Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
Matt Skurnick about Sustaining the Teaching Life
Mon, 25.03.2013 14:05
Jon Goldman was both my
English Teacher in 9th
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for my four years at
Karen Greenberg about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Tue, 14.08.2012 11:13
Perhaps a more apt term
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physics - two objects in
Amethyst about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
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I really appreciate this
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teachers require, at our
best, a deep [...]
Mark Ahlness about The Long Haul
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Chris, thanks. Pete is my
hero, and has been for a
while, but now that I'm
retired, after 31 years
Gary Stager about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
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No need to worry about
Others all around us are
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Sunday, October 29. 2006
This time last year, I wrote a short post my weekend at the SDP High School Fair. Last year, I worked the booth with the folks from the Development Office and two Beacon grads who were (are) at Drexel. We were talking about an idea, a dream... and we were very early in the process of developing that dream. It was a really exhausting and fun weekend, and I do think we represented the dream well. I'm pretty sure the kids we met that weekend who ended up coming to SLA feel like they got the school that we promised.
This year, we're talking about a dream that is well on its way to reality. We had about twenty different SLA students working the booth at one time or another over the last three days. We had teachers talking about their role in starting this school, and we had real student projects to show off. (And real students!) And the booth was packed. There were times where we had six or seven people in working in the booth, and we still were three and four deep in the aisles. It helps that we've visited around thirty schools on recruiting visits... the press helps... but what really is starting to make me happy is that parents and kids came up and said, "My friend goes to SLA and loves it!" I really do think we're doing it well.
But the best part of the weekend was listening to our 9th graders, two months into the SLA experience, talk about the school. They get it. They were able to talk about why SLA is different, what project-based education means, how getting a laptop isn't the point -- it's the way we use them that matter. Hearing our message, our vision in their voices was one of my proudest moments in education. It's only been two months. We didn't have the right to expect them to be such eloquent spokeswomen and men for SLA, for our dream. But, on the other hand, of course they are. They are taking this journey with us, and it means as much to them (maybe more) as it does to us.
Got to say... I'm thrilled with the conversations that have sprung up on our discussion forum around the issue of self-segregation that I wrote about last week. I'm not going to post the entire thread... but we've had teachers and students writing about the issue... and it's been talked about in our classrooms and our cafe... and kids are looking at the issue and trying to make smart, informed decisions about the meaning of the word "diversity," and in the end, that's all we can ask.
I don't think we mean to segregate our selfs but we just hang out with friends from our old schools or people we knew before or people you take the bus with. So it is more segregated by schools and neighborhoods than race. However, Philadelphia's neighborhoods are pretty segregated by race. so if people went to their neighborhood schools than they aren't use to the diversity here. I think eventually we will all get to know everyone and it won't seam so segregated. That is just what i see anyway.
Mr. Lehmann, I know I sit with alot of black kids but it's not on purpose. When I came here from [her school] [another black student] came with me and so did [another black student]. They happen to be black and since I knew them already I hang with them. But mostly I think we seperate not on purpose but we sit with the people we know from our old schools. Thats just what I think..but I do know that we could all break apart from our "comfort zones". And meet different people.
Are we seeing the clubs segregating? I haven't, but I haven't been looking for it either. I've noticed that few (if any) of my poetry kids are white - and there's nothing inherently "black" about poetry. How about drill team? And the other clubs?
Well, like [student] said it really isn't on purpose. Now the school I came from [school] when it first opened it was very inter-racial. But as the years went on there became less white students. Now if you know the area i'm talking about around the school there is a lot of little kids that are white and do go to [that school]. But there are not as many older white kids in the upper grades. Now I don't know whhy that is, but that does "limit your choices" as you might say. But like my friend is trying to transfer here right now and yes she is white and if she was here right now she would be sitting at our table. And it's also about friends and close friends. At SLA I have plenty of friends that are not the same race as me but technically since I don't know them as well to be my close friends. And of course I would sit with my close friends and talk to my friends. Now some people I still don't know. And at my old school I remember one day out of the year they would give a student a random number that signified what table we would sit at and some tables still had one race. Now if I could make a sugestion I would suggest that one every two months or once a quarter we could put all the tables together pick one topic randomly and we all talk about it. Not in little small groups but as one big group.
When I was at [school], then there were only 4 all white people in the whole 8th grade. But in the lower grades then there were a lot of white kids. Almost more then the black kids. That's how it was when I was in the lower grades too, but then all of the white kids started to leave. I don't know why this is, because eerybody says that [school] is one of the top elementary schools in philly. But, I sit with people from my old school, and they happen to be black. It's jsut the people that I know. But, the other people that I hang out with, I've only known since the week of orientation. It's just that we have a lot of things in common. The other people that I hang out with i've only known since school started, and some of them are white and puerto rican. My table is very diverse.
A question that I plan on bringing up in my class seems relevant here . . . Do you feel "aware" of your Blackness, Whiteness, etc. at SLA? How often are you conscious that "Hey, I'm black!" or "Hey, I'm White!"?
I like to be "color blind", not really aware of skin color, but rather of who i'm hanging out with... Maybe we should be more like that... "color blind".
Sam, I understand your point. However, look at it this way too: when we turn off our ability to see color, we also turn off our ability to value and appreciate differences, understand where we are all coming from, and get to know and love each other for who we all are, and what makes us who we are. Color is a part of our identities and should not be ignored. Yes, color can cause conflicts and hard questions to answer and grapple with. But in the end, these are all healthy conversations to have. There is no right answer here; rather, it's the journey and exploration of issues like this that draw us closer to each other as people.
I know I'm black and I am grateful of what I am. I dont want to be any other color then what I am. But I actually have lots of white family members and friends too. I don't look at white people differently then I look at blacks and the same with all the other ethnicities and at school I do see how we seperate our selves. But one thing to look at is, if we learn to mix as a group this year, by the time next year comes will the new 9th graders seperate themselves just as we did??
It's just like this. We feel more comfortable around people of our own race, because people of different races sometimes act differently. Its somewhat like a wild mouse hanging out with wild rabbits. A wild mouse would feel more comfortable around other wild mice than with wild rabbits. Also, whites are raised by whites (usually) and same for blacks and all other races. Since whites spend most of their time at home with other whites, and blacks spend most of their time at home with other blacks, people feel more comforable when they are in an environment similar to the one they are used to.
So it is how you are raised! Score! My thesis is right! When and how you are raised determines the actions of a person!
I think Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd is a pretty funny study of this. I believe the nurture side of the argument won over nature.
And a somewhat more serious response from the same teacher:
There was an interesting study a few years ago about people's levels of comfort with the racial makeup of who they're with. I forget the exact numbers, but basically it said that on average, for people in the USA, whites needed the highest percentage of the people around them to be of the same race (>50%), hispanics next, then blacks (about half the percentage of whites), then asians. The same study done in Europe showed different results (although i completely forget the numbers there). This shows that there is not a genetic component to feeling comfortable around different races, it's about the circumstances of where we live and that type stuff; it is a cultural thing, not a natural thing (shown quantitatively).
What do I think of all this? I'm really proud of our community for being able to talk about an issue like this. And I believe that our student who made the point that if they don't really look at it, how will next year's class act? is right. But I think we are talking about these issues, and I think talking about them changes the culture. I love that our kids were willing to deal with an issue that many adults won't. I love that they took it seriously and wrote from their head and heart. I love that they were willing to look at their own behavior within the community. And I love that, a few days after the thread started, kids at our Halloween Dance came up to me and pointed out the dance floor and said, "That's not black kids or white kids dancing together. That's SLA dancing together."
And it was. Rock on.
Wednesday, October 25. 2006
[This is a post I wrote on SLA's school-wide discussion forum... I don't know how big an issue it really is. I do think that in a school as diverse as SLA (46% African-American, 38% White, 8% Asian, 8% Hispanic) that some self-selection was bound to happen, but I want us talking about it. I want SLA to be a school where we can talk about race and how our racial identity affects how we live our lives. I think this question is very much linked to our essential questions in our curriculum -- Who am I? How does my environment affect me? How do I influence my environment? Anyway, I just posted the question on our forums... I can't wait to see what the students write. My biggest fear, honestly, would be silence. I want to engage in these kinds of questions.]
I've been meaning to write this post for a few days now, but I'll be honest, I've not liked how it has sounded every time I've started...
But this is something that has been bothering me, and I would hate to think that we would (I would) shy away from hard discussions, just because they are hard...
I've noticed that in classes without assigned seats... in the cafeteria... and even in some clubs... there are a bunch of the groups forming at SLA that are self-segregating by race. I know there are arguments pro and con about this issue (anyone interested in an interesting book about racial identity and self-selection of friends, etc... check out: "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria")
But I would think and hope that in a school like ours, our diversity would be a huge strength of ours. And maybe it is. Maybe I should be focusing on the groups of friends that are diverse, rather than the ones that aren't. But I've noticed it... and I know some other folks have too.
I wish I had something more eloquent to say about the topic, but I don't. I'm hoping you all do. I have a hope that if we talk about this issue, we'll open ourselves up to each other a bit more, and no matter what decisions we make about who we sit with, we can understand each others (and our own) decisions a bit more.
Sunday, October 22. 2006
This is one of those posts that I'm starting with no idea if I'll hit "Save" when I get to the end of it.
The edu-blogosphere is getting nasty this week, and honestly, it pretty powerfully drains my energy to write. Stephen Downes, someone who I usually read all the time, has decided that some of the Technology & Learning bloggers are in it for less than perfect reasons. Honestly, it smacks of the old "A-lister" argument that has been around the internet communities for as long as I can remember. There's a snarkiness there that I don't enjoy. The argument behind what Stephen seems to be saying is "Will Richardson and David Warlick have chosen to make a living outside the classroom, so now we have to question any time they do anything." It's a tough thing... Will and David (and others that Stephen names) have now gotten big enough to get this kind of treatment, I suppose.
Now, I admit, I'm biased. I consider David and Will to be good friends. Do I hope K12Online brings those guys more consulting and speaking gigs? Yep. I do. (And again, full disclosure, assuming Marcie and I can finish it in time, we're presenting there too.) Moreover, I know how hard they both work, and I know how many people they've influenced. David's keynote at SLA's Curriculum Conference back in January helped the folks here in Philadelphia really understand what we saw as the possibilities for SLA. Will's work with us at our faculty workshop in July crystalized what a lot of us were thinking. What I respect about both Will and David is that both of them are humble. Both of them don't claim to have invented the answers, but they see themselves as spreading the word of practioners everywhere. I am always wary of consultants and speakers who come saying they have all the answers. but neither of them do. They consistantly write and talk about what they see. I've always felt that both of them embody the best of the notion of the collaborative spirit that is the internet. But hey, I'm just a B-list blogger... what do I know.
But even the carping that's going on there is nothing compared to the nastiness around discussions of constructivism these days. I found examples of it on HUNBlog, Learning is Messy, Borderland, and From the Trenches of Public Education. I don't know if the commentors I see there are doing google searches for Constructivism or not, but there's not a ton of respect in the commentary I see. It caused Doug over at Borderland to do some soul-searching, and Brian over at Learning is Messy wrote about how nasty and uncivil the conversation became.
I've been on the internet since around 1991 (rec.sport.disc gave me my reason to first log on), so I'm no stranger to either of these two phenomenon -- the A-lister discussion or the flame-war. And I'm a little surprised by my own reaction to these two arguments. On some level, I suppose it means that the edu-blog world has arrived. We've gotten big enough to have the same divisive and petty arguments as every other community on the internet. But what I think makes me so angry and frustrated is that the subject matter is too important for pettiness and strawmen. I was asking myself what I would think if the commentors who showed up there showed up on my site with that kind of anger about what we're doing at SLA. I learned from my days on USENET that those folks who set up arguments like that are looking for the anger and the responses and will keep coming back again and again, so I'm hoping I wouldn't take the bait. But it makes me sad to see it.
So here I am at what should be the end of this post... and I'm still searching for something to make this worthy of posting, other than it's long... and here's the thing... I've longed believed there are two reasons to argue -- you can argue to win or you can argue to learn. They look different, feel different, sound different and leave very different impressions on both the debaters and those watching the debate. Some of the most fun, heated, passionate arguments I've ever had have been ones where all involved left with their ideas changed and made more rich because we were all arguing to learn -- willing to be changed. Arguing to win means not allowing your ideas to be changed... it means listening to your opponents arguments only for what you can attack, rather than what you can learn. Does it have its place? Of course... I'd argue that our legal system is built on the idea.
But not our educational system. In fact, and here's the funny thing, I'd argue that because arguing to win at the exclusion of learning, it is reductive. It tears down, rather than building up. And therefore, as a rhetorical form itself, it flies in the face of constructivism, which might be the biggest piece of cognitive dissonance yet. So should it be a surprise that those who would attack constructivism would use a rhetorical tool that, in and of itself, is anti-constructivist.
That's interesting enough to post, I think.
Thursday, October 19. 2006
A quick review of the headlines...
Bush claimes NCLB is working..., while big business lines up its lobbying dollars to push for NCLB's renewal, even though NCLB -- even if you agree with it's No Test Left Behind mandate -- has been grossly underfunded since it's passage. And meanwhile, the School District of Philadelphia is in a $70-80 million dollar hole and NYC parents are protesting the tests that sort and rank their children.
There are days when I question this country's committment to public education. Heck, there are lots of those days. I've believed since the moment I closely examined NCLB upon its passage that it was designed to be the poison pill legislation, passed with one purpose -- to discredit and dismantle public education.
But I also believe that there are so many good people in public education at the grassroots district and classroom level, and I believe that a majority of Americans know that the public educational system is a bedrock part of our democracy that I cling to the belief that we can weather this storm and still build great things.
But it there are days when it's hard.
There are days when I see districts making draconian cuts because they have no choice. I talk to friends in other districts and hear the same story. I talk to friends all over the country who have to teach to the test because the test scores are all that matter, and I worry and wonder how long those folks who would support and defend project-based learning can hold out.
Some days are harder than others to maintain the optimism. Those are the days you watch the kids... listen to the joy they take in learning. You talk to them and hear the pride they have in their school... and you talk to other folks in SDP who believe in what you do and want to see you succeed... and you realize that tomorrow's another day, another fight... and that no one ever told you this would be easy.
And the kids need us to keep fighting for them. The stakes are still too high.
Sunday, October 15. 2006
Let's get back to what's really important... more pictures of Theo and Jakob. There's a bunch of new photos of Theo and Jakob up on flickr. I imagine those are much more interesting than anything I might write.
What was most fun about the photos from the roof deck is that Jakob needed very little prodding to pose with his brother. Jakob is a camera ham.
Friday, October 13. 2006
I was working on SLA's School Improvement Plan today. For folks who don't know, under NCLB, any school not making AYP must make a two year School Improvement Plan. In Philadelphia, all schools must complete the plan. (That may be because the district does not make AYP, or it may be a result of the School Reform Commission takeover of the district, or something else... I don't know, although I am researching it.)
In any event, the document is pretty extensive. There's a template for filling it out, and, as it is in most states, it deals with many of the different pieces of school with many boxes that must be filled in and such. It is the kind of thing that short-circuts my brain -- not because I can't answer the questions asked, but because I find the method by which I have to answer them incompatible to the way I think about my school. I've written a few hundred pages (even if you don't include this blog, I think) about what I think SLA is, what SLA learning looks like, how SLA plans, etc... but just not that way.
And it was bothering me. It brought out the worst habits of the recalcitrant student I have. We worked on the document on two Wednesdays as a staff, and I sat down to write my pieces a few dozen times, but the writing was slow. I was frustrated with the process, frustrated with the document and frustrated with myself.
For a few weeks, I was willing to chalk up my frustration to having to create a school improvement plan for a new school -- the document didn't fit SLA because we weren't looking at improvement in that sense yet. We had no past to improve. We were just looking to start strong. How do you fit that into an NCLB-compliance document?
But it was more than that. With every checkbox I filled out, with every attempt I made to atomize the teaching and learning down to deliverables and due dates, I got more frustrated, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I thought about Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and how our focus on minutia details and attempts to quantify and qualify and overexamine may not be, in the end, the way to the best answers, but rather letting experts be expert might be better. That got me part of the way there. (And yes, I know to write about the lessons I learned from Blink this summer and never did.) But it still didn't seem to crystalize the problem.
I kept digging. And I know that School Improvement Plans were designed for schools not making AYP, but even so, the document template seemed to be written completely from a deficit model (this, as I recall, was true of New York's model as well, so this isn't a PA thing), and while a lot of schools use the SIP to talk about what they are doing right, it feels like a negative document.
And it's funny, I don't think I've ever met a principal from any district who felt that a School Improvement Plan was an accurate representation of their school. Not one. At worst, principals have felt it's a huge pain, and at best, folks seem to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and attempt to make it useful to them in some way. But I don't think I have ever met someone who thought it was an authentic document, and I know a lot of people who have tried to make it an authentic process.
And then, I found something that allowed me to get my head around my own issues. I think much of the problem of NCLB and SIPs can be found in the idea that NCLB and the SIP process are fundamentally Freudian in nature. They atomize, seeking meaning in the small detail. They are negative documents, seeking the small pieces of repression and wrong and attempting to solve them piece by piece.
But schools should be Jungian -- we should look at the whole. We should, yes, recognize that which needs to be fixed, but we must also represent a more positive, less bleak look.
And yes, this might be an overly simplistic look at the way we look at schools and Freudian and Jungian philosophies, but it always felt true to me. So much of what we read and are told about our schools is so bleak, focuses on every mistake. And we rarely look at the whole... what we accomplish... what works. And the national mindset, post-NCLB has gotten worse not better. And it's my contention that the School Improvement Plans are a manifestation of that Freudian outlook.
And once I came to that lens for what I was doing, it was a lot easier to work on the document because I recognized it for what it was, and I found myself attemping to make the document more represent the education world-view I wanted to represent.
I'll let you know how that goes.
(Page 1 of 2, totalling 18 entries) » next page
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"If God's on our side, he'll stop the next war"