Educator Journey Series: Donald Anselmi

Donald Peru Honeymoon 2012Each month, the Educator Journeys Series features a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education. This week’s Educator Journey post is written by Donald Anselmi. Donald currently teaches Spanish and is the incoming Director of Pro Vita at Berkshire School, a 9th-12th college preparatory and boarding school in southwestern Massachusetts.  He lives on campus with his wife, Dana, who works in admissions, his son, Hudson, and his dog, Pancho.

Donald With Students On The Camino 2017 (first on right, bottom row)

Donald With Students On The Camino 2017 (first on right, bottom row)

As a father, husband, and educator, I don’t have to look far to realize that there is always room for growth in my quest to become a better global citizen.  On a recent trip to walk the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain with students, I came to the realization that both my passion for teaching and the Spanish language originated in the same country almost eighteen years earlier. This sudden nostalgia inspired me to reflect on all my adventures since my first trip abroad in high school, nearly twenty years ago. So many of these experiences equipped me with the skills and education to ultimately lead others on similar journeys.

Valle de Los Caidos, Spain, 1999

Valle de Los Caidos, Spain, 1999

In 1999, I was first exposed to a unique way of living on an abroad trip to Spain that was offered through my high school. I had been to Mexico a few times growing up and had come to know many Hispanics who lived in my hometown, but I lacked the tools and the language skills to really understand our cultural differences. During my homestay and school time in Valencia, I was fully immersed. While this experience was daunting and overwhelming at times, it forced me to adapt. I realized very early on that I would need to step outside of my comfort zone in order to understand both the language and culture. Because of this time spent abroad and many inspiring teachers, I ultimately decided to major in these subjects in college.

Northern Spain Galicia Santiago, 2003

Northern Spain Galicia Santiago, 2003

For the first couple years, I took a smorgasbord of classes in the liberal arts curriculum that my college offered. With each Spanish and History class I took, the more my passion grew in these areas. I loved all the stories and characters in history, and I kept referring back to my own experience in Spain. My parents urged me to go abroad for a full academic year. My nine months in Spain were even richer the second time there, with Madrid and the rest of the country as my playground. It was during that time that my love of Spanish and culture truly blossomed. All the while, I began to consider teaching by starting an internship at a local school.

Before I knew it, I was back in the United States working at a summer school teaching study skills. As my senior year came to an end, I was fortunate to land a wonderful job in California that launched my teaching career, and I have never looked back. During my first four years of teaching, I was mentored by great role models and taught thoughtful adolescents. I enjoyed having a lot of freedom with my teaching while getting my feet wet with experience. During my time in California and later at a middle school in Connecticut, I came to value the teaching of practical and life skills by trying to implement real-life scenarios both in and out of the classroom.  It was also during this time that I had the flexibility of traveling through new territories in the United States, Europe, and South America.

In the winter of 2009, about half way through this eighteen year period, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in Spanish. I took classes domestically and abroad, in Argentina and Mexico, where I was exposed to many global issues. During this Masters program, I also came to the realization that I was a visual and experiential learner. Living abroad in the summers of 2011 and 2012 was the best classroom that I could have asked for as I felt that I learned the most while I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

Where There Be Dragon's Nepal Group, 2016 (third from left, back row)

Where There Be Dragons Nepal Group, 2016

Because of my own global experiences, both as a student and an independent traveler, I knew that I would eventually want to provide trips for students of my own. I knew where I wanted to take them, but I still didn’t really know how to design a course. With recommendations from colleagues, I attended several conferences that gave me the confidence to pursue this passion.  I took two courses offered by Where There Be Dragons that helped me better understand how to safely push students out of their comfort zones to make them more globally competent in an experiential learning setting.  I also attended the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute that exposed me to many teachable moments and strategies to empower students.  

Donald With Students In Argentina, 2014

Donald With Students In Argentina, 2014

Since 2014, I have taken students to Argentina, California, and Spain. I have come to recognize the value of meetings and orientations before the actual trip to cover risks, cultural competence, team building, and student leadership. During the trips, I have found it extremely important to empower participants and to make sure each activity is intentional in pushing students to become more aware. With all of this “doing,” my hope is that students come away with both something for themselves and to offer the world. On my recent trip to Spain, students were assigned days to lead, and everyone kept an art journal where they wrote, drew, pasted Kodak photos and made collages about their experience that they would later share with the community. It was also awesome learning from my co-leader, an art teacher and former NOLS instructor, who was instrumental in designing this experience. I have found it truly helpful, inspirational and important to work alongside my colleagues. Both of these trips that I have offered have further highlighted the values of education and travel, and they constitute my most sacred moments of experiential learning. Leading these trips has helped me realize that I can continue to grow alongside my students as we push each other beyond what is comfortable and familiar to explore the unknown. 

We Must Not Forget Girls’ Education

I have been spending a lot of time on domestic issues recently. Post election, many of us seem to be interested in what caused the split in our country and how to heal it. We want to know who stands to suffer most under recent executive orders and policy proposals. Even issues with a global focus like climate change or immigrant and refugee support have tended to be locally-focused. The Global Weeks staff (ok, let’s be real, Kaitlin Fisher and I), spent an hour last week with a Bush School class called The Immigration Crisis: Understanding the Layers. Students will spend the next month improving their understand of the legal, social, historical and personal challenges surrounding immigration, and we are helping them set up some of the experiential components of the project. In addition to visiting the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project office, they will have sessions with ICE, the ACLU, the former Seattle Detention Center, and with recent immigrants themselves. The students and teachers are energized to learn and get involved, and it promises to be a wonderful course.

The Courage to Persist

The Courage to Persist

I was reminded last Thursday that, while we are paying close attention to domestic issues, we must not lose sight of the many important global issues, remembering how closely they are connected to our local challenges. Global Washington hosted a lunchtime event featuring an organization called Sahar that supports girls’ education in Afghanistan. We heard from the Executive Director, a board member, and an Afghan fellow about the difference their work is making to improve girls’ access to education. To date, they have built or rebuilt 22 schools that serve more than 22,000 girls annually. Girls’ education and women’s entrepreneurship programs like this one that was recently highlighted in the Impact Hub newsletter are making a huge difference around the world and in our local communities. What is good for girls across the globe is good for everyone. In related news, I learned at a business event today that Jonathan Sposato, local co-founder of Geekwire and CEO of PicMonkey, made a commitment to invest only in companies with at least one female founder. At PicMonkey, he is committed to maintaining a 50/50 ratio of women to men on the staff.

In addition to learning about how Sahar’s very small initiative has blossomed into a hugely transformative program that works through the ministry of education to change thousands of lives in Afghanistan, we were treated to some pretty sobering statistics about personal giving. Seattle as a city ranks tenth from the bottom in individual giving as a percentage of gross national income. Of course our charitable foundations push up the amount overall we give as a city, but as individuals we fall short. I was quite surprised to see these statistics, and vow to do my own part to both educate myself and contribute what I can to causes I believe in. Girls and women, education, and immigrant rights are definitely on my list.

Seattle at the bottom of the individual giving chart

Seattle at the bottom of the individual giving chart

Student Journey Series: Zoe Schuler

first canoliEach month, the Student Journeys Series features a guest blog post by a former student of Vicki’s. They write about how their lives have been shaped through their global education experiences. This week’s Student Journey post is written by Zoe Schuler. Zoe recently moved from Los Angeles back to her hometown of Seattle, Washington, where she is applying to local nonprofits that serve the community’s most vulnerable populations. 

I am emphatically grateful that travel has played a profound role in my life, and cannot overestimate its impact on the evolution of my character. My parental units have always been upfront about their investment in education —  education both in the classroom, and experiential education in the world at large. Thus my first departures from the country happened before I learned to ride a bike.

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

In the late 1990’s, my dad was invited to a conference in Milan, and we decided to make it a family affair. We visited the capital, Stockholm, and Umeå, a small town in Northern Sweden. There, we stayed with friends we had made the previous year when they had spent time in Seattle. To this day, I consider these Swedes an extension of my American family. I remember falling in love with Europe’s stately old buildings and picturesque fountains. I even remember getting canker sores from the candy I was given in exchange for my equanimity on the long flight. I remember these things decades later in more detail than I remember eating my breakfast this morning. Travel intensifies everything, because you are jolted into the reality of being alive by being firmly removed from your routine.  From the new scents, to new sights to new sounds, your senses struggle to function concurrently: The eyes competing with the nose, with the hands and the ears. It is overwhelming, and it is glorious.

I knew I was infected with the so-called travel bug, and the virus wouldn’t lie dormant for long. By middle school I was itching to go away again. When I learned about the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for a short language immersion program through my school, I was desperate to go. My parents understood the impact such an experience would have on me at age 14, and made the sacrifice to accommodate my journey. I had been to sleepaway camp, but never away from my parents and country at same time. Costa Rica was not an altogether easy trip for me — marked by, among other misfortunes, an acute case of sun poisoning that left me sicker than I’d ever been in my life. My strength returned enough for me to zip line through the jungle a few days later, and by the time I returned to American soil, I wore a mantle of newfound independence which still defines my person some decade and a half later. This experience impelled me to travel more, to travel further, to travel longer; it impelled me and it prepared me.

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

When I traveled to India at age seventeen, it was my first understanding of something more akin to actually living abroad rather than traveling abroad. I spent a month there, volunteering for a Grassroots Cooperative that promoted economic self-sufficiency in rural Ranikhet. It was part of my high school’s Global Service Learning Program that would send small groups of students to countries all around the globe, where we had the pleasure of staying with local families and working with local organizations. We got to know our families, developed relationships replete with inside jokes and playful swatting. My Indian grandmother liked to see how close she could get to piercing my nose before her son would realize her intention and intervene, waving his hands wildly for her to stop. She would also spank me good-naturedly if she saw me around the homestead without my kurta. We did not speak even one word of the other’s language, but our interactions expressed a comfortable intimacy based on a mutual pluckiness. Even now, I can’t write about her without my lips instinctively stretching into a grin.

Jams & Spices

Jams & Spices

I got close to my fellow student travelers as well. The foreignness of it all bonded us, and we had daily check-ins to openly discuss the current state of our bowels and bowel movements. We ate dal for nearly every meal, and slept in shared rooms, in cots that felt small and hard compared to the plush beds that most of us had back home. We took showers in darkness, pouring buckets of cold water over our naked shivering bodies, scrubbing with a single bar of Dial soap. We saw poverty in forms darker than we could have imagined, and had to grapple with the recognition of our privilege and simultaneous present-moment powerlessness. Our volunteer work consisted mainly of helping the cooperative develop a website that featured their handmade clothing; we spent some time grinding spices and planting trees, but the true work was getting us to think bigger than ourselves, and think differently, less rigidly. Part of the work, I think, was to get us to understand just how much we don’t know about the world, and to transfer that realization to our everyday lives. How much do we really know about the struggles of our classmates, our neighbors, the refugees we see at the grocery store? What common interests or similar dreams might we share? Queries such as these tend to incite curiosity, and empathy, and a desire to connect more deeply to more people.  

Traveling forces you to ask questions about everything, including yourself, to dig deeper, to become a more self-sufficient human being—even when that means asking for help. Global education speaks to the importance of collaboration with people from other backgrounds, helps you learn how to reach creative solutions even in the face of unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable situations. I believe I am a more capable, kind, and dynamic human being because of my global travel experiences.

india2I always had the feeling that there was a big world out there, but my India exchange was my first realization that the rest of the world might be truly accessible to me, and I to it. Travel was not simply an exhilarating tear into the unknown, but a representation of how I would lead my life. Not only would I go on to spend a month in China, to write travel blogs in multiple European countries and study abroad in Rome, but I would forge my own ever-evolving, unfurling path according to my own moral compass. For me, this wasn’t so much a profound shift as it was a profound cementation of who I was.

Since entering the workforce, I have been working people-centric jobs, ones that require deep empathy, innovative thinking, and a commitment to societal change. I have taken risks, moved to new cities, said yes to opportunities that intimidated me. And yes, I am daydreaming about my next big trip abroad.

 

Educator Journey Series: Ross Wehner

urlEach month, the Educator Journeys Series features a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education. This week’s Educator Journey post is written by Ross Wehner. Ross is founder of World Leadership School and TabLab, both of which partner with K-12 schools to transform learning and create next-generation leaders.

Rather than talk about my background as an educator, I want to highlight a movement every educator should learn about and (hopefully) support: the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), a fast-growing coalition of private schools that is prototyping a new college transcript based on mastery of skills, rather than mere content knowledge. I believe this movement will, over the next decade, create a powerful alternative to ABCD grades and help upend the tyrannical college admissions process.

Our Students option 2The college admissions process has long stymied innovation across the entire K-12 spectrum and created an unhealthy and stressful learning environment for students. College admissions officers need something quick and easy – like ABCD grades and SAT scores – in order to sift through hundreds of thousands of application. But grades, and SAT scores, measure only a thin band of what students and schools can do – and they stress out our kids in the process.

Vicki Weeks and I looked at the college admissions process five years ago when we helped start Global Circles, a coalition of global education organizations. After studying the problem for a year, I had to say the serenity prayer for my own health and sanity (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”). I realized that shifting the direction of all the colleges and universities in the United States, not to mention the College Board, would require a certain type of leader and movement.

Scott Looney discussing the Mastery Transcript

Scott Looney discussing the Mastery Transcript

I heard that leader, Scott Looney, speak for the first time a few weeks ago and the movement is the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Looney is Head of Hawken School in Cleveland and he is the tenacious leader of the MTC movement, which now numbers 93 member schools — up from 66 just a mere two weeks ago! MTC’s goal was to reach 100 schools in the 2017-18 school year, but they will obviously exceed that goal. MTC is working only with independent schools but they eventually want to create a transcript used by the 37,000 high school in the United States – public, private, charter and parochial.

He and Doris Korda, Hawken’s Associate Head, have been touring the nation raising support for their idea. I heard them at the OESIS Conference in Los Angeles two weeks ago, at NAIS last week in Baltimore, and then talked with Scott this morning. World Leadership School is joining this consortium and will volunteer our time and expertise in whatever way we can to advance this important movement.

The new online transcript meets the litmus test of allowing an admissions officer to get a decent understanding of a student’s performance in two minutes or less. Under the Mastery Transcript students gain micro-credits (not grades) for a series of skills such as analytic and creative thinking, leadership and teamwork, global perspective, etc. It will allow college admission officers to see a more complete picture of a student’s strengths  — and without using any grades or numbers (the current idea, likely to change, is a sort of multi-colored spider web with featured credits listed at the side — see below ). Admissions officers can even click down into every skill the student has to see the standard, and then click down further to see the individual items of student work (videos, art work, writing) supporting that standard.Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 2.41.24 PM

This transcript will be hosted in a yet-to-be-built technology platform that Looney estimates could cost between $4-$8 million. Some of this money will come from member dues, but most from private fundraising and grants. The Consortium is currently pursuing a $2 million grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation. Fingers crossed.

It’s an ambitious idea but I have a clear sense that this coalition will pull it off. It’s time. Our students are stressed out; teachers have inflated grades almost to the point where the grades are meaningless; schools are held back from innovating; and even college admissions officers admit the whole system is broken.

A few innovative schools have been experimenting for years with alternative assessments. What’s different about the Consortium is that Looney is a hard-knuckled realist who is assembling a coalition of schools which wield real clout in the college marketplace. Independent schools may only educate 1% of students in the US, but they provide 9% of all Ivy League students and 25% of the full-paying students in private colleges in the US, according to the MTC.

Looney plans to wield the coalition’s influence to become what he calls a “credible partner” to universities — in other words, the MTC will come up with a strong working prototype and then work to gain endorsements from leading universities. Once the key colleges and universities are on board, Looney thinks it will be easier for parents and students to try the new transcript. He envisions that most MTC members will at first allow families to choose between either the traditional or new mastery transcript. So schools will have a mixture of students being evaluated in two basic ways – some receiving grades, others receiving micro-credits. The process of switching completely to a mastery transcript may take 15 years or more, and some schools may never feel they need to make the switch entirely.

The college admissions process stymies innovation at our schools and it has long created a toxic environment for our students. “What we measure, we do,” remarked management consultant Peter Drucker. ABCD grades represent only a thin slice of a student, and a tiny slice of all that a school can do. While we have grades, students and schools will be forced to perform within that tiny, unfair slice. There is a much larger world of learning out there that the Mastery Transcript Consortium will help unlock. Let’s get this done.

Founding and Member Schools

Founding and Member Schools

Washington State Charter Schools

Last week Vicki and I went to an Educators’ Night put on by an organization called Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters for short).  To be honest, when we signed up for the event we had little idea what to expect. We both knew that there has been an ongoing legal battle over whether or not Charter Schools are constitutional — just under two weeks ago supporters of the schools won a huge victory when a King County Superior Court judge ruled in their favor. We went in excited to learn more and see what was already happening the the eight existing Charter Schools that are open across Washington State.

The event opened with mingling followed by opening remarks by Steve Mullen, president of the Washington Roundtable and one of the original board members of WA Charters. Steve advocated in Olympia for charter legislation from the mid-1990s to 2004, culminating in the successful passage of a charter law that ultimately was overturned via referendum. While he knows the previous legal battles well, his opening focused on the future of Charter Schools in Washington and the importance of reaching students who are underrepresented and/or underperforming in their existing public schools.

16708446_1429702317074801_326630255262463517_nAfter the talk, the group of educators in attendance divided into breakout sessions focusing on various topics. Vicki and I went to a session to learn about what it takes to start a new Charter. We heard from visionary leaders who had participated in WA Charter’s School Incubation Program as well as those currently running schools. The conversation was fruitful, and I left daydreaming about what a fully experiential Charter School in Seattle might look like.

After the session, we had a bit more time to mingle and we spent that time chatting with Dan Calzaretta, the founder of Willow Public School in Walla Walla. Dan’s school will open in the 2017-2018 school year and it will fulfill three goals: Provide a rigorous, personalized education to all students, ensure that all students finish middle school with the skills necessary to excel in advanced high school courses and create an engaging, innovative school where all students find joy and purpose. While his vision for the school is impressive, I was struck by his process of getting the school to inception. To gauge what parents truly cared about in their children’s school, Dan and his team went door to door to talk to people in person. Because of the high population of Spanish speakers in Walla Walla, they made sure that in all of their interviews. community meetings, and marketing materials were in both English and Spanish. His passion for his students was clear, as was his dedication to moving away from a “one size fits all” model of public education.

In the days after the event I have grown increasingly excited about the future of WA Charters and the education reform taking place in these schools. Educators’ Night gave me just the nudge I needed to learn more and get involved, and Vicki and I plan to go volunteer at Rainier Prep in Seattle where one of her former students is the Special Education teacher. Stay tuned, we’ll post an account of that experience in the coming months! In the meantime, check out this video of reflections from the WA Charter’s Incubator Program.