Aspen High principal urges teachers to look beyond their campus
December 19, 2010
ASPEN – Aspen High School principal Art Abelmann has turned the tables on his teachers a bit: Now it’s their turn to learn.
“The more you see, the more you realize there are a lot of ways to run a school,” said Abelmann following Monday’s Aspen school board meeting, where he told those assembled about his plan for helping teachers and administrators “see things with a new perspective” by observing first hand how other schools operate.
In fact, Abelmann has challenged the entire high school faculty with spending at least one day this school year at another Colorado high school, whether it be in the Roaring Fork Valley or farther afield. The days away from AHS would be paid, as they would be considered professional development.
“When you visit a different high school, as an administrator or teacher, you see things from a different perspective,” he said, adding that the school librarian and an English teacher have already been on school visits, while his assistant principal went to three different Front Range/Boulder-area schools just last week. “Some things you see might make you say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing … we should consider that.’ Other things might make you say, ‘Wow, that’s ridiculous … why would they do it like that?’
“But the point is, it makes you think. It makes you really reflect on how things are being done and, perhaps, how they might be done better.”
The driving force behind the school visits is not because of any problems at AHS per se, Abelmann is quick to point out. Rather, it’s to broaden the realm of possibilities.
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“There’s absolutely no hidden agenda in this, but being one of the first people to come in here in a long time with no history, you see things, you ask questions, you look at things a bit differently,” said Abelmann, who took over the job of AHS principal from Charlie Anastas this school year, marking the first time in nearly two decades that an “outsider” has held the school’s top job. “This idea is to help us recognize that just because we do it a certain way in Aspen, it’s not the only way.
“My hope is that this will infuse new energy and enthusiasm for what we are doing.”
For example, Abelmann talked about the school’s International Baccalaureate program, which is a great success. However, “it can put an inordinate amount of stress on students, teachers and parents. Maybe we can learn some ways to run this program with less stress?”
Another example he used is parent-teacher conferences: “We had 75 percent attendance, which is really great. But what about the other 25 percent? How do we connect with them? We might be able to learn from other schools about how they attract parents who are less likely to attend.”
According to Abelmann, lessons learned during these school visits will be documented by the teacher and then reported to Abelmann. He will then decide whether the observations deserve further research or discussion. “We’re just getting this going, so I am not exactly sure what shape it will take. But I do think we’re on the right track with it.”
This school visitation program is one of the first direct challenges Abelmann has given his staff. But that’s not to say he hasn’t been taking notice of the things AHS does well, and the areas where the school can be improved.
“This is not a mandate; nobody is required to visit another school,” said Abelmann. “To be honest, I’ve put my hand in very few things so far. But I really do believe that having our teachers look outside Aspen will be worthwhile for everyone.”