Educational Philosophy Statement
The following numbered points represent my fundamental beliefs about education and leadership in schools:
- Intrinsic Value of Education: The fundamental role of schools is to educate. This might seem obvious, but there are many who confuse education with training. It may be important to train our students to effectively use a microscope, write an argumentative essay, or solve for x. It is even more important to push our students to move past training and see the inherent value of their education. The goal of education then is to stimulate curiosity, engage the psyche, create intellectual discomfort, and engender creativity. In the end students should be able to critically engage their world independently. The fundamental catalyst for this development is the teacher, who must not merely “model” enthusiasm for his or her subject matter. Teachers who believe in the importance of reading, are readers, and those who love their disciplines study those subjects not merely as a means to improve their ability to teach classes, but also as a way to energize their own souls. If we demonstrate that we are dedicated to learning for its intrinsic value, then our students will be less utilitarian about their own learning.
- Student Agency: Traditional schooling has often been set up in ways that promote passivity and compliance, forgetting the essential role that the student should play in driving his or her own learning. Education is a process of opening rather than closing the mind to endless and infinite possibilities and then providing students with the tools to navigate those possibilities. According to Dewey "the teacher is a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning."
- Differentiated Opportunities for Growth: All children are unique in their interests and abilities, and all have the capacity for growth. Excellent schools create rich opportunities for students to explore their interests in the arts, activities, sports and community service. The arts in particular provide students with both a window to their inner lives and a launching point for self expression and creativity. Offering a wide array of opportunities allows students to pursue their passions and refine them through a discipline. Often the most significant moments in a child’s education come outside of the traditional classroom: collaborating in ensembles and sports teams, or dedicating themselves to a powerful cause. These experiences can often kindle the spirit of a life-long learner.
- Culture of High Expectations: An excellent school is one where teachers and students are held to the highest personal and academic standards. These expectations should be clear, transparent and measurable. There is one key difficulty that emerges when a school commits to high expectations: an aversion to risk-taking and innovation. In order for teachers and students to maintain a culture of excellence without losing the spirit of innovation, administrators must create a school climate that is supportive and conducive to learning through the process of trial and error.
- Criticism as a Value/Continuous School improvement: Good schools are ones that are open to criticism and that create forums to hear authentic feedback from all constituencies of the community. It is my belief that a school can only improve if it recognizes its own strengths and weaknesses, so that we never engage in what Barbara Tuchman calls a “March of Folly”. Embracing a self-critical attitude can be humbling, but it is this humility that will allow us to avoid the problems that emerge from arrogance. In order to avoid negativity that might be generated from criticism, school leaders must have a “growth mindset”and respond effectively to address the concerns that come from the community.
- Inclusion: Schools must create environments that truly accept differences. This is not merely a way to follow a trend in education, but rather an important way to counter entropy. Neil Postman states, “Sameness is the enemy of vitality. Stagnation occurs when nothing new and different comes from outside the system”. In international or independent schools we have an even greater opportunity and obligation to embrace multiple points of view. In these schools students, parents and teachers often need to be nudged into bursting the bubbles that both protect them and limit their horizons. Inclusive schools embrace diversity of all kinds, including students with learning differences.
- Social Responsibility: Learning should engender a love and respect for humanity that compels the learner to think of “the other” and consider the implications of his or her actions on the community, larger society, and planet. In international and independent schools, it is our role as educators to stimulate students to be active and responsible global citizens. Students should be compelled to confront the problems inherent in inequality and authority. Schools that teach students to be effective members of democracies should be democratic in the way that they function.
- Ethics: School leaders have a responsibility to guarantee that the school has an ethical rudder which guides the institution in its decision-making and in its relationship with all stakeholders. Educators must also make sure that students engage thoughtfully in ethical decision-making. Teaching ethics is different than imposing a one-sided moral view. Students who are prepared to make ethical decisions recognize the importance of certain values: honesty, integrity, loyalty, generosity, etc. They also understand that the most difficult ethical decisions occur when these values come in conflict with one another.
- Collaboration and Connectivity: Effective school communities are collaborative in nature, empowering diverse constituencies to take part in decision-making. It is the role of school leaders to establish a clear vision and direction for the institution through consensus building. Collaboration should be inherent to all processes throughout the school and built into relationships between all stakeholders. Modern schools also create structures for global cooperation and connectivity. The walls of schools have become thinner with the advent of powerful technologies that allow us to take advantage learning networks that are global in scope.
These points represent a synthesis of my beliefs about effective leadership and education. In order to bring all of these elements together schools must be places that stimulate and captivate young people. In the end schools should preserve the “pleasure of finding things out”. (Richard Feynman) The role of school leaders is to guarantee that this spirit permeates the entire institution.