Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mushrooms, microscopes, and building a structure that works for kids

One of our guiding principles at The Depot is "learning through interests," and one of our seniors exemplifies this. Last year, his internship mentor helped him learn to grow edible mushrooms. This year, this senior decided he'd like to teach other students to do the same.

He isn't getting any special credit for it. He won't receive a grade. He's just doing it.

With his fish tank full of fungi on the table, his Google Slides presentation, and some cool time lapse videos from YouTube, he had the whole crowd engaged as he explained the need for the right growing environment. Even some who rarely speak out were asking questions, and when he passed around the sign up sheet for the workshops he's going to offer, twelve students signed up. At least one was clearly excited about it. Who knows what the long term impact of this senior's leadership will be?

We see lots of instances of interest-driven learning, like the student who spontaneously set up one of the microscopes on Thursday and just started putting tiny pieces of whatever he could find under it--spit, blood, fingernail, chips, cheek cells.

The new "kitchen crew" we started this year has been a huge source of learning for these kids as they cook breakfast every Friday for the whole school, and many of our students are thriving in awesome internships, from law firms and vet clinics to computer and automobile repair shops.

But not all of our students are ready for self-directed learning. Even with freedom and ample opportunity to discover and pursue interests, many students have trouble with motivation and struggle to progress.

So we're extending our new tiered support system to include a "Tier 2 internship," which is a combination of Depot-based projects (cooking, designing bulletin boards, cleaning, etc.), volunteering, and explicit instruction in career skills and life skills from the Competency Rubric. Let's establish some small wins, build some confidence through basic competence.

I'm convinced that if we build the right structure--the right environment, these students will naturally thrive. To me, this is a big part of leadership--finding those rules, that structure that will allow that natural growth.

Like mushrooms (and every other living thing), humans are built to thrive within a certain type of structure. My goal is to find that structure--to find a better fit for human nature when it comes to school. And that's why I love being at the Depot--because I think we're on the right track.

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