Commitment #1: Students Love School
Students must love school.
What is your first thought when you read that statement?
Maybe it’s something along these lines:
“Sure, that would be ideal. Good luck pulling it off.”
“That would be nice, but not if it comes at the expense of learning. Learning is more important!”
Let us reiterate: students must love school. It is the first principle of education. A love of school creates the atmosphere necessary for students to succeed. Everything else (learning, creativity, risk-taking, hard work) follows from a love of school.
Love of school is the secret sauce. At Alpha, it’s a passion verging on an obsession. Most educational institutions have ceased to believe in the powerful magic of a student actually loving school.
Let’s get one thing straight: when we say loving school, we don’t mean that school is easy, or that we should go to Six Flags everyday, or that we cater to every student’s whims. In fact, if students really love school, then they are more motivated to take on harder tasks that push them out of their comfort zone to grow their abilities.
So what does it mean to treat “love of school” as our first principle of education? Here’s how we create an atmosphere that students love at Alpha:
Challenge & Competition
- Look at video games or sports for proof that kids love these two things.
- Students want to feel progress. They want to work on problems that challenge them at the outer edge of their capabilities. We do this through hands-on projects and personalized learning apps that meet the student at his or her level.
- Students want to compete with each other, so we create engaging competitions based on achievement in learning apps.
- Students want to learn in an environment where they are known and loved. They need to be surrounded by adults who care about them deeply and expect them to be great every single day.
- Do you have a group of students that loves The Avengers? Create a history project based on Black Panther or make a trip to Endgame the pull through for a super rigorous goal.
Sense of Place
- Love of school is about the practices and spatial design that make any place exciting and thought-provoking. Moveable furniture? Check. Rituals built into the schedule? Check. We pay attention to the details when we create the physical and social environment at Alpha.
- Students must feel like they own their time at school. Here’s an example: When I asked Tommy, a thirteen-year-old transfer from a public school, why he loved Alpha, he said, “I like that there’s no teacher breathing down your neck. At public schools, teachers feel like they own you when you’re in their class. At Alpha, I feel like it’s my time.”
- Guides are expected to make sure students love school. It’s part of our job description.
“Okay, but hold on — ensuring a love of school seems tricky. After all, students are fickle and happiness is hard to measure.”
Good point. To deal with this problem, we go above and beyond in collecting student feedback. We survey every student at the end of each session to see if they are loving school. After every project, we ask what they liked and what could have been better. We are always serving the student and making sure they enjoy their time at school.
What’s the bar for success? It’s high. To us, loving school means a student is more excited to go to school than skiing in Aspen or scuba diving in Belize.
When students feel ownership over their time, can work on difficult problems, can receive consistent quality feedback, and can create strong bonds with their peers and guides, then they will jump aboard — and they will love school.