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worst. school. ever.

How our school community has harnessed failure as a pathway to transformative change

There it was - the three words that no school founder wants to see: worst. school. ever.

I could feel my body break out in a cold sweat as I considered how many people would see this appraisal of our school community and decide to stay far, far away. I didn’t handle it well - engaging in the cringeworthy exchange typical of social media mommy groups; where no one is right and everyone is wrong. It wasn’t until a dear friend shared with me an excerpt from a talk about vulnerability and criticism by the luminous Dr. Brene Brown that I was able to stop and reflect. In the talk Dr. Brown asserts, “If you are going to show up and be seen, there is only one guarantee, and that is: you will get your ass kicked.” As I listened to her speak I realized what it was about those three words that I found so hurtful - they lay at the foundation of my own fears. The whispered words that we say to ourselves when we are afraid: “You can’t do this.” “What were you thinking?” and my personal favorite: “This is a stupid idea.” I finally understood that I am not nearly as afraid of what others think as I am of what I think of myself.

After this reflection, I thought about all of the failures our school community has withstood, and I embraced them all as necessary steps on the journey from being a school community to becoming a School Family. I embraced the departures of friends and students, the discomfort and struggle of cooperative governance, and realized that without these failures we would not be the School Family that we are today. How can I give so much to the critic and ignore the sacrifice of the School Family? Those who show up everyday - exposed, vulnerable and ready to partner together on this incredible journey?

As adopters of an iterative design process, we recognize that finding meaningful solutions to profound challenges is a cyclical process: ideate, prototype, test and reflect - over and over. Discarding what doesn’t work and keeping what does to strengthen the next iteration. We cannot grow without failure, we cannot progress without discomfort, we cannot innovate without being willing to transform. Failing forward sets the stage for a new beginning, a necessary primer on the road to success.

We have harnessed the power of our failure to build a nationally recognized, collaborative educational model - strengthened by our missteps and made wiser by the acceptance of mistakes as a pathway to learning.

Theodore Roosevelt once said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.“

To our critics: We see you. We hear you. We’ve saved you seats to the arena. If we’re going to be seen, we’ll need an audience.


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