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.

How Acton Academy prepares a student for the real world.

How Studio Covenants and Freedom Levels Prepare You for a Hero’s Journey in the Real World

Acton Academy is a special place reserved for those committed to becoming a Hero on a Hero’s Journey, determined to find a calling that will change the world.

Below are three important principles about the frameworks, systems and structures that will allow you to earn more freedom and responsibility at Acton Academy Las Cruces, as you discover the gifts and passions that are a path to a satisfying and fulfilling life in the real world.

  1. Acton Academy Las Cruces is a special place reserved for those committed to a Hero’s Journey.
    Will you choose to be a Hero or a Victim in life?

Heroes:

  • Welcome challenges and embrace responsibility.
  • Strive for and celebrate excellence.
  • Praise heroic choices by others, practice frequent acts of kindness and hold firm boundaries in relationships.
  • Are grateful and generous.

Victims:

  • Avoid hard work.
  • Look for the easy way out and seek loopholes, rather than delivering their best work.
  • Fail to keep their word, gossip, brag or diminish others.
  • Feel entitled, whine, blame and complain.

While our learner driven community offers patience and grace, Acton Academy Las Cruces is reserved for those who are truly committed to becoming a Hero on a Hero’s Journey.

  1. Studio Covenants and Freedom Levels act as guardrails and mile markers for your Hero’s Journey.

Studio Covenants and Freedom Levels prepare you for the real world by rewarding heroic choices with more freedom and responsibility.

As an Eagle, you will work with studio-mates to craft the promises and consequences in Studio Covenants, which will act as guardrails, signaling the impact your actions on others and developing habits that will make you happier, more satisfied and more fulfilled.

Freedom Levels provide milestones to measure your progress, and like a more advanced driver’s license, give you more freedom as you build healthy relationships, develop impressive work habits and showcase excellent work.

Even at the lowest Freedom Levels, you will enjoy more freedom and responsibility than a traditional school.   In the long run, Acton Academy’s Owners want to delegate even more responsibility for running the community, as soon as Eagle leaders show a track record of raising standards, holding boundaries and acting with respect, kindness and generosity.

While all of the activities below eventually will be delegated to Eagles and your suggestions will have a major impact on studio life and governance, our promises to parents mean owners always will have the ultimate responsibility to:

  • Establish safety protocols;
  • Set studio schedules;
  • Offer challenges and points;
  • Create systems like Eagle Bucks and Freedom Levels; and
  • Set final badge standards and graduation requirements.
  1. The Real World is Not Fair

One of the most important responsibilities of Owners and Guides is to prepare you for a real world that is both generous and relentlessly unforgiving with consequences.

If you look at the world as a Hero, you will welcome challenges; embrace responsibility; act kindly towards others and hold firm relational boundaries, while being grateful for opportunities that come your way.  If you do this, you likely will look back on life as a journey filled with almost limitless opportunity and luck.

If, however, you adopt the pose of a Victim, feel entitled; shirk hard work; seek loopholes; take the easy way out; fail to keep your word; or whine, complain or blame others, you likely will see the world as unfair because it does not cater to your whims.

George Bernard Shaw perhaps put it best about the contrast between choosing the heroic life and

“….. being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote  itself to making you happy.”

There is no Utopia on earth.  Work is work, even when it’s rewarding.  Skills must be mastered through deliberate practice; there are no shortcuts.  Human beings are complex and will disappoint as often will disappoint as they amaze.   If you choose not to work or to treat others unkindly, you almost are guaranteed an unhappy and unsatisfying life.  In the real world, there are real consequences.   The same will be true at Acton Academy because we have promised to prepare you for a calling that will change the world.

“That’s not fair,” is the cry of a victim.   If you were born in the United States, live in a middle class American family or attend a school like Acton, you already have had more luck and good fortune than 99% of the people on the planet.  Those who work hard, fairly and treat others well are not necessarily guaranteed material success, but they will have far richer lives than those who blame and complain.

The challenges, systems and frameworks of Acton Academy are not perfect, but they will serve you well if you are committed to continually raising community standards and serious about your promise to find a calling that will change the world.  Plus, even on your most difficult days, you will enjoy more freedom and responsibility than at a traditional school.

Two of the most important questions in life are: “Who am I becoming?” and “What road am I on?”  If you are committed to becoming a Hero on a Hero’s Journey, this is the place for you.  If you are prepared to make that brave choice, we respect your right to return to a more traditional school until you are ready.

Meeting with Eagles

Dear Eagles,

Thank you for visiting with me last Thursday and sharing your concerns regarding the badge process. (Several of our older Eagles requested a meeting with me to discuss badge requirements).  Eagles your opinions, ideas, and requests are very important to me.  I take all of the feedback I receive into careful consideration.  I salute your willingness to respectfully dialogue with me.

After taking the weekend to consider the ideas shared, I have a few comments.  My analysis of the meeting was that a spirit of fear was an underlying current.  Fear of failure can drive us to never start on a big goal.  Taking the easy road seems like a good idea sometimes but in the long run it doesn’t prepare you for bigger challenges.  The things we tell ourselves set the path for our success or failure.  Comments like, “I hate reading” “I am not good at math” “I am not very smart” “I am slow” “other students are smarter than me” “I need someone to teach me how to do this” “I don’t want to look stupid” “I can’t focus” set your mindset in a positive or negative way.  Allowing fear and a negative mental mindset to take over will rob you of success.

Abraham Lincoln lost eight different times running for various political positions.  He never gave up and was later elected as the President of the United States and helped our country overcome slavery and save the union.  J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was so poor she couldn’t afford a computer and manually typed her novel.  She was turned down dozens of times before her book was published.   Malala Yousafzai was shot and wounded for her belief that girls should be allowed to get an education.  She has taken this terrible experience, and become a globally recognized advocate for education and women’s rights.  All of these amazing people could have quit when they encountered a challenge but they didn’t and our world is better for it!

On a very personal note, I want to be transparent with you and share one of my failures.  When I was about 20, I wanted to start my own real estate company.  To start a real estate company, I had to pass a state test and take 90 hours of classes.  I failed the test by roughly 5 points.  I was embarrassed, disappointed, and fearful of future failure.  I decided to push through and take it again and I crushed it and passed with a good score.   Over the years of running my real estate firm, I employed at one time 67 people and helped hundreds of people purchase homes.  I used profits from my business to invest in myself and also charities that were important to me.  My passion for housing expanded to the Philippines where I helped a nonprofit purchase a home for poor children.  To house my growing business, I built 1730 Tierra de Mesilla which is now our school.  Eagles if I had quit after failing that test, look at all I would have missed.  Not only would I have missed out, but others around me would have missed the good that I brought to the world.

Eagles when you give up or don’t push yourself, you are not only holding yourself back but you are hiding your gifts and talents from the world.  You bring special talents and gifts to our world that only you can deliver.  The hero’s journey can be challenging but each day that you work hard and tackle your goals, you become stronger and wiser.

The reason badges are challenging is because we know you are capable of doing hard things!  The reason Guides don’t “teach” you the material, is because once you learn how to teach yourself you will be equipped for harder projects down the road.  In the real world, you will need to rely on yourself, team, and ability to find resources to solve hard tasks.  That is why we have in place, brains, buddies, and books.  The experience you get now will help you bring your ideas and gifts to the world will full impact.  The badge requirements will remain the same and to move to the next studio, certain badges must be completed.

One of my favorite sayings, is “how do you eat an elephant?”  The answer is “one bite at a time.”  This catchy phrase encourages us to take a big hard goal and break it into smaller “bite size” portions.  Eagles I know you can do this!

Go Eagles!

Anna
P.S.  Just call me Anna or mom if that applies….Principal Anna makes me feel weird.  I am a fellow traveler learning right alongside you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Old habits die hard.  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  The only person that likes change, is a wet baby.  There are millions of catchy phrase lines expressing the sentiment that change is hard.   I have pondered the question of whether transitioning into a different learning style was harder for a student or their parents.   My assessment is that in all likelihood it has been hardest for us parents.

In a society that touts the importance of good grades and excelling at school, it takes courage and deep faith in your child to join a learner driven community.  Believing that ultimately it is your child’s responsibility to learn is huge and can almost feel like walking off a cliff!   Parents feel pressure from society to encourage/cajole/will/force/bribe/ or otherwise discipline their student to succeed in school.   At the end of the day, our responsibility is to provide children with the opportunity to learn but what they do with that opportunity is up to them.   The beauty of Acton is that it creates a safe environment where children can learn how to problem solve, overcome fear of failure, and take responsibility for their education and behavior.

Navigating the Acton learning model with your child takes time and eagerness from all parties involved to be open minded.   I have bounced ideas off Jeff and Laura Sandefer for their advice and guidance as I navigate through this process.  Based on their feedback and my own experience over the past few months, I have prepared these Frequently Asked Questions.

Q  Help!  My student is stuck on a particular subject and is getting frustrated and wants to be “taught”.
Watching your child struggle with a subject can be painful (I know I am there).  Our knee jerk reaction is to “help” them overcome their objection.  However, often “help” can circumvent the learning process.  Part of the Acton philosophy is allowing children space to explore problem solving techniques.  When a child hits a brick wall, reactions can often be fear of failure, anxiety, blame someone else, ignore the issue, wallow in self-pity, get angry,  or they just want to quit.  None of these reactions are life giving or productive!  Allowing the student the opportunity to process those feelings and develop a plan to overcome the obstacle is a huge life lesson.   Learning to go around or through the brick wall is the goal of the Acton environment.   As a parent, you can encourage your student that they are not alone.  You can share with them a time where you struggled with something and how you either failed or overcame the obstacle.  You can ask them what resources or methods they have tried to solve the problem.

In the classroom, we have a board called the Collaboration Board with three columns;  Name, Area you are stuck in, and  column for fellow eagles to sign up to offer assistance.  During a certain time of the day, students can collaborate.  When students feel stuck, we encourage them to use the 3 B’s – Brain, Buddy, & Books.  After a student has exhausted the collaboration board and 3 B’s, they may brainstorm with the guide on other resources.

Q Help!  My student got a strike or an eagle dollar was taken away. What does that mean?
The overarching belief at Acton is that of a growth mindset.  We respect a student’s decision to comply with the student contract they signed or not.  Students are treated with deep respect and are always encouraged to consider the outcome of their choices.  Experiencing consequences of a negative choice is a wonderful opportunity for growth.  I encourage you to review a recent blog post that goes into a deeper discussion of the eagle dollar and strike process.  I would also encourage you to ask your student about the rules the classroom has voted on and what the consequences are of being in debt to the eagle buck bank.  As a parent it is easy to feel embarrassment or shame when your child makes a bad choice.  Please know that our school philosophy is always positive and eager to partner with parents.

  1. Help! What is a badge and how does that correlate to grades.
    Each student at Acton Academy has badge requirements for graduating from their current grade. Our goal is mastery so a badge is the equivalent of an A.  Until the student has demonstrated mastery, they do not receive the badge.  We want students to not just “slide by” but rather master the topic.   I encourage you to read this blog post that outlines this process further.

    Q. Help!  How do students learn science at Acton?
    “Repeating lame experiments and memorizing terms has little to do with real science.  I would stay as far away from traditional school Science as possible.” Jeff Sandefer    We study science through quests.  Currently the students are wrapping up the forensic science quest.  Later this year we will have a rocket quest as well as horticulture quest.  We encourage parents to read with their children if there is a specific area of science a child wishes to study.  Personal interest, tinkering on a project, or exploring a concept is what will lead a child to unique scientific experiences.   Students, once in the soaring freedom level, can add an independent study to their schedule which could focus on an area of interest.Q.  Help!  How do you regulate the class and create a quite learning environment?
    Quite simply the eagles regulate themselves.   When they grow weary of chaos, leaders rise up and learn to respectfully advocate for a quite learning space. Children use headphones as well as box dividers to help limit distractions as practical solutions.   “One of the benefits of the Acton experience is learning not only self-management and how not to distract others (which comes with time and dealing with Eagle buck infractions) BUT how to work with all distractions! I love to see a young learner just tune out the noise and get to work. We have discussions about the value of not being overly sensitive to noise – try to ignore others and focus on yourself. And we encourage Eagles to ask for Eagle bucks if someone is breaking the studio norms. This is all part of the learning journey and coercing them to be quiet is too shortsighted for us. It’s going to take patience but we trust they will work this out.” Laura Sandefer

  2. Help! I log into points tracker and see my student isn’t meeting deadlines?
    This is where parents become very tempted to cajole/will/force/bribe/ discipline or get tutors to force their student into compliance. Having the fortitude to ask questions and offer a listening ear will be a positive influence on your student.   Give them space to let the system work.  Parents intervening in an authoritarian way can cripple the learning process and power of the Acton model.
    Q.  Help! How does the 2-6 grade class work and is my older student being challenged?
    “Over time, the mixed age setting benefits all ages: maybe the oldest age group the most as they get to practice leadership, group management and end up gaining a level of empathy that is quite stunning to see. But it takes time. The trick with the quests is the variance of challenges and giving the older Eagles more responsibility over their teams. Their work should challenge them and the work of the youngest should challenge (but not overwhelm) them.”  Laura Sandefer
    I encourage you to read this article that outlines the many benefits of a multi aged classroom.Thank you for joining us on this journey!  As anticipated, it has not been easy.  When I step out of the day to day operations of the school to look at the big picture I am reminded of the magnitude of our mission.  Our mission is much bigger than helping a student learn math or writing.  Our mission is learn to learn, learn to do, and learn to be.  Essentially our mission is to help children become equipped for their hero’s journey.

Best Regards,

Anna Biad

Guardrails For Serious Fun – Guest Blog Post Laura Sandefer

Our emphasis at the start of the school year is FUN. We believe learning is one of the most fun things in life and we want our environment to reflect this.

A close second to the fun is creating our boundary system. Boundaries ensure safety and security – intellectually, emotionally and physically. Without limits, freedom and fun become stressful chaos or worse, meaningless and wasteful.

At Acton Academy, our boundaries are not fuzzy. They outline how we treat each other, our environment and ourselves as travelers on Hero’s Journeys.

I am often asked, “How do you discipline students at Acton Academy?” I like to rephrase the question: “What happens when a student chooses not to respect the boundaries drawn by their fellow Eagles?”

Our answer is simple: We respect their choice.

The Eagles spend a great deal of time exploring why their time at Acton is important. The “Why belong?” question is critical.  Next, the group debates and adopts community standards and consequences for not respecting them. These are our “rules of engagement.”  All of this takes days and a great deal of patience, but once the Eagles have spoken, the boundaries mean a great deal to everyone.

We use the words “choice” and “decision” daily at Acton. The Eagles know they choose their words and actions each moment of each day; and that these decisions determine their overall experience in school and, ultimately, in life.

In the elementary school, the consequence of choosing to cross over a boundary at Acton Academy is removal from the community in varying degrees. The choice to disrupt the group’s or an individual’s learning or safety begins with a brief separation within the studio; if the boundary is intentionally crossed again, the separation takes place in the conference room with a guide to discuss why the choice is being made; and finally, after three clear and intentional breaches of intentional disruption or harm, the parents are called to bring their Eagle home until he or she chooses to rejoin the community and commit to its covenants.

The middle school system of consequences includes losing privileges within the community and/or losing Eagle Bucks. When there is a clear intention to break with the contract, discussions begin between the student, guide and parents about the choice to stay within the community or to leave Acton Academy.

When a boundary is crossed, our words are simple: “We love you. You made the choice and you knew the consequence of your choice.  We are excited for you to choose to join the community again. And even if you choose to leave, we will continue to believe you will choose a Hero’s Journey.”

This week the students are negotiating these rules of engagement. We will post them in the elementary school weekly update and on the middle school blog when they are adopted.

We believe this is one of the most powerful processes within our community because it is based in respect, freedom of choice and the understanding that what each human chooses to do and say matters to the world.

What We Wish Our Parents Knew About Badges – Guest Blog Post Laura Sandefer

The most powerful takeaways we offer at Acton Academy are self-management, self-governance, character, high-level communication skills, learning how to learn and opportunities to dive deeply into areas of your greatest passions and gifts.

Badges are a way to showcase this work. It is their most important function.

Thankfully, badges also allow us to translate these accomplishments into a traditional transcript so that our children can compete with their peers in “college prep” environments if they so choose.

This one-minute video captures what our Eagles wish we knew about badges. https://vimeo.com/168217663/4148a4ac7e

Here is a parent’s “cheat sheet” to understand better the badge system and philosophy at Acton:

What is a badge?

A badge represents a long-term effort of learning focused on a particular discipline. Each badge involves a large quantity of work reviewed several times by several people. In traditional academic language, a badge equates to completing a course; however, only when excellence is achieved is the badge awarded.

How does a badge look on a transcript?

Here is a sample of our Transcript Acton.

Completion of a Badge = mastery = A. (High 360 scores would add a “+”.)

We are a competency-based learning environment. Mastery is the goal. Eagles work until they master  their learning goals. Then, they progress to the next level.  If a badge is not completed, the grade is “Incomplete.”

This is why that last sprint to compile their work after completing the requirements of a badge is so critical to the Eagles. It is the final step and is the proof of their hard work.

And this is where our parenting support comes in most fruitfully.

 The place where we can give the most encouragement to our children is in the compilation stage of the badge experience.

For example, when all the required work for a badge is done, the badge is not yet achieved. It must be compiled and submitted. Ask your Eagles about whether or not they’ve scheduled time to compile this work for badge approval; then check in on their progress; ask if they are excited about the work or worried they missed something. Finally, celebrate the hard work of compiling the badge.

Admissions officers may ask to see the work behind each letter grade. This is where Eagles will shine. (Personally, I hope Eagles will have the opportunity to show their full portfolios in an interview. Acton Eagles will knock the socks of savvy recruiters if they get the chance to sit down and talk with them. I’ve sat in on one of these interviews and it was pure bliss. By the end of the interview, they wanted to hire the Eagle for a teaching job rather than merely accept as a student.)

We have an entire collection of work from each Eagle for every badge achieved. This work is above and beyond what is required from traditional courses in middle schools and high schools across America. I am so impressed with the work the Eagles accomplish!

How do badges translate to traditional subject requirements?

Translating the work of a completed badge into traditional course content is necessary and is part of our curriculum planning.  For example, a traditional school’s “English 101” in high school equates at Acton to 6 genre pieces, 4 deep books and 1 No Red Ink badge. The Acton curriculum is easily mapped to the core requirements of high school graduates for acceptance to competitive colleges.

Unfortunately, the most important accomplishments at Acton such as Apprenticeships, Leadership, Project Management and Quest Creation don’t translate easily under traditional academic subjects like Math, Science, History and English.

I will leave you with the best explanation of Acton’s philosophy of learning and its impact on young people as described by one of our own, a Launchpad Eagle, who generously shared the following:

“What does it mean to pursue excellence? It’s something we discuss quite often at Acton, and is defined as ‘the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.’ Excellence is our goal here at Acton, our standard, and we are meeting it. No, we are not perfect, but we are special. We do great things. That much cannot be denied.

But why? Each person on the Earth is special, but there’s something about Acton that causes every Eagle to strive for excellence. And that something is having equal standards for everyone.

In order to move up, every Eagle at Acton is expected to earn a certain amount of badges. Each student must receive a certain 360 score by their peers on kindness and tough-mindedness. Every person must earn a certain average of weekly points. At Acton, we don’t believe that everyone must do this at the same pace or level. We know that it will take a unique amount of time and growth for each person to be able to hit these standards. But we believe that every child is a genius, and fully capable of doing the work in order to earn more freedom. That’s what Acton is all about.

Some people believe that instead of requiring every Eagle to complete the same amount of work with the same level of quality, some Eagles should be allowed to do less work and lower-quality work. This is a mindset that tells these ‘lower Eagles,’ ‘You are incapable. You are lesser. You aren’t required to do this because we believe you can’t do it.’ According to this idea, whether an Eagle struggles with math, or has a lot going on outside of school, or says they are a ‘bad writer,’ or just doesn’t care, they shouldn’t have to do the work required of others. This is actually quite similar to the public school system, where you can go through middle school and high school turning in poor work or no work at all and still graduate.

But this is not how the real world works. If we want to be prepared for our true Hero’s Journeys, we cannot be accustomed to being pampered. In the real world, if you want to work for Google, you have to be good enough! You have to work incredibly hard to meet the standard! If you want to be a professional athlete, it doesn’t matter how hard the journey is, results are what matter. No one will ask how hard you tried to score a touchdown, they will ask if you scored the touchdown.”

Thank you, Eagles, for teaching us so much.

Confused About Strikes & Eagle Bucks Guest Blog Post by Laura Sandefer

There is a lot talk at our house lately about “strikes” and “Eagle Bucks.” As a parent, I become confused: I am uncomfortable, to say the least, when I hear my child has two strikes or owes Eagle Bucks.  Being asked to stay home or be removed from the community doesn’t seem right – especially when I’m paying to have my child in school. This feels like punishment and contrary to the method of Acton Academy.

Why would a school that is focused on individual genius and self-paced work lace it with a punitive system of behavior control?

Here is the answer of which I must remind myself:

The Eagles themselves created these systems of accountability.

The Eagles want a community that upholds high standards of work and integrity. They want strong guardrails that help keep everyone on the path of a Hero’s Journey. They want to govern their own community.

Our very own children are tougher than we are when it comes to holding boundaries. They have created systems – after much discussion and many meetings – that give them power to check each other and prod each other back onto a pathway that nurtures learning and growth.

Sometimes Eagle Bucks are taken too hastily or without all the information. Mistakes are made and need to be worked out. This is tough love and hurts to witness. I like happy stories. “I want carrots not sticks,” says I-the-mom.

I am reminded, then, that the Eagles have bunches of carrots in their daily life at Acton: free time, positives notes read about their actions at group times, solid check marks on their goals lists, choice in how to work, freedom at lunch, games, respect, leadership opportunities, running teams, quests, and town meetings to air grievances and solve their own problems.

When things don’t go well and the carrots aren’t enough?

The Eagles want the power to manage each other and guides who will help them through the process.  They are learning hard and important lessons about their own power and motivation. Yes, at times they like to test this feeling of power and at times conflicts arise. These missteps become hearty meat for group discussions based on ideas such as: What does it means to have freedom and real responsibilities? Is it harder to give out a consequence or to receive one? What if it’s your best friend who has crossed a line? What should we do if someone feels an Eagle Buck was taken unfairly? What does the word “appeal” mean? How should we process appeals? What motivates you more – earning an Eagle Buck or not getting one taken away?

It is a difficult experience when a negative consequence is delivered. I believe that is the point.

Our words when a student hurts another student, or breaks a promise are these: “We love you. We are excited for you to make the choice to get back on track. Fail cheaply and often for that is where learning happens. The main point of the Hero’s Journey is not that we will not fail. It is that we get back up when we do.”

It won’t be long before there driving, alcohol and dating are part of the scene of our children’s lives. This is when failing is not cheap. Now is the time for them to learn that every action they choose to make each day has a consequence. There is no “flying under the radar” at Acton. Each person matters deeply. Each person is known.

Our children are dealing with this reality together and safely with loving guides to follow. These are prime times to have meaningful family discussions around choices, consequences, freedom and responsibility.

An added layer to this topic that may not gain much airtime at home is that we are implementing meaningful conflict resolution practice at Acton this session.  Our children will be learning how to have difficult conversations without damaging a relationship. We will be role-playing, sharing stories and practicing in their real world studio settings what it means to be a true friend, holding each other accountable to being the very best humans we can be.

We welcome your input as parents and give you the weekly surveys for suggestions and comments. Thank you for honoring the Eagles as they explore with freedom the big questions of life together and as individuals.

Learning to write…..lessons from Muhr

My grandmother Sara Camilla Collins Emerick (we called her Muhr) was an English teacher turned real estate entrepreneur.  She was classy and elegant.   The thing I remember most about Muhr is that she never complained.  She lived through the great depression, cancer, death of loved ones, and the difficulties of aging.  She faced hard times with courage and determination.   I smile when I recall how she could quote Shakespeare’s Beowulf  in her late 90’s.   Her love of writing and appreciation for great literature inspires me.  My daughter Sara is named after my grandmother.

As part of our homeschool curriculum, we went to Muhr’s house for English classes.  I still remember diagramming sentences with her.  She frequently explained the difference between lie, lay, laid, and lain.  Muhr loved writing!  She published a few different books including her largest book, Legacy of Sacrifice, which chronicled her life.   Reading this book stirs up raw emotions of joy and deep sadness.  I am reminded that words can pass on for generations.  When you look at great literary works from the Bible to modern day classics, I am reminded that words have power to transform the world.

One of my deepest desires for our students is that they possess the skills and confidence to share their ideas in writing.  Having the ability to articulate their point can help them on their Hero’s Journey.  Writing well can open doors that would otherwise have been shut.  Our children can change the world through the written word.  Whether our students write an epic novel, grant, thesis paper, children’s book, resume, letter, business advertisement, or speech I want them to write with confidence.

This past semester I struggled with the writing process at Acton.  I learned to write by having my mom and grandmother red line every single paper I wrote.  The Acton philosophy of peer reviews and learning by practice versus teacher led lecture and grammar lessons was a huge adjustment for me!   I was very much used to having someone critique my work as a student and get input from a teacher on grammar and composition.   Giving the children space to enjoy the creative process such as font selection, layout, inserting photos, and writing unique stories was a good start.   However, I felt like some structure was missing.  This next semester we will outline in a more detailed manor how many points/eagle dollars will be awarded per each writing project.  We will outline what font size and story length is required to obtain maximum points.  We will further outline presentation requirements (you must run spellcheck prior to submitting, you can’t copy someone else’s work on line and submit as a report, and Wikipedia isn’t necessarily a valid source). 🙂  Our new process will still be very much student led; however, we will outline the rules of engagement prior to issuing the assignment.  Jeff Sandefer told me during training that for Socratic teaching to work, the students must have rules of engagement so they know the parameters they must work within.  I feel we could have done a better job with this aspect of the writing projects.

Over the break, I spent a lot of time researching different writing programs.  I wanted to keep within the Acton model of learn by doing and student led but still give students a framework and skill set to jump from.   I learned about Institute for Excellence in Writing after reading several great reviews about this program.   We purchased the program for our 2-6 grade students.  Our guides will use modeling and group discussions to create an environment where growth in writing will occur.  We will address grammar issues through their Fix It class.  I believe this program provides valuable tools for students without becoming a teacher led class.  I encourage you to watch this video to learn more about IEW.   For students who struggle with writing, I feel this program will give them step by step processes to get their ideas down on paper.

Reading good literature compliments learning to write beautifully!   Our reading badges will require students to read from a list of classic books that are grade/skill appropriate.  Students will journal about what they read.

Words have power!   Check out this list of famous speeches and how they changed the world!

Best Regards,

Anna