“Democracy in the classroom”

This is a piece I wrote about how we negotiate democracy in the classroom at the Infinity School where I work. I enjoy this practice as it fits in with the teaching I do independently as part of DEMOI:

Democracy in the classroom

Democracy is difficult. It requires a great deal of patience and comfort with disagreement. Citizens who take democracy seriously have to be prepared to have their ideas rejected by their neighbours, friends and peers. They also have to be prepared to accept the vote of the majority even if they strongly disagree with it.

At Infinity School, we practice democracy. This is done as part of each of day with a specific time each Thursday morning set aside for the democratic process to be honed. On those mornings we spend half an hour doing something called “Town Council.”

From 8:45 to 9:15am the Eagles and I have a meeting that follows an Agenda, which they have set. I open our council by asking the Eagles what they feel are the most pressing issues facing our community. By a vote, they place their chosen items on the Agenda and then we address them in the order of priority the Eagles selected. We follow the “Process Map” system used by our model school, Acton Academy.

My role as Guide is not to choose the items or to come up with solutions: the Eagles do that. When an issue is raised it is then “on the table” where it is discussed and debated.

When the discussion/debate has come to a conclusion (they vote on this, too), the Eagles are asked to come up with solutions. They write their ideas down and post them on the blackboard. I then list their solutions and see what proposals are the most popular.

After we have narrowed down our options we hold another vote until a solution is chosen. During the “narrowing down” process there is further debate and discussion.

If this sounds complex and involved, it absolutely is. And funny enough, the Eagles love it. They enjoy voting, debating, discussing and, above all, they love setting the Agenda. As their Guide, it can be both maddening and delightful to watch a debate become contentious or inspired.

But as I watch the Eagles in action I am reminded of all of those texts, articles and tomes about democracy I read over the years as I studied history and political science. Our Town Council is democracy in action: this is community dynamics at work; this is political science.

At Infinity and across the Acton Academy system, the Heads of School and the Guides are asking for something that today seems extraordinary from their Eagles. We are asking for their commitment to experimenting with a democratic system in the classroom.

We are asking them to take the lead in designing their education and establishing the ground rules and policies, which govern their community. This is an intensive preparation for adulthood, citizenship and the working world. This is also an attempt to bring back a frequently missing component of education: self-reliance, personal responsibility and active citizenship.

Anyone who is familiar with democracy and democratic systems knows that sometimes the process of proposing ideas and arriving at solutions is messy, confusing and (dare I say it?) chaotic. But this process is the basis of a free society; it is a requirement of a community-wide commitment to personal liberty, individual creativity and the principle that each mind, heart, voice and individual matters.

We believe that our Infinity community cannot truly be a community without the participation of every member. We also know that for young people to grow up and be successful in a competitive and often contentious world, they need to be prepared to participate by proposing ideas, attempting solutions and accepting that disappointment and failure are part of life in the “adult world.”

As a Guide, one of the most important life lessons I am learning from my Eagles is that this process of participating, of problem solving, is an ongoing process that one never masters. If you and your child believe that life is a call to creativity and that the best communities (and societies) are those which reward creativity, I think your child has a home here at Infinity.

You can visit the website here: http://infinityschool.ca/education-concepts/democracy-classroom-infinity-school/

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Passion & the education of children and young adults

I wrote a short essay on the role of passion in the education of children and young adults. The piece is based upon my work at The Infinity School here in London. You can read the link and explore the school’s website here:

http://infinityschool.ca/education-concepts/amazing-thing-happens-ask-children-passion/

Why I work at The Infinity School

Since January of this year, I have been employed as a full time Guide at The Infinity School here in London, Ontario. (http://infinityschool.ca) I work there in addition to running DEMOI.

I wrote this essay explaining to parents and interested parties why I sought employment at Infinity and it is featured on the school website. I would like to share it here:

Why I Want To Work Here At Infinity

My first full time teaching position was at a Charter School in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 2002, I was fresh out of graduate school and looking to teach in an environment that valued creativity and intellectual rigour. For those not familiar with Charter Schools, they are an attempt to reintroduce the concept of the Community School in cities and towns across the United States. The institution that hired me was brand new and founded by a group of concerned parents who wanted to make sure that their daughters and sons were receiving a world class education and who were prepared to take a chance. This new school not only attracted eager families who were excited about becoming educational pioneers, it also drew young and energetic teachers who were zealous about bringing high performance learning to children and young adults. This school, Ridgeview Classical, has gone on to become one of the top performing schools in Colorado.

That first work experience, I believe, spoiled me. I learned right off the block what it means to work in a school characterized by frisson and daring; a school that thought of its educators as co- learners alongside their students. It was a school that also encouraged unconventional methods like Socratic learning and it was there that I discovered that I was a Socratic thinker and learner.

As I continued on, working in public, private and even university classrooms, I found that what I was seeking was, in fact, a return to that energy and sense of adventure I had encountered in Colorado. I knew that what I wanted in a teaching position was the freedom to float away from standardized tests and state/provincial mandated curricula and to encourage children and young adults to design and implement their own learning programs. This has been a journey that has taken me across three U.S. states and into Canada.

In 2013, I founded my own private teaching business here in London. That business, DEMOI Independent Learning, was designed to offer interested families the freedom of pursuing, in depth, a humanities and social sciences curriculum that I would co-design with their children. This proved to be a very rewarding experience, both in terms of the pedagogical challenges I faced and because of what I learned about starting, managing, and marketing my own business (I had never been an entrepreneur before). I literally started from scratch and had to discover how to earn the trust of potential clients and figure out just what it was I was offering to a marketplace already packed full of tutors and tutoring services. I think it is important to mention this because I appreciate, I believe, the challenges and risks of going out on your own and starting something brand new. The advantage of working at an established institution is that you get to trade on its reputation; when you are starting something new that reputation is entirely in your hands.

When I learned last year that Andrea and Vineet Nair were establishing the Infinity School I was excited because I recognized that this was an institution whose pedagogical, philosophical, and personal values were closely aligned with my own. The first clue I received was discovering that Infinity would follow “The Hero’s Journey,” a concept developed by that great scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell whose works I know well and had used with my students for years. I was impressed by the Nair’s dedication to pioneering a new type of school in Canada and it thrilled me to think that London would introduce the first Acton Academy to the country. As someone who helped pioneer a new school way back in 2002, I was delighted to think that I might be able to do so again.

As any educator knows, gaining the trust of parents and their children is essential and not to be taken lightly. And as every parent knows, the process of awarding that trust is delicate and requires that certain, often inchoate, needs are met. I am fortunate to be both a parent and an educator and this has led me to appreciate even more just what is happening here at The Infinity School. I know that I have found a home.

Thinking philosophically is essential to becoming educated

Apparently the English have shown that when you teach students philosophy they improve in mathematics and logical reasoning skills. I am pleased to say that I teach and discuss philosophy with my students. The Socratic approach is the very core of what I do; it’s what I’ve been doing at DEMOI for three and a half years and it is what I am also doing at The Infinity School. http://infinityschool.ca

I’m also pleased to say that my students love the challenge of thinking philosophically and would excel in any school that makes philosophy a core subject:
http://bigthink.com/…/teaching-students-philosophy-will-imp…

Pleased to report I will be teaching at the Infinity School

I am very excited to report that I have signed a contract to work for London’s Infinity School. I will be teaching Civilization classes for the 2016-2017 school year. The Infinity School’s methods are in perfect synchrony with my own: it is a school built around Socratic discussion and individual initiative and whose mission is to encourage self-reliance and self-direction in its students.

I cannot express how pleased I am to be part of a brand new school (which is opening its doors next month) that has been founded to bring progressive educational alternatives to the families of London, Ontario. (I should add that I will still be taking clients and DEMOI will continue as before.)

I recommend visiting the Infinity page for more information:

http://infinityschool.ca