Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free at teachingpreschoolpartners.org/resource-library/.


It’s August and at Opal School that means there are 3 of us here ready to begin the ball toss that will evolve into our 13th year of school. Every year, this ball we toss first is a little different than the one we tossed the August before. At Opal School we listen, we pay attention, we respond. Each year, our community is made up of different people and we have different resources available. So we change. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. A puzzle of needs and interests and relationships and new learning combined with a committment to reflection support us to grow and evolve.

Opal School is an open system — a learning organization. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, defines learning organizations this way:

…organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.

Here are a couple of short articles that offer more — part of websites that offer even more:

We’re All in This Together 

Seven Lessons for Leaders in Systems Change

To evolve is to change. We recognize that in the whole that is Opal School, change means that where some individuals find joy in the release this change brings, others are sure to find discomfort, uncertainty, disappointment. This system of real relationships ensures we will all experience all of these emotions from time to time.

Margaret Wheatley writes:

I have to admit that the greatest challenge for me and those I work with lies not in adopting new methods, but in learning to live in this process world. It’s a completely new way to be, unlike anything I was taught. I’m learning to participate with things as they unfold, to expect to be surprised, to enjoy the mystery of it, and to surrender to how much I don’t know and can never know. These were difficult lessons to learn. I was well-trained to create things-plans, events, measures, programs. I invested more than half my life in trying to make the world conform to what I thought was best. It hasn’t been easy to give up the role of master creator and move into the dance of life.

But I’ve gradually learned there is no alternative. As our dance partner, life insists that we put ourselves in motion, that we learn to live with instability, chaos, change, and surprise. We can continue to stand immobilized on the shoreline, trying to protect ourselves from life’s insistent storms, or we can begin moving. We can watch our plans be washed away, or we can discover something new.

We are ALL in this together. While that may always be true, that is not a viewpoint that is typically embraced in traditional school systems, which tend to operate as car engines do — as closed systems. New information can break them down. So they create rules and punishments and zero tolerance policies to protect them against breakage. Questions, reflection, dialogue, new perspective, learning don’t find much fertile soil. If you can fit the system, you’re in. If not, you’re out.

You better believe that I have come to understand why schools create such rules and policies. At every turn, they provide the right to slam the door when things get hard. In the name of caring for everyone, such policies ensure that we don’t have to care at all about some.

But at Opal School, we are committed to doing things differently. We are committed to developing a process that values listening and relationships above all else. We do not have it all figured out. And the only thing I am sure of is that we never will. Because in this process, in my own 12 year journey here as both a parent and staff, I have come to understand that the journey is of far greater value than any pinnacle of achievement. It is exciting to have confidence that one moment of joyful discovery will lead to another — and equal confidence that I can handle the hardship that might crop up on the path in between.

Margaret Wheatley encourages us to continue asking these kinds of questions with one another:

1. Who else needs to be here to do this work?
2. Why are we doing this? Is the meaning still clear?
3. How is the meaning changing?
4. Are we becoming better truth-tellers with each other?
5. Is information becoming more open and easier to access?
6. Are we trying to impose anything?
7. Are we becoming more alert to what’s going on, right now?
8. Are we learning to partner with confusion and chaos as opportunities for real change?

As a learning community of families and staff (including many who are both and including our Museum colleagues), who are committed to developing an understanding of what it means to live a pedagogy of listening and relationships, we can all remember to ask ourselves these questions as we move together to learn and to grow. The responses we uncover will support continued healthy development and change.

The complexity of the system is fascinating and beautiful. But the patterns are nearly impossible to discern. And we feel vulnerable when we can’t see them. Brene Brown‘s words of commitment offer a kind of comfort through uncertainties that impact relationships:

I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you.

My 6-year old, Stella, padded down the stairs this morning as I wrote this and climbed into my lap. The first thing from her mouth was, “Mommy, will I go back to Opal 1?” I reminded her that, no, she was ready to move on to Opal 2. She snuggled in deeper to my chest and shook her head. “No! I don’t want to go!” So I held her a little tighter. Because I know. Change is hard.