Disrupting the Status Quo

So as a parent I can’t help but think of how many times in the day my children come up to me and ask me questions that push my thinking beyond what I’m comfortable with in my schedule. Some examples of these conversations are:

(KEY C: Child,  M: Me)

C: “Daddy, can we have a doughnut?”     M: “No honey, first you need to eat your breakfast.”

C: “Daddy, can we have some ice cream?”  M: “Not yet, let’s have some after you eat your dinner.”

C: “Daddy, let’s go to the pool?”  M: “Not right now, how about we go when it cools down outside.”

M: “It’s time to take a nap.”    C: “No, I don’t want to take a nap!”

Hearing these requests makes me feel they are disrupting my routine schedule. I get into a comfortable flow and changes in my schedule are sometimes seen as nuisances in my routine. I couldn’t help but think of feeling this disruption when I began my journey at NEXT High School. I’ll share three examples of what I mean.

One of the initial changes that came from begining at NEXT was that teachers were not referred to as teachers. We are referred to as “Pros.” This was a difference that I immediately took note of and thought, “well this is different.” As I reflect, I think about how we are the professionals of our content and craft. But this doesn’t mean the “sage on the stage” as a traditional teacher is often thought of.  

Pros know their content area, but the magic of facilitating in a unique space is where the respect is earned. Pros are there to help and guide students but don’t need to be the sole resource for knowledge. We leverage the strengths of our students, we collaborate, and we build leadership capacity by challenging each other to improve.  Pros know when to step in or get out of the way in the learning process. We are there to help, guide, scaffold, coach, assist, share feedback, encourage, listen, and challenge to meet the needs of where the “peers” (students) are at. For me this is a disruption from the traditional model from the teacher being at the center of learning. Pros are facilitators of the learning process and sometimes blend in with the space around them. Pros understand how to meet students where they are and push their thinking beyond what they thought was even possible. We believe students are at the heart of our practice and what we do. In order to do this, we need to disrupt what we think of traditionally in education, not just do what is thought of as familiar, but put students’ needs at the center of our planning structures. Our goal is to do it professionally and with fidelity if we are serious about preparing our children for life.

As I mentioned above, NEXT High School is about putting students at the center of learning. One of the first experiences students will have is being brought into that center of learning. For the Pros to understand this, we were given a challenge which so happens to be my next disruptive experience as a Pro. So I come to find out we are not given that traditional teacher desk in a traditional rectangular four wall classroom space. We came in one day and they were like, “here are some materials we have for you so you can build your desk; then you can understand what your advisory students will go through when they start school. Good luck!” This is the point where my eyes got really huge. I thought for a second, they are really serious about this. So being a learner that likes building and creating, I jumped right in. I got my supplies, cleaned up the table supports, assembled the table, sanded the top wooden surface, and stained it. I got that feeling of pride and accomplishment when I was finished.

As I look back on the experience, I thought about all the learning it took to put it together. Without any prior knowledge of making a desk like this before, this experience required a lot of critical thinking and problem solving. I had issues with getting all the stickers off, the pipe supports had a hard time fitting together, there was a little wobble in the desk, and after staining it, the top surface was really rough even though I had sanded it down really well. Through all these challenges, I wasn’t alone in the process. I was doing this with a team. Through our collaboration, I was able to communicate and find appropriate solutions in order to reach our goal of completing the task. I talked to my fellow Pros and asked questions, “how did you get this grease and sticker stuff off? How do I get these pieces to fit together? How did you use the level to remove the wobble? What are some ways I can smooth the surface of the desk after staining?” Through perseverance and maintaining a good work ethic I was able to get things done. Through the experience, I realize these skills I was applying are some of the skills we are trying to get our students to develop to be successful and ready for life. The profile of an SC graduate outlines some of these skills.  Intentionally, through this one challenge, peers will be exposed and given an opportunity to develop some of these characteristics. Without this experience I wouldn’t have had this disruption of thinking. Traditionally, I would have got a teacher desk handed to me, and things would be all comfortable and hunky dory. I wouldn’t have been challenged, I wouldn’t have gotten out of my comfort zone, and I wouldn’t have developed any of the life characteristics that we know are important in being successful in life. This example, is just a preview of the challenges that students will be exposed here throughout their NEXT High career. NEXT High School makes a point of being intentional about the skills that are important to be ready for a world that doesn’t exist yet. Many jobs of today didn’t exist ten years ago. We understand here if we want our kids to be ready for the future, we need to be preparing them with these critical life skills.

My third and most recent disruptive experience was also given in the form of another challenge. As you know, NEXT is a new school with new spaces that are still being developed. The other day, the Pros were asked to pull straws each given a color that coordinated with a specific space. Coincidentally, I picked the straw that was designated as the “NEXT” space. We were given a budget and the challenge to make our room go along with vision of what this “NEXT” area might look like. Again, my eyes got huge, and thought, okay, these guys are being serious again. I have never done anything like this for a school organization before where so many stakeholders would be coming into this space. Starting from scratch is difficult except when you have a team (Pros Ken and Jenny) who are hard working, passionate, and full of creative ideas.  You get a feeling of confidence in the challenge. After getting to meet as a team, we flushed out all our ideas for what our vision was and after a few hours, we had a solid plan for making this blank canvas of a space into something to be beautiful and inspiring. We can’t wait for you to see what we have come up with. Stay tuned.

This challenge is still in progress but I can’t help but think of the great experience this journey has taken me on so far. A couple of points stand out to me that makes this a disruptive experience. The first is how the leadership team took a risk with this challenge. Though risky, this is an intentional and well calculated process that is a great modeling experience for what we expect as Pros for our students. Dream big, develop trust in each other, work together, be decisive, be optimistic, and get in tune with your passions. These are some of the qualities of the entrepreneur spirit which NEXT provides.  All students will have the space and opportunity to pursue project interests through the i3 process schedule. The second is applying our talents and strengths. I can’t think of how often in traditional school students slip through the cracks without getting an opportunity to let their strengths shine. The NEXT High School structure allows for student choice through content process, breakouts, and the i3 process. Our school has something for everyone so don’t be shy about bring your passions to the table. The last item is about learning from failures. Failure can be okay as long as you learn from your mistakes, and push forward. The the sooner you recover, the sooner you can get on a path to success. For example, Michael Jordan didn’t become a star overnight, Edison didn’t discover the perfect filament for the bulb right away, and Oprah didn’t become a star interviewer without lots of time and practice. Reaching success can take a while and learning is a process. Embrace the journey and trust in the process that will take you there.

Lastly, getting back to my analogy of my kids disrupting routines. I’ve grown to learn to embrace these changes as a parent. Sometimes it can be healthy to break the norm and get outside your comfort zone. I’ve learned there are times to not always play it safe. That it’s okay to disrupt from the normal routine and treat yourself with a tasty doughnut. 

There can be rewards in taking risks and this year students will be asked to take risks, get out of their comfort zone, dream big, and learn from failures. To quote T.S. Eliot, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” You never know what you are capable of unless you try. We can learn from our daily disruptions, and use this as an opportunity to really reflect on how we have a chance to make change in ourselves. This year students (Peers) will have a chance not only to grow and learn life skills, but also make an impact in their community. I’m looking forward to this year on working with students and channeling their passions to really make a difference, to dream big, to be bold, and to change ordinary to EPIC!

Here’s to an exciting year with eyes open wide and disrupting the status quo!

- Chris Beyerle, Math Pr0