Of Note: What If? A Seven-Part Journey Through Possibility

    Education Eden by Hayley Glatter, Emily Deruy and Alia Wong
    www.theatlantic.com, September 4, 2016

    In this seven-part series from The Atlantic, education experts consider key dimensions of education: calendars, content, homework, teachers, classrooms, classifications and accountability. These policy makers, teachers, activists and parents share what each dimension would look like in a utopian system of learning. On one hand, the series will read to independent school educators as an affirmation of our work – from our emphases on critical thinking, small class sizes and teachers who are experts in their disciplines, to calls for flexible furniture, blended learning and extracurricular opportunities. Yet amidst this smorgasbord of familiar ideas, independent school leaders will also find thought-provoking gems from eras past and future – like the “clean, roomy, well-ventilated, and well-lit” environments reminiscent of John Dewey, the ongoing call to focus not on tests but on “school improvement, equity and closing opportunity gaps,” and handfuls of possibilities such as year-round school with more flexibility, targeted enrichment, more silent reading, more team teaching and “joint accountability among students and teachers.” The series will delight, entertain and inspire educators – particularly those who thrill to discourse about policies, structures and best practices. Additionally, independent school readers will be galvanized by the pervasive sense of mission underpinning the series: “Most of all, schools need to produce good citizens in a pluralistic democracy and employees who know how to thrive in an increasingly diverse society.”

    Submitted By Meghan Tally, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA


    The Promise of Fulfillment

    Navigating Exciting PossibilitiesDavid Brooks
    University of Pennsylvania Commencement Address, May 2016

    Many educators know and follow David Brooks’ New York Times writing and his books, most recently The Road to Character (2015). When he is asked to give a commencement address, he comes, not surprisingly, with ideas, humor, encouragement and advice. This spring, at the University of Pennsylvania, what was surprising was how little time he affords the graduates to take action. He points out that they have been called promising for a long time, right up until graduation day. At that point, though, something shifts. “Promising” is not enough, because it reflects someone else’s judgement and standards. He is clear: “Starting tomorrow, ‘promising’ becomes a verb. Now it’s your criteria that matters.” Those students who will have a fulfilling life, he asserts, know how to make, and live by, promises to family, vocation, a philosophy and a community. And he gives the grads advice on how to choose promises that matter and to which they can commit, because being good at keeping promises makes meaning of each day. This inspiring address goes an important step beyond giving students of promise one more gold star on the ledger. It offers the exciting and demanding invitation to lead best where it matters most – in selfless commitments that are rooted in service and that last.  

    Submitted By Elizabeth Morley, Kobe Shinwa Women’s University, Kobe, Japan


    Are You Reliable and How Do you Know?

    Noise: How to Overcome the High, Hidden Cost of Inconsistent Decision Making by Daniel Kahneman, Andrew M. Rosenfield, Linnea Gandhi and Tom Blaser
    Harvard Business Review, October 2016

    As educators and school leaders, our roles frequently involve spontaneous judgments that are guided by our philosophy and past experiences. Kahneman et al. express concern with such practices, primarily because humans are unreliable decision makers. Studies show that professionals often make decisions that deviate significantly from those of their peers, from their own prior decisions and from the guidelines of the organization, thus creating “noise.” A distinct concept from bias, noise has financial consequences; educators will see that there are also ethical, pedagogical and organizational concerns. For example, the analysis of inconsistency is especially poignant for its relevance regarding building high quality relationships. Unpredictability can be detrimental to the construction of trust and belonging in a classroom and to the decisions that teachers routinely make. For administrators, it can jeopardize the integrity of leadership structures. The article suggests several remedies, such as conducting a noise audit to investigate the quality of decisions being made or adopting procedures that promote mission-based consistency ensuring that employees use similar methods to “seek information, integrate it into a view of [a] caseand translate that view into a decision.” Training, clearly, is critical. Better decisions are made not only by reducing biases, but also by enhancing the consistency of mission-driven behavior.

    Submitted By Sarah Shepherd, Ed.M. Candidate, The Klingenstein Center, New York, NY


    Approaching the Height of Social Stress

    Teaching Teenagers to Cope with Social Stress by Jan Hoffman
    New York Times, September 29, 2016

    While you can find a litany of articles documenting the increasing concern over the stress that teenagers face these days, the literature is short on effective interventions. The New York Times chronicles the research of psychologist Daniel Yeager that offers promising and practical studies on how to teach teenagers to cope with social stress. The interventions are student-driven and apply the same concepts as the mindset work that has been so influential on the academic side. Dr. Yeager has ninth grade students read a brain science article about how personality can change, and he follows that  with anecdotes from older students about how they resolved high school conflicts in the past. As a crucial final step students write an encouraging letter to younger students wherein they reflect on a situation in which they faced social rejection and then offer advice on how to handle it. Dr. Yeager states that “as these freshmen reflect on how they coped in middle school, the exercise forces them to put things in perspective.” These studies provide models for how we can help students cope with the height of social stress in the early teen years and offer another example of how mentoring younger students provides just as much value to the mentors.

    Submitted By Michael Arjona, The Walker School, Marietta, GA


    In Praise of Architects

    The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School by Alex Hill, Liz Mellon, Ben Laker, and Jules Goddard
    Harvard Business Review, October 20, 2016

    If a school requires change, what type of person is best suited for the job? According to research in publicly-funded schools of the UK, school leaders can be categorized into five types, with only one capable of creating lasting, successful change. These types of leaders, referred to as “architects,” establish sound institutional structures and maintain patient, long term visions. They view the failures of schools as the consequence of faulty design and seek to create better environments within which all stakeholders may thrive. While other types of leaders were found to quickly establish fiscal responsibility or improve academic achievement, their successes proved to be short lived without skillful attention to the macro elements of school life. Limited metrics of institutional success can be strengthened swiftly, but these alternative, less successful leadership types pursued strategies that were frequently shortsighted. Public or private, thriving or failing, all schools must forever strive for improvement. Research suggests that there may be particular characteristics attributable to those most capable of producing lasting results. Do we have the patience to allow the work of these leaders to bear fruit?

    Submitted By Carl Hess, Notre Dame Preparatory High School, Scottsdale, AZ


    Approaching Uncertainty

    US Leadership in Global Education: The Time is Now by Rebecca Winthrop
    The Brookings Press, October 17, 2016

    In “US Leadership in Global Education: The Time is Now,” Rebecca Wintrhop of the Brookings Institute makes the case that school leaders and teachers must realize the role of education as a social mechanism to foster grassroots awareness and to impart skills for democracy. More specifically, she urges the United States to invest globally in education, especially the education of girls and women. Such an investment, she argues, besides being moral, will also offer good returns. It will prevent the risk of armed conflict, reduce poverty, and promote global health. The author urges the next US administration to make investing in educational equality a global priority. Additionally, she details an up-to-date report on the issue of global education inequality for girls and young women and provides a list of initiatives in which schools can involve their students to help them practice peaceful activism. The article serves as a reminder about the broad reach of education and the ways in which independent schools can serve a public purpose while offering examples of how to take a stand and exercise one’s democratic participation to help achieve global social justice in a time of uncertainty.

    Submitted By Amy Shen, Ed.M. Candidate, The Klingenstein Center, New York, NY


    A Tonic for Grades

    Rethinking Grading by Cathy Vatterott
    Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), July 1, 2015

    In the book Rethinking Grading, Vatterott starts with a brief but powerful reflection about working with students in college. Many have been shortchanged, she argues, because in the years before college they have been given grades that do not reflect learning or grades that, even worse, are obstacles to learning.  She then opens a theoretical discussion of the role of grades in the classroom, and the culture that grading practices create within schools. Vatterott raises questions such as whether grades serve the purpose of illustrating learning or whether they are more of a classroom management tool for creating conforming behavior. After creating that foundation, Vatterott guides the reader through a practical engagement with ways that grading can supplement and support standards-based learning through all academic levels, K-12. Building on fundamentals such as the psychology of learning and the growth mindset, Vatterott anchors the discussion with evidence from appropriate academic literature. This literature helps provide the framework for such questions as: Why does it matter when the learning takes place?  What if the student mastered the material after the test? This book focuses on the practical application of assessments that will improve student learning, as well as teacher performance.

    Submitted By Marshall Carroll, Mercersburg Academy, Mercersburg, PA


    Unself Committment

    Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michelle Borba, Ed.D
    Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, June 1, 2016

    Empathy – the ability to feel what others feel – is a crucial human competency and always has been. And while schools have often been intentional about instilling empathy in children, at no time in history has empathy been more important to education than it is today, in an era awash in technology that paradoxically puts distance between us as it brings us closer. In Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, Dr. Michelle Borba explains the imperative educators face in the midst of the “self-absorption epidemic” brought about by smartphones and social media. Technology’s known impact on empathy levels in children is especially concerning, says Borba, as it suppresses or diminishes their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem solve. In chapters brimming with step-by-step guides, Borba lays out clear frameworks for developing, practicing and living empathy both in and out of school. Simple actions on the part of adults, such as being friendly, listening to kids’ voices and playing games with them, may counteract some of the self-absorption that threatens the selfie generation. This book reminds educators that teaching empathy is a shared curriculum transcending age, time and place.

    Submitted By Jessica Flaxman, Charlotte Country Day School, Charlotte, NC

KlingensteinCenter Teachers College Columbia University

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