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A Place to Start

Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, building community in your school begins with a single conversation. Roland Barth, in Learning by Heart, writes that every school has non-discussables. These are issues that are so emotionally charged that they cannot be spoken about in any formal way. They are discussed in parking lots, teacher lounges, and in teacher's rooms. Barth maintains that a school's quality is inversely proportional to the number of non-discussables it has. Examples of non-discussables include the leadership of a new principal, the move to block scheduling, the adoption of a managed curriculum, and the enactment of a new board policy.

In our attempt to get results rapidly, some schools jump right in to the "work at hand." It is not possible to understate how big of a mistake this is. I am tempted to argue that "jumping right in" is less an attempt to get things done in a hurry than it is an attempt to not have to discuss things or real importance. Blend this with the fact that there are people on every staff who would rather have a root canal than share their practice with colleagues and it becomes easy to see why so many attempt to create learning communities are doomed from the start.

That we must begin slowly and in a non-threatening manner is pretty intuitive. How to do it is less so. Beginning slowly does not have to mean small talk of the "how's the weather" variety. In an article entitled Good Talk About Good Teaching, Parker Palmer demonstrates just how easily these initial conversations can be.

Read the article. The way forward should become more clear.

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