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What’s a parent to do? Part III

How can a parent learn more about his or her Eagle?

Acton’s Head of School Laura Sandefer reminds us it’s really all about asking the right questions:

Car Talk – Questions that Work

The drive home and the chat around the dinner table are precious moments in life. What can seem like routine daily life can be transformed into “aha” moments of learning about each other. It’s all in how we ask the questions. Below are just a few questions that help move us parents off the, “How was your day?” rock and into a more stream-of-consciousness flow of learning about each other:

  • On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being “worst day ever” and 10 being “most awesome day!”) how would you rate today at school?  What would have made it better? What would you have changed if you could?
  • When did you have the most energy today? During a group time or during individual work time?
  •  What was your high today? What was your low?
  •  Are you more comfortable asking another Eagle for help or a Guide for help when you need it?
  •  Did you serve as a Guide to someone else today?
  • What core skills work did you do today? Do you feel you did your best work?
  • Play the “Two truths and a Lie” game: Each person shares three things that they did today. Two statements are true and one is a lie. The others have to guess which is a lie.

Each question can be followed up with: “Tell me more!” or “Why do you think that?” Have fun and feel free to share questions that are your favorites for getting your Eagles to talk about their day.

What’s a parent to do? Part II

Your Eagle won’t tell you much about school.

But you want to make sure he’s keeping up.  You’ve learned to log into Khan Academy, No Red Ink, Newsela and other internet based programs, but what else can you do?

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Here’s an idea: Review your Eagle’s SMART goals every week.

SMART goals – Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Results oriented and Time-bound goals are a deeply imbedded part of our learning community.  Eagles set these goals each Monday, along with their Running Partner, and tally up the points earned at the end of the week.

Use the tracker to ask deeper, more specific questions – about books read; Khan skills mastered and progress on Quests.  The number of points scored or goals achieved in any one week aren’t important – but setting and reaching goals is an important lifelong habit for heroes who want to change the world.

Plus, you can add even more by sifting through several weeks worth of SMART goals, and helping your Eagle spot longer term areas of interest and skills.

In many ways, SMART goals over a long period of time deliver two of the most gifts we can give as parents: solid process skills and perspective.

Profound Happenings

Progress is messy. Noisy. Full of angst.

Often you wonder if lessons about pricing; rapid prototyping; and haggling are getting through. Then you have a day of profound happenings.

Today’s Friday Adventure requires finding the most efficient and effective production process for making sandwiches for the homeless; applying lessons learned  from MBA level challenges in Pampered Pooches and Galactic Zappers.

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Those who have earned the adventure are split into two teams and armed with $30 for supplies: one team assigned to Costco; the other to Whole Foods.

The goal: Build as many “excellent sandwiches” as possible, at the lowest possible cost per sandwich.

Immediately a question: “Can we haggle to reduce the cost?”  Eagles find a way to use last week’s hard earned skill again.  A great start.

A list of ingredients.  Estimates of amounts needed for each ingredient and the expected cost per sandwich. We are ready.

Overheard on the way to Whole Foods:”At Acton we work hard all week on an impossible set of tasks, to earn the right to do something even harder where we learn even more.  But that’s OK, because  it’s so fun you can’t wait to get started.”

A profound lesson about motivation.

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Eagles split into teams in the stores.  Every minute counts because labor costs are $1 per hour, per person.  One team hasn’t planned as well and has to start over. Precious time is wasted.

We return to the studio.  The first task is for one Eagle to make sandwiches by hand.   Five sandwiches take a little over seven minutes, requiring 2.5 cents per sandwich in labor.

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Next Eagles are assigned a role in an assembly line, still paid by the hour.  Five sandwiches take one minute and forty seconds.  A much faster cycle time, but with six on a team, a cost of 3.3 cents per sandwich in labor.

Management theory is wrong.  An assembly line is not more efficient than artisan labor.

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Then one more test.  We pay Eagles by the sandwich instead of by the hour.  Workers are given the right to self organize.  Productivity doubles and the labor cost per sandwich plummets.

Lessons begin to tumble out:

“It’s better to work alone than in an assembly line, if a boss makes the assignments.”

“But if you pay people for completing a task and let each person do what they do best, working as a team is more efficient and more fun.” A profound truth; one of the bedrock lessons of entrepreneurship and a civil society.

One Eagle observes: “If you see a bottleneck, you can assign two people to relieve it.”

Another disagrees: “It’s cheaper to just add WIP in front of a station.”  (Adding Work-in-Process inventory is an insight most Harvard Business school graduates would have missed.)

A third Eagle adds: “If you put WIP in the middle of the table where everyone can use it, the process moves even faster.”

This is an  intuitive leap into cell manufacturing and the Toyota Method – never mentioned in the readings but discovered through trial and error by a twelve year old. It might have saved Detroit but eluded American auto executives for decades.

Much math is done on the board, in search of Unit Economics.  The Costco team is declared the winner, with lower cost ingredients and far higher output.  Then a voice from the crowd: “We have to inspect quality.”

Another agrees: “We can’t ask the homeless to eat anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves, just because they don’t have a choice.”

Half of the Costco sandwiches fail inspection; most Whole Foods sandwiches pass.  The Unit Economic results are reversed – the Whole Foods team has won.

One last insight: “Increasing volume doesn’t count if you can’t keep quality high too.”

Profound insights.  Lessons for a lifetime, deeply imbedded by authentic discovery. Plus forty homeless in Austin who won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

What’s a parent to do? Part I

It’s often hard to be an Eagle Parent.  Your child won’t tell you much about school. You hate to press.  And yet, you want to know whether or not your Eagle is making progress.

What to do?  Here’s one idea: Use the Contract of Promises (shown below) to ask your Eagle if her Running Partner and classmates would agree that she is living up to her promises.

Press for specific, positive examples and explore ways to improve.  Ask your Eagle to “force rank” which three promises she is doing her “best work” which three she needs to “try something different.”

     Acton Middle School

Contract of Promises

 As an Acton Eagle, I promise to:

  •  Relentlessly pursue my “next adventure,” so I can find my own special purpose for being on this earth.
  • Always do my best work.
  • I promise to hold my classmates accountable and help them on the path to success.
  • Learn from my failures and never give up.
  • Respect others, their choices, differences, and beliefs.
  • Never accept snarkiness, poor sportsmanship, or bullying of any kind.
  • Never give up on myself or my fellow travelers.
  • I further promise to learn something new every day as I gather the tools I will need for later in life.
  • To be positive.  To be curious.  To keep an open mind. To have fun and find joy in daily activities.
  • To be honest and speak the truth, even when it is difficult.
  • To have the courage to be different.
  • To be respectful and treat others how I want to be treated.
  • And to follow through on my promises. EVERY TIME.

I hereby solemnly pledge to uphold these promises.

Signed, this 13th day of September, 2013.

At Acton, the choice of work and pace often are left up to the individual Eagle.  But keeping one’s promises is a non-negotiable part of the learning community.

War or Peace?

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Do not let the smiles fool you.

Consider Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta.

Picture Khrushchev and Kennedy nose to nose over Cuba.

Imagine Serbs and Croats at a backyard gathering in 1990.

Pure power politics, as the duly elected members of the Middle School Council and Elementary School Council meet to discuss an agreement over joint usage of the play fields.

But consider this.  No adult was consulted.  The Council members contacted each other to set up the parley.  Then they peacefully negotiated a settlement to take back to their respective tribes for ratification.

Today the play fields; tomorrow the Middle East.

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Legend has it when Earnest Hemingway was challenged to write a short story in six words, he picked up a cocktail napkin and wrote: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

At once, the mind races with questions.

Today, as part of revising their Bestselling Books, we asked our Eagles to do something similar. In six words or less, answer each of the following:

1. I promise my book will: _____________

2. You should believe me because: ______________

3. The main sub-points (chapters) of my book are:

  • _________________________
  • _________________________
  • _________________________
  • _________________________
  • _________________________

4. The order in which they are arranged is ___________ because _______________________.

5. Each chapter is further subdivided into ________________, then ________________, then ________________, then ______________ because ______________.

Brainstorming is important.  So is letting the words flow onto paper, as part of a rough draft.  But eventually you must organize your thoughts so the real writing can begin.

For this, clarity is everything. (Five words.)

Brevity, a close second.  (Four words.)