Oftentimes as a child, my friends and I would play pretend school for hours on end. We had great fun creating and re-creating the world of schooling. Without fail the biggest dilemma of our play was determining who got to be the teacher. It was the most desired role. I don't believe this is because we possessed a deep love of teaching. It seems to me, even as I child, I understood the hidden narrative often found in the structure of the classroom. The one that told me-the teacher is the most important person; the teacher holds the power-the power to talk, to give power, to decide how time is spent. That same narrative had convinced my friend group the role of student was lesser. So we struggled-as most communities do-to find who would hold the power, who would get to play the desired role of teacher.
As I engage students, I see the same desire in them. Not a desire to play teacher, necessarily, but a desire to have a meaningful part, to be more than a cog in the machine, to hold more value than a test score, to do more with their day that receive instruction. I hear them wanting to be seen by adults as competent, to be empowered to lead, to be trusted to make decisions, to be invited to share information, to be freed to design and create, to be encouraged to use the explosive amounts of energy they possess well. They want to have an active role in their learning. At Odyssey Young Leaders Academy, we want to invite them to leave behind places of stillness and silence and enter into an exciting, engaged world of learning.
One of the schools that has powerfully shaped what this will look like at OYLA is Long-view Micro-school in Austin. (I highly encourage you to follow them on Instagram. So fun to see how they spend their days!) They very intentionally designed their space and learning practices to invite children to use their energy well, rather than "get their energy out".
As I observed students at Long-view, it was clear they were leading the learning conversations. They had cultivated a culture of safety to allow for civil discourse in which all voices were valued, multiple ways to arrive at outcomes were explored, and affirmation, disagreement, and explanation of learning processes naturally flowed. Physically, students made their learning public-working individually or collaboratively on white boards and windows. They were up and moving and active. Rather than teachers encouraging students to sit still and be quiet, they worked to call out the voices of quieter students and invite students to articulate their thinking processes. It truly was a transparent learning community. Students were able to see the value of their work and the value of their voice in the learning process.
Other schools like Blue School, Corlears, Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, Innovations Academy, and San Francisco Schoolhouse filled their walls with student's learning processes. Making their learning visible gives value to the work they are doing. Each of these schools invited students to spend their days creating work they cared about. They were thoughtful about how the spaces students were in invited them to be active rather than passive. Students were found exploring, researching, building, and collaborating. Clearly students wanted and received a valuable role in their learning journeys. They were recreating ecosystems, registering voters, leading protests, building ice-cream machines, making tortillas, designing clothing lines, running bakeries, and so much more!
Many of these schools modeled what Piaget believed. He said, "The principal goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done." This kind of education is a pioneering work. It is an active and creative work. It is needed work.
We believe children are capable of doing new things so much so we are creating a school to that end! At Odyssey Young Leaders Academy, we will cultivate a community of doers. By shaping an environment of transparency, meaning and activity, each learner will engage as an inventor, a writer, a scientist, an explorer. We want students to deeply enjoy learning and to be offered a valuable role each day. We believe experience unleashes identity. So our aim in doing is not just for the experience itself, but for the formation of the child. It is the pathway of becoming and recognizing ourselves as creators of the world we inhabit. I trust the children at Odyssey Young Leaders Academy to build a world full of beauty, compassion, creativity, and justice. I can't wait to live daily in the world we co-create.