What’s the secret ingredient?

Can we identify the elements that make for a good education?

We’ve asked parents to share their opinion about their school choices (Please take 5 minutes to do our survey for parents) and it’s been interesting to notice that all parents consider their kid’s school a good school.

Which made me wonder; when we say “it’s a good school”, what are we measuring? The methodology? The teachers? The relationship with the Principal?

What drives parents to be happy with their kid’s school?

If you had asked me 6 months ago, I would’ve answer some kind of statistical data I might have heard when the kids started to attend the school 6 years ago (I was told that it was the 8th best school in NY. Which is not true by the way).

But today, after 10 weeks of our Learning Gypsies research, my understanding of what makes a school “good” goes beyond scores. Mainly because scores measure what kids know. And in my opinion, what makes a school good, has to do more with the how the kid learns, and less with what the kid learns.

The how is defined by the methodologies and relationships the school sets in place. And by the values and attitudes you want the kids to embrace and use for life.

The what on the other hand is defined by the knowledge the school and/or the state think a 9 year old for example, should have at that given stage of their life.

So, what makes a school good? How can we measure something as complex and diverse as the quality of a school’s education?

As I was wondering how to answer this complex question, I came across The unified theory of deliciousness, a wonderful article by David Chang (Momofuku) about the complexity of creating a successful dish.

David tried to answer the question of what makes a dish good by deconstructing it and isolating the component flavors.

In and of itself, this kind of idea isn’t particularly unique. Lots of cooks strip a dish down to its component flavors and re-create them in different ways. That’s the whole concept behind deconstructed dishes. (The unified theory of deliciousness.)

I figured if I did the same exercise, deconstruct the learning experience into a list of learning components, we could be better informed when deciding whether a school is good or not.

So, based on all the knowledge we have gathered through our research, I wrote a list of secret ingredients to help create learning experiences:

  • Experience. Everyone needs to experience the learning moment in their own terms. This is the source of wonder, and the key to every long lasting human learning.
  • Inquiry. When we question, we frame the learning; What is this for? Why is it important? Why should I learn this?
  • Activity. We are active beings and the learning process should be driven by action. The concept of sedentary learning is an old paradigm created in fear of a classroom out of control.
  • Exploration. Every individual or group immerse in the learning process must be free to use any means necessary to find the answers.
  • Interest. (also know as freedom) People have to be driven by what’s interesting to them. The only learning that counts in life happens when learners thrown themselves into a subject on their own.
  • Independence. Encourage people to learn without assistance. With the empowerment to follow their own pace, without comparisons or pressures.

I hope these ingredients can help us see beyond the ratings, the scores and the grades. And in doing so, we start to think of a good school as a place where kids discover their independence- “to achieve their own individual aims and desires” as Maria Montessori wrote more than a 100 years ago.

Perhaps the right question to ask is not whether we parents like the school they attend, but rather, if we like the ingredients of their education.

This post was heavily influenced by the books The Montessori Method, Free at Last, Out of Our Minds, the medium post; The unbundling of Schools, and by all the Hyper Island learning designers, from whom I’ve learned so much.