New School Year! Nouvelle rentrée !

Version française ci-dessous!

 

And here it is, the beginning of a new school year.

For Sudbury School Paris, this is a grand step. A new year, with new faces, old faces and also old faces with new looks on them! Some of us haven’t met yet, some students will join us later on. But all, staff, parents and students alike, come with passion to this school.

It is the beginning of a new adventure! No anxiety for our pupils, no fear of leaving play at home, and having to sit down and be quiet. No homework to dread. Just fun, and learning through fun, without even noticing it happening! The questions won’t be: “Who will be our classmates?”, “Will I have a nice teacher?”, “Will we have plenty of free periods?” ; but rather: “Who will we meet?”, “What projects and/or which games will we invent?”, “What will we discover?”, and through all that “Who will we inspire ?”, “What will we learn?” .

For me, Sudbury School Paris is a beacon of hope and joy, an inspiration from which all can step up and be the best of themselves through the gift of acceptance. And what a gift it is!

As our new team was getting acquainted this summer, getting to know each other, finding our position in the school activities, sprucing up the place, making it welcoming for all on September 1st, there was already so much joy, realizing what we were accomplishing through this school. Sure, everyone was also wondering what the best strategies would be to make the school grow to its full potential, but that wasn’t the main feeling in the group. The main feeling was, “wow, look at what we’re doing here, for the students, for their families, for ourselves! Imagine if all the schools were like this!”

And as it happens,”this” is slowly trickling down. We witnessed how widely democratic schools were taking on in France during a wonderful evening with the other democratic schools in Paris e.g. the Ecole Dynamique and the Ecole Démocratique Paris Nord. The energy and creativity and trust in this philosophy was all around us that evening as we came to fully realize that numerous projects for democratic schools all over the country were popping out of the ground like mushrooms after the rain.

Furthermore, this new school year is witnessing the return of Celine Alvarez in the media. While she worked for the French public school system between 2009 and 2011, she has made wonders happen in Gennevilliers with students from underprivileged families aged between 3 and 6 years old using a complete autonomous way of learning. Although her methods included learning through a set of pre-established activities where adults incarnated the authority, her methods of total autonomy that emphases learning through self-motivated play and mixed age groups are totally in sync with what we are trying to do in democratic schools. She has just released a book, on August 31st, relating the scientific knowledge she used to base the principles for her work in Gennevilliers, the experiment she was allowed to conduct with those students and the results thereof. Of course these results were stunning, and scientifically validated, which will do much to advance the cause of autonomous learning.

We differ from Mrs Alvarez’s work since in our school we give students an even higher degree of autonomy: they can choose whatever activity they want, and they are responsible for the rule making and peace keeping through our school‘s meetings and judicial committees.

But we do share the underlying idea that students will only learn what is on their mind at any given time. Period.

And to put our minds at rest, simple observation shows us every day that their curiosity is infinite, so we needn’t worry about whether “what is on their mind” is enough. It goes far beyond!

Here is a french interview given by Celine on the occasion of her book coming out, and the TeDX talk with English subtitles that she gave a few years back is here, we hope you will enjoy them. In the meantime, we wish you all a joyful new school year, full of adventure and curiosity, and growing and learning through play.

 

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Voici venu le début d’une nouvelle année scolaire!

Pour Sudbury School Paris, il s’agit d’une grande étape. Une nouvelle année, avec de nouveaux visages, des anciens, et même des anciens relookés ! Certains membres ne se sont pas encore rencontrés, d’autres nous rejoindront en cours d’année. Mais tous, membres du staff, parents et élèves ont en commun le même engagement, et la même passion, pour cette école.

C’est le début d’une nouvelle aventure! Aucune anxiété n’attend nos élèves ! Pas de peur de fin d’été avant de s’asseoir et se taire en classe. Pas de devoirs en vue. Il n’y a que la liberté de pouvoir apprendre selon sa curiosité, sans même s’en apercevoir. Les questions ne seront pas « Mon instituteur sera-t-il gentil ? », « Aurais-je un emploi du temps satisfaisant ? » ; mais plutôt « Qui rencontrerons-nous ? », « Quels projets et/ou quels jeux inventerons-nous ? », « Qu’allons-nous découvrir ? » et à travers ces questions « A qui allons-nous donner de l’inspiration ? », « Qu’apprendrons-nous ? ».

Pour moi, Sudbury School Paris est un flambeau d’espoir et de joie, une invitation à se dépasser et à donner le meilleur de soi grâce au don de l’acceptation. Et quel don !

Cet été, lorsque les membres de notre équipe apprenaient à se connaître, à se positionner dans les activités de l’école, lors des travaux de grand ménage et d’accueil pour la rentrée, il y avait une omniprésente atmosphère de bienveillance. Bien sûr, nous nous demandions quelle stratégie adopter pour que l’école parvienne à son potentiel maximum, mais ce n’était pas le sentiment dominant. Ce qui se dégageait plutôt était « wow, regardez donc ce que nous sommes en train d’accomplir ici, pour les élèves, leurs familles et pour nous même ! Et si toutes les écoles de France étaient ainsi ? »

Et il s’avère que cet ”ainsi” se taille une place grandissante sur la carte scolaire. Nous avons pris conscience de l’ampleur du mouvement des écoles démocratiques lors d’une soirée inoubliable entre les 3 écoles démocratiques parisiennes, à savoir Sudbury School Paris, l’Ecole Dynamique et l’Ecole Démocratique Paris Nord. L’énergie, la créativité déployées, et la confiance entérinée dans cette philosophie étaient omniprésente ce soir-là, où nous avons eu le plaisir de constater qu’un grand nombre de projets d’écoles démocratiques étaient en train de sortir de terre, tels des champignons après la pluie!

Cette rentrée est également marquée par le retour de Céline Alvarez dans les medias. Ayant eu carte blanche au sein d’une école publique entre 2009 et 2011, dans un quartier de Gennevilliers répertorié priorité plan violence, cette jeune institutrice fit des merveilles avec ses élèves âgés de 3 à 6 ans. Son approche possède de nombreux points communs avec ce que nous prônons, à savoir qu’un élève apprend mieux quand il est motivé et non contraint, et qu’il doit être libre de travailler sur ce qui l’intéresse, au moment où ça l’intéresse. Elle vient de publier un livre relatant les fondements scientifiques de son approche, son expérience, et ses résultats. Bien évidemment, lesdits résultats sont surprenants, et puisqu’ils ont été validés par la communauté scientifique, cela fera d’autant plus avancer la cause de l’apprentissage autonome, libéré des contraintes des programmes et des classes d’âges.

Notre approche est différente de celle de Mme Alvarez, puisque notre école va encore plus loin dans les libertés (et donc les obligations) de nos élèves. Ils peuvent choisir n’importe quelle activité ou sujet d’étude, ces thèmes ne sont pas présélectionnés comme dans l’expérience de Gennevilliers. Ils sont également responsables des règles de vie de l’école, et de leurs applications à travers les Conseils d’École et les Comités de Justice, et non soumis à la hiérarchie de l’adulte.

Mais nous partageons le même fil conducteur : les élèves n’apprennent que ce qui les intéresse en fonction de leurs préoccupations, et s’ennuient et se dissipent si on les force à ingurgiter des connaissances non sollicitées. Cette confiance en l’élève, ce refus d’imposer une batterie de gavage, peut effrayer tant il diffère du modèle proposé par l’école de la République. Mais si vous souhaitez vous rassurer, une simple observation attentive de leur quotidien nous montre que leur curiosité est infinie et qu’il n’est pas nécessaire de nous inquiéter de savoir si « leurs préoccupations » seront suffisantes. Elles iront bien au-delà!

Voici une interview donné par Céline Alvarez pour la sortie de son livre, ainsi qu’une conférence, ici, qu’elle avait donné quelques temps auparavant. Nous espérons que vous les apprécierez. En attendant, nous vous souhaitons une bonne année scolaire, pleine d’aventure, de curiosité, pour grandir et s’épanouir !

Beginnings

Oh, neglected blog! In the true spirit of all things organic, dynamic, and under pressure: things have been happening but time to stand back and reflect on it has been limited. However, sharing our experiences of this journey is as vital as the stories taking place within the walls of our new school, so friends and supporters, please allow me to focus on a few personal moments, which have concreted this project in my head and heart…

Sitting on the toilet.
Yes. C’est vrai. One of the pivotal moments of this project for me so far followed our weeks of intense refurbishment at the school. With the help of the wonderful professionals at Les Ateliers Nobile, the building we inherited from l’École Dynamique was given a new coat of paint, some fresh lino and a pillar wrapped in cartridge paper to become a drawing wall (no more “don’t draw on the walls!”). Welcome to life without a prescribed programme: thought you were moving to Paris to open a school? Throw out romantic ideas of walking beneath the Eiffel Tower with a group of art-enthused students – time to chip concrete, paint walls, attach skirting, glue lino and sweep, mop and dust!

Creating the space
Finn working on the space

And at 10pm at night, with the final skirting attached to our bathroom walls, I took a satisfied look around me – empowered with new skills I never even knew I wanted, out of the necessity to reach a greater goal – and I realised this school was already working its sneaky magic on me.

Opening.
On the 13th of March we opened our doors to help celebrate and inaugurate our new building as the Sudbury School Paris. With staff, families, friends and lots of delicious food, we had a lovely afternoon of chats, discussion, play, and the launch of our new video. Any doubts that remained in my head about the necessity or viability of an English speaking Sudbury School in Paris were dispelled with one very moving conversation with some parents, and then watching as one of our students and their son began to spontaneously play together.

Chats at the School Opening Ceremony
Chats at the School Opening Ceremony

The couple explained to me how their son had proudly and enthusiastically presented his hand in greeting to his teacher on his first day of school in Paris. They explained to me how this first year teacher told him to sit down, be quiet and wait for instructions. This was his introduction to school. Mirroring similar conversations I’ve had, they explained how they were told their son had a “problem” because he asked questions, solved mathematics equations in different and creative ways, and had a lot of energy. He is nine.

This particular conversation made things real to me in a new way. As someone who came to education motivated to offer a holistic and empowering experience to young people, I was reminded of the acutely painful experience of parents attempting to navigate a compulsory education system which actively damages children. I was reminded how challenging and confusing it must be to be told your child has a problem, despite clearly engaging in the world in a healthy, curious and positive way. I was reminded of how isolating the process of searching for an alternative can be and how the intense desire to provide the best opportunities for your children does not provide a clear moral path in and of itself. I wasn’t then, and am not now, about to evangelise about the possibilities of democratic education, and I am aware of the leap of faith involved in engaging with our model, but I was proud to be able to feel, confidently, that by offering students the framework for free play, for engaging in academic materials on their own terms, and for learning through life, we are offering a model to educate, ultimately, with love.

Boring and exciting developments.
And so began the school. After our first week, sophrologist Benjamin Bouguier, from l’Ecole Dynamique facilitated a meeting for the staff team to review our internal workings. It was a moment of emotional truths, analytical reflection and authentic sharing. It was also a moment to celebrate something which was hard for us to see from so close to the project: we had just succeeded in opening a democratic School in two months. Now, this would not have been possible without the ground work of l‘École Dynamique and the encouragement and support of people from all over the world, as well as our first students and their parents, but nevertheless it was a good reality check: We did it! It is possible!

So, what remained was to integrate our little School Start-up Group into daily school life, with accessible and transparent processes for our students to participate in. Easy as that? Perhaps. The beauty of the Sudbury model, I realised – as we opened our doors and began to live and breathe this theory – is that our lives as staff are our “real lives,” and our personal commitments to authentic communication and self-responsibility are central to that philosophy. I cannot underestimate how different this is to my experience in the traditional school system in Australia, where as a teacher it was expected that I relate to students in a hierarchical manner, and act as an authority in all senses of the word. Anything else would be considered unprofessional or at worse a transgression of legal requirements, to the detriment of both mine and students’ shared experiences and possibilities for learning.

So, as Wolfie*(9) emerged from a ‘Game Theory‘ YouTube video discussing the reproduction methods of fungi via a conspiracy of Toad characters in Super Mario games, shouted “hugs!” and launched himself onto me with a surprise embrace while I typed away at a School Meeting agenda item about shared cleaning responsibilities, I felt grateful for this opportunity to allow natural human interaction to prevail over the illogic of modern day institutions.

Wolfie was also involved in one of the highlights of my experience so far: pulling up one of the staff in a transgression of the rules. His exasperated “I thought the whole point of this school was that we do things for ourselves!” in response to an overly prescriptive moment of direct instruction, was an assertion of his autonomy and indeed the Sudbury concept itself – brilliant! And I don’t think anyone appreciated this or laughed harder than the staff member themselves. Nobody is perfect, and we’re all learning new patterns of relating, but it is a relief to know that we are all sure of what we are trying to work towards and to know that we are willing to work with each other to get there.

Which brings me to one of the most exciting mechanisms in democratic education for me, the conflict resolution processes, which offers a completely different paradigm for dealing with interpersonal conflict and transgression of the School Rules. As staff and students have an equal vote on the rules and everything is subject to change through the School Meeting, anyone breaking the agreements can be held accountable to the community through our Judicial Committee. The idea behind it is to offer an objective space to allow all parties to air their version of what happened, and to come up with a sanction (or warning) through a panel of peers. It’s not a punishment so much as a safety mechanism for ensuring that the culture of mutual respect and liberty without license is protected in the school community. So, as the first two Judicial Clerks, Papyrus (13) and I have been working on what this will actually look like, and what happens from the first step where a complaint is made, through to a sanction being issued. He summarised this whole process beautifully, 45 minutes into our meeting, that this feels exciting, and boring, all at the same time! It’s exciting because it’s a whole new system but it’s boring because it’s like this. is. how. this. works. now.” Yup.

On of our first School Meetings
One of our first School Meetings

Bearing Witness.
So, with two students and five staff and our brightly painted building in our little corner of this big city, life is happening. And I, for one, have already learnt far more than can be captured in a single blog post. Prospects for our expansion come in every day with a growing list of interested parents and people wanting to contribute to the project. Within 6 months of each other l‘École Dynamique and ourselves have started, and by the end of this year 2 more Sudbury Schools are in the making for wider Paris. With Ramin’s TED Talk gaining popularity, a EUDEC France meeting planned for May, and IDEC@EUDEC coming up in July, there is a shared excitement that democratic education is a concept whose time has well and truly come.

Walking through Parc Montsouris on Friday and coming across six École Dynamique students, from age 3 to 13 playing together on a see-saw in the idyllic Parisian springtime sun, it was blatant how this method speaks for itself. Let kids be kids. Let people be people. Don’t get in the way, and let life, learning and joy happen. And frankly, it is an honour to bear witness to and be a part of it all.

Laying lino in the bathroom
Late night lino laying

 

– Belinda

 

 

 

 

*Names have been changed (to a name of the student’s choice), to respect privacy.

The Start of Something Wonderful

Hi all and welcome to our first blog post.

Sudbury School Paris is a new bilingual democratic school in the 13th arrondissement.

It is probably a different kind of school than the one you are used to.

Imagine for a moment a school where children are free to play all day if they wish and to explore their passions and interests for as long as they want and in as much depth as they want.

A school where every child feels safe, valued and heard.

A school where students are trusted with responsibilities far beyond those granted in the traditional school system.

A school where students have an equal say in how their school is governed.

Because it really is their school.

It is they who decide on the budget for art supplies.

It is they who create the rules.

And it is they who, through a system of justice, hear both sides of the story when rules are broken and decide on a fair sanction.

The Sudbury School Paris approach to education is based on the idea that every child has all the innate curiosity, creativity and motivation they need to become effective adults –  if given the right environment.

An environment of trust without scheduled lessons or timetables where every child is free to learn how and when they choose.

An environment without age groupings where every child is free to learn from students who are older or younger than they are.

An environment with caring adults who are helpers not judges and can be depended on if needed.

This is our vision for Sudbury School Paris.

We have our next public meeting at 19:00 on 28th of January and we open our doors on the 7th of March.

4 Rue du Dessous des Berges   Google Maps