Project Zero

Have you ever gone to a conference or a program that really had you thinking? Last week, I went to a Head’s Conference for all the independent schools of the Greater Washington area.  It was a two-day conference focused on a program out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education called “Project Zero.” I went to the conference wanting to know more about the program, but never expected it to be something that would trigger my thinking on so many different levels. It turned out to be a very thought provoking and energizing experience.

“Project Zero” has been around for a number of years. This program was started by Howard Gardner (who led the way with the research on multiple intelligences) and David Perkins. In fact, it was David Perkins and his team that came down to work with everyone. Part of the beauty of it, and maybe why it really resonated with me, was that it made me stop and think about all of the innovations and changes that have been taking place over the past few years here at Flint Hill. As a matter of fact, it became clear early on that we are on the right track. The presenters constantly used the vocabulary that we are using here at Flint Hill. Collaborative learning, communication, blended learning, flipped classrooms, integrated technology, and creative problem solving were all noted as keys to the future of education…on top of, or beyond content. Their approach centered around:

  • Active learning and understanding

  • Visible thinking

  • Global and personal relevance

  • Contemporary ethics

  • “Close looking and slow learning”

  • Accessible complexity

The program went into many different directions: design thinking, maker movement, and maker classes.  They also addressed the importance of “connecting” with others to bring them along with the change, and the whole concept of re-imagining education.

The program reinforced where these leading educators felt education needed to go on both the secondary and collegiate levels. They did caution us on competing agendas, roadblocks and what can polarize a school community. Bottom line, we can’t expect better results in our teaching and learning if we continue to do the same things. And while we are pleased and proud of the outcomes we see from our students and faculty, we have an obligation and a responsibility to constantly be looking ahead and to be preparing our graduates for a very different world than the one you and I entered.

There were a number of “takeaways” for me and in fact, I can’t even put them all into one letter. It would be too burdensome for anyone to read at one sitting. So I decided to spread some of the information I learned over the next few weeks. There was one takeaway that was particularly significant for me. In fact, it was David Perkins himself who presented it. It had to do with “vision.” I hear that question here sometimes, “What is our vision? Where are we going? Why is this all happening?” Perkins was very direct and simple in his analysis of that question.

The approach Perkins made was that as we look to the future in education there are three types of visionaries:

  • Conceptual Visionaries. These are the people who really think “outside the box.” They come up with ideas, thoughts, or creative efforts that they hope we will try. They “dream” of teaching and learning that is often different than standard traditional practices. These are the people who come up with the idea of a flipped classroom, or a class project, or wanting to teach in a room without desks… and why they think that will help learning. They create the concept and are constantly looking ahead to where we should go. Coming up with the idea for the Lower School Day of Play would be an example.

  • Practical Visionaries:  These are the people who put ideas into practice. They are the teachers who give it a try. They are the ones who experiment and perhaps make their classes a blended experience.  They provide a combination of experiences from traditional teaching to online work.  These are the teachers who suddenly throw in a field trip or try a project in a new way to stimulate thinking and to encourage participation. They may teach a flipped classroom or get students to create a city, or country, or toy.  And they end up working hard to think about assessment and the impact that has on the experiences.

  • Political Visionaries:  These are often the school leaders. The people who become the advocates for the change that is happening in the classrooms. They are the spokespeople who reach out and help communicate what is happening and why it is happening. They spearhead the need for innovation and the significant impact it will have on the education of our students.  They are working to support, encourage, and nurture the other visionaries.

Part of the “takeaway” for me was that all three of those aspects of being a visionary, rarely can occupy the same body.  To be very successful, it takes a “team.”  You really need to have key people fully engaged in all three areas: conceptual, practitioner, and political leader. What gave me confidence was that we are “Huskies” and “team” is at the core of how we operate. We have the thinkers and dreamers; we have “doers,” and those excited by the potential of “tweaks” and changes to their teaching; and the leaders who are committed to supporting these efforts as we collectively strive to improve and enhance what is already a great program.  We absolutely have the vision of where we want the school to go and we want to support the great ideas and efforts that are underway in the classrooms. We have the people who go to conferences, learn new information, re-commit to the excellence in great teaching and who make an intentional effort to put those concepts into practice. And we have those great thinkers. The people who love to get together and brainstorm to push all of us out of our comfort zones, and perhaps have us look at learning experience in very different ways.

It was a tremendous conference and the idea of re-imagining education is energizing. But it forces us to think, look, and learn in a whole new way and at a whole new level.   If we do it and do it well, the beneficiaries will be the most important people in our lives…our children, our students. Please know that as a school family, we are continuing to work to articulate our ever-present vision as it supports the mission of the school and the future that we all want for our children. There is more to share, but we will wait for future notes on the pace of change, the need for “connection” with our community, and how to look “beyond” the present and why that is necessary. I can’t wait to share it with you!

On a completely different note, please know that some very exciting events are ahead, so check the calendar on our website. Our fall athletic teams have had tremendous success this year and are now moving into their conference tournament championships, as well as the state tournaments.

This weekend is our fall production “An Evening of Laughter: Four One Act Plays,” being performed on Friday and Saturday night.  It is a comedy and the ensemble that has been working hard to do it, is ready to share it with everyone! Please register for tickets!

In addition, please mark your calendars for Saturday, November 9 for the “Holiday Shoppes at Flint Hill.” This is a huge event and is open to the general public. Please invite all of your friends and neighbors to come and join us as well. It is a great time to get ready for the holidays and a great opportunity for the school family to come together in what will be really the major fundraiser for our Parents Association this year. It is part of our vision, it is part of our practice, and it is part of our sense of community. I hope to see you.

Best wishes to you!