delicacy and firmness

Declaration time at Brightworks is a moment of great delicacy and steadfast firmness for the adults in the school. It’s a time to tease out ideas from the kids about what grabbed them the most during the arc, and to see whose ideas might overlap to take advantage of collaboration, and to dig deeper about how to turn their inspirations into manageable project work. It’s a time for lots of questions and lots of curiosity and lots of who’s, what’s, why’s, and how’s. It’s a time for, “Are you ready and willing to put in the effort that it’s going to take to do this awesome thing?” and letting a kid say “Yes!” even if, as the adult, you might be able to see some pitfalls or mistaken assumptions. And letting those things go, because they’re important lessons to learn in the doing.

Delicacy and firmness: encouraging a kid to take on something they’re excited about, something worth doing for multiple weeks, but standing firm to help them challenge themselves in all the right places, think bigger, and commit whole-heartedly to the work.

There are usually three general categories of students by the time we get to declarations: those who know what they’re interested in and declare a project so massive it might fill a PhD program’s worth of work, those who find a tiny sliver of an idea that they either don’t know how or are unwilling to make broader and more complex, and those who have no clue what they want to do.

In the first two arcs (and getting better each time around!), we’ve encouraged all the kids to take the median path of these extremes so that they’re working on projects that are interesting and engaging, challenging in the right places, and (mostly) accomplish-able during the three to four weeks of Expression. The declaration process has been hard, filled with many conversations and multiple drafts of the written declarations. We’ve learned a lot from each series of declarations for each arc and have some new prompts in place that reflect those discoveries – most notably the new declaration template. This document is an experiment that we hope will streamline the thinking and writing process across all age groups, with the caveat that collaborators can add their own additional requirements (a more complete write-up, for example, depending on the kids’ ability level).

We’re learning to ask different questions from a kid when they start thinking about their projects. Now, after hearing the beginnings of an idea, we start the conversation with the end goal: What does this project look like for you during the night of Expression? Expression at Brightworks is about the process of doing a project (not necessarily the finished product) but we start here as a way to understand the best way to support and guide the kids along the way. We (as the adults) and they (as the students) have learned a lot about biting off more than you can chew, keeping in mind the deadlines for getting to that stopping point, and have learned that the declaration process of thinking out all the potential roadblocks in the plan, and that making a somewhat realistic schedule of due dates and goals to hit is one of the most important steps in the whole Expression phase.

But all the specific goal setting and scheduling is for later. Right now, after knowing what the kids want to have accomplished by the end of Expression, we ask questions that will guide the students to making a proposal and declaring their intended work: What has been most interesting to you during Maps? What kind of project will you take on during Expression? What is the Big Question that guides your work? How does this project relate to Maps? What materials and supplies do you need to do awesome work? Is there a safety plan needed?

Are you ready to sign your declaration and pledge to undertake this work? Are you ready to do this thing?