‘Operationalizing’ Our Core Values (Part 1)

We don’t have to be perfect. Just engaged and committed to aligning values with actions.

Brene Brown

Last week, my colleagues and I engaged in our annual two-day retreat to explore deeply where we are as a learning community and how best to refocus our collective energy moving forward. At any given moment, I often felt one of joy, compassion, empathy, humility, truth, beauty, and gratitude. It can be quite an array of emotions to hold on any given day, but with like-minded professionals it really is just the norm. Our focus for the session was to explore and delve into how we, as a faculty and learners ourselves, operationalize what we have come to discover as our six core school practices/values. These values have defined its beautiful history (warts and all). As a school with an origin story, we grateful to be able take advantage of this ‘anchor’ from which explore, innovate, and evolve in a collective fashion as a learning community.

The six core practices of our school.

Our six operationalized core school values and practices:

HUMILITY: of the earth, grounded in knowing who you are

COURAGE: to lead with heart

EMPATHY: feeling into another; self-activation

NOURISHMENT: the caring for, and encouraging of, the growth or development of something or someone

RELATIONSHIP: a bringing back, restoring; connection, balance

UNDERSTANDING: to stand in the midst of, under-between, among

Our multi-age classroom learning environments offer a unique choice for families in our school district. Consequently, the community and its shareholders must frequently re-visit these deeply rooted core practices through the specific paradigms of student, parent, and staff. What continues to be true about the school (like many schools) is that our teaching and pedagogical approach are grounded within these six core practices.

The inherent beauty of the six practices is simple: First, we must enter any learning opportunity with humility and ground into who they are as a learner; this naturally flows into courage because leading with the heart is difficult and so very necessary for authentic learning; naturally learning happens within a community (as well as on an individual level) and being together requires empathy for self and others as we learn from, with, and collectively; for learning to occur we need to continually nourish our physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and mental components every day; regular nourishment fuels relationship (and can flow naturally as empathy) within the learning community; without healthy thriving relationships learning cannot flourish; and lastly, as a community of learners we always seek to learn in order to understand; learning is messy, and as such we are often best served when we are in the midst of the experience of learning; who exactly are we in this messiness of learning.

The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.

William Inge

But it’s not done! Learning, as are our core practices, are cyclical because once the learner understands, they are humbled by the beauty of the learning (process and all). The process starts anew with another learning opportunity. The power of iteration.

Beauty of the Origin Story

Perhaps the most powerful piece of history (and the beginning of our values as a learning community) is the letter written by the school’s original teacher, Liz Tanner, when the local school district invited her ‘program’ to join the larger public system. Liz’s intention was to answer the question posed by both district leadership, parents, and administration. We believe that she’s gone above and beyond that: she’s set a narrative for what truly authentic, organic learning can look like. A high bar, indeed. Thank you, Liz.

The ‘program’ eventually morphed into a space it has now called home for fifteen years and quickly (and sustainably) flourished into what is now a community of learners nearing two hundred. Eventually, the ‘program’ received designated ‘school’ status and with that all of the benefits of extra supports and essential resources. Currently, as a ‘school of choice’ our learning community has witnessed an immense growth in popularity by families desiring the similar learning experiences for their children. One that aligns with the core practices and values.

For the next six weeks, I will dive into each of our school core practices, explore (with Liz’s letter serving a guidepost), and reflect on how I (have/will) operationalize each one in my professional responsibilities within our learning community. The plan is to share these journey. Right here.

Exciting times!


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