TALK OF TOMORROW | by Ted Fujimoto
Wake up to 2040, where a New York Certified Success Coach helps her student teams work through project-based lessons.
In a condo overlooking the Hudson River in New York, the morning alarm on Gwen Lewis’s iPhone chirps. It’s still dark out. She rolls over, picks it up and glances at the time—5:45 a.m., March 5, 2040—her thirty-fifth birthday.
Gwen is a Certified Success Coach (CSC) specializing in students ages 12-16. In New York, the state did away with “teachers.” It took years, but people finally realized that teachers weren’t able to maintain expert levels of knowledge in all necessary areas and that they needed to shift the purpose and role of the profession to CSCs. Ten years ago, Gwen was in the first group of CSCs in the state.
After a quick shower, some makeup, a good pair of jeans and a pullover sweater, she is ready to go. Gwen grabs her iPad and opens up the SuccessNet app. She quickly scans through the roster and posting of her forty “kids” from the night and day before. At first glance it resembles Facebook, but a closer look reveals much more.
Each student’s profile includes a graphical quadrant graphic showing their interests, goals, strengths, and weaknesses color coded by priority. This rich information layers in from various sources. A key layer comes from the dialog between Gwen and each of her students for an hour once a month in which they discuss interests, goals, strengths and weaknesses. As CSC, Gwen is trained to help each student explore and widen their interests, set the highest goals possible, and to self-reflect and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Equal time is spent working on human issues as well as technical and academic issues. Other layers of information come from 360-degree peer reviews from team projects and various technical assessments.
Gwen starts to look through each of the student projects. All learning is through these projects and every one is based on a real-world situation that the students must actually solve in simulation or real life. What she is looking for is evidence of how effectively the team is working together, any emerging team issues and any technical information and resources the team may be asking for soon. She notes that Team WaterSource may need some engineering and chemistry questions related to desalinization.
Team WaterSource’s project is to design cost-effective water desalinization units for households in the South Pacific Islands. Gwen knows the team can look up a lot of information on their own but she also digs for some great simulations and videos explaining key concepts and locates a real-life engineer in the field that she can give them access to. She posts all this on their wall and scans the rest of the project teams, noting all the information and resource requests. Looks like she has a few more hours to go.
Gwen frowns as she reads through Team Politico’s posts. From her in-person observations and from a quick review of their project work, there seems to be a great deal of frustration brewing; it appears that there are too many chiefs and they’re stepping on each other’s toes. She schedules online a meeting for later in the morning to mentor them through their issues.
It’s 7:30 a.m. After a short walk that includes a quick coffee shop and bagel stop, Gwen walks into the Neighborhood Success Center. It’s not like the prison-cell-and-bell type atmosphere of the old New York school buildings. It’s a converted warehouse with large, open, sunlit and airy spaces—bearing uncanny resemblance to hip New York creative ad agency digs. Around the space, small teams have their designated project areas. Students cluster around these spaces—some in group meetings, others lost in intense web research and rocking forward slightly with iPod earbuds. Still others are chatting up a (project-relevant) storm on their cell phones to other students and mentors. Some are using the video conference features on their phones or iPads.
Gwen walks into a large conference room. At exactly 7:45 a.m., all her students begin to wander in from various directions. Seated now in a large circle, each team begins to take turns briefing the larger group with a project update: what they’re working on, why it’s important, big learnings and a celebration of goals already met. Gwen uses this time to acknowledge exemplary team and individual behaviors and recognizes model work.
There is no typical rest of the day for Gwen. Today, she has a few 15- to 30-minute workshops that were requested by the students. She’ll be meeting for about 20 minutes with Team Politico to discuss and help resolve their issues. She’ll spend an hour one-on-one with at least two students. Throughout the afternoon, she’ll navigate the building between project teams, observing work and making herself generally available to respond to specific inquiries.
This week, Gwen has a work session with other CSCs from her Success Center and another session with peers across other Success Centers. All the success coaches swap and review student profiles, challenging each other as to whether or not they’re setting high enough student goals—a sort of calibration of their efforts.
It’s now 5:13 p.m. and Gwen finishes up a one-on-one session with one of her students. She glances at a photograph on her desk—it’s her mother, who used to be a teacher. Gwen wonders to herself what daily life must have been like for her, and smiles back.
Ted Fujimoto helps communities and school districts create and support 21st-century schools. As an entrepreneur and consultant, he has helped develop business strategies for Bay Area Coalition of Essential Schools, Big Picture Learning, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Partnership for Uplifting Communities, Linking Education & Economic Development, California Charter Schools Association and the New York Charter Schools Association. His work represents more than $150 million in funding. He was instrumental in designing and founding Napa New Technology High School and the New Technology Foundation that now comprises 62 schools nationwide, with dozens of new schools opening by Fall 2010. Write to: [email protected]