Wings and Roots: Our school’s 2 major ed. initiatives for the year

My opening remarks to the St. Gregory student body, the morning of the first day of school.

Welcome to 2010-11!

A popular saying urges us to remember that there are only two things we really need to flourish in life: roots and wings.

I like the saying;   it provides a lovely metaphor simplifying the many strands of what what flourishing requires into two simple metaphors:   Roots and wings, a sense of connectedness to our community,and a sense of freedom and empowerment to go out confidently into the world and accomplish our goals.

I worry about false dichotomies—I resist people trying to trap me into making choices I don’t want to have to make.    There is a book I love that calls upon parents and schools to ensure children and students spend more time in nature and argues that kids are so much healthier when they spend more time outside and in direct contact with the earth, the sky, the water.   Get dirty and be happier and healthier. It surprises some people when I say I love and endorse this notion, because sometimes they think I only want kids to spend more time on computers.   I don’t.  I do think computers are great for learning and growing,  but I also believe fervently that it is so important for us all, kids and adults, to spend more time outside.

We must resist the narrowing effects of Either/Or Thinking, and embrace the Both/And.

And so it is with Wings AND Roots.  I think people sometimes think that because I want to see more computers in learning, they are believing I want less face to face time, less interaction among peers and between students and teachers.  But I want both, and I don’t want to be cornered into a false dichotomy.

Fittingly, and charmingly, Wings and Roots correspond precisely to the two big changes we are making this year, laptops and advisory—because we all need stronger wings and deeper roots.

“Wings” is, coincidently but only partially coincidently, exactly the name of our new 1:1 laptop/netbook program.  New students may not realize this, but this is a big jump for St. Gregory; this year for the first time every one of you has a laptop and the requirement to bring it to school (Fully charged!) every day, and bring it to each class most of the time.

We have worked hard to prepare for this, and prepare for your success at this—Mr. Henriksen has overseen a huge and expensive project to fully re-tool the campus with a strong, dependable wifi signal for as many as 400 laptops online at once.  Many of your teachers have spent the summer at conferences and trainings developing new techniques for using laptops in learning.

Calling it “wings” captures several concepts.  It stands for Wired for Innovation and Global Success, but that part isn’t so important;  it is more that we see you all as the St. Gregory Hawks, and your laptops as your Hawks’ wings, carrying you up higher and higher in your learning.

The idea also works well because we want you to use your laptops and netbooks on-line, not with downloaded or installed programs on your hard drive.  We want you to do most of your computer use  with programs on the internet, in your internet browser; when we say this,  we are talking about “the cloud”—the cloud being a metaphor for the internet which is in a sense above our heads, in contrast to the hard drive under our fingers.   Google docs would be one example: it runs on the internet and is saved on the internet, in the cloud, and your wings are what carry you into that internet cloud.

These wings, to return to the underlying metaphor, I think, empower you to take more control of your own learning, to research ideas independently, to communicate with others more effectively here in the school or around the world about what you are learning, to explore your curiosities, and to create, to publish, to post online your own ideas, interpretations, and works of art.    You are made stronger, independently and as a group, to make a difference and organize for change.

I do need to offer a few caveats about the new Wings programs.  We are giving you great opportunities and great freedom and great trust in this program, but you have significant responsibilities.     Let me itemize 4 of them:

  • 1.  Bring your laptop to school, charged, and try to keep it charged through the entire school day.  If you play games on it all through your breaks and lunch, it will not serve you at end of day.  You can plug it in sometimes, but not always.  Charge it every night—this is a key part of your homework!
  • 2. Take care of your laptop, keep it in a protective sleeve, don’t leave it lying around, exercise great personal responsibility and respect others’ laptops.  You can never use another’s without their permission, and even with their permission, let’s not do too much of that.
  • 3. Use it responsibly for learning, but do not use it as a toy or distraction from learning.   Turn off facebook during class!!! Always! We are not blocking facebook or other social networks now, we are not blocking IM, because we trust you to respect your teachers and classmates enough to not allow these distractions and disruptions in class.   But if this is unsuccessful, if it doesn’t work, we will block.  I DON’T WANT TO—but if we have to block because the disrespect is so great, we will.
  • 4.  Remember to use your laptops as Wings—go out into the wide world, blog, create videos and podcasts and animations and photo collages and digital painting and drawing, collaborate with others in games and in projects, take flight and make great stuff happen.  Engage the world, be curious, and find new connections with people who share your interests and with whom you can advance a cause!

But as much as we all need stronger wings, we also need deeper roots, we need a deeper sense of being connected to a community, known and valued by others even as we better know and value them.    This is exactly what our other main new change for the year is all about- giving all of us, teachers and students, a stronger “roots” system by having a place we go two times every week to check in, talk about what’s going on, discuss important topics regarding respect and responsibility, and build a connection to each other.

Advisory should be a time that is fun, of laughter and conversation and relaxation.   Enjoy it, and try hard to make it enjoyable for everyone in your advisory group.  But enjoying it, and making it fun, doesn’t mean it isn’t also serious:  Make it BOTH FUN AND SERIOUS—serious about supporting each other, serious about showing concern and offering advice and encouraging each other to be their best self.  If you can do this, you will feel a stronger, deeper sense of meaning in the community we all share here at St. Gregory, a feeling that will last a long time.  Someone recently said at a meeting I was at that no matter how amazing the facilities, the technology, and the teaching that happens here, at the end of the day it is about, more than anything else, about the relationships we all form- and those relationships are the ROOTS!

Have a great year!

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