“Prepared”, by Diane Tavenner is all about how a social experiment turned into a successful school network: “Summit Schools” and what has been their recipe.
A paradigm shift for the future of Education
What the author is achieving with this new model of school is to nail academic results with preparing students for adult life: “we showed that if you change the way you look at education, you can both prepare kids for college admission, and prepare them for a good life. It is both revelatory and common sense: you actually don’t have to trade one for the other.” According to Diane, this translates as the fact that Summit grads finish college at double the national average.
What is interesting is that they manage such results by asking “what skills does someone need in a rapidly changing economy? How does one prepare for a life that has financial security and meaning? How does a high school student figure out who they are and what they want out of life? What does it mean to engage in work that feels purposeful?“
Their declared goal is not academic, but to help students have a fulfilled life. That is to say a life filled with financial security, purposeful work, strong relationships, meaningful community, and personal health. Who doesn´t want that for their kids right? So how we can actually manage that without sending them to a Summit School?
How to apply the recipe at home with your kids
Diane has a full chapter that translates their school recipe to the home reality, so that we can have a shot at preparing our kids for a fulfilled life even if their school is more of a “legacy” school.
Summit Schools is about developing the minimum skills and habits they need to be successful. Sounds great! What are they?
Reflection through mentoring, and focus on the “ings”
Why? Because kids who have even one meaningful relationship with an adult in school have better outcomes than those who don’t. And kids who explore by themselves have a greater chance to find more personal interest, which can later be explored to become passions and the motor of their learnings.
What? The mentor’s role is to bring to life the values of the school/family/Society, and get the kids to internalize and live them. Mentors have to ask questions that provoke the mentee to reflect on what they want, who they are, what they care about, how they feel, and, ultimately, what they should do as a result.
How to apply at home? While your kids are achieving one of their projects, mentor; don’t direct. This isn’t about you telling them what to do but about them making authentic choices for themselves. It basically means to step aside while your kids make mistake in the process. So when you want to say “don´t do that”, or “do this”, try the question mark instead. Also, use the question mark to help them find their interest, but instead of asking, “What do you want to be?”, ask questions that get to underlying interests. Ask questions like: “What do you like doing?” “What parts of that do you like most?” Help your child figure out that they like creating, or talking, performing, or problem-solving; “ings” that will go far toward helping them better know themselves. Playing with them, with their toys, can also help produce opportunities to make that happen.
Why? A common temptation, unfortunately, is to try to cram as much information in our kids’ heads as we possibly can. Parents and teachers often have this impulse, but Diane underlines there’s another, better way for kids to acquire knowledge, one that stems from their innate curiosity.
What? Expose children to as many matters and activities as you can, and give them tools and times to pursue and enrich the ones that attract their interest the most.
How to apply at home? Use everything you can to expose your kids, books, toys, activities, including technologies and downtime to use them. Resist the urge for packing the agenda with what you consider “productive” activities”, and be cool when your kid wants to change the course of one activity for another. Engage in knowledge acquisition together, teach by example in other words. Explore the internet together, and spend time making the connection with them between why something might be important to know. Any STEM toy here make them explore something new, whether it is mathematics, chemistry, archeology, biology, astronomy, physics, robotics, computing etc..
Self-Direction or self-directed learning
Why? Because it gives kids purpose, which means doing something for a reason that is authentic to them, multiplicating their motivation and enhancing the ultimate outcome of what they do. It also teaches kids how to learn by themselves, for the rest of their life.
What? It´s all about making kids become the leaders of their own learning. What it takes is years of deliberate practice and feedback, intentionally building the skills to do so.
How to apply at home? Make the self-directed cycle part of your everyday life, from cooking dinner one night a week to making a case for the activity your family will do next weekend. Make them set a goal, make a plan, carry out the plan, show what they know, and reflect. Once your kids have clear interest, make them set goals to explore more about it.
Real-world and project-based learning
Why? Because according to Diane, when students learn through projects, they retain what they’ve learned for longer, and they understand it more deeply. Projects are also an excellent way to explore more about their interests.
What kind of project? Projects begin with a problem, question, or challenge that is relevant to the student and his community and life. They end with the student performing a task that directly addresses the problem, answers the question, or meets the challenge. As the student moves toward a solution, he gets timely and actionable feedback, so he improves as he goes.
How to apply at home? With anything really. Diane gives the following example: if you hear a weird noise in your car, and your kids ask you what is it, this is the perfect opportunity to transform it into a project so as they can actually answer the question themselves with adult supervision. It´s hard because it involves a greater effort and time from the parents than just answering the question or sending the car to the professional who will answer for you. Some STEM toys also come with project templates by age range, such as the Edison Robot for example, or even a Lego built can be considered as a project.
Why? Because teams outperform individual decision-makers 66 percent of the time. Because it is one of the most sought skills by employers, and because it makes living in a community easier. But collaboration doesn’t happen naturally.
What? Collaboration and self-direction are ultimately about building self-awareness. The most successful collaborators know themselves, what they know and what they don´t know, so as setting group goals becomes easier and each will build based upon their strengths and weaknesses.
How to apply at home? Teach the principles of consensus. Diane talks about two helpful tools they have used at Summit: the decision grid and STP (aka “identify the status”, “define the target” and “develop the proposal”). With the decision grid, you can explain that your goal is to reach consensus but that certain decisions will ultimately land with you, or will be yours to veto. With STP you can reflect on the group decision process and start building the skill of self-awareness, which ultimately makes collaboration and group goal setting easier.