Recently, I had the opportunity to learn, think, and share with some wonderful educators in Albemarle County, Virginia. It is truly a district with the interests of kids in the center of things. The district, not perfect, not shiny, not a huge marketing machine, but a wonderful place for families and kids. From the first minutes in the district, it was a refreshing place of service. It was an honor to get to talk about the work in Affton with the individuals that had gathered.
The first thing that really stood out was the joy in the student learning. We were able to visit four schools, and each of them, regardless of level, had students that were clearly enjoying their learning experience. Much of this came from the maker culture that existed, but it also came from a genuine desire by all adults to have kids engaged in deep learning.
As I reflected on the experience, I realized that the joy in these classroom came from a number of smaller, but significant, things happening at Albemarle County Schools. They included things such as: building a culture of YES; deprivatizing practice; a break it, fix it environment; caring at a soul level; student leadership; a culture that promotes create, make, and design; flexibility; a dedication to telling the story; and leadership with belly fire.
Along with the joy in the schools and within the people, there was an infectious energy everywhere that I travelled in Charlottesville. People were excited about their roles and ready without pause to discuss the projects in which they were working. Being among educational energy is a tremendous high for those of us with a drive for educational excellence.
Again this energy came from some essential areas of school culture including: ownership of the vision by all, huge adult energy around learning, open learning spaces, a better balance between push and pull when it comes to curriculum, focus on passion-based learning, opportunities around experiential learning, excellent lighting, acoustics, color in the buildings, new ideas when needed but not new for the sake of new, and essential community connections.
Joy and energy should be at the core at every child's learning experience, and to make this a reality for every child, it requires a deep respect and dedication to equity in schools. This dedication was seen at all of the schools in Albemarle County. It was present in the devices available to kids, trips and learning experiences, the availability of a wide range of arts, mental health and counseling services, and the way that the humans interacted. These are all deep cultural shifts that take time to be fully realized, but here they had been working in these areas for over a decade, and the results were real.
Below are a few pictures that captured the joy, energy, and equity of learning taking place.