Sources of Inspiration

July 6, 2011
Lee Fleming

Lee Fleming

After a very inspiring week of training new schools beginning their journey as part of the New Tech Network I find myself once again rejuvenated and excited to continue the work of reimagining education in this country. I find myself reflecting on the events of this past year and the individuals who have been a source of inspiration for me as a coach as I plan ahead for ways to better support those doing this work on the ground to bring change and educational progress to their own communities.

Dr. Logan, director of Hillside New Tech High School has just completed his 4th year as a director at the school and had the opportunity to see his first graduating class this year. I remember some of these young students from their first year as Freshmen at Hillside when they were still developing their ability to work in groups and solve problems independently. When I visited this school in the spring I had the opportunity to hold a focus group with some students and hear how much they had matured and developed as part of their experience at New Tech. I am inspired by what they have learned and the focus on service and community that they will bring with them as they move on.

Leah Penniman, a teacher at Tech Valley in the Capital Region near Albany, New York is helping one of her students test the Hudson River water as part of one of their many community-based projects. I recently had a chance to visit with the school prior to their first graduating class and saw the students leave “legacy” gifts to the lower classmen. As freshmen, the students struggled to find their collaborative voice and work together in teams, yet with the support of Leah and the other teachers at Tech Valley, the students have become so close-knit as a community that the tears flowed freely when thinking about leaving each other. Leah and her team-teacher Michelle Sweeny were awarded the “Best in Network” Award for their top-notch project-development and they continue to set the bar for high-quality projects.

Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana is shaking hands with a student at Columbus Signature Academy as she confidently leads a tour for the governor to show him the rigorous and meaningful work that the students have engaged in for the year. At the ages of 15 and 16, these students lead tours with greater confidence understanding of the way they learn better than most adults I know. I have been privileged to see the students and staff at Columbus Signature throughout this last year and learn from them powerful ways to revolutionize education.

Mary is a student at one of the schools I have coached for the last two years and as I have visited the school I have had multiple opportunities to observe her work ethic. Her dedication and focus on her schoolwork matched with her friendly and outgoing demeanor helps me feel a part of the school—but more importantly I think about the kinds of experience Mary has at New Tech that she would not be able to experience in a larger school environment in which “doing school” would take precedence over engaging in problem-solving. Mary would be an A student in any environment—but watching her work in her project-based classes and surround herself with students with various backgrounds reminds me that it isn’t JUST about achievement, it is about deeper learning and mastering the ability to collaborate with anyone. Mary’s grades are more meaningful when they reflect her ability to master not only content but presentation skills, professionalism, critical thinking, numeracy, and mastery of the written word.

This is my new source of inspiration: Eagle Tech High in Columbia City, Indiana. I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to coach this school as they build their community together and I am inspired by their high quality project ideas, their dedication to their students, and most particularly, their standard of excellence. This last week at New School’s Training, they not only refined their norms as a staff but also tested and pushed their adherence to those norms while remaining positive and energized in a way I have never seen before. This staff reminds me of how lucky I am to have the job of school coach and to serve them as they develop their own high-quality version of a New Tech in their community. It is going to be a great year.

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