Day One Reflections of New York’s iZone
Recently, the Rodel Teacher Council members visited several schools in New York City that are exemplars for personalized learning. Michelle Morton, a literacy interventionist at McKean High School in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, contributed this guest blog post about her experiences on the site visit. Another Teacher Council member, Tricia Dallas, also blogged about her experience.
Once we made it through the traffic on the way to the city, we pulled up to the beautiful Department of Education building. Seth and Megan from the Department told us about the Office of Innovation’s inception and progressive growth, to the current 300 schools involved. The work they are doing revolves around systems, school, and market fixing; and they shared many ideas regarding their “fail fast, fail early” philosophy that moves rapid prototypes through the metric collection system and into pilots only when there’s evidence of success small scale. They discussed asynchronous learning, and innovative exchange (professional development). They defined the iZone as a place where they create questions instead of solutions and empower schools to come up with the solutions and then they help with policy. iZone schools “are the hubs of intellectual possibilities for kids.” They talked about “breaking rules in the service of the kids” and even shared anecdotal evidence of policy change based on these risk takers. They fielded some questions from the group and then sent us on our way to see their schools at work.
Our insightful meeting was followed by an exciting bus ride to the Bronx. We arrived at the Bronx Compass, filled with questions. We first visited the Compass School. The librarian Margaret Whitehead was gracious about our early arrival and shared her website and some great ideas about engaging students. Stacy McCoy then arrived, fresh faced and energetic. She told us her story and how she got her start teaching at a prison in Michigan. Through her experiences, she realized the way to stop the cycle was to educate at the high school level. She talked about personalization as “whole school or no school.” All parts of the school culture must be transfused with personalization and this was clear as we walked around the campus. All the students were definitely empowered to create their own learning and the personal attention each received was also clear. The tour showed us advisory in action and then we had a Q & A with a student and teacher panel.
During the panel, we learned more about the competency based learning and how it is based on learning targets and students have to show mastery and perform “transfer tasks”. Students have IBM (Interest Based Modules) that meet every Wednesday and culminate in a publishing step. One of their teachers discussed the Big Picture Advisory that services ten students through LTI (Learning through Internships) and ELO (Extended Learning Opportunities). Then we heard about advisory. This 90-minute block at the end of each day allowed teachers to address students’ emotional and social needs and also work on I search type projects. Lastly we hear students discuss their personal experiences with the school. Ashanti, was a writer, who used to be shy, but spoke to the group with eloquence and pride. Louis was a filmmaker who used the power of music for comic effect. Cynthia was an artist who used other artists as her inspiration, and last, Michael from Puerto Rico who recently was encouraged to use his artistic ability to apply for a summer position at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. The student testimony was heartfelt and sweet, but we all left with many questions about the rigor of the academic curriculum.