philosophy

Summer Dreams: A glimpse into inquiry-based learning

Every summer has the same rhythm for me. Most days consist of reading (also known as feeding my soul) and planning for the upcoming school year. Though I truly enjoy every season in Colorado, the rhythm of summer is my favorite. It gives me time to dream and to prepare for the upcoming year. Summer for me is an indicator of space. Space to take deep breaths, to learn from others, and to iterate and dream.

Anastasis is a school without curriculum; by that, I mean that we don’t purchase a curriculum from a big publishing company. I haven’t found a curriculum that knows our students (with names) the way that my teachers know our students (with names). They don’t know our students the way I know our students. Summer is the time that I build a framework for Anastasis teachers. An inquiry guide. Inquiry is the philosophy that drives learning at Anastasis. I love inquiry because it is a natural differentiator. Within an inquiry philosophy, students meet the learning where they are. Inquiry is a transformational, life-changing framework. It’s one that empowers kids.

12 years ago (with a lot of help from my PLN, blogger alliance friends) I learned about, and fell in love with, the International Baccalaureates PYP Framework. Through blogs, Twitter conversations, and the Reform Symposium Conference, I got a behind the scenes look at inquiry within the PYP happening in countries and classrooms around the world. There are six themes within the framework: Who We Are, Where We Are in Place and Time, How We Express Ourselves, How the World Works, How We Organize Ourselves, and Sharing the Planet. I have yet to find any learning under the sun that doesn’t fit into one of these six categories. We use this framework at Anastasis as our launching point. In the summer, I choose a lens for our Primary, Intermediate, and Jr. High students to explore each inquiry Framework.

This is the time when I get to dream. My dreaming takes shape as a lens, a question, several lines of inquiry, and some provocations that teachers and students might dig into. These dreams and frameworks turn into absolute masterpieces when my teachers and students get ahold of them. Each of us comes with our own history, our own worldview, our own experiences, our own connections, each of us knows our students (with names). And this makes the “curriculum” richer. The true beauty of inquiry is the way that it grows and meets everyone who interacts with it.

As I dreamed up the Where We Are in Place and Time block, I came with my own background and ideas. When my teachers and students got ahold of it? MAGIC!

Here are the lenses I offered:

Primary: Children in the past live differently than we do today. (Within this I shared some lines of inquiry including: how has school changed over time, what kinds of games did your parents play as kids, how has transportation changed over time (how did this impact exploration and migration), how has food and access to food and food technology changed over time, what has been the impact of invention over time, how has technology changed over time, what is a timeline, how did migration and exploration change how children in the past lived, and how has literature and books children read change over time?)

Intermediate: People migrate with different reasons and with wide-ranging effects. (Within this, some of the lines of inquiry included: what are the reasons people migrate, what is the emotional impact of migration, what are the effects of emigration and immigration, what is manifest destiny, what is the Oregon Trail, what human circumstances and challenges lead to migration, what is the history of migration, how has transportation throughout time impacted migration, what is the cultural impact of migration, what is the governments role in migration?)

Jr. High: Migration happens for a variety of reasons. (The lines of inquiry included: what is the history of migration, what are the reasons for migration, what is the impact of migration-to the areas being left and the areas where relocation takes place, what are the hardships and successes of migration, how did transportation impact migration, how does perspective impact migration, what is the cultural impact of migration, what is the government’s role in migration, what is the emotional impact of migration, what are the effects of emigration and immigration?)

Watching this inquiry block unfold in real time as teachers and students engage it, I’m again reminded of the beauty of inquiry.

Anastasis Academy inquiry immigration

Our Primary students just got to experience an immigration day. After reading, “Ellis Island-a History in Many Voices” by Louise Peacock and exploring immigration through books, videos, and discussions, students experienced their own Immigration Day. Our incredible primary teachers had students dress as immigrants coming to America for the first time. Each received a country of origin and mini backstory. Each created and packed a suitcase filled with the items they would choose to bring with them on a long journey. Each item lovingly considered and included in the small case they were allowed to bring aboard the “ship.” Students were divided into classes on the ship. First class got the best seats, on top of the table, second and third class on the deck below, under the table. Each student received a passport and papers they would need to keep with them. Students had five different stops when they arrived to “Ellis Island:” Medical, Information, Baggage, Passport, and Interview. They were examined by a nurse and doctor, eyes, ears, throat, and skin checked. At the information room, students had to fill out a form which included information from their passports and questions regarding their life in America. Students were interviewed by officials, asked questions about their plans and intent in America. How would they earn money? Where did they plan to live? At each room, if our student immigrants were approved, they would receive a stamp in their passport and sent to the next room. Each of the five items that the students packed in their suitcase was closely inspected with questions about why they chose those items. Students watched, Coming to America by Neil Diamond. Pictures were taken for passports and a new identity, and nationality were granted. Each student created a reflective journal about their journey to America with illustrations.

Inquiry is immersive. Students get to experience their learning.

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Our Intermediate and Jr. High students have had the opportunity to experience their learning during this block in different ways. Our intermediate students visited 4 Mile Historic Park where they stepped into the past and saw the world through their ancestor’s eyes. One of our Anastasis teachers immigrated to America from South Africa. She shared her long immigration journey with students including the absolute joy at being declared a US citizen. Next, our students heard from a parent who is considered an illegal immigrant, though he has lived in the United States since he was two years old. He was able to share his experiences with the immigration process in America. Colorado refugee students joined our students for an afternoon of learning, soccer, dancing, and lunch. Anastasis students had the opportunity to hear their stories of fleeing a country and finding refuge in the US, as well as connect with them through play. This week our Jr. High students tutored refugee students in English and Math at their home school. In the coming weeks, these students will visit the Mango House (a non-profit that provides services to refugees) and attend a citizenship ceremony.

Inquiry is so much bigger than a curriculum guide. It’s about connecting students with stories and growing their awareness. It’s about seeing people. Inquiry is immersive learning. This is bigger than a worksheet or a research paper. This learning is absolutely transformational.

Take a look at some of our student reflections after the immigration stories:

We often don’t understand the circumstances in our world until we experience them. As we listened to the two people talk today, I realized how much sympathy we need for people that are immigrating to our country. As Miguel said, “The sun rises for everyone.” It really struck me how much joy we can find if we try to. We are often so doted on and spoiled that we expect the joy to come to us. Though sometimes we need to go out and change our perspective. My biggest shock today was how happy these two people were despite their trials. I hope I can apply their outlook on life in my own journey. -Anastasis Student
Everyone wants to see the sun but the sun rises for everyone, you just have to look for it. When people see an immigrant, they think “criminal, illegal, job stealer”, they don’t think, “person, mother, father, sister, brother.” People don’t like people who are different from them, but if everyone were the same, we would end up with a society like The Giver. You cannot judge a book by a cover; you cannot judge an immigrant without knowing their story. – Anastasis Student
I have traveled the lands and witnessed the world unfold. I’ve seen God, in seminaries and in the ground we stand on. I’ve been on an odyssey, a grand tour of our world, yet I see the light covered by darkness. I watch as two sides fight, spewing lies and frustration, placing more cement over the towering wall, looking down at us. Both sides making one massive monster, in the shape of a barrier. Now the wall has become a lens, now we face the beast. -Anastasis Student
How can you say it? How can you think it? How can you be against it without knowing it? “You have to go through hell to get here.” Immigrants are people who go through hell. The hell they face isn’t just because of the long journey. It is because of the rejection, the unfairness, and so much more that I would not be able to imagine. But, “the sun rises for everyone” (Miguel). Life will get better. With a positive attitude, a goal, and faith, the sun will rise. -Anastasis Student
It was amazing to hear the stories of Mrs. Fun and Miguel. They both have amazing stories and some things that would be very frustrating. It is not so easy to migrate like how some people say. “You have to go to hell to get to America.” Sometimes you just have to walk in their shoes and see what people have to go through to get here. It was good to see the long hard journey to become a legal citizen and the other side of seeing the troubles of trying to help your family while also worrying about becoming a legal citizen. People just have to see what people have to go through to come to this amazing country. It is easy to just say that people should come here the legal way, but we don’t realize the long, hard, expensive journey that it actually is. -Anastasis Academy
God always has the right path for you. You have to be passionate even if you think you were left behind because God has a wonderful plan for you that will come in due time. “The sun rises for everyone.” (Miguel).  It took Mrs. Van De Vyver 15 years to become a U.S citizen, and Miguel is still trying to become a citizen after 25 years. Today I was inspired to always keep a good attitude and keep a smile on my face. -Anastasis Student
There’s a long road ahead for the destination we sit comfortably in. Year after years and the road continues. 20-year journey and still the road goes on. “The sun rises for everyone” ( Miguel). Soon you will be able to travel with joy and comfort. Though one person can succeed, there are many more still walking on something they wish to be an odyssey. The dreams sit sweetly in their minds with a hint of opportunity. Let your mind soak in this perspective and live with a new lens. -Anastasis Student
Without the mountain, there is no summit. I sit on a hill watching the sunset over the horizon. If only the sun could last forever, I thought. But of course the light doesn’t last, but neither does the dark. Instead a perfect balance is created. This is the balance that holds the knowledge of the world. Without this balance, the world is broken, and the cycle of the earth will cease causing life its self to fall out of our grasp like sand. But here and now is the present and so here I will dwell shouting praise to God atop the mountain because God is the father of life. And life is in the present. This is why darkness was created.  -Anastasis Student
You guys!!! These are 11-13-year-olds reflecting on a shared experience of exploration, story, and seeing people. Show me what textbook can produce this kind of empathy, this level of understanding.
I thought about waiting to post this until after the final experiences with the Mango House and the citizenship ceremony, but honestly, I was too eager to share this hope.
This process of inquiry isn’t always neat and tidy. As principal dreaming in the summer, I often don’t know exactly what it will look like. It’s the result of passionate teachers, our amazing field trip coordinator, and students who keep pushing into learning they are immersed in.
Inquiry is immersive. It’s about story. It’s about connection. It’s about awareness. Inquiry is where the real learning is.
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Crafting an Inquiry Block and Helping Others “See”

The thing about inquiry…once it has you in it’s grasp, there will be no escaping it. It’s magic. You begin to realize that everything is connected and you’ll want to know more about all of it, and also change the world, because you’ll see things that you haven’t before.

It will be gloriously frustrating (time is still finite) and fun (because learning is breathtaking and wonderful!).

Inquiry is the way to indulge in all of the beauty and wonder in the world.

It unleashes the possible.

You’ll find yourself frustrated that you wasted so many minutes on “learning” that was less. That you spent so much time calling memorization and regurgitation learning. That you believed that learning happened as a result of what a teacher, or curriculum, or test told you was important. That as soon as the homework/project/test was over, that learning was over.

Inquiry is bigger.

Wider.

With inquiry we aren’t just inviting collaboration between disciplines, but also exploring the space between and beyond the disciplines as well.  Inquiry ignites interest and passion.

“People who are curious inquirers have a learning advantage, they will always be able to teach themselves the things they need to know, long after their formal education ends.” (Whiplash, Jeff Howe and Joi Ito)

Every summer I design the framework for our inquiry blocks. I begin with the IB’s PYP questions (because they are brilliant and I have yet to find a topic that doesn’t fall within one of the six questions). With those in mind, I choose books to read, videos to watch, and generally just approach life with curiosity. The only rule: the books/videos/content has to be a little random. In other words, I choose things that I don’t know a lot about, without an agenda about why I chose them, and they can’t have too similar of a theme. For example, this summer I read “A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design” by Frank Wilczek, “Flow the Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi, “Brand Thinking” by Debbie Millman, “Get Backed” by Baehr|Loomis, “Youthnation” by Matt Britton, “Innovation is a State of Mind” by Jame O’ Loghlin, “Intention” by Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder, “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros, “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker, “Ask the Dust” by John Fante, “What is the Bible” by Rob Bell, and “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George, “Cooking for Picasso” by Camille Aubray. I also watch copious amounts of TED talk videos and spend an enormous amount of time following random web link bunny trails. Totally random. But when you read things with the 6 inquiry questions in mind, suddenly everything starts to connect and you see things you may not have before. As I read I take a MILLION notes…because I love notebooks and remember things when I write them down. Then when it comes time to actually design the inquiry block, I have this incredible common place book to pull from. Seriously, this is my most happy place of happy places!

Degas said: “Art is not what you see, it is what you help others see.”

I feel like this is the way I spend my summers, immersed in art that helps me see.

This is what I hope for our inquiry blocks, that it would help our students see. To make beautiful connections, and marvel in the wonder of learning.

We’re just getting started into one of my favorite inquiry blocks every year, “How We Express Ourselves.” This year our lens is: There are many different ways to tell a story (primary); Our imagination allows us to express ourselves creatively (Intermediate); Through the arts, people use different forms of expression to convey their uniqueness as humans (Jr. High)

When I read the books above every one of them seemed to seep into this inquiry block. They all had insight and new ways of “seeing.”

As questions come to me, I jot them down. These become our lines of inquiry.

  • Storytelling happens through different mediums including visual arts, words, poems, music, dance, drama, metaphor, photography, icons, math, science.
  • We express our own identity through the medium we choose to tell our stories through.
  • Cultures throughout time have expressed themselves through story.
  • Different types of literature tell different kinds of stories.
  • How are stories told? What is the structure of stories?
  • How do fossils tell a story of the past?
  • Why is sequence an important component of story?
  • What tools do historians use to help them tell a story?
  • How do we distinguish fact from fiction?
  • What are sources of inspiration?
  • What role does perspective play in expression?
  • How can limitations and constraints make us more creative?
  • Are there mathematical formulas that are “beautiful” to the human eye?
  • How do animals and humans receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond in different ways?
  • How do we visualize sound? What is cymatics?
  • How do vibrating materials make sound?
  • Observe and create a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and demonstrate how waves cause objects to move.
  • Perspective and where we find beauty (including through math and science).
  • What cultural artifacts tell us about people who lived in a place and time.
  • In war, what is the significance of destroying art and culture?

You can see how one line of thought leads me down some bunny trails! Look at how many standards this block hits across ALL disciplines. If you, or a student, is particularly passionate about one of those lines of inquiry, it probably gives rise to all sorts of new questions…which is precisely how it works in the classroom.

When I work on the framework of an inquiry block, I’m really just setting the stage where our collective genius can collide over common problems. This is true of teachers and students at Anastasis. We all come with different backgrounds, and histories, and inspirations. The above list represents the connections I made BECAUSE of the different provocations and background that I have to draw on. But we all come with that, both teachers and students.

What results is beautiful and unique to this place and time with these people. We could look at these very same lines of inquiry every year until the end of time and gain new insight and make new connections every time as our experiences evolve and our community changes.

Of course, to help give some guidance, I offer provocations to my staff that will give us some common language and make sense of some of my more *seemingly* random connections.

The provocations for the How We Express Ourselves inquiry block above:

TED Talk: The Beautiful Dilemma of Our Separateness- Sally Taylor talks about finding her place in art.

CONSENSES– The most brilliant game of artistic telephone where each artist expresses the previous artist’s expression in their own favorite medium.

TED Talk: Embrace the Shake- Phil Hansen finds beauty in the limitations and constraints.

TED Talk: Making Sound Visible Through Cymatics– The science and art of cymatics, a process of making sound waves visible.

 

Can you see the depth of learning made possible? Rather than limiting learning with a specified goal, we’ve given students depth. We’ve shown them the beauty in learning.

da Vinci said it best, “Learn how to see, realize that everything connects to everything else.”

Learning Alive: Trusting Students to be Learners

As educators, we are profoundly connected to the stories of our students. We know which students had breakfast, who fought with their brother on the way in, who feels anxious in social settings, who is celebrating a big flag football win, who is mourning the anniversary of losing a parent, who believes they are stupid, we know the one that feels isolated in their classroom. We know that every child comes with a unique story, a history that none other shares. It is our business to honor the humanity in our classrooms. It is our sacred duty to honor the identity of each student in our care.

Boxed curriculum falls short of honoring the identity of your students. It wasn’t created with them in mind. It was created for a number. It was created for an outcome. Created for an average.

This isn’t to say that curriculum companies aren’t trying. They work to offer differentiation strategies, they work to “personalize” pacing. But in the end, one problem remains: they don’t know the Students-with-Names in your classroom. They don’t know the stories that walk into your classroom each morning. Can’t possibly know the dynamics of your classrooms when all those unique stories collide and create a community of learners. I’ve been involved in education since 2003, and I’ve never had a duplicate story. Never had a community of learners that interacted in exactly the same way. As educators, we have to be agile.  Each day. Each hour. Each minute.

Boxed curriculum is far too static for the dynamic stories that fill a classroom. Unfortunately, it is boxed curriculum that dictates the learning in most schools. Walk into any classroom and you will see purchased curriculum. Schools even go so far as to brand themselves by the type of curriculum they’ve purchased. In the end it’s all the same. Static. Even the differentiation found in boxed curriculum is written as something that we do on behalf of students. “We will do something to our instruction so that the student can be more successful at meeting the requirements and goals set by norms.” This type of differentiation believes that by tweaking the way teachers  teach, it will make students better fit the system.

At Anastasis, we don’t purchase any boxed curriculum. At all. We are identity honoring, and we have yet to find a curriculum that takes into account the many stories that fill our building. The boxed curriculum packed full of differentiation strategies can’t hold a candle to what we’ve chosen to be guided by: Inquiry. Inquiry is a natural differentiator, but it isn’t something done on a student’s behalf; rather, inquiry empowers students as their own differentiators. Inquiry opens up the world of learning. It’s connective and has depth. It’s limitless. It honors identity by putting students in the driver seat.

Boxed curriculum gives students a map of a city. It details the exact destination, the route that must be taken, the transportation that must be used, and even the time that a student should arrive at the destination. Boxed curriculum’s goal is to get students to a destination as quickly as possible. Often students don’t even see why the destination is important or how it connects to the pre-determined stops along the way.

Inquiry opens limitless possibilities and puts students in charge of charting their own course. Instead of a map of the city, they are given a globe. They get to choose the route, destination, the transportation they will use. They get to decide where they will slow down to spend extra time exploring. They get to experience the joy in the journey. With inquiry, we offer provocations that set them off, but the journey, that’s for the student. The things they will see and experience, the connections they will make, the growth they’ll experience, the collision of ideas with classmates, it will be theirs.

The beauty of inquiry is that it honors the individual. It sends the subliminal message that we trust students to be learners, that they are capable, that they can do meaningful things without outside scripting. It demonstrates the deep belief that we are all learning beings. It reveals to kids that their interests/gifts/passions ARE learning. Suddenly they recognize that all learning is connected and living. That learning isn’t about school, it’s LIFE.

To reduce learning down to a scripted curriculum is wrong. It’s insulting. It puts learning in a box, limits it. It insinuates that learning has a beginning (Chapter 1) and an end (the test). It tells kids when they hit road blocks that their is something wrong with them (“I guess I’m just not good at math/reading/science/writing/history), instead of something wrong with the route chosen for them.

Inquiry is about a growth mind-set. Students see when they hit a hard spot in learning that there are ways to push in. They realize that they can chart a completely new path of discovery. They begin to see that maybe learning isn’t even contained to the continents and traditional modes of travel. They explore the possibility of choosing the moon, rockets as a mode of transportation. When this is possible why would we only give students a map of a city and try to tell them that it is learning?

Inquiry is identity honoring. It’s learning alive. A living curriculum.

 

 

Do you want to form an alliance with me?

In March of 2010, I wrote a blog post that ended up connecting me and amplifying good in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, the title of that post: Do you want-to form an alliance-with me? (Best when spoken like Dwight’s character in the TV show the Office…American version).

https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/10a0aa37-f334-436c-9e70-eaec5c97266e?autoplay=false  Anyway, it was this blog post that originally showed me the power of connection. This bloggers alliance introduced me to some of my very best education friends around the world. The alliance is the reason I fell in love with inquiry, the reason that I was able to see education from new vantage points. It made 2010 an exceptional year of growth and learning. Today, I invite you to start a new alliance with me, allow me to explain below (Originally posted on KT’s Blog):

 

SMLXL

It was 2010, when I first saw “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson on YouTube. Soon after, I’d read his book by the same title. For me, this video will always be titled “When Hunches Collide,” because it is this idea that has so resonated with me. It was this moment of pivot when I recognized the power of collective intelligence. In school we learn about a lot of incredible characters in history. Inventors, explorers, accidental geniuses. All of their stories are told as if they are in a vacuum. They seem super human, like they possess something spectacular, and rare. With this video was the recognition that nothing happens in isolation, rather, it is when ideas have the opportunity to collide with other ideas that big things happen. Innovation isn’t about solo genius, it’s about collective genius.
I saw this first hand following this blog post “When Hunches Collide.” Inviting others to dream with me, voicing the impossible suddenly made it possible. Collisions started happening regularly and suddenly it felt like everything was connecting. Starting a school wasn’t something that I thought I would do. I didn’t have the resources, the experience, the courage. But when you put your ideas out there, when you invite the collision of ideas, things suddenly feel more doable. A tribe rallies, makes you believe in impossible things. A year after writing this post about hunches colliding, I was months into running a school that I founded. I was seeing my dream realized. I was seeing that innovation is actually collective problem solving with those in my tribe adding their unique experience and point of view. Injecting honesty into my dreaming.
In the day-to-day of running a school, things become much more practical, much more one-foot-in-front-of-another. I find myself doing the things that must be done and my dreaming becomes much more localized. In the summer months, I have a different cadence to my days. My to-do list is as long as ever, but the different pace gives me the room to let my mind wander, read the book that I’ve been inching through at a better pace. Each year, I start a new notebook. A “common place” book where I write down quotes I come across that I want to remember, take notes on the books I am reading, and let my mind wander. These notebooks are always at the ready. As I was writing some quotes and thoughts in this year’s notebook, it struck me that I don’t often go back through the notebooks and re-read my thoughts. I guess I just like knowing they are there if I need them. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading through my notebooks from the last 6 years (back to the start of Anastasis). All of those things that inspired me along the way were once again packing a powerful punch. How could I have captured all of this and not gone back to remember?!
It was through this process that the idea for KT’s Place was born. I needed to unleash some of these ideas, give them space where the hunches that I was having could collide. I wanted a place where I could extend the invitation to solve problems together. A place where your gifts, and talents, and worldview could collide with mine and others. A place where I remember that I shouldn’t expect to do any of this in a vacuum. Know that this is a place of willful naivete. This is a place where I am choosing to close my eyes to the thought that these dreams are impossible. I’m impatient to see dreams realized (mine and yours!). When we work together, possibility exists that did not exist before. That is powerful!
I believe that:
  • We are better/stronger/braver together than apart.
  • We all have unique gifts, experiences, and worldview that offer important perspective and nuance when they come together.
  • We can work together to spread and amplify good.
  • People who know who they are and living ‘in flow’ are the happiest and most fulfilled in life.
  • Sharing > Hoarding/Hiding
  • We should have a bias toward action.
  • My skills are limited.
  • More beauty and good should exist in our world.
  • We are better served sharing ideas than protecting them.

 

There is nothing really special about KT’s Place, I’m just setting the stage where we can unleash our collective genius around common problems. So, there you go. That is what this site is all about, sharing crazy ideas and giving them a public place where they can collide with your genius. I’ll start blogging here about each of the projects listed, give you the back story to the idea, the inspiration that is spurring me on along the way. Each will come with an invitation for you, what do you have to contribute? Who might you know that I should know? You certainly don’t have to wait for these posts to add your 2cents, this is a place where you can contribute ALL the time!
Additionally, if KT’s Place, or one of my hunches has inspired something you are working on, or you have a totally new hunch of your own that you would like to open to collisions, let me know and I’ll share it on the “Fellow Dreamers” page.
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Making FOMO our motivator for change

“We think someone else- someone smarter than us, more capable, with more resources- will solve the problem. But, there isn’t anyone else.” – Regina Dugan

You may feel ill equipped, like you don’t know what to do, or how to do it. But one thing that I’ve learned in starting (and running) Anastasis Academy: As you act and move, what to do, and how to do it, becomes more clear. Every day you will see things you haven’t before, and pretty soon a direction takes shape and it starts to make more sense. You have to move!

Too often we convince ourselves that we are stuck. Fear. Indecision. Policies. Mandates. These are all of the excuses we use on a regular basis not to act. I’m the first to tell you that I’ve used all of these excuses as reasons to stay where I am. Move anyway.

One of the greatest lessons that I learned from my parents was to step back and look at a problem from a different perspective, a more optimistic one. Quit focusing on what could happen if you act, and start asking yourself what will happen if you don’t act? It was this sense of urgency I felt when starting Anastasis Academy. It was a different kind of fear, rather than fear of the repercussions of my action, I feared what might happen if I didn’t act. Where would my students end up? What would happen if something didn’t change? My students couldn’t wait for me to be braver, they couldn’t wait until my school decided to change policies. Kids give you a built in sense of urgency because they keep growing up. It was the fear of what might happen if I didn’t act that made me start moving.

If you had asked me any of the years prior to actually starting a school if I thought I would do it, I would have given you a resounding NO! I had every excuse in the world not to move: I had no idea how to start a school, I had no money, where would the students come from, what if my ideas didn’t work, what if my best effort wasn’t enough? On and on the excuses went. Something happens when you open yourself up to possibility of movement. You begin to act in very small ways. For me, that was blogging. I thought I would share my ideas here, and others might grab onto them and put them in action. That infinitesimal, ‘safe,’ movement led to more movement. People started cheering me on from the sidelines, convincing me that I might be able to do it. Momentum breeds momentum. I’m fairly certain Newton’s Laws of Motion are true in emotional sense as well as a physical sense.

When you take those first steps into the unknown, it feels incredibly vulnerable and like a daunting task. Pretty soon as you move, the universe suddenly feels as though it is conspiring to make it so. I actually believe that it is our own awareness that shifts. Rather than focusing on what keeps us stuck, we begin to see events, connections, and supporters that we didn’t notice before. We see a pathway forward because by acting, we take away the fear to try. When we open ourselves to a new perspective, we begin to see all moments as key moments. We start to view set backs, and inconveniences, and frustration as guidance rather than road blocks. (I’m still learning the art of this part.)

It is often only in hindsight that I see how events in my life led me to this moment. As I was pushing forward, often the path didn’t make sense. It felt messy and wandering. It often felt wrong and like I was making my way through the dark.

We love TED talks, and to hear people’s stories of success, because we can see how all the pieces fit together. It feels neat and succinct and like it was the plan for the beginning. In reality, the process is always messy. It is fraught with the unknown. Hindsight gives us the ability to see where the common thread was, but believe me when I tell you…I honestly didn’t know that a blog post would lead me to start a school. I didn’t see how an edublogger alliance in 2009 would impact my journey so greatly. I was just doing the next thing in front of me. Life events influence the events that come after them. A thread seems to link them together. Of course, this depends on what we choose to give importance to and how we will act in the midst of them.

We can’t be passive in our pursuit of change in education. We can’t merely hope or voice that things should be different. We have to act. Move. Take the first step even when we aren’t sure where the journey will end up. Rather than honing in on the possibilities for failure, the voice in our head that tells is all the bad things that could happen, place your fear in what might happen if you don’t try. Act on FOMO (fear of missing out). There will be bumps in the road, it is still life, but at least we will be moving!

I’m currently working on what it means for me to continue to move as I look forward to year 6 of Anastasis Academy. Here is where that movement is happening: Kt’s Place. Join me!

 

 

In defense of humanity: what we value

Perhaps the most disheartening outcome of the systematization of education is the way that it dehumanizes classrooms. Emboldened by being ‘the best,’ our education system has become blinded to the individual. The student-with-a-name. We’ve exploited our students for bragging rights of having a top performing school. The best test scores. Better than the others. Sometimes we even manage to convince ourselves that aiming for high-test scores is a noble goal. That it will make our country strong.

That, as a result, our students will be relevant in a global economy.

We’ve justified our actions for so long and sold each other on the idea that higher standards, more accountability (read testing), more ‘rigor’ will bring success, make us happy.

All the while we lose.

Lose ourselves, our identity, our uniqueness, our voice.

May we, as educators, stand up and defend the humanity in our classrooms!

We need the audacity to step outside of a system that forgets the individual. The student-with-a-name. To leave the perceived comfort of false/forced/misguided data that convinces us on paper that we are doing it right.

What is it that we value?

Are we really willing to trade meaning for the perception of being collectively ‘the best’ because the test says so?

What if learning as a human endeavor is too big and beautiful to fit into the tiny, meaningless data battles we insist on?

Don’t get me wrong, I deeply believe that the initiatives that call for increased accountability, higher standards, and additional data collection come from the right place of doing right by kids. Of making education more equitable for all. But the goal is wrong. We can’t focus first on numbers and being competitive on global tests.

Ignoring who a child is misses the core of what education must be about.

These initiatives and education movements are 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 (whether we’ll own up to that, or not).

Who a child is, is the core of what education must be about. Recognizing that the population is made up of individuals, unique in the whole of history, who have something important to offer the world. By truly honoring that humanity of the individual, we can collaborate with the rest of the world in such a way that collectively we can solve the problems of today.

Shifting education so systemically can feel overwhelming, impossible even, but it is up to each of us to decide that it is going to be different. It is up to us to uphold humanity, to recognize the individual, the student-with-a-name.

The good news: you don’t need permission to do this. Honestly, you don’t! The first step to restoring humanity is to decide that you are going to value the individuals that make up your class, your school, above all else. Commit that they won’t become numbers, scores, or data points.

Decision made?

Good.

Where do you start? By getting to know your students-with-names.

At Anastasis Academy, we’ve decided that above all else, we will value the identity of all of our students. Because this is a core value, we’ve built it into our school year. Before our first day of school, we hold two days that we call “Learner Profile Days.” Parents sign their child up for a one hour, one-on-one conference between the student and teacher. During this hour, our teacher’s job is to get to know the student. We ask a host of questions that inevitably come with nuance and supporting stories. Then the kids interact with Learning Genome card sets to identify their learning style preferences, their multiple intelligence strengths, and their brain dominance. The result is a Learner Profile.

Learning Genome Card Set

This profile is our starting point for every decision we make. When you begin the year this way, it is impossible to think of students as data points. When you listen to their stories, you learn their feelings, and experiences, and values, and habits of mind, and gain a picture of who they are.

You can do this, you can make the decision to take time out of your first weeks of school and gain a picture of who your students are. What do you value?

The anatomy of a Learner Profile:

 

Anatomy of a Learner Profile

Student Name- In the whole of history, there has never been another one just like them. With this name comes unique gifts, passions, and a vantage point on the world. With this name comes unique genius all their own. The student name is a bold reminder of the identity.

Interests/Passions- This is where we begin to learn about student passions, their likes and dislikes, their hurts, and the things that make them feel alive. In this one-on-one interview, we hear stories, often these questions will lead students down a thought trail that gives us insight.

Learning Style Preference- Learning Style preferences do not indicate that this is the only modality that the student can learn with; however, when we know the preferences that a student has we can make better decisions about introducing new learning. We discover Learning Style Preferences through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Learning Styles

Multiple Intelligence Strengths- Howard Garner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences details eight distinct intelligences. All learners have the capacity to learn and understand in a variety of ways, each learner differs in their strengths of these intelligences. Discovering a students unique mixture of strengths allows us to better direct students in learning and curiosity. We discover Multiple Intelligence Strengths through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Multiple Intelligence Strengths

Brain Dominance- Learning about a student’s preference in brain dominance allows us to make better decisions about how we design our classroom, how we design learning experiences, and how students will approach learning and assessment. We discover Brain Dominance through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Brain Dominance

 Strengths Finder- This is where we gain insight into our students strengths and the way passion can collide with learning experiences. We use Thrively.

What is sacred in education?

There’s nothing sacred about spelling tests as a way to learn spelling, flash cards to learn math facts, curriculum as a way to teach, testing as a way to collect data. There’s nothing sacred about most of what we do every day in education, and yet we hold tightly to these institutions as we make decisions about what school will look like. These constructs have been put into place to accomplish certain goals; namely to get kids to pass a test, have a certain GPA, and go to college.

We hold certain beliefs about education because those who came before us set the ground work for how we operate schools. Those who came before us existed in quite a different reality of what it meant to be educated. At the dawn of industrialization, much of what we see in education probably made sense.

When we consider how to do education better, how to make it more equitable, more meaningful, we often do so from the vantage point of old constructs.

As if they are sacred.

As if they are worth preserving.

In the last three months, I’ve led in the neighborhood of 300 teachers/administrators/district-heads through Anastasis Academy. They all come with a similar goal: they want to see how we personalize learning. Inevitably as I’m touring people through, they’ll exclaim over how articulate our students are in explaining what they are learning and the projects they are working on. They’ll show surprise over the way that our students are able to manage the freedom they are given to choose the “classroom” they will work in. They see it, and they still don’t always believe it works. We’ve been told that Anastasis is a “unicorn.” As our visitors talk among themselves, I can hear the “yeah, but…” Doubt creeps in. They try to make what they see at Anastasis fit the constructs they’ve already put into place.

Yesterday, I had a rare moment to jump into an early #edchat conversation on Twitter (spring break for the win!). The chat was about small class size and the way that changing the class size might change learning for the better. I had a lot to say about the positives that I see from having small class sizes. At Anastasis, our classes are capped at 12. One teacher, twelve students. Once again, I was met with awe…and again we became the “unicorn.” Many could see the benefits that come with smaller classes, but immediately pointed toward dollars being too tight to ever have hope of it being a reality. I can understand that viewpoint, with ever tightening budgets it is one that can feel too large to overcome.

When we started Anastasis Academy it was with no endowments, no grants, no private backers (unless you count the $160 I put in for a domain name, information night handouts, and establishing ourselves with the state of Colorado as a non-profit). Anastasis is a tuition funded school. Tuition is $9000 each year. I did not choose that $9000/year amount arbitrarily. I chose it because at the time, it was the per-pupil expenditure in the public school district where we started. I chose that number because I believe that the type of education that students enjoy at Anastasis should be available to ALL students, whether or not their family can afford a private education. I chose that number because I wanted to show that education CAN be different, and it isn’t really about money.

When we free ourselves from the perceived rigidity of the system that we are in, and begin with a clean slate, we are free to see things from new perspectives. Rather than trying to fit small class sizes into your current budget and system, try approaching the problem from a clean slate. I hear some of you “yeah, butting…” already. “Yeah, but we don’t have the luxury to start from a clean slate, we have to work in the system.”

Try this as an exercise.

It’s not meant to free you from the system, but instead to give you freedom in your thinking. By beginning ideation away from the rigid constructs, you may stumble onto an idea that you hadn’t considered before. It may give you just enough freedom to come up with a new approach that might just work in your system. The “yeah, but” statement puts a stop to the creativity, beginning with no constraints can lead to new ways of thinking and possibility. Instead of “yeah, but” try playing the “what if” game. What if none of these constraints were in our way? What if we could make decisions apart from the system we are in? What if we had a blank slate to dream up our perfect school? What if money was no object?

When beginning with a clean slate, I always like to begin with the non-negotiable. What do we value that we aren’t willing to compromise? What is impossible to do without? Begin with what you must have. When I went through this exercise, I found that what I value most is students-with-names. Kids who are unique individuals, and are treated as such, is central to all decisions that we make at Anastasis.

We begin with students with names.

Next: How do we support students-with-names? It’s been my experience that the best way to support students-with-names is not with a fancy new curriculum, new technology, or better standards; but by the people you surround them with. The teachers, those who will apprentice students in the art of learning. We empower teachers to be teachers. And so, our first decision is made. Teachers are non-negotiable. We have to find the best, for us this is defined as those who know how to build community, how to make students central to the learning process, those who are instructional designers and don’t rely on boxed curriculum, those that are empathetic and thoughtful.

Then: Where do we do this? A space for the learning to happen is important. We need a home base. It needs to fit our vision. It needs to be flexible. We also need to show students that learning doesn’t just happen within the four walls of our school. That it can happen anywhere, that there is always someone to learn from. And so, our second decision is made. We need a place to do the learning that fits our vision. We need a portion of our budget set aside to get students outside of the building once a week. We need them to be able to meet experts. We need transportation to make us mobile.

Finally: What will drive our learning? If we are valuing students-with-names, boxed one-size-fits-all curriculum no longer feels like a good fit. It doesn’t ladder up to support our non-negotiable. And so, our third decision is made. We will be inquiry based, we will help students think deeply, ask beautiful questions, problem solve, and chase learning. We will not put money into boxed curriculum, instead we will purchase only those books, experiences, resources, etc. that we need as inquiry unfolds. We will be agile.

The bulk of my budget at Anastasis goes toward those things I value most. I hire teachers first, lease the space that we learn in and learning-excursions/transportation second, and support inquiry with resources third.

As you dream, start with what is necessary. Then move on to what is desired (realize that you may be able to fill these wishes outside of your budget creatively- we are a 1:1 BYOD iPad school because it is the only supply on our supply list. For our families, it is more cost-effective to own the technology than to fill a list of school supplies each year. As a school, it is more cost-effective for us to purchase the typical school list for students than to own the technology). Finally fill in with what is left.

Do this with your colleagues. Dream together. Start with a clean slate. Use the improv ethic. In improv theater, the rule is that you go with what you are given. This usually consists of a fictional identity, a scene that is set up for you. Ground Rules: You can’t suddenly chuck the scene mid-speech. You can’t contradict lines fed to you by fellow actors…it will kill the scene because there will be nothing to say after it.

Try employing the improv ethic at your next staff meeting. Liberate yourselves by giving your minds a ground zero, clean slate, to begin thinking. Choose a problem that bothers you in education (class size is a great one!). Why does it bother you? Then, as an ideation experiment add a change to the scene and follow the implications of that change from one scene to the next. How does it change things for the budget? How does it change things for students? Parents? Teachers? In improv they teach this idea of “yes, and…” Solve the problem and look for a solution rather than implementing the “yeah, but…” that limits ideas and shuts down new thinking. Dream big. Dream without the limitations you might ‘know’ exist. As I said, in the process you may discover a solution or way around a very real limitation you wouldn’t have considered or come up with otherwise. In a very real way, this blog (Dreams of Education) did that for me. This was a safe place to have crazy dreams that ended up becoming a new reality. If you had asked me about starting a school 6 years ago, I would have adamantly told you that I would never start a school. That I didn’t even know the first place to start.

Try following your dreaming and thinking down a rabbit hole, giving permission for absurdity and silliness. This is often what the brainstorming and ideation phase of design thinking looks like. Often solutions grow out of what at first glance appears as absurd and impossible. Shut down the inner critic- suspend the naysayers and come up with something new.

What is truly sacred in education?

The incredible, creative, unique individuals that we call students.

That is sacred.

That is non-negotiable.