The Sage School started as an idea- a discussion. It was a conversation between colleagues about how we can do better by our adolescents, and better by the future of our planet. One of the things that Harry and I didn’t include as part of the original discussion was how we would build a faculty culture. We were, properly, I believe, focused on the kids- how do we build a culture amongst our students? How do we make it open and inclusive while still valuing challenging and engaging work? How do we tweak it ‘on the fly’ and deal with students who are outliers? But, as we now approach our 10th year, and we have 15 staff members working together and with our student body each day, our worldview has widened to make sure we are building the proper culture with our staff members, while not losing sight of the reason we are all here- the students.
One of the things we have learned over the past few years in building culture is the need to ‘ceremonialize’ certain events and rituals in order to help formalize the culture. For instance, we realized early in the school’s development that as bands broke apart and reshuffled each year, it was creating a sense of loss in our students. We created the Moving Up Ceremony on the last day of school as a way to honor those transitions, mark the students maturational process, and recreate the bands as we look forward to the following year. It has added to our culture, reinforced our values, and honored our students- keeping us true to our mission.
We have recently instituted another of these ceremonies, but this one focuses on our staff instead. We added a day in the calendar in December to have a ‘Faculty Conference Day’- a day dedicated to us consciously improving the craft of our teaching together. It is a day to reflect, to grow, and improve. In the construction of that day, we considered many options, and have come to settle on something of our own design. We looked to Jim Collins’ book Good To Great for guidance, and we have realized that becoming a teacher at Sage requires its own learning curve. Teachers here move through developmental stages just like our students do- they come to learn the Ideas of Sage, then learn Sage as a System, then develop the skills to Lead that System, and eventually, Construct the System. We want to honor our staff as they mature and develop just as we do our students.
Eric Levenson, 6/7 teacher extraordinaire, just volunteered this past Monday to be the first faculty member to walk through this development system, and present his teaching and learning portfolio to the entire staff. This requires a level of vulnerability among staff that we typically only reserve for our relationship with students. What resulted was something in the realm between impressive and magical. Eric walked us through his own growth and development, his own questions and concerns, found areas to push and challenge the system for its own growth, and set the agenda for faculty conversations for the rest of the morning. He ended his presentation with a “We The Faculty” honoring where he listed each individual on our staff and acknowledged a specific way that person helped him grow as a teacher at Sage. From conversations on rivers and mountains, to formal conversations in the school building, to examples of models and reflective ‘big picture’ talks at conferences, he showed us the arc of a teacher at Sage. He showed us the power of a team committing to our profession, to our craft, and to our specific mission. He showed us the power of a ritual done right. Pausing for a few hours out of our daily schedule has been a gift that all of us have been thankful for during this season…It recommits us to the work and to the team. Thank you, Eric. And a thank you to the entire Sage staff for their dedication, commitment, and willingness to bring this idea into reality. It is a humbling journey.