Leadership Commonwealth School

Teaching Philosophy & Approach

We desire to create a positive, safe environment with a close knit “tribal” community of happy, trusted, compassionate, forgiving friends.

Everyone in Commonwealth School takes on teaching a group of children many times throughout the semester. Remember, our philosophy is to praise whatever we can about whatever the other person has done or is doing. When teaching, we follow the principles of Leadership Education. These principles are discussed in LOLIPOP by Amy Edwards, much of which applies to the Junior Program.

Reminder required reading for joining LCS is the phenomenal book, “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by Oliver DeMille and it is also recommended that if you are teaching in the Junior Program, read “Giving Your Child a LOLIPOP Education” by Amy Edwards. (LOLIPOP stands for Love of Learning Integrated with Projects, Opportunities for Service, and Play.)

These principles include, The Phases of Learning, and their corresponding lessons: 

LESSONS OF THE PHASES

Directly from Oliver DeMille’s Depth Phase audio: http://www.tjedonline.com/free.php?r=/audio.php

Lessons of Core Phase

  • Right and wrong
  • True and false
  • Good and bad –how to tell the difference
  • Work and Play
  • Family culture
  • Relationships

Lessons of Love of Learning

  • I can learn anything I want to and it’s a lot of fun
  • Almost nothing is as much fun as learning
  • I can go to the library, learn from books
  • Projects
  • Friends
  • Just by thinking
  • What I want to learn is just as valuable as what others want me to learn and think
  • If I have free time I’d love to pull out a book

Lessons of Scholar phase

  • Knowledge in all the fields History, Science, Literature, Arts, etc.
  • Excellence, Quality
  • Reworking things
  • Skills, abilities: read, write, think, speak, compute
  • I have a mission. I don’t know what it is, but I know I have one and I need to prepare for it.
  • It is a challenge! It is designed to be.

It’s these lessons that matter, not the curriculum. Even more lessons of Scholar Phase are found in Hero Education. 

Also included are the Keys of Great Teaching 

 

  • Classics in all subject areas
  • Mentors who guide rather than dictate
  • Inspired Learning rather than forced
  • Structured Time rather than content objectives
  • Quality in what and how students learn
  • Simplicity rather than complex, contrived systems of learning
  • Life-long learning for students and mentors

 

 

The practical application of these principles looks like this at Leadership Commonwealth:

 

Inspire Participation, Require Respect

Children are free to choose to not participate in the activity or class we are offering them.

Parents can invite, encourage, give incentives, be passionate about what they are teaching, create a really cool hands-on project or fun activity to help inspire the children to want to participate, but they will not force a child to participate. They may, however, require that respect be shown to the presenter, class, or participants in the activity going on by requiring that they color or play quietly, not interrupt inappropriately, not distract others who are interested, and not wander off by themselves or disrupt the class. They can require them to whisper, to interrupt a mother who is teaching appropriately by placing a hand on her arm and waiting or by raising their hand. If a child is very disruptive, they are asked to be respectful and in control or they will be invited to leave the area and not be allowed to participate until they are calm.

Even our Scholar classes for teens are not based on requirements (unless they are an Apprentice Scholar and are ready to submit to a mentor). Completion of the assignments they are invited to do is rewarded with end of semester prizes, recognition, and/or trips and activities for the group. It is required, out of respect, that they come to class having read the material so that they can participate adequately in the discussions. This is part of their behavior conduct code. Again, they are also required to have respectful behavior at all times. 

 

Planning, Preparing and Mentoring

Our Junior Program is all about engagement, exposure and exploration as well as support for the moms. We want to emphasize the Key “Simplicity not Complexity.” We welcome your feedback and encourage Junior Mentors to do as much planning and preparing for the following week while still on campus the current week. We do this by Debriefing after each teaching period and if needed, at the end of the day as well. 

7 Keys – it’s about YOU not them. It’s about YOUR EDUCATION when you are preparing. It’s also about Simplicity not Complexity.

However, when you are teaching, It’s about THEM not you. Make yourself a student with them – one who is wondering, discovering, studying, making new connections along with them. You are caring about what the student has to say and not just getting through your content. (That’s why we keep our content simple!) Eye contact is an important element for helping a child feel heard. We do not teach in the “Zone of Proximal Development” – in other words, we do not push them to understand more than they are ready for. An important early step in the Writing Cycle is Narration, where children need to feel heard and listened to when they make comments, tell stories, or talk to others. This helps them feel confident later that they have something important to say to the world as they begin to “find their voice” in writing. 

In Core Phase, we understand that the activity or lesson we are doing is less about the content of the lesson or the product we are creating and more about learning proper behavior in a group setting, healthy forgiveness of self for mistakes and acceptance of help / making requests appropriately for help. 

When coming up with content for the next unit, brainstorm what you are interested in learning and choose the things that excite you most about those topics. Then plan lessons and activities on those topics and enjoy learning as you prepare to teach! 

 

What is a debrief? 

A debrief is when we take a few moments at the end of class to reflect and ask ourselves these questions. Bolded items should be discussed weekly, while others may be reflected upon and written up in a report for the Junior Director at the end of each month or as you feel the need. 

  • What did we do to prepare? (too much/too little?)
  • What went well? Celebrate the victories!
  • What didn’t and what do we learn from that? / What could we improve on? 
  • Was the class engaging and inspiring? Did anyone shut down?
  • Did we feel a learning atmosphere and environment?
  • Did we inspire Leadership? Did we inspire Stewardship (ie. helping out / cleaning up)? 
  • Do I think my students could feel my interest in them? 
  • Juniors: Did we notice any new sparks of curiosity from the children? Can we use those soon?
  • What plans can we make now for next week? Should we repeat or continue a popular activity?

 

We debrief at the end of every activity or class and as needed, and at the end of the day as a whole. Either with ourselves, or with whoever was in the room with us as a leader, including Scholar Students who mentor in the Jr Program. We encourage and support each other as we get as much of our responsibilities fulfilled on campus at LCS each Thursday so that we are not going home with a long list of things to do, like class reports, lesson planning, etc. 

The debrief is not just for Commonwealth Day. It is a habit that is helpful in our personal lives and in our home schools, as it implements the essential elements of reflection and discussion and planning so we can learn from what we do each day, celebrate our victories and analyze how we might improve. 

 

CLASS REPORTS 

Each person who teaches writes up a paragraph about what was covered in class that day, how it went and includes any neat details, as well as any sparks of interest or pertinent info for the following week. We should be able to use these in our homes to help us with our homeschool prep and discussion at home during the week. The Class Reports are recorded by date in a Google Doc that is shared with everyone and linked on the website. Parents are encouraged to check this weekly for updates and inspiration for their homeschools. 

 

Teaching in Juniors: I Wonders, LOLIPOP, Core & more

In I Wonders Class for Love of Learners, we are trying to teach them the skills of finding answers to their own questions, so if a child wonders out loud something you already know the answer to, please refrain from providing the answer. Rather, encourage them to find the answer at home and come back and tell us next week.

To help you figure out what to teach, you can brainstorm a list of ten things that are really cool to you. Prioritize your list. Ask, “How could I do a project that would be teaching them something, show them something I love, and allow them to do a hands-on activity in the time frame I’ve been given?” (This works for planning out just about any other Jr class, too). 

You are also welcome to get a guest speaker to come teach. Please inform any guest speakers of how we do not answer I Wonders Questions in class but encourage students to find answers on their own. Also let guest speakers know about our hands-on approach and that “lecture” is limited to five minutes, while talking may continue while the children are engaged in their hands-on activity. It can sometimes be way better, too, if the lecture & talking portions are saved for after the demonstration or hands-on activity has begun – this peaks student interest and more often inspires them to want to understand what is happening. 

 

Positive Praise

Our striving to be positive in our speech and actions applies to critiquing the work of others as well. Our philosophy is to praise whatever we can about whatever the other person has done or is doing. Criticism is best received when it is asked for. A child who wishes to be a better artist may ask, “how could I have drawn that butterfly better?” and this opens the doors for all kinds of helpful instruction and critique. However, if advice is offered instead of praise when a child is showing you his/her work, it often kills their enthusiasm for the activity and they develop negative feelings and lower self-confidence. 

If a child criticizes his or her own work, “I’m just no good at drawing butterflies,” you could offer a comment such as, “Would you like to know a skill to help you?” and if they say yes, then you could teach them how to see things in shapes and lines. You could also offer that all artists are not happy with much of their work, especially at first, and they often are known to re-do the same picture over and over until they are pleased with it. It takes practice and help from others to become better. Artists also often copy photographs or still life arrangements when they are drawing. Butterflies don’t hold still long enough for you to see them!

Or if you feel it’s more appropriate, you could simply draw their attention to what is positive about their work – “I like the beautiful colors you chose for the butterfly; you are really good at choosing colors…” or “It’s okay, it takes practice.” 

Again, I reiterate,

Our philosophy is to praise whatever we can about whatever the other person has done or is doing.

This goes for their behavior and treatment of others and showing of respect as well. We’d like all parents to work toward developing the habit, if you don’t already naturally do it, to look for things to genuinely and specifically praise throughout the day. It’s not that we want choruses of “good job” ringing in the children’s ears until they become deaf to it and convinced that we’ll say it no matter what they do. It’s that we want to avoid excessive criticism, and create a positive feeling in our relationships with the children that “I am impressed with you.” This builds confidence. The feeling of “well, they have a LOT to improve on” will come through to them even if we try our best to hide it. Often, there are many times when children are so well-behaved. There are many opportunities to specifically praise good behavior and good treatment of others. Take notice! Praise good behavior at natural transition times during the day and if appropriate, even while teaching. 

Teaching Self-Government

We teach the Four Basic Skills of Self-Government, as taught by Nicholeen Peck. These are Following Instructions, Accepting No Answers, Accepting Consequences, and Disagreeing Appropriately. These four basic skills are great examples of behaviors we can get into the habit of praising. Please see the following article on the Four Basic Skills and Self-Government at LCS for more on how we handle misbehavior.

At times, we use the Bean Jar Game to reward and motivate the children to follow rules of respect and behavior. Beans are added to a jar each time a mom specifically praises a child or the group. When the jar is full, each child gets a prize from a treasure basket. It is preferred that candy not be part of the rewards in the treasure basket. 

We believe all people have talent and genius. As a whole school, parents and children alike, we are learning so that we can become uniquely qualified to live the mission God has for each of us. Each mentor in Commonwealth brings his or her own genius to the experience. Let’s praise each other too!

To find out more about the Thomas Jefferson Education model, Commonwealth Schools, and LEMI Liber Communities, please visit our FAQ page.