The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Frontline: A Review

Last night, I heard the familiar sound of my cell phone alerting me that I had received a text message. Picking it up to take a look, it said “if you are home, turn on PBS.” I turned on the television to find myself watching the last few minutes of Frontline, which focused on two secondary education stories last night. I was so interested in what I saw in the few minutes I tuned in that I stayed up to watch the re-aired episode later that night. I found myself inspiried, challenged, and impressed by what I watched, it was an oustanding program to get next year started after a hiatus.

The first segment, titled Fast Times at West Philly High documented the work of urban students who built a fuel efficient automobile in an attempt to win the “X Prize.” The project based learning these students completed was impressive, and a sign of what students can accomplish with high expectations, relevant work, and the opportunity to acheive at high levels. I found myself particularly inspiried by a quote from one student who worked on the project when he said “We can innovate just like CEOs, and we don’t even have high school diplomas.” This segment reminded me of what students can accomplish when faced with real world problem, and how projects that are focused on real world solutions can improve student’s attendance, affinity for school, and effort. There are local issues around all of our schools, what are we doing as administrators and teachers to create opportunities for students to improve the world around them?

The second segment, titled Middle School Moment, was a prime example of what can be done when educators take a “whatever it takes” approach to teaching. Early on, we learn about Omarina, an at-risk student who was struggling to come to school. Through the early identification program at her school, her struggled were noted and her homeroom teacher took a very active role in mentoring her. Their approach, to come up with solutions to any challenge that got in the way of her success, allowed her to grow and achieve. Near the end of the segment, we find out that this young lady has several options on where to attend high school, and is not a likely drop out due to her hard work, along with the support of her school. This segment reminded me of the work I see teachers do regularly at the middle level, but also was a big reminder of how urgent a need there is for early intervention, and honest discussion. When we see a student on the path to not succeeding at the middle level, which will impact whether or not they graduate, what are we as administrators and teachers prepared to do?

In addition to inspiring me, this documentary also led me to (again) see the power of Twitter. This morning, I posted a message about how outstanding I had found the documentary to be. I received a message back indicating that the teacher, a member of the team,  and producers of the first segment would be having a chat and inviting me to participate. This afternoon, I had the opportunity to discuss project based learning, and taking the ideas from West Philadelphia High to scale, all because of a message that I put out on Twitter. I also learned about a new resources on a school doing project based work.

As you really start thinking about next year, take a moment and check out the above stories, they will be more than worth your time.


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