I just started a new job. My official title is “Executive Director of School Renewal.” As you might imagine, nobody really knows what that means. It’s kind of a conversation killer. When I introduce myself to a teacher or colleague in the district with “I’m the new executive director of school renewal,” I usually get a smile and a twinkle of confusion. I assume the person is probably thinking, “great, just what we needed…”
I had other offers. Offers for roles whose work is clearly outlined and neatly packaged in a straight-forward job-description. Minimal ambiguity. Yet I couldn’t shake the sense that I might be passing up the opportunity of a lifetime. Seriously, educational bureaucracies are not usually in the business of acknowledging their own inertia, and here I was being offered the opportunity to join one of the largest school districts in California with an invitation to push innovation and reconsider what it means to provide a meaningful education in the 21st century.
Webster’s dictionary defines renewal as “the state of being made new, fresh, or strong again.” What a beautiful word. It serves as an antidote for what has become commonplace and mundane. In education, renewal comes as a reminder of the energy and enthusiasm that must be injected into our classrooms and schools every day if our students are going to be inspired to creativity and lifted to consider questions of their own potential and purpose. Renewal acknowledges that each student already possesses latent greatness, and that our role as educators is to awaken and celebrate that greatness.
Yes, sign me up for that work. Sign me up for the opportunity to reinvigorate the professional lives of teachers and administrators through meaningful experimentation, reflection, and learning. Sign me up for the opportunity to discover ways to harness technology to empower both students and teachers to focus on rigorous content and application of knowledge. Sign me up to join a team that sees each student in our community as an asset whose intellectual and emotional development is our top priority and whose right to access and opportunity is non-negotiable.
It is true that I have a lot of work to do in order to define my role and chart my course in a way that actually matters to the students and teachers of Santa Ana. I have not been given any easy answers in terms of how to accomplish that work. To me, that sounds like a recipe for powerful and rigorous learning. Indeed, it is reminiscent of AVID’s definition of rigor as learning that is “complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.” Now, to think we might engage ourselves as educators in the same type of rigorous learning that we desire for our students. That’s refreshing.