The LEAP Project is an initiative to open source the structure and methodologies of LEAP Academy, a groundbreaking approach to education that has the potential to be the model to carry us into the next phase of human learning.
For all schools trying to move from command-and-control learning to co-creative learning, LEAP Academy offers a wireframe to organize around, and a set of foundational principles to guide practice. In these pages you will find information on how to build that wireframe. Even more critically, you will learn how to engage with learning and with each other in that space based on key principles to collectively and continually rebuild education. Also offered here, in the near future, will be the structure and methodologies of iLead+Design, a two- to three-week intensive, design-thinking “sprint” that can stand alone or fit neatly into a LEAP program as an offering once or twice per year.
What is LEAP Academy?
LEAP Academy is an “anomalous space”, a self contained learning community built around a set of principles and lean structures that allow for co-creative learning and endeavoring (the “how” of which is detailed below), in which participants are developing their “world stance” as that of entrepreneurial learners—in other words, learners who own their own learning, who seek to add value to the world through their endeavors, and who understand how to find and leverage resources to meet collective and individual goals.
LEAP can function as a school-within-a-school, or as its own school, though it might be more accurate to think of it as an engaged and supportive co-working community, or even a perpetual startup, rather than a school in the conventional sense. Thinking of it as a school might lead to it being re-shaped to fit into the conventional understanding of what school is, thus reversing many of its key principles, structures, and ways of relating.
LEAP follows practices of next-level organizations in its unit structures, relying on close-knit teams or tribes working in a very lean fashion, with clear goals and significant autonomy in how those goals are reached.
The basic structure of LEAP Academy is two to three teams of four to six youth (students, if you prefer that terminology), each with a dedicated coach (teacher, in school lingo). These teams make up a group, or tribe, and the coaches within that group work together to shape and hold the space collectively for the teams within. The size of these units is very important. Too large, and the lean and agile nature of the group diminishes; too small, and there is not enough energy and perspective in the group to sustain engagement, momentum, and creative outlook.
Multiple groups can operate side by side, but they must have significant autonomy and dedicated space. Multiple groups can make up a larger community that band together—to share learnings, and to manage shared resources, legal entity status, etc. When embedded in a conventional school, LEAP can function as an internal academy, though it is important to make sure that participants spend most of their time in the LEAP culture. Because it relies so much on principles at odds with most conventional schooling, LEAP does not function well as a small “slice” of a conventional school day or school experience.
What do LEAP participants do each day? The short answer is, Whatever they feel is important towards meeting their goals. The recommended structure is as follows:
Roughly half time is invested in group endeavor, working together on projects of real value to the community (with value and community being defined by each team/group). The other half of the time is invested in solo endeavor, wherein participants work towards any personal or academic goals they are not meeting through group endeavor.
If LEAP is embedded in a broader community or school, each community/school must decide how LEAP participants will show they have met the graduation or other requirements of the community. For instance, if embedded in a high school using the North American credit system (based on hours that add up to credits in specific subjects), participants might be asked to create “classes” for themselves using the same course templates the faculty at the school use, along with learning outcomes, artifacts, etc. Participants would then track their hours, learning outcomes, and artifacts in each “subject” and submit those in a portfolio that would be evaluated as being sufficient, or not, to be awarded credits toward graduation.
In a homeschool learning center with an unschool ethic, there might be no more evaluation than is decided upon by the internal community, likely directly in support of meeting individual and team goals.
In an International Baccalaureate (IB) school on the Diploma Program (DP), the charter might be that the LEAP groups can do whatever they want towards their individual and group goals, as long as it includes scoring well on the DP examinations.
There are innumerable ways to utilize LEAP Academy structures, principles, and methodologies to achieve community goals. Why? Because LEAP Academy is mostly a How, not a What. The what is decided by each team and group. There are infinite Whats.
Note: The dedicated nature of the coaches is critical. The relationships in LEAP Academy—between adult and youth; between learner and learning; between student and student; between school and the broader community; between schedule and endeavor—are 180 degrees from most school situations. All of these must be intentionally held in a supportive “container”, and coaches who are in and out between teaching classes elsewhere, etc. are not able to “hold the space.” For LEAP programs that are embedded in “regular” schools, It is possible for both coaches and youth participants to engage in activities in the regular program, but ideally no more than the equivalent of taking or teaching one class that meets a couple of times per week.
Key to the foundational principles of LEAP Academy is that learning should be co-creative, not command-and-control; it should be based on “What are your goals, and how can I help?”, not on “Do what I tell you or else.” It follows the human-centered-design maxim of “Design with, not for.”
Also key is the principle that “teams benefit from broad experience and perspective” and this one helps us shape the role of the “coach” within LEAP. One of the key tenets of LEAP academy is that the “elder” on the team is on the team. They are a peer. They may sometimes perform the role of team coordinator, but not always. Once the coach moves into the role of manager or “whip cracker”, the whole dynamic changes, and LEAP loses its power.
LEAP Principles / Tenets
- Design with, not for
- “What are your goals, and how can I help?” instead of “Do what I tell you, or else”
- Also known as Assisted Accountability
- How we teach teaches more than what we teach
- We grow better when we challenge ourselves and each other
- It’s all about relationship
- Between “teacher” and “student”
- Between learner and learning
- Between “school” and community
- HOW is at least as important as WHAT
- Schedule should fit goals, not the other way around
- Independent of regular school timetable
- Space designed for LEAP needs
- Flipped accountability
- Focus on fostering entrepreneurial and advanced learners
- Mapping to credits?
- Coaches are team members, not team managers.
- The schedule is determined by the teams, based on their evolving goals.
- Roughly half time spent in Group Endeavor, working on projects of value to the community; roughly half time on solo endeavor, meeting individual personal and academic goals not being met by group endeavor. (Note that this can shift towards more group endeavor depending on the cohort, and will not compromise the integrity of the system).
- “Critical mass” of time spent in LEAP endeavor. Too much time outside of the LEAP program can lead to “culture confusion”. For example, if LEAP Academy is embedded in a school program where teachers are strongly in charge, and LEAP participants spend too much time in that regular environment, they will find it difficult to transition between the two effectively. Not to mention that if a participant is never around in LEAP, they will not be available to work with their team and it will cause difficulty for the group endeavor.
- Feedback loops. Dynamic feedback loops are critical to the success of any group endeavor, in or out of school, and understanding how to set them up and utilize them is a skill many top level professionals are still needing remedial help with. Feedback loops are important for evaluating and evolving: group processes and goals; peer-to-peer support mechanisms; relationship with the “regular program,” if embedded; organizational culture; and, critically, the building of the “container” and the “holding of space” by the team of coaches.
- Culture. Culture includes feedback loops, but deserves its own mention. Culture includes the social contract, the agreed upon “how” of interacting and of showing up each day. Of how we hold each other accountable to our agreements, etc. Of challenging ourselves and each other to grow and stretch. Of keeping an eye on our “give” and not always our “get”. Coaches are as much culture monitors and shapers as they are anything else in LEAP.
- Deep content learning
- Ability to identify what is important to know, and to drive oneself in learning it
- Ability to identify resources available to meet one’s goals
- Ability to convince others to join your quest
- Ability to identify need and design for value
- Comfort with ambiguity
- Increased adaptability and creativity
- Increased self-regulation
- Ability to set and meet challenging goals of value to oneself and the broader community
- Ability to find value for the broader world as a byproduct of personal growth and advancement
“I chose LEAP Academy because it offered students a unique take on school without compromising on credits and grades.” – LEAP Student
“LEAP gave me the flexibility and support to push myself as hard as I could in more ways than one.” – LEAP Student
“I think that the heavier than usual workload really motivated me to get things done on time and not push them away and finish them at the last minute.” – LEAP Student
“LEAP seems to have given [my daughter] the contact and the space to catch up on things she has missed out on.” – LEAP parent
“To us it seems that [our son] gained a new understanding of a learning experience, which he could not have had without time he could invest into the program. Reflection and repeating are the basis of learning and it seems that they had plenty of opportunities for that. We see some planning skills, team approaches and discussion skills, reflection skills as they needed to interact with all kinds of people and also experienced rejection. But most of all, it seems that the impact of their work and the tangible results are the greatest of all achievements.” – LEAP parents
“…[our daughter] seems so much more mature and self regulating even after this short 6 week block. She is now talking more confidently and has found more of herself. Thank you so much!!” – LEAP parent
“We hear more about what [our child] is doing in school when he is in LEAP.”
“LEAP changed [our son’s] whole perspective on learning.”
“I feel that I learned a lot about a new side of education, which makes me very happy because before Leap I was fed up with school, and how stale and boring it can be. Leap allows a student to follow their interests, and passions, and turn them into a reality which is amazing in my opinion because I sometimes feel that my creativity is limited in normal schooling, and I don’t get to fully follow my interests.” – LEAP Student
Read stories by Green School LEAP students on Medium.
iLead+Design is a shorter, more intensive program that can run within LEAP Academy, or with any school or summer program. The two to three week program involves small teams using human centered design and systems thinking practices to tackle challenges brought by community partners. More to come. In the meantime, here is a video of year one of the program: