As any cultural organisation develops and grows, the inspired and organically developed spirit that it expresses becomes hard to maintain within a necessarily standardising structure. They are in fact two different and mostly opposing forces – that of organisation/classification and that of inspiration/flame. However a school, for example, must develop structure as it grows in student, staff and parent numbers. It must put into writing and consistent practice what was once optionally or individually enacted. As the school grows, its true cultural value will be shown by how well the individuals within it regulate between its form and spirit. In being thus regulated, teachers/educators feel they are given the freedom to enact their practice with integrity, students feel valued and enjoy learning, parents feel and see positive pedagogical outcomes for their children and all parties feel part of a living community.
One of the pitfalls during the development of a school as a cultural institution is a lack of observation of its individual spirit. The concept or mission statement of a school (its function, what the school strives to achieve) is meant to be a concise document of how the form and spirit interact within a school, and this interaction changes as the school grows. In fact, the initial concept or mission statement of a school can become like a parasite upon the spirit of a school, by taking just what it needs to keep up appearances, but never growing with the school’s evolution. It can also become a burden on the form of a school, if that form is settling beyond the scope of the school concept’s words. Semantic is very important, but the words of any new conception of the school’s mission must be made acknowledging its spirit and with the aid of the school’s community. In doing so it avoids being inauthentically written to impress current and potential families/staff, or adhere to a new form or structure being put into place¹. It also means that the community is engaged in enacting the concept, these individuals become active stake-holder’s in the school’s cultural capital.
One way to begin looking at an older school concept would be to separate what was written in as form (specific curriculum, grading, administrative matters), function (what it strives to achieve) and what was written in expressing the spirit of a school (an almost indescribable, specifically individual quality). It is important to acknowledge that ‘inclusive’, ‘community’, ‘bilingual’ are largely functional terms, as are ‘Waldorf’, ‘Montessori’ or ‘Democratic’. Anything that can be reproduced by another school is not a particular school’s spirit. It is appropriate that the concept or mission statement of a school focuses on functionality, but in its language it will naturally speak of both the form and spirit of the school.
When reading through school concept statements it is noticeable which were written by one or few in the school’s community, and which included the community in their editing. It is an almost baffling thought, to produce a paragraph or two edited from hundreds, perhaps thousands of individual’s thoughts, wishes and practices. It can be done; an appropriate context for such a discussion would be decided by the teachers/educators at the particular school (although in some cases differences in administrative structure would mean this is decided by other parties as well).
The functionality of a school, even through this process should not alter very much in most cases. It will still be ‘inclusive’, ‘community focussed’, ‘bilingual’, ‘Waldorf’, ‘Montessori’ or ‘Democratic’. These labels do not change, but the individuals within the school do, as naturally as the feel of a school does. So the spirit grows, but never is different – in the same way that a human grows, but is always the same person. Bodies change, beliefs and practices change, but the individual remains, learning through experience.
¹Furthermore the form/s chosen would then naturally be chosen out of an understanding of the school’s spirit and its concept, rather than being imposed upon individuals without proper consideration.