Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A4LE Learning Scapes Conference 2016: Revolutions in Learning

I am a member of the ACT Chapter of the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE). The mission of this association is to improve the places where children learn.

The Association supports a diversity of membership, and that diversity is certainly part of its strength - but also one of the key things that attracts me to the association. In addition to architects, landscape architects, project managers, school principals, business managers and educational administrators; the association's membership also includes professionals in state government, catholic and independent school systems, product suppliers and manufacturers - all of whom contribute to the development of quality learning environments.

I became aware that A4LE was holding its American conference in Philadelphia while I was to be in the US and so I prioritised attendance at the conference (having attended a number of Australian events - all of which were high quality).

Attendance at the conference saw me catching the AMTRAK train from Penn Station in New York down to Philadelphia each day and then returning each evening - one way the trip was just over an hours and fifteen minutes. There's lots to be said for train travel in the states with a very efficient ticketing and loading and unloading of passengers at Penn Station. Philadelphia station is a beautiful established building that houses a dominant statue that salutes fallen soldiers - the Angel of the Resurrection.

As anticipated, attendance at the conference was a diverse schedule including school visits, challenging keynotes and engaging workshops.

Day 1 - school visits

We were specifically visiting Delaware to look at the STEM Centre. Opened in 2010, the STEM Center was designed to promote the latest trends in STEM education, including small-group collaboration, hands-on learning, the use of multimedia tools, smaller class sizes and cross-disciplinary approaches. With brightly coloured interiors, light-filled rooms and large windows, the Center offers a stimulating environment for learning. The Center was created as part of the College’s commitment to facilities redesign and infrastructure upgrade.

Operating since 1967, Delaware County Community College is a Middle States-accredited, associate degree granting institution that maintains a policy of open admission, providing academic excellence to anyone who can benefit from its programs. The College ranks sixth in size among the eighty-plus colleges and universities in the Philadelphia region.

Springfield Literacy Center

The Springfield School District is proud to have built the Springfield Literacy Center, the first new school constructed in Springfield in more than 50 years. The school houses all the kindergarten and first grade children from Springfield and Morton. The building has won several architectural and environmental awards and is the foundation of Springfield’s Literacy First initiative by which every child leaves elementary school reading on grade level.

Episcopal Academy

Episcopal Academy has been in existence for more than 200 years currently located on its third site.

Initially an all-boys school, The Episcopal Academy offered a curriculum focused on classical languages, religion, and mathematics. Trustees included two signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Originally and all boys school, the shift to coeducation was the product of years of strategic planning. Girls were admitted to Devon’s kindergarten class in 1974, and were added to each year’s incoming class thereafter until the school was fully coeducational. The first coeducational class graduated from The Episcopal Academy in 1984.

A 123-acre tract of land in Newtown Square is the home of the current campus. The land was purchased with a $20 million donation, and the $212.5 million campus project would be completed in time to open for the 2008-2009 school year.

The Newtown Square campus boasts state-of-the-art academic, arts, athletic, and spiritual facilities. However, it also features keepsakes from the previous campuses: original stained glass windows in the Class of 1944 Chapel, the clock that currently stands on the Clark Campus Green, and several other artefacts.

Today, students enjoy a curriculum that includes Advanced Placement (AP) classes, opportunities to study abroad, interdisciplinary study, and online courses with internationally renowned faculty. They are enriched by arts, athletics, and spiritual programs.

Upper Dublin High School

Upper Dublin High School has an enrolment of 1600 Students and over 3 phases was constructed at a cost of US$97.3m.

It boasts an indoor pool and a state of the art performing arts centre.

It was interesting to hear of the process required by school boards to undertake in gaining approval for such capital projects. The Board of School Directors is a nine member political body elected by the residents of the Upper Dublin School District. The superintendent and district solicitor also sit on the board, but are non-voting members.

All the local schools districts in Pennsylvania ((except Philadelphia) - Upper Dublin sits outside Philadelphia district as I understand it) are fiscally independent and are supported through local and state tax revenues and financing.

The School District of Philadelphia is fiscally dependent. All other districts have their own taxing authority to raise funds for capital outlay.
To secure approval for a capital outlay of this magnitude, School  Boards go to the community with a referendum and the community needs to approve the capital outlay - which often requires a redistribution of or new collection of taxes.

Its interesting to seek to understand the national aspirations and local state approaches to curriculum design I think:

In 1999, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education adopted Rules and Regulations known as Chapter 4.  This regulation was developed to establish concise and comprehensive educational offerings for public schools.  Chapter 4 contains academic standards that identify the knowledge and skills students should learn in content areas by designated grade levels. The Pennsylvania Academic Standards, along with national standards, are incorporated into Upper Dublin’s curriculum development and revision process. 

The goal is to hold all students to higher levels of performance by transforming Upper Dublin schools into communities of learners where all students experience a rich and challenging curriculum. 

Chapter 4 regulations developed Pennsylvania’s Core Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics, as well as for Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies and Science/Technical Subjects and were adopted in 2014.

A group of Pennsylvania educators crafted the PA Core Standards, which mirror the academic rigor of the Common Core State Standards, set expectations in English Language Arts and Mathematics that all students should master by the end of each grade level.

The PA Core Standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world and reflect the knowledge and skills young people need to succeed in life after high school, in both post-secondary education and a globally competitive workforce.

Transitioning from existing state standards to the PA Core Standards had the following impacts:
  • represented a shift in instructional intent from high school completion to college-and-career readiness for every student
  • required students to demonstrate mastery of content, which cannot be acquired solely through lecture
  • emphasized application and higher-order thinking skills
  • at each grade may cover fewer topics; yet, content is taught in much greater depth.

Day 2 to 3 - Conference proper

Next entry ...

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

New models and new structures delivering new opportunities through partnerships - P Tech High

Pathways in Technology Early College High School  provides new opportunity for career and personal success to a generation of New York youth who, in many instances, are first generation graduates. The potential that is being unlocked through the P Tech model is changing the trajectory for families - many of the P-Tech graduates are the first to graduate secondary school and first to obtain a college degree ever in some families; the social benefits, the generational benefits and the societal befits are significant in the truest sense.

My walk to P Tech High took me approximately one and a half hours from where I was staying near Prospect Park. My walk took me predominantly along Eastern Parkway past the Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Public Library - all impressive buildings and precincts.

Along the Eastern Parkway I passed through a predominantly Jewish sector dominated by practicing Jewish people and Jewish buildings. I emphasise this because I looked into the practice of dressing that so many Jewish people engage in - all looking the same - it may surprise you (as it impacted me) to read:

Their statements about their dress identify that it is precisely because they dress the same that they can truly be individuals. Being an individual means having something unique about you that no one else has. According to the predominant Western paradigm, to be original one needs a weird shirt, cool shoes and an unusual haircut. The more unusual, the more an individual stands out from the crowd. It poses the question: is that really what makes a person different from everyone else? Is that all someone can do to be unique -- put on this outfit or that? Couldn't just anyone look the same?

In Jewish tradition, what makes an individual is not the clothing, but the character. When you are a part of a community of people that all dress the same, there is only one way to stand out: you have to be original, not your clothing. The people around you notice you for your character, the way you treat people, your manner of speech. You can't hide behind a superficial individuality based on hairstyle and fashion -- you have to be a real individual.
- interesting don't you think?

Another thing that impacted me on my walking was a recollection of a reflection I always recall hearing on the radio some time back (though I am unable to attribute it because I can't remember the speaker). Any way, this speaker said this (paraphrased):

'We all knew when we were growing up where that invisible line was where our neighbourhood stopped and someone else's started - where familiarity and safety were replaced by uncertainty and vulnerability'

I was reminded of this as I left the Eastern Parkway and headed into the suburb toward P-Tech High - I was reminded of the passage above not because of the invisible line however, but because of the stark change that occurred in the buildings, the street scapes and the people almost immediately once I moved off the main thorough fare. Things were far more degraded (less well maintained and manicured), the people were all african american, the street scape was different - things felt 'different'.

P-TECH is located at the Paul Robeson Educational Campus, in the Crown Heights neighbourhood of Brooklyn. The Paul Robeson school had been closed some time back due to underperformance and P-Tech has brought new life to that campus and new hope to that community. 

P- Tech is a partnership between New York City Department of Education, New York City College of Technology, The City University of New York and IBM. The steering committee for the school is made up of representatives from the Department of Education, NYC University and IBM - their focus now, 6 years since establishment is to stay true to the things that brought them together and establish the school - the values, the purposes, the directions, the operations.

Under the normal model of education prior to the establishment of P-Tech, 50% of high school graduates needed remediation in order to successfully transition to university. The P-Tech model successfully addresses this issue.

P-Tech incorporates secondary education, post secondary education and industry experience into one seamless educational opportunity for its students.

Students commence at P-Tech in Year 9 and conclude 6 years later having obtained both a high school diploma and a college undergraduate degree.

Every student at the school is assigned a learning mentor provided by IBM. Every student at the school (at the appropriate time in the education program) is given an internship at IBM and all those that graduate with a college degree are first in line for employment with IBM (if the student chooses).

This opportunity for employment not only motivates the students but also, according to Principal Davis, motivates the 'system' also.

The partnership between the state, the education institutions and the corporate partner are the building blocks of the success of the P-Tech model. Significantly and importantly IBM are not a philanthropic partner - to be so would limit the capacity for the model to be replicated. Rather it is the 'in kind' investment from IBM that improves the richness of the learning experience for the students as well as the motivation in the system.

Its important for the principal to understand that each of the partners in the P-Tech model has their own definition of success. The principal needs to understand what these definitions are and a critical element of the principal's role is to create outcomes that satisfy each partners success definition.

The student population at the school comprises 70% free admission or reduced fee intake, 90% black/hispanic, 75% male.

Whilst a non-selective entry school, priority is given to those that demonstrate desire and interest. There is a strong emphasis on STEM with a particular emphasis on electro mechanical engineering. Students can fast track through the program if they are capable and desire to.

Questions that shaped the structure of the operations and the learning approach at P-Tech included:

  • How can we use time most effectively for our students?
  • How can we engage with human capital differently?
  • how can we tap the talent pool of those not graduating currently?
There are 581 students enrolled at P-Tech at the time of my visit.

P-Tech Brooklyn was the first P-Tech to be established in the US. There are now, 6 years later, 60 P-Techs across 6 US States.

The Australian Government has piloted the P-Tech model in Australia with 2 sites (one each) in Geelong and Ballarat and a further 12 sites to be established under its Pathways in Technology Pilot.

Advice from Principal Davis in regards to innovation is not to self correct along they way - this slows innovation; rather, get to the end and look back and make amendments to the next innovation cycle based on this reflection. To me this has strong alignment to the notions of continuous improvement, improvement science, Total Quality Management, Kaizen and similar philosophies espoused by many leaders I encountered on my travels. (More on that later I think).

As a (all but) final anecdote, as I was walking to P-Tech I noticed a significant number of trucks parked near the Brooklyn Museum - it wasn't clear what they were involved in as I walked early in the morning. On my return leg, things became clearer. They were filming a TV series and I discovered it was a Netflix original 'Master of none'. I was amazed at the logistics that went into the filming - film trucks, food trucks, lighting trucks, scaffolding trucks, trucks and more trucks - all for one episode of one series. Not something we in Canberra (let alone Australia) have a lot of exposure to - a whole new industry it would seem?

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the staff at P-Tech - all of them were committed to their profession, to their students and to P-Tech itself. All of them spoke with such loyalty and admiration for their leader Principal Davis (this characteristic was so often observable in so many of the contexts that I visited - loyalty, belief in and admiration for the leader of the school). Thanks especially to Mr Smith (Parent Liaison at P-Tech) who took considerable time to provide me with a tour of the school and to introduce me to so many wonderful staff and students at this truly innovative and impactful school.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

New Roads School - a school within a community, a community within a school

The notion of hiring a car in the US was part excitement and part nervousness. Driving on the wrong side of the road from the passenger's seat was just 'odd'. The deliberate act of forcing myself to do something counter to what was deeply established in me at the 'unconsciously competent' level - was going to take some effort and focus.

I arrived at the car rental agency expecting an efficient process - I was disappointed. The car that I had booked had not been delivered, although I had paid in advance the computer system was not acknowledging this and so what should have been a 10 minute process turned into the best part of an hour - and I was behind schedule.

I took Interstate 405 to travel from San Diego to Santa Monica - a 10 lane freeway that was full!
The Ford Explorer was a really good drive and I enjoyed the trip a lot (albeit further delays to my already decaying schedule due to road works).

New Roads School

New Roads School offers 'an inspired education for a changing world.'

A lens through which to begin to understand New Roads School is provided through the Head of School's message on the school website: We live in a world defined by change and uncertainty. There is too much information to memorize; technology can perform many of the functions of human beings; and knowledge becomes obsolete quickly. In this context, a profound question calls for an answer: how should we educate our children for this world?

The Head of School - Luthern Williams, sees himself as the 'Johny Appleseed' of the school community. His approach is to seed ideas with his team and then return to see how those seeds had taken root and been nurtured. The legend of Johny Appleseed has him (Johny), cast as a nurseryman who randomly sowed seeds across America, it seems the reality is that he was far more strategic than that - his establishment of orchards enabled land claims to be established and he also yielded significant economic benefit from selling his orchards once established. It is this strategic sowing of seeds that resonates more with the Luthern Williams that I met. He was deeply aware of his school community, his people, and the learning journey that he wished the school to take. The 'seeds' that he sowed would have been well researched, well understood in terms of their potential and sown at the right time to yield maximum benefit.

Luthern applies what he calls a 'tight-loose' style of management. A similar approach is found in their learning approach - a mixture of both direct instruction and discovery learning. Getting the balance right in both leadership, management and learning was one of the matters stressed by Luthern as he shared his approach with me.

Luthern was unambiguous in describing his leadership style as 'distributed leadership.'

With that construct, what was very impressive was Luthern's focus on his people - and in particular his focus on strengths. The structure that Luthern has built in the school is shaped on existing staff's strengths and passions. I met many of the staff at the school - they were all deeply grounded in their approach to learning, deeply committed to the school, believing in the positive contribution that the school was having in the lives of the students and in the broader community and deliberate in their recognition of the influence that the Luthern was imparting across the school and outspoken in their loyalty to their leader. What flowed from that was a pervasive and powerful culture.

New Roads school deliberately employs a lean administration team. The rationale for this posture is in order to keep the organisation nimble and responsive. By removing bureaucratic layers the organisation is able to be more responsive to 'moving with what the world needs' rather than beholden to existing systems, processes and structures. This bureaucratic weight 'forces down young saplings' (to quote Luthern directly); and so the absence of this weight provides a more nurturing, passion oriented, student facing and people focussed culture.

The lean organisation also forces innovation because there is not the spare capacity to absorb issues as they arise - pivoting is often required.

The team that I met valued their culture. 

They were able to point out that this approach to leadership, the agility of the organisation, the changing nature of the world and the community in which they were located - all contributed to a dynamic environment which can, and often was, 'messy'. From their perspective, and in the words agin of Luthern: 'the magic is in the mess.'

Conflict was not something to be avoided. Questioning of authority was celebrated (provided that it was done in a respectful manner). When there was tension the points of agreement were identified and the points of disagreement were also identified and either worked through or (occasionally) 'agreeing to disagree' was the step off point. 

I was told by many staff at the school that the Head of School took an active interest in what they were doing. They felt valued, there was a strong value of trust and respect - it was this underpinning I suspect that enabled the professional discourse described above.

New Roads comprises an elementary school, a middle school and an 'upper school'. The elementary school engages subject matter experts which facilitates deeper learning and allows teachers to teach from an area of passion. Introduced in 2016 it has already seen a significant revitalisation of the elementary school, and lifted parental satisfaction.

New Roads School is a 'private school' with relatively high enrolment fees. It contributes %35 of all fee income earned to scholarships for students to attend the school. Students at New Roads School learn in an environment that reflects the diversity found in the community in which the school is located. This is deliberate - however, it is expensive.

My AirBnB accommodation in Santa Monica was delightful and I got there late in the afternoon determined to see what I could of this famous part of the world. A long walk took me to Venice Beach crossing Santa Monica Boulevard and many other well known landmarks. I found myself singing along with Cheryl Crow and have many times since - I am sure I saw 'Billy' a couple of times throughout my journey around Santa Monica.

One of my 'must dos' before I left was get a haircut in an american barber shop. It happened in Santa Monica and I wasn't disappointed - my barber had more stories to share than I had time to hear (35 years a barber in Santa Monica having emigrated from England) - and coloured and articulated with a good mix of hyperbole and colourful language - the haircut experience was 'just what I'd hoped.'

Dinner was in the Stella Barra Pizzeria - 2000 Main St Santa Monica. A seat at the bar afforded me many conversations with locals and insights into the local area, the US political situation, American's perceptions of Australia and many other lofty discussions.

A great, though brief, visit to Santa Monica and tomorrow I leave the West Coast, next stop - New York!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

There is no spoon...Khan Lab School

The original flipped classroom advocate Salman Khan (Sal Khan) established Khan Lab School in 2014

Khan Lab School is on the ground floor of a building in Mountain View California - 2.5 miles from Google HQ.

The top floor of that building is occupied by Khan Academy. I actually used the bathroom at Khan Academy - and even that was a stimulating environment ...

They had a continuos loop of calming running water sound track playing in the bathroom.

At Khan Lab School there is an absence of direct instruction.

In keeping with Sal Khan's One World Schoolhouse philosophy, the school operates an extended year, extended day, mixed age program with collaborative, project-based learning approach.

The students do not have homework. There are no grade levels (per se). Progression is based on mastery.

The main focus is to leverage world class teacher-designers to build a community that encourages inquiry and self direction.

They apply their 4 A's framework:

  • Approach: personalised, mastery based
  • Architecture: concept of 'independence levels'(as the student's independence level increases the degree of teacher direction decreases), extended year & day, mixed age peer learning, portfolio assessment
  • Art of Teaching: the recruitment process is incredibly rigorous
  • Academic and Character outcomes.
Personalised goals are established with (for) each student and (through one of their platforms) these are shareable with parents and all teachers. Each independence level (approximately 20 students) is led by an 'advisor' and the advisor is supported by content specialists.

To progress to the next independence level the student requests to be assessed. Assessment comprises: teacher observation, personal reflection, parental input and satisfactory completion of a performance task.

The school maintains an alignment with mandated frameworks of the education system within which it operates (common core etc).

Development of staff is prioritised highly and deliberately and purposefully: in service days, half day collaboration every week, weekly meetings, one on one meetings.

If you have seen the movie the Matrix you'll remember the scene when Neo was awaiting his meeting with the Oracle - he is understanding that the constraints on hat is possible is limited by his thoughts - once he realises that the constraints that he thinks limit his power are not real he begins to realise that far more is possible than he had previously thought ...

Monday, 3 October 2016

Sama School - the visit and the adventure

Sama School

San Francisco HQ


2017 Mission St., Suite 301

San Francisco, CA 949110


(800) 521-6717 or +1 (415) 552-5090

20 September 2016

I caught the train up from Palo Alto to San Francisco – a number of changes required in both directions.

I arrived at the train stop and took the stairs to the street. The streetscape was quite confronting with older men and women sitting in various states of alertness and capacities. The noise level was high, the density of people was high, the socio economic status of the people was clearly very low – all in all I was very alert to all that was going on around me.

Where was the school? I couldn’t see it anywhere.

So what to do? I went into the Wells Fargo Bank branch that was right there. ‘ Can I help you sir?’ was the immediate enquiry from one of the bank employees that greeted me as I entered.

I am not here to bank but I would like some help please’ was my response.

‘Certainly sir.’

‘Have you heard of the Sama School?’  

‘The what school?’

‘Sama School’

‘How do you spell it?’

‘S.A.M.A. school’


‘No – S.A for apple.M.A for apple’

‘Oh – S. AYE.M.AYE’

I just had my first lesson in American vs Australian pronunciation.

Let’s look it up the bank officer said. (I had not enabled data on my phone and so I had lost that capability). He whipped out his phone and a quick search led to these directions.

‘It's in that building there’ he gestured to the same building that I had been circumnavigating prior to entering the bank. ‘Its definitely that building.’

‘OK,’ I said. I thanked him for his assistance and went back out into ‘the street.’

Well, again I circumnavigated the building but could find no sign indicating Sama School. There was one door though – glass, locked and each of the apartments needed an access code. I looked inside. A long white corridor was all I could see and a man, standing with the aid of a walking frame at the end – he was wet with sweat.

I stood there – looking helpless. The man began to walk slowly toward me – he inched the frame forward and then his legs followed. It took him some minutes to get to the door. He opened it.

‘I am looking for the Sama School’, I said.

‘I don’t know it,’ he said. I proceeded to tell him of my attempts to find the school thus far.

I just went to the gym he said, its down the back up the lift and on the top floor. I can let you in but that’s the best I can do,’ he said.

‘OK, thanks.’

He let me in. He walked out. Now what?

I proceeded down the back of the building. No signs on any of the doors. Each door I tried was locked. Up to the first floor – again all doors locked.

Finally a door that I tried was open. I opened it and went in. I was now standing in a ‘tech space.’ Polished floor, meeting room on the left, workstations arranged in pods, plenty of natural light – a few people. It felt safe here – was this Sama School?

No one lifted their eyes from their machines. It seemed a bit odd.

I approached one fellow.

‘Excuse me ,‘I said. He looked up. ‘I am looking for Sama School. Is this Sama School?’

‘No,’ he said; I lost a little hope, ‘but I know where it is.’ Hope returned.

He proceeded to tell me that I needed to go back out onto the street, turn right and at the door on the left; there should be a security guard there. Tell the security guard that you have an appointment at Sama School and he will let you in.

‘Between the building and the fruit market?’ I enquired so that I could confirm exactly where he meant. I had seen the security guard a couple of times but he seemed to be walking around rather than stationary.

He confirmed that that was correct.
‘What’s this place?’ I asked.

One degree is a website that allows users to search for thousands of social services in the neighbourhood. Users can create a free account to find, save, and review resources for healthcare, food, jobs, housing and more.

The approach was a real empowerer of the community that I had left on the street. Located right in the middle of the challenging environment they were helping those less fortunate in the community to connect with the range of services designed to support them.

So, following the direction given, speaking to the security guard accordingly, entering through the ‘right’ door and taking the lift to the third floor I arrived at Sama School.

Sama School was established by Leila Janah following her initial venture Sama Source. 

Sama Source was established to help poor communities in Kenya, India and the Philippines. It was established as an answer to the question ‘what if we bring work not aid?’

Sama is a nonprofit a social enterprise that helps people lift themselves out of poverty through digital work. 

Sama was named one of Fast Company's most innovative companies in 2016.

In a nutshell, Sama Source bids for contracts/projects. If they win those contracts (typically the requirements of bid for projects are along the lines of data entry etc), they place those projects in these targeted communities. They then recruit locals to work on the projects and train them in the kills that they need to fulfill the requirements of the projects. Whilst this model requires a time delay in delivering the projects there is a wage cost benefit that balances that and allows the bids for projects to be successful.

Sama School was then born as the requirements for the skills training associated with the projects began to be greater and the model began to scale.

Sama School in San Francisco exists as a stand alone school – not spun from a successful project bid.

Sama School in San Francisco exists in response to the growing ‘gig economy.’ The ‘gig economy,’ (a term that they needed to explain to me) is that economy that exists as a result of platforms such as TaskRabbit and AirTasker (I’d used AirTasker before but hadn’t heard it being referred to as the ‘gig economy’). These platforms allow people with tasks/projects to be done to place those jobs/tasks on these platforms and then other users can bid for those projects.

To be successful bidding you need a profile. As you complete jobs/tasks etc you get feedback ratings – these ratings then assist future job posters to assess the quality of bidders. Its like Airbnb in that regard. The barrier for the people that Sama is looking to assist is that they don’t possess the skills that participation on such platforms assumes that you have:

  • ·      Keyboarding
  • ·      Job search skills
  • ·      Social media familiarity
  • ·      How to build a profile on platforms such as LinkedIn etc.
  • ·      Etc

These are the skills that Sama School teaches.

From a standing start Sama School in San Francisco now has 4 FTE staff as well as 2 instructors. 280 students use their services each year. They also have a second site established in New York.

I met with Caleb Jonas. Caleb had been with Sama School for a number of years (but not from the start). He acknowledged the vision and strength of those that established the school.

That journey of growth brought with it lots of lessons. Caleb shared some of these with me:

  •       Pivots are required in response to the specific characteristics of the community within which you operate. In a number of instances Sama School went to establish itself in some rural communities, believing that that was what that community needed. The model failed. Those communities needed to have their more basic needs met first and so needed an income – the school pivoted to a Sama Source model and then added the education component. In San Franciso and New York it as the school that was needed because of the proliferation of the ‘gig economy.’
  •       Early growth is hard to sustain.  Like other start ups, early growth is build off enthusiasm and passion. The longer an organization exists that passion and enthusiasm can reduce thus impacting the ‘norms’ that exist across the organization. If we fail to recognize this and work out what our sustainable level of activity is then we run the risk of burnout.
  •       We need to diagnose what it is about the program that we offer that actually works – it can’t just be about energy and enthusiasm. Sam School employs 2 instructors to go ot to the community and deliver their programs where the students are. These instructors are experienced educators. Sam acknowledges their wisdom and experience and gives them license therefore to respond to the needs of the students that they are working with. That said however, there is a core of content that is required to be delivered – that is what they have identified as being the successful nucleus of the program. Flexibility with some required elements are the instructors brief. This approach keeps the delivery relevant to the students but also acknowledges those elements that are their success – they true to this.

Sama School regard themselves as 'nimble'. They are constantly reflecting on their programs and reshaping the curriculum accordingly.

Their instructors are given permission to make mistakes. Being learner centred and with the flexibility that the instructors have – they might get it wrong on occasions. That’s acknowledged and accepted. The trust that underpins this is clear and necessary.

The core content approach outlined above is a key element of the risk management approach that Sam takes in recognition of the fact that mistakes will occur.

Sama School is funded through grants distributed by philanthropic foundations. These foundations Sama regard as partners. These partnership relationships have matured over time and with that maturity has come a different definition of success.

Early in the journey, Return on Investment (ROI) was the measure for success that was employed. This affected culture. Now Sam School measures success by much more human measures: platform use (Air Rabbit and LinkedIn etc); income levels of graduates after the completion of the program.

Sama School exists in a confronting part of San Francisco. And while it is confronting it is home to many people – it is their neighborhood. That neighbourhood is under threat. Gentrification is encroaching on these areas right across the city. 2 blocks away I was told, condominiums are being bought and sold for increasingly high values, restaurants are being run where a lunch will cost upwards of $20. A collision is occurring ( as has happened in many other parts and areas of the US). What the future will be for many in this community is uncertain.

The world too is changing, thankfully Sama School is empowering their students to at least have the skills to ‘have a go’ in these new markets.

Monday, 26 September 2016

High Tech High - in (predominantly) pictures

On 22 September I was fortunate to visit High Tech High in San Diego - I was further fortunate to have the opportunity to be welcomed and introduced via an 'Extended visit.'

HTH is actually a network of charter schools.

Extended Visits are for groups who would like an opportunity to see High Tech High firsthand and learn from current teachers and school leaders. This extended experience provides participants a chance to experience a student guided tour, a meeting with HTH leadership, a lunch panel with teachers or students and classroom observations.

HTH articulate the 'norms' for their visitors:

  1. Follow the rule of 2 feet: go wherever you think you will learn something interesting, and if it does not pan out, use your two feet to visit another classroom
  2. Ask for help: Ask anyone for help. 
  3. Be discrete and respectful.

This unprecedented level of access enabled an open capturing of the experience through the camera lens...

High Tech High San Diego is located at  2150 Cushing Rd., San Diego, CA 92106 - to locate the school via Google maps click here

San Diego is a major city in California, in San Diego County, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, approximately 120 miles (190 km) south of Los Angeles and immediately adjacent to the border with Mexico. While I was there the climate was very pleasant and the water, the bay and the people were absolutely delightful.

Located in a re-purposed naval training facility the school has a feeling of elegance, energy and passion. The learning environment is incredibly vibrant and stimulating with learning spaces often spilling outside and students moving freely around the campus. 

HTH schools endeavour to accommodate all students who apply for admission. Because applications exceed spaces available, HTH uses a lottery to determine admission. The allocation of places is done is such a way as to reflect the demographics of the region in which the school is located.

The campus is woven into the community where is sits with the school at San Diego spread across 6 blocks with local housing inter dispersed between school buildings.

Student projects adorn virtually every area of space available. The displays are a true celebration of student engagement and achievement. The displays are done so professionally that there is a real sense of the student and their efforts being honoured.

You can see further examples of student projects by clicking here

Break out spaces are very common and small group discussion was very obvious.

One measure used by the CEO of the school Larry Rosenstock to test the degree of learner centredness is done by entering classrooms unannounced and engaging the teacher in dialogue - if the teacher can quickly, easily and seamlessly step into the conversation with him that is an indication of the level of learner engagement and student centredness.

The project design process is rigorous and collaborative; the school has entrenched 4 design principles into project design:
  1. Personalisation
  2. Adult world connection
  3. Common intellectual mission
  4. Teacher as designer
Fundamental to the notion of 'Teacher as designer' is the concept of professional vulnerability.

The school incorporates what they call 'Throughlines' - concepts deliberately woven into the fabric of projects and practices at the school:

  • Voice and choice - projects are designed to include student, parent & community voice in teh co-design of educational experiences
  • Equity and Diversity - projects are designed to value a wide range of perspectives, skills, knowledge, content an products
  • Reflective practice
  • Passion - projects are designed to tap into students' and teachers' personal questions, values and passions.

There is an emphasis on all areas of learning from technology, to the arts,  and a strong emphasis on STEM.

The school campus in San Diego comprises an elementary school, a middle school, a high school (to grade/year 12) and a Graduate School of Education.

The teaching team is inspiring, their diversity is celebrated, their personalities flourish, their commitment is tangible, their joy obvious, their success measurable - their message - motivating.

Amazingly HTH accepted more than 4 500 visitors in the last 12 months. The whole community is welcoming and open to be engaged in conversation.

The whole team at HTH regard the school as leading - they sincerely and deeply believe that leadership extends to and includes providing such open sharing of their environment and their practice so that their success and their approaches can at least be accessed by schools and school systems all around the world.

I would suggest that their success is replicable - and be sure to note that I emphasise success. Their approaches need to be observed and understood and then reflected on for their scaleability, replicability and transference to other contexts. Elements of their practice certainly would have positive impacts elsewhere...

Until next time.