, a Vermont farmer, began photographing snowflakes in the late 1800s. The beautiful images he captured demonstrated a quality of snowflakes that has remained a mystery for the past 125 years. No two snowflakes are alike as they each have their own unique properties, design, and process by which they were created. The same is true for our students, and for each of us as educators.
Understanding and appreciating individual differences within a community are essential components to establishing a learning environment that empowers both student and teacher to bring his or her best to the classroom each day.
An interview Steve Jobs conducted with Wired
magazine in 1996 discussing the impact technology could have on education is referenced in this
recent article. Despite Apple's launch of newly designed online textbooks, Jobs is quoted in 1996 as having said, "There are solutions to our problems with education. Unfortunately, technology isn't it.
While much has changed in the world of education since 1996, the heart of Jobs' comments below reflects much of what allows a school like Proctor to thrive: "When you have kids you think, What exactly do I want them to learn? Most of the stuff they study in school is completely useless. But some incredibly valuable things you don’t learn until you’re older — yet you could learn them when you’re younger. And you start to think, What would I do if I set a curriculum for a school?"
Jobs continues, "God, how exciting that could be! But you can’t do it today. You’d be crazy to work in a school today. You don’t get to do what you want. You don’t get to pick your books, your curriculum. You get to teach one narrow specialization. Who would ever want to do that?"
While this description is an unfortunate reality for many teachers across the United States, faculty at Proctor are not bound by such constraints.
Expectations for teachers are clear, however, significant freedom is provided in curriculum development, topics studied, assessment format, and professional development. Since David Fowler pioneered this principle as Head of School in the 1970s and 1980s, leadership at Proctor has empowered teachers with the same trust we seek to build with our students. Peter Vaill
, one of the nation's leaders on organizational change, tells us, "The act of empowerment is fundamentally an act of initiating a learning process on the part of all involved."
When teachers are empowered to explore, learn, and risk failure in their classrooms, they model this behavior for students, making richer the learning experiences for all involved.
If our learning community continues to, as Lomives, Lucas, and McMahaon write in their book, Exploring Leadership
, "eliminate fear or humiliation and operate on trust and inclusivity", each person within the organization will take ownership of his or her responsibilities and actively recognize what he or she can offer to the group.
I know I value this combination of freedom and responsibility in my classes. Not every class will end having gone perfectly. Mistakes may be made, activities might not go exactly as I planned, and I may miss the mark with an occasional lesson plan or assessment, but in the end, if I can model the behavior I seek to value - exploration, intellectual risk taking, creativity, and curiosity - in how I approach my own learning and my teaching, my students will be well-served.