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Time for Stories

Part 1 of 2: Dale Worsley, editor and co-author of, Journeys in Communities of Practice: Stories and Strategies of Professional Inquiry from Around the World, gives an engaging and interesting insight into the editor process on this publication.

journeyscommunities-finalThe sun beat down through a humid haze outside the conference room windows at George Westinghouse High School in Brooklyn, New York. But that wasn’t the reason I was sweating. Cool air was billowing sumptuously out of the air conditioner. No, the reason for my anxiety had to do with the fact that Principal Janine Kieran was pausing, with wrinkled brow, before answering the question I had posed to her, “Was this seminar worth your time?”.

It was mid-afternoon in late June and we had just spent two hours reading and discussing, in a text-based seminar format, a chapter from the forthcoming IB book, Journeys in Communities of Practice: Stories and Strategies of Professional Inquiry from Around the World. Besides Janine, Assistant Principals Susan Caprio and Valerie Girard were at the table. Anyone familiar with what New York City public school leaders go through at the end of June knows that it takes a lot of chutzpah, to use a popular word in our city, to ask them to carve out even one minute from final reports, graduation planning, interviewing new staff, and myriad other pressing executive demands. Yet Janine had done so, and gone so far as to urge the APs to attend as well.

This was a favour to me, but a favour in context. During the past several months, I had been working in the school as a consultant from AUSSIE/Editure. The school leaders and I had collaboratively launched a comprehensive school improvement initiative. It had begun with staff workshops that helped shape the professional learning community in the school. Teachers had written their visions of the future of the school in response to the prompt, “A school ought to be…” They had participated in jigsaw readings of articles on what it takes to reach students of poverty. (Most of the students at “The House” fell into that socio-economic category.) They had identified specific areas to work on in an improvement initiative. I had met with the leadership to shape the teacher input into three teacher teams–community success, data and interdisciplinary connections–with clear goals for each team. The teams had begun to create proposals for action to be taken when school opened again in September.

The school had barely survived the New York City Schools Chancellor’s recent system-wide shutdown of failing schools. With its new lease of life, Westinghouse needed to prove itself and there was no time to waste. A sense of urgency propelled our every move, but a sense of hope was prevailing over what Janine had described in her guiding questions for us: “How can we see our students in a different way? How can we battle the despair and disappointment? What shifts are necessary in our community and in ourselves to meet the challenges in the new school year?”

The principal and assistant principals had bonded with me through these first steps of what we projected to be a three-year journey. Maybe that’s why Janine humored my request, but I think it was more. I think she was curious to try a new tool for change and prioritized it because she was an explorer. She and her colleagues were infused, I think, with what the IB calls “a spirit of inquiry.” Even so, it was a big “ask”.

Continue to Part 2 →