What Do Bedtime Trust-Building and Deeper Learning Have in Common?

Hi! I’m Adam, and I joined Foundry in May of 2019, bringing multiple decades of work experience with children and youth, including both public and charter middle and high school teaching, as well as test prep tutoring, summer camping, group home supervision, theater, and youth leadership. I’m also a parent of 2 wonderful children, one in middle school and one starting high school, so it’s fair to say that like most of you I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to children, and I’m still learning to be good at it!

by Adam Bilsky, Foundry Network Director

by Adam Bilsky, Foundry Network Director

One of my roles with Foundry is to develop and manage our Foundry Network, a community of practice built around you, our users, to help improve our Foundry use - and by extension, our teaching and coaching practice - through shared effort. All of us who see ourselves as members of a learning community can attest that healthy communities are built on trust. Not a world-shattering concept. But what does trust have to do with a software product like Foundry? I’m reminded of a recent conversation I had with my fellow Transformation Scientist Camille about my kids aging past certain rituals, and she reflected on how bedtime is a key moment of trust development.  

 When putting our kids to bed, why do parents read stories, sing songs, and institute other nighttime rituals for kids? An easy answer is that it helps calm them down so they’ll just fall asleep already. A slightly more sophisticated answer is that they need the structure and boundaries those rituals provide. For many reasons, sleep can be scary, and building trust is critical, just as it is with adolescents — who don’t outwardly like academic boundaries like rules, routines, and deadlines boundaries — but privately need them.

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Yet, bedtime is often the primary time children (like most of us) are physically calm, free from external stimuli, and alone with their thoughts; this is when they open up and share their feelings, their fears, and the deep questions and ideas that will help build their identities. Who am I? What can I be? Sometimes, in our eagerness to just be done with the day, we rush through those moments, quick to reassure them: you’re ok, you need the rest, it’s a big day tomorrow. We point to rules and routines as healthy - and we’re right.

But. We also need to use our “superhearing” during these moments, to discern whether we need to loosen the routine enough to really listen to our kids. They may not be using the most direct language. When we show them that we can extend bedtime just a little longer, we build trust on top of the routines. When children have that trust that they are more important than the routine, they will confide their greatest fears, which is another way of telling us exactly what they need.

How different is that dynamic for our students? Of course, they need routines, rules, and boundaries. Yet our students seldom have time built into a school day/week/month/year for “bedtime” - for space and time to be less stimulated, to be alone, to have nothing further to attend to than their own thoughts. Most of us grew up in, work in, or have children that attend school without that “bedtime.” That is, there wasn’t and isn’t individual time, either in the day or in the curriculum. In some schools, leaders are recognizing the importance of structures like advisory, and specific adult roles designed to create that listening space. Yet in most, students still shuttle between strictly timed classes, with minimal downtime. They are expected to grow academically at the same pace as everyone else in the room, or they are moved to a different room to match speed with a different set of peers. They rarely have time to make multiple attempts to refine work that is not up to expectations and are expected to complete the same work at the same time as everyone else. Thus, they don’t have time to build a relationship with the work, to consider it important. Rarely is anyone giving them the chance to ask – in an academic setting – Who am I? Why is this important to what I can become? 

In essence, we are telling them, you’re ok, you need the rest, it’s a big day tomorrow. Why is this?

Many of us are confident that students neither can nor need to learn the same content at the same pace. But we are afraid of the alternative: how can we manage a dozen - or even two or three dozen - students learning at different paces, completing work at different times? How will that get into the grade book? How will we move to the next unit? 

Just as a child will consciously (or otherwise) sense that we are not interested in bending the rules to hear their concerns, a student will consciously or otherwise sense that their learning struggles - and needs - are less important than the grade book and the academic calendar. 

When we proceed according to our fears, children will stop sharing their fears. Struggling students may either act out in defiance until they get the help they need, or they may soldier on in silence, not sharing with us those fears and concerns that, if we heard them, we would know as statements of learning needs. 

In other words, the management systems that teachers need to stay on top of our students’ work do not foster trust.

So how does bedtime have anything to do with Foundry? Trust is crucial to Deeper Learning. We designed our learning management system around asynchronous workflow support that allows you to actually track, manage, and evaluate work while communicating with students. The ability to track students completing work at their appropriate (yet still rigorous) pace not only relieves our anxiety as teachers but also enables your students to develop trust in their learning community. Students see that we consider their learning to be more important than the learning delivery system.  And that is the most important learning outcome.