News from FETC: The Philosophy of Christopher Lehmann

Posted by Matt Berringer on February 3, 2014

DSC_0017During Leading, Learning, and the Modern School, Christopher Lehmann—founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, Pa.—shared insights on what we need to do to re-imagine and re-envision the purpose of school. Enjoy the following selection of our 14 favorite quotes from his 2014 keynote address.

“The ideas that are in [John Dewey’s] The School and Society are still some of the best ideas that we have. And, I sometimes think—when we are re-imagining school and we’re going through all of these iterative processes of rethinking what schools can be—that we make it harder than it has to be. It is my belief that school 2.0 can be grounded in the aggressive ideas of people like John Dewey with finally the tools to get you there … we finally have the tools to leverage Dewey’s dream. We can do amazing things with kids at speed. That’s new. That’s different.”

“How many people have heard this phrase in the last year of your life: Your job as teachers is to prepare kids for the 21st-century workforce? I implore you: Anytime anybody uses that phrase, push back. Our job is not to create the workforce that our country needs. It is far more noble than that. Our job is to co-create, with our kids, the citizenry we need. We are handing the next generation a world of challenges. And they have to be better and smarter than we are to solve them... If we shoot for citizenry, we’ll get the workforce. But if we shoot for workforce, we’ll leave behind key pieces of their lives that they desperately needing.”

“This question—Why do I need to know this?—should be statement one of the Student Bill of Rights. It is every child’s fundamental right to ask that question and get an answer that is better than this:

  • You’re going to need it someday.
  • It’ll be on the test.
  • It’ll help you get a job.
  • It’ll look good on a resume.
  • It’s a required class.

But, we’re still giving these answers, and we have to do better.”

“Teachers suffer from something a group of us swore we would overcome in our own careers: It’s Just-a-Teacher Syndrome. I’m just a teacher. When [we] are around folks who are the captains of industry, we shrink. And, it is time for us to stop doing that. It is time for us to stop saying that anybody has more of a say in what goes on in our schools than we do.”

“Schools can teach us how to learn. Kids should leave our walls as voracious learners, understanding how they learn as people. And, when they do that, schools can help us learn to live.”

“Data-driven decision making is only good when you use good data. The data we’re using right now—the standardized test—is the lowest common denominator we’ve got. We have great data. It’s the work [our students] do in their classrooms every day with teachers who care about them. We have to do better at our role of learning how to use metrics to measure actual work that kids do so that we can say that our data on our children is richer than the data you are collecting.”

“Kids need to use [technology] to make, to do, to create, to share. We don’t need a better way to take a quiz. We need to dream much bigger than that.”

“My challenge to you: What will you unlearn? What are you doing in your classroom that is about you, not about the kids? About your comfort zone? The things that you are good at? The things that make you happy, but maybe aren’t serving the kids? And, what will you replace it with?”

“Children should never be the implied object of their own education. Put them front and center of your language. Change the way you talk. It is the difference in saying, 'I care about my students,' which educators have done since the dawn of time, and saying, 'I care for my students…I take care of my students.' That’s the win. That’s where we will make the difference.”

“I believe that schools should be inquiry driven. And, not the Socratic method—where I ask a question that I already know the answer to. But asking questions we don’t know the answer to. Daring kids to ask questions that they don’t know the answers to. Taking the skills that we are teaching them and asking them to apply them in our world. When we do that we create truly student-centered classrooms.”

“We can learn from many. We can bring the world into our classrooms. And, we can publish what we’re doing in our classrooms to the world. I think schools need to be far more collaborative. Synthesis works. My ideas should interact with your ideas and be better for it. The work we do together will be better than the work we do apart.”

“High schools should not be preparations for real life. High schools should be real life. We should dare children to do amazing work now.”

“Every moment [our students] spend trying to figure us out is a moment they spend not figuring out the work and not figuring out themselves. We need to lower the bar for understanding us so we can raise the bar for what they can do. Because what we’re really trying to do is help them to become truly metacognitive—to understand what they think about the way they think. More than anything else, we want them to understand the way they learn.”

“I think we need to have technology like oxygen—ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible. It’s got to be everywhere. It’s got to be part of everything you do. And then you’ve got to stop talking about it so much. Kids aren’t doing a technology project every time they pull out a laptop or a phone. It’s time to understand that this stuff is the way we work today.”

Topics: technology, education, 21st-Century Learner, K-12