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Learner Driven Schools — Where the learners aren’t just the focus, they are the captain of the ship

March 22, 2021

Our Infinity School is an affiliate of the Acton Academy network and our program is rooted in Learner Driven principles. Let’s dive into what that means.

While each Acton Academy community has its own culture and personality, we are bound by the same key principles that drive our daily work:

Principle #1. HEROES  We treat each child as a hero with the respect deserved to a world changing genius, no matter the personality, learning style or circumstance.

Principle #2. PROMISES  We are bound to each other by promises outlined in contracts and a clear due process to limit adult power in our learning communities. Learners have agreed to join our communities with voluntary contractual freedoms and responsibilities.

Principle #3. QUESTIONING  We believe questions are more powerful than lectures; hence, a guide never answers questions. Instead of giving directions, guides offer choices and consequences which may include a recipe, process, example or game to further connection between other learners.

Principle #4. GROWTH MINDSET  We believe growth-mindset-praise fuels learning. Our guides offer growth mindset praise and personal testimony as encouragement, with “fresh eyes” every day. A guide may “hold up a mirror” as a reminder of promises made; however, a guide never issues grades or asks leading questions in order to manage behaviour.

Principle #5. EQUIPPING  Our primary role is to equip learners to lead their own small communities. At every opportunity, our processes are modelled and handed off to learners as soon as possible.

Principle #6. JOURNEYING  Each person in our learner driven communities is on a Hero’s Journey.  This means that all of the learners understand that the most important work to be done requires the courage to look where they least want to look in order to discover the next step on their Hero’s Journeys.

-Jeff & Laura Sandefer, Acton Academy co-founders (with edits)


The Learner Driven Approach: How and Why it Works

A learner driven approach inspires, equips, and connects young people who embrace a Hero’s Journey to make principled decisions towards a more satisfying and fulfilling life because:

  1. The energy behind learning – and especially transformational learning – comes from the curiosity and drive of an individual learner supported by the community. The freedom to choose, supercharged by archetypal stories, is the rocket fuel of learning.
  2. The time tested tale of human development that has shaped civilization through the ages is that of the Hero’s Journey. In it, the heroes who are on a quest and supported by their community, search for their version of a worthy grail, which ends up changing them in the process. Being aware of the parts of the Hero’s Journey helps the learners bring more intention and awareness to their path and choices.
  3. The responsibility for setting the contracts and covenants that will form a community, along with choosing recipes, processes, and examples to solving real-world problems, develops complex problem solving skills and a sense of due process and justice in action.
  4. Socratic discussions develop listening skills, logic, perspective, and judgment for both the facilitator and participants that lead to powerful critical thinking.
  5. Multi-age studios mean learning can be shared peer to peer and within squads through critiques and joint projects in a way that shares and accelerates learning in an exponential way – and includes high levels of fun and engagement.
  6. Offering self-paced work in an environment where many types of gifts are celebrated, and improvement is praised rather than held to artificial adult standards, leads to an appreciation of excellence from within with multiple ways to win. Using trial and error experimentation includes experiencing the joys and fallouts of the process of learning. Continual improvement happens when learners try something and feel the consequences of that trial.
  7. Over time, through self-management and self-governance, learners shift from “me and now” to setting goals for the day, week, session, and year. They lengthen time horizons in a way that expands and deepens relationships with the use of Running Partners, squads, studios, and their campuses.
  8. Character development comes from making courageous choices in the face of real ethical dilemmas. This etches habits into the soul. All of the learning above requires permission to fail early, cheaply, and often to learn from mistakes. Young heroes often have the experience in non-learner driven contexts of being ordered about by adults who may not be operating from the learner’s best interest.  This unconstrained power on the part of adults must be limited by agreements made between them and the learners or learning shuts down. This happens when young heroes lose the freedom and responsibility to choose, which is at the core of free will. Properly protected from the misuse of adult authority, young heroes in learner driven studios:

-Jeff and Laura Sandefer (with edits)