What is Self-Directed Education?

According to the Alliance for Self-Directed Education (SDE), the definition of SDE is “Education that derives from the self-chosen activities and life experiences of the person being educated”.

Find out more on what SDE is in this article HERE. 

Watch a video on Self-Directed Education HERE. 

Why Self-Directed Education?

Children are natural learners. They are at their peak of mental flexibility and ability to assimilate ideas, insights and exploration. It is senseless to consume their days and evenings with the memorization and regurgitation of data for standardized tests on a narrow selection of subjects.

We live in an age where information is at our fingertips. Far more important are the skills of finding it, filtering it, integrating it, and using it in new and creative ways to build something valuable.

The ability to quickly translate a vision or idea into tangible results has always been a valuable skill. In today’s rapidly evolving world, it is a fundamental capacity of the leaders in every field.

Many adults express regret that they were unable to identify their passion earlier in life. What are you here to do? How do you discover your purpose? One thing we know is that you won’t find it without ample opportunities to explore. If you can’t try doing what you think you might love, you won’t find out whether or not you really love it.

Read the article HERE on why we need self-directed education now more than ever.

What is our Learning Model?

Our main philosophy is self-directed education. We take learning from the confinement of the classroom walls, where learning is based on textbooks and rote memorization, to the vastness of life where learning happens through experience, inquiries, play, apprenticeships, thematic and project based work. We restore the joy and pleasure of learning and nurture a child’s curiosity in a loving and trusting environment.

We create an environment that is conducive to a holistic form of education that is embedded in community needs. Holistic education nurtures the head (academic skills), heart (values and spiritual) and hands (practical and life skills) of the learner.

Our Learning Community and Model

We symbolize our learning model with a tree. This learning model and the tree symbolization is adopted from our partner organization, Agile Learning Centers, a US based non-profit and an expanding global network of self-directed education micro-schools, with a contextualization for the Egyptian and Arab context.

Tree Soil, Roots, Trunk: Learning Foundations

SOIL

Our tree’s soil is trust and it is the basis from which everything else that we do offshoots. The culture we create is one of trust; trust that the learner (child or young adult) knows best what they are passionate about. Learners only need guidance and a supportive learning community. Trust manifests in trusting the multiplicity and equality of intelligence, gifts, talents of all children. And the uniqueness of every child and human being. It is a culture that amplifies agency and allows every child to grow and fulfill their human potential while carving their own unique pathway rather than conforming to a societal pre-drawn path or a pre-packaged lifestyle. This culture of trust is as an alternative to a culture of control and competition that is prevalent in mainstream schooling.

 ROOTS

Our roots are the core beliefs that guide our work and practices, and they are as follows:

1- Learning: Learning is natural, it happens all the time: Learning is innately sought and it happens in every life situation.

2- Self-Direction: People learn more from their context and environment rather than the content they are taught: this is why we focus on choosing facilitators that model for children rather than instruct them.

3- Experience: Growth happens when people discover their own passions and purpose of life through making their own choices.

4- Success: Learning happens in cycles of intention, creation, reflection and sharing.  For more on our learning cycle, please see how a typical week looks like at our learning space. 

TRUNK

Our tree trunk is a supportive learning community for every learner. A learning environment has the learner at its very center surrounded by all of our beliefs of trust, love, freedom, joy, play and collaboration.

A learner is surrounded by:

  1. facilitators: who guide the holistic education of a child
  2. peers: older and younger learners in the environment 
  3. mentors and resource people: who take a child’s exhibited interest and passions through a logical knowledge pathway. They are expert people in certain fields of knowledge or skills. 
  4. parents: who are active co-creators of the educational journeys of children
  5. wisdom council: elders of the community (60+ people)

Every learner creates their own Feedback Council which is composed of at least 3 people that come from a mix of family, friends/peers and facilitators/resource people/mentors/wisdom council at the learning space. Every child’s feedback council accompanies them throughout the years of their learning journey and contribute to the assessment of the child’s learning and growth.

Tree Branches: Learning Principles

Our tree branches are our design principles and they are dictated by our roots. These design principles help us on a day to day basis to turn our roots (core beliefs) into applicable solutions.

Amplify Agency

learner’s freedom of choice, agency and autonomy are at the core of our design. We believe that one of the most important purposes of education is: self-liberation. Learner’s exercise their agency in every facet and instance within the learning environment. While there are many things going on in our learning community, it is absolutely up to the learner to choose how and when they want to participate in any of the ongoing activities or develop their own activities outside what is on offer. Learner’s set their own learning intentions, they set their daily and weekly schedule, they participate in governance meetings to contribute to how the space is run.

 

Diversify Learning Modes and Resources

There are infinite ways to weave a learning journey. We believe in diversifying learning resources and approaches to suit the children’s multiple intelligence and learning styles. We see life as a classroom where every second, every situation and every person is a chance to learn from. We use learning that is based on: experience, story-telling, projects, discussions, problem-solving, travel, inquiry, play and on certain themes and topics decided on by the learning community. For more on the different learning approaches we use, please visit our FAQ page.

Practice Holistic Education

we are committed to an education that engages children’s heads (intellectual skills), hearts (spiritual and social skills) and hands (physical and practical skills) through the different learning components of our model. We use a knowledge map that divides knowledge into 9 broad categories. We are committed to expose children to different knowledge fields, disciplines and skills. (our knowledge map is adopted from Aarohi, an India-based self-directed micro-school).

Inter-generational Learning

elders of every community transmit wisdom and ground people in context and traditions. Children can interact with community elders “the Grannies” through the Wisdom Council, where a number of grandparents volunteer to teach, learn and play with the children. Another component of inter-generational learning is that our children are not classified by grades or ages that confine them and limit their abilities, rather, children learn in mixed age-groupings; they work and study around each other. Recent scientific evidence prove that learning in mixed age groups boosts the intelligence and skills of younger kids and builds the responsibility and empathy of older ones.  

Create a Safe Space

we are committed to provide an environment of physical, social, and emotional safety, set and keep critical boundaries, foster great freedom within an appropriate frame of safety and legality, so that children’s energy can be freed up to focus on learning instead of protecting themselves. We do this through training our facilitators, through building relationships with children and their parents on a day to day basis, designing our space, choosing the community we operate within finally through following the law.  

Create an Intentional Culture

As a learning community, we develop our own social contracts. Having a positive and explicit culture, agreements and accountabilities with a transparent environment and trust-based relationships allows us to address conflicts and as they arise. This positive culture is healthy for everyone and is much stronger than rule-making and/or rewards and punishments. We use weekly meetings where facilitator and children come together to discuss any issues related to the space governance or day-to-day issues, everyone creatively proposes solutions, we set such solutions in the form of agreements and we follow up on them.

We Facilitate

we don’t instruct or impart knowledge. We facilitate a learner’s journey, we connect kids to resources in their community as they seek their personal growth. We facilitate through connections, clarifications, practical life applications and simplification of complexities. We facilitate through giving explicit and visual feedback; we allow space for failures and celebrate it, and we learn in iterative cycles. We build deep, authentic relationships with our children, we model rather than inform. To allow for these authentic and deep relationships to develop, we keep a facilitator:children ratio of 1:10.

Maximum Support with Minimal Interference

we create supportive structures, practices, culture, and environments as well as deep relationships with our children. Support is not direction, we don’t help kids with tasks that they can do on their own nor do we take their decisions for them or manage their own learning.

Create Shareable Value

As children learn, they are encouraged to share the value of what they learn with the world. We keep documentation to track progress and learning. Learners are encouraged to share what they learn through teaching other peers as well as keeping learning portfolios and documentation tools like blogs, videos, photos ..etc. 

Play Infinitely

games are not about winning, life is not about becoming the first in the race or reaching the finish line. It is all about the journey and the collaborations along the way. We play with the rules and change them, we constantly explore new frontiers/challenges. We encourage non-competitive games in our play-based education.

We are Agile

Because learning, like life, is not set in stone, we have to always be prepared to deal with the new and the emergent. All of the tools we use are flexible, adaptable and can be changed according to our learning community needs.

Embrace Diversity

We open our doors to all regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, color, ideology or socio-economic background. Through our sliding scale of financial contribution, we hope our learning community will accommodate a range of socio-economic classes. Through our intentional culture, our authentic and trustful relationships, we accept all modes of self-expression. We deeply understand that there are multiple truths and more than one side to every story.  

Balance Community and Solitude Time

every child has the right for private, solitary time. Studies show how children connect with themselves and understand more about the world through their solitude time. In our learning community, we have space for students to build uninterrupted personal blocks of time into their own schedules whether for pursuing a personal project, a study course or just contemplation. We respect each other’s time and space. Along with their right to free, solitary time, we emphasize that students attend community morning and afternoon meetings and participate in community activities like clean up.

Practice Cooperative Learning

we want to liberate education from market domination and commodification. Since life is our classroom, we encourage a culture of gift, inter-dependence and sharing among our learning community. By having parents come together and share resources like their time and knowledge, and having kids share together their toys, books, games and food, we build a cooperative, non-resource intensive and affordable learning model.

Cultivate Independence

at the very core of our design, children learn how to learn. The purpose is to open the world and its vast resources for children to be capable of navigating it, one day, on their own rather than being dependent on a teacher or one learning resource. We encourage children’s inquiries and the journey they need to take to find their own answers.

Embedded within Community and Indigenous Culture

we believe in education that is embedded within a larger community, respects its culture, serves its needs and aims for social justice and a dignified life. We cultivate our children’s skills of empathy and civic engagement. Our design elements encourage our children to be of service for their community through community work and self and group initiated projects. While we can offer as many language classes as would cover the children’s interests, our main spoken language within the learning community, and outside language time, is Arabic.

Learning Tree Leaves: Tools and Practices 

Overview

In our learning spaces, we use agile education tools; these are our tree leaves. We use practical and concrete tools to make these ideals and design principles of SDE real and reliable. These tools provide a framework for learners and their facilitators to create an intentional culture in a learning community. These tools and practices provide visible feedback, effective self-management, clarity of purpose, documentation and easy integration of new patterns as needs change for the learner. These tools are adaptable to different learning contexts.

Planning: Kanbans

The Kanban is a tool for visualizing and managing work in progress. It is divided into columns and populated with sticky notes. Children populate their kanbans with their learning intentions. Children use kanbans within a cycle. Children move learning intentions into ready at the start of each week, considering how much they think they can get done this week. Then each day children would pull intentions from ready into doing to visualize things they can get to that day. At the end of the day, children can clearly see what they finished (in the done column) and what they didn’t get to (left in the doing column). This way they can reflect on why they did or didn’t get to their intention and adjust their intention setting tomorrow.

Coordinating: Set-The-Week Board/Offerings Board

Set-the-Week is a meeting for introducing and scheduling a new week’s opportunities–trips, projects, classes, games, film screenings, etc–which we refer to as ”offerings”. These are often exciting meetings! Resource people make special offerings and get commitments from those interested. Groups working on long-term projects increase their work days or rehearsals as benchmarks. Possibilities become plans, and they get posted on a Weekly Schedule Board where they are easily referenced through the week.

Declaring: Morning and Afternoon Meetings

Morning Meetings happen between facilitators and learners (a facilitator to children ratio of 1:10), each learner states their intentions for the day and makes any requests for support they may need. This simple process takes only ten to fifteen minutes, but it starts each day with intention, accountability, and a chance for cross-pollination.

The learning cycle that begins with Morning Meeting’s intention sharing meets again in full circle end of the day during Afternoon Meeting. This meeting focuses on personal and group reflection. Learners and facilitators take this time to ask, ”Did we accomplish what we intended to? If so, how? If not, why not?”


These meetings create a feedback cycle through which learners grow in self-awareness. Documentation tools are regularly used during these meetings, to further support students in self-assessing their progress towards their goals, recognizing patterns in their time-management and decision-making, and deciding what they want to change when they approach their intentions the next day.  

Creating Culture-Resolving Conflicts: Community Mastery Board, Culture Committee, Gameshifting Board

 The Community Mastery Board (CMB) is a tool used in the Change Up meeting to create a sustainable culture through iterative trial and error. Children raise awareness to problems or opportunities they see within the community. During Change Up, learners can come up with solutions and move them into the Implementation column to be tried out between Change Up meetings. If an Implementation is working for the community, it is moved to Practicing. If the solution is working, it moves forward on the board to indicate its progress towards Mastery. If not, it can be moved back to Implementation or “changed up” again via a new solution and implementation. Once a community practice is fully embodied, it moves to the Mastery column. This tool helps build the culture of the community. It encourages students to engage with conflict through a creative problem solving approach and a changemaking attitude.

Change Up meetings are held in a regular cycle (once a week), and are used to bring awareness to the community and discuss what’s working or needs to be “changed up” about community norms. These meetings allow children to practice democratic processes and decide on all aspects of how the space is run. They are meetings that create a positive culture and allows the learning community to implement practices that embody the learning values and principles. 

 

GameShifing Board is a tool that allows a group to better facilitate meetings by making the implicit social rules explicit, thus giving permission to shift them when useful.

 

Culture Committee serves to bolster open communication and intentional culture creation and is comprised of both facilitators and students. Its role is twofold: to help solve conflicts and to brainstorm ways to improve the culture of the learning community. In engaging in this process, the culture becomes stronger and more cohesive and students get to practice democratic practices, empathy and civic engagement.

 

Gratitude circles serve to create space for children to share gratitude for their experiences, interactions inside and outside of the learning community. 

Documentation and Reflection: Blogs, Portfolios

We have a diverse range of documentation-generating tools to use. Some reflect to the individual what is happening with their intentions, some support deeper personal reflection and sharing of experiences. Others face outwards, sharing glimpses of what we are up to with parents and community members. All are excellent resources for students building descriptive portfolios, at any point in their learning journeys. Examples of these documentation tools are: a.) student personal blogs for reflections and writing shareable learning as well as b.) Trello, a digital application that allows children to track their intentions and achievements and finally, c.) learning portfolio digital builders. 

 

Feedback: Feedback Councils

Every child has a feedback council that consists of one of his peers/friends, one family member and a third person that is either a facilitator, a resource person or from the wisdom council. Children choose the members on their feedback council for the year. Feedback councils accompany a child through his/her learning journey, help him/her set learning intentions, direct him/her to learning resources and assess his/her work.

Personalization: Personal Learning Proposals/Maps

Elder children plan their learning on a more longer term span through using their learning proposals with the help of their feedback council. Learning proposals are iterative and they change as the child’s interests and passions change and as new inquiries arise.

Resources

Do you love learning as much as your children?!

We have a myriad of resources, books, and videos that support the theory and practice behind free learning environments. Check out our RESOURCES section (it gets updated regularly).  

More questions about what we do?

Check out the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).