5 Trending Topics No Elementary School Leader Should Miss: Private Schools in a Public Context

Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at a gathering earlier this month at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction. I’ve given you the big five from where I sit. Here’s that sixth topic promised — the one that I believe we need to kindle.

#6, for kindling: Private schools in a public context

You’ll find “public purpose” and “public partnership” in current and recent issues of Independent School magazine, in the indy schools Twitter realm, and — a harbinger of progress, perhaps — in a recent publication from the U.S. Department of Education. Search “public partnership” on the National Association of Independent Schools website, and you’ll generate more than 50 relevant links.

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Harth’s “glocal” illustration, NAES Biennial Conference, 11/20/10 (Photo: Claudia Daggett)

I’d like to push us to re-frame this conversation in a subtle but important way. Much like our shift in thinking from community service to service learning, I believe we need to take the next step and begin to think about our work in connection to our communities (no matter how largely defined) as reciprocal and in context. Let’s throw out any semblance of the noblesse oblige attitude that we get involved in order to serve those less fortunate. Instead, we get involved because shared endeavors benefit us all, “raise us all up,” if you will.

Chris Harth’s model of “glocal” citizenship inspires me here. I first read of Harth’s model for wedding global and local service learning in “Going Glocal: Adaptive Education for Local and Global Citizenship,” in the Fall 2010 issue of Independent School magazine. Since then, I’ve had the privilege to hear him speak three times. He has me in his grips as soon as he brings out his Russian nesting dolls and places the school inside the town, the state, the U.S., and the world. He makes the case that we need to think of and teach about students’ multiple levels of belongingness, about citizenship in a new and broader way.

My hope is that our institutional self-images evolve, as well, to include school as citizen — of its local community, its region, and the world.

Why is this a good idea?

  1. We should do the right thing.  Let’s begin with the moral imperative. We live in this world and have a responsibility to be a part of it.
  2. We should offer a breadth of experiences and perspectives. Approached thoughtfully, widening our arc is good for students, parents, and faculty — making our experiences more diverse and richer as a result.
  3. We should pay it forward. Community awareness of your school can improve your position in the admissions market, attract new benefactors, engender a general feeling of support from neighbors and town that — in addition to its “feel good” qualities — can be helpful down the line.
  4. We should bproactive. Reinforcing the charitable aspect of your organization helps to secure your non-profit status.

What might this look like?

  • Reciprocal partnerships with public schools and other public-oriented non-profits.  Especially impressive in this department are the student-to-student programs in which both populations are in a position to both give and receive. The recently-established National Network of Schools in Partnership offers several good examples. The NAIS video library offers four interviews with representatives of schools doing good work in this area, a collection compiled by Matthew Bradley of East Woods School in conjunction with Whitney Work, NAIS Director of Legislative Affairs, Jefferson Burnett, NAIS VP, Government and Community Relations, and ESHA.
  • Relationships with local and state legislators and government officials, particularly in order to further the common good. An impressive example: William Penn Charter School saw it as their civic responsibility to participate in a Philadelphia School Reform Commission hearing in March 2013, protesting the potential closing of their local public elementary school. Meet your local public school superintendent for coffee. Invite your state representative to tour your school.
  • A campus periodically open to the surrounding community. During my tenure as Head of School at Friends Academy, we offered the community a free summer concert on the grounds and garnered foundation support to fund high-quality professional children’s entertainment as a draw. Old Trail School hosts a farmers’ market.

Let’s consider our sense of place in new ways. Let’s think of ourselves as part of the fabric: in context.

Recommended reading:

Bassett, P. Avoiding the tragedy of the commons. Independent School (NAIS), Spring 2011.

Drinkwater, D., & Smethurst, J. Partnership now: A paradigm shift in education. Independent School (NAIS), Spring 2011.

Gow, P. Defining the public purpose of independent schools. Independent Schools: Common Perspectives, EdWeek, 4/12/13.

5 Trending Topics No Elementary School Leader Should Miss: LGB+T

Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at a gathering earlier this month at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction. So, one at a time, here are the big five from where I sit, along with a sixth topic that I believe we need to kindle.

#5: LGB+T

We’ve been reading and writing about equity in independent schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for some time, particularly as it relates to gay, lesbian, and bisexual faculty, parents, and students. What’s new is the thinking about addressing the needs of the transgender child — and the fact that we’re doing so at the elementary school level.

In July, in “The next civil rights frontier,” the New York Times reported a ground-breaking case that paves the way for considering those needs in a broader framework than mere accommodation. According to the Times, under an agreement between federal civil rights officials and the School District of Arcadia, California, the district will “revise its policies and ensure that the student, who was born female but has since assumed a male name and identity, is treated fairly and like other male students.” The key phrase, “like other male students,” is cited directly from the settlement agreement.

Let’s be clear: This case suggests that separate-but-equal solo lavatories, locker rooms, and dorm rooms don’t meet the new standard. Instead, we need to give the child access to the venues of those aligned with his or her gender identity, regardless of physical attributes.

This particular student made the transition in grade five, and the case against the school district was brought when he reached grade seven. As I talk with heads of independent schools in my local region, I’ve learned of a transgender student in grade three and another in grade six. So, heads up!

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Some helpful resources:

  • Gender across the grades. Gender Spectrum. This website gives a good overview of the developmental needs of the transgender child and practical suggestions about building a healthy and welcoming school community.

Photo: Veronica Louro

5 Trending Topics No Elementary School Leader Should Miss: Generational Shift

Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at a gathering last week at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I’ve tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction. So, one at a time, here are the big five from where I sit, along with a sixth topic that I believe we need to kindle.

#4: Generational Shift

Twenty years ago, I heard heads of schools lamenting that the faculty population was changing. Compared to the past, young teachers were not so interested in the “triple threat” assignments of teaching, coaching, and “after hours” duties and more willing to set limits and ask for what they wanted and needed. This crop of teachers was also more attuned to work-life balance and more likely to appreciate and do well with autonomy.

Ten years ago, I heard teachers lamenting that the parent population was changing. Compared to the past, parents were less deferential to school authority and less interested or able to volunteer their time. They were also more keenly attentive to their children’s needs, desires, and comfort.

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Today, association directors are taking note: the needs and preferences of our members are changing. As a group, members are less enthusiastic about meetings, prefer their communication in digital form, and want to know how their involvement in a group or project will benefit them directly. They’re more self-sufficient and also more open to new ideas.

Sounding familiar? This, of course, is the transition from Baby Boomers, born from 1946-1964, to their Gen X counterparts born from 1965 to 1981. And a new change is coming, as the next generation, the Y’s, reach our teaching population in a few years.

If we’re going to serve our constituents well, we need to pay attention and to develop what Sarah Sladek calls “generational intelligence.” Two very good resources from Sladek, offering research and reflections on the characteristics of recent generations are:

Our theme song for this post? Cue Bob Dylan, iconic member of The Silent Generation, with The Times They Are A-Changin.’

5 Trending Topics No Elementary School Leader Should Miss: The PLN

Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at a gathering today at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I’ve tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction.  So, one at a time, here are the big five from where I sit, along with a sixth topic that I believe we need to kindle.

#3: The Professional Learning Network

The evolution of the professional learning network – PLN – signals a move away from the belief that we can meet our faculty professional development needs with a one-time, one-size-fits-all lecture from a visiting expert. We’re beginning to think of the adults in our school communities as learners, too, and we’re expecting them to take a more active and strategic role in their own growth.

Thinking of the teacher as master learner is helpful, a mindset for which we can thank David Warlick. The notion embodies two important facets: the importance of considering the learning conditions for the teachers in our school communities; and the value of holding them (and ourselves) up as models for students and parents.

Professional development experiences are becoming more personal: based on the professional goals of the individual faculty member. Teacher educator and author Shelley Terrell argues that this personal approach is not only more likely to meet the needs of the learner, it increases the learner’s likelihood of passionate engagement and therefore makes a more profound impact.

Opportunities to connect with other educators have mushroomed in recent years with the advent of social media, webinars, and online courses. We’re sharing resources on Wikis and Nings, receiving and offering links to worthwhile reading to a customized group on Twitter, and participating in virtual workshops and other experiences. George Siemens offered us his learning theory of connectivism in 2005 – which seems so long ago when we consider the tools available to us now.

Finally, we’re thinking more these days about building a collaborative culture of adult learners. Peter Gow wrote eloquently about this very recently in his Education Week blog post, Collaboration, Cooperation, and Just Plain Sharing, noting the particular challenge in independent schools where teachers are inclined to lean in to their “autonomy.” Gow makes the important case for the school leader’s role in “getting beyond jealousy and a culture of reputation… with a determined effort to start teachers talking about what it means to be an effective teacher, maybe even an excellent one, in their school.”

A fresh look at the needs of adult learners is important not just to schools but to their associations, as well, of course.  The Elementary School Heads Association has had good success with small-group video conferences on topics of interest, including bi-monthly Book Talks. Inspired by Seth Godin’s When a Conference Works (and Doesn’t), we’re thinking about our annual conference model, considering how to maximize our time together, leverage media resources, and create connections that reach before and after an annual conference.

Facilitating the personal and passionate engagement of a productive, collaborative culture of master learners: what a worthwhile goal!

5 Trending Topics No Elementary School Leader Should Miss: Student as Tinkerer

Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at an upcoming gathering at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I’ve tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction.  So, one at a time, here are the big five from where I sit, along with a sixth topic that I believe we need to kindle.

#2: Student as Tinkerer

I love this:

“Doing” is what matters. Makers learn to make stuff by making stuff. Schools often forget this as they endlessly prepare students…. Students can and should be scientists, artists, engineers and writers today. The affordable and accessible technology of the Maker Movement makes learning by doing a realistic approach for schools. – Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager, Why the Maker Movement matters to educators. SmartBlog on Education, 8/20/13

I love it because, in it, I hear this:

“…give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results” — John Dewey, Democracy and education, 1916 (New York: The Free Press, 1944, p. 154)

While Martinez and Stager are Pied Pipers of applying the new Maker Movement to schools, their words support a wide variety of approaches that embody respect for the student’s agency — everything from Montessori education to project-based learning to classroom endeavors in design thinking, building models, coding, and 3-D printing. Many of these agency-oriented approaches and activities integrate new technologies (Martinez and Stager see this as central), but I think the real news is that this is a resurgence in our acknowledgment of the inherent value and integrity of the learner.

Further reading:

Roscoria, T. Why the “Maker Movement” is popular in schools. Center for Digital Education, 8/14/13.

Costanza, K. The Maker Movement makes its way into Pittsburgh classrooms. Remake Learning, 8/26/13.

Vrotny, V. First pass — Innovation lab. Multifaceted Refractions, 8/23/13.

Hutton, P. Coding to learn: The 21st century curriculum. Huffington Post, 6/19/13.

The Coded Curriculum.” Beaver Country Day School. Video (4 min.)