Welcome to From My Angle, the blog of a life-long educator, a husband and a father of three boys. It is also my privilege to serve as Head of School at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, Texas.
This blog reflects my passions: emerging issues in the ever-changing world of education, leadership and leadership development, and living life with the intent to be a person of impact. I invite you to share perspectives “from your angle” on the issues and items I post to my blog!
While our vision of a balanced, process-based, and invigorating learning experience with our Practices of Definitive Preparation and students at the center of the action guides as at present, the reality is that the vision stands as a moving target of excellence to which we will continually strive.
To that end, recently two sets of school leaders spent time thinking ahead. Four administrators, teachers, and I spent a stimulating hour Skyping with Grant Lichtman in San Diego. Grant featured Parish along with 60 other schools he visited in the fall of 2012 on his quest to uncover what innovation looks like in today’s schools (you can read the Parish post here: The Mission is the Message at Parish Episcopal). Grant’s blog, The Learning Pond and his posts to twitter @GrantLichtman are worth following.
Melissa Grabske, Myriam Graham, Megan Wittmann and Emily Grosfeld traveled in March to Presbyterian Day School in Memphis. PDS, like Parish, is a school facing the future of education head on. Featured by Grant in his blog, PDS has initiated some particularly interesting instructional and assessment strategies, featuring opportunities for individualized learning experiences similar in some ways to those discussed in my last post. Alignment is Everything – In the Classroom.
We used our time with Grant to debrief lessons and implications of their visit, consider how we might incorporate elements of what PDS does into our vision, and ponder next steps. Several members of Parish’s academic leadership team will travel with me in June to Memphis and PDS for the Martin Institute Conference on Teaching and Learning in June.
One cannot discount the importance of the governing body of a school if alignment with a vision is to be achieved. Parish’s Board of Trustees are committed stewards this vision. Recently, our busy volunteers took a half a day from their own jobs to participate in their annual Board workday. Our session was facilitated by Cathy Trower, noted researcher (Harvard University), author (Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership, which features Parish on p. 44!), and consultant (Trower and Trower, Inc). Together, we considered how our vision, with now emerging and fruitful signature programs such as the ParishProfile, ParishLeads, and ParishSTEM, positions us in the face of a rapidly changing educational landscape.
The Board prepared for the retreat by reading a white paper on our present strategic vision and a series of external changes impacting tuition-driven schools. The group then worked in breakout sessions throughout the morning to consider how a board committee or task force might be charged to think creatively about leveraging our vision to capitalize on opportunities presented by this rapidly changing educational landscape.
If a school can muster ownership of and alignment to a vision among its various constituencies with an orientation toward the future, as Parish has, I believe it increases the power its programs will have on its students.
by Mr. David Monaco
on Wednesday May 8 at 08:37AM
Having shared an example of how tools like our ParishProfile and a school-wide research strategy can promote alignment with a vision for teaching and learning, I wanted to share how an individual teacher can do it within her classroom.
Our Practices of Definitive Preparation represent our belief that in the Conceptual Age of today what matters most is not what students know or how much they can memorize, but rather what they can do with the information they receive. Too, engaged learning offers students opportunities for choice both in how they discover information as well as how they demonstrate competency.
I recently visited one of our Middle School Spanish teachers, Eunice Coleman, who has developed a system to put students at the center of the learning experience. Though implemented in a World Language classroom, the elements of this teacher’s system are easily incorporated into another subject or grade level classroom.
Ms. Coleman does some direct instruction, but to a great degree, students discover and consume content and practice and demonstrate knowledge and skills at one of five stations, seen above in the various colored blocks (students use this chart to map the course of their period in class). In World Languages, these stations are for writing, reading, speaking, listening, vocabulary etc., but one can imagine how such a system could be adapted to another subject (e.g. math: computation; problem solving; calculator applications, etc.).
Students spend designated time at each center during the course of the period (which serves to break the 80 minute block into chunks and provide restorative transitions). At right, you see students at the reading and writing stations. At each station, the teacher has designed tasks for the students to complete. This format allows a teacher to have multiple exercise types at each station, thus creating the potential for students to choose activities according to their needed level of challenge. The structure frees the teacher to float between groups to offer coaching and direction, to execute formative assessment of student individual and group performance, or to pull a group of students with similar needs for a small mini-lecture/lesson/guided practice.
As we at Parish define innovation in part as teaching strategies which offer students access to more individualized/tailored learning experiences, classroom models like these align beautifully with that vision.
by Mr. David Monaco
on Monday April 29 at 08:32AM
If a vision for teaching and learning is to really take hold and work its way across two campuses and influence the experience of 1,100 students in grades PreK-12, it requires the effort of an entire set of stakeholders. Recently, I have been heartened by the efforts of a variety of different constituencies to live out Parish’s promise to redefine what the independent, college preparatory school experience looks like while forging young people of impact.
I would like to feature several of these examples of alignment in my upcoming blog posts, starting today with aligning a vision across divisions.
Parish has three divisions and two campuses. Thus, our ParishProfile serves an important role in creating a common language for our faculty to use.
Assisting this effort has been our Director of Library and Information Services, Leigh Ann Jones, who is in the final stages of drafting ParishInquires. Working with faculty and academic leaders across campus, Leigh Ann and her fellow librarians have developed a comprehensive research process for our three divisions. Though still a working draft, the language within the document aligns directly with the Practices of Definitive Preparation.
Undoubtedly, this tool will help each our teachers better develop our students’ skills “planning and implementing research strategies (Practice 7)” and “identifying, describing, and evaluating evidence from diverse sources by detecting bias and distinguishing reliable information sources (Practice 8)”.
by Mr. David Monaco
on Tuesday April 23 at 04:19PM
As we conclude the second trimester and our focus on the tenant of honor, I have written about how we honor ourselves and others by aligning our words and actions and valuing diversity. But our ParishLeads framework also tells us that people of honor are courageous and resilient.
In other words, as we create an exciting vision for ourselves – whether it is a business like Blain Iler with Impact Foods, the 635 project which started us thinking about a big vision, or a smaller goal to be a stronger math student, kinder brother, or better friend – we will face moments along the way when we encounter doubt and hardship. At that time, we are faced with a critical question:
Do we honor ourselves by fighting toward our vision or do we allow setbacks to cause us to give up and stop our quest?
How we answer this question is quite important, for if we choose to stand down, what we might have accomplished had we been more courageous and resilient might have had a profound effect on others and brought honor to them.
In this post I am interview my friends Ford and Blair who, since August, I have had the privilege of watching up close as they laid out an ambitious vision, aligning their words and their actions by seeing this vision through to its implementation and valuing diversity as they worked together and with the students they served in Africa. In this interview, I want to explore how they conquered their fear and uncertainty. What did it feel like to face those moments when they were unsure or uncertain that the ReThink Leadership Program for the students of Empower African Children might be too much for them to pull off?
DM: Explain ReThink and plans that were made for holiday break
ReThink: ReThink is a club started at Parish as an outreach to the Empower African Children organization and partnered with WOW. It is open to all and we encourage you to get involved. Our main goal and mission is to empower orphans and vulnerable children across the world with lifelong leadership skills. We are also committed to raising funds to provide scholarships for these children so they may receive the education they deserve. We decided to put together a leadership camp for the students of Empower African Children as our Junior Project.
DM: Where did idea come from?
ReThink: We are surrounded here at Parish by many great leaders that we admire. We have had the opportunity to go to several leadership events here at school and at the American Leadership Academy in Mexico. Our idea for this conference was to share many of the things we have learned with the students in Uganda.
DM: Did you feel like it was too big of an idea?
ReThink: At times it was overwhelming. How could we write a curriculum for a full week conference? Would we be confident enough at 16 years old to stand in front of 70 students and lead the conference?How could we raise money to provide scholarships? A leadership conference would be great, but it was most important that these students have the foundation of an education. We were nervous about making a lasting impact.
DM: What are some of the things you did to make this program happen?
ReThink: We researched topics that we wanted to include in the program and interviewed our mentors in the community. We also wrote a letter reaching out to the community to see if they would help support our mission of raising funds for educational scholarships.
DM: Time when you needed to show resilience and where you found motivation to go on?
ReThink: The process for us became much bigger than we anticipated. Doubt crept in and we started to ask, “How can we complete this?” Our motivation to continue came as we started hearing from the students via email. They were so excited for this opportunity. This gave us the courage to take the necessary steps to make our goal a reality. Each step we took, each topic we researched, the more powerful we felt.
DM: How did you feel at conference time?
ReThink: Upon arriving in Uganda we learned that one of our students had died in a tragic accident. We did not know if it was even appropriate to continue. After only 4 hours of sleep we found ourselves at a funeral for Joseph Chan. We had never seen the Empower kids like this. It was an emotional celebration of his life and we left wondering if there would even be a conference.
DM: How did you overcome your fears?
ReThink: We set up the conference room still not knowing what was going to happen. Later that night we heard that the conference would go on as scheduled. We knew we needed to shift gears, adjust our curriculum and open the first day by acknowledging the devastating loss of Joseph. We knew that we should be focusing on how important our time on Earth is. We allowed the kids to speak freely about how they were feeling. We listened to them and watched their resilience and determination to continue in honor of their friend and brother, Joseph Chan. They gave us the courage to make this camp the best it could possibly be.
DM: What did you learn and about courage and resilience?
ReThink: One of the students, Jimmy is a great example of what we learned. Jimmy was so engaged in the conference and we have never seen him as a victim. His life story is amazing. He escaped with his Dad to the bush when the LRA entered his home. They did not find Jimmy, but they found his Dad. When he finally felt he could leave the bush, he discovered that his father had been murdered by the rebels. Jimmy does not let these circumstances define him. Without a dime to his name, he is so wealthy, a wealth defined by his strength, resilience, courage and character. School does not come easy for him, but he treasures the gift of his educational scholarship like it is gold. He is defined by his courage and he will not let anything stand in his way. He has a vision for his future and believes he will accomplish great things.
In the end, we were able to push through uncertainty and complete this project. We walked away with more than we could have imagined. The students that we had the privilege to serve showed more courage and resilience than anything we have ever witnessed.
Video of ReThink Leadership Camp 2013
I am very impressed by our student leaders’ example of making this vision come to life. We must act with courage when we seek to achieve our visions and be people of impact.
by Mr. David Monaco
on Tuesday March 5 at 07:38AM
I am proud of our vision for teaching and learning. I believe in it wholeheartedly. Learning should be vigorous, not rigorous. As such, it should engage students, invite them in, leave them energized, excited and asking for more; not beaten down by factual consumption, memorization and recitation. I speak so frequently about our vision and see it evidenced so often as I visit learning spaces on our campuses, that I believe at times I take for granted that others understand it in real terms. After all, when I say we are process rather than outcome driven, what does that look like in practice? When I tout our intent to produce students who think critically, collaborate purposefully, create meaningfully and communicate cogently, how do we teach and assess to such outcomes?
Well, as they say, sometimes images (and sounds) are worth a thousand words. Watch 30 seconds of a third grade class, with no teacher evident, in the early design phases for a colonial village which will serve as the culmination of their research and writing on this historical period. Notice the engagement. See the collaboration. Watch as students think, collaborate and begin to create together. Magic!
by Mr. David Monaco
on Thursday February 28 at 03:32PM
During my December homily on the Midway campus, I mentioned my intent to see the Lincoln film over the break. My message that December day was a reflection on James 1:22-25, and specifically James’ admonition to the early Christians: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." At the same time, I shared a Lincoln anecdote in which our 16th President honored as an adult a commitment he had made as a young boy to his mother not to drink or smoke. In essence, Lincoln’s actions aligned with his words.
Each trimester as part of ParishLeads, our community concentrates on one of our three tenets. Our focus during second trimester has been Honor. When we consider honor at Parish, in part we reflect upon how effectively we align our words and actions. In short, the question each of us should regularly ask is "do I do what I say I will do?"
The start of the new calendar year and the impending approach of the school year’s midpoint mark an excellent time to see how our words – in the form of the goals, commitments and intentions we established with the start of school in August – and our actions have aligned. Students, faculty and parents alike can take advantage of this opportunity to discern how effectively we are honoring the commitment to individual and collective improvement goals we established in late summer.
ParishLeads affords us a valuable framework for engaging in important reflection like this. Later this month, division heads will share how the ParishLeads framework has impacted classroom activities, advisory and experiential programs, and our chapel services during the first half of the year in our quest to forge young people of impact.
Indeed, I did see Lincoln and marveled at its portrayal of Lincoln’s gifts as a leader. Still, it was Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, who had me searching Wikipedia during the film (much to the consternation of a fellow movie patron!) to relearn what I either had forgotten or never learned about him. (As an aside, herein lies a compelling conversation for another day about how history is taught in schools and which historical figures enter our national narrative).
August 28, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream Speech." It is remarkable that a century after men like Lincoln and Stevens planted seeds of justice and equality, the courageous advocacy of individuals like King was still required for those seeds to bear fruit.
If we are to graduate young people capable of impacting the complex and interconnected world in which they will lead and serve, we must expose them to examples of courageous leadership and engage them in honoring and valuing diversity. Fortunately, we have exceptional opportunities available this month which will do just that.
by Mr. David Monaco
on Monday January 14 at 05:38PM
For those of you who read my blog post on vision, you will understand how surprised and thrilled I was to see Mr. Mazella's advisory's submission to this year's Upper School Gingerbread House contest. You will be happy to hear that they won first prize for their grade level, too!
by Mr. David Monaco
on Thursday December 13, 2012 at 03:05PM
Have you ever read something that aligns so closely with what you believe or have yourself said or written that you, in fact, wonder whether you might have written the piece itself? Well a recent article from The Washington Post, written by a former English teacher and past president of the National Council of the Teachers of English, did just that to me. In her article What schools need: Vigor instead of rigor - The Answer Sheet - The Washington Post, Joanne Yatvin plays on the distinction between the use of the words “rigor” and “vigor” in education.
At Parish we have for the last three years intentionally referred to our college preparatory program as “vigorous” rather than “rigorous.” And I have certainly been questioned (if not challenged) on the seemingly fine slicing of these two words! But our choice of vigor most accurately reflects our vision for teaching and learning. As Yatvin cites the dictionary definition, vigor implies “active, physical mental force or strength” and she associates the word to “all the Latin-based words related to life.” Rigor, the more commonly chosen adjective in educational circles (both public and private) today, connotes “harshness, severity, strictness, and inflexibility,” not to mention the notion that it is more honors courses, tougher end-of-grade tests, and other “accountability” measures which will deliver “college ready” students at graduation.
Our school has done significant work articulating meaningful skill outcomes we believe our graduates should secure. We articulate them in our ParishProfile and document student’s demonstration of them in our MyPanther e.portfolio. As such, one can imagine my sense of affirmation reading Yatvin when she writes, “a vigorous school would care about what students do with what they have been taught in classrooms. At all levels vigorous schools would foster activities that allow students to demonstrate their learning in real contexts…”.
As I walk the hallways and visit the classrooms at Parish, I am wonderstruck by the evidence of our students performing and demonstrating knowledge. The products are everywhere. As we continue to make the ParishProfile the centerpiece of our academic vision, we at Parish will gift our students with an engaging, energizing and joyful learning experience – one which helps them develop critical and lifelong skills and competencies as communicators, thinkers, creators and collaborators.
by Mr. David Monaco
on Tuesday December 11, 2012 at 08:42AM
At the beginning of the year I challenged our students to create a vision for themselves or to contribute to the vision of a group to which they belong.
By vision, I don’t mean our eyesight, of course, but the picture they imagine for their future – as an individual: a student, an athlete, an artist, a son, daughter, brother or sister; or as part of a group: what is it that their team, club, ensemble or organization hopes to accomplish this year?
Traveling around Dallas these day, vision comes to mind many times while stuck in traffic. How many of you have endured an I-635 traffic back up at some point?
The scope and size of the project really mesmerizes me: 17 miles; 3.2 billion dollars; Five years to complete - that’s a big vision!
How much planning has gone into accomplishing this vision? How I love seeing step by step progress – a bridge demolished, a new section of the feeder road started, a tunnel getting deeper and deeper, etc. I think observing what is going on out there has a lot to teach us about creating a vision for ourselves.
What’s your vision?
You have to have a vision for where you want to go. How many of you even know what I-635 is supposed to look like, eventually? I didn’t until I researched the vision. They obviously spent a lot of time, energy and money considering what the vision would be before they rolled one bulldozer out there.
I would submit you have to do the same. If you have not already, ask yourself what you want to accomplish this year. As a student, it might be to strengthen your writing, or to develop better organization skills or to conquer your fear of speaking in your foreign language class. As an artist, perhaps you strive to sing your first solo, audition for your first play or produce your first short film. Maybe as an athlete, you wish to lower your race time in cross country, increase your percentage of successful kills on your volleyball strikes or raise your batting average. Whatever it may be, make your vision as specific and detailed as it can be. See it in your mind. Feel it in your bones. Sense what it will feel like to accomplish.
What’s amazing about creating a vision – be it a small one like mastering a previously troubling math concept or a large one like leading your sports team to a championship or completing your AP art portfolio – is that accomplishing a vision you create is made up of smaller steps along the way.
That’s what I love about watching what happens each day, each week and each month on I-635. You see one worker or a small group of workers inserting a piece of rebar on a column for a bridge, or moving dirt for a small portion of road or setting cones to divert traffic: small steps to accomplishing a big vision.
Are you ready for a challenge?
While some steps to achieving this vision may be easy, to be worthwhile, a vision should really stretch us; it should leave us with moments when we wonder if we can actually get it done.
Ever notice the variety of tasks going on around I-635? I mean, it is all dangerous. Both the work they are doing and the speeding traffic around them, the tasks they complete vary. Putting up the new signs to direct traffic where to go seems relatively easy and simple whereas the engineering elements of the project – sighting and digging the tunnels; building the columns for the elevated bridges – is much more challenging and specialized.
Accomplishing your vision will require many steps, some easier than others. You will defeat less talented opponents on the court or field on the way to a championship season; some essays or projects will come more easily as you seek to be a more consistent student in a particular subject. But if too many of the steps on the way to your vision are easy, you have a problem. A vision of substance should and will make you sweat. You should experience setback and uncertainty that leaves you with some doubt and the need to figure out what to do next. Count on that and be ready to persevere through those moments of difficulty.
What resources do you need to achieve your vision?
I have been intrigued by how some of the work on I-635 involves huge machinery while right nearby workers will be surveying, using shovels or screwing in bolts. Figure out the tools you need to accomplish your vision and pick the right ones. Becoming a better math student may require nothing more than your pencil, Inspire calculator and a piece of paper. On the flip side, your goal to do 50 hours of community service may require you to juggle responsibilities and priorities with the understanding of your coaches or friends; line up transportation to and from; and bring the skills you need to serve.
What's your role?
I love how workers are really busy in their space, working on the smallest component of this 17 mile project. I wonder sometimes if they feel that what they are doing at that moment – laying rebar; paving the auxiliary road; laying down a new barrier – is a key component of completing the vision. Especially for you all who are on teams, in clubs or serving ensembles, find the task you can best do to serve the group; do that to the best of your ability, and realize its importance in accomplishing the larger vision.
At Parish we have a vision: we want you to be impactful people. What does this mean? That you will have an impact; as a leader or a follower – a servant – you will roll up your sleeves and be a force for good both here on campus and beyond our gates. We see you as difference makers. We believe you change lives, communities and the world for the better.
Take a look at how our students are making their visions a reality at Parish: Parish News
by Mr. David Monaco
on Monday December 3, 2012 at 02:59PM
I spent a couple days this past weekend at the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest Heads of School Conference in San Antonio. Conference speakers included Tony Wagner and Alan November, both of whom are leading education thinkers. Wagner's book, Creating Innovators, was one many of our faculty members' read this past summer (learn more from Wagner). November has provocative thoughts on how teaching must change if we truly wish to engage students in directing and owning the learning process (learn more from November).
Hearing from both of these gentlemen was equal parts affirming and challenging. I was affirmed that our ParishProfile and 10 Practices of Definitive Preparation are the correct vision for a forward-thinking school. But as school leaders and faculty members, we are presently experiencing, adapting and adjusting to a changing mindset when it comes to designing lessons and assessments. We must continue to take the lead in constructing learning experiences which are more authentic and which place students at the center of the learning process. Each day at Parish we are intent on asking ourselves not only "what content do our students need to know?" but, just as important, "what are they going TO DO with this content in class?" In the end, content is the vehicle through which the essential skills articulated in the ParishProfile are introduced, practiced and mastered.
Upon returning home this week, I received my monthly, the Herman Trend Alert. It could not have been more timely in reinforcing what I had been compelled to think deeply about this past weekend. I am pleased to share it with you here.
Herman Trend Alert: Prizes, Prizes, Prizes! October 31, 2012
Prizes provide incentives to advance technology. Nobel Prizes for innovation and excellence in a number of fields have been given for decades.
In addition, most of us are aware of the original X-Prize for building a commercially viable rocket that would propel man into space. Now "the X PRIZE Foundation is widely recognized as the leader in fostering innovation through incentivized competition". It now offers prizes in four different areas: Education & Global Development, Energy & Environment, Life Sciences, and [Space] Exploration.
The original offering of the X-Prize has also encouraged other organizations, large and small, to follow suit and offer their own prizes. Recently, a consortium of interested parties, including recording celebrity Art Garfunkel announced that it is offering a prize of $2 million in gold bullion to inspire researchers to find a cure for blindness by 2020. Established through Johns Hopkins, the goal of the prize is to trigger research into the variety of diseases that cause blindness---80 percent of which are preventable---in 39 million people around the world. They are also hoping that the excitement generated by the announcement could lead to more donations and, perhaps, pledges to fund the research.
Another recent announcement is the M-Prize from The Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize. They call it "The Innovating Innovation Challenge". They are looking for examples and ideas that will help [them know "how to build innovation into the woof and warp of our organizations." For more information on the new HBR/McKinsey M-Prize series, read Dr. Gary Hamel's introductory post on the brand-new M-Prize site. They seek real-world case studies, progressive practices, and bold idea for getting innovation out off the drawing board and into implementation.
In fact, back in 2010, Hamel and his Management Innovation exchange teamed up with the Human Capital Institute to award a Human Capital M-prize, this year adding a Leadership M-prize as well.
Our forecast is that more wealthy individuals will embrace the opportunity to offer these kinds of incentives and we will soon see a growing number of these prizes and awards. For a relatively minimal investment, society receives a tremendous benefit.
See how our emphasis is shifting not to what people know (information/content is no longer a commodity, it is readily available to us at our fingertips), but how we innovate, problem-solve and apply what we know to solutions that make a difference. As school leaders, teachers and parents, the question we must ask ourselves is how the work we do with students offers them opportunities to develop, apply and practice these skills?
Image Attribution: Idea Bulb by qisur License Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
by Mr. David Monaco
on Thursday November 15, 2012 at 03:14PM