Creating a school - Moving forward whilst going around in ever decreasing circles
I always knew being part of a team creating a school was going to being awesome. I also knew that being part of a team creating a new school was going to be challenging. What I didn't know was what exactly about the process was going to be the source of either that pleasure or pain. And let's be honest I wont actually fully appreciate anything until I have the clarity that only hindsight can provide.
Luckily I have never been one to let ignorance or a blurry in-the-moment perspective stand in the way of my sharing my thoughts. What follows is a kind of mid-year reflection of what I have learnt so far from being lucky enough to be one of team of four (plus various other board folk and builders) entrusted with the task of setting up a brand new secondary school.
My reflections focus on both the experience as a whole and some discoveries made about myself and in the areas of my responsibility (which at present include e-learning across the curriculum, library and teacher development) and our shared responsibility of curriculum design.
There is no manual for creating a new school...or if there is we ain't got it. The job of creating a school from scratch is an amorphous task. At the tip of the iceberg there is the vision, values, curriculum design and timetable - each presenting a challenge and an opportunity to do something fresh, to do something different. We have been given a clean slate, a fresh start. It would be irresponsible just to do the same same, conversely, it would be equally irresponsible to do something different for the sake of it. Change for changes sake doesn't necessarily a better school make. So not only is there the challenge of actually ensuring we have considered and covered all our bases, there is also the challenge of how we actually conceive and shape those bases as well. On one hand we have the benefit of being one of several MLEs opened in recent years. This means we do have a kind of vicarious hindsight. We can and must put recently opened schools under a microscope - what has worked and more importantly what has not. It would seems there are some real areas of success - impact projects and learning advisories come to mind. However, there have been some challenges - retreatng into traditional practice, students not achieving as well as the might in some areas, community perception is also an ongoing challenge for many. We also need to be honest about what it is we are trying to achieve - I would argue the education model in most of the schools in our area isn't actually broken...so what is it we propose to fix?
I guess it is less about fixing and more about realising this education vision we refer to as 21st century pedagogy (already out-moded considering we are 13 years in!). No question, a clean slate definitely makes it more doable. But there is no denyng, this awesome opportunity also comes with an awesome responsibility. This is exactly why it takes so much time to nut out our specific curriculum design. I love this diagram by Teach Thought, it highlights nicely the complexity of what we are dealing with. There is a lot to realise ina single curriculum model.
So clearly, we absolutely need time to sort this stuff out (as do all educators). Interestingly time itself presents yet another challenge. Yes, we need it. Yes, we appreciate it. However there is no denying that at times, time is paralysing. Teachers are excellent at achieving a phenomenal amount in a very busy school day. We are, by and large, spectacular multi-taskers. In fact I have often said I am my most productive and creative when I am actually time poor. Here in lies the dichotomy - time which is in a sense necessary is also debilitating. I have a renewed appreciation of a) just how busy schools are, and b) how much I need a timetable and a pressured timeline to really feel like I am bringing my 'A' game. I don't expect much in the way of sympathy from my overworked teaching colleagues and I expect you might think I am a little crazy when I declare - I want my busy back!
Another challenge is that of collaborative leadership. This is my first year as a DP and my first time I have not been safely ensconced in a clear hierarchical structure. I have to admit I miss the clarity and security provided by a very clearly defined structure. Oddly it is actually easier to feel autonomous when there is someone "above" clearly stating expectations and providing boundaries and timelines. Interestingly, I can also take up the position of leader easily - it is the leadership limbo that is just plain frustrating. That said, I understand that there is is something to be gained from flatter, collective, collaborative approach...I guess it's a matter of learning how to change my way of dealing with a different leadership model. It's true what they say, change is not easy.
Don't worry, my final reflection is a positive one. This job is definitely awesome. Whilst at times it does feel like we are going in circles, however, already it is clear that these circles are getting smaller and in a sense, more refined. The vision, the values and the curriculum design is beginning to take real shape, we have appointed an excellent team of middle leaders, we have travelled, the ICT infrastructure is evolving nicely and there is no question, I have learned a lot - both about education and about myself.
In summary it is as I thought it would be - awesome and challenging. Yes we are going in circles, but we are definitely moving forward...fast.