June 17, 2022

Heading for Open Waters: A Reflection on the Purpose of School

Heading for Open Waters: A Reflection on the Purpose of School

Imagine your children waking each day, knowing what they are going to do and how they need to go about doing it. You've prepared them and the environment so well, they hum along in their work driven by curiosity and fueled by discovery. They tackle the “boring stuff” with patience and overcome challenges with optimism. They learn things you never even knew or may have forgotten. These are the characteristics of self-determined learners.

Today we discuss the purpose and function of learning and how to let go of the edge of outdated conventional practices to swim in the waters of self-determined learning.

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Imagine your children waking each day, knowing what they are going to do and how they need to go about doing it. You've prepared them and the environment so well, they hum along in their work driven by curiosity and fueled by discovery.  They tackle the “boring stuff” with patience and overcome challenges with optimism.  They learn things you never even knew or may have forgotten.  These are the characteristics of self-determined learners.  

Today we discuss the purpose and function of learning and how to let go of the edge of outdated conventional practices to swim in the waters of self-determined learning. 

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Terri Novacek  0:07  
Imagine your children waking each day knowing what they're going to do, and how they need to go about doing it. You've prepared them and the environments so well, they hum along in their work driven by curiosity and fueled by discovery. They tackle the boring stuff with patience, and they overcome challenges with great optimism. They learn things you never even knew or may have forgotten. These are the characteristics of self-determined learners.

Terri Novacek  0:52  
As we bounce back from the disruption of COVID in our homes or workplaces, in our schools, we find a group of people both young and old, who missed nary a beat during those couple of years. Those with the skills, the mindset and the resiliency for self-determined learning and personal accountability. So much has been written about the impact of COVID on children. And while everyone has been impacted by COVID, I feel parents had at the toughest, which then naturally, of course, right trickles down to the children. While I'm fortunate that my two children are now independent adults, I have stepchildren raising young children, and I work in K 12 education. So I am still close to the reality of it. And more than ever, I'm seeing parents rethinking schooling, and many are finding less to be best. We are at a rocky place right now because well, it will require change. And not everybody does well with change. But COVID has definitely put pressure on us to get our education systems caught up with the real world. Now to some, that means more mandates, more content, more control, more and more and more, right. But at a time when we are so desperate for harmony amongst so much social unrest, from the road rage near our homes to war waged across the planet, and everything in between. We need a break, a refresh. We reboot our digital devices when they get too much going on. It's time for us to give ourselves the same attention.

Terri Novacek  2:45  
And so today, we are going to do a reboot. And we're going, to begin with a trip down memory lane. For nearly four centuries public schools have attempted to, quote socialize America. Yet our statistics around crime, poverty, and mental illness reflect that the current system is still way off its mark. Back in the early 1800s, Horace Mann spearheaded the common school movement to ensure every child could receive a basic education funded by local taxes. The belief was if children of diverse backgrounds had access to a common learning experience and character building, we would have a more unified nation. And it worked for the most part for a while. And then we started piling on more regulations and more responsibilities to our schools. A century and a half later, along came John Holt, one of the most prominent advocates of the modern homeschool movement. Holt argued that the classroom environment was oppressive, and he encouraged parents to liberate their children from formal education. Two years ago, everyone was forced into homeschooling. And studies reflect that 60% of parents actually preferred homeschooling over conventional schooling. Yet half of those parents have sent or will send their children back because they feel they don't have the time or the expertise to support them in a home or even a hybrid learning environment. But what if they could find the time and expertise? The right people to support 21st-century learning are not the ones with the right answers, but the ones with the right questions. Not the ones that manage a classroom, but prepare the learning environment, not the ones that mandate drills, but instead Empower discovery and not the ones focused on compliance. But those who expect to personal responsibility. Today, young learners have access to more mentors more information and more resources than ever before. And because of that, they require less structure of content. But then they need more guidance on critical thinking and self-regulation.

Terri Novacek  5:21  
Single mentors, they're just so yesterday. Today, it's all about the personal learning network, which includes people you may never even meet in person. Technology has reduced the need for one on one time with an expert and makes it easier for the learner to self-monitor and self-assess their own learning. While the purpose of compensatory education may continue to be all about ensuring students have access to learning, which can't be done at home, and exposing students to new ideas and discoveries, and helping them understand their culture and the culture of others. We're doing our children a disservice if we keep school separate from real life. Just as we don't put all the responsibility for our child's physical health on our pediatricians. Nor should we put all the responsibility of our children's personal and academic development on our teachers and schools. So let's talk potential. How often do we hear, Oh, you have such great potential, or you're not living up to your potential. Our potential stems from how we view and navigate the world both within ourselves and outside ourselves. A core tenant of element schools is positive discipline, which we've discussed in a previous episode. It's a program that uses democratic principles of order, freedom, dignity, and respect to support responsible and contributing citizens of a community. One of the activities in the program that helps guide parents and teachers in their beliefs and practices is to make a list of what we want our children to become. This list then becomes a self-check resource for our words and behaviors as adult guides. If you're familiar with the work of the late Stephen Covey, Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, then you've likely know of the idea of beginning with the end in mind. So here's an example. As a parent, or a teacher, I might say, I want my children to be independent thinkers. But then my parenting or teaching style might be to tell children what to do and what to think. So by not offering choices and giving answers instead of asking questions, I'm not giving them the opportunity to build those skills for independent thinking. I have a four-minute recording of a workshop our staff did for parents, and it walks them through the process. Thank you to Elisa Hilliard, and Lori Swem, for their willingness to share this with our audience. And when you're done listening, please take time to reflect and connect on what they share before moving on to part two of this podcast.

Lori Swem  8:32  
So one of the first things we do together in positive discipline sessions is an activity called two lists. In this activity first, we list challenging behaviors that our children might present. Examples are typically things like defiance, back, talking, whining, refusal to do chores, tantrums, etc. I invite you to create your own list at home. On the next list, we give examples of values, skills, and characteristics that we hope to see in our adult children. Typically, that list will include things like compassion, responsibility, a strong work ethic, and so on. What would you add to your own list? We'll refer back to these lists as we process and reflect on the upcoming experiential activity. We use experiential activities and positive discipline to invite adults to really get into the child's world. Through roleplay activities. Adults are asked to put themselves in children's shoes as a means to truly experience scenarios through their eyes. So let's get into one. This activity is designed to demonstrate the concept of empowering versus enabling. I'd like you to imagine you are a child who is refusing to do your schoolwork. Elisa and I are your parents. Please listen to the statements being read. by each of us, and simply notice anything that you are thinking, feeling, and deciding about yourself, about us as your parents, or about the world around us. I'll start you can have a new toy $20 and a cellphone if you would, please sit down and do your schoolwork.

Elisa Hilliard  10:24  
I would like to hear what this means to you. Can you explain to me why you don't want to do your schoolwork right now?

Lori Swem  10:33  
Honey, I thought you would get all of your work done, and be ready for your class after I bought you that new toy gave you $20 and a cell phone.

Elisa Hilliard  10:45  
I'm not willing to bail you out with your teacher. I'll let you explain why your projects not done. When you get to your class.

Lori Swem  10:54  
Well, then, you are grounded and you lose all your privileges. No TV, no iPad, no friends until your work is done.

Elisa Hilliard  11:05  
I'm feeling too upset right now. Please give me a few minutes alone so that I can calm down and then we can talk again once I'm feeling better.

Lori Swem  11:16  
How many times have I told you to get your work done? Why can't you be more like your brother? What will become of you?

Elisa Hilliard  11:25  
Could we sit down and see if we can work on a plan regarding schoolwork that we can both live with?

Lori Swem  11:32  
Fine, don't do any schoolwork and then you can tell your EF while you're going to flunk all your subjects.

Elisa Hilliard  11:39  
You want to keep watching TV, it is time to do your schoolwork. Would you like to start with reading or math today?

Lori Swem  11:47  
So after listening to these statements, read by ELisa and myself, I wonder. After listening to me? Do you feel like you were learning any characteristics, values or life skills that will be valuable to you as an adult? Do you perhaps feel invited to display any of the challenges from the first list? Same questions regarding your thoughts, feelings and decisions after listening to Elisa? Do you feel like you were learning any characteristics, values, or life skills that might come into play for you as an adult? Or do you perhaps feel invited to display any of the challenges from the first list? Notice any other takeaways that might come up for you?

Terri Novacek  12:43  
COVID has us rethinking what it looks like to be a working parent, as well as the purpose and function of our schools. flexible work hours and locations continue to be an option for some parents, and they want that same flexibility for their children. Now that you've taken time to think about what you want for your children as adults, let's work backward on strategies for getting them there. In this section, I'll be sharing some time and parent-tested practices that support students are becoming self-determined learners. The largest role of the parent is to pay attention to the ecosystem support your child and to prepare the environment. We are all born with a great natural capacity, which then turns to ability as we refine it. You want to feed your child's natural curiosity by creating a Discovery Center in your home. The Smith Family Exploratorium, so to speak. And don't forget the grandparents as a key part of the Personal Learning Network. Be sure your children have easy access to a wide range of resources, including those old-fashioned things called books will need time to explore time and nature, space to create and be messy. Give them time and space to rest. And at least eight hours of really good sleep. Give them family time and time with friends follow their lead when they show a propensity for something then nurture it. But I do have to advise here. Don't make the same mistake I did. And every time your child mentioned something they like or they try something new. And then you really start pushing it. Give them plenty of time to tinker to recognize what they enjoy versus what they're good at. Encourage them to think and act in new ways. To take risks, to experiment. Be curious and be vulnerable. Because vulnerability is Is that place where we grow, give them the right balance of challenge, and success. It's kind of the Goldilocks thing, not too hard, not too easy. Engage them in all three forms of play. You have free play, which means there's no adult intervention. There's guided play, where there's a goal supported by the adult, but the child has a sense of agency, when they're interacting, for example, like going to a children's museum, but then giving them freedom to interact with the exhibits. And then there's games which are rule based, and provide more structure, offer choices. Keep in mind, that little child that is now deciding what outfit to wear, which friends to hang out with, one day will be deciding which career to choose, in which lifestyle to live. Support awareness with time and discussion around feelings, and consequences. How are you feeling about that? What are the consequences of what you did? What changes do you want to make? Encourage self advocacy. Help them to see that asking for help is a sign of courage, not weakness. guide their agency by experimenting with the strategies that work best for you in regard to time and project management, such as making lists and setting reminders. Help them learn to manage a real world schedule. Think of the things you do, you set a timer or an alarm on your phone, you use post it notes, you might place items in different places, like the mail key goes near the door and the grocery bags go in the car. Another strategy is doing the hard things first, or doing the hard things when you have the most time and energy to focus. And then help them to identify the reward for their work. And I'm not talking about the lollipop type of reward. But that sense of accomplishment, or that feeling of satisfaction and pride. Warren Buffett's number one rule for success, find your passion.

Terri Novacek  17:34  
What if our life's work was not to meet someone else's standards, but to find our element, our passion, and then develop it in a way that brings us joy and benefits others. One of the ways I tried to do this when my children were young, was in the children's books and periodical sections of Barnes and Noble. They were given time to look at any and all subjects and titles, and I simply paid attention to the ones that they were drawn to. Today, one could look at a child search history on the computer to see what has been googled the most. But give your child time for new hobbies, time to be by themself and learn what brings them a sense of calm. Then regarding Media, I'm not going to spend time here on the pros and cons of media. But I do feel it's important to mention that not all media is created equal. And it affects different people differently. It depends. It depends on the type of media, and it depends on the child. So just be aware of how video games and television shows and social media make your child feel. Reframe the idea of data. Rather than focusing on measurable goals. Put more focus on desired outcomes. Here's an example. A measurable goal would be following a Mediterranean diet, a desired outcome would be losing 10 pounds. the measurable goal, read a book, desired outcome, learn new information. Do you see the pattern there. Just because someone achieves a measurable goal doesn't necessarily mean they achieve the desired outcome. So it's not about the work that gets assigned the number of pages in an essay, the number of pages read in the book, the number of timelines you complete the number of experiments you conduct. You need to know why you're doing it and what you want to achieve from it. We don't learn from experience we learn from reflection on experience. I believe it was John Dewey who said that using self-reflection to measure progress, and seeking regular feedback is so valuable, rather than being that passive student, waiting for somebody else to tell you what to do. and asking you for things. Encourage your child to be the one asking the questions have a goal of mastery rather than completion. And make sure that there's clarity on the expectations so that you're setting them up for success, and that there are consequences for whatever action they take. State standards help remind us there are other things than what we may be thinking of on our own. But I have seen some parents and teachers try to think outside the box, only to replace one set of standards with ones they created on their own. Those are still someone else's standards. And I'm not saying standards are bad. In fact, I believe there is something to be said for the hours, the research and the collaboration that goes into their design. At the same time, though, everyone thinks their subject is the most important, and because they're good at it, they believe everyone can and should meet their high expectations, but we need to keep them in perspective. Let the child lead the curriculum, and just use the standards as a reference. Keep the light burning that natural curiosity and sense of wonder. Pay attention to the times when it is best to lean in and best to pull back. Follow your child, they will show you the way. don't control the learning, follow it. And don't get caught up in the label game. Every child has learning challenges. Every child has gifts, and every child is learning English. Meaningful work is different for each of us. Things we might be quick to call unproductive can actually be supporting the development of coordination skills, curiosity, making connections.

Terri Novacek  21:58  
Help them develop the habits that lead to learning. Show them how to find answers. We remember the things we earn and the things we experience more than what is given for free, or that somebody else tells us. Create experiences and opportunities for experimentation, observation and interaction. And lastly, focus on creating a foundation of qualities rather than skills. Think of things like a sense of wonder, persistence, self control, grit, confidence, self awareness. Think of a tree with weak roots, or a trunk. Those qualities will strengthen those roots. When you reflect on your common thoughts and activities in a given week, think of how much time and energy is spent on things in which you have little to no control, masking, vaccinations, homelessness, the great resignation, learning loss, unattended mental and physical health conditions. It's enough to drive us crazy, and it is driving us crazy. So what is one to do about it? Well, let's take the pressure off. Let's bring it back a bit and refocus. Make a list of all the things that take up space in your brain, cross out the ones in which you have little to no control, just cross them out. You're gone, I have no control over you, I am not going to let you take up any more space in my brain. Now highlight the top three of the remaining items on the list. If your child's education made the top three, it may be time for you to let go of the edge in swim in the waters of Element Education. Listen to part three of this podcast for more information.

Terri Novacek  23:57  
When it comes to child development, supporting academics is the easy part. Providing access to opportunities like service-learning internships, getting involved in meaningful projects, building quality relationships, developing work and life skills and habits. Those are the areas where we need a bigger ecosystem in order for quality learning to take place. And that's where Element schools come in. Element schools are public schools specializing in student-led mastery-based learning. We are site optional meaning on site instruction is available for those who prefer and benefit from it. If you do not do well in a group setting or prefer more freedom, we're able to accommodate that with virtual and community support. For example, at Dimensions Collaborative, a student can attend a learning center for just one or two courses or one or two days. Then they can complete work for another subject online. You And then complete work for yet another subject completely independent at home. At Community Montessori students can attend just the morning work period if they find a full day is just too much. Our hybrid schools support all levels of independent learning, including full time homeschooling. We believe in small learning communities, a strong home and school partnership, supporting students to take ownership of their learning. And that 21st century learning means no walls. We connect students to their learning through beliefs. We want them believing I am worthy and capable. We work with them on their thoughts. This is what I need to do to get where I want to go. And we encourage them and support them in their actions. I have the courage and capacity to carry out this plan. Students get the opportunity to operate as their authentic self, while pondering why they want to or need to learn how they will learn and what they will do with their learning. Now, just because you're a parent doesn't mean you have a natural propensity to educate your child. Think of food. Just because you eat doesn't mean you are a great cook. Having an Educational Facilitator, someone focused on facilitating learning rather than controlling it can provide guidance and shorten that learning curve for you. We help to reduce the time and frustration and we stretch the availability of resources. Think of your educational facilitator as your own personal Gordon Ramsay, JJ Johnson, Rachael Ray, or Sonny Anderson. They can meet your child not only at their academic level, but consider current circumstances, interests, talents, preferred environment, and personal goals as well. The educational facilitator follows your child for more than a year, which gives them the opportunity for higher level of connection and rapport, and helping to build that mindset and skill set and toolkit for taking ownership of their learning. While there is great debate about learning styles and learning, it is universally agreed that each learner is indeed different. Our power traits program is not intended to prescribe a learning plan or create a box for your child. But instead it serves as a guide to open up discussion and engage in Reflection. We are not of the mindset that since your scores show that you are a such and such learner, that your assignment must be like this. And that instead is just a conversation. For example, Oh, I see you tend to prefer such and such, would you like to integrate that into your next project? It's not that strategies are ever bad. It's that every time we come up with a new strategy in public education, we tend to force it on everyone. Every strategy is good for some, no strategy is good for all. Humans are social by nature. And learning is impacted by socialization, which is, as we know, can be both good and bad. People used to ask me if I was concerned about my children's socialization when I was homeschooling, and my answer was yes. That's why I homeschool. I know humans are naturally communal beings. I know we operate at our best when we are able to live interdependently and I know that having access to group learning, for those who can manage the group learning environment can do wonders to stretch their experience and their mindset.

Terri Novacek  28:56  
At Elements schools, we encourage the use of cohorts recently referred to as learning pods. Back in 1999 Sugata Mitra brought the term self organized learning environment or soul into popularity. He did this with his computer in the wall experiment. But we can go back to the 1800s and see evidence of souls being created by slaves as we learn about in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Recent studies have shown that four out of five students participating in pods during the pandemic are enrolled in a school now and had better experiences in the pods versus the school. They felt valued and heard. They became actively engaged in learning. They connected better with their teachers, their adult mentors and their peers. 75% of students had the same or better success while in pods. You may find it Your journey that it is not necessarily about doing the same thing better, but about doing something else. It's not a race, there's plenty of time to stop, take stock, and correct the course. We know Gandhi's famous saying, "Be the change you want to see." Don't wait for school reform to happen by others, you have the power to be that reform, it might be time to let go of the edge and swim in the waters of unconventional education, or what we like to refer to as element education, where students are given the time space in place to discover and develop their element. As our final reflecting connect activity, think to yourself, What are your child's strengths, and what opportunities would help them use those strengths to also build weaknesses. For example, let's say you have a child, that's a really good talker. In a classroom setting, we all know that strength can become a weakness in a heartbeat, but in the right environment, where that child can use those strengths to help others. The child can also learn to self regulate when and how to talk, give children a sense of power and the ability to change their course, to overcome what keeps them feeling trapped or held back. So what are some of your own child's strengths that could be better built in a different environment? By taking on more responsibility for your children's learning, you can ensure they want to learn are able to learn and practice what they learn. Don't tell yourself you can't ask yourself, How can I? If the benefits to your child aren't enough to convince you consider this. The more you support your child and becoming self determined and carrying out their work, the more you are empowered to carry out your own work. You may just find as you learn alongside your child that well, you in turn, find your element

Joseph Porter  32:18  
Thank you for listening to this episode of Element is Everything. If you found anything in this podcast worth knowing, please share it with a friend, teacher, business leader or other decision maker. If you haven't already done so be sure to subscribe wherever you're listening now to be notified of future episodes. We appreciate your suggestions and feedback which you can provide through the element is everything website under Contact, or you can simply email elementiseverything.org Will this podcast change the world for the better? Not likely. But if we can help just a few listeners discover the path to their element, who will then help just a few others do the same? That will be a step in the right direction. Remember to live life to the fullest live life in your element.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai