Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Schools That Learn

The discussion that Farryl and I had this evening was very in depth and energizing. We discussed the many concerns and issues that we face in trying to provide leadership in our schools, and the sometimes daunting tasks that face us (and many teachers) in trying to bring change to our schools. It was particularly enjoyable because the discussion involved just the two of us, and allowed us to get deeper into our understandings of what challenges each of us face.
In my case, I worked years ago in a tough school district in East Harlem that lacked much in the way of resources, and perhaps more importantly, had much in the way of challenges facing the students. Farryl's circumstances are very similar to that, and she faces daunting challenges in dealing with them at times. In Schools That Learn (STL), we shared our thoughts in particular about the "moral imperative" teachers face in these circumstances: "If we fail to undertake that kind of inquiry into the moral nature and consequences of our actions as educators, then our practices remain unquestioned. Even those practices that have devastating consequences for certain students will continue, unquestioned." (p. 278). In reading that passage, and listening to the quandary that Farryl is facing, I was reminded of the pressures I too felt when faced with such circumstances. That is, if we know in our hearts that something is needed, how can we day after day ignore it? If we know our students need a certain group of skills, or a way of learning, and each day they don't have the chance to obtain that, then what the hell are we doing?
So then we think, we'll get the resources we need and change the world, right? Well, not so fast. I've learned that having the resources removes an obstacle, for sure, but we're still left with the question of what does learning in these times look like, or what should it look like? It's easy to acknowledge that moral imperative that I mentioned above, that self-imposed pressure to "do the right thing." But that just pushes us sometimes into unhappiness, into finding reasons why something can't be done. If we want to effect change, we know in our heart of hearts that we also have to provide a positive direction for ourselves, and we have to find leadership (whether within ourselves or from others) that will help to move things in the direction so many of us feel the need to move.
One of the most provocative parts of the sections of STL that I read involved the discussion surrounding our "core purpose." It narrowly discussed that question surrounding a university's department of education, but the questions, "Why do we exist? What do we want to accomplish? What do we stand for? What do we believe about teaching and learning?" Cambron-McCabe, p. 312) can (should) be the types of questions that EVERY teacher asks. The answers to those questions can be fluid, not necessarily written in stone, but we have to ask them of ourselves and our schools, and we must use them to drill toward our core beliefs. I have faith in my colleagues, I trust that everyone shows up here each day wanting to do their best, and these questions, if we can begin conversations about them, may be the energizing factor that will help us to change our school for the best.