Our modern society tends to sanitize and compartmentalize. Schools have reduced the natural and spiritual process of learning and growing into a cold ingestion of facts and skills and an even colder documentation of mastery through standardized assessment. Salmonberry School reanimates and re-enchants the learning process by conceiving of children as whole beings, recognizing all human capacities for learning and knowing, and calling forth and celebrating the whole context within which we live and learn. The term “holistic” refers to the concept of the holon, where (as in a fractal) the beauty and wisdom of the whole can be seen in each and every part. As William Blake wrote, “to see the world in a grain of sand.” At Salmonberry we dive deeply into the microcosm and find ourselves, as elements and patterns of the entire cosmos are revealed.
At Salmonberry we recognize that children are whole beings. We teach cognitive skills including literacy, numeracy, science and history. But we know this is not nearly all there is. Mind, body and spirit are all nurtured through our holistic approach. Teachers create movement experiences and kinesthetic encounters, from dance to tumbling to all kinds of fine-motor work that invites bodily presence. In additionally we strongly emphasize social and emotional learning. Children are encouraged and taught to recognize their feelings, communicate their emotions and value the full range of these expressions from laughter to tears. Finally, there is an often subtle sense of spiritual presence at school. This can be as simple as taking time to breathe after transitions. Teachers encourage reflection and mindfulness. Over time students learn different practices of meditation as they learn to quiet their mind and be more present with the wholeness of their being.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how we know what we know. At Salmonberry we teach and explore a wide spectrum of ways of knowing. We believe there are appropriate times for rote learning and memorization – learning phonetic rules, math facts and names of places may at times all simply need to be memorized. We call this type of teaching “transmission”, and it has its place at Salmonberry. At other times, skills or concepts need to be explored more interactively. Partner work or group discussion is critical here. Students learn to express their understanding or perspective while remaining open to learning from others. This is “transactional” teaching and Salmonberry teachers do it a lot! There is also a time and place for deep and quiet reflection, uninterrupted art work where a sense of flow emerges, extended journaling, mindful walking or simply time for silence. This allows for a third type of learning/knowing we call “transformational.” Salmonberry students move between all three ways of these ways of knowing.
Finally, Salmonberry teachers take time to embed the learning encounters within larger contexts. This can include connecting abstract ideas or skills to students’ sense of self and family. It also includes rooting ourselves in a sense of place. We live on an island in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Ocean on planet Earth. Place-based connections with our natural world and a recognition of nature’s rhythms and patterns, often invoking simple seasonal rituals, is an important part of our holistic approach to teaching, learning and living together. As much as possible we resist the impulse to see skills, subjects or even ourselves as isolated atoms. We are wholes within wholes and systems within systems. Salmonberry holds this understanding close to its heart.