AltSchool Hub

A Teacher's Reflections on 2014

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jan 29, 2015 6:47:00 PM

One of our teachers, Paul France, writes a personal blog called InspirED. We are moved by his reflections on 2014 and have included highlights from his musings below.


Being a teacher means growing a family. 

Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever actually need to have kids.  When every year ends -- when every chapter concludes -- I leave feeling like I'll never recreate what I've built.  While it’s true that it will never be recreated, every new school year, I’m reminded that teaching gives us countless experiences to grow — not recreate — ourselves and our network of those we care about.  Instead of certain years being “better” or “worse,” each of those years allow us opportunities to fill in pieces of ourselves that weren’t there before.

Being open to new ideas doesn’t mean throwing your core values away.

Fitzgerald once said that, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  It’s possible to adhere to your values and welcome in the values of others.  Likewise, it’s possible to try something new without compromising what you believe to be true about teaching.


Having a teaching team is the best thing that any teacher can do.

Being a bonafide control freak, I knew this was going to be challenging for me this year.  I was used to having my own classroom and being able to make my own decisions all the time. Having a teaching team has forced me to slow down, think more, and consider more alternatives when helping my kids.  A teaching career is incomplete without the opportunity to co-teach.

The best kind of teacher is an authentic one.

Kids can sense disingenuousness.  They may not be able to diagnose or name it, but they certainly can tell when you’re being phony.  Give them the true “you,” and they’ll love you for it.

Teaching is vulnerability.

Teaching means to constantly give of yourself, and to constantly allow yourself to be changed and modified by your environment.  Without opening yourself up and without letting yourself be seen, you create an environment where others feel like they cannot do the same.  Kids need to be open in order to learn, and they can only learn how to do that if the teacher is doing this first.

Screen_Shot_2015-01-29_at_3.31.47_PMTeaching is love.

It’s a shame that society has tried to turn teaching into a benign practice. Teachers fear giving students hugs nowadays, and teachers all over the country are constantly trying to protect themselves by keeping their distance. But to learn with someone is to love them unconditionally.  It’s to accept them as is, let them in, and give of yourself without stipulation.

Read the full post here.

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Topics: InspirED with Paul France

National Board Certification for Paul France!

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 25, 2014 11:35:00 AM

One of our teachers, Paul France, just became National Board Certified! This is a prestigious honor: just under 3% of the nation’s teachers receive this certification. National Board Certification is an elective process created in the late 1980s. It’s intended to restructure the landscape on which teachers are trained to be in the classroom, helping to elevate the status and quality of the teaching profession long-term. We sat down with Paul to find out more about why he chose to begin this process just a year and a half ago.


Why did you choose to pursue National Board Certification?

I think teachers are always looking to better their practice, whether they do so formally or through being teacher-researchers each and every day. In order to be an effective educator, one must be reflective, intentional, and focused on student-centered learning. The National Board Certification process instills these sorts of values in their teachers. I wanted to push myself to become a teacher who went beyond the constraints of a traditional system, in order to explore how I could best serve my students and families in an engaging and empathic way.  

I spoke to a few National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) who recently gained certification, and they noted that the process was some of the best professional development they had ever received. It caused them to be critical of their own practice. I saw the type of interactive, exploratory, and emergent teaching they were doing in their classroom, and I wanted to benefit my students in that way, too.

How does becoming a National Board Certified Teacher benefit students?

The National Board Professional Teaching Standards are built off of the Five Core Propositions, the first of which being “Teachers are committed to their students and their learning.” I really like that this standard emphasizes the importance of a knowledge of students. Understanding the whole-child means taking student interest, social emotional needs, assessment data, family dynamics, and other qualities of learners, to create rigorous and engaging learning experiences.  It also emphasizes the importance of including parents in a child’s learning.

The process pushed me to think differently about what rigor and engagement actually mean.  One of the best products that came out of the process was a unit I created on human values.  The goal of the unit was to help students understand human values, human motivation, and conflict. Our guiding question for the unit was, “Why does someone decide to make a change?” and through this unit, we examined human values and conflict in the context of the American Revolution. The idea of values became a unifying concept for the remainder of our school year, allowing each and every student to connect to the curriculum by identifying and discussing their own values, as well as share the values of their families.

Would you recommend this process to another teacher?  Why or why not?

I would certainly recommend the process to other teachers. National Board has well-researched and well-supported sets of standards for almost any teaching discipline, and emphasizes the importance of being an intentional, reflective, and well-rounded teacher. At the core of this, however, is the emphasis on the relationship with and knowledge of the student and how that colors any learning experience. National Board values both the artistry and intentional scientific research that creates the foundation of good teaching.  As teachers, every day we walk into our classrooms as both artists and scientists, and the National Board process helps to nurture the whole-teacher, so that teachers can then nurture the whole-child.

How do the Five Core Propositions translate to your experience at AltSchool?

Teachers at AltSchool value the child above all else. Every teacher within this organization invests a great deal of time and energy into listening to and knowing the students that walk through our doors each day. Once we lay this foundation, we use our knowledge of pedagogy to build the best learning experiences possible for children. It is through these experiences that AltSchool encourages us to be teacher-researchers and teacher-leaders, and to use our fellow colleagues to help us think pragmatically about the curriculum we build with our students. In fact, AltSchool is one of the only schools I’ve seen that truly embodies these Five Core Propositions in a manner that allows students and parents alike to truly partner in the process, and the result is a community committed to high-quality, personalized learning.

Please join everyone at AltSchool to congratulate Paul on this outstanding achievement.

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Topics: Meet the Team, InspirED with Paul France

Going out into the real world...for real

Posted by Paul France

Sep 11, 2014 11:19:00 AM

PotteryBarn2School should be a part of the community, and community should be a part of the school. In fact, the whole purpose for education has arisen completely out of a need from the greater community. In order for a community to survive and thrive, educating its future citizens is of utmost importance.

But somehow, education has turned into a segmented good, something mass manufactured and prepackaged, only to be delivered within the confines of the four walls of a school.  So how does one solve this problem?  How does one make it so this reality is no longer so?

You go out into the community.  That’s how. And this doesn’t sound as impossible as one would think.  In fact, it’s way easier.

Yesterday, my class went to Pottery Barn.  Yup, you heard it right, the Pottery Barn.  Best and most free field trip ever.  Why you ask? To be inspired by the beautiful furniture and home decorations so that we may design our classroom.  Students bustled around with iPads and notebooks, taking pictures and sketching images of cabinets, chairs, and desks, bursting with ideas for classroom items.  We looked for shapes, uses for practical objects like lamps and pottery, and of course, beauty, so that our classroom may be a structured, practical, and beautiful place. Check out some of their sketches below.



Teachers fantasize over making learning truly real world, but they tend to leave out the most important component of the real world, and that is, well, the real world.  In fact, the word “real world” has become so much of a buzzword that it’s become all too easy to forget what the term actually means.  But when it comes down to actually honoring the idea of “real world experiences,” we cannot expect to fulfill this manifest within the four walls of the classroom.

The ability to learn resides within a student’s ability to see himself or herself within the curriculum.  Moreover, the manifest of becoming a lifelong learner can only truly be achieved if a child can see himself or herself in the greater world.  By going out into the community, and by giving students truly “real-world” experiences, we can help to empower kids to be resourceful and use the community as a place of constant growth and learning.

And to think… it’s as simple as going to Pottery Barn.

Paul France is one of our educators and featured bloggers on the AltSchool Hub. This article was originally published on his blog, InspirED


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Topics: Learning in the Community, Classroom Stories, InspirED with Paul France