Recently, one of our founding parents reflected back on her daughter’s experience transitioning from a traditional school to our learner driven environment.
She shared with us, after the first month of school last year her daughter came home and exclaimed, “I don’t want to make all of the rules. I just want someone else to do it and tell us what to do!”
In response, this heroic parent said calmly and matter-of-factly, “And that’s exactly why you’re here.”
Fast forward to today. This young lady is now our resident “sheepdog” at TVS. Sheepdog status is a special role given to our student leaders in the community, who work diligently and thoughtfully to guard and protect the learning environment. There is a sheepdog at every Acton campus and these young heroes are connected to each other through a global “sheepdog” forum, where they can help each other brainstorm and problem solve studio issues. It’s a new initiative within the network, but I can already see the potential of connecting and empowering campus leaders at a global level. I mean, how cool is that?
Recently, there had been an eruption of unkind and derogatory comments in the studio. A few of the learners were quick to point out the specific contract promises those participating were breaking and the offenders were quick to diminish the importance of their words.
Our young sheepdog, in turn, saw this as her call to action. She rallied a few others in the studio and crafted an email to the Sheepdog Forum. The group cheered in excitement when they received a response email from the resident sheepdog, and launchpad (high school) hero, at Acton main. Fueled with new insights and a clear path forward, she and another hero crafted a launch on language and why words matter. Following the discussion, a contract was created and signed by all heroes, penning their commitment to preserve and honor a sacred, respectful space, through the use of kind and inclusive language. The consequences of one’s choices clear as day: future offenders would be warned and stop (including apologizing) or receive an Honor Code violation for breaking their promises to each other.
In watching this play out, I am reminded of how capable our children are. This was accomplished with zero adult intervention- aside from providing the tools and setting up the learning environment. Our heroes saw a problem and immediately stepped in to solve it, calling the community to a higher standard of excellence and imprinting something lasting on each of their young hearts. Words matter.
Would this have had the same impact coming from an adult? I ponder the outcomes of a different course of action, of one that didn’t involve an empowered young person at the helm, and I know the answer.
Certainly, it would have been easier- for us, the adults. But what a missed learning opportunity had we done so. These tensions and reparations become the very essence of who we are as a community, a school. As if each time, we are saying- this is who we are and this is how we do things here.
When ugliness erupts or thoughtless language finds its way back in to the studio, I am confident that our heroes, with the support and guidance of our sheepdogs, will rise to the occasion.
Because, truly- That’s exactly why we’re here.