Our Lessons Learned, Part II
At the end of 2020, we asked our staff to reflect on the past year. Over the upheavals of the past twelve months, we’ve been makers, breakers, and innovators. We’ve learned some essential lessons about how our work creates change, and how we are changed by it. This week, like last week, we’re sharing those reflections with you. - Brad
"Less is more" was the mantra of many schools (and rightly so) as we pivoted from campus-based to emergency remote teaching in the spring of 2020. At the time, the idea was, naively, to survive a temporary shift to online instruction. Now, as schools try to stay focused on their mission and core values amidst this swirl of complexity, "less is more" isn’t a strategy to survive. Instead, it’s a directive to thrive.
Right now, the upheavals of running a school ask leaders to keep one, or just a few, true north stars--a very small set of institutional priorities that are fundamental to the school’s identity. The challenge is to articulate those few priorities at every turn, and intentionally connect programming, practices, and policies to those driving principles. Alignment and effective communication allow each school to be excellent in its own way, and avoid the trap of trying to please everyone.
As a new member of the One Schoolhouse team, I have seen this approach in practice in an intentional and aligned way. One Schoolhouse's mission calls us to "empower learning and transform education," and our pedagogical north star is personalized, competency-based learning grounded in strong student-teacher relationships. We reflect that approach in our pedagogy white paper, course development standards, and teacher training and competencies, as well as our student surveys and data analysis. In short, we are able to be focused and effective in our work because we've articulated what we are about. Because we know what's essential to us, we can more easily say no to what’s extraneous. When we sharpen our focus, we do more of what matters.
Meera Shah, Director of Studies
It's a challenge to narrow these to just 1 or 2 sentences, but I think my greatest lesson learned is just how important relationships are. It would have been so much harder to get through this year without colleagues, friends, and family to share ideas and reaffirm each other. The remote nature of everything has made this especially clear.
Lynnae Boudreau, Instructional Designer
This has been a learning year, for sure. I’ve learned a whole lot about how schools work and about the pressures that society puts on all schools to be perfectly accommodating to every demand. I’ve seen teachers and administrators worn to ragged ends by the competing urgencies in their lives—urgencies that include, it must be said, the need to make positive things happen in their personal worlds when others around them are also frazzled. My late father, a pessimist about so much in his life, once told me to never say things couldn’t get worse, because then they would. The year 2020 has proved him correct on that point, alas.
But I’ve also had confirmed for me what I knew as an administrator, which is that no one running a school or some part of a school really wants to be doing it alone or to be working in a vacuum. The COVID pandemic has surfaced its own special horrors, and the political climate has forced us, at last, to acknowledge horrors in our history and in every corner of our world. But I have witnessed the power of connection in the lives and work of academic leaders with whom I have been privileged to work through One Schoolhouse. The horrors are our reality, and the only way out is through—and educators working together, sharing ideas, questions, resources, and even their own fears and pain, are forging paths to the far side of this. At last, we’ve begun to learn the power of candor, cooperation, and collaboration.
Peter Gow, Independent Curriculum Resource Director
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)