These points were as follows.
But I would like to deal with the "fire" that must be burning in order for such an independent learning program to take place. Most of the fuel for the fire resides with the students. The fuel for the fire will be the initial core of students who have chosen to take on the challenge of a completely independent environment. But, who provides the spark. The spark is provided by a courageous, innovative and creative principal. The second spark will come from a cadre of innovative, creative and courageous teachers.
I listed courageous first for the principal because, in my view, most are not courageous. Most principals are brought up through the ranks or hired to follow school procedures to the letter. Just as many AP's are told to follow zero tolerance policies to the letter. Most principals, in fact, will find themselves without a job if they choose to run their buildings too far off the rails of district policy. These men and women have children, families, homes and obligations that curtail their desire to take risks. I can't fault them. The people, as a superintendent, I would be looking for are those who have the support of school boards who care about student achievement in spite of state curriculum demands and superintendents who actually want to run schools instead of factories.
The principal who will act as a "spark" will be one who is open to innovation and creativity. Such a principal will be one who cheers those who are the outliers. Such a principal will look to the teachers who sometimes fly under the radar for the kids, those who have the guts to supplement the purchased curriculum even if they have to do it surreptitiously, and the ones who value creativity to catch a child's interest rather than blind conformity to a purchased, planned curriculum. Such principals will see their buildings as their children for whose welfare an success they are totally responsible even if it requires being an outlier. Principals of this nature will not believe in canned solutions. They will look to their most brilliant people to help them innovate so that we can reach all kids even the ones who school does not seem to serve well. Frequently, those students are the ones who don't fit the mold. They will be the kids who march to their own drummer. I strongly believe that we would be hard put to find a creative genius who walked with the crowd or a successful school leader who did not leave the developmental administrative factory to go out on their own genius.
Such principals will have a number of characteristics. They will go out of their way to hire and keep innovative brilliant and sometimes hard to manage faculty. They will make a school that can be a home to innovators. These principals will be innovators themselves looking to their faculty to support them in the things that they think will bring success to their individual buildings rather than the building even a mile or two away. They will not shy away from innovative methods such as completely individual learning for students. Principals of this type will realize that schools, regardless of the hype, are still training automatons for the workplace. Principals who value these characteristics will understand that they have to get off the new programs back for up to three years to see if anything develops from a program. They also must understand that kids when given freedom will most likely run with it when they realize the freedom is real. Students are used to pronouncements of freedom to be a code word for testing a new teacher/administrator led program. They will be suspicious at first as they should be.
The teachers will share some of the same characteristics but will be different in some key ways. They will not be rule followers. Often these are the teachers you will see who have many students in their rooms before or after school because the students know they are in a safe and supportive environment. They are the teachers who will fly under the radar helping kids in ways the curriculum automatons would not approve of at all. They will be the ones who work from their own brilliance and knowledge base to bring students the best of what is happening in the field. They will encourage students to go out on their own to learn on their own, do their own learning projects and help the students when they need help. I have seen near miracles performed by teachers of this nature who do what the student needs without following what the canned curriculum prescribes. They will be the teachers who have the intellect to ask questions that lead the students to the answers in ways they will remember. They will be rebels. They may not fly where they can be seen but the brilliant principals will pick them out. One more word about the principal. He or she will have the guts to refuse to attend the inane meetings that often take them off campus several days a week. The great teachers will be in their classrooms when ever they can be there. The great principals will be out walking the halls looking at instruction, bringing along young and inexperienced teachers and encouraging the innovators. Further they will be encouraging the paper pushers to find employment at a less innovative school or change their ways.
School innovation like the independent learning project in the last blog requires brilliance. Unfortunately, brilliance is being subjugated in public schools for obedience to the programmed curriculum that is purchased for enough money to build a substantial part of a building in today's market.
School innovation that is on the edge will be the only thing now that will save schools. Most public schools are zombies. They just don't realize they are dead. They are slaves to published, managed and ideology driven curriculum programs voted on by boards who are entranced by what they see as idiot proof programs. Such schools and school districts will never light the fire of change. The fires of change will be lit by the schools and school districts led by courageous, brilliant and innovative leaders who are without fear.