In 1995 I was asked to consult with a couple of entrepreneurs and a fledgling parent group to create new schools through Minnesota's public chartering initiative. I began my career in 1971 at the founding of the progressive, open school The Paideia School in Atlanta teaching every grade level K-12 through 1980 as I completed my Ph.D. studying the constructivist epistemology and human development theory of Jean Piaget and its corresponding activity pedagogy. Those experiences led me to Hiroshima where for eight years I was lead teacher and principal establishing the school as an accredited, nonprofit institution with an ethos and international curriculum predating the International Baccalaureate's primary years program (the ICDP, The International Curriculum Development Project through the European Council of International Schools). I was then invited to be Senior Fellow in Global Education the first years of the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) and then its director of the rural component (three Minnesota school districts) of the National Models School Project in Global Education (led by Wilard Kneip and John Goodlad). Along with several other grassroots school development projects I joined SchoolStart to create and sustain what became Twin Cities Academy (1999) and then Avalon School (2001). In each of these cases I was motivated by two insights or visions of what education (and thus schooling) should be: first, Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which reads in part, "Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality, and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." And Piaget's argument that "the principal goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done- people who are creators, inventors and discoverers. The second goal of education is to form minds that are critical, can verify, and do not accept everything they are offered. The great danger today is from slogans, collective opinions, ready-made trends of thought. We have to be able to resist individually, to criticize, to distinguish between what is proven and what is not. So we need pupils who are active, who learn early to find out for themselves, partly by their own spontaneous activity and partly through the materials we set up for them, who learn early to tell what is verifiable and what is simply the first idea to come to them."(personal communication, 1977).
Finally from those experiences in Hiroshima at the hypocenter of Ground Zero and in the aftermath of 9-11 (my mother's birthday and the first weeks of the opening of Avalon School) I made a personal commitment to support in every way I could in the decades following the United Nations Nobel Peace Prize laureates' 1998 declaration, "To Create a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for The Children of The World."
These commitments then, brought me to the wonderful community we call Avalon and has sustained my involvement the past fifteen years as the school community continues to live out daily its mission: Avalon School prepares students for college and life in a strong, nurturing community that inspires active learning, engaged citizenship, and hope for the future.
In the spring of 2001 I sent out a postcard to thousands of teachers in Minnesota (thanks to Hamline University's continuing studies office) inviting "passionate, inspired, hard-working" teachers to join us. It read in part: What if teachers could design the ideal school? WE CAN! And we have the past fifteen years accomplished what we set out to do: to build an imaginative, creative, disciplined learning community.
Global Teacher Global Learner
Years ago I co- taught a course with David Selby and Graham Pike from the Centre for Global Education, University of York; I was then lead teacher and head of Hiroshima International School and an associate of the University of Minnesotas Global Education Center. From these two wonderful teacher-learners I articulated an essential insight into the power of authentic, experiential learning which I had experienced previously in such diverse learning experiences as earning Boy Scout merit badges to studying in college one subject in-depth over a month (Winter Term). Let me paraphrase from their seminal text, Global Teacher, Global Learner (1988). In most schools today (2016) learning about is the predominant mode. Essentially it is a knowledge-oriented process concerned with the assimilation and interpretation of concepts, data, evidence and facts. In some classrooms students also experience the learning for approach through the acquisition or development of skills (e.g., research and communication skills) enabling them to apply the knowledge they have gained. Rarely, however, do they experience learning in or learning through, whereby the actual process of learning is also a significant part of the intended substance of learning,(p. 49).
From a global education perspective consider learning experiences on the topic of human rights that clarify these three modes in the classroom. Students will learn about the key international documents on human rights (such as The United Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention in the Rights of The Child), principal concepts such as civil and political rights, social and economic rights, due process, fair treatment, etc.; perhaps they explore the violation of human rights through various case studies (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi). Learning for human rights will require not only the acquisition of essential knowledge, but the development and practice of the skills necessary to promote and defend human rights. These skills would include effective communication skills, as well as co-operation, negotiation and decision-making skills, and hopefully, campaigning and non-violent action skills. Learning in and learning through human rights goes one stage or level deeper.
Knowledge and skills learning is reinforced through the very taproot of the learning experience: the nature of the learning context where the quality of the learning experience has a direct bearing on the quality of learning. In other words the medium of experience is a message of that experience: how one experiences learning is part of what one learns. That is, the quality of interpersonal relationships and the methods of learning and teaching exhibit an intrinsic respect for the rights (and responsibilities) of learners-as-teachers and teachers-as-learners. In the global classroom then, where mediums and messages harmonize, learning in or learning through is the prevailing mode, the deeper learning and leading.
Learning as a Way of Leading
In their groundbreaking book Learning As A Way of Leading: Lessons From The Struggle for Social Justice (2009) Stephen Preskill and Stephen Brookfield take an in-depth look at how social justice leaders (from Ella Banks, Septima Clark to Myles Horton) learn, how they support other peoples learning, and how this deepens their social impact. As the authors explain the best leaders enjoy a capacity to be taught, to work collaboratively with followers, to listen and learn from people around them, and in many cases, to lead by being led. Such leaders are developmental leaders, chiefly interested in drawing out (educing) the abilities and capacities of their followers. They do this by remaining open to what those followers can impart to them as much as by guiding them to new possibilities. But from a broader perspective this text tells the stories of many community and organizational leaders who share a common commitment to leading through deeper learning. These leaders, some without formal positional authority or portfolio, share common capacities, dispositions and practices upon which their success is dependent. The authors conceive of these commonalities as the nine learning tasks or habits of leadership (which are paraphrased from p.15-18). Foundational to all of the tasks is 1) learning how to be open to the contributions of others. This practice makes the second leadership task possible, 2) learning how to reflect critically on ones practice. Inextricably bound together, only if one is open to others contributions can you develop the perspective required for critical reflection. 3) Learning how to support the growth of others deepens leadership and enhances learning such that traditional job appraisals of how well did you do your job? are supplanted by what and how did you learn in your job? Supporting each other is connected with the fourth leadership task, 4) learning how to develop collective leadership. Collective leadership flows from a culture in which engagement in, and sharing of, learning is an expectation and a priority. As people learn new skills, dispositions, and epistemologies, they inevitably become aware of how individual learning is both premised on and contributes to the learning of others.
Once we understand that so much of the deep taproot of our identity, our strength and our learning is the collective, we realize that leadership resides in the collective itself. We cannot learn to be critically reflective, analyze experience, question ourselves, practice democracy, sustain hope, or create community without the necessary involvement of others. This collaborative, group leadership task is interconnected to the leadership practices of 5) learning how to analyze experience and 6) learning how to question oneself and others. The seventh task of learning leadership is 7) learning democracy, what the authors refer to as the central task of adult life. In order to live democratically one must learn among others to honor diversity, live with the partial functioning of the democratic ideal, avoid the trap of false antithesis
accept the compatibility of ends and means
.and appreciate the comedy inherent in democracys contradictions. When efforts to live democracy fully inevitably fail, the eighth task 8) learning to sustain hope in the face of struggle Finally the ninth leadership practice 9) learning to create community. Building communities in which the members of these communities are authentically empowered to make important decisions for themselves and their (fellow citizens) remains a chief objective of the work of leaders who learn. Deeper learning, deeper leading!
In Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in The Twenty-First Century (2014) Monica Martinez and Dennis McGrath provide concrete examples (Avalon School is one of the eight schools profiled) of what deeper, student and community centered learning (often referred to as high impact learning) looks like, feels like, smells like as living organizations.
All of the schools are based upon these shared principles:
1. Establish cohesive, collaborative learning communities that sharply differ from the top-down national norm
2. Empower and encourage students to be more self-directed, creative, and cooperative by getting them out of their chairs and more directly involved in their own education
3. Make curricula more engaging, memorable, and meaningful, by integrating subjects and establishing relevance to real-world concerns
4. Reach outside classroom walls to extend the idea and purpose of learning beyond school, forming partnerships with businesses, organizations, research institutions, and colleges and universities
5. Inspire students by endeavoring to understand their talents and interests, customizing learning wherever possible to discover the motivational hook for each young person
6. Incorporate technology purposefully to enhance, rather than simply
Martinez argues while much of society has radically changed in the past twenty years with the advent of the Information Age, the great majority of pubic schools hold on to early 20th century practices, programs, and organizations ((similarly documented by Philip Jackson, Life in Classrooms (1968) and John Goodlad, A Place Called School (1988)). Teachers lecture while standing in front of rows of desks, students take notes with pencils and lug heavy books, and both groups expect students to memorize content more often than to learn or practice new skills. In general, students are trained to act as followers, not leaders. (my italics)
Deeper Learning Deeper Leading
In his seminal essay The Right to Education in the Modern World, the eminent human scientist Jean Piaget explicates Article 26 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which reads in part: Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Educations goal is to create individuals capable of intellectual and moral autonomy and of respecting this autonomy in others by applying the rule of reciprocity that makes it legitimate for themselves. (in To Understand Is To Invent: The Future of Education, 1973). This goal for education raises a fundamental pedagogical problem: Is it possible to form autonomous personalities by means of techniques that entail intellectual and/or ethical restrictions to differing degrees? Or isnt there a contradiction in terms since personality development really requires a free and spontaneous activity in a social milieu based upon collaboration and not submissiveness? It becomes evident that neither the teachers authority nor the best lessons he can give on the subject suffices to engender living, dynamic relationships, comprised of both independence and reciprocity. Only a social life among the students themselves- that is, self-government taken as far as possible and parallel to the intellectual work carried out in common- will lead to the double development of personalities, masters of themselves and based on mutual respect (p.110).
What is the best method to make a student a future good citizen? Is it simply to give him, for a certain number of hours a year, a systematic course of civic instruction by describing to him bit by bit the different workings of national institutions that leave him still relatively indifferent, in spite of the eloquence or good will of the teacher? Or is it to graft such training onto the experience of self-government in the school so that the child knows by experience what an executive committee, a general assembly, and a court are, and can be interested in analogous institutions at a level he could never imagine without such analogies? We even maintain that if it should be necessary to sacrifice the teaching of civic instruction to the practice of self-government, the latter would produce better citizens than the finest lessons, and that if these lessons are given without social experience to support them, their practical results risk being of little worth. (p. 130).
AVALON: Participatory Centered Learning Community
Public chartering majority teachers on board of directors
Faculty leadership of all stakeholders (e.g. EAs have an equal vote)
School constitution with four branches government
1. We the people 2. Congress makes laws/rules (students) 3, Executive branch (teachers with veto power of Congress laws/rules 4. peer mediation/restorative justice circles to resolve issues between congress and executive branch
David Tyack & Larry Cuban in Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1997) contend that American education has vacillated between student centered and teacher directed emphases, a cyclical pendulum of one socio-political perspective dominating the other; reform efforts demonstrating the most promise, however, has been more participatory centered, with equity between all stakeholders as found in Barbara Rogoffs classic study, Learning Together: Children and Adults in a School Community (2002), and as exemplified at Avalon Schools 2016 website logo: DEEPER LEARNING DEEPER LEADING OWN YOUR SCHOOL (a message to all stakeholders: parents, students, teachers).
In an earlier publication, Learning Circles (1988) we aimed to capture the many lessons we have learned from working with people, younger and older alike, with the concept of learning circles, defined as small communities of learners who come together purposefully to support each other in the process of learning; these circles vary in membership and duration yet they hold fast to leadership through intentionality, purpose and learning. These circles capture the essence of interdependence found in natural ecological systems (we refer to this phenomenon as taking the organism seriously in organizations), especially those principles of diversity of thought, energy flow, sustainability and co-evolution or leading and learning together. Capra in The Web of Life (1996) points out that the purpose of life is learning- and that learning is constructivist for all living systems.
Learning circles, whether Avalon seminars or collaborative projects, or faculty study and work groups, exude leadership as participants have choice, take responsibility for their own development, and set their own agendas. Linda Lambert (p. x) writes, "As they explore and create these three freedoms (choice, responsibility, agenda setting) they perform as a professional culture," a professional culture of leaders that is directly related to student achievement and deep empowerment of themselves as leaders through: 1) shared decision making; 2) a shared sense of purpose; 3) collaborative work toward that purpose; and 4) collective responsibility. To lead it is essential to recognize that learning and leadership are inextricably intertwined. To lead is to engage community participants in the process of making meaning- the process of learning toward purpose. The essence of deeper learning, deeper leading is responsibility for the learning of other shareholders in the culture, and for the learning organization as a whole.
In a recent publication by Teachers College Press, Restoring Dignity in Public Schools: Human Rights Education in Action (2016) Maria Hantzopoulos cites a case-study of the Humanities Preparatory Academy in New York City and how it has developed an urban school demonstrating how to create a vibrant, authentic learning community. "Drawing from rich narratives of human rights education (HRE) in action, the author shows how school leaders can create an environment in which a culture of dignity, respect, tolerance, and democracy flourishes." In the chapter The Components of Participation: Schooling That Fosters Democracy and Student Agency she elaborates in great detail how the use of student advisories, town meetings, Quad gatherings (four advisories convene around a certain issue or topic), and the "fairness committee" utilizing restorative approaches all operate in tandem to constitute a living democracy much like Avalon School (however the Avalon learning community is even more enhanced by a working constitution, branches of government involving all stakeholders, as well as a teacher cooperative and staff meetings modeling democratic processes).
Currently 2016 at-play terminology and labeling for the school reform work Avalon is connected with and influential in Teacher Power/ Teacher Led Schools/ EDVisions CES Leader Center/ Innovative Schools Network among others focus on teacher leadership and project based learning.But seldom do I find folks concerned with either the school's development as project-based learning and leadership, and seldom do we find a school ethos held by teacher that students are emerging leaders where thepurpose of a "teacher powered" school is not only teacher empowerment and efficacy and well-being- if they "own" it they'll be more accountable and responsible- but to foster deeper learning and leading in the students themselves. An essential insight from our work with learning communities (Learning Circles 1998 and the years following) is that the conditions we identified as keys to authentic, sustained professional development and ownership can be applied to the students and must of wants deeper learning to facilitate deeper leading and thereby characterize the whole learning, leading organization. The six conditions: assessing expectations, supporting learners, documenting public work, building community, constructing knowledge, changing. growing, developing school culture.
Joel Westheimer in What Kind of Citizen?: Educating Our Children for The Common Good (2015) with his colleague Joel Kahne have spent years studying a variety of programs focused on developing good citizenship skills and concepts among young adults and youth. "In study after study, we came to similar conclusions: the kinds of goals and practices commonly represented in school programs that hope to foster democratic citizenship have more to do with voluntarism, charity, and obedience than with democracy. In other words, 'good citizenship' to many educators means listening to authority figures, dressing early, being nice to neighbors, and helping out at a soup kitchen- not grappling with the kinds of social only decisions that every citizen in a democratic society needs to learn how top do."(p. 37). In their studies they found that three different but connected visions of citizenship were helpful in making sense of the programs they studied as they posed this question: What kind of citizen do we need to support an effective democratic society? They identified three visions of "good citizens" from these largely high school programs: the Personally Responsible Citizen, the Participatory Citizen, and the Social Justice-Oriented Citizen. An" ideal" "portrait" of the public 'make the world a better place' citizen would be the integration of these three kinds of citizens, each defined by core assumptions of action roles in the community. 1. The personally responsible citizen acts responsibly in the community to solve social problems and improve society; the citizen must have good character- try must be honest, responsible, law-abiding members of the community. 2. The participatory citizen is an active member of community organizations and/or improvement efforts. To solve social problems and improve society, citizens must actively participate and take leadership positions within established systems and community structures. 3. The social justice-oriented citizen critically assesses social, political, and economic functions and structures. To solve public public social problems and improve society, citizens must question and change established systems and structures when they reproduce patterns of injustice over time (p.39).
All of these kids of citizenship are found within the Avalon community, both in its ethos and its curriculum, What is unique, I think, is that adults constitute a learning community of participatory citizenship and leadership that has personal citizenship dimensions and social justice orientations and commitments. The functional organizational components operate as an interactive, dynamic whole: the chartering governance of teachers, parents and community folk; the teachers' cooperative and decision-making practices; the students's choices for study, participation and leadership; and the collective union of governance through the school constitution of "We the people of Avalon" with its executive, legislative, and judicial functions and structures. In Harry Boyte's terms the school is "living democracy daily" with both teachers and students separately and collectively, "making the rules."
Avalon School engages students in deeper learning which begins with deeper leading, and reciprocally deeper leading grows through deeper learning, knowing, and understanding. Students and teachers alike are empowered to lead their their education work and to accept personal & shared responsibility for their community of learners and citizens. As leaders and shared decision-makers they become personally accountable and responsible for the self, for others, and for the whole.