One of the purposes of this series of articles was to talk about schools, leaders, administrators, philosophers of education, technologists, architects, and teachers who were visibly succeeding in education and making an impact.
But our eleven schools are notably only a small sampling.
Since beginning this series, we’ve heard of at least dozens, if not hundreds of other innovative and successful schools that are making remarkable strides in their communities.
This list is in no way exhaustive. It’s also not a list that is unattainable for every single educator, or administrator, or school. Any of us could be on this list. That’s the key. All of the things you see or hear from these amazing schools were accomplished by fellow humans who put on their underclothes one leg at a time. They are people, just like us. They are educators, just like us.
Another element we noticed among these schools, though, was who and what they used as their models for success. None of us lives in a vacuum. We are all a part of a larger collective, so when we see someone succeeding, we can feel proud and accomplished, because it means we can all achieve more.
What we’d like to do now, in this article, is to point people toward some of those sources of inspiration that OUR sources of inspiration (the eleven schools on our list) lean on in hopes that we can all also draw from those same “wells” of wisdom and knowledge.
Find Your “Mentors”...
There are always “the greats” - those innovators who gave us new ways of seeing our students and whose research led to students being treated as humans in their own right, and not just “small adults”. They helped us understand learning, and teaching, in ways that now affect everything we do as educators, even when we don’t realize how their theories impact us daily.
Piaget, Gardner, Bloom, Vygotsky, Bruner, Maslow, Erickson, Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia, to name a few, all have important ideas and have further promoted the education of young minds in incredible ways. Many of us, as we said, build upon their principles without even realizing it (and for some of us who have been teachers for a while, we’ve completely forgotten many of the details we initially learned in our teaching courses, but we’ve maintained the practices).
But education has not stopped moving forward. In fact, we’ve continued to have theorists, behaviorists, educationalists, and technologists who consistently discover new ways to do old things.
The biggest problem in education is that the information is not always readily available to the “every-teacher” individual working day-to-day in the classroom. Research takes years to reach many of us involved in the day-to-day of education, and often, when it does finally get to the bottom of the funnel, it’s lost a lot of the truth and gained a bunch of trivial checklists and paperwork for “tracking” and “monitoring” (not that those are a bad thing, but it’s terrible when a great theory becomes one handout mentioned for five minutes in a dull Wednesday afternoon staff meeting).
It’s difficult to research and implement new things in education.
But it is our responsibility to do so anyway.
Several of our school leaders follow either Reggio Emilia or Montessori traditions: Woorana Park Primary in Austrailia, Hellerup School in Denmark, and Casa Sula in Costa Rica all follow Reggio Emilia in much of their pedagogy, and for each of the three schools, even their physical architecture is influenced by that. Fuji Yochien is a Montessori school, and the same is true of both their pedagogy and physical space.
The principal at Woorana Park Primary has said in multiple instances that whatever your philosophy of education is, it should be so ingrained that it not only affects every part of your teaching, but even the way the school building is designed and built.
Can you imagine working in a school building built with more than the typical industrialized mindset involved? And perhaps you don’t have to imagine - maybe you do work in a school like that (in which case, we would LOVE to hear from you - tell us all about your school!), but the majority of schools here in the U.S. are designed one particular way.
What these leaders are saying is that as educators, we need to find and adhere to the philosophies that we believe and allow them to change our daily actions. From planning lessons to conducting small groups, and even designing your classroom spaces, everything you do should flow from that philosophy.
Here’s a list of current (which we’ve reduced to only those within the last 75 years) education philosophers. If you don’t know who they are, we’d highly suggest you look into their work and find the person or people in whose “village” you belong.
By the way, this isn’t an exhaustive list either! We know we’re bound to leave a lot of amazing thinkers out, so please let us know whose name belongs on this list and why.
For those names listed for which there may be one or more recognizable person attached, we’ve clarified our identifiers for this particular mention.
Sir Ken Robinson
Conrad and Stephen Wolfram
Sal Khan (Khan Academy)
Lene Jensby Lange
Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli
Elizabeth Ross Hubbel
Terry White (EdunovaSpace, UK)
One of the things we love about the Ron Clark Academy in particular, but many other schools in our list as well, is that they are constantly encouraging teachers to take the things they learn and apply the lessons to their own scenarios.
But Also Do Your Own Thing
There’s already a Ron Clark Academy, and although we’d love to have a few more, what works in Atlanta, Georgia isn’t necessarily going to work in Blanket, Texas or Roosterpoot, Arkansas. You have to adapt anything you see and love to your students, families, and community.
In addition, don’t forget to adapt for the person at the center of the reformation - you. It was so fun to see Ron Clark on Survivor (we were really rooting for him to win!), but you don’t have to be Ron Clark, or go on Survivor, or dance on camera, or any of the things he does to make a huge impact where you are, with what you’ve got, for whomever it is you’re reaching.
There is not a successful school in the world that would disagree with that.
Conversely, there is only ONE you. You bring something to the table that no other educator does. Wooranna Park doesn’t have you (probably - if you’re reading this from there, hi!). Manurewa Intermediate, Casa Sula, and Green School in Bali are fresh out of their supply of “YOU”.
Often, in education, we get so focused on what makes everyone else amazing, and we forget that we’re made of stuff just as valuable and important.
So take everything these reformists are willing to share. Learn all the lessons. Allow others to make some of the mistakes that you can learn and grow from.
But at the end of the day, remember that there is no place on earth like YOUR school, and no educator or administrator exactly like you. You cannot take someone else’s success, or program, and make it work in your classroom. Success and great programs are not made at IKEA. You can’t just go buy it and bring it to your classroom, set it up in a corner, and be amazing like that.
You have to custom build your success.
And we know you are more than capable.