Adaptability Project, Day Six

After a relaxing weekend highlighted by a Fathers Day lunch with my parents, in-laws, and sister, it’s back to work on the Adaptability Project here at George School. Week Two (of three) is focused on getting our presentations ready to face the judges on Thursday. Our Head of School started the day off with two TEDx videos to remind us that successful presenting is about storytelling. I’m an English teacher, so believe me, I agree! One of the two videos that Nancy shared featured an off-color joke that we all enjoyed but which isn’t appropriate for all audiences. The other video, from TEDx Kyoto 2012, features Garr Reynolds, below:

I’ve been rebelling against PowerPoint (and its kin) for several years now in my own teaching, so the message of this video was preaching to the choir. When I do need to present, I mostly use Haiku Deck, but I’ve been fooling around with Microsoft Sway in recent weeks. (It’s still in beta, and pretty cool.) Readers of my blog will also know that I swore not to do any lecturing in my classes this past year, so PowerPoint was nearly absent from my English classes in 2014-15. Adobe Voice was my go-to app for flipped teaching, but I digress.

Nancy told us that she had come to clarity on the length of our proposals: 30 minutes each, plus 10 minutes for Q+A with the judges. She gave us a rubric this morning with six elements:

  1. Responds to an external challenge
  2. Applies an innovative approach to strengthen GS’s “core”
  3. Demonstrates an understanding of the ways in which the proposed change will impact, and be impacted by, other areas of school administration.
  4. Promises to help GS become more financially sustainable, either by bending the cost curve or bringing in additional revenue
  5. Promises to be adaptable
  6. Presentation

[I’d like to point out that, true to all of Nancy’s written communication, the rubric displays rock-solid use of parallelism, a grammar topic that we teach to our freshmen at GS. I hope our next HOS is as stylish a writer.]

Nancy told us that the “sharks” will be using this rubric to score our presentations and thus decide which two proposals are the winners. I raised my hand and asked whether or not the scores from the rubrics are the decider, or whether the sharks are allowed to award a win to a presentation that didn’t score as highly on the rubric but which represents the best strategic choice for the school. After all, the sharks on Shark Tank, and venture capitalists in general, are looking for the best business opportunities, not the slickest presentations. The guys (and gals) who found tech start-ups aren’t known for making great eye contact and speaking clearly; they are nerds and geeks who write code. I could tell from the nodding of heads around our table that my colleagues agreed with me on this one. We want the best ideas to win, not the best presentation.

My groupmates and I went over each element on the rubric and looked at the criteria necessary to receive a score of “4” (“Excellent”). We feel like we are in very good shape, but we need to think through our plan for element five. The language on the rubric states, “There is a well thought-out plan for monitoring outcomes. The group has anticipated possible changes in the external environment that might challenge their plan and provided examples of adaptations.” We have some of this covered, but not all of it. For instance, while our presentation will argue that we should join the Global Online Academy, we might switch to a Quaker school consortium when one comes into existence. We don’t really know whose job it will be to implement our proposal if it is chosen as a winner. The Adaptability Project ends at the end of this next school year, but the plan will take five years (or more) to fully put in place. My teammates and I are all heavily scheduled faculty members, so who does all the hard work in the years to come?

We spent the rest of the day splitting up the work of making slides for our presentation. Then at 2:30 we Skyped with Brad Rathgeber, the Executive Director of The Online School For Girls. I saw Brad present at TABS in Washington, DC this past winter, and my teammate Melaina is taking a class on blended learning via OS4G right now, and we both wanted to pick his brain about online consortia. Brad is at a conference for girls schools right now, and the guy made time for us in the middle of a very busy day. He is a devoted evangelist for online learning and blended learning, and his candor and generosity are amazing. I’m not putting all the details of what Brad told us in this post, but he certainly helped us articulate our goals, and he armed us with some excellent, granular arguments in favor of online and blended learning. One key point that he wanted to stress is that schools can’t skimp on professional development for their faculty if they are serious about embracing blended learning. That matters for our team because we were (cough, cough) planning to do a little skimping.

Brief aside: If anyone out there at GS or in cyberspace thinks that we are phoning in these projects, collecting a nice stipend, and then heading off for glamorous vacations on La Cote D’Azur, let me tell you, that is not the case. By the time we deliver these presentations on Thursday, we will have Skyped, phoned, emailed, or met in person with about a dozen serious educational leaders or experts. My colleague Alyssa has spoken to more tech integrationists at other schools than I can keep track of, and we are buried in online research all day. I haven’t been keeping tabs on the other teams, but my sense is that they are doing similar legwork.

Finally, while all of this is going on, I am also working on a new, solo proposal. This isn’t my unbundling proposal that I put to rest, but a proposal aimed at addressing the structural causes that have kept GS from being adaptable in the past. I’m calling it a “meta proposal” since it is about adaptability, not an example of an agile change to our program. I’m just teasing it now, but I’ll post the slides in a day or two if I feel like I’m going to go for it. Nancy seems interested, so that’s a good sign, but working on a side project means short-changing my teammates on the tech renaissance proposal. Time to multi-task.

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