About Chris Lehmann

Founding Principal Science Leadership Academy Philadelphia, PA
Oct 19

How Leaders Can Improve Their Cultural Competence

[I wrote a piece for Edutopia about cultural competence. Here’s how it starts…]

We live in an increasingly pluralistic society where people run up against the thoughts and beliefs of others more and more frequently. Helping children learn to navigate the space between what they believe and what others believe is perhaps one of the best ways we can overcome the hate we see in so many facets of our society today.

Cultural competence isn’t tolerance. It’s not that easy. Cultural competence is not simply ensuring that your school has a rich and varied Black History Month or letting students start a Gay-Straight Alliance — although those can be powerfully important pieces of a culturally competent school. Cultural competence means first understanding, as educational leaders, that we come to school with our sense of who we are, and that unless we are reflective about our own identity and how it creates a lens through which we view the world, we will not be able to honor the identities of the students and faculty we serve.

But that is only the beginning of cultural competence. As we go through the process of understanding who we are and the place we occupy as administrators of our buildings, we also have to listen deeply to those around us — students, parents, faculty, and staff — to understand who they are and what their experiences are, so that we can relate to them fully as people, without preconceived notions of what it means to have an identity that is different — or even the same — as ours. And it means subjecting the processes of our schools to what we learn when we listen, always working to ensure that our schools are accessible to all, equitable for all.

Read the rest at Edutopia…. 

Sep 28

EduCon 2.9: Call for Proposals

Yes everyone, it’s that time again! EduCon time! You can go to the website and register and propose a conversation today!

Once again, everyone at SLA is so excited to host EduCon, our favorite education conference of the year! And EduCon is awesome because of everyone who shows up to make it awesome! This year’s theme — fitting for our tenth EduCon — is sustainability. And as we put together our panels, I think we’re going to have some incredible conversations about how to sustain the innovations we create, even as we all keep pushing toward new ideas.

So, please think about facilitating a conversation this year! Proposals are due November 1st.

For those folks who have never been… some information about EduCon:

What is EduCon?

EduCon is both a conversation and a conference.

It is an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

The guiding principles behind EduCon:

  • Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
  • Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen.
  • Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  • Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate, and collaborate.
  • Learning can — and must — be networked.

Hope to see you there!


Sep 23

We Need More Voices

A friend called me this morning. She’s an urban educator, and she wanted to know if I wanted to be a part of a group of urban educators who could make a statement about the most recent police shootings. And, I have to admit, while I am always willing to add my name, I also voiced the thought of “Another statement?” It didn’t feel like enough.

Except maybe this —

One of the reasons that I think it’s so important that I speak out on issues of racial injustice isn’t just because I teach students of color, it’s also because I teach white students. It is important that African-American students see me speak up on issues of racial injustice because I want them to know that I stand with them and care deeply for them and love them, especially now in this time of great pain. But it’s also important that white students see me speak out so that they can see that this issue is of critical importance to me as a white Jewish educator. It’s my hope that if I speak up, so can they. If white students can, in part because a diverse coalition of educators who care for them speak up, see that the issue of racial injustice in all its forms is not only a black issue, but is, instead, a powerfully human issue, then we can make progress.

So yes, absolutely count me in on statements by urban educators decrying the racial injustice and police brutality we are living through, but we need more.

It is my hope that, as urban educators speak out, we see more and more educators in predominantly white schools signing on and speaking out.

We need you.

We need you to teach students in the communities that are overwhelmingly white about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic article about economic injustice and racism, “The Case for Reparations.” We need you to show them the Guardian website, The Counted, so they can see that this year police have killed African-Americans at 2.5 times the rate of white Americans. We need you to show them the Harvard Implicit Bias test so that your students can confront their own implicit biases because one of the best ways to build a better world is to start with working to be the best version of ourselves and building out from there.

Educators in predominantly white schools – it’s not enough to leave the teaching of racial injustice to those who are teaching in schools that serve a majority of students of color. If we are to achieve the dream of America as a more perfect union, we need to help all our students understand that we all have a role to play in creating that.

And to do that, we need your voices too.


Aug 22

They Don’t Have to Learn It From Us

There’s a new post making the rounds on Facebook. It’s about a sign that the Catholic High School for Boys has posted on their front door for this school year. It says:

If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc, TURN AROUND and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.

Many teachers I know are sharing it gleefully. And that worries me for a bunch of reasons. First, it shows a lack of empathy on our part – as if “tough love” would override helping a student who has forgotten homework or lunch or their cleats. Wouldn’t we want the kids to have what they need for school? And if that means that, from time to time, they need someone to bail them out when they forget something, so be it. And yes, I recognize that many students don’t have the ability to have parents drop something off at school, and so we shouldn’t only have that as a student’s solution, but nor should we turn parents away at the door when they are coming to school to help their child.

Second, I wonder if teachers would subject themselves to this same policy. I’d be in trouble. SLA Ultimate practices at 6:30 am every morning, and I dress in practice gear and change into my work clothes after practice. I’ve forgotten my wallet, socks, a belt, dress shoes, you name it. I’m lucky – my wife goes by SLA on her way to work, and if I realize it in time, I’m able to call her and beg her to drop off what I’ve forgotten. Does that make me a less responsible and effective educator that I occasionally forget stuff when I leave at 6:15 am? I hope not. Nor would I want a teacher not to have someone offer them the same help if they forgot a folder of work to hand back on the kitchen table. And I’m curious how some of the teachers who have been sharing this post on Facebook would react if their principal told their roommate or spouse to turn around if they forgot something, encouraging again, problem-solving.

And finally, it just seems mean to me. We all screw up. We all need to be bailed out. And there are plenty of times in life when we can’t. But I question why a school would send the message to a student that, when the solution to their problem is — quite literally — at the schoolhouse door, that it doesn’t help them. “This is for your own good” often isn’t, and I wonder what the lesson the students will really learn from that sign will be.

As educators, when we have the chance to show kindness, we should. As educators, when we have the chance to make sure kids see that home and school can work together in a child’s best interest, we should. And as educators, when we have the chance to remind kids that it’s ok not to be perfect and that we all need help from time to time, we should.

The world can be a cruel place where people treat one another poorly. Our students have the rest of their lives to learn that particular lesson.

They don’t need to learn it from us.

Jul 07

For White Teachers in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

This is a post for white teachers – it doesn’t matter if you teach at predominantly white schools or schools with a majority of students of color. I don’t pretend to have big “A” Answers, but what I hope this post does is help you make sense of the role you play as our nation grapples with one of the most challenging issues of our time – police violence and how that is magnified against African-Americans.

In the past two days, we’ve seen two videos of Black men dying after having been shot by police officers. The videos are almost impossibly hard to watch. We’ve seen the partners and children of these men react to their death – and those videos are nearly as hard to watch as the deaths themselves. These killings are the most recent example of how many people die at the hands of police officers in America — and importantly — how there is deep racial inequity about who dies at the hands of the police. In 2015, 7.27 African-Americans per million were killed by police while 2.93 white Americans per million were killed by police. (http://theguardian.com/thecounted) American police officers kill more people per capita than most other places in the world. And American police kill African-Americans more than they kill anyone else.

And while this racial inequity in US policing is not new at all, the probability that our students have experienced watching the video of seeing people die — possibly not by choice if they have auto-play turned on on Facebook — is a modern phenomenon.

These issues come into our classrooms, whether we acknowledge them or not. And as Pia Martin (among others) reminds us, there is no such thing as passive anti-racism. We, as white teachers, do not have the luxury of pretending the world doesn’t impact our classroom and our students. Whether we choose to directly deal with the issue in our classrooms or not, we have a moral obligation to be caring and thoughtful in our classrooms – especially to those who may be experiencing trauma due to these events. With that, some thoughts on how to be a caring white teacher in these times:

  • I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of amazing educators who came together to write about teaching about issues of state-sanctioned violence after the trial for Jordan Davis’ murder. While some of what we wrote was specific to that case, there is still a great deal there that would be applicable now.
  • Educate yourself. You can look at the hard data — and the stories behind the data — at The Counted – where the Guardian is cataloguing all of the people killed by US police. You can look at a comprehensive proposal for police reform at Campaign Zero. Those are but two of the many sites out there.
  • This is a moment where remembering that we teach students before we teach subjects is incredibly important. If we had school today, you might have students in your class who watched two people die yesterday, who had to have another version of “The Talk” or who had to be reminded of their own experiences with racial profiling and racial violence by police. Be aware of this and be understanding that your lesson on Hamlet, the quadratic equation, Ancient Rome or the past perfect tense of -ar verbs may not be where students are focusing.
  • We don’t have to “be the expert.” In fact, we can’t be. If there was ever a moment to not to be didactic, it’s now. This is a time to listen far more than lecture.
  • Let students know you care about this issue — and that you care about them. Silence really does imply consent in moments like this. You may be at a loss at what to say – many of us are – but saying nothing can be even more chilling.
  • Don’t put the burden of dealing with this on the African-American teachers in your school. All over America today, African-Americans are struggling with these two killings. Asking Black teachers to then also carry this burden in our schools is not only unreasonable, but it’s cruel.
  • Don’t make this only about Black students. This is an American problem that affects all of us. The onus is on all of us to make a better world. In the same way that we should not put the burden on Black teachers, be very aware of any burden we might inadvertently place on Black students.
  • Do not make this about us. It’s not about us. Do not center this issue on how you feel. Use empathy. Share thoughts. Make common cause, but listen deeply and be thoughtful in your responses. There is deep pain here. We must honor that first and foremost.
  • And to that end — Respect boundaries. No one has to talk about these issues. No one has to mine their pain as a classroom experience. If someone trusts us enough to talk about these issues, we must respect that trust, and realize that for many of our students, this is not a dispassionate academic issue. This is something that cuts far too close to home for many students, and we have to respect that and understand how painful this issue can be.
  • And finally, do not say “All Lives Matter” or “Black on Black Crime.” I’ve linked articles explaining why  those words are toxic to this conversation. Please, if this doesn’t automatically ring true, take time to read both.

This isn’t a comprehensive list. This can’t be a step-by-step guide. There is no way to just lesson plan our way through this. But we have to be part of the solution. We cannot assume that others will deal with this, or think that this isn’t an issue that affects our schools. And we cannot leave this issue for African-Americans to try to survive their way through. White teachers, it is time for us to carry our weight and do our part to make sure that all our students understand how important this issue is — and that our Black students feel from us that one societal institution – our schools – are for them, even as the images they’ve seen in these past few days have made many feel that another societal institution – the police – is not.

Jul 06

A Deadly Combination

I’m writing this post from my community pool. That’s significant because I can look out upon this little space and see something all too rare in America. Our little West Philly pool is a truly diverse space, and in my line of sight are multi-racial groups of kids and families playing together. It’s something I probably take for granted too often for how special it is in this country, but in the wake of the death of Alton Sterling, it stands out to me today.

I didn’t know what to say at first. I felt, like others have, frustrated, angry, sad at yet another unnecessary death of a black man at the hands – and guns – of the police. There is, as others have said, an urge to say little. But Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas wrote brilliantly today and urged us again to “So cry new tears. Write new words. Craft new prayers. Attend new marches. Channel new anger. Feel it all again. Every bit of it.” And so I write.

The promise of this country is everywhere. The possibilities and progress is here to be had. But we are a country drunk on racism and drunk on guns.

And together, those two things are a toxicity that will erode the best, most noble ideals of what America can be.

In my line of sight right now are a group of boys of about middle-school age. They are a diverse group of kids playing together in the pool, laughing and enjoying summer as only kids can do. It is easy to lose yourself in that moment and see only the promise, only the good. But outside the walls of this community pool, the rules are much different for the white boys than the boys of color – especially the black boys.

There is a far greater chance that the interactions the black boys will have with the police will end in tragedy than for the white boys.

There is a far greater chance that this nation will tell the black boys what they cannot do than tell the white boys that.

There is a far greater chance that the world will teach the black boys what it means to be hated and feared because of the color of their skin than the white boys.

There is a far greater chance that young black boys will have their lives deeply impacted by gun violence than the white boys.

Alton Sterling died early Tuesday morning at the hands of the Baton Rouge police. The video of his death is beyond difficult to watch. But we don’t need to watch it to know that another black man died at the hands of the police.

We are a nation drunk on guns and drunk on racism. For too many African-American men and women, that has become a deadly combination.

Jul 03

Graduation Speech to the Class of 2016

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 2016.

Thank you to our partner, The Franklin Institute, led by Chair of the Board of Trustees, Don Morel and CEO Larry Dubinsky 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 – and let me shout-out specifically Mr. Bey, Ms. Jonas, Mr. Latimer, Ms. Pahomov, Ms. Manuel, Ms. Martin and Mr. Kamal, the advisors who have taken care of you throughout your journey through SLA.

And parents, thank you for sharing your children with us. It has been our distinct honor and pleasure – more than we can possibly say.

On a personal note, there are a lot of people who wonder why I do two jobs – why I don’t do the district work full-time. Simply – the answer is you. The chance to be at SLA and watch you all grow – you and your younger schoolmates – is a great joy of my life, and I thank you for it.

I think it is well-known how outstanding you all are academically. The Class of 2016 represents some of the highest achievement Science Leadership Academy has ever seen in college admission – with students of to attend schools all over this country including many of the most highly competitive colleges in the nation. Perhaps more importantly, what struck all of us at SLA is how cohesive and close you came to be as a class — and how much you deeply believed in the idea of service to school and community. You all represent the best ideal of what we hope for in our graduates – fully realized citizens, ready for whatever is next, ready to make the world a better place as you have made our school a better place.

This week, we watched the underclassmen and rising seniors immerse themselves in Challenge Week projects for the first time, and I couldn’t help but think of how the cycle of school is ongoing, that those students will soon sit where you sit now, that they have learned so much from the example you all have set and I thought about the iterative process of learning that never ends and how much you have grown through that process.

It is always my hope that the four years you spend with us help you become more thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind – full of thought, with the wisdom to apply thoughts in powerful ways, with the passion to power through the times when people tell you it cannot be done, and kind… because the world needs more kindness. And let me say now, that you all embody those values powerfully and beautifully.

And as much as tonight is a signpost for you to begin what you will once you leave us, it is also a night for us to engage in that fifth SLA core value – reflection. So let us take some time to look back over the past four years, the work you have done, and the role that we have all played in each other’s lives.

Let us step back and think about all that you have done.

You have completed nearly 10,000 benchmark projects over the last four years. And at least three or four of them were completed before the night before they were due.

You have been Student Assistant Teachers in over fifty 9th, 10th and 11th grade classes, helping students in class, in our halls, on Facebook and anywhere you were needed – guaranteeing that our younger students know what it means to go to SLA.

You have spent over 20,000 hours at your Individualized Learning Programs, working at hospitals, and schools and businesses and universities all over our city.

You sent out over 900 college applications, across 250 schools, receiving over 400 acceptances and over one million dollars in scholarships.

You have set a new standard for the students of Philadelphia in debate, winning city championships, and representing our school and our city at the national championships – not once, but twice.

You have taken Rough Cut Productions further than we could have imagined, creating hours of original work, documenting 100s of hours of SLA functions, winning national recognition for your short films and creating the Rough Cut Film Festival – a week-long event that is going on this week, culminating with Monday night’s award ceremony — and I look forward to seeing many of you there.

You spent hours working on an incredible robotics team that went up against teams with more resources and a longer history, and you went further than many of those teams thought you could go.

You wrote and performed your ideas onto the world with the incredible slam poetry you created on our award-winning PYPM team.

You rebuilt Kamalot, and by that I mean Room 304, transforming that space in your image, and I am wondering… are we ever going to find a place for all that wood in the hall?

You wrote hundreds of articles for SLAMedia.org — setting a standard for on-line student journalism for high schools all over the world.

You have furthered the partnership with The Franklin Institute, working on Project SPACE, teaching 9th grade mini-classes, and meeting with Franklin Award winning scientists who are engaged in some of the most powerful work in the world.

You have run thousands of miles with Students Run Philly Style, running the Philly Marathon, the Broad Street Run, and so many Saturday morning training runs that I am tired just thinking about it.

You have played — and won — on the fields and courts of Philadelphia, never letting the lack of a gym or a home field stand in the way of your desire and ability to compete, always wearing SLA’s colors with pride and representing us with dignity even in the face of adversity.

You have spoken truth to power – rallying in the streets in support of your teachers, speaking passionately to SRC members about why this school is so important to you and standing up for the causes you believe in over and over again.

You have hosted thousands of educators from all over the world who came to see how you learn. They often came skeptical that high school students could do what you do, speak the way you speak, learn the way you learn, but to a person, they left convinced, recommitted to the idea that schools should be places where students — and learning — matter greatly.

And last week, you presented the culminating work of your time at Science Leadership Academy – your capstones. The projects were as varied as you all are. You built solar charging stations, you coached youth sports teams, you taught classes, you created original pieces of art work that will live in our school long after your days here are done, you built gorgeous pieces of furniture, you made movies, you illustrated Siddhartha — which no one had ever thought to do before… ever — you engaged in political action campaigns, you created digital scale models of the solar system, you wrote a word processor, you taught us about the broader world and the people who live in it. In short, you led, you created, you learned.

You took our core values – inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection – and applied them to your own ideas, your own passions, and in doing so, created incredible artifacts of your learning. You stood in front of your community and said, “This is the scholar – the artist – the activist – the maker – the person I have become. This is what I can do.” And in doing so, you reminded all of us of what young people can do when given the freedom and the support to dream big.

But that should come as no surprise, because it seemed like no matter where the bar was set, you all always exceeded it.

And you have done all this at a time where public education in this city remains under attack. You created all of this at a time when our state politicians see fit to turn education into a political football, not passing a state budget for months after their deadline because they would not agree to fund education equitably across our state. You did this despite funding levels in our city that are nowhere near what is spent on the children who live on the other side of City Line Avenue. And to my eyes, your accomplishments over the past four years are proof to any politician of why public education is so vital, so important. You have proven over and over again what the kids of Philadelphia can do when given the resources they need and when they are supported by teachers who care for them.

And while tonight is a night for celebration and reflection, it is also a night to look forward. You have completed one chapter of your life tonight, but it is our hope that the lessons you have learned with us propel you into whatever comes next. You are our hope now. For the parents and families and teachers gathered with you today, you represent our best chance, our best ideals, our most hopeful promise that the world tomorrow can be better than it is today.

You must remember that inquiry means asking the hard questions, not just of yourself, but of others. And you must remember that the true spirit of inquiry means never settling for the easy or trite answers, but rather seeking out those small “t” truths that will lead to new ideas and new solutions.

You must have the humility to understand that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and your humility must lead you to research what others before you have discovered, so that you do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need you to, after all, make new and more interesting mistakes than the ones we have made. You must keep in mind the path you have traveled, the pitfalls as well as the successes, because it is that humility, that notion that our shared humanity – our moments of frailty – that will keep us grounded in the world, in the notion that each and all of us have value.

You must remember that we are better together than we are apart and seek out collaboration. You must understand that the complexity of the challenges we face are more powerfully understand when viewed through the lens of many, not the lens of one. You have walked for four years in a community that values — and at times struggles with — the diversity of voices that make up the rich tapestry of our school and our city. We all are better for listening to each other and informing each other’s voice. That idea — of collaboration — of diversity — of coming together — is at the heart of how we will all make the world a better place.

You must continue to make your voice heard. And no, I can’t imagine that will be a problem for you all, but when you make your voice heard, remember that presentation is a two-way street. Continue to speak for the purpose of educating your listeners. Keep working to make your voices inclusive, so that others can pick up your cause, your idea, your voice, and echo and amplify it for many more. Ideas do not live in isolation. And I know that all of you will have the courage of your conviction, and the passion and voice to speak your truths to those who must hear them.

No matter busy you get, no matter how important the work you are doing is, you must remember to take the time for reflection. For it is when we reflect on our actions, on the world around us, that we can process and learn from what we have done. Never be in such a rush to do, to create, to lead, that you lose sight of the importance of listening, of stillness, of the wise counsel of others, so that you can always be thoughtful about what you have done and what you have left to do.

And, of course, make sure you remember that unspoken sixth core value – care. So many of you have spoken about how SLA is a family – granted, often a dysfunctional one – but a family nonetheless. That is because we all — adults and students alike — took the time to care for one another. It is the heart of this school, the heart of our shared values, that we must be kind. We must care. We must understand that we are better together than we are apart.

And through that ideal, all of us here have benefitted from being in a caring environment where questions like, “What do you think?,” “How do you feel?” and “What do you need?” are not admissions of weakness, but rather of strength. So know this… To listen deeply to others, to thoughtfully construct answers, and to create solutions that empower many – that is the heart of what we have tried to teach you over these four years, and as I look upon you now, I am reminded of dozens of instances where you all have taken that challenge and succeeded gloriously – beyond anything we had a right to expect from you.

And that matters, because we need you now. Much as we urged you not to simply view high school as preparation for real life, nor can you view the next stage of your life that way either. If being part of a community like ours mattered to you these last four years, then you know what you must do next. You must carry these values forward into all you do next.

The work you do, the challenges you embark upon, the causes you champion once you leave our halls matter. It won’t always be easy. There are still too many people in our world who believe that it cannot be done. There are too many people who seek not the best in people, but the worst. But you all know better. You all know what is possible – what can be done when people come to the world with wisdom and care. Simply, you are our best hope for the future. In our classes, in our hallways and on many Facebook and Twitter chats, we have discussed the challenges our world faces. The world cannot wait for you to take them on.

Because, not to put too fine a point on it, the world needs you. We were reminded of that this week, with the tragedy in Orlando where 49 people were killed because of who they chose to love. We are reminded that when we read about the base nature of the political debate in this nation. We are reminded of that every time we have to continue to fight for the civil rights of all people, working to ensure that a person’s race, gender, religion, economic status or sexual orientation is not used by others as a barrier to equity, fairness or joy.

It is undeniable – 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. That is not the world we have left you. 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 people 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 now that you have left our halls. Congratulations to the Class of 2016. Long may you shine.

Jun 30

Council of Elders

I’m on the plane back from ISTE 2016, after four days of more powerful conversations that I had a right to expect.

This was my tenth ISTE. There is something incredible about going back, year after year, to a community that has watched me grow up professionally and has watched SLA go from a scrappy little start-up to now three schools and a non-profit working to spread inquiry-based education to a wider array of schools. And this year, what struck me is how many people in this world have become a big part my council of elders over time.

And that’s the idea I want to play with tonight.

A council of elders isn’t necessary the folks who are older than you, but they are the folks whose perspective and wisdom can push your thinking in important ways. They are also the folks who you trust enough not to tell you what you want to hear or allow their words to be colored by their own interests in what you are doing. They are the folks whose lived experiences have given them a window into your life and your challenges that allow you to see yourself through a different lens.  And often, I think, some of the folks on your list have to be the people who aren’t there every day, so they can give you that “step back” perspective that might not be as easy to see to the folks who are in your life day-to-day.

And, most of all, they are the folks who listen well – and know you well.

I think every leader needs her council of elders. They are the folks who keep you honest. They are the folks who can show you a roadmap when you can’t see one. And they are the folks who can get you out of your head long enough to see solutions other than whatever solution you are currently grinding your gears over.

The trick is knowing you have them – and knowing you need them. In the end, having your council of elders is nothing more or less than the collaborative part of reflection. It’s about carving the time to reflect and remembering to have the humility to know that sometimes, we need others to hold the mirrors up to ourselves for us.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day to forget all of that. It’s too easy to think that our challenges are so uniquely ours as to not ask for other perspectives. It’s too easy to think that people don’t really mean it when they say, “Call me if you need me.” But none of that is true.

I was reminded this week of how powerful my council of elders is, and how important they are to me. Thanks ISTE for bringing together so many amazing folks. And I’ve got new marching orders for this coming year to remember to check in more often with so many folks.

And, of course, I’ve got to remember to pay it forward, and remind the folks to whom I’ve said, “Call me if you need me,” that I meant it too.

May 15

School Design and Civil Rights

The Obama administration took a huge step forward in the fight for the rights of transgender students when they published their guidelines for restroom usage in schools this week. It is an important step that has generated all the controversy one would expect, given the history of the fight for civil rights in America.

And perhaps this is a chance to use school design to rethink how school structures one of the basic structures of school – the restroom.

To wit – what if all restrooms were unisex?

I was in a great Philadelphia restaurant recently that had unisex restrooms. There was no door from the main restaurant into bathroom. The sinks were around the corner as you walked in, and the sinks were open to all. The stalls were in the back half of the space and had floor-to-ceiling doors – creating a private experience for the person actually, you know, going to the bathroom. I admit, it was a little strange for a second to come out of my stall at the same time as a woman two stalls down, but only for a second. And I think that would be the experience for most kids in school as well.

Any school with this design could completely short-circuit the issue of “which bathroom.” It would ensure that no transgender student ever had to face harassment or bigotry based on which bathroom they chose to use. It wouldn’t mean that the issues transgender student face would end – far from it – but it could make life a little easier for students as schools and society continue to evolve. And it would give schools one more entry point to the necessary conversation about civil rights for transgender students.

And the thing is – this might allow us to get bathrooms right for all kids, too. Bathrooms are – in many schools – places that often end up as less than awesome. Most recently, a young woman lost her life in a bathroom fight in Delaware. But school bathrooms have been terrifying places in too many places for a long, long time. Maybe, with new designs that made less of the space walled off, we could create safer spaces for all our students.

We need to do the work of creating more safe, more inclusive, more accepting and more understanding schools. Much of that work has to be done through the words and deeds with which we live our lives. But as we seek to make schools — and society — more equitable, let’s remember that there are ways to improve the design of the very spaces we inhabit that could have profoundly positive impact as we work to achieve those goals.

Apr 12

Join the SLA Team!

It’s hiring season in Philadelphia, and the Science Leadership Academy schools have openings at all three (three!) campuses!

Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber is hiring for it’s final founding cohort, as next year will “fill” the school. They are looking for the following positions:

  • English
  • History
  • Biology
  • Math
  • Physical Education
  • Counseling
  • Special Education

Science Leadership Academy – Center City

  • History
  • Math

Science Leadership Academy Middle School – Be part of SLA-MS founding faculty!

  • Elementary Education
  • Special Education
  • Art
  • Counseling

Call for Teachers:

  • “How do we learn?”
  • “What can we create?”
  • “What does it mean to lead?”

These three essential questions form the basis of instruction at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) a Philadelphia high school opened in September 2006. SLA is built on the notion that inquiry is the very first step in the process of learning. Developed in partnership with The Franklin Institute – a nationally recognized science and technology museum – and its commitment to inquiry-based science, SLA provides a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.

The Science Leadership Academy is looking for faculty to continue to develop and implement a rigorous, inquiry-driven, project-based curriculum. In addition, all teachers at SLA have an advisory class where they work with the same students for four years. SLA is a national model for “School 2.0,” a reform movement that seeks to harness the tools of technology, tied to a progressive pedagogy, to re-imagine what high schools can be. As such, SLA is a 1:1 laptop school that uses multiple resources – web-based and traditional – to create meaning and understanding.


  • Applicants must be PA State Certified or eligible for PA State Certification in their subject area.
  • Applicants must be committed to the idea that we teach students first and our subjects second.
  • Applicants must be willing to challenge students to work in an inquiry-driven, project based environment.
  • Applicants must be willing to work collaboratively.
  • Applicants must be willing to work in a diverse environment with students who reflect the rich heritage of Philadelphia.
  • Applicants should have a strong background in technology infusion into the classroom and be willing to see their classroom as happening both on and offline.
  • Applicants should have an interest in developing extra-curricular activities.
  • Applicants should be energetic, flexible, and have a strong desire to work with administrators, fellow teachers, parents, and students to create a school that reflects SLA’s core values.

How to Apply:
For more information, please visit http://www.scienceleadership.org, http://www.slabeeber.org, http://slamiddle.org/ or contact SLA at teaching@scienceleadership.org. Resumes and cover letters can be sent to teaching@scienceleadership.org but all applicants must apply through the School District of Philadelphia Site Selection Process as well.

Contact Info:

SLA @ Beeber: Principal – Chris Johnson

SLA – Center City: Co-Principals – Chris Lehmann / Aaron Gerwer

SLA Middle School: Principal – Tim Boyle

Email: teaching@scienceleadership.org