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A Year at Mission Hill: Cultivating Creativity and Community at School

The second of ten expert takeaway posts from Carrie Lee Ferguson on the school documentary series sweeping the web.

By Carrie Lee Ferguson

Carrie Lee Ferguson is a mother and writer, furthering global awareness by creating new perspectives and connecting mind with heart. She writes on childbirth, childhood, education and social change and is currently a part of the founding of Seaside Community Charter School. Holding a masters degree in education, Carrie has always been passionate about teaching and learning and views childhood as a critical stage laying the foundation for compassion and creative thinking. She is co-author of A Child's Way: Slowing Down for Goodness Sake and blogs at www.carrieleeferguson.com.

February 19, 2013

Editor's Note: Here is Carrie Lee Ferguson with her commentary on Chapter 2 of "A Year at Mission Hill"!  Keep up with the highlights of the series in this super cool Prezi!  And here's her takeaway post on Chapter 1 as well.

It’s day one at Any School In The World, and students are curious.  They arrive on the scene with big questions:

Am I valued here? 
Does my voice matter? 
Where do I stand within this classroom?
Will I have space to think my own thoughts and to grow? 


With Einstein-like perception, students begin gathering their answers within moments of stepping into a new classroom.  The answers to these questions will strongly influence whether the students become active learners or bystanders on the road toward truth and knowledge.  Why?  Because truth is known within the context of relationship.  As highly respected teacher and author Parker Palmer once said, “Relationships--not facts and reasons--are the key to reality; as we enter those relationships, knowledge of reality is unlocked.”  Great teachers have always intuitively known this, as they follow their own deep desire to participate in community rather than hand out facts on a one-way street. 

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The teachers and administrators at Mission Hill School get it.  In Chapter 2, it’s evident that cultivating creativity and community are top priorities.  When 4th/5th grade teacher, Nakia Keizer, says to his students, “I’m a part of this community as well; I’m a learner and a teacher just like the rest of you,” he creates a kind of synergy that opens the door to collaboration, creativity and contribution.  Having the students discuss what kind of classroom they want and generate ideas for class rules not only fosters student investment and engenders the meaning of citizenship, it also subtly teaches them that the flow of information is not always hierarchical, that valuable information can flow horizontally -- an essential lesson for a future that asks us to co-create as old hierarchies become a thing of the past.

Because Mission Hill is committed to laying this strong foundation of community, the teachers are supported and encouraged to take the time necessary to get to know their students individually, to step into the vulnerability required for connection and open up to relationships.  This is key.  If teachers are to create these vibrant learning communities, they must be supported, or they’ll fall back into the old model.  Teacher and Changemaker School Change Leader Jenerra Williams speaks to this when she says, “One of the things that really hooked me and makes me stay is the autonomy I have as a teacher, really establishing relationships and encouraging student voice.”  In beautiful, simple words she captures the empathic relationship that is at the heart of deep, joyful learning: “You have to know them to teach them well.”

The time has come to align our educational model with a deep respect for students as human beings.

What can our relationship with the world become if we are not in relationship with one another and with our own knowing?

Let us finally give up the notion that relationships, empathy, compassion and creativity are separate from teaching and learning.

Here's her takeaway post on Chapter 3.