Last week I followed and tweeted during the NY Times Schools for Tomorrow #NYTedtech conference, I spent my Sunday afternoon tweeting and listening to the conversation happening at Education Nations’ Teacher Town Hall.. While I am very happy that these conversations are happening on national platforms with large audiences, I crave as Elvis Presley once crooned "A little less conversation and a little more action, please".
To get a little more action, I traveled to Columbus, Indiana to Columbus Signature Academy, a New Tech Network school, and spent two days at this school with a model that Jay Mathews called "A Wild Idea for an Ideal School" that has been cultivating a culture of trust, respect and responsibility for going on 5 years.
I could write pages about the school culture led by empowered students and teachers. The autonomy with which the students worked, the work spaces clearly designed for collaboration for both students and teachers or any number of ways the students and staff were engaged in the business of learning. I will try to describe my two days in about 500 words, give or take a few.
Originally, I was invited to be in Jose Martinez and Katie Ferguson's Social Justice course (an integrated course of Eng10 and Current Problems, Issues and Events) to sit on a panel and give feedback to students who were presenting videos they had created for a project around Censorship, the 1st Amendment and Fahrenheit 451. Through Twitter, another facilitator (aka teacher) learned I was coming to campus and promptly requested a workshop with his students on utilizing Twitter to find experts as resources. We set this up for first thing in the morning. The students were engaged and inquisitive as to how to create their own PLN via Twitter, which is unblocked for both teachers and students.
During a conversation with the Director of Columbus Signature Academy, Mike Reed, we began discussing Social Media and the role it plays for schools. I suggested that the right person to manage the school's Facebook page might just be the students. Mr. Reed nodded thoughtfully, looked at his watch and said Publications is at 11:00, does that fit your schedule?
Just before eleven I arrived in the work space for Publications, had a seat and pulled out my laptop. Students arrived and began work on their tasks, not waiting in rows for a bell to ring or a teacher to call the class to order, they were engaged and busy as they walked in the door. A few students recognized me from the morning workshop or their Social Justice presentations, sat at my table and inquired my purpose in this class. I asked if they were interested in discussing how Social Media might fit into Publications and immediately a group of about 7 moved to my table to get started. Clearly taking an idea from a thought to an action is a process this group knew well. One young lady popped up her laptop, stating "I'll start a Google doc". Then for about an hour we discussed knows, need to knows, challenges, possible solutions, veered off topic when an exciting idea came up (careers in social media, like mine), were brought back to topic by someone in the group and finally with about 10 minutes to go, someone piped up, "What are our next steps, what do we need to do to make this happen". With every student chiming in the next steps were listed, and contact information exchanged.
All of the ideas I found interesting in the conversations happening at NYT Schools for Tomorrow and during the chats around Education Nation were alive and happening at Columbus Signature Academy. Here is a school with a culture that empowers, teaching that engages and technology that enables.
So, while the conversation is good, let's model what the students at CSA did, what are our next steps so we can have a little more action!