Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Why --> My What

As our Innovative Instructional Leadership cohort continues through Kouzes and Posner's The Truth About Leadership, I was asked to reflect on what brought me into education, what roadblocks are in the way, and what new opportunities lay ahead.

I fell in love with education in my first year of college.  Olin College was my top choice school because of its hands-on and student-driven approach to engineering from the very first day of class.  As I was heading into my second semester, I was part of a group of six students who decided to create our own class, MetaOlin, and find six professors to each teach us a two-week segment.  As a group, we studied our own school through the lenses of systems engineering, diversity and privilege, digital communications, pedagogy, history, and information literacy.  Many of the units focused on the learning environment of the college analyzed in different ways, but the specific pedagogy unit opened me up to a totally new field of study.  I followed this up the next semester with a course at nearby Wellesley College, Improving Schools, that studied a variety of models of standard, private, and public charter schools that significantly improved student results.  By the end of this course, I was so addicted that I needed to take a year off of college just to study our nation's schools.

My leave of absence year was spent living with five other classmates doing the same thing.  We found the overlap of our interests -- a startup tech business focused on improving collaborative learning in schools -- and pursued this head-on.  During that year, my free time was invested in books about learning (lots of John Holt and similarly old classics).  My side job was planning curriculum and teaching at a weekend STEM program for high school students.

In my junior year after the leave, I committed myself to a temporary year-long focus on software skills in order to build some technical competence.  By my senior year, I decided that I wanted to create and lead a charter school modeled after the awesome school systems I had been studying and visiting over the past few years.  In order to get licensed, I needed three years of management or three years of teaching experience.  If I wanted to have a clue about what I was doing, I needed the teaching, so I found Winona State University-Rochester near my new post-marriage home and started the fastest, most hands-on licensure program I could find.  That brought me to Byron.

Since I started, my WHY has remained focused on redesigning the system to make learning relevant and meaningful to students so that we would be able, as a society, to solve the complex problems in our world and so that students would be excited to engage in this journey of lifelong learning.

This translated into many of the projects I poured myself into since I started teaching (see my last post).  All of this is preparing me to design the best learning environments possible.  Moving forward, I am finally coming head to head with the largest challenge that I feared when I started: the credit hour, also known as the Carnegie Unit.  Almost nobody believes that learning occurs just because time passes in a scheduled space, and yet the complexities of organizing people into places with enough adults per student has made this piece of our system indispensable.  If you add to that the need for whole groups to move through material together in time, the schedule becomes nearly impossible to take on.

I think the long-term vision for this breaks away from a schedule and tracks objective-connected learning for each student.  Students still need individual attention and monitoring, making advisors and special education teachers all the more important.  Rather than classes, shorter projects and learning modules could chip away required micro-credits for students over time.  This would afford the flexibility for new learning experiences that integrate subjects, work off-site, or allow students more choice in their work.  I want to be a part of making this possible in Byron and beyond.

The new English/History-integrated Grand Challenge Design course for next year will be a useful first step forward in exploring integrated teaching and learning in Byron.  If we can successfully create deep experiences that engage students in multidisciplinary learning, I think we can keep pushing against the traditional schedule and all of its weaknesses, barriers, and cost overhead.  I can imagine all 11th graders trading in traditional coursework for a year-long, themed, integrated experience that is heavily defined by their own dreams and needs.


  1. Andy! This is AMAZING! I love the whole idea of breaking away from a schedule. Even at the elementary level we get caught up in the scheduling with having to focus a certain amount of minutes per day on reading, math, etc. As much as we are encouraged to plan inter-disciplinarian learning, we get stifled because of those minute expectations we are given (and I do believe they are given by the state and not just the district.) So I am looking forward to following along, supporting and promoting your Integrated class next year. I hope that with it's success the Byron District will continue to look for more ways for all grades K-12 to give our students integrated learning experiences. Really, such an inspiring idea! So glad you decided to go into education!

  2. Hearing your backstory makes so much sense knowing you now! :) I have always appreciated the mix of listening and learning and challenging that you bring to any conversation. This is a unique combination that makes you a powerful leader and change agent for our students and staff.

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