Thursday, May 31, 2007

How We Are Changed IV: Forward Thinking

This weekend we headed down to the Santa Cruz mountainside for a staff retreat I have done my best to re-label a staff charge. We're returning to the site of our last retreat five years ago, one of those spots that exists solely to serve the needs of organizations who want to get people talking within site of the ocean.


Leading up, there's been much reflection and much discussion about goals and outcomes. The phrase five-year plan has been dropped a time or two, but while education is not the same as transitioning to a mechanized economy, those things tended to result in mass graves and deportations, so perhaps we're better off limiting our plan to two or three years. In so doing, we need to identify a new unifying vision, something that moves beyond the combativeness and struggle of Defy the Myth, something that doesn't ground itself so thoroughly in the reference points of others. The process will certainly involve our new VP, introduced to the staff last week, herself a yet-to-be-determined factor, having transferred from a nearby elementary school. There had been some talk that this position would be filled from within the existing teaching ranks, but this was not to be, and we need to come (re)group, (re)unite, and (re)charge.

And it was good.

We discussed, haggled, and wrote a new mission. Building off Lezotte's Seven Correlates of Effective Schools, we wrote mission for three key correlates, creating three-year outcomes, and then first-year plans. If that sounds like something that could be accomplished in less than a day and a half -- it can't. The talking, and the establishment of the processes, and the constant reviewing and reconsidering, these are time-consuming and resist any attempt at rushing. We left with massive amount of chart-paper filled with statements of values and beliefs, commitments and goals. I'm excited about the "year-one goals," all of which would improve the extent of purposeful, explicit work done on our campus, as well as the manner in which we assess and track progress. Good stuff.

Throughout it all, teachers presented 12-inch square wood rods, decorated to represent certain students, and told the story of the student they teach for, the one who brings them back again and again. This was a powerful moment, an exciting time. I really laid up on mine, rushed it, and what I should have said was this:

"This is E. He's been ignored in class, disregarded, offered the bargain of no-work and no-expectations in return for non-disruptions. He is the kid who doesn't come to us with a full understanding of what school is, what a student is, and how to act. He needs to be convinced. He needs to be sold on why we're here and what we're doing. He needs to be challenged and embraced, offered the biggest carrot we got, and the biggest stick. Because he's never had this, just conflict. He's the shaved head, bling in his ear, cholo socks kid who gets written off, ignored, disregarded. He's the one I come back for again and again, the one who needs the second-chance/ understanding that we represent."

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