collaboration

We’ll provide the favorable environment, you bring the flourish #5sigma

2018 is almost here (or if you live opposite the world from me…it may well be here!). What decisions are you making today that will amplify what is possible in 2018?

Every year I choose a word. An intention for the year. Something to remind me of my greatest hopes and purposes for the year. Do you do that, too?

The word that leapt out to me for 2018 is FLOURISH.

FLOURISH: 1. to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment. 2. a bold or extravagant gesture or action.

Don’t you just love that? To grow vigorously…especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

Anastasis Academy has become “a particularly favorable environment” and now for some intention: to flourish!

Flourish reminds me that I have more. More to contribute to the changing landscape of education. More to give to the students whose lives we impact with our important work. But flourishing is bigger. Flourishing is extravagant. It’s vigorous. It’s more.

I could not be more thrilled to announce the 4th annual 5Sigma Education Conference and the INCREDIBLE line up that we have. 5Sigma will help you consider how you can push beyond current constraints and truly see what is possible in education. It’s an invitation to flourish.

The real power of 5Sigma is in helping you see what is possible and then connecting you to other incredible educators who are doing important work. We’ll provide the favorable environment, your job is to flourish.

If you’re ready to transform your classroom (or school) in meaningful and important ways, we’d like to help you do that.

What will it take to flourish in 2018? It’s not going to happen by doing the same things in 2017. Join us in February and bring on the flourishing! We can’t wait to meet you!

 

***If you want to bring a group to 5Sigma, contact me and I’ll see how I can help you out.

**** Comment below with your word of 2018 to be entered for a free registration to 5Sigma EduCon!

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Hanging a question mark on the things we take for granted

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and again to hang a question mark on the things you take for granted.”

-Bertrand Russell

This. This quote is one of my new very favorite quotes ever! This is where innovation lives. In the question marks.

Too often in education, we talk about innovation as if it is something that we’ve created and something that can be owned. We talk about innovation in steps and processes and we make it into something it isn’t. And so when we talk about education reform, the conversation gets centered on the wrong things: rigor, standards, tests, Race to the Top!, No Child Left Behind!, technology, better teachers, more tests. Things that end up actually adding layers between us and what we fight for: students. But educational innovation doesn’t live in any of these.

Innovation is a shift in mindset. It is hanging the question mark on things taken for granted.

5 years ago, I started a school fueled by questions. Surrounded by an incredible team, we search for the question marks on those things that we take for granted. In the process, we’ve found that questions are the catalyst of innovation. Questions have the unique ability to disrupt the status quo and force us to think differently. This is important for our students, we believe that this world needs citizens who are self-learners, who are creative and resourceful, and who can adapt and adjust to change. This is also important for us as educators. We need the questions. In a system that seems to value the answer above all, I’m proud to say that Anastasis teachers are those who value the questions. Innovation seems to thrive in this environment of “what if?”. Answers end the process of inquiry, yet this is what our schools have largely been built on.

At Anastasis we are constantly asking, now that we know-what is possible now? We live for those ‘what if?’ moments! These ‘what if?’ moments are our slow hunches that give rise to something bigger. We go through the process of asking: Why? (Why is this the way it it?), What if? (What if it were different?), How? (How could it be different?), what solutions might there be?.

Our assessment at Anastasis is testament to this process of questioning.

Why? Why does assessment look like it does? Why do we judge students on a moment of time? Why have we decided that these things that we assess are the MOST important things? Why are we okay with assessing students this way? Why do stakeholders accept this as a picture of a child?

What if? What if assessment wasn’t based on moments in time? What if we looked at the whole child? What if we changed the guidelines? What if assessment helped students grow? What if assessment could reveal to stakeholders where students are in their learning journey? What if report cards were more comprehensive? What if assessment wasn’t the end point?

How? How do we show stakeholders that a student is more than the few data points we collect? How do we use assessment for growth? How do we determine what should be assessed? How should a student who leaves our school look? How do we know if a student is ‘succeeding’? How will we share with other schools? How could we offer something meaningful?

What solutions can we come up with? What do we want students to leave us to look? What are the words we want to describe them? What can we do to reveal learning journey and forward progress? What do we do to help others understand the bigger picture? What do we do to help students understand the bigger picture?

When we went through this process as a staff at Anastasis, we began with the end in mind. What do we want students to look like on leaving our school? You know what never came up? Scores. Grades. Specific content knowledge that would deem a child ‘educated.’ Instead we came up with words like: inquirer, problem solver, risk-taker, communicator, compassionate, responsible, thinker, mathematician, scientist, self-aware, writer, reader, creator, connector, historian, geographer, respectful, open-minded, service-minded, healthy, reflective, resourceful, responsible, innovative, researcher, discerner, aware, logical.


These words are vastly different from what we generally see listed on a report card. Different from what we generally value (according to what we measure).

This was the launching point for our assessment system. The questions led to innovation.

Our report card looks like this:

UpGrade Anastasis Academy Report Card

We know it looks different, it should. It started with a question mark. It evolves every year.

Innovation doesn’t come as the result of declaring that innovation is needed and putting a plan in place to reach a predetermined outcome. Innovation comes in hanging a question mark on the things we take for granted.

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.”

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!

A Vanilla Education

The focus of schools today really isn’t learning. The focus is standardizing the student population.  What we are left with is an educational system that is vanilla.  Don’t get me wrong, vanilla has its place in the world.  Vanilla makes an excellent base, you can add almost anything to it and it is only enhanced.  But we aren’t really enhancing it with anything are we?  We are stopping at vanilla.  We are standardizing learning until each of our students is popped out the other end looking exactly the same.  This isn’t really what this global, connected society calls for, is it?  What it calls for is innovation and creativity, anything but vanilla.  Yet in our schools, we strip it all away and pass students through making sure that they reach certain standards and pass certain tests.  Where is the individualization, the flavor?

It seems to me, that in this world where everything else can be individualized, education should be individualized as well.  We have managed to customize our cars, our computers, our happy meals, how is it that we haven’t figured out that education needs customization as well?  A few weeks ago while we were driving, I asked my husband if he had a favorite teacher when he was in school.  He gave it some honest thought and couldn’t come up with even one name.  How sad.  He wasn’t a traditional learner.  Sitting and being lectured to and taking tests must have been torture for him.  He is a graphic artist.  He has always been naturally creative, innovative, and artistic.  He loves to know how things work, how they are put together. He sits and reads blogs and tinkers in our garage for hours.  He taught himself how to use Photoshop, he is a learner.  Not one teacher stands out in his mind as a favorite, someone he really clicked with and enjoyed learning from.  I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a teacher out there somewhere who could have been his favorite.  When we were in school, the connections that could be made today weren’t possible.  What if we started customizing education?  What if we connected learners with teachers around the world who really understood them as learners?  What if every teacher was a favorite teacher? With the collaboration tools today, this doesn’t seem a farfetched dream to me. If we had teachers who understood, recognized, and drew out the passions of students, maybe learning wouldn’t be so vanilla.

Standardizing is not the answer in education.  We don’t need a group of people who can do exactly the same thing, the same way.  We need a society that has many talents.  I am afraid that right now we are losing the great talent to standards.  Students don’t feel that they measure up, so they give up and drop out.  It isn’t that they aren’t brilliant and don’t measure up somewhere, they just don’t fit in the standardized school box.  These kids are still getting “Left Behind”.

With the tools we have available to us today, how could we begin to offer customized learning?