Change and Continuity

Gil Gallagher
Field was founded as a school for students who needed something different, who needed to be seen as individuals capable of brilliance and as a place where strong relationships between teachers and students were recognized as an essential foundation of learning.


I have been in education for coming up on 20 years, and in the last 10 months I have learned—I have had to learn—more about adaptive change than I thought was possible in a lifetime. Innovation is part of my practice. I get bored easily (as do some of my students!), and I’m often restless to build the next thing once the last thing has been launched (or even, sometimes, a little before that). But the pace and intensity of the building we have had to undertake has been staggering. We joke about rebuilding the plane while we are flying it, and that is often what it feels like. A bunch of mechanics, dangling off the wings of a plane high in the sky, dodging errant geese and dropping our tools, but, somehow, keeping the plane in the air and making a new plane in the process.

This pandemic has forced us to revolutionize things that in general we take for granted: where kids sit or how the HVAC system works or how to stay warm (enough) with the windows open in winter. How do we take attendance (or do we take attendance) when our kids are both in our rooms (sometimes in more than one!) and at home? How do we keep kids both together and apart?

So often I find myself awestruck by our teachers. I’m thinking of Karen, who, prior to COVID, barely knew how to use google docs and had never done a video conference. Her practice as a dark room photographer didn’t rely on those tools, but COVID changed all that. I think of the hours she put in—and those who worked tirelessly to support her—to ensure that her students were still able to learn how to frame their experience and capture that visually. She transitioned from the dark room to a fully digital program in a matter of days.

I’m thinking of Simon, our computer science teacher, who mailed their students boxes of computer parts and had them working to build their own machines from home, and of the physics team (Jarrett and Graham) assembling catapult kits and data collection tools to send home. I’m thinking of Zander, who built “metacog logs” in Padlet to help students document the evolution of their thinking over time. I’m thinking of Sarah who ran to three different floors of two different buildings to deliver clay and check-in with students as they created and who facilitated critiques by students in two rooms simultaneously. I’m thinking of our Chemistry students doing titrations in their kitchens, garages, and bathrooms while Steven coached them over  zoom. 

But this new world isn’t just technical. We have had to learn new ways of thinking about teaching and learning—and we have been called to evaluate the purpose of this work we call schooling. What we know about remote learning and about hybrid learning is that it is absolutely essential to do less. What we are learning about learning in a global pandemic is that the students are attempting to survive and that this feeling of needing to survive has enormous implications for the purpose of school. It is worth noting that this survival mentality predates COVID for many marginalized students, particularly BIPOC students, LGBTQ+ students and students with learning disabilities.
The field of education is reevaluating itself in broad ways, and education at Field will no doubt change significantly. Some of these changes were in the works already and reflect pieces of our mission where we have fallen short. This pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in terms of our need to modernize and to help our students become more critical thinkers in the realms of technology and social media. It has pushed us to think deeply about our standards for student learning and our assessment philosophy and practice. I will share some thoughts about both of those topics, which are enormous, in future posts.

The pandemic and the recent racial unrest—which are not new features of American life—has also caused us to recommit to anti-bias and anti-racist principles which are essential to our mission and to look deeply in the mirror at the culture of our school. How do we honor our students as individuals if we do not see or understand their lived experience? How do we help our students feel validated and important when they do not always see their lives reflected in our curriculum? How do we help our students learn to communicate with each other across lines of difference and cultivate generosity and compassion? The work of becoming culturally competent is the work of a lifetime and is essential for a school like Field. This is also something I will explore in future posts.

Field was founded as a school for students who needed something different, who needed to be seen as individuals capable of brilliance and as a place where strong relationships between teachers and students were recognized as an essential foundation of learning. Those principles will always be central to the Field way and will allow us to stay on mission even as we change—sometimes radically!—our practices and policies.


Gil Gallagher, The Field SchoolGil Gallagher is the Dean of Curriculum at Field and an educator in History and Anti-Racism. 
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