I made an unscheduled visit to St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Middletown, DE this week. A colleague of a colleague Tweet messaged me in the morning to see if I could come down from Philly. Think about that: someone I had never met face-to-face got ahold of me via a pathway I did not have until a few months ago. He knew enough about me that he really wanted me to come visit his school and I knew enough about him to drive a couple of extra hours that day. One could draw the erroneous conclusion that neither of us had anything better to do, or one could draw the correct conclusion that tapping into networks is a great way to be a learner.
So I drove to St. Andrew’s to meet with physics teacher John Burk, exceeding most speed limits, and got there just in time for the weekly all-school meeting in their gorgeous theater. Here is some of what I heard:
- Head of School Tad Roach talked about the need for a school community, and in fact the community at large, to be less secretive and more inclusive and open. I looked around at the students and none of them were nodding off.
- A teacher gave out awards for niceness; I think the awards were cans of some orange soda.
- A long-serving member of the food service staff received a standing ovation for his years of work.
- Several students got up to make announcements about club or sports activities.
- A student showed a short video he had put together, a very non-partisan analysis of subtle advertising techniques by both presidential candidates
- John showed a short set of videos about Caine’s Arcade; the school is going to join in a massive international fun and fund-raiser, making toys out of cardboard. (If you don’t know about this, you should, and if you don’t cry at least a little bit, wonder why.)
- A student commented on the Head’s comments from the previous week regarding economic boycotts of large corporations.
There were more, but I found myself asking why the heck most other schools don’t take the time for this community learning and sharing. Some schools find time for this once a week; others once a day. Students and faculty feel comfortable sharing what they are thinking. Some may never get up; some almost every week. All keep it short; they learn that no one person should dominate a discussion. They are learning to reflect and discourse, not debate. What in a K-12 learning arc is more important than these skills as we prepare young people for democratic citizenship?
Later I had a chance to sit in the library and talk with John about Khan Academy, learning styles, and the like. St. Andrew’s is about as steeped in tradition as it comes, and I know there is a lot going on there I could have learned had I been there longer, but that was OK. I joined a conference call with Lake/Flato from under a sprawling tree on a quiet lawn. I had dinner with John and his lovely young family in the dining hall. I drove back to Philly. Best unexpected $5 in gas I have spent in a long while.