I discovered that I have a personal bias. Like many biases, this one was made on assumptions that were proven false as soon as I was presented with an example that blew all my preconceived notions away. The P3 Principal’s Network gave participants the opportunity to visit Thomas Nelson High School in Nelson County a couple of weeks ago. I was debating whether or not to go. What could I learn from a high school? We elementary folks got it going on in terms of instructional strategies, building relationships and school culture! I am not going to learn anything by visiting a high school! That’s what I thought until I visited Thomas Nelson.
From the way teachers create a sense of belonging and care for each and every student, to the way they have branded their school and built teacher and student leadership throughout their culture initiatives, I could go on and on about all of the awesome strategies you can find at Thomas Nelson! Instead, I am going to take the advice of principal, Wes Bradley, who keeps a ceramic hedgehog in his office to remind him to focus. The symbol of the hedgehog comes from the Greek parable that tells us “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” While the fox has a variety of strategies to catch prey, the one big thing the hedgehog does as defense will win against the fox. His spines are the perfect defense. He doesn’t need to do anything else. Thomas Nelson High School staff keeps the focus on their students and their culture and they win.
So, for this post I will focus on Thomas Nelson’s mantra of “fighting the forces of mediocrity.” Wes Bradley uses the duality between creating and complying to show how this plays out in schools. He showed our group image after image of how he encourages teachers to create and move past any preconceived limitations to “create their own narrative for what it means to teach.” Teachers are empowered to be “Creative Directors”—the “purple cows” instead of just compliant “brown cows.”
When reflecting on my visit, I thought about my staff and our school culture. The last thing I want to do is to create an environment where people simply comply with directives instead of being the “Creative Directors” of their classrooms. Like most ideas in education, it’s a tricky balance. There are things we HAVE to do as teachers and places where we get to have more artistic freedom. The have-to’s include learning targets and formative assessments…but what about the get-to’s? How can we live above the line of compliance and fight off the forces of mediocrity so that we don’t become stagnant?
What does that look like for us at PLE? How can we push ourselves to create instead of merely comply? Mr. Bradley says that you don’t ask, “how,” you just say, “yes.”