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  • Writer's pictureCassie Janisch

ENABLING LEARNING, CREATING COMMUNITY, FINDING JOY

Updated: Aug 28, 2023


A few months ago we had a lady visit school and I received the following thank you message from her. I think she summed up so much of what I consider to be our school’s true value:

“I am still landing all I took away from the visit with you and Misty Meadows School yesterday. I feel like I’ve been to visit a mystical, magical place. A place of simplicity that exists on the other side of complexity. I can see what is there and yet I sense and know I can barely comprehend the magnificence and unseen value of what is going on. My visit offered me a deep awareness that so much of the value of what is offered at a school like yours is intangible – hard to touch or see, to even put into words. The invisible relationships and moment to moment interactions that are going on that are almost beyond comprehension to the outsider. So, thank you for what you do and for being so open, welcoming and willing to share. I am hooked and exhilarated…”.


I too love the simplicity of what we offer at Misty Meadows, and I think intuitively many people recognize the value of this simplicity. So many schools offer everything that opens and shuts and have incredible facilities and resources at their disposal, but many of them lack heart and miss the essence of who children are, and what they really need in order to thrive. Some parents fear that they are disadvantaging their children by not giving them access to the incredible facilities and resources that they could get at other schools, and I understand that fear. We all want what is best for our children, and we often aren’t sure what that actually is, so we rely on the things we can see and measure rather than our sense that there is more to life than that.


My friend Bridget encouraged me to think about what our school’s mission is, and after much thought I have narrowed it down to the following three things:

1. To enable all kinds of learning

2. To create a thriving learning community

3. To support each other to find joy in life

It is these three things that I’d like to discuss in this newsletter.


ENABLING ALL KINDS OF LEARNING

The difference between teaching and enabling learning is the recognition that just because we teach a child something, it doesn’t mean they are going to learn it, or remember it for very long. How many of us went to school for years and can only remember very vague or irrelevant details? Most formal education on planet earth is focused on teaching children a curriculum of content and measuring their ability to memorize or apply that content in a test or exam, and nothing more than that.


So, what is learning? Learning is about constructing meaning out of our experiences, and often this doesn’t require teaching at all. How did we learn how to walk and talk? We observed others doing it and we copied them. Practice made perfect. When our focus is on learning and not teaching, we recognize that human beings are learning all the time in a million different ways. Each of us is busy constructing meaning for ourselves from the moment we wake up until the moment that we go to sleep (and often even in our dreams too). Many of the ways that we are learning are not apparent to others, even when we are exposed to the same information or experiences. Most of us cannot guess the meaning that someone else is constructing from a learning catalyst, unless they tell us. How many times have you listened to information with someone you know and taken something completely different from it than your friend did? Life is so much richer when we accept that we are all learning in our own unique way from the learning opportunities that are offered to us, and it would be incredibly boring if we were all forced to learn exactly the same thing in exactly the same way at exactly the same time, and be measured to check how well we are doing that. This is why school is boring for many children.


What if we agreed that the world doesn’t need us all to be exactly the same – it needs us to explore our uniqueness, develop our own unique skills and capacities, and offer the best version of that to others. How much richer is life when we all bring something different and unique to it?


Often, we learn more by making mistakes, or getting things ‘wrong’ on the path to figuring something out. Often, we learn by watching and copying others and then putting our own spin on it. So, if our mission at Misty Meadows is to enable all kinds of learning, this means we must recognize that making mistakes and copying others are actually both great ways to learn. Often, we learn by figuring something out a step at a time as we go rather than planning everything through to the end. This means we have to be prepared to let plans go when the learning heads off in a different direction. Usually, we learn best when we have identified our desire to know something, and when the subject we are exploring is deeply relevant to what we desire to know. We cannot always predict what a child desires to know, or what is most relevant to their construction of meaning at this moment. Set curriculums are like death to many children’s curiosity. If our mission is to enable learning then we have to be prepared to go off in any number of different learning directions with children both collectively and individually. Sometimes we have to accept that learning doesn’t actually look like learning at all.


Would you rather your child learned what everyone else was learning, or would you like them to be supported and enabled to explore and discover what is deeply relevant and interesting to themselves?


Academic learning is actually such a small part of all that there is to learn and know in order to be a capable and fulfilled human. What about learning how to be a good friend? How to resolve conflict with others? How to solve problems? How to make, build and create things? How to keep your body healthy? How to know who you are and how to find meaning for yourself? How to invent things that don’t yet exist? And a million other things… At Misty Meadows I want us to enable learning of all kinds, in all ways, always. Obviously, this includes academic learning too.


CREATING COMMUNITY

Humans are social beings who need connection more than food. Our modern lives have become so lonely and sterile because many of the connections that humans shared in the past have been lost or replaced by insular families. Our insular lives are so busy and stressed that there is little time for community.


I think one of the most beautiful aspects of Misty Meadows School is our incredible school community. It makes my heart sing to see people being so kind to each other - helping each other with lifts or errands or advice or care and hugs. I love seeing the conversations unfolding between parents at the school gate at drop off or pick up time. I love seeing adults celebrating other people’s children and helping and supporting them grow. I love seeing us buying from our friends’ businesses, or making meals for people in our community who are sick or struggling. I love the frisbee gang. I love that my children feel like they are part of something that is greater than just our family – they know others so intimately and care so deeply about their friends of all ages, genders and races, including babies and grannies. This is one of the most valuable things that we are teaching our children – we are teaching them that we are all people because of the other people in our lives, and we are better together than alone.


I really appreciate all the families that offer lifts to children whose parents don’t have cars, or bring old clothes to share in the community, or a million other community-minded things – we are re-learning what it means to be a village raising children, and our children are so blessed to be being raised by this village. I know life is busy and financially tough, but caring about others makes the struggle feel so much less lonely and isolating… and maybe even a little joyful?


FINDING JOY


I think the human race has collectively forgotten our purpose in life. We are so used to the struggle to survive that we forget that there must be something more than this. What I love so much about working with children is that they can and do find joy every day in so many little things. Sadly, the world is very busy trying to stifle that joy for children by making them feel bad about all of the world’s problems from an ever-younger age, and forcing them to focus on things that are depressing, boring or irrelevant to them.


Childhood depression and suicide is on the rise exponentially in the world – I think it is because all those children get told is that the world is in a bad way: there are too many people, we have destroyed the environment, animals are going extinct, people are racist/sexist/cruel/violent/greedy/lazy/uncaring/addicted to technology/generally a problem of some kind (fill in the negative sentiment about humans and our children have already heard it from someone). In South Africa we have the additional messages about how the country is going to the dogs and we are stupid if we don’t get out whilst we can. This is a very tough message for children to keep hearing. Ironically though, the suicide rates amongst teenagers in the world are higher in the safest and most developed/richest countries – it seems those children have absolutely nothing to live for at all. Is that really a better option for our children? I think we have to think differently about the messages we give our children (and ourselves). What if this is as good a life as any, and we just aren’t noticing the good because we are drowning in negativity?


Isn’t it funny how absolutely no school marketing anywhere in the world has prioritized the need for children to find joy in their lives? Humans are here to create, and explore, and share, and love, and find our own meaning and satisfaction in our lives. What is life without joy? We need to find it. We need to nurture it. We need to help each other grow the joy that we feel. School needs to be a place where finding joy is prioritized above all else. From a place of joy everything is possible – we can solve all the world’s problems and find deep satisfaction in our lives whilst doing so. The children in the first world are depressed because they are told they have to be less bad than their forbears if our species are to survive – being less bad is hardly a compelling value proposition. We have plenty to do in this country. So many problems to solve. So much beauty to create. Let’s give our children the tools to do so with joy in their hearts. This is the school where we support each other to find, and create from, joy. If that is an idea that resonates with you then your child is in the right place.

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