Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Ideal School...

In order to grow a good school, I have to have some idea of what I want it to be and how it ought to feel to be in the school. I'm eternally frustrated by superintendents, administrators, and teachers who are extremely articulate about what they do not want to see. It's another thing entirely to envision everything a school or district could be, name it articulately, and put that vision into action to make it a reality. My vision of an ideal school is a work in progress, and I recognize that there isn't any one model.

In my minds eye, I imagine a place in some city's poorest area. The school building is open from early in the morning until late at night. It's a public school, grades 5-12. The schools' mission is to develop a community of caring dedicated to addressing the academic and social/emotional needs of the students in a college-preparatory environment. We will offer a rigorous and practical school program through authentic problem solving, application of knowledge, and meaningful tech integration. We'd model curriculum and instruction similarly to what occurs here, and here. Assessment would be grounded in real-world problem solving. 

The school would also be a community resource center charged with offering services to the community before and after the school day. Through collaboration and community partnerships, we would prepare our students to chart their own path toward post-secondary success.

A key piece to all this, and one I'll hit on again and again in future posts is the need for the school to be replicable. I've taught at good schools, visited others, and read about so many more, but they are one school in a city or town, and so often they are dependent upon the vision of one leader, or one group of teachers. I believe that for education to change, really change meaningfully, we can't rely on the successes of stand-alone schools across the country. While there doesn't have to be one model that works, we need to be able to point to districts that are dramatically changing teaching, learning and student success rates, not just individual successful schools. That's why I work in an urban district and not at a great charter school somewhere. I want to be a part of turning around a district to show that it can be done.

I could write pages about the specifics of the school I envision. But writing it doesn't make it a reality. It's enacting the vision that is the real work. With the school year rapidly approaching, I'm focused on deciding which tools and strategies to use to ensure visible progress is made this year towards growing our good schools in Lawrence.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Getting Started: My first post

A little background:

Last October, I stumbled upon my first blog when I discovered Robin Cicchetti's Concord Carlisle High School library blog. Her words inspired me to set up my own RSS feed, and begin exploring the edu-blogosphere. I've been a blogging voyeur ever since. This summer, Patrick Larkin, @bhs principal on twitter, reached out to MA administrators to expand his own PLN. He showed me how to join twitter and I decided it's time to join the conversation, instead of just observing from afar.

What's this blog about:

I intend for this space to be a place for me to reflect, discuss, learn and struggle. I am both a district leader and a member of a campus team. We have six distinct high schools on our campus of schools. Each school has their own building, administrative team, staff and 500+ students. I'm leading efforts to try and change teaching and learning on campus from a traditional comprehensive high school model to something distinctly new. I must lead, but also follow because each principal and each school has their own voice, and their own ideas about how these schools should develop. What we become must be collaborative for it to be successful.

Fundamentally, I believe that high school, as it has been traditionally structured just doesn't work. In my experience, the comprehensive high school model certainly doesn't work for urban students who, in many cases, will be the first person in their family to graduate from high school or go to college. I used to use terms like "reform", "restructure", and "reinvent". But I no longer believe these words apply to what we're trying to do.

The title of this blog, "Growing Good Schools" refers to the slow, nurturing process that is required to grow anything successfully. Now full disclosure, last summer my wife and I managed to grow a tomato. That's one tomato for the entire year, so growing anything isn't necessarily the analogy I should be using. But I've learned that changing urban schools is like nurturing a garden. We certainly have successes, but we don't see obvious progress daily. I believe that growth in the garden doesn't happen overnight, and I know it doesn't happen overnight in schools either. This blog will hopefully be a place for me to discuss how our growth is going.

Moving Forward:

I've been trying to exercise regularly this summer. I managed to ride 180+ miles in July, but most of it was on a rail trail that passes through my town. This weekend I decided to take a 15 mile loop out on the roads. About three miles in, I realized my heart was pounding. It wasn't because I was out of breath, or tired. Instead, I realized I was scared. I knew that several miles ahead was a massive hill, and I wasn't sure I could climb it. Initially, I decided to turn around and head back on the more comfortable path. But then I thought about all the #leadershipday10 posts I read this weekend. Teachers from around the country called for administrators to lead, to try new edtech tools, to open up blocked sites, and let good innovative learning occur. I thought about all the times I have asked teachers to change something about their practice, and step out of their comfort zone, and I knew avoiding the hill was out of the question. I climbed it, thought I would die, cursed it mercilessly, and with a little walking, succeeded.

I was scared to climb the hill and I've been scared to enter the conversations I'm reading in blogs and on twitter. But growing good schools requires stepping out of our comfort zones and making changes. If I plan to lead, I'd better be willing to be in the discussion. So with that in mind, I'm hitting the publish post button and I'm headed out towards that hill on my bike.