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"Strong Fences Make Good Neighbors"

How do we discipline at Acton Academy?

At Acton Academy, our Eagles have a lot of freedom: they choose what to work on when, they wear what they want and they do not have homework.

But without clear boundaries, "fun" can turn into distraction, wasted time, laziness and meaninglessness. Without responsibility and boundaries, freedom and fun can threaten the progress of the Hero's Journey.

At Acton Academy, the Eagles spend several weeks at the beginning of the year deciding on what their boundaries will be. These boundaries are designed – by them – to ensure that their studio stays kind, clean, purposeful and functional.

Our emphasis at the start of the school year is FUN. We believe learning is one of the most fun things in life and we want our environment to reflect this.

A close second to the fun is creating our boundary system. Boundaries ensure safety and security – intellectually, emotionally and physically. Without limits, freedom and fun become stressful chaos or worse, meaningless and wasteful.

At Acton Academy, we are learning to create healthy, clear boundaries. Like the old adage, “Strong fences make good neighbors,” we believe that the key to building and maintaining healthy relationships and a productive life is healthy, strong boundaries. Boundaries outline how we treat each other, how we manage our time and energy, and how we interact with our environment.

We are often asked, “How do you deal with behavior issues at Acton Academy? How do you discipline the kids?” This is a great question. As with most questions, we don’t like to give an answer. Rather, we like to reframe the question: “What happens when a student chooses not to follow the contract created by his/her community?”

The answer is that we honor their choices.

We honor their choices by responding in a way that was agreed upon democratically by the group. Early in each year, we have a lot of discussions about being part of a community, about fairness, about rules of engagement and about respecting each others’ voices, time, bodies and feelings. Setting up the Community Contract, the Rules of Engagement, the Eagle Buck system takes a lot of time, energy and patience. There is a lot of debate and editing. But once the Eagles decide, the Contract and other boundaries become our “guardrails” – our “strong fences” to keep everyone safe and productive.

At Acton, you will hear us say “choice” and “decision” a lot. For example, “you chose to distract your partners, so you have chosen to change from working on Core Skills instead of the Quest.” The Eagles understand that they choose their words and behaviors each moment of each day, and that these choices have natural consequences. Today the consequence may be losing free time or missing out on a fun activity. Soon, as teens become drivers and navigate the world of work, personal finance and intimate relationships, the consequences carry much more gravity.

How can children be expected to make good decisions as teens if they never learned how to make decisions as children?

At Acton we allow them the responsibility of making their own choices.

In the elementary school, we use Eagle Bucks and Strikes as consequences. Eagle Bucks are a currency that students earn by accomplishing goals and serving in the community. They can use these Bucks on Fridays to buy fun things, or save them for bigger rewards like going on trips.

They can also lose them by breaking the guidelines of the community contract.

Strikes are used for more serious offenses like intentionally harming or distracting another Eagle. One strike results in being removed from the group until the Eagle is ready to return and be productive, not destructive. A second strike means the Eagle will be called to talk to a Guide and make a plan for not receiving another strike. A third strike necesitates removal from the community until the Eagle is ready to recommit to the contract. When he or she is ready, the Eagles welcome him or her back as a Fallen Hero who is ready to rise and try again. We honor failure as much as success at Acton - nothing great was ever done easily.

This week at Acton, the students are renegotiating these rules of engagement. They are imposing new consequences for disrupting the circle, for arriving late, and for laying down in circle.

We value this powerful process of community governance because it is based in respect, freedom, responsibility and the understanding that what each person says and does has an impact on the world.

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