Getting to School Purposes Part 2 – Some REAL School tools

I promised the continuation of this series (see Part 1) last Friday and obviously not deliver, but I’ll try to make up for it with a couple of entries on the subject I hope will interest readers.

In the following post I share a set of tools the REAL School design team has used to help us share our perspectives and backgrounds and to help us develop common beliefs and vision for the school. The REAL School team defines ourselves a democratic inquiry community. To that end, we have developed tools that have helped us reach consensus around the difficult primary issue of school purposes. I include here an agenda (and some of my notes, including my own “character sketch”) from a REAL School meeting in which the team engaged in this process while revising and refining our mission and vision statements. We intend to repeat these same processes and protocol in the future as we develop community partnerships and work with students, parents, and community members to shape the ultimate design of the school

See the whole original agenda here (REAL – Bi-Weekly Agenda – 4-25-10 – Getting to Purposes Blog – 11-2-10), I’ve broken down the sections of the agenda by category for discussion below. None of these tools are invented by us. They are borrowed from all aspects of our lives. All we have done here is attempt to apply the tools to the process of creating clear purposes.

The Tools

– Rich Description: The first tool we employ in this protocol is what we’ve called a “rich description” activity (as discussed in our previous post) As we’ve noted previously, we believe that storytelling is an essential way to sustain the purposes of a school over time and through change. These prompts (REAL is a school where…” etc.) help us envision and then plan for powerful alternate futures. As the group works over time, these alternate futures become increasingly integrated and they begin to evidence shared common purposes. By examining our responses over time, we can assess and interrogate our own changing priorities and those of the school.

– Collective Brainstorm: A second tool we employ is a structured group brainstorm process. Although we make up our own and they vary over time, but this post by Steven L. McShane and Mary Ann Von Glinow describes some effective tools for brainstorm by the design and creativity international consultant firm IDEO.

– Foundational Questions: These are tough questions that help team members reflect on and express their own deeply held beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning, human development, equity and equality, and other central philosophical issues that underlie school purposes (I will be posting about these underlying philosophical issues in the next week or so as part of this series. Link forthcoming).  “What is knowledge” is an example of a question that really matters. If you believe that knowledge is a collection of facts, you might proceed with school design with the goal of collecting those facts. If you believe knowledge is constructed out of experience, your approach to design might, as ours does, focus on engaging students in real-world work and learning (see Ken Robinson’s now quite famous animated TED Talk on the subject).

-Learning purposes graphic organizer: The graphic organizer did not work very successfully. I created the categories and sorted our values from a previous structured brainstorm into them as part of meeting planning. Unfortunately, the categories turned out to be difficult to negotiate and we quickly reworked them as a team. The IDEO article linked to above has given us some new techniques that have improved our practices.

-The character sketch: I was shocked to find out from a member of my team that others have had the idea to use a character sketch graphic organizer for creating community among school staff (and hear I thought I had thought up the idea of applying my English class graphic organizer to help us process group dynamics). I am including my own character sketch below to give you a sense of how we used it.

As I always tell my students, my learning disability makes it tricky for me to recognize misspellings or other errors in my own writing, which is why I type everything. Therefore, as always when I’m teaching, Extra Credit to anyone who can find a spelling or grammar mistake and share it with the class!

My character sketch – 4-25-10


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