Making Time for Creativity

Making Time for Creativity

Can creativity be taught? I wish I could answer that question. How can we teach children something if we rarely give them the opportunity to experiment? Salman Khan states how our current education system “rewards passivity and conformity and discourages differentness and fresh thinking,” and I’d have to agree with him. We are a part of this system that is contradictory: we encourage children to express their thinking and creativity, but require them to follow certain guidelines. This is the discouraging state of events, but what can we do about it? In some aspects, we are just as torn as our students. As new teachers, we come into this field with hope of bringing new perspectives and fresh ideas without a clear understanding of how to implement these ideas, many fall by the wayside.

Khan expresses how most of the conventional school day consists of children just sitting, while teachers talk. With such an emphasis on state standards and preparing for standardized tests, we are limiting our ability to teach children things that will bring them value in the real world.  Instead our system we often instill fear into our students, the fear of falling behind, the fear of not understanding, and the fear of making mistakes. “Conventional education is not about excellence; it’s about minimizing risk, eliminating downside surprises,” as Khan states, this is a straitjacket of a system. Khan does not disagree with the fact that it takes intelligence and discipline to succeed, but what about originality?

Khan explains how in 2001, the dean of admissions at a well respected university asked a group of students, “What do you daydream about?” One kid told her, “We don’t daydream, There’s no reward for it, so we don’t do it.” After reading this, I thought about our youngest students, our kindergarteners. Their minds are so pure and untouched by our system’s negative thinking and they come into our schools with such imagination and creativity. As they continue in our educational system, we often eliminate choice and therefore stifling their creative expression. Khan words it perfectly. We need to be cautious on how we attempt to “teach” creativity. As teachers, we can either ”chase it away or murder it.” In other words, we do not give our students the opportunity to explore their creativity, therefore we “murder” it.

Our system has an obsession with control and keeping children busy. In a sense, we are scared to give our students the tools to see what they can build. I believe that we have this obsession, because as educators we are afraid to not know what the end result will be, therefore, it will reflect poorly on us. ”If you allow and encourage true creativity, you also have to accept the possibility of failure.” Khan’s response to these failures is “so what? Think what was learned along the way.” We’ve accepted fear and hatred of failure as an education system.

Instead of living in fear, we need honor the effort and the courage that went into these ambitious. As human beings, it is crucial to change our thinking and view failure as an opportunity for learning rather than a “mark of shame.”

So what does Khan’s One World Schoolhouse look like? Khan discusses how he would create a school that would be inclusive and affordable for all families. Students would be able to embrace technology in order to improve deep conceptual understanding. There would also  be opportunities where students are given more adult-like responsibilities, therefore, allowing the teacher more time to actually teach, instead of lecturing. By doing so, this would also promote student motivation and engagement, more independences, and more opportunities for students to claim ownership of their education. Khan also discusses the importance of student-led learning, therefore, he would create an environment where self-pacing, peer-to-peer tutoring and self-monitoring would be accepted. Khan’s school would allow creativity to emerge because there would be time for it to happen. Students would be encouraged to aim high, even if the result is falling short. Khan expresses how mistakes would be allowed and encouraged in order to further their growth. There would be no “ticking time” telling students when to stop a particular line of inquiry, which would create more self-motivation. Overall, creativity is something that cannot be taught, however, it is something that we can encourage by providing the opportunity to experiment with whatever keeps us hungry for wanting to learn more.  Khan states that as of now, our current education system cannot leave things as they are. We need to implement change and the way he sees things is that where there are problems, there are solutions.

Saved By the Bell: The College Years?

Saved By the Bell: The College Years?

Zach, Screech, and A.C Slater start off the year at Cal U, looking to build off of the great high school years together at Bayside…wait that’s not right.

Sorry, I got the book and my Netflix confused again. Let me start over.

What College Could Be Like from The One World Schoolhouse…that’s better

In all seriousness…after reading all the great posts before me, I had no idea how to even begin starting this. Luckily this was a topic that not only sparked a great deal of interest but really reminded me of my educational experiences. and lack of choice. This chapter seemed to really fly by, even as I stopped to jot down notes and compare it to my own college experience. From his videos to his writing, Sal Kahn has a way of connecting with any audience. It could be in the way that he does not force you to believe that it is his way or the highway, but gets you to see things from a different perspective that leaves you questioning and wondering what could be.

In this chapter of the book, Sal raised the question and gave us some insight on what college could be like in 2016 and moving forward. He was very adamant that this was not the end all be all, but merely gave suggestions on how colleges/universities could make each student the best that they can be for themselves and society moving forward. Sal also talked about how student’s choice and drive is a key component in reaching these higher goals and achievements. A big drive in this chapter was about internships and how effective they are as compared to how effective they can be. When I think of an internship, I think of running errands (coffee, papers, busywork as Sal says) and paying your dues to hopefully be among the final candidates for a job. Sal believes that those are just projects and does not have impact on REAL people. He believes that students should be out in the field getting their hands dirty and interacting with successful people within the business. They should be generating their own ideas and physically applying what they are learning as opposed doing menial tasks. There is a great quote that he uses that says, “this is how it has always been done, so people have never really questioned it.” Sal thinks that we need to differentiate between the “old school- backward working industry” and the “looking forward” twenty-first century industries.

The University of Waterloo, a top Canadian engineering school, is compared to the MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley, saying that their salaries rival some of our Nation’s best. Now he is quick to say that it is not about the money, it is about the impact that they make. At Waterloo, they spend a combined 24 months at their internship, in the field making a difference or coming up with their idea/invention. Most colleges and universities spend thirty-six months in lecture halls and only three to six months at the actual internship. To me this is experience that you cannot get out of a book or a lecture. Real life, hands-on experience is something that no book can really ever teach you about. When we started teaching and even now, there was/is no book to tell us how each child in our class is going to act from day to day, or what they best way for them to learn is going to be. We as teachers need to build relationships with them and use our skill set to know these students inside and out. Some of these students in these internships are earning money to help pay their way through college and are learning skills that will last them a lifetime. Does a test, or GPA really show a measure of ability in a certain area, maybe? Does it mean that just because someone didn’t score as well that they are not capable of completing the task? Sal proposes that the students can be graded based of the effort and level in success in their internship(s). Why limit the internship to just one, let them discover different locations and projects. Why cap their knowledge with a test instead of building off of it with an experience. Now there are certain aspects as to money, and if these will this work for everyone…probably not. However, why not give the students a choice, keep them motivated, keep them learning and give them a learning space to make it all happen. If we want to succeed and students want to succeed there is a certain level of risk involved and as the saying goes, “it is better to try and fail, then not try at all”. New schools wouldn’t need to be built, existing school could implement changes in a small variety. Sal compares college to the way the Google, Apple, and Microsoft are run. They are successful for a reason. People are not afraid to build or see an idea through, because even if it doesn’t work, someone else can pick up that idea and help improve on it.

I honestly could really talk at length about this with all of the fantastic examples that he provided. There is so much content that the chapter seems to just write itself. I felt like my students marking up the text and asking questions in my head. I personally enjoyed this chapter and whether you agree or disagree is not for me to judge, but I respect the fact that Sal had an idea for change and is positively using his platform to put it out there for anyone to read.

I hope everyone had a great weekend, enjoy the snow! Thank you for taking the time to read or scroll through!

But I Did Stay at a Holiday Inn Express…

To begin, here is what I am thinking as I write this post: Why did I not have the foresight to go first? The bar has been set way too high for me now and my only hope is not to lower it too dramatically with the following meager effort. This has been a phenomenal book study and online forum for discussing/reflecting on Khan’s insights. Thanks to all who have contributed!

In this very short chapter, Kahn suggests we are mixing three different ideas together when we speak of “education.” The first is the idea of teaching and learning. The second aspect is socialization. The third idea is that of credentialing–giving a piece of paper to someone that proves to the world that they know what they know. Khan maintains that these three ideas get muddled together because they are all performed by the same institutions and he makes the case for separating the role of ”credentialing,” letting people gain credentials through alternative sources.

Although short, I found this chapter both powerful and validating. Currently, traditional credentials for students are the diplomas they receive periodically. At the college level, these “credentials” are time consuming and expensive. Moreover, they are a bit vague in terms of describing what, exactly, the owner of the diploma actually knows and is able to do. What is truly important is not the diploma itself, but what the owner of the diploma can do as a result. I am reminded of the old Holiday Inn Express ad campaign in which various people perform remarkably in any number of roles with their only “qualification” being that they had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before. Here is but one example:




How is this applicable to credentials? The fact that we have a diploma–or that we have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express–is really unimportant.What matters is whether we can perform the required skills. Personally, I have actually earned the “credential” of staying at a holiday Inn express. However, you wouldn’t want me performing surgery on you any time soon. As the commercials suggest, however, the reverse may be true. If you can perform the skills, the credential itself (a diploma) is subordinate in importance and can actually come from an alternative source of credentialing than the typical source (a school).



Traditional credentials also pose equity challenges for students from underrepresented communities. To make the process more affordable, fair, and less time consuming, what if we, instead, designed specific credential opportunities for a wide variety of skills and allowed anyone to attempt to earn these anytime and anywhere as a way to better themselves?

Like most things in education, what applies to students also applies to us, as educators. What if–instead of grad school–we were allowed to advance our pay level and degree level by proving we have acquired new knowledge and skills, instead of putting in the required seat time and credit hours to earn another diploma? Speaking only for myself and reflecting on my master’s, specialist’s, and doctoral degrees, I think such learning might have been more efficient, cost effective, and relevant than most of the traditional graduate-level education courses I endured.

I take pride in so much of what we have done and continue to do throughout our amazing school district. Among these many accomplishments is our own small initial foray into credentialing through our Deerfield University professional learning platform. I am hoping we can continue to explore additional ways to enhance teacher learning and growth by providing such credentialing opportunities. Moreover, it would be interesting to offer credentialing opportunities to our students as well. In fact, I wonder what credentials we would offer at various grade levels and subject areas? What would be the Top 5 credentials you would offer students the opportunity to earn if you teach 4th grade? Music? Art? PE? Kindergarten? Spanish? Maybe it would be fun to determine the “critical 5” for each area, knowledge and skills that you would expect any student in the grade/course to earn and another 5 that would be “growth” credentials, based on individual interest or exceptional aptitude in a certain area.

Khan labels this chapter, “The Future of Credentials,” but it seems as if too often in our noble profession we talk about “The future of…” when we need to shift our mindset and realize the future can be now. Identifying the key knowledge and skills we want our students and each other to possess, determining methods for measuring mastery of this, and then awarding a credential certifying such mastery are ways we can personalize learning for all today.



As we approach the end of both a calendar year and this collaborative book study and blog, I am reminded of how awesome Kipling School is and that Kipling is actually a model for much of what Khan champions in his work. This chapter is no different, as many Kipling teachers have led the way in personalizing their own learning–as well as the learning for their students–in the ways suggested by our pal, Sal. Sincere thanks to each and every Kipling staff member for serving as passionate educators who never seem to think that “good enough” is “good enough.” By the powers vested in me, I bestow upon each of you the credential of “Rock Star Educator.” Thanks for inspiring…and Rock On!

Serving the Underserved

        Fact: By 10 a.m. on Wednesday, November 9th, hours after our Presidential  election results were announced, three ELL (English Language Learners) families in District 109 called me to request that their child/children be withdrawn from our ELL program. They also requested that their children’s ELL status be erased from their Illinois state school records. More on this later…

        In Serving the Underserved, Salman Khan discusses the “daunting challenges in bringing education to the world’s poorest places.” He focuses on the Indian subcontinent and the issues that region faces, such as “child malnutrition, lack of school building and supplies and shortages of teachers.”  He is “convinced that software based, self paced learning has the best chance of thriving in these circumstances.”  

        He details how to provide inexpensive tablets and cellular Internet connectivity, and explains a model plan that entails “providing high quality, low cost education to the affluent and middle classes and using the revenues to provide the same services for free to the poor.” On page 222, Khan presents the natural parental complacency with education, which is “as long as our kids are educated we don’t worry about kids a block, a nation or a continent away.” The problem with this attitude is that “our kids live in a world of broadening inequality and increasing instability…. the better way to help our kids is to help all kids”.

        So how can we educators best serve the underserved and thus help all kids?  As your District 109 ELL Teacher for the past 9 years I think you know what direction I’ll be heading in to answer this question!  Yes, it would be noble to go live and work in Bangladesh or Pakistan or India in an attempt to improve the unfair and inequitable lack of educational opportunities. Yes, we can open our wallets and contribute the monies that the Khan Academy needs to provide a “free world class education for anyone, anywhere.”   

        As is often the case, though, I believe the best opportunity for us to be of service lies in our own backyard, right here in our own school district.

        We should adjust the lens in which we see the term “underserved,” and interpret that as serving the undervalued, under-recognized and under-appreciated. These terms often define our ELL students and their families. It is in this realm that we can strive to better value, recognize and appreciate our ELLs, and be able to fulfill our responsibility to provide a world class education to all of our students.  

        In a recent post, our Dr. Brian Bullis wrote: “We believe that all students can and should learn and we do not waiver in that pursuit.  All means all. Now is the time to focus on the promotion of equity in education with our head, hands and heart.”

        It is imperative that we be strong, vocal advocates for our ELLs and their families, as their cultures often do not allow for them to question authority or self-promote.  I am willing to bet a hot fudge sundae that Dr. Michael Lubelfeld has never received a phone call from an ELL parent demanding more ELL minutes for their child. In many cultures, education professionals are highly respected. Teachers and administrators are revered on a par with doctors and lawyers. So for many of our District’s ELL families, whatever we propose and however we provide our services is not only fine with them, but much appreciated. We are the highest perceived authority on how to best educate their children and integrate them into our Chicagoland community and overall American culture.

        And that is why we must continually ask ourselves if we are doing the best we can to serve this silent community. We have an ethical, moral, and professional responsibility to make sure we are serving this demographic to the very best of our abilities. Anything less would be a disservice to ELL families that would never dream of questioning the way we do our jobs.

        And this demographic will only continue to grow. Over the years, our district has had to adapt in order to serve our ELL students and their families.

  • In 2008,  I was the only ELL Teacher with 21 ELL students in our District’s six schools.  
  • But since then, Deerfield has followed the national trend of growing diversity in schools. Now our ELL student population is nearing 70 students with 14 different home languages and three ELL Teachers to serve our students and their families.  

It is important that we, the ELL Teachers, continue to expand our roles as not only Teachers to kids, but as ELL Coaches and Support Resources to classroom teachers. We ELL teachers can help provide the necessary modifications and differentiations to ensure that all students are meeting their learning goals. In order to do this, we can be working more collaboratively with classroom teachers.

        But collaboration is a two-way street. I have an important question for our District 109 classroom teachers, and believe me when I say that I want to hear back from you! The question is:

        How can we ELL teachers better serve you in your efforts to better serve our ELLs in the classroom?

        We are open to any and all suggestions. In addition to our ELL instruction, we can “push in” and lead a Guided Reading Group. We can coordinate kindergarten Learning Centers and we can provide check-in, check-out daily support for students as needed. We can also be Readers for MAP/PARCC Math assessments for ELLs. We can provide (through the District’s roster of interpreters) interpreters for Parent Conferences and meetings.

        This type of collaboration is something I have already had success with. Three years ago I reached out to our Deerfield Public Library as a community resource so that we could work together to better serve our ELL families. We held an ELL Family Night at the DPL, where the library staff did a presentation on all the free programs that they offer Deerfield families. We had an “Express Sign-up Lane”  where we issued library cards to 18 ELL families!  

        We are now planning our 3rd Annual ELL Family Night at DPL for March. Our neighboring District 113 Adult Education program offers free “English as a Second Language” classes for adults with class locations throughout Highland Park and Deerfield. I have their flyer if anyone would like copies for their ELL families or neighbors in their communities.

        What other school and/or community resources can we be utilizing to serve our Deerfield ELL families? It is my hope that this article starts a dialogue on how we can best answer that question.

        Now to return to my FACT at the start of my blog. The day after November’s presidential election, the fear in my parents’ voices for the safety and well-being of their children was agonizingly vivid. It is important that we as a district avoid “party affiliation.” But, we must  endeavor to provide a nurturing and safe “educational climate” that is all-inclusive.  (Terms that Dr. Bullis himself used). Last month in New York City, the Broadway production Hamilton had Vice President-elect Mike Pence at their performance, and the cast reached out to him with this appeal:

        “We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

        This goes back to themes that Kahn and Dr. Bullis have echoed. “The better way to help our kids is to help all kids.” “All means all.”  It refers quite literally to “all of us.” This is my take-away from Salman Khan’s chapter Serving the Underserved.

        What more can we do as a district going forward to make certain that we best serve our ELL students and their families?

        In closing I offer you this video from Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet who emigrated from Punjab, India with her parents. It is a spoken word performance of her poem “Broken English.”

The Future of Transcripts

Rethinking the Future of Transcripts

Sal Khan once again challenges us to rethink our current system. This time the focus is on how we assess applicants for college and the workplace. He clearly makes note of the following challenges:

  1. Given there are limited resources available for extensive postgraduate training, how do we decide who is most worthy of these opportunities?
  2. As school applications arrive from around the world, how do we compare students from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds?
  3. How do we keep a fair playing field when some students benefit from the wealth and connections into which they were born?
  4. Do a GPA and standardized test score give us any insights into a student’s creativity, perseverance and unique character?


Khan acknowledges that certain testing can provide objective data in regard to a student’s preparedness. He clearly distinguishes the difference between a student’s preparedness and potential. So how do colleges and businesses decide whom to accept and hire? Many colleges and employers will attempt to gather more information about an applicant by inquiring about extracurricular activities and/or requesting third-party recommendations. Many students must submit written essays as part of the college application process. Do all these elements truly provide us the insights we need to make the best-informed decision about a particular applicant?


Khan’s vision of future transcripts involve these key  components:

  1. Do away with letter grades. Mastery of concepts is the goal and students should only progress when they can demonstrate mastery in a content area.
  2. Standardized testing would involve content that changes from year to year, incorporate an open-ended design component, and involve more meaningful tasks. Tests could be retaken as students become more skilled in an area.


Perhaps the most meaningful and thought provoking change to future transcripts would involve “a running, multiyear narrative not only of what a student has learned but how she learned it; and a portfolio of a student’s creative work.” (page 217) Today’s technology and that of the future will give us the ability to record a student’s academic journey. We will be able to observe problem solving skills, work habits, creativity, perseverance and other personal characteristics. Khan acknowledges the importance of each student’s “ability and willingness to help others.” (page 218) He believes software could be developed to easily track this type of data over time noting “a generous student will grow into a generous colleague. Someone who communicates well in school will likely communicate well in life.” (page 218)


As I reflect on this reading I am excited about the idea of a “creative portfolio” as Khan describes it in this chapter. I believe our students possess many wonderful “hidden” qualities that a typical transcript might not convey. Having the ability to gain insights into a student’s intellectual journey over a K-12 year period sounds like a game changer! Could our Seesaw adventure be the beginning of something much bigger?


Redefining Summer


In this chapter, Sal Khan talks about his ideals and how it would be to have schools open and in session year round. He refers back to the 18th century when most families lived on farms and families depended on the children to help feed their families. Food came before an education. He talks about bringing our education system up to the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first.

One of the first points in the book that I spent a lot of time thinking about was the amount of time our buildings stand empty during breaks and summer vacation. I know that they are used for a few hours here and there, but they are never used to their fullest potential. I have never heard of the option of educational classes offered 6 hours a day during the summer for children and parents who want to continue to learn over the summer. I wonder if our education system is ready to handle children who advance at that rate? What a fabulous opportunity to offer classes to children who want to expand their knowledge in various areas. The district could offer multi level classes and full day learning opportunities for children in grades K-8.

Another area I have been thinking more about is reading over the summer. I do believe many children read, but lack the higher level thinking that is involved during school hours. I feel that we can enhance their reading with an option like a Blog, Skype or book discussions at Kipling. As a school if we all read 2-3 books over the summer and either have weekly discussion groups at Kipling and/or Blog or Skype about the books the families would have a reason to encourage the children to read and discuss what they are reading. This activates and engages their brains. I feel like this could be carried over to math game night for various grades as well. Again, this would activate and engage the brains of children.

We are lucky in our district to have so many families who have access to the internet and devices at home. I do believe we should be encouraging more continued use of programs like Khan Academy over the summer. I believe as a staff we should talk about how we can enhance the usage and feedback to our students over the summer to create and encourage more student growth. If children know that we are engaged in their work over the summer, many children will continue to use the programs like Khan Academy.

I believe that in the past, summer came and I encouraged students to do school work over the summer and I even gave direct links and skills for each student. Many children would complete some assignments and read a few books. After reading this chapter on Redefining Summer I have a new perspective on my role and responsibilities for students I am passing on to the next grade. I believe I should be open to offering them as much learning as they want and summer shouldn’t stop them. As an educator, I should encourage and continue to provide feedback to my students during the summer months.

As a school and district, I believe we are in the forefront of education. I feel that this should be a discussion that we should be having on who and how we should be monitoring our students year round. We may not be physically in the building year round, but I do believe after reading this chapter, I can encourage and provide feedback to my students which would make a huge difference in the following year.

Questions I Still Have:

How can I best encourage my students to truly be engaged in learning over the summer?

How can I help them continue to learn over the summer?

As a school/district what opportunities, support, programs are offered to continue to stretch their learning?

As a school/district do we want to put anything in place to push all students? Set goals for summer growth?


Written by Carolynn and Danna

ordered chaos is a good thing!

ordered chaos is a good thing!


Walk into any classroom and what do you see? Is the classroom that you observe the same type of classroom that you once learned in as a child? What do the desks look like? What do you notice the students doing? To you, what is the ideal classroom? Why?

These questions are ones that are often not discussed openly. Yet, why is that? How can we change the way that we “do” school? Well, for starters, there is a risk, right? I mean we haven’t made drastic changes to school well, since forever in America. Why is that? Is it because we don’t know how, or we haven’t given ourselves permission?

In Salman Khan’s chapter, “ordered chaos is a good thing!” he shares his dream of a perfect classroom/school. In this classroom of the future (well, I hope in some schools, present day!), the classroom is one that is designed to break down the physical walls to allow students the mental freedom to explore and learn.

Khan describes his ideal “ordered chaos” to have areas where students can learn content more deeply without the restriction of bells, but rather within different subgroups with only one to two hours a day to focus on foundational skills. As a leading innovator of “flipped learning” he does not focus on large groups of students learning via video, rather, he dreams of spaces where students have a focus to their learning. In these spaces the students are leading under the guidance of the teacher who has created spaces within the classroom for ordered chaos.

To many educators reading this, this can be frightening and overwhelming to think about.  How would this work? Where do you even begin? To me, as a leader, and former teacher, I read Khan’s dream and think what can I do to inspire and challenge others to “dare to begin”?

I always ask myself what does it mean to “dare to begin” as a leader. Well, it started three years ago with an office cart and my laptop. My first year as an administrator at my new school, I walked the halls meeting with students and staff using my office cart as my mobile office. This, for me was a risk. I could have spent my time in my office, rather than the halls, but I asked myself, how can I make a small change to show others that I am willing to take a risk and be available?

Then, during my second year, I heard about a walking desk from Amazon (click here to see my walking desk)! It wasn’t that I had a walking desk hold my laptop and coffee; it was that when I am at my walking desk, people know that I am available. Available to listen, share, connect, problem solve etc. People saw that I was there for them and that I was accessible. This small change in where and how I spent my time at school changed my relationships with others. It made a difference in the baby step that I took. I dared to begin.

I am not suggesting that you should get a cart from the cafeteria and walk the halls. What I am suggesting is to think about what daring to begin means to you? It doesn’t have to be big; it starts with taking the first step. What does your first step look like?

Maybe it is starting with the why?

And then the where.

And then the what.

Then, dare. to. begin.  

Teaching as a Team Sport

Teaching as a Team Sport

imgresAs I read this chapter, I understood what Sal Khan was saying about how teaching should be more of a collaborative and supportive community. Luckily, I truly believe Kipling exhibits a community of educators that are supportive and there for one another. In this chapter, Sal describes teaching as being one of the loneliest jobs in the world. He said that “there’s no peer support, no one to consult with, no one to ask for help or confirmation (197).” Boy am I happy that this is not how Kipling is. I feel like we are constantly getting support from our team members, our coaches, and other staff members. Many of us take opportunities to teach together and learn from one another.  We do an AMAZING job at asking for help and guidance, and truthfully I feel like teaching is a team sport at our school. I know that in some schools this is not the norm, but I definitely think that the staff at Kipling take opportunities to work together and collaborate, in order to grow and learn from one another.

The chapter was split up into two parts. The first part was about the benefits of multiple teachers teaching a classroom of students. Khan believes that teachers should not teach alone. He thinks that there should be a multiple teacher arrangement in all schools. I truly believe that this is a great idea. It allows teachers to work with one another, build their ideas off of each other, and teach using various strategies that can help all students. I personally love teaching with other teachers, and I think it does make a difference in the education of our students.

Positives of a Multiple Teacher Arrangement:

  1. In a one-teacher classroom, what you get is only one teacher. This means that students only get taught the specific way the single teacher teaches. The strategies that the one teacher uses, may not be best for all students in the classroom.
  2. A multiple teacher arrangement would provide each teacher the opportunity to focus on what he or she does the best. Since no two people have the same strengths and weaknesses, students would have the benefit of being taught by teachers that know the most of what they are teaching and express their thoughts differently.  
  3. Help with teacher burnout. Giving teachers the support and help everyday would make their work less stressful and allow teachers to mentor each other. This would help teachers from feeling less alone and more supported.

The second half of the chapter was about how Khan believes that students like their coaches more than their teachers. I definitely understand his point. He believes that since sports or other activities are the students’ choice, they develop a better relationship with their coach. Since school isn’t really a choice, students do not feel that same connection with their teacher.

Here are two reasons why Khan thinks that kids adore their coaches, but do not adore their teachers:

  1. Teachers represent what students have to do, and coaches represent what they’ve chosen to do. Even though we do provide choice in the classroom, students do feel like they have to be there, even on days that they do not want to be.
  2. Coaches are always on the student’s side by helping them be the best that they can be, in order to experience the thrill of winning. Khan said, “When kids win, coaches celebrate with them, and if they lose, coaches comfort them (200).”  Even though we may support the students in a similar way, being there for them through the ups and the downs, students do not look at their teachers the same.

What I thought about this part of the chapter is that I want students to chose to be in my classroom. I want them to want to learn what I am teaching them and be an active participant in their own learning. I also want them to feel like I support them and will be there for them no matter what. Even though going to school is not a choice at the elementary grade levels, picking what they want to learn and how they do it, could be a way to have students feel like their classroom learning environment is their choice. With a class of many different kinds of learners, this could be difficult, but I feel like the classroom environment is changing and becoming more student centered (which is a GREAT thing)!

Lastly, I want to leave you with this point that I thought was really meaningful in this chapter.

  1. Khan said, “The teacher, like a coach, needs to emphasize that anything less than mastery won’t do because he or she expects you to be the best thinker and creator that you can be (201).”

I think that this point emphasized what we all believe as teachers, that we do want our students to master all of the skills that we teach them in order to be a successful learner. Anything less than that, we should go back and reteach, review, use new strategies and activities, etc,. Having multiple teachers to collaborate with and teach with, could allow more students to master multiple skills and be more successful. Providing more choice in the classroom could allow students to feel more engaged and in charge of their own learning as well, in order to be a more successful thinker and creator. 

As educators, we should always expect our students to strive and master their skills, and it is our job to help them be the best learner and person that they can be.

The Spirit of the One Room Schoolhouse

I was doing a little research and I came across quite the gem – rules for teachers in 1872 and 1915. I’ll share just a few here:

  • 1872 – Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
  • 1872 – Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
  • 1915 – You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores
  • 1915 – You may not wear bright clothes. You may not under any circumstances dye your hair

Needless to say, I think most of us would be out of a job, mostly just for that last rule!

While I am not sure that what Khan sees for the One Room Schoolhouse model is truly what occurred in the original one room schoolhouse, I know my own experiences echo his. I whole-heartedly agree with Khan and the concept that something magical happens when you partner younger and older students. This year more than in the past, my class has spent time with their kindergarten buddies. My favorite interaction was one focused on writing. Both classes were writing narrative stories. I watched as students who can often skim over misspelled words in their own writing slowed down to sound out words and point to phonics charts to help their buddies figure out the spellings. Students who don’t always put their best effort in had deep conversations with kindergarteners about what makes writing challenging and the tools they use to get past those challenges. The most memorable – students sitting side by side, writing their own stories, checking in with one another only to give encouragement and support when needed. Both fully engaged in writing their own stories at their own levels, and both equally excited to share with one another what they were learning.

(In an attempt to organize my thinking, I’m borrowing from an earlier post)

My thoughts on the One Room Schoolhouse model in 5,4,3,2,1…

5 Questions I have:

  • What would it look like to transition from today’s school system, using today’s learning standards, to a one room schoolhouse-type atmosphere?
  • We wouldn’t be able to put a whole school of students in one room, so how would we group students?
  • Would teachers continue to teach all subject areas at the elementary level, or would we specialize in one so that we can have a deeper knowledge of the content area?
  • Would students stay together all day, or change groups based on what they were learning, or what they needed most?
  • What expectations would be set for the goals that students would be accomplishing so that we could hold ourselves accountable that all students are making as much growth as they need to be throughout a school year?

4 Ideas to try: As Khan discusses on p. 194, the older students become mentors and tutors and sharpen their own skills in the process. The younger students benefit from having role models and many more teachers in the classroom. In any subject area, this becomes true. So how do we try this now to see what works?

  • Math: Rather than using the Common Core standards as divided by grade levels, we could use them as stepping stones, goals, that students would move from one to the next. The entire group could be learning about fractions, working toward a goal of their own, practicing the skills they have already learned by teaching students whose goal is below theirs.
  • Reading: With a common language such as book clubs, and annotating marks all students know, we could put a variety of kids together to read the same book. They could read aloud to one another, annotating as they read, writing discussion questions and points as they go. At the end, they could reflect on what they read, answering a question at their level in a way they are best able to respond. Or students could read books with the same theme or main idea, coming together to share what they are learning as they read in discussion groups that center around understanding choices authors make and comparing how authors share information.
  • Whole school PBL: We tried this to a small degree already. Having an authentic task and outcome would be important to making sure students are reaching for standards. Service learning is something that schools already do that would easily adapt to multi-age groups. This can also tie into a Genius Hour or Passion Project.
  • STEAM: We have seen this at work already. Problem solving and perseverance does not require an age level. Giving students a problem to solve with criteria to stay within would ask all students to reach into their own understanding of the academic task at hand and use critical thinking skills to participate.

3 Social-Emotional Benefits

  • Build leaders: Students are role models for other students, and have role models and mentors to look up to. The social issues that can sometimes be labeled as “coming with this age” are changed as students are interacting with students of a variety of ages, many who are younger and give them a reason to act as strong role models. Younger students would see this model and grow into it.
  • Build responsibility: As Khan stated, “We deny them the chance to mentor or help others, and we thereby conspire in their isolation and self-involvement.” (p. 193) By asking students to work with one another and take responsibility in their own learning as well as others’ learning we are giving them authentic responsibility that will support them in their future lives.
  • Build a growth mindset! Students would have such a spectrum of where they have been and where they are going. As one student in the multi-age math class at the Marlborough School in California shared, “Before Khan, no one ever asked me for math help. I was definitely not the person they came to. But now I feel like, given my new confidence, and my new skills, people are willing to ask me for help.”

2 Leader in Me connections

  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood: In order to teach others, you have to understand what they need. Teachers work to become experts in this, learning how to listen in many different ways to figure out what students really need to know. If students learn this at a young age and see it modeled through their school career, they will be more successful at this throughout their lives.
  • Synergize: Of course, students would have to work together every day to be successful. Those that understood the importance of learning from each other would grow even more in their own learning.

1 Last thought…

  • On p. 194, Khan makes a point that is hard to ignore: “And the schoolroom, rather than being an artificial cloister shut off from the rest of life, comes to more closely resemble the world beyond its walls – and therefore to better prepare students to function and flourish in that world.”

To quote Richard Sheridan and Joy, Inc. – Anyone want to run the experiment?

Let it go!

This chapter is all about Sal’s background as a student and how his experiences shaped his journey to becoming the founder of Khan Academy. Being in my second year out of college, this chapter resonated with me in a different way. Normally, I’m reaching forward to more years of teaching but I took a step back and embraced my new-ness to the field. I thought very critically about Sal’s point in mentioning that massive lecture halls do not promote active learning. I know I spent my fair share of time sitting bored out of my mind in lectures that weren’t engaging before cramming and teaching myself the content right before the test. Yet, after all of that I didn’t retain anything. Obviously, I’m not spending 3 hours lecturing 7 and 8 year olds, as we know they can’t sit like that, but what made us think it was good for college age students? Or how about for teachers in graduate school after a long day of work?

As teachers, we learn so much about making our lessons interactive but who is to say that students can’t teach each other or teach themselves? Personally, I love finding out which of my students already have understanding of the content and letting them support each other. They become these mini-teachers that relate to their peers in a way that I never can. Watching those interactions is absolutely magical. Why not prepare the students who already have understanding and let them support one another? Why not provide them with videos they can use to help themselves, following the lead of Khan Academy? Why not empower them? I have found that I always learned more by learning from my peers and teaching them so why are we as educators so hesitant to give our students the same opportunities? Universities that are known for being forward thinking are missing out on teaching teachers to release learning to their students. I know that my wonderful university missed that point completely.

In end of this chapter, Sal writes “We can reach more ambitious goals if we are given the latitude to set goals for ourselves” (Khan 189). Upon reading this, I reflected on our work with the Leader in Me and letting our students set goals for themselves. I need to make sure that students set goals that push their academics rather than guiding them to goals that I feel they should meet. I need to let them take ownership and push my expectations for them to their highest potential. Why not let them learn about reading nonfiction books by choosing something they’re interested in and finding a book? What if you let your students learn about measurement by building and exploring real world examples? How about letting students learn about animals by researching their favorite and comparing it to their classmates favorite? What do they already know? What do they want to learn? Imagine what could happen if you took your content standards and found a way to let students learn them in a way that interests them. Let them take control of the classroom and guide them to the knowledge they need. What do you think they could accomplish? Imagine what you could learn from them by letting go of some of the responsibility…