OUR 20 OPERATING PRINCIPLES
1. Each child is the central agent in his or her own learning process.
We trust each child to learn what he or she needs to know to thrive. We support each child to customize his or her own education.
2. The role of the adults in our community is to follow the children’s lead to support their learning.
The adults function as mentors, guides, facilitators and co-learners with children but always following the child’s lead rather than directing them from a position of authority. We encourage many different adults to participate in our community as they bring a variety of different insights, experiences and perspectives.
3. Children are encouraged and supported to be accountable for their actions and to take personal responsibility for their lives.
We follow The Golden Rule: "Treat others as you wish to be treated".
We encourage open two-way communication and remember that discipline comes from the word ‘disciple’ (we should set each other an example of how to behave, rather than tell each other how to behave). We encourage diversity and discourage uniformity (including uniforms). We encourage and support children to resolve their own conflicts.
4. This is a multi-age learning environment.
We value and appreciate the diverse perspectives, sharing and nurturing that emerge in a multi-age environment. Currently we welcome all students from ages 2-6 at our preschool, from ages 6-12 at our primary school, and from ages 12-18 at our high school.
5. We offer children a beautiful, multi-faceted, resource-rich environment in which to learn
We offer a loosely “prepared” learning environment with a wide range of equipment, resources and materials for learning. We provide open access to a wide range of learning resources (including technology, books, creative materials, field trips and human expertise). A beautiful physical environment is our priority, with children encouraged to personalize it and evolve it/customize it for their purposes (whilst conserving it). Our children have unlimited access to nature and the beautiful natural environment of Misty Meadows Farm.
6. Everything is curriculum (everything is a potential learning resource).
We will support children’s learning using any resource they choose to learn from. We will be creative and resourceful in finding and adapting learning materials to suit each child’s interests and abilities. We will use and adapt open source online curriculum materials and create our own as required – guided by the child’s interests. We encourage use of technology as a self-organised learning tool. We acknowledge that whilst technology is a wonderful learning tool, it is not a substitute for the human skills necessary to guide and mentor learners, nor is technology learning in and of itself.
7. We will always support and work with children's enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is fertilizer for the human brain. When a child is actively engaged and enthusiastic to know something they are far more capable and intelligent than if they are learning something because they have been told they have to.
8. We offer children curiosity catalysts and pose open-ended questions to inspire them to develop their thinking, living, working, making and doing capacities.
We know that children need to develop skills for living in a world that is shifting rapidly – therefore rather than being taught vast quantities of existing knowledge they need to develop their capacity to evolve beyond what is already known, to innovate and create a better world than the one we currently live in. We provide lots of curiosity catalysts and pose open-ended questions for children to explore.
9. We encourage children to participate in a variety of activities and to try some things that they find challenging.
Nobody rises to low expectations – sometimes by pushing yourself to try things that are not easy for you or that you are unfamiliar with, you might discover a passion for something you did not know you would like. If you choose to come to our school you are encouraged to try things that you might think you won’t like, and to persevere at them for long enough to make a properly informed decision about whether to continue or not. However, we will never force a child to participate in anything if they have a good reason for not wanting to participate.
10. We encourage children to know and believe in themselves.
Each child's main job in this world is to be good at being him or herself. We support children to believe in themselves as perfect, whole and complete the way that they are, with their own unique gifts and abilities to offer the world. We support children to be the very best version of themselves – competent, confident and content. We will never pathologize a child (treat them as psychologically abnormal).
11. We only engage in qualitative assessment of learning.
We avoid standardized assessment, tests or benchmarking. We focus on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation for learning (I want to know this, not I have to learn this so that I can pass a test or because the curriculum says so). We encourage children to self-assess their learning on an on-going basis - documenting it in ways that make sense to them (creating pictures, photos, videos, stories, songs, rhymes, etc). As a school we provide parents with a written and photographic assessment of each child's learning twice yearly. We only make qualitative assessments of how a child is learning – our observations of what they are enjoying and what they are finding challenging, for example.
12. We trust children to explore their environment responsibly.
Our modern society is very risk averse and as a result children are not given much freedom to explore beyond where their parents are comfortable. At our school we trust children to climb trees and play with sharp sticks and swim in the dam. We take reasonable precautions and will always get parental permission before children undertake activities that are perceived as “risky”, but if you send your child to our school then you need to trust that they will behave responsibly, and learn from their mistakes when things go wrong. There are no guarantees that nothing will ever go wrong, but we aim to teach children how to stretch themselves and cope well no matter what happens.
13. We offer no mandatory school homework.
We will never force children to do homework of any sort. We offer library books for children to take home and read with their parents and will occasionally request that children prepare something at home for school, but this is always voluntary.
14. We keep learning relevant to real life.
We use real life contexts and materials to learn. School should feel like a deeply relevant part of life and not abstract and separate from “real life”. We offer children curiosity catalysts that are relevant to real life and we avoid teaching children abstract concepts and theories that are unconnected to their lives. We do not silo learning into subjects just as real life is not divided into subjects.
15. We encourage and support collaborative learning.
Humans are social beings who learn most effectively from and with each other. We encourage children to teach and learn from each other as much as possible. The best learning happens from conversations about life, so we encourage a lot of conversation at our school and do not expect children to keep quiet.
16. We support the development of “whole children” (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual beings).
Children have bodies, minds and souls and all are given equal consideration at our school. Children are encouraged to know themselves, not just develop their brains. We provide physical activities, relaxation and awareness expanding activities, creative activities, unstructured play time and a wide variety of mental stimuli and games to support whole children.
17. We are committed to community participation.
Our children are part of their community and should not be isolated from it. We therefore encourage community participation both in and beyond our school. We invite parents and other community members to participate in our school, to share their expertise, to invite children to their workplaces, etcetera. We also encourage our children to see themselves as valuable members of a broader community and to participate in that community – from the Dargle Valley, to the Natal-Midlands, to South Africa and Planet Earth.
18. We serve our whole community.
All members of our community are welcome to attend our school, regardless of race, gender, age or financial situation. We are a non-profit school. We aim to find sponsors for those children from our community whose families cannot afford our school fees, and we aim to keep our school fees at a level that is affordable to families in our community. Our immediate community is the Dargle Valley, but we serve the whole of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
19. Our school administration exists only to enable the emergence of an organic learning ecosystem.
Although this school may operate under the directorship and care of certain individuals, these individuals understand that a learning ecosystem is not a hierarchy and their only role is to facilitate learning and not to control every aspect of how it emerges. We will not have a long list of school rules and operating procedures, but will respond to situations as they arise on a case-by-case basis. We aim for quick adaptation in response to feedback loops so we only do what adds value to our ecosystem.
20. We are part of a learning ecosystem that extends beyond the boundaries of our school.
This school will share learning with others so the learning web extends beyond this isolated school into a broader, inter-connected learning ecosystem (education system).