As someone who has been in education for over 30 years, nothing frustrates me more than a student who has “given up” on learning. When educators give up on these students, it sets them on a dangerous path toward the future. What’s worse is that in my experience, students who have given up are just in need of a new way of learning.
A major piece of this issue is educators who may remember to pay attention to how the brain works, different learning styles, and teaching techniques, then forget that the majority of learning takes place in collaborative environments. What’s more, there are environmental influences at play beyond just methods of learning. The recipe for success is equal parts cognition and culture.
That’s why, as a part of my Quantum learning model, I outlined three “Components of Culture,” and showed how each one plays a role in creating a successful learning experience. But I didn’t stop there. I took this same model and applied it to the programming for SuperCamp. With 73 percent of participants improving their grades and 93 percent improving peer relationships, the results speak for themselves.
Our students leave SuperCamp not only with stronger academic skills (e.g., test taking techniques and proper ways of studying) but also improved confidence. That’s due in large part to the culture that we create for our students. In order to better show how my Components of Culture are integrated into the SuperCamp model, let’s briefly explore the concepts and their implementation.
The Three Components of Culture at SuperCamp
Within the umbrella of “culture,” my colleague and I have identified three components – social, emotional, and implicit – that all play a part in a student’s academic success. With this in mind, I ensured that specific elements of SuperCamp cater to each one of these.
The Social Learning System is the foundation for learning. It governs our interactions both within and outside the mores of a culture or community.
Put another way, the social learning system aligns students and teachers toward a common vision. This alignment begins with strong character. Once students are in agreement as to what personal foundations for success should look like, they are speaking a shared language.
This highlights the importance of the “8 Keys of Excellence”: Integrity, Commitment, Failure Leads to Success, Ownership, Speak with Good Purpose, Flexibility, This Is It, and Balance. Not only are these principles posted prominently at camp, but they are also embodied by our staff and practiced throughout each day’s activities.
One place we get to put many of our 8 Keys of Excellence into practice as well as challenge our students is with outdoor activities. A perennial favorite, rappelling and walking on the high-beams is a great confidence builder. It is also an activity where our students open up and realize that they’re in a whole new type of learning environment.
“There’s such influence when you watch other kids, as well as yourself, do things that you didn’t think you could,” explained one teen. With this foundation of confidence, our students learn to open up.
The Emotional Learning System relates to the atmosphere for learning and achievement. It relates to our feelings and their effect on our ability to focus and achieve, as well as their influence on how we relate to others.
For students at SuperCamp, this means feeling safe and supported. We make sure that our students have a sense of belonging. Students learn best when they don’t feel at risk of being shut down or embarrassed. One high schooler wrote of the atmosphere that we create: “This place showed me that it’s okay to open up, and that it’s okay to be myself,” he said.
One way that we do this is by building a warm and respectful rapport between our staff and students. Because we offer so much in such a short period, it’s imperative that we remain on task. Even so, our staff never overlooks a student holding back or others putting in a sincere effort and always takes the time to build connections and commend learning achievements.
Another important way we create a positive emotional learning system is by building confidence. This is emphasized throughout our programs and is highlighted with our board-breaking activity when students write a barrier on a wood board and then karate chop through it. It’s in this atmosphere that students open up and feel comfortable.
The Implicit Learning System relates to circumstances in the environment and the fact that we take in information non-consciously as well as consciously and that we’re influenced by our culture, environment, and intuition.
The SuperCamp environment is one of safety, openness, and appropriate physical, mental and emotional risk-taking to move participants forward. I’ve talked about the roles that peer-to-peer learning and staff support play, but there’s another aspect that’s often overlooked: the physical environment. That’s because research has shown that an environment that visually supports a culture can maximize results.
Implicit learning takes place when students feel affirmed even by the unspoken elements around them. One of the big ones is having classroom settings that affirm learning. For us, this means posting the 8 Keys of Excellence on the walls as well as hanging up content and affirmation posters. It can also completely shift a student’s perspective. “I hate writing, but [at SuperCamp] it just feels like another fun way to interact with learning,” said one teenager.
When students leave SuperCamp, we encourage them to continue strengthening their implicit learning by creating a defined study environment. This involves creating a distinct space that includes affirmational signs, study tools, and even baroque music to help create a relaxed focused state. Sometimes there’s nothing like some Bach to get the wheels turning…a learning environment can be auditory as well!
Learning at SuperCamp: It’s Not Just the Proper Way of Studying
What we hope to accomplish with our students at SuperCamp is more than academic results. By exposing students to activities that engage their social, emotional, and implicit learning systems, we are able to rewire the way many of them think about school.
We provide a foundation, atmosphere, and environment that can be life-changing. The mother of one student put it best: “It’s not just an academic camp, it’s actually a transformational experience where you come out and emerge a new person…I can’t say enough about it, and my son can’t wait to come back!”