Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Luxury of Time

At the Sudbury School of Atlanta, I've found that one of the most impactful elements of the Sudbury model is the luxury of time for a student to choose and explore and reflect.

If we want our students to become independent thinkers, they must have the time and space to think independently.  If we want them to be reflective, they must have time to be reflective.  If we want them to dive deep into their passions, they need the time to find out what those passions are and then time to dive into them.

At any traditional school, students are shuffled from one classroom to another and one activity to another without an opportunity to choose or explore or reflect.  They are told that whatever the teacher says or does is more important than their interests.  No wonder students in the traditional system are not motivated.  How can students follow their passions if they are not given the time or choice?  How can they learn to be good decision makers if they have no time and no opportunity to make decisions?  How can they learn to communicate, mediate and negotiate if they have no time and no opportunity to practice those skills?

As a staff member at SSA, I am often approached by students who seek help with reading or writing.  At the moment a student requests help, staff can drop everything and help that student for as long as the student feels the need for help.  It may take 30 seconds or an hour.  It doesn't matter.  What is most critical is that students at SSA get the help they request immediately, for as long as the student feels they want assistance.  That's the luxury of time.

No other school model or even the experience of a parent has this luxury.  Schools punch the time clock.  If you can't keep up, you are labeled as "behind" and sent to an after school tutoring program.  As a parent, when your child seeks help, you may be off to soccer practice, buying groceries, on the phone, filling the gas tank, etc.

What more could a parent want for their child than when, at the moment their child seeks help, there is a supportive caring person ready to help, right away, for as long as they need it?

A few months ago, a student said to me, "Can we talk?"
"Sure!" I said.
We sat down right there and talked about life... and nothing in particular.  Ten minutes later, when the student said what she had to say, "Thanks!  I'm going outside now."

What does a student learn from that?  They learn that they matter.  They learn that they are an independent person who is respected.  They learn that no matter how busy life gets outside of school with parents, friends and activities, that school is a safe space where they can be who they are without judgment or evaluation or postponement.

As I tell our parents:

Any environment can teach math but not every environment can teach self-worth.

That is the luxury of time.  Only Sudbury offers this and it is an honor to be part of a school that puts students first, foremost and always.

-Dave Soleil

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