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Friday, May 20, 2016

The Proof is in the Pudding (or the Art work)

This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement reflecting my professional experience. I had prepared this manuscript for publication but time eluded me. The blog posts advance in time and concept in book-form beginning with the Blog post on March 21.

     The newspaper headlines that first six weeks proclaimed improvement. We were headed in the right direction. Our hard work was being recognized. We made progress and now felt capable of even more. 
     There are many different means of measuring success in schools. The choice of instruments or benchmarks in evaluating the progress of a school is the source of heated political debate. However, one of the most interesting and unique perspectives I’ve ever heard was proposed and carried out by an Art teacher at Horace Mann. 
     Toward the end of what would prove to be an extraordinary year of success at the school the Art teacher, Mr. Kirk, asked me to come to his room for a special exhibit of work. He had privately conducted an interesting study on how learners expressed themselves as a reflection of their attitude and self-perception.
     On one side of the room he had a number of pieces of student work completed during the first two weeks of school. The other side of the room contained art work by the same artists during the last two weeks of the year. 
     The contrast was striking. The early work was characterized by small objects captured in dull colors. Those works that featured people revealed small faces that were rendered in profiles. The later work was as opposite as could be. These pieces showcased bright colors that filled the paper and included people as subjects – people who wore positive facial expressions as they looked at the viewer. 

     The Art teacher explained that he had given the same two classes the same simple instructions: Use whatever medium you wish and provide an example of your work. He concluded by stating that this year had been transforming. His evidence was the art work that reflected the changes he witnessed in the teenagers during the course of the year. They were more confident, optimistic, and openly expressive t the end of the school year than they were at the beginning.
     As I viewed the exhibit and interpreted the findings, I realized how narrow experts are regarding their assessments of school performance. Rather, the sense of how well a school is operating must not solely rely on facts and figures (hard data), but also incorporate faces and feelings (the personal, soft edge). This was a truly enlightening experience that reaffirmed my investment in growing people as the core element in school improvement. It reinforced my commitment to the credo - "People don't care what you know, until they know that you care."

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