Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pure Imagination

With the passing of Gene Wilder, I am again reminded of the genius of the scene in Willy Wonka where he sings "Pure Imagination":

Look at the faces on those kids! I've read that the director did not let anyone see the set until it was time to film, so that the looks of amazement and wonder would be as genuine as possible. Are these not the looks we desire from our students as we open up the world of learning and imagination in our schools?

Now take a look at some of the lyrics:
We'll begin, with a spin, traveling in the world of my creation. What we'll see will defy explanation.
If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Wanna change the world? There's nothing to it.
There is no life I know, to compare with pure imagination. Living there you'll be free, if you truly wish to be. 
 A perfect model of the gradual release of responsibility, allowing students choice and voice as they explore the compelling questions they have, and work on the problems they want to solve.

What might happen if we all became Willy Wonka for a day or more, and let our kids explore their imaginations? Certainly, some may fall into a chocolate river, or go down the bad egg chute, but those are the lessons of learning and growing. In fact, as Willy Wonka tells Charlie toward the end of the movie: "My dear boy, I promise you they'll be quite all right."

Join the conversation...
How might you be opening up space for pure imagination in this new school year?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Strength of My Ignorance

As I re-read The Dawn of System Leadership (published last year in the Stanford Social Innovation Review), I am reflecting on the impacts genuine system leaders might have on organizations regardless of personality or style. Specifically, I am zeroed in on this sentence:
Indeed, one of their greatest contributions can come from the strength of their ignorance, which gives them permission to ask obvious questions and to embody an openness and commitment to their own ongoing learning and growth that eventually infuse larger change efforts.
This intrigues me, because I'm not sure I ever viewed ignorance as a strength in quite this way. Don't get me wrong -- I am confident there are a lot of things I am ignorant about! It's just that I have not always been willing to show it in some settings.

Now I am thinking differently. If we are open and committed to our learning and growth, without regard to how we might be judged for asking what others deem as "obvious questions," how might it fuel and propel larger change efforts? Certainly, we tell our students that there are no "stupid" questions, because we want to promote their learning and growth. So why would we have a different standard for ourselves?

With this "learning by doing" approach, I believe we can create a culture that frees others to do the same. Indeed, as the Stanford article suggests, "situations previously suffering from polarization and inertia become more open, and what were previously seen as intractable problems become perceived as opportunities for innovation." Recognizing the strength of our ignorance allows us to become active change agents.

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How might you be a change agent by activating the strength of your ignorance?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Are We Just Working On The Margins?

"We know from personal experience that when students feel their time spent in school is productive and that they can make real, visible changes within their schools, they put more effort into their learning. But this isn’t just supposition; If you ask any student when they felt most interested in their school, we bet we can predict their response. It’s when they were involved, as a partner, in both the design and implementation of lessons that appealed to real world problems....
Adults wring their hands, wondering how they can improve education in America. Well, we have the answer: an engaged and confident student body is the key to any broader school improvement effort. Without that buy-in, adults will always be working on the margins of the school culture."
Andrew Brennen (Andrew is the National Field Director of Student Voice, a non-profit group for students (and run by students) to integrate their voices into the global education conversation.)

Is he right? Are we just working on the margins of improvement and innovation because we are not authentically partnering with our students? 

I worry about this, especially since my school visits in Australia. It has caused me to re-think the student voice work we are embarking on in our district this fall. Initially, I wanted to have students act as researchers within a school setting to work with volunteer teachers on reflective practice. No more, unless that's where their interest lies. It's not about me.

Students have to be in charge of this work, and empowered to make decisions and take action. To that end, I promise to get out of the way, and to work to get other adults out of the way.

We have some initial ideas for their consideration, but then, it is up to them. Our proposal for "buckets" of school improvement research to conduct will fall into four general categories: 1) teaching and learning; 2) student wellbeing; 3) technology; and 4) physical structures & logistics of the school. If their desire to research an area falls outside one of these buckets, we'll create a new one. We will support them by providing learning and resources as needed, and authentically being partners on a level playing field. I personally cannot wait for them to teach me.

Stay tuned.

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How else might we authentically partner with students for school improvement?