St. Christopher’s School is a K12 boys school in Richmond, VA. They celebrated their centennial last year, have strong admissions demand, and are considered in the top tier of schools in the Richmond market. So why does a school like St. Christopher’s embark on a path of innovation to change what and how they teach? Why fix something that clearly is not broken?
We don’t seem to make learning to be happy and healthy a priority in our schools. It’s separate from schools. And for some kids it doesn’t exist at all. But what if we didn’t make it separate? What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy? Because that’s what it is – a practice. And a simple practice at that.
- Logan LaPlante, 13 years old. TEDxUniversityOfNevada
When I think about what I want for my own children, and when I think about what I want for all children, my list includes the attributes and ideals and realities that LaPlante shares and demonstrates in his profound talk: “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy: Logan LaPlante at TEDxUniversityofNevada.” It may be one of the best TED/TEDx talks I’ve heard.
Also this week, I am immersing myself in Tom Little’s tour of 50 progressive schools during the months of February and March. (Thanks, @GrantLichtman!) As I read @ParkDayTom’s posts, I dig into the school websites and links that Little provides about “emergent curriculum,” PBL, and progressive education. I am struck by such things as…
We believe that learning should be joyful, active, open-ended, project-based, and collaborative in order to foster children’s independence, accountability, intrinsic motivation, and intellectual curiosity.
We believe in cultivating a community of civically-active learners, where everyone’s voice can be heard, as decisions are democratically determined through discourse.
We believe in allowing the time, patience and unpressured environment necessary to support the individual developmental unfolding of each child – academically, socially, and emotionally.
Though educators have been challenged in agreeing upon a single definition for progressive education, consensus builds around these defining principles:
- Education must prepare students for active participation in a democratic society.
- Education must focus on students’ social, emotional, academic, cognitive and physical development.
- Education must nurture and support students’ natural curiosity and innate desire to learn. Education must foster internal motivation in students.
- Education must be responsive to the developmental needs of students.
- Education must foster respectful relationships between teachers and students.
- Education must encourage the active participation of students in their learning, which arises from previous experience.
- Progressive educators must play an active role in guiding the educational vision of our society.
When Grant Lichtman and I talk, and when I am privileged enough to hear Grant speak and facilitate with bigger audiences, he often says that his own tour of 64 schools in 12 weeks, exploring what innovation in education looks like, could be boiled down to one word – Dewey.
How might we work and take action to help transform schools so that more of them possess these core characteristics? Theses core values?
How might we hack school to more closely resemble good education?
From the concluding pages of Grant Lichtman’s The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned In School …
Elegance is not the province of heroes. It is here for all of us who want to emulate those who we respect, to practice the skills required, and to work hard at it. We must use the tools we have learned, and learn to suffer failure but not defeat.
Importantly, elegance is not the sole province of those we respect or revere, of those who share our world view, political party, or side in battle. Elegance deserves our attention not because it is good, but because it is new, creative, and efficient … in other words, because it is better. And if we don’t keep up with what is better we quickly lose the game, whatever the game may be.
A few paragraphs later …
The skills of strategy are our tools in the search for elegance wherever our passion leads us. … We, too, can overcome difficult obstacles and find or create these unique opportunities that make our lives full, achieve our objectives, and, hopefully, fill the lives of those around us. The key is not wealth or armies, not background or advanced degrees, or even necessarily raw brainpower. The keys are willingness, preparation, openness to new ideas, and the diligent application of strategy.
And, still, a paragraph later…
…creational thinking, not critical thinking, should be our ultimate goal in education. Critical thinking is a skill that allows us to steer a valuable course through a known problem. It engages a problem-solving skill set but stops short of what is possible. If problem solving and critical thinking are the goals of education, the bar is too low. Creational thinking, the use of content while branching into the unknown, leads to the possibility of truly elegant solutions. That is where the bar needs to be, particularly in light of the challenges that lie ahead of us.
In our search for elegance, maybe we create something new, or understand something old in a new way. Maybe we fill in a gap of knowledge, fit a new piece into the puzzle of human experience that has been forming for over four million years. Maybe we fail but decide to try again. Hopefully the elegant solutions that tend toward good in the world surpass those that tend toward evil. If we succeed, as scientist, engineer, peacemaker, prophet, soldier, teacher, designer, artist, parent, or just someone putting one foot in front of the other each day in a complicated world, maybe we have become someone else’s hero.
It has been my pleasure to follow along with Grant as he has visited 64 schools across the U.S. on his #EdJourney. The windows into these schools have proven to be invaluable to my own hope, imagination, confidence, and creativity. There are many heroes in the schools that Grant visited, and I am most thankful that they opened up their schools and their practices so that we all could connect and learn with each other. What we create with these new connections and insights will make all the difference in the world. Such is our province of elegance.
What follows is the twelfth and final videocast interview with Grant as he concluded his twelve-week, 64-school, cross-country #EdJourney. We recorded the interview on Friday, December 14, 2012. On that day, of course, Sandy Hook Elementary School experienced a horrid and terrible tragedy. Our hearts, minds, thoughts, and prayers are will the people and families of Sandy Creek in Newtown, CT. Grant and I decided to move forward with the interview on that day for that is what we must all commit to doing – move forward and create the elegant solutions together with our neighbors.
As November 2012 drew to a close, Grant Lichtman completed his eleventh week of #EdJourney – his three-month, 60-school, cross-country tour to explore educational innovation in the K-12 school world. He has just one week remaining – three school visits in Dallas – to conclude the physical travel portion of his trek to learn and share about ways that schools are forwarding their visions for the future.
Nearing the end of the motoring phase, Grant’s penultimate week – a week in Memphis, TN – found me remembering the concluding chapter of The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned In School.
What is the goal that I wish for my students? What is the common characteristic of our heroes, the common context which lies at the end of the path? What is the height of the warrior’s bar?
I believe it is elegance.
Commonly, elegance refers to a beautiful gown, a memorable dinner party attendant to every trimming, an expensive yet tasteful entryway that welcomes both the guest and the eye, a Mozart sonata. More recently the concept of elegance has become the playground of engineers and software programmers. It helps define their goal of creating an effective and novel solution to often thorny problems with the greatest efficiency.
What is elegance?
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French writer and aviator best known for his story The Little Prince, states that “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
And a few paragraphs later…
Elegant solutions are found everywhere if we allow ourselves to, first, look, and second, not settle for less. But elegance rarely comes easily. Usually it is the end product of years or a lifetime of work, dedication, failure, and recommitment.
How might your school or learning community finds its elegant solutions?
In this week’s video-cast interview, Grant and I explore some of the threads that connect the innovation hotbed of Memphis, we ponder whether innovative schools are more like malls or orchestras, and we continue to search in our own ways for those learning communities that design learning environments which truly put the students at the core of their own elegant solutions.
Grant’s blog posts from Memphis:
Leading Classroom Change Permeates Presbyterian Day School, November 27, 2012
Math, Student Questioning: Link to Two Presidential Award Teachers, November 26, 2012
Back on the Road for Completion of EdJourney, November 25, 2012
This week, I enjoyed the gift of introducing my friend Grant Lichtman at Tuesday’s SAIS Lunch-n-Learn. He asked that I do so with the first three paragraphs of his introduction to The Falconer: What We Wished We Had Learned In School.
School prepares us to be successful. We aspire to be happy.
- Robert Landis, Falconer Class of 2001
We are not teaching our children, our students, and our co-workers what they really need to know. The lessons aren’t out there on some shelf or Web site. They won’t be found with more money and more programs to push more stuff in more different ways at our kids and our employees. It’s not about computer-to-student ratios, distance learning, high-speed links to the Library of Congress, or lecture podcasts. It’s not a pricey self-help guru claiming that his “new thing” is new, seven cookbook steps to success, or ten simple mileposts to make a million for your company.
Those tools help, but they are the dressing, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. We need to pay attention to the tree itself. Look at the people who invented computers, who designed the Internet, who overcame the Depression, who envisioned the best sellers, who challenged racism, who explored the ocean depths, who built the Panama Canal, who created the management-consulting firms that you hire to tell you how to run your business more efficiently. I want my children and my employees and my co-workers and my friends to exhibit qualities like invention, courage, creativity, insight, design, and vision a lot more than I want them to know the capitals of South America or the sequence of presidents and kings, fractions, computer science, art history, running a cash register, or throwing a football.
In short, I want us to spend more time teaching how to generate and recognize elegant solutions to the many problems facing our world.
School could – should – be more about generating and recognizing elegant solutions to the many problems facing our world. Content and skills could – should- be wrapped in contexts of citizenship, character, and caring. Not separate programs. Integrated programs. Systems programs.
What a pleasure it has been to help host Grant in Atlanta this week. After talking for almost two hours about the scope of educational transformation we envision at Unboundary, and after introducing Grant to the studio, we shot our weekly video interview – happily recorded not over Skype, but in the same room, sitting with each other.
Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney Atlanta posts, thus far…
- D-Thinking, Student-Teacher Collaboration Highlight Innovation at Woodward Academy
- The Week Ahead in Atlanta