27 January 2012

EduCon Philly Day 1

I just finished up my first day at EduCon and I needed to share some of the amazing things that I saw.  I could go on for a very long post, but I want to group everything into three categories.

Leadership
If you have ever heard Chris Lehmann speak, you know immediately that he is an amazing educator.  But I want to talk about how he runs leads the school.
  • Food
    • There was food and drink everywhere.  I went into one classroom and I would say at least 2/3 of the class had some sort of drink bottle on their desk.  And yet, for some reason, this didn't seem to disrupt the learning that was happening and there wasn't a bug to be seen. (sorry, couldn't help the sarcasm) But what really struck me was lunch.  As we are on our tour, we noticed 6 students sitting and eating in a Spanish classroom and there was no teacher in there supervising them.  The students eat EVERYWHERE--hallways, lunchroom, classrooms, window ledges--you name it, there were students eating there.  The best part about it was the kids had the utmost respect for their environment.  When the lunch was over there wasn't a single piece of trash to be found and I didn't see a custodian anywhere.  Whether they were in the classroom or the hallways, these kids loved their school and it showed.
  • Computers
    • Every student is issued a Mac laptop when entering the school and they must pay an insurance fee ($85) every year to keep it.  Most of the computers were decorated with stickers, drawings, quotes written in Sharpie.  Most schools would freak out if the kids were "damaging" school property, but not this school.  They trust that the students will respect the computers and the students respond.
  • His Office
    • It is not often that I am caught like a deer in the headlights, but this one really threw me.  I was walking passed an office and a student I met called out to me from a conference room in the back.  I noticed a number of students in both the front office and the back conference room (probably 15 or so).  As I walk into the office, Chris Lehmann is sitting at his desk laughing with the kids around him.  That's right, I walked right into the principal's office without realizing it.  I was stunned by the fact that he welcomed me right in as if it was no big deal.  Now, let me mention something else about the office.  Chris' desk is where the secretary should have been and the larger space was used as a place for the students to congregate and eat or get work completed.  Anyone else have a principal like that?
Teaching
  • Teaching Philosophy
    • Everything is done for the kids.  There was no talk of working within the contractual time.  Everyone put all of themselves into building dynamic classrooms that were student-focused and learning by doing was at the heart.  Students talked just as much as the teachers did and the lessons were engaging.
  • Attitude
    • Everyone smiles.  Everyone wanted to be there, staff and students alike.  Students were helpful because they wanted to be not because they had to be.  Teachers gave up lunch time to sit and converse with visitors because they are passionate about what they do and want to share it with everyone.

Students
  • Passion
    • I need to tell you about Maggie.  I was wearing my infamous neon green tie, and after watching Diana Laufenberg's class, Maggie comes up to me saying how much she loves my tie.  She is going on and on about it and how I have to wear it for the entire weekend.  Later in the day, I am walking through the halls with a friend.  Maggie is about halfway down the hall and starts waving at me the second she saw me.  Then, at the end of the day, Maggie is the student who called out to me from Lehmann's conference room.  She comes running through his office and gives me a big hug right in front of him saying that we are friends now so it is OK to give me a hug.  That's passion.
  • Dedication
    • Every kid we asked questions of stopped whatever they were doing and gave us their full attention.  Most of the kids used their lunch time to collaborate with peers on a variety of projects.  None of the kids seemed stressed about anything they were working on and were eager to share their ideas regardless of what the topic was.  Even in the history class I saw, the teacher encouraged the students to make comments on a New York Times education page about the State of the Union, and she showed that one student in the class had already done it before being asked.  
What makes this school so successful is the fact that the entire school takes on the same mindset.  There is a culture of learning in everything the students do and it permeates into everything and buy in from staff, students and parents.  Every school could be like this if they wanted to and change the culture to make it happen.