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Hero’s Journey Independent Learning Parent Resources Socratic Method

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Laura Sandefer

November 2, 2019

“You don’t have to be smart to go to Acton. You have to want to be smart.”
– Matteo, an Acton Academy middle school Eagle

Though merely two sentences within a long, heated Socratic discussion, Matteo’s words were flashes of gold. Everyone agreed with them. With clarity and ease, he’d pointed us to the essence of why Acton exists in a way I had never pondered.

It is about wanting. It is about desire.

Desire is longing for something not yet attained and includes a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is the fuel for curiosity – the most powerful intrinsic motivator.

But I wasn’t satisfied with my analysis of Matteo’s words. Was he really talking about just the desire to be smart?

I decided to pursue his idea further. I asked a small group of Eagles to help me out:

Why do you want to be smart?

So I can feel confident in the world.
So I can understand how things work.
So I can make hard decisions and tough choices.
So I can do the right thing.
So I can do something important with my life.
So I can solve problems that aren’t being solved yet.
So I can find my calling.

Their wanting to be smart was not about having an academic credential. It was not about pleasing parents and teachers.

These young people desire doing intelligent work that matters for this big, wonderful world.

Shakespeare wrote: “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”

Acton Academy exists for the “doing” not just the “knowing.” Ultimately, there will be joy even if the journey includes suffering and sacrifice because the learning and work are purposeful. They are driven by the heart – where desire and character reside.

As a parent, this shifts my stance on talking with my sons about their work at school. My natural tendency at the end of the week is to ask them: How many points did you earn? How many Eagle Bucks do you have?

These extrinsic, academic questions are easy and okay. But, frankly, they miss the target.

There is a much more important question: What do you want?

I often forget to consider the desire in their hearts. When I focus merely on the external evidence of their daily learning, I snuff out the force that will drive them for the rest of their lives: the desire that lies in their hearts to do work that matters.

These young people exude profound confidence and inner freedom because they carry a mindset of growth. They know they can learn absolutely anything if they work at it. There is no slumped-over pessimism that comes from the burden of being labeled “smart” or “not smart.”

It’s as if they are already saying, “Open wide your doors, world. We are excited to meet you.”

Thank you, Matteo.

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Parent Resources Socratic Method

HOW CAN A PARENT KEEP THE SPARK OF CURIOSITY ALIVE?

HOW CAN A PARENT KEEP THE SPARK OF CURIOSITY ALIVE?

Laura Sandefer

September 25, 2019

The romance of starting a new school year is fizzling.

We’ve been here before. Reality is settling in and we’re remembering how rugged the road ahead is for heroes on a learning journey. It’s already making us a little tired and we’ve started dreading the days when all we can muster is: “How was your day?” and “Did you learn anything new?”

How can we do this better? How can we keep that spark of excitement about learning alive when life gets hard? Is there a way to connect more deeply with our children that supports them on their journeys? A way that brings us joy, too?

It’s taken me a long time, but I have finally, finally, learned that asking questions is far more powerful than delivering answers – not just in our learning studios at Acton Academy, but in my life at home.

But it’s tough to come up with good questions when you’re under the stress of all that comes with children and “school.” So here’s a cheat sheet for those days. I hope you feel the sparks of curiosity getting stoked each time you have the opportunity to ask:

When did you feel most challenged today?
Do you want me to just listen, to give advice or to help?
What is one step you could take toward your goal?
What strategies could you use to move forward?
What story are you telling yourself about this situation?
Has something like this ever happened to you before? If so, how did you handle it?
What can you learn from this?
How did you participate in this?
What might be the other side of the story?
What part of the Hero’s Journey is this?
What tools or resources do you have to deal with this?
What are the consequences of your actions?
Can you see an opportunity in this crisis?
Can you give me an example?
What would you advise someone in your situation?

I thank Shannon Falkenstein, my friend and founder of Acton Academy El Salvador, for sharing this list and reminding me to trust the Socratic process.

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Socratic Method

YOU ARE A PARENT, NOT A SOCRATIC GUIDE

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

YOU ARE A PARENT, NOT A SOCRATIC GUIDE

Laura Sandefer

May 21, 2014

I am not one to give advice on parenting. I make too many mistakes.

I am one to share the beauty of knowing when – as a parent – to summon our Socratic selves.

The journey of Acton Academy is for parents as much as children. We get to soak up powerful lessons of the Socratic Method and use them in transformative ways with our children.

My top three lessons are:

1)    Stories are more powerful than lectures.

2)   Children crave solving problems on their own. Honor them by letting them.

3)   Knowing how to ask great questions is more important than being smart.

Aren’t we lucky?

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HAVE YOU TRIED THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT AT HOME?

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

HAVE YOU TRIED THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT AT HOME?

Laura Sandefer

December 27, 2014

The value of our Socratic discussions is revered at Acton Academy. It is the reason we don’t allow late-comers to join in the conversation – a damaging interruption to the flow of listening and thinking. These times of focused engagement, discussing ideas with respect and courage, are some of the most valuable learning moments in our day.
To ensure their quality, our Eagles write and enforce the Rules of Engagement for Socratic Discussions. This year’s rules are:

  1. Be on time and prepared.
  2. Be concise.
  3. Do not repeat points already made.
  4. Provide evidence and reasoning.
  5. Link to previous comments. (Use “I agree” or “I disagree.”)
  6. Listen with an open mind and consider new evidence.
  7. Focus and do not distract.

The Eagles are involved in the decision about the consequence for breaking a rule of engagement. Ask your child what the consequences are for breaking a rule. Ponder with him or her what it would be like if there were no consequences.
The next time an important family discussion looms large say, “Let’s use the Rules of Engagement for this.” Even better, say to your child, “Could you help us practice the discussion rules you use at school now?”
For us as a family, the norm is to throw all the discussion rules out the window and just have rip-roaring dinner conversations. At some point, though, the inevitable, “Can you be more concise?” arises from one of our boys – usually to me.
It is in this moment, I note the magic of boundaries to force critical thinking, creativity and ultimately kindness.

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DO YOU TRUST THE CHILDREN?

DO YOU TRUST THE CHILDREN?

Laura Sandefer

July 29, 2013

This is the essential question Acton Academy presents to the world. Without trusting the children, our school is simply another classroom experiment.

Our choice to build Acton Academy on the foundation of the Socratic method is a simple yet profound statement of trusting the children.

We trust they can make excellent decisions. We trust they have genius within. We trust in their desire to learn, work hard and achieve excellence. We trust they will seek help from mentors and guides when necessary. We trust they will teach each other. We trust in their ideas and opinions. We trust in their joy. We trust in their honesty.

This trust is the glue that holds our entire program together. It is more important than great books, Khan Academy, well-designed projects or a new campus. It is transformational and lasts a lifetime.

By trusting our students, we empower them to think deeply and ultimately trust themselves. With the knowledge that they are trusted human beings, they will in turn grow to embrace the world and trust that it is a good place even though bad things happen and people make mistakes. This is the foundation of resilience and meaningful living.

Why is this easy for me as “head of school” but as “mom” I find it most challenging? Do I really trust my own children like I say I do? Why do I want to jump in when one of them is struggling in a friendship? Why don’t I simply trust them to work it out? Why do I want to direct what they choose for after school activities? Why do I give mini-lectures when they are stuck on a math skill rather than ask questions about their process and let them struggle to figure it out?

Psychologists document that children who are not trusted at home grow up with a sense of worthlessness and become critical, inflexible adults. This is serious business. This has lifelong implications.

I desire at home what I give at school. I want to change. I want to trust my children more. I want to let go of the false security of micromanaging. How can I do this?

I think back to learning to scuba dive this year with Sam, my 10 year old son. The idea of being underwater for long periods of time went against everything that felt natural and good to me. But I learned, step by step, to breathe and descend and never stop breathing. (Thanks to Sam who calmly coached me and literally held my hand until slowly letting it go when he knew I was okay.)

The discovery of joy in this new underwater world freed me. I trusted Sam so fully in those moments.

I can take his guiding lead and follow those same steps on solid ground. I’ve held their beautiful hands for a long time now. I can practice letting them go. I know they are okay. I will celebrate them taking charge of their own lives. From the small details like making their own lunches (I know; it’s about time!) and doing their own laundry to the bigger issues of solving sibling battles or failing to achieve a goal, I will breathe deeply rather than intervene. I will dive down into good questions rather than give them answers. (Jeff is going to hold me accountable to this.) I will work to demonstrate my authentic trust in them and their decisions. They will hear me say often, “I trust you.”

They are free, then, to change the world.

Suggested reading: Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

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DREAMING UP THE PERFECT SOCRATIC GUIDE

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

DREAMING UP THE PERFECT SOCRATIC GUIDE

Laura Sandefer

July 11, 2013

Let’s say you are to dream up a list of qualifications for people you would choose to guide your children to discover their greatest gifts and master 21st century skills.

Wouldn’t you dream big? Wouldn’t you come up with a crazy list requiring those people to be:

  • Passionate about children and lifelong learning;
  • Off the charts smart, deeply curious and always learning;
  • Entrepreneurial – innovative, proactive, a problem-solver, self-managed, courageous, wise in risk taking and decision-making;Visionary and forward thinking yet solidly grounded in the real world;
  • Healthy and happy – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically;
  • Independent and hard working;
  • Collaborative and generous with ideas;
  • Creative and free thinking while deeply responsible and dependable;
  • Humble – no need to be the center of the learning for that is for the children;
  • Comfortable with change and new ideas;
  • And, of course, kind and compassionate?

This is an extraordinary list of qualifications. Can you hold a human up to such expectations? And this list doesn’t even include the essential skills and knowledge required to write and deliver world-class curriculum, guide discussions, manage technology, communicate effectively and organize and analyze data.

Would you dare to dream this big? I believe we parents would give the same answer: Yes!

This truly is our pie-in-the-sky list we use in hiring guides. And, Yes! We fulfilled it in the rare group of humans who have guided the Acton Eagles with such a high degree of excellence this year:

Kaylie, Anna, Samantha, Terri, Abigail, Jeff and Jeff.

Brian Holtz, our new middle school apprentice guide, also fulfills our vision of a dream guide and is waiting in the wings to join the team in August.

While sharing these traits, each of our Socratic Guides has his or her own unique genius and masterfully makes an imprint on daily life at Acton Academy.

As we close this academic year, I celebrate the gift of our guides and thank them, from the depths of my heart, for their work each day. I wish them rest and renewal even while we work together toward the next chapter in the story of Acton Academy.

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BREWING UP A SOCRATIC SUMMER

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

BREWING UP A SOCRATIC SUMMER

Laura Sandefer

June 28, 2013

Even better…. how does a concoction of world-class lectures with some spicy Socratic discussions on the side sound?

With all of our talk about being Socratic, it may surprise you that one of our favorite summer family experiences is listening to excellent lectures together delivered by experts from around the globe. The world is literally at our fingertips. It seems wasteful not to savor what is available when our schedule slows down and the days get longer. Some of our favorites are from The Great Courses. Right now we are enjoying the “Turning Points in History” series.

There are so many resources to explore. Here are just a few:

http://www.greatcourses.com

http://www.openculture.com/free_k-12_educational_resources#Tutorials

http://www.ted.com/talks

http://www.apple.com/apps/itunes-u/

At the opposite end of the educational spectrum is the Socratic discussion – near and dear to our hearts at Acton Academy as one of the great experiences for learning.

Several parents have asked for a “cheat sheet” to lead Socratic discussions at home. My five bullet points have turned into a bit of a lengthy notebook for you. I hope the information below helps you to embark merrily on your way:

What is the purpose of a Socratic discussion?

It might be easier to grasp what it is NOT. The purpose is not to come up with a right answer or to learn facts. These are not debates with a winner and loser; and they are not meant to deliver factual information. (I do love a good debate and I really like to win but I tuck that part of me away – or try very hard to – when the time comes to be Socratic.)

The true purpose of a Socratic discussion is to come to new or deeper understandings of oneself, others and the world through an authentic wrestling with thoughts, information and ideas. And the real adventure is that you have no idea where you will end up.

What does it take to have a good Socratic discussion?

  • It takes letting go of preconceived agendas.
  • It takes learning to listen more than you speak.
  • It takes saying good-bye to your ego.
  • It takes all participants following understood rules of engagement.

Our middle school Eagles wrote this list of rules for parents to follow:

  • Listen carefully so you can respond to what was just said.
  • Have a firm opinion but keep an open mind.
  • Make a choice, no waffling or “weasel words.”
  • Don’t raise your hand while other people are talking.
  • Don’t fidget.
  • Do make eye contact. (We sit so we can see all faces.)
  • Refer back to what others have said; build on other people’s points but don’t repeat.
  • Be concise.

When is the best time to have a Socratic discussion?

  • When you are courageous enough to change your mind;
  • When you want to understand others better;
  • When you have time to listen;
  • When you feel curious;
  • When you want to learn something new;
  • When you feel loving and open;
  • When you want to experience living fully in the moment.

A good Socratic discussion should have a focused time limit: 15 – 30 minutes. The tension of a time constraint helps harness energy.

What must I do?

1. Prepare a “launch” that sets up a dramatic choice to be made.

You may set up the choice or dilemma by reading an article, story, quote; or watching a short video. A launch that works well is telling a personal story from your childhood about a dilemma you faced. Our children love to learn stories from our pasts. Be vulnerable. Be open to your emotions. Don’t reveal what you chose to do until after the discussion.

2. Once the dilemma or problem is set up, pose the choices available:

Should you do X or Y?

The idea here is to create the opportunity for concrete responses. Avoid asking open-ended questions like, “What do you think about….” or “Why do you think….” Open-ended questions push people deeper into their own thoughts rather than keeping them keenly listening and in the moment. This takes practice but the results are immediate and rewarding.

Another trick to force concrete responses is to ask for participants to rate something on a scale of 1-5; or rank a short list of things in order of importance. Taking a vote is a great tactic, too.

3. Manage the discussion process by listening and focusing on energy flow. Allow silences to happen. Wait patiently. Force participants to make a choice. No waffling. Dig deeper: Why?…why?…why?
 Other “digging” questions: “What evidence or experience do you have for that?” “Can you give me an example?” “Can you say that another way to clarify what you mean?”

4. When it’s clear energy is waning, it’s time heat things up by tossing in another question that narrows the choices or raises the stakes. It’s best to have 3-4 questions prepared before you start to keep the discussion moving. The best example to show you how to raise the stakes during a discussion is from our own classroom. Please read the note attached below.

5. Give a 5 minute wrap-up warning and then create a concluding experience – take a final vote; or ask who changed their minds and why; or simply ask each person to share a final thought or something new learned. Finish with sharing gratitude to all participants.

And there you have it. You are prepared to brew up your own Socratic discussion. Now, just toast up a few s’mores and you are set.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: In addition to leading a Socratic discussion, you can practice simply being Socratic in your general communication with your children. Instead of always answering their questions (which builds dependency on you,) try answering with another question. “What do you think is the best thing to do?” “Where do you think you can find the answer to that question?” “I trust you to figure that out.” “Oh, I can’t wait to see what you decide to do.” “You have all you need to answer that question yourself. What ideas do you have?” You will soon see your children being empowered to solve their own problems and take care of their own needs. Warning: This is hard for people like me who like to be needed, be in control and take care of people…okay, even spoil them. It’s hardest because at first they may want you to do things for them and fix their issues. They may beg and cry. Over time, I have now learned that being Socratic with my family is practicing love in a way that honors them more deeply. It takes more mental energy, time and patience but it ultimately sets them free to be who they are meant to be. This is true love. And it doesn’t mean I don’t get my fix “spoiling” them with affection, quality time together and mindful listening every day.

ADDITIONAL READING (oh please do read these!)

  • Acton Academy’s Own Best Example of Asking Great Questions:

Socratic Questioning to Turn up the Heat.docx

  • Jeff’s note for students and guides to use when helping each other in math. (Yes, math can be taught Socratically):

Thoughts on Teaching Math Socratically 6.13.docx

Happy summer!

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Socratic Method

ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS YOUR CHILD WILL LOVE TO ANSWER

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS YOUR CHILD WILL LOVE TO ANSWER

Laura Sandefer

February 24, 2013

There are two ways to kill an after school discussion:

1)    Ask, “How was your day?”

2)   Ask, “What did you learn today?”

I’ve used both of these. My children told me to stop. Charlie said, “Mom, the last thing I want to talk about after school is what I learned. We’ve been talking about it all day.”

This is a time to use the Acton Academy strategy at home. Asking good questions is the basis of the Socratic Method. It works for parents, too.

Here is a cheat sheet for you:

1)    Refrain from open-ended questions such as “What do you think about…..”

Instead, ask a question with A/B options. For example, “What part of the day was more challenging for you today, project time or core skills time?” You then have the opening to dig deeper. “Was it the discussion that was challenging or the actual work?” or “Which of your goals is the most difficult for you this week?”

2)    Ask your child to rate his or her experience.

“On a scale of 1-5, how was your day?” From here, the discussion flows because you can take the rating and ask, “What would have made it better?” or “If you could change one thing in your day, what would it be?” or “Is it the mornings or afternoons you like better?” or “Is it your friends or the school work that contribute most to your rating of your day?”

3)    Create a simple scenario that forces a decision or a choice to be made. Ask your child what he or she would do.

“Imagine that you were in charge of the school day but there was one requirement: you had to take one thing out of the schedule. What would you take out? Why?” or,

“Imagine that we are going to create our own school. What is the one part of Acton you would make sure we included?”

In addition to these ideas for creating questions that will be answered, we have two favorite conversation starters for our dinner time:

1)    High/Low: Family members take turns sharing their “high” of the day and their “low” of the day.

2)    Two truths and a lie: Each person says two truths and one lie about his or her day. The others try to guess which statement is the lie. (This idea came from the Stakers, I believe.)

Once the questions are asked, the next skill is to listen openly without an agenda and without judgment. This can be extremely challenging but it is where the fun really begins. I hope you’ll share your tips and stories, too.

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Socratic Method

CONSCIOUS LISTENING

Acton Academy Mesilla Valley

CONSCIOUS LISTENING

Laura Sandefer

February 1, 2013

Each week the guides at Acton are focusing on one Socratic skill. Last week we focused on “being concise.” This week we chose “listening openly.”

I believe this may be the most transformative skill we can practice as a parent: consciously and openly listening to our children. The following TED talk takes 7 minutes to watch. It is one of those that creeps into your thinking and just might change your world:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSohjlYQI2A

Enjoy.

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