This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. Lynn and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.
In Episode 23, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ezekiel Fugate and Jenny Finn from Springhouse Community School in rural Floyd County, Virginia. Springhouse Community School is a unique leaning environment where questions such as these are explored:
- How does a child successfully shed his or her childhood to fully enter adolescence?
- What does a young person need to deal with the complexity of adolescence?
- What does it take to emerge from adolescence prepared for young adulthood?
Learner-centered leaders create a learning culture that balances structure and freedom. Learners are invited to explore what is true for them and what they are curious about while also being introduced to experiences and learning they may not have otherwise.
Learner-centered leaders have a curiosity about culture change – creating healthy culture, helping teenagers get comfortable in their own skin through a learner-centered approach.
“The way in which we educate isn’t as important (competency-based, project-based) as the way we very intentionally choose to meet the learners here in our environment. We are committed to seeing learners as whole human beings who are capable of coming to know themselves and their potential. That has been the guiding light for us – the focus on wholeness and the belief that each of us carries something unique to offer to the world. Our job as teachers and mentors is to figure out how to connect our learners to that and how to empower them to offer that to the world.”
Springhouse is a competency-based school, with competencies rooted in its mission: to prepare adolescents for young adulthood by providing an educational experience that is individualized, rigorous and engaging.
Competencies are divided into four core areas – four pillars: relating, critical thinking, innovating, leading.
Relationship and relating is central to everything they do: relationship to self (Who am I? What are my gifts? What’s getting in the way? What brings me alive? What puts me to sleep?); relationship to other (How do I show up in a world where there are people I may not like, people I really like? How do I tend to human relationships? How do I cultivate the skills to navigate challenge, tension and all the issues that may arise?); relationship to earth and the natural world (We are not strangers to planet earth. How do we rework the human/nature relationship?)
Critical thinking is some of where the more conventional learning takes place: thinking scientifically, investigating mathematically, analyzing the past and present, being an effective communicator.
Innovation is developing the skills to create – from idea to bringing it into the world. This encompasses artistry and entrepreneurship.
Leadership manifests itself in the notion that the individual needs to know how they might show up in the world as an individual leader, the person who they are.
Springhouse has nine program areas: mathematics, language arts, science, humanities, design, entrepreneurship, world language, coming of age, and health. These program areas are explored through four core practices: project-based learning, one-on-one mentoring, community collaborations and nature connections.
The adults in the Springhouse community are passionate and have the capacity to spark curiosity and listen to students. Students are empowered to explore a year-long passion project under the guidance of a mentor. Projects have focused on learning how to rap, homelessness, solar energy, evaluating water quality and just about anything you can imagine.
Springhouse has a significant component that engages the community – internships and experience Fridays. Community members volunteer their gifts and passions they want to share with students. Students are exposed to something new each week.
Everyone at Springhouse is there to become more fully who they are – adults and children. Every person has a light inside of them. The school and those working and learning in it are there to support and invite out. Everyone has a gift to offer and the world has a need for that gift.
Ezekiel and Jenny believe that transformation is by its nature counter-cultural. They are asking students and parents to step away from a culture of education with different values and engage in a deeper way of learning and relating. The culture they’ve created is rooted in “soul” and is used to speak to that place where everyone can be their authentic selves. There is less centeredness around the ego and material worlds at Springhouse. While offered, stepping into transformation is often not easily received in our culture. Springhouse, one could say, invites transformation on many different levels.
Springhouse is a school that doesn’t privilege the intellect. It values the development of the whole child.
Connections to Practice
- Ezekiel and Jenny are curious leaders who have spent a lot of time translating their thoughtful planning of a school into a reality for their learners. There is a lot of intentionality in how we are approaching change in Salisbury with the development of the Profile of a Graduate, interrogating our beliefs about learning and designing professional supports to assist our teachers and leaders in this work – Leading #YourSalisbury.
- The four practices – project-based learning, one-on-one mentoring, community collaborations and nature connections are areas we have considered exploring in terms of designing learning environments. We are currently exploring PBL within the Leading #YourSalisbury cohort. We have loose connections to mentoring, but are exploring community collaborations through a high school internship program. We have offered workshops on place-based education which has some connection with the natures practice.
Questions Based on Our Context
- How can we remain curious about this work amidst the successes and challenges?
- How do we uncover the gifts in others?
- Do our learners know they have a responsibility to share their gifts?
- This conversation helps frame the notion of relationships – among ourselves as educators and our learners. How do we take the conversation about relationships beyond the transactional that tends be our focus in a fast-paced, always-on world?
- How do we help learners understand relationships – relationship to self, to other, to the world?
- What do competencies look like within our Profile of a Graduate? How do we begin to provide some structure to the Profile?
- How might we be more intentional about a design for appropriate practices that will support our Profile of a Graduate and learning beliefs? Do we see other practices in our learning community? What are they?
- How can we draw our community in and help them understand we need them to do this work?
Next Steps for Us
- Relationship to self – understanding ourselves as learners – is one of the key components of relationships and a gateway to personalization. What supports can we put into place that make relationship to self – self-awareness – an intentional core experience of being a learner in Salisbury, whether young or old?
- Look at our Profile of a Graduate and identify competencies in various areas – such as the nine program areas.
- Determine which practices best support learning in the context of our Profile of a Graduate and learning beliefs.
Get new content delivered to your inbox and the ebook 3 Key Principles of Digital Transformation. The ebook contains valuable information from my experience leading a digital transformation and working with a variety of stakeholders over the past decade.
Latest posts by Randy Ziegenfuss and Lynn Fuini-Hetten (see all)
- Learner-centered leaders develop the resources, the people and the conditions necessary for transformation [#ShiftYourParadigm] - February 20, 2018
- Sharing the Learner-Centered Message - February 17, 2018
- Learner-centered leaders create a learning culture that balances structure and freedom [#ShiftYourParadigm] - February 6, 2018