Friday, May 23, 2008

Moving On...

I will officially be leaving my position as Program Director for the Center for 21st Century Skills on June 30th, the end of our program year. I am sincerely grateful for the experience of the past four years as a co-founder and leader of this organization, which has seen dramatic growth and provided so many wonderful opportunities to students from our urban, suburban and rural communities in Connecticut.

The team is now populated with passionate and talented people and, as a result of our NSF funding, positioned for long term growth and stability. I'm confident that the team of people now leading the Center will continue the good work of developing highly innovative curriculum and project-based experiences that will help prepare secondary school students for the kinds of skills needed to succeed in a dynamic, information-based, knowledge-oriented global community.

For me personally, it has been a rewarding highlight to see so many of our program graduates go on to do such wonderful work at universities and in communities across this country. I'm particularly proud of the kinds of "community service" commitments I've seen blossom from the work our students have engaged in.

This year, for example, in coming up with a solution to an economic and entrepreneurship challenge, our winning team, an urban class of 20 students from a school in Hartford (one of our state's most embarrassingly under-performing districts) based its e-business model on a non-profit plan to feed, cloth and secure the victims of the Darfur tragedy. The solution took on it's shape and emphasis, in part, as a result of a trip I arranged, in cooperation with a courageous and determined school principal supported by a strong community of teachers and parents, for 18 of these students to go to China for 2 weeks, including a cultural immersion in a remote western region of China populated by multi-ethnic and religiously diverse peoples.

For these students, the trip in March was life-changing and brought a real sense of urgency and passion to their project work. These students heard, first hand, from students in China how Chinese students share the same concerns about the global economic and humanitarian conflicts arising out of "national energy" needs and policies, and the collateral consequences of such powerful interests as evidenced in Darfur.

It was a truly remarkable experience to sit amongst these groups from opposite sides of the world and life experience, and hear their intelligent and reasoned discussions, and then to see them put their new-found knowledge to work in such a passionately humanitarian way. Judges at this year's Exposition of student work from over 40 school districts in Connecticut were clearly blown away by the work of many of our teams and their focus on "community development" as solutions in a challenging world.

My new directions are exciting and humbling at the same time. I'm going to effectively be operating as a free agent out of a need for some time to write and work outside the scope of any formal programs.

First on the agenda for the coming years is my opportunity to live and teach in China, as a guest of the Board of Education and the Foreign Affairs Office of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in the Peoples Republic of China. My home, for at least 6 months out of the year, will be a faculty apartment on the campus of Ningxia Polytechnic University in the city of Yinchuan.

I will help with curriculum design and projects aimed at universities (Ningxia Polytechnic University, Ningxia University, Ningxia Medical College, and Ningxia Teachers College - all national universities in the Chinese educational system) and middle schools (the equivalent of our high schools) throughout the province of Ningxia. I will guest lecture on the kinds of skills needed - collaboration, communication, team-building, project management, creativity, critical thinking, cultural and social diversity, and global awareness - to be a fully responsible participant in a global knowledge economy.

Part of this mission is to work with friends and networks in both China and the US to stimulate cultural, learning and teaching exchanges. Certainly the opportunity for teachers and students in both China and the US to travel to each other's country and gain first hand experiences that represent meaningful lessons in cultural identity, appreciation, and respect are part and parcel of this plan.

But I've come to believe that the great historical and philosophical underpinnings that make China and America such uniquely iconoclastic societies deserves much more than a journey of any length and time period. There is so much more to be shared and understood.

So using my experience with project-based learning activities supported by the increasingly accessible technologies that make the world a more reachable community in all its corners, nooks and crannies, I am working to prepare a framework for student/learner collaboration that will allow a multi-disciplinary experience, building lasting relationships, and hopefully creating a deeper, richer understanding and global awareness among all learners.

In this context and as a beginning, there are two websites designed to support these goals through networked collaborations of students and institutions. Ningxia Dragon Student Ambassadors is designed to bring students together through active exchange programs, including traditional stand-alone exchanges, and through active blended learning programs and projects. Another site - New School Curriculum Group - provides a portal for a set of collaborative partnerships and programs to prepare students for significant cross-cultural learning exchanges.

I am indeed fortunate to have critical relationships (guanxi) in China in government, education, and business networks that have offered me an opportunity to do some development in an area of both special interest and high sensitivity to both cultures. I'm learning first hand the range of opportunities and risks of a system - China in the 21st century - undergoing incredible change.

So, with a commitment of support for my work in China for at least two years, I will be traveling and splitting my time (roughly six months in each hemisphere) between China and the US. What I regret not having done with my life-choices at the age of 20-something, I now get to do at the ripe old age of 60. I am indeed fortunate.

Second on the agenda is to do some writing. I have a contract to contribute to a compilation of curriculum ideas in "A New Essential Curriculum for 21st Century Learners," to be edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs and published by ASCD by the end of this year.

I'm also going to be working on some other book projects, notably a project in collaboration with Dr. Subhash Jain at the UConn School of Business on the state of leadership development at the dawn of a revolutionary transformative period in history where technologies have taken on a trajectory and convergence at a pace well ahead of our social and political institutions' ability to respond to the great questions - moral, ethical, cultural, social - posed to the next generation of leaders.

I was pleasantly surprised recently to receive an invitation to join the Academy for Global Economic Advancement at the UConn School of Business, which will give me an opportunity to contribute to research on curriculum practices in management and leadership education, to speak at quarterly conferences of the Center for International Business Education and Research, and to write on topics of global business and economic leadership issues.

As a friend and visiting fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, a card-carrying member of the Action Coalition for Media Education, and a participant at the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT, I have an opportunity to draw from the expertise and dialogues of organizations at the nexus of next-generation questions about global social, economic, and political leadership.

In June, I'll be attending conferences at Princeton and in Upstate New York. In July, I return to China for the month, including chaperoning a grop of 20 students and teachers on an exchange trip to Ningxia, Mongolia, and Sichuan where we will "adopt" a school damaged in the recent tragic earthquake, so that the students can return home to build a community of solidarity and support for the rebuilding and healing process now underway.

I'm planning on attending the DNC in Denver. I played a lead role here in our Connecticut grassroots organization for Barack Obama. However, fitting the Convention into my schedule may be more challenging than I can manage.

All of this activity creates a sense of wonder at how life's twists and turns are both unknowable in advance but humbling in the opportunities all of us have to contribute positively to our families, communities, and fellow travelers. I hope to hear from and share more with my friends and colleagues, all of whom I depend on for the mutual trust and shared reputations for good works and caring spirits.

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