Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Transforming a School for 21st Century Learning - PS 4: Moving Along the Continuum of 21st Century Success personal trainer often shares with me the accomplishment and satisfaction she gets from watching her client's bodies transform from flab to fab (I hope to be on my way!). During our recent session, I realized my own work in many ways is similar to hers in the great pleasure I receive when seeing a school transform before my very eyes and knowing that my staff and I had even just a small piece in that transformation.

That happened recently when I visited PS 4 in the Washington Heights section of New York City. This school has been involved in a leadership grant since last spring. Principal Delois White shared the grant came at the right time as the school leaders had a strong 21st century vision and were eager for the support to realize it. That process started with the formation of a school-selected innovation team comprised of the principal, AP, and school tech liaison. We worked with those team members to assess their school on the continuum of 21st century success first through a simple assessment (their school is emerging), and later using a more complex assessment tool. This enabled the school to set some goals for becoming a 21st century school which were articulated and shared in an innovation roadmap.

The next stop in the process was participation in the Building Learning Communities conference. It was at this conference that we asked school leaders to share how what they learned would impact their effectiveness as a 21st century leader. In his post, school innovation leader, Jacek Polubiec shared My 21st Century Transformation where he outlined a personal action plan for the transformation of his school. The school was interested in transforming school leadership and creating change in the way their school did business. While at the school it was a pleasure to see so many of these ideas in progress in such a short time.

Of course, it starts at the top and I knew this principal was hooked on innovation when I entered her office to speak to her and she excitedly said, I've just got to show you this free and engaging gaming site my students, staff and I are hooked on that helps develop Math, Language Arts, and Geography skills. Then she said, "Please have a seat and play with me. You just gotta see this." And, this principal not only gets it, but gets right into it as she hooted and hollered for her penguin to land on the right iceberg. We connected, had fun, and learned some geography too. Of course, it wasn't just this moment when I dropped by her office that I saw evidence of how Ms. White's infectious love of teaching and learning was spread. Along with her innovation team, Ms. White contributes to the school's newly launched blog where she shares her message with her school community. In it she says this:

"Our plans are enormous and quite promising as we embrace the need to prepare ourselves to live productively in the 21st century. I'm sure that you have noticed that technology is moving at a rapid pace. Yesterday's T.V. set is today's antique. The telephone, though still a viable communication tool, is fast becoming an instrument for our parents and grandparents. The youth of today communicate through iPods, Wikis, web posts and blogs. Therefore, here at P.S. 4, we've taken on the challenge of teaching all of the skills and knowledge that our children will need to enter the job market and be able to exchange ideas with scholars around the world in an instant. Our staff began the school year by asking this question; "are we preparing our children for our future or are we preparing them for our past." Clearly, the answer must be that we will embrace the winds of change with the help of our teachers, parents and staff. With our new 21st century grant, we will realize our goals and aspirations for the 2009 - 2010 school year."
When you have a message like this, published from your principal, in a know you're off to a great start!

The principal is also highly supportive of sending her innovation team members to professional development to support their work. It was at that professional development that AP Polubiec learned how to launch the school's own learning network and began encouraging staff to Use Educational Networks to Build Teacher Leadership. As an active member of the Manhattan learning network, Mr. Polubiec certainly leads by example leading and engaging in multiple conversations.

Mr. Polubiec also attended the
Eight Ways To Use School Wikis professional development and received additional onsite suport provided for by the grant. This lead to attainment of the school goal to launch a school wiki as well as one for each academy. This has been tremendous as the wikis are being created to allow communication, collaboration, and conversation in ways not previously possible. Another benefit of the wikis that the school innovation team is quite excited to realize is that next year, there will be no more paper, no more books (ahem...binders) that took hours to create, copy, and collate. All important school resources will be posted right on the school and academy wikis and if there are any questions, comments, or feedback, staff can easily use the discussion tab. The school is eagerly embracing this free time saving, tool that is great for the environment and stimulates conversation.

Another way they are using the wikis is to collect the lessons that teachers create for units of study. Currently, with paper, these exist with various teachers, in various classrooms, in various notebooks and binders. Now, they've set up a section on the wiki for lessons collected by grade and subject. They are now writing these lessons using Google docs where teachers can engage in collaborative curriculum writing. They have a document they use to begin creating the lessons and units of study and all those involved can contribute anytime/anywhere. These final lessons / units are uploaded to the lesson section of the wiki. These lessons are then available on demand to any teacher, anywhere, any time, this year or next and...because of the Google docs and wiki format, they can be revised, customized, and discussed!

The school is also excited about their innovative learning walk process. They truly embraced 21st century tools to do learning walks in new and more effective ways. During the learning walk educators visit classrooms armed with their cell phones which they use to collect data on what they saw in each room that is captured and shared via text using Poll Everywhere. This instantly enables all data to be collected and shared in one place for discussion in the debrief and reflection at any time. This allows our teachers to get to thinking and the conversation faster," said Polubiec. It also enables us to capture, rather than lose instantaneous feedback and ideas, that are often lost during these types of activities. Following the walk, educators were given time to share their reflections using Google forms. This allows each reflection to instantly be populated and shared with the team. In essence, the time in the meeting isn't spent asking people what they thought. That is right there in front of them. Instead...they jump to discussing what they will do based on the reflections of those on the learning walk. This process allows participants to jetison past the capturing of ideas and move right to making meaning of the ideas. During the debrief and discussion of next steps, it's not one person who is contributing to the conversation. All members complete a Google form to share their feedback which is instantly shared and projected and instead of listening to each idea, and missing several, members can see every idea and start discussing. Teachers and school leaders who were absent from the conversation, can go back to take a look and contribute at any time. Talk about a transformative practice!

It's hard to believe that just last spring this school was just beginning in their visioning process. Since then they've brought much of this to reality where they've:
  • Developed a school where teachers and leaders converse in online learning communities
  • Publish successes and information in school, teacher, and student blogs
  • Use wikis to share important school documents and resources in ways never before possible
  • Conduct learning walks that enable participants to accomplish double the outcome in half the time and make and capture meaning never before possible
  • Using Google docs and wikis to collaborate on lesson writing, collection, and sharing
  • Published and innovation roadmap with goals and actionable steps to progress along the continuum of 21st century success

What's next?
Celebrating and sharing success of course! In alignment with other NYC DOE initiatives, PS 4 will conduct an "Innovation Celebration / Learning Walk." Like the NYC Department of Education iZone schools, PS 4 will identify an area of innovation which they will celebrate and in which other schools can learn. These learning walks will of course incorporate all these elements, and even a few more, as the innovations will be captured and published via photos, videos, and text. This will allow not only PS 4 to get smarter about this work, but it also invites other schools to learn how to engage in the process.

As the administrator of this grant, I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction my personal trainer shared with me as I witnessed the transformation that has occurred as a result of solid school leadership resulting in school-wide change and transformation as they progress full-speed ahead into the 21st century!


  1. This is wonderful article. It tells me that you truly see the school's transformation accurately. I am so pleased how you have expressed those perceptions. I am also very pleased to be a part of a developing 21st Century school.

  2. perhaps I'll recommend this on my administrator. indeed learning and instruction is optimum when technology is involved.