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.