As I’m working through and reflecting upon the content in the New School Creation MOOC, I continue to come back to a statement that Larry Rosenstock mentioned in one of the first videos in the course. He explained that it is important for those creating new schools to not only decide what to put into their schools, but what not to put into the schools. When I ask you to think of a school and describe it to me in detail, you might describe classrooms, desks, rows, teachers standing in front of a class, bells ringing, lockers in the hallways, and more. However, any one or all of these might not best serve the purpose of the school. Toward that end, it becomes important to decide what we keep out of our schools.
I like to think of this in terms of a strainer. We use strainers to let the good stuff get through, but it keeps the rest out. What is a school strainer? It is an unavoidable, undeniable, school-shaping concept. It is specific enough to guide each decision and we us it as a strainer of programs, projects, ideas, policies, and practices. It protects from simply adding something because that is our image of a school or because someone wants it. This school-shaping concept is what allows your school to have distinctive identity and to progress toward being a high-impact learning community. However, for a strainer to work, we must use it constantly and relentlessly. When it comes to this school-shaping concept, we don’t make exceptions and we are tough-minded.
I see such strainers in all the distinctive schools that visit, and it is used daily. These are honest places, ones that knows what they are and are not; which allows prospective parents, students and teachers to count the cost before signing on to the school. If it is a school-shaping concept that they value and embrace, then they might pursue joining the community. If not, no hard feelings, it just isn’t a good fit for all people. Look at some of the best schools in the country (early childhood, elementary, middle, secondary, and higher education), and you will likely see such a strainer in place.