Future Ready Schools

What if school didn’t look like this?

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I know what you’re saying, my classroom doesn’t always look like that.  Maybe it never looks like that.

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Chairs, technology, walls…”school”.

If you asked most people (teachers, students, non-education people) what they expect a classroom to include they would have a pretty common list:  teacher, students, desks/tables, board (smart or otherwise), books, computers. And, if you really pressed them to list absolutely everything…walls! 

This, however, is where the problem lies – these constructs of a classroom and/or school are old, they are antiquated, they date back beyond my grandparents.  What else that we rely on so heavily today is done/made the same way it was 100 years ago? 50 years ago? 20? Think about it, look around you, what is one relevant thing that is the same as it was 20 years ago?  Computer? Phone? Books? The clothes you’re wearing? Nope…everything has changed – except education!

Every industry is working to improve their product; working to make them more cost-effective, make them more user friendly, make them more green, improve functionality or performance.  Yet education, by and large, remains the same.

How are we, educators who are meant to be preparing our students for the future, supposed to do justice to a process that prepares kids for a future that includes so many unknowns?  

The answer is breaking away from the deep-seated rituals that have become school.  We must offer students the chance to truly engage with their learning, get their hands dirty, and live a life of active (not passive!) learning.

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What is this was a “classroom”…everyday??

But how?  

Well, that is for each school to figure out on their own.  How are they going to commit to being a school for the future?  It will take courage, it will take forward thinking and it will take lots of time and effort.  The results, however, will easily outweigh everything. If we keep doing things the same way, we’re going to keep getting the same results.  If we’re preparing for a dynamic future, we need a dynamic present – flexible, engaging, adaptable and inspiring…

Take a look at these schools and see how they’ve already begun to challenge the construct of school and the classroom.  These are all forward thinking schools (listed here from closest to traditional to least traditional, according to me)…they’re all awesome and all have room to improve.  However, what they have in common is that they are all schools for the future!!

Perhaps your school isn’t ready or able to make such a leap forward right now, that is fine.  However, what are you doing to create a dynamic educational experience that prepares students for the future?

I was tempted to explain these programs in brief but was concerned that an oversimplification of these wonderful programs just wouldn’t be fair.  So, I’m STRONGLY encouraging you to have a look at these programs (or at least a couple) and evaluate them yourself.

Carpe Diem School in various locations

Western Academy of Beijing – Capstone Program in Beijing, China

Roosevelt Innovation Academy in Lima, Peru

Summit Public Schools San Francisco, California

Green School in Bali, Indonesia

High Tech High in various locations

Khan Lab School in Mountain View, California

NOMAD in San Francisco, California

Think Global School in…well…nowhere and everywhere at the same time (if you look at one of these, this is it!!)

 

Explore, Experience, Learn

Last week was another great week for your Year 10 students (wow, they’ve been busy lately!) as they went out into the community and got the chance to see a side of the “real world” that they haven’t necessarily seen before.  

The opportunity that Work Experience Week offers for our students is one that I’ve not seen offered before, it’s a wonderfully unique experience that gives our students the chance to go beyond their comfort zone and begin thinking beyond Sekolah Ciputra.  The preparation, the actual experience and the reflective process all help our students experience the world in a totally different way than we could offer from a classroom.

Beginning well in advance of Work Experience Week, our students began the planning and preparation needed to earn themselves a position working with a business or organization.  They prepared job application letters, many of them went for actual interviews and they began thinking about what it would take to enter the workforce (if only for a week) and what it would mean to carry that responsibility.  By the time the Work Experience Week finally arrived our students were excited and nervous, but ready for the opportunity in front of them.

With more than 50 businesses and organizations involved in hosting our Year 10 students this year, there was certainly no shortage of diversity in the experiences that our students received.  Having opportunities at jobs with the Jawa Pos, any number of event organizers, or even just down the hall in the PYP, our students have been able to find something that is interesting, exciting and speaks to their own personal tastes.  Work Experience Week has given our students a glimpse into the future and helped them learn a little more about what lies beyond the walls of our school.

My nudge this week is to you and your departments…How can we continue to inspire our students beyond the walls of the school?  We’ve put a lot of time and effort into some amazing IDUs over the last couple of years but none of them require leaving the comfort zone of the school building.  Is there a way to take an existing IDU and move beyond the walls? If not, are there new potential IDUs that could help us expose our kids to the culture and opportunities that lie beyond the comfort zone of our school?  Perhaps you won’t act on this nudge this week but, in the future, when you’re working to plan IDUs or other engaging units, I’m asking you to think beyond our ‘bubble’ and get our kids out into the world!

 

“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind.”  – Rebecca Solnit

“Keep exploring. Keep dreaming.  Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know.  Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world.”  – Barack Obama

 

Hopes and Dreams Part 2: Share Your Story

Last week when I wrote about hopes and dreams I shared my concern that our older students were burying their big dreams as they focused on grades/marks and short term possibilities.  I’ve spent the last week continuing to ponder this idea and speaking with some of our older students to help gain more insight into this phenomenon.  Last weekend, at an event hosted by one of our very own Year 10 students, I found what I think is the reality of the situation for our older students.  

Our older students still have plenty of big hopes and dreams, in fact they may even have more thought out and detailed versions of them than the younger students.  They, however, feel like they can’t share them for fear that they will be squashed or not accepted by peers or adults in their lives.  This is a big problem!

At MatchStiX, an event hosted by one of our Year 10 students as part of her Personal Project, I was fortunate to see short presentations by a few very impressive young Surabayans.  Emily, a 15 year old student at another school in town, shared her story of becoming a successful singer and songwriter.  She explained that it was her dream to write and sing her own songs and that she “sang often but always sang alone.”  This piece of her story, one of many from a very inspiring presentation, really hit home hard for me.   Emily had a passion and a dream but was fearful of sharing it with others because she was worried that it/she wouldn’t be accepted.  Fortunately she did, eventually, share her talent and it was warmly accepted by most everyone.  However, Emily had to go through this journey alone because she was scared to share her hopes and dreams, imagine if she would’ve been confident and supported throughout her journey.

Another speaker at MatchStiX was Jessica, a local entrepreneur who started her own baking business.  Jessica had hopes and dreams that were supported by her parents until one day they spoke with her teachers and principals at her school (not Sekolah Ciputra).  Jessica’s teachers and principals convinced her parents, who had already committed a lot of money toward her dream, that pursuing a career in fashion design was a terrible decision even though it was Jessica’s dream.  Her parents completely dropped all support of Jessica and her dream, she was crushed and totally lost all hope.  It took Jessica three more years before she found a new pursuit, another dream she was passionate about chasing.  She wanted to become a chef, with a particular interest in baking.  Unfortunately, her parents were not supportive of this idea at all and forced her, once again, away from her dream.  Jessica’s story has a happy ending, she found a way for her dream to come true.  As I mentioned, Jessica owns her own baking business.  However, hearing Jessica’s story of being pushed back time and again by the very people who are supposed to be supporting her dreams really gave me pause as an educator.  

What are we doing to support our students’ dreams and help them become reality?  There are definitely some things that we are doing as an institution to help our students reach these lofty goals, but what about individually?  As teachers we can be talking with our students and learning about their hopes and dreams, encouraging them to pursue their passions, and sharing our own stories of chasing our dreams.  Start today, take some time to think about your dreams that you’ve made come true and share a story or two with your students.  Inspire someone by sharing your story, and don’t ever stop pursuing your own dreams!

Hopes and Dreams

Over the last two weeks I was very lucky to have been part of some tremendous student interview sessions.  As we’ve gone through the scholarship application process we’ve had a number of well qualified Year 6 and Year 9 students come in for interviews.  I’ve never been through this experience before and, to be perfectly honest, it’s been the absolute best way to finish a school day that I’ve ever experienced.  These kids have hopes and dreams and are bubbling with energy and spirit, it’s truly awesome and inspiring.

As these interviews continued though, I did notice something that started to worry me just a little bit.  See, the Year 6 students had all sorts of really big ambitions that stretched well into the future and beyond their school years, hopes and dreams they’d clearly spent a lot of time thinking about.  However, as we started talking with the Year 9 students something changed, the ambitions we had heard from the Year 6 students were missing.  The hopes and dreams of the Year 9 students we spoke to were focused on academic grades and short term targets.  Where had the big dreams gone?

To be fair, it is reasonable to expect our older students to be more focused on the task before them and be thinking about what they need to accomplish in order to reach the university destination of their choice.  I’m 100% confident that our older students still have ambitious hopes and dreams but they’re not gushing over them like our Year 6 students.  I want that to change, my hope is that our older kids continue to dream big and think about the amazing possibilities for them in this world.  

It may well be the case that our older students have buried those hopes and dreams, begun to consider them as ‘childish’ or ‘silly’.  We know, however, that those hopes and dreams are what provide the fuel to keep on working and battling through the tough times.  Without a long term goal, something to ‘dream big’ about, what are our students working toward?  

As their teachers, mentors, advisors, and role models we need to show these kids that their hopes and dreams are just as important today as they were when they were in Year 6 looking up at the stars and thinking about all the amazing possibilities that lie out there in the great wide world.  So no matter what year level they are in, engage your students in conversations about their hopes and dreams.  Share your ambitions with your students as well, open up and let them see that it’s totally normal to have big dreams!  

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream.  A dream you dream together is reality.” – Yoko Ono

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality.  If you can dream it, you can make it so.” – Belva Davis

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” – Jonas Salk

5 Characteristics of Phenomenal Educators

The other day I was talking to a good friend of mine, also a principal, about the recruiting process and what we look for in teachers as we go through the many CVs and interviews.  While we both agreed that there is no magic formula for finding excellent teachers, we did settle on a few characteristics that we look for while we’re going through the search process.  I wanted to share those with you today because I believe it’s good to take time to stop and think about ourselves from a more holistic perspective, which I’m encouraging you to do.  

  1. They are a “striver”.  I used to use the term ‘hustler’ but was never happy with that for various reasons.  However, when I imagine a teacher who is always giving their best effort to grow, improve, and help their kids succeed I get this image of a teacher who is constantly working hard and doing anything possible to get better.  A teacher who is consistently putting forth effort to improve and be better for their students is a striver, and someone I would want to hire!  (I took the term ‘striver’ from a book by Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  Here is a cool piece that explains the idea of ‘striver’ vs ‘natural’ in a musical context.)
  2. They have balance.  It’s one thing to be a striver but it’s a total other thing to be someone who works themselves into the ground.  There is a saying that I learned from a mentor of mine that goes, “If you’re solely committed to an institution, you should be.”  The idea is, making work your only focus is completely insane.  Education is a non-stop pursuit and if you dedicated every minute of your life to it for the rest of your days, it still wouldn’t be perfect.  We need to know where to draw the line and find the balance in our lives so that we are able to work hard for our students, day in and day out, while still living our own lives beyond the walls of the school.
  3. They are positive.  This one is hard to see on a CV but it certainly shines through in an interview.  No one wants to work with people who are constantly finding problems, complaining, and bringing the overall culture of a school down.  Positivity goes a long way in any business but I believe it goes even further in a school community.  Kids are naturally positive people, why should adults be any different?
  4. They are diverse.  People demonstrate diversity in a lot of different ways.  Having a wide variety of experiences, teaching a variety of subjects and/or grade levels, supporting various extracurriculars, and showing your range as an educator, are all great ways to stand out.  People with diverse experiences tend to have more open minds about challenges and opportunities that may arise unexpectedly.  This kind of flexibility is invaluable, especially in international schools!  
  5. They love working with kids.  Again, this is tough to see on a CV but completely obvious when it comes to interviews.  Educators who love working with kids show it as soon as they start talking about their jobs.  Their eyes light up as they tell stories of their students and their energy immediately increases.  Teachers who truly love working with kids, while seemingly common, are much harder to find than most people would think.  

There are many more attributes displayed by great teachers but when I meet someone who displays these particular characteristics in a truly authentic way it is clear that I’ve found an absolute diamond in the rough.  

Take a moment today to consider yourself from a different perspective.  Try to step back and ‘zoom out’ a bit.  How do you view yourself as an educator?

A Week of Tweets from my View of Academia Cotopaxi

Usually I write about something I’ve seen or heard around school over the course of the last week…or at least something inspires an idea that I end up writing about.  This week I wanted to share some of the things I’ve seen and heard around school in a different way.  I realize that many of you don’t get the chance to go around and see all the different things happening in our school each day.  So, here are a collection of my Tweets from this week that share some of the awesome stuff happening at Academia Cotopaxi this week, starting with snow-capped Pichincha on Monday morning – enjoy!

PS – It may take a minute for all these Tweets to load here…be patient 🙂

Wow, that all happened in one week around here!  I certainly enjoyed visiting classrooms and seeing all of the awesome stuff that is happening at AC, it’s a wonderful place for our kids!  Thank you all for everything that you do to make it a great educational experience for everyone 🙂

ISTE Standards 3 and 4: A Deep Dive into Knowledge Creators and Innovative Designers

We’ve been spending time every couple weeks working with the Admin Team, led by the Tech Department, to explore and dig deeply into the ISTE Standards for Students.  It’s been a wonderful way for us to stop and think about the student experience at AC, especially as it relates to their engagement with the digital world.  The last time we met we dove deep into Standards three and four, exploring how it might look for students to be meeting these standards here at Academia Cotopaxi.  After taking some time to reflect on this conversation and look around school for ways that our students are meeting these standards, it has become very clear that we are already on the right track.

Becoming a “Knowledge Constructor” is the main idea of Standard number three.  The exact language of this standard is, “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”  It struck me as I digested that standard a little more that this is exactly what I do when I write my usual blog posts.  I curate resources on whatever topic may have caught my fancy for the week, I then produce a creative artifact (my blog post) which creates a meaningful learning experience for me (and hopefully for anyone who reads my post!)  Cool, I’m a Knowledge Constructor!  Then I got to thinking about our students, is this happening in our school and, if so, where and with what frequency?  So I went looking…I wanted to find examples of our students as “Knowledge Constructors” in different contexts, here is what I found:

 

We are helping our students become “Knowledge Constructors” all over school, in many different contexts.  From Humanities, to Math, to Science class and beyond, we are offering our students the chance to curate resources and construct their own knowledge as part of the learning process.

We’re also doing it ourselves as educators…How do you Steep your tea?

My overall impression is that our students have the opportunities educationally to be “knowledge constructors” in a lot more contexts than I had imagined.  Design Technology class, sure, that’s an obvious one.  Even the Humanities classes seems obvious.  However, it’s happening in Math, Science, Art…seemingly everywhere!

Next, we came to Standard number four, “Innovative Designer,” Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.  I was confronted with a harsh reality:  I don’t know the whole “design process” off the top of my head…I know it exists, I’ve worked with it before, and I’ve seen it maneuvered by students over the years but I still haven’t internalized it.  Now, to be fair, when you Google “Design Process” there are a few different versions of the design process.  However, this is the most common version and the one I am familiar with from my past experiences.

By Aflafla1 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I think the “deployment” arrow should really loop back around to the “Initial Planning” arrow, as it is truly a never ending cycle starting with an “alpha” version, moving to a “beta” and then on and on into production and versions 2.0 etc.

Anyway, the “Innovative Designer” standard was harder to chew on than its “Knowledge Constructor” counterpart.  Looking at our school for Innovative Designers was fun but a little frustrating at the same time:

^ There should’ve been a picture with that one…Tweet fail 😦

So, why was it frustrating to find examples of ISTE standard number four?  Well, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find examples in a diverse range of classrooms like I could with Standard number three.  Design Tech, Humanities, and Science…these are all obvious to me.  Now, to be fair, what I did find in those areas was exciting…Rube Goldberg Machines, Stop Motion, Bridge Challenge, Speech Competitions all in the same week….awesome!

BUT…where are the “Innovative Designers” when it comes to the other classes?  The same students are enrolled in Math, Spanish, Music, PE, and other classes…where is the Innovative Design in those classes?  (Again, in fairness, I didn’t do an exhaustive search and it was brief.)  It’s quite easy to imagine students writing their own compositions in Music class instead of always playing someone else’s stuff.  Similarly in PE…creating their own games or exercise routines.  Art, I can only imagine that I just didn’t catch the right day…they’re always creating their own stuff, but how ‘innovative’ is it and does it solve a problem?  The opportunity is there and we certainly have students capable of being ‘innovative’…they just need the chance!

Lastly, about standard four, is the part I see as most crucial – following the design process.  This is something that our teachers are going to need to learn and practice.  I would wager that the majority, if not all, of our teachers have little to no experience with the design process and what it means to lead students through that cycle.  It’s not easy and takes some practice for sure.  However, the rewards are HUGE and totally worth the effort…I believe that our teachers will see that and completely buy in!

At the end of this reflection process it’s become clear to me that we’re on the right track, our teachers and students are working toward the ISTE standards three and four whether they know it or not.  We’re much closer with number three, Knowledge Constructor, than we are with standard four, Innovative Designer.  The difference isn’t a lack of desire on our teachers or students part but, in all likelihood, a lack of information…we need to help move them further along toward understanding of this standard.

For me this was a great experience, full of eye-opening classroom visits and wonderful conversations with kids about their designs!  So much fun!!!