Welcome To the Show!
Our first quest (Building the Tribe) flew by in a blink. On Thursday, they will welcome parents and guests to their very first exhibition of learning for the year, in an exciting, hands-on (and therefore possibly messy), hero-led event.
Spark heroes have put in the hard work to learn the routine, the expectations, and the layout of this new, wild, wonderful place called school. Their focus has been on practical-life skills and their studio is filled with buttoning, spooning, pouring, baking, cutting, and trying-it-myself work. They will get to show you around, themselves, and sit you down one-on-one to exhibit their quest work. Your Spark heroic-parenting homework is to try to frame questions and praise for them in a growth-mindset format that praises their effort or journey rather than only valuing the final product (For example, “I can see how hard you worked on this and you must be so proud! Show me your favorite part!” instead of “This is beautiful!”).
Elementary, Middle, and High School
If you’ve read Courage to Grow, about the founding of the first Acton, you’ll know that Laura and Jeff Sandefer were dedicated to finding ways to show real-world mastery, as opposed to the type of mastery that is based on memorization and regurgitation.
“We thought about our own children,” Laura says, “How did we know when they had learned to walk? They walked! How did we know they could add and subtract in their heads? We’d play the card game “21” with them. For writing? We could see a comparison of the notes and stories they had written to us over time. This was the kind of proof we wanted at Acton Academy—applying learning to real-world situations and problems to show what the children could do not just how they could take a test. We knew we’d have portfolios of work and online dashboards to give detailed data documenting progress but what were we missing?”
The answer, as it turns out, was exhibitions. Whether that takes the form of a market where heroes count change, design advertising, and (try to) turn a profit, or a dramatic production where heroes face performance jitters, memorize lines, sew costumes, and sell tickets - these exhibitions ARE the “test,” the glue that sticks the skills into their memory, and often the motivation to perfect those skills. As Laura says, “Nothing like a deadline and an audience to get people cranking on their work.” And truly, the power of the exhibition extends past the actual event. On Friday, the heroes will have a morning of reflection as they watch back camera footage, read reviews that we leave, discuss highlights they are proud of, and think about where they could improve next time. They will head off into session break inspired and ready.
So what does that mean for us as Acton parents? As the “public” at this public exhibition? Quite simply, it means that we will find ways, over and over, to step back instead of step in. Because we know this process is for them. Exhibition is a safe place, surrounded by a safe audience of adults who have the same insight that you do to give them this growth opportunity. It is especially hard (but even more important) to give warm patience and stillness if they struggle, but remind yourself that struggle is where the magic happens. Don’t lead the process (from home or the audience). Ask genuine, thoughtful questions that you might ask of adult strangers in a public exhibition, rather than leading questions that get them to an answer. If it is messy, or chaotic, or there is a production disaster, give them the gift of the space to think of a solution - the space to fail safely - so that in retrospection, they have beautiful breathing room for ideas and growth.
This philosophy applies to all exhibitions, but it is even more important than ever at this week’s exhibition. Their quest theme was building their tribe. The objective, the Acton magic deliverable, is their ability to work as a team. They are designing every minute of this exhibition from how they greet their guests, to how they arrange chairs, to who says what, down to what they are even going to talk about/exhibit. Hiccups are expected and welcomed. They need to solve them as a team. It’s going to be gritty. It’s going to be real and powerful and beautiful in it’s imperfection. We’re so excited.
Join us on Thursday and hold on to your hearts, ya’ll. They are ready to fly this year and on Thursday, we will watch them take off.
Current parents, thank you for getting all the way through this blog post! Please hop back to slack and give me an emoji so we can follow up with families who miss the message. :)
You can read about the exhibition process in Laura Sandefer’s own words on her beautiful blog here: