Monday, July 8, 2013

How to grow a school?

I am so delighted to have summer, to have days of quiet and reflection. We traveled last week, to visit my parents in South Carolina, and my husband's extended family in Georgia. Each day, I took time to journal, something I think I do every day of my life, but I saw that there were many days in the hectic pace of this school year in which I did not. So, summer is a time for renewal, reconnecting - both with people and with thoughts.

I find myself reflecting about school and teaching. In this quiet of summer, I have a chance to look both backward and forward, and think about education in general. I am thinking a lot about how to sustain myself, how to keep my eye on the prize - our full vision of a great school.

I fell in love with this school from the first whispers I heard about it.
We have the best of intentions.

In each classroom,

  • teaching is founded on students' interests;
  • we strive to cultivate and instigate curiosity, inquiry, thirst for more knowledge; and
  • students' ideas and voice are obvious and essential.
Our classrooms are joyful places.

As a staff,
we are constantly exploring new ideas,
reflecting on these, and
striving to work together and collaborate.

Perhaps my most favorite element of our school,
we are teaching beginning teachers how to do this.
Each seasoned "master teacher" works alongside a new Teaching Resident,
daring to teach on two levels - to the children, to the beginning teacher.

We are a demonstration school, meaning,
we seek to show all this in process...what it really looks like.
We want visitors to walk in and see this dynamic process in action.

This fall will be year three of our school.
I am still in love with this school, but I am less starry-eyed.

I hope we are done with its infancy, with its toddlerhood - the hectic, non-stop, oh my, we need to do this!, we forgot to do that!, all hands on deck!, we need it now! phase...

What do I mean?

When the school opened,
preschool through grade three, fall 2011,
that first year,
it was as if everyone did everything.
Everything was new, new, new. We were all constantly watching everything at once. Someone's metaphor - "We were building an airplane while flying it." The days were long and the year was, too. At year's end, I said to my husband "Wow! that was something!," to which he promptly replied, "And I don't ever want to go through it again." My supportive spouse was totally drained by the enormity of work and thought and time that went into this new school.

Reality check -
I teach preschool.
I teach three year olds.
It's meant to be joyful, for them and me.

How do you sustain a motivated staff?
What makes teaching doable and enjoyable?

Year two,
preschool through fourth grade, fall 2012,
we made considerable progress in defining roles and responsibilities,
in developing systems.
I set the personal goal of reclaiming my weekends - of observing Friday evening through Sunday afternoon as my personal time, my family time (I have yet to figure out how to avoid Sunday evening planning and preparations for the week ahead). I am really proud to say that I achieved this goal - made it a habit. But there was still enormous work and thought and time spent on the school. A typical day was to leave home at 7 am and return about 6 pm. My son Bryce told one of my friends, who had called one evening and found me not home, "I don't begin to worry about where Mom is until it is 7 pm; she is always working."

Reality check -
I teach preschool.
I teach three year olds.
It's meant to be joyful, for them and me.

How do you sustain a motivated staff?
What makes teaching doable and enjoyable?

I have no doubt, we will make even bigger strides this next year.

I hope we are done with this infancy and toddlerhood,
and now begin to "settle in"
to "growing" a school.

I love three year olds.
I'm confident I'm going to love this three year old school.


  1. I'm both sad and joyful to reply, Maureen! I love hearing your reflection yet I'm sad to say that our school is not new, and is still challenged by the constant and sometimes all-encompassing work that everyone needs to do to keep the promise we think we've made to our families and their children. I am part-time now, but still put in extra hours when someone or something is needed. When I was a core classroom teacher, I did manage to get home earlier, but then I often worked all evening after dinner. I reversed my weekends from you, I prepped on Friday night most of the time, then had the weekend free. Others go in to school on Sunday afternoons & do the prep there. We've put some things in place that are helpful, like the mundane tasks are now completed by different employees, but the regular teachers' lives are very full. If you find any good ideas, please let me know!

    1. Thank you for this, Linda! I know, too, the constant work can also be one aspect of what makes teaching so fulfilling - I love the "thinking" in teaching. It is a conundrum, how to have the right balance...something that I seem to be obsessing over as this summer begins.