I recently attended an annual summit that focuses on stories and storytellers. The people at Business Innovation Factory believe that “business model innovation is on the critical path to transforming important social systems including education, health care, and government. Tweaking our existing models and systems won’t work. We need to imagine, prototype, and test new models and systems in the real world.”
School days have been structured in the same way for decades – the bell rings and school begins. Another bell rings and you are tardy. Another bell signals lunch. A final bell ends the day. Yet, if you walked into Amana Academy, you would see the shifts that have been made to regular school day routines or structures that invite innovation and imagination. One of these routines is based on establishing traditions and culture.
Community Meetings are a common structure in Expeditionary Learning Schools that help to build a culture of pride, success and celebration in both academics and character. Most Expeditionary learning Schools, like Amana Academy, have some form of effective, regular school-wide gathering with a predictable, routine structure. Anyone whose business deals with sales understands the concept of a routine meeting– employees meet to review the sales quota, establish goals based on the projected growth of the department or company, and throw in a chant to end the meeting. Then everyone disperses to their office or cubicle and gets to work, oftentimes, unhappily. In many ways, CREW mirrors what happens in businesses around the nation. So, how is CREW different? CREW is a structure that has been a part of Amana since its inception. CREW is where students gather in homerooms or small groups to begin their day with discussion, activities or initiatives, and goal setting. It’s precisely the predictability of the structure that allows the school to create a safe environment where students feel free to risk, fail, and try again.
The leadership of the school met to determine what needed to be “re-imagined” in the process to promote the culture of the school consistently across all grades and the suggestion was for CREW to happen in every classroom at the exact same time. Shut down the entire school shut for CREW. This is a deliberate shift would signal the importance of the structure and the value we have as a school for building character along with academics. This year, we began that shift which now signals that everyone should pay attention because something amazing happens in CREW – relationships are formed. Character is built as students learn explicitly what it looks like to demonstrate empathy to each other, how to question, how to listen, and how to express themselves. Second, the building of relationship gives CREW purpose and allows an environment of success and failure to thrive. This tweak is in the structure that deliberately invites students to talk about what went wrong and share their stories. Knowing what’s not working is half the battle to achieving what works.
CREW culminates weekly with a campus-wide community meeting called Community Circle. Grade levels or CREWS rotate presenting to other students based on a determined set of value statements that Expeditionary Learning calls design principles. Students learn storytelling skills as they draft presentations and skits based on their learning and present to authentic audiences composed of peers, parents, and teachers. This structure and process is not without failure either. Microphones are often not working. Students forget their lines, sometimes caught up in the silliness of the moment or just too shy to continue. Yet, the magic of Community Circle is always there despite, or maybe because of, the failures.
A recent article from Harvard Business Review emphasized the importance of storytelling in business. Robert McKee writes, “A great CEO is someone who has come to terms with his or her own mortality and, as a result, has compassion for others. This compassion is expressed in stories.” The article goes on to explain why becoming a good storyteller is important to the future of a company – something BIF advocates through its annual storytelling summit.
At Expeditionary Learning Schools like Amana Academy, rethinking the structure of the school day invites students to re-imagine and investigate new models of thinking, and fosters curiosity. Through structures like CREW and community meetings, students are given dedicated time to develop their storytelling abilities through public speaking. These routines have little to do with direct instruction or student achievement on the surface, yet they build the skills in students that talent management executives look for in candidates – critical thinking, risk taking, and public speaking. Sounds like CEO material in the making, doesn’t it?
So, what are your structures and processes? Your routines? How are you empowering your people to tell their stories and what do you need to re-imagine or re-think?