My birthday was this week, and I hit the tulip jackpot. Brightly colored blooms fill my house, some closed, most emergent, and a few fully open. When I awoke this morning, I discovered some were stretching toward the sun while others drooped. I delight in the unique beauty of each stem. Their bright colors remind me that even though today is dark, Spring is coming. Tulips are a metaphor for life. They begin with just a hint of their potential, gradually unfold, burst into glorious bloom, seek the sun, droop in respite, and finally end. Hopefully, as we journey through…

Can lines of code improve education or is edtech a boondoggle?

I predict that the slow revolution in technology access, fueled by popular support and continuing as long as there is economic prosperity, will eventually yield exactly what the promoters have sought: every student, like every worker, will eventually have a personal computer. But no fundamental change in teaching practices will occur.

Nearly the entire field of technology and education is about change in some way. It’s about the dreams of what could be, the realities of what is, and the efforts to whittle away at the gap between the two.

Was author and Stanford professor Larry Cuban right when he…

The vintage photo shows the author, wearing a crown and hoping to create learning magic with the wave of a wand. I threw the wand away but am still working to improve learning for all children.

We are sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.

Hatip to John of Salisbury whose metaphor from 1159 beautifully articulates the credit today’s education reformers owe to our predecessors, especially constructivists, progressives, and Montessori. For over twenty years I have been involved in initiatives that promised to re-image or reinvent education. But no one is reinventing education. Instead, successful innovators are building…

“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” From Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll Graphic By John Tenniel — Through the Looking-Glass, Public Domain,

Educators often feel like Alice who, after stepping through the looking glass, found herself in a puzzling world where everything was reversed. Anyone who has taught for more than five years has seen reform initiatives capture the attention and resources of school leaders only to be swept aside for the next set of hopes and dreams. Rapidly changing focus coupled with the lack of systematic, ongoing support can confuse, even overwhelm, the most talented and dedicated teachers. The recent focus on personalization is an example of a swift and substantial change. For the past two decades, policy-makers and administrators have…

Educators and start-up teams bring passion to their work. OKRs and a late 20th-century school reform model can help us harness that passion and create powerful innovation in schools. Image by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Would you go to a hospital that was still operating as it was 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

Would you be satisfied with a car using 1970 technology?

Why would you send your child to a school that looks like the school your grandparents attended?

When we recruited parents to AltSchool Max Ventilla always asked why parents would settle for schools that look and operate like those of a century ago. As a lifelong educator, I recognized the truth in his description of schools, and it made me uncomfortable. Throughout my career, I have worked for change…

Billy New, pictured in the striped shirt, along grew up to improve the worldwide standard for medical care through devices he developed. He always believed that work was play.

When my best friend and partner, the late Dr. William New, was a child he had very few traditional toys. Instead, his parents gave him radios, flashlights, a hammer and saw and other “adult tools.” He helped his father construct the family home, built a radio when he was six and by the age of ten, he had earned his ham radio license. Because he had materials for creating and investigating Bill was always researching questions about how the world worked and tinkering with solutions to problems he observed. In today’s lexicon, he was a maker. At ten, alone in…

The author, standing to the right of the king, does not remember her kindergarten as child-centered or personalized. She does remember dancing around the maypole while wearing a shiny, scratchy cape.

We need only say one thing to young children: Come as you are! Come with your age-level characteristics. Come with those qualities that make you a unique and special person. School can have the flexibility, imagination, and sensitivity to be ready for the children who come.

Does, come as you are sound like a vision for personalized learning? That credo, articulated by James Hymes, Jr., a 20th-century authority on early childhood education, has inspired early childhood educators for more than 50 years. It also beautifully expresses the purpose of personalization, a 21st-century educational initiative.

A simple Google search for personalized…

“So, oft in theologic wars the disputants, I ween, rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean; and prate about an elephant not one of them has seen!” Quote from a poem by John Godfrey Saxe. Ukiyo-e print by Hanabusa Itcho. (public domain)

Deeply understanding the learner is the foundation of personalization. Teachers and parents can develop a shared understanding of the child as a learner and a human when they work together in an authentic partnership. Through compassion, addressed in Part One, and curiosity, teachers can lay the foundation for respectful, productive work with parents.

Why Curiosity?

Curiosity, the strong desire to learn something, drives humans to inquire, observe and seek the wisdom of experts. Parents are experts in what delights, motivates and challenges their child. Parental wisdom enhances our view of the child beyond academic accomplishments and can us better understand the complex…

“Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Pema Chodron

Everyone agrees children learn best when the significant adults in their lives work together to encourage and support them. With this end in mind, school leaders lay the foundation of productive home-school partnerships by carefully crafting communication plans, so parents understand the nuts and bolts of school life. They listen to parental concerns without becoming defensive and support teachers in problem-solving. Many schools offer multiple opportunities for parents to become involved in the school community. These critical elements are not enough to ensure positive home-school partnerships. Teachers are the key.

Often seasoned professionals and novice educators view parent relationships as…

“Empathy means that for the time being, you lay aside your views and values to enter another’s world without prejudice. Being empathic is a complex, demanding, and strong — yet subtle and gentle — a way of being.” Carl Rogers

If you want to put students at the center of their learning but are not quite sure how to get started, I have good news. The first step and most crucial step is not an expensive technology platform or a complex redesign of assessment for competency education. Does that sound too good to be true? Trust me on this. You can take the first step anytime, alone, working with your team or entire faculty. Just close your eyes and think of your school days. Go ahead, take two minutes and meet me in the next paragraph.

If you are like…

Carolyn Wilson

Educator, entrepreneur, boundary crosser, community builder, advocate for learners of all ages.

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