I would like to take a moment to consider one of the simple truths of the universe – change is hard. Newton’s First Law holds that bodies resist change, such that bodies at rest will stay at rest and bodies in motion will continue along their given trajectory, unless an outside force is applied. Our understanding of momentum further clarifies that the amount of force required to alter a body’s trajectory will be determined by its mass and acceleration. Simply put, the more massive something is, the greater force that must be applied to achieve a desired rate of change. These laws of inertia and momentum don’t just apply to material objects in our universe, they hold equally true for institutions and ways of thinking.
Public schools, such as Greenwich High School, are massive both literally and figuratively, and already moving on a given path. At GHS our current direction – as a building, as a learning community, and as individual teachers and students – is generally speaking a positive one with many remarkable qualities and achievements to recommend it. Nonetheless, the world around us is changing, the needs of our students are changing, and as a profession our understanding of how to foster meaningful, lasting learning is changing. And these changes are all occurring rapidly.
Enter the new school initiative at GHS. By removing many of the logistic constraints that regulate the school day (such as a rigid schedule and compartmentalized uses of physical space) and many of the intellectual constraints on our approaches to learning (such as the parsing of learning into discrete, decontextualized “subject areas” engaged with in prescribed units of time), the new school design hopes to provide a vast arena for creativity and exploration in which change can occur with a minimum of resistance and maximum effect. As such, this new school-within-a-school can serve as a laboratory for innovation in which all members of the GHS community – students, parents, staff, and administrators – can try out new ideas and new approaches, both large and small, without having to adjust the trajectory of the entire school. Want to have a go at the interdisciplinary lesson plan that you can never seem to fit into your year? Let’s try it inside the new school and see what happens. Want to try out a problem-based learning project in your subject area? Come on over, see what’s been tried at the new school and take it back to your own classroom.
This project is all about creating a space within GHS that by being smaller, more flexible, and more nimble can thwart Newton’s Laws and allow us all to make bold moves, adapt quickly, and have a lasting impact.