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What does it mean to be a facilitator at West Cork Sudbury School? Some may ask the question! Well after nearly two years of exploring, researching, and setting up a Sudbury School I am able to tell you what we aim for in ourselves and in our staff. I will be able to tell you more of the nitty gritty, day to day realities of being a staff later, as the year goes on.

Allowing students to self-direct their education is one of complete trust. Often times it takes a lot of research and a process of breaking down old beliefs we may have picked up from society along the way. I don’t doubt that for some of the staff there will be times of doubt, fear, and questioning whether they are making the right choices to best support the students goals, dreams, and aspirations. From what I have researched, this is a normal and healthy part of the process and also par for the course when you’re doing something very out of the ordinary.

All this being said, when you glimpse that ‘truth’, and you are able to see that place of trust...Trust in the individual, to be, to desire to learn and do what’s best for itself...then you will know you are in the right place as staff at West Cork Sudbury School.

Along the pathway of mistakes and learning; you will begin to see that the following practices and ways of being are what it takes to be a staff at West Cork Sudbury School.

1. Modelling

a. Be yourself:

Be strong, be vulnerable, own up to mistakes, laugh at yourself, relax...but get busy! There is much to do!

b. Do you have a skill(s)?

Maybe you have a wish to do it at school. Not because you think that if the students learn this it will improve their lives, but because you love it and you want to do it. If there is time you can start a project on your own (after it is approved in a school meeting of course.); or sit and play guitar for the sake of music; bake something...'I really feel like baking a cake. Anyone like to join me?' It is good for students to have exposure to joyful doing, and it is good for students to see staff being able to relax and being present, while having the students' best interest at heart.

c. Appropriate Language:

West Cork Sudbury School has some language that has been agreed upon, but it is basically a positive approach to language. ie: Instead of, ‘You can vote after the meeting.’; ...‘You get to voice your concerns and object; You get to choose; you get to contribute during the meeting.'

There are a few reasons why the latter is the way we choose to communicate:

In the first sentence...It implies that you have the power and are directing them where to go and what to do. The second sentence includes all of us as a community and it is something we are privileged to be doing, and you don’t have to take part if it doesn't concern you. This may sound pernickety, but language shapes our thoughts and creates neural pathways that can lead to positive productivity and a ‘can-do attitude’; or self-doubt and criticism. Best to use the best language to encourage growth in all areas and a healthy sense of self.

Other language we may use:

Diversity; differences; freedom; individuality; responsibility (used in positive way); choice;...

There are many words...but the point is, to use language consciously. It definitely takes practice.

d. Model actively making choices that benefit the community. Speak up for yourself, your desires and wishes, in a non-demanding, taking-care-of-your-needs kind of way. Be responsible for your behavior, own up to mistakes. State observations rather than judgements.

2. Listening:

a. Listen without an agenda: Listen whilst seeing the person. See if you can allow that individual to be in all their glory; not just what you would like them to be, or not like them to be.

b. Ask questions... Be careful not to finish others sentences. Give them time to explore and come up with and express their own thoughts. Ask questions that are not leading, to allow them to explore more, and they will gain much from your presence and curiosity.

c. Remember to listen for those ‘learning moments’. Is the student asking you a question? What are they asking? How will you answer? (hint: Take a pause before you do...) How can you answer so that it helps them to explore?

Is the student asking for help? Then help! Are they asking you to show them how something works? Take the time to really show them, and let them do it and watch...Take the time.

3. Supporting

a. Allow space but be aware of the student(s). Don’t hover. Let the students do whatever they are doing and however they are doing it unless they are putting themselves or others at risk. Don’t ask them what they are going to do that day. If you’re chatting or are together then just be present with them in the moment.

b. Ask them how they are. Check in.

c. Is the student asking for help? Then help! Are they asking you to show them how something works? Take the time to really show them, and let them do it and watch...Take the time.

IS the student asking for more than what you can give them? In this moment it is time to start talking about putting it up on the Agenda. But listen for those moments. These are going to be some of the moments that help shape their lives and futures. This is how we as staff can support the students education and life-long learning. This is crucial. We are going to be following the students’ paths and help them to shape a course for themselves.

4. School meetings/TP

At WCSS you are part of a community and WCSS's community practices democratic learning through school meetings and a process of conflict resolution. All the school’s agreements are made through the School Meeting. These agreements are written down in WCSS's 'Record of Agreements', but are subject to change, and as with an agreement, if it is not followed, it will be looked at. But WCSS has a participatory approach to dealing with these infractions using Transformative Practice, inspired from Transformative Justice.

All the school gets to have a voice in these matters.

5. Boredom:

How do you deal with a bored student? ‘’I’m bored...’’

I don’t think we need the experts to tell us that it is a healthy process breaking through boredom, as many of us have experienced it ourselves.

So what do you say when the statement comes up? I think acknowledgment of the feeling state from an adult goes a long way in letting the individual know they are seen and heard. A reply could be, ‘Oh yeah? Do you want to talk about it?’; get them into a little depth of observing the feeling, letting thoughts flow; and watch the space open up for them. Adults can be full of great ideas and there is a time and a place for this but it is healthy for a child to use their imaginations and other inner resources they have access to. This builds resilience for the years to come.

One of the biggest things we can do as staff at WCSS is to constantly bring our awareness to these words during our interactions with students and staff, ‘Curiosity instead of judgement; Observation without evaluation’.

All in all, at WCSS you need to have an understanding of the self-directed learning model of education and you must agree to do your best in putting these practices and ways of being into your work at the school. Work can be a joyful.

More to come.....


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