We’ve Moved!

We are excited to transition to our brand new blog! Don’t worry – we’ve moved our old content over so you can still read and comment on previous posts found here. And, there will be even more new information on the new blog!

Please join us at www.actonacademyparents.com

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Acton Academy – We can’t keep it a best-kept secret

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Parent: Are you a Multiplier or Diminsher?

Do you consider yourself a powerful leader and guide of others?

If not, I welcome you to this new acknowledgement.

If so, have you fully embraced this role?

At Acton, we believe that parents are the key Guides and Leaders of their children. This is a powerful role, for good or bad.

As a result of this self-identity, I choose to read leadership and management books more often than “parenting” books. I find gems of ideas that I apply as readily in the kitchen as I do around a boardroom table.

Some of my favorites have been The EMyth Manager, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and The Dream Manager.

Most recently, I read The Multiplier Effect: Tapping The Genius Inside our Schools. While I apply this directly in my work, I found it even more powerful when I reflected on it with my parent cap on.

I offer these ideas to you during this season when hard work is at a peak at school and frenetic schedules are lurking as the holidays approach.

First, two definitions from the book:

Multiplier – the people who make others around them smarter and better; they create genius around them; they exhilarate others and make people feel energized to work hard and do their best; they ensure direction gets set with input from others.

Diminishers – the people who drain energy and intelligence from people; they have a need to be right and have all the answers; they create stress and shut down good ideas; they set the direction for others to follow.

As a parent, isn’t my goal to guide in a way that frees my children to be all they were created to be? To challenge them to discover their gifts and have the courage to pursue their dreams? I wanted to know more about what I can do to multiply rather than dimish the treasures of my life: my children.

Here are some questions from the book to ponder:

1)  Do you ask questions or answer them?

2)  Are you a challenger who generates new ideas from others or a know-it-all who wants things done your way?

3)  Does you add stress to others’ days or create opportunities for others to function in their own best way?

4)  Do you listen or talk more?

5)  Do you provide safety and security that invites free thinking or do you instill a fear of judgment about what others think?

6)  Do you offer choices and space for failure or do you give directives?

7)  Are your expectations clear and high or unclear and inconsistent?

8)  Do you embrace a good debate or prefer to deny or avoid conflict?

I closed the book and thought that not only do I want to be a Multiplier, but I want my children to learn to be Multipliers in their own lives.

Dr. CK Prahalad is quoted after reading the book:  “This is a really important idea because the critical skill of this century will not be what you know but rather how quickly and how deeply you can tap into what the people around you know.”

As always, let me know if you’d like to borrow my copy. Happy Multiplying!


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Confused about Strikes and Eagle Bucks?

There is a lot talk at our house lately about “strikes” and “Eagle Bucks.” As a parent, I become confused: I am uncomfortable, to say the least, when I hear my child has two strikes or owes Eagle Bucks.  Being asked to stay home or be removed from the community doesn’t seem right – especially when I’m paying to have my child in school. This feels like punishment and contrary to the method of Acton Academy. 

Why would a school that is focused on individual genius and self-paced work lace it with a punitive system of behavior control?

Here is the answer of which I must remind myself:

The Eagles themselves created these systems of accountability.

The Eagles want a community that upholds high standards of work and integrity. They want strong guardrails that help keep everyone on the path of a Hero’s Journey. They want to govern their own community.

Our very own children are tougher than we are when it comes to holding boundaries. They have created systems – after much discussion and many meetings – that give them power to check each other and prod each other back onto a pathway that nurtures learning and growth.

Sometimes Eagle Bucks are taken too hastily or without all the information. Mistakes are made and need to be worked out. This is tough love and hurts to witness. I like happy stories. “I want carrots not sticks,” says I-the-mom.

I am reminded, then, that the Eagles have bunches of carrots in their daily life at Acton: free time, positives notes read about their actions at group times, solid check marks on their goals lists, choice in how to work, freedom at lunch, games, respect, leadership opportunities, running teams, quests, and town meetings to air grievances and solve their own problems.

When things don’t go well and the carrots aren’t enough?

The Eagles want the power to manage each other and guides who will help them through the process.  They are learning hard and important lessons about their own power and motivation. Yes, at times they like to test this feeling of power and at times conflicts arise. These missteps become hearty meat for group discussions based on ideas such as: What does it means to have freedom and real responsibilities? Is it harder to give out a consequence or to receive one? What if it’s your best friend who has crossed a line? What should we do if someone feels an Eagle Buck was taken unfairly? What does the word “appeal” mean? How should we process appeals? What motivates you more – earning an Eagle Buck or not getting one taken away?

It is a difficult experience when a negative consequence is delivered. I believe that is the point.

Our words when a student hurts another student, or breaks a promise are these: “We love you. We are excited for you to make the choice to get back on track. Fail cheaply and often for that is where learning happens. The main point of the Hero’s Journey is not that we will not fail. It is that we get back up when we do.”

It won’t be long before there driving, alcohol and dating are part of the scene of our children’s lives. This is when failing is not cheap. Now is the time for them to learn that every action they choose to make each day has a consequence. There is no “flying under the radar” at Acton. Each person matters deeply. Each person is known.

Our children are dealing with this reality together and safely with loving guides to follow. These are prime times to have meaningful family discussions around choices, consequences, freedom and responsibility.

An added layer to this topic that may not gain much airtime at home is that we are implementing meaningful conflict resolution practice at Acton this session.  Our children will be learning how to have difficult conversations without damaging a relationship. We will be role-playing, sharing stories and practicing in their real world studio settings what it means to be a true friend, holding each other accountable to being the very best humans we can be.

We welcome your input as parents and give you the weekly surveys for suggestions and comments. Thank you for honoring the Eagles as they explore with freedom the big questions of life together and as individuals. 

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Joy + Rigor

A recent guest to Acton Academy was struck by how hard the Acton students were working for long periods of time. “Your community is clearly rigorous.”

Before visiting, she had read our website and envisioned Acton’s culture as one focused on feel-good sentimentality.  She just couldn’t picture how the belief that “every child is a genius” played out. It seemed a bit mushy and too good to be true.

This is what is true: Every child is a genius. AND, genius and talent are wasted without a focused discipline toward excellence and mastery. We’re talking about native genius, creativity and potential here – not a label from a 1904 test for IQ the results of which are so limited and misused – combined with grit.

This weekend’s Children’s Business Fair is a great example of how our children learn best. They were not given textbooks or multiple choices tests about economics, marketing or sales. They didn’t sit and listen to lectures about how to start a business. They tapped into their own passions and talents and then did the work. They learned how hard it is to look a stranger in the eye and say, “I made this and I am proud of it; let me tell you about it; this is how much I invested; this is what the cost to you is; would you like to buy it?”

This learning is fun, scary and hard – and it is real life. Some Eagles made money; others did not. The lessons are rich either way. I am so happy my boys are learning how hard it is to make money. 

One of our mantras at Acton is “fail early, often and cheaply.” This applies to everything from arguments with friends to writing a best-selling book or building a business.

The choice to work hard without excuses is a decision made by each learner at Acton Academy. Embracing rigor is part of saying, “yes” to a Hero’s Journey. Herein lies the joyful sweet spot of deep flow in learning.

What does this mean to me as a parent? Children are tougher and smarter than we adults make them out to be. As a mother, I need to remind myself of this when I want to take shortcuts to make my children’s lives easier. I need to allow them to struggle. I need to step back and let the learning happen. “Thank you for letting me do this by myself” are the words I love and long to hear.

I recommend that each Acton Academy parent read The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got that Way by Amanda Ripley. The two things that distinguish the highest achieving learning communities (which aren’t in America, by the way) are: 1) a culture that takes learning more seriously than anything else – including football; 2) a culture that gives children high levels of autonomy.

I have a copy you may borrow.

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A Story for Every Acton Academy Parent

On the eve of a new session of rigorous, adventurous learning, I share this important story with you. (Just click on the title.)

Thank you for joining us in setting the children free to own their learning. It is an essential mission. See you bright and early.

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Parents Need Running Partners, too

I dedicate this post to the newest Acton Academy parents.

It is that time of year. The rush of a new school year has subsided. The jolting chaos of new family schedules is settling into a groove. The stifling heat is beginning to break. I can breathe. But there is an unexpected feeling creeping into my otherwise sense of relief. It is discomfiting. I am surprised by it. It is the distinct feeling of insecurity.

What is this about? Why do I feel this way? What can I do about it? Why do I wonder if we made the right choice to come to Acton Academy? I feel like a loner in my group of friends who all have children in the neighborhood school. They ask me questions that I can’t answer about school. I miss the comfort of the old familiar path of school. Do I really want to be on a Hero’s Journey? This is hard.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, read on. This is the conversation I’ve had with myself and with numerous other Acton Academy parents. It seems to happen each October.

It may help to know that you are not alone in this experience of insecurity as an Acton parent. I can pinpoint three major themes that arise in the hearts of many new Acton Academy parents:

1)   Insecurity about the daily learning and curriculum: “I don’t know what my child is doing at school; I don’t get to oversee any homework assignments like my friends do; I don’t see the curriculum outlined by grade level. I’m scared that he’s not learning what he’s supposed to at his age. How do I check in to see where he is? I’m scared he won’t get into a good college.”

2)   Insecurity about being off the traditional track: “My friends all question this ‘alternative’ route we are taking in our child’s education. I don’t know what to say to their questions and doubts about Acton Academy.”

3)   Insecurity about having Guides instead of Teachers: “I think my child needs more direction at school. Why don’t the Guides help her more? I want to see more work coming home. I want to be told how my child is doing. I don’t think my child is mature enough to make her own choices about work.”

This period of struggling is an important part of a Hero’s Journey.  We must travel through, not around, the valleys and plateaus of deep learning, risk taking and growing.

Our children have Running Partners or Running Teams to help them on their way. We parents need a similar partnership – someone we trust who can answer questions, give encouragement, listen to frustrations.

If you would like to sign up for a Running Partner, please email me. I have gathered a small group of seasoned parents who have offered to share time over coffee – or emailing/phoning if that’s easiest – with any new parent who needs an ear or some guidance.

When you take a road less traveled, there are times of bewilderment and even a sense of loss. But we have a secret treasure at the end of our path that urges us forward: it is the knowledge and confidence that our children will find their callings and will be equipped to create meaningful lives with rich relationships for themselves and those around them. Until then, we can take advantage of having fellow travelers and guides of our own.

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Why and How Do We Start a Family Plan?

One of our founding family members told me: “If Acton Academy were to go away tomorrow, the one thing we would never stop doing is our family meetings. Our family plan has changed our lives more than anything.”

It would be crazy to run a business without a mission statement, vision, clear goals, budget and strategic plan. Aren’t families more valuable as human organizations? Why not give the same attention and care to our most precious work? If we were so purposeful in our family lives, wouldn’t we be more satisfied each day? Less stressed? Better stewards of our time and resources?

At Acton Academy, we call this putting in your big rocks first and then filling in with the little rocks. (Ask your child to demonstrate this to you if you haven’t heard about it yet.)

We believe there is infinite value in a family sitting together regularly to talk about who they are, what they want to do as a group and as individuals, and writing up a real plan of action.

There are many ways to do this. We do not prescribe a specific method to you. We simply encourage you to do it.

To get you going, we have found one clear and easy route to writing a Family Plan with your children. It comes from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family. If you need a copy, let me know and you can borrow mine.

These are the questions that work to begin this adventurous and productive process for your family:

  • What makes our family unique?
  • What is our family’s most important priority – our rallying cry – right now?

Going deeper on this one: To do this, we will……..; and we will also have to stay on top of our regular responsibilities which are…

  • How will we use these answers and keep them alive? (ie, hang them up on the door, have weekly family meetings…)

We have posted the family plans from our community in our parent section of our main website. I am inspired each time I read them. My family is probably the least disciplined in the bunch to sit down and check on our goals. Sometimes we hit a weekly check-in, other times, it’s each month. Some years, it’s each quarter. You’ll find your stride. 

Our next parent lunch meeting will be a time to share stories and encourage each other in this process.

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Eagle Picks for Recommended Reading (elementary school)

Since my last post, several people have requested seeing the list of books our elementary students recommend. Here is their “two thumbs up” collection – so far: 

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson

The Candymakers, Wendy Mass

The Giver, Lois Lowry

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

 James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl

Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien

My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George

Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

The Trumpet of the Swans, E.B. White

The Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum

The list will grow as the reading continues…

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Why No Required Reading Lists?

First, let me paint a little vision for you:

What you will see at Acton Academy:

  • children who are late to group discussions because they cannot put their books down;
  • children walking into walls because they are lost in books;
  • a tall redhead directing traffic around a reading child.

What you will not see at Acton Academy:

  • Required Reading Lists.

Why in the world would we NOT have required reading lists?

 Reason #1: They kill the love of reading.

“…reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports don’t teach our students how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. That it is a chore. That they aren’t good at it if they can’t remember insignificant plot points. These assignments set students up to cheat, or to fail, and always to regard reading as a drag. This is how we breed kids who say they ‘hate reading.’ The very act itself….You read for its own sake. To learn, to travel, to be spooked or heartbroken or elated. To grow. And when you do this, when reading becomes something that you authentically value, you become a better reader and writer without even trying. You start to reach for more advanced reading material, inferring word meaning, connecting with characters and identifying their growth, interpreting nuances of meaning and symbolism with delight and awe. When you write, your sentence structure becomes more complex and sophisticated. You write with greater imagery. You take emotional risks, understanding that good writing is honest.” (Carolyn Ross, Rutgers University M.A., current high school English teacher)

Reason #2: They say to children: “We don’t trust you.”


Reason #3: Reading for pleasure improves math, writing, and well, life in general.


Reason #4: I’d listen to Heather Staker about anything. Here what she wrote on the subject: http://www.christenseninstitute.org/the-first-principle-of-blended-learning/

This vision I painted is our reality. We are in love with reading. The Acton Eagles are surrounded by wonderful reading choices. We have students who help each other choose what to read next; parents who gently guide the youngest Eagles with what books to bring to school to read; and Guides who help steer students into their reading challenge zones. Students posts their critiques on Goodreads, mark the bookshelves with their “Eagle Picks”, and have book exchanges on Valentine’s Day all to celebrate the act of reading. “Drop Everything And Read” – D.E.A.R. – is a luxurious time built into the elementary school schedule. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we adults indulged so in the middle of a busy day?

I have been in the shoes of the parents who want a school to tell their children what to read or at least take away the comic books. (For me it was to please take away the military weapons books and insert “Anne of Green Gables.”) For those of you leaning in this direction, I hope you will trust me when I say to hang in there, be patient and trust in this environment and these children. (Call me if you need someone talk you down from the ledge of required reading lists. You have my number. Day or night.)

We know that once the love of reading kicks in, it sticks. No one can take this love away from our children. This love will be their best teacher, best friend and faithful liberator in life. And yes, the affair can start on the back of a cereal box.

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