Friday, September 11, 2015

Clark Street Mission-Democratically

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.

When I talk about Clark Street, I often mention that prior to Clark Street, I have never been able to articulate the mission of a school in which I worked without looking at it.  They have just never been that meaningful before.  For me, this mission is different.  Simply, it is easy to remember because it truly captures what we are all about.  We have recently added the second section of our mission, which clearly states our desire to serve as a resource for educators and a catalyst for reform.  The act of writing this blog is an important part of that second portion of the mission for me and I will write more about that in the future, but for now, I want to start with the first half.  What does it mean to “democratically cultivate a community of engaged learners,” and how do we live that at CSCS?  

I will start with democratically.  As a leader, this one has been truly transformational.  As we were planning the school, a friend of mine shared the book Walk Out, Walk On by Deborah Frieze and Margaret Wheatley.  While this book had nothing to do with education, it played a key role in shaping what I believed the leadership structure of this school ought to be if we were really going to bring about change.  In short, it emphasized creating deep and significant opportunities for every member of a community to find meaning in their work and in the role they played in the community.  About the same time, I was learning more about restorative practices and the power of circle to support rich conversations and community action that really brought people together even in very challenging contexts.  Over the course of the next couple of years, I learned so much about the power of listening deeply to those around me and trusting that together, we will come up with a much greater, much truer knowledge and understanding than I could ever create on my own.  

What this means in practice is that we do all we can to create meaningful opportunities for everyone to have their voice heard and for everyone to see the critically important role they play in the community.  Meeting in circle and making sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak and listen to everyone else is the norm in our staff meetings.  We welcome students, families, and community partners to join our planning and development meetings and will welcome you into our circle when you arrive.  This year, we have adjusted our schedule to create a weekly time for students to take the lead in school wide discussions.  While our original schedule had time built in for meetings which welcomed students and families, they rarely attended.  In talking to students we came to understand that despite our best intentions, the structure we had created really didn’t make them feel welcome and certainly didn’t feel like a natural place for them to participate in our community.  

Based on survey results and focus group feedback, our students consistently report feeling heard and valued by the adults in the school.  This means a lot to us and we strive to keep building on this early success as we know that students who feel they have voice are far more likely to engage in school and in learning.  However, our goal for this year is to move beyond this and the projects which arise out of this in which students and adults work together to create something or solve a problem. This year, we seek to deeply embedding leadership opportunities for all students in our school on a regular basis.  We believe that everyone is a leader and that through helping all members of our community (students, staff, families, and community partners)  find their strengths and develop agency to make a difference in a diverse community we are supporting the development of skills that will serve our students for a lifetime!  

If you are reading this blog, we consider you a part of our community, and we would love to hear from you.  What role should CSCS and other schools play in creating opportunities for leadership?  In what areas are we doing well?  Where would you like to see us focus our efforts?  

In the upcoming weeks, I will focus on each part of our mission to help build a clear picture of what CSCS is all about.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback!


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