We are currently sailing through some stormy waters with our Open School Experiment – not that we didn’t expect any kind of ups and downs, but the ones we are now struggling with could have been easily avoided. Now looking back it’s easy to say – as always 🙂
In my humble opinion it was the lack of common understanding on certain things. I am writing this, because the lack of common understanding is very often the cause for trouble as you move on. So I see it as a BIG learning and maybe something which is helpful for you as well.
As usual in a team, we (Prakriti School, our partner in this project, the kids and their parents and myself) were using the same words – in our case “selection” and “milestones / learning outcomes” – but we never defined TOGETHER and we never AGREED all on their meaning. We didn’t reach a common understanding on these.
I give you an example: While “selection” for us (Prakriti and myself) meant, choosing 5 kids out of the village crowd of whom we thought they have the potential to be part of the experiment. This includes as the potenial unfolds or doesn’t unfold that the selection might turn out to be wrong. It’s a process. That a selection can be wrong is in itself a very normal thing. Just think about any soccer team. The trainer selects 11 player to start with and as the game is going on, the trainer might realize he has to change the team. The selction turned out not to be the best.
“Selection” for the kids and parents meant though: we are part of it. For them the “unfolding” process was excluded. It wasn’t part of their understanding.
The misunderstanding became obvious when Prakriti and I started conversations with the kids about their performances and about the possibility that some of them might NOT have the potential or aren’t capable for what ever reason to unfold their full potential. Needless to say, that this caused irritation and to some degree frustration. Parents were asking us to give them “a garantee” that their kids will stay and that they will “unfold”. If we can’t garantee them, they said, they will withdraw the kids from the experiment and enroll them in a school back home again. And one father did decide to withdraw his son from the project.
That was the point when the interaction started and a common understanding of “selection” slowly emerged. We failed in neglecting this interactive process, we even failed in realizing that this process is a neccessary one.
Our second source for trouble is the lack of precisely defined learning outcomes/milestones including a curriculum map of the learning required to get there, and what assessment/s will be used to check. We took this a bit too loose, especially if you take the very special circumstances these kids are in into account. It was quite obvious that a “normal” curriculum won’t suit the needs.
These are teenage kids (15-19 years old, Asha actually just turned 20yeras old) with all the ups and downs of a teenager life, they have pretty good “survival skills”, some of them have been in the limelight and were treated as celebrities – still they have the “curriculum knowledge” of a first or second grader (if at all). The latter is NOT their fault at all, it is the outcome of a failed education system in the rural areas of India. Madhya Pradesh (MP) ranks among the last in the countries “Best of Education” lists and Panna, our district, ranks last in MP.
After a first phase of settle down when the five kids arrived in Delhi we should have reached a common understanding between all the members of the edu-team and then between the edu-team and the kids of what these learning outcomes precisely are, how we are planning to achieve them and how we “measure” the performance of each single kid. This should have happened three months ago, ideally at the beginning.
This exchange process would have helped us to smoothen the learning process and even more important, to get the expectations from all participants right.
Luckily it is never too late to learn.