What Authority Do Parents Have at Acton Academy? Guest post Laura Sandefer

What is appropriate parental authority?

This is something we’ll explore more deeply with the Eagles in the fall as we circle back around to one of the most powerful Overarching Questions of all: When does a hero submit to authority?

To prime your pump for the coming months, I wanted to share information on parenting styles from the field of psychology and human development.

You’ve probably read about “authoritative” versus “authoritarian” parenting. What are the differences in these styles? And how does Acton relate to one or the other?

Kendra Cherry, a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist who has published thousands of articles and authored the book, “Everything Psychology Book” simplifies the definitions:

“Authoritative parenting is a style characterized by reasonable demands and high responsiveness. While authoritative parents might have high expectations for their children, these parents also give their kids the resources and support they need to succeed. Parents who exhibit this style listen to their kids and provide love and warmth in addition to limits and fair discipline. The authoritative parenting style is usually identified as the most effective. Kids raised by authoritative parents have strong self-regulation skills, self-confidence, and happier attitudes.”

Authoritarian parenting, to the contrary, is described by Cherry as “characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children, yet provide very little in the way of feedback and nurturance. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly. When feedback does occur, it is often negative. Yelling and corporal punishment are also commonly seen with the authoritarian style.” (From the health and wellness resource website, “VeryWell,” April 24, 2017.)

There is a funny misconception about Acton Academy and it comes to me most often in the form of a question: Do you really believe parents should step back and let the children rule the roost like they drive their learning at school?

Simple answer: No.

We believe parents are parents. Parents are not Socratic Guides even though it’s fun to play one at times.

While many of the methods we use at Acton benefit life at home – writing a family mission statement and tracking family goals, for example – we believe children through their teenage years need parents to claim their role as authentic family leaders rather than abdicate that authority to peers, a school or American culture.

Our model of learning attracts hard-working, curious, smart and generous parents who sacrifice much so their children will find their greatest gifts and move into adult life prepared and with purpose. While we are an extremely diverse group in light of our religious, economic, cultural and political backgrounds, we are bound by the same principles of excellence, freedom, and responsibility.  And we agree that children should be held accountable for their choices so they grow into responsible heroes rather than victims who blame others and the world when things go wrong.

And while we do not give parenting advice, what works at Acton Academy is most closely aligned with the description of “authoritative” parenting.  The Eagles’ daily life in the studios includes high expectations; clear boundaries and consequences; and surplus amounts of feedback and warmth to support each Eagle.

Being in sync with parents on the basic pieces of this perspective forges a partnership that benefits the children for the long run – even when things go wrong in their studio lives in the short run.

With this kind of adult relationship surrounding them, the Eagles know they are loved deeply and that their choices matter. They know they are worth being held accountable and that they are capable of excellence.

To support our partnership with you, I have a couple of summer reading suggestions.

On the topic of parental authority, I recommend, “The Collapse of Parenting” by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. The data Dr. Sax presents is unsettling but the suggestions he provides to parents are simple and inspiring. (Teaser: You’ll be very interested in his research on why using growth mindset language doesn’t work well when it comes to instilling virtue; and why learning self-control may be one of the most important things our children achieve.) I have a purchased copy for each of my Acton families and I’ll be handing them out at school over the next few weeks – a little summer gift to you.

I also would recommend, “How to Raise and Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims.

Happy parenting!

What are the Main Differences Between Montessori and Acton Academy Programs? Guest Blog Post Dr. Vineet Nair & Andrea Nair, M.A., CCC

What are the Main Differences Between the Montessori and Acton Academy Programs?

A question we commonly hear at our London, ON, Canada Acton Academy is this: “How is your school different from a Montessori school?”

We relied on the experience of having both of our children attend a wonderful Montessori program as toddlers and pre-schoolers, our own research on this topic, as well as the input from other Acton Academy owners who have also spent time contemplating the answer to this question. We certainly share many values of the Montessori system and care greatly for our friends who run and work in these schools.

A common response to this question from other Acton owners is that Acton Academy is almost like a Montessori 2.0 or Montessori for the 21st Century. While Acton Academies do believe in many of the principles espoused by Maria Montessori (respect of the child, self-learning/freedom of choice, multi-age classrooms, a prepared environment and teachers as guides, to name a few), there are significant differences between the programs as well. It is important to note that not all Montessori schools are officially licenced so there is some variation in the style of programming delivered. Similarly, each Acton Academy is independently owned and operated as well so absolute generalizations cannot be made.

With that in mind, here are some specific distinctions that make an Acton Academy a unique learning environment compared to a Montessori school.

Consistent Progressive Education Goals vs. Focus on Early Years

Maria Montessori seemed to invest her genius in preschool-aged children and early childhood development. Acton owner Kai Olderog had this to say: “She designed it for those ages and placed an enormous amount of trust in children that age to be responsible for their environment and capable of doing amazing work.”

The Montessori programs offered for older children weren’t necessarily developed by Maria Montessori and have been formed by individual programs wanting schooling for higher ages. As a result of this distinction, many Montessori schools add more traditional elements to their programs as the children get older; this actually leads to decreased responsibility in the higher grades. At an Acton Academy, our Hero’s are given more responsibility as they get older and are heavily involved in self-management, leadership, and self-government of their learning environments.

Having said that, our school and many other Acton Academies accept students at age six or seven so we often rely on, recommend, and partner with local Montessori programs for the toddlers and preschoolers who will come to our school at that older age.

The Focus on Mastery and Use of Technology

At an Acton Academy, a large emphasis is on the development of mastery when learning Core Skills (reading, writing, math, and spelling). We utilize tools, at times technology-based, that allow our students — we call them “Heroes” — to learn at their own pace and individually. We continually seek the most efficient ways to enable this, and many Acton Academies incorporate other paper-based tools (Singapore Maths, Writer’s Workshop, for example) to find the best means to achieve our ultimate goal.

Technology is one tool we use to allow this kind of learning to take place. For the most part, Montessori programs have a reflexive policy against the use of technology in the classroom.

Jeff Sandefer, the co-founder of Acton Academy said this about our program: “Acton isn’t pro-technology, but we use powerful game based programs for areas like Math, as well as relying on the internet to bring experts and the world to us. We don’t dismiss technology out of hand.  If it’s a useful tool, process or habit, we use it, whether its Khan Academy or a walk in the park.”

Socratic Method vs. Group Discussions

Acton Academies emphasize the use of the Socratic Method in educating our students. This differs from the group discussions led by teachers, which Montessori programs encourage. The Socratic method, with the use of active questioning in order to draw out and clarify one’s thinking, is a vehicle for developing critical thinking skills, stimulating critical reflection, and developing depth of character. Although group discussions are better than lectures, often the teacher is still in the role of ‘expert’ and this can limit the robustness of thought required by the students.

Ability to Apply Learning to the Real World

Real world preparation includes a need to adapt to a place influenced greatly by technology, a continual shift in knowledge, and a rapidly changing landscape. We just don’t know what kind of future our children will face so developing useful skills and a critical thinking approach is extremely important moving forward.

The Acton Academy system is focussed on preparing our Eagles to find their own calling in the real world. We continually help our students in this regard in multiple ways:

  1. The use of the Hero’s Journey heuristic as a way of using stories as a backdrop for learning, and in understanding that they themselves are on their own journey
  2. Bringing in guests to discuss their Hero’s Journey and demonstrate the challenges everyone faces on their life’s path
  3. The use of Quests as structured real-world challenges that create real world accountable results, much like project-based work
  4. The use of Apprenticeships as Eagles get older to make the world their classroom
  5. The focus on entrepreneurship, leadership, and self-management
  6. An emphasis on character development and the concepts that allow our Hero’s to do their best – Curiosity, Gratitude, Grit, Growth Mindset, Optimism, Purpose, Self-Control, Social/Emotional Intelligence, and Zest

At an Acton Academy, we continually focus on relating lessons and tasks to the real-world in order to give our Hero’s the skills, abilities and confidence to succeed in whatever field they choose. The focus is on the process of learning, not just the content of it, thus enabling them to be ready for whatever the future may bring.

Ongoing Improvement to Achieve our Educational Goals

An Acton Academy has, at its core, the mission to enable our Hero’s to Learn to Learn, Learn to Do and Learn to Be, along their path of finding their own calling. The program has been developed with this goal in mind and therefore there is constant reflection on what is working and what is not, so continual improvements can be made as needed. The Montessori Method is a specific educational philosophy in and of itself, and thus it can be hard to change in a rapidly changing education landscape.

Overall, while Acton Academies do share, respect, and incorporate many of Maria Montessori’s philosophies on children’s education, we do have a number of differences which we feel help our Heroes to best prepare themselves for the future. It comes from the similar desire to do all we can for our next generation but also takes advantage of the recent advances in tools, philosophy and understanding of education in the 21st Century.

 

Written by Dr. Vineet Nair & Andrea Nair, M.A., CCC – Infinity School: An Acton Academy in London, ON, Canada

What qualities lead to life success?

On the recommendation of the podcast Entrepreneur on Fire, I bought the book Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill. This is a very fascinating book written in 1937 on the heels of the great depression.  This book has continued to be a best seller.  There are a few quotes I wanted to share that I believe represent the culture we are trying to create at Acton Academy Las Cruces.

“Before success comes in any man’s life, he is sure to meet with much temporary defeat, and perhaps some failure.  When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit. That is exactly what the majority of men do.  More than five hundred of the most successful men this country has even known, told the author their greatest success came just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken them. Failure is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning.  It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach.”

One of the hardest parts of navigating the Acton learning approach is recognizing that failure is a powerful teaching tool.  When our children struggle with a concept or personal relationship at school, how we respond to the situation showcases our own mindset.  Are we willing to allow our children to walk through this process or will be coddle, blame, or demean?   Will we respect failure as a powerful educator while simultaneously offering love and support?  Are we mindful of our own approach to life – do we quit when something gets hard?  Do we blame or complain vs. taking personal responsibility? The most powerful parenting opportunity we have is modeling good life choices.   Being a part of Acton has challenged me to grow as a parent and face some of my own failures with a growth mindset.  We are stronger as a family.   One of my number one priorities of this school is to motivate, challenge, and encourage all of our families; ours included, to live a life of courage and purpose.   If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to complete the process of developing a family mission statement.  We just completed ours a week ago and it is posted on our refrigerator.

Mr. Hill outlined key skills that are critical to leading a successful life.  These eleven traits, although created in 1937, ring true today.  Our children have the opportunity to practice these life skills on a daily basis at Acton Academy.

  1. Unwavering courage.
  2. Self-Control.
  3. A keen sense of justice and fairness.
  4. Definiteness of decision.
  5. Definiteness of plans.
  6. The habit of doing more than paid for.
  7. A pleasing personality. No slovenly, careless person can become a successful leader.
  8. Sympathy and understanding.
  9. Mastery of detail.
  10. Willingness to assume full responsibility.
  11. Cooperation

Mr. Hill’s comments on education were fascinating.  “This missing link in all systems of education known to civilization today, may be found in the failure of educational institutions to teach their students how to organize and use knowledge after they acquire it.”  This comment builds a great case for project based learning.  If you don’t see the “why” behind what you are learning, it feels like a pointless waste of time.

Mr. Hill further goes into the concept that general knowledge is somewhat useless.   He notes that a person should focus on their greatest gifts and then outsource their weaknesses to a mastermind team. This was such a profound statement!  Within our school, Eagles who are good at a certain skill can sign up to mentor a student who might struggle in that area.  This provides an opportunity for Eagles to exercise their greatest gifts while giving other Eagles the chance to develop a “master mind” team to help them solve their problems.    Learning to collaborate and play to your strengths is a solid plan for success.  Often as parents we tend to focus on our child’s weaknesses and how we can improve upon their flaws.  Instead what would happen if we focused on augmenting their strengths? Mr. Hill noted that a person’s greatest asset is their ideas.  “The great leaders of business, industry, finance, and the great artists, musicians, poets, and writers became great because they developed the faculty of creative imagination.”  Ironically many of history’s most impacting people never went to college – Abraham Lincoln and Bill Gates immediately come to mind.  It is the human imagination and ability to dream that is our most powerful asset.  A goal of an Acton education is to ignite curiosity and creativity.

In summary, my vision for our school culture is very much defined in the hero’s journey.  Learning, growing our strengths, and making the world a better place by using our inherent uniqueness and creativity.  “The person who stops studying merely because he has finished school is forever hopelessly doomed to mediocrity, no matter what may be his calling.  The way of success is the way of continuous pursuit of knowledge.”   Napolean Hill

 

Parenting an Acton Academy Child — Be Prepared for an Interesting Journey! Guest Post by Andrea Nair

If you are a parent of a child or teen at an Acton Academy school, chances are good that you have heard one of these types of comments from your children:

“Mom, you really shouldn’t say ‘never’ because that’s not actually true, is it?”

“Dad, you do know ‘That’s impossible – it’s not going to work’ is a fixed mindset, don’t you?!”

“I really don’t like that you’re telling me what to do. Can we please process map this?”

Yup, some of our students actually talk this way – even the youngest ones. It can be quite challenging parenting a child when you feel they’ve got one up on you! I know how that feels because I have two Acton hats: one as an owner/ Head of School and another as a parent of a child in this program. My two children are enrolled in our Acton Academy school, called Infinity School in London, ON, Canada.

At the request of parents who were both smiling and making a grimacing face at the same time, I agreed to address this question: How do we parent an Acton Academy child?

In addition to learning academics in a self-paced, modular way (versus a curriculum set to a calendar), our Acton students develop many non-academic intelligences. It appears that it is this type of learning that is throwing our Acton parents the biggest curveball.

Here are some of those types of skills your child is learning along with some suggestions and resources to stay in tune with your ever-growing child:

We engage in Socratic discussion

Acton Guides provide a few opportunities throughout each day to grow critical-thinking skills by facilitating Socratic discussions.

The website ReadWriteThink provides a good definition:

“Socratic seminars are named for their embodiment of Socrates’ belief in the power of asking questions, prize inquiry over information and discussion over debate.  Socratic seminars acknowledge the highly social nature of learning and align with the work of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and Paulo Friere.

Elfie Israel succinctly defines Socratic seminars and implies their rich benefits for students:

The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions.  Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others.  They learn to work cooperatively and to question intelligently and civilly. (89)

Israel, Elfie.  “Examining Multiple Perspectives in Literature.” In Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions n the English Classroom. James Holden and John S. Schmit, eds.  Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002.” 

Perhaps you can continue this at home by asking your children why they’ve come to a certain conclusion and get them to defend their words.

We answer questions with questions instead of providing the answer.

For the most part, Acton Guides respond to questions with questions. For example, if a child asks, “What time does core skills end,” we might respond like this: “What tool can you refer to that will have this information?”

We’ll also smile and nod at statements (which can frustrate the kids) and wait until they realize that a statement isn’t going to get them anything: they have to construct a question. For example, if a students shouts, “This KHAN Academy program isn’t working” we might smile, nod, and wait until he or she says, “Can you please help me understand why I’m not getting this mastery challenge right?”

Your child is going to get used to not having answers handed to them, thereby experiencing both the joys and frustrations of having to use their good judgment, resources, or help from others to get what they need. We suggest continuing this practice at home.

We allow chaos to be a teacher of valuable skills.

Jeff Sandefer, the co-founder of Acton Academy said this about getting involved when students are not upholding the studio guardrails: “Step back from the situation. Let them try to figure it out, and then step back again.”

It is REALLY challenging to step back when a child is having trouble like an outburst, not getting himself ready on time, or forgetting to put his stuff away. It’s very easy to just jump in and say something like: “You’d better pack up now or you’re going to be late for Quest time,” but doing so robs them of developing valuable skills. In this case it is the skill of being aware of the time and knowing what to do in order to be on time for the next block in the schedule.

The students in our school were having trouble getting themselves where they needed to be on time, so we did a process map of the problem. The funny thing was that some of them blamed their parents for always telling them when to stop and get ready to go as the reason they haven’t learnt how to be on time!

Process Map

Instead of telling the kids what to do, doing things for them, or rescuing them, we allow them to make mistakes, face their frustrations, and make themselves do things that are hard.

We foster the development of a Positive/ Growth Mindset.

I can imagine that your child has already called you on saying something with a “fixed mindset.” My kids feel like they’ve got me when they catch me doing that! To avoid frustration all around, I recommend reading Carol Dweck, PhD’s book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Here is a graphic with some explanation of this concept:

10-growth-mindset-statements-copy

We facilitate the growth of conflict management skills.

It is common to see a “peace table” in an Acton Academy school or a conflict resolution process posted up on the wall. We guide our students in the process of understanding each other, the real root of the problem, to think of some options available, and what will be tried to resolve the problem.

I imagine that this might be quite challenging for families who are not used to calmly sitting down to resolve differences. If you are interested in learning more about what your child is hearing about the brain, the calm-down process, and conflict management skills, I suggest looking more through Dr. Dan Siegel/ Dr. Tina Payne Bryson’s work, following my Parenting Educator page, or asking your child to try to explain these to you.

We expect a lot from children and view them as equals.

We have a fundamental belief that children are more capable than they are usually given credit for and give them opportunities to prove this to us. The students are not viewed as inferior to the adults – we’re all on a journey together.

This may require breaking out of our accustomed role of providing answers or steering the conversation into familiar territory.

Generally, I’d say that being an Acton parent requires a lot of courage, patience, and openness. The types of skills our children (and us, too,) will develop are phenomenal in helping them reach their highest potential, however; there will likely be learning bumps along the way. These are the kinds of bumps that provide us with truly helpful experiences that will make a positive difference in our lives. If you have any questions, I invite you to visit our Infinity School Facebook page to post a comment there.

Preparing Scientific Heroes in the 21st Century – Guest Blog Post by Jeff Sandefer

How do you teach science in the 21st century? If you want to inspire young heroes to change the world through discoveries, inventions and innovations, our belief is that you don’t “teach” science at all.

Why not? Because when you study the lives of world changing scientists, you realize that these heroes weren’t “taught” science in a traditional way. Sterile historical experiments and textbooks do not provoke the imagination. And the indoctrination of Scientism – that science is the ruling authority in the modern world and can explain the entire universe – discourages the irreverent curiosity and maverick spirit that lead to new breakthroughs.

Our goal is to equip and inspire our Acton Eagles to be brave scientific paradigm busters, puzzler creators and data gathers, even if they never choose science as a calling. We invite them to deeply study the lives of paradigm busters like Galileo and Einstein, citizen-scientists like Benjamin Franklin and tireless trial and error scientific entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison or the pioneers at Bell Labs.

In the curriculum, we continually refer to Thomas Khun’s Theory of Scientific Revolutions, the paradigm shifts in the past and the brave heroes who led them, emphasizing how today’s accepted truths may be overthrown by future mavericks.

In real world projects our Eagles face the tensions between competing paradigms and heroes, learning to be skeptics who seek to disprove theories, gaining a practical understanding in hands-on challenges of topics like electricity, chemistry, genetics, biology, physics and cosmology, to name a few.

We want our Eagles to experience firsthand the ego clashes, catfights, accidents, missteps and reversals that made science, by standing in the shoes of Newton or Galileo or Einstein. To see how scientific advances begin as stories, created in the minds of heroes, influenced by emotions and political intrigue, leading to theories, experiments, inventions and eventually world changing innovations, all subject to later being overturned by new discoveries or innovations created in a competitive marketplace.

We long for our Eagles to be deeply curious and awed by the mysteries of the natural world and to focus more on provocative questions than answers. That’s why we’ll often revisit the debate between Francis Bacon and Adam Smith.

Is Bacon correct that discovery leads to invention to innovation in an orderly process, and that government support of institutionalized science is the key to progress?

Or is Adam Smith correct that tinkering with real world problems, adding investment to old science in pursuit of practical trial and error experiments, in places like Edison’s Menlo Park lab and Bell Laboratories, creates the wealth that allows us to invest in basic science?

Teach science as a dry series of facts and an arrogant institutional worldview? Never.

Expose Eagles to the rich history of scientific creative destruction, debating hard questions in the shoes of real world heroes? Absolutely.

Equip them with the courage to ask difficult questions and seek their own truth, with the practical skills to design and launch trial and error experiments and the humility to admit when they are wrong?

Now that would be a real scientific advance, wouldn’t it?

One Truth We Can’t Get Around at Acton – Guest Blog Post by Laura Sandefer

My friend would sleep on her textbook before a biology exam thinking the words might sink in. She also played recorded lectures while she slept hoping for the same easy fix.

Sadly, there is no easy fix for true learning.

As much as we talk about the love and fun of learning at Acton, there is one truth we cannot get around:

Learning is hard.

How so?

  • I must embrace a bit of suffering for deep learning to happen. (Maybe it’s pushing through the disturbing feeling of not understanding something; or maybe it’s the sting of mistakes that are bound to happen.)
  • I must invest a large quantity of time. (Here’s the gist of a recent conversation in our home: “I’m sorry you hate math right now. You think you’re not good at it? How much time did you spend on Khan Academy this week? Let’s look at the dashboard…oh, 65 minutes this week? And you think you aren’t good at math? It takes a lot more time to master math. What you are doing is really hard. Have you watched the videos? How many times? I know these videos may not be exactly entertaining but they do bring you face-to-face with a master who will show you how to do the work. Think of him as your private coach. Some people watch a video over and over again to understand, finally, how to work the problems. There is no easy way out of this. I know you can do this. I’ve seen you work really hard many times.)
  • I will want to quit. Distractions tantalize and practicing is boring.
  • I have to be the one to do the work. No one can do it for me. And learning cannot be done to me. Learning is a deeply internal, ultimately private experience. Even when collaboration and play are part of the on-going process, deep learning is dependent on the learner’s honesty and effort.

Grounded in the story of the Hero’s Journey, the Acton Eagles have guides and fellow travelers alongside them as they learn. This means they have others who believe in them, love them and will not let them fall under the radar. It also means they have a safe place to grow their intelligence and their strength of character, even grit, over time. This is the magical – and difficult – road to living a meaningful life that is happy and purposeful.

At Acton, we embrace constructive collaboration, friendly competition, game-based programs and engaging quests. While these things may add fun and energy to the day, the truth lurking around every corner of every interesting activity is the hard work that must happen for the learning to stick.

As a mother, this means I must let my children have the suffering along with the fun. There are days I want to take the struggle away. I mustn’t. If I do the work for them, I will rob them of their own learning especially in the realm of “learning to be” where we become fully human, living rich lives filled with love and joy.

Up next: How do I know if my child is learning anything at Acton? I can’t see progress in the portfolio this time.

And then: An Important “To Do” item for Acton Academy Parents.

On Trusting the Children….Guest Blog Post by Laura Sandefer

It was 1972. I was 8 years old with two red braids hanging down to my waist on either side of my sunburned face. I was on a deep sea fishing trip with my father – my dream come true. 

“Let her do this by herself.” My father’s jagged voiced struck the captain as he rushed toward me throwing his cigar stub in the ocean.

My fishing pole strained in a tight arch with an angry 50-pound king salmon flying up and fleeing at the other end. My father pinned me to the railing of the chartered boat and yelled at me to reel it in hard and fast. My ponytails kept getting caught in the line yanking out my hair as I worked with all my might reeling him in; then letting him take it back out and then reeling him back again.

After a grueling twenty minutes, the fish was up thrashing near the boat. The captain was ready with his large net – his one job was to get the fish in the boat. He leaned over, swooped hard and then the world went silent. He had knocked the fish off the hook and it disappeared into the depths of the black Pacific Ocean.

My devastation was a silent one. There was nothing to say.

I’ve re-lived those moments over and over in my mind through the years. My fish story. The one that got away. The painful lingering feeling evolved into one of pride  because my father wanted me to do it by myself.

 He trusted me.

The power of feeling trusted as a child sticks. I have heard my father’s words at so  many critical junctures in my life. “You can do this by yourself, Laura.”

I don’t know if I am giving my children the same moments in time that my father gave me. Parenting is hard. I get scared when I want them to succeed so I jump in – just before they fail. But the truth is simple: I want them to take charge of their lives and I trust them with important decisions, jobs and problems.

So today I remember my fish story. And today I remember to push back those ambitious captains (including myself) who rush in to save my boys from hard experiences. I will let them do the very hard things that come their way. I will say, “You’ve got this. I trust you.”

And if the fish gets away, we’ll all be okay. 

Loosen the Collar Guest Blog Post by Laura Sandefer

Hobbes is our 11-week old Tasmanian devil in Australian Shepherd clothing.

We took him to one of Austin’s dog-friendly restaurants last night. Probably not the wisest choice for his first “on-leash” experience but we survived.

In feeling around to get his leash on, I realized how stifling his bright red collar had become. I quickly loosened it, apologizing profusely to the little fella.

When something is growing in front of my eyes, the change is so subtle I forget to adjust some of the very basic things. Poor little Hobbes has no words for “please loosen my collar.”

My sons, too, are growing in front of my eyes. Am I forgetting to loosen my hold on them? In what ways do I keep a grip that is too tight? How am I causing pain without knowing it and in ways they cannot find words to explain? While I easily adjust to the physical growth I see with bigger shoes and longer pants, it’s the “Learning To Be” growth I often miss.

A few ways I crush their growing spirits come quickly to mind:

  • When I solve their problems
  • When I ask a question I know the answer to and listen with an agenda
  • When I lay onto them a busy schedule so they have no alone time
  • When I invade their privacy
  • When I tell them how to do something they can figure out on their own
  • When I relieve them of experiencing the true consequences they have earned
  • When I use fixed mindset language rather than growth mindset language (This: “Sorry, you must have gotten my sad math brain!” Rather than: “I see you are struggling in math. That shows me you are learning. Good for you.”)

“Learning to Be” doesn’t display itself nicely in a portfolio. It is the newfound abilities to solve problems, be patient, suffer consequences, admit wrongdoing, stand up for what’s right, sit in quiet peace, wait for results, delay gratification, laugh with love rather than meanness. These are the wondrous things I choke off by my well-intended protections.

Today I hope to loosen the collars in my midst. But Hobbes’ will remain a bit on the tighter side until he Learns to Be a good dog.

Breadth and Depth but No Instant Gratification – Guest Post by Laura Sandefer

We want our children to read well now. We want out children to write and speak with perfect grammar now. We want their struggle to be over now. We want them to be good at math now. We want social conflicts to be resolved now.

Traditional schools give instant gratification. It’s probably why I loved school. Take a class. Study for the test. Get a grade. Poof! It’s over. On to the next subject…

But transformational learning happens slowly. Deep friendships evolve slowly. Habits and character form day-by-day over months and years.

Since patience is my weak suit what can I do to feel better about my child’s learning at Acton?

I can remember.

I can remember the solid, purposeful design in the learning journey at Acton Academy. We designed it for the long haul, not the quick fix. There is a progression in the experience – from sparking curiosity to turning up the heat with real world challenges to being on fire with passion and deep learning.

This design requires a great deal of trust and patience from parents. Yes, trust and patience with the system but more importantly, trust and patience with the children.

Here is a simple framework of the designed progression from studio to studio:

Elementary Studio: Stoking the Flames

Think Breadth.

And gaining foundational learning and social skills.

The goal in this early studio is to spark a deep curiosity about this wondrous world and equip young Eagles with foundational reading, writing and math skills. In addition, our youngest heroes learn the important work habits of goal setting and simple time management along with how to be a good friend and a kind, helpful community participant. Finally,  they learn the hard lesson of how to live within boundaries.

Middle School Studio: Feeling the heat

Think a mixture of breadth and depth.

And learning to take responsibility for choices.

Within the grand sweeps or breadth of Civilization and the sciences, Eagles will take deep dives. They will learn how to secure an apprenticeship and then feel the heat of being out in the world working beside true professionals.

There is no more room for fudging, passing off mediocre work as “best effort” or being snarky with friends. There is no room for parents to cover for Eagles. The grappling with honesty, accountability and hard work is where the heat forges character. Consequences are real and can burn.

Launchpad: In the Fire

Think depth.

And taking on real responsibility, leadership and independence.

Launchpad is designed for depth. From personal life planning to intellectual pursuits, these years are laser-focused on preparing each Eagle to be strong and purposeful moving onto the next stage of life in the real world: college or another venture. The curriculum is designed around individualized goals based on each Eagle’s future plan. The focus now is on deep dives with experts, teachers and mentors in areas that matter to each person. In addition, writing, creative collaboration and high-level reading are mastered and Socratic discussions take on Harvard-like case method intensity. These are young people in the fire of pursuing personal missions, honing their gifts, seeking their calling. And wanting to be the heroes who change the world.

Remind me to remember. So much is brewing within the mind and heart of my child on this journey. If I worry the learning isn’t happening and pull my son out too early for fear he’s too stuck, it’s like opening the oven door when the soufflé is only almost ready. Without the heat, it simply never rises to its full and gorgeous potential.

 

360 Peer Review – Guest Blog Post Laura Sandefer

In this 1-minute video, several Eagles share what they wish their parents knew about the 360 Surveys (also called Full Circle Feedback.)

The Eagles explain their Acton lives better than I can; however, I feel compelled to share my story on this topic in hopes it will help another parent who has a child come home in tears with a bad survey score. Here is my condensed version:

Today was the day the results of the 360 surveys would be shared. It’s all my son could think about over the weekend. He was hoping for a good score so he could move up a freedom level.  We arrived at school and he got out of the car grim-faced.

Not to worry, I thought. He’d had a great session. He achieved badges, got excited about writing, had fun with friends and engaged in no social drama.

But 3:15pm came and he bolted into the car with eyes filled to the brim. The strain of holding in his frustration all day finally broke. He tearfully vented all the way home about how unfair the surveys were. He went straight to his room and closed the door.

My mama-bear ego rose up and sent me into a mental tizzy. Isn’t there an easier way to learn how about oneself? This young boy doesn’t know what to do with negative feedback from friends! What if he doesn’t recover and won’t want to go back to school? I just want him to be happy. Why are we doing these heart-wrenching surveys?

About an hour later, he came out of his room: “Mom, it’s okay. The feedback I got is actually accurate. I just didn’t want to admit it. I have been too tough-minded. I haven’t been nice to very many people. I haven’t helped my squad with their work. I know I can do better and I want to. I am going to work on being more warm-hearted.” He ran outside and played hard until dinner.

My reflections? Children are better at this than we are. I took this survey too personally and became defensive. I didn’t pause to look for the powerful learning it presented. He, on the other hand, did and will be better for it.

What a difference from my own school experience which taught me to run fast and hard away from criticism. My strategy was to please people and find the right answers – always – so I would never have to see red pen marks or hear how I could improve. This did not serve me well in relationships or life in general. Only recently have I grown to crave feedback.

Seeking and listening to feedback may be the most important trait in becoming a teachable person.  This is why our children are practicing these skills at Acton. They are on a path of continual improvement and lifelong learning. Defensiveness will fall by the wayside for them because it simply holds them back. And heroes choose to move forward.