Big Feelings

It is the end of the session. A time where we celebrate big achievements like work ethic and dedication throughout a session.

It is also the time when session-long projects are due. Learners can work at their own pace for much of their learning but every session, we do a big project together (Quest) and explore a writing genre together (Writer’s Workshop/Communications). These projects are due each session to help learners stay on track and be ready to tackle something new with their full focus and attention next session!

That means that learners can feel anxious or overwhelmed if they fall behind. It is important to them to catch up and earn this badge because they care about their education. They take responsibility for it.

So the next time that they (and inevitably you) are sitting with big end of session feelings, I hope you remember these two things:

  1.  Your learner’s feelings translate to “I care deeply about my learning.” “I want to do well.”

2.  This experience is a catalyst for learners. Time and time again, we see that it motivates them to try something new in the next session. They are proud of themselves when they stay on track and become masters of their procrastination.

And always, the stakes are low. It won’t feel like that to your learner but they can always try again. It is far better for them to experience the effects of procrastination now than in college or working a real job. They learn from these experiences, try again, and find success. Then they are that much more prepared for the future!

What’s Changed?

Every year at this time, I marvel at the transformations of the young people in front of me. Yes, they are all a little bit taller, more physically adept and coordinated. But what I’m referring to is the transformation in how they see themselves- as learners, as readers, as mathematicians, as explorers, as friends- as leaders of their own learning.

I wonder- do they see themselves the way I do? Do they have a clear understanding of how much they’ve grown? Certainly, I could tell them but do they know?

So, over the course of the past several days, I asked them, “What’s changed for you this year?”

Using the sentence frame, “I used to ___________, and now I __________,” this is what they said: 

“I used to think I was bad at math but now I think I’m good at it.”

“I used to not be as interested in discussions but now I really like them- especially Civilization discussions.” 

“I used to think I was bad at reading but now I know I’m good at it.”

“I used to not like school. It was boring but now I love school.” 

“I used to rely on a teacher to learn but now I rely on myself.” 

“I used to not have as much freedom in what I could read but now I do and because of that reading is not a chore and is fun.”

“I used to not have a lot of say in what I wanted to learn about and now I do and because of that I have learned a lot more- like history, life skills, and communicating well through writing.”

“I used to be afraid of asking questions but now I am not and I love asking questions and finding the answers myself.” 

“I used to ask only questions to grown-ups but now I ask my peers questions to help me learn.” 

“I used to be really shy around older people but now I have a lot more confidence to talk to people of all ages.” 

“I used to think that quest was hard and in my panic zone and now I think it’s in my challenge zone.” 

“I used to not be as encouraged to speak in front of people but now I am more comfortable.”

“I used to try and dress a certain way and now I wear what I want.”

“I used to think making forts was hard but now I know I can do it.” 

“I used to be scared to share what I believed or how I felt but now I am comfortable sharing what I believe is right or wrong and how I feel about things.”

“I used to not care about a lot of things but now I care about so many things.”

They know it’s not a test and there are no right or wrong answers. And so they share these things with me thoughtfully as they are skilled at reflecting on their learning by this point in the year.

They smile as they share, many of them reaffirming their words after speaking them. “Yes, that’s what’s changed for me,” and I smile back in gratitude for this gift.

Help your learner get “unstuck”

A learner was stuck. Not atypical in the world of self-directed learning because after all, learning is hard work. What was unusual is that this learner discovered a remarkable way to get unstuck.

This learner is an artist. She is passionate about her art but in the past few months, she hadn’t been feeling motivated. 

A guide asked her the question, “What if you created art for others?” 

This flipped the problem on its head. It was no longer about finding the motivation from within; it was about using the present motivation from others. The learner announced in Town Hall that she would take requests for paintings. All of a sudden, she was painting again.

We hope our learners are intrinsically motivated. But even the most intrinsically motivated people feel unmotivated sometimes, and that’s normal. When you are doing something challenging and worthwhile, not all parts are fun! We all have to do the ‘paperwork’ side of things. 

But perhaps the next time your learner (or you!) are feeling stuck, you can try this strategy. What can you give to others?

Helping another learner with Khan Academy
An older learner helping a younger learner with the 100s Board

Setting Boundaries

Earlier this school year, our eleven year old would come home every day and tell us he had so much school work to do. He’d eat a snack, do his chores and settle in with his lab top, notebook and pen. He’d work for hours, unless his self-assigned homework was cut short by sports practice or other family events. As I prepped dinner, I had come to expect the cheery “ping” in the background as he practiced and mastered math problems on Khan Academy, followed by an enthusiastic, “YES!” when he got a problem right. Often, I’d see him collaborating with peers via Google Chat or Video, reviewing each other’s work or working on challenges together. From my vantage point, he was definitely taking responsibility for his education.

At first I was impressed- my middle schooler is choosing to learn and do school work with zero prompting from me? Isn’t this every parent’s dream? Until one day, I realized we had a problem. His school work was cutting into our family time. Walks with the dog, family dinners, and leisure and play time with friends and neighbors were met with resistance or outbursts of overwhelm. Day to day, our family schedule was not reflecting our values of rest, fun, and connection and our son’s life seemed significantly out of balance. It was time to redraw the boundaries so we were making time for the things that were really important to us as a family.

So I set a limit on “home” work. He could do no more than one hour of work and all devices were powered down by 8:00pm. When I heard “but I won’t be able to get everything done!”, I was prepared.

“Hmm, tell me about that. Tell me about your school day and how you’re using your time,” I said.

We sat down and looked at Journey Tracker together. He walked me through his day. We clicked on the challenges, looking at the requirements and expectations together. We explored how much time different things were taking and after we did this, his panic subsided, and he said, “I guess I do have enough time to complete my work at school. I just need to use it better.”

After that, things changed. Knowing that he had a limit on the amount of time he could work at home, he started using his time more efficiently at school. Some things got done and some things did not. This is still the case. But he knows what the boundaries are and can make his choices inside those parameters.

In many ways, our son is stumbling his way towards prioritizing the things most important to him- not unlike the way many of us do as adults. There’s always more to do. There are a million different ways to fill a day. But how to fill it in a way that reflects your values? It’s a process and we’re learning together.

From my perspective, I see him learning all of the things I want him to- learning to learn, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together.

Getting back to “Normal”

As of Tuesday, our school is officially mask-optional in all studios. I walked around the hallways to see smiling faces. It felt amazingly normal and totally foreign. 

One learner walked around on the first day and kept remarking, “It is weird to see everyone’s faces! I keep thinking that I’m forgetting something when I walk into the building!”

Of course, everyone is welcome to still wear a mask, and it is possible that we might have to return to masking for a period in the future, but overall, it feels like we are finding the light at the end of the tunnel.

We are getting back to “normal”. Or perhaps, a “new normal” because the world has changed and we have changed with it. We are not the same people that we were two years ago.

Change is the constant in life. The most important part is learning how to evolve.

Climbing the Mountains

“Everyone wants to live on the top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” – A. Rooney

Imagine this… you look out your window one morning and are surprised to see mysterious mountains in the distance. They are purple in the early light and shrouded in fog. Every now and then, you glimpse a summit shining in the sunlight. 

You are pulled to climb those mountains. There is something exciting about them. You know it will be challenging but that will be part of the journey. You are ready to run out the door on this new adventure. Today is the day!

Your hand is on the doorknob when you pause and think, “Should I start this new journey right now or should I put together supplies and tools that I might need for the climb ahead? Should I take this journey alone or should I invite friends to join me?”

This is the metaphor of the hero’s journey at The Village School. The distant mountains represent Discovery Studio. Spark Studio is all about preparing for the adventure.

Spark Journey Map

This week, Spark learners were introduced to their very own map. They are “packing their backpacks” with the tools needed for learning. The basics are the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math, but even more importantly, Spark learners will learn to be. They will “pack” focus for 30 minutes or more. They will “pack” problem-solving and self-advocacy. They will “pack” conflict resolution and respecting others’ space. They will be curious, supportive leaders ready for the climb ahead.

Spark learners get to add each tool and skill to their backpack. By the time they leave Spark, they will have a whole backpack full of skills that will help them successfully learn and climb the mountains in Discovery.

Discovery Journey Map

It doesn’t matter how old you are. Planning a trip, preparing for a climb, setting a big goal- the possibility of an adventure is exciting!

Setting off into the Unknown

“Guys, I didn’t think we could do it. But we did it!”

This quote was from a learner at the end of last session. Her team had been tasked with a big challenge to prepare for Exhibition. The team had 90 minutes to come up with a solution. And they did.

Anyone can take a test. You might not know the exact questions or if you will get a passing grade but anyone can sit and fill in bubbles. Task complete.

What if school was built around bigger goals? Goals where you don’t know if you could complete the task at hand. Think of the excitement. The leap into the unknown. The risk that sits on the top of your tongue as you consider the possibility of failure and then decide to go ahead and try anyway. 

In childhood, we set aspirational goals. I want to be a professional basketball player! I want to direct a movie someday! I will go to the moon! As adults, we forget how motivating these goals can be. A child has a slim chance of being a professional basketball player but that doesn’t mean that they won’t go out every day and shoot hoops. Our instinct is to tamp down on these impulses because we don’t want to set our children up for failure. It is scary to not see the path ahead. To not have a strategy ready to share or the right resource at hand. But what if children succeed precisely because they don’t know if they can do it and are motivated to try?

And even if they fail the task, what will they gain along the way?

The Moment of Doubt

The hero’s journey begins with hearing a call to action… and then refusing it.

We often see new learners in September struggling with their newfound independence. They haven’t yet grasped the magnitude of their freedom and responsibility, but slowly yet surely, things begin to change. Learners find focus and flow. Badges are earned and hope is renewed as a learner accepts the call.

Then January happens. A moment of crisis. Doubt creeps in. With many challenges overcome and yet many challenges still to come, a hero naturally questions the journey. Am I the right person to answer this call? Is it worth it?

I don’t think that we appreciate this moment enough.

A hero isn’t someone who blindly accepts the given path. A hero has real evidence that this journey is hard, and progress sometimes seems non-existent. Who better than a hero to doubt the road ahead?

In “Mastery: The Keys to Success”, George Leonard explains that on the path to mastery, there is a time period of incubation (the plateau). The plateau is a stage of development where intense growth is happening but no measurable progress is made.  Anyone who has a practice, whether an athlete or an artist, can relate to this stage- the frustrating period of practice where nothing seems to be changing until all of a sudden, there is a huge leap in growth. A period of great change where progress is exponential. It seems like, overnight, what was once a challenge has become a strength. Reading this book, I realized that the same thing happens in a hero’s journey.

Obstacles, failure, challenges- every hero will encounter them on this journey. These experiences aren’t avoidable. They are the essential ingredient to growth

We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t doubt the journey. Isn’t it so very human to long for an easier way? Even when we know the truth deep down – the greater the challenge, the greater the growth.

No (home)work, Lots of Learning: An Evening in the Life of a TVS Parent

This week, we wanted to share a note from a current TVS parent, Dr. Elizabeth Dean. It highlights many Learn to Do skills that we hope our TVS Graduates acquire: set meaningful goals for themselves, practice growth mindset, etc. Elizabeth wrote her reflection at the end of December but it is relevant to the challenges faced at the end of any session. There will be struggles on the journey of a self-directed learner but hopefully, they are worthy ones!

Here is a peek into our house just last night through the often tricky transition from after school to evening to bedtime. 

It is the end of the session, so our Discovery Hero is busy clicking every last click on Journey Tracker to ensure she earns the badges she has been working towards. She is stressed and anxious by all that she hasn’t done. She vacillates between excitement because it is the end of the session and she can see what she has accomplished, and frustration because it is the end of the session and she can see all that she failed to accomplish. She begs to stay up late to do “just two more skills on Khan” and “I have to finish writing my personal mission statement” and “I really want to set my goals for Session 4 right now!” 

Meanwhile, in the other room, our Spark Hero is busy writing “notes of gratitude” to everyone she can think of, inspired by something that happened in her studio that day. She brought home a gratitude jar with slips of paper listing things she and her fellow learners were thankful for – she took this as a call to action and wanted to continue her exploration while showing off her newfound ability to sound out words and write sentences. She is determined to “write 100 notes tonight before bed.” 

As I shuffled from one room to another – reprimanding the dog who has also been busy eating a computer charger and ruining yet another ornament from the lower third of the Christmas tree – I think of how grateful I am for the “no homework” policy at The Village School. In the words of Ron Ritchhart, work is something you do for someone else and learning is what you do for yourself. My heroes are not working. My heroes are learning, and they are deep in it. 

I finally convinced one of them to get in the shower and start the transition to bed. We agreed to finish the 92 other gratitude notes tomorrow. At our house, our kids hold us captive while they are in the shower – does this happen to you? Is it just me? I know this won’t last forever, so I let it happen, and like so many aspects of parenthood, I am full of a combination of deep love and dread. When I’m held captive in the bathroom, it’s almost like the veil of the shower curtain creates a sense of intimacy. It is our family confessional where all thoughts are spilled. On this particular evening, unprompted, our Spark Hero decided to share her goals: “Mom, I’m going to finish the light blue handwriting book and then I am going to learn cursive. My goal is to do a few pages every day so I can do it all next session.” Desperately trying to remember the right kind of praise to say, I cringe and hold back the I’m proud of you and squeak out the Wow, I hear you making a challenging goal for yourself – it’s clumsy, but it’s okay. The veil of the shower curtain helps.

I ran back downstairs to check on the end-of-session-Discovery-Studio-marathon happening only to find my 8-year-old sifting through at least a dozen Chrome tabs open on her laptop. She is excited to see me because she wants to show me this new way of organizing her work that she has just discovered because of the “Learning to be Intentional” badge. I look. I listen. I bite my tongue to hold in the hurry up and please get to bed. I run back upstairs to check on the shower situation before there is no hot water left. 

On the other side of the shower curtain is a request to play the “It’s Not” game, one of her favorite thinking games she learned at school. The premise is to see everyday objects as new things, valuing creative and divergent thinking. “It’s not soap, it’s a magical potion that makes rainbows wherever you soap it,” comes the voice from the other side of the curtain. Before I can share,  I hear the other yelling my name from downstairs. 

Still lost in the tabs on her screen, she asks me if she can share her Passion Project speech with me right before she begins to rationalize why she needs to stay up even later examining the work of her peers and providing them feedback so they, too, can achieve a badge at the end of the week ceremony. It is shortly after this debate that she gets overwhelmed because she realizes she hasn’t completed all the tasks for her Math Adventure badge, and she begins to break down. 

I am so grateful for her sense of overwhelm. At the Village School, learners have the opportunity to be emotional and feel overwhelmed about work and learning that matters.  It probably took me about a year into my Village School experience to proudly admit that I really actually truly hope that she doesn’t get all the badges; I hope that she doesn’t complete all her goals; I hope that she feels regret about what she did not accomplish over the course of the session. I hope this because it will be an experience from which she will learn. I also realize that as a parent, I can only have these hopes because of the environment and culture at The Village School.  

I don’t have to imagine what this same evening would look like in my house if we attended a more traditional school because I work in one and have for the past 15 years. The overwhelm would be about completing worksheets or packets with fill-in-the-blank notes, preparing for a multiple-choice test, answering the questions at the end of the test book chapter, or completing a Pinterest-y activity to celebrate the 100th day of school. The overwhelm would be about compliance and completion with invisible strings of relevance to my learners’ lives and imaginations. The overwhelm would be caused by a fear of failure that defines self-worth. And most striking, the roles would be reversed: me begging my kids to think about school or complete the work assigned by their teachers instead of my kids begging me to stay up later to keep thinking about school and the learning they have chosen for themselves. 

The students I work with are focused on all work and no learning. This is not by choice, my students love to learn, they just see it as something they do “after my schoolwork is finished.” “School isn’t actually about learning anymore.” Students cram for tests only to forget the content days later – something they readily admit. These students feel the same emotions of anxiety and overwhelm that my Discovery Hero feels at the end of her session, the difference is in the life-worthiness of the work that created the emotions in the first place. Failure in a traditional school could have potentially harmful ramifications for learners, and also many times it is the parents who are held accountable and not the students themselves. In these schools – in my school – there is no game of “It’s not” – rather the game of school is always about selecting one right answer.  

So in the space between after-school pick-up and bedtime, there is so much to be grateful for as a TVS parent. There is struggle and it’s not always pretty, but I do know when there is a struggle, it is a worthy one. it. There is no homework or test for which to cram. There are, however, many tests of patience, character, perseverance, and so much learning.

Resourceful & Resilient in Action

A tale from this morning in Core Skills:

Two learners were struggling with factoring with the Distributive Property. When neither of them could figure it out, they sought other options. One looked for a helpful video on Khan; the other one decided to search on Google. Both came to the same video. They watched it together. Then the lightbulb moment, “Oh! It’s just another way to find the greatest common factor!” Problem solved. 

Two important highlights in this story. First, an adult (me) was standing behind them the entire time. Not once did they turn around to ask for help. They knew they could figure it out: I’d call that self-efficacy. Second, it took multiple tries. Neither learner found what they were looking for right away. They had to search for different topics and try alternative search terms. In a day and age where we are used to quick fixes, these learners were patient and flexible.

Now fast forward… imagine the future where these learners have had __ years of practice at finding their own helpful resources and solving their own problems. Imagine how prepared they will be! They will be ready to change the world.

Doesn’t it make your heart beat a little faster?

We hope all TVS learners graduate resourceful and resilient. That’s why we have Socratic Guides who guide and empower learners. That’s why our learners are on their own hero’s journey.