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Thinking @ Gen-Z Learners

For many years I have admired elementary master teachers whose classrooms are a little chaotic and messy, but the students are learning in a truly authentic manner – a manner that they personally own. Often these teachers have mastered differentiated instruction and assessment and yield incredible outcomes for their students. It is a practice we have come to expect in strong elementary programs, especially those that include Montessori techniques. While some secondary college-prep teachers have incorporated a curated approach to teaching, most have not. I know I have made many attempts at differentiation – some have been successful and a few have been less so. As I think about the students I will be working with in the future, they will be children of Generation Z (those born from 1995 to 2009). After “reading” an info-graphic about this generation, I think personalized learning will have a central role in coaching these students to be their personal academic and personal best.

As I think about my own teaching practice and how I want to encourage the teachers I will lead this fall, I have been considering the role of blended-learning within a personalized learning approach. I was prompted to explore this idea because of an innovation paper I just submitted for a class. The January 5 blog posting on http://www.personalizedlearning.com has really got me considering how best to maximize this approach to teaching and learning, with a specific eye to how this works better in an all girls environment. The way girls learn best really ties to this idea of a curated learning experience. Once my dissertation is complete, I am looking forward to thinking more about personalized learning and talking with the faculty and staff at GPS about ways they already incorporate these practices and new ways we can consider to maximize our time with our learners. (Check out the blog posting to know why I used “learners” and not “students”.)

Now, back to my dissertation.

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Here’s the the Girls of GPS!

As a child advocate I am sensitive to how teenagers are perceived in the media. There are not enough positive stories about wonderful things teens do. Instead there is an emphasis on negative stories. In recent years accounts of social media being used to harass and bully vulnerable classmates overshadow positive stories about teens who use their voice with love and responsibility. In no way do I mean to belittle or disregard the painful experiences that challenge many teens in terms of bullying. However, I would like to share an additional perspective.  Because I have spent my entire professional career with teenagers, I know that most are usually kind, thoughtful and have a sense of humor.

This week I saw first hand how 585 girls in grades 6-12 positively dominated social media to show their love for their school. These girls took to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with hundreds of messages about the announcement of their new head of school. These teenage girls welcomed the new head and her husband with excitement, warmth and humor. They responsibly used their powerful voice to tell their hometown of Chattanooga that they are ready to embrace their school’s new leadership with open arms. Messages were positive, inclusive and witty.

The new head had an opportunity to deliver a short talk to all of the students, faculty, staff and many trustees Thursday morning. She talked about the unique ability all-girls schools have in developing young women who are civically minded professionals to be responsible leaders in their work, home, and communities. Also, she admitted that she was a little nervous eating in the cafeteria because she didn’t know anyone and asked that the girls would offer her a seat if their table was not filled. In what must be true Girls Preparatory School fashion, the new head received countless lunch invitations via Twitter, signs around campus, and in person in the halls. The girls showed their true selves – young scholars who are inclusive and clever in a kind and respectful personable manner. The girls of GPS embrace new people with open arms and hearts!

Teenagers just don’t come into the world being this responsible and empathetic. I know that the families who choose GPS not only value their daughters being academically prepared for life beyond high school, they believe their daughters must be young ladies who understand how to use their voice with social and personal responsibility. They want their daughters to have both academic and people skills. I also know that the faculty and staff of GPS must join the parents in helping the girls to understand how to take responsibility for their actions and words. I think GPS being a laptop school since 1998 has given the faculty and staff many years to build a culture where the expectation is that social media is used in a responsible and effective manner.

I’m that new head of school! I continue to be impressed with GPS. I am blessed to be able to work with such a high-caliber of student, teacher, staff member, administrator, and parent.  I am really looking forward to starting my tenure July 1.

Here’s to the Girls of GPS!

If the U.S. is a meritocracy, why don’t we spend more time teaching “grit”?

If the U.S. is a meritocracy, why don’t we spend more time teaching “grit”?

For the last two years, I have been intrigued by Angela Duckworth’s Grit work. I feel that her work raises more questions than answers – which is the test of a true contribution to the literature. How can I create more “grit” lessons in my own teaching and how can I inspire school cultures to embrace this idea with integrity and “stick-to-it-ness”. Teaching grit is hard work and it is much easier to focus on teaching pure academic content and skills. However, it is grit that seems to make more of a difference than IQ and probably academic preparation. If more emphasis was given towards this idea of teaching grit, would our nation have more students graduate from college within five years and even more innovation within our economy?

The Growing Gap

Even with the billions of dollars spent on early childhood education, WIC, Title I, school choice, and access programs, will the gap ever narrow? Is it just a question of money or are there other, deeper social issues connected with our nation’s experiences around race, economic class, and gender equality that are impeding progress? Are people with social capital interested in sharing their socio-economic power? Are those without economic privilege willing and able to do what it takes to acquire power through education and then pay it forward to those who continue to struggle?