Ms Nansia in action!
What is Learning Like at the Lighthouse Primary School?
My LIGHTHOUSE Home
By Ms Nansia Kyriakou, PhD
The Lighthouse was initially envisioned as a place where learning and schooling would transcend narrow-minded traditional schooling scene of standard Cypriot education (public or private). After three years since it opened its doors to learners, it serves that purpose to its fullest potential. It is a place where every individual, regardless of age, cultural or social position is able to express and be their self. In this setting every one’s uniqueness is treasured and allowed to flourish academically as well as psychologically. Here we approach personal development in a holistic manner, where emotional growth is equally and simultaneously cultivated in parallel to the intellectual.
Differentiated learning is not used as a flashy educational label, but rather as a daily routine. Each classroom functions with ability-oriented groups, which may differ in each subject. These groups are based on each child’s abilities and not merely by age. Lesson plans reflect each learner’s preferences and needs. In addition, each plan often combines 2 or 3 different subjects (eg, a combination of numeracy, P.E. and science, or literacy with drama and history). Moreover, the lessons are not delivered in traditional talk-and-chalk versions. We aim to stimulate the little ones’ interest thus improving motivation and love of learning.
Topic-based curriculums allow us to meaningfully organize and deliver lessons while simultaneously we consider the different learning styles of our treasured youngsters. Hands-on activities are a fundamental part of our teaching and the baseline for long-term learning. At the Lighthouse learners have a say in how a lesson is delivered as well as what may be in the lesson. That explains why our students are constantly and consistently engaged and active. Boredom is our common enemy!
We see every child as rich in their own history, needs and abilities (and not as blank slates that a school should passively use to input dry knowledge). Every difference a child brings to the group is treasured and used for the benefit of the team. Our aim is to promote education as a personal lifestyle, setting the stepping-stones for a life-long love of learning.
Teamwork is crucial. There is constant communication and cooperation between the three main pillars of schooling: children, parents and teachers. Our meetings with parents and children and the team’s daily meetings enable us to remain focused and on the same page. Spontaneous peer learning is everywhere while parents’ and community members are often teachers.
One-to-one learning, due to the high ratio of staff-to-students, is not a luxury but part of what Lighthouse offers its ‘members’. We firmly believe that if a child is not sufficiently engaged it is our duty to make the learning process interesting and absorbing. If a child is not learning with the approach we use, it is our duty to exit our comfort zone, be flexible, and creatively find alternative ways in which that child will learn.
The Lighthouse is more than a school or a learning institution. It is a place where human complexity is appreciated. It is an idea that traditional education sees in the distant horizon. It is our deepest ambition to be a beacon unto other schools as to the future of education.
It is my second family home, which I gladly share with people who have their hearts and minds open to uniqueness, originality and authentic being!
FROM ME TO ETERNITY – Learning the Art of Respect
By C. Constantinides, Lighthouse General Facilitator & Counsellor
A young man approached Buddha after an enlightening sermon and asked him “Is it true then that we are all gods and shape the world as we please?”
“Why not?” replied Buddha. That same day as the man say in the road in a state of revery a wounded elephant came charging down the same road and from his back the rider shouted to the man to move away as the elephant was out of control.
I am a god, thought the man, and so I don't have to fear some animal. As the elephant was about to trample the young god, the last pleas of the rider were again ignored. Only by luck did the elephant with its trunk brush aside the human. With large bruises and a dented ego the man returned to Buddha to ask how a god could be treated so rudely. To which Buddha replied; “Perhaps if that god had respected the god astride the elephant there would have been no bruises.”
That every child is unique, brilliant, wild and a little wacky is not news, but that these hedonistic, self-absorbed, fully creative and naïve souls can become team players, self-disciplined, authentic and strategic problem solvers, while still enjoying themselves. It is a small miracle and by no means a 'natural' process. If that were the case we would be living in a very different world.
Observing and interacting with children inside and out, has over the years made clear that learning, or overcoming instincts, is neither automatic nor smooth. If I only had a dime for every shove, kick, flying fist or insult the children hurl.... But it's not just the violence that needs replacing it's the invisible 'truth' most youngsters and too many adults embrace; 'If you only saw it my way you would do it my way!' Me, in other words, is the centre of the universe. I am the god that others must respect. When Galileo started to demonstrate that indeed the Earth (humans) are not even the centre of our solar system, let alone the galaxy his contemporaries were so upset by the obvious threat to their delicate collective narcissism that they offered him a polite choice; recant or burn as a heretic.
Only reluctantly do children give up their claim to 'specialness'. The challenge of a caring educational system is to respect yet evolve this primal and ingrained belief. One way, for example, is on the subject of spelling. When children naturally spell according to logic and not the rampant digressions and nuances of history we can offer the following suggestion: “I see you spell that word according to how it sounds and how it 'shood' be written. Unfortunately, that schizophrenic wench, history has given us a different spelling – the one we are all supposed to use, the official version.” The child can then see that their choice is valid one context but not in another. The challenge is to learn use the version most appropriate to the context. Another example we apply here at the Lighthouse is the use of 'foul' language: “The tree over there would love to hear all the colorful language you can think of..., but over here such language has an unpleasant affect on us. What is more important to you right now, using those words or being understood?”
The goal is to allow children to be their own little god, feel empowered and respected but to gradually realise it is a world that must be shared with people and nature and these 'others' are just as special. In fact, merging with the forest allows the tree to experience how it is on a continuum from the great little insecure me to the humble expanse of unphaseable eternity.
Then again let's not underestimate the beauty of the 'free-range' mind. In the words of 6 year old Calvin; “A little rudeness and disrespect can elevate a meaningless interaction to a battle of wills and add drama to an otherwise dull day.” ― Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
Beware the Totem Pole
By C. Constantinides, Lighthouse General Facilitator & Counsellor
Grabbing Paul by the lapel of his shirt so as to slow him down was never going to endear the two young footballers. Paul instantly spun on his burning heals, clenched his fists and screamed at Peter, “That's a foul! Your not allowed to do that. You're just a stupid player.” Peter looked like a deer in the headlights. He was new to soccer and usually spent breaks playing chase or tag wherein catching peers by the scruff of their clothes was part of the game.
Peter's non-reaction did not appease Paul - a highly competitive player - already feeling dethroned by Peter's recent arrival on the playground with his blazing speed and easy going nature. The point needed to be drilled home to Peter “you are such as stupid player!” Frustration and displacement were now steaming into aggression. His fists were getting whiter. If I did not intervene now the young bucks would soon have locked antlers and although this might be part of 'growing up' in the mind of many the only learning that would occur here would be about the totem pole hierarchy of life where might makes right.
I immediately placed Paul in a reflection time so as to isolate and calm him. Of course Paul fumed instantly at this new assault on his freedom as well as interruption to the game. Nevertheless Paul chose a place to sit-out his 5 minutes and reflect on the preceding situation. Not surprisingly Paul's version of events was one of pure injustice and indignity. His own reactions were supremely justified – the 'he made me do it' type. Being only six years young I didn't expect much else so we started to deconstruct the scenario.
Question number one: “How do you feel when someone grabs you like Peter did?” Unfortunately for Paul the reply that “He's an idiot,” didn't count. In fact Paul could not name a single feeling so I had to lend him something generic; upset.
Question number two: “Does the other person know how you feel about their action?” Children and many adults think that others can tell what and why we feel the way we do instantly. In fact the notion that our grievance is obvious supplies the 'right to action.'
Question number three: “What do you really want from the other and is the choice you made – verbal abuse – the most effective way to get it? Unfortunately for me Totem Pole logic would say yes. Intimidating others to get what you want can be very effective, its just not respectful and is not the way we want to learn from others about our mistakes. So delete and replace question number three.
Question number three revisited: “Is there a way to get your needs met that respects others and ensures you are understood?” Paul was not sure how to answer this and if we had time we might have brainstormed some answers. On this occasion I offered the short-cut, “What if you tried telling him why you are upset and ask him not to do that again? Do you think Peter might want to listen?”
As we inched our way to a mutual acceptable resolution I note the unaddressed complexities. There is baggage; the new rivalry for the head of the Totem Pole, the deep need for success and status, issues at home, spill-overs from the class-room and so forth. These will be addressed in their own time. For now some basic and profound life-skills have been rehearsed if not yet fully embedded:
Might does not make right - others don't need coercion to understand us – anger is fine but using it as ammunition is not – everyone deserves a second chance and respect... especially when you feel they don't deserve it.
An hour later and both children have forgotten the incident, but when, as it must, the frictions of life cross their path they will both have had an experience of 'over-coming.' The instinct to dominate (stand higher on the pole) can be replaced with the power to communicate; to commune - a mutually satisfying act – and not to command or merely demand.
Crazy horses only catch one look at tigers escaping
by Costa Constantinides and the Lighthouse School kids
Creativity has always been an essential part of human nature yet most of us rarely feel or act creatively. This is not only due to the power of habit, our (mostly) bland jobs or lack of time but often because we want to avoid embarrassment. Creativity and self-consciousness are not the best of friends. Watch children at play and see how they are constantly inventing, redefining and experimenting with ideas, materials and situations. As Sir Ken Robinson, a widely recognised guru of educational development, reminds us children are outrageously creative early on. His best example is of a little girl who says she is going to draw God. When her teacher points out that no one knows what God looks like the un-phased reply is, “They will in a minute.” This willingness to 'leap into the unknown' is all but lost by adolescence, and Sir Robinson contends it's because children have been “schooled out” of the appetite to be 'different'.
So what can a school do to keep this natural fount of 'free' thinking flowing? This is the question I have to ask myself every week in the creative (or crazy – as the kids like to call it) thinking and problem solving class I... er... facilitate in the primary school where I work. And last week was no different except for the fact that I had a context within which to work; chocolate (our cross-subject theme of the month).
As usual I try not to predetermine how the class should go (which would be like teaching to the test and replicate the convergent thinking that typically focuses learning on a goal). So I write the word chocolate on the board, say, “Hey guys, what can we do with this?” and then pray the gods of chaos are in a godly mood.
“Let's build a chocolate bridge,” belts out one child, “No, let's make a chocolate Taj Mahal!” says a more romantic soul – which was both feast and feat of imagination. Reluctant to burst balloons or melt the world's 8th wonder I pointed out a small detail; “We have no chocolate.” And although this might have led to a great problem solving discussion on how to find and shape such vast quantities of cocoa, we narrowed our challenge to doing something original with the word itself.
After much brain blending, buzzing and burring we arrived at an anagram that included something from everyone's efforts. The anagram was then made into a sentence drawn on paper and posted on the school entrance where anyone is free to find the hidden word in the fastest time and win a prize. What amazed me even more than the volcanic eruption of ideas children are so happy to cast out was the free flow of drawing that somehow caught the spirit of the words themselves as can be seen from the photos below.
Will this sort of activity guarantee that these children are more divergent, original and creative thinkers than their peers in 10 years? Who can say? But I can vouch the following;
- They all had a lot of fun discovering that one thing can be many things and the many can speak for one.
- There are many ways to escape from the confines of convention (which usually our-self).
- First you have to get lost to find out where you're going.
- The right answer is some times the left one; the one that doesn't fit in the box, in the curriculum, or seemingly in the classroom. It's kinda like the great wisdom espoused on the London Underground everyday that conventional minds never really notice; Mind the Gap.... before, I dare add, the Gap Minds You.