There have been a thousand stories about the journey of New Milford High School toward being a connected school. All of them contain nuggets of truth that are worth exploring if you are an educational leader searching for a road map to a more dynamic, connected school, but I think that there is a larger story at New Milford that gets less attention, but most likely is the driving engine of change that allows for excellence on a daily basis.
Image credit: http://www.njmls.com/NJ/BERGEN/NEW%20MILFORD-community-information
Recently, New Milford High School hosted their annual edcamp-like Saturday learning conference called Edscape. Leading into this Saturday, I had an opportunity to spend most of Friday in the halls of New Milford with students and staff observing the climate and learning throughout the day. My greatest take away from this informal time at New Milford was the deep sense of trust in the building. The principal trusted his administrative team. The staff trusted that the principal was supporting their work. The students trusted the teachers. The teachers trusted the students. The maintenance crew trusted building leadership. Trust. Trust, Trust. It was everywhere to be seen. From the evacuation drill that had students walking through the community, to the senior flex period that gave them more freedom, to the decisions that teachers were making with their instruction. Buried behind the headlines was this organic sense of trust in the building. I'm certain that there are some teachers in the building that aren't completely feeling this trust, but it is there in a way that is magnified beyond most buildings.
The second piece of New Milford that sits below the surface, beyond the television coverage, blog posts, awards, and energy of its dynamic principal, is the diversity at New Milford. This building was filled with an incredibly rich group of students. I had the opportunity to talk with three incredible students about a project that we are working on together, and they were amazing. I saw diversity under the Friday night lights on the football field, and I saw diversity in the cafeteria. New Milford isn't a sterile environment with a homogeneous population that can succeed no matter the inputs. It is a real school with real problems and real struggles to make success possible. The diversity also breeds a need for innovation. There is a sense of urgency to serve this diverse population, and there is an empathy for the needs of the students in the building.
Edscape was an incredible learning event for me. Getting a chance to meet old and new friends, finding new resources and ideas, and presenting about some of the things in which I'm passionate, but the story of my trip to New Jersey was that success for New Milford and most schools lies below the surface in the deep roots of the school, the roots that honor diversity and the roots that foster trust.
I could not be more proud of the collaborative work being done at NMHS. As a Principal having it acknowledged this way by a colleague from another state and locally is priceless. We do not have all the answers at NMHS. We do not have the funds to do many of the things that we dream about. What we do have is a commitment to build a culture that focuses on our students while providing them with a meaningful learning experience.
This post was the first of a few Edscape reflections that really impacted me professionally and personally. It is always great to receive feedback from colleagues that you admire as their work has had such a profound influence on mine. As today is my 39th birthday I think that George Couros might have provided the best gift from a non-family member with his thoughts on how I lead. His reflection and feedback really put into perspective why I do what I do, how much I love working for New Milford High School, and the vital role that my Personal Learning Network (PLN) has on my professional practice.