A Year at Mission Hill - Chapter 7 "Behind the Scenes"

There is much rich information provided by Sam Chaltain and others about this “dream school” Mission Hill. It motivates me to want to see this type school replicated everywhere! But where to begin?

I decided to ask the founder herself what one might do to create this “dream school” in their own community.

QUESTION: “Deborah, this is an incredible school and clearly took a lot of work to make happen. I wonder what you might tell an administrator who wants to replicate this and needs to know where to start – they might want to ask you what are three things I could do today to create my own “dream school”?


  1. “First, share this with your school faculty, parents and other interested community partners. Get everybody together -- use the videos and let them see it together then think about it on their own, and later discuss it together. Create a climate of respect of each other’s reactions and ideas – and honor skepticism. Take time to explore what would people be fearful about if doing this? It is so important to have a real read, and full determined collective assertion of a new way to work together. Set up a travel fund and go visit other schools like this as a team. (She metions The Coalition of Essential Schools as a great place to start to plan a visit near you! http://www.essentialschools.org/items)
  2. Second, determine it will take a couple of years to make this happen. Ask teachers to take a step back and think about what they would want to do like this in their own classroom? Find just one thing per teacher that they can do differently and encourage them in a way to be successful in their attempt. Put teachers together in faculty meetings who seem to want to share and collaborate; give common prep time periods to these interactive teachers and let a small group form that can then influence the larger group with their enthusiasm. Start a book club for the faculty and parents – anything to start people thinking! (The book “Fires in the Mind” by Kathleen Cushman and the students of What Kids can Do …maybe good for starters!)
  3. Third, be ready to notice something that can be replicated and try to start re-creating that over and again in all the classrooms. Encourage everyone to try new things – get everyone moving and doing – stop just talking! Before you know it, when the sharing of success takes off, your school has STARTED to be transformed! It takes time."

Do you notice the thread here? Sharing, taking time to reflect, and taking risks. This is the work of many together – with many threads of communication and shared knowledge. Going slow – taking time to be intentional – together! I love to ask in workshops I deliver to groups of 60-90 teachers or parents “What is one creative talent you have that no one here knows about?” You’d be amazed at what you’d see rise to the surface in a group of 60 people! Think about taking that talent and skill, energy and capacity and sharing it within the school community! 

Matthew Knoester, a National Board Certified Teacher and former teacher at the Mission Hill School (now Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Evansville) shares that “The Mission Hill School represents a counter-narrative. …it is a school that focuses intently on the emotional needs of children, and often centers the curriculum around community building and improving the quality of communication and cooperation. After all, the school is based on principles of democratic citizenship, the original purpose of public schooling in the United States.” From April 19, 2013 blog post http://www.democraticeducation.org/index.php/blog/article/mission_hill_school_on_the_emotional_well-being_of_children/

I recently was introduced to the work of Larry Ferlazzo (by The Center for Teaching Quality) who advocates for parental involvment in schools, who wrote in his blog “Back To The Future' For Parent Engagement,” a similar point of view that “In the future, I hope that more schools will recognize themselves as neighborhood institutions that not only have a responsibility for what goes on inside their four walls, but also need to look outward at the challenges facing their families. … schools can actively work with community organizers (if not be THE community organizers) and other local institutions (like religious congregations and block clubs) to help connect families who share common problems and take action to resolve them. …Social capital" is the term used to describe the human connections that are created out of these kinds of interactions, along with the resulting benefits. Interestingly, the phrase was coined way back in 1916 by a state supervisor of rural public schools in West Virginia.” April 17, 2012 9:33 AM http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_ahead/2012/04/back_to_the_future_for_parent_engagement.html

Clearly, as the Common Core Standards take hold, and we have much to share an communicate, we must begin the slow work of whole school transformation, one school at a time. We need to get to know who is in our schools, what talents they bring, skills they offer and then together begin the journey together. There is plenty of wisdom and expertise to grab along the way as we go. Let’s follow Deborah’s lead – and that of so many others who walk in concert with her thinking, and just get the engine started don’t’ you think?

(By the way, if you do take these steps – or are on your way already, share that with us will you?! Send to: mail@theigniteshow.com)

CHAPTER SEVEN: Behind the Scenes at Mission Hill http://www.ayearatmissionhill.com/?utm_source=January+2013&utm_campaign=January+2013&utm_medium=email