Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Job of Sudbury Staff: Being an Authentic Human

Five months into working at a Sudbury school, I'm still learning how to authentically BE. I still find myself wondering, "What should I be doing right now?" with the back of my mind assuming I'm skirting some significant teacher duty.

The truth is, I never am. As a staff member at a Sudbury school, I don't actually have any duties. In fact, Hanna Greenberg once wrote that working at Sudbury Valley School, she does "nothing." The question of what a Sudbury staff member does has explored by Michael Sappir of Sudbury Jerusalem, the Hudson Valley Sudbury School blog, and nearly every staff member since the founding of SVS, according to Starting a Sudbury School (1998), so much so that it can be determined that each staff member may create their own job description.

Thus, the chief assignments I have given myself include:
-Being the legally required adult presence
-Solving any literal emergency in which anyone is in danger
-Making sure the bills get paid
-Being available for any questions the students have and offering advice when asked
-Modeling being a human

Not imparting specific knowledge. Not solving quarrels. Not making sure that the students are productive or accountable to anything. Not even cleaning the building, as was hotly contested in the early years of SVS (Starting a Sudbury School, 1998).

And not, as my brain keeps trying to tell me, supervising anyone. The students and I are "fundamentally equal," as the HVSS blog above noted. "I have no authority over anyone I'm hanging out with (or any other person at the school for that matter), anyone may leave for another part of the campus at any time, and I have no obligation to entertain, feed, supervise, etc. anyone at school." That's a line I remind myself of when I start to feel the public-school-teacher pull of supervising coming on. I think that's the bit of unlearning that's coming the hardest for me--the learning to trust that students are getting what they need on their own, that my supervision actually inhibits the lessons they need to teach themselves. I first tell myself, "My job is not to keep you out of trouble," and then I remind myself to trust. If the kids are in the other room, and something that they don't like happens, they know that they can talk about it. If it still continues, they know how to write the other student up for JC and even propose a new rule for the Student Handbook. There is a system for everything already in place, and if we come upon something that needs a system to be written, it will be brought up in conversation, and one will be created. (We're still in the process of writing the Open Campus Policy, for example.)

When in doubt, I try to treat the students as I would treat a good friend. I try to speak to them on the same level, with the same amount of respect, and give the same type of advice I would give a friend in the same context. That is, I treat them as humans.

Thus, what may be the most important of my self-imposed job activities, I try to model being human with equals.

Around the beginning of November, I had a bout of depression. I didn't try to hide it. I didn't put on a good face for the kids. I told them I was having a rough time and that to cope with it, I wanted to write in my journal. We talked openly about depression and anxiety, facing difficult topics head on. One day, I curled up into a ball on one of the couches and didn't get up all day. The students asked if there was anything they could do, and I thanked them but replied that I just wanted to be by myself for a while. They knew I had a therapist appointment later that week. This is part of who I am, part of being human, and I model my handling of it.

In early December, to help myself overcome that bout of depression, I realized there were two things I could do every day to help keep my brain chemicals balanced--a simple exercise of either yoga or pilates and at least 10 minutes of writing. I told the students I really wanted to do these two things but that I had to mentally fight the pushback my brain gave me about it. I wanted to find a way to keep myself accountable, and I wanted to do so transparently. After a short meditation on it, I created what may be considered a sticker chart. I know, I know. Sticker charts are a gross form of extrinsic motivation, but what if I'm the only one "making" myself keep it? Thus began a conversation about perseverance and pushing oneself to do things for the long-term benefits even if you "don't feel like it."

After morning tasks (turning on the heater/fan, putting away clean dishes from the drying rack, etc.) and chatting with the students, I do have quite a bit of time to myself every day. I try to use this time to demonstrating being an authentic human, that is, one with faults and flaws but also curiosity, love, and a continual striving to being the best version of oneself possible.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Day at Wichita Sudbury School

What is daily life like at a Sudbury school? That depends entirely on who you ask and what's going on in their lives! What follows is just one day, Tuesday, November 28, 2017, from the perspective of a staff member.

I pulled up to the school building at 8:45, seeing J at the lockbox beside the front door. He had just arrived, as well, and hadn't yet put in the code or gotten out the spare key, so he closed it back up and waited for me to get out of my car and unlock the door for him. We said hello, and he signed in, got a cup of water from the sink, and sat down on one of the couches in the main room with his journal.

I got out the binders of paperwork kept in the computer room and sat down at the art room table. Because both of our computers were down, I had had to take the November bills home the night before to pay using my home computer. I was able to pay gas, electric, and water online, so I three-hole-punched those sheets and put them away in the PAID section. I wasn't, however, able to put the rent in the mail because I had forgotten to grab a check. I made it out to our landlord, slipped it into an envelope, and attached it to the outside of the mail slot with a paperclip to be picked up by the mailman later. After administrative things were out of the way, I sat down on a different couch with my own journal for a little while.

Around 9:15, L arrived. She, as the Attendance Clerk, wanted to get started right away on her task--calculating attendance. When we first opened three months ago, I did all of the paperwork and administrative tasks. Now that the students have gotten more of a handle on Sudbury life, they've been picking up clerksmanships here and there. L still likes to have me double check her work, so I sat with her at the art room table. Besides, with the computers down, she still needed my phone for the time calculator app. I brought my Kindle with me but soon discovered that the e-book I borrowed from the library didn't actually hold my attention. C arrived and sat on one of the chairs in the art room after signing in, so I chatted with him until he wanted to watch something on his tablet.

I watched over L's shoulder for some time. She accurately converted times after noon to 24-hour time for easier calculation, subtracting the sign-in time from the sign-out time. Occasionally she became frustrated when finding that someone forgot to sign in or out. She called them over and had them try to remember what happened that day, noting down a likely account for them. A few times when someone couldn't remember, she sighed to herself and resigned to just give them the minimum 5 hours.

J went into the kitchen to fix himself a snack. A few minutes later, I heard a shout of alarm and the shattering of a plate. Rushing in, I found J holding his hand. It didn't appear to be bleeding, so he must have burnt it. I turned on the cold water and told him to put his hand under it while I cleaned up the shards of ceramic plate. While I swept, he cooled his hand in the water and ruminated on what happened, "I was getting the grilled cheese out [of the toaster oven], and I think I touched the top part." "Oh, the heating element. Yeah? Do you think it's okay?" I responded. He took a moment to assess, then responded, "Yeah." He turned off the water and got another plate to put his sandwich on.

I went back to the art room. L was finishing up one sheet, getting the weekly totals for each student. "Woah, C, you're up five hours this week!" I noted. "I am? I have five extra hours?" he replied. "Well, just for this week that we finished doing. We still have another week to do, so we haven't gotten the totals yet." "What? Why do you still have another week to do?" J asked from the doorway. L shrugged. "Lazy." She may have been feeling lazy weeks prior, but she was working hard this morning! She contemplated whether or not she wanted to start the next week or take a break. Finishing up won out, and she hunkered down with the calculator app and pen. J went into the computer room to see if there was anything he could do about fixing the computers.

At 11, when G still hadn't arrived, I messaged his dad to see if everything was okay. He replied that they were just running a bit late today and were walking out the door. J, L, and C contemplated a hiding game when G arrived. Half an hour later, when G's car pulled up, they darted into the supply room. L had taken the sign-in sheet with her to finish in the room, but when G realized he couldn't sign-in, he was flustered and near tears. It must have been a rough morning. He called through the door, and L replied that she would sign in for him. He said, "Okay," and sat down to pull dinosaurs out of his backpack. "I brought these dinosaurs because I wanted to add battle damage to them," he said, scribbling on one of them with a red crayon. "Oh, I see," I replied, watching as he began staging an epic battle. When he was finished, he showed me the scene. Aside from the warring group all posed mid-attack, there was also a collection of dinosaurs a little ways off posed naturally. "This is the peaceful group," he declared, indicating them.

L finished the attendance shortly after and brought it to me. She had gotten into a flow and completed that second week's page in about half the time it took her to do the first one! I logged the time on the Excel sheet on my phone and then wrote everyone's initials and attendance totals on the white board. Students are required to be in school for 5 hours a day, 186 days a school year. I multiply how many days we've been in session by five and compare it to each student's totals, giving them a positive or negative amount of time based on the minimum they need to have according to state. Some students are satisfied with their minimum time while others have been saving up extra time (the two hours a day extra that we're open) to have extended vacations. They gathered around to see their time after I had written it on the board. "What happened to putting it on the board in the art room?" C asked. The white board near sign-in is used for announcements and daily scheduling, so it gets erased daily. Last time we put the attendance hours on the board, they were erased the next day, so C suggested we put it on the white board in the art room so it stays longer. "Oh yeah," I remembered. I wrote the hours there, as well.

"I want to do some yoga," I said out loud. "Oh, yes!" L agreed. C had been doing yoga in the mornings, and I usually joined in when he did his. He had lost interest in it, though, it seemed, so I decided to start it back up myself. I waffled for a few moments between yoga and pilates before finally deciding to download a pilates app. I set up the first beginner level, and after a couple of positions, L joined in. It was a 13 minute long session, and the moves were, indeed, rather basic, but it was a good exercise for us. Afterwards we collapsed on the couch and drank some water.

"There are a lot of dirty dishes in the sink," L noted. "Yeah, it seems like people haven't been washing their dishes after they use them. Let's add that to tomorrow's School Meeting agenda." I retrieved the folder for School Meeting minutes and began to create the agenda.

1. Reminder from Holly (SM chair): Everyone needs to wash any dishes they use.

"Do you want me to add about the signing in and out, too?" I asked. "Yes, please."

2. Reminder from L (Attendance Clerk): Make sure you are signing in and out every time you leave or enter the school building.

"Oh! And we need to talk about the Ouija board," L prompted. "I thought you were going to buy that with your own money for yourself?" I asked. "Well, I decided that I wanted it for the school." "Oh, so you want me to put it on the agenda to get it for the school?" "Yeah." "And it was $15 on Amazon?" "Wait, let me use your phone to check again."

3. Proposal from L to buy an Ouija board with school money. $18 from Amazon.

"Would you be interested in reading?" L asked me when I was finished with the agenda. She and I had been taking turns reading Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio aloud. "Sure," I replied, and we sat down to read a few chapters. After a while, she decided to get herself some lunch. I turned my Kindle on, remembered that I didn't like the book I was reading, and sighed. I wanted to read more! "G, I want to read more, but I don't have a good book right now. Do you want to keep reading your Minecraft book with me?" "Hmm.. no, not right now," he replied. "Okay." I went to make my own lunch. G hesitated, then followed me into the kitchen. "You know, I think I want to change my mind about reading right now." "Okay. Let's do that." So he read a little to me while I ate my sandwich, then he cooked some ramen for himself and listened to me finish the chapter.

"Miss! Guess what!" J burst into the main room. At the beginning of school, I had asked him to just call me by my first name, but he still preferred to address me as Miss. "Hmm?" "I fixed the computer!" he beamed. "Woah! How did you do that?" "I don't know. I took off the side of the case, and there was a wire that was loose. So I reconnected it, and now it works!" "Huh! Well, okay then. Awesome!" I pulled out my journal to do some more writing as he headed back.

There was some scuffle coming from the computer room, and J returned to me. "Miss, I was using the computer, but L said I didn't sign in. So she signed in and got to use it." While the computers were working, they had created a rule in the School Handbook that students could use the computer for half an hour at a time after they signed their name on the computer sign up sheet. "Aha! She got you on a technicality," I lamented. "Yeah. It's like that story about the hen who's making the bread, except backwards a bit. She makes the bread even though no one helps her, but then she shares it with everyone. But I fixed the computer, and L took it from me!" I laughed, "True, but you'll get to use it after her time is up." "Yeah."

After L's turn on the computer, she came wandering into the main room and sat close by, curious about my writing. "I'm creating a safe space," I told her. She looked even more confused. "One of my friends told me that at her therapy, she learned how to create a safe space that's just in her heart and her mind. When she's feeling overwhelmed or upset, she can close her eyes and imagine her safe space so her heart and mind can become calm again. She said that your safe space is something personal, just for you, and that you have to create it when you're happy. So I'm creating mine now, and writing about it helps me be creative." "Oh! I see." She continued to sit with me while I wrote, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere, before going back into the computer room.

There was another scuffle, something about name calling and writing each other up, indicating that the agreed upon rules in the School Handbook had been violated. J and L were both filling out complaint forms. "Holly, when can we have a JC meeting?" came a voice from the art room. During a Judicial Committee meeting, a jury of peers (in our case, the entire school population of four students and one staff member) reviewed a violation of the rules and decided what should be done about it. "Uh, tomorrow?" I replied. "Why? Why can't we just have it now?" J asked. "Because you're both upset, and I want to give you time to calm down." "Well.. I'm the JC Clerk, and I say we're calling a JC meeting right now," L declared. "Alright," I sighed, and resigned myself to joining the group in the art room.

Apparently J had "called G a 'b-i-t-c-h,'" which was declared a violation of Norms and Expectations #2, "Be respectful." There was a discussion, and as a result, JC decided to propose a new rule to school meeting: "Offensive words can be said to inanimate objects but not to people." However, J had done this because L and G were annoying him. Frustrated, he went back to the computer. "J, now it's time for your complaint," I offered. "Come and tell us about it." "No, you don't care, anyway," came the response. "I do care, and I want to hear your story." "No, just throw out the complaint," J called. "J, I care, and I want to hear your story. Come tell us about what happened." But he wouldn't return. Sighing, we threw out the case. I contemplated what to do and decided to add another bullet to tomorrow's agenda,

5. Discussion topic from Holly: Is the JC process working for us?

(This was an on-going dispute that lasted a few more days before being completely resolved.)

I went to the kitchen to make myself some tea, and C followed me. "I think I should bring something else to entertain myself," he told me. "I've been watching Ben10 on my tablet all day today, but maybe I need something else." I nodded, pulling my mug from the microwave and adding the tea bag. "Yeah. Are you not in the middle of a book?" I asked, recalling his love of fantasy novels. "I am, but it's at home. It's in the Gameknight999 Minecraft series. Maybe I'll bring that tomorrow. Or maybe I'll draw," he mused. I smiled. "Sounds like a plan."

L and G emerged from the supply room with two long, slender, plastic poles that looked like they might be used in plumbing or something. "Can we.." L started hesitantly, "take these outside and joust?" I didn't know where they came from or any reason why we would keep them, so I agreed. "Sure? Stay away from the cars in the parking lot, of course," I reminded her. By the time they came back in, they had perfected some sort of JROTC-looking synchronized pole maneuvering dance. "It's called Quartet. How do you spell quartet?" she asked. "I'm not sure. You made it up, so I think you get to decide how it's spelled." "Alright, well, I'm going to spell it.. Q-A.. 'cause I know in English the 'q' and the 'u' are married, but since I'm making it up, they're getting a divorce. Q-A-U-R-T-T-E-T. Qaurttet."

Remarkably, for once, everyone's parents showed up around the same time, 3:45-ish, so in a flurry of activity, everyone left rather quickly. I gathered the trash and took it to my car to throw away at home.

What will tomorrow bring? Who knows! The students whims are leading them, but they are constantly learning. It's amazing to watch where their creativity takes them, and I'm so excited to be a part of their journey.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Justification Labeling

I am so thankful to be starting the first year of Wichita Sudbury School with our amazing families! Coming from a traditional teaching background, I guess I still really believed that once the parents realized I actually wasn't making their children do any traditional "work," they'd pull out of the program. Even though my board had campaigned all year, I still couldn't believe we actually found families willing to try it. It took me these six school days we've been open to honestly trust that they trusted their children (and me, as the adult in the building). I've been sending little snippets of how their kids are doing every other day or so, and the parents have shared my excitement for the little things--their children's growing autonomy, creative problem solving, and expressing the unique character traits that make them individuals. It is beautiful watching the students learn authentically, and I'm delighted I have parents that agree.

But what am I really doing by sharing these small moments? There is such a fine line between what I've been thinking of as "justification labeling" and trust.

When I taught in traditional classrooms, I felt the need to justify everything my students did outside the curriculum. I suppose, to be fair, I WAS hired for the purpose of teaching curriculum, but it was more than that somehow. I felt as though every aspect of play and creativity were under attack. I had this hero fantasy outlook where I was the only adult that afforded children this "luxury" of play in a bad, evil world of adults that didn't understand what children truly needed. I was only able to do so by disguising it under names that parents and administrators took more seriously. Outside play became an opportunity for strengthening muscles and spacial awareness, reading educational magazines became a chance to teach current events and other subjects in an authentic manner, using a flexible seating classroom arrangement increases student engagement and participation, and so forth. For everything I wanted to "give" the students, there had to be a justification ready to present to skeptical adults, both to allow me to continue providing the experience and to make my look like I knew what I was doing. (Of course I was just making it up as I went along, but isn't everyone?)

I did so even as I started getting into the Sudbury culture, which was why I was so taken aback when I visited a Sudbury school for the first time and saw students just... existing. They weren't playing and hanging out under the guise of learning, they just WERE. There was no forced curriculum, but nor was there a hero fantasy of adults providing students with something illicit by tricking the higher ups. Everyone was allowed to just BE. No judgments, no pressure to look further into an activity in order to apply an educational label. It was liberating.

And difficult to fully comprehend. I'm still not completely there yet. I told my students on the first day that just as this is their first experience attending a Sudbury school, it is also my first experience teaching at a Sudbury school. We're all learning together, and we all have power to shape our shared experience.

I just know that without active communication, my anxiety gets the best of me. By keeping an open dialogue with all the parents, I am doing what I can to maintain transparency. It felt awful when I was teaching in traditional schools and didn't have regular communication with parents. It felt like a job. And I'm not trying to create a job for myself here. I'm creating an authentic life. I'm creating authentic relationships with real people. I'm modeling being the best version of myself I can be, and what makes me feel like the best, most honest and transparent version of myself is sharing with parents that I think their children are on the right track. The only way I know how to do so right now is to put my own justification labels on their activities. I know that these labels are shallow and don't take into consideration all the nuances and complexities encompassed by the human experience, but it's what I have right now. It helps me to see that the students and school are succeeding and to share that with others.

Maybe eventually I'll be able to just allow the students to be without the crutch of needing to apply my labels, but for now I'm just thankful I have a wonderful team of people supporting me as we all explore the path to get there. <3

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

WSS: Summer Session 2017

Because Sudbury schools are such a vast departure from "traditional" education, before a student enrolls officially, they typically spend what is called a "visiting week" as sort of a trial period to make sure it's a good fit. As a start-up, we don't have this option yet. On top of that, we're still trying to raise enough money for first month's rent! Thus, to tackle both problems, Wichita Sudbury School is offering summer sessions where a few students can get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. Our first session was held last week in a board member's back yard.

Honestly, with it being the first school activity with students, with wanting so desperately for it to go well after having worked hard to make it happen, my brain kind of shut off  for a lot of the week. I was afraid of anything going wrong, and to avoid the discomfort, I went on auto-pilot. I auto-piloted my way through a lot of full-time teaching, too, so I wouldn't have to deal with teaching in a method I morally disagreed with, so I'm not concerned that I didn't "do my job." I can even connect with students on auto-pilot, just not to the fullest, most genuine extent I can while being mindfully present. As it turned out, though, and as I was finally able to start seeing on Friday, everything went really well, actually. What follows is some of my processing of the week.

We had four students with us, and I'm still trying to decide how I want to refer to them here. I think I've finally decided on a method that involves their age and gender, even though I dislike using either of those things as distinguishing features for people. It's the easiest for now, though, so it will have to do. Thus, I got to hang out with 4m and 8f (siblings), 10f, and 13f this past week. A few of the other board members also dropped in and out as they were available.

Monday was probably the most difficult, as to be expected with learning a new environment, set of people, and expectations. 4m was not used to staying outside for such an extended period of time, and I had to explain to him multiple times that we were only to be in the house to use the restroom, and then we needed to come right back out because this house belongs to someone else. After the first day, he mostly respected that boundary, though there were other issues of throwing fits, having others do things for him like putting on his own shoes, taking food from others, not respecting boundaries of when others tell him to stop a behavior or action that affects them, etc. Even though he will be 5 by September, that these persisted throughout the week with no discernible effort to change, despite being talked to about it every day, shows me that he's not ready for the school. That's the point of visiting week, after all, so success!

There were other times I felt uncomfortable, and after a couple of days I realized that it was because I was actively supervising the students! These students and their parents signed a waiver reminding them specifically that they wouldn't be supervised constantly. That's not how Sudbury works. They need to be left alone in a safe environment so they can learn from making their own choices and mistakes. After I realized that, I started trying to focus more on doing my own thing, which in this case was reading. It was difficult having everyone in one, large area, though. When I visited a Sudbury school, if a group of students came up to adults with "he said / she said" problems, the adult would send them away with, "You guys need to work this out on your own." The students would go to a different room and solve the problem themselves (or write up a complaint to JC if need be). Being all in one area, I had to pretend to not take any interest in my students' squabbles. Of course I could "solve" all of the problems by dictating what everyone needs to do, as I'm used to doing at traditional schools, but that doesn't give the children any chance to learn how to do it themselves. It doesn't prove to them that they are strong, capable, individuals with the capacity of problem solving. Instead, it teaches them that if they have a problem, they need someone else to solve it for them. So I tried very hard to focus on my book. I'll get better at this as time goes on.

One interesting time when this came up was while the students were playing in the shed, which had a latch that automatically locks from the inside when closed. They called for me to come let them out once, which I was fine with, but when it happened a second time, I decided I wasn't comfortable with them playing in a way that requires them to ask for help. As I walked across the yard, I contemplated what I was going to say. I didn't want to say, "I'm not going to let you out again," because I knew I wouldn't be able to follow through with that. If they got locked in and needed help, of course I would help them. What I finally came up with when I unlocked the shed for the second time was an honest, "I don't want to keep getting up to let you out. I'd like to sit and read my book, so don't keep getting yourselves locked in, alright?" Back at my blanket, I pulled up my book and noticed that the door was immediately shut again. I sighed, but since they weren't calling to me, I didn't head back over. It took them five or ten minutes, but they finally burst triumphantly from captivity. They were so very excited to let me know that they didn't need my help getting out anymore because they had figured out how to trigger the latch from the inside using a stick. "That sounds like some creative problem solving," I smiled.

Another thing we worked on this week was the democratic process. 8f got outvoted several times when the others wanted to walk to the park, and she had to come along with us even though she didn't want to. She came to sit by me a lot when she wasn't getting her way, and I straddled a thin line between discussing the ideology of the school and just being a calm, nonjudgemental body she could sit by when feeling uncertain. I'm still finding my comfort zone with that. It's also difficult for me not to side with the underdog. In politics, we have to stand up for the minority to make sure they have their voices heard. But that's a discussion for another time. 8f made it clear that she didn't want to be at the park, but she didn't present any arguments convincing enough to persuade the majority, so we went to the park. Each time, I made it clear that we were going because the majority wanted to go. Likewise, when on the second day, she started a motion to go to the store to buy ice cream with her own money, I made it clear that those arguments had convinced her friends, and she had the majority on this issue. I wanted her to know that democracy works both ways. We went to get ice cream because SHE made it happen.

Speaking of getting ice cream, that issue came up again on Thursday. All four students wanted to get ice cream, and they had their own money to pay for it again. They just needed me to drive. This time I wasn't so sure. I told them that it wasn't enough to just convince each other, they needed to come up with a way to make it happen. If I'm the one driving, I needed to be convinced, too. I just so happened to have an appointment that afternoon, so I left them, unconvinced, with the other board members. By Friday, they had strengthened their arguments. They reminded me that they had learned how to convince each other, and that learning about democracy was one of the main goals of this week. I agreed that was true, but I told them that I wasn't sure I wanted them spending all of their money on ice cream. 10f told me that it wasn't actually her money. It was given to her by her neighbor specifically FOR ice cream after she had told him about Tuesday's events. Oh really? Now that was a little more persuasive. Before I could respond, she presented her next argument, "And I can use some of it to buy you something. Would you like me to get you something?" I disliked the idea of taking money from children, but I could see that she was putting a lot of effort into coming up with tactics. I complied, drove them to the store, and allowed her to buy me a cherry limeade for $1.25 as compensation. They enjoyed their second ice cream day.

I think I was also successful at modeling effective communication language, as well. This is a separate issue from language in general. It didn't take long for 4m to realize that I wasn't going to scold him for cursing. The Sudbury-esque stance I've seen taken and have adopted myself for that goes something like, "If they are left to play with language as they please, cursing won't seem as powerful as if it were taboo. Let them get it out of their systems and don't pay them any heed." Thus, 4m cursed up a storm. The girls were skeptical. I doubt they'd ever seen an adult take this stance. I explained that he wasn't hurting anyone with his language. If it bothered them, they could move away from him or say something to the effect of, "I don't like that language. Please don't say those things to/around me." My modeling of I-statements caught on quick, and I was happy to see them being used more and more as the week went on, especially by 8f.

Everything culminated in a pool party on Friday afternoon. 10f brought an inflatable pool from her house, and 13f found a shop vac in the cellar with which to blow it up and a hose in the shed with which to fill it. They asked for help retrieving the shop vac because there were boxes on top of it and finding the water spigot because it was hidden under a cold-weather sealer. The rest they solved themselves. (Well, I also recommended 13f find an old shirt for 4m to wear because he didn't bring a swimming suit and wanted to just play in his underwear.) They used the shop vac themselves to blow up the pool. They filled it with water. They even worked together to move the pool into the sun when they realized it was too cold in the shade. I stayed off to the side reading my book. Like the instance with the shed, they knew I was there if they needed anything, but they had the confidence and independence to try it on their own first.

One of the games they played involved the older students picking up the younger ones and throwing them into the pool. I heard it as I read and ruminated on how a supervising adult would probably make them stop because "the little ones will get hurt." After having spent all week together, though, they knew each other well enough to play this way. The maternal instincts of the older girls kicked in and they were careful of how hard they threw the younger kids. There was one point where 4m sat down on the side of the pool and said, "No!" 13f replied, "Come on," and moved to pick him up again, but 10f stopped her. "No, he said, 'No,'" she spoke up. "We have to leave him alone now." 13f complied, and they kept playing until he was ready to join them again. The four of them played until they were finished and then sat out in the sun to air dry in a peaceful, happy daze until it parents started showing up. What a perfect end to a wonderful week of real learning.

What else is there to say? There were epic stick fights, climbing and standing on railings, sliding down the cellar door, eating lunch in the grass, hand turkeys made of construction paper, and plenty of being bored. I'm learning to let the kids have their play and not get too involved myself. They need their time to be kids, and my influence isn't necessary. I'm looking forward to our next summer session. <3

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: Free to Learn

Free to Learn
Peter Gray
Copyright 2013
235 pages

Taking a break from SVS Press books but still wanting to continue my Sudbury research, I picked up Free to Learn, an examination of what it means to play from an anthropologist (and also father of an SVS student)'s perspective. I'm not sure I really have much to say in review because I completely internalized the entire thing while reading it, enjoying it much more than I expected to. It's an easy read, apparently, as Gray's words leapt off the page and melded themselves immediately into my view of reality.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Free to Learn is the scale from which Gray speaks as an anthropologist. While exploring the world of alternative education, most every bit of literature I come across asks the Why question--"Why is our education system the way it is?" To which the unanimous response reads, "Well, the Industrial Revolution." But Gray, not accepting that as the complete answer, explores further, back to hunter-gatherers, the earliest humans, and plays with concepts he finds there.

In fact, play is exactly what he does, as he, himself, admits. "...I would estimate that my behavior in writing this book is about 80 percent play. That percentage varies from time to time as I go along; it decreases when I worry about deadlines or how critics will evaluate it, and it increases when I'm focused only on the current task of researching or writing. ... I am taking into account not just my sense of freedom about doing it, my enjoyment of the process, and the fact that I'm following rules (about writing) that I accept as my own, but also the fact that a considerable degree of imagination is involved. I'm not making up the facts, but I am making up the way of stringing them together. Furthermore, I am constantly imagining how they will fit into the whole structure I am trying to build, one that does not yet exist as concrete reality." (p. 140, 151) That play through which Gray writes is palpable throughout and makes for an entirely enjoyable experience.

Before reading Free to Learn, I knew, perhaps only through intuition, that play was an important part of learning, just not to this extent. Gray teaches us, through an examination of evolution, that play IS learning and that it is a powerful force, indeed. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


I cannot make children do anything.

I can keep them safe.
I can model behavior and communication.
I can listen.
I can be a sounding board.
I can explain.
I can provide logic.
I can comfort.
I can encourage.
I can love them.

But I cannot make children do anything.


Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago after a particularly difficult day with a 17-month-old I've been babysitting. It went through a series of purposes throughout its creation. First it was merely a reminder to myself in the moment of what I had control over. Then it was a disclaimer for parents of children I teach or have taught in the past and a sort of explanation about Sudbury education. Finally, I realized it was as true for myself as a future parent as it was for other parents. It rings true for all situations, but I may edit it a little more before attaching it to the school.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Books Included in the Sudbury Valley School Starter Kit

Summaries updated as I read them

Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School
by Daniel Greenberg
1987 (1995 reprint), 184 pages
If you are looking for somewhere to start delving in, this is it. I consider this the quintessential Sudbury book. It is the first book published by Sudbury Valley School Press, and covers, in quick, easy language, all of the introductory questions parents have.

The Sudbury Valley School Experience
by various authors
1985 (1987, 1992 reprints), 234 pages
This is the second-most turned to book about Sudbury education. In a series of short articles and vignettes, adults at SVS describe different aspects of school life. It ends with A School for Today, 25-page account of how Sudbury works and why it's perfectly fit for modern times, that would be great to share with parents.

Starting a Sudbury School: A Summary of the Experiences of Fifteen Start-Up Groups
by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky
1998, 220 pages
Written specifically for potential founders, if the title didn't give that a way, this one is incredibly practical. It guides step-by-step through a lot of nitty-gritty and answers questions I didn't know I had. This is one to keep nearby and check every so often for recommendations on how to go about different situations. 

Legacy of Trust: Life after the Sudbury Valley School Experience
by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky
1992, 332 pages
The first (SVS Press) study of SVS graduates, 188 individuals that graduated over the span of 21 years after SVS was established. Great to have on hand when speaking with parents who are new to the movement, as it answers such questions as, "Will my child be able to go to college without classes and grades?" It probably isn't something they would want to read in its entirety, but perfect to flip through for a little while. I keep mine highlighted for easy reference.

The Pursuit of Happiness: The Lives of Sudbury Valley Alumni
By Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky, and Jason Lempka
2005, 364 pages
The second study of SVS graduates. I had hoped that it would be better, more informative, and more up to date than Legacy of Trust, but it's just different. It has more anecdotes and direct quotes from graduates, but fewer statistics and findings about them.