The second component of our philosophy (our ‘how’) is to create a joyful and inspired community that develops communication skills, critical thinking skills, and creativity in every child through relevant, hands-on, student-centered teaching. Joyful and inspired is our goal–there is no reason that school has to be a necessary evil in our children’s lives. Humans love learning, we are built to learn, and children even more so than adults. Environments that make learning miserable are getting in the way of the child’s natural development and purpose. We want to free them up to learn as they can, rather than bogging them down in the needs of the institution or policy.
Then we delineate some of the primary skills we are aiming to develop–reading, writing, talking, arguing, discussing, presenting, persuading, taking initiative, articulating thoughts, and speaking up are examples of the communication skills we are working on. Summarizing, inferencing, critiquing, discerning, connecting, dissecting, analyzing, deducing, and concluding are all examples of the critical thinking skills we’re developing. And creativity grows out of a solid subject-area knowledge base in addition to the freedom to take risks, try something new, think differently, play, experiment, build, try, and collaborate. The only way to practice all of these skills (and they need lots of practice!) is by giving students the time and the space and the context to practice them in relevant, hands-on, and child-centered classes.
It’s amazing how a simple shift in goals can change the tone of the entire institution. Most schools focus on achievement and academic and athletic excellence. They focus so much on content, memorization, test scores, and getting into college that they lose sight of the child who is in front of them. When we shift from achievement to joy, from excellence to inspiration, from product to process, and from content to skills, the atmosphere shifts entirely. The irony is that we can still achieve, excel, and attend top colleges, if that’s our aim, without sacrificing character, joy and love of learning along the way.