With the usual January buzz in the air about goals and resolutions, I’ve been thinking about priorities and change. Educators are actually on a cycle where new plans and new changes kick off in August, so quite often January is simply a reminder of where we’re going and what we value.
There are a number of “mantras” that serve as the unofficial mission and philosophy. They are quick metaphors or catchy phrases that are in line with our mission, but are easier to remember and repeat than the carefully worded and somewhat cumbersome mission. Listening in on the strategic planning discussions last week, I never heard the mission or philosophy directly quoted, but a number of these came up spontaneously.
A forest rather than an orchard. This is a powerful metaphor because it sends an enormous message about our educational philosophy and our view of children (humanity, really) in a mere six words. We are cultivating an environment where everyone can (and will hopefully) learn to be comfortable in their own skin, even proud of their own uniqueness, and where we are celebrating different strengths, different preferences, different time lines, and different needs every day. This is in stark contrast to an orchard, which many more traditional environments model, requiring everyone to grow the same way, produce the same “fruit”, at the same time and those who don’t perform like the other trees feel marginalized in some way.
I believe we are successfully providing a safe space for kids to discover who they are and to find peace with it. (Our school is far rarer than I wish it were.) This takes years to accomplish. There are many bumps along the path, but the seeds take root, grow, are nurtured, and finally they blossom.
On Thursday I listened to our alumni speak with Dr. Shahan, and the recurrent theme in their reflections was that TFS gave them the confidence to discover and be who they are. This theme came up through several different topics, from adjusting to a large university environment to dealing with situations and people who are very different, because our self-confidence is a major thread throughout our adult lives. Growing up in a forest is simply the best way to develop such self confidence.