Located along the Hudson River and just 60 miles north of New York City, Newburgh Enlarged City School District is no stranger to strategic planning. With the adoption of Vision 2020 a few years ago, Newburgh reflected on successes from the current strategic plan including the creation of more options for secondary students, the launch of two new high school campuses, the increased focus on technology integration, and recognition from the state for their Certified Nursing Assistant program. They also celebrated increased student proficiency across core subjects. With Vision 2020 set to end in the next academic year, however, the district aims to capitalize on these successes and continue to align on a district direction in their new strategic plan, Beyond 2020.
After selling our D.C. area home and looking for more than a year to buy what we would call our “forever home,” my husband Mike and I finally closed on our dream piece of property. It checks off all of our boxes. More than an acre of flat, usable yard space for our kids. A pool with a diving board (my 4-year-old’s only requirement). A Harry-Potter-esque cupboard under the stairs for our dog (my 3-year-old’s only requirement). And room to grow. It’s perfect. It’s also stuck in the 1990s in terms of decor and layout. So minutes after closing, we did what any couple who watches way too much HGTV would do: we began making our list of renovation projects.
“And we both hit our goal weight!” “That’s amazing! So how did you celebrate?” “We ate an entire box of donuts! And then gained all of it back.” On an August visit with a group of teachers I’ve been partnering with for over a year, our conversation steered toward the idea of setting goals. In the education world, goals are set all the time, and often displayed or communicated prominently. A teacher may set the goal of 10 consecutive perfect attendance days, 90% of students showing mastery on an upcoming unit exam, or 100% of students growing 1-2 reading levels in a single year. Outside of the education world, too, we set goals all the time. Many of these are health-related – eat more greens, lose weight, drink more water, get more sleep. Some are financial goals – get a raise, save for a vacation, make a million dollars. And still others are achievement-based goals – write a book, buy a house, run a marathon. As the teachers I spoke with this summer shared, they set a goal to lose a set amount of collective pounds, and they did! But there was a huge problem with their apparent success. Two weeks later, they had gained it all back...and then some. They had hit their goal, but had failed to build a habit.
Our company is known for having a unique organizational culture. We have eliminated the traditional organizational hierarchy of direct managers; we employ a self-organizing team structure; and if you attended this year’s Personalized Learning Summit, you know we also view trivia and dancing to 80’s music as valuable team-building time. Something that is not as widely known is that we also have internal monthly challenges. During the month of November, our CEO challenged us to meditate for five minutes every day. That was the entire challenge. Five, uninterrupted minutes of silence where we took time to pause and reflect. Resources were shared. Apps were downloaded. An accountability chat room was created. On the first day of the challenge, nearly 20 team members meditated. Two weeks in, there were less than 10 people meditating with fidelity. And by day 30, very few had continued the practice.
Aside from my family, Drew Brees, and my work in education, I have another great passion - photography. I fell in love with cameras and editing photos when I first set foot in a darkroom in high school. Up until that point, I would look at a picture and judge its impact based on my own personal interest or something of beauty that I saw in the photo. After nearly two decades of refining my skill set in the field of photography, I’ve learned that the photos that leave the greatest impression on the viewer actually follow very technical photography rules. A talented artist, like a talented teacher, brings much more than technical skills to their craft, but for a teacher just beginning their journey in say, a personalized learning approach to teaching, the technical skills can be instrumental in creating a classroom that leaves an impression on its students. Enter composition.
If Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters looked deep into the world of personalized learning, they would quickly note that one of the biggest misconceptions schools and teachers have is that personalization equals technology. I was in high school prior to the advent of Facebook, the iPhone, the Chromebook, and the popularization of blogs (ironic, given the medium of this article), and to this day, my most personalized educational experiences happened as a high school senior. I was a student in an Advanced Placement U.S. Government class, and I would frequently meet my peers and teacher, Mr. Allan, after school at a Starbucks.