The South African concept of Ubuntu describes the symbiotic relationship between the individual and their community. I am a product of the environment in which I live. My perspectives and opinions and actions are shaped by the people around me. I am influenced by those with whom I interact every day. I am a product of my people.
At the same time, though, my community is affected by my participation in it. While my contributions may be miniscule, the reality is that the community would be different if I were not part of it. If I am influenced by the people around me, they are also influenced by me. And if I were not here, those influences would be different.
I am because we are. And we are because I am.
The old, witty adage is, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” In reality, a little of both is happening all the time.
It’s been a year, now, since I accepted the invitation to join the Revere Local Schools as its Director of Technology. The change has been good for me. Hopefully, it hasn’t been a complete disaster for my new school community. I am different, now, because I am part of this new environment. And that community is a little bit different, too, because I’m now a member of it.
This community has high expectations. This community expects results. The schools have been very successful by any measure. Our students excel academically, competitively, and artistically. Our community is proud of its schools and of its students. But the past success has clouded the view of the future. There’s a certain reluctance to change the rules of a game we’re winning, even though playing this game may not be in our students’ best interests in the long run.
We know the role of the teacher is changing, but we still like the idea of a teacher leading a classroom full of students through a learning activity. We know that school has to move beyond transferring knowledge, but we still like multiple choice tests that hover around the knowlege and skills levels of the rigor taxonomies. We recognize that technology is important and useful, but embrace the ways in which technology can help us do the things we’ve always done without changing too much. We get uncomfortable when questions are asked about student perceptions of hope, belonging, and engagement. We worry that some may criticize us for not doing something we never signed up to do.
The community is changing me. I’m somewhat less radical about the future of education than I was a year ago. I’m a little more patient (believe it or not). I spend a fair amount of time re-thinking assumptions and conclusions I’d previously moved past. I’m learning to let go of some things that arent as important in the big picture. And, maybe, in some small way, I’m changing the community as well. Maybe we see a little more urgency in our need to change. Maybe our lens is shifting a little, and there’s some room for trying different things. The community and the individual influence one another, and their interaction makes both stronger. Ubuntu.
As we head into summer, more changes are on the horizon. Four leaders are leaving us, including those in the most visible and influential administrative positions. That’s nearly a third of our executive staff. Four new people are coming in. To the minimal extent I’ve been involved in their selection, we have actively looked for people who will both fit into our community and push it in new directions. It’s important to maintain the sense of identity, family, and shared values that identifies this school district. We need people who can honor who we are and become a part of it. But it’s also important to look to the future, and embrace the idea that the spaces between people leave room for everyone to grow. So we want people who can fit in, but not fit in too much. That’s a tall order.
It’s a stressful time, because Revere next year will be very different from Revere last year. And the community loved what it was last year. But I think it’s going to love what it becomes even more. It’s an exciting time to be part of this community, and I’m looking forward to both the change in me that results from being a part of it, and the small nudging of the community that comes from my participation in it.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We have such a long way to go. Let’s do this together.