A (School) Year in the Life…

Forty-one posts later…

…I have spent some time rereading the titles of the forty-one blog posts I have written this year and cherry-picked a few to reread so that I would have some sense of how to tie up in a neat bow my adventure in blogging this year.  Rather than regurgitate that which you are welcome to reread yourself, I though I would share an illustrative anecdote that took place last week:

I received an email a few weeks ago from the head of a community day school in the Midwest asking if I would be willing to Skype with her and her technology teacher about how our school began its path towards 21st Century Learning.  I went through some of my prior blog posts, did a little searching on Twitter, reviewed a chapter or two in Curriculum 21 and scheduled the call.  We had a lovely hour-long chat on Skype – during which I had occasion to reference, among other things, blogfolios, digital farms, back-channels, digital immigrants, nings, wikis and GoogleDocs.  It was a very nice call and I look forward to continued collaboration with our new friends.

When it comes to reflecting on my own work and having that reflection made transparent – one raison d’être for having a blog in the first place – my big takeaway from this school year that was, is that prior to July of last summer, I would have been utterly unable to define any of the words highlighted in red let alone speak of them intelligently. The idea that during the course of one school year, I have come from almost utter ignorance to presenting at conferences and fielding requests for consultation is almost preposterous.  And yet here we are…

There is nothing unique about me that allowed for this to happen.  I promise.  It took a village (and a book) to teach me basic skills and the (peer) pressure of trying to live up to the expectations already put in place by the school I had been hired to head.  I kinda had no choice, but to begin blogging and Tweeting or else I’d be left behind my own teachers!

My story is really the story of the last two years of our school writ small.  There was nothing particularly unique about our school that would have led you to conclude that it would one day stake out a leadership position in 21st century education.  We were, and are, a relatively small K-8 Solomon Schechter Day School in the relatively small Jewish community of Jacksonville, Florida.  And yet here we are…

It doesn’t take millions of dollars and it doesn’t take a surfeit of faculty.  It doesn’t require expertise in advance and it doesn’t require knowing the end of the journey before you take the first step.  You don’t need SMART Boards, iPads, and laptops to adopt a 21st century mindset.  It is not about the “stuff” (not that the “stuff” doesn’t help…it does)!

We have tried in our school to stop using “21st Century Technology” as a synonym for “21st Century Learning”.  Technology requires “stuff”; Learning requires “people”.  It isn’t that the technology is unimportant – there are certain minimum thresholds of technology necessary to walk the path.  But most schools can reach that threshold with creative budgeting and fundraising.  Harder than accumulating the stuff is changing the paradigm.  It doesn’t take an endowment to revolutionize your educational philosophy – it takes teachers, administrators, parents and students.  And every school has those.


We have exciting plans here at the school for this summer and the year to come.  I look forward to planting those seeds next week.  As I prepare to turn the page on this school year and begin writing the chapter on the next, let me pause to thank those who read this blog and even more those who comment.  I am frequently challenged trying to produce a blog post of sufficient quality each week to be worthy of publication.  I don’t know that I always reach the goal, but I am always grateful for the opportunity.

Let summer begin…


Testing, testing, 1-2-3…

I spent an hour yesterday working with our Academic Resource Specialist trying to decide exactly which set of scoring results will make the most amount of sense for the battery of standardized tests our students have now completed.

One hour.

What should be cross-checked with what and which version should be sent to whom?Longitudinal data over how many different data points in which sections from when to when?  Do we err on the side of sharing too much information and run the risk of overwhelming and confusing the parents?  Do we err on the side of sharing too little information and run the risk of appearing to have something to hide?

What exactly is the value of standardized testing and how do we use the information it yields?

It sounds like such a simple question…

My starting point on this issue, like many others, is that all data is good data.  There cannot possibly be any harm to knowing all that there is to know.  It is merely a question of how to best use that data to achieve the fundamental task at hand – to lovingly move a child to reach his or her maximum potential.  To the degree that the data is useful for accomplishing this goal is the degree to which the data is useful at all.

Standardized tests in schools that do not explicitly teach to the test nor use curriculum specifically created to succeed on the tests – like this one – are very valuable snapshots. Allow me to be overly didactic and emphasize each word…they are valuable – they are; they really do mean something.  And they are snapshots – they are not the entire picture, not by a long shot, of either the child or the school.  Only when contextualized in this way can we avoid the unnecessary anxiety that often bubbles up when results roll in.

Like any snapshot, the standardized test ought to resemble its object.  The teacher and the parent see the results and say to themselves, “Yup, that’s him.”  It is my experience that this is the case more often than not.  Occasionally, however, the snapshot is less clear.  Every now and again, the teacher and the parent – who have been in healthy and frequent communication all the year long – both look at the snapshot and say to themselves, “Who is this kid?”

When that happens and when there is plenty of other rich data – report cards, prior years’ tests, portfolios, assessments, etc. OR teacher’s notes from the testing which reveal anxiety, sleepiness, etc. – it is okay to decide that someone put their thumb on the camera that day (or that part of the test) and discard the snapshot altogether.

Okay, you might say, but besides either telling us what we already know OR deciding that it isn’t telling us anything meaningful, what can we learn?

Good question!

Here is what I expect to learn from standardized testing in our school if our benchmarks and standards are in alignment with the test we have chosen to take:

Individual Students:

Do we see any trends worth noting?  If the overall scores go statistically significantly down in each area year after year that would definitely be an indication that something is amiss (especially if it correlates to grades).  If a specific section goes statistically significantly down year after year, that would be an important sign to pay attention to as well.  Is there a dramatic and unexpected change in any section or overall in this year’s test?

The answers to all of the above would require conversation with teachers, references to prior tests and a thorough investigation of the rest of the data to determine if we have, indeed, discovered something worth knowing and acting upon.

This is why, beginning this year, we will be scheduling individual meetings with parents in our school to personally discuss and unpack any test result that comes back with statistically significant changes (either positive or negative) from prior years’ testing.

The results themselves are not exactly customer friendly.  There are a lot of numbers and statistics to digest, “stanines” and “percentiles” and whatnot.  It is not easy to read and interpret the results without someone who understands them guiding you.  As the educators, we feel it is our responsibility to be those guides.

Individual Classes:

Needless to say (but you just said it!), if an entire class’ scores took a dramatic turn from one year to the next it would be worth paying attention to – especially if history keeps repeating.  To be clear, I do not mean the CLASS AVERAGE.  I do not particularly care how the “class” performs on a standardized test qua “class”.  [Yes, I said “qua” – sometimes I cannot help myself.]  What I mean is, should it be the case that each year in a particular class each student‘s scores go up or down in a statistically significant way – that would be meaningful to know.  Because the only metric we concern ourselves with is an individual student’s growth over time – not how s/he compares with the “class”.

That’s what it means to cast a wide net (admissions) while having floors, but no ceilings (education).


If we were to discover that as a school we consistently perform excellently or poorly in any number of subjects, it would present an opportunity to examine our benchmarks, our pedagogy, and our choice in curriculum.  If, for example, as a Lower School we do not score well in Math historically, it would force us to consider whether or not we have established the right benchmarks for Math, whether or not we teach Math appropriately, and/or whether or not we are using the right Math curriculum.

Or…if we think that utilizing a 21st century learning paradigm is best for teaching and learning then we should, in time, be able to provide evidence from testing that in fact it is.  (It is!)

So…the bubbles have been filled in, but the fun has just begun!  Here at MJGDS, we eagerly anticipate the results to come and to making full use of them to help each student and teacher continue to grow and improve.  We look forward to fruitful conversations. That’s what it means to be a learning organization.

You may put your pencils down now.

One Blog Fits All?

Time is a zero-sum game.

Whatever time is available for one thing automatically makes less of it available for something else.  The time I spend consulting with other schools (which is now beginning to happen with some small measure of regularity) is time I am not sitting in my own classrooms.  The time I spend writing grants, planning conference presentations, and dreaming dreams is time I am not collaborating with teachers.  The time I spend Tweeting and blogging is time I am not personally sharing vision and building relationships with parents and students.

It takes a significant amount of time and energy just to read the Tweets and blog posts from the variety of people I am eager to learn from.  There are so many valuable resources that already exist that I chronically feel behind the conversation as a follower!  It takes even more energy to think constructively about how I want to use Twitter, my blog posts and other social media to contribute to the conversation without simply retweeting for the sake of retweeting or blogging just to blog.  I look at the volume, quality and the variety of the Tweets and cross-platforming of blogs that some of my colleagues put out there and I become astounded (and envious). Who has time to do that?  I sometimes (snarkily) wonder when they have time to actually run their schools or their classrooms what with the Tweeting and the blogging and networking and whatnot.

So…how do we do it all?  How can smaller schools like ours find the time and resources to live up to our most basic responsibilities while still finding the time to publish and share what we do with the larger world?  In a 21st century mindset how do you balance “in-reach” with outreach?

The best answer I can think of is to answer those questions with other questions (this is a Jewish Day School after all): How can’t we?  Or are those even the right questions in the first place?

The truth is that as we have redefined our mission to include the vision of 21st Century/Curriculum 21 education, the values of “transparency”, “collaboration”, “reflective practice” are now becoming part and parcel of how we do business.  In the same way that a fifth grader’s motivation is raised as is the bar for his/her work as a result of knowing that the world is watching, so too is the quality of my reflections.  In the same way that a teacher’s practice is improved by the collective feedback of his/her peers, so too is mine.

I have to retrain myself in the same way we are retraining our teachers in the same way they are training our students…

…21st Century Learning/Curriculum 21 is NOT something extra to do on top of what we already need to do.  It is HOW we do what we do.  It is certainly way easier to say than it is to do.  But to truly embrace the paradigm shift it is what must be done.

And if doing it for the right reasons wasn’t enough…

…it has not gone unnoticed that there is a relationship between the amount of attention focused on us from the larger outside world and the perceived quality of our school from our most primary stakeholders.  For example, we showed our board a clip from Alan November’s TEDxNYED 2011 session in which he specifically referred to a classroom in our school, its teachers and students as the living example of how a 21st century classroom should be run.  Can you imagine how powerful it is for our parents and board members to view this?  Can you imagine how useful this kind of recognition is for attracting donors and grants?

In a further attempt to share our vision for 21st Century Learning with the world, I humbly offer a video put together by Talie Zaifert, our amazing Admissions & Marketing Director, of some greatest hits from a parlor meeting we had for our local community about 21st Century Learning at our school.  The presentation was largely prepared by Silvia Tolisano, one of our 21st Century Learning Specialists, and facilitated by the two of us.  It mixes basic background information along with specifics about our school – prepared for a local audience, but in the spirit of openness, available to all.  We welcome comments and feedback from all…


UPDATE – We just got another very powerful shout-out (about six minutes in) from Heidi Hayes Jacobs at the ASCD 2011 Conference:

Notions from #NAJDS

What a week!

I flew back from Los Angeles on Tuesday after having participated and presented at this year’s North American Jewish Day School Conference [#NAJDS for those inclined to Twitter].  It was a wonderful conference from every perspective.  As has been our experience at each conference our staff and I have had the privilege to present at (PEJE, FCIS, JEA, etc.) or to host at our school, you come away invigorated at having met other trailblazers treading a similar path towards the future and excited by how far along that path you, in fact, are.

And let me unabashedly state for the record: We Are.

The story of how a (relatively) mid-sized K-8 Solomon Schechter Day School in Jacksonville, Florida stumbled into the eye of the 21st century learning hurricane continues to inspire all of us – parents, students, faculty, donors and community supporters – to keep the ball rolling.  We are onto something special here and I grow ever-confident each day that is only a question of when, no longer if, that will translate into all the dreams dreamt once upon a time nearly 50 years ago by those who birthed this school into existence; dreams nurtured with love and care by generations of administrators, clergy, teachers, parents and students; dreams that a Jewish Day School would not only offer outstanding Jewish Studies, but could be a model of rigorous, future-thinking (now “21st Century Learning/Curriculum 21”), and the highest-of-quality secular academics; dreams on their way to coming true.

Those dreams have not yet been realized; we are not that school yet…but each day we work our hearts out to grow one day closer.

Here’s a fantastic example of our team at work:

How awesome is that?  I can talk about “Curriculum 21” and what it means to be a school dedicated to “21st Century Learning,” but nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes!  [If you want to add a “quality comment” of your own click here!]

So…what else is going on?

If you have visited my blog before, you will see that I have added my latest obsession, Shelfari, to the blog.  What a gift to librophiles!  But beyond love of books, it actually allows me to begin to share with teachers and parents (and students) some of the foundational Jewish, Jewish educational, and educational books that have shaped my personal Jewish journey, that impacted my thinking about education, and as an added bonus, serve as the source texts for my weekly Parent University course here at the school.  At least parents can be reading along as we go along.  [My long-awaited “Parent University” blog post is coming soon!]  In the meanwhile, I have created a (largely) professional Shelfari profile you are welcome to peruse.  (NOTE: There are some number of fiction novels on the shelves.  I have been careful about the appropriateness of titles, but there are books that deal with mature themes and may include mature language.  Be forewarned should you let your child browse.  I realize I have made this sound so much more interesting that it actually is.)

Happy reading!

My Ningdom for an Eighth Day of the Week!

What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been!

I successfully avoided the blizzard that hit the Northeast weekend before last by skipping out a tad early from the Jewish Educators Assembly 59th Annual Conference.  This conference, for Conservative Jewish educators, was titled  “From Sinai to Cyberspace” and I had an opportunity to present on “21st Century Learning” to my colleagues.  The whole conference was enriching and validating – it is always nice to see the excitement from your colleagues for the work you are doing.  It was a positive experience all around. [Check out the Twitter feed from the conference here!]

I beat the snow and was rewarded by the unique opportunity to watch my Fourth & Fifth Grade students sing with Barry Manilow!  How fantastic is this:

My reward?  The flu!

And at the WORST possible time because I missed our Professional Day!  Thank God we had done the prep work and one of our 21st Century Learning teachers, Andrea Hernandez, stepped in to facilitate a great day of reflection and collaboration for our teachers.  The topic of the day was “Putting Your Cards On The Table”…which if it sounds familiar, was the topic of a prior blog post of mine.  Teachers had their opportunity to reflect and share their personal educational philosophies as a means towards developing a consensus moving forward.  Many teachers utilized our school’s ning as the vehicle for sharing.

The ning is a private, closed conversation, but I wanted to share with you my [edited] comments to the teachers from my “ning blog post” (confused yet!) because it will help you understand why it will have been well worth closing school for a day…

“Shalom Chevre!

I just spent the last hour reading through the blog posts many of you have put up about your own individual teaching philosophies and the comments that have been flowing back and forth.  How wonderful it is to read your words and see your passion for children, for learning, and for this profession we have all chosen to dedicate our lives to!  To say I wish I had been there, is an understatement.  I was devastated to have missed it and indebted to Andrea for taking the lead on what from all accounts was a nourishing and meaningful day of reflection and sharing.

I take to the ning blog not to share my vision or philosophy of education because I have done so already on my professional blog.  I take to the ning blog for the purpose of connecting some dots…

We have worked hard together these few months together, so hard, and it is both appreciated and making a real difference in the lives of our students and school.

Dot #1: Benchmarks & Standards

Our most tangible achievement has been the first drafting of “Benchmarks & Standards”. This is what we believe our children ought to learn/know/be able to do by the end of each year.  Next steps?  Pulling out strands (Mathematics, Science, etc.) and ensuring they truly flow vertically from Grades K-8.

Dot #2: Educational Philosophy

Beginning with our school’s mission statement, my initial blog post, and now with all your entries and comments, a consensus of sorts is forming.  We believe in differentiated instruction.  We believe in individualized attention.  We believe in “A Floor, But No Ceiling”.  We believe in the dignity of children.  We believe in the dignity of teachers.  We believe in building bridges with parents to form partnerships.  We believe in depth over breadth.  We believe a Jewish Day School can offer a rigorous, private school secular education through a 21st century mindset while still providing the highest-quality Jewish education available – all during one very action-packed school day!


Let’s connect some dots…

…we now know what we want to teach and we know how we (ideally) want to teach.  We now have to decide which materials and books are the best ones to do this.  Recognizing that no textbook is perfect and that ANY substantive change in curriculum is likely to REQUIRE teacher training, this is the time to have that conversation, do some research, and make…decisions.

The cards truly are on the table…and now they are waiting for you to pick them up and play a hand.

Kol tuv, Jon”

And so the next couple of months will continue our exciting adventure as we make sure that the books and materials we use in our school are the right ones to teach what we say we are teaching in the way we say we believe children learn best.

And we could all probably use an eighth day of the week to get it done!

I’m off to Los Angeles on Sunday for the North American Jewish Day School Conference. The topic for the conference is “The High Performance, High-Tech Jewish Day School of the (Very Near) Future” and I am thrilled that I will again have an opportunity to present on “21st Century Learning” and some of the exciting things we are doing here in our school.  As always, I will do my best to tweet from the conference.  I am taking fistfuls of echinacea so that when I get home from this conference, I’ll be right back at it!



Leap of Fact

There they are…these are some actual members of our current Class of 2023.  All the talk and rhetoric about what we could be, what we ought to be – it is all for these children. They are not an educational theory to be debated; they are flesh and blood children to be educated.  What we do now matters not in the abstract realm of philosophy, but in the practical realm of whether these girls and boys will be prepared for success in the 21st century in all the ways academic, social and Jewish that can be defined.  They – and all of the children in our school – are what it is really about.  They are the reminder and the inspiration; the goal and the promise.

January this year brings us a wonderful confluence of events – the publication and mailing of enrollment materials for the 2011-2012 academic year and the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat – a holiday celebrating, among many things, the planting of seeds and the harvesting of fruits.  I always marvel when the rhythm of Jewish living intersects with the rhythm of school life – it never fails to create meaningful and new connections.

And so the time has come to see how well we have sown the the seeds of confidence and competence; love and caring; rigor and renewal; energy and enthusiasm – have we begun to deliver on the rightfully lofty academic, spiritual, emotional and social expectations our children and parents have for us?

Those who study the phenomenology (I hear I am supposed to include at least one word per blogpost that requires being looked up.  I linked it for you this time.  This time.) of religion often refer to Kierkegaard‘s (OK, I may be showing off now) so-called “leap of faith” describing what is necessary for someone to become a believer.  The “leap of faith” is predicated on the notion that one cannot really know (at least in scientific terms) religious truth and so in the end it is a matter of faith.

As enrollment packets find their ways into parents’ hands all across America, all of us involved in the sacred and holy task of educating children look to this time of year and hope we have nurtured the seeds we have sown with success.  We are not looking for parents to make a leap of faith and enroll their children in our schools.  We are looking for parents to make a leap of fact and enroll their children in our schools – confident that our school is the right place for their children to receive the education they want and deserve.

The seeds were planted during the summer.  They were watered and nurtured during the fall and into the winter.  As winter moves on (even in Florida!) and slowly moves towards spring, the faculty, staff , lay leaders, donors, supporters and administration of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School look forward to a rich and satisfying harvest.

We look forward to many, many leaps of fact.

[Want more facts?  Check out this podcast with Alan November, interviewing our teachers and students!]


Wordle Up!

The smell of crispy latkes and sugary doughnuts is starting to slowly recede from the building as another Chanukah has come and gone.  We are now in that unique window between Chanukah and Winter Break – when both student and teacher eagerly anticipates a much-needed vacation after all the hard work and effort that has been poured into a most exciting and successful beginning to our year.  A few interesting threads are coming together at a moment when our secular calendar affords us an opportunity for reflection. (The nice thing about a shared identity is that we have plenty of holidays, new years, and chances to reflect!)

Under the leadership of our 21st Century Learning Team of Silvia Tolisano and Andrea Hernandez we hosted a conversation of local (and not-so-local) Technology and Curriculum Coordinators this past week at our school.  [The meeting grew out of our recent experience at the FCIS (Florida Council of Independent Schools) Conference of having so many of our teachers present on how we are utilizing a 21st Century Learning approach at our school and receiving such positive feedback.]  We are proud, especially for a school our size, to play a leadership role in our local community.  So…the thread of “21st Century Learning” and “Curriculum 21” was made more explicit for me this week.

Another thread has been the beginning of our formal observation period.  I am in the midst of observing and conversing with all our teachers about the work that they do.  It is amongst my favorite (and, yes, time-consuming) tasks because we get to focus in on what we all are here for – teaching and learning.  So far I have been pleased with what I am seeing and enjoying the opportunity for dialogue.

I am also finishing up the first “semester” of my “Parent University” class for parents of students in our school.  It has been a wonderful first experience and I promise that I am learning at least much as I am teaching.  I am looking forward to continuing to study with my two groups and hopefully adding some new people after Winter Break.  Another thread…

What I will use to tie it together will be a Wordle

I realize that I am late to Wordle, but having seen a few teachers make use of it during their observations, I’m discovering it for the first time and loving it.  In a nutshell, Wordle (through an algorithm only it knows) takes any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  What is great about it, is not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a Wordle representing the sum of  all its written content.

So…as an experiment in the spirit of reflection, I created a Wordle of this blog:

How awesome is that?

Is it a perfect reflection of the blog?  Probably not (mine has “Christmas” larger than “Chanukah”!), but it hits most of the high notes.  It helps me realize what I’ve been emphasizing (or over-emphasizing) or what is missing that perhaps I thought was there.  Either way it really gets you thinking…

Of course, I immediately thought of a thousand fun ways to use Wordle – should I check every classroom blog that way?  My dissertation?  The Torah?  Our school’s Behavior Code of Conduct?

How fun!

So…let’s Wordle Up!  Find a text that is meaningful to you, create a Wordle, and find a way to share it.  The wordle is waiting!

Postscripts from PEJE

I just spent the last few minutes scrolling through my “handwritten” notes that I emailed myself from my iPad from this year’s 2010 PEJE Assembly for Advancing the Jewish Day School Field.  Here, for example, is a page of handiwork:

Besides serving as evidence as to why my “Handwriting” grades in elementary school were always poor and why I failed “Board Writing” in grad school, this particular page of notes served as a reminder to something that seems obvious, but actually requires a lot of planning – and at our school both a paradigm shift and an investment in faculty.  The reminder is that schools that are serious about teaching students how to work well in teams need to dedicate time to allowing (and sometimes coaching) teachers to work in teams.  Like so much else of what we preach, the message is best received when we practice – in Hebrew we say we are serving as dugmaot, exemplars.

The third part of my rudimentary equation deals with the financial ramifications for committing to such a philosophy.  They say your budget is your most honest reflection of your values, putting your money where your mouth is and all.  In our school where the majority of teachers are less-than-full-time, this is a very significant issue.  If we believe that our students ought to participate in high-quality cooperative learning experiences and that in order to do so our teachers need the time to plan high-quality cooperating learning experiences by planning together cooperatively, then we need to dedicate time for our teachers to cooperate.  (How’s that for a sentence?)  Time that cannot come out of their teaching time.  Time that cannot come out of their prep time.  Yet additional planning time – and that time will cost money and that money has to be reflected in the budget.  And so the circle of life continues…this is a challenge we shall be exploring in the future months.  Stay tuned.

And that was from one page of my twenty-seven handwritten notes!

I have twenty-six other pages of thoughts and doodles that sparked or will spark other thoughts and ideas that will find their way into the lifeblood of our school through the conversations and programs they will generate.  Ideas about alumni programs, development issues, effective communication, team-building and more.

In addition to the new ideas and people I was exposed to at the conference, it was also an opportunity to reconnect to old friends and colleagues and to take stock of where I am in the field and where our school sits in the marketplace.  Since this is a professional blog and not a personal blog (God bless those who have the time to do both!), suffice it to say that I am in a happy place.  More importantly for this forum, our school seems to be in a happy place as well.  There is so much more for us to do and to be – and I think the group of us who went together all came back similarly validated by what we do well (21st Century Learning, Website Marketing, and Governance for examples) and energized for the challenges ahead (Alumni Relations for example).  We are heading upwards and onwards into the future.  We, too, have a firm floor, but no ceiling on hopes and dreams.

I tried to make good on my promise to explore the power of Twitter by both tweeting on a much more regular basis and by lending my voice, through Twitter, to the general conversation that both was and is taking place through the #pejeassembly “hash-tag”.  If you follow that last link you can view the collective wit and wisdom of all those who had something to share from the conference and if you have a Twitter account you can join in the fun.  As I began to explore in my last blogpost, these conversations are part of the public record, as are all the tweets ever tweeted on Twitter (say that five times fast!).  As always, I invite your comments and contributions to that and any other conversation in whatever way you find most comfortable.

In the meanwhile, I will enjoy a well-deserved restful Shabbat and will try very hard to care about the Florida-Georgia game, even though I left my heart in UC Berkeley.

Go Gators?!  (Go Bears!)

Transparency as Pedagogy

“A Floor, But No Ceiling?”  Sure…but what about walls?

I had an interesting conversation this morning with our Admissions & Marketing Director and one of our 21st Century Learning Teachers…

We believe we are striking out on a relatively uncharted path when it comes to 21st Century Learning because we believe it is the (only) best way forward to improving the quality and relevance of what we do.  There are many facets to this approach which have been blogged about by me and certainly much better and with much more detail by others (start with our own school’s blog for 21st century learning and dig as deep you wish).  One important component of the paradigm shift is the emphasis on transparency. What does it mean to be transparent?  Transparency can mean more than one thing, but you cannot tear down the walls and expect that people will only peer in.

This came up because we are struggling to apply a 20th century media release to a 21st century school.  It was simple to know which students could be included in newspaper and bulletin articles and which could not.  It was simple to know which names you could publish with a photo and which had to be left nameless.  When “media” was exclusively print, it wasn’t complicated.  And even when websites were created, they were largely static and so it wasn’t much different.  But now?  What happens when a student wants to comment on a teacher blogpost?  What happens when a student’s voice is captured in a podcast?  What happens if in order to participate in a 21st century learning experience you have to be part of a global conversation?

What I think it boils down to is this…transparency is no longer an expression of customer service or an opportunity for savvy public relations.  Transparency is now pedagogy – and that is where the paradigm shift occurs.  When you tear down the walls, you encourage interactivity not just because it is fun to know that other people may see or read or hear or watch what you are doing, but because their feedback to your work becomes part of the process of doing your work.  Transparency becomes pedagogy.

There are implications and they are not all easily resolved.  Take for example the digital portfolio.  We are piloting a digital portfolio program in all of our grades, but focusing in particular in Grade K, 5, & 8.  In each grade, however, the emphasis is on allowing students (in a developmentally appropriate way) to be co-creators of their digital footprint – they help decide what are the authentic artifacts of their best work that should become part of their permanent record.  Those artifacts will look dramatically different for different students at different grades for different subjects.  But if one goes all the way, they also become part of the public record.  Are we ready to honor the moral imperative of sharing?  Are we ready to view the authentic work of children not our own and not worry about how it compares to our own?  (Am I as a Head of School ready for all the unintended consequences of such a thing?)

The reason why the answers should be “yes” is because it is inevitable – this is where the world is heading.  The reason why the answers should be “maybe not” is because we are human – change is scary.  And so we continue to talk and share and read and teach and ultimately to lead.  The future is coming and it will be a transparent one whether we think it is a good idea or otherwise.  The schools which will ultimately viewed to be successful will be the ones who were ready for the shift when it occurs.  Let’s be ready.

In other news, I am off with members of our leadership team to the PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) Assembly in Baltimore on Sunday.  PEJE brings together every strand and flavor of Jewish Day School education and its Assembly typically draws the best and the brightest from education at large.  I am looking forward to a stimulating conference and to sharing the new ideas I am sure will impact my thinking moving forward.  I plan to take advantage of the opportunity to explore how to best utilize Twitter so for the tens of you following me @Jon_Mitzmacher don’t be surprised if my tweeting activity suddenly mushrooms.  Let the twitterscape be forewarned!

“Insert Subject Here” as a Second Language

A few blogposts ago, I was swooning (and admittedly probably bragging a bit) about our Skype call during Preplanning Week with Heidi Hayes Jacobs, editor of Curriculum 21.  I am pleased that with her permission and with a lot of time and effort from our 21st Century Learning Teacher, Silvia Tolisano, we are able to share with you here an edited version from that call.  I encourage you – whoever you are who may be reading this – to watch it (it is just under 20 minutes).  If you are a parent, student, or supporter of our school, this will be a wonderful peek in behind the curtain of all the “Curriculum 21” and “21st Century Learning Technology” activities we have been so proud to advertise and talk about here.  This is why we believe we are changing the paradigm of what a Jewish Day School should and can be.  These are our hopes and dreams for our children.  This is why we are convinced our graduates will be eminently prepared for their next schools of choice.  This is why we invested in the physical and human resources necessary make it all come alive.  And boy is it alive – but don’t let the blogosphere and twitterati overwhelm the essential point.

That point, of course, is that what this really is about is teaching and learning – what good schools have always been focused on.  So I encourage anyone who is passionate about education and schooling to watch as well.  Schools who are invested in this movement do so not to promote themselves through social media (though we do); we do it because we believe it is how children need and deserve to be educated in a global 21st century world if they are going reach to their maximum potentials.  But enough of me, let Heidi tell you herself…

If you have stuck around this long, you are probably ready for a break, but I did want to pick up the thread of one “a-ha moment” I picked up from the call.  In it she went out of her way to describe how in other cultures (Singapore for example) Math is taught as a “second language”.  This is why those students are often more easily able to articulate critical mathematical thinking skills rather than simply demonstrate computational mastery.  They have been taught how to speak “Math” as a second language and have become literate in “Math”.  Amazing.

She next drew the analogy to “Music,” but my “a-ha” moment was to imagine opening up every subject to this approach.  What if we had to teach each subject in our schools as second languages?  Our students would become as fluent in Math as they were in English; equally as capable of being a patron of the Arts as of the Sciences.  They would speak History, write Music, and think Engineering.  What other metaphor so aptly describes our goal of inculcating in our students the ability to think in the disciplines we value?

In many schools, of course, a second language is being taught and for a Jewish Day School that language is Hebrew.  Here it is not just metaphor – Hebrew is being taught as an actual second language.  But the larger goal is not for them to be merely fluent Hebrew speakers.  In the same way we might describe the ability to read music as a prerequisite to musical literacy, the ability to read (and write and speak) Hebrew is for the Jewish Day School a prerequisite to speak Jewish.  It is not “Hebrew as a second language,” but “Judaism as a second language”.  Viewing our Jewish Studies in the same lens we view General Studies, with equal rigor of both academic expectations and teacher preparations, is part of what it means to be an integrated Jewish Day School.  It is why we have “Jewish Studies” and not “Hebrew”.  The difference is not mere semantics.

I could go on…and I probably will.  But not for here and not for now.  If any of this sparks anything in you (even healthy dissent), please don’t be shy.  I invite you into discussion on this or any of my blogposts.  I enjoy writing them and they are definitely a valuable reflective tool, but I enjoy dialogue about education even more.  If you are presently engaged in this type of work or know of examples, I would love to know.  So feel free and jump in!