Archive forMay, 2012

Lessons learned at New Schools Venture Fund Summit 2012

I was up in San Francisco since Monday at the New Schools Venture Fund Summit. A few thoughts and lessons learned:

1. Teacher preparation, school leadership development
I was struck by the innovative things that are happening at places like Charles Sposato Grad School, Relay Grad School, Aspire Public Schools, and Urban Teacher Residency United. I am more convinced than ever that we need to get the faculty members from these various programs together to learn from one another. I am on this.

2. Teacher leadership
I think that the teacher leadership program in our graduate school is doing great things. I had great conversations with Tony Klemmer from National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education and someone else whose name I have forgotten (if you read this – please contact me!) about how they are explicitly working with teachers to help them develop leadership skills. For example, how do you take leadership with your peers when you do not have formal authority? We are doing this in some ways I know, but I’m interested in thinking more about how to make this even more explicit in our curriculum.

3. It’s not just test scores
I noticed a palpable shift in the conversation at the summit this year, where more people were beginning to say out loud, “Our students have high test scores but aren’t doing well in college, so test scores are not enough!” This made me feel hopeful.

4. It’s all about “student achievement”
Despite the small shift I noticed, the overwhelming feeling at this meeting is still, “all that matters is student achievement (and unstated: and all we mean by student achievement is bubble test scores).” And this is coming from my friends. This made me feel depressed.

5. The role of for-profits in education
I wrote about how Rick Hess has helped me feel more open to the positive role that for-profits can play in education. Every time I start to get irritated by for-profit people, I try to rein myself in (Rick, I really do, I swear!). Still, I felt overwhelmed by all the characters at the Summit who are looking to get rich capitalizing on the “$700 billion education market.” This made me feel creeped out.

6. Blended learning
Just when I started to get interested in blended learning, I had to go to a meeting where 3 out of 4 people are making a living selling “blended learning solutions” to schools, because “blended learning has been proven to work.”
Umm, no it hasn’t.

7. Putting college in kids’ faces
At my visit to Aspire K-6 and 7-12 schools, I was most struck by how explicit they were about college. Every classroom had a college flag at the door. The teacher was wearing a hat from her alma mater. At first, I thought it was hokey. Then I heard a 4th grader talking about his top three colleges (Harvard, Berkeley, and Stanford, by the way). I saw 8th graders asking a visitor to their classroom what college he went to and then gasping with pleasure and recognition that he had gone to Duke and Stanford. I don’t think our students would act like that which made me wonder…

8. The Stanford d school is legit
Everyone and their brother is all geeked out on “design thinking.” I was totally skeptical.

Me: “Ok, but what is design thinking?”
Everyone and their brother: “It’s like a process, man.”

I was wrong. My visit to the d school was terrific. When I walked into the building, I almost gasped. I thought, “This is how people react when they first walk into High Tech High.” Super innovative space inside a boring old box. Two little nuggets from the workshop:
a. empathy — the idea of leaving your own professional ideas behind and really understanding your students/users/customers and trying to really understand what their needs are. Writing it down makes it seem trite. It struck me as powerful.
b. delightful ideas — although this reminded me of this, our facilitator made a great move to tell us to focus on “delightful ideas.” After we spent some time brainstorming a solution to a problem, we were then directed to pick a “delightful solution” to focus on. It was exactly right, because I had already felt myself gravitating towards one of our most practical solutions. Focusing on a delightful solution had a group of strangers almost falling on the floor laughing as we thought through our solution, which started to seem more practical the more we fleshed out the idea.

9. Kudos to the NSVF team for having the summit be less about going to lectures and more about having interesting experiences and making connections with stunning colleagues. By far the best summit in quite a few years.

All in all, a great trip.


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