The start of a learning adventure

The start of a learning adventure

Guest Blog Post by Fabienne Vailes

On 17th January 2022, we started our journey and adventure into home education and officially de-registered our son from secondary school.  He is 14. We initially described it as jumping out of the plane! 10 weeks into this new approach to learning, we feel like we’re slowly settling into our new life and routines. I’ll be honest – it was harder for me than it was for Thomas. He took to it like ‘duck to water’. I initially spent a lot of time crying and letting go. We both said that it felt like breaking up with school.

Here are our four take-aways so far:

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

As I said in the intro, it took us several months to finally make the decision to de-register Tom and it wasn’t an easy one for us to make. That said, my heart knew long before I allowed my head to ‘catch up’. My challenge is I am an overthinker. A pure product of the academic system in France and in the UK, I used to believe that I had to use my logic and to ‘think about things’. My final decision was made when I watched my son’s face as we were heading home after having a chat with another home ed Mum and her son in early January; Thomas asked me: ‘do you think it’s possible for me to leave school? Do you think there is truly another way?’ Sometimes as parents we know in our ‘heart’ what the right answer or the next move is. We just need to give ourselves permission to follow our hearts. Taking this step for Thomas and starting the journey has enabled my ‘head’ to catch up.

AGENCY

Our decision to home educate coincided with my own year-long sabbatical and stepping off the ‘hamster wheel’.  Combined with Thomas becoming self-directed in his learning, this means that we are both discovering the power of agency – that feeling of freedom and choice. We can decide how we schedule our day and what we explore. We can be open and flexible and that feels good. And the exciting thing is that as we develop our sense of agency and we explore new skills, we build a sense of competence too.

BELONGING

We were very lucky that we connected with a local group of home educating families. We join their regular gatherings two days a week. With a range of ages from 10 – 15, all the young people have been so welcoming.

With Thomas’s help, I started sharing my French and Spanish skills one day a week offering an immersive languages day.  The young people have embraced this learning opportunity and every week I feel so energised. I feel so lucky to be able to spend time with these young people. They are all so different, so friendly and always willing to share. What I love the most about this group of adults and young people is that they are so life-giving and life-affirming. They have created a real safe space for us all to learn, grow and evolve.

I feel like I am also getting to know my own child. I am discovering who he is, what he likes and doesn’t like and what he stands for. Last week, Thomas and I commented on how we both feel that ‘we have found our tribe’ and how lucky we both feel to have access to this amazing community and self-directed learning hub. Everything in life is relational and interconnected and we can feel the real benefits of the sense of belonging and the positive relationships we are establishing with every single individual in the group.

PURPOSE

Over the last ten weeks, it feels like we have ‘freed’ Thomas. We have opened the cage and most importantly unclipped his wings. We are allowing him to explore new areas of interests. We are allowing him to stretch his wings and to see what they are for. He is discovering who he is and what he stands for. He currently thinks he might want to become an architect and so every week he attends a local architecture course, and he is loving it. He also takes part in a weekly woodwork workshop. These things wouldn’t have happened if he had stayed in school. It’s so wonderful as parents to watch our child flourish. His passion-led learning is enabling him to soar.

And it’s not just Thomas who is becoming a self-directed learner. I am also allowing myself to explore my own interests and to become in charge of my learning – this is a truly liberating experience.

It feels like we are both discovering what inspires us – our sense of purpose and passion: architecture, design and technology for Thomas, educational reform and the link between being self-directed and wellbeing for me.

Together we are discovering our preferences, through experience and we are taking action. Empowered to do so.

And of course, it’s still early days – we are only just starting on this new adventure, but I feel that we have the right ingredients to move forward. My professional research has shown me that it all starts with ‘flourishing’. We have the five wellbeing essentials in place: intrinsic motivation (purpose), sense of belonging, positive relationships, agency, and sense of competence.

I am sure the rest will follow…

 

Fabienne is an educator, author of The Flourishing Student and co-author of How to Grow a Grown up, wellbeing expert and parent of 2 boys aged 14.5 and 12. She will share her learning from 7 years of action research and hours of conversations on her Flourishing Education Podcast in order to empower all to become flourishing lifelong learners.

You can follow Fabienne’s journey as she connects with educational thought leaders in her weekly blog: https://flourishingeducation.co.uk/podcasts/

You can find her book here:

https://flourishingeducation.co.uk/book/ 

The difference between learning and school

The difference between learning and school

Guest Blog post by Rebecca Chambers of R.I.S.E. Academy*

Learning is definitely a lifelong journey and where I find myself today, I could not even have imagined five years ago. Until the global lockdown I was a teacher in the public education system in Ottawa, Canada. During the latter part of my 17 years in public education, I spent time unlearning what I knew “school” to be and developed a program called the Social Change Maker Model (SCMM). I will share how this led to the R.I.S.E. Academy today.

In my classroom it was evident that if my students were trusted to follow their passions and take control of their learning they would flourish. I found the youth in my lessons thrived in this SCCM program – our learning space was a buzz of activity as the students worked on their projects, collaborated with each other and the community around them and embraced the adventure of learning. However, while the youth were flourishing in creating their own projects, unfortunately other teachers in the system felt threatened. The school environment became quite toxic, and I was seen as a threat.

This led to me taking a career break, a much-needed space to breathe, re-balance and explore within myself what learning is. This coincided with the global lockdown and gave me the space to develop the SCMM further and trial it on a willing group of youths from around the world.  Their experience was overwhelmingly positive. Their motivation ran high, and their creativity came alive. As an example of a project, three of the students grouped together and embraced learning about Black Lives Matter (BLM) – they created a BLM march in Minecraft which, at certain points on the march, you could stop and read about civil rights campaigners. Other students were invited to join the march and it was a powerful experience for all those involved and great learning for the collaborators/creators of the project.

Trialling SCMM with these students over two cycles gave me the confidence to launch *R.I.S.E. (Reach Inspire Soar Empower) Academy which has continued to grow and develop over the months that have followed. I have developed the R.I.S.E. programmes to allow youth to follow their passions and co-create their learning journey, have flexible deadlines, reflect and focus on their processes rather than testing, work on real world problems and authentic projects, connect to community outside of the classroom walls and finally celebrate risk-taking and failures. It is built on the pillars in the image below.

I can now reflect and see that this was something that the current system just wasn’t ready for.   In September 2020 I officially opened R.I.S.E.’s virtual doors to 12 youth and I have not looked back since. We received accreditation from the Ministry of Education in Ontario which has enabled us to follow more of a self-directed learning philosophy.  Working with the young people that come through our doors is a privilege; they are motivated in their learning because they have chosen their project, based on their passions and interests – I trust them to create and learn, I simply facilitate the process and connect them with experts or people in the community when required. My learning curve has been steep, I stepped out of a system that I knew was broken with deep uncertainty; I grew a dream, piloted it, learnt from the youth in the programme, and then launched the Academy. It has taken courage; I have taken risks and I have learnt so much from the young people I have journeyed with. My passion is to instil in them courage, a willingness to take a risk, to innovate and dream.

As mentioned above, at R.I.S.E. Academy we believe it is imperative to provide youth with choice, autonomy and self-direction in their learning.  Gracie Sacca is a grade 12 student who has attended R.I.S.E. for the last 2 years.  In that time, she has had the opportunity to be a co-creator in her learning journey.  Gracie is a product of the Ontario education system and taking control of her learning was not easy at first.  I invited Gracie to share a little of her own experience of how R.I.S.E. has impacted her own learning journey:

‘In the beginning I thought my time at R.I.S.E. was going to be similar to traditional classes where I would read, write, take tests and move on.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was very different.  Even though I was excited, it still took me a while to jump into having so much control over my learning, I didn’t know where to start.   In our first 10 weeks we spent time trying to figure out how I wanted to learn.  Rebecca took the lead in the beginning to support me while I figured things out.  She was able to take my love of hockey and relate the courses we were working on to it.  As we progressed through the year, I slowly began to see what made me excited to learn.  After getting out of my comfort zone, I realized that I really enjoyed talking to people about issues related to hockey.  I created a podcast, interviewed people from all over the world, spoke to 150 academics about racism in hockey, lead a roundtable discussion with prominent people in the hockey community and lead a social media campaign called #blowthewhistleonracism. Having choice, autonomy and self-direction in my learning has allowed me to recognize my strengths and it has made me feel smarter and more confident, as compared to regular school where I always felt stupid because I did not fit in their box.  I have learned that I like learning, whereas before I equated learning and school as the same thing.  I am not a fan of traditional school.’

Gracie is only one of many students who the school system has failed, this reality continues to drive us as we develop, believing that we can contribute to the conversation about systemic change which is so needed in our ailing system.  It is our belief at R.I.S.E. that we all have strengths and when given the opportunity we can all shine.

*R.I.S.E. (Reach Inspire Soar Empower) Academy is a not for profit, virtual, alternative high school that works with high school aged youth through the province of Ontario in Canada.  It is accredited by the Ministry of Education in Ontario, within this accreditation it still follows more of a self-directed learning philosophy.

Odyssey Self Directed Learning Community

Odyssey Self Directed Learning Community

I was so excited when I learned about Odyssey. My family moves around the world every two years, which usually means new friends, new house, and new foods! With Odyssey, my kids can now meet and stay connected to their peers, no matter where we are living. In addition to that, I also can meet and connect with similar parents to support each other without all the drama and fighting that can happen in Facebook groups. While enmeshed in Odyssey, I can forget that I’m not in the mainstream and can discuss openly the different ways to work, un, or homeschool without judgement. I do try to teach my kids good digital citizenship, but having a safe space where I don’t have to worry allows me to relax a bit related to screentime!

 

Review written by Elizabeth and submitted by Streams.

Galileo Self Directed Education Platform

Galileo Self Directed Education Platform

After being hugely inspired by the talks from last years home schooling global summit which aired back in May there was a great buzz around self directed education (which I loved) and a new online learning platform called Galileo was mentioned which sparked my curiosity, it sounded great.

Having a few wobbles about my kids motivation and accountability coupled with being very interested in the ethos that Galileo followed I embarked on some research into this new idea, hoping it would fill some current gaps.

I found out that Galileo is a new online learning platform; it’s worldwide, self directed and very forward thinking in its approach. Exciting and sounded perfect for us!

I watched videos, read the website twice over and listened to lots of talks on the benefits of self directed education for kids. Intrinsic motivation being the major benefit that really resonated with me, if my kids can be internally motivated to learn the things that they’re interested in then I feel like they will be set for life.

We finally took the chance to give it a try back in September 2020. After our application was accepted we trialled a month first to make sure it fit us as a family and that Miss L enjoyed it (she did), so much so that we’ve now committed to a year.

It’s taken a little getting used to (and has dramatically helped improve Miss L’s ability to tell the time and time management skills). It’s lovely to see Miss L interacting with other adults genuinely interested in her learning in an unpressured environment. She has a 30 minute daily ‘check in’ every morning where they discuss goals, ask questions, chat with friends and play games. She also has weekly clubs that she has joined, so far science, history and writing being favourites (there are many, many more to choose from).  They even offer regular nano degrees; these are interesting project based topics such as coding a game or creating a digital magazine with a set time frame (e.g. a month or 6 weeks) which Miss L is also hoping to join soon.

I really loved the application process, it’s not just a case of, can you pay? then you’re in, there’s a, is this right for you and us? ‘fit’ process to check that the children can adapt to the style of learning and that the family understand the type of place that Galileo is. I like that you have to ‘get’ the ethos.

As Galileo is worldwide, you can join from any country, (they split clubs etc into EU/Asia and America to fit in with time zones.) It’s wonderful to see Miss L connecting with kids from different cultural backgrounds and to get a glimpse of the world for the amazing place it is. It’s so easy to sit in a bubble thinking the world is a scary place (especially with media hype) but talking to and having a laugh with children from all over the world is a great idea to break down barriers.

Another thing I love is the price, after seeing some amazing looking alternative schools here in the UK they have often come with a financial barrier; incredibly high prices, some were eye watering (think £20,000 p.a. for both kids!) Galileo pricing however, I feel, offers excellent value. It works out at $300pcm or you can pay for the full year for $2000 per child, (with a discount for siblings also available) which is much more affordable.

It’s an exciting scheme to be involved in so early on, I’ve already seen new developments in what they offer and the ideas that are flowing through the project look great – a planned retreat next year, more nano degrees etc. It has, most important of all, already given us what we needed:

  • Miss L has some accountability not just to me

  • She has had to learn to tell the time

  • She has to manage her time and remember when her classes are

  • She has gained a lot of confidence speaking up in a group

  • It has encouraged her to look at new topics

  • Her computer skills have also improved

I can’t wait to see what she joins in with next and would definitely recommend Galileo for any families who feel it would be a great fit for their learning style.