Friday, May 24, 2013

Thank You to Orchard

This is my final blog post as a member of the Orchard community.

I came to Orchard in 1997 from New York as the director of the middle school and then became head of school in 2000.

I had no idea in 1997 that I would spend the next sixteen years at Orchard.

These have been the most fulfilling and wonderful years of my professional career.

From my first day Orchard enchanted me.

Orchard pushed and challenged me professionally with deep and robust conversations about program, pedagogy, and what it means to be child-centered.

Prior to coming to Orchard, I taught the way I had been taught--mostly through lecture and direct teacher instruction.

Orchard helped me see the importance of empowering students with voice and choice in their learning.

To me, the essence of a progressive school like Orchard is its understanding that a child brings natural intellectual curiosity to school and that a school's foremost responsibility is to maintain that interest and engagement, a quality unfortunately missing in many schools today. Orchard wants its graduating 8th graders to move to high school with the same excitement and enthusiasm towards learning as when they entered preschool.

Orchard also gave me a deep appreciation for honoring and celebrating each child's uniqueness. Too often other schools narrowly define student success while Orchard encourages each child to find and develop his/her passion.

Since Orchard is such a tight-knit and supportive community, its students practice and develop empathy and inclusion and learn to recognize and strive to overcome injustice at school as well as locally, nationally, and globally.

Orchard's product is a graduate who is self-confident, self-assured, and eager to solve problems and face challenges.

At Orchard's’s core is a deep and unwavering belief in what is right for kids, even when it differs from what other schools offer or from what is currently in fashion in education.

 It’s this idealism from its founding in 1922 that influenced me the most.

Here is a link to a recent Ted Talk from educationalist Sir Ken Robinson that to me captures what Orchard strives to do for its students: Click for Link

Among many heads of school, school headship is cynically viewed as a “lonely job", yet for me it has never been lonely. Both the Board of Governors and Trustees know their roles and responsibilities, make decisions in the long-term best interest of the school, and never micromanage. The school administration is comprised of consummate professionals, and the faculty and staff are incredibly creative and dedicated. The parents support the school and its mission with time, talent, and treasure, and, most important, the kids come to school every morning with joy, excitement, and an ever-present infectious smile on their faces!

The most common descriptor people have of Orchard is "It's a happy school", and I couldn't agree more.

I leave Orchard with wonderful memories and lasting friendships.

Indianapolis is the city my kids grew up in and will always call home, and Orchard is where they spent the majority of their school years. Orchard's campus has been my home--and my literal backyard--for the past ten years!

Since coming back to school from Spring Break, I faced the reality of leaving Orchard after sixteen years. As such, I  am cherishing each and every one of my final days at Orchard--from OIB to the Spring Pageant to next week's graduation.

I thank all of you—faculty, staff, trustees, governors, and especially the kids (including the nearly 1000 8th graders I've seen graduate)--for making my job as head of school so enjoyable, rewarding, and so much fun!

I will deeply miss you and look forward to following the continued success of Orchard and its graduates. 


Friday, May 3, 2013

Technology in the Classroom

Recently I read an article in a Southern California newspaper about the implementation of one-to-one iPads in upper elementary grades (3rd-6th grade).  

To me, the results in this Encinitas public elementary school pretty much mirror what other public and private schools are experiencing with respect to technology, specifically one-to-one student devices, be they laptops, iPads, or iTouches.

Clearly, the use of technology in schools is becoming more and more ubiquitous, including in elementary classrooms. 

For most children today who are growing up in an age where they have access to portable devices and the Internet from birth, their expectation is their learning in schools will be an extension of this connected world.
One of the teachers in this Encinitas school completed a research project about the use of iPads in her district.
The subject of her research focused on three topics:
  • How was technology affecting kids and their learning?
  • Are iPads motivational for students? 
  • How do students and their parents perceive the iPads?
Not surprisingly, her research found that kids found iPads to be a valuable tool. 90% of students said that iPads aided their learning. 

Why? They liked the instant feedback that comes with iPads. They can get immediate feedback on what they do and don't  understand, rather than waiting for the teacher to grade their work. Students also reported being more engaged in their learning process.

The academic discipline students felt iPads made easier to understand was math. This is probably a result of iPad math apps providing a personalized step-by-step process, including student-accessible animation, of how to complete a question correctly as well as a more interactive process that often includes awards/achievements like moving to another level.
Not surprising, parents were a little more skeptical about iPads in the classroom. Most recognized that their child was more engaged using the iPads, and they liked that their child was being exposed to a variety of computer programs. But they also worried that technology in the classrooms was in some ways a novelty and that the excitement of using it would  wane for their child over time. They believed that while their child's classroom could benefit from technology, it should never replace hands-on/hands-with learning, physical education, paperback books, and even cursive writing.

To me what was missing in her research was to what extent teachers were using technology. Were they using iPads to support their current teaching methods or were they using it to change how they taught? 

As an English teacher with students who have access to their own laptop in my classroom, I have not yet made the transition to teaching differently. (I recently read an article about essay-grading software; it both intrigued and frightened me.) 

For students the classroom is an opportunity to gain/access knowledge and to use that knowledge through critical and creative thinking.

Teachers and parents like me need to recognize that the old rules and paradigm of the classroom need to change.

In this Encinitas school, 3rd-6th grade students spend up to 70% of their day on iPads, and the school is seriously considering providing kindergarten through 2nd graders with iPads as well.

Yes, there remain questions about how to use technology in the classroom regarding content, pedagogy, and student assessment, yet kids clearly see that portable devices are essential, not an add on. 
It's up to us--as adults--to change our view of education.

Yes, I'm  a little nervous, but I am also excited about the future of education.