The Power of Questions

Questions are one of the most powerful learning tools we have here at The Village School.

Unfortunately not all learners have access to great questions, and instead are inundated with explanations, rules, and commands.

Of course there is a place for explanations, rules, and commands; but if that’s all that’s encountered at school—or if that’s the majority—then a learner’s development will be slowed.

At The Village School we’ve developed a long list of research-informed questions that we ask learners regularly to help them learn, self-reflect, build self-belief, and think deeply about their goals and challenges. We deliver these questions during weekly “check ins” with our learners with the goal of helping learners keep track of their learning progress and to think deeply about their goals and the challenges they’ll face in achieving them. We don’t judge learners’ answers, and instead challenge them to think deeply about themselves—their identity, interests, goals, and plans. When we perceive they may be getting in their own way (for example, self-doubt, stinking thinking, victim mentality, or misinformation), we use questions to invite them to run small experiments and learn for themselves the merit of their perspectives.

Below are some questions that we ask to empower our learners:

  • How are you? How do you feel?
  • When were you most yourself recently?
  • What are your expectations of yourself today and this week? How can you pursue your goals and interests and have fun?
  • What are your boundaries today and this week? 
  • How are you doing at getting into flow? What’s helping you? How can you improve?
  • Did you meet your learning goals last week? If so, how did you accomplish them? Do you feel proud of yourself? What challenges did you encounter? If not, what challenges did you encounter that didn’t allow you to accomplish your goals? Moving forward, what can you do to overcome those challenges?
  • Are you behind, on track, or ahead with your learning goals for the year? What makes you say that? If you’re behind, what does that make you think? Do you know what you would need to do to get back on track?
  • How do you feel about your workload today and this week? Do you feel like you’re in your Challenge Zone, Comfort Zone, or Panic Zone, and why?
  • What learning strategies are you using and finding most successful? How will you manage your tasks for the day? For the week? Would you change any strategies or your schedule for this week? For what reasons?
  • If you have been learning virtually (from home), what are the biggest opportunities and challenges you face?
  • How are you getting along with others? Are you expressing your feelings?
  • Are you having any conflicts with others? If so, how do you feel, and what is a healthy way to function with others in that situation? What are your boundaries? How will you learn to live together?
  • What do you enjoy most from your day, and why?
  • If you could learn anything in the world, what would it be, and why?

There is no such thing as too many questions at The Village School.

Skill-building in Adventure Studio

From the very beginning of a learner’s time at The Village School, he or she is in an environment that is focused on skill-building- not meeting academic standards. We describe this as the difference between learning to learn and learning to know– the latter, the primary focus of traditional education. (Don’t get me wrong, our young people learn about a lot of really amazing and interesting things, it’s just that accumulating knowledge of facts and figures is not our focus).

It might start like this: In Spark Studio, learning to learn might be as simple as staying focused for 10 minutes on a task. In Discovery Studio this looks like learning how to set SMART goals consistently, how to navigate the systems in a learner-driven community, and how to take responsibility for their choices. In Adventure Studio, our learners rely on these skills to thrive in the face of challenging work, high standards, and real-world projects.

By Middle School (Adventure Studio), our learners are well-versed in the three main obstacles they face in accomplishing their goals: Distraction, Resistance, and Victim-hood. Most importantly, they can identify which one they struggle with the most.

“Resistance- or as I call it, procrastination is always my biggest obstacle,” said one Adventure learner recently.

“I would say distraction is mine. I will often stop and help others. I like doing this but sometimes it distracts me from my own work,” said another learner.

Being self-aware is a start. Building even one good habit that works to counter these tendencies, or at least keep them in balance, is a step in the right direction. Having an arsenal of “learning to learn” skills AND a Heroic mindset is the ultimate toolbox that will allow our learners to “punch procrastination in the face”, as one of our learners humorously declared.

But, building this toolbox is hard work and our young people are still adding these tools. Some sessions they might stop at awareness. Another session they may develop one new positive habit- like planning out their week on Sunday, submitting their work before it is due, or blocking out “do not disturb” times to minimize distractions.

Other sessions, for one reason or another, these self-identified obstacles loom large and our learners struggle. They struggle with finding focus, creating quality work, and/or meeting deadlines. They struggle with facing the consequences of their choices, with linking the chain reaction of events, of identifying how one thing led to another. They struggle with embracing that hero’s mindset.

But, they are building skills here too.

Just like in the real world. Sometimes we manage to “punch procrastination in the face” and sometimes we don’t.

Socratic Guide or Life Coach?

How would you describe the role of a Guide?

This question was posed to heroes in discovery studio recently. The hand of one of our founding heroes shot up. “A guide is a learning designer and life coach for kids”, he said confidently. Many heads nodded in agreement.

While it can be hard to explain the role of a Guide, this hero was able to pinpoint the two key “jobs” of a TVS Guide. Inspired by the Montessori approach, a guide’s role in a learner-driven environment is to set up the learning environment, to ensure all learners have the tools and materials they need to successfully direct their own learning, and to design engaging and meaningful learning experiences- ones that hopefully inspire them to explore even more outside of the school day.

But, there is also a second job. This is the job as “coach”- to listen, affirm, hold up the mirror, and guide learners to a deeper understanding of the obstacles they face and the potential solutions available to them.

Like a real coach or trainer, heroes have a standing appointment with their Guide each week. Here are some of the questions Guides and Heroes have discussed in their meetings this session.

How is your Passion Project going?

What excellent work would you like to present at Exhibition?

Let’s look at your Weekly tracker. Do you think you are on track to reach your goals by the end of the session? What are you stuck on?

What are you feeling really good about?

Which goal/badge feels like a “dragon”/puts you in your panic zone?

How can we break this big goal into smaller pieces? What else might help?

These guide “check-ins”, while seemingly small, provide the support young learners need on their journey of self-directed learning. As they grow in independence, they start to see the solutions available to them and gain confidence in their ability to act, create, and learn through their own practice of self-affirmation and experience.

Even now, in the second session of a new school year, these young learners are rightfully celebrating their hard work, naming their areas of challenge, and identifying strategies and actions they could take to accomplish their goals. Below are just a few of the “aha” moments that have occurred during Guide-hero meetings so far this year.

“I was stuck in my research. I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I could ask a fellow traveler next time if they had any ideas.” -TVS Hero, age 7

“Math is my dragon. I have not been doing 30 minutes a day or watching the videos. I should do this first- then see if someone who is really good at math can help me. One of the Middle Schoolers said she would tutor me.” -TVS Hero, age 10

“I need to do a better job in my writing. I think I just need to slow down. I’ll ask my squad leader to hold me accountable to this. I know they can help me.” -TVS Hero, age 9

“I have been avoiding Lexia. I need to set aside an hour to get into flow and get started.” -TVS Hero, age 11

“I don’t know what to read next. I’ll ask my fellow travelers for recommendations and pick my next badge book by the end of Session 2.” -TVS Hero, age 9

“I love reading so much that I sometimes forget to work on other things. I will do the other things first during morning work and set a timer. Then I can use the remaining time to read!” -TVS Hero, age 7

Guide meetings are constant reminders of how capable young people are. Whether viewed as a Socratic guides or Life Coaches, it is certain that our Guides are learning too and feel lucky they get to do so alongside this next generation of world changers.

Creating a Culture of Excellence

This week in Discovery Studio was action-packed. The studio was buzzing with new energy, having returned from Fall Break, and heroes were happy to see each other and get back into the flow as self-directed learners. This energy also stemmed from kicking off new routines, new learning adventures in writing and quest, and implementing new systems into the studio.

While our focus last session was on learning how to identify and set challenging goals, this session our focus is on building a culture of excellence. Whether it be in communication or writing, in Socratic discussions, or excellence in teamwork and leadership, Discovery heroes will be active participants in creating a culture of excellence at The Village School this year, and beyond.

I have no doubt that they are up for the challenge.

Where did I see excellence this week?

-In writing workshop, when heroes put pencil to paper and did their very best in writing their first draft of personal memoirs and then sharing these stories with another learner in the studio at the end of the week.

-In quest, when, during a full day in the wilderness, heroes joyfully worked together on navigating new surroundings, and put their all in the day’s orienteering and camouflaging challenges.

-In self-governance, when one hero bravely brought the first case to the studio Judicial Committee after a studio-mate broke the studio contract and decided together on a fair and logical consequence- all the while supporting the hero who had made the misstep.

– In character, when, during a closing activity, heroes were asked to send their “wishes for the world” up into a pretend giant ball that we would toss into the sky, imagining that it would carry our friendly wishes to the world.

“I wish that all kids are safe.”

“I wish that all kids like themselves.”

“I wish that all kids dream big.”

And with these three truly excellent wishes, Session 2 is off to a great start.

The Power of Questions

Discovery Studio Spotlight: Session 1, Week 4

“Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationships.” – Andrew Sobel

At The Village School, we believe in the power of asking good questions. Questions show up in many ways throughout the day. Below are some of the questions heroes explored this week.

Socratic Discussion on setting SMART Goals: Is the best SMART goal: (a) Something you are positive you can achieve right now (b) Something you are likely achieve but want to be sure (c) Something you might be able to achieve (d) Something you probably can’t achieve (in a given amount of time), but you never know”?

Writing Workshop: “If you had to write an ode to honor and increase appreciation for one item, what would it be?  Why?”

Civilization: “Does a life full of hunger and daily struggle excuse future cruel actions completely, somewhat, or not at all?” to an even larger question, “Is it important to study history? Why or why not?

Socratic Discussion on Givers vs. Takers: “Would you rather be a giver or a taker? Can you be a giver or a taker when it comes to emotions?

Socratic Discussion on Community: What purpose does being part of a community serve in your life: protection, fun, collaboration, or something else?

Heroes fine-tuned the skill of setting balanced SMART goals with their squads. For fun, a “Top banana award” was given to the squad that completed or exceeded the most SMART goals this week. When asked, “What might make your squad stronger?”, Heroes answered by electing Squad leaders and creating Squad names. What names did they determine best represented their squads?

Our four squads have settled on: 1) Thee Holy Shrimp, 2) The Scarred Pandas, 3) Popcorn Party, and 4) The Scourging Coyotes.

During Writing Workshop, heroes worked on completing their first drafts of their Odes. Odes were written to music, books, words, parents, sports, the sun, nature, and many other things.

Heroes were excited to launch our Civilization studies this year. One young hero stated, “I think we study history so we can learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes,” and another said in his own words, “We learn from history to make a better future.”

During the many Socratic Discussions focused on building our community this week, Heroes unanimously agreed that they’d rather be givers in the studio and decided to add an important promise to each other on their contract “To try and be positive”, even when things are hard or don’t go your way.

In regard to the big “Why” of being in a community? Discovery heroes stated fun and collaboration as the primary reasons for being at TVS (with family communities offering protection).

A hero added one final thought- “And purpose. Our friends at school are here to help us on our Hero’s Journey. We need a community for that.”

Freedom and Friendship

DISCOVERY STUDIO SPOTLIGHT

Our first two days in Discovery Studio were spent learning new routines and making new friends. After talking about basic safety and guardrails, heroes took the first step in creating studio expectations by establishing a provisional contract. This contract will serve as their initial promise to each other in these first few weeks of school, while they do the hard work of creating their formal set of studio promises to be signed at the end of this first session of learning.

Heroes explored the idea of the studio as a sacred place and came to the conclusion that it means the studio “is a serious and special place of learning” and one that is “friendly, quiet, and productive”.

The question at hand- “What do you think is MOST important in keeping the studio sacred this year at The Village School? Freedom, Friendship, Respect, or Hard Work?”

Hero votes for the most important element in keeping the studio sacred.

Friendship and Freedom received the most votes, and a few heroes connected respect to friendship, voicing their opinions that they felt they were very similar. As for hard work? Heroes agreed it was very important, but not more important that friendship, freedom, and respect.

This theme of friendship was visible throughout the first few days of school as heroes learned about each other, shared their strengths (their long rubber bands) and the things they find more challenging (their short rubber bands), offered encouraging words to each other during various team building activities and engaged in spontaneous games of hide and seek, swing jumping, and “family” during free time. Words of encouragement and support were overheard as some heroes explored the edges of their comfort zone as they climbed trees- a cherished activity in Discovery Studio.

At the same time, the Virtual Discovery Studio launched this week with much enthusiasm, excitement, and one spontaneous dance celebration! Heroes discovered things they had in common as well as special superpowers that make each one unique. Working together as a team, they chose a fantastic lip dub song and got to work memorizing each part. We closed our week with character call-outs, thanking fellow travelers for their leadership, thoughtfulness, and kindness.

At the end of the first week, heroes created their provisional contract, by agreeing to the first three guardrails provided by the guide and by adding a fourth promise when asked if they thought anything was missing. One thing is clear- Discovery Heroes of the 2020-2021 school year are off to a great start! One marked by their commitment to kindness, friendship, and supportiveness.

In Anticipation of the Year Ahead

In two short weeks, the journey of a new school year at TVS begins. Over these summer months, our team has been excitedly preparing for the day that our studio doors will be open and ready for our young heroes to begin their adventure of a new year of learning.

The anticipation of the upcoming school year is tangible and comes with many new additions:

  • many wonderful new families
  • new members to our world-class team of guides
  • new loose parts and outdoor adventure play program
  • the launch of our Adventure/Middle School Studio
  • a redesigned Discovery Studio
  • a year’s worth of projects and learning at our fingertips

And of course- due to the presence of Covid19, we have a few new health policies and safety procedures as part of our daily routine. Mostly- washing hands and wearing masks. The exceptions are when outside and when eating/drinking while physically distanced.

When it became clear that the school day would look a little different in order to open safely for in-person learning, I sought advice from people whose judgment I trust. The response was unanimous and consistent across the board. “Lauren, there are a lot of things you care deeply about, and this doesn’t make the top 10 list. Establish your safety protocols to make in-person learning possible, and move on to what you truly care about: providing the finest education in the world for the children at The Village School. Go on lots of hikes, spend lots of time outside, focus on the learning — and move forward.”

I understand many of you are anxious about the various “unknowns” of the upcoming school year. I’ve worried at the thought of our youngest learners wearing masks while joyfully exploring the Spark Studio. I’ve wondered how well my own two boys will do with these new routines. I’ve talked through various scenarios in effort to normalize these changes to the school day. Each time, I’m reminded of how resilient children are. While we worry, (as all parents do so often under normal circumstances), our children are already adapting. They are uniquely made to learn and grow- at a much faster clip than the adults around them. And, in the end, we cannot choose our circumstances – only how we’d like to act in whichever circumstances we’re in.

With that background, I’d like to make a request of each of us as parents: That we model for our children the character and grace that we hope they develop. If we complain or seem anxious in the car on the way to school, it’s more likely they will too. On the other hand, if we smile and cheer them on to go have an incredible day with incredible friends at an incredible school, that is more likely the path they’ll take.

The Village School thrives in times of innovation. This is a time to be a light on the hill. I have no doubt that we can be that for our children and for each other in the year ahead.

Details for each of your children’s studios will be available next week, including a virtual program overview on Wednesday, August 26th from 4:00-5:00 (Details to come).

As always, thank you for being a part of this community and allowing us to grow and learn alongside your young heroes this school year. It is sure to be a year of deep learning, adventure and, no doubt- a few surprises. 🙂

From Philosopher to Practitioner

If you look up the word ‘school’, you find three main definitions:

  1. An institution for educating children
  2. Any institution at which instruction is given in a particular discipline
  3. A group of people, particularly writers, artists, or philosophers, sharing the same or similar ideas, methods, or style.

At first glance, none of these descriptions seem to adequately define our learning community at The Village School. The first suggests children as passive recipients. No, that doesn’t fit. The second suggests teachers teaching specific disciplines and implies children ‘receiving’ as instructors/adults focus on ‘giving’. No, that clearly doesn’t describe our school. And the third- a group of writers, artists, or philosophers, well- no. But….wait. There may be something here.

This third definition is absent the word ‘institution’ so it departs from thinking of school as a location or place. It’s rooted in the concept of school as a community, as a group of people who share similar beliefs about something.

This seems closer to what we mean by ‘school’ at TVS. Interestingly, many of us are writers and artists- and I would argue that ALL of us are philosophers, *people engaged in thinking about the world, the universe, and society (*Definition from Oxford Languages).

Each person in our community, and in our network of learner-driven schools, shares similar ideas, methods, and approaches to education -which are, ironically, in contrast to the ideas, methods and approaches of traditional schools.

At the core, is our shared belief that all children have a gift that can change the world in a profound way. Our methods are rooted in Montessori and other inquiry-based, self-directed learning methods and our approach is one that emphasizes the development of the whole child– intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally. .

As a team, we are actively engaged in thinking about our methods and how they illustrate our beliefs about children and learning, hailing from the “learner-driven” school of thought. And this “team” includes our parents- particularly during these last few months of learning from home. Through our weekly surveys, every person in our community can give us feedback on our methods and approach.

Recently, we heard from a parent that our game-based Writing Workshop this session was inspiring their child to write more, but required a waiting period between submission of a writing entry and leveling up to the next challenge- which halted their child’s momentum and flow in the activity.

Another parent has observed something that I have observed with my own boys, while hyper-focusing on earning badges for their “level”, they are missing out on other rich learning experiences and activities.

These insights are a gift. Taken with our own observations and feedback from our learners, we can streamline, refine, or recreate parts of our learning design- particularly those that do not match our beliefs about children and how they learn best.

Like our heroes, we are committed to growth and improvement and we will continue to do so, just like them- by learning, doing, reflecting, and becoming better in the process. In other words, we come together as philosophers, but we stay together as humble practitioners- all of us.

Perhaps, if we were to create a fourth description of school that adequately defined our community, this would be it.

A Poem for a Hero

This time of year can be extra challenging for our young learners. Add a major world event that’s disrupted their daily lives and it’s no wonder that they may be feeling stressed or overwhelmed. As the school year winding down, and some of our heroes look at goals they have yet to finish, I find it helps to focus on “small wins” in the form of a few solid daily habits and a time at the end of the day to reflect and reaffirm their efforts. In this way, it becomes more about the process of who they’re becoming and less about the end result.

Below is a poem, from me, to your precious children- because even heroes doubt themselves sometimes…(I hope Dr. Suess would be proud):

Do Not Forget

Do not wilt in the face of what

you can not yet do

An opportunity is there, waiting for you

Do not forget all that you’ve

already done

Your daily persistence

Your hard work has won

Keep going, keep SHINING

when self-doubt sets in

There is nothing as beautiful

as you in your skin

Full of magic and LIGHT

with an unstoppable mind

You are STRONG, you are SOFT

both able and kind

Don’t run from the voice

that says, “No you can’t do it”

BREATHE it in and then OUT

with a “hello” and “I knew it!”

That voice is not you

just an unwelcome neighbor

leaning in to distract you

from your role as CREATOR

So good riddance, goodbye

You’ve got work to do

Playing and making

DISCOVERING something new

Because we need what you make

We need what you do

What we need more than anything

is for YOU TO BE YOU

Who is this “you” that we need you to be?

Only the “you” that is your TRUE and your FREE

So keep going, keep shining

when self-doubt sets in

There is nothing as BEAUTIFUL

as you in your skin.

Ms. Lauren

A Self-Care Journey

Welcome to the Personal Well-being Mini-Quest!

Instead of travelling away from home, our learners will journey deep inside themselves to discover what makes us happy, why we think the way we do, and how we can build habits to “rewire” our brains. Through a series of challenges over the next two weeks, heroes will learn how to increase their own happiness and build more productive habits. At the end of this quest, learners will be equipped with the research and tools to successfully incorporate a wellness activity into their own daily life. 

Since goal setting is one of these productive habits, heroes will be challenged to continue setting daily goals over break. Wait, what?!! Isn’t this supposed to be a “break”? 

Of course, this is why we invite our learners to take a break from the typical goals they set during Core Skills and instead set a goal to hone a skill or talent of their choice. We will celebrate everyone’s hard work at our first virtual Talent Show. Winners in each studio will receive prizes in the form of gift cards to our local “One More Page” bookstore. 

The Basic Journey

  • Learn Self-care Skills in 7 Exploration Areas: 1) Gratitude, 2) Kindness, 3) Meditation, 4) Connection, 5) Exercise, 6) Sleep, 7) Savoring
  • Practice these skills each day & keep track of your practice.

Quest Badges will be awarded for dedicated practice of self-care. In general, heroes who earn this badge will demonstrate…

  1. Evidence of daily practice in 7 Exploration Areas through ReWi App or Journal for 2 weeks
  2. Excellent Exhibition work: Submitting self-care video and performing a skill in TVS Virtual Talent Show

Exhibition:

  1. Create a short video on how young people can practice self-care during quarantine.
  2. Create your own performance highlighting a personal skill or talent for our first TVS Virtual Talent Show!

Ready to get started? Read/Watch these three resources:

  1. Americans aren’t that Happy on Newsela: https://newsela.com/read/hygge-global-habit-craze/id/48440/
  1. You don’t find Happiness; You create it by Katarina Blom (watch to minute 4:30). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DtcSCFwDdw
  1. An Astronaut’s View on Self-isolation: Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uL5sqe5Uk8&feature=youtu.be