Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Deeper Learning for Equity

In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “[We] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” This recognition of interconnectedness is critical to understanding why we need to achieve equity. The need for community is universal. A sense of belonging, of continuity, of being connected to others and to ideas and values that make our lives meaningful and significant - these are the needs shared by all of us. Becoming a learning community where members are committed to thinking, growing and inquiring and where "learning is for everyone" is an attitude as well as an activity where innovation flourishes. Equity embraces messy collaboration by leveraging complexity and demanding honesty; calling out racism and oppression. Being a leader focused on equity requires that you understand the past without being trapped in it and embracing the present without being constrained. I believe in building inquiring communities where administration and faculty are committed to the spirit of collective inquiry as they reflect on their practice and search for solutions to problems together; they have a bias for smashing oppressive systems. It is not possible to meaningfully improve education without addressing equity and the systems that oppress students.

To address inequity in education and specifically in Deeper Learning, we must begin by changing our mindsets, our behaviors and our actions. We need to see our work through an equity lens, understand the drivers of human thriving and untapped potential in students. We need to build new systems that promote equity and support the interconnectedness of the human family. As a colleague said in a twitter chat we both hosted, "We don't need to justify having focused conversations about racism in schools. Besides the stunning cruelty of racism, letting it fester serves no one, not even the predominant group. We're in this together. We avoid such conversations in schools because it could stir things up that we're unprepared to handle. We might lose friends or colleagues for a while—or longer." Or we're so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing or appearing racist that we cripple constructive opportunities to talk about race and resolve conflicts. By approaching one another with good faith and caring, we can ease these fears.

The goal in education is to cultivate innate talents and equip every student by developing habits of learning that render them into individuals who have the mindsets to succeed in their personal and professional lives. They are future-ready, empowered citizens who can learn and have the confidence to complete tasks no matter the situation or circumstance; who are able to learn continuously in a world of constant change and innovation. We cannot predict the problems that students will face, but we can provide them with effective learning tools that will help them succeed in their future endeavors.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

5 Qualities of Prepared Leaders in a Project-Based World

The number of people doing creative work has increased vastly over the past century, and especially in the last decade. The jobs of tomorrow demand that we help students build the mindsets to prepare them for a project-based world. At Holy Family Academy, an innovative independent Catholic school high school in Pittsburgh (home of the rust-belt, and former steel-mill capital of the world), a revolution is not only occurring in our classrooms but across the region. To keep pace with the demand for workers graduating high school and college with the ability to be resilient, problem solve, become entrepreneurs and become empathetic leaders that improve our communities, school leaders must model the qualities necessary for our creative society and be willing to re-invent almost all of the systems and policies in their schools. While there are examples of schools and education leaders nation-wide leading this charge, often schools that serve the most underserved students are being left out.
Rising inequity has created skill gaps that often leave the most vulnerable students without opportunities to build the skills needed for a project-based world. This skills gap perpetuates the poverty narrative that often runs racial lines across America. There are models of schools that are breaking this narrative within the communities they serve guided by organizations like Schools That CanBig Picture Learning and programs like the Deeper Learning Equity Fellows, but there is more work to be done.
At Holy Family Academy we work to build the mindsets and skills required for the future of work through project-based learning with social justice and equity at the center of all that we design. As an affiliate of Big Picture Schools and member of Schools That Can, our school has a focus on deeper learning through internships, interdisciplinary projects, culturally relevant teaching and learning practices, and we complement this with a robust advisory program meant to build social emotional learning and solve family challenges or other barriers that might be a roadblock to student success.
Holy Family Academy Students at the LUMA Institute
working on their project to fight food insecurity for Pittsburgh
citizens slightly above the poverty line or that have special food allergies. 
As a Deeper Learning Equity Fellow and Head of School at Holy Family Academy, I have spent many moments being mindful and reflecting on the qualities needed by leaders to not only create the space in their schools and/or districts for this work but to have a bias for action, be a role-model and have the courage to lead at the edge of the future. While there are many qualities that make a good school-leader, the following five are essential to transform schools into places where students will be prepared for the project-based world of their future.
Prepared Leaders Are Learners
Leadership is developed daily, not in a few days. Successful school leaders are learners first and foremost; they have the capacity to develop and improve their own skills and practice demonstrating perseverance, a necessary mindset for a project-based world. As a learner, I regularly attend professional development events like the Deeper Learning Summit, SxSWedu and many local events through Pittsburgh’s amazing Remake Learning Network.
Additionally, social media is a place to connect with others to learn new practices, receive support or share ideas, and it’s open 24/7/365. As one of the founders of #DTK12CHAT, a weekly chat on design thinking in education, I have build a global PLN (personal learning network) that is available for support and to challenge my thinking, in an instant. If you prefer face-to-face events I also recommend attending an Edcamp event to mix and mingle with other educators and administrators. Maybe the best way to keep learning is to get out of your office. Be an advisor to a group of students. Make the time for it, it’s important. Walk around and talk to teachers. Co-design your school with them and learn what they need to be successful.
Prepared Leaders Are Connectors
Diversity of people, ideas and action makes innovation happen in schools and the workplace. At Holy Family Academy (HFA) all of the classes are interdisciplinary and co-taught by teams of teachers. With particular focus on the personality and experience of our faculty, teaching teams are purposely diverse. Recognizing the individual strengths of educators and our administration was aided by using the Gallup Strengthsfinder, where every member (yes, students too) of our school learned their Top 5 strengths. With strengths in mind, we make connections within our school community but extend that beyond our brick-and-mortar buildings.
In the fashion of Big Picture Learning, students have multiple mentors like their internship mentor, school-based advisor and their family. Forming this network of partners takes careful strategy, a team to implement it successfully, and shared values. Not only do we have 70+ workplace sites and 120 mentors, we also leverage community partners to assure we are preparing students for a project-based world. Our students disperse across the region every Friday as part of our “Network Campus” program where they engage in unique and real-life learning at sites like: Carnegie Science Center, Duquesne University, Citizen Science Lab and Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild among many other sites and work with teaching artists, industry experts and renowned scientists.
In addition to their internship and Network Campus placement, students regularly participate in field based learning where they have logged over 500 hours of observing, interviewing and engagement with the people and resources in the community. Networking is an art often not taught in schools, so never a day goes by that I don’t role-model what it means to be a connector and networked leader.
While some of the examples I provided above aren’t “free,” school leaders that value innovation and diversity are usually able to find ways to connect their students to these opportunities that will prepare them for a project-based world.
Prepared Leaders Are Navigators
Knowing where to go for resources, how to sell your vision and how to navigate the policies in place that often impede efforts at Deeper Learning is another key quality education leaders must develop. I never took an education class on how to “be a navigator” within nine years of college education or as part of my Doctoral program.  However, mentors in my life and many nights at events and denied grant applications have taught me a few key ways to navigate to get the work done. Often school boards are worried about the bottom line with regard to school budgets so it takes careful planning and strategy to navigate beyond the bottom line. Knowing local and national funders, understanding what they want to invest in within education and pursuing opportunities for pilot programs to build program capacity should be part of your role as an educational leader. Also important is finding major donors and/or a shift in spending to sustain the program that gets funded in your school/district. Be sure to share out your success and learnings from funded projects.
Working in the private school realm right now, we have worked hard to navigate around the challenges of our mission (an independent school accessible to any family regardless of their socio-economic status) and realities of running our innovative programming. Laser-focused on preparing students typically underserved in STEM careers with multiple post-secondary career pathways (that include college and entering directly into a career), we’ve navigated around Federal policy with a Department of Labor work waiver that allows us to have the internship program and acquire substantial grant monies to launch our school in 2014, all while focusing on equity.
The second key part of navigating around the system that you can’t learn in a book is often shared by having a mentor. My mentor, Dr. Carol Wooten (an extremely accomplished education leader), has been invaluable in not only my personal success but indirectly the success of every student and faculty member in my school. She never asked to be my mentor, I pursued her and spent many meetings just listening and learning about how to navigate to be a successful educational leader who breaks and re-invents systems so that we can lessen the gap in skills required for the project-based world.
Prepared Leaders Are Designers
Designing educational programs WITH and not FOR teachers and students is imperative to be a transformative leader in a project-based world. Human-centered design and design thinking have received much attention from blogs and other education-focused news media in recent years, and has its skeptics. As an education leader that has practiced both the LUMA System of Innovation and the methods of the Stanford d.School, I’ve spent several years scaffolding design thinking practices as not only a method for creating innovative thinking among staff but using it as a framework for project-based learning in the classroom.
Every week at HFA, our Principal and Director of Innovation lead what we call “Collaborative Professional Learning.” While students are spread out across the region in amazing learning experiences, our faculty and administration are back on campus acting as designers that build empathy for each other and our students, prototype new projects and re-design policies and programs that are found to be ineffective. To ensure design thinking or human centered design isn’t just a buzzword at your school/district, education leaders must act as designers on a daily basis, receive appropriate training and model creative confidence daily. A big task, but important task is to teach students how collaboration is the heart of a project-based world.
It may seem daunting to get started, but please don’t be discouraged. Start by downloading the free materials from the Stanford d.School or picking up “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelley. Once you and your teaching team embrace a designer’s mindset and use design thinking as part of project-based learning, this approach becomes more manageable, meaningful and real. Strive to connect community partnerships and social-justice to student design projects to provide engaging and culturally relevant opportunities within your school/district.
Prepared Leaders Are Equitable
There is no doubt that many students, particularly the most marginalized students, are not engaged in opportunities to prepare for our project-based world. Leaders and policy-makers that serve these students are compelled to break the systems that bind students to inadequate learning opportunities. Especially important for educational leaders that do not look like their students is to unpack their privilege and uncover societal, institutional and personal bias that they bring into their schools/districts. According to Professor Christopher Emdin, urban youth especially, are often expected to leave their day-to-day life and experiences behind and assimilate into the culture of schools. This process is a form of self-repression that is traumatic and directly impacts what happens in our classrooms.
Prepared leaders are focused on how to replace the system of self-repression evident in many schools and harness the power of experiential learning to prepare students for a project-based world. Leaders must embrace the complexity of place, space and their collective impact on teaching and learning to do equity work. At HFA our students come from 26 neighborhoods across the city. Getting to know each one of these neighborhoods and the people within them is critical to our success. This work takes time; it’s deep, and it forms community. No matter what “content” we engage students in learning, without thinking about barriers to equity and opportunities to break them and advance new opportunities we are just spinning our wheels.
Leaders with a focus on equity create safe and trusting environments and provide resources that are respectful of a students’ culture, not working to change it. One of the best decisions we made at HFA to support equity was to break the traditional “guidance counselor” role into three full-time positions. While it’s more expensive to have a Dean of Students, Family Partnership Coordinator and Director of College and Career Counseling, it allows for personalized supports that impact the whole family of the students at our school.
Most importantly, leaders that focus on equity in Deeper Learning see both students and teachers as unique, and have the courage to not be silent in the face of inequity. This might be more important than ever right now to prepare all students in our society for a project-based world. If we don’t, the socioeconomic and racial gaps of the creative class will grow even wider. Educational leaders must create a culture where ways of seeing and engaging challenge the status quo by naming uncomfortable realities and unequal conditions.
The Three C’s for Leadership Going Forward
Cultivating, creating and carrying out these qualities as an educational leader will help both new and experienced leaders transform the culture in their school/district and train a new generation of leaders to take over the helm in ways that re-imagine what learning looks like as we now know it in the majority of schools across America. As John Maxwell, notable leadership trainer, says, “People don’t at first follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes.” Don’t you think our students are worthy enough to be bold and make the changes necessary to prepare them for a project-based world? So, get a new book that will influence your work, sign-up for twitter, learn about design thinking, go to events and activate yourself to have a bias for action in this work.
This blog is part of “It’s a Project-Based World” series on the Getting Smarter Blog. Originally posted 3.16.17 at Getting Smarter. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Changing the Discourse in Schools

This week Cohort II of the Deeper Learning Equity Fellows meets in Oakland, CA for the first time face-to-face.This week will require not only deeper learning but deep reflection, designing/gaining empathy for others and sharing our stories - most importantly it's about having a bias for action. Given the events of the last few weeks the timing couldn't be better to gather with a group of social justice change-agents form across the nation. I've done several pre-work readings and assessments of my own practice. One of the readings claims, "Teachers are seldom if ever given the opportunity to do active learning and engage in reflective discourse about the effects of their work." Everyone that reads my work or tweets knows I promote and have done research on active leaning to improve teaching and learning in schools. However, it takes much more than active learning and innovative approaches to teaching to support and build systemic change in schools. In urban schools administrators and educators must also be sensitive to using existing cultural ways that promotes symptomatic issues like attendance, dropouts, discipline, low test scores, and low grades. 

Often in cultural organizations like schools, we exchange one cultural way for another that maintains outcomes that sort by race, class, and gender. We simply follow "the change process" and implement something adapted to the old cultural ways. A fundamental belief in process is part of school cultures. If we followed the process and nothing changed, then the explanation must be in the thing being implemented. It did not work. This cultural way is a major factor in allowing schools to have the appearance of responding to change without having to change anything substantive."  Many folks have suggested to me that the way to improve urban-type schools is through more structured "discipline," I would disagree.  One of the readings (Eubanks, Parish, Smith) suggests that urban type schools are viewed as "needing more structure" because they are "from disadvantaged conditions" or "from single parent families" or "working families" or "more dangerous." The problem is viewed as part of something in the students and their lives outside of school. Therefore, controlling or "teaching them discipline" is viewed as a solution. Approaches like this have the effect of maintaining the existing cultural ways in schools. This summer I also became a fan of Professor Chris Emdin's work and took his teaching on reality pedagogy to heart. We have carefully adopted his strategies into our school culture, not tried to "change" or blame students but to support them and the unique culture they bring to our community. 

Oftentimes, we blame everyone and everywhere except where the problem probably largely lies-in a social/economic-cultural system that requires and "needs" to create persons of poverty to preserve a well-protected system of social privilege (Fine, 1990). Adam Smith (1776) said that in order to create persons of wealth to advance civilization, it is necessary to create persons of poverty. Six hundred to one was his ratio. In America today the ratio may be a little higher. Both today and in the future, knowledge and creation of meaning will be essential for whatever life choices people wish to make. To deny a person the fullest intellectual and personal development is to deny a fundamental human right. Certainly, in our social context it denies property, liberty, and probably eventually life. "Everyone will not want the same things or same paths, but to have a choice requires intellectual
development beyond that to what we now provide for a select 20 percent" This statement is profound and why programs like the Deeper Learning Equity Fellows exist. We must somehow find ways to help our educators confront this system of schooling that continues and maintains the hegemony and sorting (hooks, 1992a; Shor and Freire, 1987; Parish et al., 1989). The challenge before us is how to go about changing the work of schools. How do we change so that the work and convenience of the adults, takes second place to learning, for everyone? How do we help those in schools cut through cultural myths without making them feel defensive, guilty, or at fault? 

More this week as I learn with and from my cohort of Deeper Learning Equity Fellows. 


Eugene Eubanks, Ralph Parish and Dianne Smith. “Changing the Discourse in Schools.” In Race, Ethnicity, and Multiculturalism: Policy and Practice, ed. Peter Hall. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What Mindsets Are You Building in Your School?

There is power in diversity. Diverse teams, thinking and locations. As the world becomes more global, cross-cultural competency will become an important skill for all workers, not just those who have to operate in diverse geographical environments. Organizations increasingly see diversity as a driver of innovation. We know that what makes a group truly intelligent and innovative is the combination of different ages, skills, disciplines, and working and thinking styles that members bring to the table. Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future.
HFA Mindset Model 

Our Holy Family Academy (HFA) mindset model, infused throughout our classes, work-study internship program and projects, seeks to build resiliency, entrepreneurial thinking, problem solving ability, and servant leadership − dispositions shown to be as equally important to technical or specific job related skills.

The HFA mindset model is based on future-ready competencies identified by our work study partners, faculty and literature reviews. As we continue to shift our curricular program from partially project-based to almost entirely project-based, the mindset model will be a guiding compass.

As the Head of School, I look for opportunities to demonstrate our future-ready mindsets to the faculty, staff and our students. Faculty at HFA get generous planning time while students are at work one day a week and on Fridays when they are off campus at one of our seven curricular learning partners. Students have the time to work building these Mindsets not only in their classes and our work study internship program but through our advisory program. Groups of students write WOOP Goals (Character Lab) and assess their understanding and growth of these Mindsets weekly on an APP designed and coded in our student-run game design company, EDGE.

Our work-study program (which allows a private school education as an option to all families as well as providing real-life opportunities to build our Mindsets) is a required part of the HFA experience. All students starting in 9th grade have an internship once a week, the entire school-year. As students identify pathways that match their goals, strengths and post-secondary plans, they reflect in eportfolios and can earn one of 85 digital badges or "micro-credentials" that are endorsed by our work study partners. The Mindsets are not just a banner in our Innovation Center (below) but dispositions that will prepare our students for the future of work and life.

What Mindsets does your school stand for and integrate into your programs?

Students in Integrated Design Lab Discussing our Mindset Model

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Teacher-Powered Approach to Professional Development

It’s a normal Friday morning at Holy Family Academy, a two-year-old independent Catholic high school in Pittsburgh with 125 students. While students engage in projects at our partner sites off campus, faculty gather in our innovation lab for weekly professional development time.
Our director of innovation kicks off the morning with a round of Rose, Thorn, Bud, a design-thinking method that faculty use to describe the details of their week. Pairs of co-teachers huddle around tables filled with laptops, Post-its, and design templates to prepare “teach and lead” sessions. In this mini edcamp, faculty take turns leading inspiration sessions. For faculty, this time is not only about planning their professional growth but also about learning together as a community.
We know that for innovation to flourish in school, the idea of “learning is for everyone” needs to be an attitude as well as an activity. Building this learning culture starts with providing opportunities for support, reflection, and growth among faculty. Tactically, it means creating space and time for faculty to collaborate, co-teach, and learn from each other.
Teacher-centered professional development can be a practical way to create an active learning community. After all, how many times have teachers made jokes about professional development or rolled their eyes at the “sage on the stage” leading some one-off session during an in-service day? Imagine if professional development focused on meaningful, challenging, feasible goals and was woven into each faculty member’s regular schedule?
PD 4.jpg
Faculty members participate in a "teach and lead" professional development session. Credit: Holy Family Academy.

We Start with a Wish

Meaningful professional development is exactly what we’ve started at Holy Family Academy. This year, we implemented the WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) goal-setting framework from the Character Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. In this framework, faculty members design personalized professional development plans and gain power through “teach and lead” sessions. We begin by helping faculty members identify meaningful wishes, ones that are challenging but possible. Recent wishes include learning how to infuse mindfulness into the classroom, planning new field-based learning opportunities for students, and incorporating new technologies into courses.
“The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking,” says Gabriele Oettingen, whose research guided the WOOP goal framework. “Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.”
WOOP is just one example of a teacher-powered approach to professional development, which shifts control away from school administration and enables faculty members to own their learning. In this method, faculty members learn their strengths, work to identify common interests and partnership opportunities with other faculty members, and commit to at least four hours of professional development each week. Dedicated instructional innovation coaches move beyond the roles of traditional curriculum or ed tech coordinators to roles of co-teachers, peer mentors, and planners. These teacher-leaders take a reduced teaching load and catalyze changes in teaching and learning.
PD 1.jpg
Teachers engage in weekly professional development. Credit: Holy Family Academy.

Weekly Professional Development: How We Do It

In Holy Family Academy’s effort to reimagine teaching and learning for both students and teachers, every Friday the entire faculty works on WOOP goals on campus, and students learn in the field as part of our Network Campus program. About 18 to 20 faculty and some staff meet for about three hours to engage in peer mentoring, design thinking, and prototyping. Sometimes they meet as a large team; other times, they gather in small teams of three to five teachers from different disciplines. In this process, they form personal learning networks with their peers, and note barriers to growth and innovation.
Faculty also receive support from our director of innovation, our principal, and even me from time to time. As head of school, I believe it’s important to participate regularly to stay connected to the pulse of our learning community as we build our culture. I meet with our academic administration team weekly to plan a strategic and meaningful professional development plan for the school. Our principal and director of innovation execute that plan and provide me feedback on how it’s working. We stay nimble and make adjustments as needed.
As school leaders, we try to accommodate faculty members’ wishes if budget and space permit. For example, if a teacher says using more technology in the classroom is a barrier because of a lack of equipment, he or she makes a request to school leadership and typically receives permission to purchase the needed equipment.
In addition to the WOOP goal-setting framework, we regularly use different design-thinking methods to guide and shape our work as a community. We innovate at the macro levels of school decision-making, such as parent-teacher conferences, as well as the micro levels, including the lunch line. Our design-thinking methods include:
Rose, Thorn, Bud
How it works: Participants seek positive outcomes, outcomes that require iteration, and opportunities for growth.
When to use: To reflect on how a program, event, or lesson went.
Creative Matrix
How it works: Participants generate new ideas for multiple problem statements or stakeholders.
When to use: To foster a collaborative voice with large strategic initiatives, such as designing a new schedule or reimagining an advisory program.
Difficulty Impact Matrix
How it works: Participants identify which ideas will have the most impact and are least difficult to execute. This visual approach helps people see whether an idea is realistic. 
When to use: To generate ideas after the creative matrix or some other method.
Faculty members also all learn and leverage their top five strengths from the Gallup StrengthsFinder tool. It’s useful in building teams and finding complementary partners. We share our strengths and promote partnership and co-teaching with those who have diverse skills.
At a recent faculty professional development session, we designed three prototypes for one of our programs for all students called the Learning Hub Advisory. The program meets three days a week and focuses on supporting students’ social and emotional wellness and growth. This fall, we will move our advisory program to the end of the day three days a week. The new three 80-minute blocks will also allow for flexibility. Assemblies, clubs, and advisory will have a dedicated space. Students will stay with their advisors for three years. We also plan to use Classcraft, a role-playing game, to manage, motivate, and engage students.

How You Can Do It

Through these weekly professional development sessions, we expect to continue to redesign and improve the school experience. You can do the same. Here are six ideas to consider.
  1. Create a director of innovation and learning position, an interdisciplinary role that spearheads the organization and supports personalized professional development.
  2. Create creative space for collaboration, co-planning, and co-teaching for faculty reminiscent of a coffee shop.
  3. Design incentive programs that offer faculty innovation grants and fellowships with release time to partner with peers on WOOP goals.
  4. Design in-house edcamps for faculty. Spend a half-day at one of your in-service meetings with the faculty in charge of the learning.
  5. Use design-thinking methods to build empathy, be inclusive, and co-design your school with your faculty or solve problems in your community.
  6. Invite student voices into your professional development efforts — ask students to lead sessions about using social media, such as Twitter, or the latest and greatest apps that might aid in their learning.
If your school is not yet able to dedicate the collaborative planning time or release time for professional development, technology and blended learning approaches can be a good place to start. For example, on a recent in-service day we permitted and encouraged faculty to work remotely from any location. Using Google Apps for Education and online resources in our Learning Management System (Canvas), faculty had the day to complete a virtual scavenger hunt and share personalized findings and interests with the entire faculty. Our faculty members can also share key activities and learning in an ongoing, real-time basis by using our school hashtag, #HFAInnovates, on Twitter and Facebook.

We’re Stronger than Ever

We’re finding that giving faculty members ownership of their learning has created buy-in, excitement, and momentum for school initiatives. By focusing on self-empowerment, using methods such as WOOP goals, and lifting barriers to growth, the faculty can become nimble and entrepreneurial. Never before have these mindsets been as important to cultivate in our faculty and students as they are today.
I have seen firsthand how personalized professional development is transforming our culture. At an in-service day not long ago, some faculty members participated in tai chi in our Mandarin classroom. And recently after school, other faculty members were using the laser cutter for the first time to build custom-designed pieces for a maker showcase event at the end of the year. These wishes — part of their WOOP goals — have come true. It’s thrilling to see our teachers making such progress.

Cross-posted on the The Independent School Magazine Blog

Sunday, May 15, 2016

EdCampPGH at Pittsburgh Public Schools

This weekend was EdCampPGH, the last event I attended as part of Remake Learning Days in Pittsburgh. This was an inspiring and busy week catching up with friends across the learning ecosystem in Pittsburgh. Most importantly, this week reminded me that Pittsburgh is doing amazing things in the educational community and amazing educational leaders are passionate about the future of learning and education. After representing the Teachers Guild and Holy Family Academy at the Remake Learning Rally, I prepared for EdCampPGH. As one of the founders of EdCampPGH, almost four years ago, it was an honor and fulfilled our vision to be able to incude the event in Remake Learning Days. 

When we talked about where to host our next EdCampPGH, we wanted to have a focus on equity. We were glad that PPS (Pittsburgh Public Schools) SciTech agreed to host the event. EdCampPGH is part of a national movement lead by the EdCamp Foundation. EdCamp is a form of unconference designed specifically for teachers and their needs. What makes EdCamp an unconference you might ask? Unlike traditional conferences which have schedules set months in advance by the people running the conference,EdCamp has an agenda that's created by the participants at the start of the event. 

My co-organizer, Justin Aion summed up the day best: "My prime takeaway from morning sessions at #edcampPGH: humanity trumps content 10 times out of 10." Setting the tone for the day was Lori Delale-O'Connor from University of Pittsburgh, School of Education's Center for Urban Education. Lori asked us to think about whose voices are absent from our conversation and to be mindful of that when we plan for change, innovation and growth in schools. She also said: "Looking for gaps is only a way to be sure to perpetuate them— let’s look for building on assets not dwelling on deficits." With an amazing group of close to 100 teachers, administrators and learning partners in attendance, I believe they are focused on rethinking the deficient model and beginning with the positive qualities of the schools!

A series of robust sessions rounded on the day from topics that are typical such as EdTech to new topics such as LBGTQ issues in schools and parent engagement. It was also our first EdCampPGH that we had parents join. The team at Pittsburgh SciTech did a wonderful job getting the word out and leading the event. 

Check out some of the images from the day:

Join us this fall at Fox Chapel Area School District for our fall version of EdCampPGH and meet educators who are passionate about Remaking Learning in the Pittsburgh region. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Matter of Mindset

Image Source: In Search of Growth Leaders, WSJ 
The "growth mindset" has received increased attention in the last few years especially related to how schools can build this mindset in students. While this is important topic, most administrators and faculty may be unclear with how to get started. Shifting learning from teacher-centered to student-centered is one step in the right direction but much more is needed to shift student and faculty minds to the growth cycle. Administrators should help their school demonstrate the virtuous cycle of belief's and behaviors vs the vicious cycle that discourages growth thinking.

The vicious cycle in a classroom or school develops an environment where students and/or teachers view "life as a test" mixed with fear, avoidance and narrow thinking. With so much focus on testing in schools, its not hard to imagine why so many students are graduating high school with a fixed mindset. The ASCD (2010) said that students with a fixed mindset tend to not handle setbacks well because these setbacks call their intelligence into question and they become defensive. I know we have all taught that student. There is such joy in helping students move from this defensiveness and fear to a place where students can respond to obstacles, try new strategies to succeed and use all the resources at their disposal for learning. 

So why aren't more schools training teachers and focused on this very important element to student success? Furthermore, time and time again research and workforce development reporting shows us that plenty of jobs in the future will require workers with an "innovators DNA" which includes a growth mindset as a key ingredient. Schools and classrooms that succeed at building the growth mindset as part of school culture focus on learning being a journey, lifeline and put plans in place to support, seek and embrace change. Growth-focused schools and classrooms broaden students' thinking by creating opportunities for voice and choice in learning where building empathy is at the center of learning. Students are not simply memorizing facts and taking standardized tests. Students that are taught to have a fixed mindset may not be provided or overlook growth opportunities. Furthermore, faculty in fixed-mindset schools are slow to adopt changes that are needed to transform teaching and learning in the 21st century. So where does one start to break the pattern of the vicious cycle? Building culture. Building culture that embraces ambiguity, inquiry and diversity. 

Administrators have a responsibility to build a school culture that is focused on the virtuous cycle where both students are faculty have the skills to detect new growth opportunities, have a bias for action around change, learn to make "bets" and "fail fast." Administrators that support this type of culture building create schools where students and faculty often succeed more often in new situations. Building growth mindset into the culture of your school requires intentional strategy. Carol Dweck's research shows us that this vicious cycle stems from a static definition of self. Many students, particularly students of poverty and trauma may enter our classrooms with this static definition of self. 

A recent post on the popular blog Getting Smarter suggests tactics like flexible student groupings, passion-based project based learning (I like to use design thinking as the framework for this type of PBL), student-led conferences and opportunities for personalization. I would add building a strong advisory program with well-trained and staffed coaches. In my school we call this role a "learning coach." Students meet with their learning coach three days a week in an advisory where they learn their strengths, build trust and have the opportunity to loop with their learning coach for three years. In advisory sessions we call "learning hub" coaches support development of a student's personalized passion pathway as well as access to resources to support their social emotional needs and other social services challenges like mental health, drugs/alcohol and food scarcity. Innovative classroom teaching and curriculum isn't enough to build a culture of growth thinking in your school. Find out what your version of the learning hub is in your school. 

While putting supports in place to help students enter the virtuous cycle of thinking, we can't ignore faculty. Teachers must be on board with building culture if your school will be successful at building a positive culture. Some strategies for building growth-mindset in teachers are co-teaching, personalized PD and ability to take risks and be backed-up by administration. You might offer development programs that provide release time - like Google's 20% plan. Innovation fellows, grants, professional development and action research teams that use design thinking to identify and solve problems in your school. Something as simple of scheduling and classroom spaces can support developing a growth-focused culture. For example, at my school teachers have 4-6 hours a week for professional development and collaborative planning. This time is necessary because of our very project-based and interdisciplinary curricular program. Additionally, with exception of a few courses, all classes in my school are co-taught by teams of educators focused on thematic-based learning. Faculty as well as students write WOOP goals using the framework provided by the Character Lab

What ideas do you have to build a growth-focused culture in your school?

If you are at SXSWEdu - find me (@Learn21Tech). I would love to hear what you are doing in your school. If this topic interests you come see me and my colleagues for our panel, Culture by Design. 

Not at SXSWEdu? Read this excellent article from ASCD on Growth Mindset.