Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Leading from Within

Our principal presented his vision in the spring. It came as no surprise to us, the faculty, as we had been moving in this direction for years, but he expressed it clearly, articulately, and with conviction: CVU is moving to standards-based learning and grading because it's the right thing for students. At around the same time, our state Agency of Ed announced that all schools will need to graduate students based on proficiencies, not seat-time credits...because it's the right thing for students. And then there's the still recent adoption of the Common Core, which despite its challenges and the controversies around testing was developed to prepare students for our new other words, because it's the right thing for students.

Vermont is known for grass-roots movements and skepticism about authority. There is a saying here (best said without pronouncing the ts): "I"m from Vermont, I do what I want."  We're kind of proud of this independence, dating all the way back to Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. We love our Progressive Party, our Independent politicians, our liberal sensibilities. We take on DC, we pass GMO bills, we fight Chick-fil-a with Eat More Kale shirts! We do what we think is right, not what someone at "the top" tells us to do.

So here's the problem. What happens when "the top" makes sense?

Our principal is an easy one. He was one of us until just recently, having taught at our school for 20 years. Sure, he's the principal now, but we grew him. So when he says we're going to be a standards-based school, we are excited.  We have been getting ready for years! We have been ahead of the curve and have seen the benefits and have done the research and our teachers have been preparing. We have visited schools in other states and saw things we liked, but more importantly saw things we didn't like and could do better...or at least do it our way. And now it's official, we're going to make the switch using standards we created, with systems we built, based on what we know about our students and school and community. At the end of the school year, when given the choice, 80% of our faculty chose to transition to SBL this coming year. 80%. We can do this with the leadership of our principal!

But the state? Hmmm...And the Common Core? Hmmmmmmmmmm...

How do we keep growing our standards-based system from within, maintaining our autonomy and independence and belief that we are the ones that know what's best, when we are being told to do the same thing by our state and country? How un-Vermont of us.

Here's how: The state and the country are acting based on research and with the best interest of students in mind. So are we. Their guidelines, suggestions, initiatives, bills, laws, and proclamations (and resources) can help us stay focused on the goal, but they are BIG. They have to make sweeping statements and generalizations and set up "rules" for everyone. We are not big. That is our strength. We know our unique community, we know our school's particular strengths and challenges, we know our colleagues, and most importantly, we know our students. And while they have many things in common with students in Missouri and California and Maine--and even more things in common with students in other VT towns like Essex and Brattleboro and Calais and Woodstock--they are our students, with strengths, passions, challenges, and experiences unique to our school.

So we listen to the state and the country and all of the experts and politicians and policy makers out there. And we look really really carefully (and yes, with skepticism) at what they provide and tell us to do. And when what they tell us to do makes sense and is right for our students, we listen and we do it. But we do it our way--with our community, our school, our faculty, and our students in mind. Yes, we're from Vermont and we do what we want, but we also do what's right, even when "the top" agrees.