Mike Lubelfeld's Blog

#112LEADS #SUPTCHAT

Tag: Learning for ALL (page 1 of 5)

Generative AI in NSSD112 – #112Leads

AI Generated Image after running my blog post through Chat GPT 4o

In our school district, since November 2023, and with a great deal of energy and purpose since the CoSN national conference in April 2024, we have been on a “vision quest” with Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools. The potential revolutionary changes for teachers and students alike have inspired teams of administrators and teachers in the exploration, research, implementation, study, review, and implementation of GEN AI into our professional practice!

In this blog post, I’m sharing an AI produced (and human edited) executive summary of the District 112 Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) Guidance Document and Plans shared with the Board of Education in May and June 2024.

What follows the executive summary is an information blog post further illustrating our “why” in terms of deep study of how GEN AI will support our vision to Inspire, Innovate, and Engage for each child – and each staff member – EVERY day! The blog post is entitled, Embracing the Future: Integrating Generative AI in North Shore School District 112

First, here is an Executive Summary:

North Shore School District 112 (Illinois) Generative Artificial Intelligence Guidance and PlansGenerative Artificial Intelligence Guidance and Plans

Introduction
North Shore School District 112 is at the forefront of integrating cutting-edge technologies to enhance educational outcomes and operational efficiencies. The “Generative Artificial Intelligence Background, Guidance, Plans” document outlines the strategic approach to piloting Magic School AI in our district, providing a roadmap for successful implementation.

Key Objectives
The primary objectives of integrating Generative AI in our district include:
1. **Personalized Learning**: Leveraging AI to tailor educational content and experiences to meet the unique needs of each student, thereby improving engagement and academic performance.
2. **Operational Efficiency**: Streamlining administrative tasks and processes to allow educators to focus more on instruction and less on bureaucracy.
3. **Data-Driven Decision Making**: Utilizing AI to analyze vast amounts of data, providing insights that drive informed decision-making and strategic planning.

Implementation Strategy
1. **Pilot Program**: The initial phase involves piloting Magic School AI in select classrooms to evaluate its effectiveness and gather feedback from educators and students.
2. **Professional Development**: Providing comprehensive training for teachers and staff to ensure they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to effectively use AI tools.
3. **Stakeholder Engagement**: Engaging with students, parents, and the community to build support and ensure transparency throughout the implementation process.

Benefits
1. **Enhanced Learning Experiences**: AI can create customized lesson plans, provide real-time feedback, and suggest resources tailored to each student’s learning style and pace.
2. **Increased Efficiency**: Automation of routine tasks such as grading and attendance tracking frees up valuable time for educators to focus on teaching and mentorship.
3. **Improved Outcomes**: Data-driven insights help identify areas for improvement, monitor student progress, and develop targeted interventions to support student success.

 

Challenges and Mitigation
1. **Data Privacy**: Ensuring the security and privacy of student data is paramount. Strict protocols and compliance with relevant regulations are in place.
2. **Equity and Access**: Addressing potential disparities in access to technology and ensuring all students benefit from AI integration.
3. **Change Management**: Managing the transition and ensuring all stakeholders are adequately supported through continuous communication and training.

Conclusion
The integration of Generative AI in North Shore School District 112 represents a significant step towards modernizing our educational approach. By embracing this technology, we aim to create a more personalized, efficient, and data-driven educational environment that prepares our students for the future. This pilot program is just the beginning of our journey towards transforming education through innovation.

With that background, I share the following blog post which further illustrates our “why” for deep exploration of GEN AI tools for our 500 staff members and nearly 4000 students in grades PK-8 in Highland Park & Highwood Illinois.

Embracing the Future:

Integrating Generative AI in North Shore School District 112

In our rapidly evolving educational landscape, the integration of cutting-edge technologies is no longer optional but essential. At North Shore School District 112, we are pioneering the use of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance both educational outcomes and operational efficiencies. As we pilot Magic School AI in our district, I want to share insights into how this innovative technology is transforming our schools. As of this writing, we have 252 users who have generated 3,817 uses of Magic School AI tools since May! – SINCE MAY 13, 2024 – There is interest here 

As a public school superintendent with a passion for educational leadership and teacher practices, my focus has always been on driving change and growth. Our recent work on “Generative Artificial Intelligence Background, Guidance, Plans” highlights the potential of AI to revolutionize our approach to teaching and learning.

WHY?? Enhancing Educational Outcomes

Generative AI offers a myriad of opportunities to personalize learning. By analyzing vast amounts of data, AI can tailor educational content to meet the unique needs of each student. This aligns perfectly with the strategies outlined in my upcoming book, *Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today*, where Nick Polyak and I emphasize the importance of individualized learning pathways. Truly creating opportunities for each child every day is more within our grasp, I strongly believe, with GEN AI tools than ever before. This is not just “ed tech” or a “cool suite of tools” – this is revolutionary change in our time.

For instance, Magic School AI can help create customized lesson plans, provide real-time feedback, and even suggest resources that align with each student’s learning style and pace. This not only improves student engagement but also empowers our educators to focus more on instruction and less on administrative tasks. With Magic Student (with great data privacy guardrails and nearly total control by teachers), students can get book lists, engage with historical figures, and much, much more. It’s not going to do their work for them – it’s going to help them do their work better!

GEN AI helps with Operational Efficiencies

Beyond the classroom, Generative AI can streamline various administrative processes. From automating routine tasks to improving data management, AI helps our district operate more efficiently. This aligns with the holistic approach I advocate in sessions like “Creating and Sustaining a Mentally Healthy Community,” where effective use of data and technology supports the overall well-being of our students, staff, and community. All that we do, and all that we have done, align with ways to support teachers, educational support staff, administrators, families, and at the core, students.

Building on Success

North Shore School District 112 has a history of success, and integrating AI is a natural next step. Over the past six years, our district has achieved remarkable milestones, thanks to the dedication of our staff and the support of our community. The adoption of AI technologies will build on these successes, ensuring we continue to lead in educational innovation. We cannot wait to see the results of this pilot (May – September) with professional development opportunities this summer and fall! Based on input we’ll determine our next steps!

We encourage educators to explore and experiment with GEN AI tools in their lives too (we encourage taking advantage of Khanmigo – free to every teacher/educator in the US – thank you Sal Khan!, ChatGPT – thanks to Open AI there are free versions with tremendous capabilities, Microsoft’s co-pilot, Google’s Gemini, Latimer offers a diverse AI tool, and much, much more. Our point, safety and legal concerns are addressed by Magic School AI – which is why we are in full pilot implementation mode. There are other really cool tools that we support reviewing, using, checking out, etc. as humanity itself is embracing the advent of this strange, new, powerful technology reality.

Collaboration and Continuous Learning

Our journey with AI is collaborative. By involving teachers, students, and the community in this pilot program, we ensure that the implementation is both effective and sustainable. This approach reflects the principles I discussed in my newest publication, *The Unfinished Teacher: Becoming the Next Version of Yourself*, which emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and adaptation.

Looking Ahead

As we move forward, I am excited about the possibilities that Generative AI brings to our district. This pilot program is just the beginning. By embracing these technologies, we are preparing our students for a future where digital literacy and technological proficiency are paramount.

I look forward to sharing more updates as we continue this journey. Together, we are shaping the future of education, one innovative step at a  time!!

An AI Generated Image relating to North Shore School District 112

Superintendent Summer Learning #112Leads

June 2024

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

Leadership is all about change – perspective change, mindset change, functional change, improvement change, essentially, helping to create conditions with culture, systems, instruction, and growth. As a school superintendent (finishing year 14 in this role, and year 31 of consecutive full time dedication to public education in suburban Chicagoland),  I often get asked “What do you do in the summer?”

Since the schools are closed (except for summer school) and people think the teachers are “off” (even though they work all summer, attending workshops, classes, and preparing their lessons). Summer is an awesome time for an educator – we get to reflect on what went well during the past year. We get to reflect on what could become better next year, and we get to devote time to our own learning, growth and recharge! We get a beginning, middle, and end, each school year! This year I just completed my 31st consecutive full time year in public education. Each year I learn more, grow more, experience more and hopefully extend my impact as a leader in positive ways.

This summer (we just started as our “last day of school” was June 5) a team of teachers and administrators joined me on a professional journey to Ohio where we joined with educators from all over the country in the shared pursuit of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) in our PK-12 school districts and communities. Educators from 9 US states were in attendance at this inspiring convening.

In District 112, we just adopted new middle school (grades 6-8) science curriculum resources (for the first time in more than 30 years) and we eagerly anticipate how to facilitate optimal rigorous and engaging science for our middle school students. Since our District is also PK-5 as well as 6-8, an elementary principal and the assistant superintendent for teaching & learning joined with two of our middle school science teachers and a middle school instructional coach on this academy!

What we do in the summer is study, learn, review, research, and collaborate on making the most meaningful educational conditions for students when they return in the late summer, next August!

Our journey literally starts at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport where we take off for a relatively short flight to Cincinnati, Ohio!

As we head to Cincinnati, where the airport is actually in Kentucky, we’re mentally preparing for the learning, growing, studying, and networking that lay ahead of us! The six of us plan to attend the multiple offerings during each session to learn and share with each other so we can maximize the opportunities for our students back home.

Sharing some images and then an “executive summary of some of the content we learned and engaged with”:

Superintendent and host Kirk Koennecke

Airplane on tarmac at O’Hare airport before takeoff

Beautiful Chicago, IL from the air shortly after take off

Cincinnati, Ohio in the distance, on approach near landing time

Our transportation – awesome bus drivers keeping us safe!

Let’s go! From the newly constructed commons area at Indian Hill Middle School

Braeside Elementary School Principal Jamie Kahn synthesizing learning during hands-on group work!

JASON LEARNING STEM Certification Framework, a multi-year, multi-step comprehensive look

Sharing an executive summary of our take ways – as you can see, we learned a lot and we have much to process, review further, ideate on, plan for, and work with colleagues as we plan for our student’s future! We used a shared Google Doc to record our learning, thinking, etc. – Open AI’s Chat GPT 4o looked at the text and made an executive summary (it did a nice job!)

Executive Summary of Breakout Sessions

Finding Success Using Labsites
– **Objective**: Utilize professional development to build staff capacity and lead instructional change without needing new furniture.
– **Strategic Plan**: Focuses on learners as individuals, whole-child development, student agency, wellness, career pathways, STEM, and diversity.
– **Lab Classrooms**: Teachers meet with coaches three times a year to observe and plan; ensure alignment with standards and interdisciplinary connections.

Harnessing the Power of PBL in High School STEM
– **Presenters**: Julia Kunkel and Jackie McCarthy.
– **Key Points**:
– Create a collaborative culture with shared promises.
– Develop projects requiring persistent revision; e.g., mapping classroom furniture.

Spaces of Belonging: Designing Learning Environments for Enhanced Agency & Achievement
– **Media Room**: Equipped with donated newsroom equipment, offering classes and clubs in broadcast journalism.
– **Digital Arts Lab**: Created from private donations, offering computer science certifications.
– **LOTH Furniture Firm**: Involves teachers and students in furniture selection, piloting designs, and using vertical dry erase boards.
– **Indian Hill Elementary School**:
– “Brave Room” for anxiety relief, with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital consultation.
– “Go Time” for teachers to engage students in various topics.

 

Transformational Partnerships
– **Focus**: Establishing mutual success partnerships with community members, integrating STEM education at the center.
– **Key Elements**:
– Community members on teams during registration.
– Shared vision and consistent goals/action steps.
– Collaborations with JASON Learning, Cuebric AI, and other organizations.
– Entrepreneurship spirit and leveraging resources like the Recycled Materials Association.

STEM for ALL: How to Build and Support a Comprehensive K12 STEM Program
– **Integration**: Embedding STEM across subjects and grade levels, with leadership, community connection, and teacher professional development.
– **STEM Learning Ecosystem**: Sustainable mobilization of STEM involving all stakeholders, focusing on interdependence of pillars.

Schoolwide Design Thinking in Action (Grades 3-5)
– **Implementation**: Daily STEM activities, STEM Days, and integrating design thinking across the curriculum.

Be an Argonaut: Localize Your STEM Curriculum
– **Program**: Students apply to be National Argonauts, involving interdisciplinary projects and public speaking.

Building a Strong STEM Culture with AASA & JASON Learning
– **Certification Framework**: Audit internal processes, provide supplemental curriculum support, and ensure equity and inclusion.

Educating without Silos: Cross-Curricular PBLS with AI in K12
– **Interactive Session**: Focus on collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking through PBL and AI.

This summary highlights the key points and objectives of the breakout sessions, emphasizing professional development, project-based learning, inclusive learning environments, and transformational partnerships in STEM education.

The summary does not share session presentations, handouts, images – those will be further shared internally with our teams and our colleagues. What I hope to illustrate in this blog post is that learning never takes a vacation in education and in North Shore School District 112, #112Leads. I’m proud of the teachers and administrators who joined me on this learning journey and adventure, and I’m inspired by what our future holds for our teachers, students, administrators, and the community!

Thank you Kevin, Jamie, Alexandra, Alex, and Jess for joining, learning, leading, reflecting, planning, putting up with my endless comments about Generative AI 🙂 – and for the collaboration!! Our future is bright because of YOU!

Thanks for reading and know that comments are always welcomed.

 

Part 2 of 4- Reflections on What’s Next after A Nation at Risk – 40 Year Anniversary

As I shared in the first post on this topic, we convened in Los Angeles to remember A Nation at Risk, look at lessons learned, and, more importantly, look forward to the future – What Have We Learned? was the overarching question!

In the last post, I started to identify what Jim Harvey reflected on with respect to some of the controversial issues related to the Report and its construction process. 40 years later … the sad reality/perspective from one of the writers is that the folks in charge of the report had a conclusion ready before the report was even written … they then used the report writing process to find data to fulfill and justify their already determined conclusions. One could even suggest that they “cooked the books”

 

The social ills that the people who were writing the report tried to get in the report included poverty, racism, and funding inequities — these were raised during the 18-month writing process, and they were ignored. These are still social ills plaguing the nation, including the public schools in all 50 states!  Our speaker argues that the Commission missed the argument. Casting educators as “enemies” of economic progress was preposterous, he argues.

Blaming schools makes NO sense for out-of-

Worthy of review and discussion, especially 40 years past the “reform” movement …school factors. Out-of-school factors have had, continue to have, and will continue to have MASSIVE impacts on student performance. As one of our other experts shared, “roughly 86-99% percent of the variation in test scores is due to outside-of-school factors. Inversely, about 1-14 percent of the variation in test scores is attributable to school-level factors, including but not limited to teachers. Dr. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University and a renowned expert in assessment, educational reform history, and more!

As a quick aside, I have written about what success looks like on the blog,  see https://mikelubelfeld.edublogs.org/?s=measure+success for a list of earlier written blog posts on this topic. I am a strong advocate for using research-based and evidence-informed practices (like those from Marzano, et., al, Hattie, et., al, etc.) to impact and influence teacher work with students and school measures of success and district guideposts for success. We measure culture, engagement, and satisfaction as well as student growth, student learning/performance, etc.

Harvey went on to remind us that the US is a huge international outlier in terms of us having the highest rates of childhood poverty and the lowest support for poverty programs. All in all, school reform is not simple. It was not in 1983, nor was it in 1957 (Sputnik), 1979 (Florida test), 2001 (NCLB), 2011 (Race to the Top), 2016 (ESSA), or now, 2023! There are wickedly complex problems that Harvey identified – wicked not as in evil, but wicked as in highly complex.  Solutions needed in school “reform efforts” are those that require large groups of competing stakeholders to agree on what you “will” do. A Nation at Risk put education at the forefront of the nation’s attention, which is a good thing. But it created a 40-year obsession with standardized tests, which is not a good thing – in moderation, yes, the testing, in my professional opinion, is beneficial when it drives instructional decisions. I’m not sure that each child needs to take more than 100 standardized tests, though I think we may have gone overboard. The Commission put in place to assess the nation’s schools missed a great opportunity.

What they did is pre-determined that America’s economic woes at the time were due to the failings of its public schools. Today more than 50% of the nation’s public school children live in poverty – we have a poverty problem, I’ll posit, not an educational problem, per se.

In the next posts, I’ll share Christopher Cross’ reflections on the A Nation at Risk time period, report, and implications, share history of school reform notes from Dr. Amrein-Beardsley, and more! What I surmised from all of this, in brief, and as mentioned by Jim Harvey at the conference, the narrative of the failure of America’s public schools is false. The out-of-school challenges are really important, and they impact the nation’s public schools though the schools cannot be solely responsible for childhood poverty, for example. We must get a grip on the test-based obsession and moderate and regulate some of this over-reliance on standardization. Harvey closed his exceptional lecture with a quote from William Butler Yeats:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

 

Part 1 of 4 – Forty Years Since “A Nation at Risk” – Education Reflections

There is no comfort in the growth zone – but there is no growth in the comfort zone – this was a quote shared with us at the start of the National Superintendent Roundtable national convening in the summer 2023 conference in Los Angeles, California.

Nearly 40 of us convened to remember the education “reform” document and call to action called A Nation at Risk, and to contemplate the 40 years since – where we have been, where we are, and most important, where we are going!

With powerful presentations (some excerpted and summarized here in the blog and in subsequent posts) and with a visit to the President Ronald Reagan national presidential library & museum in Simi Valley (shared via images in the blog), the convening was awesome! Great dialogue, great, courageous conversations and questions and recollections, civil discourse with folks who have differing political views, and a whole lot more took place in our compact, concise, and short but powerful conference.

Often, people ask me, “What do I do as a superintendent” Part of the purpose of this blog is for me to illustrate just that. What “do” I do? 🙂 – A LOT … The role is diverse and rewarding, the opportunities to develop leaders are the most powerful and impacting legacy, and the power and honor to share and extend HOPE is a true gift.

In this blog post, I reflect on, share, and describe superintendent professional development. Leadership convening at a high level. History, politics, government, sociology, education, journalism, and more are covered in this experience and blog post.

40 years ago, A Nation at Risk was presented to the nation. It was a flawed report (as I will share), but it did raise PK-12 education to the forefront as a presidential issue – which can be a good thing. It started a four-decade pathway towards educational “reforms” and an obsession with standardized testing that we still grapple with today.

So …. What do I do?

I learn I gather with national and global experts, I engage in dialogue to make my thoughts known and clearer, and when challenged with new ideas, I may change my

I am facilitating a discussion with one of our presenters

mind! I am a leader and a learner, and a lead learner. My attendance at and participation in professional development is part of what I do as a superintendent of schools. Each day I aim to be better, do better, and lead better for the thousands of students and staff, and community members I have the honor of serving.

40 Years Since a Nation at Risk … What have we learned … I will be sharing thoughts from the many pages of notes I took during our amazing and challenging presentations as well as during our incredible visit and guided tour at the President Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. As a former social studies and US

Me at the podium! The backdrop is the inauguration – pretty cool!!

History teacher, this was AMAZING. A whole bunch of peak moments were had during this short but powerful trip across the country!

The National Superintendent Roundtable (NSR) is a membership association of superintendents from around the USA. Currently, there are about 91 members nationwide. In partnership with its sister organization, the Schlecty Center, there are about 180 superintendents in total between the two organizations. Both are mission-driven to support leadership and growth.  We are all in favor of and stand by “Strong families, strong communities, with strong schools” as a mantra or “calling card.” We’re here to honor the 40th anniversary of A Nation at Risk and truly digest and dissect – what we have learned and where we are going.

James Jim Harvey – incredible speaker, scholar, writer, one of the authors of A Nation at Risk & Founder of the National Superintendent Roundtable

Our keynote presenter, Jim Harvey, founder of the NSR and one of the writers of A Nation at Risk was outstanding!! Jim reminded us all that public education is one of the major foundations of the United States society. Supporting American ideals and progress is our mission. Jim also reminded us of President Reagan’s inaugural address in 1980, where he stated that essentially, “…government is the problem.”. President Reagan ran on a platform that included eliminating the US Department of Education. His first Secretary was Terrell, Ted, and Bell.

Subsequent blog posts will detail more of the content and “What do we do now?”.

Reflections from Bottle School Trip – Guatemala 2023 July

Bottle School Project with Hug it Forward

Reflections from  Tecpan, Guatemala

July 2023
Wrapping up an incredibly meaningful experience with my son in Guatemala! We finished tying up the 10,000 bottles filled with inorganic trash in the three classrooms we helped complete in the elementary (K-6) school in Zaculeu, Tecpan, Guatemala! The 400 students in grades K-6 now have three more elementary classrooms for education. One day we or someone will build a middle school, grades 7-9, so that these kids can continue their education. Currently, about 15-20 students are able to continue to middle school from the community.
——
Think about that for a minute or two……. Trips like this, service like this, and experiences like this help to illustrate how education, economics, politics, geo-global politics, etc., all intersect to create or stifle opportunity. Trips like this give me context, perspective, hope, and love.
———
Thanks to Hug it Forward and Serve the World Today, my son and I got to join some amazing people from across the United States and from France and Guatemala to make change in our world – to do good with other good people – to build a school alongside people in a community who seek partnership, support partnership and work alongside in partnership! The bottle school project confronts many challenges, including trash/environment, community development/involvement, investment in often forgotten people, education – space, opportunity, function & hope, economic development, and migration policies (and more).
————-

From the Hug it Forward Website

From their materials:
“Hug it Forward works to support and empower communities in Guatemala to build Bottle Schools: schools built using plastic soda bottles stuffed with inorganic trash. Entire communities come together to make the dream of educational opportunity a reality by upcycling “waste” to build their own bottle school.
  • This school infrastructure project will be accomplished thanks to funds provided by Hug it Forward’s donors and with the collaboration of community members. The municipality and the PTA (parent-teacher organization in the community) work jointly with students’ families in order to provide all the manual labor required for the construction, as well as a three-classroom bottle school requires over 10,000 bottles—children in the community are responsible for collecting the majority of these and stuffing them with trash to make “eco-bricks.” This gives them pride and a true sense of ownership in the school.
  • The school is built in Zaculeu, located in the municipality of Tecpan, Guatemala, Chimaltenango. Zaculeu means “White Land.” People in Zaculeu grow their own corn, beans, coffee, and a lot of different kinds of vegetables and fruits, especially snow peas, corn, and beans. This project of which we are a part, will benefit 386+ students, 13 teaching staff members, and 600 families in the area.
  • The members of the community are indigenous Mayan people who speak Kaqchikel.
  • The signs are in their mother tongue, Spanish and English.
——————
We built walls out of bottles in three classrooms. We expanded the educational footprint in the community and we supported ecological awareness and recycling on a grand scale. We played with the children, we spoke with the community elders, we visited homes of the members of the community.

Before bottle walls are constructed

A bottle wall before it’s covered with plaster and used as insulation – construction in process

—————-
We immersed ourselves in Mayan culture, Guatemalan culture, we learned Guatemalan and Mayan history and politics and immigration perspectives first hand.

Park of the Cross, beautiful view of Agua Volcano (dormant)

——————-
We learned, we served, we experienced, we helped, we hugged, and we leave better people than when we arrived as we have new friends, new world views, and we now have a community with greater educational opportunities.
As I have stated, words and even pictures alone cannot fully illustrate the power and intensity of this trip and its set of experiences. I encourage you to consider attending a Hug it Forward service trip. Thanks for reading, as always, I welcome comments!
It is an honor to try to make the world a better place through service, family, spirit, and hands on learning. We leave Guatemala mentally, spiritually, emotional fulfilled. We brought good, we received good, and our little efforts will lead to generational change.
——
As we come home, we aim to extend the learning, feelings, doings, beings illustrated herein and live as best we can sharing good wherever we can.
As I prepare for another school year, I am recharged, refreshed, revised, and wholly energized to support and facilitate change. I am committed to supporting administrators so that they may create optimal conditions for teachers and staff, so that they may create the environment for “each child every day” where all means all and where, in North Shore School District 112, #112Leads, we inspire, engage and empower every day!

Mayan Culture and History – Guatemala

Mayan Culture and History were integral parts of our overall service, learning, culture, history, and volunteer work in Guatemala.

Iximiche and Antigua visits during our time in Guatemala in between and following bottle school construction projects enhanced the cultural immersion as well as the background of the people and the communities we were serving with.!
Aside from actual construction, building, in this case, tying in bottles as the walls/insulating and using them as “eco bricks” for ecological as well as construction, we learn with and from the people alongside with whom we are serving. Recall the details related to building a bottle school.

From the Hug it Forward Website

—————
That’s a long-winded way of saying we immerse ourselves with the local people, culture, history, sociology etc. One such way to do this is to hear first hand accounts of the Civil War (1960-1996), learn about migration out and the causes and reasons why, and we also visited a sacred national archeological site called Iximiche, site of the first Guatemalan capital city.
Our first excursion was to Iximche (Ishimche). This sacred Mayan archeological and
cultural site representing the Kaqchikel Maya ethnic group and the first capital city of the Guatemalan Kingdom – founded in 1470 and abandoned around 1524. The second excursion was to Antigua, also a former capital city of Guatemala and a UNESCO certified world history site.
—————-
We also visited the incredible UNESCO world heritage site Antigua, Guatemala and we had a chance to explore this unbelievable city. The cobblestone roads, the colonial ruins/restorations, the beauty of the Guatemalan people and the history of the Spanish religious and archeological sites was really impressive.  We learned about cacao, chocolate, religion, jade, Mayan spiritual horoscopes, and much, much, more. If you have ever thought about visiting Guatemala – book your tickets today 🙂
Right now I am sharing images from Antigua followed by additional reflections and then imagery from Iximiche.
————
—————-
The visit to Antigua left us wanting to come back and explore even more!!
—————
During our visit to Iximiche, we visited the museum where our guide explained the more than 20 Mayan ethnic groups (not tribes, but indigenous ethnicities with unique language, history, etc.). He also explained how the Spanish invaders/conquerors are described in history and points of view; he allowed us to challenge our commonly held beliefs about the Colonial Era.
During this Hug it Forward trip, we had the privilege to learn history from people directly and personally impacted by historical events. This first hand, hands on, experiential learning proved quite powerful. In addition, we learned how the Moon temple (west) the Sun temple (east) and the Mayan Cross and the various alters in the archeological site reflected the Maya understanding of the astrological principles (directions, solstice, equinox, etc.). We also were simply fascinated by the precision construction – with no power tools – of the exquisitely constructed temples and sacred areas.
We also saw the ball court and learned about sports/recreation/conflict resolution – truly the personal guide, Alex, was an amazing teacher. Walking the serene grounds of this national park was unusually serene and tranquil – again, words alone cannot describe fully – but I’ll try with words as well as images.
__________
Alex also explained Mayan spirituality to us, he dispelled myths, he debunked some stereotypes, Alex allowed us into his culture and into his spirituality. We engaged in a fire ceremony with Alex – it was moving, meaningful, special, and truly spiritual!
No words or images can remotely approach explaining to you how powerful the Mayan fire ceremony was – from Alex’s deliberate and powerful explanation, to our participation in the actual ceremony, to our holding hands as a group and immersing ourselves literally in the culture – this was a PEAK moment for us all!!
—————
On my LifeTouch Memory Mission in 2016 I learned the phrase “build a school, change lives”on this trip with Hug it Forward and Serve the World, with my son, we helped to build a school, I believe we will help to change lives, and I want to close by affirming that our lives have been changed for the better and I feel like Guatemala is a new friend to us!
Building the school changes lives. Working alongside the local people builds connections. Immersing ourselves int he Culture, History, Spirituality, Traditions, Food, etc. binds us to the people of Guatemala. As we travel, serve, learn, explore, immerse, engage, and build connections for life, and also help build schools, we also change our own lives, perspectives, views, viewpoints, understanding, knowledge, and world view – and more!
The images below are from our visit and immersion to the Iximiche archeological site.

Education is Life

I’m a fan of the Apple TV show “Ted Lasso” and one of the characters, Dani Rojas, has a saying “futbol is life” … so, in the spirit of Dani Rojas, “Education is Life” is the title of this blog post!
I’ve been a public school educator in suburban Chicago, Illinois, USA since 1992. I’ve been a superintendent of schools (PK-8) since 2010. Education really has been and in some ways “is” my life too!! My daughter is in college studying to become a special education teacher, my son is a park district day camp counselor, my wife taught pre-school and worked in park district recreation, so I guess it’s in our DNA as a family too!
Education, of course, is essential – everywhere.
Together with my son and our other adventurers, we’re helping construct a bottle school in the indigenous Mayan community of Zaculeu in the Tecpan region. This is our third such trip together and my seventh since my first experience on the 2016 LifeTouch Memory Mission to Constanza, Rio Grande, in the Dominican Republic. I have written on my blog about past experiences and adventures! Feel free to search the blog (enter Dominican Republic or service learning).
The father son time is priceless, the father/educator in me also finds this time affirming and spiritual on many levels. To be able to serve and share these Peak Moments with my son is greater than any words I can piece together. The opportunity to make new friends from around my country as well as from all over the world is pretty amazing too.
During this bottle school building trip and Guatemalan culture, history, and ecology trip, we are fortunate to have amazing guides and leaders. From Guatemala, we have Vivi, Andres, Lilian, Enrique, Christy & Marta, from the USA Hug it Forward team we have Adam and Jennifer. Together with veteran Gary and so many others – we are engaged in lifetime memories and incredible learning. Our team is aged 9 to 67, we hail from multiple races, religions, ethnicities, vocations, locations, and together we are now one!
Working alongside of our Guatemalan hosts, working with the children of Zaculeu, and building walls made of eco bricks to help demonstrate care for the ecological needs of our planet, we learned, lived, felt, experienced, and did each day on this incredible set of experiences.
When we arrived in Zaculeu, as the first representatives from Hug it Forward, ever, and among the very few foreigners who ever have come to visit and serve with the Mayan people of the village, we were welcomed LARGE! The assembly from the nearly 400 students in grades K-6, the teachers, the principal, the mayor and the village elders, the parent organization and many of the parents of the children – we knew we were not in Kansas anymore! The assembly with speeches, songs, dances, signs, and an unbelievably warm welcome was so energizing and so motivating, that when we got to the job site, the excitement was palatable.
I’ll share a bunch of photos as a picture is worth “1000 words” in an effort to illustrate the incredible set of experiences — words alone cannot capture the power of this experience and even the photos & videos don’t do it justice – but I’m so moved and so inspired, that I am compelled to share my story.
Feel free to follow Hug It Forward on Facebook and on Instagram to see not only our trip, but previous and future trips. Anyone with the motivation can reach out and serve.
Service, education, cultural immersion, and more is what we found on this trip. Food was prepared for us daily by cooks Marta and Christy – the food was outstanding! Enrique drove us in our bus (chariot) through city streets, highways, country/rural roads, mountains, hills, and dirt roads with angles approaching 80 degree inclines – incredible!
We also met individuals who shared their personal stories and histories regarding various timely topics including the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), migration from Guatemala to the United States, economic conditions in the nation, social history, and much, much, more.
We also engaged with local artisans who make their living creating cultural and personal effects for sale and for more than a “side gig” – for some folks, this is their primary income.
As I write these words, I realize, as best as I try, nothing can capture the power of this trip and the series of peak moments more than actually experiencing this, but my aim and my effort is to celebrate the good and highlight the hope of serving, learning, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and joining amazing people who do this all the time.
Education in Guatemala is different than education in the United States. The public school system is not always present, fully available, or even funded in the rural/indigenous areas of Guatemala where we were serving. There were classrooms from a USAAID project in 1987 and in 1993, and then there is our project in 2023! The classrooms for this village of Zaculeu serve children in grades K-5 — there are not classrooms for children in middle school, grades 7-9 (YET). High schools in Guatemala are fee based – not free.
Creating classrooms for children in grades K-6 and ultimately in grades 7-9 changes lives and changes cultural, historical, and economic opportunities and access to opportunities for generations of children. This bottle school project in which we are involved is one step to provide chances, hope, opportunities, and change for people.
Our public ambassador programming and efforts represent efforts afloat all over the world and efforts I have had the privilege of participating in in the USA (Puerto Rico), in the Dominican Republic and now, in Guatemala! In addition to the bottle school construction, the engagement with the villagers via the welcome ceremony, the artisan markets, and the community walk/hike and home visits, we also visited sacred Mayan archeological sites, learned from first hand historical accounts and engaged with the powerful beauty of this incredible country!
Sharing more images of our incredible journey to Guatemala!

Guatemala Service Trip Culture School Building 2023

Guatemala 2023
Tecpan, Guatemala July 2023

Justin (my son) and I ventured from Chicago to Miami and from Miami to Guatemala City, Guatemala. We are serving, learning, exploring, and traveling to Guatemala with Hug it Forward, https://hugitforward.org/ , on a service, mission, culture, education, and ecological trip. Hug it Forward works with Serve the World – they are two organizations dedicated to making the world a better place. The Hug it Forward Bottle School Project is what Justin and I are investing our time in during this trip. Together with about 15 other people from the US States of Illinois, Georgia, Oregon, Texas, Minnesota, & New York, plus group members from France, we are working with our Guatemalan hosts, friends, and leaders.

Hug it Forward has engaged in about 140 bottle school projects over the past decade.

From their website, describing what a Bottle School is:

Bottle classrooms are constructed using eco-bricks, which are plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash. During the project process, entire communities come together to build a more environmentally responsible educational space for their future.

Bottle classrooms are built using eco-bricks, which are plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash. Our bottle classrooms are built using the established method of post-and-beam construction. The foundations, columns and beams are made from concrete reinforced with rebar. Unlike cinder-blocks which are not very environmentally responsible, we use eco-bricks in our constructions. As a result, our projects are much cheaper to build when compared to the more traditional building methods and materials, they work to clean up the environment, provide the space for real discussion about local environmental obstacles, and involve the entire community in their construction, resulting in a sense of pride and ownership

The people of Zaculeu collected 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) plastic drink bottles, filled them with debris to make them stable and full, and these became the “eco-bricks” to find a home as insulation in the walls of their school’s new classrooms. If they did not collect the “trash” it would have been burned, discarded, or placed in a landfill. The community collected the bottles and the trash – they cleaned up their area, their streets, their homes – and they prepared to welcome us to help them construct the walls of their school. Private donors funded the costs via donations to Hug it Forward for the skilled laborers to construct the flooring, roofs, structure, and masonry – some other Hug it Forward groups helped the skilled laborers, the government of Guatemala funded the masonry, and our group built the walls with the students of the school and members of the community! Our bottle school project was with the community, by the community, and with our help – it’s their lasting legacy of ecological awareness, activism, and educational commitment.

Subsequent blog posts will share more details and more images!

Audio Excerpts of National Presentation – Supt and Principals – Impact on learning in #112Leads

In this episode, learn how an initiative and partnership called DMBreakthrough Teams implemented last year at the District 112 Dual Language elementary schools positively impacted student growth & achievement!

Over spring break, I went to New York with Oak Terrace Principal Lilli Melamed and Wayne Thomas Associate Principal Colleen Goodrich. In addition to learning at the conference, we were invited to present the results from an initiative implemented last year at both dual language schools, DMGroup Breakthrough Teams.

Having the opportunity to share, and specifically, hearing from Lilli and Colleen about the impact of last year’s DMBreakthrough teams 10-week program on multi-lingual learners in grades K-5 at their respective schools is incredible and made me very proud of our work, our students, and the District. Our session was titled “Learn how North Shore School District 112 (IL) supported their multilingual learners and achieved a higher percentage of students meeting their MAP growth goals after the Breakthrough Results experience.”

Our work with DMGroup to implement their Breakthrough Teams programs at our Dual Language schools last year was driven by that commitment to continuous improvement in learning. We are committed to creating conditions for equitable access to educational opportunities for each child every day. We are committed to creating conditions for teacher support and excellence every day. We are on a journey and proud to be focused on results.

En este episodio, aprenda cómo una iniciativa y asociación llamada DMBreakthrough Teams implementada el año pasado en las escuelas primarias de lenguaje dual del Distrito 112 impactó positivamente el crecimiento y el rendimiento de los estudiantes.

Durante las vacaciones de primavera, fui a Nueva York con la directora de Oak Terrace, Lilli Melamed, y la directora asociada de Wayne Thomas, Colleen Goodrich. Además de aprender en la conferencia, fuimos invitados a presentar los resultados de una iniciativa implementada el año pasado en ambas escuelas bilingües, DMGroup Breakthrough Teams.

Tener la oportunidad de compartir, y específicamente, escuchar a Lilli y Colleen sobre el impacto del programa de 10 semanas de los equipos DMBreakthrough del año pasado en estudiantes multilingües en los grados K-5 en sus respectivas escuelas es increíble y me hizo sentir muy orgulloso de nuestro trabajo, nuestros estudiantes y el Distrito. Nuestra sesión se tituló “Aprenda cómo el Distrito Escolar 112 (IL) de North Shore apoyó a sus estudiantes multilingües y logró un mayor porcentaje de estudiantes que cumplieron con sus objetivos de crecimiento MAP después de la experiencia de Breakthrough Results”.

Nuestro trabajo con DMGroup para implementar sus programas Breakthrough Teams en nuestras escuelas de lenguaje dual el año pasado fue impulsado por ese compromiso con la mejora continua en el aprendizaje. Estamos comprometidos a crear condiciones para el acceso equitativo a las oportunidades educativas para cada niño todos los días. Estamos comprometidos a crear condiciones para el apoyo y la excelencia de los maestros todos los días. Estamos en un viaje y orgullosos de estar enfocados en los resultados.

What are DMGroup Breakthrough Teams Results in D112? #112Leads

In the 2021-2022 school year, we chose to implement a robust planning and results-oriented project at both K-5 dual language (Spanish/English) schools in the District, Oak Terrace and Red Oak. Our main work has always been to create conditions that support student growth, learning, and teacher collective efficacy. In this post, I’m sharing some images that show graphically how incredible the student growth, learning, and performance was in this 10 week initiative last year.

The results focused approach, led by a team from strategic partner DMGroup (from Boston, MA), helps teams of leaders, teachers, and educational support staff refine their sense of urgency and target professional efforts to impact student growth and learning. We worked with DM Group on a number of challenging projects over the past few years (reopening in COVID, Student Services/EL audit, MTSS planning and implementation).

Firstly, in District 112, our motto is Inspire, Innovate, Engage; and we firmly believe each child can learn and grow – every day. We stand firmly for equitable access to educational opportunities for each child every day. We take pride in the excellence of our teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, and Board.

 When we learn how to do better – we do better. When we make a mistake, we own it – explain it – and learn from it (and take efforts not to repeat it). After the devastating impacts of the COVID global pandemic (on society, learning, social connection, etc.) we reached out to experts in strategic leadership to see how we could improve and enhance our impact on learning to help our students emerge successfully.

Student success and district success are measured in multiple ways.  Pleasesee a previous blog post to get a sense of how I measure “success” (culture, engagement, service, assessment, etc.). Search Results for “Measure succes” – Mike Lubelfeld’s Blog

The point of working with the DMGroup on Breakthrough Teams comes from their motto: “Successful Change Programs Begin with Results”. The focus of the initiative is to focus on results – not barriers; not challenges; not the “why nots;” not the “yea buts;” but results.  Let’s make an impact.

 They acknowledge psychological, organizational and cultural (org. Culture) barriers such as: “I’m doing all I can;” “It’s overwhelming;” “It’s not MY problem;” etc… .  And then share a team of strategic consultants to support the existing organizational structures and  help guide questions to and for student learning/growth and teacher learning/growth to work around, through and over those barriers to ultimately bring them down.

The cool part about working with the DMGroup on Breakthrough teams is that we had the opportunity to take existing structures (teacher team planning/group thinking time) student learning (using assessment tools), instructional coaching (District teacher leaders), administrative collaboration (co-designing and considering solutions) all to help us do our work better.

 

The DMGroup Breakthrough Teams program is focused on 10 weeks of intense, targeted, focused planning, ideation, succeeding, failing, learning, and re-ideating. The District, the School and the Teams work together to make the best decisions with the information at hand in real time on behalf of the learning. It’s an amazing professional experience – and, in D112, it yielded groundbreaking results for kids (and teachers) last year at Red Oak and Oak Terrace Schools.

We focused on our dual language schools with multi-lingual students in the District’s historic and long running magnet/choice instructional program. English Learners in the District have traditionally had challenging performance on standardized assessments, and the focus on their learning and needs, first, with this innovative program, proved that every child (regardless of “box to check”) can learn and grow in the proper conditions. We helped our teachers create the proper conditions and focus, and we co-created professional planning space to establish a results orientation.  And the results justify and support this effort.

As mentioned, in this post, I’m sharing some slides that show graphically how incredible the student growth, learning, and performance was in this 10 week initiative last year.

On April 11, at an upcoming school Board meeting, I will share a detailed presentation with two of my colleagues, Lilli Melamed (Principal at Oak Terrace School) and Colleen Goodrich (Associate Principal at Red Oak School last year and Wayne Thomas school this year).

 In June, we’ll share this year’s results from this year’s Breakthrough Teams experience at the five K-5 schools with traditional (English only) education, in grades kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

Thanks for reading the blog! Check out the podcast, our upcoming board meetings, and general District communications as we share our journey of leadership, experiences, learning, growth, and results oriented focus.

Older posts
Skip to toolbar