TRUST (part 2 in our “Transparency” Series)

schoolpics7Seems like yesterday (it’s been 3 years now), when I walked into Fairhaven School.  I was on a journey. My son was starting kindergarten and the realization that most schools were not ANY place I would want to send my child had hit me like lightening. What a relief I felt instantly as I walked into the building. I felt something I had never felt before, not even at the schools where I’d been a teacher or principal.  I immediately trusted them (unfortunately, I could not afford them at the time, but I guess that was God, because I probably would not have started this school! LOL!).  I trusted that even though the philosophy was so different from anything I’d experienced, I trusted that those who founded the school knew something about children and education.  I think traditional schools have done a lot to damage parents’ trust of educational leaders.  The system has a reputation of letting kids fall through the cracks if parents do not advocate and/or stay on top of their child’s progress, so it is instinctive for a parent to come into a new school, feeling as if they are fully responsible for their child’s success, that the school itself does not care about the child.  It has become a norm for parents to feel that way.

What made me trust Fairhaven?  Because there was an undenying confidence in what they stood for. I could feel it in the way the founder and other staff members spoke to me.  The confidence was so startling, that at first I thought it was rudeness, but I get it now.  They understood that most people are just not going to “get it.” The person who truly wanted this type of experience for their child, would do the reading and research necessary to “get it.”  I had not done that part yet. I trusted the Sudbury model with my heart first, before I trusted it with my mind.  I also realized that this confidence came from people who had come out on the other side, watching their students make it all the way through their program and succeed. It came from people who had experienced the system (found in both private, religious and public schools) and realized there has GOT to be a better way! I remember walking to my car and my mind was going so fast.  “You mean they just let children go, and learn organically?”  Then I realized that my own children could walk, talk and speak and I never TAUGHT them how.  It clicked for me at that point.  I realized that I would have to trust the philosophy, regardless of what pace my children learned. I had to trust nature. In my case, being a Christian, I had to trust God. I also had to trust that those who founded Fairhaven would not have gone through so much trouble to build the school if it were a lie.  Why would someone spend so much time, money and energy creating something that would doom children (You have to read their book LIKE WATER…Its amazing!)?  That just does not make sense!  They were not part of the government.  They could easily keep their feelings of job security and work for a public school and make a good salary, but they stepped out of that safety zone and did something as radical as start a Sudbury school.

I think the hardest thing for us at Living Water School is bringing our parents to fully trust us.  It does not matter that most of us have children of our own who are educated at the school (why would we as parents place our children in a place that was not the best for our own children).  I believe it is because most of these parents have been fighting the system so long. They are just used to not trusting.  The other day, as I tried to convince a parent to stay with us, I asked her, “Do you trust me? Do you trust that I would not promote a philosophy that would harm your child?”  She had to be honest and say, “I love you, but I don’t trust anyone.” What has the education system done to our families? Our children?  A school is supposed to be a partner with parents, where they can leave their kids and know that they are going to get the best care and education they can provide.  Yet, parents no longer trust schools.

The one thing I am asking myself now, is how do I bring parents to fully trust the process?  How do I bring parents to fully trust us who advocate for this type of education?  It’s hard to do when so many parents have been so abused by the system.  It may take years of students going through our program, graduating and achieving.  It may take time to prove ourselves. In the mean time, we keep pressing on in faith with what we believe.  I am thankful for the parents who trust, who read to understand, who journey with us into educational freedom. I am thankful for those parents who like me, trust with their heart and are joining me in the process of trusting with our minds as we watch our children grow and learn as God and nature would have them to.

Struggling to Engage Parents (part 1 in our “Transparency” Series)

lwparentsIt is late.  I have just fed my dogs. Everyone is asleep and like most nights, I am the last one up and I’m usually thinking about the school.  Tonight, I am thinking on parents who send their kids to the school and still struggle to embrace our philosophy.  There is a lot of questioning. There is a lot of challenging why we do what we do the way that we do. There is a lot of advice about how we need to do this or that. I am reflecting on those times when parents and I have these discussions.  I usually walk away asking myself, “Have they read FREE AT LAST or any of the articles I’ve sent out to the school community?”  Actually more than half of our parents won’t attend our quarterly Assembly meeting where we not only vote on school matters, but we also have discussions on these texts that support the philosophy. A small handful read the literature we share so they can participate in discussion. There is just this refusal to let go of the old way, and yet they see how much their child loves the school. They even see lots of changes happening in the child right before their eyes, but because they may not see as many “academic” changes going on, they begin to worry.

I remember one time being so excited that a student had been able to control his anger in a conflict.  JC (Judicial Committee) somehow gets students to lwparents4stop fighting, fussing and yelling, and they begin to handle conflict rationally and more calmly.  When he was picked up from school, I ran to the parent overjoyed and said, “He had such a great day today….” and I proceed to tell her how proud I was of him being able to handle conflict in such a healthy way. The parents looks at the child unmoved and asks “What kind of work did you do today.”  My heart sank.  The student’s face that once beamed with pride became grim. I thought to myself, “She totally is missing this!”

The one question that keeps coming to me tonight as I am sitting here in the stillness of my home is this:  “I wonder if parents are realizing that I came to the Sudbury model AFTER over 20 years in traditional education…in public and private schools.  I have been a teacher and an administrator…even worked for the university as a supervisor of student teachers in a local public school system.  I KNOW the system. I know traditional education. It was my very breath for so long and then somehow I wanted to leave it all behind after one visit to Fairhaven School. One very short visit. Why?

lwparents3Well, I’d been unhappy with traditional education since my first week as a teacher began back in 1995. I remember sitting in my classroom the week before the students would come into my class and thinking “This is horrible. I went to school 4 years for this?” I immediately became aware that there is no way 30 kids can learn with one teacher.  I was acutely aware of children’s differences and wondering how to meet all those differences. I remember looking over my list of incoming students and all the notes, folders, IEPs, etc. about each one and wondered how in the world do I teach 30 students at all different reading levels how to be come good readers in 10 months?  Like HOW?

For the next 20 years I tried to solve that puzzle and the solution never came.  The one lwparents1conclusion that a fellow veteran teacher told me once as I sat in the teacher’s lounge (which by the way is a gossip pit) frustrated about not being able to reach this one particular student, was this (in her own words): “Oh don’t you know? You are not going to reach all of them. Some are going to fall in the cracks.”  That was supposed to be the solution to the puzzle, to just let them “fall through the cracks.”  For 20 years I wrestled with this type of thinking and so I began to deviate from what the administration wanted a little, just trying to reach students with a heart of compassion and to give them the freedom to be themselves.  Parents loved it, students were happy and soon principals started placing struggling students purposely in my class.  But there was still not enough room and space to really give children freedom to be whoever they were in their educational journey.  10 months is not enough for most kids!

So what brought me here after 20 great years in public and private schools? My son.  I lwparents2knew that if I kept teaching where I was, one day my son would not have me as his teacher. There was no way for me to follow him through all of his grade levels to make sure he was treated fairly and respectfully as he figured out his educational journey.  One desperate day, I visited Fairhaven and that was it.  After that one moment of revelation, I could not go back to what I had known was wrong for 20 years.  I realized that I wanted “this” for my child and every child that I can reach.

So when a parent refuses to understand my context or when they begin to share with me what some other school has done, although I must be kind and patient it is hard for me not to say, “Listen!  Been there and done that! Not doing that again!”  My hope and prayer is that the few parents who willingly read the books, the articles, research for themselves and go through this process of tearing down all they thought they understood about education, will grow into a unanimous effort of the entire school community to embrace FREEDOM in how their child is educated.