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What we need is scaling!

There are many innovative practices happening within classroom, schools, and districts in BC. Go to any education conference or website and you’ll see a whole range of ideas on how to promote wellbeing. Want more great ideas? Gather any number of parents, students, administrators and educators together and you’re guaranteed to get even more! WellAhead learned this lesson in our first year, when we asked six communities to brainstorm ideas for ‘everyday practices’ – and we heard hundreds of them.

What we learned is that it’s not a lack of good ideas that stands in our way. We have the knowledge on how to support the wellbeing of our students. What is needed is not new ideas, but ways to spread or share promising ideas between schools. We need to find ways to build on what works, share that with others in a similar context, and ultimately shifts district and/or provincial systems to truly embed this way of working into K-12 education.

Let me give the example of a practice used in Sea to Sky schools – Circle. This is a simple intervention in many ways – teachers gather the entire classroom in a class for a sharing circle. It’s a locally established promising practice, with thousands of years of history in the territory through Squamish tradition. Circle practices have been well-researched as a tool to build safe, inclusive classrooms.

What we need at this moment is intentional action to ‘scale’ this practice – up, out and deep. Scaling out is the first we often think of – having more sites take on circle practice within their classroom. We share a video, a how-to guide, we give the example of a teacher who has been doing this practice for many years.

What’s the first thing another teacher will say? “That wouldn’t work in our school!” And that’s where it ends. Perhaps another teacher doesn’t have training in circle practice, or a principal who is supportive; perhaps the classroom chairs don’t easily move into a circle; perhaps there just isn’t time to have the class do a circle with so many other elements of curriculum to teach. I wonder if we can begin thinking differently about both what and how we scale.

  • What: we’re not scaling a specific “thing” – circle practice, in this example – but rather the key ingredients of that approach that lead to impact. For example, perhaps it’s not really about the circle – it’s about building relationships between student & teacher, democratizing the learning processes, having each students’ voice heard in front of the entire class, learning to listen to the whole class before speaking, or having a space to share personal stories that otherwise might be missed. It takes reflection, processing, research to get beyond the “thing” to understand the intention and the impact that an intervention has.
  • How: we’re not just looking at scaling “out” – replicating a circle in more than one place – but also scaling “up” into policies & structures, and “deep” into culture, practices, hearts and minds. For example, perhaps what is needed to scale up is for administrators to take on democratic, collaborative, circle-based approaches within staff meetings and district administrative structures. Maybe what is needed to scale deep is a different way of thinking about how we engage in classroom space.

It’s time for us to shift our focus to scaling the many great ideas that are already in our schools. We have much to learn from, and success to point to. What are your thoughts – why is scaling such a challenge in our schools? Where and how have you seen practices or approaches successfully scaled in school/districts?