Every teacher at Mary Carr Greer received a copy of Ron Berger's An Ethic of Excellence this year. Ron taught for twenty five years in a small elementary school and now works for Expeditionary Learning as a school designer. The book is a very personal and passionate read on one teacher's authentic journey in creating work of meaning and value with kids. Here is the quote:
"Imagine if students and schools were judged instead on the quality of student work, thinking, and character. Imagine an expectation that an adult should be able to enter a school and expect that any child in that school older than seven or eight would be ready to greet him politely, give an articulate tour of a well-maintained courteous environment, and present his portfolio of academic accomplishments clearly and insightfully, and that the student's portfolio would contain original, high quality work and document appropriate skill levels. If schools assumed they were going to be assessed by the quality of student behavior and work evident in the hallways and classrooms, rather than on test scores, the enormous energy directed toward improving student work, understanding, and behavior. Instead of working to build clever test takers, schools would feel compelled to spend time in building thoughtful students and good citizens."
That quote comes very close to summing up what I want to happen at Mary Carr Greer. I find one of the arts of my current state of leadership is skillfully navigating my way around and inbetween federal, state, and local policy that has little to no impact on student learning but that I must comply to. I worry that with Race to the Top and the other Obama-Duncan initiatives, we will spend even more time focusing on test scores and tests, especially with the potential of merit pay.
How do you create a school where all the children have a full understanding behind all of the activities that they do and an understanding of their own achievement through thoughtful portolio development? A school where children feel a strong sense of belonging and trust? That the adults feel the same sense of belonging and trust.
It takes years, I am figuring that out now, but I do think it is possible. Especially if I am able to keep figuring my way through all the things that policy makers develop that they think will help kids.