Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
Matt Skurnick about Sustaining the Teaching Life
Mon, 25.03.2013 14:05
Jon Goldman was both my
English Teacher in 9th
grade and Advisory Mentor
for my four years at
Karen Greenberg about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Tue, 14.08.2012 11:13
Perhaps a more apt term
would be "altering
physics - two objects in
Amethyst about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:51
I really appreciate this
blog entry. Our roles as
teachers require, at our
best, a deep [...]
Mark Ahlness about The Long Haul
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:33
Chris, thanks. Pete is my
hero, and has been for a
while, but now that I'm
retired, after 31 years
Gary Stager about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:15
No need to worry about
Others all around us are
debasing our [...]
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Thursday, January 12. 2012
One of the things I'm always meaning to do on my blog but don't do as often as I'd like is break down how we do some of the things we do at SLA. So when someone asked a really good question on Facebook, it seemed like a perfect time to turn the answer into a blog post. Here's the question:
The most important thing is this: Prioritize it. So what does that look like...
1) Schedule it with real time and don't make that time the dumping ground or the place you steal time from every time something comes us. Don't make it first thing in the morning so it is easy to skip. Treat it as a real extra class that teachers have to work to prepare for, because while it may not be as much work from a grading perspective, the time and energy teachers will spend caring for children, getting to know families, dealing with issues that come up is real. Advisory cannot be the thing teachers deal with after they have dealt with everything else or it will just be "homeroom" like it is in so many places. For us, that means scheduling time for Advisory for 50 minutes at the end of the day, twice a week, and teachers teach four classes plus Advisory instead of five classes plus homeroom as they would in other School District of Philadelphia schools.
2) Don't assume that teachers know how to care for children - teach them how to. I love Carol Lieber's book "The Advisory Guide" (published by Educators for Social Responsibility) as a foundation text. Do a book study with teachers about it. Then have a subcommittee that helps to draft a framework for the curriculum with broad themes for each year and examples of ways to execute them. Our committee has our Health teacher, our counselors and some of the teachers who are really invested in Advisory and they set the agenda (with me) on how to run workshops for our faculty.
3) Make it matter by making it a core function of the school. We don't have traditional Parent-Teacher Conferences here. We have Parent-Student-Advisor conferences where teachers all write narrative report cards which are then processed / talked about / reviewed by the parent, student and advisor together. This makes the Advisor the primary link to the families, which goes a long way toward really making the power of Advisory tranparent to families (and teachers.) If a child gets in trouble, advisors are looped in immediately. Our college counselor works with the advisors so that they are the primary school-based adults to help students make decisions about their college process.
4) Don't make it "just another class." Teachers know how to teach classes, but they may not know how to have a class that is really more group high school survival therapy than any other subject. So you have to help teachers resist the urge to create assignments that can be graded and have homework, etc... I always think of Advisory as a pressure value for kids, so if it becomes something that has a lot of homework and requires a lot of work for a grade, it defeats the purpose.
In the end, the shorthand we use for the way we think about how Advisory drives much of the way we think about the relationships between students and teachers can be summed up with two ideas - first, you have to think of Advisory as the soul of your school. Second, with everything you do, remember that you teach students before you teach subjects. At SLA, we believe there is a difference between saying, "I teach English" and "I teach kids English." Kids should never be the implied object of their own education. Advisory is the place in the schedule where that idea has its core and then it spreads into everything else we do.
Tuesday, January 10. 2012
[This is the first guest post I've ever had on Practical Theory in eight years of blogging. Today's post was written by SLA senior and co-founder of Phresh Philadelphia Rashaun Williams. There's been a lot of talk at SLA about the Gene Marks piece and how angry it made us. Rashaun's piece speaks to how I've felt better than anything I'd written, so here it is. You can follow Rashaun on Twitter at @DJReezey.]
A Response to If I Were A Poor Black Kid by Gene Marks
by Rashaun Williams
If I were a wealthy man, I would ensure my children go to the most prestigious schools available. I would move to the suburbs, because then I could ensure safety, excellent property value, and always surround myself in beauty. I would be financially comfortable enough to take time from my work schedule, and participate greatly in my child’s schooling, help my children with their homework every night, cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for them daily, and help them financially all the way through college. I would show them the importance of home equity, maintaining great credit, balancing a check book, and how to be a man or a woman. In conclusion, they would be fed. They would be safe. They would be supported in every way imaginable. They would be American citizens. But I’m not a wealthy man. I am a “black kid” in the inner city, and by some standards, you could even say I’m a “poor black kid”. Considering all the experiences that have created my current station in life, being a model of success in a broken community hasn’t seemed anything close to possible. But I still try.
There are parts of my city that are chronically susceptible to unemployment, low property value, illegal activity, informal markets and so many other things that plague minority communities in American cities. Unfortunately, decades of black settlement in the inner cities after the Great Migration haven’t yielded the promises of success so many people dreamed of when they fled an inhumane South. Many cannot afford to send their children to prestigious schools, and due to the mismanagement of public schooling, ensuring their safety is literally no longer in their hands. Our communities, the ones you allude to being a “world away” from you within the very same city, suffer in ways you and your children will hopefully never know. After all, you said you have been lucky enough to live an economically comfortable life, nor do you suffer from the generational struggle to ensure the education, well-being and proper growth of your children. You have had the luxury of not focusing on the bare essentials and the time to contemplate options beyond simply making monthly bills, paying rent. As you suggest, your salary has been more than suffice to set up a future.
As a people, African Americans have remained strong-willed, even after losing some of our greatest leaders in the most tragic and sickening ways. We’ve continued to fight for success, even though barely a mediated allusion in our own Constitution, to the point where “one of our own” is able to sit in the White House. But what does one man’s success, albeit empowering, mean to millions of others who are simply not afforded the same fundamental opportunities to pursue such lofty aspirations. Being black in this country, in 2012, still does carry a heavy weight. This has not been an easy struggle, and quite frankly, many of “my people” are tired of fighting. They are tired of being numb to daily reports of fresh violence against our own people. Tired of various forms of oppression, which now seem to be ever so invisible because a black man is at the helm of the nation. But this is no excuse for us to quit, and quit we have not. Being an inner city black kid in Philadelphia, I know that education is my liberation, but the journey to such a thing in a neighborhood where poverty grows almost exponentially with each seems less than possible.
In order to have a mind stable enough to interpret information, receive knowledge, and regularly apply oneself to school, one must have the proper necessities of living. When talking about those who are poor in the inner city, we must understand that they are experiencing multiple levels of poverty. A body without nourishment is a brain out of commission, and a brain without knowledge is a body without a mission. In response to what the number one priority is for most people living in poverty, it is a hot meal every time. Without it, it’s impossible to progress both as a student trying to learn without food, or as a teacher trying to nurture knowledge in those who simply cannot concentrate on the task at hand.
Yes, it does take the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available to make progress, but what resources do individuals in poverty truly have? How can one be well- informed about what the Internet truly has to offer if they have no in-depth access to the world-wide web? Why would one even consider making time to go online when their mind is preoccupied with simple things like their next meal and/or survival? How can one think of a future via college, when simply traveling to high school is an issue? When does a school have time to give students external opportunities when overwhelmed with the process of teaching basic reading, writing, arithmetic to maintain foundational federal funding? How can a teacher help nurture a future citizen when their evaluation of progress is enslaved to standardized testing? Where does a school get the money to purchase the resources necessary for learning when city, state and federal governments consistently apply severe austerity measures? How can a city hog tie their most important resource to a property tax system when the property they tax is left to rot? How can a child utilize recreational facilities when their Mayor wants to cut funding that makes them available? How is a “poor black kid” supposed to access the Internet when their public library is closed more often than not? The answers to these questions lie deep within the structure and development of unsupported communities that struggle to develop conducive environments for learning, economic opportunity and business development.
Above all things, the most important question is, how do we restructure? This will takes brains. This will takes hard work. This will take a little luck. And a this will take a little help from others. Most importantly, this will take reform and action. In order to restructure communities where “poor black kids” live, education needs to be based on individuals. If our government creates districts to section regions of the nation’s states based on the individuals’ living in certain areas, why wouldn’t the school system work the same way? If the needs of citizens vary based on their location and living essentials, why wouldn’t the approach to education be fit for students as individuals? After all, we will eventually become engaged citizens.
Citizens develop jobs. Citizens become teachers. Citizens become parents, business owners, civic association members, citizens start for profit and non-profit organizations, citizen become politicians and citizens become our future leaders. If impoverished minority communities don’t have the schooling that supports this type of localized citizen-growth and eventual harvest, we will still have people writing blogs about "if they were a poor black kid" from the inner city. Citizens aren’t just the very fabric of America, they are America. The real problem is that “poor black kids” aren’t treated like citizens. Maybe we should change that.
Saturday, September 3. 2011
The adults at SLA spent the last week working.
We took apart the stuff we do and put it back together again. We spent several hours talking about standards based reporting, time on our senior capstone, time working in our grade groups, time going over our goals in each advisory grade, and more. We came to some decisions with difficulty, because consensus is pretty hard, but we worked through issues and made the school better because everyone took the time to do so. I ran somewhere around 15% of the workshops, the rest were run by the teachers who were incredibly thoughtful in their strategies to create meaningful workshops for their colleagues.
We use our Title I money to pay for the time to do that every year. And every year, we wonder, now that the school is a little older, a little more mature, do we still need that much time? And every year, we can't believe how important every minute of that time still is.
Every Wednesday afternoon this year - like every other year - we will gather in the library for two hours and work and talk and make our school better through the process of working together. We leverage student internships and capstones and our museum partnership to make that time available.
It has to get easier for schools to make time for that work.
I talked with friends in other schools and they talked about having two mandatory days before school to come in and get ready for the school year, and I think, how? How do you make shared decisions about the trajectory of the year in two days? How do you take time to revisit the ideals of a school in only two days? How do you let faculty work together to tweak policies and procedures in two days?
And then, even worse, how do you have to wait a month or two before you all get to spend an hour or two in the same space for some reflection and some refocusing?
And yet, at the vast majority of schools all over the country, that's exactly what happens.
One of my core beliefs about school these days is that we need to get teachers off of the hamster wheel of the current school-day model. Teachers need time to collaborate, to plan, to innovate. And schools need to find ways to build frequent - I believe weekly - time for everyone to sit in a room and work together to make schools better.
I had an amazing week of working with the most amazing group of educators. I finished the week - paradoxically exhausted and deeply ready for the work ahead.
Teachers and administrators need time to make schools better. There really is no shortcut to sitting together in the room and working it all out together.
For SLA, I wouldn't want it any other way.
Sunday, July 3. 2011
This is the poem that closed the performance by the SLA Slam Poetry team at the ISTE keynote. Let it inspire all of us to be the best version of ourselves every day. -- Chris
[This work is licensed by Sinnea Douglas under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.]
When I become a teacher
I'll put a map of the world on every wall in my classroom
My students will always know to have a universal mindset
When they hear freedom, they'll think of more than spirituals and Emancipation
They'll remember the stinking pits at Babi Yar
The curled steel at Auchwitz
Sarajevo’s rifle butts
Cambodia’s grit and sweat and death
These classroom walls will not fence their minds.
Eyes will be opened. Again.
Instead of asking my students to adjust to my teaching style
Fawn in silent awe over my genius
I'll ask them how they learn
Then tend to the visual
and tactile learners
the best way I can
They’ll never doubt their place in my plan,
Confuse our classroom for a cookie-cutter
Stage where they must sit on their hands.
I’ll take criticism.
Gather it like gold dust between my fingers.
Never satisfied, I’ll Practice my practice forever.
My classroom will be painted bright blues and yellows
Along with students drawings, murals and poetry
Displays of Me Magazines
And word walls
Scenes from books acted out
and Mock trials
I will appreciate their creativity
I will teach my students inquiry
Ask them questions about the world around them
Their opinions on issues from health care to the Palestine Wall
I won't talk at them, but with them
We'll have discussions and debates
I will challenge them
Ask them how they would tackle issues like budgets cuts
Low reading levels
And school safety
I'll ask them how they feel about Pennsylvania finding money to build 3 more prisons but cutting funding from schools
Or how they feel about districts paying millions for standardized test and curriculum but not having enough for extra curricular activities
They will be informed
My students will be poets
All while being beautiful
Everyday I will tell them they're beautiful
Thursday, June 23. 2011
[There are a few dozen blog entries I've been meaning to write, and now that I'm moving into "Summer Get Stuff Done" mode, as opposed to "Insane End of School Year" Mode, I'm hoping to carve out the time and head-space to go back to the "blog idea" pile and start putting word to thought. This is one of them.]
I spent the week of June 6th sitting in room after room at SLA, watching students present their Senior Capstones. The presentation itself is a twenty minute oral presentation about the project, idea, event, experiment... thing... they did. There is an overview of what the student did, often with either video or photo documentation of the event, or samples of writing, or the experiment itself, and often what students did was really quite awesome. A student figured out how to make shoes out of old tires. Another student ran a charity event that raised money to buy toys for underprivileged children. Another student work with professional musicians to write and record original songs. And then there was the zombie movie... in short, the projects were as diverse as the interests of the kids themselves.
But what made it amazing was the next part of the presentation. I listened to students talk about the process... kids talked about how the final product was so different than the original idea. Kids talked about what went wrong. Kids talked about when they succeeded and how they failed. And kids talked about how they used the five core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection for a project of their own design. I watched kids own their learning, own their ideas, own their passion, and own their successes and failures. It was amazing.
One of our students wrote on Twitter after his presentation: "When doing my reflection. I realized that I didn't learn anything, but rather relearned everything SLA had taught me.... I'm certain I'll use all of the lessons taught to me at SLA for the rest of my life." (It was two tweets, for those counting characters.) And for me, that was one of the most powerful moments of the year. I want our students to have the passion and skill to live lives of meaning. I want them to take the process of learning and apply it to all the things they will learn throughout their lives.
After spending a week watching them present their capstones, I know they will.
Wednesday, June 15. 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, parents and friends, teachers and honored guests, what a wonderful evening in an incredible place to celebrate the achievements of an outstanding group of young women and men, the Science Leadership Academy Class of 2011.
Thank you to our partner, The Franklin Institute, led by Chair of the Board of Trustees, Marsha Perelman and CEO Dr. Dennis Wint and to our school’s liaison, Dr. Frederic Bertley. To be partnered with a cultural institution such as this one is to share a belief in the true spirit of inquiry and its continued value in our lives.
And graduates, before we celebrate all that you have done, let us also honor the work of all of those who have helped you reach this moment in time. So please, let us have a round of applause for the parents and friends and teachers and loved ones who have helped you reach this milestone in your life.
Today is a signpost moment in your life. It is a moment to reflect on all you have done and to consider the path ahead. It is for us as well, as we watch you leave our walls. We have watched you grow up over the past four years. You came to us nervous, excited, with only one class above you, still eager to be part of creating a school. You had the energy that only 14 and 15 year olds can have... and the walls of the school bore the brunt of that energy. And we, along with your parents, watched you grow. Your advisors listened, begged, cajoled, threatened when necessary. They, and your parents and your teachers and I walked this walk with you, and we could not be more proud of all you have accomplished.
You have Student Assistant Taught in over 5,000 classes.
You have logged over 400 hours helping out in the Math Lab and Lit Lab.
You have run half-marathons, marathons and Kelly Drive more times than you could count.
You made the playoffs in soccer, track, volleyball, cross-country, softball and baseball, despite having no home courts or fields, and because of your success, the athletic programs at SLA will survive the budget cuts.
You created an award-winning cheerleading team... forever convincing me that, yes, it is a sport.
You won the City-Wide Debate championships - both individually and as a team.
You met the King of Jordan.
You argued with Bill Gates.
You also were late to school over 18,000 times and nearly drove your parents, teachers and advisors out of their minds about it.
You made the SLA Chapter of BuildOn the most active chapter in Philadelphia, traveling to Nicaragua, building schools, cleaning up neighborhoods, and adding to the general good in the world.
You have competed at National History Day.
You competed on the first ever SLA Slam Poetry team and represented us all over the country.
You took younger students under your wing and made sure that projects were completed, homework was done, holes in walls were repaired and maturity was gained.
You wrote plays that were performed as part of the Young Playwrights Festival.
You built robots, created original works of music, tutored young people, detailed your family history, and made original films as part of your Capstone.
You received over 350 acceptance letters to over 147 colleges with over $3 million in merit-based aid.
You have run an educational conference that brought over 600 educators from all over the country to learn from you. And you rebuilt the conference on the fly when we unexpectedly had over a foot of snow fall the day before everyone arrived.
And you have done all this while completing benchmarks projects, working after school jobs, taking care of younger siblings and parents and grandparents and managing all of the challenges that adolescence brings. And you now stand poised to take on the next challenges your life will bring.
Today, we watched the ninth graders present their Science Fair projects, and I couldn’t help but think of how the cycle of school is on-going, that those young students are at their first signpost moment of high school... that they will soon sit where you are now, and they will be better for the year they spent with you... from the lessons you imparted to them... and I thought about the iterative process of learning that never ends and how much you have grown through that process.
Because I spent last week trying to get to as many capstone presentations as I could, or listening to seniors talk about the high school and capstone experience, because I love hearing you talk about the project that would stand as a signifier for the student and scholar and person that you have become. And whether it was a presentation about a film you had made, an event you put on, a robot you built, I was struck by the thoughtfulness of the presentations. You all own your learning, own your experiences, own your success and failures in ways that few adults, let alone high school seniors, can do.
Dylan wrote -- on Twitter, of course -- “When doing my reflection. I realized that I didn't learn anything, but rather relearned everything SLA had taught me.... I'm certain I'll use all of the lessons taught to me at SLA for the rest of my life.” It is our hope that today, of all days, you all believe that. That through all the successes and struggles, that you know, deeply and profoundly, that the lessons you have learned with us will stay with you throughout the rest of your life.
Beyond the radian circle, there are the logical patterns of thought you learned in math that will help you to problem solve no matter what challenges you are confronted with.
And whether or not you remember the exact details of the American Revolution (although, after the marshmellow re-enactment, how could you forget it?), you can remember to view the problems of the world through a historical lens, remembering to question the patterns of human behavior you see, place them in context and both honor and challenge those who have come before you.
And whether or not you remember the difference between saber and conocer, honor the diversity of the many people and cultures you will encounter, and remember to learn from those who are different from you, not just those who talk like you, look like you, believe what you already believe.
That it does not matter if you remember the specifics of which of King Lear’s daughters was the good one, or the exact details of the two-fer you wrote, but that you know that every text you read is a new way to view the world and that you can speak, write, dance, film, craft, create your voice so that your ideas can live in the world and by doing so, change the world.
And after you have forgotten the granular details of the periodic table of elements, continue to honor the scientific spirit of inquiry, always asking powerful questions and seeking out complex answers.
That is, we hope, what you have learned from us. That inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are not just words in a mission statement but an iterative process of learning that can and will serve you the rest of your life if you let it. And perhaps above all else, remember that throughout that process, there are those in your life who have been there, who have cared about you, who have mentored you, and in doing so, hope that you will pay that forward. That you will care for those around you. That you will understand that the intersection of that ethic of care and that spirit of inquiry starts with asking the question, “What do you think?” caring about the answer, and then taking action.
Because, not to put too fine a point on it, the world needs you. We face challenges in our schools, in our city, in our country, in our world, that will require the best from those who have the passion to create change and the skills to do it. You do not have the luxury of hoping that other people will say what must be said, do what is needed, work to make the world a better place. We have left you a world facing great challenges. You must be smarter than we have been, more compassionate than we have been able to be, and braver than we can imagine.
But as I look upon you now, I see a group of young men and women more than able to rise to the challenge. You have accomplished so much in your four years with us, and it is only a beginning. On behalf of the entire SLA faculty, we are so proud of all you have done, and we cannot wait to see what you do next. Congratulations to the Class of 2011. Long may you shine.
Wednesday, May 25. 2011
[I was asked to speak today at City Council during the public testimony about the School District of Philadelphia budget crisis. What follows are my remarks.]
Thank you to City Council for holding these hearings and being willing to be part of the solution. Thank you for being a supporter of the School District of Philadelphia and of the Science Leadership Academy. I am honored to speak here today on behalf of the communities of schools and the students, parents and faculty who inhabit them.
All over the city, principals are working together, trying to figure out how to preserve the gains they have made... Trying to close budget holes in the most humane ways possible... To keep the teachers who come early and stay late to help our children... To keep the programs that we know enrich the lives and empower the minds of the children in our charge.
At Science Leadership Academy, we have spent the past five years building a school that this city could be proud of. We have been named one of the Ten Most Amazing Schools in the US and featured in many education publications and in a PBS documentary as a model for how schools can and must evolve. We believe that our existence - our ability to thrive - along with the many other outstanding schools in the School District - proves, beyond doubt, that the School District can and does support innovative educational solutions to the problems facing our children today.
But Harrisburg's draconian cuts to education will make what we do much harder. SLA will receive $430,000 less in funding next year - which represents a 13% budget cut. These cuts mean that we are losing our support staff who run the internship program that allows all students at SLA to have hands-on experiences in the Philadelphia community with organizations in line with their interests. These cuts mean that we will have to close our after-school program earlier every day, even though we know that providing a safe haven for our students is an essential part of what we do. These cuts mean that a school built on inquiry and research will not have a working library. We are concerned that the budget crisis may mean that we will lose our talented young special education teacher who has made a profound difference in the lives of his kids due to the system-wide reductions. The cuts to the district means that a school known for its inquiry-based science program had to cut an extra science teacher just to keep the second counselor we originally received through Imagine 2014.
We know that Philadelphia is not immune from the cuts against public education that we see nationwide, but a vibrant city needs successful, modern schools to help students fully realize their potential as citizens of their city and their world. We need City Council to increase funding to ensure - among the many priorities we have - that counselors who were added under Imagine 2014 remain, ensuring our students have the social emotional support they need. And we need City Council to be the voice of our schools in Harrisburg so that we restore monies lost so we can continue to create meaningful educational experiences for and with our children. I thank you for your support in helping the School District solve this crisis, and please know that we at SLA stand ready to help in any way we can.
Tuesday, April 26. 2011
A bunch of us from SLA spent the day in Harrisburg today - along with hundreds of parents and children from schools throughout Philadelphia. We were lobbying for a restoration of the cuts to the basic education fund for public education in our city. There was a rally... and there was a ton of running around from legislative office to legislative office trying to meet with senators and representatives and staffers to let our voice be heard about what we felt about our city and school.
We met with lots of folks from the Philadelphia delegation - who told us that they agreed with us. And we met with senators from the Philadelphia suburbs who were less enthustic to support our cause. It was messy - as democracy usually is... and we did a lot of on-the-fly strategizing about how to use our time best. But we had some amazing moments with politicians who truly seemed to want to hear our kids talk with energy and passion about their school in ways that we don't hear kids talk enough these days.
At the end of the day, we reflected on where we felt we made inroads, and where we felt our voice and presence mattered less. We do think -- and hope -- that more members of the Philadelphia delegation will come to SLA to learn about our school. And we took a lot of pride in getting into the suburban Senate offices to talk to staffers and make our point that the health of the region still does rest on the health of our city. And we told the suburban folks about how many of their schools have sent educators to SLA to learn with us... and how Philadelphia can be - and is - a center of innovation in education, and as SLA proves, that can pay powerful dividends for the entire region. But the most interesting comment of the reflection came from one of our freshman. She said, "I learned today that we are pawns in a much larger game. But I also learned that it is important that we play the game as well as we can so we can still make a difference."
It was a reminder that this was still a school day... and the real work that the kids did by talking to over two dozen legislators was a learning experience as well. Kids did real work that mattered. They asked amazing questions... they were using their phones all day long to research information before meetings... they were in the halls of capital discussing how they would tweak their presentations, and they spent the day in between meetings, reflecting on what they had done, what it meant, and how they could improve.
It was an amazing learning experience - real work that mattered - that might just have made a profound difference for their school as well.
And then there was the bus ride home.
We left Harrisburg... and got about 15 minutes out before our bus broke down.
There wasn't really we could do but wait for the bus company to send a replacement bus from Philly. It was one of those moments where a community shows what is really made of. Kids could have misbehaved. Parents could have gotten horribly grumpy. And I could have let my frustration be manifest in the ways I treated the people who had taken the day off to support our school.
Instead... we got on our phones and found a place that would deliver pizza to the Turnpike.
And we made up games.
And we talked.
Or slept a bit.
And chatted with the pizza delivery lady... and the Highway First Responder who stayed with us for the entire four hour wait... and the state trooper who came out to make sure we were o.k.
And just realized that if the worst thing that would happen to us today would be to be stranded outside on a beautiful day, then we would be o.k.
And what I saw was the same spirit that infuses our hallways every day had indeed come with us, and our parents were as big of believers in culture and ethic of care of SLA as our kids are. And I was reminded of why I do what I do. And why I love it.
It was wonderful and humbling to watch parents and students bring their A-game to talk to the legislators today. It was, on some levels, even more amazing and humbling to watch them deal with the unexpected monkey wrench in a way that just made it one more fun story in the SLA lore. "Do you remember the time we couldn't get home from Harrisburg..."
This is what democracy looks like. This is what community looks like. This is what a community of care looks like.
And I am just so proud and humbled every day to be a part of it.
Monday, March 28. 2011
This is the time of year I hate the most.
The letters from the School District of Philadelphia informing 8th grade families of what schools they got into went out last week.
Our phone has been ringing off the hook.
We did over 1,000 interviews.
Our incoming freshman class has 125 seats.
Our phone has been ringing off the hook from parents and students who want to know if there is a chance they can come to SLA in the fall.
The difference between the kids who got in and the kids who didn't are minor. I tell myself that they aren't, but really, they often are. In my heart of hearts, I know that.
As someone at SLA said today, "In an era of scarcity, there is no fair way to do this."
And that's what WfS got right - There are not enough seats in amazing schools for all the kids. Let us be clear about that.
The mistakes of the film were many of the conclusions they draw about a) why schools aren't amazing, and b) what could make schools amazing.
But let us never forget the truth that made the mistruths of that film so compelling.
We need more amazing schools for our kids.
This week at SLA reminds us of that every, single year.
Friday, January 28. 2011
So... it's 9:17 am on the Friday morning of EduCon. Traditionally, today is the day that EduCon attendees spend the day at SLA, visiting classes, meeting up, talking with kids and teachers.
Except the roads are a sheet of ice, and the district (wisely) cancelled school today.
It got announced at about 7:00 pm last night. By 7:01, we had our first text message from a student, "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT EDUCON?" By 7:05, there were already Facebook threads talking about how kids were going to navigate a somewhat limited bus / train system to get to school. By 8:00 pm, there was an email from our Home and School president to all the parent volunteers with an update that we were going to be here, no matter what. And by 10:00 pm, over half the faculty had called, emailed or texted to check to see what needed to be done and when they could come in.
By the time I had gotten official permission from the district that kids could come in today, I already knew that short of locking the doors, there was no way the kids weren't coming in. We still didn't know exactly what the day would look like, but the kids would be here, so I tweeted out:
There's going to be a horde of kids at SLA tomorrow. This is EduCon, and this is their school, and a little snow isn't going to stop them.
One of the kids came up to me this morning and asked if I was going crazy last night. And I told him, "Only until I found out you all could still come in. Once I knew we'd have you guys, I knew we'd be fine." And he said, "Yeah, you knew we were coming." As Cody, our student co-chair has said since we started planning, "We got this." And he has, so has Alaya, his partner, so has the faculty, the parents, and all the kids.
So we're going to have an unconference today. We've got tons of really cool activities and discussions that will spring up... and in the end, while I'm bummed that so many of the EduCon attendees aren't going to see classes today, because I am so proud of what teachers and students do every day, what they will see is something even more powerful.
I admit - I've been feeling really emotional all morning. I am awed and humbled by this community. I am honored to be able to say that I am the principal of this school. And I am renewed in my belief that if we build schools that matter... if we believe in our kids... if we can bring passionate, caring teachers together around a common set of beliefs and ideals... if we can communicate those ideas to kids, value the people they are now and then dare them to do real work that matters, then there is no end to what they - what we - can accomplish together.
Welcome to EduCon. Welcome to SLA. This is our school.
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What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow"