The Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia has gained a national reputation for being a model of inquiry-driven, project-based learning. This whitepaper series presents the nuts and bolts of SLA’s vision, and describes why their commitment to their core values is so important to the success of their school.
The goal of this whitepaper series is to provide the details needed to help other schools scale SLA’s success.
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WHERE DO YOU START?
Founding Principal Chris Lehmann, who recently won the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education, says any school or district looking to define their vision needs to start with one question: What do you actually believe as a community?
“People don’t always know how to answer that question,” Lehmann says. “We say we believe in ‘lifelong learning’ and ‘developing the whole child’ and these kinds of fluffy statements. Of course we believe in lifelong learning, and we believe in educating the whole child. But you have to ask the next question: What does that mean? What does that look like? And what needs to happen to realize this vision?”
He identified the following ways to begin the conversation of building a meaningful vision of education for schools:
- Focus on your school or district’s core values. What values will serve as the framework for your vision? What do you hope school will be for your children? What do you hope school will become? “Everything you do should reflect these core values,” says Lehmann.
- Identify and involve your stakeholders and get their buy-in. Invite parents, teachers, students, and staff to meet as a community. When you meet, break into groups and discuss: what will this vision look like in practice?
- Define a common school or district language. This common language is used in everything you do. At SLA, the use of a common vocabulary serves two purposes. First, it helps everyone understand exactly what the school is about,and two, it binds everyone together and to a shared purpose.
- Create a culture of distributed leadership: To build a sustainable, meaningful vision that reflects a school’s core values, school administrators must embrace a shared leadership model that encourages a culture of trust and shared responsibility. SLA’s vision could not work in a top-down decision making culture.