Apr 03

Join the Innovation Network!

This is an exciting time in the School District of Philadelphia as we continue to grow the Innovation Network!

On Thursday, April 6th from 2pm – 6pm in the School District of Philadelphia Auditorium at 440 N. Broad St., we will host the Innovation Network Recruitment Fair! All of the schools of our network will be there to meet prospective teachers. All of our schools are hiring for next year, and we are looking for teachers who want to be part of a network of schools dedicated to the idea that schools can be authentic, empowering, caring and modern for all its members – students and teachers alike. Our schools are:

Come join us in the Innovative Network of the School District of Philadelphia and help us to build some of the most exciting schools in the nation!

Feb 11

Skills not Traits

[This post has its roots in a wonderful professional development sessions led by Matt Kay, SLA founding teacher and author of the upcoming book Loaded Conversations. Buy it when it comes out.]

Think of the kid that frustrates you the most in your classroom or in your school. Maybe it’s the kid who can’t stop calling out or the kid who never lets an opportunity for a snide comment go or the kid who seems to slide into class two minutes after class starts every day. Pick your frustration – there are a lot to go around in our profession.

Now, be honest with yourself.

When you think of that student, do you think of that behavior as a fixed part of that student’s personality? Do you think of them as “lazy” or “mean” or “impulsive” in a way that fixes that trait in your head as something immutable in that student?

If you do, can you change the way you see that?

What if you saw the behavior as a skill the student needs to develop? To wit – let’s look at the three examples:

  • “This student hasn’t learned how participate in a class discussion yet.”
  • “This student hasn’t learned how or why to be kind in school yet.”
  • “This student hasn’t learned the benefits of being in class at the start of the class yet.”

How does that change our lens as teachers? We’ve progressed as a profession such that teachers know that the statement, “This student will never learn X” is no longer something that can be tolerated in our schools. But in many places, we haven’t translated that to the way we think about the soft skills students may need to be successful in academic settings or the kinds dispositions that will help them be the active, vibrant citizens our world needs.

What if we changed our lens so we asked the next questions:

  • “What does this student need to be a responsible member of a class discussion?”
  • “What does this student need to learn how and why to be more kind?”
  • “What do I have to do as a teacher to help this student learn why s/he needs to be in class on time?”

What we teach kids about how they can walk through the world as a full-realized person is as important as the facts and figures they learn in our classes. When we see our students as still very much learning how to walk through the world wisely, we can change our lens on student behavior as something that is not fixed or immutable, but rather as a skill to be learned, and therefore, deeply in our wheelhouse to teach.

And as importantly, when we remember that students are still in process – still learning – it makes it that much easier to forgive and understand those moments that drive us crazy. And, maybe, it allows us to remember that we, too, are in process and that the kids might need to forgive us from time to time too.


Dec 24

Homecoming: Alumni Are Still Family

[Before I start talking about what happened today, I need to give a huge shout out to the always amazing Larissa Pahomov. A few years ago, I asked her if she’d take on the role of Alumni Coordinator, and she’s done so much to build our alumni community. Nothing that happened today would have happened without her hard work and vision.]

IMG_0086Today, somewhere between 150 and 200 SLA alumni descended on their old school for a day of celebration and giving back. Our school has only had seven graduating classes, so 200 alumni represents almost twenty-five percent of all the kids who have ever graduated from our school. Every class, from 2010 to 2016, was well-represented, and it was incredible to see so many kids from our history now as adults in their early and mid-twenties. There was discussion of the second generation of SLA kids, as we had some little ones in strollers and such. Time goes on, our kids get older. One of the fun moments for me was making the older alumni feel particularly old by mentioning that Jakob was now twelve and Theo – who was one month old when the Class of 2010 started at SLA – was now 10.

IMG_0091But the day was about more than coming together around shared memories and donuts. All throughout the day, SLA alumni led panels about life post-SLA for current SLA students. Topics included “Careers in STEM,” “How to Pick the Right School (From Kids who Transferred,” “Careers Outside of College,” “Adjusting to the Real World,” and many more. Young men and women who were a few years further down the path than our current students took time out to plan panels to pass along the wisdom they’d gained since they left our walls. Sitting in and listening to some of the panels was wonderful, throughout the day, I heard our alums passing on the kinds of knowledge that will benefit our current group once it’s their time to leave us.

The other thing that happened is that our fledgling alumni mentoring program took its next step. We’ve had a dream for a while that kids would come to SLA, and the first time they logged onto their email, there’d be a note waiting for them from an alum who promised to be on the other end of an email for the next four years. We’ve finally started that this year, and alumni took time to meet their mentees face to face. It’s the kind of thing you can do when a school really does consider themselves family – long after they leave your halls.

IMG_0096And this brings to the thing I always wonder about school – why do so few schools find ways to keep their graduates deeply engaged and involved in their schools once they leave? As we think about making our schools more caring, more empowering places, isn’t there a role for our graduates to play in doing so? So… some questions for all of us who work in schools that might move us to keep redefining community in ways that define us in more inclusive, caring ways?

  • What role do alumni play in your school? How can you make them an active and vital part of the lives of your current students?
  • How can we leverage technologies to connect students from across multiple eras?
  • How can we leverage the wisdom of graduates to inform the lives of our students?
  • How can we make schools hubs of networking for both current and former students?
  • How can we make our schools communities where alumni want to stay connected, stay involved and stay vital to the health of the school?

With seven classes under our belt, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of these ideas. Today was an amazing day where so many of our students came back to see us, see each other, share what they’ve learned and tell us all that SLA still means to them. It was an amazing day that we all agreed needs to continue to grow.

Thank you to all the SLA graduates… you make us all so proud.