Archive: Dec 2016

  1. Red Tailed Hawk Forest School – A Visit

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    Principal Brown had the chance to tour Red Tail Hawk Forest School today.  He has written the following post to share with us.


    I’ve just got in from touring Red Tail Hawk Forest School, operated by Shannon Foley and her husband, just outside of Collingwood.  What a fantastic resource for this community!


    The first thing that struck me, aside from the fantastic location, was the pride that the students showed me in touring me through their forts.  They had even laid some ‘tile’ in one and has exciting plans to build an entire village.  We then proceeded to a river where salmon come up in the Fall and enjoyed some ‘forest soup’ in the woods.


    Shannon spoke passionately about the Forest School Canada’s focus on building a sense of place in children.  Obviously, in our ever-speeding-up pace in this world the concept of place, and a connection with nature, is lost for most children and adults.  Reconnecting children with nature is a fantastic goal in and of itself – we at Headwaters use Richard Louv’s seminal works (The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods) as philosophical underpinning to our own outdoor work.  However, there is value in this ‘place’ work that goes far beyond academics and nature.  What I was reminded of today is that moving out of the ‘boxes’ that are our classrooms gives children a whole world of possibility, right before their eyes.  And, unlike most adults, children are not scared of the endless possibility… it is – when it’s allowed to be – their everyday reality.  The boys I sat with at lunch were willing to chat not only about Apple versus PC (we can’t pretend that these technologies don’t exist, even at a Forest School!) but also share their vulnerabilities with each other and someone whom they had just met in the woods an hour ago (me!).  This may seem like it belongs only under the ever-growing-in-popularity-in-fashion concept of ‘Character Education’.  However, that ability to share weakness – something that would never happen at these boys’ public schools at their age (they were 9 and 10) – stated to me that here were boys open to experience, open to learning, and more than willing to ‘give it a try’.  ‘Giving it a try’ is rare in schools because the fear of failure is an epidemic there … children hunt the ‘answer wilderness’ hoping to find the ‘right answer’ and most often are too stressed to ‘just try’.  Here, at the Forest School, children were allowed the space to be children.  To try; to fail; to experience the endless possibility that is childhood.


    Those possibilities don’t end with childhood and today were borne out of connection to place – a safe place. (As an aside, when was the last time ‘connected’ was a verb that didn’t bring visions of cell phones?).  Our goal, at Headwaters, which I can see also see in the work of the Red Tail Hawk School, is that our graduates continue to see possibility and opportunity at every corner – through childhood and beyond.

  2. On Success and Failure

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    Backstory: I am writing this reflection after finding it difficult to convince my students to help one another learn.  I was left to wonder why they found helping each not only a foreign expectation, but also a threat to their own learning.


    There is a silent stress found within the classroom.  It is the constant threat of losing: Losing your rank in the classroom, losing dignity, losing face, or, worst of all, suffering humiliating failure.  There is a set curriculum, a set pace, and a set level of expectation that takes no heed to the learner.  Measure up or fail – we must move on from this topic lest we should fall behind.


    These are the unspoken truths of the classrooms in our school system.  And these are the truths that I believe must change.


    John Holt, who was himself a school teacher before founding the ‘un-school’ movement, wrote that children are very adept learners and teachers when the threat of failure is removed from their classrooms.  However, as long as schools exist with a methodology of sorting the ‘strong’ from the ‘weak’ there is no chance for children to share their knowledge with each other.  Those who struggle will struggle more due to the increased stress of knowing that they’re falling behind and in danger of a ‘C, D, or F’. Those who are quick studies will not take the time to help others as they’re too busy ensuring their own continued progress and gains.  This is a shame as we’ve all heard the common adage that we remember 95% of what we ourselves teach.


    Holt also wrote about the three most powerful metaphors of schooling today in ‘How Teachers Fail‘ (as true today as 32 years ago).  Within that piece Holt points to the studied relationship between stress and learning disabilities (less stress = less difficulties in learning).  If the threat of failure was removed from school would children be better able to succeed?


    We believe that the answer to the above question is a resounding ‘yes’.  This is why we have removed ‘C’, ‘D’, and ‘F’ marks from our living report card.  It is simply unacceptable, in our minds, for a student not to master a skill set.  To allow such a thing to happen would be as much if not more a failure of the teacher and the school than the student.


    The contrary view is that the world is already to full of millennials and Generation Z students who have never experienced failure.  After all, the world is a difficult place and failure is a very real reality.  This argument misses the truth – failure is part of success.  Failure is inherent in any true success or the challenge was not challenging enough.  As our students at Headwaters Academy move through projects they will find that their first solution, their second solution, and sometimes their whole approach does not work.  What separates our students and our school is that we, as teachers and students, will not simply walk away from the experience and label it a failure.  When we fail the first time, we get back up and try again and we keep repeating the try, fail, try again loop until it ends in success.  The real issue is that too many people today (millennial and otherwise) were given the false sense that you either ‘pass’ or you ‘fail’, and that when one fails it is beyond one’s ability to achieve success.  This, we believe, is one of the primary flaws in the current educational system.


    Headwaters Academy stands behind this promise – all students can succeed, and thus all students will succeed.  Success might not come easy – as one of my childhood mentors always said “the only place you’ll find success before work is in the dictionary”.  I would only add that hard work is to be celebrated.