Discovery’s Up To The Challenge

Learners asking Tom Sayer, Co-Founder and CEO of Ello, questions about starting a business.

This session, the learners in Discovery Studio are embarking on a quest to build their own businesses. They aren’t, however, just crafting their businesses. They are also working together to pitch their businesses to a group of entrepreneurs. And the stakes are high – there’s a $350 cash investment waiting for the company who comes up with the most convincing pitch. 

In “Pitch This,” our Writer’s Workshop, the big goal is to write a persuasive pitch at the end of this session. Leading up to that, we’re writing pitches and practicing public speaking skills in weekly “Studio Shark Tanks.” Learners will take on the role of investors and decide how much money they would be interested in investing after hearing a pitch.

Discovery learners are practicing risk-taking and seeking out challenges, since those are traits of successful entrepreneurs. They don’t just want to be a group who can overcome challenges – they want to be a group who seeks them out because they know they can succeed (or that failure is okay!).

Since our session alludes to the show Shark Tank, we’ve thrown some reality show twists at the learners already! Many learners had already brainstormed business ideas and started to make plans with friends coming into this session. That’s great – it’s exciting to have that entrepreneurial spirit in the studio. However, this session isn’t just about building a business. It’s about overcoming challenges.

On the first day of Quest, it was announced that they would be starting their businesses in random groups of 3 people. Unsurprisingly, the learners were not excited about this first challenge. But, immediately after their groups were announced, the studio sprang to life with brainstorming and planning. Some thought it would be impossible to work together, yet every group has already come up with a company name, business ideas, and a mission statement!

We’ve extended our surprise challenges into Writer’s Workshop as well. Most learners would be comfortable writing a pitch for their business because it’s their idea! But how well can they sell people on any business?

For the first two weeks, learners will be writing and giving pitches for completely random, ridiculous businesses. Already, I’ve heard a pitch for Swoop, a pet psychiatry service for angsty teenagers. In our weekly Studio Shark Tank, learners will have to figure out how to convince their peers that the business is worth investing in, no matter how silly or serious it might be!

Our entrepreneurship venture this session is real. They’ll be leaving the bubble of their studio to bring ideas out into the real world, to real entrepreneurs. They’ll prove to a group of potential investors that, no matter their age, Discovery Studio is ready to change the world now!

Discovering Independence in Discovery Studio

And we’re off! We’ve thrown ourselves into this new school year in Discovery Studio. 

We started the year off with the biggest Discovery Studio yet. With more learners and more space, learner independence isn’t a choice – it’s a necessity. 

Being learner-led leads to so many incredible moments. Seeing young people learn, reflect, interact, and problem-solve through any obstacles is inspiring. In a world where so many adults can’t work together, watching young people work together the way they do here gives me a lot of hope for the future.

However, when a group of highly independent 6-11 year olds are first thrown together for the first time, it’s unsurprising that there are some challenges. That’s why our year starts with introductions to a lot of different systems. 

Systems are the backbone to our learner-driven community. Systems let learners decide their rules, hold each other accountable, share joys and failures, and celebrate each other. Systems let learners handle things themselves.

This group has proven that they’re eager for more independence. They’ve flown ahead in independent projects, like collaborating on an illustrated book about climate change in just one optional Friday. They’ve started thoughtfully making their contract and having constructive conversations about what they want their studio to be.

So, a bit earlier than usual, they were introduced to the system of Town Hall this week. Town Hall is a time when learners can share with their community, whether it’s solving a problem, getting feedback, or celebrating a success. They had an opportunity to write their first Town Halls of the year.

They made this meeting so much more than just an introduction. Learners brought up real issues in the studio. Even with issues I found a bit uncomfortable, they proved their maturity by having meaningful, productive conversations. They came up with their own solutions, debated their pros and cons, and voted to enact the things they felt their community needs. They celebrated each other’s progress and offered kind and helpful feedback. This group of young learners showed how much responsibility they already have for their community and their learning, and that they have the skills to work together for the greater good.

A learner driven environment can be messy at times but the ability to come together, discuss, compromise, and solve problems shows that this group is off to an incredible start.

Learner Led Lessons

What is The Village School?”

This is a question I find myself asked time and time again. It’s a question I haven’t been able to come up with an answer for. How do you describe this place?

But then, this week, I was taught the same lesson I’ve learned over and over again this year – leave it to the learners. This is a learner led school – of course they have better answers than I do!

Discovery and Adventure learners had their Hero Celebration this past Thursday. The Level 5s (and one Level 4!) wrote speeches reflecting about their time here and their growth.

In the spirit of being learner-led, this blog post will be a space to share excerpts from their speeches. What is The Village School? What have you learned? How have you grown? Let’s ask the experts…

What is the Village School?

“The Village School isn’t your regular school. It’s a place where learning is fun and team work, independence, and learning are sole ingredients. you need those skills when you enter the real world. Other schools may say we are preparing them but that’s only schooling. Not life experience. You still need those sole ingredients for your life, your job and your future. And that’s what the Village School does. We are prepared. “

Fin, Level 4

“Kids take responsibility for their learning instead of the teachers teaching… Almost everything was different to what I was used to from the guides not teaching to even the desks being positioned differently… The kids are so much more driven to learn and be responsible. “

Jackie, Level 5

“When you think of failure, maybe you think of disgrace, or just BAD in general. Well, in this school, failure is nothing but success, and hopefully that message will be known to the world some day. When we fail, we call it an awesome failure, because failures are, well, awesome. And the reason for that is every time you fail, you learn, it is part of your hero’s journey, because if you don’t fail, then you just don’t go anywhere, and where’s the fun in that?”

Maddie, Level 5

At the Village School, I can move at my own pace. I’m more free to work on the things I want to…”

Emerson, Level 5

“I love the village school. It really pushes your limits and teaches you how to be responsible.”

Alexa, Level 5

Lessons Learned

“…The best things I learned from Discovery Studio were great leadership, grit, my passions, and, most of all, I learned how to be on a hero’s journey.”

Jackie, Level 5

“Honestly, before I went to the village school I really did not like work. Everyone learned the same thing and could not have the freedom to follow our passion while at school… When I found the Village School, I was amazed a school like this existed.

Alexa, Level 5

“I’d like to share a quote that my dad motivates me to use: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Benjamin Franklin said that. What have I learned here? Never stop trying, and don’t make an important decision when you are in a mood. You will regret it. I have lots of memories, but what makes a good day possible here is coming in everyday and seeing someone determined to do work. We are a pack, and like a community, the pack leaves no one behind.”

Owen, Level 5

Teamwork and Independence

“Thriving villages use teamwork to get jobs done and are independent from other villages. It’s the same here at the Village School. There are no teachers but only guides who won’t answer a question directly, but let you figure it out yourself.”

Fin, Level 4

“Something I wish I’d known is that we all are a team, pack, community, whatever you want to call it, and yes, you are responsible for your education, but you are also a part of everyone else’s. When we work together we can make the world a better place. Individually you can, but together we can do it exponentially. We have done that this year and we will continue to.”

Owen, Level 5

Thank you, TVS learners, for all the lessons you’ve shared this year. In the words of Owen, together we can make the world a better place, and we will continue to do so.

An Open Mind

Finally, Session 6 has started! After a successful (and crazy!) session and exhibition in Session 5, it was clear that the learners needed some time to relax and refresh. Luckily, we had spring break! Now it’s a new session, and the rejuvenated heroes came back ready to tackle the next six weeks.

In Session 6, Discovery Studio is doing an entomology quest – collecting, analyzing and caring for various types of insects. Knowing the general reputation of insects, it seemed appropriate that this quest should correlate with the character trait of open mindedness. While this group of learners is probably more open minded than the average group of 7-10 year olds, getting hands-on with bugs is still something that some of us (myself included!) will need to summon a lot of courage to do!

Outside of just the entomology quest, we explored being open-minded in the studio, too. The heroes came back to a totally redone studio, complete with lap desks and yoga mats. The learners needed no encouragement to be open minded about where they did their work- they immediately began working under desks, on the floor, and standing up with their computers on the bookshelves! 

We started testing out some new tactics during Core Skills as well. On Wednesday, we tried out the Pomodoro method together – working together and taking breaks throughout the 2 hours of morning work time. Some learners really loved the method and continued to use it – and some didn’t! That’s okay. Being open minded is about trying things. Whether or not they end up working, you learn more about yourself the more you try.

Over spring break, the guides at TVS did mindfulness professional development. Since the training, I’ve been enamoured by the benefits of mindfulness for elementary learners- it can change how young brains are developed, giving young people the lifelong gift of emotional regulation and self awareness! Discovery is using this to literally open and grow our minds- trying out a new type of mindfulness for 10 minutes everyday and writing down what works for us. Almost every learner has taken advantage of the different types of mindfulness and fully immersed themselves in the journey.

We finished the week with a picnic lunch outside in the grass field. Surprisingly, this was our first time eating out there- on nice days, we typically eat lunch in the school’s courtyard. However, all the learners brought blankets and laid out on the grass, and we tried something new. “Can we do this everyday?” one of the learners remarked. 

In the world of COVID and isolation, open mindedness has become less of a skill that we naturally obtain through interactions with others outside of our groups. We’re confined to our own bubbles, stuck in our own little areas of the world. Open mindedness is now a skill that we need to consciously and intentionally develop, and the Discovery Studio learners are doing just that.

Finding Balance in Discovery Studio

By this time in Session 5, learners have been together for 7 months. They have figured out the learner driven environment, learned to approach new challenges with confidence, and have grown close with the other members of the tribe. Even in this dynamic environment, learners have started to fall into a routine. That’s why this session’s drop in intentionality did not come as a surprise.

At this time in the year, it’s easy to lose focus. The weather is finally getting warmer, the excitement of the holiday season has faded, and the end of the school year is too far away to seem real. Learners don’t want to finish their far-off goals, which, after working most of the year on them, seem as faraway as ever – they want to be outside, playing and socializing.

During core skills, quest, writer’s workshop, and art, learners consistently lost focus, falling into games with one another or having conversations, and not holding each other accountable. Individual learners, regardless of their behavior, reported having difficulty focusing and wanting to get more work done – but they just couldn’t seem to do it. From a guide’s perspective, I could see the problem was a lack of boundaries and self-control. I thought of various solutions to return order to the studio. So what did I do? Nothing.

The role of a guide is not to fix problems. I equipped them with tools and prompted socratic dialogue about the situation. In launches, heroes identified there was a problem. They were able to say why this was happening. They were able to identify their individual behaviors that were hindering their learning. But, in practice, nothing changed! 

At this point, I admit – I started to panic! Luckily, we have an amazing group of guides at The Village School. The surprising advice I got? Dips in intentionality happen. Step back. See if they will pull each other up.

So I did nothing. Paradoxically, doing nothing felt like the brave, difficult choice. I decided to place my trust in the learners. 

That same week, at Town Hall, a learner brought up the level of intentionality in the studio. Everyone was unanimous in agreeing that the studio wasn’t doing well. They brainstormed solutions, and they decided that one hour of core skills time would be silent, independent work. 

After this decision, the change was incredible. Learners set big goals and were achieving them. Their collaborative time became a time of intentionally working together and helping one another. They were holding each other accountable. It was like being in a new studio; and, because the decision was learner driven and executed, every learner wanted to uphold a new standard in the studio. This is where the merit of a learner-driven environment shines: the learners developed their own motivation for keeping themselves focused, and they decided that focused learning time was something that they value.

In my personal life and my role as a guide, this session has taught me that, as tempting as it is to try to fix things for other people, it is impossible to make decisions for others or force them to have motivation. The learners have discovered that the studio is a sacred place and reinforced that their goal at The Village School is to pursue knowledge. 

Self-Discovery in the Studio

This week in Discovery Studio, we focused on a new character trait – intentionality. During Monday’s launch, Discovery Studio was asked two questions. What was their best trait, and what was a trait they needed to be more intentional about. The surprising answer to both? Honesty. 

I’m not surprised that our learners thought the strongest trait in our studio was honesty. They are honest almost to a fault – a striking difference from my time at more traditional schools. If you ask them a question, they answer honestly, even if they aren’t proud of the answer. They take responsibility for their own actions, and they are always willing to talk things through with others. That’s one of most exciting parts I’ve discovered in my role as a guide –  at The Village School, the guides and learners are on the same side. No longer am I a disciplinarian; instead, I’m a confidant and ally. I think both of us are happy with the arrangement.

I was surprised, however, when learners unanimously decided that honesty was the thing that they needed to work on in the studio. Again, these young people are honest even in situations where they are implicated. However, they were introspective enough to realize that they were being honest with everyone except one person – themselves.

Discovery learners said that, while they were easily honest with their fellow studiomates, they struggled to evaluate themselves and their own work honestly. They identified that it was easy to lie to themselves about how hard they were working or whether their own work was excellent.

Our learners at the Village School are doing something that even I still struggle with – honest self reflection. They are able to analyze themselves and ask themselves tough questions, and they are able to use this reflection to improve themselves. This is one of the greatest tools we could hope to equip our learners with – the ability to discover within themselves what they can improve, and the drive to do so. This is a skill that they will find useful throughout their journey here at The Village School, but more importantly, a skill that will prepare them for the real world and help them build successful, fulfilling lives.

After a learner mentioned bringing cookies to Capitol Police and the National Guard, some Discovery Studio learners decided to write (and decorate!) letters for some local heroes.