Make No Little Plans

Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood….make big plans, aim high in hope and work. Daniel H. Burnham

Our kick off party was a joy last week.  So many people are drawn to GCE’s mission, Eric’s vision and track record, and now to each other.  Our task is now to be precise in our self-assessment and clear in our requests for help as we grow.  There is room for all this enthusiasm and good will! Converting plans into action not just in our classroom community but with our growing ranks of supporters will be important and crucial work for us, even as we now shift focus to the students and the daily work of teaching and learning starting tomorrow morning. If in reading this you feel compelled towards us, email or call! There is something you can contribute.

We have been busy working with applicant and new families right through Labor Day weekend! ( Thank goodness for the Internet!)  I will be meeting with parents even as our students go into their first classes tomorrow morning at 9 am.  I do not see a break between admissions for this year and next.  We are growing a school-we are aiming for 50/60 students for fall 2001 and 150 for the 2012-13 school year. We’ll have scholastic seasons to be sure, but ours may be stretched during this early stage of our “start up”. And I suspect our students will be working and studying in their summers, and that they will have time for rest and relaxation and joy all year round. We will have folks wanting to transfer mid-year no-doubt as word spreads, but have decided that new students will enter only in late November and then in March when we wrap up trimesters. The integrated learning units necessitate this. The cyclical nature of what we are doing means students need to enter when there is a natural pause, but we will allow some flow mid-year as we want to keep the momentum going.  This policy is a good example of administrative process being led by what teachers know to work best.  With the student experience as our compass, I think we will continue to build good infrastructures. We are going to ask students to have really spent some time getting to know us before spending a whole day in class as part of the admission process as well.  Our classes are too intimate for visitors to be “invisible”, so folks need to enter the rooms in the spirit of participation, even if they are observing.  We hope we’ll have many people spend time with us once teachers and students have formed a tribe and claimed their space as their own.

This year will tell us a lot about whom we can best serve.  Hungry to earn, curious, committed to trying are clear identifiers for the current group of students. I suspect humorous and creative will be common identifiers once everyone is comfortable.  That was surely true of the GCE staff! We did not give an entrance exam this year, but will use several assessments to help us make decisions about individuals and groups to get started; we can be fluid as students catapult or plateau .  The essays, portfolio of student work and interview tell us so much, along with records and recommendations. Students will know if this is the right place for them if they enter the admission process fully. We came to the mutual conclusion with several applicants that GCE was not going to be a good fit; this is a successful admission interaction for everybody if it was a learning process and led to an appropriate outcome.  As opposed to the families of primarily much young students I have worked with the past 8 years, these students have a lot to say about their own paths, and a lot more impact on the ultimate decision to attend.  This is so appropriate, and I deeply admire the parents for whom a school like ours may seem so far from their own experience, but who support a child whose light is lit for the first time in years when they hear how we will “do school”. The parents and guardians of our students are incredible advocates for their children and taking the leap with us is brave.  We are pioneers in this project, and I think we’ll look back and be proud we followed our gut-or the gut of the student-and went forth.

Time for sleep-school tomorrow -so much more to reflect on from our meeting with David Spadafora at the Newberry to the PBS special on Burnham to the mansion kitchen renovation! Sweet dreams, and let us not be like owls in the dark, ruminating but never seeing the light.

Burnham Plan for the Lakefront


Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure not this thing not that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.

~William B. Yeats

I was filled with gratitude- and simple joy-yesterday morning as I filled my trusted old blue mason jars with water and flowers (and a bit of Sadia’s sage from the garden we all share). The 800 Buena kitchen door was propped open and I could see the black squirrel from the garden snooping around the entrance to the coach house. The beautiful table runners Hiu had sewn for our first big GCE event lay spread out on the big wooden table. Peace in work. When they wondered in, I chatted with Melissa and Carolyn from Smart Love about books and building schools and social change. My reading list keeps growing as does my admiration for all the positive work that goes on in quiet places we don’t hear about on the news.  Hopeful.

With the heavy prep work done, this quiet morning time doing small tasks before most of the other staff arrived, preparing for a gathering of people who want to come together, made me reflective-and nostalgic.  For the theater-those hours before performing, when I could wonder on stage, out of costume, and just be, imagining how it might be when those we had prepared for arrive with all of their unpredictable humanity, when all the hard work transforms into something else, something created by the act of sharing and experience. And for celebrations in other big houses. The one built by my great-grandfather, who left his parents on an island in northern Norway at 17 ended up in Miami planting citrus tress and building houses and churches.  I spent almost every Christmas running around those houses at huge parties full of people I knew and didn’t know, eating a mix of butter laden Scandinavian sweets and spicy tropical dishes from all the Latin American islands where my grandparents had lived and worked for Pam Am in the 1940’s and 50’s. Houses in London and Brooklyn where meetings, play readings and rehearsals and endless conversations around tables of food, were as valuable a any college seminar in my professional and personal formation. The house in Italy where my daughter was born-on a farm full of fruit, nut and olive trees-a house where the line between indoor and outdoor living was blurry.

Big joyous blends of people and flavors have always been formative experiences. I have always loved to prepare for visitors; to bring people together; make events rather than things. Helping school communities is not so different somehow; and the table has no meaning, or joy, if no one comes. I like organizing too, but how much lovelier and healthier to work in an environment where an administrative task might occasionally include cutting sage.

And so many came last night! With intent and excitement for this journey we are on with GCE. Big gratitude-for this opportunity, my colleagues, our students and their families trusting us, our incredible advisory board who have given us so much this month of professional development, , our lovely co-tenants from Menominee Club, China Kids, Smart Love and Smarty Pants are Leaders. Specifically- Hiu’s calm attention to the jammed printer at the 11th hour, Eliot’s fabulous soundtrack and PA set up, my dad picking up my daughter from her school and coming all the away across town.

Big breath-we are leaving our scrappy, dynamic,and cozy Basecamp of preparation and ready to start heading up the beautiful, steep mountain together with our students. Last night seeing the students and faculty gathered together introducing themselves to the big and enthusiastic crowd that came to help us launch the year made our quickly sprouting school feel real. Maintaining our balance and intention and energy while allowing the natural surge this project seems to be inspiring in so many folks will be a challenge. This group is good at asking for help, and as long as we are clear with our intentions and reflective along the way, I think we can leverage this fantastic font of good will, hope, and wisdom to build the networks and resources we need to realize a model learning community that so many seem to have been waiting for.

So I am happy and we are growing.

Our Natural Tendency Towards Empathy

RSA’s amazing film looking at historical tendency of human beings towards empathy.  It embodies the essence of global citizenship and what we seek to nurture in our students and ourselves at GCE.

Deirdre Reflects on Tech with Carlos

Tech Reflection My first attempt to demonstrate learning via animated film. A creative rebound to a temporary plateau in learning.  All in good humor! (Carlos, my brilliant Brazilian colleague, is speaking in “Spanish Male 1” because there was no Portuguese male voice option in the program I used.  It seems to be a mix of translation of the English dialog I wrote and heavily Spanish-accented English gibberish…what can you hear?)

GCE Story and Searching for Students

Greetings! I’m glad you are interested in GCE and digging into the site a bit deeper to get to know us. The first four days together as a team have been brimming with energy, ideas and solid strategizing. A huge adavntage to GCE’s model is allowing arenas for collective wisdom of the whole team when planning infrastructures. Eric has brought together a highly creative group of folks with wide range of experience and deep expertise in specific areas. As we’ve investigated options for internal communication systems, we’ve also been thinking about how to best communicate with our broader community-including you!

Once school begins in September our site will host a huge amount of publicly accessible student and teacher generated text and media. In the meanwhile, we’d like your feedback on this site and our print material if you have seen them.  What is most exciting to you? What is not clear or missing? Can you imagine your teen studying this way? Do you wish you could go back and do high school in the GCE model?

We are still enrolling students and have available aid for the 2010-11 school year. If you would like to learn more, have potential students or partners in mind, or feel inspired to help us in any way please get in touch.