Video List

We wanted to show Calista Santillan’s video in Fully Booked before Ken Danford began his talk but technical limitations prevented us so we hope, for those who are interested in seeing something like North Star happen here in Manila, please do watch this video and hear what teens think of that possibility.  Calista was tasked to interview young people who were asked to watch Ken Danford’s TEDx talk and a video about North Star.  She then went above and beyond splicing meaningful sharings and made a powerful opening statement.

Ken got so excited after watching Calista’s video that he emailed it to his family and North Star colleagues in the States as he proudly said, Look at what this teenager in Manila made!

Interview with Filipino Students about North Star – Video by Calista

If you want to know more about North Star and efforts to make something like it come to life in the Philippines, watch these videos.  Join Abot Tala on Facebook, too!  Read about it on this blog.

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David Ferro of DWIZ Interviews Ken Danford

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David Ferro Interview with Joei Villarama

Videos on YouTube and Vimeo are worth catching if you want to immerse yourself in the rather radical world of North Star.  How does it look like and what do members say about it?

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A Day in the Life of North Star

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A Teen Looks Back on Life Without School: “I Could Have Spent the Last Six Years Fighting”

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From the Bottom of My Brain: A Valley Gives Day Crumpet

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This is Your Life: Choose Your Own Adventure

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North Star Slice

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About North Star 2015-2016

We leave you with these words from teenagers interviewed by Calista on whether something like North Star would work in the Philippines.

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And of course, don’t forget the videos that inspired people (including the Abot Tala team) and in different degrees, sparked action in various places around the world:

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School is Optional: TEDx Talk by Ken Danford

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Teacher Liberation: TEDx Talk by Joel Hammon

Check out: https://abottala.com/

 

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Launching a Game-Changer

Tinky wrote to Ken, “We’ve been waiting for years for a game-changer and a ceiling-breaker like you and North Star.”  It seems in the Philippines, we’ve been waiting long for alternatives to mainstream school but in countries like the US, options like North Star and other self-directed schools and centers have been existing for decades.  Yes, there are progressive schools here but beyond progressive, there are much fewer options.  The homeschooling and unschooling community has been growing in the country but what about options for kids who are stuck, miserable in school or for families who want to homeschool but would prefer an option outside home to allow both parents to continue working?

Ken Danford was a history teacher in public school for ten years when he got disillusioned with the system, was handed by serendipity Grace Llewellyn’s classic, Teenager Liberation Handbook and proceeded to create North Star.  At first, he toyed around with the idea of a school but that would be subjecting the students to the same problem of being forced to go somewhere to get society’s concept of education.  In North Star, there is no coercion.  It is not a school and it does not give certificates, grades or report cards.

What does it do then?  It offers a way out for students who wish to take control of their lives, what they learn and how they learn.  It uses homeschooling as a tool since members are registered with the State as homeschoolers which then allows them the flexibility and freedom to create their path, which they can with or without North Star.

Like a club or a community center, North Star is a space and a community where teens are free to join activities and hang out with friends.  If they choose to, they can attend classes or workshops or get connected to internship and other opportunities.  Every week, the members meet with an adult mentor-adviser who helps them map out a plan and checks in on their progress.  The parents also play an important role and are much involved in the process.

In his talk at Fully Booked last July 14, Ken shared this letter from Sebrina:

Hi, my name is Sebrina and I am looking forward to joining North Star. Throughout my 10th grade year at Smith Voc, I was thinking about alternative ways to learning. I decided officially on February 25th that I wanted to be home schooled. My parents support me and want the best for me, they stood right by me and supported my decision to be home schooled. I am very interested in the psychology class and hope to develop ways to support those around me and help people. I would like to spend my time learning in the classes that I choose to be in, and some time for me to socialize and work on other schooling. I feel like North Star will play an important role at this time in my life because I think that learning at my own pace, and being welcomed and supported will give me time to heal and be happier. I see myself participating in the North Star Community by being a nice person and attending the community meetings if they are on a day that I will be at North Star. At the end of the year, when I decided if this has been a good year, I will have decided by looking back on how I was treated by my peers and on how much I enjoyed the classes. The thing that is hardest for me in life is socializing, I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere and want to feel like I am part of the community. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to write this letter and I am excited to join North Star.

North Star has been running for over twenty years and its alumni have went on to University and have successful careers of their own.  Because of this positive track record, Ken has reached out to others who want to initiate a center based on the North Star model.  Now, there are twelve centers in the USA and one in Canada, all members of the Liberated Learners network.  Ken’s purpose for coming to Manila is to assist our team in launching Abot Tala.

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Many people are excited about the concept of Abot Tala finally here in Manila.  However, it’s one thing to express interest and another thing to actually join it or to support the dream so it becomes reality.  Some people think this is crazy and it seems too risky given the conservative nature of Filipinos who still want the name school together with the name university.  But the greater risk for the risk-taker is not to take the risk at all, to stay safe and not question the status quo.

It’s been crazy raining since Ken Danford left Philippine shores, like the skies are crying that our champion of self-directed education has gone.  The weather cooperated so well the whole time Ken was here from July 8 to 18, pouring only when we were indoors and a few times slightly when we were outdoors.  This granted Ken the ability to hit all the meetings and presentations without missing a beat.  Now, the team has to buckle down and hit the ground running.  Our work has only started.

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Hindi lang pang Taho Boy, pang Abot Tala pa!!!

If you want to be part of this game-changer in education, email me at: entirelyofpossibility@yahoo.com.ph

If you want to read more about Abot Tala:

If You Build It Will They Come

Who Wants to Flip It

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

The Non-School

Ken in Manila

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Months of planning, preparing and promoting and the day finally arrives — Ken lands in Manila!  Just on his second day on his first Asian trip and we’ve done quite a round of important meetings, from a dinner with advocates of alternative education to a visit to Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite including a muddy hike down a ravine, and on to a marathon discussion with potential full time and part time mentor-staff of Abot Tala.  A storm was declared but it veered away from our path so we were able to keep to the full itinerary, allowing us to make all the connections needed to get this dream of self-directed education for teens off the ground.

Check out: https://abottala.com/

The Non-School

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Clicking and copy-pasting the YouTube video hundreds of time, I failed to notice until today the interesting commentary below Ken Danford’s TEDx talk, School is Optional.  There are a lot of praises for North Star and Ken changing lives and saving the love of education.  Some of the comments date from four years ago and somebody quipped, “Five years later and the lie of ‘you have to go to school’ is still being perpetuated.” Even if it is perpetuated, at least there are options around that question the status quo and could be center-based (e.g. North Star, PLC and other Liberated Learners centers), school-based (e.g. Free Schools, Agile Learning Centers) or home-based (e.g. homeschooling and unschooling).

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Go down further the comments about the video and there’s an interesting conversation about the cost of going to North Star with critic and defenders exchanging opposing opinions online.

 

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Those fees are from four years ago and you can see the updated fees on the North Star website.  When  you translate the amount into Philippine pesos, it even becomes more staggering.  It’s more expensive than good quality private schools here and climbing up towards the stratosphere of International School fees, but that’s an unfair comparison because the economies of the two countries are different.  Average salaries, teacher salaries, cost of living, cost of education are poles apart.

We’re trying to jump start something like North Star and PLC here in the Philippines but the question is, who will pay an amount equivalent to the tuition fee of a private school in Manila for, as the critic said with derision, a “non-school.”  True, it is a “non-school” or the anti-thesis of a school or an “un-school” but that’s looking at it from the point of view society’s conscripted, perhaps corrupted definition of school.  The other way of looking at it is this: it’s even more of what a school should be or look like if we lived in an ideal world and respected the freedom of each being, regardless of age.

One on one tutorials and personalized education understandably cost more than mass, factory-style education.  Some parents understand this clearly.  For some parents, the cost won’t matter but for many, the cost will still be a clincher.  But the inevitable reality is that things cost – space to rent, salaries to pay monthly, utilities and other operational expenses.  North Star doesn’t turn away anyone who wants to be member and to continue doing this, they have fund raising activities and donors.

If You Build It Will They Come?

Do we build it first in the hopes that people will come like the baseball players in the Field of Dreams?  Or is too risky a suicidal venture?

Do we wait till we have a good number of families who believe in this?  How do we even find those families?

The non-school, the mock-school, the I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school school — call it what you want but even Sir Ken Robinson himself was impressed with North Star writing about it in his book, Creative Schools.  Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity” has been viewed fifteen million times but still, one discouraging remark goes, “Almost 10 years since this video was posted and unfortunately nothing has changed.”

Maybe change is too slow, too unnoticeable, too one-at-a-time to make an impact but lives anyway, are always bigger and more complex than YouTube comments.

 

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In his book, Creative School, here’s what Ken Robinson wrote about North Star and his tukayo, Ken Danford:

North Star is a center (Ken and his colleagues are very conscious about not calling it a school, because it is not accredited as one) that helps teenagers discover a passion for learning that has either been derailed or tamped down in a major way.  While it is not a regular “school,” it serves very effectively  as one for many. “North Star is principally for teenagers who are in school and miserable, who don’t want to go.  Some are getting straight A’s.  Some of them have hobbies.  Some of them don’t know up from down and have all kinds of problems.

“There’s a thing about letting people be — about letting them choose for themselves — that’s so profound.  There was no way to get that when we were teaching.  What do you want to do and what do you want from me to help you?  They don’t know yet, so they have to try everything to figure it out.  That might include saying no to everything and emptying out their lives and seeing what happens if they do nothing for a while.  It’s glorious fun.”

While it might sound as though North Star is fast-tracking dropouts, the opposite is true.  Most North Star participants go on to college, including MIT, Brown, Smith, UCLA and Columbia, among others.  Participation in North Star is often seen as an asset by admissions directors, because North Star kids have a history of being self-directed and intellectually curious.

Ken and North Star understand that learning comes in a wide variety of shapes and size, that kids can’t all be taught the same way, and that when students are taught in a way that best fits the way they learn and what interests them the most, they can make enormous leaps.  While it is an unconventional model, its success suggests a need for all schools to think in new ways about the way they serve students.                                                                         

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

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When I told somebody who has worked in various progressive schools all her life about self-directed education (SDE), she thought that progressive schools were at the edge of the spectrum, the other end being traditional schools.  Then I told her about North Star and Liberated Learners and that there are other SDE models like Agile Learning Centers, Free Schools, Sudbury and even a place called Macomber created by some who left Sudbury.

Progressive is somewhere in between conventional schooling and SDE.  Athough SDE is a term used in both progressive and traditional settings, you’d know the difference once you see something fully and truly SD.  It blows your mind that there are crazy people doing this.  It seems almost unbelievable that it could be done.  No curriculum, no required classes (you only attend if you want to), no grades, no report cards, not even a piece of paper that says you finished something.  What’s that called again?  Oh, certificate.

For those who have been in the teaching profession, maybe seeds of these thought have entered your mind: Why am I doing this?  Is this the only way to do this?  Is there a way that doesn’t involve coercion?  That’s the epiphany that dawned on Ken Danford when he started North Star with Josh Hornick and on Joel Hammon when he sought to connect with Ken and eventually started the Princeton Learning Cooperative plus two others: Raritan and Buck.

Another friend of mine asked, How do you sell this concept to people?  You don’t.  You can’t.  You have to put the idea out there hoping there are people who understand, who believe and who are willing to join.

People are always looking for proof.  “But does this work?” they ask.  Check out the website of the Alliance for Self Directed Education for full reports on those who attended North Star:

What Happens to Self-Directed Learners by Ken Danford

North Star Report Part 1

North Star Report Part 2

The lyrics of this Joey Ayala classic might refer to a pair of love-struck rebels but it captures for me the essence of SDE:

Di ba tayo’y narito
Upang maging malaya
At upang palayain ang iba
Ako’y walang hinihiling
Ika’y tila ganoon din
Sadya’y bigyang-laya ang isa’t-isa

Please excuse this English translation that fails to capture the beauty of the Tagalog verse:

Aren’t we here
To be free
And to free others
I’m not asking anything from you
And you’re not asking anything from me
Except we’re here to free one another

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Read more about the spectrum from traditional school to SDE here.

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Check out: https://abottala.com/

 

Seth and Two Kens

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Seth Godin said that schools should teach kids two things:  1) how to solve interesting problems and 2) lead.  Imagine if schools around the world did that.  Would we have more problem solvers who can lead the way?  Would we have less people who want to work for others because they want to set up their own enterprises built to address pressing problems?  Would schools evolve to look like something vastly different from how they appear and operate now?  Would we have more leaders and less followers?  Would that be a scary world for those who merely want followers whom they can cheaply hire and easily control?

Probably one of the most-watched TED Talks is Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity.”  In his book, Ken Robinson talks about North Star, founded by his tukayo, Ken Danford.

North Star is a center (Ken and his colleagues are very conscious about not calling it a school, because it is not accredited as one) that helps teenagers discover a passion for learning that has either been derailed or tamped down in a major way.  While it is not a regular “school,” it serves very effectively  as one for many. “North Star is principally for teenagers who are in school and miserable, who don’t want to go.  Some are getting straight A’s.  Some of them have hobbies.  Some of them don’t know up from down and have all kinds of problems.

“There’s a thing about letting people be — about letting them choose for themselves — that’s so profound.  There was no way to get that when we were teaching.  What do you want to do and what do you want from me to help you?  They don’t know yet, so they have to try everything to figure it out.  That might include saying no to everything and emptying out their lives and seeing what happens if they do nothing for a while.  It’s glorious fun.”

While it might sound as though North Star is fast-tracking dropouts, the opposite is true.  Most North Star participants go on to college, including MIT, Brown, Smith, UCLA and Columbia, among others.  Participation in North Star is often seen as an asset by admissions directors, because North Star kids have a history of being self-directed and intellectually curious.

Ken and North Star understand that learning comes in a wide variety of shapes and size, that kids can’t all be taught the same way, and that when students are taught in a way that best fits the way they learn and what interests them the most, they can make enormous leaps.  While it is an unconventional model, its success suggests a need for all schools to think in new ways about the way they serve students.

That’s Ken Robinson talking about Ken Danford in Robinson’s book, “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education.”  Connect that with Seth Godin’s book, “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” then you get the drift that the way to become indispensable is to nurture and flaunt your uniqueness which self-directed education respects, recognizes and celebrates.

Listen to the two Kens and Seth:

Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity

Ken Danford: School is Optional

Seth Godin: How to Be a Linchpin

 

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Joel’s Ask Me Anything

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I couldn’t sleep last night knowing that the Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Joel Hammon was going to start at 12 midnight here since it was 12 noon in the States.  Giddy with excitement, I wanted to make sure that it was on before going to bed because I told a number of people to tune in when they wake up.  My brain at that hour couldn’t compose a proper question so I figured to sleep the muddle-headedness off and give the noggin another crank in the morning.

Through the Alliance for Self-Directed Education’s AMA, people are able to easily access Joel’s wealth of experience, which is also contained in The Teacher Liberation Handbook which he wrote and which I wish I can give to as many people I know who would care to read it.

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Joei: Do you ever imagine there’d be a mass exodus of students from traditional schools to SDEs enough to alert the traditional schools and break apart their monolithic structures? Like reaching a Tipping Point (as the title of ASDE’s online magazine) when centers of Self Directed education become a norm rather than an exception. Or enough for the traditional schools to take notice that they vastly and systemically change. Is there hope for public funding to flow through SDE efforts like Liberated Learner Centers, ALCs, etc?

After having worked on the Learning Cooperatives for some years now, how have your feelings and ideas about traditional schooling evolved or changed through your time in SDE?

Joel:  Well, I’m not much of a big, big picture, “where is education heading?” sort of theorist. To be honest, my head has been so buried in the details of starting and running actual centers for the past 10 years that I haven’t given a huge amount of thought to the question. My observation is that the schools in my area are at least starting to pay lip service to some of the issues self-directed education identifies – whether it is later start times, homework free nights, talking about stress, anxiety and depression in young people, etc. they are starting to talk about it at least. I’m skeptical about the amount of real change those big systems can make (one of the reasons I left), but I think some of those conversations have started. In terms of public funding, I think it will be hard for that money to come from public education. I feel like a lot of the traditional schools have coercion of varying degrees baked into the DNA of the system. I have a hard time imagining officials being okay with public money flowing to a “school” where kids are free to choose what they want to learn.

I have more hope for public funding of self-directed education to come through public libraries, to be honest. That’s what they are set up for. They offer programs open to everyone in the community that you are free to attend or not. If you attend the program on native birds, they don’t make you take a test at the end to prove that you learned anything, they don’t require that you take a minimum number of classes in order to get some kind of certificate, etc. So you could imagine where the libraries just start ramping up staffing and programs offering learning opportunities for young people who are not enrolled in traditional schools. Just some initial thoughts. I’m sure there are a lot of people who have been thinking about this more seriously than I have.

Joei:  Ah. Public libraries. We don’t even have a system or network of public libraries here. No community colleges either.

We are in the process of setting up a Liberated Learner Center in the Philippines. The vastly different economic system here compared to the US makes opening this center much more of a challenge because the cost of sustainability is higher. We have to market this to the more affluent sector of our society. But I think it’s more important to start this now, show that it works, make it sustainable and then figure out how to be more inclusive later. The LL centers are mostly in North America and I was wondering if you have made inroads or have some insights from trying to help set up LL centers in other countries especially those in under developed or developing nations.

Joel:  We have had a number of conversations with folks from around the world, but no serious attempts to start something like this outside of the United States…that is until we started working with you 🙂 I agree that getting started and creating an example others in the country can look to and follow is important.

Joei:  How do you handle situations where the parents have expectations like, “Okay I’m sending my child to your center but I still want my child to be able to enter an Ivy League university.”

Joel:  That wouldn’t be a problem, necessarily, and as long as the kid has that aspiration as well, we’ll do all we can to help out. What would be a problem is if the parent wants that for their kid and their kid doesn’t. We offer opportunities and resources, but we do not require participation or any particular academic work. If the parents are looking for a program that will force their kids to do particular things, we wouldn’t be the best choice. That being said, plenty of young people who have used self-directed education have ended up in highly selective colleges. It’s a bit like the odds of becoming a professional baseball player, but that’s true for schooled and unschooled/homeschooled kids.

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Here are the other Q & As from the forum that’s helpful to those trying to visualize how self-directed centers work and for those of dreaming of realizing something like this for their own communities.

Matthew: What is your 30 second elevator pitch to explain SDE and the Learning Cooperatives?

Joel:  The 30 second pitch is a challenge always and a lot of times it will be different depending on the context, who I’m talking to, etc. If I’m at a festival where we have a table or something and someone walks up and asks, “What do you guys do?” I’ll usually respond with a question like, “Well, do you know any teens who don’t like school?” They usually laugh (intended effect) and say either yes or no which will then branch off of that. So if it’s yes, I’d ask them what about it they don’t like. The idea is to learn as much as you can about where they are coming from so that you can tailor the response. If it’s a kid that is bright, but bored I’d start by talking up the idea that kids can learn about the things that they care about and at the pace that they want. If they don’t like school because of social reasons, I’ll start with the welcoming community aspect, etc, etc. The basic idea to get across is that The Learning Cooperatives offer a personally meaningful education, a flexible approach and a welcoming community. This will vary again if the person is maybe not a parent, but a potential volunteer or someone who might be able to offer an internship to one of our members, etc. There’s a lot of nuance and probably could be a small book to write it all out.

Tasha:  So I have a few questions. I hope it’s ok to group it this time.  Why teens only?  How is it possible in busy cities where rent so expensive?  How do you make it sustainable?  Where have you found funding?  What is the mentor role like? The main things you find yourself doing? Can you recommend books any to help?  How would you make it accesible to low income families?  Ages – why not younger?

Joel:  Perfectly fine to group them.

Why teens? – personal and practical reasons, not philosophical. I always worked with middle and high school aged kids when I was a teacher so I was just comfortable with that age, as were many of the people involved with starting TLC. There is also the legalities of working with younger kids in NJ like health and safety codes that we didn’t really want to get into. There are a number of other Liberated Learners centers (and SDE communities for that matter) that work with younger kids, just not us.

Rent in big cities – finding an appropriate space is always a challenge even in smaller towns. Princeton, for instance isn’t huge, but rents are pretty crazy. So you have to get creative. We have used a lot of shared spaces like church basements or arts centers and they tend to be a bit cheaper as well. If rents are really high, you would just need to factor that into the cost of the program.

Sustainability – yes, that’s the big question. On one level very simple and straight forward. You need to plan to charge/get donations/get grants at a level that will allow you to pay your bills and the staff a reasonable wage. Depending on your area, the mix of tuition, donations, grants might be different. If you are in a low income area, you will likely have to rely more on grants and donations so your organization had better be very good at fundraising and grant writing. Wishful thinking in that area isn’t enough. The organization needs to have people with the skills to do that effectively and have enough resources to put into grant writing, for instance, in order to fund the center. Not rocket science, but it does require planning, focus and execution.

Funding – The Learning Cooperatives has focused on bringing in enough in tuition to fund ourselves. We do a minor amount of fundraising and no grant writing.

Mentor – could be a huge answer here. I’ll try to keep it brief. The idea is to build a strong relationship with the young person. As part of that, helping them find resources and opportunities, troubleshooting problems, acting as a sounding board as they are exploring various options, offering feedback if they are doing things that might not be in their best interests, sometimes talking about personal challenges, encouraging them, etc. I’m sure there are some good books out there on mentoring, but I haven’t read them. It’s been mostly from just working with young people and being open to learning.

Accessible – we’ve never turned away a family solely because they couldn’t afford it. We offer need based fee reductions which we build into the budget.

Matthew:  What has been the most effective advertisements for getting the word out about the Learning Cooperatives, especially during early start up?

Joel:  We’ve found word of mouth is the best. Going out and meeting people, explaining what we’re doing. Obviously have a really good website that looks professional is critical.

Susan:  What is the best way to push past the initial fear of starting something that is so innovative?
What are the first few actions that you took when you first made the decision to support this type of learning as a professional?

Joel:  I’ll do the second question first – first few steps were finding a team of people who I could work with to help build the organization. Trying to do this solo is really challenging, almost a non-starter in my opinion. Reading everything I could about self-directed education, particularly about North Star. I was coming from a traditional education background and this was all new to me.

In terms of pushing past the fear, a couple of things were helpful. First of all, starting and running a successful SDE center is really hard, just like any other small business or organization. Some of the fear is legit and perhaps should be heeded:) For me, I was never betting the farm. There were plan B’s and support I had personally that I could fall back on if it failed. That was useful. For instance, my wife is a public school teacher with good pay and benefits. We didn’t have credit card debt. If it didn’t work out, I still had my teaching license and I could have started subbing immediately until I found a new job. I’m hesitant to encourage anyone to try it without some kind of plan B to recover from a failure.

After that, just deciding to do it. If you wait until you think you’ve planned enough and got all the ducks in a row, you’re likely never going to get started. There is never a perfect time to do it, so just having the confidence in yourself and your team that when difficulties arise (and they will) that you’ll be able to work through them. You just sort of have to take the plunge.

Matthew:  What does the first mentor meeting look like? Do you draft educational goals? What is the best strategy to help a member who does not have any goals in mind?

Joel: First mentoring meeting can go a couple of different ways depending on the young person and when they are joining. Typically, it will be just chatting and getting to know each other a bit. It might include some housekeeping stuff like getting them a shelf to store their stuff, talking about what rooms we can use, explaining how the cooperative works a bit. We might take a look at the classes and activities that are currently happening and they can say if they want to try some. We ask about their interests and we brainstorm about how to help them find opportunities to learn about or get involved in those. Some of the kids come in with very defined goals and interests and others come in with no clue. If they are fresh out of school and really have never been asked to consider what THEY would want to do with their time, often we just talk with them about a settling in period, where the only goal really is to just get comfortable, try out some of this new freedom, try some activities, meet some people, etc. It’s almost like the goal is to just find a goal, if that makes sense.

Tasha: What does a weekly timetable look like? I guess if you run on tuition this must be a big feature but do the children have enough resources to teach themselves in groups and does social time get timetabled in too? Do families share evidence of their financial status with you or do you operate on a trust basis?

Joel:  The weekly timetable is we’re open 4 days a week (M, T, TH, F) from 8:45-3:15. We typically schedule things in hour long or two hour long blocks depending on the thing. You can see a general listing of what happens each week at our Princeton center here: http://princetonlearningcooperative.org/classes-activities/

Most of the activities and classes are led by either the core, paid staff or about 30-34 volunteers and Princeton University work-study that are at the center each week. Some of our teens also lead small classes for other members and a number if kids are doing independent work in various other areas. Everything that is offered is voluntary so young people can be involved in as much or as little of the classes/activities as they would like and can schedule in whatever “socializing” time that they want. The teens are also free to come and go from the center during the day so if they want to go walk to the shopping center for lunch they can or they can go for a hike in the woods near the center whenever they want.

Some center in the Liberated Learners network do require some kind of income verification for fee reductions or use a 3rd party service to do that negotiation, but we don’t currently. We ask families to make a good-faith effort to pay as much of the fees as possible, but the relationship is based on trust. We feel we’ve only been taken advantage of a few times in our history using this policy, but we definitely understand if other centers want to use other methods.

James: What technologies you are using to implement self directed learning?
Specifically what software/programs/services do you use for tracking student’s projects, activities, goals, successes and failures?

Joel:  Liberated Learners has hired some programmers to design an online portfolio system that is custom built for how our centers run and has the functionality we need to help kids make goals, track progress, keep mentoring meeting notes, schedule classes/activities, document learning and communicate with families. Our member centers have access to that as part of their membership. Before we designed that, it was a combination of Google Docs, calendar, and other free tools.

Beyond that, some of our members use online resources like Khan Academy if that appeals to them or other free or paid online resources.

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Read about the Princeton Learning Cooperative that Joel helped set up:

Tigers, Humans and SDE

Thanks, Carl

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