Tuesday, December 2, 2008

10 Things Tuesday: Talking about Community

I met with students from my advisory today to talk about one of the big thoughts running around in my head, and they had some interesting insights about how my school’s identity has changed, and what we might do to help get us out of this place of “not-knowing”.

1. They have noticed, too, that our community seems fractured. We do not do things as a whole body any longer and, although there are organized events that allow us to interact as a school, they don’t contribute as well as they could to the sense of community we all really value.

2. They noted that our school has become far more rigid in its approach to things. They talked about how they used to be able to visit classes and teachers in their downtime and how, if a group were deep into something of consequence, the staff would support them by giving them time and space to see it concluded well. Now, they are pushed to eat lunch in a shorter time frame, required to follow regimented guidelines during their independent studies and, as they put it, “be all institutional”.

3. They felt like this less accommodating attitude has affected the public perception of staff as a whole, but particularly of administration. They see them as less approachable and collaborative now than just a couple of years ago.

4. These issues notwithstanding, they don’t think we’re truly broken as a school. They were quick to point out that. They felt just like the students that have already approached me do: That it’s still a wonderful place, but is suffering for some of the changes it has seen recently.

5. They see our school as a place where students used to come to do performing arts (not necessarily to become great performing artists). Now, they think, students come mostly to escape traditional schools. This was insightful. We as a staff have discussed this same thing.

6. They wondered to what degree the three major changes to the school--the creation of a middle school program; the move to a new, modern (but more confining) building; and the retirement of one of our founders--have contributed to this fractured state. More importantly, they wondered about what solutions might come from understanding how these are all related.

7. They suggested that there are a lot of ways that we can be together as a school to promote a sense of community, and that they need to be “canned” experiences. One such suggestion was a game day. “There’s nothing that draws us together like playing Giants, Wizard and Elves!”

8. They recognize that our building is not well designed to allow us to do things together as a school, or even in larger groups. There is no space large enough for all of us to meet as one body, and this really gets in the way. We used to do all-school open mic events every couple of weeks, for example, but this is not possible in our building.

9. They felt as though we should totally be able to come to consensus as a school about this issue of community, although they were uncertain as to how to approach the discussion without making it seem force-fed. They felt that, to be truly valuable, the discussion needs to happen in a spontaneous manner.

10. They were reluctant to stop this discussion short to go to class (as it was, they were all 5 minutes late). When I asked if they were interested in continuing this discussion, they all said “YES!” I’ll admit I was surprised to see them so engaged in this. Even those students that are not normally so vocal were commenting and asking questions. Clearly this is something of interest to them, and I’m looking forward to taking this to the group who asked me to be involved in the first place. They’ll be pleased to know that this resonates with more than just them.

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