Thursday, March 9, 2017

No Time to Waste: Post-#NAISAC 2017 Reflection

       I enjoyed the 20017 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference...but I didn't love it. I went into it with perhaps unrealistic high hopes. There certainly were some great moments within the experience. I met people in person with whom I previously had a close but only virtual relationship, in a couple of cases even leading to an embrace. I bumped into some folks I hoped to. I caught up with some folks I don't see often enough while enjoying good meals.A couple of keynotes, especially Brene Brown's, enthralled me. I hit paydirt about half the time on the workshop roulette wheel. In general, the typical large conference experience.
       One thing that was different--and should encourage all of us--is that more people, whether through conversation, blog posts, or tweets, seem to feel that some real innovation is starting to occur. Apparently more places have moved from realization to theory to ideation to implementation. And evidently they've done so in some very intriguing ways. I'm very excited by that sense.
       At the same time, though, I wonder. That's why a careful reader may have noticed the words seem, apparently, and evidently in the previous paragraphs. It's not that I'm cynical or skeptical. In fact, I'm quite hopeful. But my caution arises from my sense during the entire conference that I was, in the words of the great philosopher Yogi, experiencing "deja vu all over again."
       One of the biggest waves of that feeling came during Sir Ken Robinson's keynote. I love his work. I have since 2006, when his famous TED talk went viral. Therein lies the point. That was 11 years ago, and some of us were preaching this message even further back than that. I hope we've all caught on by now...indeed, well before now. Another such wave inundated me with all the buzz about the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Admittedly, I know little about it and haven't done much further research. But a colleague who has asked me, "Isn't that what we saw when we visited that coalition school back around 2000?"
       Of course, better late than never. But is a new transcript a "game changer" or "silver bullet"? Maybe. We've thought that about other things. We'll likely think it about new things in the future. That suggests how we know things need to change.
       They will if we take ownership of our role as the real game changers. Whether a transcript or some new app, inquiry-based curricula or project-based pedagogy, none of it really matters unless we engage in really deep reflection and then bold action. Ultimately, we are responsible for what happens in our schools. We design and play the games.
       We know all this. We've known all this. So perhaps my deja vu is really rooted in an impatience that grows as I age. I see and hear of progress--at my school, at other schools--and I see amazing people doing truly inspiring work. It makes me want more and more and more. But I also know how much traditional and bad practice occurs. Sometimes we overlook it because it receives a fresh coat of paint or window dressing that suggests innovation.
       Yes, meaningful change requires doggedness and patience, Yet we also have to build on all this momentum, and our students don't have time to waste. As Grant Lichtman wrote after the conference, the introduction to his new book challenges, "Let's roll!" Josie Holford urged, "Make it happen!" Not wanting to be stuck in deja vu all over again, I add, "If not now, when?"


Josie Holford said...

Good stuff, as always Mark. I think your skepticism is well-founded. The sea-bed of education is littered with the wrecks of answers, solutions and breakthroughs when in truth it's the same old druid time as ever. That said - anything that puts a dent in the college wall of test scores, grading, the GPA and the rest is significant. I think the big breakthrough is the growing realization by so many that the old model just doesn't work any more. The old frame of grades and GPA based on the reproduction of knowledge doesn't hold up when schools start to actually develop curriculum around all those so-called 21st century skills. Once that truth settles in then we begin to see the scramble to find workable alternatives. And the determining and limiting factor remains that colleges continue to want an easy and quick short-cut for college admissions. For as long as they demand that then schools will have to come up with ways to meet that requirement. For as long as it's the same old egg-sorting machine on the college end we have a problem. Credit to those opening up that conversation and naming the issues.

Mark Crotty said...

Always love your thinking, Josie. Yes, they key is the growing realization, which seems very real. Now the big question is: do we have the guts? We're caught in a vicious cycle. I'll give an example based on referring to colleges. Back around 2000, at my previous school, we were making some changes because of how we were burning out kids. We checked with colleges to make sure they would be on board and got positive responses. I specifically recall an email conversation with one, who was making the talk show rounds on just this topic. She told me this was great because schools like mine needed to stop sending colleges so many stressed, exhausted kids. I told her I agreed, then asked what colleges such as hers were going to do so kids no longer felt they had to burn themselves out to gain admission. Never got a response. It's like we keep pointing fingers and daring the other side to go first.