I am spending two weeks at the Summit Public Schools Basecamp. The Summit Public Schools have been identified as one of the top ten transformational schools in the United States. In this model, students are in the driver's seat of their own learning. They access what they want to study, when they want to work on it through a Personalized Learning Platform which allows them multiple on-ramps for choosing and discovering their best ways of learning. Sounds like a fantasy, right?
I really was not going to do this in 2016/17. I was going to hang out in my sweats and finish my dissertation. Really. That was my plan.
Then a new charter school had its founding principal resign in June. My plan fell to pieces when I was contacted by them and we started talking. Mental note: I should never ever engage in a conversation about transforming schools unless I am willing to take the job. A mere week later, I signed an agreement to get Launch High School up and running.
Launch High School will be using the Summit Personalized Learning Platform. You can read about it here: http://www.progressivepolicy.
One of my goals as a school leader is to significantly reduce the amount of time I spend on attendance issues. I have struggled with the very high drop out rates particularly among our minority students. I have also really had to grapple with my own personal opinion that schools have become less and less relevant to our young people in the 30 years I have spent in the profession. I am disturbed that 50% of our minority students find them so irrelevant that they simply cease engaging in the school environment. I have said more than once that if our schools were responsive to the needs of our learners, I would never have to enforce a truancy statute. I believe this. I want to see it play out in the field.
So, what happens if we re-create what schools look like entirely? Rather than continuing to create disconnected 'course' -- we work to connect the learning to real life. Rather than assuming that every student needs to learn the same things in the same order, we toss out Scope and Sequence in favor of a more just in time approach? I have heard educators--including 4 new teachers I have hired for my team, tell me that this is impossible.
In our model, students will be working on entrepreneurial projects. They will be working inside their communities and their world to figure out how to make things better. While some of these projects will be profit based, we already have students working on social entrepreneur projects with Youth Venture and the Ashoka Foundation. This provides a real world application where learning becomes relevant and effective. Students will have the opportunity become change agents in their communities.
This is exciting and transformational work. It also comes directly against every system currently in place to measure effective schools. To be honest, we do not know what test scores will look like. We are unsure if our post secondary readiness will fit into a rubric the Colorado Department of Education has designed for such purposes. We are hoping that by making what happens both in and out of our building relevant for our students, they will perform well on those measures. However we simply are not sure. This is the disconnect between transformational schools and intractable systems. We need to overcome that.
And yet, how can we do that without critical discourse? I was so deeply saddened by Remi Holden's communications regarding open discourse at the Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology Conference. As this field continues to emerge, there are important conversations that need to happen--and disagreements will happen. I am a real proponent of iron sharpening iron. We all get better when we agree, disagree, and practice our work collaboratively. I found the communication between the conference and Remi so condescending and inappropriate among a body of scholars. I was sickened. Moderating voices will never move our field forward and in fact perpetuates a status quo that simply is not working. I do not believe this is appropriate in any academic field. I am shocked that this occurred and like Remi, I'm not sure how one even combats this line of thinking.
This sort of fight is mentally exhausting.
I am also intrigued by the additional readings on solitude. As someone who is highly connected during the day, I find myself craving time simply to be rather than to do when I am away from school. I see the demand of the incessant vibration of my cell phone annoying to the point that frequently flip it off. For the purpose of writing this blog, I checked: yesterday I received 43 phone calls; I received 72 emails and responded to 54 of them. By any measure, that it more communication than I could have ever have managed in an unconnected world. Part of this is due to the online nature of the work I do. But there is a seeming expectation that we are all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I have to wonder about the cognitive fatigue we all experience--and whether or not I am meaningfully connected to anyone when I am so fatigued.
This weekend, I am turning off the cell phone--and connecting face to face. I am doing that mindfully. I am doing that because ultimately, I believe life is about relationships and nuturing meaningful connections which are empathetic and rich with shared experiences.
Won't you join me?