Laura Sandefer

July 23, 2019

“I thought that my biggest lesson learned was not to procrastinate, but I now realize that I was actually not procrastinating, I was actually just giving up every time something was difficult.” – reflections of Rohan, 11 years old

Insightful. Sincere. Keen. It takes time to develop such reflective thinking. This is why we schedule lots of times for it at Acton Academy beginning with our youngest Eagles. As the children sit in a circle each day with a few simple prompts, they learn to open up about their struggles and celebrations. It’s one of my favorite things to observe.

When I asked an 8 year old what it felt like to share her struggle with math she said, “It’s just what we do at Acton.”

There is a simple, pure honor in sharing with each other. Beyond critical thinking skills, another wonderful thing happens over time: a safety-net arises in the studio for being vulnerable about regrets, mistakes, failings and character growth. “It’s just what we do.”

For quiet children, it may take a year of listening before it feels natural to share. There is no rush. Part of the beauty of the mixed age learning experience is that you get to watch older people do something for a while to see how it’s done.

In this spirit, I asked our guides in our final staff meeting of the year to share their greatest lessons learned. Here are a few:

  1. The Eagles want guides to be warm-hearted and tough-minded. We ask them to find that balance and we need to as well.

  2. Subtle touches are powerful. A fist bump can go a long way. So can finding out small details about the Eagles’ lives and chatting with them casually. Being a Socratic guide does not mean being a bump-on-the-log in the studio. They want interaction, relationship, warmth.

  3. Children have an uncanny ability to sniff out phoniness. If you are not being authentic, they know it.

  4. The greatest insights come from “free time.” Observing them without intervening reveals what’s really going on in their relationships and studio lives.

  5. Even the youngest Eagles know it’s kind to hold another Eagle accountable. Overheard during Writer’s Workshop was a young child saying to a fellow Eagle, “How can I challenge you to be better?”

  6. Self-knowledge beats finishing pre-Calculus.

  7. Having fun is the starting point for learning.

  8. We created systems so the Eagles can be free to function independently; however, the flip side of that same coin is bureaucracy. We need to return to simplicity and clarity when Eagles show us that processes or rules have become more like red tape than tools for freedom in learning.

  9. And maybe most importantly, when you have a problem with something in the studios, always ask an Eagle. They have the best solutions.

It’s easy for me to reflect like this in terms of my work life. But what about at home? Have I reflected on how I’m growing as a parent, wife, friend? Being vulnerable isn’t all that much fun for me – it’s easier to focus on other people.

So, thanks to Rohan, I will rise to the dare he unknowingly presented. It’s my turn to get real in my reflecting. I will grab my journal and sit quietly during these summer days asking myself, “What I have learned from my children? Where am I most challenged and where do I need help?” I will even share my lessons with them. I’m pretty sure this is the key to being a better parent and person.

How about you? Will you accept the dare?

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Middle School

6th-8th Grade

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Middle School is where young people rapidly start owning their education. Middle school is the perfect time to develop intellect and character while gaining a deeper sense of self and the real world. Students have a broad palette of topics to study and pair in-depth academic exploration with real-world connections to experts and local apprenticeships. Middle School is about deepening a passion for individual subjects while broadening your understanding of yourself and your future.