Socially Resilient Heirloom Schools


A couple posts I want to direct our readers to that connect to the perspective of schools as ecosystems:

1) This post, which I discovered thanks to a tweet from Rachel Levy, is entitled Franchises, farmers markets, schools, on Cooperative Catalyst and written by humanities educator Chad Sansing. Sansing notes the unsustainable funding structures of schools and how money is funneled out of local school ecosystems and towards behemoth publishing companies. He then delineates a conceptual dichotomy between “franchise” schools and “farmers market” schools.

At farmers market schools, the academic and behavior standards exist to promote teaching and learning in safe, customizable, and meaningful ways. They are tantamount to a set of ingredients bought fresh and prepared or packaged safely in myriad ways according to the talents of the producer and the wants and needs of the customer. And sometimes the cook isn’t a cook, but a soap-maker or florist or print-artist setting up a stall at the market because people want more than food and want to support a broader economy that includes more than just food.

I like this idea of “farmers market schools”. I also like how Sansing references the ecological concept of niche when he notes the multiple roles that vendors can fill.

It made me think of the difference between heirloom (or heritage if you’re in the UK) produce and agri-business produce. Heirloom plants are non-hybridized varietals grown largely because seeds from diverse species can be retained and passed down through generations. They are also grown because they tend to taste much better than typical store bought produce. Many farmers are also concerned about the loss of biodiversity and local variants of species and thus propagate the continuation of heirloom varieties by sharing them with others via seedbanks.

It also reminded me of the concept of abriculture, or cultivating and valuing traditional local knowledge and ways of living.

How about some heirloom schools? Schools that value the local community and the expertise of those that work within that community?

2) Over on Shanker Blog, Esther Quintero posted a great piece entitled Staff Matters: Social Resilience in Schools that dovetails well with our advocacy for recognizing schools as ecosystems. Quintero first ponders the notion of “social resiliency” in the army:

Cacioppo and associates identify nine key resources that can foster social resilience, and describe a computer-based program designed to improve social resilience among troops in the U.S. Army. The training consists of a total of four short modules designed to stimulate an awareness of and an appreciation for the nine resources identified as important by the research.

For instance, one of the modules emphasizes that soldiers will fight more effectively and adapt to hardships and challenges when they are more inclusive about those around them. Another module addresses a common obstacle to social resilience: Viewing others as different from oneself thus, as a threat rather than a resource. The training illustrates how differences among group members can be assets and make the group superior (e.g., more adaptable), and how “team chemistry” can be more important than “the strength and talent of the individual warriors.” 

Might this framework help design training for nurturing social resilience among teachers in U.S. schools? I think so. In fact teachers demand this sort of approach and empirical evidence strongly suggests that when teachers work well together everybody benefits.

 She then goes on to list studies that support this idea. And all I can say is YES! Relationships matter! And from an ecological standpoint, it stands to reason that the greater the quality of relationships (redundancy and interconnectedness), the more resilient the ecosystem.

The problem is we don’t seem to be paving the way for any of this thinking but rather, quite the opposite. The dominant view is that schools can be improved by attracting and retaining excellent individual teachers. In the world of education, many still believe that “the strength and talent of the individual warriors” is more important than “team chemistry.” . . .  

Fields and research traditions as diverse as social capital theory, social network analysis, and organizational studies are increasingly coalescing around the powerful finding that no human problem can be neither properly understood nor fixed without attention to the social relationships in which individuals are embedded. As Cacioppo and colleagues put it: “We may aspire to be self-sufficient and celebrate our individual achievements, but our remarkable accomplishments as a species are attributable to our collective action, not our individual might.”

Reading this post made me extremely happy, because it validates and substantiates the very same point I made recently on GothamSchools: a school is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Now we need to just convince the rest of the education reform community.

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