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American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community

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In American Schools, Sam Chaltain interweaves the leading ideas from the education, business, and scientific communities to outline a framework for leadership that helps educators and organizational leaders create the optimal conditions for transformational change. By pairing a rich theoretical framework with the stories of communities that have, over several years, tried to create more democratic learning communities, Chaltain does what any reader of this book will have to do - provide enough structure to empower people to do their best work, and enough freedom so that each person's inherent creativity can be unleashed.

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Editorial Reviews

Linda Darling-Hammond
Our country's ongoing commitment to democratic principles can only be actualized if democracy lives in our public schools. This book reveals how schools can help students and teachers see and hear one another, create a strong community, and develop the sensibilities and skills for democratic life. It provides a framework for democratic leadership that is accessible, actionable, and grounded in good pedagogy.
John Goodlad
A powerful concept provides the organizing theme of this refreshing book: our nation's school leaders must strike the right balance between freedom and structure in order to create healthy, high-functioning learning environments. But there is a pervasive, more subtle one that slips along with the turning of the pages: the curriculum provides knowledge and skills relevant to daily functioning, but the persona of the teacher powerfully shapes the becoming of each unique being.
Ted Sizer
Sam Chaltain expects schools to do more than merely give their students knowledge of the world. By helping them to make themselves known to the world, he believes that they will be able to meet the democratic goal of taking responsibility for it. This book offers ideas and practical examples.
Alex Kotlowitz
Sam Chaltain has written a provocative, daring book, one that tangles with how best to create community and tolerance within the walls of a school. Chaltain is on to something - that an understanding of freedom is essential to creating active, engaged citizens, and that supporting individual freedoms need not negate an orderly, structured environment. I urge you to read American Schools.
September 2010 CHOICE
Chaltain (national director, Forum for Education and Democracy) aims to synthesize popular ideas from the fields of business management, psychology, and education into an easy-to-follow framework for educators interested in transforming schools into democratic learning communities. The first part of the book presents pithy summaries of "foundational skills of leadership" (e.g., self-awareness, systems thinking, shared decision making, etc.). Each of these chapters concludes with a description of "five things you can do" in an effort to develop particular skill sets. The second part of the book presents the stories of three school communities engaged in developing democratic learning communities. The book is written in an engaging first-person style that makes complex theoretical ideas clear and comprehensible. The author's stated aim is to provide a structured framework that empowers people, while also allowing enough freedom so that each person's inherent creativity can be unleashed.
Carl Glickman
I want to thank Sam Chaltain for writing this book. I wish I had the guidance of his ideas when my colleagues and I created our own network of public schools. Sam explains through personal stories and case studies how the visible can become visible, how the disengaged can become engaged, and how structure and freedom can complete a well-rounded education. Sam shows education leaders how student achievements can be enhanced, how teachers can be supported to use their talents and interests to learn from one another, and how the larger community of parents and citizens can be mobilized to become part of the ongoing creation of powerful schools. What separates this book from others on school leadership is its clear set of doable practice focused relentlessly on the public purpose of schools. Sam is a much talented writer; lyrical in his descriptions, humorous in his candor, and greatly respectful of educators who try each day to be true to their larger calling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781607092537
  • Publisher: R&L Education
  • Publication date: 11/16/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 163
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Sam Chaltain is the National Director of the Forum for Education and Democracy and the founding director of the Five Freedoms Project. He also provides professional development for public school districts, and consults with schools on issues ranging from First Amendment law to whole-school change. Mr. Chaltain currently lives with his wife (Sarah), son (Leo), and bulldog (Rufus) in Washington, DC. He can be reached at

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Foreword Chapter 2 Introduction Chapter 3 Prologue: Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): The Art of the Democratic Learning Community Part 4 Part I: Theory Chapter 5 Reflect (or, take the time to know "who's there?") Chapter 6 Connect (or, make the connections that let you "see the whole board") Chapter 7 Create (or, remember that "people only support what they create") Chapter 8 Equip (or, equip people with the understanding, motivation and skills they need to see their new ideas through) Chapter 9 Let Come (or, practice "urgent patience" to let the school's shared vision come naturally into being) Part 10 Part II: Practice Chapter 11 Fairview Elementary School (Modesto, CA) Chapter 12 Nursery Road Elementary School (Columbia, SC) Chapter 13 Monadnock Community Connections School (Keene, NH) Chapter 14 Epilogue: Ways of Seeing (Teec Nos Pos, AZ)

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 25, 2010

    American Schools key to Rethinking Education System for New Era

    In this book, former schoolteacher, First Amendment Scholar, MBA and nonprofit exec, Sam Chaltain, provides fresh thinking and clarity of ideas about how off-course our education system has gone. After years of working in education, it makes sense to me now how decades of effort and funding could lead us to the same problems over and over again. Chaltain asserts in this book that we have to identify the conditions for learning -- find what specifically leads to positive teaching and learning -- before we can tack on another initiative, chase another rainbow, or meet another grant demand and think we're getting somewhere on creating the kind of mass change necessary to educate all of our kids to a higher level, in a more innovative, meaningful way.

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