Inspired Explorations Learning Community (IELC):
Trusting Children are Unfolding at Their Own Pace
A Vignette of Holistic Education
Imagine a place where children are embraced to grow to their fullest potential. Think of a classroom that actually isn’t a classroom because classrooms aren’t large enough to hold the “all” of us. Envision singing and playing games to learn how to read. Fantasize about creating art masterpieces to learn how to do math. Can you dream of such a magical place? Could this environment exist for our children? Yes, it does exist! Inspired Explorations Learning Community was born out of imagination!
Bethany Beaudry dedicated 11 years of her career in teaching in the public school system. She returned to work as a K-5 Phys. Ed. teacher after maternity leave. The staff was great, the kids loved her, and she enjoyed that she got to play all day. However, intuitively, she knew something was missing. She noticed that kids weren’t thriving in all their learning environments. Bethany acknowledged how children struggled as they were compelled to learn in certain ways. She recognized the need for them to have the opportunity to thrive based on their own learning styles, unfolding in their own ways. However class size, experience, and how the system trains educators hinders learner directed and strength based learning.
Within five months of returning to work, she knew she wanted to create a different educational offering. She acknowledged disconnect between how she felt learning should occur with learners and what was actually happening. This situation created some tension and caused Bethany to ask some challenging questions about the education system and how she could implement positive change.
Bethany was introduced (by a friend) to a thriving and different educational philosophy (encouraging students to lead their own learning and to author their own lives) that is embraced in the SelfDesign Learning Community. Her friend, who worked for the learning community, invited Bethany to investigate the master’s program through SelfDesign Graduate Institute. She subsequently enrolled and graduated with her Master of Arts in SelfDesign this past August. Bethany appreciated the community feel of the program and that she was empowered to design her degree to suit her learning needs and interests rather than be mandated to take specific courses in hope that they might lead to her passion in her work. SDGI created a space for her to learn how to follow her vision.
Bethany participated in a Universal Design for Learning course that resonated with her because of the profound discussion around truly meeting the needs of every child. Among her experiences with her UDL course, returning to teaching in a public school, and her master’s program, Bethany allowed herself to begin dreaming about what the learning community could look like. She envisioned a “home away from home” (possibly even meeting in a house with a yard to play and learn). She wanted to foster a comfortable, community support. She dreamed of a lower ratio of learners to mentors/teachers to allow for deeper relationships, and quality relationships extending to the entire family.
I had the privilege of being introduced to Bethany through SelfDesign Graduate Institute. Considering SDGI is based at Western Washington University (low residency/online programs) and not many people in my networks knew of the SelfDesign Learning Foundation, I was excited to know that another learner lived in Manitoba. Initially, we met at a youth event for homeschoolers. Bethany was already exploring various avenues to fulfill her dream of creating a learning community. We connected at our first residency and learned a bit more about each other.
I had the joy of assisting Bethany with her song games workshop for local teachers and professionals a couple years ago. One of our faculty (from B.C.) came here to facilitate the workshop for Bethany. The faculty member stayed at my home, I drove her to the Winnipeg locations for the workshops, and I had the honour to participate in one. This experience gave me further insight to Bethany’s dedication to provide a holistic learning environment for children. I was delighted to be a part of her journey.
We recently connected, again, at our graduation. I am so grateful to hear the updates about Inspired Explorations Learning Community. I look forward to more opportunities to join Bethany and the team to help promote awareness of IELC within our communities. I appreciate the touchstone connections with Bethany as a fellow holistic educator and am inspired by the engagement of community and growth that is taking place with IELC.
Inspired Explorations Learning Community is a not-for-profit organization with a vibrant and supportive board of directors. They work hands on with Bethany, the Executive Director. They are professionals and community members who support IELC’s vision and mission. They hire staff and assist with programming and field trips. In addition, the board members assist in administrative and human resource tasks. They spearhead fundraising initiatives and are a connecting bridge with the Parent Advisory Council. The board is an instrumental part of moving the learning community to the next level in becoming a not-for-profit school recognized (and funded) by the province.
Currently IELC is housed at the R.L. Stein Community Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s been a gift to have a place to begin the new learning community. Although they are not yet meeting in a home, Bethany reports that the essence of her dream is alive! She makes the time to build relationships with new learners and their families. This “school” feels like family. Everyone is benefiting from the principles, beliefs and values of relationships among learners and between mentors and learners. They are encouraged to have “big idea” questions, allowed to navigate the questions, and solve the problems. This sets the learners free to express their learning in their own ways rather than a group process.
The educators and staff honor the authenticity of each child’s learning process. They do not designate any child with “labels.” Rather, the staff is present to provide support for each learner embracing creative ways to work through any challenges. IELC provides a multi-age approach and this empowers the learners to be fine with wherever they are at along their educational journey. Children are truly respected in this community. They aren’t incentivized with stickers or other motivational rewards, instead they engage in evocative conversation with their peers and staff.
Children learn about mindfulness. They learn to be in tune with their senses through a program called Awareness Through the Body. They are asked inter-personal questions (such as, “how do you feel?”) that spark conversation. These social/emotional conversations provide support to the learning. They create a safe space for all senses and to share how they feel. This environment assists in keeping the children’s self-esteem intact and helps them thrive in their individual learning.
People are coming together to support the vision of IELC (To create an intergenerational community of lifelong learners who learn together, value each other, and honor each other’s authenticity. A community that creates a space to unfold naturally at one’s own pace, evolve consciously and foster socially compassionate and emotionally aware human beings). They are excited to be part of the blossoming of the vision! This community desires to grow and share their experiences with others.
When asked about how she perceives growth in IELC, Bethany offered a balanced perspective of sharing numbers for growth and the quality of the learning community. The inaugural year (2016–17) included 12 students in the community. This year, there are 15–17 learners on a daily basis. It’s crucial for IELC to be financially independent (through student fees and fundraising) until they’ve been established for three years (when they qualify to apply for provincial funding). Right now some children split their time between public school and IELC. Bethany hopes to continue to grow a solid foundation of full time learners. She acknowledges that positive student and family experiences that lead to them sharing their stories with the greater community, is the best marketing possible.
Bethany realizes that her dream for a vibrant learning community is coming to fruition but the journey has really just begun. She hopes that many more catch their vision and join along the way. Bethany sums up the most powerful key to the essence of Inspired Explorations Learning Community,
“Trusting children are unfolding at their own pace.” This is, indeed, a magical learning place!