I wrote this article to address some of the questions surrounding innovation that are rarely asked or addressed concretely in the literature on 21st Century Schools. Innovation is necessary and essential, but it also comes at a cost to the school culture.

Hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I did writing it on Saturday night at 2AM! Please leave your feedback in the comments section.

I gave this presentation last Wednesday to the ACDS Board of Trustees on the changing educational landscape, and how independent schools must innovate more to best prepare their students for the 21st century. NAIS and Pat Bassett’s presentation at the 2012 Annual Conference provides the basis for much of the content surrounding 21st century schools, and I have added my own thoughts and tried to give context to his ideas.

The world has changed, and schools must now match their rhetoric and understanding of this with action. We must, as I say in one of the slides, redefine what learning is in the 21st century, what we value, and how we assess. We must also address the most important question of all: Why should families continue paying $20,000 plus per year for an education that is increasingly moving online and much of it for free?!

Green Acres’  and I gave this presentation today as part of Beginning Teachers Institute. Our foundation rests on the premise that teachers and administrators need to embrace technology and social networking sites like  and other Web 2.0 tools in order to advance their own professional growth, and to enhance their curriculum. As one participant mentioned during the session, the lack of an online presence dooms one to irrelevance in today’s world. Virtual identities are now just as real as the identity you wear in your physical space every day. In my , I wrote about this same topic of the connected teacher, and how I came to the realization late last year that any conversation around 21st century skills must first begin with getting teachers connected to and using 21st century tools. This is a key criterion to becoming an effective educator today ().

In essence, the world isn’t simply changing; it has changed.

As the Assistant Head of School, I consider myself to be in the enviable position of working on a variety of strategic curricular initiatives simultaneously with a variety of people connected to our school. This also requires that I keep up with educational trends, journals, and any other literature published on the web, Twitter, or the blogosphere on an almost daily basis. It is difficult to parse through all of this information at once, much less make sense of how it might apply to my school and existing projects here. Yet, leadership requires the ability to both look ahead to the horizon while keeping one’s hands firmly on the wheel and feet planted on the deck, and thus steer through calm and stormy weather with the same even-handed and predictable approach.

This time I have spent since last December on developing my personal/professional learning network (PLN) has been tremendous and served to further my growth as an educator and as an administrator in ways that no conference or workshop could have. Indeed, I have shared and even led a Twitter How-to Session for Administrators at my school, and plan to offer one for the teachers soon. This PLN has also helped me unify my vision of the various strategic initiatives we have undertaken at  since the 2010-2011 school year under the 21st Century Skills umbrella. However, this topic is almost too broad, and I have been thinking off and on about where to now take this conversation and plant it firmly in the ground with our teachers, parents, and the Board. The recent was helpful in establishing some next steps, and in a previous post, I shared the ten items , President of , shared in his opening remarks.

The way I see it now, this same approach that has helped me professionally is where we begin the conversation around 21st Century Skills for all of our teachers – help them develop their own PLNs first so they can see and learn firsthand from the human and electronic resources available instantly at their desks, or for those with a web-enabled phone, in their pockets!

If we wish our students to be connected learners, it behooves us then that we model the same outcome by first becoming connected ourselves! This realization came as an epiphany to me, although it may seem obvious to many of you. Please contact me if you or your school has developed a professional growth plan to help your teachers develop a PLN.

A cartoon from The Bobcat Globe

Click to check out the student newspaper, The Bobcat Globe, written and published by our 8th grade students this week, covering the 2012 Festival of Learning theme of Endangered Species. Thanks to faculty editors, Todd Gilbert and David Carpenter, for leading and guiding the students in their writing and the newspaper layout!

The newspaper articles cover a range of reports from interviews with students, faculty to pictures of the various speakers and events we have hosted this week. In the words of the editors, The Bobcat Globe is “ACDS’s first-ever Festival of Learning Online Newspaper. In conjunction with the iPad Pilot Program and ICL (Information Communication Literacy), The Bobcat Globe focused on providing students with the skills necessary to feel comfortable in a paper-less world, whether reading, writing, or sharing information.”

I could not be more proud of our students today!

A cartoon from The Bobcat Globe

Think Different: Beyond the Three R’s in the 21st Century

At the recent NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle, , the President of , shared the following ten trends for schools to remain competitive and fulfill their mission promise in the 21st century:

  1. Adopting backward design and mapping of curriculum around skills rather than subjects
  2. Documenting student outcomes via formative assessments and “demonstrations of learning”
  3. Connecting AI, the strengths approach, and growth mindsets – all subsets of the positivist psychology movement
  4. Globalizing independent schools
  5. Stage II greening of independent schools
  6. STEM and beyond signature programming
  7. Professionalizing the profession
  8. Public purpose of private education
  9. Online learning consortia for independent school-branded courses
  10. Design thinking- incorporating MIT and Stanford Design Labs
Bassett ended with a quotation from Bill Gates’ annual letter for his foundation: ”Innovation is the means, and equity is the end goal.”
Additional info here link

These trends (and that quote) have remained with me over the last several weeks since the conference ended, and at a faculty meeting last Wednesday, I shared them with my teachers. One of the central themes and messages from Bassett’s trends reflect the ubiquity of technology in our lives and need to integrate tech-literacy into our curricula in authentic, real-world ways. 1:1 laptop or iPad initiatives that simply replace the paper planner or similar physical tool are failing our children and the skills they will need both today and tomorrow.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently on – a concept pioneered by in Tucson, AZ where is the head of school. The skills of gather, evaluate, and analyze information are authentically tested when students are given access to the internet and any other resource at their disposal. Martin notes that teachers have to think differently about the questions they ask and the preparation and review for the test. Yes/No, True/False answers are no longer acceptable as evidence of mastery.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic – the traditional three R’s – have occupied a central perch in educational literature and curriculum development, however, the 21st century demands that schools go beyond these three R’s to include an Information Communication Literacy (ICL) program. The ICL team at our school currently consists of the director of technology, technology integration specialist, and our library media specialist. Together, they are promoting and integrating 21st century skills into our existing curricula. My message to the teachers last Wednesday was short and simple: technology is no longer a secondary consideration or simply meant as a support to enhance curriculum, but is as necessary a skill as the three R’s. Students are going to use the technologies at their fingertips with or without our support, and yet the conservative streak that pervades many institutions shun its use beyond simple internet research on Google or Wikipedia. It’s no longer considered innovative for schools to use the internet, but how it’s used to analyze information and assess students on their application can be considered innovative.**

I look forward to continuing this conversation with my faculty at future meetings. Please use the comments section to add your own two cents on this topic!


**Check out own initial foray into innovative practices at ; we now need to push the assessment piece. Also check out these authentic assessment ideas from  that are just as exciting and inspiring for the creative educator:

  • “include the perspective from two personal contacts living in other countries (or representing different age groups, ethnicities, different schools, et al.)
  • include links to primary documents to support your argument.
  • create a multimedia mashup of text, video, sound and animation to prove your thesis.
  • summarize your argument in several different media: a 140 character  post, a  page, a one stanza original music composition, or a ten second animation.
  • post your idea to three selected blogs or web sites and summarize and critique the response you receive.”

Nishant N. Mehta is Leading Teachers To Use Web 2.0 tools

Posted by on Mar 5, 2012 in , |

Nishant N. Mehta

Nishant N. Mehta Assistant Head of School

PLP eCourses attract participants from across the globe to learn and grow with one another. Over the next few weeks, we will feature interviews with current and past PLP eCourse participants. We’ll ask participants to share information about themselves, why they chose PLP eCourses and what they are up to professionally.

Nishant N. Mehta is a current eCourse participant from Alexandria, VA. He is the Assistant Head of School for a K-8 coed independent day school.

1. Which PLP eCourse are you currently taking?

2. Have you ever taken an online course?

This is my first one!

3. Why did you decide to take this eCourse?

Because of Sheryl and Will’s reputation in the field of advancing teaching and learning in the 21st century, and because of the course’s focus on other 21st century leaders and developing leadership in the participants! My school is currently undergoing this transformation and I would like to be in the best position to lead that transformation.

4. Prior to taking this course, would you describe your knowledge on 21st century education as basic, intermediate or advanced?


5. What has been your favorite thing about this eCourse and/or instructor?

Collaborative thought and discussion each week amongst various participants from the US and Canada. Also, I appreciate the opportunity to take a few minutes each week and devote it to learning and reflecting about leadership.

6. What is your personal philosophy/belief on learning in the 21st century?

Schools have been talking about whole child education, differentiation and authentic assessments, flow theory, multiple intelligences, and the like for several years now, but what’s changed with the advance of technology, specifically Web 2.0 tools and AppPhones or the iPad, is the access to information and ability to collaborate with others across time and space in a way not easily facilitated before. Human communication occurs daily via such technologies and schools must leverage the creative and problem- solving capabilities inherent in them; Schools and its students and teachers are no longer restricted by the four walls of a classroom.

7. Any other information you would like to share about yourself personally or professionally?

I am passionate about learning and leadership, and try to read widely beyond educational journals and blogs to include current corporate thinking as well as it might apply to schools.

In a in The Washington Post, Jay Mathews highlights nine ways to choose a great school for a child. The advice ranges from attending a PTA meeting to not worry if you hear that a middle school has problems. I particularly like the suggestions Mr. Mathews has for parents to engage with other parents in the school community, whether it’s the PTA meeting or looking up blogs and websites for parents in the community.

As an educator and administrator at a , there are many things about independent schools that I would highlight for prospective parents, but here are nine I would add to Mr. Mathews’ list:

  1. Mr. Mathews suggests you talk to the principal (in an independent school, this can be either the division head of the grades you are looking at for your child, or the head of school). I would add that you also ask to speak with some of the teachers. It’s the quality of teaching and teachers that retains parents at any given school, and it’s the memories of a class or a teacher that draw alumni back to visit their alma mater. At (ACDS), we ask 2-3 of our teachers at each open house to participate in a Q&A with the prospective parents; it lends more authenticity to the whole interaction.
  2. Ask for a sample schedule of the classes your child would have if he or she were enrolled there. Then look for both the structured times (classes) as well as the unstructured times (recess, lunch, other breaks). Research has shown over the past several years that for strong development of their ethical sensibilities as well as independence, children need some unstructured time to engage in play with one another unfettered by lesson plans or other adult-directed activity. At ACDS in the middle school, we allot 30 minutes of recess and another 30 minutes of lunch every day, along with a 30 minute advisory period in the morning at 10:30.
  3. On the schedule, look for times allotted to the arts and PE. What importance does the school give to the development of the whole child? Does the school walk the talk as well? Many schools talk about holistic education and the whole child, but if the arts and PE are not given prominent time on the schedule to develop creativity, nurture musical talents or appreciation for the arts, or fine-tune gross motor skills, then the school’s commitment to the whole child is questionable. At ACDS, we are on a 7-day rotation of which the arts and PE meet 5 of the 7 days in the middle school.
  4. Ask questions of the admissions director, principal, and teachers about childhood and child development – I know it might sound strange to ask this of yourself after your visit to the school, but do it anyway: “Does this school get children?” Or, “Can I see my child here, happy, successful, and supported by his teachers and administrators through the difficult times?”
  5. Ask questions about the teaching and learning. What’s a typical lesson? How does the school work with its struggling students? How does the school define success for its students? At the end of the nine-years from K through 8th grade at my school, we promise our families that the ACDS Graduate will exhibit the following attributes: independence in learning, effective communication skills, a community-oriented mindset, and a balanced work ethic. What is the Portrait of a Graduate at the school you are considering?
  6. Technology has become a necessary part of our adult lives, and increasingly, our children’s lives too. How does the school integrate 21st century technology (Web 2.0 tools, iDevices, etc.) into the classroom? How does it promote safe and appropriate use of technology at school? Do they have any tips for you to do the same at home?
  7. Now ask yourself, even though you are not the expert: What does a great education look like for your child? Do you remember the teachers you had, especially the exceptional ones that made learning fun and engaging? Unless you are an educator yourself, remember that you are not the expert and your child is not you and will probably learn differently than you did. But asking these questions is an important step towards developing your own awareness and understanding of a great education versus a mediocre one.
  8. Talk to other parents who already attend the school and ask why they chose this school for their family. Also ask the administration or parents about the frequency and range of topics covered at parent education events.
  9. Finally, remember that choosing a great school is about the fit, and it’s a two-way street. The reputation or ranking of a school and the quality of its teachers and facilities won’t matter if its philosophy and practices are not a good match for your family or your child!

Do you have other suggestions on how to pick a great independent school? What has worked for you as an educator or as a parent at an independent school? Please use the comments section to add your thoughts!

Samuel Palmisano

During Samuel Palmisano’s tenure as chief executive of IBM, the company became:

A textbook case of how to drive change in a big company — when so much of the study of business innovation focuses on start-ups and entrepreneurs.This column is a glimpse of the thinking behind some of the major steps I.B.M. has taken under Mr. Palmisano’s leadership, based on two recent interviews with him.He says his guiding framework boils down to four questions:

•Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?

•Why would somebody work for you?

• Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?

•And why would somebody invest their money with you?

via .

I have wondered if these same questions can be adapted to independent school leadership. Independent schools are both schools and businesses. Unlike public schools, they are tuition-dependent and have to raise funds annually in order to operate and finance various curricular initiatives and capital projects. Independent schools also compete with one another, parochial schools, and local public schools for students and families. So while one side of the coin represents the school’s mission and educational status, the other side represents its financial needs. These questions, then, can be interpreted and applied to independent schools just as well as they apply to any other business or institution. The following is my attempt at that interpretation:

  • Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?

In a , I referenced another news article that looked at rising tuitions in many Manhattan independent schools, with a few already touching $40,000 and others almost there. For many families attending our schools, mortgage payments and their child’s tuition are the two biggest debits each month. Schools must double their efforts on recruitment and retention, especially in a sluggish economy. Word-of-mouth advertising by current families is normally the best marketing tool for any school, and schools need to answer this question – what is unique about them? – for these families on a regular basis. Heads and division heads can utilize social media tools such as blogs and Twitter to link to or write about what moved them about a lesson they observed today, or an athletic victory, perhaps a student’s performance in the winter play, and so on. Schools are beginning to adopt Facebook and use the fan page as an opportunity to tap into Facebook’s massive database and people’s existing routines. Scheduled morning coffees or afternoon/evening presentations and parent education talks also keep families connected to the school, and give the school another opportunity to communicate its mission and philosophy. All of these initiatives must link back to a broader strategy of the school and convey a singular message.

  • Why would somebody work for you?

This question is key. book  addressed three factors to motivate today’s 21st Century Worker: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. How does your school define and act on these clearly and explicitly with your faculty and staff? Are they part of a teacher’s evaluation process? Conversations about these three factors should be initiated by the school’s administrators with their direct reports, and not always the other way round. I am more likely to stay positive and motivated to do my best work if I know that someone, preferably my direct supervisor, is invested in my success. Leadership then should be cultivated at all levels of a school, and not just in the administrative team. The 21st Century School will have a stable and strong cadre of teacher leaders.

  • Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?

This question is best answered with a comment made by , one of the keynote speakers at the last held in Philadelphia in December 2011: Schools must be of a community, not just in a community. This statement is profound in its charge to all schools across the globe. From the faculty to families and students to curriculum and service projects, schools must actively engage their communities by first locating themselves within. How does your school reflect your community? What contributions can you point to within your community? How are you promoting civic engagement amongst your students and families, and inviting professionals, alumni, and others to come talk and share at your school?

  • And why would somebody invest their money with you?

Schools are different in that families are not simply investing their money with us, but their children as well. The question could then be rephrased to say: “Why would somebody invest in their children’s future with you?” I am not certain the answer here is vastly different from my response to question #1. The difference in the two questions hinges on the verbs used in both cases: “spend” in #1 and “invest” in #4. The verb “spend” could refer to the purchase of a product or service for the short-term, whereas the verb “invest” in question #4 points to a long-term relationship and belief in the company’s (or school’s) mission beyond its products and services. For example, at , we look at every prospective Kindergarten student and applicant family as investing in us for the full nine years. Looked at in that way, what is unique about your school should answer this question just as well. Every administrator and faculty member at your school should be able to answer this question with strong conviction. So why should somebody invest in their children’s future with you? Does your faculty know how to answer this question? And do you know what they would say?

**Another way to look at the difference between the two questions here is to use #1 for recruitment and #4 for retention.