Monthly Archives: August 2012

Big Leaps of Faith

I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.

— Steve Jobs

I overheard a conversation between two teachers in the office commenting on how tired they were — “and it’s not even September!” they exclaimed. That brief comment gave me pause and a jolt of panic. Between Accreditation, IB evaluation, the Innovate and Global Issues Network conferences at Graded, and deepening practice around explicit school-wide expectations, have we tackled too much? At first glace, these events and next steps towards improvement are easily within the scope of work we usually investigate. Crafting and implementing the Continuum of Assessment Practices, for example, seemed much more daunting.

But then I started grappling with the difference between improvement and innovation and how we think about the two at Graded School. In brief, I think we can agree that innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better. Where I get stuck is I see improvements across campus that are resulting in doing things differently. And this is why that what I think appears to be next steps are actually big leaps of faith.

For example, the implementation of the Descriptors of Achievement is the result of improving our assessment practices based on what we’ve learned as a community and tighter alignment to IBO assessment philosophy. In practice, however, teachers are turning to one another to get feedback on assessment design and strategies for grading and reporting deep learning that reflects critical thinking and creativity. It’s time consuming. It takes revision. And we’re not even sure it’s always going to work. This would make anyone tired.

But it’s important. Maybe more important than the usual scope of work we’ve done in the past. Because this isn’t only about changing practice, it’s about changing the culture of our learning environment, both for kids and for us. It’s about taking risks because we’ve reached a point where it’s a greater risk not to change.

And it’s about being kind and having fun… and giving ourselves permission to take the time to learn. I go back to the faculty-driven opening questions at least once a week. The one that stands out again and again is How can we be model learners – and show it is a process to be enjoyed?

I invite you to take a deep breath… to recognize we need each other to figure this out… and to jump.


We’ve Got a Runner…

The first days of school definitely started for me in April when I began to pull together the thinking of the Professional Learning Advisory Council (PLAC) and calendar out the key learning structures  for 2012-2013 in advance… but when the “official day” dawns,  I can’t help but be pulled towards the lower school. I am dazzled by the pre-school teachers and their ability to shepherd three-year olds into a classroom, much like herding cats. And every now and then, when walking down the hall in those first few days, you can hear the quick steps of an escaped four-year old running down the hallway, and someone closing in to scoop them up and deliver them safely back to the classroom.

As I was typing up the rich list of questions that emerged from our opening faculty meeting, this same image emerged. How does Graded, the organization, shepherd a vast variety of interests and passions into the classroom, both to inspire teachers and to engage students?  In reflecting on the questions, it is clear that we are a community committed deeply to learning (which seems like a no-brainer for a school). But these questions are different. These questions are about returning to the messiness of finding balance in an educational landscape that continues to become more complex, which means a deep reflection on values.

Listening to the opening remarks at our first faculty meeting, I thought I might faint. Three conferences headed our way (GIN, Innovate and AASSA), and an Advanc-Ed Accreditation and IBO programme evaluation anchoring much of the work. If ever there was a time to reflect, then this is it. If every there was a time to set a course for Graded’s future, then this is it. And as overwhelmed as I know I feel on the second day of school, I know that if ever there was a time to ask good questions and run with an idea, then this is it.

Thank you for inspiring me – and making my head hurt (in good ways). I’m ready for 2012-2013.

Graded Staff Digs In:

Critical Friends Probe for Alignment between Expectations and Unit Design