Sunday, April 24, 2011

Culture vs. Control

My follow-up post to Space Matters is at the TeachPaperless blog. I move on from the architecture of CSA to my impressions of the students.

The second and more lasting thing I noticed was the students. They were in hallways and classrooms. They were on laptops, listening to headphones, working independently, working in groups, and working on projects. Everyone seemed engrossed in whatever tasks they were involved in. Not everyone was doing the same thing. It was not quiet, but it also was not loud either. The one group of people I had a hard time locating were the teachers.

Go check it out!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Space Matters

Our new team visited Columbus Signature Academy a New Tech school in Indiana this week. I want to reflect on some of the amazing things we saw there.

The first thing I noticed was the architecture. We almost drove past the building because it is a fairly small storefront building with a small sign attached. As soon as we walked in we could see that it was much larger than it looked from the outside and continued down a long hallway back from the front. Turns out it is a converted warehouse which you can see in a 2 minute video here 

The design was modern with exposed ceilings in the hallways. The classrooms all had large glass panels on the interior walls so you could easily observe any of them. Some of them even had the complete walls made out of glass. 

They were designed large enough to house 50 students and 2 facilitators. Most of the furniture was on wheels so any room can easily be reconfigured for any purpose.

The hallways were spacious with numerous meeting spaces for students like you might find at a restaurant or coffee shop. 

Students were working independently or in groups everywhere. You had to really search to find the facilitators (teachers). Students were busy and engrossed in their learning.  I think this space really speaks to the values of this school.

They believe in transparent learning that is shared openly with the community so nothing is hidden. 

They assume students will be responsible so they trust them with varied spaces rather than controlling them in rigid classrooms. Students have to prove that they are irresponsible rather than vice-versa.

There were less rules and more principles of responsibility such as this sign encouraging appropriate gum-chewing.

In the large class above students were practicing debate with topics such as Trix vs. Coco Puffs and Oatmeal Creampies vs. Swiss Rolls. At the end of class all of the students put all of the furniture back in its "regular" position with zero instructions from the facilitators. Students take care of their school because it is theirs. Every space has behavior expectations created by students even bathrooms!

Anyone entering this school could immediately "feel" that this school was different from a traditional school by its design. It is also obvious that the students and staff embrace it to become motivated learners in their group projects. The design fits the emphasis of collaborative problem solving.

To top it off my principal told us that this is what our school will look like. It is being re-modeled currently and I have seen the prints but have not been in the building yet. 

Does what your school looks like represent / accommodate / facilitate / encourage student learning?
Most of us do not get the opportunity to design a school, but how can you re-design your classroom so that it is student-focused and student-friendly?

Part II of this visit about the students is posted at the TeachPaperless blog.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pinch me

This week was my first week on my new job.  Other than being excited to meet my new teaching partners, I was not entirely sure what to expect. I was blown away this week by the opportunity before me. The new high school is set up and funded by the intermediate school district for the county. I don't know if this structure exists in other states but in Michigan there is an intermediate school district for every county that provides support and special services for all of the school districts. For example our ISD provides a career tech center for high schoolers and has many consultants on practically any education topic imaginable.

I spent a lot of time this week meeting all of these people. They were great. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and truly enjoys their work. They were also excited about our new PBL high school. My principal described it best: it felt I was Harry Potter when he first arrived at Hogsworth. Everyone knows who you are and is excited to meet you because you are a teacher in the new school.

As my colleagues and I brainstormed ideas for our new school we constantly met experts who can help us on all of the logistics and training that we need. We met all of the superintendents and the head of IT. We were told how much money was invested into remodeling our space and that we are getting the latest technology in our wing of the building. Of course the most amazing thing to me is I am getting paid for the whole rest of the school year for professional development and to collaboratively develop curriculum with the other teachers. I have never felt more supported professionally in my life.

Guilt has been mentioned by some of my new colleagues. In Michigan, just like the rest of the country, thousands of teachers are being laid off and the governor wants to cut per pupil spending by over $700. There is a dark cloud over teachers and education right now. But I do not feel guilty at all. I feel I am a part of something important. We will be a lab school to show all of our districts the possibilities of PBL for all learners. I will not apologize for a school being started in the "right" way.

The perfect shot
by Lorenia

I feel valued, important, energized, and honored. All of the planning, time, money, and resources are not for me, but for students. I am working for the same wage as my previous job (and I am sure will be working much harder). I gave up my tenure to come to this position. I am not getting merit pay. I am working extra weeks in the summer (with extra pay) because I want to be a part of this. I am truly blessed. I know that every student who enters our school in the fall is going to feel the same way about the opportunity to come here.

Hey politicians, you want to "fix" schools? Treat teachers as professionals. Give them great teaching resources and collaborative professional development. Then get out of their way and let them do their jobs! We don't need merit pay, we need the professional support and opportunities to dream incredible learning opportunities for students. And yeah it is going to cost some money to create these kind of schools, but our kids deserve nothing less.