The Monthly Recharge - April 2015, School and . . .
About L+D

Leadership+Design is a nonprofit organization and educational collaborative dedicated to creating a new culture of school leaders - empathetic, creative, collaborative and adaptable solution-makers who can make a positive difference in a rapidly changing world.

  • We support creative and innovative school leadership at the individual and organizational level.       
  • We serve school leaders at all points in their careers - from teacher leaders to heads of school as well as student leaders.
  • We help schools design strategies for change, growth, and innovation.    
  • We bring creativity, collaboration & co-creation, empathy, a "yes, and..." mindset, and experiential learning to all of our work.
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June 22-25, 2015

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Boulder, CO


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Wonder Women! Uncovering Your Superpowers and Signature Leadership Presence

July 8-11, 2015

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Troy, NY


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November 11-14, 2015

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Santa Fe, NM


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L+D Board of Directors

Lee Burns
Head of School
The McCallie School
Chattanooga, TN

Sandy Drew, Board President
Development Consultant
Sonoma, CA

Trudy Hall
Head of School
Emma Willard School
Troy, NY
Brett Jacobsen
Head of School
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
Atlanta, GA
Barbara Kraus-Blackney
Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA 

Karan Merry
Head of School (Ret.)
St. Paul's Episcopal School
Brooklyn, NY 
Carla Robbins Silver (ex-officio)
Executive Director, L+D
Los Gatos, CA 

Mary Stockavas
Bosque School
Albuquerque, NM

Paul Wenninger
Leadership Consultant
Albuquerque, NM

Christopher H. Wilson
Head of School
Esperanza Academy
Lawrence, MA 
Disrupt Assumptions
Carla Silver, Executive Director

Here's a challenge for your April morning.

Take ten minutes and make a list of everything you assume about school.  Once you've made your list, come back and read this newsletter.  


Okay, what were some of the items on your list? Here are a few of the most basic assumptions that guide the work of most educators and serve as a basic framework for most schools.

  • Students attend school to learn.
  • Teachers, develop curriculum, plan and execute the lessons.
  • Students learn in classrooms.
  • School meets 5 days a week during the year.
  • All students should learn a certain body of knowledge/information in each course or class each year.
  • Students should take classes primarily with students around their own age.
  • All students attend the same amount of school.
  • Classes should be at least 40 minutes
  • High school is four years
  • Academic departments are based on content disciplines

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these assumptions, but sometimes we become trapped by our mental models of school and we stop questioning why we do things and whether they are even relevant anymore.  


So let's take two or three of these assumptions, play with them, combine them and disrupt them. What if school only met 4 times a week, all year long?  What if some students came for only certain classes and extracurricular programs?  What if formal instruction was taught in only 20 minute increments while the time and space between classes (passing periods) were used for collaborative interdisciplinary projects.  What if departments were organized around non-cognitive skills - the Curiosity Department, the Resilience Department, the Creativity Department - and the academic content was woven throughout classes.


Maybe none of these ideas seem particularly desirable, feasible, or viable, but this exercise is meant to take you out of the safety of your assumptions, to check the status quo for relevance and importance, and perhaps, to find a solution to something that is no longer working.


My point - we tend to be limited by our own assumptions, sometimes to the point of paralysis.  Rituals we know really aren't particularly best for student learning - a thirteen week summer break, for example - still serve as the norm for most schools.  By disrupting these assumptions, we can continue to evolve education.


Next week, I am excited to be co-facilitating a learning experience at Draper University, a 7-week, live-in entrepreneurship program for 18-28 year-olds. Draper offers a completely different model for what school might look like in that it is organized entirely around "Superpower" skills and qualities that all entrepreneurs need.  Draper calls itself an "ecosystem" for innovators.  It intentionally hijacks the term "university" and suggest that maybe an intense 7 weeks of very experiential instruction by highly networked people is really what you need to succeed in the highly competitive landscape of Silicon Valley.  Do you really need Stanford Business School? Or a four year-college?  What is, the purpose of education anyhow? Can we get it in alternative ways?  


Here's one more example of a school challenging assumptions about teaching and learning by giving some of the dreaming and visioning back to the school and local community and the students themselves. Last December L+D visited Moses Brown School (Providence, RI) to facilitate the 2030 Forum, a periodic summit designed to explore the future of education.  The design challenge of this session:  how can students be agents of change in their own communities?  Head of School, Matt Glendinning, incentivized the 60 participants (a blend of students, teachers and local non-profit leaders) by offering $10,000 in seed funding for the best idea to emerge from the two-day workshop.  The winning concept was "Camp Chow," a weeklong, overnight summer camp in urban Providence designed to teach entrepreneurship skills through the lens of sustainable agriculture in this decidedly foodie state.  Since December, one of the students involved (Maria Veale, MB '15) has taken the reins as part of her Senior Project.  The camp will partner with the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University and launch this summer.  


Read the incredible collection of articles in this month's newsletter that explore the question, "School, and..." What else can schools, as the primary providers of learning experiences, be and do?  The possibilities are endless if you challenge assumptions.


Warm regards,




Preparing for Life Itself
Crystal Land,
Assistant Head of School/Academic Dean, Head-Royce School

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."  

John Dewey


As a long-time English teacher, I believe that studying a beautiful and classic novel like The Handmaid's Tale provides students with skills, insights and "ah has" that will transform their lives. The characters will stay with them for years, the themes will resonate in their adult lives and those moments of studying the perfect prose will transfer as they craft their own sentences. At least, that's what I'd like to believe. I know there is short-term impact and perhaps even long-term appreciation, but how can we, as teachers and administrators in schools that have changed little in the past 200 years, more deliberately steer and connect what we teach in school today to what our graduates will need to know and do in their adult lives?

Now as a parent of young adults, I'm watching the "output" in

action. How does the education we provide in our schools serve as the best possible bridge to their 20s and 30s? What are the skills, knowledge and attitudes that these young adults need to know and practice in order to thrive and lead in the world? I believe we can do even more to build the best possible connection between schools today and our graduates' lives tomorrow.


Larry Ferlazzo's recent book, Building A Community Of

 Self- Motivated Learners: Strategies To Help Students Thrive In School and Beyond reflects on this larger topic of school-life connection and suggests that there are both "near" and "far" transfers of learning. According to Ferlazzo, as teachers we tend to focus on the near transfer of skills as we work with our students and hope that, down the road -- in college or in life -- they will experience a moment of synthesis when it all comes together. Ferlazzo explains, "... studies show that many students have difficulties in applying knowledge they learned in one class to another and to outside situations". .... or, as he summarizes, "Transfer will not happen magically."


Here's one data point: my son, Zach, now 24, spent last spring living and working in South America as a Media Fellow for Kiva, a San Francisco micro-finance company that provides small loans to people in developing countries. Zach spent 13 years in independent schools, taught by people like me (and many of you) who are passionate about what we teach, four years at a "good" university, and recently joined the global economy as an aspiring filmmaker.  


Zach's job as a Kiva Fellow was vast and open-ended. My son, who studied Spanish and art in college, lived and worked on the road. He carried belongings on his back as he traveled from city to village to city from Bolivia to Peru to Ecuador. In each place, he had to use his math skills to understand micro-finance and lending, his tech skills to film and tell a story (see this one he made for mother's day), his artistic eye to frame shots and convey a message, his resilience and grit to carry equipment and belongings to remote locations, his collaboration skills to work with a Bolivian farmer or a Peruvian food stand cook, his writing skills to blog and share his experience, and, perhaps most importantly, his empathy to understand the people he was meeting whose stories needed to be told -- all  while navigating entirely in Spanish.


Of course, my son's 13 years in independent school shaped him as he did creative and challenging work, and like so many of our graduates, he received the benefit of traditional academic skills as well as the absolutely crucial  skills of emotional intelligence and resilience. Sure, our graduates will eventually connect the dots themselves. They are bright and ambitious and are in charge of creating their futures. But why not help provide them with opportunities to participate in these types of experiences before they enter adulthood? From my vantage as a teacher and academic dean, we can do more to develop explicit connections in our curricular and co-curricular programs to make sure this "far transfer" that Ferlazzo references happens over and over again. Let's find more ways to provide students of all ages hands-on, student-centered projects that will encourage them to develop the many skills they may need as a young adult in a situation like Zach's.


As educators, we can make these "far transfers" through real life problems and projects, internships, and curricular initiatives that overtly require problem solving, creativity and collaboration. Recently profiled in The New York Times, schools like The Tinkering School in San Francisco and programs such as Project H in Berkeley give students experience and tools with real world challenges. Emily Pilloton's (Project H) inaugural project in North Carolina asked 10 high school juniors to design and build a farmer's market pavilion for their community -- and they accomplished it. The class started with a concept and budget and then had to navigate all stages of the design and build process including managing community politics, budget cuts and construction. An impressive feat, to be sure, but the project is scaleable as Pilloton is now advocating schools build micro-homes for use in their communities. Many of this year's sessions at South by Southwest focused on how schools can create these kinds creative and real world experiences that leave a lasting impact on our students.


In Ferlazzo's book he suggests the many ways we, as educators, can build a better bridge for our students. Many we know about: cooperative learning, inductive teaching, practice, real problem solving, simulations, group learning, personal connection and connecting to prior knowledge. Middlebury president, Ron Liebowitz, sums this up in a recent article called  "The Old Chapel Looking Ahead."  "Education," he states, "needs to provide the opportunity for students to take all they learn from studying across multiple disciplines and through different modes of inquiry and apply their learning to real-world challenges, questions, and numerous unknowns. Students need the opportunity to take risks, experience failure, and learn lessons from such failure without fear of a bad grade or having to wait until their first job or endeavor after graduation."


Creating projects such as Pilloton's real-world design projects and other hands-on creative work provide students with that "performances of understanding" that Howard Gardner and the researchers at Project Zero have noted as curriculum that sticks --skills and applications that allow them to learn by trial and error, knowing the the outcome really counts. There are many ways to extend traditional classroom learning to link relevant classroom content. From building an art car and creating an exhibition to making a social-justice film or using a design thinking process to solve a school-wide or community-wide problem, these are the projects that synthesize and apply what students know in our classroom to what skills they will utilize in their next iterations as young adults.


I may not be able to turn my teaching of The Handmaid's Tale into a real world simulation, but by connecting to students' personal experience about censorship and silence, to use the text to analogize to today's world events about women, violence and repression, to develop projects and films that take on a topic from the book and use it to connect to their own lives turns an English class into a life lesson. Through deliberate crafting of what and how we teach, we will more fully meet John Dewey's challenge: making education look a bit more like "life itself."

21st Century Education: A Social Contract
Chris Wilson, Head of School, Esperanza Academy

Soon after I became a teacher at the Friends School of Baltimore, I attended a retreat hosted by the Association of Independent Schools of Maryland. I remember distinctly the topic of the keynote speech: It was "Parent pressure, or what would you expect of a school that will make you go broke?"


It resonated with me. As a new teacher, I had already started to have some of those "difficult" conversations with parents who were not satisfied with their child's progress. And there was, as the talk referenced, a lot of pressure. It was on those of us who worked in the school, on the children, and - I would come to learn - on the parents themselves. Throughout the whole community there was just a heavy sense of stakes; that each "bad" grade was slowly shutting the door to the future.


At that retreat, the presenter suggested that this pressure came with the escalating cost of independent schools, of tuition rising more quickly than wage growth and inflation. The pressure is natural, he said, because parents want to make sure that the investment in an independent school program will "pay off." And I think rightly so, given the increasingly competitive landscape of charter schools and magnet schools.


These were valuable lessons, and got me thinking about our school community in a more holistic way. But looking at the same question today, which is arguably even more pressing than it was back then, I believe there is a different, or at least additional, set of answers - one that forces us into a necessary re-imagining of how we communicate the purpose of an independent school education.


Independent schools have, over the past two decades, priced many families, even upper middle class families, out of our student bodies. Without significant investment in financial aid, only the truly affluent can afford to send students to independent schools in many parts of the country.


What does this mean? For starters, it means that schools are becoming more homogenous at the same time we seek greater diversity. It means that our students are increasingly drawn from a smaller and smaller band of the highest income and highest-wealth sections of our society. And it also means that the investment that our schools represent for families is more and more significant, and the expectations for results higher and higher. The families who can pay full tuition at our schools are becoming more socioeconomically elite, and those who are struggling to pay are straining to keep up. All the while financial aid budgets cannot keep pace with skyrocketing tuition. There is, indeed, pressure for results.


But what does this mean? I would argue that we quantify results in a far too narrow way. We are focused on placements in the next school, or in college; we are imagining the impact that a straight A vs. a straight B report card will have; we are wondering what 50 more SAT points might have done for our students' chances at Princeton.


Don't get me wrong - these things matter. But they don't matter as much as we think they do. What matters far more is the ability for our students to interact in an increasingly diverse, interdependent world.


The point of an independent school education, therefore, cannot simply be to provide an individual student with a route to individual achievement. That is an outdated model; one that does a disservice to both individual students and to school communities overall. Instead, we need to reimagine independent school education for the 21st century, just as we have begun to reimagine curriculum and instruction.


What will this look like? We know our focus needs to be on interdisciplinary work, on project-based learning, on further integrating technology and STEAM. We also know very much that our economy, and our society, will be increasingly a global, multicultural one, not a homogenous one. We know that connection and community building will be increasingly essential moving forward and we know that we need to develop language about outcomes that moves from individual outcomes to collective outcomes.


Students who experience a strong interconnected curriculum will be best placed to succeed in the new economy. And those independent schools that best prepare their current students for a lifetime of learning and leading will be those who anticipate this new society and provide students experiences that fully prepare them for it now.  


How do we do this? One small example might be our recent innovations here at Esperanza Academy. We are developing an electronic core values portfolio, in which each student will compile their progress in relation to our four core values of "wisdom, integrity, leadership, and service." In creating a measure of outcomes focused on the core values, we hope to elevate the conversation with families and our students to consider the collective good, and authentic inter-relationship with equal prestige and focus as grades, test scores, and secondary school placements. And frankly, I predict that a stronger focus on collective outcomes will only benefit the application strength of our students.


But on a broader level, we must consider avenues to build community across differences and backgrounds, rather than create communities that are more homogenous than the wider society. This means authentic connection with communities that are different. It means a real investment in financial aid and scholarship, so that we welcome into our communities students with significantly different experiences. This cross connection is beneficial for everyone - for our more affluent students who will learn much from those from a different background, as well as for those benefitting from scholarship assistance. And it may require a bit more discomfort and adjustment than we are used to facing in our communities.


But after all, our economy and society are changing at a rapid pace that can also feel uncomfortable. We all feel pressure to anticipate the future needs of our students and provide the best possible opportunities for them. Just as the parents who felt the pressure of escalating tuition, so too do we feel the pressure of an increasingly global innovation economy. There is no way around the discomfort: we must embrace it, and connect with each other.


School and . . .
Ryan Burke, Middle School Head, Allendale Columbia School, Co-founder, Leadership+Design

School is not going to get any cheaper to run.   In all schools, but specifically in independent schools, we actually need to increase our costs to pay teachers more, provide better benefits and attract the best and brightest to work with our students and faculty. Technology is expensive and imperative.   The best teaching is collaborative which is costly and teachers by in large are asked to do two jobs within the normal time given for one.

Here is our current independent school message to teachers: Teach all day long doing direct service with students.   Then, after students leave do all of your communicating, planning and collaborating with others.  While doing all of this, coach, mentor, help students, lead clubs, connect with parents, etc...  To steal from the movie Jerry Maguire, "Teaching is a up at dawn, pride swallowing siege that unless you are a teacher, you cannot fully understand".   Teachers do it because they love it, because they are called to do it, and because it is some of the most rewarding work that can be done in the world, but it is hard.  Harder than most other professions.  I stand to wager that a pack of just about any 25 middle school students could eat even the most savvy of Wall Street investors for lunch and if they could last 24 hours with their ego still in tact, they might be worthy of a second day.  My point is financial.   We spend so much time thinking about programs for students.  This is not bad, but it is not the only problem or need that independent schools face.  We need a different way to make money.  The financial model of 90% of the budget raised through ever increasing tuition balanced by fundraising the final 10% within a shrinking market is not going to last.   True, working on a better program can help schools differentiate, which in turn can bring in more students, which in turn can bring in more tuition, which in turn can change the financial picture of a school.   

However, for many independent schools across the country, the prospect of creating long term financial stability through this process is becoming less and less probable.  The real need we have right now in independent school is how to generate more money to do what we already know how to do best which is provide evolving, student focused programming in our communities and beyond.   The market will naturally tell schools whether they are succeeding, however, the reason we have not drastically innovated in the financial model of our schools is because we have been asking the wrong questions.  Leadership+Design has learned from professional designers across the country that if you want a different answer, ask a different question.

Which brings me to the point of this article which is a question really more than anything else.   Change is so long overdue that it almost feels as if the issue may pop.  It is that moment in time where the bubble is so big you are amazed, and the impending pop is both necessary and scary.   Borrowing from the improv exercise of "Yes and" in which one builds on ideas of others by first saying "yes" and then building with the word, "and", my school, Allendale Columbia school in Rochester, NY has been thinking about School and....  Instead of redefining or reimagining what school is which is the ideological and improv equivalent of blocking, we have been inspired to build ideas and leave the judgement to a later stage.   How can we build on what we already are?  Can school also be a  business that generates ideas, profit, goodwill?  Can school be a gathering place for creative expression, a shared work-space for innovators to come together and create or a connective tissue within a fractured community?


If you find yourself working in a school that does not have to worry about changing, congratulations, you are both lucky and doomed to the slow glacial change cycle that we are all familiar with.   If you find yourself working in a school that is scrapping for new students, working to differentiate and fighting to ensure a spot in the shrinking private school market, then I am suggesting that we start thinking about new questions.  The theme of these new questions is school and....  

  • What else could school be?

  • What can schools produce that has value?

  • What do families in 2015 need from schools?

  • What do our communities need from Independent schools?

  • What would happen if we hired people who knew how to make money?  Would they ruin the culture of our schools or would they change it for the better?

Leadership and Design is looking for these new questions.  We want to know what you think they are so that we can share them and start working on new solutions.   In response to this article, please email in the new questions that you think we should be sharing.  We will start this school and.... thinking by sharing what people think.    

School and the "Real" World
Gary Gruber,  

It has been confirmed that schools, K-16 and beyond, are part of the real world. They are not isolated in a bubble of protection, separated from the rest of society in an environment sheltered from the world's harsh realities. Instant and constant news has only exacerbated the downside of that issue. One might wonder, in the day of lockdowns and stepped up security, what children are learning coincidentally along with the rest of the curriculum.

Schools help shape children's beliefs of how the world works.  At their very best, schools, and the good teachers in them, empower moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, schools could mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope.

What does it say to kids about priorities when the United States allocates 20% of its budget, or about $720 billion on defense and 4% or $11 billion on education? One of the arguments is that we have to remain safe, well defended from our enemies, in order to have a free and open society.  Perhaps the real question is how 'free and open' are we?

Here is a real world illustration. At the "power conferences" - the Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big East - median athletic spending per athlete topped $100,000 in 2010, and each conference spent at least six times more on athletics than academics, per capita. Many college presidents would like to pull back on athletic spending but because constituencies for increasing spending are numerous and powerful, and the counter pressures are few and relatively powerless, that is unlikely to happen.

The hopeful signs are that real world problems are now much more part of good schools' programs. Issues such as hunger, poverty, disease, the environment, violence, politics, health care and education itself are now being examined in schools using history, science, mathematics, literature and the arts, through project based learning, experiential education and great teaching. 

Students today have an opportunity to do more than their predecessors with making the world a better, safer, healthier, more just and peaceful planet. Students deserve the best that we have to offer them in schools that are part of the real world where laboratories and studios are alive with critical thinking problem solving, and tangible results. That is school and the real world.



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