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The Leadership Education Continuum
The following is a submission from Diann Jeppson and Jodie Palmer. It was originally published in the appendix of Oliver and Rachel DeMille's book, Leadership Education. Learn more at www.homefires.ws.
The Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy has an audacious purpose—the transformation of our families and our classrooms. It is this kind of transformation that will decide the quality of the liberties that we, our children, and our grandchildren enjoy.
In fact, the pendulum of our future swings on the fulcrum of this transformation.
What Leadership Education presents is nothing less than an educational and cultural shift, through principles and methods employed by great men and women throughout history.
But the transformation experienced through these pages will not be without some pain. It will feel much like traveling to a new country – a place that feels at once foreign and familiar. We feel a deep resonance with the principles of Leadership Education, but how to really know them, and own them and how to offer these gifts to our children? We wish that from the beginning we had been given the upper hand in our own education, but by and large, we have mostly grown up with the conveyor belt system of education.
We cannot expect to enter this new country and suppose that it will be tamed for us, or that we will master it upon our first arrival. However, the path we walk through this country is tried and true. Great leaders and countless great citizens have been invited by trusted mentors to walk this way. But the path has become overgrown and some stones have accumulated, causing us to stumble at times.
Let us clear the path and leave plain trail markers for the next generation and beyond.
We will walk this way together; teaching, mentoring and inspiring each other - transforming together. We will journey not as those who wish to sit passively by the wayside (as experts tell them how it all should be done), but as people who are engaged in the joint effort of building and nurturing a Liber culture.
As you prepare to engage with this remarkable philosophy, we offer you a map of Leadership Education to guide your steps, to help you see your way more clearly. The name of this map is…
Colored Legos lay strewn across the carpet like confetti. A small boy in overalls eyes them keenly. A dozen possibilities flash through his mind. He sits and begins to piece them together. After an hour, a wonderful new machine emerges from the confusion. “Mom!" he calls, “Come and see what I’ve made!”
Like the little boy’s Lego’s, the principles of the Four Phases, the 7 Keys and the 5 Environments come together to build Leadership Education.
The exciting thing is that just like the endless possibilities of Lego’s, the principles of Leadership Education come together in so many creative ways, with the ability to tailor fit the unique circumstances of individual families. However, it isn’t unique to feel the pain of recircuiting from Conveyer Belt to Leadership Education. The solution to the problem is not someone telling us “how to do it,” but to begin practicing thinking, seeing, and behaving differently.
The Leadership Education Continuum is a pictorial description of the relationship between Leadership Education principles and you, the parent. The Continuum gives you clarity about where to begin thinking, seeing, and behaving differently.
What if you were hired for a job and were never told what it was you were supposed to do, and were never informed of the resources available to accomplish whatever it was you should be doing? Can you connect with what it might feel like to go to work every day in that sort of position? For many starting to engage in Leadership Education, it can feel just like going to a job having no idea what you are supposed to be doing. You know you signed up to build a Leadership Education home, you know about inspire not require, you not them, classics not textbooks, group discussion, coaching, getting from core phase to scholar phase, but . . . what’s the job description? It’s all a big swirl in your mind.
On the other hand, what would it be like to have a job where your responsibilities and the resources available were clear to you, and you went to work everyday knowing exactly what your focus was? How much better might you be able to do your job?
Rather than telling you “how to do your job,” The Continuum depicts what your job is as a Leadership Education teacher or parent, and identifies what resources are available to you to successfully accomplish your work.
If putting Leadership Education into practice feels overwhelming to you right now, then you will be glad to know that your job description simply consists of three things. Uno, dos, tres, that’s it.
The quality of teaching within our family begins with the quality of our family relationships. In Duane Boyce’s article, “Better than Punishment” he writes, “[I]f my teaching is consistently falling flat, the answer is not to teach more. That's often the temptation, but it's a mistake. When my teaching is failing, the solution is to build better relationships.”
Trying to focus more on teaching when we experience problems in our teaching environment is an honest mistake. We tend to spend most of our time focusing on the things that go wrong rather than focusing on how to make things go right. Duane Boyce continues, “[W]hen parents are given a chance to ask questions about parenting, some of the questions sound like this:
“What do we do to stop our children from fighting?
“What do we do when our children don't come home on time?
“What do we do when our children fail to do their homework?
“What do we do when our children don't do their chores?
“What do we do when our children resist Family [Time]?
“And some of the questions sound like this:
“How do we teach our children to be responsible?
“How do we help our children love each other?
“How do we help our children excel in the things they do?
“How do we help our children enjoy family activities?
“The first set of questions boils down to one question: What do we do when things go wrong? The second set boils down to a second question: How do we help things go right? When asked which type of question is primary, most parents say it is the second. But when parents are asked which question they actually spend more time on, they almost always answer the first.”
Therefore, Job #1 is to first focus on what primarily contributes to helping things go right—developing, nurturing, and healing relationships.
When the principles of “you not them” and “inspire not require” are discussed, what is actually often heard is, “I have to be the all inspiring being. It all falls upon my shoulders.” That’s a heavy weight to bear, and there are few of us that feel we can measure up to such an expectation. Continuing with this misconception is a sure way to become discouraged!
Mastery of Job #2: Create an Inspiring Environment, requires that we first correctly understand the job title. The truth is, yes, we must work to be inspiring and inspired, but the job description does not read “Be the End All Inspirer.” It reads “Create an Inspiring Environment.” Our job is not to take on the responsibility to be the sole inspirer, but rather to engage appropriate resources to create an environment that is inspiring. The purpose of Job #2 is to increase the likelihood and frequency of your children’s engagement in wholesome learning activities.
If you asked, “What are the 7 Keys?” then you’ve just identified your next assignment—study the 7 Keys until you understand them and can begin considering how to introduce and engage them in your home.
You already have many systems in your home. Some are default systems that may be accomplishing ends that you would rather not have. Some are systems that are badly designed so that they aren’t accomplishing the desired results they were intended for. Custom-Made Systems are consciously created systems which accomplish the ends they were designed for. Many examples of Custom-Made systems are found throughout this book. A few of these systems are: Devotional, Chores, The Closet, The Six-Month Purge, Scholar Contracts, etc. There are an endless number of custom -made systems. The critical requirement for mastering Job #2 is that you begin to consider and build custom-made systems within your home.
The Arts of Inspiring are specific ways of thinking and behaving that encourage an inspiring environment to develop.
A major stage of a young child’s life is his awakening of the knowledge of his power to make choices. This elicits a keen enthusiasm to exercise that power as often as possible! The Art of Variety harnesses on this enthusiasm. It is based on the simple principle that children are more likely to engage when presented with a variety of choices. This can include books, resources, things to see, hear and touch, places to visit and people to meet.
It is powerful when children can engage in topics of study on their own terms and in their own time. Often, they are not as likely to become interested in topics in which they feel expected to take an immediate interest. If children are in an environment where they may simply watch without being required to engage, the possibility increases for a more natural development of curiosity. Though both types of invitations are completely appropriate, when children say, “Mom, I want to do that;” the strength of their engagement is stronger than if a parent were to say, “would you like to do that?” Gently and consistently expose your children to lots of new ideas, people, activities, books, music, art, etc. Then wait patiently to see where things may go from there.
With grace and skill, an accomplished ballroom dancer can partner with a novice by leading in such a way that the inexperienced dancer will successfully enjoy the dance. This is the art of the dance – to help children choose for themselves, and then support them as their interest grows.
There are times for being direct, but opportunities are sometimes lost when we ask a direct question too soon or in the wrong way. There are important steps to the dance. The atmosphere should feel easy and safe. It should be evident that the parent’s interest in the topic is a natural thing. A casual tone and a good ear are essential. Without the right atmosphere, we just end up stepping on each other’s feet. It turns into manipulation.
One mother relates her experience with the Art of The Dance:
“I wanted my children to learn to spell, so I bought them each a stationary kit and an address book. I asked grandmothers and cousins to write letters to them. I kept my eyes open for misspelled words on signs and pointed them out as we passed by. I talked to them about the unwritten message in a misspelled sign. I suggested that I would be happy to help them spell the words whenever they wanted to write a letter. I read to them a dramatic story of a spelling bee. I asked them to quiz me on words I was learning to spell. Eventually, I began to ask them to spell words when we were in the car. And finally, I invited them to practice words from the spelling book. They agreed. The process took a few months, but now spelling is a regular practice in our family.”
Becoming inspired is first about identifying which phase you are in and then deeply engaging with that phase. Then, at the right time and in the right way, talk to your children about the things you are learning. Let them feel your passion for the knowledge you are gaining. Extend the scope of our own interests. If you’ve never read science fiction, now is a good time to start. How about chemistry, or bread making or the solar system? Become adventurous and step out into some topics you’ve never considered learning about.
“I want my children to feel the passion I have for my work, so as each of them enters young adulthood I invite each in turn to serve as my personal secretary. They have done a spectacular job, organizing files, writing letters, filling out deposit statements, arranging things in my office and assembling packets of handouts for clubs and seminars. As they increase in skill and experience, I give them more difficult assignments. While we work together, I talk to them about why I do what I do and what books and people have influenced my decisions. They have definitely caught hold of the inspiration I feel about my work.”
Your third job is to effectively respond when your children exhibit a desire to learn. When we begin to successfully engage our first two jobs, we eventually enjoy the enthusiasm of children who are excited and ready to learn. Now it’s time for us to get to work and effectively respond!
Four Arts of Responding Effectively
Again, the Arts of Responding are unique ways of thinking and behaving when we identify a spark of interest from our child.
Engagement is the art of responding in the moment when a child exhibits an initial interest. Even the simplest spark can ignite an exciting adventure of discovery.
An experience Diann had with her daughter illustrates this tool:
“One evening, as I was tucking Macey into bed, with her toy Curious George,
she looked at me earnestly and asked, ‘Why doesn’t Curious George have a tail?’ ‘Actually,’ I explained, ‘Curious George isn’t really a monkey; he’s an ape and apes don’t have tails.’ She registered a look of amazement. After a moment of creative consideration, I decided to engage with her simple expression of curiosity. ‘Hey, Macey, how about we have Monkey Month. We can check out lots of books about monkeys and apes. We’ll get the Curious George movie and buy a big bunch of bananas.’ She was tremendously excited and immediately agreed. During the month, we discussed monkeys and apes at great length. She learned that only New World monkeys have prehensile tails, which led to a lengthy discussion of the New World and Old World . I taught her about Columbus and showed her the position of the continents and oceans. She drew loads of pictures and wrote a story about monkeys, asking my help with spelling and wondered if her handwriting was good. She invented a club for her friends and wrote a club creed : , 1. To explore, 2. To record their discoveries in their journals and 3. To eat snacks. She engaged my support in arranging a club trip to the zoo. She spent hours constructing handmade journals for each friend. Upon arrival at the zoo, she had her friends stand in a circle and read the club creed together —copies of which she had printed to distribute. As we walked through the zoo, she explained to her friends all about prehensile tails and the Old and New World . I smiled to myself as I considered all of the subjects we had covered during ‘Monkey Month’…biology, art, geography, history, language arts, leadership, public speaking…”
The Art of Preparation is like designing a webpage. The webmaster does a significant amount of back end work to create a webpage that is attractive and easy to navigate on the front end. In other words he prepares well to receive interested visitors. With some careful preparation, we can be ready to teach when our children are ready to learn. Whether it means to acquire some great resources ahead of time, or to simply plan the next day, our preparations are an invaluable way to capture and nurture the sparks of our children’s interests.
“At the checkout stand, my young children became excited over the large amount of change I received. What magic was this? I tried to explain the concept of change to them, but my attempts fell flat. I considered the situation and the next morning I was prepared. Menus in hand and pencil behind one ear, I greeted the children when they came into the kitchen for breakfast. ‘Welcome to Mom’s Café!’ I exclaimed, ‘I’ll be your waitress this morning. Please have a seat. Here are your menus. I’ll be back to take your order in a moment.’ The children were delighted. My handmade, colorful menus depicted several choices for breakfast fare, each item displaying a price from 1 to 5 cents. They helped each other read the menu and decided what they wanted to order. ‘Waitress!’ they called. I took out my order pad and carefully wrote out each child’s order in the form of a math equation. I set a can of loose change on the table and welcomed them to use it to buy their breakfast. I casually pointed out the differences between the various coins and informed them of the values of each. I hinted that they might lay out the pennies to assist them in completing the equations on their order forms. This game became so popular that we played restaurant most mornings for several months. The menus adjusted for ‘inflation’ with increasingly complex prices and the children learned to add, subtract and make change.”
The Art of Integrityis simply about keeping our agreements. When we fail to keep a commitment to assist a child with learning, it communicates something to the child about the value of that topic of interest, and their own value as well. Integrity also means sticking to our own plans, such as calling the family together each evening, because of our decision to maintain a consistent tradition of family reading. Integrity is about supporting and building habits of learning.
The Freedom Agreement
Regarding freedom, we live with an interesting dichotomy. With the founding of the United States , freedom was determined to be “self-evident” and the right way to structure a society. However, within our culture we have created systems diametrically opposed to freedom, systems created on the foundational belief that freedom does not work. The conveyer belt system of education is one example of this type of system.
Leadership Education is founded on the principle that freedom in education works. Living with the freedom dichotomy, it’s no wonder that we feel pulled when we are presented with deciding to trust the principles or not. We believe in the idea of freedom, but we have also been trained to believe that when it comes to important things like reading and math freedom does not work. When it really matters, compulsion is the only option.
So, as we open the door of the Freedom Agreement we are presented with the real challenge of Leadership Education—believing that freedom does in fact work.
The center bar, or the Freedom Agreement, in the center of the Continuum diagram represents the defining line between parental freedom and our children’s freedom.
The “Child Response” arrow points to the top portion of the Continuum, representing the hemisphere of Leadership Education that parents do not have control over—what children feel inspired about and their movement through the phases of Core, Love of Learning, and Scholar. We can force them to do math, but we can’t compel them to be inspired about it. No matter how much we want or think they ought to be in scholar phase we cannot force their movement through the phases.
The Freedom Agreement contains the most common fear that we all must come face to face with when deciding to engage in Leadership Education or not. “What if they don’t want to do . . .” You fill in the blanks. It’s true that the result of freedom is that someone may not choose what you would have chosen for them. What then?
Why am I choosing to engage in Leadership Education? What is the ultimate result that I want to achieve?
If your ultimate objective is to make absolutely, positively sure that your child knows how to do algebra before age 12, then you would be better off to choose a different model of education. But, if your ultimate objective is to build a man or woman who understands the nature of freedom, has experienced how to use it, and has a deep love for learning and is practiced in the skills of a scholar, then you have chosen a model of education that will facilitate that end.
A misconception that parents often have about educational freedom is that it means unstructured chaos. The Continuum should clear up this misconception. The truth is that a parent’s and teacher’s true role is to create a significant structure of relationship, inspiration, and responding within which educational freedom thrives. Chaos takes over when we misunderstand the principles or neglect our three jobs.
Does educational freedom or “inspire not require” mean that children are free to do whatever they want and teachers/parents shouldn’t require anything? Remember, you hold the mantle of responsibility you have the right and privilege of determining the parts of your classroom or family culture that are not negotiable.
To begin thinking, seeing, and behaving differently, refocus your efforts on your 3 jobs. Understand them, and then begin the work of mastering them. Consider your commitment to the Freedom Agreement. As you earnestly seek to implement the principles of Leadership Education, you will begin to see and understand how true educational freedom can transform lives and light a fire in the hearts and minds of your children.
Mrs. Jeppson and Mrs. Palmer, both graduates of George Wythe University, provide parent mentoring and parliamentary procedure training and services through their organization Homefires. To learn more about the latest in the TJEd community visit TJEd Marketplace and TJEd Online.
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