our students to produce high-level work, we need to create professional learning environments for all of them.  This includes everything from their classrooms, equipment, resources and collaborators.  Everything our students pursue going forward needs to have a professional connection to the real world.  If tools and resources are used in industry to produce similar or related work, then we need to do the same in school.  No longer can we have watered-down education versions.  Whatever course or activity we offer to students, we need to make sure we are teaching them with the most current technology and resources. Think media, science, writing, designing, constructing, coding and so much more.  Then think about having our students having the same access as the pros do. Additionally, this applies to the collaborators.  Our students need to connect to mentors and practitioners in their professional interest areas. This is whom they need to present to, get feedback from, network with and be mentored by to say the least. Finally, our school facilities need to look like 21st century workspaces vs. 20th century one-room schoolhouses.  Costs and efforts here can be considerable.  But it’s what has to be done.

This is something that is now paramount in the pedagogy of the 21st century.  Since school began, we primarily did our work individually and most importantly for the teacher alone. Sure, there were exceptions such as performing arts, sports and a few others. But our academic work was done in isolation and our product was delivered to the teacher. The tide has turned and student work now needs to be public. When students collaborate digitally and otherwise with peers, mentors, public partners, etc, there work, even before the final product, is public.  When they present their final products or projects to peers, staff, parents and community members, it is public. When they publish on-line, share on social media, enter a contest or partner with community-based entities, there work is public. They get feedback from minute one, have an audience throughout and see a larger purpose in all that they do. By the way, this goes for teachers now as well as students. Call it transparent or what you want. Things that are public have legs and meaning. Embrace it and optimize it.

I think we can all agree that writing, and writing effectively, is paramount in our academic and professional worlds. Writing has always been important and is as important as ever. What’s changed in the last few years is that publishing is not something reserved for a ‘blessed’ few. Publishing is now something available to all on-line and is often how our young professionals will forge a professional identity. Writing now without publishing is like singing without a concert or show, or playing sports without a game. Whether it’s through social media, YouTube, ITunes, blogging, their own websites our countless other digital vehicles, publishing is now available to all. What use to be reserved for the elite (authors, university professors and academicians) is now available to all. We need to challenge all of our students to have a web presence in order to share their digital portfolios on an on going and focused basis. The old adage of “publish or perish” may now extend beyond professors and be more relevant than ever.

     So, is it possible that our future educational endeavors with all students could work to include the 8 P’s? Let’s hope it’s at least worth considering.

Passion, Partnerships, Personal, Present,
Problem Solving, Professional, Public & Publish

(images courtesy of Foter)


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is High School Ready For A Major Makeover? Think 'Yes' In A Big Way

Disclaimer #1 – I’m not the EduGod, EduCzsar or EduMaster, but I am willing to share any ideas I have about rethinking high school with those that could be.

Disclaimer #2 – The following ideas are not for the faint of heart or stomach when it comes to education. These are downright revolutionary or at minimum seriously lofty. Either way, I realize they are not necessarily realistic given any analysis of our current system (s).

Disclaimer #3 – Good things cost money. Not all good ideas involve money, but many do require investment. As a nation, we have to decide how we can create something new and better. This will require not only innovation, but also investment.

     As learners, we are sometimes challenged (not often enough fortunately) to think big.  We are able to ask the question ‘what if’ when looking at a challenge.  We are tasked with redesigning, recreating, reimagining or rethinking the entire thing.  Maybe these are more 22nd century ideas. Well, when it comes to our high school system and overall student experience, here are my suggestions:

1)    Schooling after 16 becomes optional. That’s right. We should change the mandatory age of attendance from 18 to 16. That’s right. At 16, or after two years of high school, it should be optional to attend. Instead of having to attend for four years, we’re only going to require two. One might think that this is crazy or that there would be mass exodus. Well, think about when things are mandatory or optional. Which one produces more buy-in or actual participation? I think most, if not almost all students, would actually choose to stay and continue. But the fact that they wouldn’t have to would create an entirely new dynamic and mindset. Wanting to be somewhere, or at least signing up to be somewhere, is very different than have to. As Steve Martin’s character in the classic movie Parenthood once said, “My whole life is have to.”  Well, this would change that even earlier for high schoolers.  That being said, if it’s optional, we need to have more and better choices for students.  That leads to #2.

2)    We develop entirely new pathways for students. We’re one of the few nations in the world that continues to believe in putting our young people through the same system. Some of the intent here is good, but the end result is one average system that does not serve many students that well. Most countries have several options for students depending on their interests, career goals and more. Some naysayers would call this tracking, but we should just simply call them options, choices and pathways.  And we need many of them that are all equally high quality and relevant. We can agree that everyone needs something beyond our minimal high school requirement, but we have done a poor job of creating pathways to those. So, after the age of 16, let’s have some things available that look like this:

·      An Academic Pathway designed for university preparation and advanced academic degrees.

·      A Pre-service Pathway where students get to work in a government department or agency that could look like anything from a hospital to a military environment.  These would be non-paid externship type positions. The monies that would go to paying them to attend two years of high school would go to fund these positions – both to pay the organizations and possibly the students if necessary. 

·      A Skilled Career Pathway – we have a huge demand in terms of employment need, as well as interest amongst students, for things in the skilled areas such as electricians, welders, plumbers, carpenters and more.  Much of our current high school does not prepare students for this work. We need to create a system that gets them in these areas earlier working with professionals in a pre-apprentice or apprentice program.

·      A Business Pathway – again students would have the option to work full-time as a paid or non-paid intern/extern in a corporate or business environment.  Local business and larger corporation would be incentivized to take people through monies that would have gone to their high school attendance, as well as tax break to allow them to create their future workforce. If done right, companies would realize that they can train their own and groom the best future employees.

·      Entrepreneur Pathway – many students will want a different option that those listed above. The create-your- own pathway needs to exist as well. Remember, it’s optional after 16. So, if a student thinks they can come up with their own custom pathway, then so be it. We need to support it. Our global economy needs entrepreneurs more than ever, so here is their pathway.

·      Special Note:  as a nation with lots of talent and expertise, we can develop more or better pathways or options. The point is that we create choice and quality education and training options for all students based on their career goals and interests. Also, students could change pathways. And as they complete any pathway, there are always going to be ways of continuing one’s education through community colleges and other systems.  This would not track or eliminate options for students, but rather focus them. Deep learning only comes from engagement. Engagement comes from ownership. Ownership comes from relevance and choice. Students need to connect their learning to their goals while having high quality, meaningful options.

3)    Mentoring/Coaching/Advising – regardless or which pathway a student chooses, we provide them an official Mentor or Coach. This in an adult who possesses expertise and experience related to their pathway. This person is compensated as a teacher who has additional responsibilities (like our current co-curricular stipend) for advising a caseload of students. We all need a go-to person in the development of our careers and pathways. This person would be the official person that students can contact via phone, text, e-mail, etc. with questions and support related to their pathway and professional pursuits. This is not a new or complex idea in many ways. Indeed, many high school students get this through a co-curricular or extra-curricular activity or program. We just need a system that provides this equally and universally for all.

4)    Technology and Professional Equipment – it’s almost a tired plea or directive at this point. But our students, regardless of their pathway or career interest areas, need to be equipped with technology and professional equipment. Writers use computers, so if students are writing it’s a no brainer. Whatever students are doing, it needs to mirror what the professionals use in terms of the equipment. We can’t fake things. If we don’t use what they use in the real world, we’re cheating our students. It’s that simple. So, it’s not up to the teachers or schools, we need to mandate that all programs mirror their real world counterparts. You can extrapolate from there.

5)    Add your own great idea here ___________________________.  We cannot redesign, recreate, reimagine or rethink without your ideas. We won’t be around for the real 22nd century, but we can start a better system now right?

(Images courtesy of Foter)


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Five Things Educators Will Have To Accept & Embrace

     The profession of education is going through unprecedented change.   Many aspects of teaching and school will eventually never be the same again.  And nor should they.  Although wholesale and fundamental change is slow, there are some things that educators will have to accept and embrace (if they plan on being successful and staying in the profession).

These five are:

1)    Education is more PUBLIC than ever – I’m tired of the word transparency.  And that is really just the beginning of being “public” as an educator in our changing paradigm.  We need to showcase our professional work as educators, as well as the work of our students, with larger communities.  Venues such as YouTube, Twitter and all Social Media outlets will be a foundational way for us to continue the idea of being public.  Whether it’s for parents, administration, district officials, government agencies or others, educators need to fully accept that close doors and private work are gone (as well they should be).  Every classroom, school, district and beyond will be daily showcases to the world of what one is doing.  Educators will have to be comfortable and excited about showcasing and sharing, or they will have to find a new career.

2)    Educators have to COLLABORATE – the word collaboration is almost becoming a cliché.  However, as overused as it is, it is an imperative.  Educators need to collaborate with other educators (across their campuses and across the globe) on everything from best practices to project ideas.  And if educators are doing this only because it’s an expectation, rather than an opportunity, they will undoubtedly miss the true benefits of collaboration.  All industries and professions today embrace the concept of real world collaboration – with their immediate colleagues, as well as with those around the world that have new ideas, concepts and challenges to share. Like so many other things, educators need to lead collaboration opportunities or find one of those rare professions today where isolation is still the norm (good luck on that one too).

3)    Educators have to CREATE curriculum – the days of depending on a textbook or one packaged curriculum are on their final march.  Because of new standards, technology and our ever-changing world, educators will be required to and expected to be curriculum creators.  They will need to be curators of varied resources and work together with their students, colleagues and schools to create and customize unique learning experiences.  There have always been educators from the beginning of time who did this for a variety of reasons.  But we have also embraced a programmed system for years that where curriculum was lead by chapters and tests from textbooks and/or fancy binders.  The times are a changin’ – many will be excited and say it’s about time, while some may shed tears as their teachers’ editions and packaged resources eventually disappear.  For those that enjoy the idea of finding the best resources, ideas, projects - and continually mixing them like an educational DJ or Chef – they will get the big idea (s) and reap the benefits. 

4)    Educators will have to be serious users of TECHNOLOGY – whether educators embrace the use of technology wholeheartedly or not, they will have to continually figure out a way to maximize their work, as well as the work of their students, using on-line resources and applications.  One does not need to be an expert at all technology, but rather maintain an open mind on how to maximize their students’ success using technology.  All other professions seem to realize that they need to figure out ways to embrace and incorporate the latest tools for maximum efficiency, productivity and innovation.  Educators cannot be the exception to the rule.  As professionals, we have to see how our lessons, activities and projects will connect our students to present and future opportunities.  Technology is obviously part of the fabric of that overall design and we have to see it that way.  It’s not our job to pick and choose what we like in the world and make that our educational foundation.  Rather our job to take the best of the best in available resources and tools in order to optimize the opportunities and success for all students whom we work with in any capacity.

5)    Educators need to facilitate COMMUNITY – in an era where students have multiple options on how their education is delivered, including 100% on-line while at home, educators will need to continually develop and enhance their learning communities.  Students have and will ask why should they come to school or why should they come to a particular school.  Educators will need to answer that question.  And because students could just stay home, what are some answers?  The relationships, culture and opportunities educators create and foster will make the difference.  Will one’s classroom be friendly, supportive, individualized, customized, equipped, exciting, engaging and more? It better be.  Educators will have to move away from the past where students just showed up to an environment where students will be choosing to show up – and they will be choosing or not choosing based on the successful presence of the aforementioned qualities of the educator’s classroom and learning environment.

(images courtesy of Minarets High School, Foter, Twitter)


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Education Needs Transformation, But So Does Everything But The Kitchen Sink

     For years, I have raged against the many limits of our traditional education system and our inability to truly reform, or even transform into something better or amazing.   Whether it’s the pursuit of real world projects, better technology, or more rationale policies, education has always seemed, to me, to be out of step and ultimately behind the innovations and progress going on in the real world. 

     Naturally, this would not be a difficult thing to prove or demonstrate everyday in most of our schools in this country.  We continue to put our students through a system that was designed decades ago with expectations, skills, activities and systems that are outdated and ineffective.
     A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany.  Sadly, it’s really a relatively simple one, but significant to me nonetheless.  After my daily annihilation of our educational system, I realized that we are capable of greatness and higher quality in all that we do, but rarely, if ever, seem to be able to fully realize it in any capacity.
      Take energy for example.  We now have high quality technology allowing us to use solar energy as one of our primary energy sources.  But do we?  Of course we don’t.  Sure, we have small percentages of homes, businesses and industries that are taking advantage of solar energy.  But as a culture, we continue to build new homes, schools, government structures, and corporate buildings without solar energy systems installed. 

     Indeed, I was fortunate enough as an educational leader to open a new, high tech high school in 2008.  But can you imagine that it was built without solar?  Sure, our district could have put solar in afterwards as an addition.  But, here, right in California, we built a $70 million school (small by most standards) without solar energy.  Indeed, it was against state regulations to build a school with solar.  We could only add solar later.  Shouldn’t it be the opposite?  In other words, we should not be able to build any school, new building or home without solar.  We should mandate solar vs. mandate avoiding it.
     I realized that we do this in all facets of our lives. In addition to solar energy or other alternate forms of energy, we have the technology today to have electric cars, or at least hybrid cars that get great gas mileage.  Do we make either of these the standard?  Again, of course not. 

     We relegate these to small, extreme sectors of our transportation culture.  We dream of something different and continually tell ourselves things like “maybe in five years, or maybe 10 years from now.”
     Think about our food and eating habits in our culture.  One again, we now have the ability and the knowledge to produce high quality, nutritious food.  But do we?  No, we choose the short-term advantages (cost, ease) and trade them away for the long-terms rewards.

      How about medical care?  Again, our nation has the technology and ability to deliver high quality health care to all.  But again, we don’t.  Instead of focusing on preventative measures and being proactive, we relegate all of our health care to emergency care and walk-in clinics – or reactive care.  Instead of investing in everything from early childhood nutrition to body scans for early disease detection, we take our standard route in our culture.  We take the cheapest, easiest or most short-term approach – usually in order to save money – only to postpone that that cost to later at much greater implications in terms of money, health, wellness and success.

      Think about our schools again for a minute.  We have all the science in the world to know that all students would perform better and ultimately learn more if we had smaller classes, better technology for all, more equipment and better access to the real world.  But we don’t pursue this direction.  In addition to not wanting to change, we cannot get past the short-term implications (money, investing, technology, pedagogy) in order to gain those aforementioned long-term results.
      So, where do we go from here?  To me, as a nation or culture, we have to decide what we want.  Do we want to settle for mediocrity or go for amazing?  Will amazing be something that only exists in small, unique sub groups of our society and enjoyed by only a few who are brave enough, independent enough and fortunate enough to figure it all out?
     It’s difficult to live in a nation that has such educational potential, but deploys a system that delivers such a sub-standard product.  We all know that we could do better.  But as we look at all our large systems – energy, transportation, food and health care – we realize that it’s really a larger cultural issue at play.  We have to move from short-term to long-term.  By the way, dozens of other countries in Asia and Western Europe have figured this out.  We possess much more creativity, innovation and ingenuity that any of them, but have yet to apply these to transforming our education, energy, transportation, food or health care systems for the better.
     I will not stop fighting for better (meaning different and more relevant) schools for our nation’s students.  However, I will also realize that real change may never occur unless we address our culture deficiencies that keep greatness at bay.

(images courtesy of foter)