Tuesday, December 19, 2017

“Today I feel shitty and inadequate.  I must be doing it right!”  

I was on a run this morning with two of my dearest friends.  We are all privileged white women who are trying to figure out how to be effective allies.  One of my friends was sharing a current struggle of another friend whose family was facing some significant oppression by “well intentioned” people and a system that was stacked steeply against them.  My running partner wanted to be a good friend and didn’t want to make some of the same mistakes we have seen others make and was asking us to help her think this through.  In the process of the conversation, I became aware of a few patterns that those of us who have lived lives of privilege too often fall into.  

Fixer:  We women of privilege are good fixers.  It is what we do.  We are smart and well resourced and our endless supply of positive attitude make us well equipped to fix any problem.  So we start tossing out our “Have you thought of this?”  or “Did you try this?”  or even better “You know, when I had this experience, I did this.”  In our heart of hearts, we know that these aren’t actual solutions to the deep oppression that exists, but we cling to our propensity to fix things like it is a super power that defies all evidence.

Fleer:  When faced with deep, ugly, systemic oppression, people get angry.  We women of privilege are not big fans of anger, and have some pretty strong tendencies to take it personally.  Once we start over personalizing someone’s very valid anger at a system that is stacked against them, we start fleeing in one of two ways.  The first one sounds something like this….”We are all volunteers just trying to do a good job.  Rather than getting angry at us, maybe you could thank us for all of the work we are trying to do.”  The other goes more like this, “I am worried that you are so angry about a problem you can’t fix.  Have you tried taking a more positive approach?  I have found a lot more success with this.”  

Whether fixing or fleeing, our underlying feeling is “This is really uncomfortable and I need to resolve that feeling.”  In the process, what we really do is invalidate the feelings of an equally (or oftentime, more so) intelligent, thoughtful, strong woman whose relative lack of privilege has not allowed her to pretend that she can fix or flee from this very real challenge.  She is not coming to us because she needs us to generate new solutions…..she has spent more than enough sleepless nights wracking her brain to come up with a solution that doesn’t exist.  She is not coming to us for positivity training.  When you face systemic oppression, particularly when this oppression has been with you for generations, getting up each day and taking on the world is an act of positivity beyond what most of us could ever fathom.  

What she needs is a friend.  That is what she is hoping you will be…..someone who will sit with her in the muck and validate that this really sucks, she is not alone, and while you have no answers, you are going to be there sitting in that shitty, uncomfortable space by her side.  And somehow, that really will make it slightly better.   Underneath it all, the deepest wound of oppression is often disconnection.  Assuring her you will be there no matter how bad it gets is more powerful than any words you can speak.  

I sent my running buddy a message of support after the run.  She responded back, “Today I feel shitty and inadequate.  I must be doing it right!”    I am so blessed to have her as a friend.  May we all be true friends to each other!  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why Did I Sense This Was Coming? 

As we got closer and closer to the election, I struggled more and more to maintain my typical optimism.  I couldn’t really pin down what I was feeling, but as I reflect on my election day experience, I think I have some additional clarity in what was going on. 

For the past decade, for a variety of reasons, my rose colored glasses have had a lot of the rose wiped off of them. As I have been forced to confront personal blind spots, sometimes willingly and sometimes after a lot of wailing and resisting on my part, I have come to a space where I now feel that while this experience is often painful, it is exactly what I want to be doing. 

At the same time, I have had a growing sense of angst as I watch so many other people around me desperately hanging onto their identity of being “good” people who are above the hate that they see represented in the Trump rally’s.  This angst has been further exacerbated by a increasing awareness of how our systems were designed in such a way that those of us in power were clearly protected from having to actually get honest with ourselves about the fact that our fear of differences is incredibly deep seeded and fear and hate that we saw in the Trump rally’s lived in everyone of us all of the time. 

Without this level of honesty there is no path to progress. 

As we neared the election, I wanted to believe that we had shown a light that was bright enough that if we elected Hillary, we would no longer be able to continue pretending…..we would have to get honest.  Part of me knew I was wrong and my experience yesterday reinforced this. 

I spent the day yesterday with some of the “best” people I know…..people who care deeply about children and especially care about those among us who have not been served well by the system.

And….these people were all white, were all straight, were all middle to upper class, and most were male. 

Because we were travelling together in a car, I found myself literally trapped in an intellectual conversation about the election.  When it started, I mustered up all the self-protective advocacy skills I could and said, “ I am going to have to ask you to stop talking about this.” 

It continued.

I then tried “I just need to point out that having a conversation about the election today in this way is a privilege that some don’t have.” 

It continued and I became the butt of good natured jokes.

I quit trying and pulled out my phone and got lost in my email.  I thought I was ok. 

When I got back to my “safe zone” with people I know well, I found myself passionately venting about that experience, but I still didn’t get it.  I knew my experience was different from others in the car.  I knew it felt much darker, and I didn’t particularly like that, but I couldn’t quite identify what it was that was bothering me. 

Today, as many of the amazing people around me are expressing shock about the results, I am finding some clarity. 

You see, if Hillary had won, there was a real chance we could have all continued to deny the reality of our own fear and the hate and anger this generates, and we could have continued to hurt people while believing we were good and refusing to really look at our truth.  This result didn’t feel like a win to me yesterday either. 

Don’t get me wrong. The results are truly horrifying, but I find comfort in the fact that the light is really now shining on our darkness.....and only that can drive it out!    

I commit to continuing to shine the light! 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. “
Martin Luther King Junior

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Living in Beta-Part 2

In my last post, I talked about how the model at CSCS is uniquely designed to better prepare students for the future they are likely to face.  I shared a prediction by Robin Chase that 70 % of the workforce will be employed as freelance employees in the not so distant future, hired based on a specific need for a defined time period or for the duration of a particular project.  If you spend any time talking to students at Clark Street, you will quickly learn that while they will talk about how challenging and uncomfortable it has been at times, they will also talk with pride about how well they understand their strengths and limitations, how clearly they now understand the value of both seeking and integrating feedback into their work and learning from experiences and outcomes that did not meet their initial expectations.  They can also clearly articulate how they believe these skills will serve them well in the future at school, at home, and in the workplace.  
I also shared that this understanding had come together for me after a conversation with some middle school parents who were wondering about the best high school option for their students.  It wasn’t until the day after this conversation with these parents when I had some quiet time that the next layer of how “existing in beta” was playing out at CSCS dawned on me.  This next layer had to do with all of the adults in the building and how all of us are adjusting to our new roles as facilitators of these deep learning experiences rather than imparters of knowledge and managers of behavior.  
A little bit of history….100% of the staff at CSCS are employed there because they chose to be there.  While this might not seem terribly unique, if you have spent time in schools, you know there are typically a few people who at least perceive themselves to be trapped in their position without better options.  The group of staff who originally formed CSCS were active participants in shaping the vision for the school and putting the system we currently use into place.  They chose to be a part of the school because they believed in it.  Staff who have joined us since that time have faced significant competition for their positions as we tend to draw a very talented candidate pool for openings.  While none of us would describe the transition or our work as anything less than incredibly demanding, there are staff members who are finding much greater joy in doing the same hard work, while others are experiencing significant anxiety and frustration.  While I fully honor the “why” behind this difference is likely much more complicated than I will capture here, my reflection after this conversation with the parents helped me identify at least one very real source of this angst……some among us don’t want to exist in beta anymore.  

When I talk to people about the stress they are experiencing in our new system, it often comes back to struggling with anxiety about whether or not they are doing a good job as educators.  They speak with longing about getting to a place where they can walk into a classroom and deliver the same lesson they have delivered previously and feel confident in their ability to do it well.  They talk about wanting things to “slow down” and about wanting things to change less.  After articulating how our model was preparing students for the world they would likely be living in, I realized that the days of judging our competence as educators by traditional metrics is over.  If we are intentionally creating a system for students to learn the skills they need to be successful in an uncertain and rapidly changing world, then this uncertainty and rapid rate of change is an essential part of our model, not something we will get through once we have made it through the change phase.  
For some of us, the shift to this new normal has come more naturally.  Perhaps we have been forced into recognizing we never had the control we thought we had and accepting the “I don’t know, and I may never know, and that is ok because I have a team” space based on our personal experience.  Perhaps we have had enough success experiences in other ways with students that we are more willing to trust our gut and stick to the fundamental beliefs which drove us to our original vision.  Or, perhaps, we are simply wired differently which allows us to more easily accept the ambiguity as a great place for learning and growth to take place.  But no matter the reason behind why we are able to do it, thriving as an educator in this context will require it.  
I don’t believe that we have forever lost our opportunity to feel competent and confident as educators, in fact far from it.  However, I do believe that the metrics we use to judge this will likely be very different.  Where we used to be fairly confident in our assessment of our performance based on our inputs, we will now need to get much better at noting the outcomes, especially the small intervening outcomes (belief in self; improved habits of self-direction and advocacy; ability to form strong, healthy relationships; etc) that we know will lead to students who are fully prepared to not just live, but to thrive in a much more “beta” world. The more fully and more quickly we honor this new set of metrics and get better at communicating to ourselves and others what success looks like, the sooner we can find our new comfort and confidence in our roles.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Living in Beta-Part 1

I have the great fortune of working with some amazing colleagues whose rich lives allow me to stay connected to the world beyond public education.  One of my colleagues is working on a start up company in her time outside of school and has generously shared with me kernels of learning and insight she has gained through this process.  Another colleague often connects me to podcasts or other media she knows I will find stimulating and inspiring.  She recently hooked me on Alex Blumberg’s new podcast “StartUp” which chronicles his start-up journey in creating and launching the podcast.   The learning and perspective I have gained through these experiences has led me to an even greater sense of confidence in what we are doing at Clark Street.  
Since the beginning of the school four years ago, I have talked to students about learning to stay longer in the “I don’t know yet, but I will” space.  As we were planning the school, I was also finishing my graduate school course work and beginning to think about my dissertation.  As a traditionally very successful student (read: strategically compliant), my grad school experience alongside our planning and implementation of Clark Street, forced me to confront my discomfort with staying in that space.  I found myself desperately wanting someone to help me find my burning question and teach me the steps to write a high quality dissertation.  The discomfort I felt in entertaining the idea that I might have something of value to offer to the field was only surpassed by my fear of “doing it wrong.”  At the same time, I was working to design a school that asked students to engage deeply in their learning.  This, of course, meant challenging them to get comfortable with the very things with which I was struggling.  The “I don’t know yet, but I will” space helped me articulate this idea to students.  I talked about how schools have often trained us to feel compelled to get the “right” answer quickly and as a result, many of us have learned to either cut corners in response to the time pressure at the expense of learning or to quit before we even start, because we assume we won’t figure it out anyway.  
While opening Clark Street, I have also served as the principal of our online school and have gotten very comfortable with the very rapid pace at which digital tools are introduced, evolve, are surpassed by new technologies,  and become obsolete.  As a leader, I have been forced to spend a lot of time  in the “I don’t know yet, and I may never know, and that is ok because I have a team” space that often exists in this rapidly changing world.  Those of us who spend a lot of time working in the digital learning world sometimes talk about the fact that we feel as if we are perpetually existing in Beta….a reference to products that are introduced before all of the bugs have been worked out so that the early users can help improve the product. While being on the front end of adopting an idea can often provide you with a unique opportunity to influence future iterations of a product, it also often means unpredictable changes and results.    Existing in beta has meant getting increasingly comfortable with relinquishing control in order to get the best results.  
I recently found myself in a conversation with a group of parents of future high school students and I was talking about my belief that a student who graduates from Clark Street is better prepared for whatever post-secondary path they choose than they would have been if they completed a traditional high school program.  It was in this conversation that these pieces of my exposure to the world of start -ups outside of school, my experience starting a very progressive school, my personal response to being asked to do quality research, and my experience in the rapidly changing digital world all came together.  I realized, that we are training our students to live in a world that may exist mainly in beta for them.  

Robin Chase, in her book, Peer Inc. has predicted that as many as 70% of the workforce will be employed in freelance capacities in the not so distance future.  Most of us have heard the statistics that our young people will likely hold as many as 7 different jobs in their career and most of us have accepted that we are preparing students for jobs that may not even exist at this time, but if this prediction is accurate, the shift in what successful employment will look like for our current students as adults is even more dramatic than we could have imagined.  For me, this creates an image of a career that looks like a regular and repeating pattern of workers who are employed for short periods of time based on a specific talent set that they bring to a team.  These teams are asked to work on solving a problem or creating something that fills a need, and when that solution is developed or that need met, this team is disbanded and goes their separate ways.  While this may strike fear and anxiety in the hearts of those of us who have come to expect a much higher level of predictability in our careers, there is also potential for significant excitement and possibility for workers who bring the right skill set.  For those who know themselves well, both their strengths and their limitations; who know how to clearly articulate what they bring to a team; who can work well with a diverse group of problem solvers; and see themselves as capable learners and problem solvers the potential to build an entire career based on your needs, passions and interests even if they change significantly with time may be a reality.  Whether we love this idea or fear it, as educators, we cannot simply ignore the strong likelihood that this is the world our students will need to be prepared to function in.   

The skill set students are developing at CSCS is well aligned with this potential future.  Beginning with the establishment of a personalized learning plan rooted in a deep understanding of self and driven by a vision of who they want to become, students get to know themselves well and can talk comfortably about who they are and who they want to be.  Our commitment to place and democratic education through the completion of projects, allows students to learn and practice the skills they will need to collaborate effectively with diverse teams, dig deeply to understand problems and learning opportunities, accept feedback in the interest of improving their work, present their ideas clearly and manage their time effectively.   These skills will serve them well in the entrepreneurial economy they are likely to face in their adult lives.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Our Mission- Engaged

This week, I will explore what is arguably the most important word in our mission statement, “engaged.”  At first blush, engaged may seem like a word that is so obviously connected with schools that is seems somewhat meaningless.  For us at CSCS, it has a tremendous amount of meaning and has driven us to do things very differently. 

In the process of creating CSCS, we did a lot of research and spent a lot of time and energy studying the work of others who had come before us.  One of the researchers who had a significant impact on our learning and therefore the development of the school was Phil Schlechty.  Dr. Schlechty had spent a lot of time studying schools and from this, he described different levels of participation that he saw in schools.  The categories he developed were as follows:
Strategic compliance:  This is participation in which the student does what is expected in order to get a reward they want.  For example, many students work to get good grades because they believe it will help them get in to a good college. 

Ritualistic compliance:  This is when a student does what it is expected because it is the path of least resistance.  This is the case when a student does their homework in order to ensure that the teacher or their parents won’t bug them. 

Retreatism:  This is when a student either physically (skipping class, complaining of illness in order to stay home) or mentally (sitting quietly in the back of class and hoping no one notices) removes themselves from the learning experience.

Rebellion:  This one is pretty easy for us all to recognize.  This is when a student behaves in a way that not only pulls them out of the learning experience, but also asks others to join in the resistance to what is being asked. 

Engagement:  This is when a student is motivated to keep working at something even when it becomes challenging.  According to Schlechty, when students are engaged, they are motivated to complete the work because it is personally meaningful to them, not because of some reward they will receive when they complete it.  We often use examples of playing a challenging video game and training for an athletic, musical or theatrical performance to help students understand what engagement really feels like. 

Schlechty argued (and the research and our experiences backed this up) that learning really only occurs when students are engaged.  Unfortunately, what Schlechty found was that the design of most schools worked against engagement and at best was designed for compliance.  He also found that many of the tools that were being used to measure the level of engagement were in fact, measuring compliance (i.e, did students bring the required materials to class, did they answer questions being asked by the teacher, did they complete their homework).    Because this so resonated with our lived experience and because we as veteran educators, students, parents, and community partners had seen the damage a system designed for compliance was doing to the students who were “playing the game,” to those who were fighting against it, and to those who were simply trying to survive it, we took this challenge very seriously.   Resisting the temptation to revert to compliance measures became a driving force behind our decision making. 

This hasn’t been without significant challenge.  When you put a group of unique individuals together in a system, having some level of compliance is important to keeping everyone safe and to helping the system work effectively.  There is a very real, very pragmatic reason why schools are organized around compliance systems.  And yet, we knew if we wanted to create a school committed to deep learning, we had to start by looking at what people needed to be truly engaged and we had to trust that when they were truly engaged, they would work together to create effective systems to ensure safety and systemic effectiveness. 

This is where our three pillars: personalized, place based, and democratic, come in.  While the three are most powerful and most effective in the spaces where they overlap, I will discuss each separately in order to capture the essence of each of them.  We start with personalization from the moment we begin our interactions with a prospective student and family.   Questions like “What do you really love doing and learning more about?”  “What are you really good at?”  “What makes you happy?”  “What is a new challenge you would like to take on?”  form the basis of initial discussions with students and families.  Often, these discussions seem strange coming from educators as unfortunately, for many students and their families, school has not been driven by these questions.  In most traditional settings, the standards and prescribe scope and sequence drive the instructional system and teachers and students do their best to find places to fit the student’s interests and passions in.  In our system, we strive to start with the student and we have found that in doing that, learning about and engaging in things that are new, different, or challenging naturally follows and students have the skills and dispositions they need to not just comply with expectations to learn about a breadth of topics but to actually engage. 

Place-based refers to a deep commitment to connecting learning to the real history, problems, and opportunities that surround everyone all of the time and offer rich opportunities for both learning and the creation of meaningful knowledge and work in the places that matter the most to us.  While schools have been seen as a center of learning, there has often been a significant disconnect between the learning that was happening in schools and the learning that was taking place in the communities surrounding the schools.  At CSCS, we seek to “take down the walls” between our school and the community and help students develop a deep sense of the learning that takes place everywhere.  By inviting the community into our school and spending a significant amount of time in the community, students develop an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities in their communities and an understanding of how they can play a significant role in solving problems and creating new opportunities in their communities.  These authentic experiences are the best material for helping students develop the skills they will need for long term success because without strong communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills, they are not able to contribute meaningfully. 

Finally, our commitment to democratic education honors that everyone engages more if they feel a sense of power and agency.  Because the schools that most of our students have experienced have been designed for compliance, the voice and agency afforded to students was often afforded to only a few students and even for them, was afforded with the constraints of doing what adults in the system expected.  We seek first to give students meaningful voice in decisions about what seminars will be offered, what our schedule will look like, and where we should be focusing our school improvement efforts.  From here, we work to help students develop the skills they need to play a meaningful role in decision making in our school and in other settings.  Ultimately, we seek to create opportunities for leadership for all students in our school so they have the opportunity to practice these skills in context and develop a deeper understanding of how to work most effectively with others and how to ensure your voice is heard while honoring the voices of others and the needs of the community. 

Over the course of these initial years, we have learned that a shift in education that really focuses on engagement is a very significant one.  Because it is so different, we have had to get much better at understanding and communicating what it looks like when students are becoming more engaged.  We continue to work on capturing this story and would love your perspective on what you have seen in CSCS students that demonstrates true engagement.  We have also learned that it works!  Students want to learn.  Students who have found very little reason to strive for traditional success measures in school are enthusiastically talking about and sharing their learning, and students who were very good at meeting all of the traditional metrics of success are finding the freedom to really learn in a system that emphasizes engagement. 

Thanks for being a part of our journey and sharing your perspective!


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Our Mission-Community

The Mission of Clark Street Community School is to democratically cultivate a community of engaged learners, serve as a resource for educators, and a catalyst for reform in education throughout our region and our nation.

This week, as I continue to explore our mission statement and what it means to the work we do at CSCS, I turn to “community, “ which is at the heart of so much of what we do at CSCS.   Each day, and with each interaction, we work to create a community which welcomes every individual and creates a safe environment for everyone to take on the challenges needed in order to be deeply engaged in learning.  While we have established different goals each year in order to focus on different aspects of our academic program, creating and maintaining a school climate and culture which is supportive of deeply engaged learning for all has been a goal each and every year.  This is certainly not because this is an area of weakness for us….students, their families, and staff consistently report that they feel supported and safe in our school.  Rather, the continued focus on this area is reflective of how critical we believe it is to the overall learning experience.  

On a day to day basis, community is emphasized in a lot of different ways.  Each day starts with advisory, a group of up to 15 students and a staff member who develop deep, supportive relationships that span years and lots of memories and growth experiences.  Starting our day honoring the importance of connection is very intentional and an important part of what makes CSCS so special.  In seminars and workshops, it is not uncommon for the learning experience to start with a circle, which creates another opportunity for everyone in the room to connect.  Throughout the day, thousands of greetings and intentional connections can be observed in nearly every context.  The Carnegie Foundation recently released a study on student motivation and found that having a sense of belonging was a significant positive contributor to a student’s level of motivation in school.  While we certainly hope that everyone at CSCS feels good about being in our school, it is because we truly believe being connected to something greater than yourself helps humans achieve much more and learn much more that we place such an emphasis on community.  

At the heart of our commitment to community are two things.  First, our community agreements:
Be respectful
Be independent
Create a safe learning environment
Be an active community member
These agreements, created in our first year by students, keep our expectations consistent and clearly understandable to all.  The second key factor is our commitment to restorative practices.  Simply put, the philosophy of restorative practices honors that in a community, there will be conflict and there will be times when harm is done.  When this happens, we do not seek to assign blame and dole out punishment, rather we seek to develop a deep understanding of the harm done and to give the person who caused the harm the opportunity to repair the harm and rejoin the community as a fully participating member.  

One of the lessons we have learned over the first few years at CSCS is that this sense of community is not something that is consistent with the experience some of us have had in schools.  Because it is new, it at times takes people some time to accept that they are a part of a community.  We have worked hard to stay consistent in our practices and to always continue to welcome individuals into our community.  When an individual is struggling to meet our community agreements, we first seek to find ways to deepen the individual’s connection to the community,  because we know that changing patterns of behavior that have served you well in other contexts takes time, and having a community support you in making these changes greatly increases the likelihood of success.  

I would be remiss if I did not highlight the fact that our definition of community is a very broad one that seeks to include anyone who is connected to CSCS in any way.  We have been blessed in ways we could have only dreamed of five years ago by community partners, families, and others who have given so generously of their time, talents and resources.  Our students have benefitted in so many ways because of the skills and hard work of these people.  In return, we strive to create opportunities for our students to play active service roles in our community and our world as well.  Here again, a connection to a broader community and needs and opportunities beyond their own consistently deepens the learning opportunities for our students.  

Clark Street Community School truly is deeply rooted in community….both within and beyond our walls.   We strive to continue to expand this community and firmly believe that each individual brings great value to our community and should be honored for that value.   If you are already a part of our community, thank you for all you bring!  If you are not yet a part of our community, we look forward to learning with you soon!  


Friday, September 18, 2015


The Mission of Clark Street Community School is to democratically cultivate a community of engaged learners, serve as a resource for educators, and a catalyst for reform in education throughout our region and our nation.

I begin the year exploring what the mission of Clark Street means to me as a leader and how we work to put it into action in our practice.  In my last posting, I wrote about democratically.  This week, I will spend a little time exploring cultivate.  While I haven’t kept the data, I would venture a bet that in our first three years of existence, we have spent more time as a staff (and I have consequently spent more time mulling in my head) the concept of cultivating than any other concept.  That being said, if you asked my staff how much we talked about this actual word, they would likely be hard pressed to come up with one instance of such a discussion.   For me, this word in our mission beautifully captures a constant tension that always exist for the adults at CSCS:  Do we create more structure or do we give more room to grow?  How much freedom to explore, try, fail, and develop is the right amount?  How do our answers to these questions change based on the learner, the project, and the context?   Teachers working with students ask this many times a day and I as a leader of leaders ask it of myself about my staff regularly as well.  

I have mostly come to peace with the fact that this tension is absolutely necessary.  One of the things I like to talk to students, staff, and families about is my concept of the “I don’t know yet, but I will” space.  It is my belief that our role as educators and mentors is to help create the conditions for our learners to stay in this space longer.  For years, I watched students jump out of this space very quickly either by deciding that they didn’t know something and would probably never know it and therefore there was no sense in making an effort or by deciding they had to know and had to prove they knew quickly in order to remain competitive, so they would employ some shortcut to create the illusion that they knew something long before they really did.  As a student, I was the latter.  As an educator, I had committed my career to working with students who fell mainly in the former category.  As an educational leader, I have come to deeply understand that our system is set up to force kids out of this space.  Our traditional educational system values time constraints over learning, surface level demonstration of understanding over deep mastery, and sorting students into categories over developing all of their varied strengths.  For me, changing this system is all about cultivating.   

Cultivating conjures up images of gardening for me.  While I am far from a master gardener, the concept of creating the right conditions based on the best information available to you about the plants and the growing conditions and then constantly reassessing what is needed based on how the plants respond captures well my idea of why we chose the term cultivate.  A novice gardener learns quickly that there are no fool-proof recipes that will guarantee success.  You need to do your research to create the best conditions, give the plants the opportunity to grow, weed, trim, and support, but most importantly, you must remain attentive and responsive to the needs of the plants as the conditions change.  

Supporting deep learning certainly takes the same level of thought, care and attention.  As an added challenge, we ultimately hope to cultivate learners who are self-directed and capable of managing the changing conditions around them in a way that keeps them thriving!  At CSCS, most of the changes we have made in our structures have been about creating a system which provides students enough structure to confidently enter into the work without limiting their vision of where they can go and without providing so much structure that they never develop the strengths and confidence in their own ability.  As the narrative around judging educational excellence has moved more and more in the direction of narrow accountability which continues to reward and reinforce surface level understanding and the sorting of students, we have continued to push back on this through seeking to develop a system that will help each student find their strengths and passions, develop the skills they need to be independent, self-directed learners, while at the same time appreciating the power of living and working within a diverse and often unpredictable community.  

Because all of us have been trained and have spent most of our lives in systems where structure, safety, and right answers were rewarded far more than taking risks, learning through trial, and messy collaboration, we have had to spend a lot of time talking about cultivating.  What I have come to learn and appreciate is that it is in these conversations that we continue to improve both the art and the science of the work we do.  No one individual has this all figured out.  And yet, when we share our collective experiences and challenge ourselves to keep our conversations grounded in cultivating rather than forcing or neglecting,  the patterns begin to emerge.  From these patterns, we can begin to create the right conditions with (not for) each learner.   

Cultivating a community of engaged learners is stimulating, challenging work.  Holding ourselves to a standard which demands that each learner leaves us ready to do this on their own, has pushed each and every one of us to grow personally and professionally.  And most importantly….the results are beginning to show!  We would love to hear your stories and your ideas about how we can continue to grow and improve our cultivation skills!