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A Flash of Red as a Reminder of Our Vision

A Flash of Red as a Reminder of Our Vision

Laura Sandefer

March 26, 2018

Today at 8:25 am, I was driving west on Martin Luther King Boulevard. I had just dropped off popsicles at the elementary studio for our celebration of reading together “A Wrinkle in Time.” Traffic was the typical morning push toward downtown Austin.

I noticed something small and red lying in the road a few cars ahead of me. I also noticed a man had pulled over, gotten out of his truck and was looking at it, hands on his hips as cars zoomed by. I assumed something had fallen off of his truck.

I hit the brakes as the car immediately in front of me hit the object.

It fluttered and flapped, the red color spinning around. It happened too fast for me to stop but I was able to straddle it without hitting it – again.

As I drove over the object, I saw that it was the body of a cardinal, the bird that always catches my eye and is the one that represents God’s presence to me.

I looked in my rearview mirror. The man now walked into the road, stopping traffic. He gently cradled the broken bird in his palms and walked calmly back to the side of the road. I saw him place the bird softly in some grass under a bush.

The gentle care of a wild bird on a busy road reminded me that there is tenderness – even love – all around us. There is also indifference and carelessness.

As I drove on, I immediately thought of the Acton Eagles I had just left behind. Their instincts would have been to save the bird. They live with their hearts wide open and their capacity for tenderness runs deep.

At Acton Academy, our job is to nurture, not hinder, the natural instincts of the children. They are born ready to learn, ready to be a friend, ready to get up after falling down, ready to work hard and to solve problems. On our weak days, we step in and take over, solving problems for them and feeding them information they could find on their own. On our good days, we step back in trust.

We know the world will feed fear, insecurity, and hard-heartedness into them soon enough, too soon. And so we aim to keep our space sacred, set apart, with one vision: if we continue to call up the inner hero of these young people, the world won’t succeed in dimming their lights. They will be the people who stop their day, stand by the road and wait to help a broken soul.

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What Does It Take to Thrive at Acton Academy?

What Does It Take to Thrive at Acton Academy?

Laura Sandefer

March 14, 2018

We can boil the Acton Academy systems to just two choices that ensure a happy, fruitful learning journey:

  • Be kind.
  • Do some work every day.

Simple, right?

Yes, but not always easy.

It actually takes time and practice to become strong in both. But we believe learning them deeply will position our Eagles well for the rest of their lives. With this goal, our systems are built to support growth – providing grace and forgiveness with accountability and feedback – all along the way. By the time an Eagle progresses through elementary school, middle school and Launchpad, they have gained a high level of complex decision-making around these two choices.

For example, in the very early years, kindness is as simple as not hitting each other and not saying mean words. Soon, layered into this experience is learning that not distracting each other during work time is an act of kindness. Then, Eagles learn to make peace with each other using the process at the Peace Table and to give and receive feedback that is kind yet tough, warm and cool. Later, kindness includes learning how to apologize well and deciphering the difference between kind-hearted and mean-spirited humor. Finally, in Launchpad, kindness is played out through authentic servant leadership grounded in honesty, humility, and confidence.

The same sort of progression happens in terms of learning the habit of working every day. What begins as short but daily spurts of reading, writing and math progresses into three-hour sessions of daily work and ultimately, uninterrupted deep work experienced as flow. The work ethic is built step by step with the gratifying experience of earning badges of mastery and experiencing what excellence feels like. Mediocrity won’t satisfy once you’ve tasted excellence.

The simple choices of being kind and working each day end up feeding each other so the alternative doesn’t make sense anymore as a good way to live life.

Dr. Seuss said, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

Just be kind and do some work. That’s it.

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What Matters? A Glimpse into the Sacred at Acton Academy

What Matters? A Glimpse into the Sacred at Acton Academy

Laura Sandefer

March 03, 2018

What makes an Acton an Acton?

This is the question we had to ask ourselves when other parents requested a kit so they could open their own. Over the years, we had amassed an astonishing heap of activities, processes, experiences, programs, and projects – some good, some not so good.

Could we boil it down to the top five or so treasures that would ensure someone else could create a learner-driven community – one that frees young people to be responsible, kind, confident, independent thinkers and decision-makers equipped with the skills necessary to thrive?

You may be surprised what rose to the top. The Hero’s Journey and the Socratic Method made the list, of course. What was next?

Studio Maintenance.

How could tidying up be a distinguishing characteristic of a school, one that unleashes learning? And don’t most schools sing their own rendition of “clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere”?

The difference resides on a spiritual plane even as it includes cleaning toilets because the Acton Eagles have claimed their studios as sacred – set apart as deserving honor and respect.

Their belief is clear: what we are doing inside these walls is vitally important.

Reflecting back to my own school experience, it wasn’t a big deal to see writing on the walls or gum stuck under a desk. Someone else took care of that. It wasn’t our job. “Sacred” was the furthest thing from my mind when I thought of my classrooms.

But it’s a tangible reality at Acton and feeds the learning journey beyond building teamwork and the skills to maintain a workspace.

Every day for fifteen minutes, the Eagles stop what they are doing – even if they are in flow or just about to finish an important goal. They stop. And they take care of their space. Together. They work quickly in teams with duties that are specified into checklists. The goal? To get back to a “pristine” space in which a fresh start may be made tomorrow.

For parents, this has rich application at home. And it’s not about keeping bedrooms tidy which is a different can of worms.

The questions I’ve asked myself are: What as a family do we hold sacred? Do I use that word often so my children absorb the concept in their own lives? What do we sacrifice for and keep protected, separate from the mundane?

For us, it’s family dinners. Nothing fancy. Just carving out time each day to be together and replenish ourselves with food and conversation. I may not have the chance to actually cook something (thank goodness for salad in a bag and already-roasted chickens!) but I do light a candle and try to have a sprig of something to make the moment “pristine.”

Some weeks we miss the boat and family dinners are lost. Inevitably, this has a trickle-down impact on the rest of my life. I do not feel as grounded or mission-based.

We see this in the studios, too. When Eagles begin to slip in their Studio Maintenance, it often shows up as a loss of excellence during their core work. Reigniting the spirit of a sacred space can be a trigger to light the fire elsewhere. It’s a matter of remembering and then doing.

We are spiritual beings at the core. Holding something as sacred in our otherwise very physical existence may be what holds us together as whole humans. Sometimes all it takes is a vacuum cleaner or a candle to trigger our memory: this matters.

(Note: I wrote this yesterday before entering the elementary studio where I am reading A Wrinkle In Time each day after Studio Maintenance. It’s a blast and we had ended on a cliff-hanger the day before. I didn’t get the chance to read with them because the Eagles chose to do a deeper cleaning than usual and to rededicate their studio by signing their names next to their handprints on the wall. They conducted their ceremony in complete silence to represent its importance. These very young heroes were cheerfully and seriously choosing the sacred over the fun – and this on a sunny Friday afternoon after a long, hard day of work.)

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