Zach Kelehear


In the spring of the school year, the high school and first-grade students came together for a collaborative, multi-age tile mosaic art project. Three times a week students from two first-grade classes would travel to the high school to work with a high school mentor in creating tile mosaic pieces. Those pieces would be brought together on the wall of the elementary school at the end of the year. Watching those students come together in the shared art experience served to remind me of the real treasure that teaching and learning can be. When school communities risk constructing learning that is outside the traditional organizational pattern, then they "risk" having a place where learning is authentic and caring for each other becomes real. It takes courage on the part of the student, the teacher, and the principal to risk this type of experience.

In watching the students and teacher work together, one trait emerged as essential to a caring and authentic school: empathy. Empathy is that interpersonal quality that allows one to know the feelings of another (Kelehear, 2001; 2002). As students worked with each other, as teachers worked with the students, and as the principal assisted the teacher, the level of empathy present was the critical element for a qualitative relationship. And at the same time, the participants cultivated a sense of caring in the relationship as they began to understand the commitment in working together toward a shared goal. In as much as caring became part of the school climate, the relationships became more substantive and paying attention to each other became the order of the day.

How does such a school community, one that emphasizes authenticity and caring, celebrate the student, the teacher, the principal, and the curriculum? Based on the observations from this multi-age experience, I share a vision for such a place.