My experience in schools varies widely. I have had the privilege of serving students in positions as a classroom teacher, a district consultant, and school principal. Currently I teach high school math to advanced learners - I love it! But today I'm missing my PCES peeps and remembering the joy of opening a brand new school.
About four years ago, I heard that the district was preparing to open a brand new school not far from my home. At that time I was leading an excellent elementary school on the opposite side of town - I had been there almost six years. While I loved those teachers, students, and parents in that community, I was beginning to feel restless, needing a change. The challenge of opening a brand new school appealed to me.
When the school superintendent called to offer me the position I was ecstatic! He also asked could I be at a parent meeting the very next evening ... and my answer was, "YES!" In opening a new school the first big hurdle is to create community. Our school was being formed by downsizing two other schools whose populations were outgrowing their buildings. The new school could not be replicas of either of those schools - wonderful as they were - we had to be our own entity.
Over the next several weeks, I began to read, search, plan ways to bring a new community together. I met with parents to talk about their wishes and dreams for their children. I met with teachers - I needed to hire about 30 of them - and I wanted folks who had a strong desire to forge a new school.
One of the great joys was planning our first teacher meetings. I didn't want just "sit and get" sessions full of do's and don'ts. Instead - I found this cool quote that became the "big idea" behind our first hours together:"Places said to have a strong "sense of place" have a strong identity and character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and by many visitors. Sense of place is a social phenomenon that exists independently of any one individual's perceptions or experiences, yet is dependent on human engagement for its existence. Such a feeling may be derived from the natural environment, but is more often made up of a mix of natural and cultural features in the landscape, and generally includes the people who occupy the place." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_of_place).
With that in mind I set our overall goal: In order to create a deep sense of time and place, we will reconstruct a part of the past … the land and people … located within a mile or two of PCES … then we will envision our future.
We focused on these questions:
- What happened in the past on this land?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it influence events?
- How does the past influence our present?
- Who are we?
- What visions do we have for our future?
We examined historical documents and pictures, created a timeline of events that happened on or near our school property. We ate lunch out under a huge tree while listening to an amazing gentleman describe the changes he had witnessed in the area.
We wrote poetry after sharing the book “Imagine a Place,” the poetry by Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From;” and the “I am” poetry model.
By the end of that first day we were steeped in the historical background of our community and ready to begin thinking about our visions for the future.
The next morning we started with a GPS scavenger hunt for clues. The clues were built around our district mission and vision, required expectations, and the science of teaching. As groups returned after finding their clues, they worked on creating posters answering these questions:
- What initiative or concept do the clues represent?
- What do we know about the initiative or concept?
- Why is that initiative or concept significant?
- Design a symbol for the initiative or concept.
- How does the initiative or concept impact our school and/or my individual practice in the coming school year?
- What else do we need to know? Create need to know questions.
Then teams met, planned, and we were off and running. Over time we create our mission and vision statements - statements not meant to be stuffy, recorded, and put away, but statements meant to guide our work: Our mission statement was short and to the point: Panthers will ask, think, work, share, cooperate and love!
We wanted our students to ASK thin and thick questions! We expected them to learn to THINK convergently and divergently. We provided both routine practice and challenging problem solving on which to WORK. We taught our children to SHARE locally and globally. And we held our students to high expectations for COOPERATION with their classmates and their teachers. And last, we demonstrated LOVE by being caring and compassionate.
We believed as a community if we worked on that mission daily, that we would accomplish our vision. Our vision for our students was that they would make a difference in their world by being well-rounded, confident, compassionate citizens instilled with curiosity and a love for learning.
My two years leading PCES were golden years for sure! It was difficult to leave but moving closer to our sons and their families was important.
Today I miss my PCES friends ... and wish for them an amazing start to the new school year!