Scaling Beta

Andrea and I have been talking and thinking about “taking something to scale.” We thought about some incredible stories of educators and teachers learning from teachers. I started the narrative as I always do and I kept drifting away to this story. I couldn’t let it go and found blog 17 butting in front of blog 16.

A secondary school in our district is closing. It has been a difficult year for staff and students. Our first blog as The Beast was about this school. Quinte Secondary School is a beautiful place to go and to learn and to figure stuff out. I will miss it deeply. I refused to believe, for a long time that they were closing the school given the culture of learning and the warmth of the school. I have said for three years that “the world needs more Quinte.” It occurred to me last Thursday, as we were sitting in seminar B wrapping up our year of literacy learning, that the world was getting just that. It was not lost on me that the last literacy learning team meeting of the year was the very last one. But, as I was listening to them knowledge build with each other down to the bell, I knew the next time I sat with these educators my wish would come true. The world was going to get more Quinte. Teachers learn from teachers. These teachers were going forth into the world to different schools and were going to spread who they were and why they learned. Two Fridays ago, I walked into one of the schools gaining many of these educators. It was the end of a PA day. The hall in front of the office was filled with Quinte educators. It was surreal, to greet them and to laugh and to hear their voices in the wrong place – they had drifted together like they do at Quinte at the end of a day. They begin and end their day in the Quinte foyer, chatting and laughing and sharing what they do and who they are. This felt the same but different. I was excited to come in September and be beside them as they share this new school. They felt good and somehow they felt like home. I know they must feel terrible sadness and such trepidation at everything new ahead of them. New building, new routines, new culture and different faces. I wanted to tell them that the fit felt just right. The world was getting more Quinte and this was one of several schools who will benefit from the generosity of these teachers who have been so generous to each other and to me. I cannot explain how delighted I am to know that more Quinte is waiting for me to learn and to figure stuff out and even more teachers are going to sit beside us do it. The world needed more Quinte and they are going to get it. Maybe this is how you actually take something to scale.

A: They are generous and so wonderfully connected. Is this a result of their school culture or is their school culture a result of their generosity?

K: We have a colleague who moved schools – to Quinte from another. I am wondering how he would answer this question. I started working with their school team and he was on the learning team in his first year there. I watched him change in front of my eyes. I heard him change. I think he would say Quinte changed him. Quinte changed me. Their culture is very strong, palpable. I think once a culture like this is established it may flow back and forth but if you are new to it you know it. It’s how I know the schools receiving these teachers are going to feel them.

A: A culture is a collective way of being. How does an individual take this with them?

K: I am thinking about The Beast over this past year. I take Quinte wherever I go. Not because I have a really big car but because I was changed by the learning there, by the support of the administrators there, by some of the relationships with teachers as old as I am and by LTOs who flowed in and out – and when they flowed out to different schools and to different learning teams I knew the game would be changed at the other school. This feels more like a force than a culture. It becomes part of each individual and they somehow don’t need the collective anymore. It is something we gravitate back to – the LTOs and me.

A: It’s human goodness through and through. How could you not take it with you? I was reading through documentation from a learning team and there was a question about why we might have to justify this. It justifies itself. It’s a matter of strength and character and leadership to believe in and stay true to your own learning.

K: Belief is an incredibly powerful stance. This is a school in the middle of Belleville. There are students who come from a wide variety of lives that they are living. Every human brings that life to school with them. I have been beside many teachers in that building, in their classes and with their students. There is a strength there that comes from being in a place with students. They are frustrated, puzzled and worried about many of their students. Not ever have I heard an excuse. They simply default to BETA. What now, what’s next, please come and figure it out. They are changed by their students and simply believe in them. That is strength.

A: But it’s also not strength. Lol When you talk about BETA is makes me think about the reason why blog 17 butted in front of 16. Sixteen was about playfulness, hallways, recess, and well “I don’t know. How can we find out?”. It’s puzzled rather than pissed. Play is iterative and it’s strength of determination and reflection. I’m rethinking what I may have meant by strength and leadership.

K: I sat in a BIPSAW goal meeting this week (School Climate and Well Being)…we did a sketchnote and asked the question, what’s different? We know that wellness – teacher and student, is linked, deeply linked. When we are effective as educators we see our students learn and flourish. We are linked to each other’s wellness. I think about failure a lot. What it means to fail and how it feels to fail. As educators we know failure. I am thinking about strength and leadership. Can we set conditions in a school for the humans to fail fast and to fail well, to BETA their way through school, to not know and to feel well because of it?

A: Learning to fail is as complex as the front matter and all of the competencies combined. I believe that failure is there in the way we feel about each other. We need empathy and intercultural understanding to be able to fail and live in beta – and to pack a culture of learning in the trunk of the car. My default of accountability, authority and proof surfaces, just as it did above. And you have taught me that I have to get out of my own way.

K: I am sure that I did not understand that, nor what my own role was in learning with educators was. I needed safe to figure it out. I needed people who could know that I did not know and that would let me fall on my face in front of their students and in front of them as we figured it out. I literally needed to print currency at Quinte to use at other schools; to pack in the trunk of my car. I am lover of people. I love the messy and the story and the being beside. That is my nature. However, not knowing was terrifying. I was an imposter. Quinte let me bring Quinte with me – they made me brave and more curious and to crave what I surely still did not know. In my first year they were my cheerleader, my wingman and my filled to the rim. They helped me see that you were right in front of me – shut up and listen to her.

A: Quinte will carry brave and curious with them. Will they have to prove themselves when faced with the change and the challenge?

K: Quinte taught me that I do not have to prove who I am or why I do it. 3 years ago I was about proving myself. Quinte’s legacy will be everyone carrying who they are and their why with them proudly and figuring out new challenges openly and widely. I have “to scale” rattling around in my head. I know change is hard, closing a school is emotional and yet important for a system to grow and re-calibrate both financially and geographically.. I also know that Quinte is not a building. Quinte is its people, and after the last book is boxed and the lock turned, more of Quinte will be going than is being left behind with the bricks.

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