NBS was founded with the idea that traditional teaching methods and ideas did not work for all children. Our founder, Charlotte Zinsser Booth, inspired by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, John Dewey, and others, set out to create a school in which students’ curiosity could be the driving force in their education. As Dewey wrote in Experience and Education, “The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.” NBS teachers strive to foster and cultivate curiosity and love of learning, not for a reward like a grade, but for the reward that learning is–the satisfaction of knowing more, of a job well done, or answering a complicated question.
Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards sets out one of the most distinctive aspects of NBS; Kohn argues that rewards actually destroy the potential for real learning. Kohn advocates for creating an engaging curriculum and caring atmosphere so that “kids can act on their natural desire to find out.” This idea–that the atmosphere we create is as important as the content we teach–impacts every aspect of an NBS teacher’s teaching, from arranging the classroom to choosing materials. We create our reading and writing curricula, for example, with the goal of empowering and encouraging student reading and writing, rather than only communicating about other readers and writers. We teach math by asking questions, rather than telling students what and how to think, using ideas collected in Peter Liljedahl‘s Building Thinking Classrooms to get students on their feet, working in groups, and puzzling through problems together, learning that anyone can be a mathematician. In art, music, and Spanish class, students experience the material for themselves instead of talking about it, and in every experience, we strive to give children ideas to think about that connect to their own lives, from Miss Rumphius’s desire to leave the world more beautiful than she found it to history curricula that includes all the voices needed to create a complete story.
NBS is a school founded on the idea that students want to think and learn, and that the best learning comes inside of strong, safe relationships with their teachers, doing things together, discussing those things, drawing their own conclusions, and then being given the ability to act on their conclusions in the wider world. Haim Ginott wrote in Teacher and Child, “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.” At NBS, teachers daily choose rigor, choose relationships, and, above all, choose joy as they teach and learn alongside our students.