Saturday, April 14, 2012

Losing Control - Willingly

I don't want to be in control anymore.

For those of you who know me, this may sound radical. Don't worry; I am still very interested in being in charge.

I just don't want to be in control.

I actually NEVER wanted to be in control. When I started HoneyFern, I envisioned a school with students who worked on their own time, on their own work, on things that interested them, as quickly or slowly or deeply or shallowly (a word?) as they wished. I saw a buzzing place with conversation and work together and real work on real-world things that mattered, far away from testing and worksheets, out in the pasture, under the trees, in the sunroom - a happy, contented, engaged buzzing place that matched the sweetness and calm of the name of the school.

I saw my role as a Guide, a Teacher when necessary, but mostly a Coordinator and a Keeper of Work and a Locator of Opportunities and Head Cheerleader. An Understander of the world because of experience, but no smarter than the kids I hoped would flock to a school that gave them the ability to guide their own learning.

I am all of those things right now, but I want to add Motivator and Empower-er (a word?). I have been pondering the concept of Sudbury Schools lately, and reading and watching videos on the school model and educational theory behind them. When I started teaching, this model is what I saw myself doing, and as public education moved farther and farther away from student involvement and responsibility for their own learning, I left to essentially go back to where I started (service learning, where kids identified an issue in their community and worked to solve the problem).

Public school is no place for free thinkers these days, and I need to make sure HoneyFern is. We have been sidetracked by various things and find ourselves straying from the course a bit; due to accreditation, a blessing and a curse, we will take a standardized test, and I also have several students with unique circumstances that make a strictly Sudbury model impractical.

But I know when I start to feel uneasy, when it gets too quiet in the house, when there isn't the burst of discovery and easy laughter, that we are not where we need to be, and it is time to make adjustments. We will keep the plan for the rest of the year, and this summer will be spent in contemplation followed by action and adjustment.

I believe in kids. I don't think adults have all the answers.  I believe in the power of play, and I believe that all people learn best when they are responsible for their education. This makes things messy. There is no easy way to put a grade on an afternoon weeding a garden, making a quilt or building a Rube Goldberg machine that traps a monster.

This makes school you pay for a hard sell. Why should you pay for someone to watch your kids all day when it is free at the public school down the street, and this childcare comes with a hard-and-fast report card that "shows what they know" (I disagree with this, but it is the prevailing sentiment)? How do you know kids are progressing at a school that allows them to choose their own adventure?

This is a leap of faith. This type of education takes the long view and believes that one shouldn't stop learning at 3 pm when the bus rolls off the school grounds, or in May when the last bell rings, signaling freedom. This type of education requires going against the grain, perhaps even against the manner in which a parent was schooled. It requires free thinking about education, a skill ironically not taught in public school (and, increasingly, not in private school either).

This is a leap of faith for me, too. I know a free and democratic (small "d," don't fret) education is the best way to learn, like the first time I stepped into a classroom of my own and my first act was to have the kids write the rules, along with a mission and vision statement for the year. There was chaos and beauty in the calm that followed, along with the ability for any kid in the class at any time to silently point to the rules or the mission/vision statement to remind anyone (teacher included) to stay on track. Letting go, losing control, moving out of what is familiar and comfortable - this is how we learn.

This is what I want us to be.

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