We’re just over halfway into our first year as a full high school. We’re asking students to learn through project work, and we’re doing the same thing as a staff. One of our co-founders, Aiden Downey, talks a lot about what we learn by working on the school, and the importance of doing that work in the same way we ask students to do theirs: open, democratic, creative, no shortcuts. More recently, one of our teachers commented that “the school is our project.”
So if what we’re “doing” is creating a different kind of high school, then what are we learning from that experience?
We’re learning that culture comes first. If you don’t create a culture where students buy in and take ownership of their learning, things can go off the rails quickly. And you simply can’t do project based learning in an environment where students have to be micromanaged.
We’re also learning that culture is not enough. Just because students are bought in doesn’t mean they know what it means to do rigorous work, or that they can necessarily produce it even if they do know. Making that jump is our primary focus right now.
We’re learning (though it’s an ongoing process) to find the right balance of structure and freedom in both the way we create culture and the way we plan and organize work. Not surprisingly, younger students need more structure built in, but too much erodes ownership.
We’re learning that “professional development” is the learning that happens when we ask good questions about what’s happening in school, and what we can change to make it better.
We’re learning about what it takes to teach this way. Yes, you need to know a lot about project based learning. Just as important, you need to be deeply compassionate (seeing the best in kids even when they try like hell to keep you from doing so) and have a short memory (on both bad days AND good days).
One of many great things about doing this work is that we get to act on these lessons. From building culture to designing projects to supporting staff, we’re evolving.