Self-Discovery in the Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year, New Goals

Ah, the start of a New Year—a blank slate, a fresh start, a chance to turn over a new leaf…and a perfect time to set some new goals. At the Village School, we talk a lot about goals. Having learners set their own and map out the steps needed to get their puts them squarely in charge of their own learning. This will serve them here at TVS and well into adulthood!

For our deep dive into goal-setting in Spark Studio this week, we spread our discussions out over several days to make the information more digestible. We introduced the concept on Tuesday, asking what goals are and what the heroes would like to achieve over the next session. We heard aspirations such as taking on more challenging work, getting better at reading, and doing more math.

The next day, we emphasized that achievable goals are specific. The heroes responded by narrowing their focus, proposing goals such as completing the orange reading drawers, mastering Golden Bead Addition, or completing sound object exploration. We even heard goals that had to do with physical activity and creativity—making a city from the metal insets work and getting across all the monkey bars, for instance.

When the heroes had their Session 4 goal in mind, they wrote it down in their writing journals. We then talked about how to break these larger goals into smaller, achievable steps, either with a mind-map or step-by-step instructions.

The next day, they copied their goals onto art paper and decorated them with markers, cut-up paper, oil pastels, crayons–whatever would help visualize their ambitions. They then hung those pictures on the wall of our studio to serve as reminders throughout the session of what they want to achieve.

We have little doubt that the heroes will be eager to dig in to their goals next week. But if they reach a lull in working toward them, we might offer a helpful nudge by asking: What work would you like to do today to help work toward your goal? How much work do you need to do every day to help you reach your goal? How do you feel now that you are close to your goal, or now that you’ve achieved it?

We are excited to see where this takes us at the end of the session.

Stay tuned, and Happy New Year!

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.

Collaborative Learning

During a recent outing to Mason District Park, Village School heroes found their way to the creek. They stopped to play for a while by the shallow, meandering water. It was too cold for bare feet, but they scrambled across the stream—or lava as they imagined it—by balancing on log bridges or hopping from rock to rock. When they finally found a good spot, they set about stirring potions in the water.

After a while, one of the heroes turned to look at the five-foot bank on the opposite side. It was too steep to climb with his bare hands, but he found that if he grabbed an exposed root hanging down from the top he could use it as a sort of climbing rope to hoist himself up. When he reached the top, he called down, “Hey guys, look at this!” and offered to teach the other heroes how to follow him. They quickly abandoned the potions experiment to join him.

For the next 20 minutes, the heroes made it their mission to climb that ledge. It took some effort for them to find the right foot placement, keep their balance, and use their arms to heave their bodies up. But with advice and guidance from the first learner and a little perseverance, they all finally reached the top. “I did it!” they each shouted in turn, before they ran down the adjoining slope to the creek so they could try again.  “You OK over there?” “You can do it!” they called to one another as they worked.

The learners climbed that ledge over and over. When the first root broke, they found another that would help them up. Then they discovered a U-shaped one sturdy enough to hold them upside-down. With their newfound skills, they tried climbing other ledges, honing their climbing technique along the way.

It was a striking example of our learning process at The Village School. Both inside the studio and out on the playground, heroes are surrounded by intriguing challenges. They have space to wonder and follow their curiosity in order to find their own passions and set their own goals, which is essential if we want them to pursue their goals with interest and determination. They learn from each other and work together to solve problems. They struggle and sometimes fail, which develops resilience. There is little adult intervention, but plenty of help from peers. It’s with a genuine desire to help that they teach each other, and fervent joy and satisfaction that they celebrate victories.

Let’s go back to the creek for a moment and consider what might have happened under different circumstances. Would the heroes have been as eager to scale that ledge if their guide made it a goal? Probably not. Would they have figured out different ways to climb it if an adult had shown them the ‘right’ way to do it? Doubtful. Would they have taught, encouraged, and celebrated with one another if they were focused on beating each other to the top? Not a chance.

Certainly there is a time and place for contests, rewards, and guidance from adults (especially when it comes to safety). But that’s not the primary way we pursue knowledge at The Village School. One of our main goals is to foster an intrinsic love of learning that will translate into a lifelong hunger for knowledge. We also create a culture that values confidence, independence, leadership, and collaborative skills. Reading, writing, math—all these things matter, but they come as a result of developing those invaluable character traits. It’s all part of creating a learner-driven environment.

Heroes went home that day asking when they could go back to the park again. I wonder what challenges they will seek out next time?

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?

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.

Turning Learners into Leaders

What makes a good leader? What does it mean to lead by example? Do good leaders allow others to lead, too? Those were some of the questions our Spark heroes grappled with at circle times this week, where the theme was—you guessed it—leadership.

Some of the qualities we strive to develop in Village School heroes are independence, accountability, and integrity, all qualities of good leaders. So we coach our learners to step up, take responsibility for themselves, be kind and keep others safe, and to work as a team.

We explored three main areas of leadership starting with the basics—good vs. bad leadership. What sorts of things do good leaders do? What shouldn’t they do? The heroes had a lot of good ideas—they suggested that the best leaders help others make good choices, use kind words, and keep everyone safe. Conversely, they said that bad leaders encourage others to make unkind or unsafe choices.

But what if you’re shy and don’t feel comfortable addressing a group? We talked about how some leaders lead by example. They quietly demonstrate the right thing to do and provide an example that others may follow. As one hero put it succinctly, “Instead of telling people what to do, you show them what to do.”

We also discussed the importance of leaders who help others contribute ideas and lead alongside them. (As opposed to telling everyone what to do and expecting complete compliance.)

Each of these discussions addressed something we had seen in the studio that week, either indoors or on the playground. It was pretty remarkable to see behaviors shift as heroes thought about their actions and those of others. They were excited to be positive leaders, and felt empowered to speak up when they witnessed someone making poor choices or leading others astray. We all agreed that leaders are rarely perfect, that everyone makes mistakes. But we decided that it’s important to be self-aware enough to learn from your own mistakes and hold up a mirror for others so they can learn, too.

This series of launches doubtless provided more than learners could absorb in just one week. But we guides (and some heroes) reinforced the concepts by referring back to our discussions again and again. The launches also laid the groundwork for future group discussions slated for the coming months. Finally, they planted seeds that we hope will help them grow into effective leaders as adults.

Halloween Fun

Session 2: Week 2

Learning is hard work. TVS heroes spend an average of 1.5 hours on math and reading daily. They spend another hour writing or researching. And they spend an additional 1.5 hours combining all those academic skills during Quest.

In Adventure Studio, we keep it simple: balancing hard work and fun.

That’s why you could find MS heroes carving pumpkins on Monday. Playing baseball on Tuesday. Spinning around in circles on the grass on Wednesday. Escaping a virtual escape room on Thursday. These moments of fun balance the hard work.

According to psychologists, there are 5 components of happiness: optimism, flow, community, meaning, and achievement. The hard work of learning has many of these components: optimism setting goals, finding flow in learning, creating meaningful work, and achieving milestones. But fun is crucial to community, and perhaps, opens the door to everything else.

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.

Catalyst of Growth

Session 1: Week 6

Session 1- done. Heroes tested their strength and came out strong. Now we celebrate their learning with Exhibitions. We take a peek into the daily life of a studio where hard work, creativity, and problem-solving thrive.

Adventure Heroes hard at work
First hero talk of the year

In Middle School, Adventure heroes presented thorough family histories. They explored their past, present, and future selves with honesty and compassion in their Hero’s Essays. They showed off a new studio design, and proposed a PE plan for baseball (which they will lead for ES next session). 

Presenting at The School Share

In the midst of congratulations and socially distant air high-5s, it is easy to forget. What happened prior to this success? 

Enter The Final Abyss.

We don’t often talk about this step of the Hero’s Journey. It sounds awful and dark. The situation looks bleak. The hero loses hope and resolve. Overcoming this final test seems impossible. A hero cannot possibly continue the journey.

You don’t want to linger on this step. You want to breeze through this part to the treasure. You don’t want to embrace and sit with this prickly obstacle in front of you. To stand and face your greatest test.

It is easy to conceptualize The Final Abyss as the bottom of the Hero’s Journey circle. But when you actually hit bottom, you are the one who has to climb out. 

And yet, is The Final Abyss the last step before growth or is it the step of growing?

We can reframe this greatest challenge. What if we entered The Final Abyss as heroes who know that everything is supposed to look bleak at this stage? That, although we feel hopeless, we are secretly excited because we are on the verge of a great treasure? What if we welcomed the greatest test of The Final Abyss with open arms? 

At the end of a journey, it is easy to celebrate the treasures. The successful accomplishments of the session. Today, let’s also celebrate the great courage it takes to face and overcome The Final Abyss.