Hacking Homework

I’m on a Homework crusade! My colleagues know that I am, and I hope that the questions and pleas I have shared with them will instigate some meaningful discussion and shifts. In both Middle and Upper School, we engaged teachers in some deeper learning about this idea. Part of my reflection and study involved reading Hacking Homework: 10 Strategies That Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom by Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton. This was an incredibly easy and compelling read! I documented my notes and questions via Twitter over a several month (sorry– school life happened!) period. Here is the Storify summary. Please read, reflect, and enjoy.


Deeper Learning: A Reflection on summer+ learning

As part of our summer+ learning at Mount Vernon for 2017, we were asked to read at least 5 chapters of Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills (2015). Edited by James Bellanca and including pieces from over 20 educators/visionaries/provocateurs including Suzie Boss, Linda Darling-Hammond, Richard and Rebecca DuFour, Yong Zhao, and Rob Riordan, this book aims to challenge your thinking and assumptions about the way teaching and learning occurs.

I enjoyed the entire book, and I focused more carefully on a few chapters. These are my reflections and ponderings.

What Is Deeper Learning?

Many definitions exist, and gaining consensus on what we mean when we say deeper learning is important. One definition included here is the process by which one becomes capable of taking what was learned in one situation and applying it to a new context. This brings me back to my Project Zero training well over 15 years ago where they defined “understanding” as being able to think flexibly about an idea or concept. Flexible thinking implies a nimbleness in playing with an idea and considering its meaning or application in different settings.

The Hewlett Foundation offered a starter list of six key attributes of deeper learning, including 1) mastery of core academic content; 2) critical thinking and problem solving; 3) collaboration; 4) communication in writing and speaking; 5) self-directed learning; and 6) an academic mindset.

Learning deeply, hence, speaks beyond lower-level layers of understanding and challenges us as educators to design in such a way that respects specific content while, at the same time, illuminating the why and potential of learning that specific content. Learning deeply both starts and finishes with why.


Why Deeper Learning? How?

I gravitated toward the first part of the book which centered on how does deeper learning look and sound or what teachers do and say that promotes deeper learning. One of the most important ideas that gets glossed over too easily when talking about transforming education is the fact that deeper learning for students demands and yearns for deeper learning for teachers. The DuFours elaborate on the need for PLCs (professional learning communities). The three most salient ideas that spoke to me here are:

  1.  A PLC’s collective inquiry begins with the question of WHY before ever addressing the issue of HOW– I wonder if we as teachers and learners spend enough time on WHY.
  2. The sine qua non of any PLC is using evidence of student learning to inform and improve practice (this connects with a phrase used earlier– no involvement, no commitment). Think about the amount of time you spend digging deeply and getting involved in student work.
  3. (From Riordan and colleagues later in the book) We expect teachers to model and foster 21st century skills, but teachers don’t work in a 21st century work environment. HMW include this important concept in our work of transforming teaching and learning?

I’ve read Costa and Kallick’s work before reading this book. Dispositions have always interested me as I have viewed developing them as some of the most important work we do as teachers. I appreciate the connection here in viewing dispositions as the pathway to deeper learning. Without reviewing all 16 dispositions here, I found myself being constantly reminded of the Mount Vernon Mindsets that we view as critical results of our program. Interestingly, while thinking about the dispositions, I found myself combining our Mindsets with our School Norms in my head. Two key things stuck out to me:

  1. Self-assessment is AS significant as the assessment from others.
  2. Deeper learners are expansive learners. Habits are built upon a consistent pattern of behaviors.

Yong Zhao’s challenge to incorporate an entrepreneurial mindset into teaching and learning may seem provocative to some, but I appreciate the distinction, which he shares includes a mix of “success-oriented attitudes of initiative, intelligent risk-taking, collaboration, and opportunity recognition.” Upon second glance, what is so provocative about that? My favorite quote from this section and one on which I will continue to ponder:

“When students have a reason to learn, they will seek the basics, rather than have the basics imposed on them. If they are true basics, they are hard to avoid.” pg. 98

I loved the fact that many authors in later chapters placed the spotlight on assessment and the fact that deeper learning does not connect with our current focus in assessment. The idea of a continuum or spectrum of assessment was quite intriguing, and I look forward to concentrating a good amount of time in assessment work with teachers.

Bringing me back to my doctoral study days, I so loved reading the “next best thing” that Michael Fullan offers about change leadership. When discussing the vision we espouse, he asserts that this vision is not blueprinted but directional, due to the fact that details remain to be developed through deeper learning. Two ideas resonated: letting go to innovate and reining in to take stock. Boom! Combine this with Esparza’s description of successful change practice going through a continuum of implementation including preparing, envisioning, and enacting, and we as leaders have fodder to truly reflect on our plans in executing a transformational vision.

As usual, Mount Vernon’s summer+ learning takes me far beyond summer to continue to study and ponder on how we can improve teaching and learning for all learners.



Middle School Focal Points 2017-18

I am excited to transition into the role of Head of Middle School this July as my colleague Chip Houston takes over the Upper School. As part of the transition process, I had the pleasure of conferencing with all faculty before the end of the school year, and I outlined some focal points in research and practice together (which also served as themes in our search for new team members). Stay tuned to learn more of our progress, both as individual faculty members and as a division. The focal points include:

  • Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary learning: how might we make school more connected and reflective of real life for our students?
  • Assessing and reporting progress on Mount Vernon Mindsets (Collaborator, Communicator, Creative Thinker, Solution Seeker, Innovator, and Ethical Decision Maker): how might we share a better understanding of a child’s development in these life-ready skills?
  • Assessment as a whole: how might we design a student progress monitoring and reporting system that comprehensively reflects a student’s learning journey?

Connecting to the focal points of Middle School as well as our new Mount Vernon strategic plan, my stack of books reflects a continued desire to dig deeper into learning, design, and assessment. In addition, a focus on positive student culture has become a focus. Similar to our students, I have a long list of pleasure reads that I have chosen and hope to get to as many of them as possible. In the words of author Vera Nezarian, “Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.” My professional reads include (among others):

  1. Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills, edited by James Bellanca (an all-faculty read)
  2. Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson
  3. Hacking Homework: Ten Strategies that Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom by Starr Sackstein
  4. The Perfect Assessment System by Rick Stiggins
  5. Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner.
Trailblazers- Student Driven EdMagazine

Trailblazers- Student Driven EdMagazine

I am so proud of the work of three Mount Vernon students who are living our mission of inquiry, innovation, and impact!

The Life of Pinya

It’s official, the first edition of Trailblazers, a student driven magazine on the Education Transformation Movement, is here with young writers from around the world contributing!!!! My peers in the Innovation Diploma, Abigail Emerson and Kaylyn Winters, and I have been working at this project all year after some last minute edits over the summer, we now feel it is time to ship the idea and get it out into the world.

So please check out our first edition which includes:

A Letter From the Founders

Meet the Curators: Anya Smith-Roman, Kaylyn Winters, Abigail Emerson

The learner-centered movement: Q&A: Sparkhouse Conference

Creating Something New: Brady Vincent

Change is a Conversation: Neel Pujar

Free Ranged vs. Caged: Kim Mi Yeoh

Intelligence: Cali Ragland

Community Connections

Good Reads

Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible!! Can’t wait for issue 2!

View original post

Sharing the Well: NAIS names MVPS as one of 10 most innovative schools

Although I am dreadfully late in writing this post, my excitement has not waned in what I am sharing! I am blessed and privileged to call Mount Vernon Presbyterian School my home away from home. My colleagues– my tribe– continue to inspire and challenge me every day.

So I was so proud to document the #speedinnovation session that my partners Brett Jacobsen (Head of School) and Bo Adams (Chief Learning and Innovation Officer) hosted at the annual NAIS conference in Baltimore, MD.

The Storify linked here shares the play-by-play of the sessions.

What was amazing? The energy and excitement that both Brett and Bo exuded session after session.

What was gratifying? The crowd around the table shifting in for a closer look each time they presented.

What was not surprising? The fact that Brett and Bo exemplified one of our school norms, Share the Well. We won’t rest with keeping our innovative practices to ourselves. Just as we are committed to influencing this generation of students whom we have in our school community, we are also committed to influencing and inspiring schools and organizations everywhere to embrace innovation, challenge assumptions, and fail up along the way.


Project Pitches: An (i)Project Launch

I had the absolute pleasure of participating in our Upper School students’ pitches for their (i)Project yesterday. An important component of Mount Vernon’s Upper School program, (i)Project centers on the design principle Curiosity and Passion Drive Learning. Goals for (i)Project include:

  • Developing Mount Vernon Mindsets (Creative Thinker, Communicator, Collaborator, Solution Seeker, Innovator, and Ethical Decision Maker) through authentic learning experiences;
  • Cultivating curiosity, following passions and interests, and failing up in learning;
  • Strengthening connections (or lessening the disconnect!) between “school” and “real life;” and
  • Empowering students to pursue inquiry, innovation, and impact while having fun.

Students are encouraged to seek feedback from internal and external mentors throughout their (i)Project, and a strong opportunity to do so occurred yesterday. Teachers, leaders, and external experts (many parents who participate in our Experts-in-Residence program) sat together and listened to several students pitch their ideas. This pitch was an iteration of a previous one and called on students to incorporate feedback they had received from teachers.

The breadth, depth, and variety of (i)Project pitches were noteworthy. I listened, questioned, and offered feedback to students focusing on:

  • enhancing marketing efforts of an online Etsy art shop;
  • learning more about filming and editing so that a student-led course could be developed;
  • honing investment skills in the Chinese stock market in order to give back to families living in poverty;
  • learning (or re-learning) Portugese in order to speak fluently and connect more deeply with a former nanny, among others;
  • using filming and editing to enhance golf coaching for high schoolers; and
  • collaborating on a mixed media art piece and documenting the journey.

Each and every one of these projects, and the many others that students are pursuing, connects not only to content-area skills and learning outcomes, but also to skills that some label as 21st century and others label as lifeworthy.  In a nutshell, passion was abundant, presentation/communication skills were growing, and feedback was fully flowing. I look forward to seeing where these amazing students will go in their next steps.


fuse16 Summary

What an amazing fuse16 experience! From the DT101 Flashlab to take a lap in design thinking to the core experience partnering with four non-profits in the Atlanta area to the DEEPr sessions at the end to connect more with schools, attendees and coaches alike were inspired and invigorated!

Here is a Storify summary of the conference– so many tweets and retweets occurred, and I tried to capture as much of it as possible.  If you have not attended a fuse conference before, make a note to look for information about fuse17 at http://www.mvifi.org.