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

Learner Driven = Well-Equipped

One of the greatest outcomes of a learner-driven education is the ability to navigate uncertainty. Just today, I watched in awe as our learners led morning mindfulness, launched and executed the morning discussion, settled in to the morning work time to accomplish their own goals, and engaged in a tough conversation with a fellow learner who had shown a lapse in integrity. And this was just in the first 90 minutes of the school day. The rest of the day includes diving into individual or collaborative passion projects of their choosing, leading a civilization lesson and Socratic discussion and working towards mastery in either visual or musical arts.

They are leaders of their own learning and thus, are well-equipped to navigate their learning outside the walls of The Village School. This has always been the goal. Resiliency and independence are direct outcomes of a learner-driven education.

Beginning Monday, March 16 and lasting through next Friday, March 20, 2020, we are moving all learning and programming—including check-ins, Socratic launches, Quests, e-learning, and more—remotely. For our Spark learners, our team will spend Monday creating individual work plans and activities for learners that mimic the regular school day as much as possible. We will send more details over the weekend. Next week we will make a decision about school plans for post March 20.

We are making this change for three main reasons:

  1. By not convening in person we can help slow the spread of COVID-19.
  2. Currently, none of our Village School learners are sick but given that members of the school community travel fairly frequently, we feel it’s best to pause in-person gatherings to mitigate spread among our own community.
  3. The reality of COVID-19 is already affecting our Studios. We’ve been down several heroes everyday this week, and those absences are impacting goal setting, launches, group work, Quest, Studio maintenance, and more. Working remotely will allow us to all be on the same page and working within the same parameters.

Our team is not living in fear, and we don’t want the heroes to live in fear. We see this as a way that we can help one another and our larger community. And how amazing is it that we live in a time of technology where life and learning can go on digitally!

We recognize this change will be harder for some families than for others, due to work and childcare needs. If you need help, you can reach out directly and we will crowd source help among our parent community, or you can post specific needs on our TVS Community Forum. 

As we finalize our plans for remote learning, we do so with these goals/expectations in mind:

  • Work— Learners are expected to make progress on their badge plan daily, to attend virtual Socratic launches led by our Guides, to check in with their Running Partners, and to check in weekly with Guides. 
  • Communication—Learners should check their email 3x daily to look for instructions from Guides. Heroes should check their emails by 9 am each day to receive instructions and a schedule for the day.
  • Schedule—It’s important that learners keep scheduled work times daily so they can meet for group launches, Running Partner check-ins, and Guide check-ins.
  • Technology—ES Learners will need use of their Chromebooks daily (including a charger).

Parents can provide the best support during this time by checking in with learners at the beginning and end of each week to discuss goals and progress. In addition—and to the extent you’re able —we encourage parents to take on a “Guide” role to encourage and inspire heroes to direct their own learning. Here are some (optional!) ideas you can pull from.

Our hope is that throughout this our community stays healthy, continues to learn deeply, and grows closer together.

Please let us know if you have questions, concerns, ideas, or suggestions.

– Lauren on Behalf of The Village School Team

Laboratory of Learning

When you think of the word laboratory what do you see? A chemist in a windowless room, a group of scientists conducting experiments surrounded by white space, or perhaps, like me, your ill-equipped and uninspiring high school science “lab” comes to mind.

According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, a laboratory is defined as “a place providing opportunity for experimentation, observation, or practice in a field of study.”

It is in this broader sense, that we see our community at The Village School as a laboratory. Our field of study is learning.

Our school isn’t a school in the usual sense of the word. It grows as a child grows. It grows and develops out of a learning “laboratory”- out of the experiences of our learners, their parents, and our guides here at TVS- and of those in our affiliate communities across the globe.

While every Acton community is different, we each share the goal of creating the best learner-driven environment we can while guiding each of our learners to discover a calling that will change the world. Put in other words, this means we have hundreds of learning “laboratories” all over the world providing opportunities for experimentation, observation and practice in the field of self-directed and collaborative learning.

At The Village School, we utilize this network of learning “labs” to help us constantly improve in three key areas:

Content: This includes content in the form of integrated real-world projects /quests and core skills learning in the areas of math, reading, and writing.

Structure: This includes studio systems to enhance both independent and collaborative learning as well as social/emotional skills and studio culture.

Application: This includes support from an active online forum for Acton Guides and Owners to troubleshoot, share, and learn from each other in real time, a monthly video conference call with adopted “running partners” (close colleagues/owners/guides in the network), and an annual Owners conference.

In a laboratory things are never stagnant. The next experiment, revealing observation, or field-tested practice in human learning and motivation is right around the corner.

Just like a child- or a scientist on the verge of something big, we live in anticipation of all of the new discoveries that await.

A Better World

Guest post by Vijay Shah, Co-Founder & Director of The Humanist Academy

It is such an incredible and indescribable feeling. Every parent can attest to it. When your newborn baby has just entered the world, and you are holding him in your arms for the first time. It seems like the entire world has just stopped for a few seconds. The moment has somehow frozen in time. You lose yourself in him and forget about everything leading up to that point: the months of anticipation, the hours of agony, the intensity, the struggle, the exhaustion… everything vanishes. 

Just a few months ago, we were blessed with a baby boy. I can remember holding him for the first time like it was yesterday. It doesn’t matter whether it is your first child or your third, it never gets old. I vividly remember being so incredibly engrossed in that moment; in my hands, I held this tiny human being, a bundle of joy, hope, and infinite potential. Why was it so breathtaking? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but I’m guessing it had something to do with the tremendous power of human connection, the power of family, and the power of love. 

For some reason though, as my mind obsessed over his arrival, doubt started to creep in. He had just entered the world, but what kind of world was awaiting him? Was it hopeful or dreadful? I started to worry. As the first few days passed by, pessimism started to take over. The sea levels are rising, I thought. Major cities across the world are facing water shortages. Millions of tons of plastic are being dumped into the ocean each year. Human consumption and wastes are outrageously imbalanced and disproportionate in nature. Mass shootings have become all too common. News and media outlets are not only extremely negative and appeal to the worst of our human instincts, but they also have become so incredibly polarized that it has become almost impossible to distinguish the truth from biased agendas and opinions. Schools and hospitals are just massive factories where human beings equate to quantifiable commodities. Role models, heroes who embody virtues, stand for principles, and live for higher ideals have become harder and harder to find… Is this the kind of world that awaits my newborn baby?

But when I thought all hope might be lost, as I deeply worried about my son’s future, I entered the magical studio of THA. What did I see? I saw the entire studio enter pin-drop silence during core skills and then grow loud and rambunctious during Quest and Free Time. I saw all fifty-four of our Heroes engaging in meaningful work. I saw a curiosity and a zest for learning, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in my 15+ years working in schools as a teacher, professor, and administrator. I saw older Warriors taking out time to build relationships with younger Warriors, and younger Warriors being grateful for it. I saw them journey inwards during morning meditation, and reflect deeply upon their day during closing group. I saw thought-provoking Socratic discussions that put our Heroes in real-world situations and force them to think critically about their choices, “Imagine you were Marie Curie, would you risk your life working with hazardous materials in the pursuit of world-changing scientific discovery, or would you play it safe?” 

I heard insights from young Heroes that would astonish any adult willing to listen, “Mr. Vijay, I don’t think I deserve the full points for this challenge because it was pretty easy for me, so I’ll just submit it for half the points.”  I saw brave heroes who held their peers accountable and rejected victimhood. I saw laughter, tears, joy, and struggle. I saw mistakes, accompanied by the courage to accept those mistakes and the resilience to overcome. I saw tremendous growth, holistic growth. I saw integrity, focus, curiosity, courage, appreciation, persistence, rigor, diligence, warmth, compassion, and love all come together in one place. I saw at THA, a world I thought only existed in a dream. I saw hope. In a world plagued with problems, I saw a solution. 

I thought again about my son and the type of world that awaits him. He gets to be a part of this world.

How incredibly fortunate he is. 

That’s Exactly Why You’re Here

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.