Blogging Heads

Here are my notes from the session about heads of schools that blog:

Blogging Heads: Michael Ebeling (Summit School, Josie Halford (Poughkeepsie Day School), Jonathan Martin (St. Gregory College Prep School)

Josie – I’ve been blogging since 2006, because a head needs to be present everywhere, including online.

Jonathan – Blogging is a discipline. A journal of what I am learning and observing.

Michael – What feeds my blog is “Cultivation of Voice”.

Jonathan – Blogging ought to be an expression outside of the perfection of published reports.

Michael – There is a distinct difference between blogging and tweeting.

Josie – it feels weird to have readers from all over the planet.

Q: What is your most memorable post?

Josie – I found a story about 14,000 cats dropped on Borneo. Was it true? I looked up flight records of the RAF – got the facts. Lots of response to that post.

Michael – I asked my teenage daughters for recommendations on how to start my school year. They gave me Top 10 list.

Jonathan – TED Talk on Crowd-Accelerated Innovation. Blog stats promote innovation. I post my talks to students online, so parents can see them.

Q: What is the relationship between Twitter & Blogger?

Michael – Twitter is my single most important source of information sharing.

Josie – Twitter is a huge timesaver. It’s an extraordinary tool for professional development.

Jonathan – Many of the things I learn about come from Twitter. It is a powerful collaboration tool. (note: find “Connected Principals”). I’ve found that if you reference a book, the author often contacts you.

Q: Are there any taboo topics?

Josie – I always think about the mission of my school when blogging.

Jonathan – When evaluating another school, I certainly won’t blog.

BTW – faculty love a favorable mention on a Head’s blog.

Q: How do you avoid the narcissism blogs can lead to?

Josie – It’s a constant struggle

Michael – have guest bloggers. I have an “Inspired Learning” series.

Jonathan – My blog is not contained within the school’s website. I don’t expect anyone at school to be reading my blog.


Dan Heath: Switch

Here are my notes from Dan Heath’s talk about his latest book, Switch:

Switch: Dan Heath

When a person is faced with change, there are 2 systems in play: the Rider and the Elephant.

Rider                                                              Elephant

Rational                                                          Emotional

Conscious                                                      Unconscious

Deliberative                                                   Automatic

3-Part Framework for Change:

1. Direct the Rider

(a) Forget about the problems – what’s working right now? (Look for the bright spots)

(b) Analyzing problems comes naturally, analyzing successes doesn’t

(c) Look for “bright spots” in your school. What are your best teachers doing? Your best parents?

(d) What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. Ambiguity is the enemy of change (i.e. the Food Pyramid)

2. Motivate the Elephant

(a) It’s hard to think your way into change

(b) Change starts with motivation, not information

(c) Emotion moves the elephant

(d) See -> Feel -> Change (find the feeling)

3. Shape the path

(a) Give Specific Directions (Saints vs. Jerks in charity drive)

(b) When the situation changes, people change, so change the situation.

(c) What kind of environment would make your students thrive? (i.e. “Buy now with 1-click)

If you want change, failure is part of the deal. Give yourselves permission to fail.

The Leading Edge of 21st Century Education: Cushing Academy

Here are my notes for the talk given my Jim Tracy and Nancy Boyle of Cushing Academy, in Massachusetts:

Leading Edge of 21st Century Education: Jim Tracy & Nancy Boyle


1. Establish partnerships between public & private schools

2. Institutional partnerships – students beta-testing ereaders; Skype with experts

3. Cushing Academy Institute for 21st Century Leadership

Everything the school does is devoted to this. “Leadership” is the theme of the year.

4. Athletic leadership program: athletes partner with business executives

5. 10 Degrees of Ubiquity – Tracy’s book about the digital divide between generations

6. Faculty & Administration Engagement

(a) “Food for Thought” faculty lunches – brainstorming sessions

(b) “Skunkworks” – administration meetings. 2 rules: no small ideas, and no editing of notes.

(c) Faculty book – flew out to different schools to research and write about the most exciting classroom practices in the country right now. It will be published as an open-source ebook.


1. Tools & Devices: conversations got stuck in tool details, so the topic turned to philosophy. Developed a “Skills Wheel”.

2. What is the core curriculum, connect to it changes in shared outcomes and vision.

Important components:

1. Unified message and unified commitment of school & faculty

2. Give teachers time to plan and the resources they need

3. Provide opportunities for teacher interaction/cooperation/collaboration (catered lunches)

4. Project-based learning

5. Work-based learning experiences

6. Two big departments: Humanities & STEM – blended classrooms

7. Assessment & Evaluation is changing

8. Ongoing professional development

9. Academic support: personal learning plans for students

10. Digital graduation portfolios

11. Flexbooks and ebooks used

12. Wide variance in use of technology


Students                                                       Teachers

Co-creators                                                   co-creators

Drive the curriculum                                      provide learning opportunities

Create safe, challenging environments

Step aside, involve others

Some examples of new courses (all student-driven):

Leadership Through the Humanities

Ethics, Leadership, & Society

Visions of Humanness

21st Century Art – Going Green

Leadership in Social Media

Ethics & Responsibility in Science


More connections between disciplines

Design thinking and problem solving


Self-reliance, critical evaluation

Self-regulation (copyright issues): Teachers have a conversation about how not to use a phone, iPad, etc. while in class.

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

Sugata Mitra: The Future of Learning

Here are my notes from Sugata Mitra’s talk at the 2011 NAIS Annual Conference:

The Future of Learning: Sugata Mitra (


The children of the Earth can be divided into the following categories:

50,000,000 have ample resources

200,000,000 have adequate resources

750,000,000 have inadequate or no resources

This can lead to three kinds of schools. Those which are located away from urban centers in third world countries are measurably worse. In developed countries, equalization of incomes has had a negative effect on children’s motivation:

“Why should I work hard to be a professor like you when I can make as much driving a bus?” (UK adolescent)

In undeveloped countries , scarce resources lead to tough choices:

“The internet is down, because we used the money to repair the toilets.” (India)

There are places in every country where schools cannot be built and teachers will not go. The good teachers leave the undesirable locations ASAP.

Mitra’s experiment: put computers in these undesirable locations (slums, rural areas, etc.), so children can have access to the internet. To protect them, he set them up like ATMs – holes in walls.

Results: after 8 hours, children were surfing the internet. They taught themselves English to learn how to better use the computer! Important finding: children learn the uses of computers that they find relevant.

After 9 months, children’s computer literacy was 43%, which is comparable to most adults in developed countries.

“Groups of children can learn to use computers and the internet regardless of where they are.”

The Hyderabad Experiment: use speech-to-text software to train children to speak good English. He put a computer in the class, asked them to learn how to use the software, then left. Students figured out how to download the speaking OED and used it to model proper articulation. They were soon speaking understandable English.

“A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.” (Arthur C. Clarke)

“Groups of children can navigate the internet and achieve educational objectives of their own.”


The Kalikuppan Experiment: can poor Indian children teach themselves DNA replication on their own? Mitra installed a hole-in-the-wall computer, posed the question, “How does DNA replicate?”, and left. After 2 months, there was 30% understanding of the topic. He asked an intern to be an instructor. She said she didn’t know anything about DNA or biology, but he told her to simply encourage the students. After 2 more months, comprehension was up to 50%.

The Gateshead Experiment: in a poor area of Australia, he worked with a class of middle schoolers that was both white and aborigine. He deliberately limited the number of computers to force the students to group into 4s and 5s. He asked them, “What is an ion?”, then left. The children ended up in integrated groups, and everyone contributed to the final reports.

In the UK, Mitra has recruited volunteer grandmothers to be “encouragers” via webcam. The results are very positive.

“Information search and reading comprehension are the most essential skills for Primary Education today.”

Also, you need a rational system of belief to convince children to learn.

Speculation: Education is a self-organizing system where learning is an emergent phenomenon.

Update: It seems all is not as marvelous as Dr. Mitra’s presentation would imply. Here’s a recent evaluation of “hole-in-a-wall” learning.