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Learning at its Best

Auld Lang Syne

The holiday season can be a time for pause and reflection.  This winter I am making an effort to reconnect with some old friends.  In particular, I have been meeting with and talking to a small group of parents with whom I founded a school.  Back in 2001, these parents entrusted the care and education of their 4-yr olds to me and I served as their teacher for the next six years.  During that time period we also grew a school together, Salmonberry School, where I still teach, and learn.  These students are now all in high school and have in many cases gone their separate ways, but I am finding time to reconnect with these parents and collect some reflections on their Salmonberry experiences.

It is an interesting process.  Some of these families left the school in anger, frustration or exhaustion.  Some wounds have still not healed.  But looking back together, through the lens of the kids today, seems to be an important initial step towards healing.

Have you ever gotten together with parents of former students to collect their reflections and memories?  I’d suggest you consider it.  What would you hope they say?  Here are some of the thoughts I collected from these Salmonberry alumni; reading them has been like opening an early Christmas present for me.  They highlight many of my core pedagogical values.  (Apologies for publicly basking in the warm glow.)

(on children’s learning and Salmonberry’s Program)

-Salmonberry is a place where my child was able to learn in an environment where great learning was valued.

-From Salmonberry, my child learned to believe that knowing stuff is really fun, and cool, and interesting.  It was so great to be in an environment where it’s really truly exciting to learn.

-One important and special aspect of the program was all the experiences and traveling, not for entertainment, but to go to a rich cultural place.  It gave integrity to what they learned at school.  It extended the classroom into the world.  He still talks about the trip to the local reservation.  Experiences like that really affected him deeply.

-Salmonberry could do things that you just couldn’t do in the mainstream system, like knitting and handwork.  They just don’t have time for that.

(on Salmonberry’s flexible pacing)

-He was able to take his time – life in the public school has been so stressful for him.  At Salmonberry his learning was just part of his day, part of his self.  He didn’t have to go to school to learn and then later get time to be himself.  He was himself while learning.

Salmonberry is a place that is focused on what is happening, in the present, not obsessed with what might happen, in the future.

My son didn’t read until late third grade.  He just wasn’t ready.  In other schools he would have been put in a resource room to spend all his time feeling ashamed and humiliated.  At Salmonberry he fit in and always felt smart and not lacking. He never turned off from learning.  When he did start reading, while at Salmonberry he just took off. He just recently took the SAT’s and received “Distinction” for his Anaytical Reading skills.  He just needed that time.  Not everyone is on the same schedule.  Salmonberry understands that, while still valuing achievement.

(on the learner-teacher relationship)

-Now, it saddens me to hear my child say that his teacher told him that he doesn’t want to be here, and he doesn’t want to be teaching this subject.  It is so important that the teachers at Salmonberry have passion for what they are doing as well as for the children.  It is all about relationship…It was so critical to have a teacher who really knows you.  Someone who nurtures your development for several years in a row.

From Salmonberry, my child now and forever will have a core of liking and trusting adults, learning and himself.

(On life after Salmonberry)

-My child has been a straight “A” student since transitioning to public school.  He was very very well prepared academically from his time at Salmonberry.  But what is at least as important is the fact that I get such nice comments from people all the time, outside of school about who he is as a person– Being respected; respected and cared for by teachers, teachers who invested so much of themselves in the kids’ lives.  That is where the kids developed their value for respect in every relationship.

– Every student who was at Salmonberry for at least three years and then transitioned to the public school.  Every single one is on the honor roll now, receiving either honors or high honors.  Maybe that isn’t a large enough sample to be statistically meaningful, but every single one?  And that is just a tiny piece of their achievement.  They are leaders.

(On growing as a parent while at Salmonberry)

-I came to Salmonberry with an MA in education and having been a classroom teacher.  I thought I knew something about what it means to learn.  I was so grateful for the opportunity to learn about and talk about education.  I learned so much!

-During my time as a Salmonberry parent I learned to be more involved because I wanted to retain the richness and beauty of learning that my child was experiencing at Salmonberry.

-Salmonberry taught me to always think about and listen to what is right for my child.

I developed a much better perspective from Salmonberry in terms of nurturing this child in this moment.

-Now I am able to let him be a teen, with all that goes along with that.  We can always come back to the relationship.  That’s important.  We just have to let them be. Salmonberry allowed me, and I still am able, to be a little more relaxed and not buy into all that stuff about where my child needs to be, how he needs to behave and everything.  He is who he is, and I love him.  I got that understanding from Salmonberry.


About Paul Freedman

I am the founding Director of The Salmonberry School in Eastsound, WA. I have taught elementary school in public and private settings for the past 19 years. I serve as a contributing editor for Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice (Formerly the Holistic Education Review.) I also serve on the faculty of the Self Design Graduate Institute. I hold an MA in EDU from Goddard College.


7 thoughts on “Auld Lang Syne

  1. What a beautiful testament to your school Paul! Did you ever need more evidence of the meaning of your work, and holistic, child-centered education?



    Posted by Kirsten Olson | December 10, 2011, 10:39 am
  2. It would be a great backwards design project to bring any one of these quotes to a traditional, public school faculty meeting and to ask educators how their school could achieve the ideals and successes that are self-evident in each quote.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 10, 2011, 11:06 am
  3. I just gotta say this again, this site is absolutely one of my most favorite comforting sites on the web during our global turmoil traumatic times. I’ve barely had any time to jump to the site itself in the past few weeks but I try to catch up as all of the wonderful articles being posted on this site are updated through my mail.
    A keyword jumped out at me in this article, and that was “relationship” ! Something that we all understand is a major if I may say even the most major point lacking in this industrial educational system and the major factor contributing to our uncorrected relations and cause for all our global crisis issues. What I mean to say, is that any type of learning with out major tools for building healthy cooperative altruistic directed relationship connections in any learning institution, is none other than implanting robotic intellect with out heart and spirit.
    Thank you again all you inspiring educators here on this site for your genuine care and concern and action for pushing forward to a more balanced future for all children everywhere!

    Posted by ruth avraham | December 11, 2011, 4:13 am
  4. Thanks, Ruth.
    There is no meaning outside of relationship. It is THE key. Too bad it’s so hard to quantify and give a percentile rank. Way too amorphous for our RTT culture.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | December 11, 2011, 10:55 am
  5. Hearing those words, inspires me to want to create that type of experience for more students and people in general. Relationship is key, but also is a sense of human value, a value for the people learning and living together.

    I could feel that in this post, and I can feel it when I visit your school.

    You are truly a mentor in both your actions as a teacher and and learner.

    Thank you for sharing!


    Posted by dloitz | December 11, 2011, 7:11 pm
    • Thanks so much, David. I agree; valuing one another within community – also key. And, yes we must bring this to a much much wider population. How can we facilitate this effectively? I would love to work towards this during this next phase of my life & career (with a little help from my friends?!)

      Posted by Paul Freedman | December 11, 2011, 8:28 pm

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