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.

Slowing Down as the World Speeds Up

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by Thomas Friedman on the topic of his recent book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. I have been a fan of Friedman since I read The World is Flat, and I have continued to read his columns in The New York Times. While I don’t always agree with him, I find his work informative and provocative. Last night’s talk was no exception.

Thank you for Being Late

Thank you for Being Late

In this book (which I have not yet read but plan to very soon), Friedman outlines a framework for understanding why it feels like everything is moving exponentially faster all the time: because it is. I was struck by his description of all the technological innovations that happened in 2007 — the launching of the iPhone, the founding of Airbnb, and the beginning of fracking, just to name a few — the significance of which were lost in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. I appreciate the way he can describe complex phenomena in relatively simple terms non social-scientists like most of us can grasp. For example, since the rate of technological growth far outpaces the rate of human adaptation to change, it is no wonder we feel behind all the time.

The first thing I loved about his talk was the way he started it, by explaining the title: Thank You for Being Late. Friedman loves people and spends a lot of time over coffee and meals with them. He began to notice a pattern when people would arrive late for meetings, apologizing profusely, describing the reasons, etc. He realized that rather than being annoyed, he was actually grateful. Their being late gave him a chance to observe a room, eavesdrop on a nearby conversation, stare out the window and sometimes make a new connection between two seemingly disparate thoughts he was having. So he began to thank them for being late, and relish those moments even more. I was impressed he didn’t use the time to check his Twitter and Facebook accounts; clearly he saw the beauty in reflecting instead.

In the middle of his talk, he got my attention when he spoke about advice he gives his daughters as they engage in the world of work which has changed so much in the span of one generation. Friedman is roughly the same age as I am, so I really resonated with this part. He said he asks them to “always think like an immigrant (stay hungry – he called it being a “paranoid optimist”), like an artisan (take pride), like a startup (always be in beta), and like an entrepreneur (what is your value added?). Where we had to find jobs, young people today have to invent them.

Finally, I really enjoyed the way he ended his talk. He described the suburban town near Minneapolis where he grew up, how the Jewish families became integrated with the Scandinavian families to create a tight-knit community that looked out for each other. We all need to protect, respect and connect with each other. If we are to get along and work to solve the massive problems facing our world today, we need to build and then rely on our families and our wonderfully diverse communities. Family and community have always been powerful foundations in our country, and maybe if we learn to relish the moments when people arrive late to meetings we can use the time to pause and enhance the connections that make them strong.

If you’re interested in watching his Friedman’s entire talk, Town Hall Seattle has made it available!

So Long for the Summer

17690_10153812215937796_914245462119184470_nHappy Summer! We are in the time of the Full Moon and the Summer Solstice, and it is time to take a break from blogging.

I just returned from the second annual ISEEN Teacher Training Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This year we worked with educators from the math, sciences and arts disciplines, all of whom left rejuvenated and inspired to use experiential pedagogies and practices in their classrooms.

Starting next week I will be participating in a Where There Be Dragons Educator Course in Nepal, followed by a week of unscheduled time that scares me in all the best ways. August brings family visits and reflection; enjoyment of the Pacific Northwest when it is most glorious.

I will have stories to share on the blog in September. Until then, have a wonderful summer of experiencing life unconnected to technology!

Finding Digital Balance

technology44-743413Most people I know have a love-hate relationship with the internet (I wrote another post about unplugging a few months ago), especially on our cell phones. We love that there is so much information at our fingertips, and the way we can stay connected to people who are not in our immediate vicinity. But we also resent our reliance on these same devices, and recognize that they can make us feel more alienated than connected to each other. I admire Louis C.K for shutting off the internet on his phone, and I love that he had his 10-year old daughter set up the restriction for him (watch the video where he talks about it here).

neden-yurtdisi-egitim-danismanlik-hizmeti-almaliyim-7961In education, digital tools are increasing in importance, and one of the most important access issues in global education has become narrowing the digital divide. Schools like the Global Online Academy, the Online School for Girls, and the Stanford Online High School develop courses that allow people around the world to connect and learn together. Students who do not have the financial means to travel, or deem the risks too high, or are concerned about carbon footprint can develop global citizenship through engagement with people across the globe. Although online learning has been around some years now, schools are still working to figure out the best ways to enhance education using available tools. I am encouraged by the efforts of schools like High Tech High, Big Picture Learning, and Mysa School, which are experimenting with a blended learning approach: part of the day in project-based, student-driven group projects, and part of the day using technology to address individual needs.

bitcoinI have been exposed to a number of tools designed to help us connect online and I’ve found that none of them offer quite what I’m looking for. The technology is still evolving, and so is the Internet connection in different parts of the world. I have participated in webinars for professional development, some of which are highly interactive and allow for connections that continue after the class. Others have been somewhat stilted and not conducive to innovation. Platforms like Webex, Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts seem to work sometimes but not always. I recently had the opportunity to try a relatively new online platform for all kinds of asynchronous connecting called Bundle that was quite promising. Using social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and subscribing to blogs of interest are other ways to stay informed and connect, but only if the people with whom you want to connect use the same platforms.

Mobile technology that bypasses the Internet and works off cell towers is another promising option, and many communities in the developing world are finding great success in joining the digital revolution in this way. Programs like TabLab and One Laptop Per Child are working to develop programs in rural villages to close the gap.

IMG_9926I am visiting Austin, Texas for the first time this week, and as I stroll around unfamiliar neighborhoods, I am both grateful for and aware of the downside of smartphone technology. I love that I can find coffee shops, yoga studios, live music venues and the most efficient way to get somewhere. I also miss when I used to go to a new city and relished getting lost so I could enjoy the adventure of finding my way back. Of course, I can still do that, I reminded myself today. I put away the phone and aimlessly wandered. Before I knew it, I had struck up great conversations with people: I discovered new ways to get around, places to visit that only locals know about, and even found two people who had moved here from Seattle to share some love for our home town. So today, I appreciate technology, and I vow to remember to shut it off more often so I can better connect with others and with my surroundings.

Strategic Planning: One Goal, Two Models

I am on my way to New Orleans for some high level strategic planning at two different organizations. For the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN), I am running the meeting as board chair, and for the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG), I am reporting to the board in my role as chair of the strategic planning committee. These two groups have experienced rapid growth over the past few years and both boards need to make sure we have a plan in place to ensure mission-driven programming, adequate membership benefits, and sustainable staffing and governance structures that make it all possible.

1936354_10156754530475693_4591071554704292086_nI am intrigued by the differences and similarities in the processes each group has chosen to follow. In the case of ISEEN, we started working on a plan at our board retreat in September, carried it forward at a meeting in January, and now we’ll dive into vision and values before putting together our specific goals and timeline. Our part time Executive Director is leading this part of the process, and we are using a terrific resource called The Do-Good Strategic Plan Template for: Non Profits, Charities and Volunteer Organizations, by Rebecca Macfarlane. We will nominate a committee at this meeting that will steward the process and hold us accountable going forward.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 5.46.18 PMAt GEBG, we had lengthy discussions of mission, vision and values at an earlier board meeting, and the Executive Director appointed a committee at that point to create a plan and bring it to the board for review before our annual conference. This committee, made up of current board members, worked in pairs to develop our ideas around the subject areas of greatest need and desire, and then tasked one member of the group to create a draft open to comment. This draft outlines one and three-year milestones for each identified goal. If the board approves the overall plan, this same committee will be responsible for assigning specific people and dates to each milestone and hold the organization accountable for achieving our stated goals.

12974445_10156755223625693_6479911054720065382_nWhile strategic planning for these small and growing organizations is challenging, I am struck by one simple fact: taking the time necessary to do deep core work is what makes specific tasks possible.  Having a strong mission is important, but developing vision and values around that mission and then making sure everything grows out of the same center is what ensures success. Exactly how the process happens is far less important than making sure it does happen, and taking the time to develop a process that is inclusive, comprehensive, and thoughtful can lead to an organization that is both idealistic and realistic. I look forward to these meetings, to the work that grows out of them, and to the GEBG annual conference immediately following: Laissez les bon temps roulet!