Mandy Callister

December, 2020

The third week of our first session, our first full week together, began with plenty of energy, excitement, and passion. Come Monday morning, all of our heroes were wearing bright smiles and fell right into the daily morning routine.

The focuses for this week were:

1.) Developing our typical daily routines 

2.) Establishing a strong, productive culture where our heroes feel comfortable

3.) Create familiarity with SMART goals 

4.) Begin giving the heroes more responsibility and autonomy with their learning and with the school

First, our daily routine has been coming along very well. Starting last week we were able to begin introducing the schedule we’ll be using for the entire year. The first week was focused around team building and introducing the heroes to Acton, however, the transition to a set routine has been complete. Overall, the heroes have taken to it very well. On Monday, our activities were being cut short by long transitions and a little confusion on where to go next. By yesterday, it was beginning to show signs of a well-oiled machine! Transitions had become a minute or two at most rather than the five minutes or more on Monday. It’s truly impressive to see how well the ES and Sparks have taken to this. Of course, there are still moments where they’ll get distracted by one thing or another – they are kids after all – but we are seeing progress, and that is what is most important. 

Secondly, we have been really focusing on our culture this week. Monday and Tuesday proved to Sarah, Monique, Brian, and I that we have to do a better job of setting boundaries, guiding our heroes to set the type of environment they love to be in, and, most importantly, make it safe. Tuesday was the day where we had to sit down and think very hard about what we have to do in order to make Acton the environment we all know it can be. Our faults and our challenges came from not having consistent safety boundaries with the heroes, not being clear about expectations, and not allowing them to come up with certain guidelines to help govern themselves. After a few deep breaths, we came back Wednesday morning with these questions: What should our culture look like?; What will independent learning time look like?; What does circle time look like? This Wednesday morning turned out to be a big turning point for us. Nearly all of our heroes contributed to the group expectations and gave truly thoughtful answers. For these past few days, we have been holding each other accountable, learning to use our words to enforce these rules, and the change has been apparent. The contrast between Tuesday and Thursday has been nothing short of extraordinary. Lastly, to ensure we, the guides, are doing our part in creating a safe learning environment, we have clarified the guardrails and strike system. Safety issues are non negotiable and it is imperative for our learners to understand the importance of clear boundaries as well as to feel safe in exploring their space. Freedom comes with responsibility.

Third, we have been developing our SMART goals. Last week we had an introduction to them, but this week we’ve been creating them with our ES students daily. After some practice and examples, they were coming up with very effective goals to hold themselves to. There were some challenges with making these goals specific and achievable, yet it took no time to have them down pat by Thursday afternoon. By the end of next week, we are planning on having these SMART goals in Journey Tracker for the heroes to keep track of as well as for the parents to check out! 

Finally, we are beginning to let go of the reins! Slowly but surely, the heroes are taking control of their learning and their school. While we haven’t let go completely yet, we are starting to phase that in. On Monday and Tuesday, we had our Core Time with the ES students – the time of day when we work on math, reading, and writing. In order to let natural consequences take hold, we stepped back and observed from afar. A couple of heroes became distracted by toys, became disenfranchised by the difficulty of the software, or were frustrated by side conversations. It was clear that something needed to change. On Wednesday, during our discussion on culture, the heroes came up with rules for independent learning – Core Skills fit in here. Right afterward we watched with no small amount of pride how they asked those who were distracting them to focus, asked one another for help, and how they began to settle in. It’s truly remarkable! On Thursday, we had our second town hall meeting where the heroes brought forth plenty of issues they had during the week. Sarah, Brian, and I stepped back to watch how they came up with solutions to distractions during Core Skills and circle time as well as for things like their fictional paper airplane enterprise called “Paper Air Co”. Again, nearly all of the learners contributed towards solutions. They let their voices be heard on each issue and they voted on what they believed to be fair. By the end of the town hall, Acton Seacoast had new rules to follow – all created by the heroes!

Wrapping up this week, it’s clear to see where we’ve had some challenges but also our victories. In spite of the tough first two days, we’ve ended on our highest note so far. The best is yet to come!

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