Posted by on Aug 11, 2014 in General | 4 Comments

We just wrapped up the first week of planning with our staff. As a math guy, it’s difficult for me to capture the emotions that were experienced last week. Let me just say it was really, really amazing. Six new teachers, six returning teachers, the secretary, the principal and the SSA all planned together. Our task – figure out what a democratic, project-based approach was going to look like and feel like for our students come September.

We wrestled with our beliefs as educators, planned projects, refined our principles, and ran through several of the community building activities we use to create the school culture. One of the early activities (which is borrowed from Mark Springer), asks students, “How do you want to be known?” Students deliberate over the course of several days through a series of related activities. They create lists, work in groups, debate the meaning of the words, argue about the value of “voting”, and ultimately land on four words that capture what they believe is the essence of how they want to be known. To teach the staff how to do this activity, we simply do it with them. We asked the staff, “How do we want to be known this year?” We listened, argued, and debated. We laughed, got angry, and withdrew. We had the same emotional response our students have and will have (what better way to prepare someone?). And just like our students, we got stuck on a couple words.

After the set-up activities, we pretty quickly agreed on our first two words. We grouped words, we defined them, we gave voice to each staff member and then we got stuck. “Scrappy, Poppin, and Compassionate”. I loved one of the first two words and hated the other. However, my feelings toward the hated word were slowly changed by a colleague who was a champion for that word. It’s interesting how that happens.

The word I was surprised by was compassionate. Who, in this line of work, doesn’t want to be known as compassionate? Furthermore, we had all just read a book about “boundless compassion”. Compassionate, really?

Compassion literally means, “to suffer with”. It has the idea of justice and action and love wrapped up in it. It’s not pity, nor sympathy. Compassion captures the idea of our need as humans to live for something bigger than ourselves. It stretches us. Compassion sees everyone as equals. But as we argued about this word, I began to appreciate my colleagues’ differing views. For a few of them, it invoked a strong sense of “pity”. For them, it represented those who have power helping those who don’t – puffing your chest out – making yourself important. Ultimately, for that reason, I abandoned my plight for the word.

I left that day thinking about what makes the word “compassion” important to me. I feel fortunate because I have found my calling. I love my work. I hope I’m never seen as someone who is stooping down to help someone else. We all need each other – I need help every day. And I’m so thankful for those who come along side of me, despite my faults, and help me. I want to work in a community that takes care of each other, that sees the best in each other. I want to be compassionate.


  1. sydney coffin
    August 14, 2014

    I am intrigued by your process of staff development (and wow–early, too!) I teach at Edison HS and we are entering our first year as a Promise Academy with a week of PD the 25-29th, and I want to expose my colleagues to some unconventional processes in order to excite and motivate them towards the new year. Obviously our schools are very different, and yet I believe your innovative brainstorming could be inspiring to our lead into a new year; were there any pitfalls to having an experimental approach? Did you find there were essential steps or planning that needed to be done ahead of time, or did you just launch in with the essential question of “How do you want to be known”?

    When we began our (short) journey as a Promise Academy at University City (my former school before it was closed a year ago) we met as a whole staff and sat in a circle of 75 people to introduce ourselves (–we had a very large “Commons Area” in the center of the school–) and it was incredible how close we became. It helped that we continued to meet as a group every week for an extra hour on Friday after kids had left for the day, but it is the ONLY time I have become immediately close with a large group of teachers in my 15 year experience.

    In any case, there are soooo many ways to launch a year, and it sounds as if yours started off with a bang; how can we do so, in our own mode? What have you learned so far?

    • Simon Hauger
      August 14, 2014

      Thanks for commenting. I would be glad to tell you more about how we planned our PD. Send me an email and we can set up a time to talk.

  2. John MacHattie
    September 6, 2014

    I just read the book Ingenious by Jason Fagone and looked you up on the internet out of curiosity.
    Your comments on this post about compassion remind me of a story in a book by Rachel Remen about the difference between medical people who cure and those who heal. May I send it to you?

    I am a technical sort who has taken a long time to realize how it is that I came to be ingenious. I took a lot of auto/diesel courses in high school for fun, but; they have been the most useful of all the schooling I’ve had.
    Ever since watching Ken Robinson’s TED talk ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’, I have been thinking about how to do something with children around ingenuity.
    I’m glad you have managed to find a way.

    John MacHattie

    • Simon Hauger
      September 7, 2014

      Thanks. And I would love to read the book. You could just send me the link and I’ll order it.


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