Thursday, 22 February 2024 13:48

Je Ne Sais Quoi

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Have you ever walked in the Antioch School and wondered “What in the world is going on here?!” I have! I remember the first time I visited the school. I was a naturalist at Glen Helen at the time, and I wanted to learn more about the school and their unique approach to education. 

 

I left that visit full of emotion - I felt relief that a school like this existed - that there was a less oppressive place for children to spend their school days, and these fortunate students had the amazing opportunity to learn outside of more restrictive models of schooling. I felt joyful because the children’s joy was infectious and I couldn’t help but pick up some of that feeling. I was sad the visit was over! I felt that it was a truly good place to be, and I wanted to spend more time there. 

 

I also remember feeling intense curiosity. I knew I hadn’t gotten the whole story of the school from my short visit - there was a je ne sais quoi quality about it. What was so special about this place? A lot of what makes Antioch special is immediately apparent, but I remember feeling like there was so much more to understand, and I needed more time to sleuth it out. That visit was in the spring of 2018, so I’ve had a few years to develop my understanding of the special magic of the Antioch School. My understanding deepens every year - there is always more to learn! 

 

I’ve been thinking about my first school visit recently because we’ve been welcoming a lot of prospective families for pre-enrollment visits. Getting to know them and hearing their first impressions of the school makes me think that they too sense that there’s more going on under the surface, and they want to understand what makes the school a special place.  

 

This reflection is for those prospective families who are getting to know our school. It’s also for school families who are deepening their understanding as their children grow up through the program. I want to share some of the more subtle pieces of our school ethos that I’ve come to appreciate after a few years of observing and living school days at Antioch. These are the more intangible principles that aren’t immediately obvious after one visit. This is some of the philosophical framing that the school is built on. Without this subtle framing, the obviously-special things about the school wouldn’t be possible.  

 

The faculty and staff hold positive regard for the children, other faculty, staff, and school families. Holding unconditional positive regard means that someone supports and accepts others regardless of what choices they make or who they are. This includes when people make mistakes, both benign and harmful. It also includes accepting and supporting people who get on our nerves. In practice, holding unconditional positive regard means that when someone has transgressed in our community, we do not consider them to be a bad person. We consider instead that they are flawed just the same as we are, and they made a mistake. We try to maintain positive regard, even if someone has made a harmful choice. 

 

Unconditional positive regard is an essential tenet of our conflict resolution process, which is based on the principles of restorative justice. We practice a form of restorative justice in the form of “meetings”. Criminologist John Braithwaite describes restorative justice succinctly as

“a process where all stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm.” This is counter to our culture’s crime, punishment, and prison model of justice, where people can be essentially thrown away and excluded from society when they break the law. At school, meetings occur between transgressor and transgressed. Together they come up with a solution to their problem - they may also agree on amends to be made. 

 

At the Antioch School, teachers are trusted to lead and make decisions that are in the best interest of their students at school. Four of the five lead teachers serve on the school board every year. Teachers here have  autonomy over the educational program of their group. Teachers at Antioch are trusted, masterful observers of children, and their reports to families provide deep insight into their child’s experience. While serving on the board, teachers contribute to the governance and management of the whole school. 

 

We work as a team with families to support the children and keep the school running. Every family is asked to contribute volunteer time to the school every year. Just yesterday a parent volunteer was here after school replacing ceiling tiles. Parents weed the garden, spread mulch,  repair playground equipment, clean and organize classroom libraries, build shelves, serve on the board and board committees, plan school events, chaperone field trips, and so much more. The school would not run without their dedication. 



Every child is a capable learner - children are people who can thrive given time, space, and support to do so. This isn’t to say that children won’t have difficulties or barriers to overcome as they learn. It does mean we believe that children will learn and grow - at their own pace. They will achieve important milestones. They are able to do really difficult things!  We meet them where they are and go forward from there. There is no negative judgment - implicit or explicit - about when or how someone achieves the milestones of growing up. We celebrate the unique intelligences of every child, and compassionately support them while they work through things that are most challenging for them. 

 

Speaking of doing difficult things, children are resilient! Remarkably so, given they have a caring and supportive team of family, teachers, and friends! We believe children are capable of overcoming hardships, discomfort, and strife. Going through typical childhood hardships and discomfort is healthy for young people! It helps them learn how to process hard feelings that are a natural part of life. Children are going to live a life full of highs and lows. Part of our curriculum is teaching children how to cope with the lows, because they won’t always have an adult there to distract them from the lows, or make their problems go away.  




There is no single person who is in charge of the school. The faculty, staff, and board are all responsible for the governance of the school. We make big decisions together by consensus. Power to steer the direction of the school is decentralized and shared relatively equally between governing parties, with deference given to the teachers who are the stewards, caretakers, and historians of the school. Problem solving is left to the stakeholders who are involved. 

 

The nature of children is unchanging, but childhood and childrearing are subject to changes that come with cultural evolution.  The school opened in 1921. As an institution, we have a long track record of teaching and childrearing. Through this time and through generations of long-serving teachers, we have come to understand that children are born with the same nature as they were 100 years ago. We are first and foremost a child-centered school. Given that our approach is child-centered and the nature of children has not changed,  it follows that our approach to schooling has only changed a little over time. Trends in child rearing are constantly changing, and this means that we cycle through times of aligning more closely with these trends, and times when we are working in opposition to them. 



I’d love to hear your thoughts on our school ethos if you’re a school community member! You can send me your thoughts via email -  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.






Read 58 times
More in this category: « Painting Joe Ayres' Camry