A Principal’s Reflection on the Joy of Learning

“We’re entering a revolution of ideas while producing a generation that wants instructions instead.” – Seth Godin, #stopstealingdreams


Dear Headwaters Community,


I had some time over the holidays to reflect upon the art and joy of teaching.  In the professional reading I undertook over the holidays, the quotation above, taken from Seth Godin, resonates the most deeply with me today.  It resonates because it is just in these past weeks that I feel that our students and school have really started to lay claim to our promise of engaging students in experiences where they can adapt and thrive.  It would be fantastic(ally untrue) to say that school was perfect from Day 1, or that it is perfect today.  Creating an environment where students can learn that ability to adapt is a long process that requires an ongoing commitment.


Our students had to be convinced that they are free from the answers-driven school environment they experienced before Headwaters to an environment that is, instead, questions-driven.  In other words, and to use 21st-century-educational-expert speak, they had to transition to an inquiry-based education.  The concept of inquiry-based learning has been much touted since I started my career, and it was quickly followed by the concept of ‘personalized learning’.  Claims of implementing these concepts in education abound.  I would, however, question how often personalized learning and inquiry based learning truly occurs in schools?  With a look inward I reflected on our own school this past Tuesday and posted examples of individualized learning from the past 14 days at Headwaters Academy.  In those 14 days:


– Two students launched an investigation in to the best chocolate chip cookies… changing the amount of butter, sugar, and type of chocolate and carefully controlling all other aspects of production.


– One student is working on a new game for learning, using the research of James Paul Gee.


– Two young ladies decided to investigate production of ‘bath bombs’, again, controlling the recipe and changing one variable at a time to find the best bath bomb before launching them for sale.


– Two boys took delivery of their chickens and started delivering product to their shareholders.


– Three students are working to create a right sized, locally sourced, easily cooked meal delivery service to beat Amazon to the punch locally.


– A couple students worked out whether it is better to buy a new vehicle with the current 0% down and 0.9% financing or buy a used, potentially higher maintenance, vehicle.


As I was writing this today a student informed me that he wants to enter the upcoming Grey Bruce area Dragon’s Den with a new product designed for Toronto area backyard farmers.  I wish I could share the details… but that might eliminate his competitive advantage!!!


   So, back to Seth Godin’s quotation… do Headwaters students want instructions instead of revolutionizing?  On a surface level, the answer is that yes, sometimes when given the choice they will still take the easy route.  It is always easier to follow the instruction book or to have the immediate (though fleeting) satisfaction of knowing the simple answer to a simple problem.  The Lego castle built from specialized pieces and instructions almost always looks better than a 9 year old’s attempts to build the same castle from generalized pieces.  But it is the 9 year who was willing to move beyond the instructions who will become the 29 year old ready to revolutionize an industry or business.  That Revolutionary is likely to be a Headwaters Academy graduate, because it is at Headwaters that we celebrate the hard road, the difficult questions, and the audacity to try, fail, and try again.  And it is only here at Headwaters Academy that I have heard children frequently request “more math”, “one more lap” of running, or the chance to “stay at school longer”.


Thank you, once again, to all of our community who helped us to open the doors of this wonderful school.


Kindest regards and I hope to see you soon at the Academy.

Mr. Mark Brown, M.Ed.
Headwaters Academy