Servant Leadership in Action

The playground gate was broken. A result of two learners swinging on it. 

One learner peered at it closely. He pulled it up and pushed it down. Nothing was working. Another learner joined him. Neither of them knew who had broken the gate but it didn’t seem to matter.

The second learner examined the problem and decided that they needed a toolkit. She declared that at the next opportunity, she would bring the toolkit and fix the gate.

That is just what she did! She unscrewed some bolts, took the gate entirely off of its hinges, and reattached it. A fellow traveler helped and together, they fixed the gate. It took up their entire free time.

This is what we mean by character-based education. Our goal is to empower learners with the right mindset to find the necessary tools and solve their own problems. This 8-year-old learner saw a need in the world and did something about it. I’d call that servant leadership!

Your FAQ Answered

A commonly asked question: “What can I do to help my learner at home?”

It isn’t easy being the parent of a self-directed learner. You feel the ups and downs while trying to step back. It can be challenging! So today, I have 2 concrete strategies to try at home, and even better, we’re keeping it simple.

Scenario 1

Your learner comes home upset or frustrated. What do you do in the moment? Step 1– validate his/her emotions. “That must be frustrating!” or “I can see why you would feel angry. I would feel that way too!” More often than not, that is all you need to do. Stop here!

If your learner is ready to problem solve, you can restate the problem and ask if she/he would like help solving it. If (and only if) your learner says, “Yes!” then you’re onto brainstorming. Help your learner generate potential solutions.

Tip- a favorite strategy is to start the brainstorming session with a ridiculous solution. You couldn’t focus today because it was too loud? We could buy you a silent bubble and you could roll around in it all day! No? Okay, what do you think would be a better idea?

Scenario 2

Scenario 2 is any other day when your learner comes home happy and energized from a day at school. (We hope it happens a lot!) On those days, your love and unconditional support are enough. Often learners just need someone to be there to share the joys and challenges.

If you still want to offer additional support, simply ask- how could I better support you? You’d be surprised what the learners say! Sometimes, they will have a specific strategy, and sometimes, they just want you to keep doing what you’re doing! They appreciate the love and support that you are already giving them every day.

And we do too! On this mission to reimagine education, we appreciate every step of success or challenge. We are grateful to you, our trailblazing parent community, for partnering with us on this fantastic journey.

An Opportunity to Reflect

We started this year with a call to action: will you accept the role of a hero on a hero’s journey and change the world? This remarkable group of young people met challenges, overcame obstacles, and grew stronger together. Now Session 1 is coming to a close and we pause to take a moment to celebrate the journey thus far.

What is an Exhibition? An Exhibition is a window into our studios. We invite our families to share the learners’  work and celebrate important milestones on their journey.

Here’s a preview of what you can expect in these Exhibitions:

In Adventure Studio, heroes explored who they are and who they want to become. The art of introspection can be challenging, particularly in middle school. Surrounded by a group of influential peers, vulnerability takes courage and trust. The Adventure heroes built both this session. Join us at their Exhibition to see their creative process (Hero Boards) and the outline of their journey ahead (Badge Plans).

In Discovery Studio, heroes worked together to create a studio of new and returning learners. Change can be hard, and it was an opportunity to mesh the best of both worlds. What worked well last year? What new ideas do we have? How can we create an environment that works for everyone? There were bumps along this road: an imperfect system, running into guardrails, and navigating systems and processes. At this Exhibition, you’ll see evidence of that journey (and its resulting growth spurt) throughout the studio tour. Then you will have a preview of the journey to come via your learner’s badge plan.

In Spark Studio, learners discovered their independence. Usually, it takes several sessions of watching lessons before the learners feel confident enough to teach other learners, but this year, leaders emerged from all ages, eager to help and support one another. In this Exhibition, your learner will teach you how to use some of the Montessori materials and give you a tour of their studio.

At the end of the session, we pause to celebrate the journey thus far. We reflect by taking a look at the top of the mountain and finding the motivation to continue climbing. Taking a look to the bottom of the mountain and appreciating the newfound height. Taking a breath and continuing to climb!

Math Quest

Everyone can get better at math. That was the message at this week’s Math Quest.

Like education, teaching math has remained pretty much the same for the last 100 years. A teacher puts problems on the board and students get them right or wrong. Everyone goes through the same spiral curriculum at the same pace. At TVS, we have innovated: learners go at their own pace. They are free to choose what they want to learn next and how they learn it. But we wondered… is there an even better way?

Computers can now perform millions of computations in one second. Algorithms are replacing human labor. The future of the workplace is one that we can’t imagine. Is math even an essential core skill?

Many of today’s great mathematical minds have thought about this problem: Jo Boaler at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stephen Wolfram from Wolfram-Alpha. It comes down to the fact that math is more than just computation. A true mathematician poses a question about the real world, creates a mathematical model, performs a calculation, and transfers the model back to the real world to see if the question is answered. Then the process is repeated.

To highlight, computation is only ¼ of that process, and it is the part of the process that is most easily performed by a computer. Why wouldn’t we use a tool that can quickly and accurately calculate vs. doing it by hand?

So we posed a question, “What if we used all the steps? What would math look like?”

It was a deep dive into how to learn math. Like many things, math is collaborative. Math is relevant when it relates to the world. Math questions are ideally low-bar (simple enough for anyone to start) and high ceiling (a potential for using very complex math). Problems should include a visual component because mathematical thinking uses 2 visual regions of the brain. From all of our research, Math Quest was born.

In Math Quest, learners are challenged each week with Skill Builders (collaborative, game-like activities). At the end of the week, they come together to solve a real problem as a team. These problems are open-ended (no right answer) with many ways to solve. The studio shares solutions at the end of the day.

For example, can you solve this challenge? Draw a shape in the middle of a square piece of paper. Fold the paper so that with 1 straight-line cut, you cut out the shape.


So far this session, learners have explored probability and geometry. We’ve had fun tying our questions into each quest from this year. It has given us a chance to reminisce about time in the woods for survival quest and the intense role-playing of the American Revolution. 

Everyone can get better at math, even TVS.

Entomology Quest Update

This week, Virtual Discovery learners welcomed insect ‘guests’ into their homes, inside a safely contained terrarium! We are excited to introduce Willy the Worm Jr., Kitty and Puppy (stink bugs), Centi the centipede, and a pod of mealworms: Sam, Jordan, Tyler, Lilac, Veronica, and John.

Virtual Discovery learners are challenged to provide the best habitat for their guest, researching their diet and natural habitat, and throughout the week-long stay, observe their insect. Is the insect more active during the day or during the night? Does it eat frequently or a large meal once a day? Is it happier in a cool, dark room or light-filled, humid room?

Already, they have noticed that some insects are more photogenic while others prefer to stay hidden under dirt and rocks.

In the meantime, in-person Discovery learners are raising mealworms (whose favorite food is baby carrots) and will watch them progress into full-grown beetles. Next week, they will nurture the caterpillars that currently perch on the library shelf as they make their chrysalises. 

This is just one more step on the Entomology journey this session. Learners are increasingly more open-minded about insects, which you can see in their willingness to pick up worms, beetles, and spiders. They spout insect facts, gleaned from their Writer’s Workshop research, and write persuasively about “creepy” bugs. 

We have gone from the infinitely big (space) to the microscopically small (insects). Discovery learners are ready to stretch their minds in any direction!


3… 2… 1… blast off! Discovery learners launched into an exploration of astronomy. Starting with basic astronaut training last week and then a deep dive into the moon, teams are working together throughout the session to prepare for a final (simulated) mission into outer space.

Along with the space theme, Discovery learners are writing their own science-fiction stories. Each week, they draft a new story and share it with their peers. At the end of the session, they will narrate their stories for a TVS SciFi Podcast. There has been amazing creativity so far: unique characters like talking pink cats, exciting plot lines (aliens taking over Earth), and challenging obstacles (i.e. getting suddenly thrown back in time via time travel). Some learners are challenging themselves to write chapter books and are already planning sequels!

Other areas of exploration this session: the historical period after the American Revolution, pastel and collage art, and new challenging problems in math lab. Some learners are jumping into pre-algebra!

Sneak peek into next week’s Quest topic: The Solar System

In the words of former astronaut Frank Borman, “Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.” Our learners are certainly enthusiastic about space!

And checkmate!

Session 4 Wrap-Up

What a session! This week, Discovery learners wrapped up their Chess Quest and reflected on their journey.

Many minds strategize

One learner reflected, “ A few weeks ago, when I first started playing chess, I didn’t even know how to set up the board.  Now I have just beaten the third level robot. What I’m trying to say is that some things don’t come naturally but if you keep trying, you will get better.”

Another said, “I think I was successful because I love a good game of chess, and I think that love has only grown more since we started this chess quest.”

One summed it all up, “When I learned how to play the game, I never wanted to stop playing ever again.”

Learners share their chess boards and pieces

And we asked them to creatively sum up 1 lesson learned about chess in an acrostic poem. Here is one example:




When you 


Some help

Virtual Discovery learners continued their exploration of Civilization. When learning about an emperor who saved and burned books, one hero remarked, “You need multiple views of history to have an accurate understanding.”

The Virtual Discovery Studio wrote in journals throughout the session. Here is an excerpt from one entry, “I’m sure when you read this in the future you would be thinking: virtual school?! That’s not possible! And I wish I could think the same thing, but no. Hopefully in the time that you are reading this you can go to in person school, and see your extended family and friends, and even maybe just maybe ( not sure if this could actually happen) but just imagine if you could take off your mask when you are under six feet!”

In-person Discovery Heroes teamed up with Adventure Studio for Process Drama, a combination of art and Writer’s Workshop. Twice a week, they explored elements of storytelling, improvisation, and got (more than!) comfortable speaking and performing in front of their peers. The session ended with a final performance where learners performed plays that they wrote and created – totally self directed. They made props, costumes, and some even wrote music to go with their play. While the plays themselves were successful, the learners learned even more important skills in the process – collaboration and problem solving. Congratulations, Discovery and Adventure Studios!

A Day in the Life

*Guide Note: Virtual Discovery heroes are writing in journals this session. This week, they were asked to write a composite “Day in the Life” to describe what virtual school is like. This blog post was entirely written and edited by Discovery Heroes.

Welcome to the Virtual Discovery Studio!

I crawl out of bed trying to stay awake. Then I brush my teeth and get dressed. Next I eat breakfast and then I’m all set.

For core skills, I like to do my hardest subjects first, like math, before I get to the easy stuff like reading or writing. You also get to be with your family and pets, and you can still see your friends just not in person.

Hanging out with pets

When we log on for our 11:05 meeting, we get to play games, my favorite game is probably when we get to do fun exercises. My favorite part of an 11:05 launch is talking to my fellow travellers. My favorite part of an 11:05 launch is probably the exercise videos because they are very fun and challenging. 

After that meeting we always get a delicious lunch, my favorite is probably either a grilled cheese sandwich or graham crackers and peanut butter. My favorite lunch to have is a quesadilla, one time for lunch my family ordered mexican, I got a quesadilla. My favorite lunch during virtual studio is probably apples and grilled cheese. Sometimes I would have peanut butter with my apples too.  one time mommy made me goldfish crackers and cheerios

Each session we get a new quest, this session was a chess quest. Chess is a game that is well known for its concentration. It has helped me learn that losing helps you learn and get better strategies. When chess quest comes, there’s lots of things to do, you learn new things about chess in lessons, or you can play as many games of chess as you want.

One thing that I have learned about chess is that you can’t just think of a move in one second, you need to think of a strategy and think stuff through. Chess quest is really fun.

My favorite thing to do after school is play outside. Usually, I play on my jungle gym, but sometimes I like just run around with my dogs. My favorite thing to do would probably be to read. I think reading is very fun, challenging, and relaxing. Board games and football are my favorite after school activities.  After school my favorite thing to do is go outside and make up new games that we can play. 

This is my virtual studio life.

Celebrating a great week in Virtual Discovery Studio

Will the colonists rebel?

The year is 1776. The Discovery and Adventure studios have been taken over by King George III. Decrees and proclamations travel across the sea from England and enforced by the Governor.  Heroes are Patriots or Loyalists with equal enthusiasm.

Day 1: the colony is already in an uproar. Every time the bell rings, colonists must line up for an announcement and chant, “Hail to the King! Hail to the King! Hail to the King!” or face a penalty tax. By the end of the day, King George has received over 50 letters from angry Patriots or supportive Loyalists.

Day 2: Tensions escalate with new taxes. Frustration boils over into vandalism on King George’s portrait. 

Day 3: More letters to King George and some acts of outright rebellion. The colonists decide to hold a Boston Tea Party in defiance of the King!

Day 4: Freedoms in the colony are severely restricted. Taxes are all-encompassing. Will the colony write a declaration of independence and rebel to free themselves from the tyranny of King George?

The stakes are high. If the colonists lose (and the odds aren’t in their favor), King George will rule over the colony for another week without the option for colonists to rebel. If the colonists win, they will form a new nation. A brave fellow throws the dice- the colonists have won! Cheers and shouts fill the courtyard. 

This week, the work of building a new country commenced. The heroes fought in a simulated Battle of Trenton. They researched the history of the original 13 states and designed a new state flag. They went to the Constitutional Convention and debated the finer points of national government. 

This session, the heroes didn’t just learn about the American Revolution. They experienced its frustration and uncertainty. They were brave and make tough choices. They supported one another and worked together to overthrow the rule of King George.

The Village School in a nutshell: learner-led, experience-driven, and character-based.

Make your choice

“It seemed kind of flat,” critiqued the instructor.  There were immediately cries of protest from my fellow classmates, “That was what the other instructor told us to do!” One individual declared on behalf of the group, “We were just doing what we were told.”

This scene did not happen at The Village School. This class was a group of adults. It seems that no matter how old we are, our first reaction to feedback is defensive.

It is natural. We go about our lives trying our best. We want to get along and do well by others.

This teacher said, “I’m pretty sure the other instructor didn’t tell you to do it badly.” That nipped the excuses in the bud. He continued by saying, “Yes, use direction from other people but make your own choice what to do about it.”

TVS is unique because heroes have immense freedom. They make their own choices. And they often receive feedback on them before deciding on their next step. Either way, they own their decision. This skill is important beyond a learner-driven community.

Imagine life was a game and you could only make moves from someone else’s directions. You might win or lose the game, but either way, you are powerless to change the outcome. 

Alternatively, you play the game as the decision-maker. You choose a strategy and move forward boldly. You might win or lose but you always look forward to the next round.

Which would you prefer for your child? Which do you prefer for yourself?