Do you wonder how your philosophy of education might change over the years? Is this something you think about much? I hadn’t thought about it for a long while until recently in my Principal’s Qualification Course-Part 1
Here is my most recent go at it! I stand on the shoulders of giants like John Dewey, Seymour Papert, Jean Piaget, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond and Andy Hargreaves who continue to influence my thinking about schools and school leadership.
Public education holds a special place in a democratic society because it is defined by a moral purpose to educate all learners. This suggests an extension to teachers, parents, the local community, and, in this 21st century, quite possibly to the global community. As I begin to view the important job of nurturing a school through the lens of the school administrator, my scope widens; there are many stakeholders to think about. Fundamentally, my beliefs remain the same: the purpose of school is to create a moral, democratic citizenry that thinks well, and that school leaders, along with society, play a huge part in shaping this shared future that we have with our children. I believe that by cultivating and nurturing habits of mind that foster good thinking and inclusive learning environments, and by developing relationships, people and programs, school administrators can make a huge contribution to the growth of a community.
What makes an effective school?
I believe that all children can learn, given the right conditions, and that we must focus on the whole child. A school administrator will often be the advocate for a child or a parent who might not be able to advocate for themselves. A principal may be the one to ask the difficult questions about whether a student’s social, emotional and/or academic needs are being met in the classroom, and, if not, work together with school staff to make sure that improvements are made. I recall Superintendent Persaud’s mention of the basic concerns “Are they safe, are they happy, are they learning?” Social, emotional and intellectual aspects of children are a focus in an effective school and the school administrator must be willing to be accountable for guiding the direction of the school and leading the instructional program.
I believe that learning is a life-long pursuit and requires active, not passive participation. We learn by observing others, and by trying things out for ourselves. While curriculum and content are important, knowing how to ask good questions, examine evidence, think critically, make reasoned judgments, and be responsible for one’s actions are important results of learning how to think well, whether it be in the pursuit of the arts, science, literature or craftsmanship. To be observant, to be curious, to be respectful of evidence, to communicate clearly, and to understand how others feel, are all habits of mind that will benefit a whole community and can change how we might define being an ‘educated’ person. Everyone in the school building should be modeling a ‘growth mindset’ for lifelong learning.
I believe that students and teachers learn best in an environment of mutual respect, safety and trust. A principal needs to carefully cultivate relationships and encourage the community partnerships that will sustain excellent programs and effective academic results in the school. Learning in teams is important to both teachers and students, and therefore an administrator should be confident to set goals, facilitate learning and provide time for personal and group reflection that will build collective knowledge of best practices. Learning needs to be celebrated and shared both within the school and beyond.
Finally, I believe that the kind of school culture we desire for our students is the kind of learning culture that we need to live for ourselves. Modeling our willingness to co-learn, to compromise, to uphold high standards for ourselves and for others, will be the best lessons taught and learned. School administrators need to care enough to have both the wonderful celebrations of success and the powerful conversations about school improvement in order to keep schools growing to serve the needs of our children, parents, and global community.