For anyone who is a fan of the TV show How I Met Your Mother, you will be familiar with the scene where the bunch a friends is sitting around and gets struck with the amazing idea to open a bar.
”WE SHOULD TOTALLY OPEN A BAR!”
Just as, for many of us educators disillusioned with the current paradigm of education, we will be familiar with scene of sitting around with like-minded colleagues and getting struck with the amazing idea to open a school.
”WE SHOULD TOTALLY OPEN A SCHOOL!”
I myself have been in this scene more than once, with more than one group of colleague-friends. Not that I have any idea how to open a school… or build a school… or a run a school… or where I’d even have a school…
But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t put some thought into what it would be like…
Concept: I’d love to borrow a page from the health care community and mirror their approach to holistic health centres. But instead of having one place where you can have access to a naturopath, a pharmacist, a chiropractor, a psychiatrist, you’d have a place where you’d have access to a learning coach, a counsellor, a nutritionist, a community liaison…. As many different parts and pieces that would be needed to provide a Holistic Education support community.
Location: Somewhere in a natural setting – a forest perhaps – where children could be immersed in nature and the local environment. Playing, exploring, getting dirty! Somewhere in the world where learning centres can exist without having to be “schools” and that aren’t stuck complying with mandated structures of the traditional paradigm.
Layout: I have a vision of a large circle, one long, never ending corridor. With many different spaces and places – kitchen, design lab, library, lots of nooks and crannies. All with direct, unimpeded access to the center of the circle, which would be a large, enclosed natural space. With trees and picnic tables and large moving parts. Things to build and climb. Places to sit and talk and run and play. That is open, available and accessible to everyone, at all times.
Community: The community would be democratic. Where adults and children, staff and parents – anyone connected to the community – has a voice and a role in decision making. The center would be a cooperative, co-owned by all stakeholders – staff and parents.
Curriculum: Would be entirely emergent, holistic and co-constructed. Starting first with the child – their strengths, their interests, their passions. Following the road map life has hidden inside them. There would be no clinging to the idea that everyone needs to know and learn exactly the same thing. There would be no pressure to standardize a natural, organic, non-linear process. Each individual would learn what he or she needed to in order to follow their own path. Academic skills would be learned when people wanted or needed them.
Assessment: The emphasis would be on progress, not achievement. Meeting each individual where they are and helping them move along at their pace. Celebrating growth and development without constantly chasing some fixed notion of where someone of a certain age “should be”. Assessment, understood as a verb, something owned by the learner within the context of the process of learning, not as a noun, something done to someone by an external body.
Scheduling: Timetabling would be non-existent. Pick-up and drop-off flexible, rolling starts and dismissals. People would eat when they are hungry, drink when they are thirsty, play when they choose and visit the bathroom as they need. All spaces would be open, active, supervised – with free flow of children and adults of all ages. Systems would be in place for advertising learning opportunities and signing up for small group and one-on-one support when needed.
Staff: All staff would see themselves as learners first and foremost; experts in learning secondly; and finally, as unique individuals with their own talents and passions to share with the community. All staff would wear multiple ‘hats’. Meeting with small groups of students to start and end the day as a social-emotional support and learning coach, and offering and participating in a range of learning opportunities throughout the day. People with expertise and interest in cooking, dance, literature, nature, photography, coding, business, environmentalism, writing, building, art, meditation etc willing to share their passion with others, as well as take risks and try new things being offered by other members of the community.
Vibe: A place where staff love coming to work and children love coming to learn and parents feel welcome and involved. A place where, when asked the question, “If your students didn’t have to go to school, would they?” The answer would be a resounding, indesputable “YES”. Where everyone not only feels comfortable to be themselves, but feels compelled and supported to work on becoming the best version of themselves.
Identity: We would know who we are and who we are not, and we would be comfortable with that. If someone was looking for a high-stakes, test-driven, finite-curriculum focused, competitive approach to education, we would be okay to say “sorry, that’s not us – but we hope you find what you are looking for”
I know that at this moment in time I don’t have the means, skills or know-how to start my own school. I know there are a million ins and outs I haven’t thought of, or planned for, or even know about. I know there are probably a million and one reasons as to why this wouldn’t work….
But, what’s the harm in dreaming!?!?
Yes! More and more lately I have been trying to figure out how to find a learning space irruption believe in and want to be a part of; want my own child to be a part of. We have done our greatest learning together in nature (a year in the cloud forest, two years by ocean, bays with tidal pools). It’s truly incredible to see the authentic injury process happen bd how it leads to want, a need, to learn even more and get the learning out to others. This is my dream as well. How do we take that love of learning in an open space with coaches as partners in the process to all learners? Dreams…
Terrific post! I love your dream….it sounds a bit like a homeschool cooperative that my extended family is a part of. Ken Robinson (from TED talks) would approve. Viv
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Your post reminded me immediately of ‘Summerhill’ in Suffolk. Keep on dreaming, I am sure some of it will come true.