And then- two words full of possiblity

At Anastasis Academy, we have a learning environment that is enviable. Seriously, educators everywhere long to do what we do every day. If kids knew that this option of schooling existed, they would demand it.

And yet, we still have bad days. We get tired. Social struggles still exist. We still have moments when we take it for granted, or listen to rumors, or feel bad about ourselves, or just wish for a day that includes outdoor recess. You know why? Because we are still human.

While we do a lot of things at Anastasis that feel like we’ve created a utopia, it is still very much a place of humanity. A place where sometimes we are tired, or feel distracted by what is happening outside of school, or just want to sit in the sunshine after weeks of gloom.

One thing we don’t give enough grace for in schools is those moments when it doesn’t feel like utopia. We are human. Not every day will be perfect for everyone in class.

That’s okay.

It’s part of being human.

It’s authentic and it’s real life.

Though I believe we have a remarkable place to learn every single day, as humans there are times when it just won’t be that for us. This is as true for teachers and staff as it is for students.

Wonder Retreat, Boulder

Last weekend I had the incredible privilege of joining amazing visionaries, mentors, designers, and learners at the Wonder Retreat in Boulder. It was deeply restorative. It was inspiring. It was good to be intentional about being away from work with the only focus to make connections.

I can’t describe what an awesome feeling it is to be with people who make you think about possibility. Who will dream with you. Who inspire and remind you that stunning things are happening all over the world. To be surrounded by people who give hope. It is good to remember that we aren’t alone. It’s good to laugh, and try new things (Picklebacks are not my jam), and make new friends.

I’m still very much processing the immenseness of what happened last weekend. There was little agenda, no expected take-away. It was a gathering about nothing…and everything. It reminded me of the need for connection, the need to get away for perspective, the need for possibility.

It makes me wonder how we can offer this for our students and teachers in those moments when we feel extra human.

And. Then. Two words that, when put together, are full of promise. “I was feeling down AND THEN, my coworker came in and made me laugh.”  “I felt like no one liked me because I was sitting alone at lunch AND THEN, Camryn came and sat by me.” “I was feeling extra human AND THEN, I joined 23 remarkable people for a retreat in Boulder.” How can we give each other the AND THEN shift when it doesn’t feel like utopia? (No really, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below!)

To my new Wonder friends…thank you for being an AND THEN for me!

Wonder Retreat Boulder

Soul Sighs, finding the online space that feels like home

Where good ideas come from

In 2007, I started an educational technology blog, iLearn Technology. When I started the blog, I did it for myself with little (read: no) thought about audience. I’ve always been a journal keeper. I write EVERYTHING down because I find that if I write it down, I’m more apt to remember it and to use it for something.

In 2004, I got a job as a technology teacher. There was a slight catch: I had never taught “computers” AND my degree had nothing to do with educational technology.

And yet, life had led me to a computer teacher position and a brand new iMac lab to contend with. Being the geek that I am, I went to the library and picked up “Mac OS for dummies.” Before the school year began, I endeavored to learn all that I could about how my new classroom worked. I also performed about a zillion Google searches related to educational technology. Incidentally, at the time, there wasn’t a lot out there, what I did find was exciting! I started a notebook (the spiral with lines kind) and would write down every URL I came across that I thought would be useful. Then, I color coded based on whether it was a site that I needed to go back to for reference or one that I would use with students. Soon, that wasn’t enough and I went back through my notebook(s) and added details about how I could use the site with students and what subject the site was related to. It wasn’t long before my small living room was covered in notebooks and pens. One day my husband came home, surveyed the damage of the living room and said, “I don’t know why you don’t just blog this stuff…at least then it would be searchable.” He walked me through the steps of setting up a domain name (iLearn Technology). The next day, I played around with WordPress until I had the basics down. I started adding my notebooks full of links to the blog so I could easily search when I was looking for something related to what I was teaching. I remember getting a text in the midst of this transfer from my husband, “see..all the hot blondes are blogging!” Attached was a link to iJustine who had broken into the blogging/live casting scene with her phone bill. When my mother-in-law (a third grade teacher at the time) heard that I was blogging, she introduced me to this amazing teacher online “Technospud” who was doing collaborative projects with Oreos. Soon, I was following Technospud (who as it turns out is Jen Wagner), she led me to David Warlick. Brilliance.  Other educators do what I was doing. Brilliance AND validation!

I’m currently re-reading Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From the Natural History of Innovation.” As it turns out, this thing I was doing with notebooks? It is nothing new. In the 17th and 18th century, people began keeping “Commonplace” books of quotations. This was a place where they would record learning and things they were pondering and quotations that spoke to them. This idea of, “lay a fund of knowledge from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.” My dad did this. He kept tons and tons of notebooks as I was growing up. I can’t remember a time when he was without a notebook of some sort that he was adding to. When I was really young, he would get up before dawn every morning with a pot of coffee and just write. Dream. Ponder. We had this wooden cube that he built that housed the notebooks until they were overflowing and needed a new home. As an adult, this practice resonates with me. I still keep hordes of notebooks. I still have a notebook nearby any time that I am reading something new or catch a hunch while watching TV, or in a conversation. In many ways, these have become my version of the “commonplace” books. Steven Johnson calls out an important feature of the Commonplace books of the 18th century, they were intended to be gone back through so that circling ideas might find a landing place.

As it turns out, I’m a technology geek. I had no idea how much I enjoyed technology and what it makes available until I spent the summer learning about it, used it with students, and blogged about it. It was a few months into my blogging adventure that I began to realize the point of blogging: audience. Prior to this, I was really just blogging for myself, so that I would have a way to search back through my ruminations about different sites.

That I could connect to others and share ideas with a wider audience? Nothing short of magic!

This connection with others and audience gave me additional purpose in my writing and led to sharing what worked (and what didn’t) with students. It caused me to grow as both a writer and an educator. I had to evaluate tools with a keener eye. I had to consider a lot of different students. I was laying a fund of knowledge that was reaching farther than my spiral notebooks. I felt a different responsibility.

It strikes me that Twitter, blogs, Instagram, and Google Plus have become our Commonplace books. The place where we share quotes and work to remember. That is certainly what iLearnTechnology became for me. This leaves me wondering, how often do we go back and re-read our own online work? How often do we use it as a place to reflect and allow for hunches to collide? This is common practice for me when I write in notebooks, I often go back to reread. I rarely go back and read through my Tweets, occasionally I’ll reread a blog post I wrote (usually when I’m looking for something specific.) I wonder how many posts we’ve written where hunches are waiting to collide if we would only go back and remind ourselves? I also wonder, how our online Commonplace books have allowed us to connect those hunches with a much larger audience? Amplifying and connecting ideas in ways that have never before been possible? I know that it was hunches colliding in personal and online space that led to the Learning Genome Project, and the same for starting a school. Without the collision of both worlds, I would likely be in a very different space.

I love that feeling of coming home. It is like this incredible soul sigh that just feels right. I feel it every time I walk into my house. It’s the lingering scent of my husbands cologne, the afternoon light pouring through the windows into the dining room, the celebration my dogs throw that I came back to them. In many ways, my scribbled notebooks give me this same soul sigh. They are a place where I record life. Where I remember things that are important and meaningful to me. They are the place where hunches are born. Digital space allows for this as well. My blogs feel like a place I can record and share life with friends. I use online social networking tools for different purposes. My blogs have become public Commonplace notebooks where I hope to allow the collision of ideas. Twitter is a place where I record quotes, top-of-the-mind thoughts, readings that resonate with me. Twitter is also the place where ideas get challenged and refined. Instagram is the place where my visual life lives. This is where I marvel over the every day amazing in nature and where I connect with others who love the in-between moments of life. The art. The fashion. The food. Nature. Family. Facebook is the place I connect with family and close friends. The place where I am often frustrated. The place where I am brought to tears. The place where I laugh.

It strikes me that so often we dictate the tools that students use to collect and share hunches. I try to imagine what that would be like for me. I wonder if the vulnerability and usefulness would be the same if the tools I used were dictated. While there is generosity in sharing the tools, and exposing kids to new things, I wonder how many “hunches colliding” moments never happen because they are forced to use a tool that doesn’t feel like home? What if instead of dictating what a student used as a Commonplace book, we gave options and let them find the place that felt like home? For some this might be a place where they can tell story and remember through images, for others it might be a blogging platform. Some might find 140 characters to be just enough. Some may not be ready for global vulnerability and the spiral notebook is enough.

“Lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”

Changing the Algorithm: Changing brain patterns after age 25

Starting a school is a big job. Starting a school that doesn’t operate like any other school…that is enormous. It can be a lonely task; while others can relate to starting a school, being an administrator, or being an eduprenuer, very few do all three at once.  It is a lot like treading water. Every. Single. Day.

When I have a moment to really sit and reflect on what has been the biggest hurdle to overcome, I keep coming back to the same thought: The greatest challenge has been changing the mindset of adults about what education is.

The kids are agile and make this transition in no time.  They are flexible and have a neurological plasticity that is ready for new connections and new neural pathways to be built. At Anastasis, this equates to a week of “detox” every year. Our Detox Week gives students a chance to unlearn some of the false messages they’ve come to believe about themselves as learners. It is about giving them “spaces of permission.” It is about helping our students think about education differently. For the great majority of them, this thinking about school differently doesn’t take long. They are agile.

But the parents, the parents are a bit more challenging. This week I’ve run into a video and an article that have me considering how to face the challenge we have with changing the algorithm for adults.

Michelle shared the following video with our staff this week:

It is fascinating to me that something like riding a bike can be SO engrained that even when we know that something works differently, and make an effort to change the way we think about it, the neural pathways in the brain are so heavily relied on that it is near impossible! Something tangible like riding a bike where you can actually feel and see the change seems like it would be relatively easy to relearn. As the video shows, it is not! This had me thinking about the parents that send their kids to Anastasis. There is 12+ years of schooling and thinking about what education is and how it works that is in play. And that kind of thinking isn’t so tangible. That thinking is pathways and assumptions that are made. It is a lot to overcome!

This morning I read this article from Fast Company What it Takes to Change Your Brain’s Patterns After Age 25. It asserts that after the age of 25, we have so many neural pathways forged as “shortcuts” for our brain, that it is nearly impossible to change the way that we think about something. Our brains are lazy and choose the most efficient paths…I’d call these efficient paths assumptions.

The article suggests ways to keep our “lazy” brains agile. The first is by using parts of the brain that we don’t frequently use. A new task that is challenging enough that it makes you feel mentally exhausted.  You know, the kind of tasks that we generally try to avoid as adults. The next is deliberate practice and repetition. New connections and pathways are forged only through practice and repetition. Without both, the connections won’t be established enough to become habitual. Depending on the complexity of the activity, this could take up to four and a half months!! Finally we have to have the right environment for change. We have to be physically healthy, build strong relationships with others, and generally do all we can to keep our brain out of “survival mode” which shuts out innovative or new thinking.

So, the question remains. How do we help adults (I’ve called out parents here, but it could just as easily read educators) change their mindset? How can we help challenge and engage people to use a part of their brain that they don’t normally use to rethink education? How can we help offer enough support for repetition and practice? How can we help provide the right environment for this change in thinking about education to happen?

I haven’t come up with the answers. I’m not sure exactly what this could look like, but it does have me considering the problem from new angles. What have you found to be useful in this process of helping other adults change their mindset?

 

The key to education reform: change your mind #edreform #pd

5-Sigma Education Conference February 20-22, Colorado

The problem with education reform is that we keep attempting to change surface level systems and hoping for deep systemic change as a result. What we actually end up with is new standards, new curricula (usually replacing one one-size-fits-all with another one-size-fits-all), new technology initiatives, more professional development, added “rigorous” expectations, new standardized tests, new assessment systems, and new buzz words. If you’ve been involved in education for any amount of time, you begin to see a pattern emerge. As a society, we seem to be always searching for the next best thing that is going to “fix” education; it quickly begins to feel like a broken record. I’ve often heard education veterans lament about how this is, “just one more new program.” It will get hyped, change the way everything is done, but the end result will be the same: countless professional development dollars will have been spent, there will be additional pressure and stress to get everything changed over to the “new” way of doing things, and lives and schools will be turned upside down and inside out. In the end the “new” push will end up with all the others: shoveled to the side when the next latest and greatest idea comes on the horizon. This has been the case for as long as I’ve been in education (30-year+ veterans tell me that it is nothing new). When this is the education landscape, you really can’t help but to feel jaded and wonder what the point of all of it is.

The trouble is, in all of these initiatives we never really change our minds about what education is and what it needs. We continue thinking about and approaching education in exactly the same ways, put a new cover on it, and act as if it will finally be THE thing that changes everything. If we keep looking at education with the same assumptions, no matter what comes our way, the end result will be the same. Swirl. The circling around solutions that aren’t really solutions. We have to change our minds. We have to identify the assumptions that we make about education and divorce ourselves from them enough to gain a new perspective.

Assumptions that we make in education (this is just a sampling, but you’ll get the idea):

  • Everyone needs to exit the school system with the same skill set and knowledge.
  • Academic success can be measured and assigned a number.
  • Tests show progress in learning.
  • Kids should move through learning at the same pace and, if they aren’t, there is something wrong with them.
  • That classrooms are places with desks, whiteboards, and paper/pencils.
  • That education should be rigorous.
  • That teachers deliver learning.
  • That homework is a necessary part of school.

When the above assumptions are the mind-set that we operate from, no new initiatives layered on top of them are going to make the systemic change we hope for.

We have to change our minds first. We have to begin designing from within.

As people tour through Anastasis, I often get the feeling that they are overwhelmed. What we do looks very different from the school that they operate within. There is this pause generally followed by, “we could never do this! ” There is red tape, naysayers, not enough money, and hurdles of every sort. They realize that what we do would take a fundamental shift in the way things are done at their school and that feels BIG. Unattainable.

When we change our minds, ditch the assumptions, it is truly a starting over.

As educators and decision makers, we often try to make shifts in educations by bring in a new program, adding the newest technology, changing one curriculum for another. But the truth is, to change education, we have to work at it a bit more abstractly…we have to change our minds. The real change has to happen within each of us as educators. We have to identify our assumptions, step back and take a look at education and learning from a new perspective, a new lens. This is a shift in how we think about education and the lens we consider it under.

How do we change our minds? NOT by adding “new” programs (that as it turns out have the same view of education/learning and have just altered the packaging). The more I’ve reflected on the education reform puzzle, the more I’ve come to believe that this has to start with administrators and teachers. We have to begin by identifying assumptions and then taking a fresh look at education apart from those assumptions.

An illustration of the change of mindset:

I started a school that is technology rich. We have a 1:1 iPad environment from k-8. We also have Chromebooks, projectors, robots, etc.

Do you know that I have never provided my staff with professional development to learn how to use this technology?

Never.

I didn’t even ask them how proficient they were at using technology when I hired them.

When I gather my staff for professional development, we talk about the kind of learners we want our students to be. We talk about the learning habits we want them to develop, the character qualities that we hope they leave Anastasis with. We talk about philosophy and pedagogy, and how to learn. We design for learning. All of the tools that we have available (technology included) get utilized, not because I’ve spelled it out for my staff, but because we’ve dreamed together. We’ve changed our minds and focused first on the learner and the journey that they will take. We ditch the assumptions and try new angles. The fun happens when we start to discover (together) how technology can enhance that journey. You’ve never heard so much excitement over new apps discovered, or the exclamations of “did you know it could do this?!” Suddenly my staff remembers what it is like to be a learner. They again enjoy engaging that journey and they recognize that I (the administrator) am not the holder of knowledge. They don’t have to wait on me to learn or create something new. There is freedom in that changed mind-set! When teachers realize that they don’t have to wait, they begin to help their students realize that they are on their own learning journey. They no longer feel the need to be the holder of all knowledge, but apprentice students in the art of engaging the learning journey.

What does this change of mind mean for professional development? It means that my job is to create opportunities for my staff to engage in learning together. Sometimes this means that we take a cooking class or go paddle boarding together. Other times it means engaging in meaningful conversations over drinks at the end of the day or breakfast at Snooze. When you help people step away from their assumptions by actually modelling what that looks like, a transformation happens. It is empowering. It can be scary. The end result isn’t always obvious. If you can push past the fear of the unknown, and realize that we are all learners on our own “metanoia,” the results are staggering! This is how we get the BIG sweeping changes in education. This is where culture and community are built and students learn to properly manage freedom in learning.

We would love to share with you how we design learning at Anastasis, but more than that, we want to help you change your mind. February 20-22nd you can join us for a conference unlike any you’ve ever attended. Get fired-up, iterate with world-changing thinkers, and make plans that you can launch with a tour of Anastasis Academy, a series of keynotes and break out sessions from leading visionaries, panel discussions, and adult learning excursions. At the 5-Sigma Education Conference, we will help you change your mind and offer pragmatic, applicable insights that will help you transform your own space in education. Teacher, administrator, superintendent, district leaders-this conference is for all of you!

Requesting Professional Development That Transforms Your Practice

Education is an interesting beast. We are in the business of learning. We enjoy learning and connecting with other educators to improve our own craft. And yet, often we are expected to pay for our own continuing education. You would think that this would be embedded in our job description and encouraged and supported by our superiors!

We hope you can join us for the 5-Sigma Education Conference, but we know for many of you this means finding wiggle room in the already tight family budget. We want to help you approach your administration/school board/etc. to request professional development dollars to attend 5-Sigma.

We’ve created a letter that you can adjust to fit your personal request. No reinventing the wheel (we know that your time is precious!), no searching for just the right approach (we know that sometimes that equates to it never happening. This Google Document Letter is a view-only. To edit your own copy, you can either copy/paste into your program of choice OR within Google Documents, click on “File” and choose “Make a Copy.” This copy will allow you to personalize the letter to best fit your needs. Within the letter anything within the brackets should be edited. You will also find a link to session descriptions that you can copy/paste from. Find the letter here.

We are happy to contact your administration, and even offer a two-for-one for admins that come along. Just send a request to info@anastasisacademy.us and include the administrator’s email address.

We cannot wait to meet you, to learn with you, and to change education with you!

If you’ve been inspired by Dreams of Education, this is a conference that will keep you dreaming!

From lack of motivation to Schooltopia #edchat

January is the month of resolutions. The dawn of a new year when the possibility for change is fresh, and aspirations of doing better is rampant. The idea of a clean slate, or cleaning of the slate.

Unfortunately for me, January has always been the time of the year when I feel the least amount of motivation (eclipsed only by February). I’m not sure why this is, but I sort of dread this time of year. I can’t pinpoint exactly why this is. It could be that my formally decorated house suddenly feels bare and sad. It could be that it is STILL getting dark before I get home from work and I’m STILL waking up in the dark. Maybe it is the abundance of gray, cold days. OR the indoor recess and cabin fever that flow out of those days. Perhaps it is the tax forms that start showing up in my mailbox reminding me of the imminent filing of taxes. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same. I feel less like connecting with friends, less like engaging in conversations on Twitter that I normally love. In general, I feel much less like my glass-half-full self.

But this year…this year is different! I have something to anticipate in February. I hope for those of you who dread these months like I do, this could be just the thing to pull you out of the January/February funk. 5-Sigma Edu Conference.

4 years ago I started a school. I decided that I was going to put all of the best into one place. All those #edchats were going to matter, they were going to make a difference for kids. I reworked curriculum, assessment, structure of the day, the classroom space, the homework that would happen, the way parents and students would think of school. Basically I wanted schooltopia. Enter some absolutely incredible board members, teachers, and families and the schooltopia is about as close to utopia as you can imagine. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been without its bumps and major lessons along the way (some I would have liked to have avoided), but when you walk into Anastasis Academy, you can instantly feel that something is different in the best way possible. I realize that I am biased, but those who visit our school exclaim over it as well. In fact, those that visit Anastasis generally come back again and again. They invite friends to come see. Our students feel the difference. Our parents talk about the life they see in their kids.

This February, we are hosting our first ever conference. We want to share with a bigger audience what we are up to at Anastasis. What we do that it is different (sometimes it is simply in the language we use with students). We want you to see it first hand. We want to learn together and make Anastasis a true living laboratory. The 5-Sigma Edu Conference is more than a tour of Anastasis. We’ve brought together a truly passionate group of innovators and change makers to host conversations and planning sessions. Christian Long is our opening keynote and Rafranz Davis is our closing keynote. If you’ve ever experienced either of these wonderful people, you know that they are like instant shots of inspiration. Beyond the inspiration, these are people who walk along side educators to help them use that inspiration to inform change.

We’ve got panel discussions with students, teachers, and parents. We’ve got artists who think like educators. We’ve got master mentors. We’ve got incredible educators coming to share their insights and encouragement. We’re bringing in a team of people who have inspired what happens at Anastasis and want to introduce you to the same inspiration.

I. Cannot. Wait.

Finally, something to keep me from the apathy I so often fall into this time of year!

I want to invite you to join us. I can promise this will not be like any other educational conference that you’ve been to!

Register today at http://5sigmaeducon.com

Want to hear more? Tune in to Core of Education’s live YouTube event today!

**I appreciate that for most educators, conference fees and travel come out of personal budgets. I also appreciate (as an educator) that those budgets are extremely tight…always. If you are looking for professional development that will take you beyond the big-budget conferences that share lots of cool tools but don’t transform your classroom, this is the place. We want to spoil you as you’ve never been spoiled at a conference! If you are lucky enough to work in a school or a district that helps pay for outside professional development, I’ll be posting a request letter template here tomorrow. I’ll do my best to save you time in your request!

This moment in education: embracing opportunity #edchat #edreform #pd

The extraordinary thing about this moment in education, is the number of opportunities available for professional development. When I started in education, there were a handful of educational conferences that were worthwhile. How things have changed! The instant connection to thousands of educators all over the world via Twitter and other social media changed everything. We constantly have the opportunity for professional development. We seem to have more choices, more options, and more resources than any other generation of educators (perhaps that is the case each new decade).

There are new ideas and enthusiasm for what education could be just waiting to be embraced. The opportunity to share something that no one else is doing, to give something, to make learning better for the students you teach.

Often we leave conferences with the attitude of, “that was fantastic! I’m so inspired by x. I can’t wait for blank!” But soon we are faced with our limits. The limits are the ones that we tell ourselves rule, the ones that we let paralyze us. They end up ruling our actions. How often do we focus on the limits? The limits of our district, the limits of our school, the limits of our community, the limits of testing?

The problem with focusing on these limits is that they will always keep us from focusing on the opportunities we have in this moment. The opportunity to contribute to this conversation and to make learning better for these students. This doesn’t mean that the limits don’t exist, but that instead of letting the limits paralyze us, that we keep pushing to do something that matters.

In education we don’t have the luxury of time. Kids keep growing up and moving through the system. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunity. It is up to us to be creative within the limits and see the opportunity for our students.

Speaking of opportunity, this is an opportunity that you won’t want to miss. And it happens to be available at a discount (with Promo Code: cybermonday) for a few more hours.

5 Sigma Edu Conference Cyber Monday**This post was inspired by an opportunity post by Seth Godin and his great blog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com