Schools and Belief

July 12, 2012 – 11:22 pm

Most of us have a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know”: we don’t know the range of what’s possible, so we continue doing things as we’ve seen them done before but with slight improvements. I think of it as being in a dark room: by looking at other schools, talking to other teachers, and meeting other school boards, we can shine a torch into the darkness to see where there are walls and where there’s unexplored territory.

I’m more fortunate than most parents and school trustees, because I’ve been able to meet several impressive teachers and principals: Pete Hall at Upper Harbour, Mark Osborne at ASHS, Tara TJ in Wellington, Claire Amos at Epsom Girls Grammar, and others. They’re passionate, they’re doing different things, they’re articulate, and they really care about their children.

The natural tendency, when we see things is to want those things. I see this all the time with technology: “that school has ipads!”, “this school has 1:1!”, “this school has e-portfolios!”. As I explained, blindly inserting technology is a crap idea and won’t make for extraordinary results. The technology has to support something. Then you’ll get great results through technology.

The same attraction to things happens with every other visible difference in schools: “this school has independent time!”, “this school has kids teaching kids!”, “this school does maker stuff with kids!”. But blindly importing those differences will be as successful as blindly importing technology. (Hint: not)

The schools and teachers that I’ve been impressed by have stepped beyond the way they’ve always done things. And they all got there the same way: they took a value and they lived by it. They take something they’re doing at level 3, and they take it up to 10 instead of 4. They then figure out how to measure whether living out their values is actually helping the kids, but it all starts with taking powerful action by turning words into action.

I can’t help but think of religion, even though I’m not a religious chap. There’s the Bible, and you can keep it on your shelf … or you can say “how would I live my life if I really believed these words?”. The magic isn’t in the words: the “how you live your life” stuff in a religious text and the “what we do at our school” stuff in your charter have no special powers. It’s you who breathes the magic into the words, like life into clay.

And all you have to do is ask, “what would I do if I actually believed this?”.

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