These are my notes from Chris Lehmann‘s closing keynote, “Unlocking Potential,” at ISTE 2011. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. An audio podcast of this session is available, preceeded by an incredible poetry jam by Chris’ SLA students.

Chris Lehmann at ISTE 2011

in the end we are talking about agency
– the ability to own your ideas and do powerful things with them
– be fully engaged in your world
– that is what we want for our children

idea that our children can be in and of their world
– poets have handed us the roadmap
– they don’t want to be told what to think
– they don’t want us to stand up and be brilliant
– they need each of us to see them and their brilliance

Agency is lacking in most schools
– most children have school done TO them
– the notion of compulsory education: we know what’s best for you

you can never doubt the wisdom of the voices of the children

how do we help children develop agency: to stand in front of thousands and speak truth to power

develop head, heart, hands and voice

develop minds
– help children ask powerful questions
– no ones we already have answers to
– the answers we don’t have yet

I can help students ask the questions they need, guide them, teach them
– we should take no greater pleasure than watching our students eclipse our abilities

helping students see all they can be
– schools have always known that
– help students develop their heart
– help them to see the world with empathy

the problems we face today, the world we are turning over to them will require more than analytical minds / data to solve those problems
– we must help children see the humanity all around them

At SLA children see teachers and each other as family
– they see that community as something that matters
– we must help students develop their heart

At the same time
– kids should do stuff that matters: they can do /create /make things that matter

Who can tell me what the lives of these childrens will look like for the next 50 years?

avoid the great lie of education: “this will be good for you someday?”
– why am I learning this?
– you might need it some day…

How powerful to say: you need it now!
– we must develop their hands…

And when we do, we will help them develop their voices
– I defy anyone to find someone who can speak to the challenge of public education in Philadelphia better than those 5 students just did

We are facing $629 million budget deficit in Philadelphia
– 20% of operating budget of the school district
– students went out, did the research on their own, and got on busses to go to Harrisburg

When we develop their head and hands, we enable them to have a powerful voice

Now a little about the Science Leadership Academy
– we are a public school, partnership of the Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia
– opened in 2006

Our school is built on the ethic of care
– not only do I care about my students, I care FOR them
– there is a profound difference

I care about the ISTE community, but I can’t care for you… there are too many of you!
– I can, however, care FOR my students
– when we build a school that is first about the ethic of care (we are better together than we are apart) powerful things happen

Yesterday on a panel with some of my students
– a student who said “I don’t need a network… I need a family, brothers, sisters and mentors”

Our school is built on core values
1- inquiry
2- research
3- collaboration
4- presentation
5- reflection

A student who came to SLA and was initially “paralyzed by the right answer”
– student found it was OK to fail as long as he was always learning

Let us build a nation of schools where children understand and believe this

We should be building systems and structures around what we believe, in & out of schools – build on the ethic of care

Our teachers build their lesson plans on these five core values
– all of us

Key questions:
What does teaching and learning look like in your building?
How do you learn?
How is that sustained?

When you do this you unlock students’ passion

Example of students who entered a kinetic sculpture contest

Challenge to take back:
– what if school was not just preparation for life, what if it WAS real life?
– what if we let students do things that matter NOW?

Our kids have interviewed politicians, spoken in front of 6000 people, built websites, opened businesses, started nonprofits
– they have engaged with their world

In the end our goal is not to “create the 21st century workforce,” that is too low a bar
– our goal should be helping students be the 21st century citizens we so desperately need
– the scholars, activists, neighbors we need

The most important things we do is teach the child in front of us to fully become human beings

Remember: These tools and what we’ve done this week does nothing else more important than helping us become better people

When people ask what you teach, answer: “I teach children”
– that is what we all do

In the end the goal is this: Thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind children


I want our children to be full of wise thoughts, and passionately apply them in the world
– be kind: find the humanity in all of those around them

SLA is not alone
– I hope and trust in everything I’ve said, you are finding pieces of yourselves which you believe
– much of this is not new

Like John Carver, superintendent in New Carver
– New Tech Network

If you come to this conference and don’t walk through the student showcase, shame on you!

Today is the day, wait no longer, join us
– write down your goals
– write down the action plan of how you will realize those goals

What is our role?
– we’ve already won
– the war has been won, no one is saying we shouldn’t use technology in education

Our Sec of Education has called us to innovate our way out of this crisis
– we have got to dream bigger

If the biggest way we can think about using these tools is a bigger and better flashcard, we will have failed
– we can give our tools the most powerful productivity tools ever created

Technology should be like oxygen in our schools
– Ubiquitous, necessary and invisible

Then we need to stop talking about the technology so much

Use these tools to create, research, collaborate, present and network
– show what you know and bring that voice to the world

We must empower ourselves, not just our children
– it’s not just about unlocking their potential, it’s about unlocking their potential
– it’s about the power of #edchat
– the ability to say I need help and get it, and then give it back

We can come together but we should never be apart

We should be humble, this work is hard
– we don’t have all the answers

Lets us question anyone who claims to have all the answers
– this is about us all
– we must innovate out of this crisis
– we should become 1 community

We need to bring that vision to ALL the students in our nation
– then, like our students, we will all be beautiful


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4 Responses to Unlocking Potential by Chris Lehmann #iste11 (notes & audio podcast) @chrislehmann

  1. Chris Lehmann says:

    Thanks Wes! I’ll try to tell more stories! 🙂

  2. […] to transform education now.”  You can hear the Chris’ keynote here and notes from Wes Fryer here and a visual from David Warlick here.  It was nice to have a speaker who knows the community of […]

  3. Thanks for sharing this with the full audio since I couldn’t make it. I’ve come into contact with New Tech schools and others with similar methods quite a bit in the last few months.

    I would like to start moving towards more project-based units. In fact, I  did have a pretty involved unit this last year, but it ended up getting shut down. My students were doing work inventorying and repairing old computer systems, learning about computer components, electricity, and group-work skills. I was told that I should be “teaching” the students and not having them messing around with non-academic things.

    I’m learning that putting in the face-time advocating better instructional practices with certain administrators, staff members, and colleagues is way more valuable than I had previously thought. Next year, I plan to have some of my upper level Spanish classes do some real-world document translation for local companies, but I intend to broadcast that a great deal more beforehand so I get more admin and collegial support.

  4. […] march our marches. Let’s talk our talks. Let’s really share and push out our classrooms and learning with our students. Let’s […]

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