Excited enough that I am writing with my elbows pinched to my sides and my laptop angled awkwardly and wedged on my knees, I am flying back to Atlanta from Chicago where I had a great experience this morning speaking at the MSBP Heads Meeting about the Hawken Upper School Schedule—its genesis and its initial implementation. I was Upper School Director Hawken for the last four years, moving this summer to Atlanta to become High School Principal of The Westminster Schools, so the presentation was a chance to catch-up briefly with and to present with one of my favorite colleagues—Dave Gillespie, Hawken’s Director of Information Management and Research.
Whenever I have had the opportunity to speak about our work at Hawken, I am reminded of the remarkably difficult work of transformative change in school, and even more I am reminded of the benefits of being resolute enough to get to the other side of creating a Progress Culture. (I have written several times recently about the idea of Progress Culture here and here). Saying that Hawken has become a Progress Culture is not to say that the work is done—quite to the contrary, the work is just beginning, but they are positioned to meet the challenges ahead, and there are outstanding people there making it happen.
At Hawken, there were two key levers that reflected our desire to make the school’s language (the Purpose, Promise and Principles) live vitally. First, the school created an urban campus, The Gries Center, in University Circle. It is a lovely mansion on Magnolia Street, which now has seven beautiful and fully decked out classrooms in the cultural heart of Cleveland. That project deserves a thorough description, and I will not attempt do that here; however, it is necessary to mention that its creation was borne of a commitment to provide our students opportunities to “make Cleveland and the larger world extensions of our campus.” The second lever was the schedule.
Our presentation this morning was entitled “Aligning Schedule With Mission.” As we were in the process of imagining a new schedule in 2009 and 2010, “aligning schedule with mission” was exactly our goal, and we were cognizant of this truth on a daily basis. There are several topics regarding our work in those couple of years that I am certain I will write about at some point, such as The Importance of Community Foreshadowing, The Role of Professional Development, The Importance of Reinvesting in Student Culture in Moments of Transformative Curricular Change, and Answering the Frequently Asked Questions not only Correctly but Well—I am certain that is only a partial list. At this moment, however, I think what is most relevant is that at Hawken, we recognized that the schedule we had, that we felt beholden to, no longer suited the goals we wanted to meet and the vision toward which we wanted to move the school. We wanted to dream bigger. The schedule as it stood was handcuffing the learning experiences we could provide our students, particularly in the context of the specific language the school had created. We believed that we could do better for our students and for the communities to which they will lend their voices. Today offered a chance to reflect on the fact that the school has gone a long way in doing exactly that.
Time to fold the Mac Pro up, we are about to head down to Atlanta…