Many educators dream of starting or leading a school or educational alternative. How often do we teachers fantasize about the utopian school we would create if given the opportunity? All the things that don’t work in the contemporary industrialized model of schooling, and the myriad ways in which mainstream education places itself somewhere on the continuum between ineffective/boring and devastatingly damaging to students seem so patently obvious. Surely I could do better. I could start a school…a really cool school! Many courageous leaders and visionaries have had these thoughts and founded a school or learning center with a unique pedagogical vision. But the path towards creating a successful school is never linear and can be fraught with personal challenges and heartaches. Many obstacles stand in the way of realizing the vision. A few amazing leaders have somehow found the time and the passion not only to launch and sustain a new educational initiative but also to reflect on their process.
Through these rare and precious firsthand narratives, school leaders can help us to follow in their footsteps and add to the incredibly diverse landscape of learning environments. We can also heed their warnings and learn invaluable lessons from some of the efforts that somehow went awry. And beyond the practical, these written pieces provide us with an opportunity to glimpse into the soul and spirit of impassioned, self-actualized, visionary change agents, from whom we may draw inspiration. For anyone aspiring to launch a new educational initiative, it is definitely worth the time to learn from our daring colleagues.
I am working on a project, which has led me to try to assemble a list of some of these inspirational and honest reflections from some of the world’s most passionate and dedicated educators on the joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies of starting and leading a learning alternative. I am hoping to tap into your collective wealth of knowledge to assist in my efforts.
I was so enthralled by David’s recent post here inviting everyone to share a few words about a favorite woman educator/philosopher in an effort to amass a powerful assemblage of underrepresented female voices through a process of crowdsourcing. I am shamelessly following his lead and again, asking for your help.
Do you know of a school starter or leader, Principal, Director, Head who writes or talks about the experience of this leadership role and process? Please add his/her name to the following list, as well as a reference to what he/she has written or produced, books, articles, videos, etc.
Here are a few of the better-known works to get us started. I’d love to be reminded of what classics I’ve left out and also hear about some lesser-known folks whose works deserve our collective attention:
A.S. Neill Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing; Summerhill School: A new View of Childhood; Neill! Neill! Orange Peel!
Daniel Greenberg, Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School (and others)
Chris Mercogliano, Making It Up as We Go Along: The Story of the Albany Free School (and others)
Chris Mercogliano, How to Grow a School: Starting and Sustaining Schools that Work
George Dennison, The Lives of Children: The Story of the First Street School
Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem
Louise Boyd Cadwell, Bringing Reggio Emelia Home: An innovative Approach to Early Childhood
Caroline Pratt, I learn from Children: An Adventure in Progressive Education
Rebeca Wild, Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-Based Education
Yaacov Hecht, Democratic Education: A Beginning of a Story
Tal Birdsey, A Room for Learning: The Making of a School in Vermont
Jane Kern, Inventing a School Expanding the Boundaries of Learning
Jill Ostrow, A Room With a Different View: First Through Third Graders Build Community and Create Curriculum
I mentioned Rebeca Wild in response to the last post. Her book, Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-Based Education, describes the school she and her husband started in South America. Unfortunately, this fabulous book is out-of-print, so it’s very expensive right now. Maybe you can find it at a library. It is well worth reading.
Hi Paul! This is really great. I’m enthused. Why don’t you put a book together (with an accompanying set of videos) by contemporary school starters of all different types? I personally work with several who would welcome the opportunity to write about, and reflect about, the experience of school starting. Visionary, intense, busy people. Since this is such an important part of the transformation of the sector, this seems like a critically important project to get out there.
How can I help? Be in touch?
I’m so excited! You are the perfect person to edit and move this, and to reflect on big lessons here.
This has been my dream for a long time. So if you want a research/co-author/partner… let me know. It has also been a dream to make a documentary along this line… if we can get funding I will do the rest… 🙂
Growing a School in one of my favorites. It has a collection of stories of the successes and challenges.
I have a whole collection of these books, so as I am packing up over the next couple weeks… I will put them all together and add them.
I will start to promote this…
Thank you for getting this started.
Another brilliant one Yaacov Hect, Democratic Education: A Beginning of a Story, not only does it discuss the opening of a number of schools, it also is one of the primers for democratic and human rights based education.
speaking of which, I have 6 copies of this book and been meaning to offer them to other Coop(ers) email me if you want to buy a copy…
Let’s talk at AERO.
Paul, I second Kirsten’s suggestion – I would love to learn more from you on this.
A Room for Learning: The Making of a School in Vermont :: Tal Birdsey
Inventing a School Expanding the Boundaries of Learning :: Author: Jane Kern
A Room With a Different View: First Through Third Graders Build Community and Create Curriculum :: Jill Ostrow
Thanks, man! You rock!
Perhaps you should prepare a compilation of your own writings 🙂