Tal Birdsey opens his notebook on “The Living School”

MIDDLEBURY — Tal Birdsey will be at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury on Thursday, March 20, at 7 p.m. to read from his forthcoming book, “Living School: A Teacher’s Notebook,”and discuss the philosophy that has shaped his work as an educator.
Birdsey is the head teacher, co-founder, and director of the North Branch School in Ripton, where he teaches writing, literature, social studies, theater, art, student government and ethics and works as school counselor. He is also the author of “A Room for Learning: The Making of a School in Vermont” (St. Martin’s Press, 2009).
A key concept behind the founding of the North Branch School was to create a small-scale and intimate school environment, reflecting the belief that young adolescents need a school “bigger than a family but smaller than a system.”
The parents who worked with Birdsey to start North Branch shared a vision of a school tailored to the unique needs of early adolescents. Their founding philosophy centered on a school concept that promotes self-directed and active learning, incorporates students’ emotional, intellectual and growth issues, emphasizes experiential and outdoor education, and fosters a strong community based upon close student-teacher-parent relationships.
The North Branch School community includes 27 students, three teachers and two administrators, as well as a board of trustees. With fewer than 30 students in grades seven through nine, it shares much in common with Vermont’s historic one-room schools. The low student/teacher ratio, for example, is key to building a flexible, personalized and engaging learning environment.
Birdsey’s new book is written in the form of a narrative of a school year, and endeavors to show — in classroom dialogue, anecdotes and adventures outside the classroom — what life looks like as it is lived by growing children in a place where they are free to grow.
“I wanted to get across what a living school is,” Birdsey explains. “If school is a place of growth and creation, then what does growth and creation look like? What is an authentic relationship between a teacher and a student? How can schools incorporate the real experiences of the lives of children to make school meaningful and authentic?”
This talk is presented in conjunction with the Vermont Folklife Center’s ongoing “One-Room Schools” exhibition in its Vision & Voice Documentary Gallery. The program is free and open to the public. For more information call (802) 388-4964 or visit the VFC website at www.vermontfolklifecenter.org.

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