Coming Home

Returning Home

I am about to return to Heading a school. This one is not international. Nor is it independent. It is a public charter school in the heart of New York. My home. In the days, before I begin, I have been reflecting on life outside of school and my work as a consultant over these last six months. Here are some of those musings:

Being a consultant is analogous to being a tourist. Only you are paid to pass through, observe from a distance but always separate and outside the ethos and life force of a school. It’s like being in a foreign country and eating American food in the hotel restaurant.

Being a consultant (also like being an interim) prevents the establishment of deep and long lasting relationships. And as we all know, it is ALL about relationships in these crucibles, called schools. So trust is hard to acquire, when everyone knows you are here on a visitors pass and relations with people becomes like Tupperware.

As a consultant, teachers (not all) regard you warily. Like, Have you ever taught? Or, what’s her agenda?

I am not indicting consultants. (I was one). We need them. They can see things we can’t. They impart (and if they are good) can mine the knowledge and expertise of others. They can push us out of comatose comfort zones and jolt us into discomfort. They can be change agents. They always hold up a mirror to our own settings. They can be confessional and priest like whom we can say things to that we would never utter to our colleagues or supervisors. But they are not fixtures in a community. They won’t be there when the toilets get stuffed with paper towels and the boy’s bathroom begins to flood. They won’t there to have that difficult discussion with a teacher who is not rising to the occasion or the kid who will be put on home suspension for deriding a teacher on Facebook.

I am pleased that sojourn is over (for now). Now as I prepare to step out of these ranks my greatest anxiety (one of) is the loss of time. I can’t remember ever having this kind of open field of managing my time since I was in college. And too much of that was squandered because I didn’t know how. But the time to read, the time to write; the time to wander streets with no aim or metric or benchmark to meet; the time to take advantage of the immense cultural resources of this city; the time to be quiet and do absolutely nothing at all. This has been a privilege and a gift for staying mindful.

Half a year on the sidelines, in the audience and from the balcony, has been a source of perspective. That being said, I don’t like being an outlier in schools, because nothing comes close to approximating the existential tightrope of running a school. And now, it is time for the world of ATS exams, ELA, SF1s, the common core, lockdowns, shelter-ins, and fingerprints. And the immense responsibility of changing one life at a time.

It feels like returning home.

About David Penberg

David Penberg is an urban and international educational leader. He has held leadership roles in non-profits, community-based organizations, independent, international and charter schools, and in higher education. He has a deep grounding in progressive education, the cross-cultural experience and leadership development. Dr. Penberg has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He was a fellow in the Carey Leadership Program at Bank Street College (1982-84) and Klingenstein Fellow for International School Heads at Teachers College, Columbia University (2008). He was the founding director of the nationally recognized Liberty Partnerships Program at Bank Street College. Since then, Penberg has held posts as Head of Studies and Head of School in international schools in Mexico City and Barcelona. He was most recently the Head of School at Innovate Manhattan Charter School in the lower east side and is an adjunct at Pace University’s Teaching Fellows program. He abides by Auden's dictum "We were put on earth to make things."
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