Minding the Gap: Uncovering the Lived Experience of Starting a School
Felix, Debra Anne
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This phenomenological study explores the lived experience of school founders. My work is guided by the research question: "What is the lived experience of school founders from the time they conceive of starting a school through the first year of operation?" As phenomenology demands, my work is grounded in philosophy, and I turn to the writings of a wide variety of philosophers to inform the hermeneutic interpretation of the text. For methodological guidance, I rely on the work of Max van Manen. Through the voices of participants, I excavate the essence of, and meaning beneath, their experiences. The school founders' experiences share certain essential elements. Being caught in a gap between existing schools and the schools they imagine emerges as a central theme, as each school founder discovers one or more gaps in the educational landscape s/he then seeks to fill. The journey includes rebellion against established norms with a distinct philosophy and vision, and focus amidst a barrage of risks and naysayers. Beneath this lies a sense of purpose and an obligation to develop other people's children. School founders' experiences highlight various tensions in education today - the assumptions we make about "old" and "new" educational practices; how we select the values we wish to pass along to children; the ways in which we evaluate schools; the challenge of implementing new ideas; the role of parents in education; the lack of access many have to a free and appropriate education; and our general discomfort with change and reform. The pedagogical insights from this study lead me to suggest that school founders share their practices and advice with one another and with others to enhance both new and existing schools. I also suggest we re-visit how to assess hard-to-measure outcomes, how to involve parents more in education, and how to move ideas from theory to implementation. Finally, I encourage education leaders to transform the education mindset to one that allows for a greater diversity of school options and choices for the benefit of both teachers and students.