What Should Never Change in a School

Getting a little work done in the office today.

There is so much dialogue–often so much necessary dialogue–about what should change in education that we can lose sight of the other half of the equation: what should never change. My purpose in this post is not to create the specific list for anyone, but to simply underline its centrality for anyone engaging school change processes, for I believe it is vital to know what a school should never touch in order to ensure viability for the decisions that they might make regarding change. In my experience the bigger the proposed change, the more important it is to have a crystal clear idea of what not to touch.

I believe there is a short list of things that should not change in a school (or any institution for that matter). Interestingly, school communities tend to have a different, and perhaps longer, list than an institution could or ever should try to maintain. Here is my list of some characteristics related to what should not change:

  • Traditions that advantageously differentiate the school from all other schools.
    • These traditions embody central ideals of the institution that are likely difficult to communicate without them.
    • Theses traditions bring people together.
    • They are positive cultural touchstones.
    • They live above the socio-political issues of the day.
    • They have the power to bring people of different beliefs together.
  • Things that maintain or increase the vitality of human relationships. Notice here that the answer may change regarding what produces this vitality, but the priority on it should not diminish.
  • Characteristics that extend the school’s positive growth potential. For example, a characteristic of my school is that students are at the forefront of conversations regarding change. Rather than being brought in at the end, they are included very early on. In fact, students are often the catalyst of important conversations regarding what should come next. The most recent examples of this have to do with a few fascinating ideas: a reinvention of how we approach service, as well as the possibility of creating a House System–both of these conversations started with students taking initiative.
  • I am confident that someone might make a valid suggestion for something I am missing–please leave a comment at the end of the blog.

We need to be aware that just because something is new doesn’t indicate necessarily that it is the better means to the same end. Conversely, the opposite is true as well–just because “we have always done it this way” doesn’t indicate it is necessarily better. I believe schools at times become confused between the means and the ends both in the context of pushing too quickly to change or in the context of fearing any change that might better serve the students in the school. What we might believe is indispensable is at times only the means to an indispensable end, and perhaps there is a better answer to reach that end than we have yet deployed. What this should point out to us is that we need to push ourselves to discern what is best–what might be a better means to the end. Sometimes that means preserving something and other times it means changing it. The end is what should be preserved, while the means might change.

Here are a couple of links to posts that relate to the topic of what should never change:

2 thoughts on “What Should Never Change in a School

  1. admiral17(RB) April 3, 2018 / 7:57 am

    Ross,
    First, love the picture. Wish there were more time and space for this angle of repose. Second, your topic is near and dear to my heart as I close out and move to the career. I am weary of lip service to core values while failing to acknowledge that no change occurs in a vacuum. This is particularly true of the rush to embrace corporate techniques while refusing to acknowledge the value of individualism and some eccentricity in a school. Third, SO sorry I missed you at NAIS. Let’s try to catch up before we are both too far apart for practicality.
    Best,
    RB

    • J Ross Peters April 3, 2018 / 10:36 am

      Thanks for this, Rick. I would love to catch up somehow—will think about how to make it happen.

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