It's not unusual to hear graduates or alumni of an educational institution talk about how much of an impact their school made on them. In my own case, I've written recently about my good memories of Harrison High, many brought back by my trip home last month for the HHS 30th reunion.
Less often does one hear from a former teacher about the benefits of having been a part of a school's faculty. I've been an ardent proponent of Satellite Academy High School, where I worked from 1992 to 2005, for about as long as I've known about the place. Designed with the disaffected student in mind, Satellite is a place that builds students back up who have been worn down by the relentless tides of impersonal, traditional schooling. Satellite puts the student squarely at the center of the educational equation -- not in a babying way but in a fashion that affords respect and autonomy while simultaneously insisting on accountability. Students are amazed at first, then thrilled and humbled by how different Satellite feels, in contrast to their "old" schools.
As the adults in charge of such a place it was imperative that we lived the dream, so to speak; we had no choice but to model the values of the place, if it was to work the way it was meant to. For most of us working at Satellite was a rare example of being allowed to live out the idealism of what had brought us to teaching in the first place. Occasionally a teacher would wow us at the interview table and then end up being outside our fold, someone who insisted they taught subject as an expert, and either the students got it or they didn't. Their humanity (or "humaneness") never entered into how they thought about teaching and learning.
Those teachers didn't last too long. Usually the place made them into True Believers eventually. Sometimes, though, they tendered their resignations, stating the school was a "bad fit." And they were right, and thank God they were honest.
Now, in my middle-aged administrator phase, I occasionally receive praise for my "unusual" leadership style. I've learned to ask people to elaborate when giving me any kind of feedback, even praise -- not because I like the tolling of my own bell, but because I can replicate what I know works only if I know what it is.
Most people have trouble putting it into words. Some call it kindness, and others say I make them feel like professionals. Generally, they say I do things "a little differently."
This should come as no surprise to me, as I "grew up," essentially, in a small, different high school called Satellite Academy, where kindness, respect and a sense of humor went a long, long way. I want to bring a "small school mentality" to my gigantic, 3,000-student school where I currently work, and I think I am doing it so far.