Tag Archives: NAIS

Inspiring & Supporting Innovation at Independent Schools at this year’s ATLIS



Courtesy of Pixabay

“Innovation” — there’s a reason it’s a provocative and powerful topic in the landscape of education. Public, Charter, and Independent Schools are all feeling the pressure from disruptive innovation as well as turning to innovative practices to solve curricular, financial, and recruitment woes. The reality is, we are living in an ever-shifting landscape. Traditional routes of career readiness are no longer reliable, previously “safe” jobs (think accountants, lawyers, and doctors) are now seeing job security fade away, and “traditional” schooling is coming under more scrutiny. The cost of university education is having many individuals rethink the options of pursuing higher education given the relatively flat career landscape facing them on graduation. As such, schools are now looking at innovative practice to help them solve these problems – how can they prepare their students for the jobs of the future (especially if we don’t know what those jobs are)? As a Technology Leader, I am often a part of conversations about innovation. This is not to say that innovation is all about technology, but radical innovation often encompasses employing new technologies. Innovation is challenging… it’s hard. Why? Because it necessitates culture shift and “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner” — Peter Drucker.

Facing the challenges of innovation in my career and public life, I am especially excited about attending this year’s ATLIS conference in Los Angeles, California (April 24-26) as its theme is “Magic Magic Happen” and its focus is on innovation. I know that I will be inspired by the keynote speeches of Jaime Casap (Educational Evangelist) and Tim Fish (Chief Innovation Office of NAIS); both of them have worked with Independent Schools, helping them to innovate their curriculum and institutions. Looking at the posted schedule, I’m excited to learn more about innovative curriculum enhancements such as incorporating coding into the whole curriculum, implementing gamification, and creating new educational spaces, such as maker spaces in the library. Even better than learning about these initiatives, I’m especially excited to learn how to support them at my institution through transformative professional development and creating & fostering a culture of change.

This year’s ATLIS conference is the most exciting yet. If you are exploring innovative curriculum and technologies in your school, this is the year to attend! You can still register on the ATLIS website.


NAIS – Going All In: The Ins & Outs of Creating a Digital Curriculum

This year, the NAIS annual conference is being held in Orlando Florida at the Walt Disney World Resort. As such, Ransom Everglades made it possible for several dozen teachers to attend the conference on Friday, the teacher focus day.

The first workshop that I’m attending is “Going All In: The Ins & Outs of Creating a Digital Curriculum” with Tim Sheehan, Andrew Schneider, and Amanda Schirmacher of the Latin School of Chicago. They are sharing how they created an all digital curriculum for fourth grade Social Studies.

The Dreamer

Amanda takes the reigns to discuss the topic, “The Dreamer.” As a fourth grade cohort, Tim, Amanda, and Andy work closely to develop their social studies curriculum building off of the work of their predecessors. The Latin School of Chicago has allotted several travel grants. Using a variety of travel grants, faculty visited numerous countries, such as India and Japan, creating a travelogue.

The next stop was to evolve these packets into digital content – especially something that could be read on an iPad. This way, they could create multi-model, interactive units that included written word, images, video, music, etc. With pressure from public school arenas, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, for schools to enter the digital realm then it makes sense that Independent Schools should not just be following the norm, but spear heading the initiatives.

By creating a digital social studies curriculum, documents could be come not only interactive and multi-media, but truly living documents that can change as the world evolves.

The Techie

Andy next steps up to discuss eBook platforms and using the iBooks Author (Mac Only) to create digital content for the iPad.  If you would like to see their content guide, you may do so here. You can also check out the demon video below:

If you cannot use iBooks Author (as it is a Mac only platform), they list several alternative resources in their resource guide. The nice thing about eBooks is that you can customize them however you would like to fit the needs of your classroom and curriculum.

iBooks Author, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

iBooks Author, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Andy provides a brief overview of building an iBook for your class using images, content, widgets, hyperlinks, etc. There are lots of great tools in iBooks Author. However, it is important to note that iBooks author works only for the Mac and can only be accessed in an iOS platform.

The nice thing about creating interactive eBooks for your students is that the curriculum is individualized, flexible, and you can even check in with students during the process for understanding by including various quizzes/activities.

By combining iBooks with existing Apps, you can expand yoru curriculum further. For example, you can use use the iPad Karnak Temple App or have students write their names in Hieroglyphics using the Hieroglyphic App ($0.99)

The Luddite

The next up is Tim, who wants to highlight how this curriculum is working out in the classroom, what did the students think, and what did the faculty think? There are numerous advantageous: all in one integration; auditory, visual, & tactile environment; no antiquated textbooks (instant updates as needed); constant app development that can be adapted (even by the students themselves; digital communication internationally; everything is in one place (no more losing those packets); notes easily saved/transferable (especially for students with fine motor issues or learning differences), Reflector App and SmartBoard allow for ease in lessons; additionally, student feedback (formally & informally) has helped to guide the process.

The students had many pros for their experiences – it was more fun to learn, more interactive, included multiple media, content was all in one place (not having to pull out a computer to go online), and no more paper-cuts! The students liked not having to find books in their desks – especially if those desks were messy!

At the same time, students had some critiques – they can cause distraction, a “real book” allows you to visualize your progress, loses the tactile sensation of “real books,” and that iPads are prone to glitches and problems (you can’t “brick” a book!).

Andy highlights that it’s important to assess the “feel” of the learning experience. Digital learning can remove that “personal” touch of a teacher and classmates – key to effective learning. It’s important to know that it’s important to turn technology once in a while. Multi-tasking does not allow the focus of uni-tasking. As such, it’s important to keep this in mind in a digital curriculum. Another key focus is “are we creating a culture of immediacy without depth or discovery.”


Learn to teach the device to yourself and your students. Take the device on your own and play with it for a while before focusing on developing the pedagogy. You must teach children directly how to use it as an educational device. Make time for yourself and the students to play. Follow the lead from the students as often as possible (they might teach you a thing or two!). Also, the build matters – it’s easy to focus on the bells and whistles and distract your learners.

Hesitant Teachers Can Learn New Tech

This is reposted from my article PLP Voices.

Many educators feel overwhelmed by new technology and may feel apprehensive when it comes to adopting it in the classroom. But I’m here to make the case that learning to use technology and employing it as part of your curriculum is actually easier than ever. Way easier.

Both hardware and software have never been more user friendly. Developers know that consumers want ease of use and have delivered in an unprecedented manner. Additionally, all producers are now compelled to provide free and easy how-to instructions – trust me, no more 1000-page manuals written in convoluted “tech speak” or a quick trip to the big box bookstore for the Dummies guide.

If you see a new project or idea that you want to bring to your own classroom that requires an unfamiliar software tool, do not hesitate to adopt it. With rare exceptions, you’ll find introductory videos at the producer’s website, tutorials by fellow educators at YouTube, and a community of users at the product’s Facebook or social-network page who are eager to help. If you’ve developed a Personal Learning Network using Twitter and other social media (and if you haven’t, now is a good time), you’ll have even more potential sources of support.

Here are just a few methods that I use to teach myself new tools as well as provide my own “technical support.”

Just Do it!

If I am interested in trying out a new (and most often free) tool in my classroom (Google DocsEvernoteiMovieDropbox, or more) then as Nike taught me, I “just do it!” I download the software and start exploring. Most people are surprised at how easy these tools are to use.

I set aside one hour of uninterrupted time where I simply sit down and play with the program or tool. I try out the features and get creative! No one else is watching. This is time for me to get familiar with the designers’ intentions, the user interface, and to brainstorm about its possibilities. I don’t have to worry about colleagues, students, or anyone else looking over my shoulder.

Yes, you can “just google it”

When I was first learning about digital stories and exploring how to employ them in my classroom, I sat down with iMovie and tried to make my own documentary. While using this software, I found that I had a series of questions. For example: “How do I add a transition?” or “How do I insert credits?”. How did I find my answers? I simply googled it. Google’s algorithms are so user friendly now that you can simply type in the question: “How do I add credits in iMovie?” and your browser displays a series of instructional documents and videos. If you have a question, “google it.” Googling is also a good way to search for examples of how other teachers using the same tool you’re exploring.

YouTube is Your Friend

YouTube isn’t just a place for silly cat and adorable dog videos. Amid the dreck there’s actually an amazing repository of knowledge, including lots of helpful clips posted by educators.

YT-Pinterest-how-toA quick YouTube search, using nothing more than the name of the tool or program you’re exploring, will turn up step-by-step instructions on how to troubleshoot common problems, use specialized features, and even more. (Videos with high numbers of views are a good place to start.)

I have a series of Ed Tech channels that I follow for my favorite webtools and programs, where I often learn about new and exciting features. I can honestly say that YouTube has become my go-to resource for any technology problem, question, or pursuit currently on my plate. It’s so easy to find what you need and the information is usually offered in an easy to follow format, with little to no technical jargon. If you find that’s not the case, try another video on the topic. There’s seldom just one.

Ask the students

As an educator, I often go through some internal struggle before I look to my students for answers to technology quesitons. After all, aren’t I supposed to be the font of knowledge? Then I get over it. They often know more than I do about available programs and features, and they also have the knack for figuring out the user interface quickly. I can tell you that they are never more excited than when they can show their classmates and me something new. Not only does it allow them to showcase their talents, but also it provides them key opportunities of leadership in the classroom. As a result, they become more confident and engaged in their academic environment.

Trust yourself

What I have learned over the years about employing technology in my classroom is that you have to stretch yourself, get over your fears, and trust your skills as an educator and your students as learners. The results I have gotten have far exceeded my expectations. The resources and tools now available for those who want to learn to use these tools is not only free, it’s readily accessible and easy to use.

So go in your room. Close the door. Boot up (or wake up your iPad). Guess what. You can’t break this stuff. And as your confidence and knowledge grows, you’ll be amazed at how much these tools can actually make your teaching more engaging, more fun and more effective.

Difficult, Courageous, & Fierce Conversation – Pat Bassett, NAIS President

Pat Bassett

Our first ‘headline’ speaker is Pat Bassett, the current President of NAIS. His talk’s focus was described as:

“The President of NAIS presents an analysis of conversation dynamics, why tough conversations tend to go badly, and what to do to make them go better. He will address some of the essential conversations we should be having, but aren’t, such as ‘What should we teach (the curriculum/content question)?’ ‘How should we assess (the testing/outcomes question)?’ and ‘How do we embed the 21st Century school vision (the leadership question)?'”

He took the stage and started his discussion by reminiscing about his early teaching career at a small, all-boys boarding school and the lack of direction/mentorship/training that he received as a young teacher just starting out.

He highlighted the need, as school leaders, to navigate challenging negotiations and conversations with colleagues, students, parents, the community, and more as part of job as educators and innovators in education. Also, as always happens at a conference that emphasizes technology, there were technology glitches 😉

The first focus he discussed is the fact that conversations between individuals where there is inherently a power differential (boss & employee, teacher & student, supervisor & subordinate, etc) there are always two conversations going on: the verbal conversation and the silent, intellectual one. So… how do we change those conversations? How do we negotiate that dynamic? How do we manage these conversations so that they’re less threatening and ultimately serve kids better?

He recommended that when we anticipate these conversations, we pause and think – go through the mental checklist:

  • Identifying the deeper issues: both sides’ sense of their own competence and goodness.
  • “Making our point because you are right” always fails.
  • Arguments are only seldom about “truth” and “facts,” they are almost always about feelings and identity.

He highlighted that there are many, many challenging conversations that are going on right now in education right now, primarily: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class. Emotionally charged topics such as these can readily and quickly degrade into ugly, unproductive, and unauthentic conversations.

He recommended another quick check-list:

  • “Delivering a message” vs. “Having a conversation”
  • Developing a “learning stance” as opposed to a grenade-launching stance.
  • Sorting out “what really happened.”
  • Understanding what you and the other party are feeling.
  • Knowing why we see the world differently from others: different information and interpretations, based on our experiences, outlooks, dispositions, and assumptions — and because our conclusions always reflect self-interest.

By reflecting on what we bring to the conversation, what the other speaker is trying to say and communicate before taking a defensive or aggressive stance. On a personal note, as someone who was trained in Anthropology, I’m feeling pretty good right now!

He also emphasized the fact that when dealing with children (even middle and high school kids), their brains aren’t developed enough for full rational and logical thought and action – they are still (at varying stages) in reactionary, instinctive thought. Expecting children (and maybe some adults) to act rationally, is a poor stance to take. If a person feels too threatened, then “fight or flight” will take over… every time.

So, when having a conflictive conversation focus on:

  • The Wrong Questions: Who is right? Whose fault is it? Why are you doing this? vs. The Right Question: Why do we see things differently?
  • Refocusing the discussion away from blame and toward understanding, away from “winning” a conversation toward insight and finding common ground that works for both side.
  • Find common ground and empathetic understanding.

Individual vulnerabilities – our own insecurities – can be a huge hamper in difficult discussions. Instead of seeing these as opportunities for growth and development – they are viewed as a direct, personal attack. So when it comes to difficult conversations – try to step back, “Why is this conversation threatening?” Try to deconstruct the conversation. “Why are we so far apart?”

Strategy and Design of Schools for the Future

He recommended Edutopia (one of my favorites) and the MacArthur Foundation websites for ideas, concepts, and resources (both for public and independent schools). These organization highlight the current revolution and big shifts ongoing right now in education:

  • Knowing becoming Doing
  • Teacher-centered becoming Student-centered
  • The individual…. the team
  • Consumption of information… construction of meaning
  • Schools… Networks (online peers and experts)
  • Single Sourcing… Crowd Sourcing
  • High Stakes Testing (NCLB)… High value demonstration

Due to the nature of independent schools, we are able to lead the way… why? Because we are not constrained by state mandated curriculum and testing… we have smaller classrooms… we have more flexibility. Those have all been hot topics for educators – how effective is the ‘lecture-based model’? I use it, even though I don’t think it’s the best way to convey long-term learning and critical thinking because it’s the old school means of education. It’s how I learned, it’s how I was taught to teach, and it’s what is the ‘standard’ of education.’ However, kids want and need to do something meaningful. They need to create, understand, master, and produce meaningful work.

He highlighted the role of online communities, like ISENET, to collaborate with colleagues and focus on individual and progressive professional development. I can wholeheartedly agree – blogging, tweeting, and collaboration (online and in person) with my colleagues has helped me more than any ‘formal’ training I have received.

Curriculum Content/Canon 

What can we agree upon are the skills and values the 21st century will demand and reward?

  • Communication (writing, public speaking, technical fluency) – children need to be able to communicate effectively in a myriad of venues
  • Collaboration (teaming, working together, developing group projects) – “teaming” shouldn’t be done just outside of the classroom, if you can’t work effectively in a team you are damaging rather than helping
  • Creativity (how do we mandate creativity?) – creativity is often going down in schools and we frequently “kill creativity” in education (except at Trinity Valley of course).
  • Critical Thinking (what do we actually mean by “critical thinking?”), the capacity to discriminate between worthy and unworthy material, propaganda and evidence, garbage and useful information, etc.
  • Character (can you teach character?) – the world is full of smart people devoid of character. How do we develop this in the future leaders of the world? What is a K-12 character track? Modeling is the most effective means by which to teach character. We also need to take advantage of “teachable moments,” help kids sort through the right thing to do.
  • Cosmopolitanism (bringing children into the world) – cross-cultural competency. In our connected world, it is smaller – we need to prepare our students for a connected world.

He highlights these concepts further on his own blog here: “The Five Cs + One” as well as in other articles featured on “Bassett Blog.”

Pedagogy – How Do We Teach?

The charismatic teacher – lots of energy, entertaining, very popular, entertaining. However, it doesn’t always meant hat they’re a great teacher. It’s good to have in repertoire, but not the core. He made the analogy of coaching – know how each kid is different, know what turns that kid on in the classroom, learn how to motivate each child differently, focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.

We need to capitalize on education, science, and technology engineering. We need to capitalize on new technologies and allow them to become innovators and creators of real “products” with meaning for the kids.

Design Thinking – we nee do rethink our concepts of “knowledge.” What is knowledge? How do we develop our curriculum around this?


I think that I summarized most of his key points, but i highly recommend checking out Jonathan Martin’s blog post on the same talk here.