Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Building School 2.0: Evaluative Tool #2

As I continued reading Chase and Lehmann's book, Building School 2.0, I recognized that there are many questions we need to ask of our efforts, programs, and focus as we continue to build our shared model. I believe in Chase and Lehmann's advise and vision for schools. I particularly don't want to lose site of these words in chapter 17,

". . the fundamental purpose of public school--physical spaces dedicated to and people committed to educating a nation--is a good one." "In an age when segmentation of society keeps people apart from those who think, look, and live differently from how they do, schools bring us together to learn from and with one another." "As a nation, we can imagine many different models for school, but the fundamental idea that we build places where all children can come together to learn remains one of the best ideas we've ever had as a society. We shouldn't lose it. We just have to make sure our schools reflect the time in which we live."

As I consider Lehmann and Chase's rich resource, I note the following questions, questions I will use to evaluate my own practice, the practice of our shared teaching model at fifth grade, and general school, system, State and national efforts towards children and schools.

How do we develop citizenship?
Do we foster citizenship in our classrooms, shared teaching model, and school?

Do we encourage students to question and do we help them understand that "their voices matter"? Do we embed learning modules that "challenge them, push them, and help them to make sense of a confusing world?"

Problem Solvers
When and how do we give students the opportunity to solve meaningful problems?

A popular phrase amongst educators today is Don't ask students what they're going to be, but instead ask them what problems they are going to solve. Lehmann and Chase emphasize this with their words, "help students be ready to solve those problems," teach students to "create and present their ideas in powerful ways," promote "critical consumers and producers of information," and use these processes to ". . help them build sustainable, enjoyable, productive lives."

Modern Schools
How are we evolving our practice, classrooms, shared model, schools, and educational organizations in ways that result in effective, collaborative learning/teaching environments?

Building 2.0 encourages educators to "recognize the best of what has come before us and marry that to the best of what we are able to do today" in order to create modern schools. This process requires that we are "always reinventing."

One School
How do we promote attitudes and action that demonstrate we are "one school?"

Lehmann and Chase emphasize again and again the need for consensus in order for a school community to be one school. To be "one school" requires that we care for one another and have similar expectations for active learning, care, and inquiry for all members of the school community including students, educators, and administrators.

These are powerful rationale from the book for shared teaching and learning models: "Teaching is not an individual affair. . .Teachers are better when they work collaboratively, but even more than that, teachers teach better and students learn more when the school has a vision that actually means something and a plan to make that vision a reality." "We need to figure out how to build systems and structures that allow good people of honest intent to do great things together." "People work best in service of something that they can believe in, when there is a pathway toward excellence and they can collaborate."

To create one school, Lehmann and Chase encourage us to cocreate our learning/teaching communities. They list four attributes of strong, collaborative communities including:
  • Equal status between groups
  • Common goals
  • Intergroup cooperation
  • Authoritative support
Also, it's imperative that we "make time for collaboration" in order to effect these co-created learning/teaching environments.

How do we create and enact vision in our practice, team model, schools, and systems?

In the book, they caution against vision that is only a piece of paper or statement, and instead promote the fact that "vision must live in practice." "The same is true of missions, values, and driving questions." Too often in schools, a vision process is used but not taken seriously with regard to the kind of deep, ongoing work it takes to truly make vision visible in a school environment. It's important to ask who makes the vision and goals. Lehmann and Chase recommend that educators "commit to consensus-driven decision making" and in that process they state that "people must be willing to change and compromise; to listen to opposing ideas, and find common ground." Too often vision is a top down process that doesn't result in true change or impact.

Ask "What's good?" more than we ask ourselves, "What's new?" In regard to vision and goal attainment, humility plays an important role as none of us can be all things or do all when it comes to creating and enacting good vision for our organizations. Lehman and Chase define humility in this way, "True humility means understanding that one's personal empowerment doesn't ever have to come at the expense of someone else's empowerment."

Theory and Practice
How do we blend theory and practice to best teach students?

Lehmann and Chase recommend "blending theory and practice" and note that "wise minds have spent their careers thinking and writing about the very dilemmas facing teachers in modern classrooms." This blend of theory and practice promotes critical thinking and inquiry-driven practice.

The authors remind us that "there are no perfect ideas" and ". . .make solving the problems the focus of the process." They essentially encourage us to "fall in love with" the problem, and to work to "build something new and useful" when problem solving.

Building 2.0 encourages us to "find meaning every day" and ". . .make the everyday meaningful in some very basic ways in every school."

Does our structure serve students well? 

"Rethink schedules to be in service of learning and teaching."

As educators, do we do all we can to teach every child well?

As an educator, I was interested in their recommendations for teachers including "Take care of yourself," "Be as transparent as possible," give kids the opportunity to feel ownership of the classroom, "run a club," "chair a committee," "be present" and involved," and "be kind." Building 2.0 also calls educators to be more--more creative, more imaginative, more inquiring, more investigative. They encourage us to develop "teacher-selves" which are "the best versions of who we are" as honest, whole people. Also Lehmann and Chase caution against ego-centricity in that teachers need to be able to reach out to colleagues and others to solve the often times complex problems and challenges that schools present.

Professional Learning
What kind of professional learning can we access to better the teaching and learning we do?

"Teachers should be readers and learners." Educators must be "scholars of our own profession." We need to be and promote "expert learners." Consider the process of learning to be a process of evolution--evolution of practice, schools, and systems to best serve students.

Encourage Regular Reflection
In what ways do we make time for regular reflection?

"Reflection and refinement" matter when it comes to creating a strong practice and strong educational systems. Often times systems do not value the time or the potential of reflection and refinement. How do your systems, schools, and you "create space and expectations for reflection." A question that leads this work is "What more can we be doing?" Also to "name the problem, we actually stand a better chance of doing something about it."

How do we utilize technology to deepen and broaden the learning/teaching we do?

Building 2.0 promotes the use of technology that "allows students and teachers to inquire more deeply, research more broadly, connect more intensely, share more widely, and create more powerfully. . ."

Lehmann and Chase promote the use of social medial to develop your virtual faculty lounges, "the faculty lounges we wish we had" and the colleagues that promote and encourage our growth and commitment.

Student-Centered Schools
How do we ensure that our practice, routines, structure and schools are focused on what students need to succeed as learners and citizens?

Building 2.0 illustrates many ways to keep students center stage including the following:
  • ". . .listen deeply to their answers and let their ideas change our own."
  • ". . .authority as a teacher comes not from being "tough," but rather from being caring."
  • ". . .we must be authorities within a democracy."
  • ". . .laughing together."
  • ". . .model what it means to be whole people."
  • "plant perennials" by creating learning that's interconnected and long lasting. 
  • "say more and talk less"
  • "be less helpful"
  • "use inclusive language" so that no group including LBGTQ are excluded.
  • consider creating mentor and advisory relationships between students and teachers to strengthen student voice and advocacy. 
  • "listen to understand" 
  • Continually ask, "Are my students learning?" and "How do I know that?"
  • Answer the question, "Why do I need to know this?" regularly. (provide rationale)
  • Teach students to ask questions and think for themselves.
  • Find out what students are curious about and embed those topics in the teaching/learning.
  • Teach modern ways to know and learn such as computer programming, blogging, using social networking, and technology to broaden perspective and connection.
  • Start with students' strengths, not deficits.
  • Design systems with the "belief that the people walking through our doors are capable and accomplished, what they will achieve will be awe-inspiring."
  • Use real life situations and meaningful projects to teach well.
  • Ask, "What do you think?"
  • Assume positive intent.
  • Ask better questions.
  • Teach thoughtfulness, wisdom, passion, kindness." 
  • Employ a new kind of research (p. 259 - I will return to this in a later post).
Do we foster equitable practice with regard to the needs of our diverse teaching/learning populations?

We all know that lots of time and money is spent on achieving equity, and we also know that sometimes that time and money is in name only and not in practice. This is very frustrating. Lehmann and Chase give us some real time ways to assess our efforts in this regard.

First, assess policies and procedures. "If the policy disproportionately punishes children of color" or I'll add children of a particular gender, culture, or religion, "then change the policy." Also, "when creating new policies and procedures, go through the iterative process of asking how it will affect different populations starting with historically underrepresented populations.""Be intentional about creating structures that are good for students who have been underserved and often made to feel that school was not for them." They encourage us to keep these conversations alive with the knowledge that change takes time and intention. 

Lehmann and Chase go on to say that educators "must remember that we are often the most powerful force for keeping our students safe in the classroom, and that each time we let hurtful or careless language or acts go by unexamined or unchallenged, we indicate tacit agreement."

Building School 2.0 is an amazing book, one that would make for an excellent book study for any group of educators who are committed to doing the work we know is possible to evolve our practice, students, classrooms, schools, and educational organizations in ways that matter. I'm grateful to Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase for making the time to share their terrific insight, experience, and vision for schools that teach children well.

This is the link to part one of my review.