Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Starting At The Beginning

A little less than a year ago, I wrote my last post about attending the funeral of one of my students. Since then, I’ve sat down to write many times, but I just couldn’t put the proverbial pen to paper. The education blogosphere is so positive, and I had such a difficult year. I couldn’t figure out how to frame what was happening at Design Lab without it sounding negative. So I didn’t write. I also backed off on twitter and became much more of a lurker than a participant in the wonderful conversations occurring.

Have you ever seen a Double Dutch jump rope game? Two people each hold the end of an enormous jump rope and swing it in a circle, and a third person finds the right moment to jump in. It takes incredible timing to jump in and participate. For me, this past year the blogosphere was the jump rope, and I was the kid who just couldn’t find the right moment to jump in. Daily, I read such thoughtful posts and tweets from teachers and leaders whose thinking and actions I so admire, and I couldn’t find anything the blogosphere wrote or tweeted occurring in my daily experiences at school.

I found the incredible disconnect between the school I want, the schools I read about on twitter and blogs, and the school I’m in each day to be…overwhelming.

I didn’t get to go to school to talk about flipped classrooms or purchasing Ipads or any of the other cool, important, or interesting topics we’re discussing on twitter. Last year, I went to school everyday to fight. Too often, I found myself physically between students breaking up altercations, but mostly I fought for the hearts and minds of our teachers, parents, and students.

My teachers want to believe that our school could be a great school, but none have ever had the opportunity to work in a school that actually works for students or adults, so could our school really be one that works? I fought to maintain and hold the hope my teachers have that our school could be better.

Too many of our students’ parents had incredibly negative experiences in their own schooling and the result is they view school as a necessary evil. I fought to frame education as a means to a stable job in this changing economy, and I fought to make our school a place where parents could trust that we have their children’s best interests at heart.

I fought for our students also. So many of our students view school and horrific boredom as synonyms. Some want a diploma and some don’t know want they want. Most of our students come from difficult and dangerous neighborhoods and worry far more about getting to and from school safely than getting any homework done. 

I fought physically, emotionally, and mentally. I fought in every way a person can fight, and in the end, most, but not all, of my efforts failed. I failed in large part, because it was “I” and not “We” and because telling people we can be different and leading and modeling our efforts to be different are not one and the same.

The new school year starts tomorrow and I’m committed to learning how to be the principal my teachers, parents and students deserve and need. This summer I stepped back from the chaos and thought about the school we can build. I reflected upon what I’ve learned in this amazing blogosphere and tried to frame it in the context of my own experiences in city schools.

Here’s what I know for sure: A good school is based on a foundation of care.

What happens day to day in a school where teachers, students, and parents feel cared for? What happens at school if we purposefully treat our students like they are our own children? How will teachers participate differently if they feel cared for, supported, and acknowledged? How will our relationships change with our parents if we listen and really hear their concerns? We’re going to ask and learn how to answer these questions with our actions, beliefs, and behaviors this year.

Instructionally, we’ll focus on the start, the end, and the transition points in the lesson. While we ultimately want to offer a curriculum where we empower students as learners, we still have to start framing instructional practices at the beginning to get to our destination.

Truth be told, every aspect of Design Lab Early College High School needs to be improved. But it isn’t going to happen all at once. I’m putting aside the posts about BYOD, and flipped classrooms, and Ipads. My sixteen month old is somewhere between minutes and weeks away from walking, and I don’t expect him to run before he walks. I need to practice the same patience with my school. So we’re starting at the beginning, with care and the foundations of good instructional practices.

I hope I have the courage this year to share our progress along the way. When Design Lab is a school we would all send our children to, I think it’s important to have documented the long journey to get there. If you have any resources for framing discussions and learning around care in schools, please send them my way. In the meantime, I think I’m ready to try out my jump rope skills. See you at the double dutch game.

CC Images:

Writing samples: Parker 75 by churl on September 22, 2006 

Double Dutch by photobunny on May 17, 2008


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  3. Hello,

    My name is Kevin Hoang and I run the Hot Topics blog http://www.pil-network.com/HotTopics for Microsoft in Education. We would like to warmly invite you join our network. This year was special to us. At our 2014 Global Forum in Barcelona, we've invited 250 school leaders from Microsoft’s Mentor Schools to join us learn, share and collaborate with the best of the best from all over the world. These mentor schools are subject to a robust selection process where over 10,000 school leaders compete the join annually.

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    Program Manager
    Hot Topics | Microsoft in Education
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