Laura Sandefer is an author and the co-founder of Acton Academy, a school whose learner-driven model is spreading across the globe and combines best practices from the past while embracing the latest technology and research in neuroscience and cognition. She is also a special guest in our blog series about the development of #skills21 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
What does it mean to be Socratic?
You may be surprised. What if we told you it means to live with a burning sense of curiosity? To be delighted in learning new things? To happily express that you do not have all the answers? To shed the armor of being an expert?
Socrates once said: “I’m the wisest man in the world for I know one thing and that is that I know nothing.”
For us to become Socratic, we must shed the power plays of an authoritarian mindset of parenting – a stance that is demanding and believes that failure is bad and must be punished, hidden or shamed.
When we move toward the Socratic mindset of curiosity, we begin to see how this changes how we relate to our children. We are less like carpenters carving them into the shape we want. And more like gardeners, less concerned about controlling them and more focused on providing a rich environment for them to grow into whom they were meant to be.
Our Five Steps to Becoming More Socratic:
- Commit to a parenting adventure – Get clear on your WHY as a parent… Better to be gardener but we all have a bit of carpenter inside. This step has three underlying questions:
- What do I want for my child? Answering this question is harder than it seems. I was able to get to my own answer by imagining I would die tomorrow and have one last chance to give my children a message about their learning/work. Would my message be: Get good grades, get into college and get a good job; or, Discover your inner gifts and use them to help others for this is where joy lies; or, Don’t worry, be happy; or, something else?
- With the answer to question #1 in mind, what do I want to be as a parent? This brief description of four parenting styles may help you decide.
- What do we want to be together as a family? This step requires taking time to talk about what it means to be a family, even create a mission statement as well as decide on a few goals for your life together.
- Set the contract: Define your role and add structure (Give choices; Don’t answer questions; Growth Mindset praise instead of nagging which is passive aggressive.)
Here is a sample script to help you envision how this plays out: Sit with your children and say:
Once you have agreed upon the basic rules of the day and signed off, everyone is free to go about their day. The game has officially begun. If problems erupt, step back. Pause. Don’t intervene unless someone is getting hurt. Do your best to let them solve their own problems. And remember that chaos happens. Messes happen. It’s okay not to fix everything in the moment. Breathe and let it go. In addition to not answering questions, being a Socratic Guide means zero nagging.
So what does work to get my children to take charge of their learning at home? Two tricks to hooking your children to take charge of their own learning are: growth mindset praise and giving choices with clear consequences. This article will equip you to shift from fixed mindset thinking into growth mindset thinking. Also, resources on Positive Discipline have helped me learn the power of giving choices with clear consequences.
At 3pm, you can return to your usual role of parent. Tip for closing your Socratic day: Sit and reflect with your children and talk about what worked and what didn’t. What will you do differently tomorrow? Thank them for the choices they made and call out a character trait you witnessed them using.
- Create an attractive game and invite players (or give them the choice to not play and be bored sitting on the sidelines watching others play.)
Like asking great questions, games elicit engagement and focus. They motivate. Like the Socratic experience, games have rules and boundaries. And, by nature, a game is a choice. If you are forced to do something, it’s not a game. Just like the Socratic Method – choice and freedom to choose are fundamental to the process. The games we create at home don’t have to be complicated. Now, transfer this simple idea to your current challenge of “school at home.” Imagine the whole experience as a game. You could say to your child:
Get creative with the incentives. Points could win a family movie night, or a special dessert, or a later bedtime. You can see how there is a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation elements within a game. Humans are complicated and not one type of motivation always works. It’s best to inject variety. Soon simply being invited to play the game becomes a motivator. Then you say, “Wanna play?”
- Be a tough minded and warm hearted coach
At Acton, we use the terms “warm-hearted” and “tough-minded” to describe the character of a Socratic Guide. It’s not enough to show empathy and affection. Being truly Socratic is a balance between the two. Warm-hearted behaviors include listening with your whole self, affirming with growth mindset praise and supporting (not intervening) through struggles with love and presence. It is usually the fear of not being loved that drives people to be overly warm-hearted. The risk carried with it is caring more about being a friend than being a guide/parent.
On the other hand, tough-minded behaviors include sticking to your agreed upon schedule, being consistent with the delivery of consequences (ie, no special favors, or giving in because you are tired) and being crystal clear on limits and expectations. Here, the fear of losing control is what lies behind being overly tough-minded. The risk it carries is becoming a disciplinarian rather than a guide/parent. We all lean more heavily toward one mindset and it takes self-awareness to know where you need to shift and grow. It helps to have a partner for such growth.
- Unpush your own emotional buttons
At Acton, we ask our guides to leave their own “stuff” at the door. In other words, don’t bring into the studio your frustrations, buttons ready to be pushed or hang ups. Come with fresh eyes and, when needed, pause and step back to get re-set. This New York Times article gives a simple way to think about stepping back and re-framing the situation when your emotional buttons are pushed.
You are ready if you so choose to become more Socratic at home. Godspeed on your journey.
Do you think you could begin to apply this method with your child’s learning? Leave us your comments in the section below or on Twitter mentioning @BIDeducacion #Enfoqueeducacion.
This post was originally published on the blog On Being An Acton Academy Parent and is being republished with the permission of the author.