What we do differently
There is a sense of what we are wanting for our children. We wish for them to be recognised as unique. We wish for their potential to be explored and realised. We wish for them to be happy and find ways in which to relate to the world in prosperous and successful ways. We wish for them to find friendship, love and peace.
We wish for them to accept the challenges that a complex world presents to them and to grow and learn from these experiences. We wish for them to know who they are and to understand and be sensitive to who we are all together.
The biggest question is "How can we do this?"
We wish to share with you some of our experiences and ideas on how we are beginning to achieve this. It is for these reasons that principals and teachers of schools, educational psychologists, family therapists and curriculum developers are coming to observe our learning spaces and to share in the excitement of Synergy Schooling. Synergy School provides an environment where children, parents and teachers experience a powerful and meaningful life of living and learning together. This is accomplished through three essential components of The Synergy Schooling Approach:
1. The Emergent Curriculum invites children to co-create their learning environment and academic content so that it becomes relevant and meaningful to them. (see below for more on this topic)
2. The Effective Parenting Programme facilitates parents in awareness and skills, supporting them in parenting their children consciously. (see below for more on this topic)
3. We focus on empowering the children, teachers and parents. Empowering people happens through powerful communication and relationship skills. All teachers and staff go through extensive communication training and personal development processes (Life Coach training). This enables powerful leadership and communication skills that result in empowered children who experience their own potential and have the belief that “I can..” (see below for more on this topic).
Think it it like this... As a professional life coach, these teachers can coach the Directors and Mangers of any organisation. If there were not passionate about education, they would be charging between R1000 - R2500 per hour coaching executives in the corporate world. Now imagine that your child/ren are surrounded by these skilled people who will continuously interact with your child/ren and experience empowerment which only a school like ours can provide?
- Description of The Synergy Schooling Approach
- An emergent curriculum that is child originated and teacher framed
- The Effective Parent Programme
- Staff as powerful communicators (Life Coaches)
- The impact of our Daily Journals
- Parents are included
- Our effective Parent Communication Process
- Demonstrating effective and dynamic team work
- The use of effective communication in our daily routines
- The use of Multi-aging and peer group learning
- We support relationship building
- From Time Tables to Time Webs
- Our weekly planning cycle starts on a Wednesday
The Synergy Schooling Approach...
...is not something you buy into or a philosophy you need to subscribe to. It is not a packaged curriculum that you purchase and read from page one to the end. Instead it emphasis the journey, seeking to understand who we are and how we relate to the world within us and around us.
We are all a learning group, a collection of persons who are emotionally, intellectually, and aesthetically engaged in solving problems, creating products, and making meaning - an assemblage in which each person learns autonomously and through the ways of learning of others.
As teachers, we bring our own growth and development into play. We value educating ourselves as well in the current context. We are, ourselves, becoming, changing, in a passionate, compassionate, and aesthetic relationship with those we are educating.
We therefore keep asking ourselves provoking questions. How do we come to understand the world and our experiences of it? How do we change our minds about how and what things are as they are, evolving and deepening our understanding? How can one person come to understand another's understanding? In what ways can the effort to understand another's understanding become the foundation of a serious pedagogy?
The Synergy Schooling Approach is therefore not bound by ideals, nor time. It is eclectic, flexible and sustainable. It acknowledges the importance of emotions, friendship, competencies, relationships, multiple intelligences and well being.
An emergent curriculum that is child originated and teacher framed:
The Emergent Curriculum emphasises what children learn rather than what they are taught, thus enabling the possibilities of both active participation and active learning. An independent curriculum moderator spent a few weeks with our Gr 5 & 6 class and commented that this was the best example she has seen of our national curriculum being implemented.
The Synergy Approach is not bound by ideals or time. We do what works and change what doesn’t. It is therefore eclectic, flexible and sustainable. It acknowledges the importance of emotion, friendship, competencies, relationships, multiple intelligences and well-being.
Where traditional schooling has a pre-determined curriculum, which does not necessarily consider what is relevant to children’s lives, an Emergent Curriculum supports the development of learning that is both experiential and deeply satisfying.
The emergent curriculum originates from the children’s interests and is then framed by the teacher to engage children in a meaningful educational experience. By supporting children in their questions and by taking them seriously, Synergy School creates a curriculum that becomes more than rote repetition. Their experience of school is exciting and fulfilling to everyone involved…and they still get to learn to read, write and do maths at the same time!
Projects are started where children explore in depth ideas and concepts building on their understanding of the world around them. The teachers role is to make this learning visible to the children themselves and to the greater learning community. This becomes experiential learning. This becomes real education.
The Effective Parent Programme:
At Synergy School we believe in the co-construction of an environment with children, parents and teachers who work together as a team. To enable this we offer support structures to empower parents in their understanding of their children's development. We feel many parents are not normally invited as co-participants in their child's education. There is much frustration, as parents try to engage with schools yet have no channels to do so. Synergy School's long-term aim is to provide support to parents in the form of workshops, consultations and literature. The Effective Parenting Programme (EPP)
(see here for a detailed overview of the Effective Parent Programme) consists of multiple elements to increase the opportunities for parents to become actively involved in their children’s education. This includes Daily Journals (for each class) detailing the daily activities, interests and experiences of their children, written by the teachers and e-mailed to all parents (see below for examples).
Social integration time twice daily (see below) is a time parents are invited into the school to be with their children, teachers and other parents, offering time and opportunity to create quality relationships with the people at school with their children. Each class also has weekly e-mails (see below) which share with the parents what is being learnt and how parents can support this learning at home.
As part of the experience of Synergy Schooling, we also offer a selection of workshops and information sessions (see below) that revolve around our patterns of communication and how they impact on the development of self-confidence and self-esteem. These workshops open up the possibility of fundamentally transforming the relationship with your child.
Staff and Teachers as powerful Communicators (Life Coaches)
to view the infomation on this amazing project, click here
The impact of our Daily Journals:
Journaling is a way in which we reflect on the passing day. At the end each day that class reviews and reflects the days photos and experiences. We find children enjoy sharing their stories and thoughts and this has lead to much friendship building and an increased awareness of school being a place of living and learning together.
Some of these pictures and reflections are then printed and placed where parents can read them on coming into the school to collect their children. On reading the journals, the parents get an understanding of what has happened in the day. This creates an effective starting point when catching up with their children besides the ineffective, "So what did you do today?"
We have also found that through this process much learning extends into the home environment as parents are more aware of where their children's current interests are. These are also e-mailed to all parents. This leads to the building of authentic and integrated knowledge. Sometimes we read back the previous days journal to the children which again evokes positive memories and often motivates the continuation of learning from the previous day.
A parent shares his comments about the daily journal, "What a pleasure it is to be at work and to receive an e-mail that has photographs of what happened in my son's class that day. I also find that when I get home I can have a really good conversation with him because I already have an idea of what happened. Thank you. This has changed our relationship so much!"
Have a look at these daily journals (only 80kb in size) (pdf document can be viewed with Adobe Acrobat) to see what we mean:
Social Integration time: Parents are included:
There is a growing awareness that parents are active participants in the educational process of their children. The Synergy Schooling Approach recognises that parents are their children's primary educators. We therefore seek to work in partnership with them. Children are learning how to be human by observing and mimicking the adults and other children in their environments. In the morning and again in the afternoon, we invite parents into our learning spaces where we build and nurture these relationships.
Parents use this time to talk to the teachers, do creative activities with their children or to just talk to other parents. These are not compulsory times but should rather be seen opportunities to be used. These time slots allow for the parents and teachers to share thoughts and understandings about their children; it allows for parents to share in learning experiences with their children and more importantly it demonstrates team work and co-operational skills which are essential for fulfilling social interaction.
The sense of connectedness extends beyond the children as parents begin developing friendships with the other parents. The school becomes a place of positivity and of belonging for all children, their parents and their teachers.
We also run numerous workshops that support parents in understanding their communication patterns, the nurturing of self esteem, confidence building, relationship building and family emotional intelligence. These are not lectures about learning skills but a space to explore our understandings and for parents to feel supported by each other and the schooling environment. These have proved very effective in supporting the transformation of many families' dynamics.
Our effective Parent Communication Process:
Each week our teachers correspond in writing with the parents of the group to create a sense of connectedness and continuity between the school and home environment. This process enables the teachers and parents to further their understanding of how to support the development of the children.
Parents therefore feel up to date with what the class is working on and at times what they can do to support the learning in the home environment. Some parents often share their insights with the teacher which again influences the design of future learning. In this way teachers and parents become a team, driven by the aim to provide the best environment and support for their children.
Demonstrating effective and dynamic team work:
The ability to work effectively and efficiently in a team is an incredibly valuable skill to have. To work synergistically with others requires much more than just skills though. It requires an awareness of yourself in relation to others, a sensitivity to what is going on around you and a willingness to explore other ideas than your own. Therefore we move away from traditional schooling of teachers being isolated behind closed doors. We often team up with colleagues which enables us to avoid stagnant routines.
This team work provides for an arena of spontaneity, fun and exploration. It allows us to utilise 'learning moments' as they arise and to share in this process with others. We are moving away from role models being merely individuals. We are searching for dynamic relationships that demonstrate the potential of synergies. These are the skills and patterns children need to observe, mimic and integrate into their personalities.
The use of effective communication in our daily routines:
Communication is recognised as a key component of effective relationships. The quality of a relationship is based on the quality of the communication. It is essential to know the difference between words that demoralise and those that give courage; between the words that trigger confrontation and those that invite co-operation; between the words that make it impossible for the child to think or concentrate and the words that free the natural desire to learn. How can we nurture respect, confidence, creativity and integrity in our children and in the people around us?
We consciously look at our communication patterns and continuously reflect on ways to make ourselves and others feel understood and valued. Communication is a complex process that involves much ambiguity. Often it is not what we say that is important but what is understood by others when we say it. We listen carefully and deeply with acceptance and say our point of view as clearly as we can. We pay attention to the changes generating within us as we interact. We let go of any truths we consider to be absolute. We give value to negotiation as a "strategy of the possible."
The use of Multi-aging and peer group learning:
The photographs on the left demonstrate how children natural choose situations where they wish to share in the play and learning of peers of different ages and different competency levels.
We have found that older children demonstrate much care and pride in sharing with younger children. At the same time their self esteem rapidly increases as they are acknowledged as respected and important.
The younger children are often motivated by observing the older children and are like sponges in their thirst for knowledge and ideas the older children share. On both sides there is a strong sense of positivity and a sense of community.
At Synergy School we view this as a constructive opportunity and so create opportunities for these situations to arise, especially in the creative time slots and in the outside play environments. Children need to learn to work and play with people who are different individuals. These are the essential social skills for effective synergy creation.
We support relationship building:
Relationships form the core of what is means to human. We seek them out to form a sense of connectedness. Through them we come to have a sense of belonging and the development of our human potential can only happen with them.
Although these relationships are continuously being formed whether we plan it or not, there are many things we can do to support children in the exploration of this process. Our aim is to develop effective and fulfilling relationships that develop into fantastic synergies with other people.
Our goal at Synergy School is not to teach children about relationships but rather to support children in their exploration of them. Here we will structure our spaces to allow for small groups to form and for experiences to be shared. Our teachers are there to create a safe physical and emotional space as the children sometimes succeed and fail to sustain their relationships. We do not just resolve conflicts but support the children as they move deeper into their emotional understanding of the conflict. More importantly is that this process is not slotted into a weekly activity but takes precedence over some of the other structured learning that may have been planned.
From Time Tables to Time Webs
We found time tables to be too compartmentalised. So we devised the "Time Web" that shows the interconnectedness of learning. This also shows how authentic learning is integrated across different learning areas (creative, numeracy, literacy, social etc) and meaning is made by encompassing the simple as well as the complex.
'Extra-murals' are inserted into the main curriculum becoming Entra-Murals. These experiences are part of human development and should not be classified as something that we do after educational schooling.
Meryl: "Here is the first design of the time web. I woke up at 4:00 am and had to start writing. The ideas were streaming into my head."
Our weekly planning cycle starts on a Wednesday:
By observing and listening carefully on Mondays and Tuesdays, we can get a sense of where children are at. This enables us to plan a structured environment on Wednesday and (continuing forward) that is relevant to the children's current interests.
We take note of the emerging projects and ideas and prepare for varying possibilities of where children's interests may lead to. This allows for much creativity and spontaneity for the children and for the teachers.