school

Here’s to throwing our hat over the wall…

There is this story, attributed to JFK’s grandfather, that as a boy, he and his friends would walk along a stone wall in Ireland on their way home from school and, as kids do, they dared him to climb over the wall. The wall was tall, formidable, and scary. He decided that the only way he could guarantee completing this challenge was to throw his hat over the wall so that he would have no choice but to go after it. The hat was part of his school uniform, and he couldn’t go home without it.

We are in a throw your hat over the wall moment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that we are all capable of massive change in the short term. Nearly overnight, we went from our usual way of life, to teaching and learning online, working from home, social distancing, wearing masks in public, grocery shopping differently, and adapting to a new way of life. Eight weeks into this pandemic and we see that we are capable of really significant pivots.

So often in education, I hear how resistant some educators are to change. If this moment is teaching us anything, it’s that we are capable of throwing our hat over the wall. Teachers all over the world have done this. How can we capitalize on this moment? How can we define a new normal with new priorities? How can we involve students in the re-imagination?

What we choose to do next matters, we can double down on our efforts to keep the broken status quo, or we can use the opportunity to re-imagine our system.

Who and what will we choose to support? Kids, families, and teachers? Or curriculum companies, tests, and bureaucracies?

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.

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.

This is an opportunity to engage in design thinking that will forever transform our schools. Where does this design thinking begin? With empathy. With what is actually sacred: the students.

This moment in time has reminded me how essential this step is (unfortunately, it’s one we regularly leapfrog in education). Who are our students as individuals? Who are their families?

When we refocus our organizing principals around the actual students in our care, when we begin from a place of empathy we can anticipate meaningful changes in our education system. Post pandemic I hope that education doesn’t look the same. I hope that we have taken a step back and hung question marks on the things we take for granted.

What might starting with the student (empathy) look like?

*Class sizes will be smaller. Part of this will be out of health necessity, but I hope the bigger driver of this decision is that we’ve considered the individual student first. With small class sizes, we can offer dynamic, student-focused learning that is tailored to the learner rather than the static curriculum currently being spoon-fed.

*Curriculum will be dynamic and living. We’ll focus less on what content has been covered and focus more on critical thinking, problem solving, discernment, research, and creative expression. Curriculum will meet students where they are rather than demand everyone be in the same place.

*We’ll step away from siloed subjects and engage students in inquiry. We’ll consider that students live in a world that’s subjectless and ask that learning be immersive. We’ll recognize that financial literacy, digital literacy, and statistical literacy are vital.

*We’ll remember that learning is so much bigger and more beautiful than the meaningless data battles we’ve insisted on in the past. What was one of the first things to go amid pandemic? Standardized testing. Students will be better off as a result. Learning isn’t about the data we collect, or how much content was memorized. Learning is immersive and relational. Assessment practices will be for the student. We’ll return to the Greek root of the word assessment (asidere) to sit beside. Assessment will be used to guide learning and as a way for students to self reflect.

*I’ve seen many politicians, parents, and educators voice concerns about students being behind in learning as a result of the pandemic. Should they repeat the grade level? What will we do to catch them up? The pandemic is shining a light on a problem that’s been true the whole time. Students have ALWAYS developed at different rates and in their own time. Nothing about this moment is actually unusual. What is different is that we have a spotlight on the inherent flaws in our systemized one-size-fits-all approach to education that promotes kids to the next level because of their age. What a wonderful opportunity to completely lose grade levels as a way of advancement and instead, let every student advance as they are developmentally ready. How do we organize classrooms? Based on social/emotional maturation. Who is their peer group? Who can they be vulnerable in learning with?

* We are being reminded that social-emotional literacy isn’t something to tack on to school policies or a curriculum, rather it’s the life force within the system. After physical needs are met, emotional needs are very next in the pyramid that makes it possible to learn. When students come back to the classroom, we will be met with complex emotions and unique forms of trauma. We’ll find ourselves in charge of these wonderful, fearful, joyful, exuberant, grief-stricken, complicated, anxious, lovely, overwhelmed children. This has always been the case but, I suspect as we return to school, we are going to be met with the complexity that all of these emotions can exist simultaneously. We’ll be more acutely aware of them. Kids and families will be looking to educators for help, stability, and understanding. How will we meet them? How will we commit to navigating this together? We need to know our students (empathy) and their families well so that we can meet their unique needs. Educators know it’s never been about just teaching kids. As educators we are connected to every single part of society. How families eat, work, access heath care, are supported in mental health, the jobs they hold. All of humanity intersects in the classroom and it impacts how we do what we do in the classroom. This pandemic has given us more awareness of this reality than ever before as educators scramble to fill the gaps that society generally overlooks because “someone” is taking care of it. The way that this crisis impacts society is going to impact our classrooms and the learning available on any given day as we navigate base physical and emotional needs that haven’t been met. The only reasonable response is to begin with empathy. We will need to be stronger advocates than ever before and we’ll have to consider the whole child in every decision made.

Here’s to throwing our hat over the wall. Here’s to remembering who is sacred in education and designing around them.

Unintended consequences of a system

Schools are places where all of humanity collides. When students enter school, they come just as they are. For educators, the human condition is apparent. The brokenness is apparent. Students come to school with all of their differences be they political, social economic, racial, academic, or theological. They come with all their fears, insecurities, doubts, anxieties, trauma, shame, guilt, hopes, dreams, passions, interests, excitement, and a desperation to be loved.

When students enter our classroom, they come in search of sanctuary. A place where they can be safe and feel included. To ignore this is to ignore that as educators we are in the very business of humanity and community.

Schools, and indeed our classrooms, are the very place that our society is formed. We must place the focus on the humanity in our classrooms. On who they are. On the stories that enter our space each day. To place the focus on anything other than the students is to erode their sense of self, place, and belonging. When we don’t take the time to get to know the children and stories in our classrooms, when the focus is on knowledge acquisition, on curriculum, on Pinterest worthy classrooms, on tests, on being a “blue” school, we ignore this humanity.

In the wake of the shooting in Florida, I again feel stripped bare. I again wonder when we will look at ourselves in the mirror and ask the right questions, respond in the right ways. Look at the unintended consequences of our current narrative and systems. I wonder when we will be able to change.

I’m a strong believer that everything matters. Our language, the structures we put in place, the way we speak about our values. It all matters. Students pick up on the undertones, those things we aren’t even naming aloud. Kids have an internal BS meter that goes off when our words don’t match the systems. When our words don’t match our actions. They can spot a disingenuous spirit a mile away.

I’ve read the articles and Twitter posts placing blame on the erosion of values in our country. Sometimes they point to the removal of prayer from schools. Other times the finger gets pointed at violent video games and movies. Sometimes it’s the song writers and artists that get the blame.  There is talk about this being a cultural problem.

I agree. It is a problem with our culture, but not for the reasons listed above. It’s not the lack of prayer, or video games, or musicians, or movies. It’s because we continually send the message as a society that you don’t matter. That you’re not worthy. We rarely say it aloud in this way. In our words, in our finger pointing, in our actions, in our systems this is the message that gets sent. You don’t matter.

Let’s explore some unintended messages being sent in our current system:

Subjects/tests/grades: Unintentionally share the message that only some skills are worthwhile and that if you don’t have them, there is something fundamentally wrong with you. You are only worthwhile if your passions and skills match up to those we’ve decided are worthwhile.

Grades: Unintentionally send the message that your worth comes from a number. You are worthy if, and when, you perform.

Homework: Unintentionally sends the message that you can’t be trusted to be a learner. We have to tell you what to do and how to spend your free time. What you value isn’t as important as what we value. Downtime is not important. Rest is not important. Boredom is not important.

Behavior charts: Unintentionally sends the message that the only way to get you to comply is through public shaming. You can’t make good choices on your own.

Standards: Unintentionally sends the message that we get to determine what is important to learn. If we haven’t named it as a standard, it’s not as important or valuable.

Curriculum: Unintentionally sends the message that you can’t think or explore on your own because you aren’t capable without a map where we tell you where to go and how to get there. You are a computer to be programmed.

Assigned seats: Unintentionally sends the message that you can’t be trusted to choose where to sit. We don’t care to get to know you, so by making you sit in the same place, we can look at the chart to know your name.

Grade Levels: Unintentionally sends the message that your age is the most important consideration when deciding who you should spend time with.

Tests and Grades: Unintentionally sends the message that competition is better than collaboration. Being the best is what matters.

Classroom space: Unintentionally sends the message that nothing is alive. That we don’t need a connection to life, or growth, or fresh air. Classrooms are enlarged cubicles. You’re learning so that you can trade one cubical, for a smaller cubical when you’ve been “trained” to our approval. This is what your life is destined to, get used to it now.

Gun laws (protection of the second amendment and all firearms): Unintentionally sends the message that we value the gun more than we value you and your safety. A gun is more worthy of our protection and activism than you are.

Armed teachers: Amplifies the message that you are not safe at school. School is not a place of sanctuary.

Increased core class time: Unintentionally sends the message that movement isn’t important, free time isn’t important, music isn’t important, art isn’t important. There is no value outside of the narrow band of academics we say have value.

We’ve created a morally corrupt society because we’ve unintentionally created a model that systemically tells kids that they don’t matter.  We look only for outward measures of success. We fail to help kids look at how to care for their inner lives. We’ve taken away the dignity of the child with so many of the systems we’ve put in place in schools.

Until we name the brokenness of the system out loud, it can’t change. Until we confess to each other, we remain unchanged and the world remains unchanged. By naming it out loud, and looking at it together, we begin to take away its power to do harm. To hide, deny, or pretend that it doesn’t exist is to allow the hurt and stripping of humanity to fester and grow. We bond over our shared brokenness. We invite change when we name the brokenness together, out loud.

We need to tell the truth. Humanity collides in all of its brokenness and beauty in our classrooms. We’re all on a journey. We’re in this together. We all give and we all receive. We all have a place. The world is interconnected, and we are connected. We belong to each other.

The unintended and underlying messages we send with our systems and policies, and language matter. They ultimately shape the ways we think about ourselves and others.

 

 

 

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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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.

And then- two words full of possiblity

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

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

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

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

That’s okay.

It’s part of being human.

It’s authentic and it’s real life.

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

Wonder Retreat, Boulder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder Retreat Boulder

Changing the Algorithm: Changing brain patterns after age 25

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

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

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

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

Michelle shared the following video with our staff this week:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Getting Unstuck: Rule Number 1

The first rule of starting a school: surround yourself by incredible, gifted people.

We are continually reaping the benefits of following rule number one. Last week, one of those incredible and gifted people gave us a gift. A book called The 4 Disciplines of Execution.

There are times when we get so stuck in our own heads, we can’t get out of our own thinking and gain a different perspective. I’ve felt mired in this spot for the past few months. I can clearly see that something needs to happen to keep us moving forward, but I couldn’t see what that next step was. I felt like every decision that was being made kept us going around in circles rather than moving forward. This book has felt like clouds breaking and I feel optimistic that we can keep kicking butt and changing the world. Happy day!

The 4 Disciplines of Execution isn’t a cure-all, but it has given me a fresh perspective on the problem that’s been staring me in the face.

Matthew and I achieved our first Wildly Important Goal by starting Anastasis. Our goal: to treat every child with dignity as a unique individual. We found a dream team of educators. We stepped away from one-size all curriculum and a one-size fits all assessment system. We do the inefficient EVERY SINGLE DAY to ensure that we are dignifying our students. So much of what we have done is innovative. We have charted new courses. We’ve stepped into the unknown. Somewhere along the way this innovation became the new normal. It’s often hard to remember that what our kids experience is vastly different from what kids in other schools experience. What a great problem to have!

Choosing the next Wildly Important Goal has been difficult. I think this is probably a common problem for entrepreneurs. Everything feels equally important because we see the vision of what is to come. The trouble is that when everything is the most important, nothing can get done. Hence the spinning in around in circles. We are choosing to fight every battle at once instead of focusing first on the battles that will help us win the war. This is not a revolutionary idea, but when I read it last night it was like the little GPS in my brain connected and announced, “recalculating.”

If every other area of Anastasis Academy remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area that would have the greatest impact? That is the question I’m asking as I focus in on our next Wildly Important Goal.

I can’t help but parallel the stuck place that I’ve been to the stuck place that many educators operating within a system find themselves. As a teacher, you can clearly see the shortcomings of the system. You may feel trapped and limited by that system. What if today you asked yourself, “if every other area of my classroom remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area I could change that would have the greatest impact?” What Wildly Important Goal could you make on behalf of your students? Could you change the way you assess? The way that you teach? The way that you use classroom space? The way that you talk about assessment? The classroom relationship dynamics?

Choose one thing.

“The sun’s scattered rays are too weak to start a fire, but once you focus them with a magnifying glass they will bring a paper to flame in seconds.”

What is your goal for your classroom?  What one thing can you do to focus your efforts that will ignite a fire?

“To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, you must start doing things you’ve never done before.”

Go out and focus on the Wildly Important!

Thanks for the book Matt!

Starting a school in the age of open and freely shared

So often in education we hear the excuse: it’s too expensive to implement. There just isn’t any money. Budgets are tight.

That’s not an excuse I’m willing to accept. I know what is possible when you start with NO money. I know that lives are changed as a result of followed dreams and passion. I know that real success has nothing to do with a bank account.

While money is helpful, it isn’t what is holding you back.

Matthew and I started Anastasis Academy with no money. No endowments, no big donors, no one backing us financially. We started with ZERO dollars. Well, not exactly zero, we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $140 out of our own pockets to start a school. That $140 paid for copies of information for the info nights we held, it paid for our business license, and it paid for our domain name and one month of hosting. We hired teachers before we knew the money would be there. We leased space from a church trusting that we would have money to give them.

We decided we would be a tuition-based school, not because we set out to be a private school (we believe that EVERY child deserves access to the model we offer at Anastasis), but because it was the path of least resistance. We decided to base our tuition on per pupil spending in the district we are in. We wanted to show that this model of learning could be done anywhere, money isn’t the issue. As families signed up to be a part of our school, we collected a $500 enrollment fee. This is what ensured that we had enough money to get through the first month of school. We still pride ourselves in not spending any more than we have. We operate within a balanced budget. Is it tight? Yes. Does it work? Absolutely.

Money isn’t what is holding you back.

We live in an incredible age. The age of open and freely shared. Truthfully, it is this age that made our thriving school possible. We take resourcefulness very seriously around Anastasis. It is a attribute that we strive to pass on to our students (not always successfully!). There are tools that we use that have continued to make what we do possible. Best of all, they are free. They make resourcefulness easy. Below are the tools we highly recommend for any school looking to be better stewards of money for the population it serves:

  • Wiggio- Wiggio is a tool I’m surprised more people don’t know about.  It makes it easy to work in groups and get things done! Matthew and I used Wiggio a LOT in the early days. We hosted virtual meetings and conference calls, created to-do lists and assigned tasks, sent emails/texts/voice messages as needed, uploaded a variety of files to shared folders so we had easy access, managed events with a shared calendar, and hosted polls. Wiggio existed before Google plus, at the time, it was absolutely the BEST tool to do all of the things we needed to do to get up and running. And it is free. It also had great integration with Zoho which we used a lot of!
  • Zoho– Like Google Docs, Zoho lets you create documents that are stored in the cloud and easy to share. Best of all, they have tons of business tools that made the business side of starting a school infinitely easier for newbies. We are two educators who started a school, we needed something to help out with the business side of things. Cue Zoho. As I mentioned before, Zoho also had easy integration with Wiggio. Win!
  • WordPress– I can’t stress enough how critical WordPress was to us starting a school. It was as a result of this very blog (hosted free on WordPress) that our school was started. A parent of a student that I had previously taught read through a post where I detailed this crazy idea to start a school. The next day, I got a call from her and another parent who told me emphatically that they were ready to sign up our first 5 students. WordPress has continued to be critical for us as we connect with the larger world of education. We host all of our blogs through WordPress (or edublogs for students) and continue to use it to share what we are up to on a regular basis. Our school blog is also a free WordPress blog (http://standagain.wordpress.com)
  • Wix- Wix is one of my all time favorite finds. Wix made it possible for me to sit in my kitchen and create our website (http://anastasisacademy.com) without being embarrassed by my lack of html skills. When you have a website that looks legit, people believe that you are. Thanks to Wix, we didn’t have to hire anyone to design our site. I still build and maintain the Anastasis website. Thank you Wix!
  • Edu 2.0- Edu 2.0 is our learning management system. It provides us with a walled community where we can share announcements with students and families, students can blog, we can create class forums and groups, we can keep a shared calendar for all of our events and information (important when every class takes a field trip once a week!), and students/parents/teachers can send messages through.
  • Twitter- Twitter is our favorite way to share what we are doing (in bite sized chunks) and learn from others. I learn more on Twitter in a week than I did in 4 years of formalized education. Seriously, if you don’t have a personal learning network on Twitter, do it now! Any time I’m at a loss for how to solve something, I reach out to a community of experts and am never disappointed. Twitter is a constant source of inspiration and keeps what we do at Anastasis cutting edge every day.
  • Facebook- Facebook helps us connect with our families. We created a Facebook page for Anastasis and it has been a great way to share with families. Facebook helps us to foster community and culture at Anastasis. We share news, great education articles we find, video, pictures, etc. on our Facebook page. Added benefit, whenever we have a snow day, the kids are first to know because they see it on Facebook. 🙂
  • Skype– Skype has helped us in numerous ways. The first year, it allowed us to interview teachers from around the world. This is how we interviewed @michellek107 (that brave soul who moved to Colorado just for us!). Skype also keeps us connected to other educators and lets us talk face to face no matter where in the world we are.  We also use Skype in our classrooms to connect to other classrooms. @michellek107 is a big fan of classroom mystery Skype- her kids love it!
  • Google apps/Google plus– SO much of what we do is thanks to Google apps for education. We host all of our school emails through Google apps, we organize email groups, we create/store/share documents through Google apps, we keep a staff calendar, we manage our Chrome books. In short, we could not function without Google apps!
  • Pinterest– Pinterest is, in my opinion, the best thing since sliced bread! I mean, the wealth of ideas alone is worth the hours I spend on Pinterest. What I love about Pinterest is that it isn’t an educational site. Anastasis is a very non-traditional school. If we were limited to what we find on the educational boards on Pinterest, it wouldn’t be very useful for us at all (pinning worksheets is SO dumb, for real!). But we can also serendipitously bump into design, art, music, food etc. THAT we can work with and transform into our own thing. Ideas are sparked and hunches collide in that environment. We don’t purchase ANY curriculum (this is one of the best parts of Anastasis). We aren’t tied down to what a curriculum offers. Instead, we use inquiry to guide our learning (and Common Core Standards) and we go out and find our own resources, and lessons, and ideas. For each inquiry block, I create boards for our teachers, a launching point of ideas. This becomes our curriculum. I can easily create and share boards with students, teachers, and parents through one link. Best of all, it never becomes stagnant because I can continually add to it. As students come up with their own lines of inquiry and passions they would like to pursue, I can continue to share resources. It is accessible on the kids/teachers iPads which is also a win. **Educlipper is also a FANTASTIC tool, we can’t wait for it to work on our iPads!
  • Meraki– Meraki is so much wonderful! At Anastasis, we are a 1:1 iPad school. Students own their iPads, but we needed a way to manage them and push apps to them while the kids were at school. Meraki meets and exceeds all expectations for a device management system. It makes my life (as tech queen) so much easier. I can easily push apps directly to student devices as needed. I can restrict things that I need to, I can share documents, I can troubleshoot remotely, I can send messages directly to an iPad. FREE!!
  • Evernote– Evernote, how I love you! Every student and teacher at Anastasis uses Evernote. We use Evernote as an e-Portfolio to keep all of our work. Evernote is great because it allows students to store even non-digital native work digitally. When students work on something in the prototype lab, they are able to snap a picture of their work and save it digitally as well. There are so many fantastic, also free, apps that make Evernote even more useful. The ability to access Evernote from any device is really helpful when parents want to see what their kids are working on. Evernote also allows teachers to share notebooks and materials as needed. Super helpful in a paperless school!
  • Remind 101- Remind 101 has been a great way for us to quickly communicate with families. We use Remind 101 by classroom to let parents know about  field-trips and any changes in plans. This is an important feature when you have students out of the building once a week! We also use Remind 101 as a school to let parents know when we have a snow day, lock down situation, or any other emergency.
  • Mastery Connect- Our first year, we used Mastery Connect to communicate student progress through standards with our families. We started with Mastery Connect’s free version. Mastery Connect has grown a lot in the last few years. It has some really wonderful additions that make it a great option for grading!
  • YouTube- YouTube has been a great way for us to share videos of the amazing things our kids do and create.
  • Project Gutenberg– When you don’t have a library, eBooks become important! Project Gutenberg has a digital library of more than 30,000 free eBooks to read on the computer or iPad. We also heavily use our local libraries and take many field trips there!
  • The Noun Project- sometimes you need icons for various school projects, signs, etc. Enter The Noun Project. Thousands of icons ready to use! We use them for classroom signs and projects.
  • Compete and Quantcast– these tools tell me how many monthly visits other private schools’ websites are getting and the search terms that bring them the most traffic. This helps me tailor our Google ads so that I don’t waste time with so much guessing. If it works for them, it can work for us, too.
  • Making Ideas Happen- the workflow in this book was enormously helpful to me when starting Anastasis. I still use the Action method to keep myself moving forward and making progress. While the book isn’t free, you can check it out at your local library for free. I use http://actionmethod.com regularly.  99u is also a continuous source of good things!

There are truly hundreds more apps, ebooks, audiobooks, videos, etc. that we utilize on a daily basis to keep Anastasis running like a well-oiled machine (you can find them on my other blog, iLearn Technology). There are so many people who share, and share freely. Money isn’t the excuse.

Lives can be changed as a result of passion, resourcefulness and a lot of elbow grease.

Education can be done better, you are the one to do it.

Becoming Fully Alive

|Originally posted on iLearnTechnology.com|

Big, sweeping changes don’t seem to happen overnight, as quickly as we might like.  Thirty, forty, or a hundred years go into those sweeping changes: race relations, animal testing, women’s rights, recognition of addiction as a disease.  And yet, in each case, there was a turning point.  Those handful of pivotal moments when someone(s) decide it must be different and that in this moment in time, change will begin.

For me, this pivotal change happened in October of 2010.  Two years ago.  That moment of “it must be different” led to a school. Anastasis Academy.  In many ways, Anastasis feels like it happened over night (we started a school in 4 short months!) and in other ways, it feels like it will take years before the vision of Anastasis is realized.

Sweeping changes happen over time.  Often, they are hardly noticeable as they are happening.  This explains the 5-year-old, struggling through their ABC’s who is ‘suddenly’ reading.  When did that happen?!

People often ask why I don’t write more about Anastasis.  The whole process has been incredibly organic and hard to describe to someone who isn’t seeing it unfold with me.  I can tell you about students who are becoming fully alive and discovering that they love learning.  Until you see this happen before you, until you hear the students talk about it, it is really a weak representation of what is happening.  Here we are in year two. In a lot of ways, it has felt like a harder beginning.  This is strange in light of what happened last year…starting a school in 4 months from a place of zero.  I think it feels harder because the vision of what could be is being more fully defined and dreamed up each day.  There is this sense of frustration that it isn’t here yet.

The change is hardly noticeable as it’s happening.  It is organic and creeping.  Sometimes I overhear students talking animatedly about figuring out ratios, and exclaiming over learning what portion of the population lives on less that $1.25/day, the change is happening.  The vision is being realized one moment at a time.  These kids are becoming fully alive.  Those teaching them are doing the same.  We hear parents describe what we do to others.

This is community.

This is family.

This is church.

This is Anastasis.

This is the beginning of sweeping change, where students can be fully alive and learn how to properly manage their freedom.

So, we will go on wishing that we could already see the full realization of this vision, but we will also rest in the hardly noticeable moments of change in this journey.  We will appreciate the moments in time that keep everything from happening at once.  We will rejoice as we watch it all unfold in it’s perfection. We will wait anxiously for the day when this type of learning is available to children everywhere in the world.

 

 

***While we wait, consider joining in this mission to help students be “fully alive” in their learning.  Donate and spread the word about the Learning Genome Project.  This is the vehicle we will use to share this vision with ALL children.

What Dreams May Come: A Sneak Peek into Anastasis Academy

It’s a pretty incredible thing to see dreams come to fruition.

For me it started with an obsession and passion for creating rich learning environments where every student was recognized as an individual. In that first post I wrote:

“I have a dreams of education. I have dreams of the way that schools should look. I have dreams of kids who find their passions. I have dreams of schools as rich learning centers.”

I had dreams of stripping the “vanilla” away so that passions could emerge.

Dreams of ditching that boxed curriculum that we call an education and watching the factory model fade into the rear-view mirror.

Dreams of ending the practice of viewing teachers (and students) as expendables.

I had dreams of schools that were beautiful, that were designed with students in mind.

Dreams that education would stop looking so much like the McRib.

Dreams of breaking free of the box, of valuing students and teachers,  of using the right tools, of a school where a student’s inner da Vinci can break through, of a school that customizes learning.

I shared dreams of more fabulous failures.

The dreams started trickling into reality in March of this year (2011).  In March I started getting some hints that these dreams weren’t really all that far-fetched.  By May I had officially started a school.  In August we opened the doors to Anastasis Academy with our first 50 students in 1st through 8th grade and had hired a dream team of 5 truly incredible teachers to lead them.  In four short months we went from dreams to reality.

At Anastasis Academy, we lease space from a church building throughout the week.  We have our own wing with classrooms, a playground, a gym and a kitchen.  All of our furniture is on wheels.  This makes it easy to adjust space daily based on needs, it is also a necessity since we use shared space.  Twice a week we move all of our belongings across the hall into a storage room (if I’m honest, this is the part we could do without!).  We can’t complain about the space.  It is pretty incredible!

You will notice that we don’t have rows of desks.  No teacher’s desk either.  We have space that kids can move in. Corners to hide in, stages to act on, floors to spread out on, cars to read in.  We are learning how to learn together, learning how to respect other children’s space and needs, learning how to discipline ourselves when we need to, learning how to work collaboratively, we are learning to be the best us.


You won’t see a worksheet at Anastasis. We use iPads.  That isn’t to say that we ONLY use iPads, in fact, you’ll often see us building, cutting, pasting, writing on a whiteboard/chalkboard and even paper.  We do a lot of blogging, a lot of reflecting, a lot of Evernotting, a lot of cinematography, a lot of discussing.

Every morning we start with a 15 minute walk outside together…as a community.  We invite parents and siblings to be a part of our morning walk. Occasionally we have the dogs join in on the fun.  After the walk we come inside as a whole-school for a time of devotions. Again, this is a time for us to build community, to foster the culture we want for our school.  Families are invited to join us every morning.  We always have at least one family and, many times, multiples.  We pray with each other and for each other. We have hard conversations and funny conversations. We think together and challenge each other.

Matthew West joining us for devotions!

Our inquiry block is a time for hands-on transdisciplinary learning.  This is my VERY favorite time to walk through classrooms.  It is incredible to see the joy in discovery.  It is incredible to have a second grade student with dyslexia discover an app to make stop motion animations, teach himself how to use it and proceed to stand up before 7th and 8th grade students to explain how stop motion works.  I wish I could bring you all through the building during this time.  Every time we have a visitor the students pause long enough to describe what they are doing, the learning that is happening. I often have to pick my jaw up off the floor. These kids are amazing.


We have no curriculum. At all. Zip. What did we do instead? We hired the very BEST teachers we could find.  We gave them a base level of skills that we wanted students to have- an outline if you will.  We used the Common Core Standards as our baseline.  We don’t use the standards like most schools do. We use them to make sure that our students have the building blocks and foundations of learning in place.  And then we let our students and teachers GO. The standards are not a weight we are tied to, they are the underpinnings that make it possible for us to soar and take our learning anywhere.  When you look at the Common Core standards they are pretty underwhelming.  I’m glad they are! They provide us with just enough momentum to propel us forward and then off we go on a journey of learning!  We also have our big inquiry questions in place.  From there, we go where the learning takes us, bunny trails and all.  It is pretty fantastic.  Today one of our primary students came out to see me and said, “Look at this boat I found in this new library book. Can I try to make it?”  My answer: “Absolutely! What materials do we need?”  Together we made a list of all the materials I needed to pull together for him.  Tomorrow he will build that boat he is fascinated with and find out if it works the way he has planned.  That is learning!  Tell me what boxed curriculum allows time for that to happen? None. That is why we don’t have it.

In the afternoons we have more “content” area subjects (i.e. math and language arts).  In the primary grades this means students building the skills they need to support their inquiry.  In the intermediate grades this means honing those skills for better communication and more thorough inquiry.  Again, we don’t work from a boxed curriculum. We find the lessons, approaches, and materials that work for the individual student.  Sometimes this means working with manipulatives, sometimes it means exploring measurement outside, and sometimes it means using an app.  It changes daily based on the needs of the students.

We have mixed age level classrooms.  We do this for a lot of reasons.  Most importantly, it is good for older and younger students to work together and learn from each other; it is vital that a child be able to work at their developmental level and progress as they are ready to; and it deepens inquiry when students with different perspectives work together.

Once every five weeks we invite the parents to join us for Parent University.  This is a time for us to help parents understand this new way to do school.  Detox, if you will.  It is a time for us to show parents what best practices in education look like, why grades aren’t all they are cracked up to be, why play is important.  It is a time for us to think and laugh together. It is a time to get questions answered.

Also every five weeks, we hold a “Meeting of the Minds”.  This is a parent/teacher/student conference where we all get together and set our road map for the next 5 weeks.  Students write goals with the help of their teacher. They have ownership over what they have done the last 5 weeks and tell mom and dad what they have planned for upcoming 5 weeks.

Every Friday we have a learning excursion or an opportunity for an “Anastasis Serves”.  Learning excursions are field trips all over the place that help students start to recognize that learning doesn’t just happen when we are at school.  Learning happens everywhere we are and, if we are paying attention, all the time.  Anastasis Serves is a time for our students to give back to the global community.  Sometimes this is a door-to-door scavenger hunt for donations, sometimes this is learning about orphans around the world, or packaging cookies and letters to send to our troops.

We don’t do grades, we do assessment all day every day while we learn.  We don’t do homework, we pursue our families and passions at home.  We don’t do worksheets, we do interesting (sometimes frustrating) work. We don’t do boxed curriculum, we do on-demand learning.

We do mistakes. We do community. We do collaboration. We do messy. We do play. We do fun. We do technology. We do learning.

How do we do all this? We have a 12 to 1 student teacher ratio (or less).  We have incredible students, parents and teachers.  We have stinking smart board members who are invested in our success and trust our judgement calls.  We set our tuition at $8,000 (per pupil spending in our district) to show that even though we are private, this can be done in the public schools.  We started with nothing…well almost nothing, we had dreams.  There was no capital raised, no fund-raisers, no huge donation. We started the beginning of the year at $0 and put blood, sweat and tears into it.

This is not to say that we have it all figured out, that all of our students are perfect, that all of our staff or families are perfect. We are perfectly imperfect as every school is. We have days when the kids are BOUNCING off the walls, we have disagreements, tired teachers, stressed parents, a founder who has occasional melt downs (that would be me), students who need extra love and support, tight budgets, parents who demand different, scuffles, sniffles and band-aids…lots of band-aids.  There is nowhere else I would rather be. No other group of people I would rather work with. No other students whose germs I would rather share. This is my dream.

There are moments throughout the day when I am stopped in my tracks by the realization-this is my dream.