Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how new our school still is. Every day is so full and varied, and so much has happened since we opened that it can feel like WCSS has existed a lot longer than only just being in our second year. I have a very unique view within the school, from the perspective of founder, facilitator but also of parent. Both of my children attend the school, and it was from a desire to find something alternative for them that sparked the drive to found the school. This can feel like an enormous amount of pressure for it to work, but as they say ‘the proof is in the pudding’ and I am reassured constantly of how this model is working for the students in the school.
A huge part of this model of education is trust and allowing students to find their own way, but this doesn’t mean that they are left alone or unsupervised. The staff have the student's wellbeing as their primary concern and are there consistently for support and guidance. The students have regular check-ins with their ‘Homegroup’ staff member; which can be to identify educational goals, ask for things they need or a wellbeing check-in. The school is founded on trust and open communication. In fact it's probably one of the biggest parts of the learning.
As parents we constantly worry if we are doing the right thing by our children, and question our choices. Being a part of something so radical and different we are always going to be open to criticism and scrutiny, in part as people tend to have a fear of the unknown but also because it’s easier sometimes to find fault than try to understand. We know from plenty of families how much the school has changed their children's lives and we see them growing all the time. As have I, as a parent of two of the students at WCSS.
One of the fears is the freedom to use technology in the school, and how this may affect them. This is not new and is something all Sudbury schools have faced. They may spend time using technology, but rarely alone, and the idea of ‘screen-time’ does not cover the complexity of learning that can be going on. Students may be gaming together, looking things up, listening to music, watching video essays, playing games that challenge them or just taking some down time. In order for any of us to regulate we have to have the freedom to work that out for ourselves, which requires trust and time as well as open communication and support. If young people feel that something is banned they will hide it, (such as eating sweets or playing on their phones) which doesn’t allow the space for dialogue to occur. This blog from East Kent Sudbury goes into screen-time more, I will just speak from personal experience. https://eastkentsudburyschool.org.uk/learning/not-just-screentime/ .
My older child is 13, and I have to admit that last year I had my moments of doubt, which is nerve wracking for a parent who has worked so hard to open a school for their children! That doubt was most likely seeded by this being such a new experience and how hard it can be to put theory into practice. Last year he spent a lot of time on his own, and a lot of time gaming. He faced a plenty of boredom and at points I worried how the school was going to work for him. This is quite a normal process as students adjust and ‘de-school’, which I knew would happen but trusting in it was challenging at points. It is a process that requires trust and time; both of which he was given and now is a great example of a self-directed learner who has learnt to regulate himself. He wants to make the most of his days at school and so is busy learning Japanese, designing a board game, taking part in the school meetings, painting his war hammer figures as well as painting amazing sceneries using acrylics, opting to do maths as well as spending time gaming with friends or playing Civilization on his switch.
Civilization is the perfect example of a game that when given lots of time to immerse in, is hugely educational. It’s incredibly tactical, whilst teaching about history and politics. In his own words he ‘learnt that the Phoenicians existed and what causes civilizations to collapse, go to war or succeed’.By validating the time he has spent on this game it has increased the learning, as oppose to it being seen as wasted time and therefore negating it's educational value.
Students finding their way on a hike.
Like it or not technology isn’t going away, and as digital natives our children need to learn early on how to regulate and use it. Perhaps part of our fear as parents comes from our own inability to regulate our use of technology or from a lack of understanding of how to use it.
It is hard as a parent to trust that our children will find their way. But the school isn't a vacuum; there is structure, support, questioning and modelling around them that feed into the students becoming independent learners and members of the community. For some that will take longer than others, and all of their paths will be different, but giving them the trust and time is what helps them to grow.