This July my family took a a little time out to spend at our cottage on Georgian Bay. Between swimming and sunning and climbing rocks with the boys, I spent a good deal of my time rebuilding a section of our docks.
I have to admit, there is something intrinsically satisfying about pounding nails. Unlike people, they generally go where they are needed, stay where they are put and, even when they get a bit rusty, continue to do the job that you ask them to! Definitely good for the soul!
Aside from this therapeutic hammering, I have been faced with an interesting engineering challenge over the past few years of tearing out an aging infrastructure that had been in place since the cottage was built in 1945 and starting from scratch with a new design, updated materials, and a clean slate. That is not to say that I didn’t have various generations of family critics who lamented the changes and ached for the “good old days” of stepping through rotten boards or tripping on uneven joints. But even they have appreciated the eventual outcome which has been a blend of the old and the new and which has provided the opportunity to stand on what was firm and had stood the test of time while appreciating the value of change and growth.
Schools are a bit like my dock. Once and a while you have to tear things out and start over, but for the most part, each school year sees a new and unique blend of the traditional and the innovative, skilled experience and energetic learning on the job and the wonderful dynamic that is created when differing approaches combine to create a wonderful learning experience for each child and young adult.
Boards and administrators sometimes neglect maintaining that balance at their peril. Changes in leadership in the administration or the emergence of a "reform" movement on a Board can sometimes sweep away much that is solid and serviceable in the haste to construct something new and shiny. Now don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in constructive growth and positive and thoughtful change. None of our schools should be allowed to rot (like my dock cribs had over time!) in the name of preserving traditional norms and structures. However, if change is to be truly transformative then it must first identify the still solid underpinnings and build upon them rather than tear everything out and start from scratch.
Although summers now seem much shorter than they did when I was a child, they still provide a welcome break in the routine to pause and reflect on what needs changing and what needs to be supported and preserved. As long as Boards and Heads see themselves not as agents of change, but rather as architects of growth and improvement, then all of our schools will continue to be adaptable to changing circumstance and sustainable through challenging times.