I haven’t been quite sure how to write about this, but I’m featured in a new book that came out last month. Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave advocates for a very attainable vision for the teaching profession.  Barnett, Ann, and Alan do a masterful job of capturing the work of seven brilliant and inspirational teachers who are leaders in their school and communities.  I’m thrown in as well. It’s well worth the read, but more importantly, it’s worth sharing with others, be them powers that be or lay people with strong opinions on education.  Here’s a nice little teaser video that captures the main arguments:

Also, I did a little teacherpreneuring of my own last week, traveling down to DC for an Alliance for Excellent Education Project 24 webinar on Data Driven Decision making.  My presentation is about how not to use data to make decisions.  You can watch it here, and click on my name to jump to my presentation.  The questions were interesting and are worth watching.


Teaching the March on Washington for JOBS and Freedom

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  Over the past year, I had the great pleasure of being part of a group of teachers put together by the Shanker Institute who met with participants and historians in order to plan lessons to help students think about the impact of the March, and how its memory has shifted over time.  The lesson are available here for free.  My lesson, which is probably worth looking through for most adults as well, looks at how popular memory has failed to capture key components and emphasis of the march.

A few recent pieces of writing

Two pieces I wrote were recently published.  One – What Works: Collaboration, humility and audacity  – sums up the first year at Harvest Collegiate:

Over the past year, I have had the honor, privilege, and daunting task to co-found a new public New York City high school, Harvest Collegiate High School. The proposal for the school was set forth by Kate Burch, then an NYC teacher and now our principal; I joined the team last January and helped move us, along with a team of experienced teachers and a social worker, from an idea that existed on a dozen sheets of paper to a fully functioning school with 126 ninth graders when we opened this past September.  As we finished our first year at the end of June, I looked back and realized that without a doubt, this was the best year of my teaching career.  By any measurement — student learning, attendance, student and staff morale, excitement from incoming students and families — things went outstandingly well.

As I think about this incredible past year, I think about the infusion in it of both audacity and humility.  It’s audacious to start a school, but I think we did it with humility for how much we could do well, for the giants whose shoulders on which we stand, and for our place in the larger political/educational world.

The second piece is in my role as a member of the “Team of Experts” for the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Project 24: From Rocks to PowerPoint: Technology is a Tool.  It seeks to remind people that as districts rush to implement new technological platforms, we need to remember that technology is a tool, not an end:

One of the earliest lessons I teach students in my Global History courses is that technology is not something that was newly invented, but rather, it’s anything humans create to help make our lives easier. Language was a good starting place for humans.  A lot of progress has been made from there: parchment, ink, pens, paper, the printing press, telegram, computer, iPhone, etc. Thanks to technology, the communication that defines our humanity became more powerful over time.

Another lesson I teach my students is that we’ve also made pretty big advances in the technology of murder.  For thousands of years, humans used technology like rocks and sticks to kill people.  Humans worked their way up from there as well: slingshot, bow & arrow, sword, rifle, machine gun, nuclear bomb.  Over time, we got a lot better at destroying humanity as well.

I think it’s important to keep these two extremes in mind when thinking about building up a technological infrastructure for schools and districts.  Technology has the power the amplify our humanity, but it also can deaden it. Technology is the tool, but it’s not an end in itself.

National Social Study Framework; Teacher Prep; Using Data to Support Teachers

I’m catching up on sharing a few things I’ve helped produce recently:

First, I wrote a piece for the Shanker Blog this week: Proposed National Civics Framework Shows Great Promise.  Please take the time to read and then take action; I believe the C3 Framework is a huge step forward for our field:

Simply put, the proposed C3 Framework is brilliant. It is exactly what our nation needs to ensure civic life and participation is properly valued, and it is what the Social Studies teaching profession needs to ensure our discipline retains its unique and essential role within our education system. It is brilliant in its conception, its modesty and its usefulness as a document to inform policy and practice. 

Second, I was part of a team put together by the Center for Teaching Quality that wrote what I hope is a very insightful report on teacher preparation, TEACHING 2030: Leveraging teacher preparation 2.0.  As Barnett Berry describes the document:

I encourage you to dive into this report, written by educators who work with students every day. Their insights on “Teacher Prep 2.0” provide a much-needed antidote to the current debate, and their thinking on “Teacher Prep 3.0”—led by Emily Vickery—should lead the next generation of discussions and action around teacher-education reform.TEACHING 2030: Leveraging Teacher Preparation 2.0, penned by 17 classroom experts, transcends the current divide and sets a path for ensuring that every teacher is ready to teach what students need to know, now and in the future.

 Finally, I am a member of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Project 24 Team of Experts.  In that role, I gave a brief webinar presentation on how we use authentic data at Harvest Collegiate to support student and teacher growth.  You can watch it here.


Video: Teacher Leadership Speech from AERA 2013

I had the pleasure of being part of panel on Teacher Leadership at the AERA conference in San Francisco last weekend.  I presented on a paper I wrote, “Creating Capacity & Space for Teacher Leadership.”  I hope you’ll take the time to watch: 

Slide text:
Creating Capacity & Space for Teacher Leadership

Goal: Transform education from field where expertise and success exists in isolated individual classrooms (or outside of them) to one where expert practitioners augment and influence beyond their classrooms.

– Recognize novice teachers as potential teacher-leaders
– Create space for teacher-leaders to practice and develop
– Recognize and compensate teachers through formal leadership opportunities


Leo Casey, Executive Director of the Shanker Institute, sent me the following feedback on the paper, which I’m adding with his permission. He’s completely correct:

Nice paper on teacher leadership. I think Gramsci would be much more helpful than Althusser is thinking your concepts through. Althusser’s theory of interpellation, like his work generally, is generally considered to have a ‘structuralist’ cast because of his denial of subjectivity – and not just subjectivity in some untethered sense, but even historically grounded subjectivity, a la Marx in the 18th Brumaire: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” Althusser would say that you think you are exercising teacher leadership, but you are just responding to an ideology that defines it for you. Gramsci, and in particular his conception of organic intellectuals and their role in building class unity and the hegemonic role of the class in the larger society, is about historically grounded subjectivity, and about democratic leadership.  

Common Core standards don't prevent creativity

Earlier this week, I posted a piece about my English class that showed “how great classes that focus on students as people can also serve the demands of the Common Core.”  Grant Wiggins made the same argument, far more eloquently, the next day:

Why do people insist on viewing the Standards as inconsistent with teacher creativity and choice? I am baffled by such uncreative thinking. That’s like saying the architect cannot be creative because every house has to meet building code. Indeed, the whole point of mandating standards as opposed to curriculum is to free people up to create innovative curriculum that addresses the standards. 

Facing History Features My Class

Facing History and Ourselves – probably my favorite PD organization – did a nice little piece on the English class I’m teaching on their website today:

The course started with a six-week unit called “You and I” that examined the notion of identity, exploring questions like Who am I? How am I perceived by others? How do both of these perceptions impact my choices? Next up was a six-week unit called “Us and Them,” which looked at issues of difference and incorporated Facing History resources on membership and society. In this unit, the students explored the history of the Weimar Republic as a way to set the stage for reading All Quiet on the Western Front. The course will end this spring with a unit called “The Meaning of Life.” It may be a lofty title for a seven-week unit, but it gets right to the heart of what the students consider – that meaning in life often comes from interacting with others, that each of us has causes and people that are of life and death importance to us, and that other perspectives can offer guidance for our own lives.

While the focus of the piece is Common Core, I think the key is that it captures how great classes that focus on students as people can also serve the demands of the Common Core:

The backbone of the course is a solid syllabus of readings and assignments that have the students writing and reading personal narratives from multiple perspectives, researching, constructing effective arguments, and critically analyzing complex texts across a range of types and disciplines. As a result, the students are meeting the Common Core State Standards through a deep investigation of nonfiction, fiction, and essential questions about human nature.

My School is Hiring!

Harvest Collegiate High School, which opened with its first class of 9th graders in September 2012, is a small public high school near Union Square in Manhattan. We invite you to apply to join our founding team as we welcome a new class and build a transformative learning community. At Harvest, teachers are empowered to design their own courses that focus on developing students passions, curiosity, and Habits of Mind and Heart.  We are looking for passionate and thoughtful teachers to join our strong and experienced staff.  For more information, please visit our website.

Insightful Social Studies Gaining Momentum

Lots of good things are happening with Insightful Social Studies, and our effort to ensure New York students have the Social Studies curriculum they deserve.

I wrote a piece earlier this week for the Shanker Blog about larger concerns with the Common Core and is lack of attention to Civics, putting this effort in a larger context.  The Washington Post picked it up Wednesday, and Diane Ravitch just blogged about it as well.

We now have open lines of communication with multiple officials at the state level involved in the writing of the curriculum and with the power to ultimately approve it.  We have also established relationships with NYC officials, as well as with people working on larger national efforts.

We hope to have exciting news about next steps in the very near future, but in the meantime, please sign up for our Mailing List so we can communicated directly with you to organize, and so we can let people know just how many people are with us.