Deeper Learning 2015 at High Tech High; Day 1

Our first day at High Tech High in San Diego did not disappoint. There were so many gems throughout the day, by the time we got to the screening of “Most Likely to Succeed” in the evening our brains were exhausted, we had so much to process and talk about.

When I first heard about this trip, I knew it was important to have a reason to go. Why would I fly to a different country, to a city with a different culture, to examine a school which answers the questions in the community it served? HTH isn’t the answer in my community, but what can I learn that does assist me in my work back in British Columbia? I’ve been watching this first day with that question, and a few things jumped out for me.

lobby 2The first is something that always jumps out at me, and that’s the power of a physical space to affect the way you work and think. For some kids, too much stimulation can be challenging; for me, seeing student work all around me as a demonstration of learning is a real motivator. And HTH is all about demonstrations, it’s a big piece in their assessment strategy. Demo nights are legendary here.

The second is an idea which, very surprisingly, came straight from Richard Elmore, who I met between sessions and our group had an informal conversation with before dinner. What he said I heard repeatedly throughout the day, in different workshops and sessions; transparency is the key. This has a deep connection for me, as I know the research by Fullan and others says that schools that work are ones in which capacity of teachers is built, and there is transparency of results and practice. Peers working with peers in a focused and deliberate way provide both support and pressure to improve. There is no greater motivator than internal accountability to oneself and one’s peers.

The third was in a late session I just happened to stumble upon in the Deep Dive Den featuring Ken Kay, who offered the notion that “programs don’t scale, principles scale”. Later that night, at the reception we asked him what that meant, and by way of response he asked us, Do we have a picture of what we want our graduates to look like? Learner attributes, competencies, and the like? And thankfully, we do in our province and our district. We’re moving in the direction where there is more focus on Creativity and Imagination, Resiliency and Citizenship, and in our BC Ed Plan we’ve been asked to focus on Competencies and away from content consumption. He was pleased to hear that, and his take was that these will scale, these are what you begin with in your community and build programming  that works for your community.

And the final piece for me was in the Q and A after the film screening, when the film director was asked, In all the schools you studied that were doing deeper learning, what was the one thing they had in common? His response was that there were many things, but for sure the one that was key was parent buy-in. Get your parent community talking, help them understand where things are going and why. Schools that didn’t do that faced resistance and things never really succeeded. When parents became partners in this work, there was a better chance of success.

Physical space, transparency of practice, scaling of principles and engagement of parents. These are things I can bring home to help me in my work. Lessons from day 1.



About Ron Sherman

I am the principal of Salmo Elementary/Secondary School, a small rural K-12 school in the Kootenay Lake School District. Happy to be part of the Grand Conversation, moving learning forward and joining with great people every day. Runner, triathlete, skier, blogger, loving husband and father of 2 great boys
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