The Hiland Hall School
A Progressive Primary and Middle School in Bennington, Vermont
MISSION STATEMENT and PHILOSOPHY
The Hiland Hall School arose at the time the Prospect school closed, and seeks to carry forward the philosophy and educational practices of that institution.
The purpose of the Hiland Hall School is to join with families in the liberation and development of the full capacities of the students entrusted to it; intellectually, socially, aesthetically, physically, and morally. We consider the involvement of parents to be critical because the family - its hopes, values, and ways - is the major context of a child's life. Without the ongoing participation, understanding, and support of the family, the work of an educational institution is largely ineffective.
It is our purpose to develop the full capacities of our students because we believe that both individual and society are best served when individuals reach full potential. It is a school's task to serve both the individual and the society.
Thus, to concentrate on only one aspect of human potential (for instance, intellectual development or even more narrowly academic development) is to be of disservice to both individual and society. From the outset our specific educational responses have been guided by observation of our students as they engage in the various opportunities of the classroom; intellectual, social, material, aesthetic, or moral. Thus although the practice of the school is shaped by the assumptions and commitments outlined below, our daily practice is guided by our growing knowledge of our students. Side by side with our commitment to tailoring each child's education to best serve his or her strengths we place our commitment to balancing the various responsibilities we have to parent, group, society, and ourselves as professionals as well.
These responsibilities are determined by the assumptions we make about people, what learning is, the practice of teaching, the authority and limits of schools, and the nature of the society in which we find ourselves. Our assumptions are interdependent, and have the effect of reinforcing one another. It is hard to determine which is first, since together they seem to us to make a circle, or a complete core, out of which our actions and educational practices spring.
Nonetheless, they are as follows:
Each of us is unique and has something special to contribute to the community. It is the nature of human beings to think, to strive to make sense, and to make knowledge. We all deserve respect. Specifically, the thinking, feeling, valuing and interests of children deserve maximum respect in the classroom and should be the starting point in the development of program and curriculum though not the only factor. Individuals need not only a safe and open atmosphere in general but also the specific respect that comes from knowledge and validation of each person's style, pace and rhythm. Learning also takes place best when a student generally feels confident and has an ongoing experience of success in some endeavor. Thus, teachers need time to get to know students individually, and classrooms must be structured to provide teachers with diverse opportunities to observe, and to provide students with diverse opportunities for success.
Learning takes place best in an atmosphere of respect and trust. People need to feel safe to take risks, to speculate, to make visible their thoughts, interests, and concerns. Broadly, this is a statement about how the community of learners must function to support each person in his or her individuality. Group membership and respect must be given, not earned. Students must know that their efforts will be met with support as well as judicious criticism, that effort is valued as much as or more than literal achievement. Questions, doubts, confusion, and misunderstanding must be as valued a part of the educational setting as answers, certainties, clarity.
We think that knowledge begins in activity and purpose and develops into deliberate study only over time as the purposes of the individual develop. Thus, students need time to develop their own purposes and activities as they absorb the purposes and standards of the group around them. Knowledge is of two sorts - that which is already gained and that which is still being formed. We think that the educational process works best when the child's activity-growing out of his or her own interests and part of his / her effort to make sense-is the starting point for the journey through the accrued knowledge of the society.
The best teaching occurs when the teacher is able to develop detailed understanding of her student's style, interests, pace and self, and then is given sufficient time to apply her knowledge consistently. Teachers and parents are each repositories of knowledge: teachers having knowledge of the process of education, parents having valuable knowledge of the child. Teachers and parents need opportunities for exchange. The classroom setting should be able to accommodate much parental involvement.
Just as each of us is unique and must be respected as such, so also are we all members of communities. Thinking, learning, making, doing, are social acts as well as acts done by individuals. Thus learning, as living, must involve exchanging and sharing. Individual needs must sometimes give way to the overall comfort of the group. Students need to learn not only how to share but also need to learn the responsibilities of group membership. More specifically, we take our own society to entertain ideals about diversity and inclusion – liberty and justice for all—that requires us to teach our students to live peacefully with, and to value, differences.
TIME AND DISCIPLINE
We want the atmosphere to be one of having "enough time". Respect for individuals means respecting individual paces; giving people time to try again; time to succeed; time to work seriously and over time, time to meet personal standards. Having enough time means abandoning arbitrary standards around when something should be finished, learned, achieved and establishing authentic standards with and for each child. Yet we want our students to be responsible to time and their own choices. So that taking time should not degenerate into avoidance or lack of application, teachers provide consistent guidance. Structure must underlie purpose, and the accomplishment of purpose requires limitation, decision making and self-control.
INTERESTS AND EXPECTATIONS
We want our students to have the opportunity to explore widely and express and pursue their own interests. We also have a responsibility to ensure our students get a chance to develop the skills that society requires educated persons to have. Students will be helped to see how personal interests cross and/or merge into traditional fields and human purpose.
INDIVIDUALITY AND SOCIETY
We want our students to be able to be themselves, and to be able to live with a rich diversity of individual styles. Yet every student must abide by, and hopefully come to understand, the rules and structures that make possible a society of diverse individuals.
We want our school to be a setting respectful of the wide diversity of human talent and resources; respectful of group process and needs; supportive of individual initiative and endeavor; respectful of our responsibility to the larger community. We want students to participate in their own educations by pursuing their own interests, by making choices about what, when, and how to study. Yet they must study, and they must accept the larger structures and guidance of the school and of their teachers. Thus, in the long run, we want our students to choose to participate in the mission of the school, to choose to pursue not only their own immediate interests, but also to accept the authority and knowledge of teachers about where those interests might lead, and how each person's individuality grows out of, is part of, and enhances the larger life of the society.