Serving Schools, Educators, and Families

MINDSETS: Of Schools, Faculties, and Teachers

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I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the challenges of school change, and my experience over and over again has been that exceedingly well-intended, creative, clever, professional, and deeply caring educators—whether singly or in groups or representing entire schools—bring to each new question, large or small, whole batteries of differing mindsets, sometimes conflicting and often coexisting within the same individuals as they ponder the implications and ramifications of possible program change.

There is something worthy and responsive to student, to the exigencies of our time, and above all to high ideals in each and every one of these mindsets. I think it’s worth considering the ways in which they overlap and play off of one another, and how each challenges in its way some particular aspect of program change in a school.

Here is how I am currently characterizing and differentiating some of these mindsets; bear in mind the reality that each can live and thrive simultaneously with others in a school, a faculty, and even a single teacher.

Some mindsets of SCHOOLS:

The Mission Mindset. Our mission is deeply important to us a collection of guiding principles, and we intentionally spend time and thought digging into its fullest and deepest meaning and in imagining how it can be a touchstone for everything we do at our school. We take pride and pleasure in adapting our understanding and application of our mission, like the Constitution of the United States, to new conditions and new social and educational imperatives.

The Heritage Mindset. We have a strong proud history of doing our work very well by all external measures; our legacy and reputation are the most important elements of who we are, what we do, and why and how we do what we do. Our families and students expect their experience to reflect this heritage, and as we evolve as an institution we are guided by its power.

The Innovation Mindset. As an institution we thrive on the challenge of seeking and implementing the most creative approaches to doing our work. We eagerly seek out and embrace new ideas as a way of responding to ever-evolving challenges and opportunities in the world in which our students live. We wish our programs to be relevant and engaging even as they push students to grow and learn.

The Market Mindset. Our brand and reputation are built around our ability as an institution to respond to the present challenges and opportunities of the marketplace. While we strive to be a child-centered place, we always conceive of our work in the context of families’ aspirations and dreams in the context of the present moment.

Some mindsets of FACULTIES as collective entities:

The Curriculum Mindset. The curriculum that we teach has been developed over time based on the needs and interests of our students in the moment and as they move forward into their own futures as students, adults, workers, and citizens. The content, skills, and understandings that students learn and develop in our courses are based on sound, well considered ideas of child development—and above all based on our knowledge of what our students will need to know.

The Character Mindset. The most important learnings that our students acquire have to do with their development as moral and social human beings. Personal qualities matter deeply to us, as much as and perhaps even more than academic learning, and in our programs, policies and practices we strive above all to help our students become the most just, empathetic, and leaderly individuals they can be.

The Vocational Mindset. We are called as a body to play our parts in the lives of our students as learners and human beings, and our shared commitment to this work and to the enduring values of our school is the true foundation upon which our school’s programs and values are built. Our lives are our work, our work is our students, and the effect of that work upon our students is, in essence, the meaning and purpose of the school.

The Autonomy Mindset. What matters most deeply to the success of our school is the degree to which we as a faculty are free to shape the programs that we ourselves are charged with carrying out. We are each professionals, and our multifarious skills and even idiosyncrasies are the essential elements of a powerful culture of learning built around the individual strengths and approaches of great teachers working in concert.

Some mindsets of TEACHERS:

The Classroom Mindset. Within my classroom I must be free to shape my work as I see fit. While I strive to work in harmony with the values of my school and the needs of my particular division or department, I believe that freely accessing and expressing my own style, background, and approach is the only way to maximize my effectiveness as an educator. Lockstep approaches to teaching are not education; they are totalitarianism.

The Students-First Mindset. I have given my life to the students in this school, and it is my sacred duty to support them, challenge them, and protect them. Their needs establish the principles on which I must build my work, and I strive in all of my work to see that their interests are acknowledged and protected; only thus can we begin to model and then build a just society in which opportunity is open to all.

The Professorial Mindset. There is so little time and so much for my students to know, and I strive in my work to model the passion I have for learning and for the material, ideas, and above all ideals that I teach. I fret over the distractions and confused priorities that are so much a part of my working life and the lives of my students. I want them to learn and above all to develop the intellectual character to value learning as a thing in itself.

The Soft-Skills Mindset. What my students must learn above all things is to approach each new problem or challenge with optimism, open-mindedness, and a collaborative spirit. The world that students will enter as adults will demand a kind of creativity and suppleness of thought and feeling that we are obligated to cultivate through the work we ask them to do in our own classrooms; they may need the content they need, but even more they need to develop empathy, creativity, and a quick analytical eye.

There is a great deal more to ponder here, I think, and probably some things to quibble with. I am not yet sure of the value of this contemplation, but somehow I see it as a way of both honoring and providing a path for analysis of the jumble of generally noble and magnanimous yet sometimes myopic perspectives that each individual and each body brings to the process of school change.

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