I tweeted a possible title for this post out earlier tonight, and hurt some feelings. Understandably. My apologies – that wasn’t my intention, and sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain. I have nothing but the highest respect for the Science Leadership Academy and my friend and colleague Chris Lehmann. I think he’d agree with me on what I’m about to say. We’ll see, I guess.
This weekend, 500 or so folks will descend upon Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA for the third Educon conference. It’s a wonderfully neat school, with a phenomenal staff and a fine bunch of students. I’ve been to the school twice, and am in constant contact with teachers there. They’re my teachers and colleagues and, in some cases, friends, and I think the community and educational opportunities offered there are nothing short of what I would hope for my own children and for all kids. Simply outstanding.
That said, I guess I’d like to offer a suggestion or two to the folks who will be paying close attention to Educon this weekend, and who otherwise hold SLA up to high esteem. (And I’m one of those folks.) Take it for what it’s worth.
The Science Leadership Academy is not The Promised Land.1 No place is.2 The school is a place, a special place, that people made, and that is a response and a reaction to its contexts, geographical, political, social and otherwise. It is not the only place where great things happen for and with kids, and it is not the only place or way that kids can learn.
You probably know some people who can make great things. You might be one of those people. Actually, let me say that again, and slightly differently – You most likely ARE one of those people. But you have to act like it. Simply fawning over the achievements of someone else and regretting that you live somewhere else isn’t a useful reaction.
So much of what I see right after a place like SLA is praised is a laundry list of reasons why the praiser’s school/community/whatever can’t be like SLA. I don’t get that. Of course your school won’t be like theirs. You aren’t in downtown Philadelphia. You don’t operate in the same space. Your families are different. So, for that matter, are you. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s okay. I live and work in Colorado. There is opportunity here, too.
Chris and his staff built a place that made sense as a combination of the places they came from, the places they were, and the places and ideas that they wanted to build with. They made the place. Together. With their students. And you can make a place, too. But it’ll be different, deliciously, brilliantly different, from SLA. Not because they’re better than you, or you them, but because good schools are about context and environment and about taking what you have and what you want and striking a balance and working very, very hard. Good schools are about people honestly and intentionally working together very purposefully.
Good schools are not about taking another’s model and applying it without serious consideration to your own local environment, or about lamenting that you are not someone else. That’s irresponsible, and doesn’t honor a fine example.
So as you’re enjoying the school culture of SLA, a place that I would like to be visiting and learning from/with/in this weekend (and I kind of will be), I hope you’ll move past the “Wow,” and towards the critical eyes of “Huh. Why does this work? How might I make something work in my own context(s)?”
Because, we all know, imitation, and not worship, is the highest form of flattery. Imitation without serious thought as to how to make and sustain change in one’s own situation is not useful. And doesn’t actually honor the fine model that SLA might be for you.
You, too, can make special places. In fact, you may already have. Good on you. Talk about them. Tell us how you did it. Help us, as Chris and SLA do, to figure out that there isn’t one way to do school well. There are many. And we need them all.