Process and Product

by Matt Callahan, Associate Director of the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship

“Smile occasionally. Your subjects are serious, but the occasional smile expresses empathy and makes us want to care about what you’re saying,” wrote Mary Hammers to the keynote speakers just before our inaugural Impact Summit on May 27th. At another point, during a coaching session, I overheard Mary encouraging a student: “Smiling is contagious; it signals that you are enjoying talking about your subject, and it encourages the listener to smile too. And when you’re smiling, you’re having fun. Then the listener is enjoying your talk that much more, because they are smiling!” 

This kind of one-on-one coaching and mentorship, paired with an emphasis on responding to real-world issues, made our first year of Social Impact and Leadership (SI+L) – a year-long core class alongside math, English, science, and history – such a success. This window into our class provides a neat illustration of a core belief of the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship: the process is as important as the product. 

Process over product: a familiar refrain in progressive school circles; but what do we mean by process? At Hillbrook, we might look to decouple the outcome of a project or assignment from the learning process itself. We would provide many ways to arrive at a conclusion and many tools to use. There would be no step-by-step instructions in the process to arrive at an outcome. We might ask open-ended questions, emphasize the complexity of an issue, and underline the experience of learning rather than the result. There is a crucial demystification of the creative process, an attempt to make visible the often invisible process of creation. We use verbs like explore and experience, and we attempt to assess the process rather than the product. We also try to downplay a drive for productivity, creating the conditions for contemplation. 

SI+L as a class reflects, in many ways, this process over product narrative: students pursue projects that tap into their personal passions, use tools they are excited to master, and take on issues that are personally relevant to them. One salient example: Cullen was worried about the impact he was having on the environment as a skateboarder. Every time he broke a deck, he thought about where the wood came from for these boards. In his project, he combined a passion for building and woodworking, and a desire to create a more sustainable skateboard, to create a deck made out of recycled wood. He was mentored by Ken Hay, and in the end created a beautiful skateboard out of a tree that fell on our beautiful campus. Along the way, there was no example for him to follow, no clear result to this project. He explored and researched, built and tested. He applied math concepts (and learned new ones!) and wrote passionately about his project. 

And yet, there is power in the end result of this project: Cullen completed his board and it exists in the world today. This is true of the rest of the projects, too: books have been written, curricula developed, social impact companies launched, and documentaries made. The experience of creating and launching the product of their process into the world is powerful for students. And, for the community. Which brings us to our next belief: the process is for the individual, while the product is for the collective. 

While we emphasize the unique quality of each project, we also emphasize the collective nature of the learning experience. We also underline the fact that these projects are not intended solely for the individual but are part of a collective effort to reshape our world into a more just and sustainable place. Students also reflected on their process, making legible the inscrutable process behind each beautiful and unique undertaking. Each project is part of a patchwork approach to restoring our world and our relationship with one another. 

Ultimately we strike a balance between process and product as a way of honoring the importance of the learning experience, while also emphasizing the significance of creating something. We tell students to learn boldly, to take on issues they care about personally, and to use tools they want to explore. We also remind ourselves that we are all learning together, we have influence not just on our own and others’ products, but also their learning process. 

In the end, the keynote addresses were fabulous, thanks to the incredible effort and thoughtful process of the speakers. The process is undoubtedly one that will benefit each of our three speakers as they move on to high school and beyond. And the product – the three distinct, thoughtful, and powerful keynote addresses – were offered as a gift to our community. They remind us to continue to balance process and product, and to develop individually while remaining connected to our community and offering the fruits of our labor to the collective as we begin to realize long-term impact for people and the planet.