The Headwaters Academy Advantage – Six Weeks In

“My son used to be the one crying because he didn’t want to go to school.  Now he is upset when it is the weekend and he can’t go to school.” – Headwaters Parent


“If you’re good this weekend I promise you can come back to school on Monday” – Headwaters Parent


These comments from this past week take me back to many months ago on a snowy night in Meaford.  We were holding an Information Night to tell the community about our new school, opening in September.  Attendance was sparse and had been for all of our Info Nights.  One father attending, whose son is now at Headwaters Academy (so I guess the evening wasn’t wasted!), asked me “how will you define success?”


I never seem to have great answers to these questions – rather, I usually revert to a stories and I told the story of coaching hockey in Jordan, Ontario as a university student.  One of my first gigs was with a 10 year olds’ hockey team… practices were at 6 a.m. and I would arrive for 5:25 most mornings.  And there, meeting me, about 3 weeks in were two players hanging off the door handle wanting to get in to the arena.  Their parents, bleary eyed, told me that they couldn’t get the kids to sleep any longer and had to get to the arena.  Practice, at 6 a.m., was just that much fun. Concluding the story, I told this father that success would be when our students were like those hockey players.


How does one get children to love learning and school to that extent?  I believe it has many dimensions, but I am going to speak to three that I believe were our most critical decisions when designing Headwaters Academy.


#1 – Children love to learn.  Schools should be for learning.


If children love learning, and school is about learning, why do they cheer when it’s a snow day?  Is it because they don’t actually like learning or is it because school’s aren’t about learning?


I wrote a study with Dr. Philip Sullivan of Brock University many years ago, trying to find out why minor hockey players were quitting the sport in massive numbers.  The short story is that the coaches who were teaching skills, rather than focusing on the power play, etc., had many more players who intended to return the following year.  Transition this to the classroom and we can surmise that children want to become more able at school.  They want to hear “yes” more than “no” and they don’t want the unjustified limits that traditional school places upon them (i.e. you must learn x at this age level, and y at that age level).


Conclusion #1 – Give children real learning – they will respond positively.


#2 – Put children outside.


Our students are outside.  Almost constantly.  One student recently remarked to me about the “beautiful oak trees” he saw as were hiking.  They were, indeed, oaks, and he went on to state how they must’ve been planted as they didn’t fit the rest of the forest (right again).  I can’t quantify (yet) the learning ‘boost’ that comes from ‘vitamin N’, but we know it exists and we are welcoming researchers to our facility in the coming months to study this impact.


Conclusion #2 – We don’t know how it works, but we know that putting children outside increases their happiness and ability to learn.  Don’t wait – get your kids outside and off the screens today!


#3 – Put children back in to the community.


People of a few generations ago would be shocked to hear that we, as a society, seem to feel that learning is best achieved in single-age-groupings in boxes separated from the community, entrusted to a select few (defended by a union with massive powers, no less) to gain all of their knowledge.  Where and how, they would ask, is the knowledge and wisdom of a community passed on?


Our students respond best when we take them off property to meet community members, or when we give them the telephone to call an expert.  From explaining an aquaponics system at Home Depot to ‘pitching’ their desire to have chicken coops on site, our students are constantly pulling the wisdom of our full community.  I, as principal, can’t begin to pretend that I have all the answers… I am a little too humble and honest for that, I suppose.  “I don’t know, let’s find out” is one of my favourite sayings, surpassed only by “I don’t know, why don’t you find out and teach us all”.


Conclusion #3 – Our Trailblazer Thursdays are one of our best investments.


There are a few ingredients to our school that I’ve left for another post – our solid, research backed, and Ontario/Alberta/Common Core standards exceeding curriculum.  Our dedication to daily physical education and arts.  Our accountability to learning through the weekly Living Report Card.  These, I’m sure, are also key ingredients to our initial success.


But the best way to learn what Headwaters Academy is all about is to come see it yourself.  We look forward to your visit.