Toward a Common North Star
by Greg Gerber, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
In the world of education today there is much dialogue around the claimed necessity for an education revolution. For example, a current figurehead for the discussion, Sir Ken Robinson, suggests that many of our schools focus on “convergent thinking” – most often proposing singular solutions to problems or questions. This compresses creativity, reduces student engagement, and ultimately delimits the degree to which a teacher can impact his/her students.1
During the Christian Schools Canada Conference this September, Jamie Smith expanded on this theme. He encouraged our educational leaders to consider the unique opportunity Christian schools have to re-form, re-imagine, and re-story our practice of educating.2 We are working to reconnect mind and body through curriculum, pedagogy, and embodiment in God’s ongoing story. This is no small task. However, during our visits to SCSBC schools already this year, it did not take long to see evidence of faithful staff working toward this call to action.
In our first few months serving as Directors of Learning with SCSBC, Darren and I have been blessed through visiting many of our schools throughout the province. We have walked the hallways, met with learning leaders and classroom teachers, heard rich stories illustrating diverse learning cultures, and listened to a wonderful polyphony of articulated goals and related initiatives. We listened and reflected on the messages the wall spoke, the culture reflected, and the gut imbued. There exists, we found, a unanimously held ideal for education in our schools: biblically-founded, engaged learning for all students.
This shared ideal can be likened to Gary Fenstermacher’s North Star. Fenstermacher suggests that the North Star – or an educational ideal – serves an important role as a critical waypoint by which we navigate and align the actions and choices of our journey toward an achievable North Field, or an achievable goal as destination point3. Keeping our North Star ideal in view, we check and realign our progress from time to time, ensuring that we keep travelling in the intended direction toward our North Field.
This seems simple enough. In the language of visioning, goal setting, and strategic plans, this is not new. We lock our vision on the ideal and set attainable goals congruent with the trajectory of that vision. Each school works through this process. Yet, despite a shared ideal among our schools for providing biblically-founded, engaged learning for all students, the journeys, steps and chosen vehicles may look quite different. This reality sometimes seems to defy logic and cultivates confusion. If our schools are aligning with a common ideal, why would pursuits and expressed articulation of held goals look so different?
Think about the last time you engaged in solving a Sudoku puzzle. As you settle in to solve the puzzle, there are many potential starting points. Do you first consider an entire row or column, or do you concentrate on one of the three by three squares? Do you work forward, or do you attempt a backwards deconstruction method? Brute force trial and error, or finesse? Whatever method you choose, each step affects the subsequent steps required and a variety of sequences can lead to successful attainment of your goal. And, this sequence might look vastly different from one player to the next. We understand that there exist many valid routes toward completion, and that each route could serve well in informing and assisting other routes.
Choosing methods as we work toward an educational ideal for our school is like this. There are many starting points, histories, subsequent paths, methods and zigzags that make each journey unique.
When schools focus on particular initiatives, they sow fruit in those areas. This fruit is good, and we can readily identify good fruit resulting from each school’s initiatives. Our challenge is to find and build a language that bridges the various methods and recognizes the social nature of how our action initiatives might inform and build upon one another in powerful ways. We are all moving toward the vision of the ideal. Our journeys are enriched through the voyages of others moving in the same direction, even where those stories exist on an alternate path.
We need to create a space for language that contains an inherent property of teasing out the congruencies between various school initiatives. We have opportunity to consider the strengths of current practices we engage in and also how the strengths of alternate methodologies might further support and enhance what we are doing. Where our ideals for education center on understanding and supporting the needs of every learner under our care, the re-storying, re-forming, and re-imagining of our daily practice will be a natural consequence.
1 Robinson, K. (2006, February). Rethinking Education. (T. Conference, Interviewer) Retrieved 2012, from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
2 Smith, J. (2014). Imagining the Kingdom. Christian Schools Canada Conference. Victoria, BC.
3 Fenstermacher, G. (2000). What is the Difference between the North Star and Northfield? How Educational Goals and Ideals Become Confused. Summer Institute for Superintendents on Probing National Issues in Education. Mackinac Island, Michigan.