The Right To Inquire – Part Two

The Right To Inquire (now known as ‘Part One’) detailed how we led into reflecting on where we were all at so far in our understanding of what it means to be responsible in the context of partaking in the Exhibition.

Whilst waiting for the kids to finish their reflections, I was re-reading Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams.  If you and Seth haven’t met yet, you can find out about him here. If you have not read his manifesto, I strongly encourage you to do so.  It is a brilliant, easy-to-read and thought provoking piece of work.  I read the following section and wanted to share it:

34. Responsibility

The Sudbury Valley School was founded during the hippie generation, and has survived and thrived as an independent school for forty years. From their introductory handbook:

The way we saw it, responsibility means that each person has to carry the ball for himself. You, and you alone, must make your decisions, and you must live with them. No one should be thinking for you, and no one should be protecting you from the consequences of your actions. This, we felt, is essential if you want to be independent, self-directed, and the master of your own destiny.
While this is easy to dismiss as hype or pabulum, what if it’s true? What if you actually built a school from the ground up with this as its core idea, not just window dressing?

This is precisely what they did.
Students ask for teachers when they wish. They play soccer if they choose. They take responsibility for everything they do and learn, from the age of six. And it works. If a school is seen as a place for encouragement and truth-telling, a place where students go to find their passion and then achieve their goals, it is not a school we would generally recognize, because our schools do none of this.


Now, obviously, Seth is presenting this information in a way to provoke a response from his audience – and this should provoke a response amongst those who truly care about developing self-directed, independent, inquiry-driven learners in their schools.

In my ‘Part One’ post, my teaching partner and I really spelled it out for our kids what our expectations were.  I shared that this was a really new route for us to be taking.  So new, that it has rattled some of our kids to the point where they are fearful that they are not going to ‘do it right’.  They know what it means to be responsible, as evidenced by the quotes from our kids at the top of the post.  Some of them, however,  just don’t know exactly what it means to be an inquirer with so much freedom to do what they want to do.

So, what do we do?

Initially, when we started to see that some kids were ‘off track’ we had thought of having a ‘serious talk’ with those kids.  But then we stopped.  And we had the serious talk with ourselves.  We reminded ourselves that:

  • we had explained to the parents that this would look different – and they were ok with that and we had their support
  • we had sought permission to go out on a limb with our best intentions with us and that was ok too – we had our admin behind us
  • we truly believe that all our kids have it in them to do amazing things through this unit, and beyond
  • we acknowledged that the ones who were scared were us and we had to put that out there, stare at it a while and then agree that it was ok if this wasn’t perfect


This felt good!  We shared this ‘aha moment’ with our kids and with their parents and we all moved on.  Some still slower than others but all with the understanding that we are there for them, their mentors are behind them, their parents are in too.  We are being responsible for our part in this, because they truly are not in this alone.

This whole process is making my teaching partner and I relish the journey even more.  We are more committed to seeing deeper, student-driven inquiry occur in our classrooms and throughout our school in order to best prepare our kids for the Exhibition – and for life as an inquirer.  We are seeing how much learning that has ‘nothing to do’ with their topics is occurring and we love it.  Most of all, we are collectively realizing that being fearless will take you further than you ever thought possible. And that feels amazing.

Helping someone doesn’t always mean doing it for them, sometimes it means letting them know we have their backs if they try themselves. ~ Simon Sinek

About Sonya terBorg

A mom, educator, designer, creator. I care about kindness, representation, equality, and making a positive contribution. I began teaching in 1997 in New Zealand and have since taught from G1 through G10 in 4 continents.
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