Deeper Learning Reflection: Chapter 12 “Ears to the Ground: School Leadership in the New Millennium”

Moment of truth: I wanted to like this chapter way more than I actually liked this chapter. Which probably means I’m missing something and need to re-read it and do a better job thinking about it in the context of my school.

There are a lot of C’s in this chapter; for someone with a tendency to have ‘achiever’ pop up on her strengths finder, the site of that letter can be alarming.

Esparza first introduces the 4Cs of instruction in the 21st century: critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation. Sound familiar?


She then takes it a step further to give us the 4Cs of 21st century leadership: context, culture, conditions, and competencies.


I appreciated Esparza’s acknowledgement that environments drive learning– meaning we must be keenly aware of the dynamic and ever-changing environments around us and especially our students. This reminded me of an article I read in grad school. In it, Bronfenbrenner (1979), heavily influenced by Piaget and others, set out to take their developmental theories one step further. Bronfenbrenner presented a theory of knowledge that takes into account environment at multiple levels. Rather than focus on what a person knows, Bronfenbrenner focuseed in on how they know it and the way in which they understand it.


Note where you see school– directly touching the individual. The school environment is as important to an individual’s development as his or her parents or siblings. Later in the chapter, Esparza actually shares that the influence of parents is key to community success because parents can either discredit what is happening at school or reinforce it (p.309). Look deeper at this system web and look at all the things that are working to influence an individual at any moment: media, parents’ work, income, social pressure, family, peers, history, where they live…it goes on and on. We must take time to understand where a student is coming from. We also have a responsibility to be an environment that shapes them for good.


I’ve already heard it a few times this pre-planning: culture eats strategy for breakfast. But what is culture? What does it look like in a school? How do get cultivate it? I imagine it looks like people who take pride in their craft, their students, their peers, and their work environment.

As Esparza notes (p.303), a shared vision is the most critical aspect of a healthy school culture. That makes me thankful for leaders like Dr. J who take the time to set the tone at the start of each year so that we are on the same page. Sometimes that clarity gets lost as we find ourselves in the weeds of the school year. Pre-planning is a great example: we are providing amazing opportunities to build relationships (our wildly important goal for the year) through expeditions, games, and get togethers. But what the teachers also need are the “guard rails” of the year: what are the classroom expectations? The evaluation guidelines, etc. As a school leadership, shouldn’t we provide the guard rails up front if they exist (and they always exist) if we expect teachers to be beholden to them? Limitless creativity is amazing if it can be honored– but we if know there are some non-negotiables, why not lead with them and avoid the situation of having to knock down great and imaginative ideas that can’t come to fruition? If we’re going to require PBL units of all teachers or ask that each teacher co-teaches at least one unit, I’d imagine teachers would want to know that upfront. Perhaps that sounds too harsh for a school that prides itself on innovation– but according to Esparza, the best way to set a strong school culture is to have incredibly transparent teaching and learning priorities.


Aligning resources with student growth sounds so obvious. All strong leaders know they have to put their money where their mouth is. But what isn’t talked about as openly (and something I think this section missed discussing) is that saying yes in some places means saying no in others. If we are going to have writable, moveable desks in classrooms so that we can have flexible learning spaces, it might mean that we have to make do with the Apple TVs for another year or two instead of getting those smartboards just yet. If we want to provide tremendous learning opportunities through conferences, workshops, and higher education it may mean that salaries can’t increase as much as some may like. Being a leader in a 21st century school means having the superpower of future vision: technology and resources are going in and out of vouge so quickly. What will be lasting? If both a smartTV and writable, moveable desks contribute to flexibility in learning, which do we install first? What will prove only a fad? How do know know the right things to spend money on?


For a school to transform, teachers need to have bought in entirely. That means the retention and development of team members should be critical components to any leader’s strategy. Professional learning opportunities are at the heart of buy-in: help team members understand the vision, give them opportunities to grow within the context of that vision, and empower them to apply and augment the vision in the context of their own sphere of influence. Do this and team members will feel supported, encouraged, and a part of something larger than themselves. If you think this sounds remarkably similar to the practice of distributed leadership, you’d be correct.

Measuring the four Cs can be harder than understanding them. I liked the idea of creating a chart with initiatives within those areas to understand if they fall in the areas of data collecting, accountability, or relationships. If we’re sticking with the idea of transparency, it seems like that’d be a great chart to share with the whole team…


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). Ecology of human development : Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.


Deeper Learning Reflection: Chapter 9 “Assessment Systems for Deeper Learning”

Warning: this post is written by a college counselor with strong feelings about the inability of standardized tests to measure, well, anything except income level.

It was impossible to read Chapter 9 of Deeper Learning by Darling-Hammond and Conley and not think about the millions of students who take standardized tests every year for the college admission process. Assessment itself needs addressing at all levels: national tests, state tests, individual classroom tests– but the biggest internal battle I face is the incongruity of the desire of universities to have students excited by deep learning yet many of those same universities subscribe to standardized testing as the best way to inform potential for academic engagement on their campuses.

There might be a place for standardized testing in the hierarchy of admission evaluations, but it certainly is not at the top. Beyond the socio-economic barriers, standardized testing and traditional assessment like grade point averages do very little to tell the story of a student’s curiosity or motivation; their clinical like approach to success forces all college bound students into a one-size-fits-all box and eliminates the unique possibility of every student. In truth, it the individual learning experiences of a student ought to be the most important part in their application to college; it allows the uniqueness of each student to shine through, affording colleges and universities the opportunity to authentically picture that student on their campus. [Kudos, by the way, to the hundreds of colleges who are already actively addressing this issue by adjusting their admission policies.]

David Conley (one of the authors of this chapter) also published a description of “college ready” in the Journal of College Admission (2014), which states that college readiness is more than a lack of deficit in the content areas of reading, writing, and math. Rather, it is the possession of content knowledge, strategies, skills, and technological competencies that make for an incredibly agile individual.

The same year, Dr. Conley wrote New Conceptions of College and Career ReadyIn it, he debuted the four keys to college and career readiness broken into cognitive strategies (think), content knowledge (know), learning skills and techniques (act), and transition knowledge and skills (go). If a school is looking to determine if they are really preparing students to be college ready, look no further than the four keys:

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 4.14.41 PM

Colleges can determine a student’s level of competency in these categories in a number of ways. Standard parts of an application like high school transcripts, essays, interviews, letters of recommendation, and resumes make a lot of sense. Newer tools are coming on the scene like ePortfolios and ZeeMee too. These items take more time and effort to review than standardized test scores, but in the long run, they provide a much more robust look into a student’s ability to be successful on a college campus.

A Sneak Peak Into My Doctoral Research  will show you how I plan to study Hampshire College, the only school in the nation to completely eliminate standardized testing from their admission process.

Deeper Learning Reflection: Chapter 2 “Dispositions: Critical Pathways for Deeper Learning”

You see it all over your Twitter feed. “We’re so progressive! Look at how every student has a laptop”, “Our new Maker Lab is going to put us on the map”, “If we aren’t doing PBL, what are we even doing” or “Once we change our schedule, we can finally innovate the way we want to”.

These are of course relevant and much needed things to think about on the pathway toward the future– but are they the key to deeper learning? According to Cost and Kallick in Chapter 2 of “Deeper Learning”, they are not. The moments captured above are reflective of technical shifts that will lead to significant opportunities for deeper learning but not to deeper learning itself (p.56) . Deeper learning requires a full paradigm shift. It requires learners to question the very purpose of education itself. It requires that we prepare for a process, not an end. Deeper Learning is the opposite of an ending– that is why traditional assessments and subject-centered teaching are at such odds with it.

The next step is to determine what skills and dispositions, exactly, lend themselves to the cultivation of deeper learning. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this. And while there are many skills that appear on multiple lists (like collaboration, inquisitiveness, problem solving, written and oral communication, and adaptability), it seems that someone could make an argument for just about any skill. Which is why I believe that the dispositions are the most important.

Cost and Kallick outline sixteen dispositions that they believe are the habits of mind most key to cultivating deeper learning:

  1. Persisting
  2. Managing Impulsivity
  3. Listening with Empathy and Understanding
  4. Thinking Flexibly
  5. Thinking About Your Thinking (Metacognition)
  6. Striving for Accuracy and Precision
  7. Questioning and Problem Solving
  8. Applying Past Knowledge to Novel Situations
  9. Thinking and Communicating With Clarify and Precision
  10. Gathering Data Through All Senses
  11. Creating, Imagining, and Innovating
  12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe
  13. Taking Responsible Risks
  14. Finding Humor
  15. Thinking Interdependently
  16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

The bolded dispositions stood out to me as ones incredibly relevant to my day-to-day.

Listening with Empathy and Understanding

Listening is arguably the most important skill for college counseling. Not just because we have dozens of meetings with students and parents. But because we have to constantly be aware of the emotional cues around us (p.61). We are always reading body language, facial expressions, and tones of voices to determine if what people are saying with their words matches with they’re saying with their bodies. Only then can we help families synthesize what they’re trying to say by paraphrasing it accurately, building upon it, or giving an example of it.

The skill is being about to listen. The disposition is using that skill to reflect it back and respond accordingly.

Thinking About Your Thinking (Metacognition)

Read the room. The best laid plans. Pivot. We hear this advice all the time. The thesis is the same through all the mantras: you have to be willing to change course when what you’re doing isn’t working. And if we’re honest, most of the time, things aren’t going to go exactly as you planned every time. I hadn’t really considered this metacognition before, but Cook and Kallick describe metacognition as “rehears[ing] prior to performance, monitoring those plans as they are employed- being conscious of the need for midcourse correction…”.

So how do we know enough to recognize when it is time to change course? Reflection. The skill is taking the time to reflect (through journaling, de-briefing, or otherwise) but the disposition is actually processing that reflection and changing course one way or another based on your observations of your own self.


Taking Responsible Risks

Deeper learners…live on the edge of their incompetence.

I am obsessed with the above excerpt from page 65. It doesn’t mean that deeper learners are incompetent. It means that deeper learners know that they do not know everything and that drives them. It pushes us to take risks, lean in to ambiguity, and expect failure. These risks are calculated of course, but there is a freedom in admitting that we don’t know everything and that the most beautiful things lie in the momentarily unknown. How lucky am I to work in a school where the norm is to “fail up”!

The skill is taking risks. The disposition is to make them in an educated fashion.

Since there were the three dispositions that stood out to me the most, they’re the three I commit to actively work to cultivate. I felt the adrenaline-like rush of insight that comes with making the connection between the dispositions of deeper learning and things that I encounter on a daily basis (p.71). Which dispositions stood out to you? Which will you commit to cultivate?

U Penn “How to Apply to College” Coursera Course: Mid Program Report & Amazing Resources

photoEric J. Furda, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania is partnering with Dr. Sean Vereen of Steppingstone Scholars to offer a “How to Apply to College” course from U Penn via Coursera.

So naturally, I wanted to try it out.

I’m 50% of the way through the course (week 3 out of 6) and so far, as someone with experience on both sides of the desk, I haven’t really had any “aha” moments yet. What I have learned, however, are some amazing resources available online that I’m eager to share with our students. Here are some of my favorites:

Pell Abacus– Pell Abacus is a free search site that helps students get financial aid estimates directly from schools. Search multiple schools and compare in one place, before you even apply. Read more about financial aid in my previous post, here.

Raise.Me– A website that works with Micro-scholarships from colleges. Essentially, it lets students see how small things they do in HS (from earning an A to being in a drama production) can earn them money in college. Not all schools participate, but its a great way to start younger students thinking about involvement as a form of investment. We’ve introduced Raise.Me to students before, but I think we can do a better job building it in to our program.

College Scorecard– This is a DoE product that I’ve heard talked about a lot, but haven’t actually used before. It is a one-stop-shop that lets families compare average test scores, debt amounts, starting salaries, graduation rates, and more. A terrific resource!

How to Fill Out the FAFSA step by step video from UCSB. This will be something I share with parents every October as the FAFSA launches.

This awesome Quizlet deck of 62 terms for the college application process. I’m absolutely going to figure out a way to use this with our students. The opportunity to gamify the often daunting admission vocabulary is so exciting.

Dean Furda’s blog, p.217 has also been a great resource. One of the assignments last week was to read a post on the 5 Is of self-assessment in the college process:

  1. Identity: How do you see yourself and how do others see you?
  2. Intellect: How do you think and approach the acquisition of knowledge?
  3. Ideas: What do you think and why?
  4. Interests: What do you choose to do when you have the time and flexibility?
  5. Inspiration: What really motivates you?

Then, we had to write about how those could’ve applied to our own college search and self reflection. Here was my submission:

Growing up in an Italian household, it was inevitable that I’d learn to talk not only through words but also through my hands. Things that I can touch, that I can reach out for, or that I can raise my hands up in excitement about– those are the things that really inspire me. As I’ve experienced all sorts of leaning environments throughout the years, I’ve found that I think the most deeply when I can connect the concept I’m learning to a person that I can reach out and touch. Someone I know. Someone I’ve connected with. It could be having a live back and forth in a small group over a topic in a classroom. It could someone I met at a restaurant, who I took the time to learn part of their story, that suddenly makes that event I learned about in history class come to life. Topics with personal connections are seared into my psyche, yet things memorized for a test are immediately lost to me. For that reason, inspiration and intellect have an unavoidable intersection in my college choice. As I think about what type of college or major would best suit me, I know that it is important to me to be in a highly personal setting with smaller class sizes and a focus on real work outside of the classroom. A major that helps build the tools of connection within me would be a tremendous asset, because I feel strongly that I will go into a profession where I will need to interact at a deep level with all sorts of people. I’m thankful for my heritage and the inspiration it provides me– I’m particularly excited to find the college that fits me so well, my hands can’t help but shoot into the air with excitement.

It has been a really incredible exercise to go through this course like a student and to keep myself fresh on college admissions. I can’t wait for the next three weeks!

If you haven’t taken advantage of something like Coursera or a MOOC– I highly suggest it. That opportunity to continuously learn is a tremendous asset in any profession.

University of Maryland: Fear the Turtle

We had a great visit today at the University of Maryland in College Park, MD. The University of Maryland is a public research institution that nearly 27,000 undergraduate students call home.

What stood out to many of our students was the university’s commitment to research– even at the undergraduate level. And UMD isn’t kidding. Check out all these options.

University of Maryland Mall, the center of campus

For a campus as sprawling as the University of Maryland, I loved how it was laid out: in a ring system. The mall (their giant lawn) marks the center of campus and is surrounded by academic buildings. The next ring includes residence halls and dinning options, and the outer ring is everything else- from preforming arts centers to athletic fields. Makes sense, right?

Class changes are busy!

Admission Fast Facts:

  • Business, biology, communication, criminology, engineering, gov and politics, biochemistry, chemistry, journalism, psychology — these are limited enrollment majors
  • Review is major blind. But if you apply to one of the above majors, you can get into the university but may not get into your major
  • Consider 26 points in the admission file (see picture)
  • 86% graduation rate
  • Exclusive Coalition App member
  • Superscores for both ACT and SAT
  • Priority deadline is Nov. 1
  • Over 90 majors are available and you have to declare a major by the end of sophomore year
UMD was very transparent with how they read applications


Majors are broken down into these 13 schools

Other Fun Facts:

  • They have a creamery, farmers market, bowling alley
  • Only school with a fully functioning wind tunnel
  • Students rub Testudo the Turtle’s nose for luck and sometimes leave him offerings
*Note: these are my notes from a college tour on 3/1/17. Information may change as policies and programs shift at the university*

Georgetown University- Be Men and Women for Others

We started off Tuesday morning on the campus of Georgetown University, America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit institute of higher learning.


Where does the term Hoyas come from anyway?

“Many years ago, when all Georgetown students were required to study Greek and Latin, the University’s teams were nicknamed “The Stonewalls.” It is suggested that a student, using Greek and Latin terms, started the cheer “Hoya Saxa!”, which translates into “What Rocks!” The name proved popular and the term “Hoyas” was eventually adopted for all Georgetown teams.” -From Georgetown Athletics

Georgetown Athletic Fields

Admission Fast Facts:

  • Not a member of the Common App or Coalition App– has their own application
  • EA and RD application plans (If you apply EA you can’t be applying ED elsewhere)
  • Two part application. Georgetown base application and then supplement
  • 3 subject tests are strongly recommended
  • Does not participate in score choice– you must send every single test taken
  • Also considers resume, interview, two essays, teacher, and counselor recommendations
  • 13-16% admit rate
  • Meets 100% demonstrated need but awards no merit based scholarships
  • 93% retention rate
  • You apply directly and enroll in one of the following colleges: Georgetown College, Nursing and Health Sciences, Walsh School of Foreign Science, McDonough School of Business. You can’t major across colleges, but you can minor across them
  • There is a liberal arts core curriculum all students take
  • 11:1 student to teacher ratio, average class size of 16

Traditions are big at Georgetown. Here is one of my favorites:

A timeless tradition: seniors steal the clock hands from this tower and send it to someone they hope will speak at their commencement. Rumor has it that a Pope has blessed them and a former President of the United States has signed them!

We also learned that 14 US Presidents have spoken from the top of these stairs. No big deal…


Here are a few more pictures from our tour, including a peak into a classroom!

When you’re visiting Georgetown, it is important to walk around the neighborhood of Georgetown as well. Students live on campus for their first three years at Georgetown and much of campus housing includes living-learning communities just outside of the gates. The neighborhood is as much a part of campus as the iconic buildings. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Georgetown Cupcake is just a few blocks away. Perfect for a sweet treat!


*Note: these are my notes from a college tour on 2/28/17. Information may change as policies and programs shift at the university*

The George Washington University- Knowledge in Action

“Art for wisdom,
Science for joy,
Politics for beauty,
And a Hippo for hope.”

So the story goes. Today we toured The George Washington University and, for this group of 8 students, it was their first time on an urban campus!


Beyond fun facts about Hippos, we also learned these important things about the admission process:

Admission takeaways:

  • Application plans– ED, ED2, RD
  • Majors– Apply specifically to a primary and secondary school
  • Test optional– you choose if you’d like to send your test scores or not
  • Fixed tuition– lock in to first year rate. 2016-2017:  roughly $64k/yr
Students passing time between classes

Fun Facts:

  • Graduation is on the National Mall
  • Ranked #1 in internships
  • 7 year BA/MD program
  • Honors program seeks students that are “intellectual omnivores”and for whom no day holds more excitement than the first day of school
  • The science building has a three story room where engineering students can play with cranes (among other things)
  • There isn’t a central dining hall on campus, but your GW bucks get you food at Whole Foods, food trucks, and other local restaurants/shops around the campus
A living wall in the sciences building
No central cafeteria? No problem! There are plenty of other options

GW is a campus for the doers. This is the kind of school you go to when you already know what puts a fire in your belly. The amazing city of Washington, D.C. is your campus and the possibilities are endless.

*Note: these are my notes from a college tour on 2/28/17. Information may change as policies and programs shift at the university*