Core Principles Work: It's not rocket science

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Our culture is obsessed with the cutting edge and innovation––and almost automatically assumes that newer is better. I’m not moved to argue against change; life is change. And many changes are good. Instead, I want to have more thoughtful conversations, especially in education, about recognizing and valuing what’s tried and true, while still supporting progress.

Overlooking core principles

There are some wheels we don’t need to reinvent, and I’m concerned that in our rush to change and innovate, core principles get overlooked––because they’re not new and “sexy.” Simply put, they don’t have a lot of market value. This is one of the downsides of living in a consumer culture, where we start applying consumer values to just about everything.

CJS-headshot1-200-300What works

In my more than twenty-five years in educational settings, and especially at Rock Point School, the things I’ve seen work consistently are:

  • recognizing that all learning is always cognitive, social, and emotional
  • building community
  • providing strong mentoring
  • creating a culture of kindness
  • giving meaningful responsibility to students
  • encouraging trial and error
  • rewarding both success and effort
  • noticing small gains, not just large ones
  • holding students accountable
  • measuring progress based on where a student starts
  • honoring students for who they are, even as we’re encouraging growth

I know these things work, because I’ve watched students thrive, learn, and grow for 25 years here at Rock Point School, with these principles guiding us.

Building on core principles

None of this, of course, precludes place-based education, differentiation, explicit executive-function skill-building, scaffolded essay-writing instruction, or project-based inquiry––all of which are vibrant parts of a Rock Point School education. And while the concepts and tools that make rocket science possible are also an important part of our curriculum (Physics, math, computers, communication skills, etc.), what really makes me proud of this school are strong mentoring and our culture of kindness.

Change for the better

As the Head of Rock Point School, I am always interested in what’s new and how we can change for the better. I’m proud that we have the largest solar orchard in Burlington, and that our students can use it as a laboratory. At the same time, I know it is our ability to keep the core principals above at the center of what we do––and what we have done so well for many years––that enables Rock Point School students to become their best selves and to go into the world with more competence and confidence.

By CJ Spirito
September 18, 2014
About the Author: CJ Spirito

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