If starting a micro-school has been part of your long- or short-range plans, you’ve likely discovered the work that goes into this endeavor. Starting from nothing is challenging.
But there’s a shortcut that you may not be aware of, one that I’ve used and one that many of my colleagues have used as well.
The shortcut? Piggybacking on existing schools and businesses! When I started a school-within-a-school, in a large high school in Washington State, the building, students, and teachers were already there. I just needed to reconfigure the learning model for the small group of learners we wanted to serve.
I’m not the exception though. Nana Campana already had a cognitive therapy play-based practice–and a vision, a facility, and clientele. She was able to turn that into Untethered Minds, a micro-school in the Miami area.
Sonya Harris was frustrated with existing educational models and left her special education career to create the Bullock Garden Project non-profit. With an existing vision and team, she pivoted and opened a nature-based micro-school, Their Place Discovery and Learning Center.
In all three examples, many of the hard parts of starting a business were already done. We can use an existing school or business and pivot to add our micro-school, rather than start from scratch. This shortcut is enormous! It can mean the difference between failure and success or between taking a few months or a few years to open your doors.
Why a School-Within-a-School?
You may wonder why anyone would want to have a small school within a larger school. Well you’ve heard the expression that form follows function. This architecture principle means that the shape of a building or business should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose.
The present form of larger schools is that of an assembly line and all students need to fit within their grade level expectations. Large institutions rarely have the bandwidth to personalize the learning model for the unique human beings our kids are. Smaller businesses are nimble and can readily adjust to a variety of factors.
This isn’t the first time smaller schools within larger ones have been considered. Previous house systems have existed for years where a school was broken into smaller components, kind of like we see in the Harry Potter series. But pitfalls with this “house” system include:
- It attempts to place every student in pigeon holes within a large school, still based on grade level expectations. So only the size changes. The model remains a grade level assembly line process.
- There is no new vision or training to help teachers address the unique needs of individual students.
- It does not include any research on how students learn best or how to create learner-driven, project-based instruction, nor does it address the research on the mental health and social emotional needs of our youth.
So basically, this model just chops a large school into smaller pieces, with no change to the overall system.
Let’s Get Personal
Why is it important to get smaller and more personalized? A metaphor that comes to mind is that of a motorcycle versus a large truck. A truck can carry large amounts of a product to a destination, but it’s not nimble or adaptable if there are sudden stops or obstacles in the road. The truck can’t change route quickly if needed and it needs much more time to slow down and stop.
On the other hand a motorcycle is definitely nimble, can maneuver around obstacles, and can hop onto another route on short notice if there’s a roadblock ahead.
There’s definitely a need for trucks in our world. But not everyone should drive a truck. Our kids deserve “motorcycle education” that can quickly adjust to life situations and opportunities.
We have seen how large educational institutions have not been able to diminish the achievement gap. In Washington State, 20 percent of students end up dropping out before they graduate high school. And if you’re a student of color or have special needs, that drop-out rate grows to 30 percent or more.
In our transportation example, a truck has to move a big load from point A to point B. It doesn’t have the time to worry if every product makes it to the final destination. Our precious children are not products to be carted from the start to the finish. They deserve individual and personalized attention. We need to deliver them in a motorcycle, not a truck.
How Businesses and Passionate Educators Can Help
If you work in a business that has a passion for what you produce and a way to use your model to serve students, you are a fantastic candidate to pivot and create a micro-school!
Or if you are a teacher who does things uniquely in a larger school or always has a variety of students hanging out in your classroom at lunch or after school, you are probably already a magnet for the students and teachers you need. What if you could pull in three or four like-minded teachers and create your own school-within-a-school? You already have all of the resources. It could be a half-day humanities program or perhaps one that is multi-year and students can loop back into for the following year. It could be it’s an art-integrated, project-based STEM program that ties in your art, science, and math curriculum, maybe with an elective added in.
Ready to get started?
Here are five steps you can take to start this pivot process:
- Look objectively at your business or school and create a simple list of resources you have and a vision for how you could use these to serve a specific population of students.
- Share this idea with one other dreamer who isn’t afraid of big ideas or change and who is passionate about all students thriving. See where your conversation takes you.
- Consider signing up for my Build Your Micro-School self-paced course. The cost is $199 and the profits go directly to Their Place, the micro-school noted earlier. The course takes the seven steps from my book, Creating Micro-Schools for Colorful Mismatched Kids, and breaks them down into action items with a worksheet for each of the seven steps.
- After I wrote my book, I founded the Micro-School Coalition to be a support system and guide for other small school leaders. Reach out and ask for more information or, if you already have a micro-school, join us! Each MSC school has agreed to be a resource for others and we are all paying it forward.
- Consider signing up for a 15-minute free consultation with me to explore ways you can pivot your business or school and create a micro-school. Alternatively, you can find out more about the self-paced Build Your Micro-School course right here.
Of course, you can be somebody who nudges a person within a business or school, if you don’t happen to have that business or school yourself. We all need visionaries with a strong work ethic to help us transform our reality into the world we desire.
And right now we all see the gap in what students need and in what many of them are presently receiving for education. Some people are lamenting and feeling hopeless. This doesn’t have to be!
I truly hope that some passionate child advocates will follow Gandhi’s advice and strive to be the change they wish to see for our youth. Let’s make this happen! It’s what I love to do and I am happy to help.
We’re all in this together–let’s build the schools we want to see our students thriving in!