The Edge: a sudden unplanned flight of fancy

         Come to the Edge

We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew.

Christopher Logue “Come to the Edge” frequently misattributed to Guillaume Apollinaire

Simply by sailing in a new direction
You could enlarge the world
Allen Curnow ‘Landfall in Unknown Seas‘.

Imagine three circles. In the inner ring our core comfort zone of what we know and do best. The outer ring – the unknown place of uncertainty, the unpredictable, the future, beyond our knowledge and our knowing. And the second ring – contiguous with the comfort zone on one side – touches the wild and wooly world of the limitless unknown on the other.

If we seek to Preserve the Core (those values, practices and traditions to which we commit ourselves) and Stimulate Progress (seek the ways to grow, evolve, change, improve, move on, adapt, innovate, do better) then we need to be out there on that edge – experimenting, playing, dipping our toes (at some times) and plunging in (at others.) Our mind-forg’d manacles maintain the status quo; but it is there for us to challenge and change.

All learning, all innovation happens at that leading, bleeding, blinding and enchanting edge.

See the line between the two inner circles? It curves and bulges. It is ragged and torn. It beckons, tempts and torments like a green light at the end of the dock. It is topped with razor wire and broken glass; it is edged with enticement and enchantment. It dances before our eyes, repels us and draws us forward where we look Gloucester-like to the dizzying beach far below, to the horizon before us and above to the stars. But we are blind.

‘Who reaches
A future for us from the high shelf
Of spiritual daring?’
Allen Curnow ‘Landfall in Unknown Seas‘.

Do we dare?  Do we dare reach for the edge, the frontier, the boundary – as they loom in the fog before us –  blurry and misted over, the sharp and jagged shards hidden from sight. Do we step out?  Or count the coffee spoons as an attendant lord?

Learning is messy, progress hard to see except from the far distance of a time that is not yet here. The journey is fraught with pitfalls and pratfalls, and the moving, leading edge shape-shifts, looms and shrinks; it darts in spikes and then retreats.  Or grows laterally, stagnates, falls back and then again a sudden leap.

The experiences on the edge feed the core that deepens and strengthens with the interactions with the new, the original and freshly imagined. The experience on the edge gives courage, the adrenaline rush, the sudden deflation of disappointment. It is the burst of energy and the long, slow haul of the steady, sturdy determined slog of the relentless and undaunted.

The edge is where the new ideas are. It’s where the disruptions happen that will challenge the core and leave it strengthened or  if hollow, fractured and shattered.  It’s where the course of history is changed and the history course transformed. It’s where the dragons lurk and threats reside. The edge is the opportunity for invention – the place where possibility dwells.

The edge is where we must be as a school. It is where our students and we are as we lead into, and help shape the shared future. Embracing innovation, managing change  – they mean living on that edge. And in practice that means allowing for emerging ways of conducting the business of school. It means:

  • Reimagining physical learning spaces to accommodate new thinking, fresh collaborations and transdisciplinary work and exploration.
  • Asking questions about the intersections of physical and virtual learning spaces.
  • Rethinking how we sort children as they move (or don’t move through the school system.) Do we have to always be stuck with date of manufacture?  Or are there ways to break that model, change the edges of the cookie cutters that shape life in school by time and place and age and ability?
  • Going beyond chatting on Skype as a way to forge the global connections we need to make collaboration meaningful and make that better world of greater understanding, tolerance and shared values for which we yearn
  • Asking how we leverage distance expertise for learning spaces and projects (formerly known as classrooms and assignments) as well as leadership and governance
  • Focusing on developing, honoring and respecting the incredible diversity of talent in all of our schools and end the narrowing down of children’s potential
  • Listing all the ways in which we want ourselves and our students to learn and experience and incorporating as many of them as possible.  Identifying how space and time and lack of imagination stunt the options we think we and our students need
  • Working out how we develop the democratic systems and structures to manage the default command and control modes of most schooling. Whose learning is it? Whose space is it? What is the role of student choice and adult guidance when you are out there on the edge?
  • Safety: Keeping learners “safe” as they venture over the edge, through the rapids and into the shock of the new.  Celebrating the essay, the try, the attempt and not just the arrival and simplistic prizes of limited achievement.  Cherishing ambiguity, appreciating vagueness, living with the unpredictable and leaning into the unknown.
  • The work of a school is ensuring that every learner develops an identity as a passionate learner with foundation learning solidly in place . And that means leaders and learners living with mess, confusion and  improvisation. It means lots of trial and error, paying attention, taking risks and absorbing the lessons of the creative arts.
  • Dancing with the unpredictable, riffing along the edge between our past and our future – making, shaping, caring, connecting, creating, falling and failing.

And so much more.

And in the end – what is it all about? How do we develop the processes for establishing common ground, senses of direction? How do we engender deep and personal engagement and ensure creative contribution in our endlessly edgy, problem finding- solution-seeking zones of proximal development?

From the senior art exhibit in Kenyon: a painting by Chris I.

From the senior art exhibit in Kenyon: a painting by Chris I.

Photo credit: Alan English

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