Updated: Sep 29, 2020
I like to go down nature school rabbit holes on the internet every other night or so. There are so many incredible nature and forest school communities around our country and globe. There are a lot of brilliant, talented, dedicated educators out there, committed to this type of education that is simultaneously primal and radically progressive. I find reading over their webpages inspiring. I also always feel a little tinge if jealousy mixed with a large dose of excitement, because I just can’t wait to open Cocoplum. I want to be in the sun, with the children, investigating a leaf or bug or track or scat, doing what the smiling faces in the pictures on the other schools’ websites are doing.
Tonight’s rabbit hole was particularly illuminating for me. I was reading about (stalking?) a beautiful place-based school in Maine. They offer a K-8 program, which intrigued me because many nature schools serve children up until age six, but fewer serve older elementary children, and very few serve middle school age children. It started with their Instagram page. I clicked through every single photo took screenshots of more than a few for my idea book. The photo of ice-fishing probably isn’t going to come in handy for our South Florida school. Still cool, though.
Once I got to the school's actual website, I landed on the Mission and Vision page. Mission and Vision statements are pretty ubiquitous, and I think sometimes we glance over them without much thought. We’re busy. We land on a website and go right to the information we went hunting for. The schedule. The fees. The application. The hours. But this time, these mission and vision statements, I had to read and reread. Something deep inside me resonated with them. Words like stewardship, nurture, creativity, and holistic hit particularly hard. Some of these are words in Cocoplum’s mission and vision statements, too. And they’re not just buzzy or trendy. They get at the core of who we are, as individuals, as a school, and as a community.
More than what was there in that Maine school’s mission and vision statements, what was not there struck me.
But I have to rewind about 8 years so that what I’m about to share will make sense. *Shaggy and Scooby Doo wavy screen to past.*
The very first assignment in my very first graduate course in my Master’s of Educational Leadership program was to write my educational vision and mission statement for the school I worked in. It was a public middle school, with its own statements, and so naturally I started there. Why reinvent the wheel, right? I don’t completely recall, but they had something to do with college and career readiness, achieving at the highest level, and excellence in science, math and technology (STEM was the newest it-thing in K-12 schools). Super inspiring. I know. Try to stay seated. It was a deceitfully hard assignment. My personal mission and vision were the school’s mission and vision, weren't they? I was a teacher there, and by then I had been fully indoctrinated in the cult of standardized curriculum and testing. The pretty obviously missing pieces from my school's mission and vision statements were inclusion and holding our lofty aspirations for all students. So I added those concepts, and called it a day.
Now, back to the present. *Wavy screen again.*
As I looked at the Maine school's webpage, I recalled that assignment - dull and difficult and shallow - and I realized what is missing from the mission and vision statements of the school in Maine and of Cocoplum. Words that are not there are readiness, perform, achieve, excel, gain. These are common in the missions and visions of many schools, not just my former school. (Scavenger hunt time! Check out the mission and vision statements of the most prestigious schools in your area. If you can find one that doesn’t use any of those words, I’ll ship you a loaf of the most amazing banana bread-my mom’s recipe and bananas grown in our community garden.)
I have asked myself over and over again throughout my career as an educator, Are these really our goals? Is this really what I want for these kids, or what they need, or what we all need from them? Readiness...readiness for what? For life? Isn't school a child's life? If we are always getting ready for the future, aren't we missing the learning and life of the present? Is school merely a means to an end? To perform, like actors on a stage in costume and makeup, putting on a show to convince us that they care about what they’re learning while they sit obediently in a desk? To achieve, as if school is just the way we get the award at the end? To excel, because there isn’t anything to be learned from coming in second place, or even last? To gain, because knowledge is like currency? Should we all bank as much as we can for our own use and profit? Words have meaning. And if it’s not clear already, I’ll just make it plain: I’m not a fan of the meaning of these words. (I'll bet they slipped into our vocabulary during the Race to the Moon in the late 1950s when the U.S. was trying to beat the Soviets, and politicians began blaming public schools for NASA’s struggles..but I digress. A history lesson for another time, maybe.)
So, a supposedly simple homework assignment turned out to be exceedingly difficult because it was inauthentic. But guess what wasn’t hard. At all. Writing the mission and vision statements for Cocoplum. Because those I actually believe in. They are the poetry of my soul. Corny, I know. But no less true. Maybe you skipped right over them on your quest for other information about n our website? Go back and check ‘em out.
Until next time,