How Culture Creates Excellence

Sarah Cheek

April, 2021

Today, we had a Socratic discussion debriefing our Exhibition yesterday – it was the reflection phase of our passion quest, the tail end of our session long learning arc on how to brainstorm a topic, design a quest, and create artifacts to show what we had learned.

“I think our exhibition was a 10/10 because when I took a break from my booth, I noticed that parents were having fun and learning at the different booths as learners were presenting.”

“I think our exhibition was a 9/10 because I saw some presenters fooling around some of the time.”

“The most important thing I learned is that I have a lot to learn.”

“My passion quest could turn into my business fair idea.”

“The practice run was helpful because I changed my presentation before the real event.”

These are insightful, reflective comments that show our learners are building the ability to be self-aware and to look at something from a perspective outside their own. Seeing the exhibition through the eyes of the parents is a sign that our learners are developing the ability to see how they fit into the bigger picture, and how they can impact their environment and their interactions. Answering the question, “What was the most important thing you learned in this quest” with “I learned I have a lot to learn” is also an advanced awareness that we are seeing for the first time with this Exhibition.

Most importantly, what these comments show is that we are advancing our studio culture. We saw evidence of this yesterday, when we were preparing for the exhibition, how focused, determined and excited the learners were when preparing their booths for the exhibition. We had never seen the studio more spotless and meticulously arranged.

Guide:  “Would you like to do book club or continue working on your exhibition?”

Learner: “I want to keep working – I have so much to do!” (This comment was echoed by others)

Monique saw it again today – she was planning on having her Sparks take an easier day, have some fun and celebrate what they had achieved this session. Before she could announce it, the Sparks were already pulling Montessori works off the shelves – nothing was going to keep them from making progress on their goals today! They were in flow in minutes, bustling with purpose.

As I processed all that we have observed in the past 24 hours – the exhibition, the deep reflection, the intrinsic motivation – I realized that what we are seeing is an advance in our culture. The learners care about their work, about how the studio looks and they are taking ownership of their goals. As another owner of a five-year-old Acton told us, “You can tinker with the quests, and try to create excitement and motivation –and you should – but what you’ll find is that once the culture is strong, they will be able to handle anything you throw at them.”

The beginning of this quest was hard – picking a topic and committing to it was hard. Coming up with questions was hard. Researching and processing the information was hard. And then figuring out how and what to present at exhibition was also hard. Getting feedback and then revising was particularly hard. But they did it – and we can tell you that the finished products all of you saw yesterday were, in some cases, barely recognizable from the practice run we did the day before.

This was a big step for our culture, and we know that next time our learners are faced with challenges, they will be more prepared to handle them and excel. As our culture grows and gets stronger, the structure of the quests and challenges will matter less, because as a group they will figure it out, and the learners who run up on a skill that exposes a weakness will be supported by those who are strong in that skill.

Our goal has always been high engagement and pursuit of excellence, and we are seeing it unfold. And the beauty is that our learners are leading the way.

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