Tuesday, 30 August 2016

So Many Firsts!

Opening a new school offers 365 days (or perhaps more!) of making decisions for the first time in this school, with these students, with these teachers, in this context, at this time...There is no 'how we used to do it' to fall back on at all!  And while this is extremely freeing, it can also be quite exhausting.

The first ten minutes of today....
Where/how/who will store supplies? Oh wait! Who ordered them (or didn't!) and for what purpose? What are the protocols for field trips and volunteers? Who is on kitchen duty (is anyone on kitchen duty??)  How will we start/end staff meetings? What are the modes of communication for this school community? Do the phones work yet? Why are the items we ordered from Germany arriving before the ones we ordered from the supplier down the street?? What are our strategies for helping our children love reading? Writing? Mathematics? Do we have any common mindsets across the staff - do we all understand what a mindset is? Where are the pencil crayons? How do I make a long distance phone call? Oh never mind - that order has already arrived from Germany...

Fortunately, there are 365 days in a year - maybe only 200 actual school days, but 365 beautiful sunrises and sunsets - to bookend all the decisions that will eventually evolve into an amazing new place of learning in our community. And, also fortunately, there is no one single person - not even the principal - who has to make all these decisions alone!

One of the professional texts we purchased and gave to our new teaching staff at the end of June was Creating Cultures of Thinking: the 8 Forces We Must Truly Master to Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart. Exploring the purposes, nature and impact of these forces in schools provides our staff with a lens for launching a school culture that will honour and foster creativity, innovation and respect while ensuring our students build significant competencies in literacy, math, inquiry and critical thinking.  We are at the very beginning of the journey of creating a school that simply did not exist except in imaginations until now, yet this work is still truly transformative - with every 'first' decision we make, we initiate the process of transforming the lives of the students we'll encounter from this first day forward. 

Ritchhart notes in his book that expectations, language, time and modelling are the four primary focus areas that require attention when beginning to transform school culture. As a principal now opening a new school for the second time, I have come to understand all 8 forces need immediate and thoughtful attention - opportunities, routines, interactions and the learning environment must also be in the spotlight when you have no landscape to begin with - like any grand adventure, there are many strands calling for our attention that must be carefully woven together to generate a purposeful school culture. It is imperative to consider the impact of all 8 forces if we are to truly establish a school that embraces a culture of thinking, of positive mindsets,  of innovation, problem solving and experimentation and, perhaps most importantly, a culture of respect, acceptance and deep caring. 

It is easy to set lofty goals for a new school, and to be enthralled with the possibilities of shiny new spaces and resources. It is a much greater challenge to acknowledge the imperative of the 'firsts' in a new school - the ways in which we will come together to consider, ponder and act as we craft an environment that intentionally looks and sounds like a school where transformation is not only possible but inevitable for every child who enters our doors. 

Our new building is still under construction - we will be happily sharing spaces in our gracious 'sister school' for at least the first few months of this school year. Schools are not so much about the buildings, however; they are about the people, the actions, the relationships and the culture of learning we build together regardless of the size of the space or colour of the walls.  As excited as we are, contemplating moving into a beautiful new learning space, it is the foundation we begin today that will ensure the first days that our school exists immediately honour a culture of thinking that will become a lasting legacy for students, families and the community.

Every day this school year will present another 'first' for Eric Harvie School - a calendar date our school has never experienced before.  And each day will offer opportunities unknown and experiences unlived - yet - for our children. The potential is awe-inspiring as we come together these first days to consider our dreams and how we can thoughtfully bring expectations, language, time, modelling, opportunities, routines, interactions and the environment together in one absolutely amazing new school!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School 

Monday, 22 August 2016

Open the door - let the adventures begin! Breathing life into the story of 'school'

How we represent the world is a story, and many stories are possible.
                                                                                                                      ( Joseph Gold: The Story Species)

The delight of every story lies in the unknown that is the beginning - the experience of wandering through the possibilities, making connections and choices, reflecting and pausing, rushing forward to try something new and exulting in the joy of new discoveries - all the promise that breathes 'adventure' is absolutely waiting at the beginning of every story! 

This is the story of school as well - new beginnings happen every autumn and, as the inhabitants of schools, we count on this promise to write a different tale every single school year.  We don't want to hit 'replay' - ever!! New students, different colleagues, changes to policy and procedure, fresh approaches to our classrooms, new books to introduce, new discoveries to uncover and share. There is a palpable excitement every fall that permeates school - we can't wait to open the doors and let the adventures begin, both as teachers and as student.

This is a very human endeavour  - Terrence Deacon notes:

 We tell stories about our real experiences and invent stories about imagined ones, and we even make use of these stories to organize our lives...And slowly, over the millennia, we have come to realize that no other species on earth seems able to follow us into this miraculous place. (The Story Species)

The challenge is to keep humans - both the adult ones and the youngsters - focused on the freshness that is the beginning rather than falling back on the same old story line that is tiredly familiar when the plot twists and turns require great energy and innovation to stay fresh, alive and adventurous. Sometimes we want to relate an old tale, or relive a previous story line, just because it is safe and known and feels comfortable.  'Adventure' only sounds interesting when the obstacles are safely hidden and unknown - it is far less appealing to write a new story when everyone is feeling overwhelmed and perplexed. This is where the real work of writing stories - especially school stories -  resides. And I believe the tools for ensuring school stories sustain energy, promise and adventure are actually rooted in the beginning.

Promising beginnings need wide-open boundaries - fresh opportunities for everyone. Not just a re-visit of the curriculum or assessment strategies. Not just reviewing rules and expectations. Rather, we need space to to wander, to be curious, to invent and ask questions together. We need literature to help us understand stories so we can invent new ones and perhaps organize our lives a bit differently. We need big ideas that don't always work and small ideas that just might help us re-jig the big ideas.  We need colleagues and friends who thoughtfully respect us while nudging our thinking in new directions. We need laughter and tears and energy and exhaustion. We need possibilities rather than walls and rules and directions.  We need to know our students and their stories and allow space for them to write new lines and plots, beginnings and open endings that change when they need to allow for different kinds of discovering and learning. 

I believe in the concept of borderless classrooms - schools as places where learning happens indoors, outdoors, in hallways and offices, on buses and in libraries and anywhere in the world. Where students and teachers bond through shared experiences, stories, projects, questions, laughter and sadness - regardless of homeroom numbers, assigned teachers or grade levels. I believe teachers need to have opportunities to talk to each other all the time - to share stories, literature, resources, experiences, investigations, questions and narratives as they co-create learning and assessment with their students and each other. I believe this is not only possible but essential for schools to breathe with the many stories our students will share, live, read and write as another new school year begins. 

"It's possible to have a much deeper experience of the world through the use of a deep looking and regular documentation of everyday life. Through these practices we may be able to create a new narrative for ourselves, one in which we are at the centre of a powerful and important adventure...This is who you are meant to be."  (Keri Smith: The Wander Society).

Next week the Eric Harvie School teachers will gather for the first time to launch a brand new school, a brand new school year and loads of new learning adventures with approximately 360 students. As we gather to begin writing these new stories, we are ready to live in the possible with tools that will sustain our work through the unknown twists ahead - design thinking, peace education, the best literature we can find to share with each other and our children, innovative approaches to thinking, learning and using our spaces, and discovering the places in which we will live out our stories. The adventures beckon and we are ready!

Lorraine Kinsman

Monday, 15 August 2016

Time to Write a New Story....

                          If you tell me, it's an essay.  If you show me, it's a story.                                                                                  Barbara Greene

It's August - a time for new beginnings, new friends, new ideas, new stories!

          It has been a few months since I have blogged in this space. Transitioning to the opening of another new school has required discovery, concentration, innovation, investigation, exploration and above all - patience! Although there has been plenty to write about, there has been limited time available - particularly since I am also in the midst of conducting case study research towards the completion of my PhD thesis!!  However, it is now mid-August and I am focused on the writing of a new story - hopefully capturing elements of all the discoveries made over the past several weeks as well as the new adventures waiting to be experienced!

         The story of Eric Harvie School is grounded in the children who will soon arrive to add dimension to our learning experiences.  It also begins with the reality our shiny new building is still under construction and is not nearly ready for us to inhabit!  

         Therefore, the story of EHS begins with understanding the concept of school - that it is more than a particular place on a particular landscape. It is, rather, the story of learners, teachers, staff, family members and a community coming together to build shared understanding of what learning is and how the world is discovered and experienced in myriad ways each day by each and every student. It is the story of place yet also a story of movement, exploration and thinking beyond our place to the whole world. In essence, it is a story of uncovering and building connections. Yes, we will begin as a school-within-a-school located within the halls of Tuscany School. We will also begin as a centre of learning, questioning and discovery that reaches well beyond the expected borders of what is usually thought of as 'school'.

           Through the ages schools have evolved from gatherings in open spaces (think Socrates under the tree - an iconic image that may not be completely accurate but is certainly symbolic) through evolutions of small buildings in rural communities to great stone institutions to modern glass and steel structures full of windows, technology and functional furniture. What has endured is the essence of school - students gathered to develop key understandings, pursue questions, debate possibilities, create new images and ideas, share perspectives or tear apart myths - with teachers who provoke thinking, offer guidance, nudge practices or develop strategies for embarking on new learning expeditions. EHS will be thoughtfully pursuing this essence of school in all our daily interactions, both during our tenure at Tuscany School and when we venture into our new building.

          What will this look and sound like?  This is always my first question whenever someone approaches me with a new possibility - what could this look and sound like for the children and adults connected to our school?  While many of the nuances of 'look like/sound like' will unfold with the input of the children and staff who are the lifeblood of the school, there are some clear directions and elements that will frame our learning adventures together. These directions will always be approached through the lens of personalized learning - adapting learning experiences for every child to maximize their own personal potential for thinking, discovery, investigation and representation. 
  • Peace Education
    • understanding we all have a role to play in building positive, strong connections with others both in our community and around the world
  • Place based learning
    • getting to know our community to become an integral part of our place rather than just an observer 
  • Innovation and Design Thinking
    • problem solving as a way of thinking and approaching new ideas actively rather than passively
  • Building Learning Literacies
    • language, mathematics, science, humanities - each language of learning requires the development of specific, as well as broad-spectrum, strategies and thinking frameworks
           There is always such energy and possibility when starting to write a new story! I am excited by this energy and very much look forward to writing the story of Eric Harvie School together with the new learners, families and staff who will form the foundation of our learning community - our story will inform countless other life stories and promises to have an enduring ripple effect for years to come. I welcome you to this new adventure!

Lorraine Kinsman
Principal, Eric Harvie School