I have worked at many good schools; a great school – not as much. In the late 90’s, I was fortunate to be hired as the music specialist at a brand new Elementary School. If you ever have the opportunity to be on the inaugural staff of a new school, take it.
The school opened with a first-rate principal, and his fabulous VP. What a team. These two characters alone could have made the school great. Our first staff meeting was held in a yet unfinished classroom – no flooring or heat. We huddled together in the chilly room. We were a diverse group, brought together with a common goal: to open our new school.
There were many setbacks that first year. A broken water pipe flooded the new wood gym floor. No gym until Christmas. Have you ever coached volleyball in a classroom? Our first Remembrance Day assembly, complete with choir, readings, wreathes, silence, and bagpipes was held in the front hallway/foyer. It still ranks as one of the most powerful Remembrance Day assemblies I have been involved in.
As in any brand new school, we had few textbooks and limited resources for our classrooms. Yet, upon reflection, it's clear that this was a 'great' school. We hadn’t implemented EBS (that came years later), there was no wireless network, no School News on First Class. We did have: dedicated/talented staff + pride/belonging (students, staff, parents, and community) + humour + flexibility + transparent leadership. More than anything we had relationship. That first year, and to be honest by year two some of this was lost, we worked as a finely tuned team. We laughed, we cried, we celebrated, we respected each other. It was a year like no other.
Fast forward to now. I’m at a good school. We have many great moments. In 2012 we have many more gadgets, dare I say, bright shiny things, that have potential to lure us away from what may be the core of a great school: relationship and respect.
As a new VP, it has been a privilege to get to know our staff. This is a great group. They are not satisfied to settle. They continue to amaze me with their innovative approaches to meeting the needs of our school. They have a thirst to learn, they are not entrenched in the ‘old’ ways.
This week I watched this video, Don't be the Lid, about fleas in a jar. If you put a flea in a jar and tightly screw on the lid, the flea will try to jump as high as it can. But soon, the flea accepts its limit. From that point on, even if you take off the lid, the flea will never, ever jump any higher than the perceived lid.
What makes a school great? The people.
What is part of my role? To be mindful of where I'm holding a lid.
Relationship, respect, and for you hard-core academics: a dash of good pedagogy. That's my recipe for a great school.
Doable? Heck yes!
As always, I believe, better is possible.