In my recent post Priority Star Method for Prioritization, I used our decision-making around kindergarten for our kids as an example. In this post I’ll go further into some of our journey and how I see it relating to business.
First of all, a little context. My wife Celeste and I have two boys, born on the same day (They’re 5 now.). While of course that makes them twins, we almost never refer to them that way because of the subtle way that thinking of them as twins would tend to have us treat them as if they were the same. Because we have two the same age, we have an automatic comparison between them about everything. One likes to run more. The other likes to climb more. One like to sing more. The other likes to build more. One likes to play with sounds and is figuring out how to read. The other prefers to try out words and phrases he’s heard, often with hilarious results. In any event, because we are confronted with their differences every day, we’re constantly reminded that no two kids are ready for learning the same things at the same time.
While every parent goes through this flexibility while babies are learning to roll over or sit up or crawl or walk or talk, somehow we’re all seemingly okay with a school system that starting at age 5, pretty much expects kids of the same age to learn the same things at the same pace. This seems crazy to me. Two influences that back this up for me are Seth Godin and David Marquet. Seth is best known for his work in the world of marketing while David was a submarine commander who discovered a paradigm shift in leadership and has since noticed that our education system was designed around a factory-based economy where it was important for kids to learn to sit still, shut up and do what they’re told. At it’s core, it hasn’t changed since then!
So last spring, 2 months before the end of the Montessori pre-school year, we took our boys out and planned a “year of play,” following some unschooling ideas and basically planning to follow their interests and build our family life around that. For the summer, I took every Tuesday off work and spent the day with them. Some mornings we went to the zoo or the children’s museum or a fast food restaurant play land and most afternoons we went to a homeschoolers park day, to get to know other families creating their own educational and life experiences.
Incidentally our family and business have a single one-page strategic plan where we have (among other things) annual and quarterly goals and priorities. One of our Q2 priorities was to have the boys’ kindergarten year decided. By the end of June, we called that green.
As you know from your own business, the plan doesn’t often match reality, because things change. For us, one of our sons has experience sensory processing issues for many years. By the end of the summer, it was clear that because of his different needs, we needed a new plan, one where the boys could have their own separate experiences. So even though this issue had already been settled, it came up again right as the school year was starting (sound familiar from your business?). Since we’d previously explored options, we were able to quickly make a new decision. We didn’t call it Plan B at the time, but could have. For us it just became the current Plan A (no reason to poison the well by calling attention to the fact that we’d made a difference choice before). We put Max into the Village Free School (a democratic school for 5-18 year olds with no set curriculum) three days/week and had Shoghi home with Celeste. This new decision honored our values around self-determination for both boys, but gave them separate time as well as more relationships for Max.
This lasted 5 weeks. Village Free School has a 5 week conditional enrollment before school and family decide if a permanent enrollment makes sense for everyone. Without getting too deep into specifics, it wasn’t going well for Max. He was the absolute youngest and seemed to need more structure than the other kids. If we’d only had one child to make decisions about, I think we would’ve tried to work something out, extending the conditional enrollment and seeing if we could have made it work for Max. As it was, Shoghi wasn’t doing well at home. He became more and more fixated on buying new legos. His brain latches on to something like that and won’t let go. Then once he has a new set, he builds it once and the pieces end up in the big box of legos. Each day there wasn’t a new set (which was just about every day), he experienced as a crisis. Clearly this wasn’t working. Does this ever happen in your business, where you make a decision that seems right at the time and then have to re-evaluate given new information? That’s where we were. Again.
So when it became clear it was time to make a choice, we visited the local public school (I’d been to their kindergarten roundup the previous winter so had some idea of what they were about) and in a matter of days, had them start attending, in separate classrooms. Both teachers are fantastic and I have no worries that either boy is being treated as if he has to be a certain way. While they do have structured lesson time, they also have a lot of choice time and are very much working at their own pace. So while I still hold all of my concerns about the educational system as a whole, I have no problem with these particular boys in this particular school for this year. They’re thriving.
So, why is this post important to me? Why do I feel the need to share all of this on my business blog? Because there is often a tension between our ideals and the brass tacks details of a particular situation. The way I work with companies is to absolutely always continue to strive toward ideals (vision, purpose, core values, etc), but not to get discouraged when we fall short. Progress, not perfection!
How does this idea play out in your business? What about your family? I’d love to have your thoughts in the comments.