Hey, if you’re like me, then you’re building a school from the ground up. Every trend, every approach, naysayers and optimists, lawyers and parents, coworkers and students — these are all part of the puzzle, AND what a puzzle it is!
There are two questions my “school” of four students (soon to be five next week) and two teachers (plus the primary stakeholders, lawyers, and mentors) are facing: (1) What is the philosophy of the school, and (2) What are the objectives of the program? To keep our feet firmly planted when answering these questions, we must also consider and engage the students’ understanding of what makes a successful graduate of our school. In other words, to think with the end in sight, we should put forth the question, “What qualities do you look for in a graduate from this program?” to the students.
The diversity in the answers to these questions is what makes students and a program grow. It is out of this diversity of opinions — it is out of this diversity of experiences — that students begin to forge and sharpen their understanding of self-identity and self-transformation. They also begin to imagine, construct analytical and critical arguments, and gain experience with group participation. The maturity of forgoing personal opinion and other executive functions plays itself out in a room full of diversity.
So, the “material(s)” we’re working with today are these two questions: (1) What is our philosophy on education, and (2) What are our objectives for our educational program? In setting up a learning environment to engage these questions, it is essential that we model the room after a constructivist approach so we can allow the space for the learners to engage the material in many different ways: kinaesthetically, aesthetically, and visually.
Set up posters around the room with the marquee of questions on the top and allow for the learners to attach Post-it notes, markers, or any other writing utensil. The space very quickly will become a storming floral zephyr of ideas and colors. Set a time limit. Encourage learners to turn off the censorship light in their head and share anything on the topic. Encourage uncertainty, and work through the thinking with the learner, NOT for the learner. Out of this beautiful mess, there will come unity because you have the faith, and you assume that every learner wants there to be an action-result that exemplifies their belief along with the others. You are a living and breathing, walking example of INTERDEPENDENCE!
If you’re like me, you are still a little uncertain of how building a school works. You are starting to ponder the importance of involving parents and caregivers in this mission. Family Engagement in this mission is essential to making this school an open school. You are starting to think about ways you can figure out the level of engagement parents want to have in their children’s education.
Need I say more? Yes. Why not set up a “Dreams” Conference with the parents and caregivers? You will ask the question, “What seven qualities are essential to a graduate from this school?”. The parents will work in groups with the teachers. Each group will have writing utensils, posters, scratch paper, Post-it notes, adhesives, scissors, and any other materials for exploring the possibilities of this answer. The goal will be listening. Teachers and families will work together to create the ideal qualities in a graduate who is ready for college. Each group will choose a speaker to present their ideas. The Twitter-verse, Facebook, and other sources of Photojournalism will record the event. The congress will produce partnerships exercised through volunteerism or even a new job: a family liaison. The work is working.
So, you’re building a school, right? You’ve met with the students to discuss the questions and create an action-result team. You’ve met with the families and caregivers to do the same. You’ve also met only as teachers and stakeholders. You have all this food for thought — the plate is and feels larger than an elephant (who’s not even in the room but will be shortly) — and you want to put it all together into an organized pamphlet, brochure, packet, document. Then, what?
So, you say there is a school to build? Let’s step back and view the idea of “school” from the proverbial balcony. But not too much. We also have to do a little messy dancing in the mix. These conferences are where the messiness exists. It is important to model uncertainty and inquisitiveness as motivators for learning. Make self-appointed or community-based deadlines to reach your community’s and your personal goals. The journey is the destination.