A chat with Inly’s head of school about student-centered learning, global awareness and the power of experiential education
When Donna Milani Luther heard John Hunter speak at the Creative Education Foundation’s annual Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) Conference last summer, she was blown away. “His approach aligned so perfectly with ours, and his message was so compelling, that I immediately knew I wanted to bring him to Inly to meet with our school community. And I wanted other teachers and administrators and parents to share in the experience, too.”
John Hunter will speak at Inly on Wednesday, April 9 as part of the Omran ♦ Nelson Speaker Series. For a full description of the event, see the Inly News story: John Hunter to Present “World Peace Game” Film and Talk on Hands-On, Experiential Learning.
To purchase online tickets visit the Inly Speaker Series page.
Q: Hunter’s talk is called, “The Schools and Teachers our Students Need Us To
Be.” What does this mean, exactly?
It’s about allowing students to guide their own learning, based on their interests. It’s about teachers and schools allowing students to really take ownership. John’s message is that we all need to focus on how students learn best and then thoughtfully prepare the best type of environment for this success. He asks us to ask ourselves: What are our roles as guides for children in this century?
Q: Hands-on, experiential learning is the focal point of his film, “World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements.” Is this a focal point of his talk as well?
Yes. He firmly believes that experiential education is the most effective way for students to learn, and that’s really the premise of this talk. It’s the best proven way to capture students’ attention and extend their learning and their capacity to stay on a task. As educators we want to see students building skills around interest and content, and we want the learning to be rigorous and challenging and fun.
Q: And can it be rigorous enough, this type of experiential learning?
Oh, absolutely. It’s about teaching from the inside out.
I think that people generally will challenge themselves if they feel like they’re learning and growing. Otherwise they just look to the least common denominator. We see that alive in our school every day and you see that in great schools and in great teachers.
Kids will often keep going if inspired. But when they’re led in a direction that’s rote … that’s ‘sorry, you can’t spend any more time on that because our curriculum maps say you have to do this tomorrow,’ and the child isn’t really interested in going there, they’re really not going to learn nearly as much.
So, yes, I believe it can be rigorous and I believe it’s our job as teachers to stay ten steps ahead to be true guides to help students develop.
Can you speak to the Montessori like aspects of his message? Peace studies and global awareness are two themes that come to mind.
Yes, this is very much the type of cosmic education that Maria Montessori cared about. Understanding our place in the world, figuring out that there are pieces that make up the whole, that we’re all part of that in some way and that our job is to find out how it all fits together… It’s all part of the continuum in a Montessori school.
His approach is very much what we do in Montessori—not only in the content delivery but in the content itself.
The entire World Peace Game is also very Montessori in that it is very hands-on and the teacher really steps back and guides the students to solve the problem on their own. Yes, it is a challenge and it’s a big challenge! World peace is not something you can solve in a day. But he has designed something that’s appropriately long enough for 4th, 5th and 6th graders and designed it to capture their attention and to extend their attention—and extend their thinking and learning and processing and their capacity to stay on a task.
These students are the future designers and inventors and entrepreneurs, the ones who are figuring all this out. I think it’s ingenious and it gives me hope.