Creating a Learning Community at Dibert

Dibert was richly blessed with a series of talented and unique principals, each of whom was apparently the right person at the right time. Clif judged first principal Lucianne as the "embodiment of tenacity and beauty." Her vision required that children be honored and respected for who they were and what they brought of themselves to school. Further, Lucianne's vision included children who respected and appreciated themselves, who had high self-esteem and self-regard. Lucianne, herself an artist, encouraged teachers to use the arts - visual and performing - to provide children with opportunities for self-expression that would lead to feelings of self-worthiness. Above all, she invested time, energy, and other resources in honoring teachers to develop their capacity to honor the children.

Whereas Lucianne was the "quiet but forceful center of things," teachers observed that Clif was the "energymeister," cheerleading and bringing about bonding of faculty and children. "He's a people person, going around talking with and touching everyone, connecting to them and connecting them with each other." Teachers without fail acknowledged his energy and the way he used it to turn the school around with a well-articulated and consistently enforced discipline process. Teachers studied the process together in the early days of Faculty Study, and through this activity they bonded around a common goal.

Nancy's goals for the school included the achievement of increased teacher self esteem and the empowerment of teachers, parents, and students. She promoted activities with parents that would recognize and show appreciation for teachers. Nancy freed teachers to devote their attention to professional development and innovative practices for children, practices they were empowered to develop themselves. By proactively streamlining procedures and processes, she was able to reduce administrivia and other distractions.

Each succeeding principal maintained the evolving culture - its values, beliefs, and operations - and added to it. Such was the case with Wiley, the current principal. Teachers report that Wiley has responded to the need to think about academics by promoting interest in looking critically at the academic program of the school. He has imbued this examination with his own expertise in curriculum. Teachers credit him with further influence on academics through his introduction of computer hardware and software. The qualities that described Dibert earlier remain in Wiley's administration; they have been institutionalized. For example, Morning Meeting still happens daily, "We meet as a family to start the day," explains Wiley. "It is a time when we can honor our students and applaud and celebrate their accomplishments."

In succession all four of these principals - the vision person, the people person, the empowering person, and the academic person - added important dimensions to Dibert. None of it could have happened as it did, with a widely held vision and shared decision making, without the structures and schedules that permitted the conversation to develop in the first place: Morning Meeting, where everyone in the school shares the first twenty minutes of the day; and Faculty Study, where faculty as a learning community continue to learn, grow, and improve their work with children.

John Dibert Elementary School sees itself as a family and a community of learners. Teachers are encouraged to innovate. They are involved in shared decision making, and they share a common vision of what the school should be and where it is headed. Reflection is encouraged. If conflict occurs, it is brought to the surface, shared openly, and resolved. The entire school learns together: students, teachers, parents, all. The school continually discovers how to create and change its reality.

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Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 4, Number 1, Schools as Learning Communities (1994)