Creating Guiding Principles for Consent-Based, Self-Directed Learning Communities

Because these kinds of communities are relationship centred, and are values rather than rules based, it’s really important as a founder or person who has responsibility for culture creation, to have a really sound set of Guiding Principles.

Here is a five step guide to creating these principles:

  1. Describe the relationship we intend to have with our selves
  2. Describe the relationship we intend to have with others, including the environment.
  3. Describe the kind of relationship we intend to have with the way, what, and how we learn about ourselves, each other and the world.
  4. Describe what we will do to prevent, or when something goes wrong.
  5. Describe the bigger picture – what the above is working towards creating, our ethical vision. This is your ‘Why’.

At the Cabin and the Lodge our Guiding Principles read like this:

  1. Self-directed: Listening to your self, and exploring the world in the way that is meaningful to you and your own sense of curiosity and purpose. Being able to choose what, when and how you want to learn and do things, based on what feels right to you. 
  2. Consent-based: Understanding your own agency and autonomy, and the freedom and boundaries that come with that. Being able to say an authentic yes, no or maybe, and respecting the boundaries and consent of others.
  3. Ed(ucation) Positive: Anything can be potentially interesting and meaningful . Curiosity, problem solving and learning doesn’t have to be limited to subject silos or traditional value judgments about what is important to learn about and what isn’t.  
  4. Shared Decision Making, Risk Management and Conflict Navigation: Young people should have the chance to influence and co-create decisions and solutions that affect them. We can understand and manage risk together, and conflict can be navigated in an open and honest way. 
  5. Children as rights holders, social and environmental justice: People under 18 have human rights. Experiencing that all starts in the way that we are treated in childhood, and the way we learn to be with and treat others and our environment. ​

You can read fuller descriptions of these principles here.

The key thing is that these principles can act as a compass for you, in helping you navigate decisions, your own behaviour and actions in the community. They help you make sense of boundaries, when to take actions, and when to stand back. They are like a recipe for the culture and experience that you are together trying to create, and if you follow them, that experience will become manifest as best as is possible given the context in which you are working. Leave one thing out of the recipe, and it doesn’t work. They must be interdependent parts of a whole.

Once you are fluent in your own Guiding Principles, theoretically and in your own lived experience/practice, you will also be able to notice the tools and systems you might need as a community to support them, and work on finding or designing those things.

Final thought: Please don’t use this guide, or have Guiding Principles if you don’t believe them and/or aren’t willing to engage with them yourself. This is a no bullshit approach, so if you aren’t going to get on board yourself, please don’t create a set of principles that expects others to do what you won’t do yourself. Certainly, don’t expect the young people you are working with do be influenced by them if you aren’t going to be. Integrity is key for a values/principles based approach, and it’s key for consent-based self-direction too.

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