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.

Talking systems…

We had a conversation about the systems everyone uses to keep track of their work and due dates. I wanted to have this circle for two reasons: one, I want people to develop their own system (I don’t care which one, so long as it works). Two, with CCP courses and two projects, I don’t want their system to be shouting questions at me.

Not a deep one, just a gentle reminder that life gets busy and systems help.

Best line about her system (thanks MT!):

“It’s not what goes wrong with it, it’s what goes wrong with me.”


We started today, day two of our business/npo plan competition, by thinking about originality. I wanted to try and get to when this idea is helpful and when it’s counterproductive.

So we defined it together and then worked to identify all the different meanings that might be relevant for our two projects.

Some important ideas emerged…

DW mentioned that when you’re approaching something in an original way there doesn’t appear to be any limits. I tried to let this idea expand a bit before weighing in. This is the great part about working with adolescents — it’s almost all new to them and they have no internal voice declaring certain things impossible. But it’s also the hard part because you’re not going to learn how to design, build, and launch a satellite in twelve weeks.

KH and others described several situations where originality won’t serve you well. Trying out verse won’t serve you well on a placement test. Writing certain kinds of forms calls for precise language. KH also noted that originality is necessary to avoid plagiarism.

Coda: This is one of those activities we do in circle with the intention of supporting all of the project work. Originality matters when proposing a new business and in making your own project. The idea of originality can be a limiter or a liberator.

I’m also hoping that this thinking process re-emerges throughout both project blocks. What role should originality play there? (This is the how to glue days together problem.)

Different levels

I liked this video. It goes directly to many of the conversations we have about levels of understanding.

It also goes to the question of how a kid can enter concepts that an expert does but in a different way. Possibly less sophisticated but definitely grappling with the same stuff.

Freedom question (again)

We’re in the descent towards the end of second quarter. There’s not a lot of traditional teaching I can do right now — we’ve done what’s necessary for them to do their projects, both CSpan and the individual piece — so it’s up to them to finish stuff. I’m coaching, cheerleading, and troubleshooting. I’m grading and I’m conferencing. I’m trying to be fair about who is playing too much and who is playing in a way that disrupts everybody else.

And I’m trying not to overreact when the teenagers start saying stuff because it’s hard to finish stuff. The blame cannons are in constant use: it’s Clapper’s fault, it’s ___
‘s fault, it’s the camera’s fault, it’s so-and-so’s fault.

So I wanted to start the day by asking about the freedom and flexibility they’ve earned.

“How are you taking advantage of the freedom offered at the Workshop School?”
“What do you struggle with most?”

Here’s what I wrote:
“There is a portion of students who are structuring their own time and finding ways to move projects along. They are using teachers and each other as resources to get things done. They see the time as an opportunity to set things up their own way to learn how they learn best. They understand their role in creating their wok and in making the community. They use as much of the time as possible.”

“When people get stuck, i.e., when they don’t know what to do. Do they go invisible or do they cause disruptions ?”
“When people disengage…”
“As a teacher, making sure that I’ve helped kids develop the tools necessary to handle freedom.”
“How much the model is built on kids making their own choices and I’m not always to overcome it when they don’t want to make decisions.”

The conversation focused on three areas:
comfortable: how does freedom help you stay comfortable?
choice: how does having a choice help move your work along?
changes: the school/the class can change to meet different needs.

“My best work usually comes from daily work at home or when it’s quiet enough in school so that I can get deep into my thoughts.” DW

“But what if there’s too much freedom and I get lost?” DC
“Focusing on things when I don’t understand; being interested especially when it’s boring.”
“I sometimes struggle to stay motivated/energzied when doing work that doesn’t immediately interest me. I think this is a byproduct of getting to do interesting work regularly — everything else is more boring.”
“One way I struggle with this freedom is that sometimes I lose track or get sidetracked since it’s my project and I’m not following a structure, I have to create a structure.

Do I make myself clear?

I had not seen a number of these websites: I haven’t downloaded this as a desktop app but it seems pretty helpful. Lots of tools here. I bet my students will like this interface.

Evans, Harold. Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters. (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.)