Sunday, February 08, 2004

Mission Impossible: a review of the vision of a K-12 School


… this mission will self destruct …

Our mission “... (to) educate by meeting the diverse needs of all students in an environment which fosters high expectations and mutual respect for diversity through learning experiences that can be applied throughout life.” is a contrived happenstance of evolutionary practices put forth by a delegation of committees. Does this mean they were not altruistic in their endeavors? No, I answer, but perhaps their altruism was manufactured by their desire to compete and comply. For when we break the mission or vision down into its particulars we get a broad stroke of ideals without focus, without definition without meaning.

In order to fully understand this mission we need to look at the belief statements suggested by this document:

We believe that education should...

  • ...foster a successful transition from childhood into young adulthood by guiding the development of ethical character,
  • ...develop responsibility and accountability for self,
  • ...recognize and practice respect,
  • ...provide experiences that attain and apply knowledge,
  • ...engage students in a variety of activities, and
  • upon social, physical and mental health.


The "Vision" for students is that they become...

  • ...responsible life-long learners who demonstrate personal integrity in all aspects of life.

But what does this mean as a community of workers toiling towards these goals? In order to facilitate these themes we have also included the “Love & Logic” (Fay & Funk, 2003) premise of school discipline as well as the “FISH” (Lundin, blah & blah, 2003), philosophy in order to promote a more positive attitude in developing these goals.

And finally do we include those proven and demonstrated strategies and theories of childhood learning and development as promoted by Howard Gardner or Eric Jensen?

90% of what we know about the brain …

Michael Gurian has presented the concept and statistical analysis regarding how boys and girls learn and the need to understand that these differences are located in the hard wiring of the brain, (Gurian, 1996, 2001). This concept seems trivial to present since most educators readily accept this notion, however what we accept and what we do are two very different things. It is unfortunate that will all of the training we as educators have, regarding brain based learning, about discipline with dignity, about the differences in intelligences educators tend to dismiss these concepts in practice.

My role at our school is to entreat upon the classroom teachers and assist them in delivering, material in a brain friendly, multiple intelligences method. This is to be done through proactive planning and collaboration. Our school prides itself as a model of collaborative efforts, (Johnson, Johnson, & Johnson-Holubec, 1993). A unique side effect of my position is that I get to see all of the teachers at all grade levels all stations within their collaborative houses. Because of this I become that analogous ‘fly on the wall’ and am privy to much discussion. These discussions often are not in parallel with our school initiatives nor our mission.

"What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening…"

The initiatives in our school are put forth by committees. Unfortunately it seems that the same core people are on these committees. The committees are developed by democratic vote (someone has to be nominated) or by people not wanting to give up their seat. Unfortunately for the employees at our school we need to be on committees in order to get an "exemplary" grade on our yearly portfolios – which reflect whether we are good teachers or not. But too often these initiatives are non-command decisions "command decisions." Our principal has found a way to politicize the process by placing those people key and in agreement with him on the committees where his decisions can be implemented under the guise of democratic selection. I have found myself in the often single position of supporting our principal when trying to lay to rest the innuendos and rumors.

Too often the "buzz" is not supportive nor collaborative. Our principal believes that these initiatives and collaboration are going on to a great extent and voices this continuously, but then is dumbfounded when he hears or sees that this is not the case. Too often he finds himself in a bitter entanglement between the “teachers” and the “school board” because of the fact that these initiatives are not taking place. (Historically when the teachers are upset or in disapproval information is somehow leaked to the local press – here the school board and the community get a hold of it and our principal is caught in the middle.)

Children learn from what they see

Our mission is to foster respect and integrity… it is foolish to believe that our students are not aware of the in-house fighting that is taking place. Often they are aware of disagreements before our coworkers are. If we are modeling these type of behaviors what do we expect our children to learn? They “see” how adults are acting – this then must be the way to act. It is ironic the politics we demonstrate. Our principal is oblivious to the fact that in his highly collaborative school few collaborative efforts are being investigated. In our “respectful” environment our associate principals are building their war cadres in order to make they coup against the current regime. This is often represented in their command decisions which are not cohesive to the principals. Meanwhile our teachers work in a stalag mentality hording their lessons, strategies and insight as if it were the only semblance of their outward sanity.

Our philosophy of “Love & Logic” has mutated from a sense of accountability to a regimen of punitive assessments. The FISH philosophy incorporates the four elements of (Lundin, Paul, & Christensen, 2000):

  • Make Their Day
  • Choose Your Attitude
  • Be There
  • Play

These elements have become mandated almost under the punitive guise of surrender or die! The difficulty in getting the staff members behind these command decisions is that they believe new initiatives will be promoted next year – as this is the pattern. New initiatives are instituted but before they can become instilled they are tossed aside for newer ones. This lack of consistency has left the staff very wary and fearful and has increased the animosity reflected onto the mission of our school.


What stands out the most to me is this quote from Elliott Eisner, "we are engaged in the mind building business." I emphasize the mind building business because of another statement made by Eisner "Curriculum gets changed by the way we assess – not by what we teach." As a K-12 teacher who fully believes in the educating of minds, who believes that we learn through discovery we construct our learning through the experiences and explorations we take. Entropy exists because we become sedentary in one aspect of our existence our balance. We focus on living, on dying or our own selfish interests. If our focus is out of balance we dismiss the world around us, the people, the nature around us. We are too busy swatting at the mosquitoes or covering our bodies to distance ourselves from the lessons, the intimacy of the world about us. We hide in our environmentally controlled boxes walled up from the world about us. We control the light and then think we control the day. Instead of balance we seek control. There was an old drunk, a friend of mine, who lived inside his bottle who advised me that I would never win an argument with him no matter how hard I tried, "because you can't rationalize with an irrational person."

Regardless of what we know about how people, students, organizations learn we are in a constant battle with those who believe that the best education is one driven by a curriculum of standardized testing, (Sykes, 2003). American’s do not value education, (Cottam, 2003). And unfortunately, there is a large subtext of teachers making up those demographics of American. This is one of the problems we see when schools fight for funding, books, infrastructure and teachers. We claim that there is a teacher shortage but qualified teachers cannot find schools that will hire them because they cost too much. The truth is that we have a shortage of cheap teachers. Therefore, if Americans do not want to support the education of minds but rather a clear methodology for training bodies – then why am I in this business?


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Cardinal Stritch Summer Institute 2003, Milwaukee, WI.

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Cardinal Stritch Summer Institute 2003, Milwaukee, WI.

Fay, J., & Funk, D. (1998). Teaching With Love and Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom.

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