philosophy

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.

Education’s Magic Bullet: happy hour

Common culture in a school is incredibly important. If you know, or have followed me online, for any amount of time, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard me say it.

When schools have a strong culture, everything else seems to work. New directions, adoption of new policy, and even technology integration goes well when there is a strong culture underpinning it.  When I was an educational consultant, I noticed this more acutely than ever before.  There are those schools that you walk into and everything seems to be working for them.  You get the distinct feeling that no matter what is thrown their way, they would end up on top.  Other schools have all the right buzz words, but felt totally dead inside.  These are the “junkies” of schools.  They are constantly looking for their next fix.  New curriculum, new administration, better data, different testing, more technology integration.  When you look at what they propose on paper it can look alluring and like it will work.  Finally, that elusive magic bullet. But despite all the right buzz-words, despite the latest and greatest new technology, it remains distinctly empty.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that what schools lack most is strong culture. There is no strength and camaraderie among the staff, the students are lacking a model of what strong community looks like, and as a result the school is left looking for their next fix.  If you don’t have a healthy culture, those fixes are, at best, temporary.  Band-aids.

What Anastasis has going for it, above all else, is a strong culture.  As a staff, we genuinely enjoy each other. We look forward to coming to work because that is where friends are.  It isn’t that we all agree completely on everything (if you want proof-mention recess duty or prototype lab organization), it isn’t that we all teach the same way, it isn’t that we all use social media to connect with other educators, it isn’t that we have the best*fill in the blank*. What makes our culture strong is that we start from a place of camaraderie and friendship. That friendship leads to great inside jokes, support for one another, lots of laughter, and trickles into a culture for the school.

Matthew and I started Anastasis with a vision and a dream.  We didn’t stop there. We’ve invited every one of those we surrounded ourselves with to be a part of that vision. Then we asked that they would dream with us.  I’ve just created a community vision board on the wall of our office where we can share those dreams visually. When everyone who comes in our school can see our vision, it is more likely to be supported, encouraged and, fulfilled.

The number one catalyst of this strong culture: shared meals and happy hours. Really. There it is, the magic bullet for education (wonder if the secretary of education will ever pick up on THAT as a policy shift). When you share a meal or a few drinks, you start to learn about each other beyond the walls of the school. Inevitably you chat about what is happening in the school as well as in life. You will make time to smile at each other, chat in the hallways, share more freely.  Students pick up on this. The atmosphere feels lighter, happier. Students see community modeled. Now, anything new that comes your way is suddenly doable, because you are doing it together. You are prepared to really support each other.

I often hear, “well sure you can have strong culture-you started the school, but you have NO idea what I am dealing with.”  You’re right, I don’t know what your exact situation is.  But here is what I do know, your biggest road block is you. Culture is possible everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you are an administrator or a science teacher. You don’t have to have administrative support to change culture, you just do it. Invite your colleagues out for happy hour or dinner. Do it regularly. (To see how I did this BEFORE I started my own school, check out this post.)

There is a meme that is going around the edu blogosphere lately. It reminds me of chain letters that I used to get (except without the threat of bad luck FOREVER at the end). The idea behind the meme is to get to know educational bloggers better. Which is pretty great. But what are we doing to get to know the wonderful people in the classroom down the hall better?

Little known fact about me: I am REALLY uncomfortable in social situations. I would so much rather meet with a few good friends than attend a get together with lots of people.  I think it boils down to my aversion to small talk. Hate. It. This is probably also the reason I have a love/hate relationship with conferences. Fear of the moments of small talk. Ew. In the beginning, building culture sometimes looks like small talk. You don’t really know each other yet so you are reduced to some uncomfortable chit-chat. But do that more than once, and you run out of chit-chat. Real conversations start to happen.  I’ve now known the majority of Anastasis staff for 3 years. We still learn about each other. I asked them questions from the meme blog post I was tagged in and learned things I didn’t know. Building community.

In addition to meals and happy hour, Anastasis staff goes to see movies together (sometimes we call it professional development).  We do yoga in the park together during the summer. A few of us started walking/running through the cemetery after school together (of course we use the Zombie Run app). Sometimes we shoot skeet together or paint together. We send each other stupid video clips and songs and pictures. We throw each other cat showers. We are silly and vulnerable.

Building culture isn’t about making everyone think the way you do. It is about doing life together and starting to understand their perspective. It is about building friendships and community that spills into what happens during the school day.  Convincing someone to use social media as a method of professional development is a whole lot easier when you have an inside joke to share with them via social media. Working together to better your school is more effective when you are dreaming together.

This isn’t impossible. You don’t have to wait for your administration to do this for you. There is no permission to seek. You have to decide it is important and you need to make the first step to making a personal connection.  Watch how it ripples and spreads through your school. A close community of educators builds a powerful culture of learning and change. It also makes everything a whole lot more fun.

A strong culture is absolutely transformational. When you have a community that works together, it changes the education conversation.

As it turns out, education’s magic bullet is happy hour.

Cheers.

 

 

And now, because I was tagged in some “Getting to know you” memes, I give you the following (Thanks @mrskmpeters, you are wonderful!).

11 Random Facts About Me1. As stated previously, small talk is SO painful. I wish I could avoid it for the remainder of my time on earth.

2. My first boyfriend and kiss was my husband @jtenkely…it was in college.

3. No, I wasn’t one of those girls who had crazy ideas about not dating…I just didn’t get asked out in high school. We’ll call it Ugly Duckling Syndrome.

4. I legitimately have taxidermiphobia. It is an actual thing. I immediately get flop sweat and hyperventilate in the face of taxidermy.

5. I’m trying to overcome said phobia with fake taxidermy. It started with a picture that I made myself and has progressed to a metal deer head hanging in my kitchen. (Jury is still out if this therapy is working.)

6. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen. Finding a great flavor combination is so happy.

7. When I was a kid, my dad owned a wooden model rocket company called “Retro Rocket Works.” I spent a few summers at LDRS (large dangerous rocket ships).

8. When I grow up I want to be a rocket scientist. And a writer. And a graphic artist.

9. I have rheumatoid arthritis, I’ve had it since I was 9. It is a stupid disease and makes things like buttoning your own pants impossible some days.

10. I live with the MOST incredibly talented person I’ve ever met (that is saying something because my parents are pretty dang talented…see Koostik).  I seriously believe that @jtenkely can do anything. He is like an incredibly good-looking creative super hero. And he loves me…winning.

11. I love crafting and making things. In my own mind I’m the upgraded version of Martha Stewart.

 

Questions from Kristina:

1. Favorite travel destination: I love Napa…it is so low-key, beautiful  and wonderful. Wine is also involved.

2. How many passport stamps do you have? ummm, I think somewhere around 16… I’ve obviously not kept track. Most of them are to England, one to France, one to Israel, and a few Mexico.

3. Dogs or cats?  Dogs…that act like cats.  Shiba Inu is best of both worlds and SO stinking adorable.  See my instagram for proof 🙂

4. Italian or Mexican food?  If I’m cooking- Italian, If we are eating out- Mexican.

5. If only one social media outlet: Pinterest. I get sucked right in. I LOVE Twitter, but Pinterest totally feeds my inner visual geek.

6. Favorite book in 2013: I have to say, Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Our 8th graders read it, I read it as a result of a conversation I caught.  Brilliant.

7. What makes you happy? Lots of things. Sunsets are pretty great. @jtenkely is a sure bet.

8.  Favorite Friends episode: Dang, this is a tough one. I like the one where Rachel and Phobe run.

9. Choice of professional development, traditional or edcamp?  I like the more unconventional best.  I’m a little bit of an educational heretic.

10. If you were to give a TED talk, what would it be about? My TED talk would be about starting a school. It would be epic.

11. Favorite classroom stories: Student came into my computer lab, “Mrs. Tenkely, can I lick the chocolate off of my headphones?” Me: “Why is there chocolate on your headphones?” Student (very matter of fact): “They were in my pocket.”  Me: crickets…   Student: “I hide chocolate in my pockets because I’m not allowed to have it. It gets melty so I can stick my hand in my pocket and sneak it all day. I accidentally put my headphones in my pocket. So can I lick it off?”   Me: Yep, go for it…chocolate shouldn’t go to waste!

 

Your turn. Instead of tagging educational bloggers, I want you to have these conversations with others in your school. Invite them out for a drink or a meal. Talk. Build community and culture.

Redefining success

Success

To laugh often and love much

To win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

endure the betrayal of false friends

To appreciate beauty

To find the best in others

To leave the world a bit better

whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition

To know one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

[Attributed to Elisabeth-Anne Anderson Stanley]

Last week, two Anastasis alumni visited us after school. “It feels so good here. It’s like I can actually breathe.”- Lexi

Wow. What a statement! We’ve heard this before. It may have been worded differently, or expressed through actions, but the sentiment is the same. Anastasis is a place to breathe easier.

Yesterday I was reading “Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie (chief shoe giver at TOMS), in it he tells the story of Frederick W. Taylor.  Taylor wrote a book called “The Principles of Scientific Management” that became the bible for the industrial age workplace. Unfortunately, this thought process bled into the education system as well. Mycoskie writes:

“Fundamental to his theory were the following ideas: Workers are inherently lazy and do not enjoy their jobs. Managers should break down work into the smallest possible tasks and supervise and control everything their workforce does. Workers should be paid according to their performance over a set amount of time. Workers are most productive when driven by monetary incentives.”

Look familiar? How many students have you heard lament that they have to come to school? Do your students count down to breaks? Do they live for unexpected days off? How many teachers talk about how lazy their students are in the teacher’s lounge?

How do your classrooms look? Do teachers routinely break down every task and project? Is every single learning objective prescribed by teachers and then supervised and controlled so that it looks perfect? I can’t tell you how many curricula I’ve looked through where this is rampant. I can’t tell you the number of primary classrooms I’ve been in where every shape for the project is pre-cut out of construction paper and the goal is to make it look exactly like the example the teacher made. No freedom, no exploration. No trust that students have the ability to learn and be curious on their own.

How about the belief that workers (students) must be driven by monetary incentives? That sounds like the current grading system to me. “If you don’t comply, you will be punished by an F.” If you play by our rules, your parents can be the proud owners of a “my student is an honor student” bumper stickers.

Is there anything more dehumanizing than this method of compliance? This method guarantees one thing: students who don’t want to be at school, and have the same shallow understanding of the world as all of the other students in the system.

As I was reading this, I was sitting in Starbucks watching a new round of employees being trained. The trainer has given each employee a piece of paper with a script of what they should memorize during the training. He walks them through the steps of what their day should look like over and over. As he does this, he quizzes each of them. He walks them over to the condiment bar, “You need to change out 3 things every time you are here. Whatever is low, you will need to restock. Check the creamers, if they seem low you will need to change them.” Then he asks a 20-something girl a question, “Why do you think it is important to check the creamer and change it often?” This poor girl absolutely froze. She didn’t bother to look down at her sheet to find out if the answer was there (I’m sure it was). She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. In my mind I was silently screaming at her, “FOOD safety! Bacteria and food born illness if you leave it to sit all day.” She said none of these things. Instead the trainer got a blank look and, “umm, I’m not sure.”

I’m convinced that this is the outcome of an education system that lives by, “The Principles of Scientific Management.” Because the answer had not yet been given to her, she had NO idea how to answer the question. Not even a guess. I’ve never worked at Starbucks, but I could use enough deductive reasoning and thought to connect the question with a reasonable answer. At the very least I would have frantically searched the sheet my trainer gave me for a clue.

It makes sense to me when alumni come back and say, “I feel like I can breathe here.” At Anastasis we give students freedom. Then we teach them how to properly manage that freedom. We show them the beauty of curiosity. We help them ask questions and search out answers. We engage them in discussion. We restore humanity. The alumni student went on to explain that the pace feels frantic in their high school. “But it’s not like it is frantic because we are learning more, it is like all of this information for the sake of information. I grew so much more here because you guys actually let us explore and be interested in things.”

As an educator my heart rejoices that they can recognize what we have done for them. But for these girls? I’m sad for them. I’m sad that they aren’t daily in an environment where their humanity is honored. I’m sad that they are going through the motions to get the grades to move into the next system.

How do you define success in your classroom? Do you look to test scores, how many of your students have made honor role, how many students turned in their homework on time?

At Anastasis Academy we define success differently. We want to laugh and love much. We want to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. We want to appreciate beauty of learning. We want students to find the best in everyone they meet. We want to leave the world better. We want to grow things we can eat and share the bounty with others. We want to redeem the social condition, restore humanity. We want kids to breathe easier.

Success.