Where the Good Work Is: The “Learning for Life” Vision Statement

I just had a second meeting with parents in our High School this month. These meetings primarily regarded the important and defining new language the school has created entitled, “Learning for Life: A Vision for Westminster.” We call these gatherings “Coffee with the Principal.” Last week the group was fairly modest, while this week the crowd almost overflowed the lovely Inman Commons Room. Originally, I had just one such meeting this month on my calendar, but because of a scheduling mistake it appeared on different dates on two different school calendars. Such mistakes happen, and in this case I couldn’t be happier that we made it and that I quickly decided to reprise the meeting from last week. As we start to lean into the demands of the “Learning for Life” vision, I am keenly aware that we will need to communicate often, clearly, and fully to families about the path it calls us to follow. Having the chance to speak again on this topic at this moment struck me as an excellent opportunity.

Our communications task at this moment in the school’s life is multi-faceted, and it transcends the relatively simple demand to keep families informed. In order for us to reach toward the full ambition of the vision, we must enlist them as supporters and believers in the difficult and nettled work ahead. I want them to reach a level of belief such that they hold us accountable for our specific progress toward the aspirations of “Learning for Life.” I want them saying, as several parents of current juniors and seniors told me afterward, “I wish my children were going to be here to benefit from all this!” I have written about several aspects of this task before <here>; however, the landscape of our work in this area is just becoming fully clear to me now.

I have spoken to my (outstanding!) leadership team about the need to recognize and move toward those areas “where the good work is” in the school. It can be a confounding task coming in to a new job and trying to understand the work taking place based solely on written job descriptions. I have had much more luck and garnered better insight by asking team members– where their work is? What matters to them? What should be driving their focus? And how can I and how can others support them in doing it? It is evident to me that a significant portion of the important work in my school will be in the area of establishing, nurturing, maintaining and extending partnerships with families in the specific context of our strategic direction. We can do it; it will be exciting, difficult, and rewarding; and it will doubtlessly be the good work we need to do.

One thought on “Where the Good Work Is: The “Learning for Life” Vision Statement

  1. John Burk October 22, 2011 / 12:20 pm

    It seems to me that most schools have a deep need to do more parent education—I know that as a new parent, I welcome advice and guidance from all quarters, and I doubt that will change much as my daughter grows older. Whether it’s technology, risky behaviors, or the college process, it seems to me that parents and schools could benefit tremendously from a deep, connected program to help both schools and parents learn and adapt to this changing world. Too often, I think many of the schools I’ve taught at or known take a “hands off, we have all the answers”, which they dispense in hour long special programs sprinkled throughout the school year. I think technology seems to allow us to do something far richer and more substantial. Check out Mount Vernon’s Parent University as just one example.

    Finally, one other thought came to me as I was preparing comments last weekend. I happen to know the family of one student I teach very well. And that family knows me very well as well, particularly around the work I’m doing in the classroom. So when I was writing the comment and calculating the grade and realized this student had slipped in the past couple of weeks, but I hadn’t fully seen this until this moment, I was able to send my comment as an email to the parent with a “head’s up—I think your child was flying a bit under my radar,” but I’d love to talk about what we can do together to help this student. The response I got back was terrific—and I think that student is now back on track, and I think it was the environment of mutual trust that this parent and I share that made this possible. It made me wish that we could extend this environment across an entire school.

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