26 October 2013

Making Learning Spaces: The Secondary Library

If our schools are filled with "teaching places" instead of "learning spaces," what are we doing to change that?

All of us. What are we doing? Because whether you are in a national government, or you're a school superintendent, or principal, or teacher, you can be changing things, if that's what you want to do.

I had to write about this because of what happened with a Tweet from my friend William Chamberlain:
Choices in seating, in seating height, in gathering or hiding, and yes, fireplaces,
all make the typical recent McDonald's interior a far better learning space than most classrooms.
"McDonald's has better learning spaces than most schools," Chamberlain wrote, and, of course, he is right. Dozens of teachers joined in and retweeted this which is good, except.. when we tried to shift the conversation to what teachers might do, there was far less uptake. Now, I'm all for complaining, I do plenty of it myself, but honestly, if your classroom sucks as a learning space... fix it.

Fixing it... third grade teacher Derk Oosting doesn't wait, he acts

"Fixing it" doesn't always require money or getting new things, it often requires more subtraction than addition, getting rid of desks and miserably uncomfortable classroom chairs. Kids prefer floors anyway, whether its kindergarten or university. "Fixing it" mostly requires a mindset built around the ideas of "Choice and Comfort" and "Instructional Tolerance" and "Universal Design."

We remove the cultural expectations which have nothing to do with how humans learn. We remove the cultural and religious expectations of discomfort as some sort of positive. We remove ourselves as arbiters of some sort of schoolhouse propriety. And in doing so, we enable our children to find their own paths to success in school and in life.

Interlude: the eyes of a designer

Click 53rd and Park, New York City to get to this intersection in Google Earth.
There is a problem here, of course, which lies with the way educators are educated. They are not, unless their career paths have taken them far from "education," trained in design vision or design thinking. Years ago I taught Intro to Architecture at the Pratt Manhattan Center in New York. By the third class session we'd go on a walking tour, and early in that tour we'd end up at the corner of East 53rd Street and Park Avenue. At that intersection stand three landmarked structures, Mies van der Rohe's Seagrams' Building, Gordon Bunshaft's Lever House, and Charles McKim's Racquet Club. On the fourth corner is 399 Park Ave, a building completed in 1961 for Citibank - or as it was then called - The First National City Bank of New York. This building is on no one's landmark list. Why?

The why? requires learning to use Design Vision and Design Thinking, and also requires that observers step away from "I" statements. What makes three of these buildings great and the fourth a mediocre pile of steel and glass is really not a question of personal preference, it is instead an understanding of humanity and how humans see and understand. There are lots of clues to the failures of 399 Park when it is compared to its neighbors, from window shapes which violate the Golden Mean to an entry that's somewhat unfindable to massing which fails to meet the ground - and pedestrians - with grace, but the untrained observer will not see them - or will not understand what is wrong - without help.

Who helps educators do this? When an educator looks at a classroom, or a corridor, or a library, or a playground, or the school's entry... what do they see? How do they understand what they see?

Libraries - the Learning Commons

Middle School Library gathering space, connectivity everywhere
In the school system in which I work we invest very heavily in libraries. This counters a US national trend towards abandoning libraries and laying off librarians, but we see our school libraries as the center of our transformation from a collection of "teaching places" to a community of "learning spaces."
In New York, as in districts across the country, many school officials said they had little choice but to eliminate librarians, having already reduced administrative staff, frozen wages, shed extracurricular activities and trimmed spending on supplies. Technological advances are also changing some officials’ view of librarians: as more classrooms are equipped with laptops, tablets or e-readers, [New York City Schools' city’s chief academic officer] Mr. Polakow-Suransky noted, students can often do research from their desks that previously might have required a library visit. 
Now, I think we're smarter than Mr. Polakow-Suransky, and we've alway assumed that our libraries are more than a place for students to use the World Book, but we also know that if libraries are to be the Learning Commons at the center of our schools they must be re-thought, re-imagined, and re-designed in ways are far beyond "tinkering." In a century where all the world's libraries are linked to our phones, where information and books are no longer scarce but somewhat overwhelming, and where curation has become a mass participation exercise, the function of libraries as learning spaces requires radical change, and we expect our school librarians to not just change and adapt, but to be the leaders in our school buildings.

HackerSpace in one of our high school libraries
seating choices from bean bags to pub-height bar, technologies, tools
What do we look for? We look for flexible, adaptive, multiple media learning and creation environments. We look for student comfort, student choice, student-centric spaces. We look for students dropping in - all day long, whether elementary or secondary - so we know this is not "just" a scheduled space. We look for flexibility of design and the ability of students to alter that design as they need to - what we call "Student-Crafted Learning Environments."

Learning Environment"
We expect our libraries to be MakerSpaces. Our libraries have legos, music studios, construction areas, one has a Makerbot 2 replicator, which students - quite "casually" - come and use to prototype things they've designed.

Students come with lunch and snacks and drinks, move the furniture, grab technology or bring their own, settle in, and work in contemporary environments.

Our libraries are far more kitchens than supermarkets these days, which makes sense. Our information supermarkets now reside in our hands, our quiet study places now reside in our earbuds and headphones, but our gathering places, our "Learning Commons," the places where we come together, for communion and contagious creativity, those are often what we are missing.

We've done this with money - creating a "Glass Room" quieter space at one high school, buying shelves which roll in many elementary libraries - and we've done it without money - dumping old VHS tapes and magazines and other stored items, and eliminating librarian offices to create quieter spaces, music studios, and maker spaces in others.

We've done it buying new soft seating and we've done it with kids and volunteers padding windowside shelves and turning them into window seats. We've done it with commercial furniture from Bretford and Turnstone and we've done it with stuff from the seasonal clearance piles at Walmart and Target.

A hand-me-down created "quieter space" created from what was,
for ten or more years, storage.
We've cut down or eliminated space-hogging circulation desks and bought boxes of wet wipes to clean up food and drink spills. We've created open computer networks which let kids connect their own devices and we've built "tool cribs" of differing devices for our students to use.

Changing "Teaching Places" into "Learning Spaces" is
primarily about the attitudes we adopt.
The point is that the time for excuses and complaining is over. Whoever you are, wherever you are, outside of say, a KIPP school or maybe the city school districts of New York and Chicago (thanks to mayors Rahm Emanuel and Mike Bloomberg), you have the power to undo your teaching place and create a learning space in its stead. The trick is to begin.

- Ira Socol

15 October 2013

Thinking TEST and Toolbelt Theory again, the Tech Choice Paradigm for Every Child

People who buy technology for schools make their choices for many reasons, but, I am going to make an unsubstantiated accusation here, I suspect that those reasons often have little to do with the way that children will need and want to learn.

I am not necessarily implying the nefarious, the reasons are usually much more mundane than big dinners and trips proffered by vendors. There is personal preference, "I like Apple stuff," "I like PCs." There is the ever present convenience, "This is easier for us," "Our tech staff knows these products," "I've bought these before, I can just reorder." There is ignorance, "I think only iPads can do that," "You can't mix operating systems on our network." There is even ego, "I want to be the superintendent who gives every kid an iPad."

But nefarious or mundane, the end result of these decisions is to limit opportunity for students, to limit access, and to limit learning, and we allow these kind of anti-child decisions because we have chosen to not adopt Toolbelt Theory as our tool paradigm.

Basic tool choice: Where will I sit? (Furniture is technology too)
Now that should sound egocentric. Toolbelt Theory is, I suppose, "mine." That is, it has my name on it. I described it first, though, like all practices, it has been adapted and used all over the place in great, effective, and original ways by educators far ahead of me. And, hey, there are no patents, no royalties involved. There's not even a book to waste your money on, just free and open blog posts (see right column for a whole collection). So, that said, it's egocentric perhaps, but, after all these years, what I like best about Toolbelt Theory and the TEST paradigm which underlies it, is that it is grounded in two essentials:
Toolbelt Theory works for everyone.
Toolbelt Theory is basic to the humanity of tool choice.
But Toolbelt Theory is also challenging, and threatening to some, including those technology acquisition agents mentioned above, and often including Special Education "higher ups" and folks who prowl the faculty hallways of some university Special Education graduate school departments, because Toolbelt Theory takes the power of technology choice away from these people and their "expertise" and moves it into the hands of students - even students some think can't make those choices.

Toolbelt Theory began with Special Education, and, I suppose - because so much of what I work on begins here - with postcolonialism. I wanted to free Special Education students from the prescriptive process of the "Medical Model" which dominates thinking in North American, and which considers "difference" to be a pathology (more on this later). Yet, by working with Special Education students, the TEST paradigm proved to work for everyone, because, well, despite the thoughts of the US government, the Common Core, the College Board, and the Gates Foundation, all students are different in one way or another. Thus, that postcolonial core remains.

The TEST paradigm is simple: It started as a reworking of Dr. Joy Zabala's SETT protocol (Student, Environment, Task, Tools), which I learned and used but never liked, because to me it was "colonial" and "patriarchal" - it encouraged "school-based teams" to evaluate the student and his/her environment, tasks, and tools. I wanted something much more student-centered, something much more essentially human, and - OK, maybe, an acronym spelled correctly (its a dyslexia thing) - and so...
Our 1:1 PCs with Windows 8 Start Menu showing
the full range of "Freedom Stick" tools plus we start out with
I started with these beliefs:
  • Humans are, essentially, tool users. This is what makes us distinct from other animals. Many use tools, but only we choose, invent, and improve tools.
  • Students are not an "object" in the tool choice paradigm, students must learn to make the tool choices, or we are not preparing them for life.
  • All tools, used well, are "assistive technologies." As I used to ask my students at Michigan State, "what technologies do you choose to use which don't help you?"
  • Task is always the first consideration in intelligent tool choice. In choosing a saw, do you want to cut down a Christmas Tree or cut 40 4x8 sheets of plywood to build furniture? You can't, as Zabala suggests, "start anywhere," you need to begin with what you need to do.
And ended up with:
  • Task - what will I need to do?
  • Environment - where, or under what conditions, will I need to do that task?
  • Skills - what are my skills - my strengths, my weaknesses, right now? (in that very unstable world of ability and disability)
  • Tools - what tools do I know about? what tools can I access? what tools can I learn if need be?
In 2005 this was, for me, all about, "When would I choose to use Click Speak in Firefox and when would I choose to use WYNN for reading? Or when would I choose an audiobook and when might I use a Reading Pen?" But today this about so much more - "Should I use a laptop or my mobile phone for that?" "Should I use Google or Google Scholar or a more specific search?" "Is that better in Final Cut Pro on a MacBook or could I really just do it on my Galaxy Tab and upload it to YouTube?" "Is it easier right here to dictate into my phone or to get to a computer and use something else?" "How would I choose a keyboard for my phone? - is Swype any good?" "Do I read this using the Kindle App or just a PDF?" "Do I express this best with Twitter or a blog post or with a blog post promoted by Tweets?" "Which calculators do I choose from the Windows 8 App Store? The Chrome App Store?"

Tool Choice in third grade. What is the task?

None of this is unimportant. These are the kinds of tool choices which will help define success for students in their lives in their century. It is especially critical for every student on every margin, the ones - like me - who need to make the right technological choices to be effective at, say, reading or writing. Or at communicating, or at maths. These aren't "assistive technologies" anymore than elevators, cars, and eyeglasses are - they are the tools we need to learn to choose, use, and leverage to be our best.

ignore the "Michigan State" references up front...
honestly, that College of Education never understood one bit of this

it threatened their egos and sense of power

Let's go through this. It isn't enough, in this century, to say, "I will read (or watch) the news." We need to decide what kinds of news to read, watch, and interact with, when to do that so we maximize our learning and attention, on what device to do that, using what apps or software to prioritize it. If I use Flipboard do I know how t set that up? What are the limitations of New York Times apps? How do I interact with the Guardian? Is it worth having news alerts emailed to me? texted to me? About what? If reading isn't easy, or I'm in my car a lot, which apps best convert text to speech?

So you borrowed your French buddy's laptop... can you reset the keyboard?
It isn't enough to say, "I'll write that down." On what? How? Where? Do I know how to set up Windows Speech Recognition? How to use Speech to Text in Android? in Dragon Lite in iOS? in Chrome? Do I know how to configure a keyboard on a tablet or mobile device? Can I adapt a keyboard if I have to use a computer in another country?

Obviously, we just don't "send letters," I need to know how to text my boss even if I'm driving. I need to know how to send a professional text, a professional email, a professional dm. I need to know how to read critical work emails and texts even if I'm driving or rushing through an airport. And, most critically, I will need to choose and set up devices throughout my life.

These are essential skills. And these are essential skills that certain children - the privileged - get at home from the start, but they are essential skills which most American schools have chosen to deny to kids whose parents cannot supply them with these options - thus widely increasing the devastating opportunity gap.

What does "Assistive Technology" really mean? A university student VoiceThread project
the students thought of many things, but none realized they'd need, for example,
a bridge or tunnel or boat to cross the river (swimming a tidal strait being difficult),
or roads, clothes, shoes, and all the other technologies which make modern life possible

The critical point today is, you can't do any of this if you do not begin by changing how you acquire the technology in your school, and then change how you teach with that technology. You have to begin by buying technology based your students' needs to respond individually to the first three steps in TEST, so that they have the options, and eventually the knowledge, to function in a multi-device, multi-operating system world.

In 1996 I built my first [US] public school computer network in a high school just outside of Muskegon, Michigan. We had internet connected (T3!) computers in every classroom, laptops for every teacher, and both Macs and PCs, of course, because different devices were better for different things. In the years since, I have never worked in a "monoculture" school - that would make no sense given the choices we know - have known - exist.

Today the schools I work in support 6 operating systems, well, 6+. We have Windows 8, we still have holdover Windows 7, we have MacOS (in various versions, hence the "+"), we have iOS devices, Android devices, and Chromebooks. Why? Because this is both what the world looks like and what gives our children the tool cribs they need to learn for their time.

Does that challenge the purchasing process? Yes. Does it challenge tech support? A bit. Is it something we can all do? Yes. Absolutely. But remember the point here, when you are purchasing technology for your school(s) you are purchasing learning tools, and to quote a tweet from Bronx middle school librarian Deven K. Black, "Learner not just center of education; learner is the only essential person in the process of learning." If it is not all about the learners' needs, we shouldn't be buying the stuff. For, quoting Deven again, we need to get past school as a learning limiter, "Go ask a longshoreman about anything and you get a different POV. School restricts POV, not expands it."

Once you have flexibility of device choices in your school, teachers can give your students the options they need and the information they need in order to learn to make decisions.

This begins with giving students control, yes LA Unified and Apple - control, of the devices in their hands. A device without student control is, for lack of any better term, a textbook, and if you have bought devices but refused to hand over control to your learners, your taxpayers have every reason to ask why you wasted their money?

That yielding of control begins with your policies and your tech staff and then lands squarely in the hands of your teachers. If teachers still think teaching means all kids doing the same thing at the same time in the same way, then learning pretty much stops. I often say that the first technology of school is time, and the time to do things in ways which work for oneself is crucial. But teachers then need to accept that if, say, we're "reading together," reading may look very different in the hands of different students.

Reading looks (and sounds) like  lot of different things in this century

Some may read best using "ink on paper" - that incredible technology of the 16th century, the printed book. Others will want or need the flexibility of digital text, that it can enlarge, or change color and font, or switch the number of words on a line or the word or line spacing. Still others will want audio, either with or without the text, maybe with word-by-word highlighting. Some will like big screens, some will like lightweight screens, some will be just fine with small screens. Some might want earbuds, others might need soundblocking headsets. There is no reason to resist this or argue about it, these are the ways reading occurs now. You might have argued, back in 1776, that you were really angry that Thomas Paine did not print Common Sense as a Torah-like scroll complete with no vowels and no spaces between words, but people would have, pretty much, laughed at you. Time marches on and human civilization changes.

Likewise students may do maths (or math, pick your side of the Atlantic my friends) using all sorts of tools and all sorts of free calculators available online or via download. They will write using their thumbs or 3 fingers or 10 or by dictating. They will share work via SyncSpace or Google Drive or a hundred other ways.

Our job, as educators, is to enable their learning of how and why to make these choices.

- Ira Socol

Stepping back for a moment...

I began looking at all this again after reading a Masters Thesis about Toolbelt Theory:
"Specifically, Ira Socol’s reordered version of SETT made intuitive sense to me, mostly because, in practice, I found it was important to first establish what task a student was expected to do with the as-yet undetermined assistive technology teachers were requesting (often as a last-ditch attempt to help a struggling student). I did not yet have the theoretical understanding to see that Socol was suggesting something deeper than a simple reordering of the components of the SETT Framework for the sake of practicality. When I discovered the theoretical underpinning in disability studies, I recognized what he was trying to do and was happy when he made this explicit in an electronic mailing list conversation (Socol, 2011, January 6)."- Daniel P. Cochrane, Masters Thesis, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2012: Recontextualizing the Student: Analysis of the SETT Framework for Assistive Technology in Education.[pdf]
Cochrane explicitly locates this within the postcolonial realm of the Disability Studies/Disability Rights movement - a large force in Europe - and little known in American, especially American K-12, education. The Disability Studies movement views disability as between somewhat and entirely a social construct... my preference is to use the term Transactional (see also this) - the opposite of the medical model... and tends to want to allow humans to make identity choices instead of being described by diagnosis - as even the most well-meaning American educators tend to do. (Americans like to use the same terminology for "disability" as for all pathologies, so they say, "a student with a reading disability" as they'd say, "a student with cancer." The other option is for the student to choose - or not choose - to use an identity label as we would with other forms of identity, "an African-American student," "a dyslexic student," "a gay student.")

This matters not just for students we label as having "disabilities," it matters for all not statistically average. Students cannot reach their potentials when we spend more effort limiting them and describing their problems than we spend enabling them and equipping them with the tools they need.

And I began looking at this again because of a fabulous blog post from Heidi Hass Gable. She was looking for those "ways in..." those "how to begins..." and began a fabulous conversation:
"What do we teach, and why? And what tools could we make available in “Toolbelts” for students, in classrooms? Does that differ from a perspective of identified special needs students?" Heidi Hass Gable blog post: Understanding Ira Socol's TEST approach, October 2013.
And I cannot forget the amazing Karen Janowski, who teaches with Toolbelt Theory and has pushed it into wonderful new realms, and always keeps me excited about the work.

06 October 2013

Seven Pathways to a New Teacher Professionalism

Yes, it has been a long, long time between posts here. A new job, and the switch back from university based life to the reality of working with real schools and real children - real life, caused re-set. A reevaluation of how to use my time, and of how and perhaps why to write.
But I am back with a new mission - to begin a discussion of the known possible.  A discussion of the project we are attempting in real public schools in Virginia.  Not wealthy schools.  Not easy schools. Real schools. Complicated schools.  Schools with vast and deep challenges, as well as schools with great resources...     
                                                                           - Ira Socol  - Charlottesville, Virginia 
How do we reimagine teacher professional learning.  Let's face it, it isn't going to happen in universities and other institutions of higher education and teacher training. Those are places, even the "best" of those in the United States, of social reproduction and status preservation, not places interested in change. So it will be something which progressive schools and school systems have to do on their own - on their own, but, preferably together. 

The new kind of teaching professional we need to build is something quite different in concept from that being developed in schools of education. Those institutions develop people who deliver content and manage classrooms. We need educators who enable opportunity and create access, and that requires a different group of skillsets and a different belief system.  For the most part our teachers know this... that is, they know what they do not know. They know what they need. They told us that...

I work in the Albemarle County Public Schools in Central Virginia and we've been thinking about this a lot this year. After a 12 year process of building change we attempted another acceleration this year, another "inflection in the innovation S curve" through an internal grant program called "Design 2015."
Design 2015 asked all of our 26 schools to describe a fundamental change they wanted to make in student learning, and to describe a project which could begin to break away the barriers which stood in the way of those changes happening.
For some schools those barriers were quite literal, and we removed walls or created new doorways which opened up new opportunities.  In others lack of technologies was an issue and the solutions ranged from 1:1 laptop initiatives to "tool buckets" for classrooms filled with MacBooks and Galaxy Tabs, iPods and Cameo fabricators. In other places it was more flexible comfortable furniture, or library redesigns, or a re-envisioned cafeteria which doubles as a collaborative MakerSpace. Still others just sought extra time for teachers to plan or to spend a few summer weeks immersed in Spanish for their bilingual school.
We found ways to fund all of these in one way or another. Not because we're wealthy, but because we dug deep and reallocated to fund innovation. But before we could begin building, or buying, we needed to help teachers find ways to find paths to new ways of thinking.
We knew this because we saw the questions embedded in their grant requests. And as we, a team ranging across many levels of our small “central office” - 
let me pause here and give some credit, for because of brave leaders - those who are both risk-takers and risk-accepters - that great things are allowed to happen - Dr. Billy Haun, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction; Debbie Collins, our Director of Instruction; Vince Scheivert, our Chief Information Officer; Becky Fisher, @beckyfisher73 our Director of EdTech and Professional Development; Chad Ratliff; our Assistant Director of Instruction; Rosalyn Schmidt, or School Architect; and our brilliant EdTech integrators and trainers Jamie Foreman and Nita Collier; along with myself, whatever it is that I do...
 - walked our schools, we listened. We walked our schools with "Attention-Deficit Disorder Vision" - seeing and hearing, even feeling, whatever we could. Observing children, grasping, however we were able, the User Experience and comparing that to the User Experience we hope for and that our educators hope for. For it is only by beginning with thinking about the User Experience we want that we can backward map to the User Interface - the school and pedagogical design we need.

Which pathways do you see here? A 9th Grade English Class in the MakerSpace in
the Monticello High School Library. Maker-Infused Curriculum? Project/Problem/Passion-Based Learning? Choice and Comfort? Instructional Tolerance? How about Universal Design?
We saw that no matter what our schools were asking “for,” what they really wanted their children to do fell into one or both of two broad categories: They wanted children to use contemporary technologies to interact broadly and consistently with the world in meaningful and deep ways, or/and. they wanted children to be makers most of the day, not just consumers. But in both cases the teachers were not entirely sure of how to jettison the constraints of delivering filtered, packaged content, and replace that with a trust-based, child-centric, open approach consistent with our Life Long Learning Competencies - competencies aimed at helping children become successful adults in every phase of their lives in their times. So those categories - Interactive Technologies and Maker-Infused Curriculum - became our first two professional learning pathways.
We found much more, of course, discovering five other essential questions:
Project/Problem/Passion-Based-Learning - Our teachers know that they waste their and their students’ energy fighting for attention when projects and passions bring attention naturally, they want the skills to bring knowledge through interest.
Choice and Comfort - Our teachers want to learn how to “let go” of rules which burn student cognitive energy on things unrelated to learning, and unrelated to workplace or social success in this century.
Connectivity - Our teachers have asked to learn the tools which connect students globally, synchronously and asynchronously, to create authentic audiences, break isolation, and support complex learning opportunities from kindergarten on up.
Universal Design for Learning - Our teachers have expressed real interest in looking “beyond differentiation” and even “beyond CAST,” toward a true Universal Design, with student preference replacing diagnosis and prescription everywhere it is possible.
Instructional Tolerance - Our teachers and administrators have begun a lively conversation about moving away from traditional school and classroom management toward the concept of “Instructional Tolerance.” What happens when “teacher preference” no longer drives classroom rules and atmosphere? What must students tolerate from adults? from other students?

Armed with these questions from our teachers, these professional learning needs, these “pathways” to a new kind of professionalism - we found teacher-leaders, “pedagogical entrepreneurs” in our emerging vocabulary, who could bring their vision of these educational futures to our entire faculty cohort. Not by labelling our previous work “a failure,” but by discussing the evolving marketplaces of education, brain research, and contemporary technological affordances. 

Tying these professional learning opportunities directly to school grants supporting new learning spaces and new technologies created both urgency and immediate learner test bed, crucial project-based learner tools. Offering learning opportunities at differing times, in differing formats, face-to-face and online, short and long sessions, in rooms often with multiple screens and multiple types of devices provided real demonstrations of the kinds of work we were showing. We never offered that ed school special, the lecture on differentiation.

 Transformational Maker Summer

We created "lab schools" too. Working with Maker Education's MakerCorps Initiative, and inventing some of our own stuff spun from ideas like Mozilla's Maker Summer we transformed Summer School in many places from the old remedial nightmare into something else - a radical pathways learning experience for children and teachers. Whether it was elementary summer school at impoverished sites, middle school connected maker summer school, or a ninth grade welcome week at a high school driven by maker activities and connectivity, our teachers watched as these new professional strategies transformed the often "hardest kids" into winners and their own careers into something with new meaning. These summer schools transformed principal expectations as well, bringing new paradigms to those August staff meetings.

Our Pathways are captured throughout our professional expectations
and performance assessments

As our school system has for years, we've reimagined what professional learning looks like in many ways. Recertification credits come many ways, including documenting active participation in social media professional learning. Just two weeks ago Chad Ratliff and I led a small group of our educators on a mission to New York, where - as we are increasingly learning to do - we avoided schools and eduction conferences and watched learning unfold at museums, at the World Maker Faire, on the High Line, in Central Park, on the subway system. What does learning look like? What do learning spaces look like? What questions do humans ask in learning spaces?

We're working on it, and we're looking for anyone willing to join with us, in collaboration, in sharing resources, in sharing the spirit. Honestly, as we asked the Virginia Educational Research Association a few weeks ago, we'll take the support of any university interested in supporting our mission as well...

We ended that call to "VERA" with this:

'"Fifty-one years ago at Rice University President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..."

'"Today we ask you to join those of us in Public Education to do the research [and teacher professional learning work] which our children need, not because it is easy, not because it is easily funded, not because there are existing textbooks and courses explaining how to do it, but because this is the hard work we must do, it is the grand challenge we are unwilling to postpone, the grand challenge we will step up to accept, and the task we will accomplish in order to build the society our children deserve."'

This the grand challenge. Teachers who understand themselves within a new professional paradigm. Teachers who see themselves as enablers of learning, as people who close the opportunity gaps, as educators who are both mentors and partners with their students on these learning journeys.

Wish us good luck, then jump in alongside us.

- Ira Socol