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Architects of Our Future

By Michael Lees
Architects of Our Future

Educators at the International School of Havana work on generating a common learning language and articulating principles of learning (photo: ISH).
The International School of Havana (ISH), a new member school of the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC), engaged in some powerful professional learning recently. With our newly developed mission, “Learning to Make a Difference,” ISH took its first solid steps in the important work of fundamentally changing our culture, with a strong focus on learning. Kevin Bartlett, co-founder of the CGC, led us in creating a common learning language and developing our principles of learning. The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive:
“Now I understand better how all we’ve done so far goes straight to our final aim: Learning to Make a Difference,” one teacher noted.
“A a result of this session, I feel it is important everyone understand and defend the idea of how important language is in defining who we are,” stated another.
For a third, gathering as a community to discuss these fundamentals was very productive. “I will now be able to define learning at ISH using a common/agreed upon language,” the staff member affirmed.
During this visit—Kevin’s third to ISH—we continued to lay the foundation for a strategic plan based on our mission and vision. As part of this ongoing process, we have been squarely focused on the need to include the voices of our multiple stakeholders. During each visit, students, teachers, Board members, support staff, and parents all took part in sessions geared towards building capacity, common understanding, and engagement. After the last workshop on guiding principles for the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), one parent said that it was the most productive and inspiring workshop she had ever attended as an adult.
In another powerful session, 50 teachers and secondary students teamed up for a great conversation on “Learning Through the Learners’ Lens.” It was an opportunity for us to dive deeply into what learning is, to agree on the principles upon which it is founded, and to engage in some critically important collective meaning making. These are conversations that are all too rare in schools, but ones that we will surely be continuing in the future.
Teacher leaders also met for a reflective examination of our school’s “Energy Vampires”—those time- and energy-consuming practices that have little to no impact on learning. As a follow-up to that session, a learning support teacher and I did a few calculations with respect to the amount of time she spent simply gathering signatures for student support plans.
What we discovered shocked us; over the course of the year, a single teacher spent approximately six hours collecting signatures! That’s almost one full day of work. Conclusion? We will be driving a stake through the heart of that time-sucking vampire.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this process was the ability to view our practices through a different lens. We can now ask the question: What is the impact of all that we do on learning? And when we look at the full landscape of practices in place in our schools—practices perpetuated seemingly from time immemorial—we realize there is so much that we do and simply shouldn’t. Our goal is to work smarter, not harder.
ISH is at an exciting time in its 51-year history. As the new Director, I have had the great privilege to take the helm of a wonderful school with a highly committed team of educators who are eager to develop collaborative learning partnerships within the school and beyond.
Having a common language of learning and a framework for the development of a culture of learning are important elements in our school’s development.
As Buckminster Fuller wrote, “We are called upon to be architects of the future, not its victims.” At ISH, we are feeling empowered to become the designers of our future and a range of CGC tools are allowing us to make that happen. ISH is looking forward to making progress in establishing our learning ecosystem and engaging in rich professional conversations among a growing CGC network of schools.
Michael Lees is Director of the International School of Havana.

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02/05/2018 - Rachel Glickman
Exciting and important work is happening at ISH. I'm looking forward to visiting later this month.



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