by Hannah Laura Bernard, our colleague from Germany who spent time with us earlier this term
In the context of my bachelor in pedagogy and educational science, I made a five-week-long internship at SML College this autumn. I wanted to know what school might look like when there is no curriculum, no classroom structure and no one who tells students what to do.
Even though five weeks is a very short time, I gained various insights into operations at the College. I took part in the community meetings, got involved in the work with the learning groups, participated in the tutor meetings, offered different workshops and activities to the students and helped out with administration and marketing matters.
I was very keen to see a child authorised with the chair of a community meeting and was surprised how simple it was. No special leadership or moderation skills were required. A bean-bag and the general agreement that only who has the bean-bag talks was sufficient.
Happily, I had the chance to witness the process of formulating Learning Agreements during the first week. It appealed to me a lot to find out first the strengths, values and goals of every young person and then to look at what they need to learn and how to get there.
In the meetings with the Learning Advisers I realised it so not always easy to support Self Managed Learning – especially when you have been used to authoritarian settings of ordinary schools. The idea of what students were supposed to learn is so internalised, that it is difficult sometimes to give the children completely free reign. But there are clearly circumstances where the guidance of a person in charge is reasonable or even desirable. It seems that navigating these boundaries is an ongoing learning for the Learning Advisers at SML College.
Personally, I was really challenged by running the workshops. To feel confident in front of a group I usually need to be very well prepared. I plan every step and what I say when. Students however regarded my instructions rather as suggestions which should be discussed. And when it came to their mind that they had something else to do, they just went off. It made me reflect on the principle of Self Managed Learning. Does it mean no structure and commitment at all? Am I authoritarian giving instructions and asking for attention to the matters of the workshop? I haven´t come to a final conclusion yet, but I think it is something in between.
Aside from these periods of active participation, sometimes I found it useful to simply back off and just observe. Children studying on their own or teaching each other, making arts in the hall or stop-motion-animations with lego-men and much more.
All in all, I had very interesting and inspiring time at SML College which gave me a lot to think about. I‘m curious about its further development and wish all the best for its students and staff!”