I blogged, pretty extensively (even for me!) two weeks ago, here, about the exciting opportunity the AVI CHAI Foundation provided me and six other Jewish day school heads to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Independent Schools Institute. As I explained, our experience of the institute was intended to be twofold: as a participant and as a cohort exploring the applicability of the institute to the field. The latter is a continuing project and, as such, is not available to share. I look forward to the ongoing collaboration this project calls for and am sure it will enrich and impact my practice. And when it becomes suitable for publication, I look forward to sharing and reflcting in that context.
However, for the context of this blog post, I want to reflect (using the authentic apps I used during the conference) as a mere individual participant, share a little of my experience and see how it might impact our work here at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School.
First a global thought.
As a doctoral student in Jewish education, I learned through the literature review process that one of the great challenges in making the leap from theory to practice is the number of translations invovled. Because most research in education begins in public schooling, the translation often flows from Public School Education to Indpendent School Education to Jewish Education – and as we know, things tend to get lost in translation.
Beyond any one professor or idea I encountered at Harvard, to simply be able to hear the latest theories straight from the theorists’ mouths was a professional development experience like no other. It is one thing to read a book by Howard Gardner or to hear someone else describe Gardner’s work at a conference – it is something else altogether to sit with Howard Gardner and hear it straight from his lips. We had that experience and almost 10 other opportunities with other Harvard professors over the four days of the institute. (And for the bibliophiles? Free copies of all their latest books! Check out my Shelfari page for my new reads.)
It would take way too long to summarize all the research and ideas I was exposed to last week. What I would like to do instead, is pick and choose ideas that connect to ideas and projects we are currently working on and reflect on how my thinking has been impacted.
DISCLAIMER: In light of the above, all losses in translation are the sole responsibility of this blogger who heard it directly from the source!
The very first lecture of the institute was Howard Gardner:
“Educating for the Virtues in the Era of Truthiness and Twitter”
Many of us take for granted that we know what is true, beautiful and good – and that we should simply try to realize these virtues. Whatever validity this assumption may once have had, it no longer goes unchallenged. One challenge comes from philosophical and humanistic perspectives: postmodernists and relativists are skeptical about the nature or even the existence of these virtues. Another challenge comes from technology: in our highly connected, ever changing digital world, the status and stability of these virtues is undermined. In Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed, Howard Gardner analyzes these challenges and shows how the traditional virtues can be powerfully reframed for our time. He also indicates the specific steps that educators can take to introduce and nurture viable notions of truth, beauty and goodness.
When it comes to PORTFOLIO, I think we have a pretty decent foundation with our BLOGFOLIOS; although we presently do not use it in the way Gardner is suggesting – as a way of cataloguing and helping cultivate student’s aesthetic intelligence (to borrow from his most famous theory).
I am most intrigued about the idea of a COMMONS. In some way our blogs and ning function as a virtual commons, but I don’t think we do all we can to seriously engage our students as agents for change. I will be thinking about this more in light of ongoing initiatives, particularly Community of Kindness.
Another interesting professor was Richard Light:
How Great Independent Schools Can Become Great Learning Organizations to Enhance Students’ Experiences
In this session, Richard Light will describe what it means for any school to be a “learning organization.” Light will then offer an example that leaders of a strong independent school might want to consider adopting. The example capitalizes on modest efforts from school leaders and the faculty.
Its goal is to broaden and deepen the experiences of students who are fortunate to attend a strong, independent school. Leading colleges and universities, including Harvard, MIT, Duke, Georgetown, Middlebury, Macalester, Williams, Amherst, Haverford, Bowdoin and Davidson, among others, are making wonderful efforts to become such “learning organizations.” Their goal is to enrich all of their students’ on-campus experiences. Light will illustrate in a concrete way how a strong, independent school can play a leadership role and innovate in this effort, so its students can benefit at no additional cost, and at a time of tight resources.
Two great questions Richard Light asked were…
- “Who in our school is systematically measuring the effectiveness of what we are doing for our students?”
- “What things are our school doing well and not so well and what tweaks and adjustments will improve the experience of students?
His advice is to convene experts in your school and from OTHER schools to help generate the questions to answer those questions. Then, conduct interviews and surveys. Interviews yield anecdotal evidence which should be used for publicity. Data should lead to policy changes.
And the last one (at least for this blog post!) is Richard Weissbourd. [Yes, that is my actual handwriting...you can see why I needed to become a doctor.]
The primary goal of parenting and teaching should not be our children’s happiness or self-esteem but their maturity and their morality. And I need to read his latest book, The Parents We Mean To Be.
I could continue with any number of other lectures, but since I am already over 1,000 words for this blog post, I should probably leave well enough along. Suffice to say that I am grateful to AVI CHAI for the opportunity and look forward to sharing more as our work continues.
As a final note, I should make mention that I am very proudly finishing my 100th official blog post! Thanks to everyone who has read a word and especially to those kind enough to comment.