It's been an exciting few days here in Maine because we finally had our first real snow of the season. And with a foot of white, fluffy, beautiful snow my kids have basically lived outside for the past 3 days. They have been building snowmen, sledding, snowshoeing, and their favorite, skiing down our driveway.
What's amazing is how little I hear from them. There's no "he hit me", "she stole this from me", no crying because of the smallest scratch, and no "can you help me". Have you ever noticed how your kids seem to be tougher when you aren't around? When you aren't there, they are forced to figure things out on their own. They learn that they are capable, smart, resourceful, and resilient people.
And this is exactly what we foster at Acton Academy, we back up and give students space. At Acton there are no teachers giving students the answers or even telling them exactly where to find them. Their job is to figure things out. Our job is to provide guardrails, to guide them along their path, and to help inspire them.
As Sugata Mitra says, "If children know there is someone standing over them who knows all the answers, they are less inclined to find the answers for themselves." And this goes for "doing" as well. My kids have all whined and cried about each of the following (of which they were fully capable of doing themselves): getting dressed, putting shoes on, getting their own 'fill in the blank' (silverware, water, band aid), the list is endless. If I'm standing right there and I can do it, faster or better, then why should they bother? We need to give our kids space and freedom.
"Personalized learning is not what is done to the learner or about tailoring the learning. It is about helping each learner to identify and develop the skills they need to support and enhance their own learning so that agency and self-advocacy can be realized."
- Kathleen McClaskey
Acton Academy is set up as a learner-driven community because we believe that students achieve more when they have control over their own learning. It's freedom within structure and guardrails. But just as Maria Montessori said, there is first a learning process, "To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom".
As students grow they are given more freedom, but first they have to be taught processes for getting things done; everything from setting and accomplishing goals to writing processes, critique processes, and conflict resolution processes.
At Acton Academy we believe that "learning to be" and "learning to do" are more important than simply "learning to know". An important part of this is encouraging kids to take responsibility for their own behavior and hold those around them to a high standard. When something isn't working, we want our students to work together to solve the problems, not look for an adult to solve it for them. Just as they do when we are not standing over them; just as my kids have done playing in the snow for the past 3 days.
This creates a sense of ownership, independence, and confidence that will serve them well in all areas of life. Research shows that students who have a true feeling of ownership for their education learn and retain more.
So let's give them that gift. Let's backup and watch just how much our kids can do on their own!