Challenged and Happy?

Earlier this year we provided a survey to our Wonder studio learners asking them how they feel while they are at school. Each learner was able to choose four words. Here were the options: 
Any guesses as to which they chose? 
The top vote-getter was actually challenged, with 90% of the learners choosing it. This was closely followed by happy. 86% said they feel happy at school. Votes split up among several of the others from there, with the next three popular responses being excitedsupported, and interested, respectively. 
Not a single learner chose afraidangrylonely, or confused as one of their words. 
In a world where doom and gloom articles about schools are making national headlines, our learners are reporting feeling challenged, happy, excited, supported, and interested.  
To some extent this is to be expected here at Acton Indy. The challenges and activities that we do are all intended to foster higher orders of thinking, so it makes sense that they feel challenged. Likewise, the love of learning and a spirit of joyful exploration are tangibly present in the studios. All it takes is a simple walk down the hall on any given day for this reality to become obvious. (This is something, by the way, that visitors comment on regularly.) 
What struck me about this most, though, was how unusual it is for these two traits to co-exist. To be both challenged and happy. I would venture that it is exceedingly rare to have these traits show up as #1 and #2 for a school. In fact, to the untrained eye, they might even seem contradictory. 
For many people, feeling challenged is interpreted as an unpleasant feeling, full of frustration and angst. It means you are likely making mistakes and not getting something right away. And happy? Well, that’s something entirely different. It calls to mind playfulness, joyful creativity, and connection with others. And yet, despite this dissimilarity, nearly every learner identified these two terms as one of their top feelings at school.
So what gives? How do they co-exist? 
I think the answer lies in our culture of growth mindset. Acton Indy is a place where challenges are celebrated and mistakes are recognized as the necessary process of learning and growth. And it’s only within a culture of growth mindset that being challenged and being happy can sit side-by-side, a bit like siblings who’ve never known anything different. 
We don’t pretend to be a perfect place, but we are grateful that in general our learners share these core feelings as they walk through the doors each morning. 
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