Aug 18

Dream Big

The start of the school year is fast upon us. (And for some folks, it’s already here.)

Soon, our days will be consumed by papers to grade, lessons to plan, practices to coach… the day-to-day of the job that makes the job alternatively awesome and frustrating.

But right now, the floors are still clean… the photocopier still works… and while we may all be wishing for a few more days of summer… now is the time to dream big.

I hope that every teacher in every school has the opportunity to sit with colleagues and dream big. Whether it is a school-wide initiative or something in an individual classroom, now is the time to set big goals and think about how to work toward them.

Now is the time to remember the best of what our classrooms can be and to plan anew to on how we can approach our best ideals every day.

Now is the time to dust off a long forgotten idea and see if this is the year that it’ll work.

For our schools to be innovative places — for our students to be inspired to take risks and do new things — we need to model that ourselves. Sometimes, the ideas will come from us, sometimes the ideas will come from our students, sometimes we’ll borrow an idea we’ve seen other people do. It doesn’t matter where the spark comes from – it matters that we take the time to dream and figure out how we might realize those dreams.

This year at SLA, we’re going to try a Challenge Week — a week without traditional class structures where there are grade-wide interdisciplinary teams working to take on big challenges and projects and work to create innovative solutions to what we see around us in our city. I have no idea if it’s going to work, and I have a ton of concerns about all the reasons it might not.

But we’re going to try it.

And this is the year we’re going to try to do our “Capstone Pitch Night.” Every year, there are a handful of seniors who realize that their capstones need some start-up funding. Our kids have sold lots of cupcakes to try to raise money for their ideas, but we’re going to try to help them this year. This winter, there will be a pitch night where we invite the larger Philly start-up and tech communities to SLA to listen to our seniors pitch their ideas, and whatever money we’ve raised (and we’ve got a little saved up) will be granted or loaned as mini-grants to the top ideas so that kids can spend less time fundraising and more time making their visions a reality. It’s something we learned about years ago from Linda Nathan and the amazing folks at Boston Arts Academy, and we had a little success with mini-grants last year, and this year, we’re ready to really go big with it.

What’s your big idea for the year? And how are you going to remember to keep that dream alive and real once the day-to-day start?

Aug 16

On the Shoulders: Nel Noddings

Borrowing from my co-author, Zac Chase, I’m writing today about one of the writer/thinkers who really influenced the thinking that went into our book – Building School 2.0. Today – Nel Noddings.

The ethic of care is a foundational idea to both our book and to the Science Leadership Academy schools. It was Noddings who gave me language and clarity about how to think about my relationship with students. My first exposure to her work was Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. She is very much an academic writer, and there are times when I had to set the book down to digest what I was reading, but at the end of it, I found that I had a whole new language for how I thought about my relationship with students. The difference between “care about” and “care for” can be traced directly to her work. Her text Educating Moral People was one of the texts we read together as a staff when we founded SLA.

Noddings is powerful because she makes the case for caring for children, and then spends the time to really delve into all the reasons it is both really important and really challenging. She doesn’t pretend this is easy or perfect. She addresses how and why to avoid co-dependency and unhealthy relationships, and she writes about what it looks like — and feels like — when teachers and schools get it right.

For teachers and schools thinking about how they can think differently about what it means to really take care of the children they teach, Nel Noddings is foundational reading. Her ideas can be found on almost every page of our book – and more importantly, in every decision we make at SLA.

Aug 08

Making Advisory Work

[This post comes out of Friday’s work session with the Innovative Schools network where principals and counselors and teachers and social workers came together to talk about how they care for the children in their schools. It was wonderful to spend the day with caring, committed educators, planning for ways to better care for the children in their charge.]

Lots of schools have Advisory programs, but there are many schools where Advisory is little more than homeroom. For some reason, Advisory – despite being something that many educators will tell you can / should be a great thing – remains an elusive success in too many places. And with the proliferation of education books out there, it’s telling that the quintessential book on Advisory – The Advisory Guide by Poliner and Lieber – is over ten years old.

But done right, Advisory is nothing less than the soul of a school. It is where Noddings’ ideas of the ethic of care can live and breathe in the structure and schedule of a school. Done right, Advisory guarantees that every student in a school will know they are cared for, and that they have an advocate. Done right, Advisory levels the power dynamic between teachers and students that can transform school culture from authoritarian to authoritative. Of all the things SLA does, Advisory strikes me as one of the most important pieces of our culture — and one of the most easily poachable by other schools.

But it has to be nurtured. I think in many schools, working on being a good Advisor doesn’t get the necessary professional development time, and too many teachers (myself included, more often than I care to admit) often plan Advisory last because it’s not an “academic” class. And those two things can combine to kill effective Advisory programs.

And we have to help teachers be good Advisors? There’s nothing about the typical teacher preparation program that does this. Those programs (especially at the secondary level) focus on how to help teachers be great teachers of their content, not great teachers of their children. So how do you plan for care? How do you help teachers become Advisors? What are the big ideas and questions we have to ask if we are to create powerful Advisory programs in schools?

  • How do you develop caring relationships with kids? What does that look like? How do we care for kids? Fundamentally, teachers have to grapple with this question to be good Advisors. One of our teachers at SLA says that he is “School Dad” for his Advisees, which may be one way to start to answer that question. And yes, that answer can look different for different teachers, but we have to be willing to tackle the question to make Advisory successful. Aspects of this question also include helping teachers to be good listeners to kids and helping teachers to understand the different cultures and communities that students come from, and helping them to examine issues of implicit bias so that they can respect and care for all students in a way that doesn’t simply mean that teachers look to impose their own value systems on their students and Advisees.
  • How do you make Advisory class time successful / useful? (Full disclosure here – I don’t think I did this all that well as an Advisor. I was good at the one-to-one with kids, but I don’t think I maximized the time we spent together.) Schools can and should give PD time for Advisors to meet together by grade-group to co-plan, develop themes, share activities, etc… this takes the onus off of the individual teacher to always come up with activities. Also, some of the best Advisors I’ve seen have co-planned some of the class time with the students, which also creates powerful buy-in from students.
  • How do we develop our ability to act as advocates and mediators for our Advisees? One of the core functions of a high-level Advisory is the ability for Advisors to help navigate the spaces when students and teachers come into conflict. In traditional schooling, the power dynamic between students and teachers is such that students can often feel shut down when they have conflict with a teacher. Advisors can level that playing field and help students and teachers build healthier relationships inside the academic classroom by moderating and mediating those hard conversations. Engaging in professional development where teachers role play how to be on both ends of that conversation can prepare teachers to fundamentally change the dynamics of the classroom to create more equitable, healthier schools for everyone.
  • How do we build partnerships with families? Helping advisors work with families is key to a successful Advisory program. Making sure that parents know that Advisors are there for them – as well as their children – is powerful. Helping advisors learn how to talk with families in positive ways that respects the different cultures and communities that families come from is another piece of the work that must go into building a positive Advisory culture.
  • How do you prevent “bunker mentality” between Advisors and Advisees? This one falls under the category of “What is the worst consequence of your best idea?” It can be too easy for Advisors to think they are the only adult who can help an Advisee… and it can be too easy for Advisees to be think that and Advisor is going to keep their secrets for them in unhealthy ways. Advisory professional development can — and should — engage in discussions about what can be dealt with within the context of the Advisor-Advisee relationship and what needs to involve other adults and why. And Advisors need to be open and honest with their kids up front when they say, “I cannot keep things confidential if that would jeopardize your well-being.” Learning how a trusting relationship with students must include other adults is a powerful part of building a healthy Advisory program.

The hard part about all these questions is that there are few concrete answers, and schools (and individual Advisors within schools) will come to different places on how they answer them. But these questions must be engaged in openly, honestly and often for schools to have powerful, transformative Advisory programs. There is no such thing as the “add water and stir” Advisory program. They are as different as the students we teach and the schools we teach in. But, at root, Advisory programs can be living proof of the ethic of care in our schools. They can make sure that we do, indeed, teach the whole child for every child. And they can be, as we strive to make it at SLA, the soul of our schools.

 

Jul 07

Old Hat, New Hat

[This is a note I just sent to the families of SLA. I present it here – with a more whimsical title that references one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books – to let everyone know what I’ll be up to next school year.]

To the families of Science Leadership Academy,

Science Leadership Academy was founded as a research and development school for the School District. For the past nine years, students and teachers from SLA have worked with hundreds of teachers and principals from the School District and beyond on how to change their practice to be more inquiry-driven and caring educators. Under Dr. Hite’s leadership, the School District of Philadelphia is starting the Innovative Schools Network – a hub for powerful new ideas for schools. As part of this network, dedicated to nurturing new models of education, SLA is well positioned to continue its work as a national leader for creating empowering educational experiences.

Today, Dr. Hite is announcing that my role in the School District of Philadelphia is expanding to oversee the Innovative Schools Network. Beginning August 1, I will serve the students of Philadelphia in a dual capacity – both principal of Science Leadership Academy and Assistant Superintendent of the Innovative Schools Network. And, because there are just so many hours in the day, I am delighted to announce that Aaron Gerwer will join us full-time at SLA as co-principal. Many of you will know Aaron as our principal fellow this past year. It has been a pleasure to see him grow into this new role, and I look forward to partnering with him this coming year.

Working with the students and teachers and families of the Science Leadership Academy continues to be the most rewarding experience of my professional career. The work your children do every day is what inspired the School District of Philadelphia to authorize the foundation of Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber and our upcoming effort, the Science Leadership Academy Middle School.

The work we will now do as part of the Innovative Schools Network is a continuation of the belief in the agency and ability of the students and families of Philadelphia. It is my pleasure to be able to continue to serve as principal of SLA and to now help other school communities serve their students in powerful, modern ways.

Best,
Mr. Lehmann

Jul 07

Gender Equity and Schools – One Easy Change

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have watched many… many… hours of the recently concluded Women’s World Cup. The soccer was just brilliant, and of course, seeing the US win their third World Cup was just awesome.

And as a former Girls Basketball coach (and huge soccer fan,) it was incredible to see so many people get excited to watch a women’s soccer match. And while FIFA’s behavior – from turf fields to ridiculously unequal and inequitable monetary awards – shows we still have a long way to go for women’s sports, this was a fantastic moment for all of us who care about seeing women’s sports get the respect they deserve.

And there’s an easy change our high schools can make to take this further:

We can stop calling the girls’ teams at our schools the “Lady <Mascots>.”

This matters more than it seems. When we make the girls teams have a qualifying descriptor but we don’t make the boys teams do the same, we send a none-too-subtle message about which team is the “real” school team. And that message can serve to undermine all of the incredible lessons students – young women and men – can learn from playing on a high school team. In too many schools, the girls teams have had to fight for court time, field time, fans, legitimacy, or even the right to exist. No longer should they also have to fight to have their team name be the mascot of the school with no need to qualify it.

Our language matters, and I’ve yet to see the school that has “Gentlemen <Mascots>” on their uniforms. The era of high school girls teams having “Lady” in front of their name or worse “-ettes” at the end of it needs to end. Our girls teams are Tigers and Rockets and Lancers and Falcons. They need no qualifier in their names. There’s no reason anymore to send the message that the boys teams have any more claim to legitimacy than the girls teams do.

There’s no reason other than tradition not to change, and if the past weeks have taught us anything, it is that tradition cannot be a reason to resist change.

Jun 20

What if…

[This blog post coalesced around reading the NY Times article Black Church Is Target Again for Deadly Strike at the Heart and the work and mission of my friends leading the EduColor movement are engaged in every day.]

I have a concern.

I have a concern that we exist in a cycle right now where horribly violent and racist things happen and people, whether they be newscasters, politicians or teachers, rush to decry what has happened and then things settle back to whatever we call normal in this country until the next time something horrible happens, and the cycle starts all over again.

That’s not going to bring about the change our world needs, because it is a profoundly reactionary frame of reference, and things like racial justice and equality are pro-active states of being. And while, yes, our history is dotted with positive change as a reaction to moments of pain and tragedy and hate, I worry that the change we need today requires a far more forward-thinking mode of being than what we are seeing around us.

That’s where the teachers come in.

What if all of us admitted that the institution of school is part of an American system that has not lived up to its potential – its stated ideals – of being a more perfect union for all who take part in it, and that too often, school has intentionally or not, reinforced the racial, gender, religious and socio-economic inequities that have kept our country from achieving the most idealized vision what of what it means to be America?

What would happen if all of us, every day, asked ourselves if our actions actively worked to make a more just and kind world every day?

What would happen if all of the educators who use social media and blogging to share our ideas with the world took the time to always examine our ideas through the lens of equality and justice?

What would happen if we as educators asked ourselves first, are our actions are best for children who have been long marginalized by the American educational system and second if our actions are best for all children?

What would happen if more and more educators took the risk of publicly figuring this out for themselves and wrote about it, not just when national tragedies happen but in the quiet moments, so that we could, as teachers, model the powerful notion that fairness, justice, equality are everyday pursuits, not simply grand gestures?

What would happen if we, as a nation, understood that the goal of making a better nation – a better world – was the priority of public education every bit as much, if not more so, than the goal of helping a single student?

What if we said that the idea of “each and all” meant that we had to examine our systems, our structures, our very teacher-selves to ensure that what we did every day worked to empower all young people to see the need for a better world and work to make it so?

What if we all – especially those of us who are not confronted by this reality every day – didn’t wait until the next tragedy to talk about all of this?

Jun 18

Charleston and Teaching Children

I’ve run out of ways to write about this.

I don’t think I’m going write anything I haven’t said before.

I’m certain that I’m not going to write anything that other people haven’t already said – and said better.

Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the important thing is, simply, that I write.

Last night, a white 21-year-old man walked into a historic African-American church, sat and listened to Bible study for an hour before opening fire – apparently with a gun his father bought him for his birthday – and killing nine members of the congregation including the pastor.

It doesn’t matter if no organized hate group takes “credit” for this heinous action – this was domestic terrorism.

We can not afford, as a nation, to treat the continued hatred, prejudice, and violence against those who do not neatly fit into the dominant paradigm – racially, sexually, religiously – in this country as isolated incidents. To do so is to perpetuate the myth that there’s nothing anyone can do to stop the violence and make a better, more just, world.

As teachers, we have an obligation to teach our children to examine the systems of thought that perpetuate hate and prejudice so that our students can work to change them.

As teachers, we have an obligation to teach all our children that equity and justice are not just the cause of those who face oppression, but the cause of all people who believe in the promise of a better world.

As teachers, we have an obligation to teach all our children that it is not enough to passively hope for change, rather we must speak to the world we wish to create, work for the world we want to see.

Today, I have tried to use social media to speak to the hurt and anger I feel, not because I think I have much to add, but simply because I want all SLA students and families — especially our African-American students — to know that I stand with them. In a moment of tragedy, I would never want any student — especially our African-American students — to have to question for a moment where I stood or if I cared. And I am writing this now in the hope that students know that I never think it is enough for me to exhort them to action, rather that they understand I, too, will use my voice to demand a world where being black no longer means fearing for your safety anywhere you go — even in sanctuary – in church.

Last week, I told our graduates that the world could not wait for their voice, their action, because the problems we face are far too great. Last night, I was reminded how true that really is. Today, I hope that all of us who are lucky enough to teach children remember that we must teach our children to critically analyze the world around them and then have the voice, skill, and courage to be the change our world needs them to be. And today, I hope all of us who would claim the mantle of teacher realize that it is imperative that we model that voice, skill, and courage for them as well.

Jun 14

It’s Not Just Kid Behavior

How many times have you heard a colleague say — or said yourself — “That’s just kids?” I’ve probably used some version of that statement a few thousand times in my career as an educator.

It’s a pretty innocuous statement, in fact, it often is a kind statement used to diffuse tension or to ensure that an adult in a school doesn’t overreach to a student’s behavior.

But I worry that it’s subtly not as helpful as we think it is.

I think it may be more powerful to think about student and teacher – kid and adult behavior – on a continuum of human behavior. So much of what we see from students is, as David Perkins might call it, the junior varsity version of adult behaviors. And when we create the space for us to see our students’ behavior as more similar to our own behaviors than we’d like to admit, we can come to a place where we think about the consequences for actions in a far more humanistic way than if we think that “kid behavior” is instead something that we can make kids grow up and out of.

Am I suggesting that there’s no difference between the maturity and actions of a 15-year-old or a eight year old and a forty-year old? No… of course not, but our motivations, our responses to situations, our frequent foibles are often along a continuum where, if we look hard, we can see the adult in the child and vice versa. And that should help us forgive more quickly, seek to punish less frequently, and be willing to understand more deeply.

It’s when that teacher with the Draconian late work policy realizes that the school secretary has to chase him down for his attendance every day.

Or when that teacher who gets so frustrated by the student who always has to be the first one with a comment in a class discussion realizes that she does the same in a faculty meeting.

Or the principal who gets so annoyed with kids being loud at lunch with their friends stops to take a minute and hear the volume of their own laughter at a faculty luncheon.

That’s when we can see behavior is not simply “kid behavior” or “adult behavior,” but rather it is simply human behavior – as awesome and flawed and frustrating as we all can be. And when we see ourselves in our students, when we do not use language — even when it is meant to be kind and understanding — to other our students, we create the conditions by which we can better understand, know and serve the students we teach.

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.