Happy New Year!
Three years ago, today, we announced to the world that we would open a school.
The echo of those words still, every time, sounds so strange in our ears, "Open a school"?! I think we still follow that up with, “who does that?” Because honestly, who does that? Did we really actually do that? I guess we did! And really, it turned out to be everything we dreamed it could be, plus some. Which really was a gamble, don’t you think?
We recognized that opening a school would be the riskiest, scariest, bravest, most unheard-of thing we could do at the time for our teaching careers and lives. It would change everything in our lives, from personal to professional, and everything in between. But, with a special blend of trust in each other and our skills, a strong dose of perseverance, and great amounts of passion for what we believed education could be, we took that big leap of faith and announced to the world January 1st, 2016 that we would open a school. (We didn’t realize that that would be first of many great leaps of faith we’d be making along the journey of entrepreneurship, but that’s besides the point)
So, looking back, has it been scary? Was it really a big deal? Yes, 100%. Managing people, money, time, resources, clients, families, our own beliefs and values, goals, ideas, and our own families is no easy feat. The toughest part is reminding ourselves that it’s okay, it’s not easy, and there’s no perfect way of doing it. We’ve made it through, with smiles on at the end of each day. And what’s even better, we’re still going strong with that same recipe for motivation that we started with.
So, yes, all of that was big and scary. But what’s bigger to us, what really gets us saying, “Wow”, is when we’re standing in the back lobby right after snack time when the kids are hanging their coats and rushing off to their next class. You see 58 pairs of boots lined up on the shelf, older ones stopping to tie a little one’s shoe, a younger one stopping to say hello, and they all bustle past and then suddenly, it becomes quiet as classes get started – that moment of quiet, when we both look at each other and know exactly what the other one is thinking. Wow. What is it, you ask? What is it about that moment that gives us goose bumps, wide eyes and is immediately followed up by a deep breath? It's when we both realize that all of this just wouldn’t be without that that great leap of bravery 3 years ago and the continued leaps every day since. It makes every once of effort worth it. These students wouldn’t have made new friendships, wouldn’t be aware of how different a class of 10 can be. They wouldn’t be bouncing to math class with the skip in their step, lining their boots along the shelf with care. They may not be confident in their ability to speak up, or even acknowledge the needs of someone else to tie a shoe. This all happens, day in and day out, which we think is quite amazing and awesome, because of a big decision we made, and truthfully continue to make every day, to push through barriers, go against the grain, and open Via Vita.
We, now, get to be apart of each of these students’ lives and play a role in shaping their future. They inspire us daily to be better and try harder, and we are forever grateful for that. We have met and continue to learn from the most amazing educators, parents, and community members who teach us everyday the value of working as a team.
To all of the wonderful teams of people who we’ve come to meet along this journey, and those we will get to meet in 2019, thank you, thank you, and happy New Year! Thank you for supporting us, challenging us, motivating us, inspiring us, and most importantly, reminding us stay true to who we are. It truly takes a village, and we are beyond proud of the village VVA has become.
Many things happen in a day. There’s so much we want to say, but so little time to say it.
The moments that go into the school day - they are more than just time slots, childcare, and subjects of study. They are, honestly, our world.
We reflect on them, we draw meaning out of them, and we strive to constantly build better ones. We continuously replay them in our minds, and use them to fuel us further.
Being right there, on the front lines, while your child overcomes challenges, strives to do better, takes ownership over their choices, discovers something new, or shines in a way that naturally complements their uniqueness and personal qualities - these moments are what we live for, what we work hard for, and what we believe in. They are us.
So, to better get to know ‘us’, your teachers, the team you trust to teach your child, wrote out our thoughts about teaching. First, we wrote them separately, and then brought them together to create this post. Here’s how it turned out.
Your Via Vita Teachers
Adele, Alicia, Meghan, Ryan, Yolanda, & Zoe
I choose to teach your child because I choose to keep learning, and since they want to keep learning too, we make a great team. I want them to realize how fun learning can be. I love to be curious with them, explore with them, investigate with them, and create with them. I choose to teach because I want guide your child in discovering who they are, and to help them to see their worth both as a learner and as people.
The reward I get from my job as your child's teacher is a daily surprise--sometimes the reward is laughter, sometimes it's a shared eureka, sometimes it's a double high-five out in the backyard. It is getting to continue learning right along with them everyday! It is getting to watch as they transform and overcome obstacles that they never thought possible.
When I see your child smile… it warms my heart that they are building a positive relationship with school and learning. When I see your child smile, it sparks an already familiar feeling: being in the right school, for the right reasons. When I see your child smile, it helps to remind me why I chose this profession.
When I see your child struggle, I step into the role of co-pilot; I'm not there to fly them around of their struggle like an avoidable detour, but rather, to help them through their struggle, mostly by reminding them that they're not alone. I work with them to build their own understanding and help them create meaning in the challenges they face. When I see your child struggle I know that I must work extra hard to help them to see their own value and to believe in their ability to overcome any obstacle.
What gives me joy every day is to be part of a school that feels ever more like a big family that's addicted to learning. It is to see students come back each and every day excited to learn and do more than they did yesterday. It is watching students help each other, spread kindness, and form lasting bonds.
What pushes me to keep going when the going gets hard is a penchant for perseverance, which I aim to inspire in my students every day. What keeps me going is knowing that we are teaching students to love learning so that they want to continue it throughout their lives. It is knowing that I have the unique opportunity to influence the life of a child in a positive way, and that in return they may influence others in a positive way.
What I love seeing every day happen at Via Vita is our Morning Meetings: a daily gathering, co-hosted by students, where we table discussions about how we're doing as a community, and how we can do even better. What I love seeing everyday happen at Via Vita is, honestly, the learning! It is fluid, looks different each day, and happens differently for each student. I love seeing the wonderful mentorship fostered between older and younger students and the multi-age bonds that are created. The students really are like one big family.
The difference I already notice in one month is the amount of support I get from our students, regardless of the task at hand. They are ready and willing to help, and I am constantly encouraged by their will to build a culture of cooperation in our school. In just one month, I notice is the significant increase in confidence and leadership skills for so many of the students. I notice how supportive and accepting everyone is of each other. Some of us have only known each other for a short time but it already feels like family.
Each of our teachers are truly unique and special. It is such a joy to know when we've found someone new to add even more awesomeness to the team. Mr. Ryan Cox is just that. He joined us for the summer to help run Camp Via Vita and will be joining our teachers this fall for Via Vita Academy's Year 2. He is talented, enthusiastic and passionate. What more could we ask for? Please give Mr. Ryan a warm welcome and enjoy his first, of many, posts to our blog.
I’ll often find myself at parties, self- stationed near the snack table, meeting new faces for fun, and inevitably talking about teaching. Recently, though, my side of such talks on teaching has enjoyed a new and exciting, long-awaited opening line.
Let me explain how the convo used to go, first.
“So Ryan, what do you do?”
For me, the seemingly straightforward answer has long been, “I’m a teacher.” However, it’s that classic follow-up question that so often intrigues me:
“What do you teach ?”
Well, the go-to, safety-first response has always been simple enough: “English, Social Studies, and Music,” and yes, it’s kind of a kickstarter for further conversation, but if I’m being honest, this answer sounds like Water Soup must taste: flavourless and predictable.
(Spoiler Alert: the following is the opening line that’s since been refined.) For the longest time, if the person I was meeting seemed genuinely curious, I would answer them with something a little less obvious...
“I teach the truth, as often as I can afford to.”
Sounds cool, right? This answer would almost always raise eyebrows, and I would always get a kick out of my own cleverness.
Still, sometimes I would be asked to explain what I meant. On those occasions The conversation would start sounding a lot clunkier, more serious, and far less cool and clever. Here’s an example:
New Face raises an eyebrow in curiosity. “Do tell!”
“Well, what I mean is that the subjects I teach are traditionally flexible...for me. As an English teacher, the typical direction I’m given is: Short Stories > Novels > Essay > Poetry > Play > Projects in between. So basically I’m given carte-blanche. Same goes for Social Studies; the materials are more concrete to be sure, but really, past Latitude, Longitude, the Compass Rose and Western Europe on a map, the cornucopia of human endeavour is mine through which to pick. And Music? After “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” the rest of the sky’s the limit! So really, with loose guidelines like those, how could I not afford to be truthful in my teaching ?”
New Face nods, grabs a piece of celery from the vegetable tray, douses it in ranch dressing, and chomps on it contemplatively while I get farther and farther from my once-cool line. ..
“I mean sure, I like getting to teach interesting things, but then I look around the classroom and see twenty to forty different learners. That’s when I shrug and just explore materials that excite me , in the hope that my excitement proves contagious to all of them. And yeah, it sometimes does. But what if the student enjoyed something similar to those carte-blanche guidelines so typically given to me ? That way students might feel like they have some genuine control over their own learning, and get to explore materials more likely to excite them. Doesn’t that sound like something much closer to the true nature of education?”
New Face smiles and says “Of course it does!” Then, having finished their celery stick, they move on to the plate of dessert squares, find a nanaimo bar, and (while I delve into act three of my monologue) begin nibbling away...
“I mean, we’ve both gone through school, so we know that a school where students are given a lot of control over what they learn is pretty much fantasy; in most schools, everyone--the students, the teachers, and the parents--still expect that the student be evaluated objectively, and mostly through the materials that the teacher tells them to explore. As a result, I still end up functioning in the classroom as that stereotypical sage on the stage--standing tallest, oldest, and so presumably wisest at the front of the class, wielding the whiteboard marker like a wand and sharing tidbits of my ‘invaluable’ knowledge through methods of my choosing. And while I may well convince them tha--”
New Face interjects with a question meant to help me get to my point.
“Sorry, but what is the truth that you wish you could afford to teach more often ?!”
“Oh! That there is no singular path in education, for either the student or the teacher. That both deserve a lot of freedom to learn effectively; students deserve the freedom to explore more material that engages them personally, and teachers deserve the freedom to instruct more around those materials. Alas, with class sizes and curricula the way they’re currently set, I feel like I can only afford for my classroom to work like this a couple of weeks of the year.”
In solidarity, New Face shakes my hand and says,“May you find a place where you can teach like that all the time!” Then I straighten my back a bit, and have a go at that dessert plate.
So recently, I found a new school that teaches this way all the time, which is how I came up with my new opening line.
Last night, at a party, near the snack table, I once again met a new face, who soon asked what it is that I do. After I told them that I’m a teacher, they asked what it is that I teach. This time I had a new answer:
“I teach at Via Vita, which means ’Way of Life.’ That’s what we teach--how for every learner, education is exactly that: A Way of Life.”
Then, beaming with confidence over New Face’s curiosity, I grabbed a celery stick off the snack table and started talking.
Welcome to Our Blog
Each post is written by a supportive member of Via Vita Academy, be it a teacher, parent, student, community member, who is invested in the topic of education. Take a read and comment below!