Friday, November 20, 2015

#Choose2Matter #MakeItMatterEG Student Announcement

Below is my address to students during today's morning announcements regarding our #Choose2Matter/#MakeItMatterEG experiences planned for Monday and Tuesday. Please consider following, and helping, our school's and students' journeys by following those hashtags on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

"We, the EGHS community, strive to empower all members to achieve their full potential as learners, thinkers and responsible global citizens. We take risks in order to inspire learning and discover passions"

"...take risks in order to inspire learning and discover passions" on Monday and Tuesday we, as an entire school community, will live our mission. As a school, we will take the risks we speak of in our mission. On Monday and Tuesday, you will have unprecedented freedom, choice and opportunities to shape your experiences during your time at EGHS.

You will have: faculty, staff, mentors, doctors, lawyers, business leaders, Senators, Congressmen, School Committee members, psychologists, nurses, philanthropists, and individuals from many other professions and walks of life; all show up-- not to tell you what to do, or tell you what is important, or tell you how to be like them. Rather, everyone will be here with the one goal-- to help you.

Help you to do what you what you want to do. 

Help you with what you are passionate about.   

Help you to make changes to what you want to make changes to.

Help you to help those you want to help.

So what do we need from you?  
We need you to embrace this opportunity. We need you to show us what empowerment looks and lives like. We need you to be brave. We need you to not run away from freedom and all the responsibilities that come with it.

Still not sure?
That is okay. But, then it is all the more important that you be here on Monday and Tuesday. Because on Monday and Tuesday you will experience the amazing things empowered individuals, groups and communities can do and achieve when they make the conscious choice to choose to matter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Response to RI Council on Elementary and Secondary Education re: Proposed Changes to Length of School Day

The following are my comments related to the proposed changes to the regulations governing the length of the school day, submitted to the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, for their upcoming meeting on Monday 11/23/2015 at 4:30 p.m. in Room 501 of the Shepard Building, 255 Westminster Street, Providence, R.I. 02903

Dear Honorable Members of the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education;

Please accept the following feedback regarding the proposed changes to Regulations Governing the School Calendar and Length of the School Day, specifically 11e which states:

(e). A school district may establish a school year that is the equivalent of one hundred eighty (180) days through the use of longer school days in terms of hours, and which may total less than one hundred eighty (180) separate days, so long as through the use of the longer school day, the school district annually provides a minimum of one thousand eighty (1080) school hours in a single school year. This figure is based on a minimum of six (6) hours per school day. In all cases, subject only to the exceptions set forth herein, there must be a minimum of 330 minutes of instructional time in order to constitute a school day. [Emphasis added]

As Principal of East Greenwich High School, I have the pleasure of helping to lead a high achieving, commended, and nationally-ranked high school. More importantly, I am privileged to work everyday with educators and students to build a school culture that focuses on personalizing student learning, teaching transferable 21st century skills, and designing assessment protocols that focus on measuring student proficiency rather than seat time or the ability simply to regurgitate content.

The last line of these regulations, if adopted, will erect an  obstacle for my school community to overcome as we look for new ways to innovate, collaborate, learn, adapt and improve our practices and operations to better serve our students and community. Strictly defining the school day and placing required numbers of minutes on what constitutes a school day, and thereby when “learning” is to happen, discourages out-of-the-box thinking by mandating that learning only ‘counts’ when it occurs within the ‘box’ of a school day. As such, adoption of these regulations as currently constituted, detracts from the heart of education’s mission-- to support, encourage and develop citizens who are lifelong learners.  

On a Statewide level, the last line of these regulations runs in direct opposition to the intent of numerous adopted regulations and published guidance from the State regarding, for example,  Dual and Concurrent Enrollment, Multiple Pathways, and Virtual and Blended Learning initiatives. The aforementioned initiatives and guidance focus learning on student proficiency and student mastery, not on seat time. Placing a time limit on what constitutes a school day profoundly detracts from what is at the heart of these initiatives-- personalizing student learning-- which must by definition, recognize that time to learn varies from student to student.

Finally, there appears to be no relevant research supporting universal implementation of the  330 minute school day. To the contrary,  research firmly establishes that it is not the quantity of daily instruction that affects student achievement, rather it is the quality of the instruction and the engagement that students have with the educational opportunities and experiences that are afforded them. Interestingly enough, this is supported not only by research, but can also be seen in the international gold standard of education and innovation-- Finland, which has as an average school day of five hours. In fact, according to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):  

One of the most striking facts about Finnish schools is that their students have fewer hours of instruction than students in any other OECD country. This means that Finnish teachers teach fewer hours than their peers. In lower secondary schools, for example, Finnish teachers teach about 600 hours a year – 800 lessons of 45 minutes each, or four lessons per day. By contrast, US middle school teachers teach about 1 080 hours, or six daily lessons of 50 minutes. Teaching hours per day also depend partly on the number of teachers in a given school and teaching loads vary according to the level of education being taught. Nevertheless, the number of teaching hours is generally fewer than in many other countries.

One may wonder if this high level of student achievement through flexibility can be achieved domestically? To answer this question one needs to look no further than to our neighbors to the north in Massachusetts.  In Massachusetts we see not only the highest level of student achievement nationally, but also less required minutes (990) and greater flexibility in defining what constitutes the school day. This is particularly evident in how the State defines “Structured Learning” time:

Structured learning time shall mean time during which students are engaged in regularly scheduled instruction, learning activities, or learning assessments within the curriculum for study of the "core subjects" and "other subjects." In addition to classroom time where both teachers and students are present, structured learning time may include directed study, independent study, technology-assisted learning, presentations by persons other than teachers, school-to-work programs, and statewide student performance assessments.

In our quest to achieve meaningful learning for all students, we must be sure that we are supporting our students and school communities with the right mix of State regulations alongside reasonable autonomy for the LEA, educator and student.      

If, in spite of feedback from the community, the Board mandates that 330 minutes constitute a school day, I would urge the board to apply the same thinking to the school day that these regulations give to the school year. Specifically, schools should be permitted to go over the 330 minutes and use those additional minutes to reduce the number of minutes from other days. Doing so would presumably satisfy the Board’s goals regarding seat time while still permitting schools at least some flexibility to design student-centric systems focused on learning.

East Greenwich High School’s mission is summarized as “EGHS exists to EMPOWER”. Using our mission as a beacon, we strive to design our operations around developing student and educator autonomy, supporting each school community member’s needs, and igniting our students’ passions, none of which can be easily achieved through a strict and universally-applied time frame. I urge you to reconsider these draft regulations.  I thank you for your consideration of these points. Thank you as well for your selfless service to the students, educators, and citizens of Rhode Island.


Michael J. Podraza

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Full Response to Magazine's Questions About Our School's Success

It is always interesting to see what a magazine or newspaper publishes when they are doing an article about a school, school system, or an educational issue. In my experience, authors tend to use about five to ten percent of what is discussed or written in response to their questions. It is with this in mind that I am sharing my full responses to SO RI Magazine's questions about East Greenwich High School.

1) It would be easy to infer that East Greenwich High School's achievements can be attributed to the affluence of the East Greenwich community; but your school department's per pupil spending is outmatched by several other towns in Rhode Island. To what do you attribute your school's success?

I believe that the success of EGHS is due to a variety of factors. However, there is one factor that many people outside of our school community don’t often get to see or hear about, because it cannot be measured through test scores or college acceptances.  It is our students' and educators' willingness to try different approaches, strategies and activities. Knowing that you will be supported when you take risks and venture out of your comfort zone is something that is an invaluable asset to our school community, as well as to our school’s culture. For educators this means knowing that you have the trust and autonomy to try a new project, to experiment with emerging technology, propose a new course for the program of studies, or create a new method of assessment that involves the community at large. For students, it means that you take advantage of the multitude of opportunities that are available here such as-- to create a new club, audition for the talent show, try a course you know very little about, propose an independent study, or tryout for a team in a sport you have never played before. The majority of our students and faculty are fearless in this way, and it is reflected in our school’s new mission statement, “EGHS Exists to Empower.”

2) Historically, East Greenwich has a strong school system.  That being said, what do you think are the reasons you advanced so dramatically in August's Newsweek rankings (from 283 to 186 in on school year)?

It is very difficult to know the precise reason. Each and every publication’s school rankings are generally comprised of different elements and variable weights that they assign to each category to evaluate and rank schools according to their metrics. The fact that the weighting and methodologies used also can vary from year to year makes it even more difficult to pinpoint why someone moves up or down in rankings. For example, one ranking strongly factors the student:teacher ratio, while another emphasizes student:counselor ratio. Another system only measures how many students take AP or IB exams, while another uses not only participation in those tests, but the quality of the students’ results as well. Some rankings even utilize data from different cohorts of students. For example, they may use the current percentage of students who score at or above proficient on a State test, while in the same formula, use data from AP Exams from a class that graduated three to four years ago.

Fortunately, as principal of East Greenwich High School I have amazingly talented students,  a dedicated faculty, and supportive parents and community, and through their efforts they allow me to focus on researching and advocating for programs and practices that will put our school in the best position to focus on teaching, learning and empowerment.

3) Are you observing other schools as models? And, in your opinion, can your school's success be replicated in other buildings?

We are constantly looking at what other schools are doing. Fortunately, in this area of connectedness we are more able than ever to hear and learn about innovative practices and reach out to educators and schools- locally, nationally and globally. That is the real reason that I encourage all educators, students and parents to harness the power of social media to enhance learning. In this day and age, we must take advantage of the experts and innovators who are just a click away.

As for the question of if EGHS successes can be replicated in other buildings, I believe that it can be as long as three criteria are met:

  1. Focus on Learning- I believe it was Audrey Watters who said, “In the end all learning is personal.” Even though she was discussing educational technology and learning, this pertains to the most important aspect of what schools need to focus on- learning. When schools are able to focus on learning, students’ passions are activated and educators ability to “personalize” occurs organically. Then, as a byproduct, the need for artificial and extrinsic rewards to compel learning is greatly reduced.
  2. Autonomy and Trust- Schools, educators and students must be given the ability and permission to create their own solutions to the unique issues and pressures that they face. When that happens, what people and groups resolve to do is usually a spot-on solution to their needs. Solutions created in this kind of environment also have the benefit of increased buy-in from stakeholders since they not only understand the relevance and origins of the problem and solution, but the moral imperative to act on them as well.
  3. Culture of “never done”-  I believe that the best schools constantly evolve. They are bastions to those who are fully committed to the pursuit of lifelong learning. They know that no matter how “successful” a school or person has been in the past, these past success will not dictate our, or our students’, success in the future. As a consequence we are constantly looking ahead to how can we best serve our students learning now and in the future. We might not always get it right, or create the perfect program, however there is tremendous value in giving efforts to the never ending search to improve and better serve our students.

4) Finally, what do you have planned for the 2015-2016 school year?

  • Guiding our professional work this year- As previously mentioned, we have just revised East Greenwich High School’s mission statement and our school wide learning expectations. We will be using this year to look at how our existing and future curriculum provides opportunities for students to be instructed and assessed with purposeful alignment to our new expectations.
  • We are very excited to once again offer students, teachers and community an opportunity to combine efforts to empower students, as we run #Choose2Matter 11/23 and 11/24. (Italics taken from Tim Chace’s blog post)
    • On those two days, EGHS will close down normal operations and we will provide our students with opportunities to work autonomously with expert mentors and decision makers to initiate organizations and projects centered on empowering them to make positive changes to their sphere of influence locally, nationally worldwide. Choose2Matter will allow our school community to continue to provide real world context to the learning that our students do in classrooms in an engaging and personally meaningful way that taps deeply into our student's passions and creativity.
    • In order to move beyond theoretical constructs, we bring in leaders, experts and decision makers from the community, the state and the country to act as sounding boards, facilitators, mentors and partners as our student’s and educator’s projects move from the realm of thought to action.  
    • Students will have opportunities to present their ideas to worldwide audiences, and will be recognized by international and business leaders, civic and industry partners.
    • In planning this experience for a November date, we hope to use the remainder of the school year to find more opportunities for our students to learn autonomously, to build and develop projects and organizations and products of personal significance.  
  • To support this work we are also pleased to announce that on Sunday 11/22 at 6 PM in the EGHS Auditorium, we will be hosting a screening of “Most Likely to Succeed” and a keynote address by Angela Maiers.  All donations from the screening and keynote will go towards funding student generated initiatives and organizations that occur as a result of Choose2Matter.
  • Moving forward from Choose2Matter this year, we will then be working as a faculty to design more systems, schedules and opportunities to make our student's learning more autonomous, more personal, learning that reinforces that their studies are important, and where they can apply what they are learning in complex and personally meaningful ways.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

11/22 No Pats Game, So Register for "Most Likely to Succeed!" Screening and Angela Maiers Keynote

There is no Patriots game on Sunday evening 11/22, so come to East Greenwich High School to view "Most Likely to Succeed!" and a Keynote by Angela Maiers to kick off East Greenwich High School's #Choose2Matter programming.
All donations to benefit student initiatives stemming from #Choose2Matter.

Register for a ticket on Eventbrite below.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Questions Raised When Viewing "Most Likely to Succeed"

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to attend a viewing of "Most Likely to Succeed" hosted by the Student Experience Lab at the Business Innovation Factory yesterday in Providence.
While viewing the film I had many questions, while some were about the film itself, the ones that are sticking with me have to deal, not with the film, but rather about what we currently do/don't do in our schools. 

Like an itch that won't go away, I feel the constant urge to ask myself, my teachers, my children's teachers these questions as we begin a new school year:

  • In your class/school, when do students get a chance to make make decisions? When could students get to make decisions?
  • How would student performance differ if we gave students the final exam from last year again right now? Is that okay? Why?
  • Is relying on assessments that measure a student's ability to memorize information just a way to reinforce our culture's need for immediate/short term rewards and therefore are an embodiment to reinforce our culture's hierarchy and status quo?
  • What would students learn if we didn't give grades? What about educators?
While I have not yet asked these questions to many of the educators listed above, hopefully this post will serve as the catalyst for that conversation.

As always, I would love to get your feedback. 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Are the Rules & Regulations the Problem?

Image courtesy of- 
According to the Rhode Island Department of Education's Office of Transformation and Charter School's website--
Rhode Island's 16 charter schools are public schools authorized by the State of Rhode Island to operate independently from many state and local district rules and regulations. Each charter school is able to establish educational strategies that meet the specific student achievement goals and objectives outlined in individual schools' charters.
"to operate independently from many state and local district rules and regulations."

Many people go out of their way to tout the power of these schools, who are freed from certain burdens, to "innovate" or promote them as models traditional public schools can and must learn from. 

Sorry, not buying it.

The answer to improving public education does not rest in allowing a certain "type" of school. However, the answer can be found in the rules and regulations, but is it is certainly NOT the rules and regulations. 

The answer is the absence of the rules and regulations
The answer is freedom and autonomy.

Giving each and every public school the autonomy to operate independently from rules and regulations allows all schools to truly personalize the educational experiences for all in their school community, and in doing so allows each school to individually tailor how they meet their specific student achievement goals and empowers schools to respond immediately when they don't.

Imagine the possibilities...

  • Want graduation tied to standardized tests? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}
  • Believe your students need study halls during the school day? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}
  • Believe that learning occurring outside of the classroom is more valuable than that which occurs in it, and want to give credit for outside experiences? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}
  • Want to give course credit to a class taught by an algorithm? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}
  • Want to have a Senior Project, Comprehensive Course Assessments or Portfolio as graduation requirements? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}
  • Love "data" so much that you want students tested every moment of every day? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}
  • Want all your class offerings, instructional and assessment practices to be tied to poetry/woodworking/dance/STEM/etc? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}
  • Think that students need 4 years of Art and only 1 of Math?Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then don't. {Then support with data re: needs and outcomes}

Image courtesy of
By having rules and regulations that state that we may be able to improve student outcomes by having a select few who do not have to adhere to the rules and regulations is educational hypocrisy. 

It is time to admit that achieving student outcomes aligned to the demands and skill sets required in the 21st Century will not come from standardization and compliance with rules and regulations that seek to standardize all practices statewide (except of course those who have been granted permission NOT too). 

It is time to admit that in order to "innovate" or be "transformational" in any field, individuals and groups must be free to challenge existing frameworks and guidelines, not be inundated with rules and regulations that force them to live within artificial boundaries that confine them to the practices they seek to change and improve.

Image courtesy of

All schools can and should be unique, just like the students and communities they serve. It is time that we empower all schools with the autonomy to chart their unique course so that we can truly personalize the educations our students receive. It is time that we promote all schools as places where we have the freedom to find the next "best practice". It is time we have all schools become safe havens for risk-taking, innovation and the sharing out of those practices to all who are interested.

Agree? Yes? Then go ahead. No? Then... Oh wait, we all don't have that choice...yet.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Faculty Meeting Recipe- Data + "3 Rs" + Socrative

The following faculty meeting recipe was used to look at a wide array of data associated with a mid-year school wide survey during a one hour faculty meeting. It was implemented with the intention to collectively celebrate successes, challenge assumptions, and find solutions to issues raised by mid-year student feedback to a variety of questions.  

Necessary Ingredients:
  • Fantastic educators
  • School wide Data (We are using Panorama this year)
  • Socrative (Pre-heat by starting a short answer "Quick Question")
Step 1- Give educators access to student survey results ahead of time. 

Step 2- Have educators go to Socrative and login to the room as "Student"

Step 3- Present the first "R"- Revel. Have each educator put into Socrative a result that they are proud of and one way they believe they contribute to that positive result.

Step 4- Once everyone has participated in step 3, go into Socrative and "start vote". This awesome feature allows participants to read others short answers and vote for one they believe best "answers" the question.

Step 5- Display voting results. Discuss as needed.

Step 6- (Optional) Admin displays data that they "Revel" from mid-year teacher surveys.

Step 7- Initiate a new short answer "quick question" in Socrative for second "R": Reexamine- Ask participants to examine data and find one result that surprises and explain why it surprises. Repeat steps 4-7

Step 8- (Optional) Admin displays data that they identified as necessary to "Reexamine" from mid-year teacher surveys.

Step 9- Initiate a new short answer "quick question" in Socrative for third "R": Remedy- Ask participants to examine data and find one result that is unacceptable and share one idea to change it.

Step 10- Not optional: Admin displays feedback they received as feedback from teacher surveys that they see as unacceptable, and share one idea to change it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Unexpected Lessons From My Bammy! Nomination

Seth Godin said:
People are real, but the crowd disappoints
Every crowd, sooner or later, will let you down.
The crowd contains a shoplifter, or a heckler, or an anonymous boor who leaves a snarky comment.
The crowd loses interest, the crowd denigrates the work, the crowd isn't serious.
Worst of all, sometimes the crowd turns into a mob, out of control and bloodthirsty.
But people, people are real.
People will look you in the eye.
People will keep their promises. People can grow, can change, can be generous.
When in doubt, ignore the crowd (and forgive them). When possible, look for people instead.

Given the feedback to date on my Bammy! Award nomination, I have learned the truth in Seth's post, and would add:
  • People will sign their name.
  • People will give you honest feedback.
  • People will tell you where you can improve.
I was going to write about the"heckler" and the "anonymous boor", but I am taking Mr. Godin's advice instead and writing only about those who matter-- the people who will: look you in the eye, keep their promises, help you grow, change, be generous, AND who will sign their name, give honest feedback, and help you improve.

My sincere thanks go out to all the people! Thanks for letting me know you.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Recorded Webinars, the 21st Century "But I told you..."?

Sitting and watching is still just sitting and watching...

"It was in the webinar!" is just as effective as saying "It was in the lecture!". (And we all know how effective that is!)

Do More
Video is but a singular tool for educators, and better yet our students, to utilize in the pursuit of greater knowledge. I'm sure our lectures (video and live) are wonderful, but if it does not result in action(s) that cause a learner to go beyond regurgitating to you what you said, then what is the point? 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Blendspace of EGHS "Tech Tools" and "Food for Thought" 3-8-2015

Latest "Tech Tools" and "Food for Thought" shared with East Greenwich High School's faculty, in the form of a Blendspace playlist. If new to Blendspace, hit "play" in the top left corner and make sure comments/text is on.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

4 Rotational Models- A Blendspace Playlist Into Blogger

This post is my 1st attempt to embed a "Blendspace" playlist I made into blogger. Hope it works and that you find it useful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Need More Than Ubiquitous Multiple Choice

In her article Moving Beyond “Personalized Instruction” Audrey Watters eloquently states:
But technology today is mobile, and it is social, and it is networked. We need to rethink, reimagine how technology can enhance learning — through collaboration and connectedness, for example. We cannot simply use newer technologies to make old practices of lectures and worksheets digital. That’s not enough to transform school. And as the NEPC report highlights, that doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work, in part, because we know that those practices aren’t the best analog pedagogy either.
Clickers. Apps. Multiple choice. Videos of lectures.
This is not meaningful. This is not better. This is not getting students "college and career ready". This is not empowering students, learners, "scholars" or educators. This is not personalization. This is digital reinforcement of a hierarchal structure of knowledge acquisition that in the 21st Century, need not exist. This is digitizing a world that only exists within the walls of our industrial model schools and pretending that it exists in the always referenced "real world" (which is only true in the "real world" of schools and factories).

Clickers. Apps. Multiple choice. Videos of lectures.
These would have you believe that novelty and entertainment is engagement. These have you believe that having "data" will lead to customized learning. The use of these tools may qualify as educational technology, but they do so at the lowest levels. These technologies do not empower or connect students to the world. These technologies do not help students answer big, essential questions. And using technology to answer multiple choice questions certainly does not require a meaningful student investment in their learning.

But with such a huge push to use technology in education-- they are comfortable. Easy. They digitize the model of education where the teacher is the sole purveyor of information. Where we are the sole individuals who can answer the ultimate questions (or at least those on the tests we make).

But What About Formative Assessments?

Sure formative assessment is great. Strike that, MEANINGFUL formative assessment is great.

But why are we shooting to make multiple choice ubiquitous? And yes, I understand that getting formative data back to teachers rapidly is important, but to what end? If it is so teachers can craft better multiple choice questions then by all means, have at it, but don't tell me this is personalizing learning or an example of a meaningful use of technology worthy of such a huge investment.

If this is what the call for more technology usage in classrooms is about- multiple choice, algorithms and "personalized" video lectures, then the profession is embracing a model that can and will replace educators. 
But, it does not have to be this way...and it should not be this way.

I would implore educators who are looking to use technology meaningfully to do so in a way that helps you do what Google can't. Use technology to explore the previously unreachable. Search and learn with, and from, students about questions you don't have the answers to (even if it is not on the exam). Connect students with experts, other than yourself, from around the globe. Identify and solve problems that exist now, not in a carefully crafted scenario. 

Most importantly, take back what it means to personalize learning- use the unique knowledge that you have about your students' lives to craft instruction, assessments, and experiences that have personal and intrinsic value to students. Use data to identify, harness and build upon students' strengths, not just weaknesses. Finally, use technology to share the amazing, personalized work students create with the school, community, and the world. 

Then technology and people will have transformed "school" together.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The 1:1 Initiative I Need

On page 74 of What To Do When It's Your Turn [and it's always your turn] Seth Godin writes:
Not even close
In Open: An Autobiography, Andre Agassi wrote about the secret he learned while playing tennis: "But I don't feel that Wimbledon changed me. I feel, in fact, as if I've been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing. Now that I've won a slam, I know something that few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn't feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn't last as long as the bad. Not even close." 
Ouch. It's so easy to believe that five great Amazon reviews don't compare in impact to one bad one. Five closed sales don't compare to one "no." What a sad way to choose to live life.
No wonder we don't want to speak up or stand up or do anything much that matters. We've persuaded ourselves that good feelings aren't even close to outweighing bad ones. 
"What a sad way to choose to live life." 

I am struck by this. Is this indeed a choice? I've always made the assumption that this is "just the way it is" or the way that I am. My intense focus and reaction to negatives or naysayers is just a product of being human. Or so I believed.

But now I'm on the hook. 

The idea that this is a choice is empowering, but also scary because it puts the onus on me. It makes me responsible for when I fall into the trap.

As a school leader I try to see and promote the positive events, actions, and statistics, that exponentially outnumber the negatives. However, I currently allow my mental energy to focus too much on the negative, or as Seth put it, the "one bad" review over the "five great".

"No wonder we don't want to speak up or stand up or do anything much that matters. We've persuaded ourselves that good feelings aren't even close to outweighing bad ones."

There is real tragedy in this. Tragedy for culture, for communities, for families, for individuals, even for schools. How much more of our economic, human, personal and emotional capital is tied up in reacting to the 1 negative than the 5 positives? 

For me, it is time to change this deficit model of thinking. This deficit model of perception. The deficit model of how we run and view our schools. A change of how we perceive the range of students abilities. A recognition that we are probably not giving equally to all the positives that are all around us, especially in comparison to what we give the negatives. 

However, it is not just a change in thinking that will let me off the hook. This change must come with action. It takes showing up. It takes speaking out. It takes challenging those who try to make others believe in a false narratives about the state of learning and achievement. It may even require becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Personally, as a school leader I realize that this the 1:1 initiative I really need-- giving the same emotional capital to the positive as I give to the negative.

For me, it is time to give equity to recognizing, appreciating, supporting, and enjoying each positive, and put it on par with the capital I spend addressing, focusing and stressing about each negative. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please let me know if you have any ideas on how to improve, change, other ideas for next steps, or other ideas for modification.


I am finding every page of Seth Godin's book "What To Do When It's Your Turn [and it's always your turn]" a source of inspiration, motivation, reflection and action. I have a feeling that I may write a series of posts just from this book, and if I do this is the first.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How Will I Make 2015 the Best Year for My Students? Empowerment or "Surveillance, Standardization, Assessment, Control"?

"Perhaps what we need to build are more compassionate spaces, so that education technology isn’t in the service of surveillance, standardization, assessment, control." -Audrey Watters

I originally wrote this quote down in a draft blog post a few days after I read the original post. I was not sure where I was going to go with it, or where it was going to take me. What I did know was that it stuck with me.

There was an uncomfortable truth.
After two plus years of working to get to a 1:1 environment for my students, something was wrong with the questions I was being asked about it. The headlines, questions and inquiries were not about what my students were now doing differently, what were they now creating, or who they were now able to learn from or share their learning with. The inquiries were about filters, permissions, acceptable use, monitoring, etc. all valuable things (I guess)...but hardly about learning.

So now as I am asked to answer "How Will I Make 2015 the Best Year for My Students?" and the quote has led to this post and my goal for 2015. I believe I can make 2015 the best year for my students by trying to meet the challenge posed by Ms. Watters. I will focus
on the hard work of insuring compassionate spaces over attempting to parlay technology purchases that promote "surveillance, standardization, assessment and control" in order to achieve allegedly "meaningful" technology usage. Because really, how meaningful, open and honest can the learning be if you create a culture says you need to be monitored (not trusted), processed (made to fit in) and measured (constantly judged) at all times?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Faculty Meeting Recipe: Tony Wagner TEDx + Modified Protocol + Gdoc

Implemented this week at a faculty meeting

Step 1- Play, passion, purpose: Tony Wagner at TEDxNYED
Step 2- Ask educators to keep in mind when watching video our school's Core Value of- Creativity and Innovation: Embrace flexibility and individuality when explaining and demonstrating knowledge and skills.
Step 3- Implement "Save the Last Word for Me" Protocol from (although usually a text based protocol, we adapted for video)
Step 4- At conclusion of protocol in its entirety, ask for groups to report via Google doc any collective key take aways or ideas that resonated with the entire group.

Key Take Aways
Put something here that your group agreed on, had in common, found important or interesting.

  • We all felt that we need a culture where students are OK with taking a risk and failure.  You have to wonder “what lies beneath” from so many students who are afraid of failure or of taking a risk in a classroom.  
  • If we want to be innovative, how can we also follow the flow of CCSS and the required elements of curriculum?  The two concepts are very disjointed.  The idea of a year of  beta is great, but we don’t feel like it is a reality.
  • Group work is not “division of labor”.  What does real “collaboration” mean?
  • The World of Innovation is interdisciplinary!
  • Making mistakes is ok...take risks together with your students...we feel lucky that our administration encourages risk taking and experimentation.
  • How do we teach kids to not be afraid and to take risks and be wrong.   It’s OK to be wrong, because 9 times out of 10, you learn from it.
  • Sparking intrinsic motivation.
  • Outliers are already outliers so they take risks and produce risk takers.  Students are fearful to take risks in this paradigm. 
There are tremendous ideas/feedback/conflicts here for me as a principal to reflect on, especially when looking through the lens, and trying to lead with all of the schools core values.  Personally, I am once again met with the conflict/pressure of what a "traditional" school is supposed to do and look like versus what it should and needs to look like to impact learning. (Then again what did I expect I was going to get given the premise of the video.)

Potential Next Steps:
  • Engage students in the process and see what the results are.
  • Engage parents in the process and see what the results are.
  • Follow up re: Key take aways- see how close people feel our reality is to this versus how close should we be (and ask what is helping or inhibiting us?)
Potential Modification
  • Use as a measuring stick to gauge how well you know your school/culture- Write down ahead of time what your take aways are. Write down ahead of time what you believe your faculty's take aways would be. Implement. Compare. 
What will you get when you "make" this recipe?

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please let me know if you have any ideas on how to improve, change, other ideas for next steps, or other ideas for modification.