It has been a thrilling past two weeks in Design Challenge. Our students worked to apply the Design Thinking process for our Tikkun Olam challenge where they identify a "need knower," a person or group with a specific need. The students started with the empathy phase by creating a T-chart with perceived needs for their need knower. Students then worked collaboratively to develop a list of questions to ask their need knower. Some of our groups worked with individuals with disabilities while other groups focused on individuals in our school such as our financial secretary, cafeteria worked, and assistant principals. Each group developed a preliminary list of questions based on the perceived needs of their need knower. After interviewing their need knower, students returned and completed the final part of their T-chart to list the needs that they actually discovered. The image below shows the work of a group that chose to work with the cafeteria workers. This group discovered a need to identify the foods that students would prefer and a need for students to do a better job cleaning up the cafeteria after finishing their lunch. Another group who is working with students with disabilities determined that their need knower needed a better way to count money and make change. Several groups really struggled with identifying the needs of their need knower. This was due in part to not asking enough questions to dig deep enough. In other cases, it was due to their need knower not clearly identifying or sharing a need. This really challenged students to think hard about their need knower.
During the ideation phase, students generated possible solutions to the identified needs. We really pushed them to think more creatively about how to respond. It was interesting to see the various solutions that our students ideated. As we finalize our prototypes and complete our testing phase, I am excited about what our students will create. More importantly though, our students have experienced how the design thinking process can be applied to solve problems that impact others. The work that our students are doing is work that matters because it makes a different in the lives of other. This is the beauty of the Tikkun Olam challenge in that it heals the world and makes it better for others.
Note: In my next post, I will share the results of our challenge. Design students will share their work during our "True North Design Exhibition" on Tuesday, February 26 from 10 to 11:30 AM. Please join us. You can learn more and register for our the event at bit.ly/nrhsdesign.
I have been involved in public education for just over 20 years. During that time, I have experienced a variety of hierarchical management structures. While I was taught to be flexible and adapt, nothing would prepare me for what I have experienced this year at North Rowan High School. The reality is that North Rowan High School is a different kind of place. In many ways, it is a trendsetter although it may not always be recognized as so. But like many artists, trends, and good practices, it takes time for the world to realize innovation. Education is especially slow to recognize this.
As a restart school, North Rowan High School has trail blazed a new path, one that I would dare say that no one, including me, saw coming. It is difficult to describe what makes North Rowan High School so different since no one factor dominates. As a restart school, North Rowan High has embraced and extended its flexibility to do many cutting edge things that are light years ahead. Sometimes I don’t even appreciate where we are until I take time to stop, breathe, and reflect.
One of the most influential factors that has influenced our transition is our students. Many of our students come from challenging backgrounds that would cause them to be considered “at risk.” Our community does not have a lot of benefactors with deep pockets. But we do have a lot of people in our community that love and support our school. This feeling has carried over to how our staff and faculty work with our students. Because the community supports the school, the school, in reciprocation, supports our students. The staff is very nurturing of our students and work with them as they are. We realize the realities of the lives of our students. But instead of making excuses, we support and lift them up. Our students realize this. They know that we are there to help them. In turn, our students thrive in our school. Many of them grow up to be effective leaders in our towns and community. Our students understand resiliency better than most students. They are able to recover from setbacks quickly and move on to create better solutions. They are also willing to accept responsibility in many cases for their actions and inactions. They understand that their success is based on the effort that they are wiling to put into school, sports, and life.
Our students are the heart of what we do at North Rowan High School and our decisions are driven by creating the best possible school for them. While we may not always get it right the first time, we always let what is best for our students drive our decisions. It is our desire to create a better future for them that drives us to come to school daily. Recently, a plan was put forward that would close our school due to low enrollment. This was particularly disturbing for our students and staff. As a new staff member, I listened carefully to the concerns of my colleagues. At no time did any staff member ever talk about what was best for them instead they focused on what was best for our students. Individuals in our community would often comment how sad they felt for us as we may lose our jobs. But that was never mentioned by any staff member. Our concern, rightly so, was on doing what was best for our students. Our staff rallied for what was best for our students. We knew that deep down closing our school was not in the best interest of our students. We are the individuals who serve our students each and every day. As a result, we know what they need and seek to provide the support and nurturing needed to help them be successful.
The next factor that makes a difference at our school is that our administration seeks to empower each of us in making decisions. This is one of the areas that I most admire about our restart. We, as teachers, are treated as professionals whose input is valued. Very rarely do we have unilateral decisions made by our administration. Instead the administration pulls the staff together to work collaboratively to design solutions that are in the best interest of our students. The input of each staff member is valued. While it would be easy for an administration to simply tell (or rather dictate) what each staff member will do, our administration does not. They work to actively support us in finding the best way forward. Much like they expect us to empower our students, they empower us. During the possible closures, our administration was one of the most at risk groups of losing their jobs. While it would have been understandable for them to be frustrated and discouraged, they never showed it. Instead, they worked harder to ensure that our students and staff was supported. In many experience, this is a highly unusual response to the impeding potential of losing your job. Our administration can be routinely found around campus pitching in where needed. Recently our assistant principals were outside picking up trash around our school. While some may argue that this is not their job, I was inspired by their actions. They truly lead by service to others.
As I reflect on the changes at North Rowan High, it is my hope that other schools in Rowan-Salisbury will use this kind of model as a guide to create something extraordinary for their students. We often do not let barriers impede our progress at North Rowan. When an idea is presented, we rarely hear “No you can’t do that.” Instead, we hear “That would be really cool .. Have you thought about this?” This kind of mindset is one that leads to growth and true change over time. We need not let obstacles discourage us from pursuing a better way. Our administration has empowered us to work together to create solutions that serve all. As I have spoken with other educators in our system, I am concerned that many of them are not experiencing the ability to create true change and transformation. This could be due to not being bold enough to really thing about schools differently. Or perhaps, their thinking is too revolutionary. At North Rowan High, we no longer even discuss thinking outside the box. Instead, we say “what box?” as we have learned to think in more global, divergent ways as we seek to best serve our students. My hope is that our school system will truly allow all schools to experience true change under our system’s renewal status where schools can be created that best serve students and their communities. What we have allowed to do at North Rowan High is amazing. Our students have already experienced so many successes and we are just getting started. Recently at a conference, I heard the following quote by Alice Walker. “The nature of the flower is to bloom.” To all my fellow educators, I offer the following advice: “Be bold in your vision. Create something much better for our students because they matter. Cultivate what is needed for all students to bloom.”
During the past summer, I was driving across North Carolina on a 4-day road trip where I was part of a team providing professional learning to teachers on the Digital Learning Competencies (DLCs). I was stuck in rush hour traffic in Charlotte and my colleague Lisa Simmerson called. She informed that one of our proposals “Engaging and Empowering Through Instructional Coaching” had been accepted to FETC. We were excited. About 20 minutes later, I learned that our second proposal “Motiving Students Through Scavenger Hunts” was accepted as a skill builder session at FETC. While I was uncertain about what a skill builder session was, I was elated that both our proposals were excited and we represent our schools and school district at one of the largest national conferences on Educational Technology.
When we arrived in Orlando on Sunday, we were greeted by a lot of rain and clouds. But we did not let this dampen our enthusiasm about the conference. Upon arriving Monday morning, we eagerly split up ready to learn. Well actually, we were not quite as eager as I have indicated. My colleague and I have been fortunate to attend many conferences in the past. Recently, some of the more prominent ones that we have attended have left us feeling underwhelmed. We love learning about new technology tools but we both have progressed beyond the “glitter and sparkly feel” of a new tool that ultimately fizzles out when used in the classroom for more than a month. In our role as instructional coaches, we work extensively with the implementation of various tools to enhance instruction. Sometimes, a new tool turns out to be very effective. But there are times when a fancy new tools fails to deliver with time upon implementation. As a result, we actively seek to make sure that tools we recommend are worthwhile and directly benefit either students or teachers. We also seek to make sure that we are good stewards of the money that we receive.
We spent the next three days exploring every aspect of FETC rating from sessions, keynotes, networking, and the vendor hall. As we flew back home late Wednesday, we reflected on the experience and both felt that FETC was a great experience. What I found most exhilarating about FETC was the sessions that I attended, far and wide, stimulated my thinking and creativity. Granted, there were some “how to” sessions but most of the sessions allowed us to interact with the presenter and others in attendance to go beyond the tool and actually share ways for implementing the tool. We loved that we were challenged to grow in new ways. We learned about new tools but, more importantly, we returned back to school with ways to use them the very next day. Below are my most important “take aways” from FETC 2019:
1) Creativity has become a focal piece for moving beyond using technology simply as an enhanced substitution. All students have the ability to be creative. Students look at the world in different ways. By encouraging and engaging in creative tasks, students have the ability to share their thinking in a way that is new and unique to them. In the opening keynote, Jennifer Womble shared that “Creativity is innately human and will not be replaced by automation.” Jennifer’s statement is so true and we must cultivate creativity with our students. This is what will give them the leading edge during their lifetime. Creativity will be the currency for our student’s economic evaluation and personal satisfaction.
2) Students must create authentic work that relates to the real world. Technology is simply a tool that will allow students to create. But so is a paper and pencil. Regardless of the tool used, students must create. This is truly a human experience. In having students create, they get to learn more about themselves as well.
3) As we become increasingly more connected, we must be mindful of taking time to disconnect from our devices and focus on taking care of ourselves. This may mean that we don't receive breaking news or be the first know. But that is not always be a bad thing. Instead, we need to invest in taking time to focus on ourselves. As one presenter shared: “There is a reason why airlines tell you that in the event of a loss of pressure, masks will automatically be dispensed and to put yours on before helping another person.”
4) We must continue to harness the power of our personal learning networks (PLNs). I met some amazing people at FETC such as Andrea Chavez-Kopp (@adkopp760) and Jennifer Williams (@JenWilliamsEdu). As we grow our PLNs, we must be certain we are using our PLNs effectively to create amazing learning and growing opportunities. Jennifer cohosts a twitter chat on Thursday at 7 PM using #CreateEdu which I attended this week for the first time. This chat was incredible. We had individuals all over the world participate. I got several good ideas and was inspired by this week’s chat. Be sure join us in the future.
5) Michael Cohen’s book “Educated by Design” is an amazing book that has only been out for a few weeks. It was a huge topic of discussion at FETC. I attended a session with Michael and he was amazing. He was part of a session with five other presenters. In fact this is where I met Jennifer Williams. It was amazing to see the work that these six individuals where doing with Adobe Spark and creativity. I gained new ideas about how to use this totally free tool where students create. As a side note, Cohen’s book is a definite must read for educators who want their students performing authentic work that matters. I also was able to get Michael to sign the book (a definite plus).
6) Data Privacy for students and educators continue to grow. We must move our digital citizenship lessons to the next level. While most everyone focuses on cyberbullying and the importance of not giving out personal information over the internet, most agree that we can and should do more. I was able meet one of my digital citizenship heroes, Susan Bearden (@s_bearden). Her book “Digital Citizenship: A Community Based Approach”is an important read for all educators. Further, we must ensure that all classroom teachers are fully supported in teaching and supporting digital citizenship in their classroom. Too often, classroom teachers report not feeling fully prepared to teach digital citizenship. Those in instructional support positions must work to provide support and learning opportunities for classroom teachers in digital citizenship.
FETC was a tremendous growth opportunity for me as I learned so much and found many new resources. I encourage you to continue the learning by sharing various resources and ideas using the #FETC and @fetc. To those who organized the conference, thank you for a great learning experience. It was just what I needed to be inspired.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.