Jun 12

Graduation Speech to the SLA Class of 2015

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 2015.

Thank you to our partner, The Franklin Institute, led by Chair of the Board of Trustees, Don Morel and CEO Larry Dubinsky and 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 all of 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 parents, thank you for sharing your children with us. It has been our distinct honor and pleasure to teach them.

As Mr. Best referenced, your time at SLA has been one of the most challenging times in the School District of Philadelphia. In your time, you have seen over one billion dollars of cuts to the district’s budget which has resulted in the closure of dozens of schools, the layoffs of thousands of teachers, the cutting of many programs, such that, you’ve never known SLA to have a librarian or extra science electives, and often, what you have known was a school that had to ask, “How can we do more with less,” as opposed to, “How can we make sure that we can do all we know we can do.” Year after year, you had to stand with your school and fight for the resources you deserved in your education – in fact, fight for your teachers’ jobs. And year after year, when we needed you, you stood with us. And in ways that humbled us in ways I cannot describe, you told us that it was because when you needed us, we were there for you.

Throughout this city, the narrative of public education in your time in high school has been one of deprivation and loss, and yet, each of you stands before us today as a shining example of the resilience and strength and brilliance of the children of Philadelphia. Each of you stand as a sharp rebuke to those who would say that the children of this city do not deserve more. Each of you can speak powerfully to what the children of this city, when supported by teachers who care for them, can achieve in their high school careers.

You, the Class of 2015, along with the teachers who have walked this walk with you, have sent a clear and powerful message to all those who would say that public education in Philadelphia is not worth funding. You have made it clear that our schools, your education… your lives matter. And it is my hope that the active, vigorous education that has been your SLA experience means that your voice for the need for a fully funded, fully realized educational experience for all our nation’s children will be heard in the halls of power in our city and beyond for years and years to come.

Because your class – more so than any class that has come before you – has made itself heard far beyond the walls of our school, into the halls of power in this city. Just recently, Dr. Hite told me that, no matter what meetings he goes to, it seems like there are students from SLA there advocating for the causes they believe in. You all have shown the adults of this city that the ideas and voices of young people can power not just the future of this city, but its present as well. You have not been willing to wait your turn to lead. You have done so now, and it is my profound hope that you will continue to do so, in our city, on college campuses across this nation, and wherever your lives may lead.

But before you go… let us engage in that last core value – reflection – one last time, and let us think about all you have accomplished in your time at SLA. You came to us four years ago as a group of individuals, with all your different elementary school experiences. You represented over sixty different schools from all over our city, and you came together to be one class – one school. And all of you shared a vision of your high school experience that believed that school could be more than what so many kids across our city and across our nation experience. It is time to think today about what that has meant… what that has looked like… and what 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 spent over 20,000 hours at your Individualized Learning Programs, working at hospitals, and schools and businesses and universities all over our city.

You have been Senior Assistant Teachers in over fifty 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 taken part in Rough Cut Productions, creating some of the most polished and original films this school has ever seen, all while capturing the life of this school – including filming tonight’s graduation.

You have written dozens of articles for SLAMedia.org – creating an example of student journalism for all to see.

You have spoken out against injustice and brutality, organizing rallies and die-ins and protests and worked tireless on political campaigns, again showing our city that the easy narrative of the apathy of youth simply does not apply.

You have crafted yourselves onto the very canvas of our school, creating murals and spaces that will make us think of you and tell your stories long after you have left our walls.

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 completed engineering projects – including designing a water purification system for use in Cambodia. And I would speak in great depth about those many projects… except I don’t fully understand them well enough to explain them.

You represented SLA at the National Championships of Debate – marking the first time in history that students from the Philadelphia public schools have competed in that tournament.

You have gone further in the baseball playoffs than any team in SLA history, with a magical run through an undefeated regular season. You led a girls soccer team to Class 2A Public League Championship, beating schools that were four times the size of our school along the way. You made the playoffs in Girls Volleyball, Boys Soccer and Girls Basketball. And of course, you finished third in the state in Girls Ultimate and 11th in the state in Boys Ultimate – both higher finishes than any team in SLA history in any sport. In all, you have competed all over 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 – the best of what student-athleticism can be.

You have also spent more time in the ballroom than any class in SLA’s history, and I think your senior teachers might still feel some kind of way about that.

And despite that, you have received over 400 acceptance letters to universities and colleges across this country, and you have received offers of millions of dollars of scholarship money. You will be going to 53 different schools in sixteen different states, as well as representing us in our home state as well. Your class represents the largest ever SLA incoming classes at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh.

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 barely a day goes by without an educator reaching out to me, telling me about how you all have changed how they teach, changed what the do. Your work, your passion, the example you have set has made school better for thousands of young women and men across our country.

And earlier this 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 ran tournaments, you created original films, you hosted mayoral debates, you helped make science education accessible to children in Paraguay, you built a smart bee hive, you made original music, you taught other children about issues of importance and passion to you, you curated galleries of your art. In all, 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 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.

And again, you have done all of this at a time when politicians are saying that the children of Philadelphia do not deserve the financial resources of the districts at border our boundaries. I believe that your work will forever stand as testimony. And it is my hope that you will continue your advocacy for all of Philadelphia’s children – if not children everywhere – to be able to engage in the kind of education we share at SLA.

Because while tonight is a night for celebration and reflection, it is also a night to be forward thinking. 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.

So, if you will indulge me one more time… let me leave you with some thoughts on how you may go about the profound challenge of trying to change the world… because I have no doubt that you will continue to do so.

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 remember those moments of the past four years when you challenged yourself and those around you to discover new ideas, to shed old illusions and create anew our world.

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.

And that means that 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 understood 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.

And to do make the world a better place, you must continue to make your voices 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. 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.

And I urge you, no matter how 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, at times a dysfunctional one – but a family nonetheless. That is because we all — adults and students alike — took the time to care for one another. The hallmark of the SLA community is how often you see students and teachers caring for one another.

Because 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.

And that matters, because we need you now. In our classes, in our hallways and on many Facebook and Twitter chats, we have discussed the challenges our world faces.  And just as you never simply viewed high school as preparation for the rest of your life, nor can you view the next stage of your life that way either. The work you do, the challenges you embark upon, the causes you champion once you leave our halls matter. You are our best hope for the future, because you truly are what we hope for our SLA graduates – you are thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind. And you are — all of you — what the world needs.

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 women and men more than able to rise to that 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 next. Congratulations to the Science Leadership Academy Class of 2015. Long may you shine.

Jun 09

The Open Door Isn’t Always Open

“I have an open door policy.”

It sounds great, right? Who could argue with it? But you have to ask a very important question: who isn’t coming in?

As educators, we can convince ourselves that an open door policy is working because kids are coming in. I had a teacher say to me recently that her policy of working with kids who came for extra help was working because there were always kids coming to her for extra help. I asked her about a student who was struggling, and she told me that he never came for extra help. I asked her, “Do you ever ask him to come?”

“I tell all the kids about extra help every day,” was the answer.

Some students need to be invited to come for extra help. Some students need to be told that the teacher wants to see them. That individualized attention where a student feels the personal investment of a teacher is invaluable.

And more than the personal, there’s a sociopolitical aspect to this as well. Often times, children come to school with the ghosts of the experiences their parents had in school. So there are reasons beyond the obvious – sometimes – for why a child may not come for extra help. They may not trust the teacher. They may view that help as “punishment.” They may have been taught that they shouldn’t “need” help. They might just want to run around at recess. There are any number of reasons that might keep a child from walking through that blanket-policy open door.

So when we examine our policies – especially those that center around how we make sure that every student gets the support they need – we have to not be satisfied with inviting everyone in. We have to understand that caring for children means making the time to make the individual invitation as well – to make sure each and all children know that we are there for them.

 

 

 

May 16

On Kindness

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Tonight, a bunch of people I know, like and respect shared yet another video on Facebook of someone accidentally making a fool of themselves. The people who shared it were other educators, some SLA students, folks I know from other parts of my life… folks from across the myriad pathways of my life. I can only imagine how many times that video has been seen across the world by now.

For whatever reason, tonight, that made me really sad. I wondered what those people would think if that was their student, their parent, their child, their sibling. We’ve become callous to the people in those videos, to the people behind the screen, and maybe too many of us are callous to the people we see in person every day.

Certainly, Schadenfreude is nothing new. People have long gotten pleasure in the suffering of others. But that doesn’t make it right.

More than anything else in this world, I value kindness – real kindness where we extend ourselves to others simply because we can.

Kindness is more than being nice. Kindness requires empathy. It requires listening. It actually requires asking people what they need – not giving them what we think they need, but listening to their needs and acting upon them.

When we engage in true kindness, we must remove the space between us and those around us. We must learn to not treat people as “The Other.” We must enter into what Martin Buber called the “I and Thou” relationship. And it means we must acknowledge that other people are as important as we are.

I want to live in a world where people think about being kind as a reflex. I want to see schools where students, teachers, administrators are willing to see each other, listen to each other, and treat each other with kindness and care.

I truly believe that if we can build schools that operate first and foremost from a place of kindness that our kids can build a world that does as well. Our students will learn what we teach, what we model, what we live. Could there be anything more powerful than seeing our students go out and change the world to a place where people truly cared for one another?

As Mr. Vonnegut said, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Apr 10

Share Your Passion – Learn Your Best Teacher Self

This afternoon, the SLA Boys Varsity Ultimate found themselves with a home field for a game and no opponent. So the boys split up and scrimmaged in a game filled with some really amazing plays and more trash talk than I have heard in an Ultimate Frisbee game since I played in New York Summer League. The game was awesome – it was sixteen boys doing something they loved with people they love.

I got to coach the game. I love it in a way that is visceral.

Most mornings, you can find me coaching Ultimate. We don’t have fields or a gym at SLA, so all three of our Ultimate teams (Girls Varsity, Boys Varsity, Junior Varsity) practice from 6:30 am to 8:00 am in the morning. So does our softball team and our girls basketball team, and I think our track team is about to start. Our Students Run Philly Style team is going to go for a ten-mile run tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

Our debate kids are flying to Florida for Nationals with their coach, Jason Todd. Matt Kay’s poetry team is brilliant, and they write and perform after school what seems like every day. Doug Herman spends somewhere in the neighborhood of four zillion hours doing film projects with kids. Our robotics team…

You get the idea.

So… after-school activities. In most schools, they are the things that kids love most. It’s what they get to choose. That’s nothing new.

But I don’t know that we talk enough about what we as teachers can learn by doing after school activities with kids. In fact, I’ve heard teachers talk about how they are so different with their after-school kids than they are with their students, to which I always think, “Why?”

I think there’s a ton we can learn from the teacher-selves we are when we do are sharing something we love with kids who have chosen to be there too.

Years ago, when I was at Beacon and coaching girls basketball, there was a student teacher who asked to assistant coach with me. She was awesome. She had an incredible rapport with the kids. She was knowledgable. She laughed easily with the girls, and she could get them to push themselves to greatness.

So I was shocked when her cooperating teacher told me she was struggling deeply as a classroom teacher. I went in to watch her teach, and I didn’t recognize who I saw. She was tentative, unsure of herself, and deeply unsure how to bring out the best in the kids. After the class, the three of us sat down and talked about her teaching and her coaching. We told her simply, “Teach like you coach.” And it made all the difference for her. She really unpacked what made her successful on the court and found the ways to bring that into the classroom.

If we want “the curricular” to be infused with as much joy and passion and energy as the extra-curricular, we have to examine the role we the teachers bring to the student experience of extra-curriculars. And, yes, it is easier to be joyful and passionate and playful when everyone is choosing to be there together, but what if we brought that same persona to our classrooms?

The best teaching I ever did was on the fields and on the courts at 6:30 am. It was there I discovered my best teacher-self. It was in the relationships I developed with the kids who shared that time with me that I learned how to listen and be the adult the kids needed me to be. It was in the dedication of the kids who showed up every morning to practice that I learned what it meant to feel the need to work hard enough so that you never let down the kids.

All over the country, every day, teachers and students collaborate after (and before) school in service of a shared goal and passion, be it Ultimate frisbee, drama, robotics, the school newspaper. In doing so, students and teachers often find the best versions of themselves. The stories of what those activities do for teachers and students are multitudinous.

But maybe it’s time to unpack the people we are when we do those things so that we can take the best of who we are in those moments and bring them back our classrooms every day.

I’d argue that the people we are in those moments are our best teacher-selves. I think everyone wins if that version of ourselves found its way into the classroom every day.

 

Apr 09

Join the SLA Family!

It is hiring season for the SLA family of schools, and I am thrilled to post job opportunities for now three SLA schools – Science Leadership Academy – Center City, Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber and Science Leadership Academy Middle School!

For teaching at Science Leadership Academy – Center City and Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber:

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 high schools –  two Philadelphia high schools built on the notion that inquiry is the very first step in the process of learning. Developed in partnership with Inquiry Schools and The Franklin Institute — a nationally recognized science and technology museum — and its commitment to inquiry-based science, the SLA high schools provide a vigorous, 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 high schools are looking for faculty to continue to develop and implement a vigorous, 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. The SLA schools are a national models 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, both SLA schools are 1:1 laptop schools that uses multiple resources — web-based and traditional — to create meaning and understanding.

Positions Available — Science Leadership Academy – Center City:

  • Physics
  • Social Studies
  • Special Education / Math

Positions Available — Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber:

  • Bio/Chemistry
  • English
  • History
  • Math

Qualifications:

  • 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.
  • Applicants with multiple certifications are always appreciated, although that is not required.

How to Apply:

For more information, please visit http://www.scienceleadership.org and http://www.slabeeber.org or contact SLA at teaching@scienceleadership.org or at 215-979-5620. Resumes and cover letters can be sent to teaching@scienceleadership.org and all applicants must apply through the School District of Philadelphia Site Selection Process found online at http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/e/ee/.

Contact Info:

Email: teaching@scienceleadership.org

Science Leadership Academy
55 N. 22nd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: 215-979-5620
Fax: 215-567-2809
Administrator: Chris Lehmann

Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber
5925 Malvern Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19131
Phone: 215-581-2107
Fax: 215-581-2109
Administrator: Chris Johnson

And… I am so excited to announce that we are posting for a founding principal for our new middle school – Science Leadership Academy Middle School! (yes – SLAMS!)

Founding Principal – Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLA-MS)

  • “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 Middle School (SLA-MS), a new Philadelphia neighborhood middle school proposed to open in September 2016. SLA-MS is built on the notion that inquiry is the very first step in the process of learning. Developed in partnership with Drexel University, The School District of Philadelphia and Inquiry Schools, SLA-MS has been designed as the middle school for the Powel Elementary School catchment area and the two schools will share a single campus. SLA-MS will provide a vigorous, well-rounded curriculum in all subjects with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and the entrepreneurial spirit. Students at SLA-MS will learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.

SLA-MS will serve as a model program for meeting the specific needs of middle level learners while embracing an inquiry-driven, project-based, technology-infused instructional model. An ethic of care will guide all systemic, assessment and curricular decisions for the school.

The principal will be on special assignment for the 2015-16 school year as she/he plans for a September 2016 proposed opening.

Job Summary:
To work with the SLA-MS Leadership Team to plan and create and open an inquiry-driven, project-based modern middle school for the Powelton and West Powelton communities in West Philadelphia. The creation of this school is in alignment with the School District of Philadelphia’s goal of creating a diverse portfolio of high-performing schools for the children of Philadelphia.

The first year will include time spent at both Science Leadership Academy (SLA) and the Powel School, as the candidate will need to do a deep dive into the SLA educational model and learn the Powel School community and educational practices. The first year will also include collaboration with Drexel, The Franklin Institute, and the Academy of Natural Sciences to best leverage partnerships with these organizations. Finally, the first year will include work with the design and facilities teams to prepare to open the school in temporary space for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 schools years, and to plan for the design and construction of a new school facility that would house both SLA-MS and Powel as of school year 2018-19. At the end of the planning year, SLA-MS will open with its first class of fifth graders, with a powerful educational framework that can both be a national model and a benefit to the local community.

Essential Functions:

  • Creates the implementation plan, in consultation and collaboration with Inquiry Schools, for an inquiry-driven, project-based neighborhood middle school that leverages modern tools to provide an authentic and empowering education for its students.
  • Co-designs and outfits a state-of-the-art K-8 facility that would serve SLA-MS and the Powel School as of School Year 2018-19.
  • Creates a sustainable budget that takes into account the grade-by-grade growth of the school.
  • Implements a web-based technological infrastructure to serve as a model for a blended learning school web-site using tools such as GoogleApps for Education, Canvas and SLATE.
  • Collaborates with School District of Philadelphia to create an innovative project-based benchmark system that mirrored the SDP benchmarks.
  • Works with Drexel University, The Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and Inquiry Schools to create deep partnerships between primary community partners and the school.
  • Works with the Powel School and the Science Leadership Academy to ensure a seamless academic and social/emotional transition between elementary and middle school.
  • Develops four-year advisory program that allows students, teachers and parents to work together to ensure student success.
  • Provides leadership in the recruitment, development, and retention of staff.
  • Hires and manages all founding faculty and staff.
  • Transitions from a planning process to an implementation process after the planning year.
  • Performs related duties as required.

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities
Demonstrated knowledge of:

  • the unique challenges and opportunities if the middle school environment.
  • technology infusion into the classroom as well as happening both on and offline.
  • developing a school with a rich after-school life.
  • current educational trends and research.
  • the unique needs and characteristics of students.
  • personnel management and supervision techniques.
  • curriculum theory and development.

Demonstrated ability to:

  • commit to the idea that we teach students first and our subjects second.
  • challenge students to work in an inquiry-driven, project-based environment.
  • work collaboratively in an educational complex shared by multiple schools.
  • administer all aspects of an educational facility.
  • coordinate the provision of professional development activities.
  • work in a diverse environment with students who reflect the rich heritage of Philadelphia.
  • be energetic, flexible, and a strong desire to work with community partners, fellow administrators, teachers, parents and students create a school that reflects SLA-MS core values.
  • communicate effectively, both orally and in writing.

Minimum Requirements

  • Master’s Degree from an accredited educational institution
  • Seven years full-time, paid, professional educational experience, two of which have been as a Principal or assistant Principal, illustrating successful experience in teaching, school administration, or significant leadership roles.

Certificates/Licenses

Possession of a valid Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Administrative Certificate for K-12 School Principal.

OR

Possession of a valid Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Administrative Certificate for Elementary and Secondary School Principal.

How to Apply:

For more information, please visit http://www.scienceleadership.org or contact SLA at teaching@scienceleadership.org or at 215-979-5620. Resumes and cover letters can be sent to Chris Lehmann at teaching@scienceleadership.org and all applicants must apply through the School District of Philadelphia Site Selection Process found online through the TeacherMatch job posting at https://platform.teachermatch.org/applyteacherjob.do?jobId=9689.

 

Apr 08

Do Real Work That Matters

This afternoon, Amy hosted the Youth Strategy Session for Philadelphia Ceasefire. All but one of the 2015 mayoral candidates came and debated ways to reduce the gun violence in our city. Students from all over the city came together to talk, listen and strategize how to make their city a safer place for all its residents.

This evening, Nikki and TJ discussed the role of standardized testing in education with Robert Pondiscio on 900am WURD. Robert is one of the toughest debaters I know – I always feel like, if I’m going into a conversation with Robert, I better bring my A game because his mind moves as quickly as anyone I know. And Nikki and TJ were amazing. They asked great questions… pushed back well when needed… and established themselves as heavyweights in the world of education in their own right.

Every day… every single day… I am awed by the work of the students at SLA. They do real work that matters. And that work builds on itself. That’s the awesome thing. Younger kids saw what Amy did today and were inspired to pick up that ball. Nikki and TJ both mentor younger students at school to be leaders all the time. And all three of them would (I think) tell you that while, yes, they are amazing young women and men (and they are), they are able to do more, be more, because they are part of a community that supports and believes in their ability to be active agents in their world.

That’s what school can be. That’s what school should be. I’ve got several emails in my inbox I have to reply to from social change organizations that are asking for SLA kids to help them with their projects. Rough Cut Productions (our video team) kids are being contracted to do work all over the city. SLA kids are in-demand as interns through our ILP program. Our SLAMedia journalists have the respect of the professional journalists when they cover the same events. And all of this is because kids can do incredible, amazing real world work that matters now.

And it starts with the idea that our classrooms have to matter. It starts with the idea that “Why do I need to know this?” is a fundamental right of every student to ask. It starts with the idea that education matters not just for “someday” but for today. We can learn about the world as we work to make it better. We can apply the skills and content we learn in our classrooms to passions and challenges and ideas we have outside of them. And when we merge the two — when we understand that the classroom is not defined by four walls and floor, but rather the physical space is the place we come together to debate, discuss, build, create so that we can then fully engage in the world around us — that’s when incredible things can — and will — happen.

And here’s the next step… today, in four different classrooms in School District of Philadelphia schools, SLA grads Freda, Sinnea, Julia and Zack were doing their student teaching practicum. All four of them are taking what they learned as students at SLA and passing it on to their students, helping other students to believe in their ability to change the world as well.

In fact, Zack is my son Theo’s student teacher. Not surprisingly, Theo has already falling in love with him.

Of course he has.

And I know that Zack will help Theo – as a second grader – build the skill and the strength of self to do real work that matters. Not someday, but today. I know that Zack will see the passion and energy and ideas that Theo has, and he will help Theo to do something that matters with those ideas.

I’d expect nothing less.

Apr 06

On Listening

I heard a student’s story today.

It was not the first story I heard from this student. It won’t be the last. On some level, it could be argued that it was only the latest chapter of this student’s life that he’s chosen to tell me. It was a particularly hard story for him to tell – as it demanded that he unpack some of the really painful parts of his life. And for various reasons, I was one of the people he’s chosen to tell this part of his story to.

I wish I could write that I had some brilliant wisdom to impart to him. I don’t think I did. I certainly tried to be helpful. And I tried to help him make sense of how his story informs who he is today and how it might affect the person he is trying to become. And I don’t think I did any harm with what I said. But what I said probably mattered a lot less than this.

I listened.

On my best days, I’m better listener than I am a talker. I wish I could tell you that I was that every day, but it’s not. But I’m working on it, because I think it’s what so many kids need.

I’ve written about this before, but I really think that deep, active listening is at the core of the difference between “care about” and “care for.” Caring about a student is hard enough, but caring for a student means really knowing them – knowing all that they are willing (or able) to share.

Listening deeply to students means learning about how their lives inside and outside our classrooms. It means learning how their racial identities, gender identities, familial identities, economic realities, religious identities, life experiences all are part of who we see in our classes every day.

In an era where, in too many schools, students are told that the secret to success is to do exactly what they are told – exactly what everyone else is doing, listening to our students and then taking the time to make sure that what we learn from our students informs our own actions is an educationally revolutionary act.

In the end, deeply listening to the stories our students tell us — and trying to be the person our students need to be in response — is nothing short of an act of radical love.

Apr 05

Ribe Tuckus

The other day, I actually wrote two blog posts in a single day. Brian Crosby gently teased me that it was like five years ago with my writing output. And a quick look at my blog stats suggests that I used to blog more often than I used to. Part of it is, when I look deep in the archives, I used to write much shorter pieces. But that’s not all of it. Some of it is that I’m writing longer pieces, some of it has been a decision that I made not to write about edu-news as much as I used to.

But I miss writing. It feels good to sit and write. It is, in the end, a powerful reflective tool – and it’s one I need to carve out the time to do more often.

One of my old English teacher books had some great writing guides for students. One of the ones that sticks with me is simply this – “Ribe Tuckus.” It’s Yiddish (and you wonder why it sticks with me) for “Sit down.” And the instructions for that particular writing guide were simple. You simply sat down with your journal and a pen with no distractions and gave yourself the space to write for 10-20 minutes. If you didn’t write, you didn’t write, but you couldn’t do anything but write or not write for whatever the time allotted. Sometimes, just sitting and doing nothing made the writing come after a while. Sometimes, what came out was amazing, sometimes it wasn’t.

So I’m making a commitment to ribe tuckus more. For me, it comes with some good writing music – jazz or Van Morrison often works – and it comes with a commitment not to flip to all the other browser windows that are open. But I am curious what will come out. And I am curious to know how often that writing will turn into a blog post. I’m not committing to making everything a blog post, as I imagine that some of what I will end up writing about will fall under the category of “Things you cannot blog about,” and I imagine that some days, I might stare at a laptop screen without many words. And I even imagine that some of it may just be writing for me – there’s a crazy thought. But I also do want more of these writing journeys to become blog posts. Writing out loud still matters, I think. And, for me, continuing to push my thinking where others can see it matters.

So… I hope folks find whatever comes next on the blog to be interesting. I hope I have the discipline and energy to actually do this. Writing this blog entry is a way to publicly hold myself accountable to actually doing it. I hope this desire to write more isn’t just because I’ve had a few days of Spring Break to actually power down enough to have the space to write.

But maybe springtime is the right time to launch this idea, after all. Maybe this is the time to come out of blog-hibernation and just ribe tuckus and write.

 

Apr 04

Intentionality and Serendipity

We had some visitors to SLA the other day, and when they were doing a debrief with me, a person asked me to unpack a statement we say a lot – “Standards, not Standardization.” It lead to a conversation about balancing being intentional in everything we do while also giving students voice and choice which bears some unpacking here.

First, the SLA learning ecosystem – with the core values, shared curriculum planning tools, common project rubric, grade-wide essential questions and aligned subject-specific standards – means that students can expect a consistent language of teaching and learning. The purpose of that is make sure that students spend as little time as possible trying to figure out the adults. By having a common language of teaching and learning, there is a framework that is empowering for students because it becomes much easier to move across the disciplines and learn.

Next, creating the space for 33 kids in classroom to all be able to thoughtfully investigate an idea and build toward making something powerful requires thoughtful planning. And it requires a balance of structure and freedom that takes a deft hand. Not enough structure, and there’s a real risk of having a lot of “inch-deep, mile-wide” work from students. Too much structure, and you’ll get “recipe-based teaching” where the vast majority of the student work looks far too much alike because the students weren’t given the freedom to make the work what they wanted or needed it to be.

A great example of how that work comes together is the work spearheaded by Roz Echols around creating a structure for our Capstone projects. Every year, 125 seniors create original inquiry-projects where the topics are completely student created. The structure of the capstone project has to be flexible enough to encompass student plays, event planning, and more “classical” deep research projects. The framework for the Capstone projects (found here) is simple, elegant, and it allows students enough of a roadmap to plan a year-long project while being open-ended enough to encompass so many different ideas.

Thoughtful frameworks for learning are at the heart of the idea “standards, not standardization.” The kind of intentionality required to allow students to engage in deep learning that is empowering, authentic and personally meaningful requires teachers to think about their classes not as day-to-day, but unit to unit and as part of the larger ecosystem of the school. When we are intentional about helping students to interpret standards, skills and content in ways that have meaning for them, understanding that there are many ways for students to manifest their learning, then we create the space for those moments in our classes where students can surprise us in wonderful ways by bringing their creativity and ideas to the subjects we teach.

Thoughtful structures can move us intentionally away from a scripted classroom and move us much closer to the kinds of classrooms where students and teachers have a shared sense of purpose and a shared sense of responsibility to each other. And in those classrooms, the ideas can flow freely, and those serendipitous moments of learning when things come together and the learning is powerfully communal can happen accidentally by design.

Apr 02

Don’t Lock it Down

I received an email today from an internet company that promised to “help teachers bring the power of the Internet to the classroom without the distractions that come with it.”

It is apparently a hyper-local filtering system that allows teachers to control what sites students can go to inside a class, which at first blush, probably sounds really appealing to a lot of people. All the bonuses of the internet with no ability to have kids get distracted by the rest of the internet. But what a reductive version of the internet, what a reductive vision of learning, and worst of all, what a reductive version of our students. From the email:

..if a teacher at your school wanted their students to only be allowed to go to Khan Academy during that class period, they could make that setting for all of the students in their class in two clicks. Now the only website their students can use is Khan Academy, and they don’t have to worry about their students going to inappropriate or time-wasting sites.

There’s no question that when you have the internet in your classroom, there is always a concern that students will be off-task. But that’s not because they are students. It’s because they are people. I admit it – I got more productive when the School District of Philadelphia started blocking Facebook. But I go home at the end of the day, and learning how to be productive on my home network where Facebook can be open at any time (and usually is) was important to my being a successful principal.

The same is true for the kids. Part of learning how to be a fully realized citizen in today’s world is learning how to be productive when the ability to be unproductive is, perhaps, more powerful than ever. (Although, judging by the box of high school notes passed to me that I found in my mom’s basement a while back, it’s always been pretty easy to be  unproductive in a classroom. We should remember that too.)

But that’s not the half of it.

Behind the theory that this company is selling is the idea that the teacher can still know everything that the students will need to learn. The time has come for that idea to die. When we lock down the internet, we send a powerful message to students that their ideas, their creativity, their interests have no place in our classrooms. That’s the wrong message to send.

It can be frustrating to have to manage all the distractions the internet can bring. It can be scary to realize that our role as teacher is not to be the arbiter of all information anymore – that our students may come to find information and ideas that do not neatly fit into the developmental lesson plan, but that’s where we need to go as educators. Honestly, it’s where we’ve always needed to be, but now the tools make it that much easier to do so.

I understand the impulse to try to create software that can limit our classrooms to four walls, floor and the tiniest of windows that the internet will allow. I get that there is a level of safety in the control that comes with being able to deeply restrict where our students can do, what they can read, what they will do. But educators have to fight that impulse, and work with students to help them to learn how to be productive digital citizens, which is, of course, part of being a citizen these days.

And we have to embrace the idea that if we thoughtfully teach, if we help kids to discover the power of their own ideas within whatever class they happen to be in, if we help them to discover the beauty and meaning and relevance of the ideas and concepts we introduce, then we have no reason to ever lock away 99% of the internet in our classroom. In fact, we have everything to gain.