One of the emerging threads of this journey that defines schools that are making progress along the path of change is trimming away what is not critical and focusing on a core set of values. This post is about a great process of building change capability in the faculty and success with a new technology program. At the root, though, it is about a school and leadership that took their value proposition squarely on and made that key alignment of resources and mission that is a hallmark of successful organizations.
Ravenscroft School is a large preK-12 in Raleigh, N.C., celebrating its 150-year anniversary this year. 10-year Head Doreen Kelly said it took her a few years to make the important adjustment to the local culture, but that they recognized the need to re-focus their mission from a classic independent school “support the whole child” to “preparing the child for a complex and interdependent world”. They wanted to increase diversity of perspective, encourage safe failure, and promote what many now refer to as “grit”. “If a student goes through 12 years here without getting a splinter, being cut from a team, failing a test, or getting a broken bone, are we really doing our job?”
Ravenscroft had completed a strategic plan, which Doreen said had “187 goals”, and whether she was being figurative or literal doesn’t really matter; we all know what she means. She convened a 10-member committee of administration and trustee leaders and boiled down the school direction into a value-focused plan that aligned the “character tree” of core school values directly with where resources will be applied. The plan is small and narrow, with three goals:
- Educational excellence and programmatic distinction
- Telling the Ravenscroft story
- Financial stewardship and sustainability
“The innovation is stepping back, seeing what we have been doing, and adjusting the lens to focus on core values. There is nothing to invent in our plan; we have to get more enthused about getting out of the students’ way. We recognized that there is a set of skills required to do that, that the faculty need to know themselves first. In some ways we have to be less congenial and more collegial, more courageous. A few people that we tolerated in the past have had to move on; for the vast majority this is liberating, allowing people to be up front and open about what frustrates them and doing something about it.” They have been talking a lot about dealing with a more ambiguous future and acquiring the skills to deal with that ambiguity.
The recognition that developing these core skills to deal with change is key led to a unique relationship with The Center for Creative Leadership. The CCL has a long history of working with both for profit and non-profit organizations in change and leadership development. They have co-created along with Ravenscroft a professional development program to help faculty become leader-learners, to have the skills to infuse all of their classes with the leadership and citizenship skills which are at the core of the Ravenscroft “values tree”. Assistant Head Colleen Ramsden says that “culture eats strategy for breakfast; culture can wait out change, and we could not let that happen. We are creating a common language and mindset of what the pedagogy of leadership is, from adult through student so every teacher feels confident about how to infuse leadership and citizenship training into their classroom and content area. The faculty did not want this focus on leadership and citizenship to be another flavor of the month; we wanted sustainable training, which we got with serious administration and board support.”
The CCL has an office on campus and the partnership has developed a three-year plan of professional development with the goal that every teacher at the school will be comfortable in their ability to deliver a congruent set of leadership content within their own discipline. By taking this approach, Ravenscroft is leveraging the strength of their teaching community. They are not focusing first on teaching leadership skills to selected students, or in just some courses of study; it will come as the leadership track develops via the entire faculty. They are also working on a long-term assessment piece to be able to measure effectiveness, and are talking to public schools about using the lessons they are learning to export the program to other learning settings. Colleen: “Traditional teachers see themselves as the purveyor of knowledge; we have to get them to recognize that in themselves and help them acquire the self-knowledge and skills to become a mentor and leader of others in their own discovery.”
Ravenscroft also has just launched a 1:1 program with Chromebooks in grades 7-12. They launched Google Apps several years ago and had done a pilot with the Chromebooks in the spring. Here are some of the comments back from the faculty and Chief Technology Officer, Jason Ramsden, who you can contact if you want more information:
- Pockets of innovation are popping up now that the teachers and students have the computers in hand.
- They are noticing teachers already moving off to the metaphorical side of the classroom as students rise up to take the lead now that they have access to the knowledge base.
- More collaboration around campus as the students have full time access to both Google Apps and their own device.
- Students seem to be taking more ownership of their own learning as everything they need is accessible to them at any time.
Some teachers have started to develop their own curriculum packets and the use of textbooks is on the wane.
- Increased collaboration amongst faculty who can’t always be in the same place at the same time.
- Some teachers have started to record their lessons to video and posting them for students to review at home.
My key takeaway from Ravenscroft is that sometimes an organization can become bound by success, or lack of accurate introspection, or both. It takes good leadership to step in and both initiate and allow real and clear soul-searching, set up a process for success, take some solid steps without 100% agreement of the group, and trim away things that are not at the real core of our values. I am excited about both the content of the CCL program (selfishly as it sounds very much like my Falconer model!) and the fact that Ravenscroft has made it an all-school, all-faculty program. I for one will look forward to hearing more about it in the future!