Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Systematizing our Values

Over the weekend I was privileged to attend the Educon 2.1 conference in Philadelphia hosted by the Science Leadership Academy. SLA is into its third year of operation as a join project of the Philadelphia Public School System and the Franklin Institute. A large part of the success of the SLA rests with their visionary leader and principal Chirs Lehmann. The Educon conference is hosted by educators for educators with no corporate sponsorships. It is a volunteer run conference with some heavy hitters in the progressive movement even chipping in to collect garbage and clean tables. If you can get away to one conference next year I highly recommend Educon 2.2 in beautiful Philadelphia.

Chris offered a session during Sunday about connecting values with systems that continues to leave my mind spinning. We are often pushed to espouse our values. Our mission statements invoke them we plaster them all over our schools on laminated colored cardboard but how do we know we live them? If we can’t point to systems in place that make these values a lived reality odds are we only pay them lip service.

This made me think about our own values in my high school. We list seven: faith, individual dignity as a gift from God, family, service to others, personal responsibility, teamwork, love of learning, and tradition. Yet there seems to be a few we only pay lips service to.

We value teamwork but we don’t seem to do too much of it in regards as all the various constituents working together. How many team settings do we have that involve administrators, teaches, students, and parents? I’d argue none unless you count attending an athletic event or some type of year end picnic. We have a school leadership team that blends teachers and administrators (more on this later) to solve common problems together but we rarely have invited students into the discussion. We seem to relegate their role to that of detainees to be managed instead of co-owners in the work we do.

In reflecting on this a few ideas come to mind: what about a student – faculty composed appeal board for disciplinary decisions? A student who truly perceives their offense and consequence as an outrage against fairness could appeal to a board of peers. The devil is always in the details but this would further develop our values of teamwork and responsibility.

I like this idea of identifying and creating systems that implement what we claim to value. Give the exercise a go in your own building and see what your analysis is.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Line Learning and the Catholic Secondary School

Technology is changing the world. There are still some pockets of resistance out there. I point to a local administrator who refuses to use email and sends all non verbal communications through the fax as an example. Most of us have accepted that technology has and will continue to radically change our daily experiences. The most recent Harvard Education letter chronicles the rise of on-line learning and its potential impact on bricks and mortar education. The Florida Virtual School is a noted example and forty four states tout online learning requirements. I would argue an online course or two is par for the course with most four year college experiences.

Many of our schools already utilize online learning as a way to supplement our own educational offerings. We have a handful of students taking advanced math courses through Stanford. We provide the computer and the time and they take the course. Critics are apt to point out that the experience of school: community, relationship, diversity of experience, can often be lost through an online learning environment. This is true perhaps in the sense of one to one teacher to student interaction only. Technology has advanced with break neck speed and the ability for groups of students to collaborate online through blogs, wikis, nings, and group skype calls is changing this isolated dynamic.

We are tinkering with the idea of offering a few "blended" electives for next year. What we mean by "blended" is a handful of our teachers will offer electives in an online plus face to face method. Course content will be made available online through the use of free content sharing services like slideshare and archive.org. A classroom wiki will provide the place to chronicle and share collaborative work. The teacher will be available for skype conferences at certain times each week and the students and teacher will share a working lunch (lunch + homeroom) once a week for further clarification and discussion. The students course schedule during the day would not be altered too much with the exception of a study hall period being added in some cases. Better is the study hall actually has access to the web. Cost wise the majority of everything in terms of software costs is virtually zero if you have instructors who understand web 2.0 technology. Trust me, some of them do.

Information is no longer scarce. The world of "Google" and being connected 24/7 has changed much of what we do. The sage on the stage model tied to a world of information scarcity is quickly being done away with. Clayton Christensen captures the shift in Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns "People will still go to a school building, but much of the learning will be offered online, and the role of the teacher in the physical classroom will change over time from sage on the stage to the guide on the side - to be a mentor, motivator, and coach....It will be a very different system, but it should be a much more rewarding system for everyone."

There are many different formats online learning can utilize. This "blended" approach does not usurp the brick mortar model but would free up some scheduling options for our students. In addition we'd have a form for testing new electives and make it easier to allow our teachers to experiment with electives they feel passionate about it. I'm personally interested in piloting one of these classes but picking a topic in line with my own interests and theirs may be a little difficult. I wonder how many takers we'd have for a class titled, Advanced Derivative Trading Strategies for Seasonal Grain Markets . But you never do know.

Kaplan University (for profit) has released some powerful ads that pay tribute to the shift online learning is causing. I've always taken issue with their ownership but hats off to the compelling advertisement. What do you think of the blended approach and what are you currently doing in your building with online learning initiatives?

I don't personally know much about Kaplan and their model. The sharing of the video is intended to reflect the scope of the change that is upon us not a recommendation for their individual model.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Putting the Fun in Fundraising

For most of us who hold leadership roles in secondary education our thoughts can often come to rest on financial matters. How do we finance the undertaking of Catholic education? Our lay staff demand competitive and just wages, our students deserve the latest and greatest in terms of technology, and our families shouldn't carry the full financial burden on their backs in terms of astronomical tuitions. We want our schools to be elite not elitist.

There is event driven fundraising (auctions, golf outings, socials, galas, etc.) and the myriad of development work (major gifts, annual giving, etc.) and a few of us our even brave enough to bridge over into the world of student based fundraising as well. Our charges sell wrapping paper, magazines, food, or some other highly desirable object. What if instead of treating our students as a budding door to door sales force we treat them as entrepreneurs capable of generating real returns?

A pastor in our diocese tried this with his own parishoners with great success. The Rev. Ric Schneider took $18,000 in donated funds and distributed in $100 lots to 1800 willing parish members with the marching orders of finding creative ways to return the original plus any earnings. Did it work? Absolutely. In the end the seed money was parlayed into $60,500. A percentage of the funds were distributed to a poor sister parish in the Appalachian mountains. Besides the impressive return of 236% the range of actions taken by the parish members is amazing.

What if we took Father Ric's idea and applied it to our own high schools? Would giving groups of hard working students some seed capital produce some big returns? I've got to believe with a little guidance and support Catholic high schools might find similar success. From the administrator's end this would be much more engaging than getting hit up for the annual Christmas wreath and cookie dough sales. Any thoughts or comments? Hats off to Father Ric and his parish for being so creative.

picture credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23065375@N05/2235525962/sizes/m/

Thursday, January 1, 2009

7 Things and Pop-Tastic

I’ve been tagged for the “7” things meme by Ed Shepherd from Learning to Collaborate. The idea is to share "7" things about you that readers of your blog wouldn't know about you unless you told them.
1. I have a twin sister who is also religious sister. She is a Franciscan nun. I call her sister – sister. She likes that better than penguin. Even though we didn’t grow up in Peoria in a funny way we now live a few blocks apart. Her convent is around the corner in West Peoria a lovely town referred to by locals as the “Catholic Ghetto”.
2. In a former job I worked with a soybean option group on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. I loved it but felt compelled to work in education. I still trade commodities on the side to make some extra scratch and I manage a handful of accounts for friends and family. I also teach our seniors every year about futures markets and how they work. We have a great time with the “PND futures project”.
3. I’ve driven a cab in the summers to make extra money. It’s a cash business and actually pays surprisingly well. The hours were a little rough 6 pm to 6 am and all but I did have a great time while doing it.
4. I love when telemarketers call I really do. I have so much fun with them. It cracks my wife up and makes my kids snort chocolate milk out their noses. I try to be nice as I play with them but it is a stitch to watch.
5. I attended Wabash College and changed my major four times. Biology to psychology to economics and finally theology. Wabash is a small liberal arts school in Crawfordsville Indiana and it is one of two all-male colleges left in the United States. Wabash also has the longest school song you’ve ever heard of. I played football and baseball there although “play” is a strong verb for my contribution to the team.
6. I’m only 31. People give me a hard time for being a principal at this age. They might be right. My hair is already turning white and I enjoy the endless parade of calls at home about non-important issues. I’m getting an unlisted number. But I love what I do and find it incredibly challenging and stimulating.
7. My kids are better dancers than me hands down. I’m a really, really, really, awful dancer. I agreed to dance the tango in last year’s spring musical play. In the second showing I fell on my ass and tried to sell it as if it was scripted. Thankfully it has been captured on video for all to see.
I’m supposed to pass this along and tag 7 others but to be honest I’m on the late end of the tagging and now that I’m it as I look around most the bloggers I can find have already been tagged. If you haven't been tagged then "tag" you're it.


That’s right I’ve been nominated by Paul for a pop-tastic award for having an intriguing blog with a small but growing audience. Thanks for the props and as part of being the receiver I will pass the award along to the following six bloggers who always keep me stimulated and coming back for more. I read a lot of great education blogs but part of pop-tastic is choosing blogs that you don’t find on everyone’s blog roll. They are:
Claire Thompson
Jan Borelli
Michael Parent
Mike Smith
Ed Shepherd
Bill Farren