Years ago, when I was participating in an aspiring superintendent program, I read The Perfect School. While the specific content is a little fuzzy for me today, the title has stuck with me. In fact, it has remained at the center of my thoughts ever since.
The dialogue in my head–whether it be about the entire educational system, the agency I currently lead, or a specific school–usually begins with, “If we could build this from the beginning, what would it look like?” Or, “If we are designing the ideal [school, agency, and so on], would we do it the same way?”
The subject for most of these conversations (which have now included conversations with actual people) tends to be “school.”
I remember one situation I was in, where there were three small high schools within a 7 mile radius. On the way to a meeting at one of those schools, the “would we design it that way” question popped into my head. And it is likely that most of the rural school teachers, administrators and board members with whom I work have also heard this question.
I don’t believe that the idea of a perfect school, or a perfect learning environment has anything to do with its location or size. The physical space certainly can enhance the learning process. However, the only substantive research I’ve seen related to school size suggests that there are a lot of benefits to smaller learning environments.
So what is the perfect school? My opinion is that the perfect school is not a set of criteria. Criteria are meaningless unless the people involved are intrinsically-motivated to change their behaviors and mindsets. Instead, I believe the perfect school, better yet, the ideal learning environment, is defined by a set of commitments.
- Commitment #1 – The purpose of school is to develop creative and self-directed lifelong learners who are able to live happy, healthy and creative lives.
- Commitment #2 – Policies and practices should promote empowering students with voice, choice and opportunities to take risks.
- Commitment #3 – Universally-designed and standards-based curriculum and instructional practices should be used to ensure that all students are receiving rigorous instruction.
- Commitment #4 – Everyone in the learning environment (students and adults) should have a growth mindset and demonstrate SEL competencies.
One other thing that I recall about The Perfect School is that the authors referred to the “perfect principal,” the “perfect teacher,” and so on. While the term “perfect” is catchy, all we can really do is aim for it.
For me, it means nurturing relationships, having a growth mindset, and using the best resources to inspire and support others to be intrinsically-motivated lifelong learners.
What does this mean to you in your role or environment? Please share your feedback.