Self-directed education, part 2: Structure and self-direction | The Homepage

By Maggie Bogdanich


A brown-skinned student in a grayscale camo t-shirt with medium brown braids and a black face mask holds an iPad. The image on the screen is a landscape built from Lego bricks. Two other children, both light skinned, one blond with a pink face mask and the other brown-haired with a red face mask, watch the screen. The room they are in has a large, tan tile floor and white walls.
Three Rivers Village School students watch a film they created on an iPad. Photo by Lauren McNulty

Welcome to part 2 of our series on self-directed education! (See part 1 here.)

Two big questions people ask when they first learn about schools like ours are, “What does an average day look like?” and, “How do you structure a school to promote self-directed learning?”

Every day is different in a community of self-directed learners. Some students develop predictable routines. They have activities they enjoy doing, people they prefer to spend time with, and habits of managing their needs and responsibilities. Others are spontaneous. What they do and when they do it are influenced by other kids, their own moods, by events in the world and all the things that might affect any of us. Mix those two types with the folks who fall somewhere in between, and the days feel unpredictable, but with a steady foundation.

TRVS has a wide and growing array of materials and resources students can use. Students play and experiment with these to explore wherever their interests lead. The only limitations at school support student safety. That includes physical safety, emotional safety and safely sharing community with each other. It is far from the chaos people often imagine when they hear "fully student directed" and "no required curriculum."

As a community of learners, we need structures that hold the environment together. The main role of structures and practices is to protect the rights of the individual and collective rights of the community. This is the democratic element of our program. These structures include regular meetings, open to everyone at school, to manage school operations. No question is outside of the democratic process. How should money be spent? What rules are in place to support a safe and functional school environment? As in any community, conflict occurs. We have structures to support folks facing conflict of any kind. They can help students navigate conflicts as they happen and give tools to learn how to manage conflict themselves.

Day to day at TRVS is predictable to a point. We open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. every day. Working groups, classes and teams meet at scheduled times. Daily cleanup is at 2:45 every afternoon.

Everything in between is a free-flowing, fascinating, sometimes baffling and messy array of activities, events and happenings. I know this description leaves a lot to the imagination. Perhaps it prompts questions about how and what self-directed kids learn. I hope you check back for part 3, where we will address that two-part question.


Maggie Bogdanich is a staff member at Three Rivers Village School, which submits regular updates to The Homepage during the school year. All schools in The Homepage circulation area are invited to share news, event announcements, and admissions and calendar information with the community each month. If you would like to submit a school update, email jmartinez@hazelwoodinitiative.org. See submission guidelines here.


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