What’s there to know about our school? How does it work? What’s so different about it compared to a traditional school?
The role of the teacher
There are two ways to learn something:
· You tell your pupils why something is meaningful
· You let pupils discover and decide what is actually meaningful
What many traditional schools do today is tell the pupils what they should learn. Pupils have to be quiet, sit still and shut down their brain, and once that is done, the teacher can finally start.
This means that there’s only one person in the entire classroom with serious brain activity: the teacher. Really, shouldn't we try to organize things a bit differently?
What does 'De MET' actually mean?
De MET is Leuven dialect and means 'the market'. 'Market' is the English translation of the Greek word 'agora'. Indeed, at De MET we learn from each other and with each other. At De MET there is active bidirectional traffic. Luckily, M E T also stands for 'Measures of Effective Teaching'. Nice coincidence, isn't it?
1. Pupil coaches
At De MET Leuven, teachers don’t get to be just 'teachers'. Teachers are pupil-coaches in charge of their families like mothers and fathers are.
Coach groups don't exceed 17 pupils. They guide pupils in mixed age groups, except for the first year (due to organisational reasons).
So, the students have a heterogeneous age and a heterogeneous cognition level. This coach group is their responsibility for the whole school year. Pupil-coaches don't face class management stress as pupils don't just sit and wait until they are told what to do. This is a difference compared to many traditional schools.
2. Prefrontal cortex replacement
One of the qualities of a good teacher is to invest in a trustworthy relationship with the pupil. As pupils have a certain age (which is way younger than a teacher), they lack analytical skills. Their “prefrontal cortex” isn’t yet developed enough to take big decisions. And that’s where the teacher-coach comes in.
The teacher coaches replace their pupils' prefrontal cortex and guide them in the right direction. Pupils accept the coach’s help because of their good relationship and confidence.
3. Teacher qualifications
Can you imagine teaching at our school? What does a teacher at De MET look like? What are the requirements?
Teachers at De MET Leuven have to make sure pupils love going to school and that they burst of self-confidence. When this is the case, pupils are ready to learn and reach the attainment levels set by the educational authorities. Many teachers choose to become a teacher because they can work in a very structured way. But here, you have to be able to let things go. That’s what we call education at De MET Leuven 'agile teaching and learning'. This means you have to adapt your teaching views from day to day. You can never tell how far you will get tomorrow or in a few months because learning is a continuous motion: sometimes it goes fast, sometimes slow. The teacher has to be able to adapt to the pupils' learning process.
4. The role of the pupil
At De MET Leuven, pupils have to set their own challenges. They decide what they learn and when during the whole year. The attainment levels set by the educational authorities work like an umbrella. Our electronic progress monitor guards the full coverage of the learning goals. A lot of pupils find out that if they don’t do anything, they won’t succeed. It takes this insight to get there at the end of the year. The pupils take the steering wheel into their own hands. They have to steer the car in the right direction and the teacher is just their driving instructor. Spark their curiosity, and they will find what they need to succeed. Don’t put roadblocks when you want them to go the other way; let them discover this by themselves. That's our motto.
How De MET Leuven works
As you probably get by now, the De MET school in Leuven isn’t an ordinary school: it has no rigid rules, no ordinary classes, no classical tests, no useless homework, and no grades. So you must be wondering how De MET works:
1. Possible detox
Many pupils have lost their motivation to learn anything at school. Some of them even think they are too dumb to succeed in anything. Others face psychological and emotional problems because many traditional schools teach them to excel and to perform, already at a young age. These students need to be detoxed. We bring them in a situation where they feel confident and let them believe they can manage things. As soon as they realize they can really accomplish something, they arrive in a phase that they also want to learn new things.
They’ll start setting new goals and new challenges based on intrinsic motivation. And that’s the most important motivation there is. The detox program also teaches them the importance of focus when setting their own goals and when learning. The programme starts at the beginning of their school career at De MET and ends approx. 7 weeks later. In these 7 weeks, pupils discover what they want to become. Even if the chances of their dream job are so rare, at least, they have a target now. They have a goal. And it doesn’t matter if something crosses their path that changes their focus, as long as they replace it with a new one.
So, what exactly are these challenges that pupils choose?
A challenge can be anything, e.g. something pupils find interesting to do research about. Starting from there, De MET's Agora model uses the pupils' interests and motivation to encourage them to look further. What do they want to become? What do they have to learn to become that? Through their passion and interests, pupils also learn how to learn. That’s why they can finish these challenges all by themselves (or at first with a little guidance from their teacher-coach).
Since there are no goals enforced by the teachers, how is it possible for pupils to know when the challenge is finished?
Well, there are a few things to consider here. First of all, pupils have to appoint the 'why' of every challenge. 'Why do I want to do this challenge?', 'Why do I want to learn this?' Initially, pupils will say 'I would like to learn about dolphins because I like them.” This is the simplest explanation of a challenge. But after a while, that pupil will start saying: 'I want to learn about dolphins because I want to start my own dolphinarium'. Here, the student is delving into the challenge much more than before. Working with challenges opens up the possibility to work with personalised learning paths for every student. No more methodology for one complete average group, because average pupils don’t exist. For every challenge, pupils formulate the definition of 'done' when their challenge is finished. They also define their challenges with a learning question and with sub-questions. Most of the time, those learning questions lead to new topics they want to investigate and this way, new challenges. Via technology, the coaches can monitor their pupils, witness their progress, give advice, provide feedback, feed-forward, and feed-up. They encourage pupils to make mistakes because that’s the best way to learn. Copying is also an effective way to learn. Look at how others do something.
3. Master classes
You could say it’s not easy for pupils to find that one particular thing they’re passionate about. At De MET, pupils can participate in master classes, completely voluntarily. So, when there’s a masterclass about Johann Sebastian Bach, everyone who likes to go actually goes, and others don’t. This is the right way to encourage students to learn. Coaches will track the number of attended master classes and motivate pupils to attend a minimum number of master classes per year. Everything you enforce may lead to demotivation. However, this doesn't mean we applaud 'challenge hopping'! Once pupils have chosen a challenge topic, they have to work on and finish the challenge. Only focusing on knowledge, leads to demotivation but focusing on motivation, leads to knowledge. By the way, as you may have learned: by learning and thanks to the guidance of the teachers, pupils won't even notice they acquire more than the minimum goals set out in the curriculum and reach the government attainment levels easily.
Technology is a very important component at our school. Because of technology, it’s possible for every school to offer dozens of different learning paths.
That’s why De MET is a one-to-one school, and that’s why it offers every pupil a device for a low rental fee. Ethically, it shouldn’t matter in education whether you’re poor or rich: every pupil should have the same opportunities. De MET Leuven runs its first school year thanks to the European and Flemish innovation fund “Transition 2050”. We spend the subsidies primarily on coach training and the development of assessment tools.
5. Learning 0.0
We’re all conditioned by our 'old' education system, prohibiting us to think differently. The educational model is over 100 years old. Sure, it was effective … in that time. Now, there’s truly nothing you can’t learn. Students can tap into the collective brain lobe of humanity using their smartphone for free. So, why do many schools forbid this small device? That’s why agile learning at De MET is called “Learning 0.0”. You have to bring pupils and teachers back to the basics of teaching and rid them from all the institutional nonsense that crawled into our educational system many years ago.
So, ask yourself: why are teachers the boss? Why do pupils sit in classrooms? Why do pupils have to listen to teachers, and not the other way around? Why do we have courses and fixed time tables? Why do we have tests and homework? We re-educate pupils and parents to think differently. Learning means taking initiative as well as developing and using creativity.
Every good teacher knows, even without testing their pupils every pupil’s capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. So, why should you grade or mark pupils and do hours of grading work, when you know what the result will be?
Teachers are the victims of this system. They are immensely conditioned and create false safety by giving grades. Does a grade really tell you when pupils meet the benchmarks?
But knowledge isn’t the key here. The key is that students are progressing. In old terminology: if a pupil first got a four, and later (s)he gets an eight out of ten, that’s much better than a pupil who gets a six all the time. A pupil with an average of 8.5 but zero social skills is considered ready to go and study medicine at university, while a student with an average of 6.5 and a lot of social skills isn't. This is a waste of human capital, and it has to stop.
6. Formative assessment
So, De MET doesn’t test, nor grade. But that doesn’t mean pupils are completely left alone.
They’re practically haunted by their coach and get feedback, feedforward, and feed-up continuously.
A pupil can always take the initiative to make diagnostic or summative tests, with the emphasis on “initiative”: the student has to ask for it and has to want it.
A day at De MET Leuven
Teachers arrive at school at 8 am and have a team meeting. Students arrive at between 8:30 and 9:30 am, which is neurologically much better than starting earlier. Then, students start with a “dialogue” in their own “coach group”, where they debate and talk about certain topics, e.g. recent news items.
At 9:30 am, students start working on their own personal challenges, or they choose to attend masterclasses (taught by parents, external experts etc). Master classes can be about numerous topics, ranging from cooking, astrology to martial arts.
Pupils have at least three hours of sports per week, and after the lunch break, they have 30 minutes of “silence”. During these 30 minutes, we expect everyone to be quiet. No mobile devices, no talking. Pupils can take a power nap, read a book, listen to their breathing and meditate. After the silent break, students go on with masterclasses or challenges.
Between 3:30 and 4:30 pm, students may go home without any homework. However, you often see that students find the motivation to go on with their challenges at home, without being forced to do this. Between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm, the teacher coaches consult with each other about the pupils and their progress, learning paths, etc.
Not a school
As the first paragraph already gave away, this school isn’t an ordinary school: indeed, it’s an extraordinary learning community, a learning hub, an inspirational crossroads. De MET doesn't have traditionally organised classrooms with ordinary school furniture. It’s something you’ve never seen before. In the 21st century, the number one skill everybody should have is creativity. This school is designed to stimulate pupils to be creative: students get to create their own comfortable (or not so comfortable) workspaces; they use their creativity to design amazing desks. The school has all the tools and workplaces available to spark creativity. De MET also lets pupils create their personal workspaces because it wants to take away boundaries: boundaries between home, street, school and virtual environments. Pupils need to feel at home in their learning environment.
De MET Leuven listens to the science and psychology behind every pupil. Only those aspects of education that listen to the psychology of the pupil survive.
Don’t try to renovate education. Reinvent it. Renovation is like changing wooden wheels to rubber wheels. Reinvention is creating flying cars. And that’s what De MET wants to do.
Adapted from an interview with Sjef Drummen in an article by Lucie Renard