Maru-a-Pula Scholars in the U.S.

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Edward “Ned” Hall founded the American Friends of Maru-a-Pula in 1974, just two years after Maru-a-Pula itself opened its doors in Gaborone, Botswana. In the 40 years since, AFMAP has helped Maru-a-Pula develop into one of the best secondary schools in southern Africa. The school’s role in the region has also changed beyond its original purpose of racial justice to now include top academic performance and education for social responsibility. In recent years, MAP has extended the gift of world-class education to dozens of orphan scholars who lost their parents.

Since 1981, AFMAP has quietly played another key role in the lives of Maru-a-Pula students. A recent article from Taft Bulletin tells the story of the MAP Scholar program. Since 1981, deserving MAP IGCSE graduates have been selected to spend a senior year in top U.S. independent schools. On average, seven MAP students become U.S. scholars each year. While these schools have underwritten tuition and boarding fees, AFMAP has provided these students with a familiar face and, when needed, a helping hand.

MAP Scholars have startled and impressed their U.S. hosts with their academic preparation, leadership skills, humility, and sense of social purpose. Our students have not only completed the rigorous programs of top U.S. independent schools but have also become leaders and proceeded to top colleges and graduate programs at institutions such as Harvard, Williams, MIT, and Stanford. A number of MAP Scholars previously received Orphans and Vulnerable Children scholarships at MAP. The outstanding support of AFMAP donors has changed these deserving students’ lives.

It should not surprise you that many MAP Scholars have dedicated their lives to helping others. They have become experts in global health, medicine, finance, and East Asian studies. Four serve on the AFMAP board, including president and secretary. In my time, I have been privileged to know MAP scholars Neo, Portia, Thomas, Ernest, Urban, Lollise, MK, Kush, Mmaserame, Tumisang, and others.

I had the incredibly good luck to start my teaching career at Taft in 1991, in the company of former Maru-a-Pula teachers Emily and Gordon Jones and MAP Scholars Tebogo Phiri, Thomas Lukoma, and Urban Dabutha. I then traveled to Botswana and joined the Maru-a-Pula staff for two years. MAP has remained a vital part of my life and career to this day.

 

Teachers Deserve Good Pedagogy, Too

Also published at Leadership + Design

Let’s play a word association game. When I say a term, note the next thought that comes to your mind. Ready? “PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT!” What first comes to your mind? Conference? Meeting? Ugh? If we understand how students learn best, then we should also practice good pedagogy when leading professional development programs.

Teachers more fully engage in learning activities that address authentic aspects of practice. What issues most commonly challenge teachers: motivating all students to learn; teaching for understanding, not just knowledge; supporting diverse groups of learners? Effective professional development activities express a clear learning goal and apply theory toward specific outcomes. For example, one might reserve half the day for teachers to explore applications, redesign instructional units, and share their products.

Effective teachers combine a variety of techniques to design learning environments and develop student understanding.
Teachers approach topics from different perspectives, promote active engagement with ideas and evidence, and make student thinking visible. In order to actually adopt a new technique proposed during professional development, teachers need to know how that idea might complement the other tools in their toolkit. Teachers are unlikely to integrate widely divergent strategies into their current practice.

Research suggests that observation and feedback have the greatest potential to improve teacher practice. So, why then are conferences and faculty meetings the most common forms of professional development? Make class observations integral to your school’s professional development program. It’s best if peer teachers conduct the observations, and such activities are not connected to teacher evaluation. Teachers can also video a class and study the recording with colleagues.

As with students, teachers learn best when they study collaboratively. Working in groups, teachers share ideas and build perspective together. In a gallery walk, lead teachers exhibit innovative practices and answer questions. In a faculty “unmeeting”, teachers generate topics and facilitate discussions. Professional learning communities, teacher cohorts, and critical friend groups maintain such collaborative relationships over time. Teacher leadership distributes the responsibility for professional growth to all members of the faculty. Consortia and networks extend these connections to other institutions.

Why not put students at the center of professional development activities? Invite a panel of students to describe their learning to your faculty. Have each teacher shadow a student for a day. When you observe classes, document what the students are doing, not just the teacher. Ask teachers to contact recent alumni and ask them whether they found themselves well prepared for the next step.

NAIS has recognized University Prep’s Individualized Teacher Improvement Program for innovation and excellence.

Designing the Culturally Aware Device Program

Here are the slides for the session that Dan Hudkins and I are presenting today at 11:30 in room 203.

NAIS Culturally Aware Device Program slides (PDF)cover slide

Students Know How To Reduce Distractions

Facilitating student discussion is a complex talk. Pose engaging questions, keep the conversation momentum going, stay on topic, and encourage quieter voices to participate. Could two Upper School boys guide their peers through 45 minutes of discussion about electronic devices and distractions? Yes, they did! Our guides, “Mr. H.” and “Mr. G.,” did such a great job that I simply relaxed and enjoyed the conversation.

The group of 14 students generated a long list of techniques for minimizing distractions, as high quality a set of suggestions as any I have seen experts write.

  • Only check Twitter on your phone, not your computer.
  • Use a timer to work for specific chunks of time.
  • Set your phone to Do Not Disturb when you work.
  • Install the Self Control or Concentrate app to block access to social sites.
  • Charge your phone in another room.
  • Have a parent keep your phone.
  • Learn which music helps you concentrate and which distracts.
  • Don’t start a Netflix episode on a break.
  • Use distraction-free (full screen) mode when writing or reading.

The students went far beyond strategies. They explored the paradoxes and tradeoffs that they experience. Stay up late to get more done one night, and you are less productive the next day. Sports force you to be more organized but can also make you tired. School firewalls may keep social sites away but do not teach you self control. Homework can actually be more active than class time.

Did the students solve the problem of distraction from devices? Not at all! While they know the strategies, they acknowledge that they do not always use them. Self-discipline is complex. It is uncomfortable to work for hours at night, tough to resist social interactions. This suggests a new focus for education around devices and distractions. Learning strategies is just the first step. Setting meaningful goals, building self discipline, and practicing mindfulness are equally, if not more important.

Of Mice, Men, and Instagram

Originally published on edSocialMedia

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How can middle school students begin to recognize complexity and empathize with characters in literature? In a conventional approach, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions to students and draw their attention to key passages in the story. However, this approach does not guide all students to deepen their understanding of the characters. Young adolescents are often still developing empathy during the middle school years, but the ability to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of a character is essential to understanding literature.

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University Prep English teacher Carl Faucher uses social media to help students think about the characters in Of Mice and Men. To begin, students select one character to follow through the book and then create a new account in that character’s name on their preferred social media platform. As students read the book, they pay special attention to the character’s thoughts and inner dialogue. Students then write one post online for each chapter of the book.

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Students choose a variety of platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. They tend to like the familiar format and enthusiastically go about their work. Some post the minimum number required, whereas others write far more. Instagram users in particular find an opportunity to communicate visually, either by selecting stills from the movie version to accompany each thought or selecting more abstract, evocative imagery. Some choose to make the assignment social, following their classmates and liking or commenting on their posts.

 

Faucher asks students to avoid summarizing the text but rather write what the characters were actually thinking at different points in the book. Those who adopt the persona of the character show the most evidence of learning. Faucher notes, “students developed empathy for the character better than if they had answered conventional questions about the text. They got through the black and white of good and bad and explored complexities of the characters and their relationships.”

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Conventional reading questions are grounded in the language of the discipline — academic discourse. Students better learn to think analytically and identify literary conventions such as themes and foreshadowing if they are provided with accessible steps to build upon. The social media introduction allows students to apply an established strength, “to speak the language that they are speaking outside of school.” Having gained some understanding, students are better able to build up to the more complex assignments later in the unit: a mock trial in which George is taken to court, and an expository essay that focuses on character analysis.

 

“With the advent of social media, our paths of communication are changing the ways we speak, communicate, and express ourselves.” While some may bemoan the decline of long form writing, Faucher takes advantage of the popular microblogging medium to help students achieve the learning goals of seventh grade English.

Teacher Leadership

By reputation, teaching offers few advancement opportunities. Schools don’t normally have many management positions, and only a few teachers transform into school administrators. At University Prep, however, we believe in the value of broadly distributing teacher leadership, both to enhance the educational experience and provide avenues for professional growth. We provide many opportunities for teachers to assume leadership roles.

Department heads are the school’s instructional leaders. They supervise and mentor teachers, collaborate in hiring and staffing processes, and develop the instructional culture of the school. Department heads receive a reduced course load and a stipend to support their work.

Class deans oversee student progress and needs within each grade level. They collaborate with the Student Services Team to identify and support students with socio-emotional or academic needs. Class deans receive a reduced course load to support their work.

Ad-hoc committees explore emergent school issues and recommend next steps. Recent ad-hoc committees have studied teacher feedback, extra help, mindfulness, narrative reports, computer science, and laptop programs. Teachers often initiate and lead ad-hoc committees.

Strategic planning includes teachers in board-led committee work on the long-term future of the school, particularly the direction of the educational program.

Curriculum proposals are initiated by teachers and then discussed in departments before moving to administrative bodies for approval.

School programs such as outdoor trips, Global Link, community service, ski bus, and middle school assemblies and socials depend on teacher leadership and participation. Some teachers receive a reduced course load in order to lead these programs.

Student clubs each have a faculty advisor. The advisor experience is very rich in the more active clubs such as National Honor Society, Students of Service, Mock Trial, Debate Club, Science Olympiad, and Multicultural Student Alliance.

Change of Pace Days depart from the regular class schedule to focus on contemporary issues such as social justice and community service. Teachers propose topics, facilitate workshops, and tap their professional networks to enrich the student experience.

Conferences: Teachers share their work at national and regional conferences, including the NAIS Annual Conference, People of Color Conference, NWAIS Educators Conference, National Arts Education Association national conference, Washington State Council for Social Studies annual conference. Teachers are well-supported to attend conferences and visit schools, expanding their exposure to new ideas and developing their professional networks.

Accreditation teams: We support teachers in serving on NWAIS accreditation visiting teams, an incredibly rich experience for understanding school program design and our peer northwest schools.

Career advancement: A number of our department heads who assume significant leadership responsibilities subsequently take jobs in school administration, both at University Prep and elsewhere.

The Multicultural School and World Events

A truly inclusive school community feels the effects of national and international events and engages them with active dialogue. In response to Ferguson, we quickly pulled together open discussion forums for students, faculty, and staff to share their thoughts and questions. A few days later, our trained student facilitators led community conversations, with all high school students required to attend. Middle school advisories broached the subject in a more introductory manner.

Our Pakistani exchange student asked for the school’s help in sharing and processing the massacre that took place at another school there. Within the hour, we adjusted our schedule and held an assembly so that she could share her thoughts. This act made it clear how even such a distant event can quite directly affect our community.

When the AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore crashed, I immediately thought of one colleague, who is Indonesian and was in Surabaya just days before. While she did not know anyone on the flight, the event was still a major shock. Our school team was primed to provide support and explanation should that prove necessary.

Our school has connections to the entire world, despite our moderate size. As our cities become more multicultural, our schools become more diverse, particularly when the school takes deliberate steps toward cultural competency. Our schools move beyond just inclusivity when we treat all students and staff as full members of the community and invite them to share their full selves, even if this sometimes causes discomfort or disagreement. These three stories are from just the past month, and events like this take place many times each year.

Courageous cultural competency is now a required quality of contemporary schools, to meet the goal of educating students for an increasingly globalized world.

Book Review: Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice

inside the black boxHere is a very brief review of Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education. I so appreciate that Larry Cuban continues to publish productively on the history of education and school change. Through his blog, book forwards, and latest book, Cuban explores the most confounding quality of school reform: the more policymakers change, the more classroom practice stays the same. Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice summarizes Cuban’s past work comparing national education policy to his direct observations of classroom practice. In this way, Cuban explodes myths about the effects of federal and state education initiatives on the student experience in schools. Cuban also spends a chapter exploring parallels to the evolution of the training and evaluation of medical practice.

Central to the argument is the idea of the multi-layered curriculum. Federal education policy is interpreted by states. State education standards are interpreted by districts. District initiatives are monitored by schools. Teachers interpret the curriculum as they teach. Students interpret the curriculum that they receive. Finally, assessments reveal only a partial picture of what students have actually learned. Cuban explains that these many layers have so diluted the original intent of education policy that classroom practice has remained fairly immune to change over decades. He also points out that much national and state education policy has been alarmingly simply in its theory of school change, for example that school accountability to student test scores would necessarily cause improvement in teaching practice, or that adding thousands of computing devices would necessarily improve student learning.

Education is not just complicated, however. It is complex. Cuban explains that complex systems involve humans making varying decisions and lack central command. Interdependencies and interactions exist among many different actors, often with conflicting objectives and methods. Top-down directives and simplified change theories fail to cause actual change in complex systems. Rather, Cuban argues, education policymakers would do better to empower and support teachers as professionals, change agents, and experts. School reform must address all layers of the multi-layered curriculum in order to have any chance of causing actual change on the ground.

Ironically, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice does not get very far into the classroom beyond confirming that it remains little affected by decades of large scale education reform. Other books and studies help complete the inquiry. For example, David Perkins and Project Zero studied classrooms in depth to determine when moments of understanding were achieved and created a model for effective classroom instruction based on that. Jack Schneider examined four changes to education practice that did in fact take root in the classroom and identified key factors in penetrating the black box of classroom practice. Together, these studies help identify key aspects of each layer that affects classroom practice and ultimately may help educators navigate the complex, shifting worlds of education policy.

This iPad case can do anything.

One case with four modes maximizes the ability of the iPad to act as both laptop and mobile tablet while also protecting the corners. Unfortunately, the case is also too tight and may stress the glass screen. Love the form factor, however. Supernight 360

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Teaching for Understanding

This article describes University Prep’s emphasis on teaching for understanding, a focus of our professional development program this year. I wrote it for the University Prep community, to be published in the winter issue of Happenings, the school magazine.

Raise your hand if you are against understanding. Anyone? It seems obvious that understanding should be the goal of education. However, during its history, American education has assigned greater importance to knowledge and procedure than to analysis, insight, and application. Schools have generally expected students to memorize great volumes of detailed facts and practice formulaic solutions to stock problems. The nation’s recent emphasis on standardized testing, to measure both student progress and teacher quality, has further narrowed this emphasis.

20 years ago, one of my teaching colleagues epitomized the traditional teaching method. He lectured from a sheaf of handwritten notes, yellowed from years gone by and marked with tiny refinements. His students listened closely and transcribed furiously, then pored over these notes in preparation for detailed tests. Thinking was not required, since the teacher told the students everything he expected them to know. Understanding was far from guaranteed, as students had few opportunities to draw their own conclusions and receive feedback. Yet, this teacher was considered one of the best of the faculty, a master of the craft.

Since the advent of the information age, both teachers and students have gained access to more knowledge than one can consume in a lifetime of study. Computers have gradually automated most of the procedural tasks that we used to complete manually. Has computing therefore reduced the importance of thinking and understanding? Not at all! Now that practically anyone can find and share great volumes of facts and execute procedures, our students must develop sophisticated thinking skills and gain understanding. Critical analysis, persuasive speaking, cultural competency, logical and sequential reasoning, and other thinking skills are now necessary in order to successfully distinguish evidence from opinion, appreciate different arguments and perspectives, and use technology to further human society.

As public schools have gradually ceded control of their educational programs to state and national mandates, independent schools have continued to develop student thinking and understanding. Teachers have selected the topics that best serve students. Students, working in small classes, have shared their ideas and received feedback. Multiple ways of thinking, such as the arts, languages, and physical education, have remained integral to the academic program. Rich co-curricular subjects, including outdoor education, global programs, social justice, community service, information studies, academic technology, and learning support, have broadened students’ understandings.

Great lessons start with great questions. How has the past influenced the present? How can we tell whether two variables are associated? How will we provide energy for future generations? What are the rights and responsibilities of a citizen? On September 25, the full faculty completed a workshop on essential questions, ideas that encourage thinking because they are open-ended, house multiple perspectives, and reflect current topics in the discipline. Leading research and professional organizations have informed this work, including the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Coalition of Essential Schools, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The book Making Learning Whole, by David Perkins, is a good place to start if you want to learn more about essential questions and authentic education.

High-quality classrooms encourage students to think. This is harder to accomplish than you might think! In one large project, researchers from Harvard’s Project Zero studied hundreds of classes and identified the moments during which learning happened and understanding was achieved. Based on this research, they then developed “thinking routines,” questions and activities that encourage student thinking and make it visible to the teacher. “See, Think, Wonder” encourages students to generate questions about a topic. “Think, Puzzle, Explore” asks students to identify dilemmas and enter them through stories. “Slow Looking” plumbs the depths of an image for its most revealing clues. “The Language of Thinking” asks teachers to use better words than “think” to encourage specific kinds of intellectual activity.

On October 10, four U Prep faculty and staff members traveled to a conference titled, “Making, Thinking, Understanding.” The Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education (CASIE) offered the conference. Our colleagues learned about some 40 thinking routines and studied examples from various subject areas. On October 22, they shared their favorite thinking routines with the U Prep faculty and had their colleagues practice the routines as students.

Successful students grasp the core ideas in a discipline. How do experts in English, history, and science make sense of the world? What questions remain unanswered? What controversies are most active in each field? To further develop instruction in these areas, U Prep faculty and staff members attend a variety of disciplinary conferences each year. Just this fall, these have included the Race and Pedagogy National Conference, the Washington State Council for the Social Studies, and the Northwest Mathematics Conference. Conversations continue each year about how to further refine our curricula to reflect contemporary thinking in the disciplines.

U Prep teachers are recognized leaders in teaching for understanding. On October 10 alone, the statewide in-service day, eight U Prep teachers presented their work at regional conferences, on subjects as varied as computer science, art and social change, Maker programs, teaching contemporary methods in English and visual art, and Middle School debate programs.

As independent schools such as U Prep continue to teach for understanding, the national education dialogue has begun to shift away from standardization and testing. The Common Core increases emphasis on analysis and application relative to previous national standards. Recent articles (e.g., Seattle Times Education Blog) have suggested that smaller class sizes and student-centered instruction help students succeed in school. While time will tell whether American education fully commits to the pursuit of thinking and understanding, U Prep will continue to prepare students to think, understand, and become intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizens of the world.