It started innocently enough – the first email to our brand new group of seniors. Really it was just a test to make sure our Google platform was working properly. The email began this way: “Hey Workers…”
There are a couple of things about that choice of words that are worth noting.
First, it applies to all of us. Ideally, we’d like our culture to evolve to a place where at least internally, the conventional teacher/student language is not used. (We’re not there yet.) This is an idea we stole from W.L. Gore & Associates, one of the most interesting and innovative companies in the country. Gore has no hierarchy, no bosses, no supervisors. Everyone in the company, regardless of their role, has the same title: Associate. If you use the term employee, you will be (gently) redirected. It is each associate’s job to figure out what decisions they can and cannot make. This is done by consulting with coworkers. The amount of latitude one has to make decisions is referred to as their “waterline.” An associate becomes more free to make decisions as they gain credibility with their colleagues.
There is more to it than this, but the basic idea is that everyone in the company is working toward the same thing (hence the same title and lack of formal structure). But some people – those with more credibility – have more leeway in making decisions than others. We like to think of the Workshop in exactly this way. Obviously, the adults in the building can make choices (and take chances) that young people can’t. But eventually we would also like to see the “waterline” of each Worker (young people and adults) progress as they acquire more credibility with their peers.
As to the term itself, I’d love to tell you that lots of thought went into that. But it was pretty spontaneous, and we just decided we liked the sound of it. But if we were to choose one title – something to put on a business card – for every person in the school, worker functions pretty well. What is it, after all, that everyone in the school is there to do? (We could have used “learners,” I suppose, but the folks over at the High School of the Future already use that to refer to their students.) It also says something about the nature of work. It should be challenging, demanding, fun, and rewarding. And it should involve thinking, problem solving, and doing. Our thinking about what work is has been heavily shaped by the Mike Rose and Matthew Crawford, both of whom are keen observers of the focus, intelligence, and wisdom embedded in real, rewarding work. The kind of work we want to be doing in our school.
I have no idea whether the name will stick (to soon to tell), or whether we’ll come up with a better one, or if we’ll fall down on the whole project and revert to being “teachers” and “students” (I hope not). But whatever the language, I know that the underlying ideas, both about work and about how we relate to each other, will remain central to what we do here.