Inside Lakota Learning
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The Lakota learning experience is one filled with inquiry, innovation and discovery. Every student's learning style, passions and interests are different, which is why the experience of one student will never be exactly that of another. It's why Lakota teachers and support staff are committed to student-centered learning and providing a personalized approach marked by differentiated teaching methods. 

Let the Lakota Learning Team explain what that means and how that goal plays out on a daily basis in our classrooms. Through this blog, they'll guide parents and community members through the strategy behind Lakota's student-centered curriculum and how different methods meet students' educational needs. And because learning doesn't stop at school, they'll provide tips and strategies for how to be partners in the learning process and create a positive learning environment at home. 

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As a child, I distinctly remember going to the grocery store with my mom on a typical Saturday morning. As I gazed down the aisles, thinking about what new snack I wanted for my lunch, I suddenly came back to reality as I saw my teacher browsing the baked goods.

I immediately wanted to run over and hug her, but then a twinge of fear overtook me. Would she be as happy to see me, as I was to see her? What was she doing out of school? Should I just leave her alone to shop and enjoy her Saturday? Suddenly, I questioned something I had never questioned before. Did my relationship with my teacher, whom I adored and spent day in and day out with, change outside of school?

This year, as I sat with my senior in high school and heard her say that this year was different - better than every other year - I contemplated how that could be. Upon asking her, I realized it had less to do with the logistics of going back - schedules, seeing friends, senior parking spots and routine - and everything to do with relationships.

“I actually felt like my teachers ‘wanted’ to get to know me,” she said. “They talked to me about my interests, told me about themselves and even laughed, danced and had fun with us.” I was so proud to hear these words and it refreshed my outlook on that day in the grocery store. My teacher and all other teachers are real people, who have chosen a profession where they can grow their family by hundreds.

As we begin this new school year in Lakota, there is a fresh buzz about learning and collaborating that has become contagious. From day one, we have spent time getting to know our students, understanding their passions and contemplating how we use this knowledge to motivate them to unleash their creative potential.

But before we can accomplish this, we must get to know our students on a deeper level, make them our family, love them so much that they can fail and learn from their mistakes, share in a celebration of success and safely step outside of their comfort zone with arms wrapped tightly in support.

This looks different for every child. Some are overcoming language barriers and feel trapped in silence or misunderstanding. Some have a brilliant idea they want to embark on, but time is holding them back because they care for siblings. Some want to follow a passion, but have no time to do it because they are bogged down by homework.

If we, as educators, made time for these things in our classroom, we could change our students’ lives and instill in them a singular motivator to launch them into their adult career path. But first, we must know them deeply. What motivates them, what makes them work harder, what frustrates them and how do they best receive feedback? Our classrooms must be a safe place where embarking on new ideas, projects and teamwork is vital and necessary.

We have to empower our students to pursue their passions while they are IN school. We have to shift our role to one that is focused on preparing students for anything while making their learning meaningful and relevant so that they covet the experience. As educators, parents and administrators, we must be relentless in understanding, reaching and growing every child and finding whatever way possible to do that.  

We cannot accomplish any of these things without a partnership with our families. You are the backbone of their early learning and the foundation that holds them together. You have known for years what we strive to know every day. What makes your child tick? What motivates them and what are they passionate about? We also have to turn to you for the tough questions to try to understand their background, past experiences that affect them today and what frustrates them about school.

In order for children to strive academically and socially, they must see school and home as a partnership. This goes deeper than sharing about their behavior for the day or following through with intrinsic rewards, but also dives into structure and routine. We must empower our children in all settings of their life.

I often find that my best learning takes place while I am in the midst of creation I also see the most determination on my students’ faces when they are in the midst of creation. In a setting where relationships are at the forefront and children are in control of their learning, they will set goals for themselves and accomplish them, rewarding themselves with new and interesting learning.  What you will see is students designing their path to learning an objective, deciding on their learning target, how long it will take them to get there and how their success will be measured. As adults, we sit back and guide, open up doors to resources to support them, ask them hard and thoughtful questions and connect them with people and opportunities in the community to sustain their work.

Along the way, we must teach them life skills to support their learning, such as time management, organization, and self-efficiency. We must encourage them to be self-starters. In the book “Empower”, John Spencer suggests that we do the following to help launch our learners, at home and at school, for we are ALL their teachers.

Inspire them.

Create opportunities for self-starting.

Provide the tools.

Encourage creative risk-taking.

Model the thinking process.

Affirm it.

Help them find a community.

We must be partners in building capacity within our children. They have to be able to expect the same outcomes and the same structure across their world. They must be able to take their learning at school and carry over the inquiry, passion, and lust for more into their home setting where you can continue that discovery with them. By doing this, we can build strong relationships with our children, create learning that is real-life and meaningful to them.

I never want my children to question their relationship with their teacher when they see them in the grocery store. I want them to run with open arms to them and wrap their arms around their waist and I want parents to know exactly who that person is because they also have a meaningful relationship with them - no awkward introductions necessary.  WE must be relentless in understanding, reaching and growing every single child and learn together for OUR kids.

Christina FrenchChristina French is new in her role as the Director of Curriculum K-6 after leaving her post as principal of Hopewell Elementary School. You can connect with her on Twitter @LakotaElemLearn or through email at

Posted by  On Sep 26, 2018 at 2:26 PM