When we opened our school, we knew that there was a lot we wanted to do to re-imagine the learning experience for modern learners. This meant assessing what schools “do” and what made sense to continue to do.
One of the issues we wanted to address was “traditional” parent-teacher conferences. What our collective experience as school employees and parents informed us that Parent Conferences essentially meant 1 of 4 main things:
Yet, as a new school, we found ourselves still working within an established and larger system that set aside specific dates for “Parent Conferences” with attached Minimum Day bell schedules and Teacher Contract language associated with them.
So we began to ideate. How might we make a more meaningful experience out of Parent Conferences? We started by researching options such as “Student Led Conferences” (SLC’s) made popular by different progressive education outlets.
While intrigued by SLC’s, we were hesitant because while the onus shifted from teacher to student-talk, it still seemed like an isolated event. Students, instead of their teachers, reported about their successes, struggles and other issues -- but all still in private.
Since Project Based Learning (PBL) is important to us, and an essential element of PBL is “public audience,” we prototyped a riff off of SLC’s where a student would prepare a presentation about their learning and give this presentation publicly to their family and invited friends, a teacher, and three other families. Students are given a template to help structure their 5-7 minute presentation, but allowed the latitude to tell their story in their way. Students talk about how they are doing academically, where they are exceeding and show evidence for it. Where are they struggling, and what is their plan for improving. Students also talk about their relationship with the core values (GILLS) of the school. What core value have they been challenged by and what is their plan to improve. What core value are they best exemplifying and what is the evidence to prove it? Students also discuss in general about what their challenges are and where they have grown over their time at the school.
These experiences are called “Celebrations of Learning” and we began doing them in the Spring of 2015 (our first year).
When we opened our 4th year of the school, we thought about authenticity a lot. Both in the projects & prototypes students made, but also in what we were asking the students to reach and do. We agreed that it would be meaningful if the adults stepped up and engaged in their own Celebrations of Learning (COL’s) in front of our peers. On November 6th, 2017, we did just that. Four members of our Staffulty took about 25 minutes during a meeting and presented to their peers. There were tears, there was vulnerability, there was open-honesty, there was humor; but most of all there was love and appreciation. The Staffulty who gave their COL’s gained empathy for what we ask our students to go through on four occasions during their time at our school. The audience gained respect and appreciation for their colleagues stepping well out of the comfort zone. Some of the email comments that followed summed up the experience well:
“I just wanted to thank the brave souls that shared their COL this morning with the staff. Thank you for showing us a side of you that we don't always get to see and being VULNERABLE. I was so impressed. I feel more and more like family here and I'm so grateful to be a part of this great work that we do. I was again inspired by the power of a Celebration of Learning. I can't wait to see what the kids come up with this week.”
“This morning's Adult COLs profoundly touched me. The personal reflections were courageous, humorous, and touching. I was also moved by those in the room that listened attentively and supported our colleagues as they shared about themselves.”
Image Credit: http://www.shmula.com/about-peter-abilla/what-is-andon-in-the-toyota-production-system
When my wife was seven months pregnant with our first child, we moved into my parents’ spare bedroom. We had just rented out our house, and we were six weeks away from closing escrow on our new home where we would go on to raise our little family. While we were living in the spare bedroom, we had to quickly adopt some survival skills. This was a great adventure, mainly because of me. I am not only a super-sensitive person, but I also think that I am funnier than I actually am...
To survive this six week adventure, my wife and I quickly realized that we needed a special “stop” signal that either of us could invoke without angering the other. We needed an alert system that, without words or sensationalism, indicated "feelings are about to be hurt." Living in such a small space with so much external stress, we needed to ensure that effective communication and systems were in place to end teasing, nagging, questioning, or eye-rolling before the point of no return. The signal? If one of us were about to experience hurt feelings, we were to extend our arms and close them shut, like the jaws of an alligator. This signal means, without question, hesitation, sarcastic remark, or huffy sounds, that everything was to stop. Immediately.
Almost a decade later while reading the book The Lean StartUp (2011) by Eric Ries, I was fascinated to learn about a mechanism at Toyota that worked in radically the same way. It is called the "Andon Cord." The Andon Cord is a cord that any worker along the assembly line is expected to pull if a problem or concern is seen. Pulling the cord is not something determined by rank or seniority. Pulling the cord illuminates a series of immediate responses by supervisors that may or may not actually stop the entire line of production. Ries (2011) explains that it "allows any worker to ask for help as soon as they notice any problem, such as a defect in a physical part, stopping the entire production line if it cannot be corrected immediately" (p. 187). Without naming it, in How (2011) by Dov Seidman, he explains the power of this concept as "it (quality) became the responsibility of every employee at every level of the task. Power shifted from the top of the hierarchy down to its base; anyone, at any stage of the process, could stop the line" (pp. 211-212).
This is much like what my wife and I had developed to get through our in-between-houses-time, and in fact we still use the signal today. Frankly, much of the success of our marriage has been forged by this strategy that puts the responsibility on both of us for acting and responding appropriately in a predetermined and understood fashion.
I was speaking to a visitor touring our school in the spring of 2017, and he took the story of the Andon Cord as a quality control tool and superimposed it as a strategy for ferreting out instruction that didn't meet “his” standards. In fact, he quite-excitedly gleaned that this proven concept from industry empowered him to be more direct and quicker to make note of low-grade instruction at “his” school.
So bothered by his interpretation, I was inspired to write this post. I told him that I thought the transference of the concept of the Andon Cord from manufacturing to education was more to do about empowering all people in the organization and flattening the hierarchy, aka, culture. It was not immediately about quality control on instruction. I told him that, in fact, I thought the story taken in the context as he processed it was actually damaging. Whether he wanted to hear it or not, I continued that, 'from my perspective, the power of the Andon Cord idea speaks to...'