When we talk about creating a transformative moment in a school, the goal is to move the curriculum and the culture to a new place. What is misleading about this kind of talk is that it sounds as if the place where the school lands will represent a new stationary normal when in fact the goal is to transform the school into a progress-culture, in which normal will include the ongoing ability to reflect on and respond to a changing world. If we are to help create a generation that will lead the world ethically, morally, entrepreneurially, and passionately, we must be open to reimagining the means by which we strive to accomplish that goal.
Schools are in many ways repositories for the way we used to do things in the larger culture. For instance, the academic schedules we use are by and large artifacts of the assembly line and the industrial revolution. Place the daily schedule of a student in 1910 against the one most of our sons and daughters navigated last week and you will be startled by the similarity. The goal of the schedule from the early part of the twentieth century was to deliver content. The emphasis was rarely on trying to help students become critical thinkers—the focus was centered obsessively with rote memorization. What we are trying to accomplish has changed dramatically, yet the schedule has remained, leaving us trying to get to the moon in a Singer Sewing Machine. While the world we live in has long since become post-industrial, we still strive to prepare our kids for it with an industrial model.
Our job in a transformative moment is to become a progress-culture. I have been using this language recently because I have not found terminology elsewhere that captures what I think should be our top priority. A progress-culture will:
- Always make what is best for students the alpha and omega of the conversation.
- Ask hard questions about why we do what we do in the context of the specific strategic vision of the school.
- Be resolute in building in the best answers to those questions into the fabric of the school.
- Be thoughtful in defining what progress is. In other words, keep a keen eye on what should never change in the school. For example, if we are “college-preparatory,” we should not take steps that would diminish our ability to do that well. In fact, part of our motivation should be to improve the way we prepare students for college and for the college admissions process.
- Develop a faculty community that will be strong enough to implement the best ways forward.
- Recognize the importance of inclusive and consistent communication with all constituents. (I wrote about this in an earlier blog entry entitled, “The Role of Communication in Establishing a Progress Culture”). Part of our goal here is to make such a compelling case to our constituents about the need to create a progress-culture that they hold us explicitly accountable for our steps to create and maintain one.
- Become nationally positioned to lead other educational institutions in this good work.