An Orderly Studio Is NOT the Goal.

Things in the studio have been humming along lately, and we seem to be settling into a healthy rhythm. As I’ve been observing this, I’ve found myself reflecting on an important principle that I think is worth exploring at this point in the year. 


In short, an orderly studio is NOT the goal. 


Coming to this realization has been something of a process for me, one that has required me to unlearn the many strategies of classroom management from my formal training, all of which were focused on coercing children to sit quietly at their desks and do what I wanted them to do.


And, indeed, there is something seemingly right about walking into a classroom with students docilely sitting in rows, quietly hunched over worksheets. It speaks of discipline, respect, and authority.


As tidy as this vision may be, it has some serious limitations.


Most importantly, and the key thing I want you to take away from this, is that an orderly studio is not the goal; it is the outcome. It is the outcome of a studio that has developed effective systems of self-governance and self-management, where the learners have the agency, tools, and maturity to function independently, no longer reliant on adult behavior management techniques that wield fear and control as their primary weapons. 


To say it more bluntly, our goal at Acton is not to coerce your children into doing what we want; it’s to empower them to create a civil society among themselves with clear processes and systems of accountability that allow them to do the important work they have to do without unnecessary micromanagement from adults. Our vision of an ideal learning environment looks less like a classroom and more like Google’s corporate headquarters, buzzing with activity and alive with autonomous, independent, important work.


To be clear, this is still a work in progress. Our Sparks remain focused on upholding our most basic guardrails while our older studios are revising their systems of accountability to govern how contract infractions will be handled. They recently instituted a system of Arrow Bucks, and in time, you may hear about judicial committees or councils being developed or perhaps some other creative system they devise. Currently they are navigating what to do if someone is disruptive in the studio, and you may hear that your child was asked by a peer to go into the hallway or lost an Arrow Buck for breaking a guardrail. They are developing these systems themselves and will continue to trial different strategies based on how they are functioning.


Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that sometimes a little friction is necessary for the tribe to recognize what they don’t want to be and for leaders to emerge and call their peers to a higher standard. In fact, this friction is a signal that transformation is happening and is not to be feared.


So don’t be alarmed if you hear such tales from your young hero. As you do, my encouragement for you is to recognize this for what it is: the messy process of developing leadership, self-awareness, and social skills in our young heroes that are rare among even the highest functioning adults. I can assure you that such skills won’t be developed while sitting in rows dutifully reproducing mandated worksheets; nor will they be found in those who’ve had adults swoop in to the rescue at the first sign of distress (often to assuage their own anxieties). No, they will be built in the messiness of daily life in the studio, navigating situations, working through friction, and coming out the other side with a greater sense of self, both as an individual and as a member of a larger community.


It’s not for the faint of heart…but a hero’s journey never is. 


Did you find this interesting? Here are a few more that you might like:

       What Academic Lessons Will My Child Miss By Not Attending An Excellent Public School?

       Changing the World?

       Snapshots of Heroism Part 1 and Part 2

–    What’s In a Name?

       Our Learners Are Smarter Than ChatGPT.

      15 Reasons Acton Academy NW Indy May NOT Be Right For You



[Portions of blogs may be adapted from communications with or the blog of our partner school founders and advisors, Laura and Jeff Sandefer.]

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