Sunday, August 26, 2012

Going to the Moon

Today I heard the news that the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has died.  I've thought about the Apollo 11 mission quite a bit over the past few weeks, since the metaphor of going to the moon was one that was used by our Superintendent when he described the journey that ASB set off on last year to rethink education and what we are doing to turn those thoughts into reality.  This year we have 2 amazing new campuses and it seems we have "lift off", but there is still a long way to go between the launch and actually walking on the moon.  I'm new, and so obviously I wasn't involved in all the preparation for the lift off, but it's clear to see all the preparations that went on pre-launch that have set us on our way.

The school started by looking at the mission.  It was important to affirm that this was the right one and that we all still cared about making the mission come true.  At this time 2 more core values were added:

  • Practice, perseverance and reflection are integral to a culture of excellence.  These are not just glib words like other mission statements I've read.  When this school talks about a culture of excellence they know what they are talking about and how to get there.  All coaches know that practice is important and that when you face setbacks you need to persevere.  Reflection ties the whole thing together.  A culture that does not value reflection, that does not value thinking critically about what you are doing in order to get better, is one that will never achieve excellence.
  • We are the trustees of our environment.  I love this one because it goes beyond immediate achievement, because the focus is on the future.
I've already written about the 4 things that were identified as being really important in the roles of teachers:  learning, talent, advancement and resources.  If our metaphor is that "we are going to the moon", and going to the moon is something that has never been done before, then obviously it's important to think about how to do things differently.  One of the first things that was considered was curriculum.  I've been at schools that have considered curriculum before and this process has taken 4 or 5 years to review.  Teachers get frustrated in this process.  ASB decided that this traditional model was not going to work because people want to try something new and implement it - so what has been done is to capture this initiative and put it into a new curriculum review model so that everything is moving and everyone is revising their curriculum every year.  As Heidi Hayes Jacobs described in her book Curriculum 21, it's important to constantly consider what to keep, what to cut and what to create.  A good example of this is the way at ASB there has been a complete change in everyone's mindset for using technology in the best way.  Technology is completely embedded - I've heard it described as the DNA of learning here.

In the first few weeks of school I've been part of collaborative planning for the first unit of inquiry in each team.  We do consider what was done before, we look at the standards, we develop assessments that align with the standards and we look at instructional approaches.  We revisit these every year with every unit of inquiry, but this year we are committed to going further - we are looking at personalizing the learning.  The purpose and focus of our curriculum development is to come up with personalized learning for every child.

Just as in the Apollo missions, our R&D team is very strong here at ASB - it's the heart of every decision we make to move forward with teaching and learning.  We need to think differently - we need to consider people, teams, structures, roles and responsibilities, time, facilities, operations and processes, governance, policies and resources.  And all of these need to be considered in the light of the school's mission and core values.

Yesterday our Superintendent sent out a message to all parents.  This weekly briefing is called Vichar, which I looked up in a Hindi dictionary.  It has many meanings:  thought, idea, opinion, voice, consideration.   He wrote about how the building of the new campuses has been similar to a pregnancy and how on 13th August,  our first day of school, the baby was born.  As a parent myself, I know that the birth is the first step, sometimes compared to what comes later it can even be seen as an easy step.  After this comes the nurturing, the guidance, the times when you lie awake at night wondering, worrying.  Most new parents think in terms of having a baby - but in fact that period of time is over and done with quickly - then you have a child, and a teenager and then finally an adult.  That is what you really have.  You might choose to have a baby but what you get is an adult.  Both my children are adults now.  My daughter flies the nest next month to go to university.  It's a strange time for me, full of mixed feelings.  

So the baby has been born, the school is open, childhood approaches and possibly some rocky times with a lot of lessons to be learned.  But one thing is certain, I have no doubts about it at all.  This child is going to the moon.  

Photo Credit:  Once in a Blue Moon by Kuzeytac, 2008  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

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