Circle: Why do projects change?

There were rumblings of discontent over circle so I tried this question without writing: why do projects change? Why should projects change?

We had a good conversation. The moments where you see a new way forward or an easier approach can keep you going. Similarly, there are moments where you see something for yourself and something that will keep you excited about continuing. All of the student insights noted the necessity of engagement. You can’t drive anything forward if you don’t care about it. Which was great.

It’s actually a trait I’m starting to admire more and more: the kids who can change the direction of their project, one that they’ve invested time and energy in, because they’ve found something better, something more powerful.

A historian sits in an archive with an idea, but if the archivist brings out a magical, untouched box, they’re going to move in a new direction. This flexibility — combined with persistence — is a trait I need to spend some time thinking about how to cultivate.

What responsibility

do students have? Do teachers have?

We began with this conversation today, mostly to return to some lingering questions about what responsibilities we have to each other and to the larger group.

After we talked through it, we had a conversation about what responsibilities the whole group has. Along with supporting each other, the question of how we might develop more leaders emerged. How do we make more leaders?

How cross country skiing explains it all

Great, short piece in the NYT Magazine.

My favorite paragraph here:

Instead of offering us distraction — the glittery melodrama of figure skating or the quirky novelty of curling — cross-country skiers lean right into a bleak truth: We are stranded on a planet that is largely indifferent to us, a world that sets mountains in our path and drops iceballs from 50,000 feet and tortures our skin with hostile air. There is no escaping it; the only noble choice is to strap on a helmet and slog right in. Cross-country skiing expresses something deep about the human condition: the absolute, nonnegotiable necessity of the grind. The purity and sanctity of the goddamn slog.

Rules for success

Wanted to try something this morning. I’m always trying to get at the habits that you need to be successful and thought I’d try this:

Write out your own rules that you follow to be successful

Listen to a compilation of Oprah rules for success and write down hers.

Write down how these apply to your business plan.

Write down how these apply to your individual project.

(I never got to the last two; we had a pretty good discussion about how these rules develop.)

Second Quarter Letter

January 20, 2018

Dear students and parents from Room 201,

Second quarter has come to a successful end. I hope that your children have shared the work they did on their CSpan project as well as their individual project. Maybe our reading of J.D. Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy, stirred some conversation. Maybe not.And all students completed at least one college course and everyone finished our mini-Drexel course with Professor VK. That’s a lot!

One conversation we had as a group near the end of the semester was about what it means to be at the Workshop School. Students had 60+ days to create a 5-7 minute video based on their research. This was real work: identifying a topic, sorting through video clips, researching to achieve a deep understanding, and connecting with experts. The skills required to film, edit, and score a film were real. To complete this project is an accomplishment and I applaud all of the students who submitted.

When I said something similar in class, a student said something absolutely brilliant: “That’s a nice speech and all, but my jawn (isn’t so good).” This is the kind of honest analysis we want for all of our students. Let’s acknowledge the hard work but let’s also not pretend that hard work always equals great outcomes. Sometimes hard work just opens the door to more hard work. Doing real things and doing authentic tasks means that you will have real failures. What’s important is that you identify what went well and why it went well. And that you know what you need to differently the next time you take on a project.

For us, it’s better to fail at something important and learn from it then it is to fake your way through things. I hope all our students and parents feel this. I want the students to feel positive about how hard they’ve worked on something and I want them to understand what more they can do.

Students also had a chance to develop an individual project. Some kids wrote book proposals and others did research briefs. Some planned campaigns and others framed out a public service campaign. We had mixed results here. Some students used their time very well. They used the circle time tasks as starting points for their work.They made sure they knew exactly what their first deliverable was and drove towards it. Coming up with your own project is difficult. Keeping it moving is even harder. Ask yourself, students, what can you do in third quarter to move this along.

All of the grades are contained in worksis. This dashboard is readily available online to all parents (just ask your child to show you). If you want access yourself, email me and I will send instructions so that you can view the current grades at any time. One thing I’m going to try and do in third quarter is have Worksis Fridays where we look at this dashboard every other Friday to make sure everyone is aware of their grades and the feedback within the dashboard.

Nearly all of the students are enrolled at CCP this Spring. These courses are held at the main campus and, for the most part, happen in the afternoon. I look forward to supporting everyone in these classes but I need to make a few things clear. Our morning time is for project work. We will not have quiet time to read or do homework for CCP. You have Ms. Marina on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 12:45 and 1:40 to help. We also will have a study hall on Tuesday afternoons to get work done. Thursdays Ms. Joanna and the team from Talent Search will be here to support the college application process. Finally, all students are expected to attend all classes. As we raised money to pay for these courses, part of the deal was that all students would go to all classes. Children who do not go to class may lose the privilege of going to CCP and may be subject to disciplinary procedures. We take our responsibility for your children seriously and trust that they will make the most of this opportunity.

For our large group project during third quarter, all of the students will be working on a project to create either a business plan or a plan for a local non-profit organization. We will be raising money to support a shark tank like competition at the end of the quarter where the two winning proposals will be funded. There are three academic pieces I’m interested in here: one, I want the students to have the experience of writing and presenting with a concrete audience and purpose in mind. All of their words will have to count. Two, I want them to learn how to create a budget within a spreadsheet, purposefully maneuver all of the data in that spreadsheet. Three, I want them to successfully complete an online Wharton program hosted by Coursera on entrepreneurship.

Individually, students will continue with the project based on a proposal they completed on December 20th. We had mixed results with the initial deliverables — ask your student to talk through theirs — but I hope we can get back on track for third quarter. The number one thing you can do to support this work is to ask the following questions:

How is your individual project going?
What is your current deliverable? When is it due? What work do you have to do on it?
What are you reading to support this project? What writing are you doing? How much time have you spent on home on this project?

We do not have much explicit homework here. What we do have are projects that require lots of time. They always have more work to do at home and if they say they don’t, they’re not being honest. Students are learning how to budget their time and any help you can give is appreciated.

Our third quarter exhibitions will be the pitch contest held between March 13th and March 16th. Please come out and support this process. Let me know now if a morning on one of these days is best for you.

As always please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns.