Sunday, September 25, 2011

Site Councils and School Committees

When our daughter was in elementary school, I served on the Harrington Elementary School Site Council for two years (2006-2008).  I was elected through a representative process.  Serving on the School Council was an engaging, pragmatic way to be involved in all students' academic and social-emotional life. 

Our Council was comprised of four parents whose children attended the school; each parent served overlapping terms of two years each with two parents elected each year.  Three school staff members were elected by the staff.  One parent was nominated as Co-Chair and the principal served as the other Co-Chair and also appointed one member from the community at large.

Most often we met monthly in a conference room at the school, before the start of the school day, and for about an hour.  The issues we took up  impacted the annual school improvement plan:  the impact of class size on student performance; school safety and discipline; the school handbook; enhancing family engagement; enhancing the school and grounds and more.

The law requires Councils to:
  • hold meetings in a public place and allow anyone in attendance to audio and/or video record the proceedings as long as it is not disruptive to the meeting;
  • post a notice of each meeting with the city or town clerk and in a public place at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.
  • keep minutes indicating the date, time, place, members present and absent, and actions taken;
  • adhere to a quorum, which is to be defined as a majority of the Council members.
In recent years, our School Committee has sought to inform local Councils of the above requirements.  The relationship between school committees and school councils provides for a unique opportunity to improve and strengthen community engagement within public education governance.  The law provides an oversight role for School Committees.  School Committees are responsible for:
  • setting district wide performance standards and educational policies that building-level School Improvement Plans (SIP) must take into account;
  • reviewing and approving building-level SIP;
  • approving a representative process for the election of parent and teacher members of the Council.
The School Committee is a policy-setting body.  Since education is a State function, the five elected members of our School Committee serve as officers of the State.  At the local level, the School Committee is a legislative body responsible for establishing local policy for seeing that the schools are properly run in accordance with State law and regulations.  Copies of the Policy Manual are available in the Office of the Superintendent, 146 Maple Street, Lexington MA 02420, or online at

Sunday, September 11, 2011


 From the Visual ThesaurusAccommodate.  Conform.  Adjust.  Make fit for, or change to suit a new purpose.  Adapt or conform oneself to new or different conditions. 

Know, understand, and connect to purpose, first.  Context shifts so it is important to be clear about one's sense of purpose.  Purpose relates to one's values.

As Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky put it: Clarifying the values that orient your life and work and identifying larger purposes to which you might commit are courageous acts.  You have to choose among competing, legitimate purposes, sacrificing many in the service of one or a few.  In doing so, you make a statement about what you are willing to die for, and, therefore, what you are willing to live for.  ~  from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Top 10 Ideas for a 21st Century Classroom * Experience

  1. Pull, don't push.  Draw out questions and help students translate that into insight and understanding.  Education is not about the transmission of knowledge, it's about empowering each student to reconcile a question he or she is facing--and can't help but seek out an answer.
  2. Create from relevance.  This has always been the case -- capture their attention and imagination.  Engage kids in ways that have relevance to them and discuss them, or, better yet, work to address them, instead of relying on explanation alone.
  3. Stop calling them "soft" skills.  Talents such as creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy, and adaptability are not just nice to have; they're the core capabilities of a 21st-century global economy facing complex challenges.
  4. Allow for variation.  Permit mass customization, both in the system and the classroom.  Too often, equality in education is treated as sameness; the truth is that everyone is starting from a different place and going to a different place.
  5. No more sage on stage.  Engaged learning can't always happen in neat rows and so must engage the learner using multiple modes.  Everyone needs to feel, experience, and build.  In this interactive environment, the role of the teacher is transformed from the expert to a kind of enabling coach.  Teachers step away from the front of the room and find a place to engage with their learners as a "guide on the side".
  6. Teachers are designers.  Let them create.  Build an environment where teachers are actively engaged in learning by doing.  Shift the conversation from prescriptive rules to permissive guidance.
  7. Build a learning community.  Learning doesn't happen in the child's mind alone.  It happens through the social interactions with other kids and teachers, parents, the community, and the world at large.  Schools must find new ways to engage parents and build local and national partnerships.  This doesn't just benefit the child--it brings new resources and knowledge to the entire enterprise.
  8. Be an anthropologist, not an archaeologist.  An archaeologist seeks to understand the past by investigating its relics and digging for the truth of what was.  An anthropologist studies people to understand their values, needs, and desires.  In order to design new solutions for the future, we must understand what people care about and design for that.
  9. Incubate the future.  What if our K-12 schools took on the big challenges that we're facing today?  Through topics like global warming, transportation, waste management, health care, poverty, and even education, children may see their role in creating this world through examination and creating solutions.  It's not about finding the right answer, it's about being in a place where we learn ambition, involvement, responsibility, not to mention science, math, and literature.
  10. Change the discourse.  If you want to drive new behavior, you have to measure new things.  Skills such as creativity and collaboration can't be measured on a bubble chart.  We need to create new assessments that help us understand and talk about the developmental progress of 21st century skills.  This is not just about measuring outcomes, but also measuring process.  We need formative assessments that are just as important as numeric ones.  And here's the trick:  we can't just have the measures - - we actually have to value them.
 * From IDEO's Top 10 Ideas for a 21st Century Classroom