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QUARANTINE ADVICE FOR PARENTS FROM THE EAGLES

QUARANTINE ADVICE FOR PARENTS FROM THE EAGLES

Laura Sandefer

April 3, 2020

I just got off of my morning Zoom chat with the Eagles. I asked them to please give feedback to parents so we can learn how to make life at home better during this quarantine season.

They quickly gave five solid pieces of advice.

1 Give us a schedule but make it a loose schedule. Strict schedules aren’t helpful right now.

2 Try to do a fun activity with the family each day. (“We don’t want to be entertained all day by parents but really want one fun activity as a group.)

3 Hold up a mirror to us instead of telling us what to do. I asked for an example and he said: “Yesterday I was watching t.v. before doing my work which wasn’t a great choice for me. My parents could have walked up and told me to turn it off. Instead, they held up a mirror and said they saw that I had chosen to watch t.v. instead of doing my work first. This made me re-think my choice and I turned off the t.v.”

4 Relax more. What she really said was, “Just chill!” but then expanded to explain that if parents could relax more instead of being so stressed, this would all be much better.

Thank you, Eagles. Please continue to give us feedback. We need your fresh eyes right now.

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Ambiguity as Teacher – Part 2: A Story with an Ending We Need to Hear

Ambiguity as Teacher – Part 2: A Story with an Ending We Need to Hear

Laura Sandefer

November 28, 2018

Sharing stories from the global network of Acton Academy may be the most powerful thing I can do to support parents on this journey. There is healing for us all in the stories we share.

Here is one for you to remember on those gut wrenching days when your child faces ambiguity, failure, and emotional distress. The story is shared by Shannon Baldwin, owner/head of school at Acton Academy Albuquerque:

This Session, our middle school studio went through the Personal Finance Quest and Genre. We have only one girl in this studio and she found it extremely challenging. She is a high anxiety, perfectionist personality, and had no background knowledge about finance at all (which her studio mates did) and so felt behind out of the gate.

More than once, she was in tears and ready to give up, but continued to push ahead. She was not able to finish the quest in time to have a presentation for the Exhibition which pushed her into all out panic mode.

Her studio mates (and I during some private mentoring time) encouraged her to take the step of presenting the story of her struggle and failure as a gift to her Studio, the parents, and herself.

With much trepidation, she did, and has granted permission to  share that presentation with you as an encouragement to any Eagles who may face a similar struggle.

During the Session reflection time, it became clear that taking this step was a HUGE deal in her Hero’s Journey – the visceral realization that honest failure is a part of the journey, that the world will not crumble when it happens, and that you will still be accepted for who you are.

These are the moments.

How very brave and loving! This story is profound in its message about what is necessary for humans to become whole: the ritual of returning, the ceremonial welcoming back of a hero from a traumatic experience.

One of our Acton’s parents, Erin Martin, serendipitously emailed me this week saying: An interesting article that once again shows how the Hero’s Journey, and communal myths, rituals (and I would argue, guardrails) work to fight the ‘spiritual void’. The description of helping vets re-frame and overcome PTSD is eerily similar to helping our Eagles overcome their fears that they aren’t good enough to recover from failure.

What we are doing together is far beyond “education” or “school.” This is a moral and spiritual path of healing. Without ambiguity, we’d not have the opportunity to kick back enough of the darkness – our fears, our perfectionism, our need to control – to see the light within.

Thank you Erin and Shannon for sharing.

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Centered

Laura Sandefer

November 14, 2018

Imagine this:

A group of teenagers walking into school early to hang out together. Hear the noise arising from the group: it’s loud. So much talking and laughing. Quite the opposite of the grating silence of humans staring at their phones. Now, picture the clock on the wall. It says “8:29” in red lights. As the teenagers glance up at it, they move together toward a circle of black chairs on the other side of the room. At the strike of 8:30, all are seated and the noise drizzles into a stream of quiet. One teenager takes the lead and asks everyone to write down what they are grateful for on the slips of paper he put out on their chairs. He then asks them to share their personal list. There is no adult giving instructions or even sitting in the circle. These teenagers are alone in their own world. Creating their own place and space – choosing to center themselves in gratitude before their day of intense work.

An impossible vision of what school can be?

Not at all.

This is what I just witnessed in our Launchpad less than an hour ago. They didn’t know I was watching. I was a distant fly on the wall replying to emails.

As we move into the week when it’s popular and expected to focus on being grateful, our Eagles are living it out every week – without a dressed turkey to trigger an emotion.

This is authentic centeredness and it is at the core of the Acton Launchpad experience.

I am moved to be more like these Eagles. Center first. Then get to work. And don’t forget the laughter.

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Sibling Relationships for the Hero’s Journey

Sibling Relationships for the Hero’s Journey

Laura Sandefer

November 28, 2017

The wonder of the Hero’s Journey is that it honors each individual while holding up the importance of the community surrounding that individual.

For families, this brings up the interesting challenge of raising siblings – each on a unique journey; each within the same family.

When my boys were very young, I gained wisdom from my mentors at The Priscilla Pond Flawn Child and Family Laboratory and referred often to the following notes from one of their teachers (tidbits that apply well to families who are living out hero’s journeys):

  • Trust each child as an individual – a unique person with special skills and talents.
  • Spend special time alone with each child – for example, 5 minutes before bedtime.
  • Model appropriate behavior – no name calling or resolving conflicts with violence.
  • Teach children about child development – “I’m bathing Casey because she is a baby and cannot bathe herself. When you were little, I bathed you also.” “Your sister is 14 and this is a very difficult age for a girl.”
  • Fair does not mean equal – fair means giving each child what they need.
  • Have a good marriage. If you are a single parent, have a good relationship with ex (in front of child). If going it alone, do not make children your “soul mates.” Model healthy adult relationships.
  • Have siblings treat each other as friends: must ask to borrow clothes, say please and thank you, acknowledge each other’s feelings, stay out of each other’s drawers, etc.
  • Allow children to share negative feelings and acknowledge them. (“I can see that Missy getting into your stuff really makes you angry.”)
  • Use the word, “family.” “We are a family.” “Families do not treat each other like this.” Or use your family name: “We are DeLaCruz’s and DeLaCruz’s treat each other with respect.”
  • The younger child should not get away with things because she is younger and smaller. We must teach respect.
  • Intervene when you feel enough is enough. Know your children. If they are fighting for your attention, leave the room. If just squabbling, ignore. If there is true anger or resentment, intervene and have them talk it out – teach conflict resolution. (“Johnny, what can you think of that might help this situation?”) Help provide words for your children.
  • Avoid, “I love you all the same.” Make each one feel special. “I love all of you. I love your creativity and sweetness. I love Ashley’s ability to play any instrument and I love Sammy’s ability to make me laugh. I feel blessed to have children that are unique and so special.”
  • Show disapproval of toxic behavior – disrespect of parents, hurting an animal, being mean to a sibling, teasing a neighbor or being rude to a grandparent.
  • Temperament is a matter of luck. What matters is character.
  • Go camping. A family in crisis together bonds together.

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Ambiguity as Teacher: Part 1 of 2

Ambiguity as Teacher: Part 1 of 2

Laura Sandefer

November 27, 2018

My boys were five and six years old when a friend asked me what my favorite day of the week was. I answered, “Monday.” She was surprised it wasn’t Saturday like most other people. My take on Mondays was simply that they brought back the orderly schedule and predictability of a work week.

There is certainty in a Monday.

Yet when we built Acton Academy as the ideal learning place for our young children, we infused it with uncertainty.

I wanted for my children what I didn’t experience myself, hence my built-in desire for structure and control. I didn’t know the road to discovering my potential was the Hero’s Journey as I sat straight up in desks and made the adult authorities around me very proud with my right answers and good behavior.

I want more for my children. I want them to navigate the inevitable uncertainty in their world with confidence, skill, bravery and joy.

We had to use ambiguity as a teacher and tool at Acton because ambiguity increases complexity, and makes decision-making more difficult.

And since our daily decisions create our habits which forge our character which leads us to our calling and destiny, we wanted a teacher who would faithfully drive this path forward. Welcome Ambiguity, the annoying driver of tough decisions.

The Acton method is a simple one – though not an easy one. We provide complex challenges along with the tools and processes for Eagles to use to learn to think critically, find solutions and solve problems. Through this experience of practicing daily – over years – how to make good decisions, they learn how to learn while developing strong character.

What we see through this battle with ambiguity is young people who become strong intellectually and emotionally even willing to suffer as they rise from failure in order to grow.

We parents can use some of these tools, too, to be better equipped to maneuver through our children’s learning journeys.

The top three Acton tools for parents to use alongside their children are:

  1. Journey Tracker
  2. Badge Plans
  3. Family Meetings

Don’t know how to use them? Ask your Eagle to sit with you and walk you through their Journey Tracker each week or twice a month. Same with their badge plan. Find out what they are learning and doing. Be deeply curious about their struggles and their successes. You can figure out the family meeting tool by reading Patrick Lencioni’s “The Three Big Questions For a Frantic Family” if you haven’t already done so.

The more you understand the scope of work each Eagle faces daily, the better able you are to encourage, support and at times create consequences at home to spark a fire in the studio. But more importantly, the better able you are to listen to your child and sit in awe of the mysterious and miraculous human unfolding before you.

And I still like Mondays. But it’s not the orderliness of them. It’s simply that I trust the uncertainty that lies before us. I’m willing to be surprised.

[Part 2 of this post coming tomorrow: A real example of how Eagles learn to make decisions]

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Acton Parent Bootcamp – This may be all you really need to know

Acton Parent Bootcamp – This may be all you really need to know

Laura Sandefer

September 20, 2018

Want to feel like an Acton parent who just finished our new parent bootcamp? Here are the bullet points to help you thrive on this learning adventure of a lifetime:

  • Our mission at Acton Academy is for each person who enters our doors to find a calling that will change the world.
  • We promise to honor the Parent Contract and nurture our magical tribe which is like a garden in the elementary studio, a trekking adventure in the middle school and an elite team in our Launchpad studio.
  • We prepare Eagles for extraordinary lifelong adventures after Launchpad, so struggle and occasionally unhappiness are important parts of the journey into real growth and maturity.
  • If your Eagle is in the early years of the elementary studio, take a deep breath, relax and enjoy these precious years. Curiosity and kindness matter far more than academic progress.
  • For late elementary, middle school and Launchpad parents, showing an intense interest in your Eagle’s work through growth mindset praise is the most powerful motivator.
  • Be prepared to tolerate occasional unhappiness or frustration without catering to it. Strive to put your Eagle “back in the game” with encouragement to play honestly by the rules when Weekly Points (effort); Badges(excellent work) or 360-Peer Reviews (Leadership) result in low Freedom Levels and sometimes the desire to quit.
  • In most cases, simply trust the processes and natural consequences. If your Eagle receives an Honor Code violation, it will be a powerful learning experience. A cause for concern is if your Eagle receives two Honor Code violations, a Transition Contract or persistently remains in low freedom levels in middle school or Launchpad. If you want to do more to help your Eagle in late ES, MS and LP: (1) ask your Eagle for a tour of Journey Tracker and monitor short term goals; (2) double down on your family plan; and/or (3) address Resistance (more courage); Distraction (remove video games and television); and Victimhood (probe family dynamics.)
  • If your Eagle struggles mightily, try not to blame yourself: sixty percent of temperament is hereditary. Have faith, however, that young people will surprise you with the rationality of their choices. So if you offer a frustrated Eagle a cushy private school with a lower workload and cheap social distractions as an alternative to Acton, do not be surprised when he or she chooses it. Instead, consider a far less attractive school; removing internet privileges and a mandatory after-school job in construction or at a fast food restaurant. Then prepare to be surprised by the change in attitude.

I’m so happy to be traveling with you.

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On Being Led out the Door – Another Lesson from the Eagles

On Being Led out the Door – Another Lesson from the Eagles

Laura Sandefer

October 2, 2018

Iwas intimidated by her. I’m not sure why.But somehow her large frame, tightly groomed white hair, hand-knit sweaters and lack of eye contact with me triggered insecurities that lay deep within.

She was my four-year-old son’s Montessori teacher.

On his second day of school, I walked with him into the classroom to help him put his lunchbox away. She looked right at him and in a steady quiet voice said,

“Charlie. Please lead your mother out of the classroom.”

And he did.

This was my first encounter with what has been my toughest challenge as a parent: learning that my children are better off without me in their learning spaces – and many other spaces in their lives.

As a mom, I wrestled stubbornly with the transition from being my sons’ “everything” to being the person they had to lead out the door and close it quickly.

This lesson was brought to light again as I sat and read the Acton American-Statesman this morning over coffee.

This newspaper is owned, written, edited and published by our Acton Eagles. We never see what is written until it hits our “inbox.” I am merely a subscriber.

In today’s issue, Addie, a Launchpad Eagle and editor-in-chief, wrote a review on Clark Aldrich’s Unschooling Rules. In it she says:

“Children, however much you may love them, need to learn to be independent. Your high schooler does not want you at their party, or their sleepover or their dance… etc. Neither does your middle schooler. Your fourth and fifth graders probably don’t either. And babying your first, second and third graders won’t make them self-sufficient human beings who can discover and learn for themselves. By all means, spend time with your kid. Just don’t hover.”

Does this mean I shouldn’t hang around my boys’ poker nights? I think so.

Thank you, Addie, for reminding me yet again about the truth that is harder to grasp than I ever imagined. We must be brave enough to give our children their own space. Their own relationships. Their own lives.

None of this means our children don’t need us. They do. They need our love, our encouragement, our respect, our care, and our trust. By giving them space without micromanaging their details, we also give them much of what truly feeds them.

I am grateful for these teachers in my life even when the learning has been hard. If you want more lessons from the wise Eagles, subscribe to the Acton American Statesman. It may be the best newspaper out there for a jolt of the truth. Ping me to get the details: lsandefer@actonmail.org.

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When the Acton Honeymoon Fades – What’s a Parent to Do?

When the Acton Honeymoon Fades – What’s a Parent to Do?

Laura Sandefer

September 10, 2018

The beginning of a new journey at Acton is a high.

The newfound freedom of being in a learning environment that buzzes with joy and intensity is exhilarating. Our children are nervous and overwhelmed, yet intensely alive with anticipation and eagerness.

But the day will arrive when they come home sad, mad, frustrated, hurt, confused or “bored.”

The honeymoon is over. And the real work of learning and growing has begun.

This is the gritty path of the hero’s journey and it is not for the weak of heart.

So what can we as parents do when it’s no longer fun and our children hit a wall or want to quit?

I have found three traits of a Socratic Guide are also transferable mindsets for me as a parent – especially on the hard days.

  1. Be calm. Emotional outbursts hurt children. As a mom, I can be a safe place for my children when my reaction is a calm, peaceful one. They need to know my honest feelings but they also need to know that I have self-control and my emotions don’t rule me. A zen-like calm is the ideal state for a Socratic Guide. I’ve learned this is powerful as a parent, too.
  2. Be consistent. Our Guides hold boundaries that are clear and agreed upon. There is no confusion about what happens when a boundary is crossed. This has helped me dramatically as a parent. We have our own family covenants so delivering consequences is not emotional or dramatic. It’s consistently clear-cut. Boundaries are actually freeing.
  3. Be confident. “I’m confident in you. I trust you can do hard and important things.” This is the fundamental belief at Acton. We believe every single child is a hero designed to find a calling and change the world. Carrying this mindset into my home has changed everything.

Bottomline: the day will come when suddenly the hero’s journey feels confusing and hard. But you’ve got the perk of stealing from the Socratic Guide handbook and using it to be that safe, trusted, confident and calm parent that a young hero craves to come home to.

(And please know that there are support systems all around if you get overwhelmed with the tough journey of parenting. Just let me know if you ever need ideas for resources to pursue for your own journey.)

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Five Things to Do Before the Acton Journey Begins Again

Five Things to Do Before the Acton Journey Begins Again

Laura Sandefer

August 16, 2018

For Acton parents, a new school year feels a bit different from the traditional buzz and busy-ness of buying new school supplies, meeting teachers and figuring out the school’s system for picking kids up at the end of the day or checking them out for a dentist appointment.

As a mom of two Eagles, I experience the start of school as a quiet recognition of my own inner journey that requires courage and stillness amidst the bustle around me.

A new school year means saying “yes” once again to the call to adventure – to a hero’s journey that includes facing my fears, digging deeply to discover my innate gifts and showing up with authenticity to connect to others…just as my children will be called to do each day.

It means remembering my children are created to do amazing things (beyond my expectations and projections) and for them to thrive, I must trust them with freedom and responsibility.

There are five things I do that put me in the right frame of mind to begin a new year:

  • Re-read Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich and Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger. Quick, powerful, punchy reads that remind me why I started this journey.
  • Watch this video on the hero’s journey. We are gearing up for an adventure. Not for sitting in a classroom.
  • Have a family meeting to re-boot our family plan and create a new rallying cry for the fall season. We’re in this together. We are all growing and learning. We need each other.
  • Read and re-commit to the Acton Parent Contract and supporting documents.. These documents are for my own self-discipline. They gird me for the struggles that are bound to come in the journey this year. Reflecting on them helps me remember why the communication protocol between parents and guides exists – to push power to my children so they are equipped to make good choices, solve problems and stretch beyond just learning information but learning how to be in relationship with others and themselves. Reading the contract reminds me to focus on listening, waiting and asking questions rather than getting ready to pounce defensively when a problem arises. I want my children to know I trust them.
  • Get my calendar out and mark the parent meetings and monthly parent coffees on campus. They are listed in the Family Handbook and on the Acton Google calendar. The more I am in the studios and connected to the Acton community, the more excited I am as I see the mission unfolding in my own children’s lives and the other lives around me. It’s real.

Then, I can exhale, ready to say goodbye to summer and start a new year feeling strong. I’m almost ready. Almost.

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High Tech, High Touch Learning

High Tech, High Touch Learning

Laura Sandefer

August 8, 2018

My favorite observation about the Acton Academy learning environment came from one of the nation’s education experts. After a morning of observing the Eagles at work, he said it was a “high tech, high touch” school.

You can see it and feel it: the emphasis on human relationship is tangible in an Acton studio. This is the messy but happy feel of humans honestly being together.

No one can hide under the radar at an Acton Academy. No one can slip through the cracks. No one can go a day without being noticed, engaged with and known. Every single young person is vitally important in our community and each learns quickly it is only through human relationships that we grow into our best selves.

Yes, there is online learning. Yes, there are laptops scattered around. Yes, we track learning data online and use email to document communication.

But the tech experience pales in comparison to the buzz of human interaction – verbal, non-verbal and physical – happening in every moment of studio life.

It starts with a handshake, eye contact and a hearty smile when a child steps onto campus each day. And ends with “character callouts” in a group circle with claps and high fives at the end of a day. Throughout the day it is seen in Socratic discussions, squad meetings, peer feedback sessions, conflict resolutions and free play.

The intensive learning to be a highly functioning human in relationship with others is a focus at Acton Academy. From problem-solving to reflecting on goals and from managing a team project to receiving peer feedback – it’s all in a day.

This is “learning how to be” and “learning how to do.” In my opinion, it is this learning that makes me feel secure about my own children’s futures.

Experts call these skills “soft.” I call them foundational. And the Acton Eagles who graduate from our studios have them in spades.

Acton parents, you can exhale when you finish reading this article..

I couldn’t be more excited to get back into our high tech, high touch studios. See you in a couple of weeks.

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