Sunday, March 11, 2018

Starting Fresh - Designing a New Innovative School at SXSWEdu

Last week I was lucky enough to attend SXSWEdu as part of the Remake Learning delegation, where I co-presented on the topic of designing new schools. 

Listen to a recording of the session HERE
Unsure of how the topic would resonate, we planned to run a "circle" conversation, if we did not have many attendees. We were pleasantly surprised when we had standing room only and they even had to turn folks away at the door. While we wish everyone interested in the topic could have joined, we had a lively discussion of what it takes to design a new school, manage it and even scale new school models. Joining with me on the panel were Martin Moran from Bennet Day School, Kennan Scott from CodeED Academy and Kelly Wilson from High Tech High Graduate School of Education. We started the panel by sharing a bit about ourselves and our school models. We proceeded to take questions from the crowd where we answered questions like:
  • How do you convince parents these new models work?
  • How does an innovative school get accredited?
  • What challenges did you run into along the way?
  • How can we help faculty transition to more progressive teaching and learning methods?
When people ask me about starting a new school, I typically think about things in three categories: planning, people and policies. 

When planning for a new school you need to think about not only the teaching and learning vision and staffing but also the business model, revenue, expenses and fundraising. What will your governance model be? Where will you seek accreditation, what will your Board look like and how will you raise money? Who will your partners be? Always having an eye on being strategic and future-focused helps with planning effectively. 

A progressive school needs a progressive culture, staffing model and flexibility. Being very clear on the type of teacher you are looking to recruit helps solidify your vision. Additionally, you should provide robust professional development, support and growth opportunities to retain them. Considering teaching artists, partner organization to offer supplemental classes and guests from industry make for innovative staffing models. Above all though is building the school through empathy with teachers, families and other stakeholders that may be critical to your school's success. 

Depending on the type of school (traditional public, charter or private) policy needs to be clearly understood, work-arounds might need developed and internal school policies like discipline approach, culturally relevant teaching expectations or student voice opportunities should be carefully considered. Will students need to have a technology device, access e-mail or an LMS? Can they leave early or progress at their own pace? 

What other categories might you add to the list above?

The rest of the week at SXSWEdu was made of up magic moments. Those moments included a session run by High School for the Recording Arts where students performed, engaged the audience and ran a Q&A afterwards. I have seen HRSA lead sessions at the Deeper Learning Summit before and every time they get better!

I also attended a wonderful keynote address from Michael Sorrell, from Paul Quinn College, "America's greatest higher #education transformation story and an example of the new college model." A few things struck me during the talk: the model Michael Sorrell describes mimics that of my school, Holy Family Academy quite closely. I especially liked the 4 L's and values like: Choose the Harder Path, Closed Mouths Don't Get Fed, You Can be my Kind Without Being my Color.  The ethos of Me over We also deeply resonates.

The #HipHopEd Meet-Up at SXSWEdu, 2018
Last but not least, I saw many old friends... I attended their sessions like the one #HipHopEd CVO, Tim Jones, was part of "Let's Talk About Race," the 5th official #dtk12chat meet-up at SXSWEdu and the #HipHopEd meet-up. I also got to see folks in the Playground like BirdBrain Technologies, a leading educational robotics company from Pittsburgh; I love the work they do to make robotics accessible and interesting. Most important, my friend and colleague was there with me and we had a wonderful time comparing notes, talking about schools/educators and models we learned about and what we can bring back to our school.
The journey to designing new and innovative things in education takes a team; that is what it is all about! I would love to attend again next year and bring a group of students. 

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