Making 2016 More Awesome #PD

This week at Anastasis, we watched Kid President’s rules for being more awesome in this new year: “What if all made it our resolution to make this year awesome for somebody else?” (If you haven’t shared it with  your kids…you should!)

I’m taking this resolution to heart and want to help make your year awesome! In February, we want to energize you to make the rest of 2016 more awesome with the 5Sigma Education Conference.

5Sigma Education Conference is THE conference to attend if you are interested in:

  • Innovative school models- Tour Anastasis Academy with our students. Ask questions, meet our team, and see education re-imagined.
  • Learner Profiles- How do develop a complete learner profile to inform individualization
  • A fresh approach to assessment- Explore the goals of assessment and how we’ve re-thought assessment
  • A new perspective on classroom space/building use
  • Inquiry learning
  • Professional development approaches that transform
  • Building a strong school community
  • Learning excursions
  • Innovative uses of technology and ePortfolios
  • Prototype labs and maker spaces
  • Incredible conversations with world changing thinkers and innovators

We can’t wait to meet you all in person!

5Sgima Education Conference

Who we are > what we do #standagain #studentswithnames #coloradogivesday

Perhaps the most heartbreaking outcome of the current systematization of education is the way that it unintentionally dehumanizes. Reduced to scores, we too often become pawns in a global game of competition. We seek to be valued while forgetting that we are already valuable. Worthy.
There are a distinct collection of experiences in my own school journey that left me wondering if I was worthy. After educating hundreds, I’ve come to realize that I’m not an anomaly. Every child longs to know that they are valuable. This longing isn’t dependent on social economic standing, family, or history.
It is part of the human condition, this desire to be known and seen as valuable.

In first grade I received the first inkling that I might not be enough. In my school, kids were nominated by their teachers for VIP awards. Each month the whole school gathered in the auditorium for an assembly where students were called on stage and handed their VIP award, because they were a Very Important Person. What I didn’t know in first grade was that every child eventually gets this award. I waited every month to be called, waited to see my parents sitting in the back of the auditorium revealing that this would be the month that my teacher would notice me.

That she would really see me. Value me.

Each month that my name wasn’t called, I felt a little more invisible.

It wasn’t until the last month of school that I received my award, followed by some cookies and punch. I was assigned the “leftover” VIP award. In an effort to elevate students by labeling them “VIP,” the system failed to make me feel valuable. In first grade the leftover VIP award was proof that I wasn’t enough. That I would have to work harder, be more perfect so that I would be noticed. Worthy.

In second grade I was placed in the advanced reading group with 4 other children. Initially I felt important and superior in this group. I was allowed to read chapter books! Ralph. S. Mouse. A book burned into my memory not because I fell in love with the story, but because it was the first time I realized that I could fool my teachers. I often volunteered to read aloud because I was praised for my annunciation, my cadence, and the voice I put into reading. I focused on reading each sentence perfectly. The problem came when we stopped to discuss the chapter, I had no idea what the book was about or why my fellow “advanced” readers enjoyed it so much. I was worried that if anyone found out, I wouldn’t get to be in the advanced reading group. That I wouldn’t be important any more. That I would lose my value. I quickly learned the unspoken rules of the system. If I volunteered to read aloud every time, I wouldn’t get called on to discuss the content of the story. I would have already taken my turn and could delegate the heavy lifting to my “smarter” classmates. I had them fooled.
I could be valued as a good reader but felt like a fraud.

I wasn’t really worthy.

By the end of third grade, I had mastered taking tests, the bastion of the education system. My third grade teacher revealed that school was a game, and that if you understood the game, you could figure out how to win. We discovered that test taking was directly related to winning this particular game. We learned how to use glossaries to look up the bold words in our textbooks. To my surprise, the bold words are often the answers to the blanks on the worksheets. You didn’t even have to read the book to answer the questions! You could skip the hard work and go straight to the bold words, look them up in the glossary, and fill in the blanks. Instant gratification. I got to be valued as smart by my teachers, classmates, and parents. I discovered, that if I studied the answers that I wrote on the worksheets, the test was a piece of cake. This revelation was like knowing the cheat code for a video game. I could master the game and the test; I knew the secret. I could be valued as “smart” but still felt like a fraud.

Again the message, I wasn’t really worthy.

My passionate focus for the remainder of my school career became success. I ardently believed that success inside of this system was a worthy passion, and that belief was encouraged every time I got the praise, the “A,” the 4.0. I didn’t stop to consider if I was actually learning, that wasn’t my goal. I was the easy student working to survive in the system by aiming for the perfect score. Like all kids I was longing to be known, to be seen as valuable. I believed that if I played the game well enough that I could earn that value. Instead, I became invisible. Forgettable. I was left wondering if I had anything special about me. Any gifts or talents.

I was left wondering, am I worthy?

In the current education landscape, kids are routinely forgotten because the system isn’t really about them. The system values competition. It values being superior. But it doesn’t really know the individuals who comprise the whole. Embolden by being ‘the best’ it is blind to individuals. It exploits kids for the bragging rights of being at the top. We begin to believe this myth ourselves, that academic superiority (the best test scores) will make our country strong, that we become relevant in this global economy by touting our collection of high scores. We pontificate that this “race to the top” will bring us success and make us happy. All the while we lose.

We lose ourselves, our identity, our uniqueness, and our voice.

Apathy wears many faces. Some encounter this apathy as I did, in playing the system’s game. I believed that attaining the “A” was success, so when I achieved the “A,” my quest was over. There was no reason to push in, no room for curiosity or learning. The system told me that I was already “successful.” Already smart. So, even though I often felt like a fraud, I figured out the game and gleefully accepted my honor roll certificate. My apathy looked like a 4.0.
Apathy can also look like failure. It can be the student who tries hard, but hasn’t figured out the system. The one who gets so many red marks that they believe that it isn’t worth pushing in. These are the students who are convinced that they are stupid. Who believe they can’t attain success.
Then there are the students who fall somewhere in between. Maybe memorization comes easily for them, but they aren’t interested in playing the game and jumping through the hoops. Their apathy looks like rebellion. They have little interest of proving what they already know.
Apathy can also wear the face of defeat. Of beginning with a disadvantage because of the neighborhood you live in, the family you were born into, the expectations of your community.

Regardless of who you are, what your social economic status is, this is a system that breeds apathy. Feelings of fraud, being stupid, defeat.

Of not being worthy. Of not being valuable.

This is a system where we learn how to be students, but we have no idea how to use our minds. Many, like me feel like a fraud. We know how to win the game, but it feels like cheating. Every time we are called, “smart” we feel like a con artist. The system isn’t made to honor our humanity. It can’t bear our vulnerabilities. It can’t cope with our failures. Even in my ‘perfection’ of good grades, of playing the game and being the pleaser, there was a very real fear of “what if;” what if they find out? As William Deresiewicz says in Excellent Sheep, “we aren’t teaching to the test, we’re living to it.” And in the end, even if the United States sells it’s soul to perform higher than every other country on a test, we still aren’t competitive. We’ve just created a population of excellent sheep. The temporary praise of playing within the rules of the system can be intoxicating for a time, until you remember that none of them know you, not really.

In education, we are dealing with humanity. We are working with individuals who are unique in the whole of history. We are teaching those who have gifts, passions, talents, and purpose all their own in a system dedicated to making them all look the same. This focus on perfection and competition is at the expense of individuals with names and purpose in the world. Ignoring who a child “is” misses the core of what it means to be alive as a learner. The system is culpable in forgetting and overlooking that we are actually teaching individuals who have names. We’ve lost the plot in education and made it about competition with the rest of the world rather than recognizing that the population is made up of incredible individuals.
Who are worthy.
Who are valuable.

Penelope (not her name) was a student who believed the system when it told her that she wasn’t worthy. She struggled in school, was labeled as dyslexic, and was utterly defeated. You could see it in her posture and lack of eye contact. Hunched shoulders as if she was folding into herself. She wouldn’t speak up in class for fear of failure. If she dared to raise her hand, it was barely noticeable, tucked into her side with fingers hesitantly stretched up next to her ear. If you called on her, she would whisper so that the teacher could edit her answer before it reached the ears of her classmates. Penelope is BRILLIANT. She makes connections that others miss. She is kind, empathetic, and funny. She struggles to fit into a system that wants to use her to compete for top score. And so she believes it. She believes she isn’t worthy, that she isn’t valuable. You could see her wear this burden like a cloak. An amazing thing happened when Penelope learned that there was more to learning than the system. It was as if she was set free. As she discovered the beauty in her unique outlook on the world, her gifts and talents, that she was valuable, Penelope began to sit up straighter. She looked teachers and classmates in the eye. She spoke a little louder for others to hear. She challenged herself to break free of the fear and connect with others. She began to see herself differently. She embraced her worth.

At Anastasis, we have the audacity to step outside of the system that forgets the individual. We leave the perceived comfort of false data that tells kids they are smart if they learn to play the game. We recognize and know each individual. We honor them in their humanity and not as a means to an end to compete for top score. We know that they are valuable because they are uniquely created with gifts, talents, and purpose. Just like Penelope. We know that the world desperately needs the unique contribution that they alone can add. Kids are worth more than a score that contributes to the GDP. Learning as a human endeavor is too big and too beautiful to fit into the tiny, meaningless data battles we insist on to prove how competitive we are. At Anastasis we recognize all are valuable.
With that as our premise, we’ve created a school, a model that chooses humanity every day. We choose to know kids’ names and help them recognize their worth.
Anastasis is Greek, it means “stand again.” This is what we desire for students: that they would be able to stand again in who they are. We prepare students to engage the world from a place of worth. To find their unique purpose and pour into the world accordingly.

There is a sense of urgency to get this right, to make the best decisions for kids. The kids in our schools right now? They keep growing. Keep waiting to be seen as valuable and worthy.
We have a choice today, are we going to define kids based on scores and competition? Or, are we going to seek to know them?
Will we ask them to all look the same as a result of their schooling? Or, will we help them discover their identity and place in the world?
Will we make them feel defeated? Or, will we show them that they are valuable and worthy?

Anastasis Academy is here to pave the way as a champion of students with names. A model for what school looks like when it values individuals above all else. An example lighting the way for all of education to follow. This is a commitment that we can all make, a commitment to value and dignify the humanity of the individual over meaningless data. To show kids that they are valuable and worthy independent of their performance and scores. To help kids #standagain.

 

  • Your donation to Anastasis Academy (a tax deductible nonprofit) is an investment in humanity so that they can stand again in who they are, discovering their unique purpose in the world. You’ll make them unafraid to be learners for life, not just the next test.

    Take a look at what’s possible:

    Unique individuals: Your donation helps us empower students to discover who they are and how their unique gifts, talents, and outlook contribute to a world in need.

    Leaders: Your support helps students plug into their community as contributing citizens right now, they don’t have to wait until they are “grown-up” to enact change. Our students work as leaders to use their learning to make positive change right now in Colorado and the world.

    Achievers: Your donation helps us prepare students as long-term achievers who know who they are, how to self advocate, what to do when they don’t know, and how collaborate with others.

    Explorers: With your support, we expand our student’s worldview with weekly learning excursions that remind them that learning doesn’t just happen in the 4 walls of our classrooms. Learning happens everywhere, and there is always someone to learn from!

    Altering the education discourse: Anastasis Academy is paving the way for schools everywhere to make bold changes in education and rethink the purpose of school.

    Donate today through: https://www.coloradogives.org/AnastasisAcademy/overview

Wildly Audacious Goals and the Power of One

In 2010, I thought that technology might be the savior of education. I created the Learning Genome Project as an attempt to make it possible to personalize education for every child. This project took a detour when I realized that, in the United States, we exist within a system that has not been designed to educate the individual. This led to creating a model that honors unique individuals, a model that would make utilizing the Learning Genome Project possible. But this isn’t a post about that story. This is a post about the connections that this project has made possible.

About a month ago, I received an email through the Learning Genome Project’s website. This isn’t unusual, what was unusual was the incredibly serendipitous connection that it enabled.

Bodo Hoenen contacted me because our projects are eerily similar. Our thought process and approach is incredibly similar. But Bodo comes at the problem of education from a very different direction. Bodo recognized the vast number of refugee children (and girls in particular) who have no access to the school system of the country from which they have fled. Additionally, the host countries where these children land often don’t have the necessary resources to educate these children. The result is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million children world-wide who aren’t being educated. At the current pace, UNESCO estimates that it will take until 2086 before we are globally equipped to provide these children with quality education.

Does anyone else see the problem with this? 2086 is a long way off. There is a sense of urgency here. Children around the world cannot wait for us to get this right. They can’t wait until 2086 for this problem to be rectified. Children need us to solve this right now. Current approaches aren’t able to scale quickly enough to make a difference for children who are waiting for an education. Bodo Hoenen through Dev4x is working to change this. They have a fantastically audacious open project that goes beyond current approaches.

This is where Bodo’s vision and the Learning Genome Project overlap. Dev4X is working on a technology solution that will empower these under served children and their communities to take control of their own learning and create better lives for themselves.

Dev4X was founded on the belief that this global challenge can be solved while these children are still young by globally sourcing solutions and open collaboration.

At Anastasis, our students are currently working on an inquiry block, “Power of One.” The kids are exploring change makers, and looking into what it means to be a change maker. They are also investigating ways that they can enact change. They are recognizing their own Power of One.

I cannot say enough about the incredible students at Anastasis. These are kids who live their learning every day. We’ve challenged the kids during this inquiry block. Memorize one, give one, pray for one, serve one. The idea is to make one small change that can actually become a BIG thing. In the first week of this inquiry block, a group of three students came to me and asked if they could stay in for recess. “Mrs. Tenkely, we were talking during the morning walk and realized that we each have $100. We were talking about what we were going to use our money for and realized that we don’t really have anything we really need. So then we thought that maybe we could pool our money and buy a Sphero robot to do random acts of kindness for others. But then we remembered that we have 3 Spheros at school and realized that you would let us use them. So we were wondering if we could use our money to buy little things to hide around the school for other kids as a random act of kindness. Can we stay in for recess and hide things for kids with notes?” I am telling you, AMAZING students!

Power of One

Each of our classes has a charitable organization that they pour into for the year. One of our intermediate classes is connected with a food bank run by adults with special needs called Stepping Stones. Our students are helping to put together boxes of food for Thanksgiving. They’ve agreed to help come up with ideas to raise money for these boxes. The kids split into groups as part of their inquiry block to think about ways that they could raise money. Last week, two girls came into the office to propose their idea: “We were wondering if we could offer horse rides at school to raise money for Stepping Stones?” These girls created a waiver to sign, proposed the idea to the owner of the building we lease space from, created fliers, and organized for horses to be at school today. In 2 hours, these girls raised $400 giving horse rides at school. They organized everything themselves. Change makers!

What does this have to do with Dev4X? Anastasis students are now working on the part they can play in education for kids around the world. They are considering how they can be a part of Bodo’s wildly audacious goal of making education a reality for children all over the world. Students will be considering how they can add to the conversation, and how they can help raise some money to put into the project.

We would like to challenge other schools to do the same. What can you do to raise some money to make education a reality for children everywhere? There are 98,817 public schools in the United States, what would happen if each of them raised $100? Could we enact change for education world-wide that would have incredible implications for our own educational model? Could it be that children are the key to education reform world-wide? Are they the power of one?

Dev4X has a live Indiegogo Campaign. This is an opportunity to transform education, an opportunity to “be the change you want to see in the world.” (Gandhi) What can your students do to make a change in the world? How can you empower your students?

Bodo Hoenen is our closing keynote at the 5Sigma Edu Conference in February. You will not want to miss seeing Bodo live, and experiencing the model of education that makes the Power of One stories above possible. Early bird registration ends this week! Sign up now!

School is so much more than learning all the right things

The first question that I get asked when people find out that I’ve started a school: what makes Anastasis Academy different? And this is a tricky one to answer, because the truth is EVERYTHING makes us different. It’s hard to describe something that no one has seen before, so you begin to relate it with ideas and concepts that people are familiar with. The more I’ve talked about Anastasis, the more I’ve begun to really recognize what it is at the heart that makes us so different. It is our starting point and driving force: students-with-names.

That may seem like a strange comment to make, “students-with-names,” because, of course they have names! But in education, we make a lot of decisions without these specific students-with-names in mind. We make decisions for students as if they are a homogeneous group, or worse, a number.

As if they don’t have special interests/passions/gifts.

As if they don’t have something unique that the world needs.

At Anastasis Academy, we see the potential of students-with-names and help them believe that they are capable of realizing that potential. That it is worth the risk of being fully alive. That they can be vulnerable in community.

When we talk about education, too often the focus is on learning all the right things, equipping kids with the right content and answers. But the truth is, a great school is about so much more than learning all the right things. A great school is about connecting humanity. It is about finding the educators who can draw students out, who can foster humanity and connection. Who see potential and help others see it, too. Who help kids embrace their worth and value.

Because we start from this place, from students-with-names, every other decision we make has to honor that.

So we can’t think about curriculum as a one-size-fits all.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t assess in a way that minimizes the individual and the learning journey that is happening.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have large class sizes that prohibit us from getting to know the stories of students.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t pretend that worksheets, tests, and grades are what learning is about.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t let technology be the teacher.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have restrictive classroom space.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t rely on typical professional development to prepare teachers.

Because, students (and teachers)-with-names.

When your goal is honoring the humanity, EVERYTHING else must shift to help meet that goal. Everything must be adjusted outside of the assumptions we make as adults about what education “should” look like.

Last week, I asked every Anastasis teacher to come to school on Tuesday with sub plans with one caveat- don’t “dumb it down” for the sub! Just continue on with whatever you were doing. That was all of the information I shared. On Tuesday morning, we all met in the office. I had slips of paper with every class name on it. Each teacher chose a name. This was to be their class for the morning.

Teacher Swap!

My goal was a simple one, build community and empathy among the staff. If you’ve met the staff at Anastasis, you may have wondered at this goal (these are the most amazing people who have incredible empathy and we have a pretty tight community). Something different happens when you are in a classroom that isn’t yours, teaching students you don’t normally teach. You begin to see things through new lenses, different perspectives. You begin to problem solve differently. We had a Jr. High teacher with our 2nd-3rd grade, our 4th-6th teacher with our kindergarten. Teachers who normally teach young students, teaching some of the oldest. It was outstanding!

During our Wednesday staff meeting, we talked about the successes and challenges that were faced. We remembered what it is like to be a “new” teacher again, the fish-out-of-water feeling that comes from having a loose inquiry plan with a different age group. It revealed the way that each class ladders up and prepares these students-with-names for the next part of their learning journey. It reminded us not to set boundaries and expectations too low; these kids are capable of greatness! It revealed to the teachers of the older students why the teachers of the younger students are ready for recess at 10:00am on the button. :)

In a few weeks, teachers will begin to go into each other’s classrooms as an observer. My hope is, that the time spent teaching in each other’s classes will provide them with greater insight and more thoughtful observation.

In February, we invite you to come visit us. Join us to see first hand how a focus on students-with-names impacts everything that we do (including our approach to conference PD!)  The 5Sigma Education Conference is an opportunity for you to see first hand what makes Anastasis such a different learning environment. On February 19th, our students will tour you through our building, they’ll walk you through classes and talk to you about their learning experiences. We have two incredible keynotes by equally incredible people. Angela Maiers is our opening keynote. If you aren’t familiar with Angela’s work, I encourage you to take a look at her here, and learn why she is the perfect person to kick off our “students-with-names” focused conference. Bodo Hoenen is our closing keynote. Bodo has a passion for making individualized learning possible for children who have been largely forgotten.  In between those keynotes, will be sessions, panels, featured speakers, conversations, and plenty of inspiration. On February 21st we’ll take a field trip together.

This is our second 5Sigma Education Conference, if you were at the first, you know what a powerful weekend this is. If you weren’t with us last year, you will not want to miss out this year! Check out what last year’s attendees had to say about the weekend here.

Register today and take advantage of early-bird pricing!

Have something that needs to be added to our conversations? The call for proposals is still open! Click on the link above and head over to the “Propose a Session” tab.

Transforming education through great accidents

In 2009, I left teaching. I didn’t do it because I was fed up with the system, or because I didn’t like my job. Quite the opposite. I really loved being a computer teacher. I loved the freedom of writing my own curriculum every day, and getting to know my students. I had a great time helping other teachers learn how to use technology, and coming up with ideas for how they could integrate it into their classrooms. In 2009, I left teaching for health reasons. I have auto immune disorders (Rheumatoid Arthritis and Raynaud’s Syndrome) and in 2009, my rheumatologist recommended that I take a year off to see if my body would stop attacking itself. Get away from the germs the wreak havoc on the system.

So, that is what I did. I took a year off, fully anticipating that this little experiment would not work and that I would be back in the classroom by 2010.

In 2008 (I know, I’m doing this in the wrong order!), I was teaching my students how to build a website using Wix. This is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) platform, but also allowed for some basic HTML embedding and tweaking. I was demonstrating for students how they could embed a Google Map onto their websites and asked the question, “if I wanted to put a map of the capital of the United States on my website, what would I need to type in?” Blank. Stares.

To clarify, these were 10 and 11-year-old students who are living IN the United States of America. I tried again, “You guys! The capital of the United States, you know, the country we live in?” At this point a few hands raised. “New York?” “San Francisco?” This was one of those face-palm teacher moments. In the interest of time, I gave them the answer. This scenario happened with 2 more classes. Out of 74 fifth grade students, not one of them knew the capital of their own country!!! At this point I started to panic a little. How could our social studies curriculum fail to mention the capital of the United States? I decided that I was going to take all of the curriculum home over the summer and create supplemental guides using technology to help teach what wasn’t in the curriculum. I didn’t stop at social studies, I took the reading, writing, math, and science curriculum home for kindergarten through fifth grade. The back of my MDX filled, I had a goal: to leverage technology to solve this problem.

As I poured over pages and pages of curriculum, one thing became abundantly clear…this was not a problem with the curriculum. At least not in the way I had assumed. It was all there. The kids had even done worksheets and taken tests on the information! When it came time to retrieve the information for a practical purpose, they couldn’t do it. Analyzing the curriculum, I could see why. The way that these skills were being taught was not going to reach my students. I knew these kids. I had taught them for years. As I looked at what the curriculum offered as “learning” I knew that it wouldn’t work for the majority of the students I saw each week in my computer lab. These are brilliant kids, but the only thing that the curriculum required of them was that they look at something, and then regurgitate what they had seen right back on paper. None of it ever had to take long-term residence in the brain. It went directly from the eyes to the hand. My pursuit of a technology supplement guide took on a new goal: take what was in the curriculum, and use technology to bring the learning to life. I had the added benefit of knowing each of the kids I was writing this for. I had their faces in my mind as I wrote these technology guides. I could picture their excitement over learning with what I was pulling together.

Fast forward again to 2009. I hadn’t finished the tech guides, so I was hired as a consultant to finish them for the remainder of the curriculum. I picked up a few other consulting gigs at other schools in the area. As I went through their curriculum I realized that this wasn’t a localized problem. This was a one-size-fits-all problem. At the end of the day, the real trouble was that curriculum isn’t designed for the individual, but for the masses. And in creating for the masses, it completely forgot its goal of teaching students. Who are individuals.

One day as I was working on these technology supplement guides and flipping through curriculum, a song came on Pandora (internet radio) that I had never heard before. I frantically looked for a sticky note to jot down the name of the artist. I stopped for a minute after I got the artist’s name down (Zee Avi, for those who are interested), and had a true geek out moment over how far technology had come. I marveled at the way that technology was so advanced that it could predict what music I would like, all based on one piece of information. It felt like a terribly intimate thing for technology to be able to do (particularly because at the time, I had no idea how the background technology worked!). In the midst of my geeking out, I had a thought: what if curriculum worked more like Pandora? What if we could input one piece of information about a student, and have technology predict ways they might like to learn? I could not shake this idea, and Tweeted it out. My PLN instantly retweeted that thought. I emailed an app developer in Australia that I had been working with and asked if technology was advanced enough to do something like that with curriculum. His response was somewhere along the lines of, “if you can think it up, anything is possible.” I couldn’t let the idea go, so this app developer pointed me toward Balsamiq and told me to learn what I could about how Pandora worked and then prototype my idea. Since I had all the time in the world on my hands, I did exactly that. Pandora called itself the music genome project, based on the human genome project. Essentially, it identifies attributes of music (over 400 of them) and tags each piece of music with those attributes. A map of music. Clearly learning has attributes, so I set out naming those, planning the way that learning could be broken down into the minutia so that an algorithm could identify the perfect resource for a student. At this point I had convinced myself that technology would be the savior of education. All we need is to better individualize for students! Problem solved! Clearly I’m a genius! ;)

Only, the more that I talked to teachers, the more I talked with administrators, the more I looked for investors, the more that I examined the system, the more I realized…education isn’t quite ready for this genius.

The trouble is, we have a one-size-fits-all system. We have classes of 25+ students. We have teachers who are overworked and underpaid. We have a limited amount of time. We have limited budgets. The idea of mass education, in some ways, locks us into the one-size-fits-all. Standards and testing have become hallmarks of education. I started to recognize that even if I get the Learning Genome Project built, I still have to find a way for teachers to use it for students. With the current setup, that would mean the very top students in a class, those considered ‘gifted,’ and the very bottom of the class, those considered ‘low,’ would get to use it. The vast majority of students, those in the middle of the bell curve, would never get the individualized plan. Yet, they deserved it just as much.

This is where the Learning Genome Project took a small (read: enormous) detour. In order for this technology to be used to create a learning map for every student, a new system was needed. I began to consider what type of learning model this type of technology would be best utilized in. I couldn’t find a fit. Sadly, I couldn’t find anything that recognized that every student was a unique individual. One with unique learning patterns. Unique gifts. A unique worldview. I couldn’t find anything that recognized students with names. Everything was geared toward “students,” as if that one word can capture the genius of the individuals it claims. We needed a new system. One that honored humanity. That honored the students with names. I began to dream about what such a school would look like. I talked with other brilliant educators about what that would be like. The result: a new school. A new school model. A brand new way of approaching learning: I started a k-8 school, Anastasis Academy.

I began this journey believing that technology was going to solve the problems of education, I suppose that is a natural path for someone so saturated in current educational technology. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the problem wasn’t one that technology, like the Learning Genome Project, could solve but rather, one that technology could support. At the heart of what isn’t working is a system. A system that sees “students,” and not students with names. A system aimed at teaching the masses in a way that ends up minimizing humanity. Minimizing what makes us unique. Minimizing the genius that each of us alone brings to the world. I set out to create technology that would revolutionize learning, and instead detoured to the real game changer: a model that recognizes the individual, that honors it. Beginning from this place, students with names, learning can grow. Technology that supports that learning can grow.

The Learning Genome Project has taken a 5 year back seat, not because it isn’t important. Not because it can’t work. It has taken a back seat because first we need to recognize the humanity. When we really see the kids with names, the technology can support. It can help us reach each of those unique individuals. It can transform.

Anastasis Academy has been the single greatest “accident” of my life. In many ways I stumbled into starting a school. Seeing the way everything grows out of ‘students with names,’ the humanity, I’m able to again look at the Learning Genome Project with new eyes. In and of itself, the Learning Genome  Project (technology) won’t be the savior of education. Coupled with a model that honors humanity, it is unstoppable. I know this to be true. I’ve had the luxury of 5 years in Anastasis Academy. I’ve seen students come alive. I’ve seen them #standagain in who they are as learners, in who they are as the unique individuals they were created to be. If you’d like to see Anastasis Academy first hand, I hope you will join us for our education conference, 5Sigma. If you were a supporter of my Indiegogo campaign, I’d like to waive your conference fee! Just email me for a special code! I’d love for you to be my guest!

Last week, I had the great privilege of virtually meeting Bodo Hoenen. We share an eerily similar vision, come at from very different angles. Bodo is launching his own Indiegogo campaign. It is one that I will support because I so strongly believe that the world needs this. Bodo will be our closing keynote at 5Sigma Edu Conference. I cannot wait! I’m interested in partnering with those who share the vision. In those who know that we have to do better for kids now. Please help us BLOW UP the Internet with a new message about education reform. One about students with names. Individuals who are uniquely gifted and set apart to do something important in the world. If you’ve taught for any amount of time, you know that you are among genius waiting to be unleashed! It is time to empower kids. It is time to stop limiting with labels. It is time to stand again.

Follow Anastasis Students in the upcoming weeks as they work to transform education. As we begin our new inquiry unit, students are exploring the power of one. They are learning that they have an unique voice and worldview. They have the power to transform. I hope you’ll join us!

Knowing Kids As Well As We Know Wine

By now, I’m sure you’ve been inundated with news and social media stories about ninth grade student Ahmed Mohammed who was arrested when he brought a “hoax bomb” to school. As it turns out the “hoax bomb” was nothing more than a homemade digital clock that the 14 year old created and brought to share.

This story has raised all sorts of questions about racism and religious persecution, and those are really important discussions that should be talked about and considered. But, for me, the conversation has to be bigger than just race and religion. The truth is, this is a systemic issue that impacts all students and the question that keeps coming to my mind is: How is it that the teachers in MacArthur High School, and it’s administration, know so little about Ahmed and WHO he is? Why didn’t they know that he has this passion for engineering, robotics and electronics? Why didn’t his English teacher know him beyond the color of his skin and his religion? Because if anyone in the building had taken the time to really get to know Ahmed, they would know that this is a brilliant student who is excited about learning. They might know that he had been working on projects like this, and that he would want to share his excitement of accomplishment with his teachers. They might not have made such a ridiculous judgement call based on race and religion because they would know who he is.  When Ahmed showed his engineering teacher the homemade clock, the advice that was given was to hide it away and not to show other staff. Wait, what?! (If a student brought something like that to me, my advice would be to share it with all of his teachers and other students!) Why would we tell students, in a SCHOOL, to hide away an accomplishment like that? Ahmed did as he was told and kept his clock in his backpack, that worked well until an alarm went off in English class. When Ahmed showed the clock to his English teacher, it was followed by a threat of expulsion and interrogation by five police officers and handcuffs.

Students have names, and with those names stories. Consider the amount of time that parents consider what they are going to name their newborn. There is anticipation and excitement for this new person that they’ll soon meet. And each of the names being considered have a story. Sometimes it is a family name that they want to carry on because of the stories that come with the name, the fond memories, the accomplishment. Sometimes the name is a desire for parents to declare something new and unique. Sometimes the names come from a special place visited, or based on a memory. Names matter because they come with rich history and story and promise. Each one of the names is as unique as the student who carries the name, because it comes with that history and story. By the time that we meet that student as an educator, the name carries additional history of their individual experiences, personality, struggles, and accomplishments.

It seems that we know the weight of names in other facets of life. Consider the sommelier who not only knows the names of wines, but also the varietal of grapes, the climate they were grown in, the different hints and notes of flavors, the aging process, the vintner who made the wine, the bottling process, and hundreds of other idiosyncrasies of the particular wine. There are coffee masters who, by taste, can tell you what region of the world the coffee hales from, what that region is known for, how the coffee was roasted, and the hints of flavor that a particular bean has. Why don’t we have more education masters who know students?

In education, we’ve done the opposite. We’ve taken incredible individuals, students with names, and we’ve created a system where we see them as the same. We rank them and tell them their worth through test scores, we purchase boxed curriculum that exposes them all to the exact same material, in the same way, on the same day. We set the exact same standards for all of them. When they enter our classrooms we have no time to KNOW them, because the focus isn’t on the student with a name and a story, the focus is on external goals. Are they going to pass the test? Are they going to go to graduate? Are they going to make us look good when we compare ourselves with another country’s scores?

When they come to us with cool clocks that they’ve learned to program, we don’t know WHO they are well enough to celebrate that accomplishment with them. Instead we leap to conclusions based on assumptions, and misinformation, and fear.

The thing that I am most proud of at Anastasis Academy is that we know our students names, and the stories that go with those names. We take the time as a staff to get to know EVERY child in the building (it helps that we have a small population, but it is also one of the reasons we have a small population). Knowing our students colors everything that we do. It transforms the way we use classroom space, the way we assess, the way we interact as a community, the way we make decisions about choosing resources and learning excursions, the way that we do school. When kids are known, they bring their passions to school. Teachers don’t panic when a child brings their knife collection that their grandfather left them, because we know the story and can help the child share that story with others in a way that is appropriate. We can help students “stand again” (the literal translation of Anastasis) in who they are as learners, and the unique gifts/talents/perspective that they add to the world.

Ahmed’s story reminds me of all the ways that we’ve lost the humanity in education. When humanity is stripped away and the focus is not on the students with names and stories, fear and panic drive our decisions. Fear and panic are generally related to a lack of knowledge, so we make assumptions and fill in our own blanks. Pretty soon we have creative, innovative, amazing students who look more like robots. As a society, we’ve got to stop being okay with students as numbers. To truly transform education, we’ve got to focus on the humanity, knowing the students with names and stories. We have to know kids (at least) as well as well as we know wine.

Learning is vulnerable, community needed #edreform

Community is important. I would argue the MOST important.

And yet, when reformers talk about how to make education better, community never even enters the conversation. Standards (to make us equitable), testing (to make sure we are hitting the mark), technology (will solve all of our problems!), rigor (because, don’t we all want to describe learning as rigid and unmoving?!).

We are just beginning year 5 at Anastasis Academy. Magic. Lightening in a bottle. I wish everyone could see what happens here (incidentally you can come to our February conference for a peek). It is difficult to put into words the incredible moments that have become our “normal.” As I reflect on what it is that makes our school so different, I’m increasingly convinced that it isn’t the place, it’s not the technology we have access to, it isn’t that we’ve ditched tests/grades/curriculum. No, what makes this place incredible is the community. It is Who We Are (our first inquiry block every year). It is detox week. It is the way that we intentionally focus on building community first. It is the way we work so hard to help our students (and teachers) understand who they are.

Each of our students (and yours, too) is unique. They have unique gifts and talents. Strengths and weaknesses. Fears. When we talk about education, we must start here.

Learning is vulnerable. It puts us in a place of true vulnerability, we don’t know, we are explorers. We may look foolish at times. Because learning is such a state of vulnerability, we must have strong community in order for learning to thrive.

Too often, education has been focused on what a student isn’t.

They aren’t a strong reader.

They aren’t good at math.

They struggle with writing.

They don’t measure up.

When we start with Who We Are, we invite students to change that focus. We invite students to see all that they offer. The things that make them AWESOME!

This week I’ve again been reminded about how incredible Anastasis teachers are at building community. In one of our intermediate classes, students were “speed friending.” This is an exercise where students pair up and have 2 minutes to talk with each other. The only rule: no small talk. They aren’t allowed to talk about things like favorite color, food, where they live, etc. I had the privilege of walking in on the middle of this Speed Friending exercise. Boys and girls matched up for 2 minutes before they move on to the next student. Every single group was having really awesome conversations. Kids were animated. Smiling. Learning about each other. There was a lot of laughter and exclamations of “me too!” Their teacher joined in as well.

In the class next door, a jr. high class, community was being built by sharing ‘war’ stories. “Everyone has to tell a story about how they got a scar…or when there was a LOT of blood. Who wants to go first?” Students sit in a circle and hands instantly shoot up. Stories that begin, “this one time…” get shared. It’s like being around a campfire at happy hour (minus the fire and drinks). Everyone participates, they all ooh and aww over each other’s stories. Each new story reminds the others of another “this one time…”. The caveat: they are only allowed to share one story. “We don’t have time! Guess you’ll have to tell that story during lunch!” Instant camaraderie. Community built.

Today, day 2, I stopped by the Jr. High classroom. They’ve just started into A Wrinkle in Time. Soon, they hit the word “tesseract.” None of them knew what it was or had a good guess about what it could be. Their teacher stopped and said, “all right, we are going to the prototype lab. You’re going to get in teams and build a tesseract, you can do some research, but then your goal is to build a model that you can use to explain it to the rest of the class. You’ll also come up with a hypothesis about what is going to happen in the book. When you’re finished, you’ll share with the class.”

The kids researched and got to work building. Working together to solve a problem. Looking through materials and options and coming up with BRILLIANCE! They had a limited amount of time, limited resources, and still weren’t quite sure how it related to the book they were reading.

Learning is Vulnerable  Learning is Vulnerable  IMG_3007  Learning is Vulnerable

The results were dynamite. I mean, really quite well thought out and well designed. The kids gathered back in a Genius Lab to share their final product. Each group shared their understanding of tesseract. It’s a 4th dimension that might exist…but we can’t really understand even what it is or what it means because we can’t see it. The last group was composed of 3 boys. One new student, one student who has been with us from the beginning, and one student who is dyslexic and struggles greatly with reading. Our long time student began the presentation by describing his understanding of the second, third, and fourth dimension. He did a great job of helping describe that which he didn’t really understand. Next, our “struggling student”:

“Well actually, I believe that tesseract, this 4th dimension, could be related to black holes. When I was in Mrs. Weissman’s class (2 years ago) I studied black holes. Light collapses and if our bodies went in a black hole, they would be crushed. Everything gets crushed in a black hole, including time. Some people think that if we went in a black hole, we could go really quickly from one place to another, like I could move from far away to here in, like, a second. Teleportation. It’s like time stops existing.” He then picks up the book and points to the cover, “I think that this picture here is depicting this.”

It is at this point in his presentation that exclamations get yelled out, hands thrown up in the air and squeals rise. “Oh my gosh!!! That is what is happening in the book, he figured it out!” “That is why it is called a Wrinkle in Time!!” “Oh my gosh! We have to keep reading…”  All kinds of inferences and predictions and excitement ensued. This “struggling” student is THE hero. Even better, his teacher from 2 years ago gets to witness the whole thing, she has stopped by while her students are at recess. It’s like all learning is connected. It’s like we planned this brilliant moment…only we didn’t, not really. This is the beauty of community and inquiry.

Our new student adds additional brilliance and insight about how this new vocabulary could be connected to the story they are reading.

Day 2. Chapter 1.

Tell me where in your curriculum that moment happens. What test reveals the absolute brilliance of the “struggling” student that is now the hero that classmates look up to? What standard would have connected learning about black holes with this moment in a Wrinkle in Time? What technology leads to this moment? What ‘rigorous’ program allows for a new hero?

The truth is, that moment happened today because yesterday (and every day) we took the time to build community. We had fun together so that today, the second day of school, everyone felt comfortable presenting, getting excited together, and cheering each other on. All of that takes the kind of vulnerability that is only possible when camaraderie is fostered.

How do we build community? In all kinds of way. We start every year with detox week. Identity day. Ice blocking. Experiential learning/camping trips. Dance parties. Daily walks to start our day. Mentorship. Daily whole-school Metanoia. We do life together Every. Single. Day.

What should reformers be focusing on? Community. Who We Are.

As my friend Wes often says, “we can’t begin with what we are, we have to know who we are.”

Could not agree more!